The Decadence of the Spook
Author(s): J, M B
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Spook, I need heardly state, is modern psychical
research slang for all manner of spectral
apparitions. It is the telegraphic address, so
to speak, of the great ghost family; a very old
family indeed, having a "grey pre-eminence"
to all ancient annals. Primitive man
encountered the spook by flood and field, heard
him wail in the night black, and caught
glimpses of his shadowy form in the glades
of the forest. Our Viking forefathers had their
spooks - of an efficiently grim and sturdy
kind. Homer, Vergil, Dante, [¿], Shakespeare,
Milton, [¿] Burns, and many
another, here sang the song of the spook.
In our own Highlands, the ghost ever was
a person of much importance, down to the
verge of the present century, at least.
But the old order changeth, giving place to new:
arraigned as the heir of eighteenth century
scepticism, it [¿] not Dr Johnsons
adventure in Cock Lane, to bring spooks
into discredit. Even the well authenticated
ghost of the [wicked] Lord Lyttleton was hardly
heard for the defence. Once upon a time,
no fine old family mansion was complete
without its ghost; no family of any gentility
but had its special apparition. Scarce a village,
moor, or lake, but had an attendant spirit,
ghost, kelpie, or hellhound, to "trace its bounds."
Our old ballad writers know them all, in
their infinite veracity, from the gentle
Swanmaiden, who sorrowfully quits her
human mate, when he neglects the necessary
precautions against such [a sort], to
the wicked nymph of wood or glen, whose
sole effect in waylaying the traveller is to feast
in his mangled remains. Those well
remembered spooks of childhood, who
used to walk along old corridors with
clanking chains, those headless riders, those
bleeding nuns, in reading of whom we
"snatched a [¿] joy", are they all, all
gone, the old familiar faces? Hood wrote a
plea for the Midsummer fairies, will no man
put in a good word for the ghosts? Soem of
them, perchance, one would willingly let die.
That hideous corpse, for instance, that slowly
drags itself along the floor of a certain
house in London, grimly phosphorescent,
or that helpless infant, which haunts many
an ancient dwelling, to one in its spectral
matters [worn]. One frets that the career
of this Infant Phenomenon is unsatisfactory,
and that they need the Factory act in
On the whole, spooks have not been fairly treated.
No compensation is awarded, no outcry
raised [to our]societies, when their dwellingplaces
are pulled down. They have no acknowledged
legal rights. Their parliamentary claims
as the real and original [obstructions] have
[now] been properly considerd. They
cannot accomodate themselves to now
environments, and electric light and
sanitary sciences together, prove too much
for them. The scream of the locomotive
is as abhorrent to them, as to Mr. Ruskin
among his hills. We live too much in a
crowd, nowadays. As Lamb says "The solitary
taper & the book, generate a faith in these
terrors. A ghost by [chandelier] light and in
good company deceieves no spectators."
"Give us, oh give us, but yesterday," in the
matter of spooks. The modern psychological
[pigs-in-clock], the Jekyll-Hydes, the "Masters
of Fate" are unsatisfactory mortals [¿]
for him who would [cup] full of horrors.
One must admit, certainly, that many of R. L.
Stevensons tales are "creepy," to a degree! After
a perusal of [threats] instances, one
asks, in Coleridge's words;
"Like one that on a lonesome road
"Walks on, in fear and dread,
"And having once turned round, walks on,
"And turns no more his head;
"Because he knows a frightful fiend
"Doth close behind him tread. "
I, myself, may claim to be some what of a
connoisseur in ghosts, and may boast no
small acquaintances with the world of
spirits, as revealed in books - Spenser's
Faerie Queene was one of my earliest treasures
and I am one of the very few, who, in [Macaulay's]
words, have been in at the deaths of the [
]. Shakespeare's fairly world was a
revelation. Titania, Puck, the ghost of Banquo,
the shade of Caesar, aye, [¿]
himself, were all real to me. The old ballads
[¿] up their contributions. [¿]
deliverance was [an word] to be rejoiced
over; and the Fiendish Lover, recently
celebrated in an [¿] ballad by
Mr [¿], was only a specimen
of many of my spectral acquaintances
and not by any means the worst,
either. What night terrors has [¿]
Mrs Crowe caused, and most fascinating
though, as some mysteriousness, most horrible
of all, Grimms goblins, with coloured plates,
in which a certain yellow dwarf was a
redoubtable foe! Later, the White Lady of [¿]
was my favourite character in Scott, though
[¿], might e said,
in [facing] phraseology, to "pass here
close." The spooks of Homer and Vergil were
too high and [¿] "for common
nature's daily food," ut a delightful [balance]
of tales from Greek mythology made the
Harpies, Medusa, and the Shades of Tartarus
familiar. So a varied collection of all
ages and nations hobnobbed in my
childish brain, from "Gorgons, hydras, and
Chimaeras [alive]," "creatures of the
elements, these play in the blighted clouds."
