The Best Ghost Stories 1800-1849: A Classic Ghost Anthology by Andrew Barger - Read Online
The Best Ghost Stories 1800-1849
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Summary

Ghost stories became very popular in the first half of the nineteenth century and this collection by Andrew Barger contains the very scariest of them all. Some stories thought too horrific were published anonymously like “A Night in a Haunted House” and “The Deaf and Dumb Girl.” The later story is collected for the first time in any anthology since its original publication in 1839.

The other ghost stories in this fine collection are by famous authors. “The Mask of the Red Death,” by Edgar Allan Poe; “A Chapter in the History of a Tyrone Family,” by Joseph Sheridan le Fanu; “The Spectral Ship,” by Wilhelm Hauff ; “The Old Maid in the Winding Sheet,” by Nathaniel Hawthorne; “The Adventure of the German Student,” and “The Legend of Sleepy Hollow,” by Washington Irving; as well as “The Tapestried Chamber,” by Sir Walter Scott.

As he has done with a number of other books, Andrew Barger has added his scholarly touch to this collection by including story backgrounds, author photos and a foreword titled "All Ghosts Are Gray." Buy the book today and be ready to be scared.

Published: Andrew Barger on
ISBN: 9781933747347
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The Best Ghost Stories 1800-1849 - Andrew Barger

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Andrew

All Ghosts are Gray

ALL CATS ARE GRAY in the dark. This sly phrase dates back to 1596 when John Heywood recounted in his popular Proverbs that when all candles be out all cats be grey. Benjamin Franklin—who got around in his day—turned the phrase to mean that all women look the same in the dark. Modern books contain the phrase as their title and The Cure released a song on their Faith album called All Cats Are Grey; lyrics inspired by Mervyn Peake’s groundbreaking Gormenghast trilogy.

But what about ghosts? Don’t they all look the same in the dark, too? When all candles be out, all ghost be gray? From folklore to poetry to short stories to novels, literature has evolved to claim that all ghosts are void of color, gray.

For reasons unknown, ghosts have been solidified in our collective minds as being pale or lacking color. In the bloodletting Romantic and Victorian ages, this may have been the result of the bloodless skin of corpses or the thick powder applied to the dead before funeral viewings. The ashen pallor of the terminally ill may be another instance why ghosts are thought to lack color. The graying hair of the elderly comes to mind. Perhaps it is the white light cast off by Biblical angelic hosts that led to all spirits not of this realm missing color.

To find out, I conducted an experiment (using the wealth of data provided by the keyword searchable publications on Google Books) that compared usages of white ghost versus pale ghost. I was surprised to learn that through the Victorian age the later term won out by a large margin.

Throughout the ages ghosts have been represented in many stories as being white, as are a number in this collection. In The Tragedy of Albertus Wallenstein by Henry Glapthorne published in 1639 we have a pure white ghost…. The term white ghost is found twice in the English language between 1200 and 1699. From 1700 to 1799 it is not used and for the period in review the term is found in nearly 150 publications.

A much more common association is the pale ghost. The colorless ghost. The gray ghost. Reference to ghosts being pale took hold in the eighteenth century where it became commonly used in poetry and stories. And then in the first half of the nineteenth century, which is the central focus of this anthology, the pale ghost phraseology saw a fourfold increase over the prior hundred years; while the white ghost was used about one fourth as much during the same half century.

Consider these stats on the term pale ghost: It is found twice in English between 1200 and 1699. From 1700 to 1799 it is used over 200 times and from 1800 to 1849 it is found in almost 900 instances. Google Books does not contain as many searchable books from 1200-1699 as in more modern periods, but there were also much less written then, too, given the arduous task of publishing and lack of mass market printing devices.

Ghost stories are readily accessible. We’ve grown up on them, hearing them around campfires and at church alike. The Bible includes many ghost stories. One of the holy trinity is the Holy Ghost. The very name implies that there are other ghosts. I Samuel 28 tells of the woman at Endor who conjures the spirit of Samuel. The recently deceased king of Israel appears out of the earth to both her and Saul. He is old looking, dressed in a robe and is perturbed at having been disquieted. Jesus Christ himself, when He arose from the tomb, chided His apostles for believing He was a ghost after rising from the dead. Doubting Thomas went so far as to touch His pierced side.

Ghost stories are perhaps one of the oldest stories known to human kind. They are everywhere; woven into the very fabric of our being, in every language and culture. With a few keystrokes we can now pull up an inexhaustible number of them on our computer screens.

Transparent. Gray. Colorless. Pale.

