Our Scientific Observations On A Ghost
"Then nothing would convince you of the existence of ghosts, Harry," I
said, "except seeing one."
"Not even seeing one, my dear Jim," said Harry. "Nothing on earth would
make me believe in them, unless I were turned into a ghost myself."
So saying, Harry drained his glass of whisky toddy, shook out the last
ashes from his pipe, and went off upstairs to bed. I sat for a while
over the remnant
of my cigar, and ruminated upon the subject of our
conversation. For my own part, I was as little inclined to believe in
ghosts as anybody; but Harry seemed to go one degree beyond me in
scepticism. His argument amounted in brief to this,--that a ghost was by
definition the spirit of a dead man in a visible form here on earth; but
however strange might be the apparition which a ghost-seer thought he
had observed, there was no evidence possible or actual to connect such
apparition with any dead person whatsoever. It might resemble the
deceased in face and figure, but so, said Harry, does a portrait. It
might resemble him in voice and manner, but so does an actor or a mimic.
It might resemble him in every possible particular, but even then we
should only be justified in saying that it formed a close counterpart of
the person in question, not that it was his ghost or spirit. In short,
Harry maintained, with considerable show of reason, that nobody could
ever have any scientific ground for identifying any external object,
whether shadowy or material, with a past human existence of any sort.
According to him, a man might conceivably see a phantom, but could not
possibly know that he saw a ghost.
Harry and I were two Oxford bachelors, studying at the time for our
degree in Medicine, and with an ardent love for the scientific side of
our future profession. Indeed, we took a greater interest in comparative
physiology and anatomy than in physic proper; and at this particular
moment we were stopping in a very comfortable farm-house on the coast of
Flintshire for our long vacation, with the special object of observing
histologically a peculiar sea-side organism, the Thingumbobbum
Whatumaycallianum, which is found so plentifully on the shores of North
Wales, and which has been identified by Professor Haeckel with the larva
of that famous marine ascidian from whom the Professor himself and the
remainder of humanity generally are supposed to be undoubtedly
descended. We had brought with us a full complement of lancets and
scalpels, chemicals and test-tubes, galvanic batteries and
thermo-electric piles; and we were splendidly equipped for a
thorough-going scientific campaign of the first water. The farm-house in
which we lodged had formerly belonged to the county family of the
Egertons; and though an Elizabethan manor replaced the ancient defensive
building which had been wisely dismantled by Henry VIII., the modern
farm-house into which it had finally degenerated still bore the name of
Egerton Castle. The whole house had a reputation in the neighbourhood
for being haunted by the ghost of one Algernon Egerton, who was beheaded
under James II. for his participation, or rather his intention to
participate, in Monmouth's rebellion. A wretched portrait of the hapless
Protestant hero hung upon the wall of our joint sitting-room, having
been left behind when the family moved to their new seat in Cheshire, as
being unworthy of a place in the present baronet's splendid apartments.
It was a few remarks upon the subject of Algernon's ghost which had
introduced the question of ghosts in general; and after Harry had left
the room, I sat for a while slowly finishing my cigar, and contemplating
the battered features of the deceased gentleman.
As I did so, I was somewhat startled to hear a voice at my side observe
in a bland and graceful tone, not unmixed with aristocratic hauteur,
"You have been speaking of me, I believe,--in fact, I have unavoidably
overheard your conversation,--and I have decided to assume the visible
form and make a few remarks upon what seems to me a very hasty decision
on your friend's part."
I turned round at once, and saw, in the easy-chair which Harry had just
vacated, a shadowy shape, which grew clearer and clearer the longer I
looked at it. It was that of a man of forty, fashionably dressed in the
costume of the year 1685 or thereabouts, and bearing a close resemblance
to the faded portrait on the wall just opposite. But the striking point
about the object was this, that it evidently did not consist of any
ordinary material substance, as its outline seemed vague and wavy, like
that of a photograph where the sitter has moved; while all the objects
behind it, such as the back of the chair and the clock in the corner,
showed through the filmly head and body, in the very manner which
painters have always adopted in representing a ghost. I saw at once that
whatever else the object before might be, it certainly formed a fine
specimen of the orthodox and old-fashioned apparition. In dress,
appearance, and every other particular, it distinctly answered to what
the unscientific mind would unhesitatingly have called the ghost of
Here was a piece of extraordinary luck! In a house with two trained
observers, supplied with every instrument of modern experimental
research, we had lighted upon an undoubted specimen of the common
spectre, which had so long eluded the scientific grasp. I was beside
myself with delight. "Really, sir," I said, cheerfully, "it is most kind
of you to pay us this visit, and I'm sure my friend will be only too
happy to hear your remarks. Of course you will permit me to call him?"
