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Memoirs of Extraordinary Popular Delusions by Charles Mackay

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The tomb of St. Nicholas of Barri was celebrated throughout Italy.
A miraculous oil was said to ooze from it, which cured nearly all the
maladies that flesh is heir to, provided the recipient made use of it
with the due degree of faith. La Tophania artfully gave this name to
her poison to elude the vigilance of the custom-house officers, who,
in common with everybody else, had a pious respect for St. Nicholas de
Barri and his wonderful oil.

The poison was similar to that manufactured by La Spara. Hahnemann
the physician, and father of the homoepathic doctrine, writing upon
this subject, says it was compounded of arsenical neutral salts,
occasioning in the victim a gradual loss of appetite, faintness,
gnawing pains in the stomach, loss of strength, and wasting of the
lungs. The Abbe Gagliardi says that a few drops of it were generally
poured into tea, chocolate, or soup, and its effects were slow, and
almost imperceptible. Garelli, physician to the Emperor of Austria, in
a letter to Hoffmann, says it was crystallized arsenic, dissolved in a
large quantity of water by decoction, with the addition (for some
unexplained purpose) of the herb cymbalaria. The Neapolitans called it
Aqua Toffnina; and it became notorious all over Europe under the name
of Aqua Tophania.

Although this woman carried on her infamous traffic so
extensively, it was extremely difficult to meet with her. She lived in
continual dread of discovery. She constantly changed her name and
residence; and pretending to be a person of great godliness, resided
in monasteries for months together. Whenever she was more than usually
apprehensive of detection, she sought ecclesiastical protection. She
was soon apprised of the search made for her by the Viceroy of Naples,
and, according to her practice, took refuge in a monastery. Either the
search after her was not very rigid, or her measures were exceedingly
well taken; for she contrived to elude the vigilance of the
authorities for several years. What is still more extraordinary, as
showing the ramifications of her system, her trade was still carried
on to as great an extent as before. Lebat informs us that she had so
great a sympathy for poor wives who hated their husbands and wanted to
get rid of them, but could not afford to buy her wonderful aqua, that
she made them presents of it.

She was not allowed, however, to play at this game for ever; she
was at length discovered in a nunnery, and her retreat cut off. The
Viceroy made several representations to the superior to deliver her
up, but without effect. The abbess, supported by the archbishop of the
diocese, constantly refused. The public curiosity was in consequence
so much excited at the additional importance thus thrust upon the
criminal, that thousands of persons visited the nunnery in order to
catch a glimpse of her.

The patience of the Viceroy appears to have been exhausted by
these delays. Being a man of sense, and not a very zealous Catholic,
he determined that even the Church should not shield a criminal so
atrocious. Setting the privileges of the nunnery at defiance, he sent
a troop of soldiers, who broke over the walls and carried her away vi
et armis. The Archbishop, Cardinal Pignatelli, was highly indignant,
and threatened to excommunicate and lay the whole city under
interdict. All the inferior clergy, animated by the esprit du corps,
took up the question, and so worked upon the superstitious and bigoted
people, that they were ready to rise in a mass to storm the palace of
the Viceroy and rescue the prisoner.

These were serious difficulties; but the Viceroy was not a man to
be daunted. Indeed, he seems to have acted throughout with a rare
union of astuteness, coolness, and energy. To avoid the evil
consequences of the threatened excommunication, he placed a guard
round the palace of the Archbishop, judging that the latter would not
be so foolish as to launch out an anathema which would cause the city
to be starved, and himself in it. The marketpeople would not have
dared to come to the city with provisions, so long as it remained
under the ban. There would have been too much inconvenience to himself
and his ghostly brethren in such a measure; and, as the Viceroy
anticipated, the good Cardinal reserved his thunders for some other

Still there was the populace. To quiet their clamour and avert the
impending insurrection, the agents of the government adroitly mingled
with the people, and spread abroad a report that Tophania had poisoned
all the wells and fountains of the city. This was enough. The popular
feeling turned against her immediately. Those who, but a moment
before, had looked upon her as a saint, now reviled her as a devil,
and were as eager for her punishment as they had before been for her
escape. Tophania was then put to the torture. She confessed the long
catalogue of her crimes, and named all the persons who had employed
her. She was shortly afterwards strangled, and her corpse thrown over
the wall into the garden of the convent, from whence she had been
taken. This appears to have been done to conciliate the clergy, by
allowing them, at least, the burial of one who had taken refuge within
their precincts.

After her death the mania for poisoning seems to have abated; but
we have yet to see what hold it took upon the French people at a
somewhat earlier period. So rooted had it become in France between the
years 1670 and 1680, that Madame de Sevigne, in one of her letters,
expresses her fear that Frenchman and poisoner would become synonymous

As in Italy, the first notice the government received of the
prevalence of this crime was given by the clergy, to whom females of
high rank, and some among the middle and lower classes, had avowed in
the confessional that they had poisoned their husbands. In consequence
of these disclosures, two Italians, named Exili and Glaser, were
arrested, and thrown into the Bastille, on the charge of compounding
and selling the drugs used for these murders. Glaser died in prison,
but Exili remained without trial for several months; and there,
shortly afterwards, he made the acquaintance of another prisoner,
named Sainte Croix, by whose example the crime was still further
disseminated among the French people.

