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The Dead Shopman

Categories: Waking Hallucinations
Scary Books: The Book Of Dreams And Ghosts
: Andrew Lang

Swooning, or slight mental mistiness, is not very unusual in ghost

seers. The brother of a friend of my own, a man of letters and wide

erudition, was, as a boy, employed in a shop in a town, say Wexington.

The overseer was a dark, rather hectic-looking man, who died. Some

months afterwards the boy was sent on an errand. He did his business,

but, like a boy, returned by a longer and more interesting route. He

as a bookseller's shop to stare at the books and pictures, and

while doing so felt a kind of mental vagueness. It was just before

his dinner hour, and he may have been hungry. On resuming his way, he

looked up and found the dead overseer beside him. He had no sense of

surprise, and walked for some distance, conversing on ordinary topics

with the appearance. He happened to notice such a minute detail as

that the spectre's boots were laced in an unusual way. At a crossing,

something in the street attracted his attention; he looked away from

his companion, and, on turning to resume their talk, saw no more of

him. He then walked to the shop, where he mentioned the occurrence to

a friend. He has never during a number of years had any such

experience again, or suffered the preceding sensation of vagueness.

This, of course, is not a ghost story, but leads up to the old tale of

the wraith of Valogne. In this case, two boys had made a covenant,

the first who died was to appear to the other. He _did_ appear before

news of his death arrived, but after a swoon of his friend's, whose

health (like that of Elizabeth Conley) suffered in consequence.


"PERCEVAL MURDER." Times, 25th May, 1812.

"A Dumfries paper states that on the night of Sunday, the 10th

instant, _twenty-four hours before the fatal deed was perpetrated_, a

report was brought to Bude Kirk, two miles from Annan, that _Mr.

Perceval was shot on his way to the House of Commons, at the door or

in the lobby of that House_. This the whole inhabitants of the

village are ready to attest, as the report quickly spread and became

the topic of conversation. A clergyman investigated the rumour, with

the view of tracing it to its source, but without success."

The Times of 2nd June says, "Report without foundation".

Perth Courier, 28th May, quoting from the Dumfries and Galloway

Courier, repeats above almost verbatim. " . . . The clergyman to

whom we have alluded, and who allows me to make use of his name, is

Mr. Yorstoun, minister of Hoddam. This gentleman went to the spot and

carefully investigated the rumour, but has not hitherto been

successful, although he has obtained the most satisfactory proof of

its having existed at the time we have mentioned. We forbear to make

any comments on this wonderful circumstance, but should anything

further transpire that may tend to throw light upon it, we shall not

fail to give the public earliest information."

The Dumfries and Galloway Courier I cannot find! It is not in the

British Museum.

Transition from Dreams to Waking Hallucinations. Popular Scepticism

about the Existence of Hallucinations in the Sane. Evidence of Mr.

Francis Galton, F.R.S. Scientific Disbelief in ordinary Mental

Imagery. Scientific Men who do not see in "the Mind's Eye". Ordinary

People who do. Frequency of Waking Hallucinations among Mr. Gallon's

friends. Kept Private till asked for by Science. Causes of such

Hallucinations unknown. Story of the Diplomatist. Voluntary or

Induced Hallucinations. Crystal Gazing. Its Universality.

Experience of George Sand. Nature of such Visions. Examples.

Novelists. Crystal Visions only "Ghostly" when Veracious. Modern

Examples. Under the Lamp. The Cow with the Bell Historical Example.

Prophetic Crystal Vision. St. Simon The Regent d'Orleans. The

Deathbed of Louis XIV. References for other Cases of Crystal Visions.

From dreams, in sleep or swoon, of a character difficult to believe in

we pass by way of "hallucinations" to ghosts. Everybody is ready to

admit that dreams do really occur, because almost everybody has

dreamed. But everybody is not so ready to admit that sane and

sensible men and women can have hallucinations, just because everybody

has not been hallucinated.

On this point Mr. Francis Galton, in his Inquiries into Human Faculty

(1833), is very instructive. Mr. Galton drew up a short catechism,

asking people how clearly or how dimly they saw things "in their

mind's eye".

"Think of your breakfast-table," he said; "is your mental picture of

it as clearly illuminated and as complete as your actual view of the

scene?" Mr. Galton began by questioning friends in the scientific

world, F.R.S.'s and other savants. "The earliest results of my

inquiry amazed me. . . . The great majority of the men of science to

whom I first applied, protested that _mental imagery was unknown to

them_, and they looked on me as fanciful and fantastic in supposing

that the words 'mental imagery' really expressed what I believed

everybody supposed them to mean." One gentleman wrote: "It is only

by a figure of speech that I can describe my recollection of a scene

as a 'mental image' which I can 'see' with 'my mind's eye'. I do not

see it," so he seems to have supposed that nobody else did.

When he made inquiries in general society, Mr. Galton found plenty of

people who "saw" mental imagery with every degree of brilliance or

dimness, from "quite comparable to the real object" to "I recollect

the table, but do not see it"--my own position.