The apparition appeared somewhat surprised at the philosophic manner in
which I received his advances; for ghosts are accustomed to find people
faint away or scream with terror at their first appearance; but for my
own part I regarded him merely in the light of a very interesting
phenomenon, which required immediate observation by two independent
witnesses. However, he smothered his chagrin--for I believe he was
really disappointed at my cool deportment--and answered that he would be
very glad to see my friend if I wished it, though he had specially
intended this visit for myself alone.
I ran upstairs hastily and found Harry in his dressing-gown, on the
point of removing his nether garments. "Harry," I cried breathlessly,
"you must come downstairs at once. Algernon Egerton's ghost wants to
speak to you."
Harry held up the candle and looked in my face with great deliberation.
"Jim, my boy," he said quietly, "you've been having too much whisky."
"Not a bit of it," I answered, angrily. "Come downstairs and see. I
swear to you positively that a Thing, the very counterpart of Algernon
Egerton's picture, is sitting in your easy-chair downstairs, anxious to
convert you to a belief in ghosts."
It took about three minutes to induce Harry to leave his room; but at
last, merely to satisfy himself that I was demented, he gave way and
accompanied me into the sitting-room. I was half afraid that the spectre
would have taken umbrage at my long delay, and gone off in a huff and a
blue flame; but when we reached the room, there he was, in propria
persona, gazing at his own portrait--or should I rather say his
counterpart?--on the wall, with the utmost composure.
"Well, Harry," I said, "what do you call that?"
Harry put up his eyeglass, peered suspiciously at the phantom, and
answered in a mollified tone, "It certainly is a most interesting
phenomenon. It looks like a case of fluorescence; but you say the object
"Decidedly," I answered, "it can talk as well as you or me. Allow me to
introduce you to one another, gentlemen:--Mr. Henry Stevens, Mr.
Algernon Egerton; for though you didn't mention your name, Mr. Egerton,
I presume from what you said that I am right in my conjecture."
"Quite right," replied the phantom, rising as it spoke, and making a low
bow to Harry from the waist upward. "I suppose your friend is one of the
Lincolnshire Stevenses, sir?"
"Upon my soul," said Harry, "I haven't the faintest conception where my
family came from. My grandfather, who made what little money we have
got, was a cotton-spinner at Rochdale, but he might have come from
heaven knows where. I only know he was a very honest old gentleman, and
he remembered me handsomely in his will."
"Indeed, sir," said the apparition coldly. "My family were the
Egertons of Egerton Castle, in the county of Flint, Armigeri; whose
ancestor, Radulphus de Egerton, is mentioned in Domesday as one of the
esquires of Hugh Lupus, Earl Palatine of Chester. Radulphus de Egerton
had a son----"
"Whose history," said Harry, anxious to cut short these genealogical
details, "I have read in the Annals of Flintshire, which lies in the
next room, with the name you give as yours on the fly-leaf. But it
seems, sir, you are anxious to converse with me on the subject of
ghosts. As that question interests us all at present, much more than
family descent, will you kindly begin by telling us whether you yourself
lay claim to be a ghost?"
"Undoubtedly I do," replied the phantom.
"The ghost of Algernon Egerton, formerly of Egerton Castle?" I
"Formerly and now," said the phantom, in correction. "I have long
inhabited, and I still habitually inhabit, by night at least, the room
in which we are at present seated."
"The deuce you do," said Harry warmly. "This is a most illegal and
unconstitutional proceeding. The house belongs to our landlord, Mr. Hay:
and my friend here and myself have hired it for the summer, sharing the
expenses, and claiming the sole title to the use of the rooms." (Harry
omitted to mention that he took the best bedroom himself and put me off
with a shabby little closet, while we divided the rent on equal terms.)
"True," said the spectre good-humouredly; "but you can't eject a ghost,
you know. You may get a writ of habeas corpus, but the English law
doesn't supply you with a writ of habeas animam. The infamous Jeffreys
left me that at least. I am sure the enlightened nineteenth century
wouldn't seek to deprive me of it."
