Ghost William Howitt Spiritualist to Charles Dickens Sceptic

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Ghost William Howitt Spiritualist to Charles Dickens Sceptic

Post by Admin on Tue Jun 26, 2012 6:02 am

GHOSTS.
[Reproduced in the South Australian Advertiser Adelaide Thursday 26th Januay 1860 from the British Spiritual Telegraph.}
Our readers have probably noticed some very striking stories of apparitions which have lately appeared in All the Year Round, Charles Dickens's new periodical. The appearance of such stories in this vehicle is the more remarkable because Mr Dickens, on various occasions, has had a pleasant fling at Spiritualism in that periodical, or its predecessor, Household Words. The writer of these stories has, however, endeavoured to explain the appearance of apparitions by their being merely the "suggested thoughts " of some person at a distance, especially in the case of such apparitions presenting themselves to persons as intimations of the decease of the individuals represented. The fact of a thought being able to assume visible shape, color, often substance, to act and talk, would be, indeed, a most unexampled psychological phenomenon, if it could be established as a fact. This miracle of miracles, this easy mode of explaining one difficulty by a far greater, seems to have struck our friendMr. William Howitt amusingly, and he addressed the following note to Mr. Dickens :

" Highgate, September 2,1859.

" My dear Sir,-What interesting but inconclusive papers-so far as the theorising goes-those are in All the Year Round, attempting to account for ghosts by thought suggesting. What a mess a clever man can make out of a plain subject! For a person dying three or four, or thirteen or fourteen thousand miles off, to present an idea of himself as living, moving, talking, and not imaginary talk, but real; an inward idea presented to outward senses bodily, is, to my fancy, a thousand times more wonderful and inexpli- cable than that of the spirit of the person presenting itself to the party concerned. But still more, when ghosts appear that nobody knows anything about appear again and again, for a long course of years, in the same form and the same place, and to all sorts of people ; foretell real events, &c.-who suggests this extraordinary, permanent, persevering and masterful thought ?

" Poor Meaux, the brewer, has a house at Cheshunt, now, in consequence, shut up, and presenting a most ghostly aspect, out of which every tenant for these 20 years or more has been driven by one of those queer, rampant, gallivanting thoughts. Mrs. Charles Kean's sister and husband, Mr. and Mrs. Chapman, amongst the rest. What a capital thing for that property it would be if your ingenious theorist could suggest a thought by which this ' suggested thought,' commonly regarded as a very triumphant ghost, could be just wafted away from it ; if the mischievous suggester, wherever he may be in the universe, could be found out, and persuaded to suggest another thought, namely, that there is no ghost there. Mr. Proctor, of Willington, near Newcastlc-on-Tyne, whose 'haunted house' I once visited, and who has been permanently driven out of it by one of these troublesome thoughts, would be equally obliged to him.
" Some of these stories read to me dreadfully like novels, or as real ghost stories, adapted, and buttered with theory, to make them go clown with an unbe- lieving public. But, really, what trouble these anti ghost people put themselves to now-a-days in beating round the bush instead of walking into it in a busi- ness-like common-sense way, and starting the hare.

"Whoever sets himself to resolve all the ghosts that have appeared in this blessed world from Job's apparition, which made his hair stand on end, or Bratus's evil genius, down to that of Captain Wheatcroft, which, the other day, compelled the War Office to correct the 'date of his death before Lucknow, in the official return, into thought, suggestions, will leave Don Quixote and his windmills amazingly far behind.

"Why should ghosts be allowed to range unquestioned all through the Bible and New Testament, and yet not be allowed to tread on one other spot of all this wide world ? If there were ghosts in King Saul's, or in the Apostles Paul or Peter's times, why not in Charles Dickens's time? A rather tough question
methinks.

" Are you aware that there has existed for years a society, jocularly called the Ghost Club, consisting of a number of Cambridge men who have taken high honors there, and now hold high posts in this work-a day world, ' cute fellows and much considered, whose object has been thoroughly to sift this question of apparitions, and to test the cases produced by every test of logical and metaphysical inquiry, by the principles of the severest legal and historical evidence ; and that, after examining a vast number of such statements, the conclusion they have come to is thac the ghosts have it ;' that this question is as absolutely proved and settled in the affirmative as any human question can be ? Have you seen their circular? I have ; and seen, too, many of their names ; one or more on the episcopal bench ; some of them at the head of most famous public schools ; others clergymen in this Metropolis; and others diplomatists. They could furnish some cases to your theorist of rather gutta percha digestion.

" In conclusion, I suggest this thought, that, with kind regards to your family circle, I am, yours faithfully,

"WILLIAM HOWITT. "
Charles Dickens, Esq. "

As the correspondence was a merely private and friendly one, we do not feel ourselves at liberty to publish Mr. Dickens's answer ; but we may state that he assured Mr. Howitt tliat the cases given in All the Year Round were genuine cases, in no degree altered or garnished. That he had heard the narrator relate them for years as perfectly true ; and, what is more, that the narrator has himself lived in a famous "haunted house," in Kent, which is shut up now, or was the other day. That he himself has always taken a great interest in these matters, but requires evidence such' as he has not yet met with ; and that when he "thinks of the amount of misery and injustice that constantly obtains in this world, which a word from the departed dead person in question could set right, he would not believe-could not believe-in the War Office ghost without overwhelming evidence."
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