Mr. Galton was next "greatly struck by the frequency of the replies in

which my correspondents" (sane and healthy) "described themselves as

subject to 'visions'". These varied in degree, "some were so vivid as

actually to deceive the judgment". Finally, "a notable proportion of

sane persons have had not only visions, but actual hallucinations of

sight at one or more periods of their life. I have a considerable

packet of instances contributed by my personal friends." Thus one

"distinguished authoress" saw "the principal character of one of her

novels glide through the door straight up to her. It was about the

size of a large doll." Another heard unreal music, and opened the

door to hear it better. Another was plagued by voices, which said

"Pray," and so forth.

Thus, on scientific evidence, sane and healthy people may, and "in a

notable proportion _do_, experience hallucinations". That is to say,

they see persons, or hear them, or believe they are touched by them,

or all their senses are equally affected at once, when no such persons

are really present. This kind of thing is always going on, but "when

popular opinion is of a matter-of-fact kind, the seers of visions keep

quiet; they do not like to be thought fanciful or mad, and they hide

their experiences, which only come to light through inquiries such as

those that I have been making".

We may now proceed to the waking hallucinations of sane and healthy

people, which Mr. Galton declares to be so far from uncommon. Into

the _causes_ of these hallucinations which may actually deceive the

judgment, Mr. Galton does not enter.


For example, there is a living diplomatist who knows men and cities,

and has, moreover, a fine sense of humour. "My Lord," said a famous

Russian statesman to him, "you have all the qualities of a

diplomatist, but you cannot control your smile." This gentleman,

walking alone in a certain cloister at Cambridge, met a casual

acquaintance, a well-known London clergyman, and was just about

shaking hands with him, when the clergyman vanished. Nothing in

particular happened to either of them; the clergyman was not in the

seer's mind at the moment.

This is a good example of a solitary hallucination in the experience

of a very cool-headed observer. The _causes_ of such experiences are

still a mystery to science. Even people who believe in "mental

telegraphy," say when a distant person, at death or in any other

crisis, impresses himself as present on the senses of a friend, cannot

account for an experience like that of the diplomatist, an experience

not very uncommon, and little noticed except when it happens to

coincide with some remarkable event. {56b} Nor are such

hallucinations of an origin easily detected, like those of delirium,

insanity, intoxication, grief, anxiety, or remorse. We can only

suppose that a past impression of the aspect of a friend is recalled

by some association of ideas so vividly that (though we are not

_consciously_ thinking of him) we conceive the friend to be actually

present in the body when he is absent.

These hallucinations are casual and unsought. But between these and

the dreams of sleep there is a kind of waking hallucinations which

some people can purposely evoke. Such are the visions of _crystal


Among the superstitions of almost all ages and countries is the belief

that "spirits" will show themselves, usually after magical ceremonies,

to certain persons, commonly children, who stare into a crystal ball,

a cup, a mirror, a blob of ink (in Egypt and India), a drop of blood

(among the Maoris of New Zealand), a bowl of water (Red Indian), a

pond (Roman and African), water in a glass bowl (in Fez), or almost

any polished surface. The magical ceremonies, which have probably

nothing to do with the matter, have succeeded in making this old and

nearly universal belief seem a mere fantastic superstition. But

occasionally a person not superstitious has recorded this experience.

Thus George Sand in her Histoire de ma Vie mentions that, as a little

girl, she used to see wonderful moving landscapes in the polished back

of a screen. These were so vivid that she thought they must be

visible to others.

Recent experiments have proved that an unexpected number of people

have this faculty. Gazing into a ball of crystal or glass, a crystal

or other smooth ring stone, such as a sapphire or ruby, or even into a

common ink-pot, they will see visions very brilliant. These are often

mere reminiscences of faces or places, occasionally of faces or places

sunk deep below the ordinary memory. Still more frequently they

represent fantastic landscapes and romantic scenes, as in an

historical novel, with people in odd costumes coming, going and

acting. Thus I have been present when a lady saw in a glass ball a

man in white Oriental costume kneeling beside a leaping fountain of

fire. Presently a hand appeared pointing downwards through the flame.

The _first_ vision seen pretty often represents an invalid in bed.

Printed words are occasionally read in the glass, as also happens in

the visions beheld with shut eyes before sleeping.

All these kinds of things, in fact, are common in our visions between

sleeping and waking (illusions hypnagogiques). The singularity is

that they are seen by people wide awake in glass balls and so forth.

Usually the seer is a person whose ordinary "mental imagery" is

particularly vivid. But every "visualiser" is not a crystal seer. A

novelist of my acquaintance can "visualise" so well that, having

forgotten an address and lost the letter on which it was written, he

called up a mental picture of the letter, and so discovered the

address. But this very popular writer can see no visions in a crystal

ball. Another very popular novelist can see them; little dramas are

acted out in the ball for his edification. {58}

These things are as unfamiliar to men of science as Mr. Galton found

ordinary mental imagery, pictures in memory, to be. Psychology may or

may not include them in her province; they may or may not come to be

studied as ordinary dreams are studied. But, like dreams, these

crystal visions enter the domain of the ghostly only when they are

_veracious_, and contribute information previously unknown as to past,

present or future. There are plenty of stories to this effect. To

begin with an easy, or comparatively easy, exercise in belief.