The most notorious of the poisoners that derived their pernicious
knowledge from this man was Madame de Brinvilliers, a young woman
connected both by birth and marriage with some of the noblest families
of France. She seems, from her very earliest years, to have been
heartless and depraved; and, if we may believe her own confession, was
steeped in wickedness ere she had well entered her teens. She was,
however, beautiful and accomplished; and, in the eye of the world,
seemed exemplary and kind. Guyot de Pitaval, in the "Causes Celebres,"
and Madame de Sevigne, in her Letters, represent her as mild and
agreeable in her manners, and offering no traces on her countenance of
the evil soul within. She was married in 1651 to the Marquis de
Brinvilliers, with whom she lived unhappily for some years. He was a
loose dissipated character, and was the means of introducing Sainte
Croix to his wife, a man who cast a blight upon her life, and dragged
her on from crime to crime till her offences became so great that the
mind shudders to dwell upon them. For this man she conceived a guilty
passion, to gratify which she plunged at once into the gulf of sin.
She was drawn to its most loathsome depths ere retribution overtook

She had as yet shown a fair outside to the world, and found but
little difficulty in effecting a legal separation from her husband,
who had not the art to conceal his vices. The proceeding gave great
offence to her family. She appears, after this, to have thrown off the
mask completely, and carried on her intrigues so openly with her
lover, Sainte Croix, that her father, M. D'Aubray, scandalised at her
conduct, procured a lettre de cachet, and had him imprisoned in the
Bastille for a twelvemonth.

Sainte Croix, who had been in Italy, was a dabbler in poisons. He
knew something of the secrets of the detestable La Spara, and improved
himself in them from the instructions of Exili, with whom he speedily
contracted a sort of friendship. By him he was shown how to prepare,
not only the liquid poisons employed in Italy, but that known as
succession powder, which afterwards became so celebrated in France.
Like his mistress, he appeared amiable, witty, and intelligent, and
showed no signs to the world of the two fierce passions, revenge and
avarice, which were gnawing at his heart. Both these passions were to
be sated on the unfortunate family of D'Aubray; his revenge, because
they had imprisoned him; and his avarice, because they were rich.
Reckless and extravagant, he was always in want of money, and he had
no one to supply him but Madame de Brinvilliers, whose own portion was
far from sufficient to satisfy his need. Groaning to think that any
impediment should stand between him and wealth, he conceived the
horrid idea of poisoning M. D'Aubray her father, and her two brothers,
that she might inherit the property. Three murders were nothing to
such a villain. He communicated his plan to Madame de Brinvilliers;
and she, without the slightest scruple, agreed to aid him: he
undertook to compound the poisons, and she to administer them. The
zeal and alacrity with which she set to work seem hardly credible.
Sainte Croix found her an apt scholar; and she soon became as expert
as himself in the manufacture of poisons. To try the strength of the
first doses, she used to administer them to dogs, rabbits, and
pigeons. Afterwards, wishing to be more certain of their effects, she
went round to the hospitals, and administered them to the sick poor in
the soups which she brought in apparent charity. [This is denied by
Voltaire in his "Age of Louis XIV;" but he does not state for what
reason. His words are, "Il est faux qu'elle eut essaye ses poisons
dans les hopitaux, comme le disait le peuple et comme il est ecrit
dans les 'Causes Celebres,' ouvrage d'un avocat sans cause et fait
pour le peuple."] None of the poisons were intended to kill at the
first dose; so that she could try them once upon an individual without
fear of murder. She tried the same atrocious experiment upon the
guests at her father's table, by poisoning a pigeon-pie! To be more
certain still, she next poisoned herself! When convinced by this
desperate essay of the potency of the draught, she procured an
antidote from Sainte Croix, and all doubts being removed, commenced
operations upon her grey-headed father. She administered the first
dose with her own hands, in his chocolate. The poison worked well. The
old man was taken ill, and his daughter, apparently full of tenderness
and anxiety, watched by his bedside. The next day she gave him some
broth, which she recommended as highly nourishing. This also was
poisoned. In this manner she gradually wore out his frame, and in less
than ten days he was a corpse! His death seemed so much the result of
disease, that no suspicions were excited.

When the two brothers arrived from the provinces to render the
last sad duties to their sire, they found their sister as grieved, to
all outward appearance, as even filial affection could desire: but the
young men only came to perish. They stood between Sainte Croix and the
already half-clutched gold, and their doom was sealed. A man, named La
Chaussee, was hired by Sainte Croix to aid in administering the
poisons; and, in less than six weeks' time, they had both gone to
their long home.