"Well," said Harry, relenting, "provided you don't interfere with the
experiments, or make away with the tea and sugar, I'm sure I have no
objection. But if you are anxious to prove to us the existence of
ghosts, perhaps you will kindly allow us to make a few simple
"With all the pleasure in death," answered the apparition courteously.
"Such, in fact, is the very object for which I've assumed visibility."
"In that case, Harry," I said, "the correct thing will be to get out
some paper, and draw up a running report which we may both attest
afterwards. A few simple notes on the chemical and physical properties
of a spectre will be an interesting novelty for the Royal Society, and
they ought all to be jotted down in black and white at once."
This course having been unanimously determined upon as strictly regular,
I laid a large folio of foolscap on the writing-table, and the
apparition proceeded to put itself in an attitude for careful
"The first point to decide," said I, "is obviously the physical
properties of our visitor. Mr. Egerton, will you kindly allow us to feel
"You may try to feel it if you like," said the phantom quietly, "but I
doubt if you will succeed to any brilliant extent." As he spoke, he held
out his arm. Harry and I endeavoured successively to grasp it: our
fingers slipped through the faintly luminous object as though it were
air or shadow. The phantom bowed forward his head; we attempted to touch
it, but our hands once more passed unopposed across the whole face and
shoulders, without finding any trace whatsoever of mechanical
resistance. "Experience the first," said Harry; "the apparition has no
tangible material substratum." I seized the pen and jotted down the
words as he spoke them. This was really turning out a very full-blown
specimen of the ordinary ghost!
"The next question to settle," I said, "is that of gravity.--Harry, give
me a hand out here with the weighing-machine.--Mr. Egerton, will you be
good enough to step upon this board?"
Mirabile dictu! The board remained steady as ever. Not a tremor of the
steelyard betrayed the weight of its shadowy occupant. "Experience the
second," cried Harry, in his cool, scientific way: "the apparition has
the specific gravity of atmospheric air." I jotted down this note also,
and quietly prepared for the next observation.
"Wouldn't it be well," I inquired of Harry, "to try the weight in vacuo?
It is possible that, while the specific gravity in air is equal to that
of the atmosphere, the specific gravity in vacuo may be zero. The
apparition--pray excuse me, Mr. Egerton, if the terms in which I allude
to you seem disrespectful, but to call you a ghost would be to prejudge
the point at issue--the apparition may have no proper weight of its own
"It would be very inconvenient, though," said Harry, "to put the whole
apparition under a bell-glass: in fact, we have none big enough.
Besides, suppose we were to find that by exhausting the air we got rid
of the object altogether, as is very possible, that would awkwardly
interfere with the future prosecution of our researches into its nature
"Permit me to make a suggestion," interposed the phantom, "if a person
whom you choose to relegate to the neuter gender may be allowed to have
a voice in so scientific a question. My friend, the ingenious Mr. Boyle,
has lately explained to me the construction of his air-pump, which we
saw at one of the Friday evenings at the Royal Institution. It seems to
me that your object would be attained if I were to put one hand only on
the scale under the bell-glass, and permit the air to be exhausted."
"Capital," said Harry: and we got the air-pump in readiness accordingly.
The spectre then put his right hand into the scale, and we plumped the
bell-glass on top of it. The connecting portion of the arm shone through
the severing glass, exactly as though the spectre consisted merely of an
immaterial light. In a few minutes the air was exhausted, and the scales
remained evenly balanced as before.
"This experiment," said Harry judicially, "slightly modifies the opinion
which we formed from the preceding one. The specific gravity evidently
amounts in itself to nothing, being as air in air, and as vacuum in
vacuo. Jot down the result, Jim, will you?"
I did so faithfully, and then turning to the spectre I observed, "You
mentioned a Mr. Boyle, sir, just now. You allude, I suppose, to the
father of chemistry?"
"And uncle of the Earl of Cork," replied the apparition, promptly
filling up the well-known quotation. "Exactly so. I knew Mr. Boyle
slightly during our lifetime, and I have known him intimately ever since
he joined the majority."
"May I ask, while my friend makes the necessary preparations for the
spectrum analysis and the chemical investigation, whether you are in the
habit of associating much with--er--well, with other ghosts?"
"Oh yes, I see a good deal of society."
"Contemporaries of your own, or persons of earlier and later dates?"
"Dates really matter very little to us. We may have Socrates and Bacon
chatting in the same group. For my own part, I prefer modern society--I
may say, the society of the latest arrivals."