Speaking of gray, you will find that the Ghost of a Gray Tadpole (Thomas Dunn English’s derogatory term for Edgar Allan Poe) only has one story in this collection. This may be surprising to some. While Edgar Allan Poe is the undisputed king of the short horror story for the first half of the nineteenth century, he wrote very few ghost stories. Poe was also the king of science fiction short stories, the finest of which are found in Mesaerion: The Best Science Fiction Stories 1800-1849.

The five possible Poe stories that may contain a ghost are: The Fall of the House of Usher, The Mask of the Red Death, Morella, Ligeia, and The Oval Portrait. All are extremely well written, yet only one is frightening enough to make the cut. In 6a66le: The Best Horror Short Stories 1800-1849 I picked The Fall of the House of Usher as the very best horror story for the period in question. There has been much scholarly debate over the appearance of Madeline Usher, the cataleptic twin sister of Roderick Usher, in the story. In my view she was laid to rest while still alive and with her brother being uncertain if she was actually dead, which leaves him in a state of nervousness. Therefore, her reappearance does not foster a ghost sighting.

Consider this haunting passage in Poe’s The Mask of the Red Death: The figure was tall and gaunt, and shrouded from head to foot in the habiliments of the grave. The mask which concealed the visage was made so nearly to resemble the countenance of a stiffened corpse that the closest scrutiny must have had difficulty in detecting the cheat. This brings to mind one of my favorite Twilight Zone episodes where the unlikeable family members take off their horrible masks at midnight and their faces have changed to resemble the masks. Poe hints at the same.

That leaves the final three Poe stories listed above. I am a true believe that in any genre if a person has to work hard to figure out if the story belongs in that genre, then probably it does not. The last three—if for the sake of argument they are ghost stories—though written extremely well, do not rise to the level of terror needed for this collection.

Much more than Poe, Nathaniel Hawthorne and Washington Irving did much to elevate the American ghost story. The underlying meaning of Hawthorne’s ghost stories, many of which address puritanical social issues of the day, brought a new dimension to the modern ghost story. Hawthorne’s excellent The Old Maid in the Winding Sheet is included here.

Washington Irving had his moments of brilliance in the short ghost story space. His constant infusion of humor in his horror and ghost stories, however, leaves terror wanting, and for all but a handful of stories, does not leave us wanting more. H. P. Lovecraft took it one step further when he only mentioned Adventure of the German Student in his Supernatural Horror in Literature and no other Irving story:

Washington Irving is another famous figure not unconnected with the weird; for though most of his ghosts are too whimsical and humorous to form genuinely spectral literature, a distinct inclination in this direction is to be noted in many of his productions.

But to then not mention The Legend of Sleepy Hollow? as an exception, given its horrific moments of terror, is to rend the very fabric that clothes all excellent ghost stories—great characters—the second leg of the great story tripod (the other two being originality and fine writing). Well developed characters are essential for a high fright factor in any ghost story. When an author has a reader caring about a character, the reader is at the author’s mercy, like we all do when Ichabod Crane and his broken-down horse Gunpowder see a large shadow from the bridge.

In Europe, Ernst T. A. Hoffmann was a frontrunner of the weird ghost story. He influenced many throughout Europe and America. Sparse translations from German to English inhibited widespread reading of this supernatural tales. Some of his ghost stories were a mishmash of styles and storylines like Automata and The Elementary Spirit. Some were novellas and not considered for this collection. His most frightening short ghost story is The Mines of Falun, yet its tremulous light from the deep mineshaft does not shine as brightly when compared to the other ghost stories found here.

Another writer highly influential in this genre was Sir Walter Scott. During the first half of the nineteenth century Sir Walter Scott was perhaps the chief architect in promoting supernatural tales throughout Britain. He backed the horror and ghost story publishing efforts of fellow Scotsmen: James Hogg and Allan Cunningham. Scott also found great merit in the works of Washington Irving and was instrumental in getting the American’s publishing career started in London. Posthumously, Scott influenced The C’ock and Anchor, which was the first novel of Joseph Sheridan le Fanu, father of the Victorian ghost story.

The literature, especially for the period under review, gives us ghosts that are gray in personality, too, and at once limited in their ability to interact with the living world. The muted ghosts created by Edgar Allan Poe and Joseph Sheridan le Fanu impart very few words to the living, and no wisdom when they do. In Washington Irving’s shortest story the ghost speaks at length, but gives no wisdom and is lost in this world. We see the aftermath of Joseph Sheridan le Fanu’s specters through the base destruction of lives, yet we never see them slit the throat or tie a knot in the noose or push the protagonist off the railing. The ghost crew that mans the doomed ship of the Flying Dutchman hopelessly tries to get a message home to their loved ones.

Colorless. Pale. Gray. The terms are synonymous when ghosts appear in the dark, as they almost always do in the literature. Whether they are called specters, phantasms, spirits, or ghouls, in the literature:

all ghosts are gray.