Suspicion was now excited; but so cautiously had all been done,
that it found no one upon whom to attach itself. The Marquise had a
sister, and she was entitled, by the death of her relatives, to half
the property. Less than the whole would not satisfy Sainte Croix, and
he determined that she should die the same death as her father and
brothers. She was too distrustful, however; and, by quitting Paris,
she escaped the destruction that was lurking for her.

The Marquise had undertaken these murders to please her lover. She
was now anxious to perpetrate another on her own account. She wished
to marry Sainte Croix; but, though separated from her husband, she was
not divorced. She thought it would be easier to poison him than to
apply to the tribunals for a divorce, which might, perhaps, be
refused. But Salute Croix had no longer any love for his guilty
instrument. Bad men do not admire others who are as bad as themselves.
Though a villain himself, he had no desire to marry one, and was not
at all anxious for the death of the Marquis. He seemed, however, to
enter into the plot, and supplied her with poison for her husband: but
he took care to provide a remedy. La Brinvilliers poisoned him one
day, and Sainte Croix gave him an antidote the next. In this manner he
was buffetted about between them for some time, and finally escaped
with a ruined constitution and a broken heart.

But the day of retribution was at hand, and a terrible mischance
brought the murders to light. The nature of the poisons compounded by
Salute Croix was so deadly, that, when working in his laboratory, he
was obliged to wear a mask, to preserve himself from suffocation. One
day, the mask slipped off, and the miserable wretch perished in his
crimes. His corpse was found, on the following morning, in the obscure
lodging where he had fitted up his laboratory. As he appeared to be
without friends or relatives, the police took possession of his
effects. Among other things was found a small box, to which was
affixed the following singular document:--

"I humbly beg, that those into whose hands this box may fall, will
do me the favour to deliver it into the hands only of the Marchioness
de Brinvilliers, who resides in the Rue Neuve St. Paul, as everything
it contains concerns her, and belongs to her alone; and as, besides,
there is nothing in it that can be of use to any person but her. In
case she shall be dead before me, it is my wish that it be burned,
with everything it contains, without opening or altering anything. In
order that no one may plead ignorance, I swear by the God that I
adore, and by all that is held most sacred, that I assert nothing but
the truth: and if my intentions, just and reasonable as they are, be
thwarted in this point by any persons, I charge their consciences with
it, both in this world and that which is to come, in order that I may
unload mine. I protest that this is my last will. Done at Paris, the
25th of May, 1672.

"(Signed) Sainte Croix."

This earnest solicitation, instead of insuring respect as was
intended, excited curiosity. The box was opened, and found to contain
some papers, and several vials and powders. The latter were handed to
a chemist for analysis, and the documents were retained by the police,
and opened. Among them was found a promissory note of the Marchioness
de Brinvilliers, for thirty thousand francs, to the order of Sainte
Croix. The other papers were of greater importance, as they implicated
both her and her servant, La Chaussee, in the recent murders. As soon
as she was informed of the death of Sainte Croix, she made an attempt
to gain possession of his papers and the box; but, being refused, she
saw that there was no time to be lost, and immediately quitted. Next
morning the police were on her trail; but she succeeded in escaping to
England. La Chaussee was not so fortunate. Altogether ignorant of the
fatal mischance which had brought his villanies to light, he did not
dream of danger. He was arrested and brought to trial: being put to
the torture, he confessed that he had administered poison to the
Messieurs d'Aubray, and that he had received a hundred pistoles, and
the promise of an annuity for life, from Sainte Croix and Madame de
Brinvilliers, for the job. He was condemned to be broken alive on the
wheel, and the Marchioness was, by default, sentenced to be beheaded.
He was executed accordingly, in March 1673, on the Place de Greve, in

La Brinvilliers appears to have resided for nearly three years in
England. Early in 1676, thinking that the rigour of pursuit was over,
and that she might venture to return to the Continent, she proceeded
secretly to Liege. Notwithstanding her care, the French authorities
were soon apprised of her return; and arrangements were promptly made
with the municipality of that city, to permit the agents of the French
police to arrest her within the limits of their jurisdiction.
Desgrais, an officer of the marechaussee, accordingly left Paris for
that purpose. On his arrival in Liege, he found that she had sought
shelter within the walls of a convent. Here the arm of the law, long
as it is said to be, could not reach her: but Desgrais was not a man
to be baffled, and he resorted to stratagem to accomplish what force
could not. Having disguised himself as a priest, he sought admission
to the convent, and obtained an interview with La Brinvilliers. He
said, that being a Frenchman, and passing through Liege, he could not
leave that city without paying a visit to a lady whose beauty and
misfortunes were so celebrated. Her vanity was flattered by the
compliment. Desgrais saw, to use a vulgar but forcible expression,
"that he had got on the blind side of her;" and he adroitly continued
to pour out the language of love and admiration, till the deluded
Marchioness was thrown completely off her guard. She agreed, without
much solicitation, to meet him outside the walls of the convent, where
their amorous intrigue might be carried on more conveniently than
within. Faithful to her appointment with her supposed new lover, she
came, and found herself, not in the embrace of a gallant, but in the
custody of a policeman.

