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Mark Twain's Story

Categories: Ghost Stories
Scary Books: The Book Of Dreams And Ghosts
: Andrew Lang

Mark was smoking his cigar outside the door of his house when he saw a

man, a stranger, approaching him. Suddenly he ceased to be visible!

Mark, who had long desired to see a ghost, rushed into his house to

record the phenomenon. There, seated on a chair in the hall, was the

very man, who had come on some business. As Mark's negro footman

acts, when the bell is rung, on the principle, "Perhaps they won't

his master is wholly unable to account for the

disappearance of the visitor, whom he never saw passing him or waiting

at his door--except on the theory of an unconscious nap. Now, a

disappearance is quite as mystical as an appearance, and much less


This theory, that apparitions come in an infinitesimal moment of

sleep, while a man is conscious of his surroundings and believes

himself to be awake was the current explanation of ghosts in the

eighteenth century. Any educated man who "saw a ghost" or "had a

hallucination" called it a "dream," as Lord Brougham and Lord

Lyttelton did. But, if the death of the person seen coincided with

his appearance to them, they illogically argued that, out of the

innumerable multitude of dreams, some _must_ coincide, accidentally,

with facts. They strove to forget that though dreams in sleep are

universal and countless, "dreams" in waking hours are extremely rare--

unique, for instance, in Lord Brougham's own experience. Therefore,

the odds against chance coincidence are very great.

Dreams only form subjects of good dream-stories when the vision

coincides with and adequately represents an _unknown_ event in the

past, the present, or the future. We dream, however vividly, of the

murder of Rizzio. Nobody is surprised at that, the incident being

familiar to most people, in history and art. But, if we dreamed of

being present at an unchronicled scene in Queen Mary's life, and if,

_after_ the dream was recorded, a document proving its accuracy should

be for the first time recovered, then there is matter for a good

dream-story. {8} Again, we dream of an event not to be naturally

guessed or known by us, and our dream (which should be recorded before

tidings of the fact arrive) tallies with the news of the event when it

comes. Or, finally, we dream of an event (recording the dream), and

that event occurs in the future. In all these cases the actual

occurrence of the unknown event is the only addition to the dream's

usual power of crumpling up time and space.

As a rule such dreams are only mentioned _after_ the event, and so are

not worth noticing. Very often the dream is forgotten by the dreamer

till he hears of or sees the event. He is then either reminded of his

dream by association of ideas or _he has never dreamed at all_, and

his belief that he has dreamed is only a form of false memory, of the

common sensation of "having been here before," which he attributes to

an awakened memory of a real dream. Still more often the dream is

unconsciously cooked by the narrator into harmony with facts.

As a rule fulfilled dreams deal with the most trivial affairs, and

such as, being usual, may readily occur by chance coincidence. Indeed

it is impossible to set limits to such coincidence, for it would

indeed be extraordinary if extraordinary coincidences never occurred.

To take examples:--