"That's exactly why I asked," said I. "The excessively modern tone of
your language and idioms struck me, so to speak, as a sort of
anachronism with your Restoration costume--an anachronism which I fancy
I have noticed in many printed accounts of gentlemen from your portion
of the universe."
"Your observation is quite true," replied the apparition. "We continue
always to wear the clothes which were in fashion at the time of our
decease; but we pick up from new-comers the latest additions to the
English language, and even, I may say, to the slang dictionary. I know
many ghosts who talk familiarly of 'awfully jolly hops,' and allude to
their progenitors as 'the governor.' Indeed, it is considered quite
behind the times to describe a lady as 'vastly pretty,' and poor Mr.
Pepys, who still preserves the antiquated idiom of his diary, is looked
upon among us as a dreadfully slow old fogey."
"But why, then," said I, "do you wear your old costumes for ever? Why
not imitate the latest fashions from Poole's and Worth's, as well as the
latest cant phrase from the popular novels?"
"Why, my dear sir," answered the phantom, "we must have something to
mark our original period. Besides, most people to whom we appear know
something about costume, while very few know anything about changes in
idiom,"--that I must say seemed to me, in passing, a powerful argument
indeed--"and so we all preserve the dress which we habitually wore
during our lifetime."
"Then," said Harry irreverently, looking up from his chemicals, "the
society in your part of the country must closely resemble a fancy-dress
"Without the tinsel and vulgarity, we flatter ourselves," answered the
By this time the preparations were complete, and Harry inquired whether
the apparition would object to our putting out the lights in order to
obtain definite results with the spectroscope. Our visitor politely
replied that he was better accustomed to darkness than to the painful
glare of our paraffin candles. "In fact," he added, "only the strong
desire which I felt to convince you of our existence as ghosts could
have induced me to present myself in so bright a room. Light is very
trying to the eyes of spirits, and we generally take our constitutionals
between eleven at night and four in the morning, stopping at home
entirely during the moonlit half of the month."
"Ah, yes," said Harry, extinguishing the candles; "I've read, of course,
that your authorities exactly reverse our own Oxford rules. You are all
gated, I believe, from dawn to sunset, instead of from sunset to dawn,
and have to run away helter-skelter at the first streaks of daylight,
for fear of being too late for admission without a fine of twopence. But
you will allow that your usual habit of showing yourselves only in the
very darkest places and seasons naturally militates somewhat against the
credibility of your existence. If all apparitions would only follow
your sensible example by coming out before two scientific people in a
well-lighted room, they would stand a much better chance of getting
believed: though even in the present case I must allow that I should
have felt far more confidence in your positive reality if you'd
presented yourself in broad daylight, when Jim and I hadn't punished the
whisky quite as fully as we've done this evening."
When the candles were out, our apparition still retained its
fluorescent, luminous appearance, and seemed to burn with a faint bluish
light of its own. We projected a pencil through the spectroscope, and
obtained, for the first time in the history of science, the spectrum of
a spectre. The result was a startling one indeed. We had expected to
find lines indicating the presence of sulphur or phosphorus: instead of
that, we obtained a continuous band of pale luminosity, clearly pointing
to the fact that the apparition had no known terrestial element in its
composition. Though we felt rather surprised at this discovery, we
simply noted it down on our paper, and proceeded to verify it by
The phantom obligingly allowed us to fill a small phial with the
luminous matter, which Harry immediately proceeded to test with all the
resources at our disposal. For purposes of comparison I filled a
corresponding phial with air from another part of the room, which I
subjected to precisely similar tests. At the end of half an hour we had
completed our examination--the spectre meanwhile watching us with
mingled curiosity and amusement; and we laid our written quantitative
results side by side. They agreed to a decimal. The table, being
interesting, deserves a place in this memoir. It ran as follows:--
Chemical Analysis of an Apparition.
Atmospheric air 96.45 per cent.
Aqueous vapour 23.1 "
Carbonic acid 1.08 "
Tobacco smoke 0.16 "
Volatile alcohol A trace
The alcohol Harry plausibly attributed to the presence of glasses which
had contained whisky toddy. The other constituents would have been
normally present in the atmosphere of a room where two fellows had been
smoking uninterruptedly ever since dinner. This important experiment
clearly showed that the apparition had no proper chemical constitution
of its own, but consisted entirely of the same materials as the
"Only one thing remains to be done now, Jim," said Harry, glancing
significantly at a plain deal table in the corner, with whose uses we
were both familiar; "but then the question arises, does this gentleman
come within the meaning of the Act? I don't feel certain about it in my
own mind, and with the present unsettled state of public opinion on this
subject, our first duty is to obey the law."