Her trial was not long delayed. The proofs against her were
abundant. The dying declaration of La Chaussee would have been alone
enough to convict her; but besides that, there were the mysterious
document attached to the box of St. Croix; her flight from France;
and, stronger and more damning proof than all, a paper, in her own
handwriting, found among the effects of St. Croix, in which she
detailed to him the misdeeds of her life, and spoke of the murder of
her father and brothers, in terms that left no doubt of her guilt.
During the trial, all Paris was in commotion. La Brinvilliers was the
only subject of conversation. All the details of her crimes were
published, and greedily devoured; and the idea of secret poisoning was
first put into the heads of hundreds, who afterwards became guilty of

On the 16th of July 1676, the Superior Criminal Court of Paris
pronounced a verdict of guilty against her, for the murder of her
father and brothers, and the attempt upon the life of her sister. She
was condemned to be drawn on a hurdle, with her feet bare, a rope
about her neck, and a burning torch in her hand, to the great entrance
of the cathedral of Notre Dame; where she was to make the amende
honorable, in sight of all the people; to be taken from thence to the
Place de Greve, and there to be beheaded. Her body was afterwards to
be burned, and her ashes scattered to the winds.

After her sentence, she made a full confession of her guilt. She
seems to have looked upon death without fear; but it was recklessness,
not courage, that supported her. Madame de Sevigne says, that when on
the hurdle, on her way to the scaffold, she entreated her confessor to
exert his influence with the executioner to place himself next to her,
that his body might hide from her view "that scoundrel, Desgrais, who
had entrapped her." She also asked the ladies, who had been drawn to
their windows to witness the procession, what they were looking at?
adding, "a pretty sight you have come to see, truly!" She laughed when
on the scaffold, dying as she had lived, impenitent and heartless. On
the morrow, the populace came in crowds to collect her ashes, to
preserve them as relics. She was regarded as a martyred saint, and her
ashes were supposed to be endowed, by Divine grace, with the power of
curing all diseases. Popular folly has often canonised persons whose
pretensions to sanctity were extremely equivocal; but the disgusting
folly of the multitude, in this instance, has never been surpassed.

Before her death, proceedings were instituted against M. de
Penautier, treasurer of the province of Languedoc, and
Receiver-general for the clergy, who was accused by a lady, named St.
Laurent, of having poisoned her husband, the late Receiver-general, in
order to obtain his appointment. The circumstances of this case were
never divulged, and the greatest influence was exerted to prevent it
from going to trial. He was known to have been intimate with Sainte
Croix and Madame de Brinvilliers, and was thought to have procured his
poisons from them. The latter, however, refused to say anything which
might implicate him. The inquiry was eventually stifled, after
Penautier had been several months in the Bastille.

The Cardinal de Bonzy was accused by the gossips of the day of
being an accomplice of Penautier. The Cardinal's estates were
burthened with the payment of several heavy annuities; but, about the
time that poisoning became so fashionable, all the annuitants died
off, one after the other. The Cardinal, in talking of these
annuitants, afterwards used to say, "Thanks to my star, I have
outlived them all!" A wit, seeing him and Penautier riding in the same
carriage, cried out, in allusion to this expression, "There go the
Cardinal de Bonzy and his star!"

It was now that the mania for poisoning began to take hold of the
popular mind. From this time until the year 1682, the prisons of
France teemed with persons accused of this crime; and it is very
singular, that other offences decreased in a similar proportion. We
have already seen the extent to which it was carried in Italy. It was,
if possible, surpassed in France. The diabolical ease with which these
murders could be effected, by means of these scentless and tasteless
poisons, enticed the evil-minded. Jealousy, revenge, avarice, even
petty spite, alike resorted to them. Those who would have been
deterred, by fear of detection, from using the pistol or the dagger,
or even strong doses of poison, which kill at once, employed slow
poisons without dread. The corrupt Government of the day, although it
could wink at the atrocities of a wealthy and influential courtier,
like Penautier, was scandalised to see the crime spreading among the
people. Disgrace was, in fact, entailed, in the eyes of Europe, upon
the name of Frenchman. Louis XIV, to put a stop to the evil,
instituted what was called the Chambre Ardente, or Burning Chamber,
with extensive powers, for the trial and punishment of the prisoners.