Andrew Barger

WASHINGTON IRVING

(1783-1859)

Introduction

Adventure of the German Student

The first ghost story in this collection is the oldest and its shortest. No inferiority is implied because of its age or small size any more than Leonardo Da Vinci’s compact Mona Lisa, is inferior because it measures 77 cm x 53 cm.

The comparison does not assume that this ghost story is the Mona Lisa of literature. To be certain, the Adventure of the German Student has its faults. It’s first sentence is poorly written (On a stormy night, in the tempestuous times of the French revolution . . ..) and the machinations of the story are unoriginal.

Washington Irving admitted the lack of complete novelty in Tales of a Traveller, where he first published the story. "As the public is apt to be curious about the sources from whence an author draws his stories, doubtless that it may know how far to put faith in them, I would observe, that the Adventure of the German Student, or rather the latter part of it, is founded on an anecdote related to me as existing somewhere in French; and, indeed, I have been told, since writing it, that an ingenious tale has been founded on it by an English writer; but I have never met with either the former or the latter in print."

The story is but one in a collection that Edgar Allan Poe applauded in the April 1842 issue of Graham’s Magazine while lamenting the poor state of the American short story. With rare exception — in the case of Mr. Irving’s ‘Tales of a Traveller’ and a few other works of a like cast — we have had no American tales of high merit.

For those anthologists who believe that the greatest short stories are the longest, I beg to differ. The Adventure of the German Student is head of its class; an apt pupil of the ghost story school that is one of the most likely to succeed from the graduating class for the 50 year period in review.

The revered H. P. Lovecraft, in his Supernatural Horror in Literature, agreed: "‘The German Student’ in Tales of a Traveller (1824) is a slyly concise and effective presentation of the old legends of the dead bride."

Adventure of the German Student

(1824)

ON A STORMY NIGHT, in the tempestuous times of the French revolution, a young German was returning to his lodgings, at a lute hour, across the old part of Paris. The lightning gleamed, and the loud claps of thunder rattled through the lofty narrow streets—but I should first tell you something about this young German.

Gottfried Wolfgang was a young man of good family. He had studied for some time at Gottingen, but being of a visionary and enthusiastic character, he had wandered into those wild and speculative doctrines which have so often bewildered German students. His secluded life, his intense application, and the singular nature of his studies, had an effect on both mind and body. His health was impaired; his imagination diseased. He had been indulging in fanciful speculations on spiritual essences, until, like Swedenborg, he had an ideal world of his own around him. He took up a notion, I do not know from what cause, that there was an evil influence hanging over him; an evil genius or spirit seeking to ensnare him and ensure his perdition. Such an idea working on his melancholy temperament, produced the most gloomy effects. He became haggard and desponding. His friends discovered the mental malady preying upon him, and determined that the best cure was a change of scene; he was sent, therefore, to finish his studies amidst the splendors and gayeties of Paris.

Wolfgang arrived at Paris at the breaking out of the revolution. The popular delirium at first caught his enthusiastic mind, and he was captivated by the political and philosophical theories of the day: but the scenes of blood which followed shocked his sensitive nature, disgusted him with society and the world, and made him more than ever a recluse. He shut himself up in a solitary apartment in the Pays Latin, the quarter of students. There, in a gloomy street not far from the monastic walls of the Sorbonne, he pursued his favorite speculations. Sometimes he spent hours together in the great libraries of Paris, those catacombs of departed authors, rummaging among their hoards of dusty and obsolete works in quest of food for his unhealthy appetite. He was, in a manner, a literary ghoul, feeding in the charnel-house of decayed literature.

Wolfgang, though solitary and recluse, was of an ardent temperament, but for a time it operated merely upon his imagination. He was too shy and ignorant of the world to make any advances to the fair, but he was a passionate admirer of female beauty, and in his lonely chamber would often lose himself in reveries on forms and faces which he had seen, and his fancy would deck out images of loveliness far surpassing the reality.

While his mind was in this excited and sublimated state, a dream produced an extraordinary effect upon him. It was of a female face of transcendent beauty. So strong was the impression made, that he dreamt of it again and again. It haunted his thoughts by day, his slumbers by night; in fine, he became passionately enamoured of this shadow of a dream. This lasted so long that it became one of those fixed ideas which haunt the minds of melancholy men, and are at times mistaken for madness.