"Within the meaning of the Act?" I answered; "decidedly not. The words
of the forty-second section say distinctly 'any living animal.' Now,
Mr. Egerton, according to his own account, is a ghost, and has been dead
for some two hundred years or thereabouts: so that we needn't have the
slightest scruple on that account."
"Quite so," said Harry, in a tone of relief. "Well then, sir," turning
to the apparition, "may I ask you whether you would object to our
"Mortuisecting, you mean, Harry," I interposed parenthetically. "Let us
keep ourselves strictly within the utmost letter of the law."
"Vivisecting? Mortuisecting?" exclaimed the spectre, with some
amusement. "Really, the proposal is so very novel that I hardly know how
to answer it. I don't think you will find it a very practicable
undertaking: but still, if you like, yes, you may try your hands upon
We were both much gratified at this generous readiness to further the
cause of science, for which, to say the truth, we had hardly felt
prepared. No doubt, we were constantly in the habit of maintaining that
vivisection didn't really hurt, and that rabbits or dogs rather enjoyed
the process than otherwise; still, we did not quite expect an apparition
in human form to accede in this gentlemanly manner to a personal request
which after all is rather a startling one. I seized our new friend's
hand with warmth and effusion (though my emotion was somewhat checked by
finding it slip through my fingers immaterially), and observed in a
voice trembling with admiration, "Sir, you display a spirit of
self-sacrifice which does honour to your head and heart. Your total
freedom from prejudice is perfectly refreshing to the anatomical mind.
If all 'subjects' were equally ready to be vivisected--no, I mean
mortuisected--oh,--well,--there," I added (for I began to perceive that
my argument didn't hang together, as "subjects" usually accepted
mortuisection with the utmost resignation), "perhaps it wouldn't make
much difference after all."
Meanwhile Harry had pulled the table into the centre of the room, and
arranged the necessary instruments at one end. The bright steel had a
most charming and scientific appearance, which added greatly to the
general effect. I saw myself already in imagination drawing up an
elaborate report for the Royal Society, and delivering a Croonian
Oration, with diagrams and sections complete, in illustration of the
"Vascular System of a Ghost." But alas, it was not to be. A preliminary
difficulty, slight in itself, yet enormous in its preventive effects,
unhappily defeated our well-made plans.
"Before you lay yourself on the table," said Harry, gracefully
indicating that article of furniture to the spectre with his lancet,
"may I ask you to oblige me by removing your clothes? It is usual in all
these operations to--ahem--in short, to proceed in puris naturalibus.
As you have been so very kind in allowing us to operate upon you, of
course you won't object to this minor but indispensable accompaniment."
"Well, really, sir," answered the ghost, "I should have no personal
objection whatsoever; but I'm rather afraid it can't be done. To tell
you the truth, my clothes are an integral part of myself. Indeed, I
consist chiefly of clothes, with only a head and hands protruding at the
principal extremities. You must have noticed that all persons of my sort
about whom you have read or heard were fully clothed in the fashion of
their own day. I fear it would be quite impossible to remove these
clothes. For example, how very absurd it would be to see the shadowy
outline of a ghostly coat hanging up on a peg behind a door. The bare
notion would be sufficient to cast ridicule upon the whole community.
No, gentlemen, much as I should like to gratify you, I fear the thing's
impossible. And, to let the whole secret out, I'm inclined to think, for
my part, that I haven't got any independent body whatsoever."
"But, surely," I interposed, "you must have some internal economy, or
else how can you walk and talk? For example, have you a heart?"
"Most certainly, my dear sir, and I humbly trust it is in the right
"You misunderstand me," I repeated: "I am speaking literally, not
figuratively. Have you a central vascular organ on your left-hand side,
with two auricles and ventricles, a mitral and a tricuspid valve, and
the usual accompaniment of aorta, pulmonary vein, pulmonary artery,
systole and diastole, and so forth?"
"Upon my soul, sir," replied the spectre with an air of bewilderment, "I
have never even heard the names of these various objects to which you
refer, and so I am quite unable to answer your question. But if you mean
to ask whether I have something beating just under my fob (excuse the
antiquated word, but as I wear the thing in question I must necessarily
use the name), why then, most undoubtedly I have."