Two women, especially, made themselves notorious at this time, and
were instrumental to the deaths of hundreds of individuals. They both
resided in Paris, and were named Lavoisin and Lavigoreux. Like Spars
and Tophania, of whom they were imitators, they chiefly sold their
poisons to women who wanted to get rid of their husbands; and, in some
few instances, to husbands who wanted to get rid of their wives. Their
ostensible occupation was that of midwives. They also pretended to be
fortune-tellers, and were visited by persons of every class of
society. The rich and poor thronged alike to their mansardes, to learn
the secrets of the future. Their prophecies were principally of death.
They foretold to women the approaching dissolution of husbands, and to
needy heirs, the end of rich relatives, who had made them, as Byron
expresses it, "wait too, too long already." They generally took care
to be instrumental in fulfilling their own predictions. They used to
tell their wretched employers, that some sign of the approaching death
would take place in the house, such as the breaking of glass or china;
and they paid servants considerable fees to cause a breakage, as if by
accident, exactly at the appointed time. Their occupation as midwives
made them acquainted with the secrets of many families, which they
afterwards turned to dreadful account.

It is not known how long they had carried on this awful trade
before they were discovered. Detection finally overtook them at the
close of the year 1679. They were both tried, found guilty, and burned
alive on the Place de Greve, on the 22nd of February, 1680, after
their hands had been bored through with a red-hot iron, and then cut
off. Their numerous accomplices in Paris and in the provinces were
also discovered and brought to trial. According to some authors,
thirty, and to others, fifty of them, chiefly women, were hanged in
the principal cities.

Lavoisin kept a list of the visiters who came to her house to
purchase poisons. This paper was seized by the police on her arrest,
and examined by the tribunals. Among the names were found those of the
Marshal de Luxembourg, the Countess de Soissons, and the Duchess de
Bouillon. The Marshal seems only to have been guilty of a piece of
discreditable folly in visiting a woman of this description, but the
popular voice at the time imputed to him something more than folly.
The author of the "Memoirs of the Affairs of Europe since the Peace of
Utrecht," says, "The miserable gang who dealt in poison and prophecy
alleged that he had sold himself to the devil, and that a young girl
of the name of Dupin had been poisoned by his means. Among other
stories, they said he had made a contract with the devil, in order to
marry his son to the daughter of the Marquis of Louvois. To this
atrocious and absurd accusation the Marshal, who had surrendered
himself at the Bastille on the first accusation against him, replied
with the mingled sentiment of pride and innocence, 'When Mathieu de
Montmorenci, my ancestor, married the widow of Louis le Gros, he did
not have recourse to the devil, but to the States-General, in order to
obtain for the minor king the support of the house of Montmorenci.'
This brave man was imprisoned in a cell six feet and a half long, and
his trial, which was interrupted for several weeks, lasted altogether
fourteen months. No judgment was pronounced upon him."

The Countess of Soissons fled to Brussels, rather than undergo the
risk of a trial; and was never able to clear herself from the stigma
that attached to her, of having made an attempt to poison the Queen of
Spain by doses of succession powder. The Duchess of Bouillon was
arrested, and tried by the Chambre Ardente. It would appear, however,
that she had nothing to do with the slow poisons, but had merely
endeavoured to pry into the secrets of futurity, and gratify her
curiosity with a sight of the devil. One of the presidents of the
Chambre, La Reynie, an ugly little old man, very seriously asked her
whether she had really seen the devil; to which the lady replied,
looking him full in the face, "Oh yes! I see him now. He is in the
form of a little ugly old man, exceedingly illnatured, and is dressed
in the robes of a counsellor of State." M. la Reynie prudently
refrained from asking any more questions of a lady with so sharp and
ready a tongue. The Duchess was imprisoned for several months in the
Bastile; and nothing being proved against her, she was released at the
intercession of her powerful friends. The severe punishment of
criminals of this note might have helped to abate the fever of
imitation among the vulgar; -- their comparative impunity had a
contrary tendency. The escape of Penautier, and the wealthy Cardinal
de Bonzy his employer, had the most pernicious effect. For two years
longer the crime continued to rage, and was not finally suppressed
till the stake had blazed, or the noose dangled, for upwards of a
hundred individuals.


Here's a knocking indeed! * * * * knock! knock! knock
* * * * * * Who's there, i' the name o' Beelzebub?
* * * Who's there, i' the devil's name? Knock! knock!
knock! -- Never at quiet?


Who has not either seen or heard of some house, shut up and
uninhabitable, fallen into decay, and looking dusty and dreary, from
which, at midnight, strange sounds have been heard to issue -- aerial
knockings -- the rattling of chains, and the groaning of perturbed
spirits? -- a house that people have thought it unsafe to pass after
dark, and which has remained for years without a tenant, and which no
tenant would occupy, even were he paid to do so? There are hundreds of
such houses in England at the present day; hundreds in France,
Germany, and almost every country of Europe, which are marked with the
mark of fear -- places for the timid to avoid, and the pious to bless
themselves at, and ask protection from, as they pass -- the abodes of
ghosts and evil spirits. There are many such houses in London; and if
any vain boaster of the march of intellect would but take the trouble
to find them out and count them, he would be convinced that intellect
must yet make some enormous strides before such old superstitions can
be eradicated.