Away, then, with your psychical studies,
your "[¿] spirits," your "[¿]
again" in ninteenth century [alembics].
No doubt the spook is an anachronism,
a surfival of the kind unfittest for this
matter-of-fact century. The press of
[¿]has laughed them to scorn, and
reduced them, by analysis, to optical
illusions, trickery, and heated imagination
as their component aspects. The ghosts have
slunk into corners, hardly [bothering] to display
the corner of a shroud, or the point of a skeleton
finger. Truly i could feel moved like
Hamilton "to make a ghost of him that [¿] me"
from believing in the whole of Satans Invisible
[¿]displayed. For real, frank, unquestioning
faith in spooks, give me the Puritans.
Luther, to the death, was a famous man
for them, and that mischieval monk was
well accustomed of them, awho could thus write
of an apparition: "Yesterday, appeared a
Spectre to me in my cell, which, on being
solemnly adjured, disappeared, with a
faint perfume, and a melodious twang."
But, though this monk may surpass Cotton
Mather in coolness, he barely equals him in
credulity. That [¿] pilgrim had an
insatiable maw for the marvellous. He was
clearly born before his time. Had he lived in
these later days, what a valued contributor to
Christmas annuals would he have proved,
what a prolific author of shilling shockers!
Whithin recent years, there seemed some
hope that [¿] in spooks was about to be
reestablished on a [¿] basis. The Psychical
Society arose. It showed itself the champion
of the spook. It sent forth ambassadors, to treat
with the despised ones, to seek them in their
[¿]granges and mouldering abbeys, to
reveal their woes, and to give those [¿]
in addition to the local habitation which
they already possessed, the name, which
in many cases was wanting. What a fluttering
of ghostly dovecots must there have
been! What a [¿]to unfold their tales
to these self-appointed ghostly counsellors!
The research may be read each year in the
repose of the Psychical Society. But alas!
alas! for the degeneracy of man! These new
advocates have betrayed their trust, and
falsified the hopes of Ghostland, by
publishing an article in this years Report, in
which ghosts are stated to be simply dead mens'
dreams. In the words of [¿] they represent,
as a rule, more automatic projections
from consciousness, which have their [¿]
elsewhere." "A dead man broods over his death,
and his dream passes into the mind of a
living person, occuping the same room."
Poor ghosts, what chance is left them after
this, to pursue their vocations with zeal
and enthusiasm? Reduced to "mere automatic
projections from consciousness" how can they
inspire respect and fear? The most chicken
hearted rustic, the most ingorant village lass will hold
them in derision. Their monotonous existence will be
bereft of its sole excitement. Alas poor spirits. They
who for many a year "have heard the chimes at midnight"
must they pass away, unwept, unacknowledged, and
unsung, as "telepathic laws," or, at best, "manifestations
of persistent personal energy"? Was Shakespeare
foreshadowing this theory, when he makes
Hamlet exclaim, "In that sleep of death what
dreams may come," or where he puts into Prospero's
mouth the exclamation, that we, ourselves, "are such
stuff as dreams are made on"?
Our civilisation is certainly a failure as regards
the persistence of the spook. The Psyhical Society
is a [broken reed]. It has betrayed its faith by
thus twice slaying the slain and reducing its
helpless and confiding clients to the shadow of
a shade. But the whirligig of Time brings [
]. The spooks are not always to be
trifled with. Some day, like Mark Twain's pilot,
they will "feel all the majesty of this great position
and let all the world feel it too."
Mean while, lighten the lamp, and stir the fire, and
hand me over "The Night Side of Nature,"
and Scott's "Letters on Demonology and Witchcraft."
M. B. J.
Cite this Document
The Decadence of the Spook. 2022. In The Corpus of Modern Scottish Writing. Glasgow: University of Glasgow. Retrieved December 2022, from http://www.scottishcorpus.ac.uk/cmsw/document/?documentid=539.
"The Decadence of the Spook." The Corpus of Modern Scottish Writing. Glasgow: University of Glasgow, 2022. Web. December 2022. http://www.scottishcorpus.ac.uk/cmsw/document/?documentid=539.
The Corpus of Modern Scottish Writing, s.v., "The Decadence of the Spook," accessed December 2022, http://www.scottishcorpus.ac.uk/cmsw/document/?documentid=539.
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