"Will you oblige me, sir," said Harry, "by showing me your wrist? It is
true I can't feel your pulse, owing to what you must acknowledge as a
very unpleasant tenuity in your component tissues: but perhaps I may
succeed in seeing it."
The apparition held out its arm. Harry instinctively endeavoured to
balance the wrist in his hand, but of course failed in catching it. We
were both amused throughout to observe how difficult it remained, after
several experiences, to realize the fact that this visible object had no
material and tangible background underlying it. Harry put up his
eyeglass and gazed steadily at the phantom arm; not a trace of veins or
arteries could anywhere be seen. "Upon my word," he muttered, "I believe
it's true, and the subject has no internal economy at all. This is
really very interesting."
"As it is quite impossible to undress you," I observed, turning to our
visitor, "may I venture to make a section through your chest, in order,
if practicable, to satisfy myself as to your organs generally?"
"Certainly," replied the good-humoured spectre; "I am quite at your
I took my longest lancet from its case and made a very neat cut, right
across the sternum, so as to pass directly through all the principal
viscera. The effect, I regret to say, was absolutely nugatory. The two
halves of the body reunited instantaneously behind the instrument, just
as a mass of mercury reunites behind a knife. Evidently there was no
chance of getting at the anatomical details, if any existed, underneath
that brocaded waistcoat of phantasmagoric satin. We gave up the attempt
"And now," said the shadowy form, with a smile of conscious triumph,
flinging itself easily but noiselessly into a comfortable arm-chair, "I
hope you are convinced that ghosts really do exist. I think I have
pretty fully demonstrated to you my own purely spiritual and immaterial
"Excuse me," said Harry, seating himself in his turn on the ottoman: "I
regret to say that I remain as sceptical as at the beginning. You have
merely convinced me that a certain visible shape exists apparently
unaccompanied by any tangible properties. With this phenomenon I am
already familiar in the case of phosphorescent gaseous effluvia. You
also seem to utter audible words without the aid of a proper larynx or
other muscular apparatus; but the telephone has taught me that sounds
exactly resembling those of the human voice may be produced by a very
simple membrane. You have afforded us probably the best opportunity ever
given for examining a so-called ghost, and my private conviction at the
end of it is that you are very likely an egregious humbug."
I confess I was rather surprised at this energetic conclusion, for my
own faith had been rapidly expanding under the strange experiences of
that memorable evening. But the visitor himself seemed much hurt and
distressed. "Surely," he said, "you won't doubt my word when I tell you
plainly that I am the authentic ghost of Algernon Egerton. The word of
an Egerton of Egerton Castle was always better than another man's oath,
and it is so still, I hope. Besides, my frank and courteous conduct to
you both to-night, and the readiness with which I have met all your
proposals for scientific examination, certainly entitle me to better
treatment at your hands."
"I must beg ten thousand pardons," Harry replied, "for the plain
language which I am compelled to use. But let us look at the case in a
different point of view. During your occasional visits to the world of
living men, you may sometimes have travelled in a railway carriage in
your invisible form."
"I have taken a trip now and then (by a night train, of course), just to
see what the invention was like."
"Exactly so. Well, now, you must have noticed that a guard insisted from
time to time upon waking up the sleepy passengers for no other purpose
than to look at their tickets. Such a precaution might be resented, say
by an Egerton of Egerton Castle, as an insult to his veracity and his
honesty. But, you see, the guard doesn't know an Egerton from a Muggins:
and the mere word of a passenger to the effect that he belongs to that
distinguished family is in itself of no more value than his personal
assertion that his ticket is perfectly en regle."
"I see your analogy, and I must allow its remarkable force."