The idea that such houses exist is a remnant of the witch creed,
which merits separate notice from its comparative harmlessness, and
from its being not so much a madness as a folly of the people. Unlike
other notions that sprang from the belief in witchcraft, and which we
have already dwelt upon at sufficient length, it has sent no wretches
to the stake or the gibbet, and but a few to the pillory only.

Many houses have been condemned as haunted, and avoided by the
weak and credulous, from circumstances the most trifling in
themselves, and which only wanted a vigorous mind to clear up, at
once, and dissipate all alarm. A house in Aix-la-Chapelle, a large
desolate-looking building, remained uninhabited for five years, on
account of the mysterious knockings that there were heard within it at
all hours of the day and night. Nobody could account for the noises;
and the fear became at last so excessive, that the persons who
inhabited the houses on either side relinquished their tenancy, and
went to reside in other quarters of the town, where there was less
chance of interruption from evil spirits. From being so long without
an inhabitant the house at last grew so ruinous, so dingy, and so
miserable in its outward appearance, and so like the place that ghosts
might be supposed to haunt, that few persons cared to go past it after
sunset. The knocking that was heard in one of the upper rooms was not
very loud, but it was very regular. The gossips of the neighbourhood
asserted that they often heard groans from the cellars, and saw lights
moved about from one window to another immediately after the midnight
bell had tolled. Spectres in white habiliments were reported to have
gibed and chattered from the windows; but all these stories could bear
no investigation. The knocking, however, was a fact which no one could
dispute, and several ineffectual attempts were made by the proprietor
to discover the cause. The rooms were sprinkled with holy water -- the
evil spirits were commanded in due form, by a priest, to depart thence
to the Red Sea; but the knockings still continued, in spite of all
that could be done in that way. Accident at last discovered the cause,
and restored tranquillity to the neighbourhood. The proprietor, who
suffered not only in his mind but in his pocket, had sold the building
at a ruinously small price, to get rid of all future annoyance. The
new proprietor was standing in a room on the first floor when he heard
the door driven to at the bottom with a considerable noise, and then
fly open immediately, about two inches and no more. He stood still a
minute and watched, and the same thing occurred a second and a third
time. He examined the door attentively, and all the mystery was
unravelled. The latch of the door was broken so that it could not be
fastened, and it swung chiefly upon the bottom hinge. Immediately
opposite was a window, in which one pane of glass was broken; and when
the wind was in a certain quarter, the draught of air was so strong
that it blew the door to with some violence. There being no latch, it
swung open again; and when there was a fresh gust, was again blown to.
The new proprietor lost no time in sending for a glazier, and the
mysterious noises ceased for ever. The house was replastered and
repainted, and once more regained its lost good name. It was not
before two or three years, however, that it was thoroughly established
in popular favour; and many persons, even then, would always avoid
passing it, if they could reach their destination by any other street.

A similar story is narrated by Sir Walter Scott, in his Letters on
Demonology and Witchcraft, the hero of which was a gentleman of birth
and distinction, well known in the political world. Shortly after he
succeeded to his title and estates, there was a rumour among the
servants concerning a strange noise that used to be heard at night in
the family mansion, and the cause of which no one could ascertain. The
gentleman resolved to discover it himself, and to watch for that
purpose with a domestic who had grown old in the family, and who, like
the rest, had whispered strange things about the knocking having begun
immediately upon the death of his old master. These two watched until
the noise was heard, and at last traced it to a small store-room, used
as a place for keeping provisions of various kinds for the family, and
of which the old butler had the key. They entered this place, and
remained for some time, without hearing the noises which they had
traced thither. At length the sound was heard, but much lower than it
seemed to be while they were further off, and their imaginations were
more excited. They then discovered the cause without difficulty. A
rat, caught in an old-fashioned trap, had occasioned the noise by its
efforts to escape, in which it was able to raise the trap-door of its
prison to a certain height, but was then obliged to drop it. The noise
of the fall resounding through the house had occasioned the mysterious
rumours, which, but for the investigation of the proprietor, would, in
all probability, have acquired so bad a name for the dwelling that no
servants would have inhabited it. The circumstance was told to Sir
Walter Scott by the gentleman to whom it happened.