Such was Gottfried Wolfgang, and such his situation at the time I mentioned. He was returning home late one stormy night, through some of the old and gloomy streets of the Marais, the ancient part of Paris. The loud claps of thunder rattled among the high houses of the narrow streets. He came to the Place de Greve, the square where public executions are performed. The lightning quivered about the pinnacles of the ancient Hotel de Ville, and shed flickering gleams over the open space in front. As Wolfgang was crossing the square, he shrank back with horror at finding himself close by the guillotine. It was the height of the reign of terror, when this dreadful instrument of death stood ever ready, and its scaffold was continually running with the blood of the virtuous and the brave. It had that very day been actively employed in the work of carnage, and there it stood in grim array, amidst a silent and sleeping city, waiting for fresh victims.

Wolfgang’s heart sickened within him, and he was turning shuddering from the horrible engine, when he beheld a shadowy form, cowering as it were at the foot of the steps which led up to the scaffold. A succession of vivid flashes of lightning revealed it more distinctly. It was a female figure, dressed in black. She was seated on one of the lower steps of the scaffold, leaning forward, her face hid in her lap; and her long dishevelled tresses hanging to the ground, streaming with the rain which fell in torrents. Wolfgang paused. There was something awful in this solitary monument of woe. The female had the appearance of being above the common order. He knew the times to be full of vicissitude, and that many a fair head, which had once been pillowed on down, now wandered houseless. Perhaps this was some poor mourner whom the dreadful axe had rendered desolate, and who sat here heart-broken on the strand of existence, from which all that was dear to her had been launched into eternity.

He approached, and addressed her in the accents of sympathy. She raised her head and gazed wildly at him. What was his astonishment at beholding, by the bright glare of the lightning, the very face which had haunted him in his dreams. It was pale and disconsolate, but ravishingly beautiful.

Trembling with violent and conflicting emotions, Wolfgang again accosted her. He spoke something of her being exposed at such an hour of the night, and to the fury of such a storm, and offered to conduct her to her friends. She pointed to the guillotine with a gesture of dreadful signification.

I have no friend on earth! said she.

But you have a home, said Wolfgang.

Yes—in the grave!

The heart of the student melted at the words.

If a stranger dare make an offer, said he, without danger of being misunderstood, I would offer my humble dwelling as a shelter; myself as a devoted friend. I am friendless myself in Paris, and a stranger in the land; but if my life could be of service, it is at your disposal, and should be sacrificed before harm or indignity should come to you.

There was an honest earnestness in the young man’s manner that had its effect. His foreign accent, too, was in his favor; it showed him not to be a hackneyed inhabitant of Paris. Indeed, there is an eloquence in true enthusiasm that is not to be doubted. The homeless stranger confided herself implicitly to the protection of the student.

He supported her faltering steps across the Pont Neuf, and by the place where the statue of Henry the Fourth had been overthrown by the populace. The storm had abated, and the thunder rumbled at a distance. All Paris was quiet; that great volcano of human passion slumbered for a while, to gather fresh strength for the next day’s eruption. The student conducted his charge through the ancient streets of the Pays Latin, and by the dusky walls of the Sorbonne, to the great dingy hotel which he inhabited. The old portress who admitted them stared with surprise at the unusual sight of the melancholy Wolfgang with a female companion.

On entering his apartment, the student, for the first time, blushed at the scantiness and indifference of his dwelling. He had but one chamber — an old-fashioned saloon — heavily carved, and fantastically furnished with the remains of former magnificence, for it was one of those hotels in the quarter of the Luxembourg palace, which had once belonged to nobility. It was lumbered with books and papers, and all the usual apparatus of a student, and his bed stood in a recess at one end.

When lights were brought, and Wolfgang had a better opportunity of contemplating the stranger, he was more than ever intoxicated by her beauty. Her face was pale, but of a dazzling fairness, set off by a profusion of raven hair that hung clustering about it. Her eyes were large and brilliant, with a singular expression approaching almost to wildness. As far as her black dress permitted her shape to be seen, it was of perfect symmetry. Her whole appearance was highly striking, though she was dressed in the simplest style. The only thing approaching to an ornament which she wore, was a broad black band round her neck, clasped by diamonds.

The perplexity now commenced with the student how to dispose of the helpless being thus thrown upon his protection. He thought of abandoning his chamber to her, and seeking shelter for himself elsewhere. Still he was so fascinated by her charms, there seemed to be such a spell upon his thoughts and senses, that he could not tear himself from her presence. Her manner, too, was singular and unaccountable. She spoke no more of the guillotine. Her grief had abated. The attentions of the student had first won her confidence, and then, apparently, her heart. She was evidently an enthusiast like himself, and enthusiasts soon understand each other.

In the infatuation of the moment, Wolfgang avowed his passion for her. He told her the story of his mysterious dream, and how she had possessed his heart before he had even seen her. She was strangely affected by his recital, and acknowledged to have felt an impulse towards him equally unaccountable. It was the time for