"Not only so," continued Harry firmly, "but you must remember that in
the case I have put, the guard is dealing with known beings of the
ordinary human type. Now, when a living person introduces himself to me
as Egerton of Egerton Castle, or Sir Roger Tichborne of Alresford, I
accept his statement with a certain amount of doubt, proportionate to
the natural improbability of the circumstances. But when a gentleman of
shadowy appearance and immaterial substance, like yourself, makes a
similar assertion, to the effect that he is Algernon Egerton who died
two hundred years ago, then I am reluctantly compelled to acknowledge,
even at the risk of hurting that gentleman's susceptible feelings, that
I can form no proper opinion whatsoever of his probable veracity. Even
men, whose habits and constitution I familiarly understand, cannot
always be trusted to tell me the truth: and how then can I expect
implicitly to believe a being whose very existence contradicts all my
previous experiences, and whose properties give the lie to all my
scientific conceptions--a being who moves without muscles and speaks
without lungs? Look at the possible alternatives, and then you will see
that I am guilty of no personal rudeness when I respectfully decline to
accept your uncorroborated assertions. You may be Mr. Algernon Egerton,
it is true, and your general style of dress and appearance certainly
bears out that supposition; but then you may equally well be his Satanic
Majesty in person--in which case you can hardly expect me to credit your
character for implicit truthfulness. Or again, you may be a mere
hallucination of my fancy: I may be suddenly gone mad, or I may be
totally drunk,--and now that I look at the bottle, Jim, we must
certainly allow that we have fully appreciated the excellent qualities
of your capital Glenlivat. In short, a number of alternatives exist, any
one of which is quite as probable as the supposition of your being a
genuine ghost; which supposition I must therefore lay aside as a mere
matter for the exercise of a suspended judgment."
I thought Harry had him on the hip, there: and the spectre evidently
thought so too; for he rose at once and said rather stiffly, "I fear,
sir, you are a confirmed sceptic upon this point, and further argument
might only result in one or the other of us losing his temper. Perhaps
it would be better for me to withdraw. I have the honour to wish you
both a very good evening." He spoke once more with the hauteur and
grand mannerism of the old school, besides bowing very low at each of us
separately as he wished us good-night.
"Stop a moment," said Harry rather hastily. "I wouldn't for the world be
guilty of any inhospitality, and least of all to a gentleman, however
indefinite in his outline, who has been so anxious to afford us every
chance of settling an interesting question as you have. Won't you take a
glass of whisky and water before you go, just to show there's no
"I thank you," answered the apparition, in the same chilly tone; "I
cannot accept your kind offer. My visit has already extended to a very
unusual length, and I have no doubt I shall be blamed as it is by more
reticent ghosts for the excessive openness with which I have conversed
upon subjects generally kept back from the living world. Once more,"
with another ceremonious bow, "I have the honour to wish you a pleasant
As he said these words, the fluorescent light brightened for a second,
and then faded entirely away. A slightly unpleasant odour also
accompanied the departure of our guest. In a moment, spectre and scent
alike disappeared; but careful examination with a delicate test
exhibited a faint reaction which proved the presence of sulphur in small
quantities. The ghost had evidently vanished quite according to
We filled our glasses once more, drained them off meditatively, and
turned into our bedrooms as the clock was striking four.
Next morning, Harry and I drew up a formal account of the whole
circumstance, which we sent to the Royal Society, with a request that
they would publish it in their Transactions. To our great surprise, that
learned body refused the paper, I may say with contumely. We next
applied to the Anthropological Institute, where, strange to tell, we met
with a like inexplicable rebuff. Nothing daunted by our double failure,
we despatched a copy of our analysis to the Chemical Society; but the
only acknowledgment accorded to us was a letter from the secretary, who
stated that "such a sorry joke was at once impertinent and undignified."
In short, the scientific world utterly refuses to credit our simple and
straightforward narrative; so that we are compelled to throw ourselves
for justice upon the general reading public at large. As the latter
invariably peruse the pages of "BELGRAVIA," I have ventured to appeal to
them in the present article, confident that they will redress our
wrongs, and accept this valuable contribution to a great scientific
question at its proper worth. It may be many years before another chance
occurs for watching an undoubted and interesting Apparition under such
favourable circumstances for careful observation; and all the above
information may be regarded as absolutely correct, down to five places
Still, it must be borne in mind that unless an apparition had been
scientifically observed as we two independent witnesses observed this
one, the grounds for believing in its existence would have been next to
none. And even after the clear evidence which we obtained of its
immaterial nature, we yet remain entirely in the dark as to its
objective reality, and we have not the faintest reason for believing it
to have been a genuine unadulterated ghost. At the best we can only say
that we saw and heard Something, and that this Something differed very
widely from almost any other object we had ever seen and heard before.
To leap at the conclusion that the Something was therefore a ghost,
would be, I venture humbly to submit, without offence to the Psychical
Research Society, a most unscientific and illogical specimen of that
peculiar fallacy known as Begging the Question.