But, in general, houses that have acquired this character, have
been more indebted for it, to the roguery of living men, than to
accidents like these. Six monks played off a clever trick of the kind
upon that worthy King, Louis, whose piety has procured him, in the
annals of his own country, the designation of "the Saint." Having
heard his confessor speak in terms of warm eulogy of the goodness and
learning of the monks of the order of Saint Bruno, he expressed his
wish to establish a community of them near Paris. Bernard de la Tour,
the superior, sent six of the brethren, and the King gave them a
handsome house to live in, in the village of Chantilly. It so happened
that, from their windows, they had a very fine view of the ancient
palace of Vauvert, which had been built for a royal residence by King
Robert, but deserted for many years. The worthy monks thought the
palace would just suit them, but their modesty was so excessive that
they were ashamed to ask the King for a grant of it in due form. This
difficulty was not to be overcome, and the monks set their ingenuity
to work to discover another plan. The palace of Vauvert had never
laboured under any imputation upon its character until they became its
neighbours; but, somehow or other, it almost immediately afterwards
began to acquire a bad name. Frightful shrieks were heard to proceed
from it at night -- blue, red, and green lights were suddenly observed
to glimmer from the windows, and as suddenly to disappear: the
clanking of chains was heard, and the howling as of persons in great
pain. These disturbances continued for several months, to the great
terror of all the country round, and even of the pious King Louis, to
whom, at Paris, all the rumours were regularly carried, with whole
heaps of additions, that accumulated on the way. At last a great
spectre, clothed all in pea-green, with a long white beard and a
serpent's tail, took his station regularly at midnight in the
principal window of the palace, and howled fearfully and shook his
fists at the passengers. The six monks of Chantilly, to whom all these
things were duly narrated, were exceedingly wroth that the devil
should play such antics right opposite their dwelling, and hinted to
the commissioners, sent down by Saint Louis to investigate the matter,
that, if they were allowed to inhabit the palace, they would very soon
make a clearance of the evil spirits. The King was quite charmed with
their piety, and expressed to them how grateful he felt for their
disinterestedness. A deed was forthwith drawn up -- the royal
sign-manual was affixed to it, and the palace of Vauvert became the
property of the monks of Saint Bruno. The deed is dated in 1259.
[Garinet. Histoire de la Magie en France, page 75.] The disturbances
ceased immediately -- the lights disappeared, and the green ghost (so
said the monks) was laid at rest for ever under the waves of the Red

In the year 1580, one Gilles Blacre had taken the lease of a house
in the suburbs of Tours, but repenting him of his bargain with the
landlord, Peter Piquet, he endeavoured to prevail upon him to cancel
the agreement. Peter, however, was satisfied with his tenant and his
terms, and would listen to no compromise. Very shortly afterwards, the
rumour was spread all over Tours that the house of Gilles Blacre was
haunted. Gilles himself asserted that he verily believed his house to
be the general rendezvous of all the witches and evil spirits of
France. The noise they made was awful, and quite prevented him from
sleeping. They knocked against the wall -- howled in the chimneys --
broke his window-glass -- scattered his pots and pans all over his
kitchen, and set his chairs and tables a dancing the whole night
through. Crowds of persons assembled around the house to hear the
mysterious noises; and the bricks were observed to detach themselves
from the wall and fall into the streets upon the heads of those who
had not said their paternoster before they came out in the morning.
These things having continued for some time, Gilles Blacre made his
complaint to the Civil Court of Tours, and Peter Piquet was summoned
to show cause why the lease should not be annulled. Poor Peter could
make no defence, and the court unanimously agreed that no lease could
hold good under such circumstances, and annulled it accordingly,
condemning the unlucky owner to all the expenses of the suit. Peter
appealed to the Parliament of Paris; and, after a long examination,
the Parliament confirmed the lease. "Not," said the judge, "because it
bas not been fully and satisfactorily proved that the house is
troubled by evil spirits, but that there was an informality in the
proceedings before the Civil Court of Tours, that rendered its
decision null and of no effect."

A similar cause was tried before the Parliament of Bordeaux, in
the year 1595, relative to a house in that city which was sorely
troubled by evil spirits. The Parliament appointed certain
ecclesiastics to examine and report to them, and on their report in
the affirmative that the house was haunted, the lease was annulled,
and the tenant absolved from all payment of rent and taxes. [Garinet.
Histoire de la Magie en France, page 156.]

One of the best stories of a haunted house is that of the royal
palace of Woodstock, in the year 1649, when the commissioners sent
from London by the Long Parliament to take possession of it, and
efface all the emblems of royalty about it, were fairly driven out by
their fear of the devil and the annoyances they suffered from a
roguish cavalier, who played the imp to admiration. The commissioners,
dreading at that time no devil, arrived at Woodstock on the 13th of
October, 1649. They took up their lodgings in the late King's
apartments-turned the beautiful bedrooms and withdrawing-rooms into
kitchens and sculleries -- the council-hall into a brew-house, and
made the dining-room a place to keep firewood in. They pulled down all
the insignia of royal state, and treated with the utmost indignity
everything that recalled to their memory the name or the majesty of
Charles Stuart. One Giles Sharp accompanied them in the capacity of
clerk, and seconded their efforts, apparently with the greatest zeal.
He aided them to uproot a noble old tree, merely because it was called
the King's Oak, and tossed the fragments into the dining-room to make
cheerful fires for the commissioners. During the first two days, they
heard some strange noises about the house, but they paid no great
attention to them. On the third, however, they began to suspect they
had got into bad company; for they heard, as they thought, a
supernatural dog under their bed, which gnawed their bedclothes. On
the next day, the chairs and tables began to dance, apparently of
their own accord. On the fifth day, something came into the bedchamber
and walked up and down, and fetching the warming-pan out of the
withdrawing-room, made so much noise with it that they thought five
church-bells were ringing in their ears. On the sixth day, the plates
and dishes were thrown up and down the dining-room. On the seventh,
they penetrated into the bedroom in company with several logs of wood,
and usurped the soft pillows intended for the commissioners. On the
eighth and ninth nights, there was a cessation of hostilities; but on
the tenth, the bricks in the chimneys became locomotive, and rattled
and danced about the floors, and round the heads of the commissioners,
all the night long. On the eleventh, the demon ran away with their
breeches, and on the twelfth filled their beds so full of
pewter-platters that they could not get into them. On the thirteenth
night, the glass became unaccountably seized with a fit of cracking,
and fell into shivers in all parts of the house. On the fourteenth,
there was a noise as if forty pieces of artillery had been fired off,
and a shower of pebble-stones, which so alarmed the commissioners
that, "struck with great horror, they cried out to one another for

They first of all tried the efficacy of prayers to drive away the
evil spirits; but these proving unavailing, they began seriously to
reflect whether it would not be much better to leave the place
altogether to the devils that inhabited it. They ultimately resolved,
however, to try it a little longer; and having craved forgiveness of
all their sins, betook themselves to bed. That night they slept in
tolerable comfort, but it was merely a trick of their tormentor to
lull them into false security. When, on the succeeding night, they
heard no noises, they began to flatter themselves that the devil was
driven out, and prepared accordingly to take up their quarters for the
whole winter in the palace. These symptoms on their part became the
signal for renewed uproar among the fiends. On the 1st of November,
they heard something walking with a slow and solemn pace up and down
the withdrawing-room, and immediately afterwards a shower of stones,
bricks, mortar, and broken glass pelted about their ears. On the 2nd
the steps were again heard in the withdrawing-room, sounding to their
fancy very much like the treading of an enormous bear, which continued
for about a quarter of an hour. This noise having ceased, a large
warming-pan was thrown violently upon the table, followed by a number
of stones and the jawbone of a horse. Some of the boldest walked
valiantly into the withdrawing-room, armed with swords, and pistols;
but could discover nothing. They were afraid that night to go to
sleep, and sat up, making fires in every room, and burning candles and
lamps in great abundance; thinking that, as the fiends loved darkness,
they would not disturb a company surrounded with so much light. They
were deceived, however: buckets of water came down the chimneys and
extinguished the fires, and the candles were blown out, they knew not
how. Some of the servants who had betaken themselves to bed were
drenched with putrid ditch-water as they lay, and arose in great
fright, muttering incoherent prayers, and exposing to the wondering
eyes of the commissioners their linen all dripping with green
moisture, and their knuckles red with the blows they had at the same
time received from some invisible tormentors. While they were still
speaking, there was a noise like the loudest thunder, or the firing of
a whole park of artillery, upon which they all fell down upon their
knees and implored the protection of the Almighty. One of the
commissioners then arose, the others still kneeling, and asked in a
courageous voice, and in the name of God, who was there, and what they
had done that they should be troubled in that manner. No answer was
returned, and the noises ceased for a while. At length, however, as
the commissioners said, "the devil came again, and brought with it
seven devils worse than itself." Being again in darkness, they lighted
a candle and placed it in the doorway, that it might throw a light
upon the two chambers at once; but it was suddenly blown out, and one
commissioner said that he had "seen the similitude of a horse's hoof
striking the candle and candlestick into the middle of the chamber,
and afterwards making three scrapes on the snuff to put it out." Upon
this, the same person was so bold as to draw his sword; but he
asserted positively that he had hardly withdrawn it from the scabbard
before an invisible hand seized hold of it and tugged with him for
it, and prevailing, struck him so violent a blow with the pommel that
he was quite stunned. Then the noises began again; upon which, with
one accord, they all retired into the presence-chamber, where they
passed the night, praying and singing psalms.

They were by this time convinced that it was useless to struggle
any longer with the powers of evil, that seemed determined to make
Woodstock their own. These things happened on the Saturday night; and,
being repeated on the Sunday, they determined to leave the place
immediately, and return to London. By Tuesday morning early, all their
preparations were completed; and, shaking the dust off their feet, and
devoting Woodstock and all its inhabitants to the infernal gods, they
finally took their departure. [Dr. H. More's Continuation of Glanvil's
Collection of Relations in proof of Witchcraft.]

Many years elapsed before the true cause of these disturbances was
discovered. It was ascertained, at the Restoration, that the whole was
the work of Giles Sharp, the trusty clerk of the commissioners. This
man, whose real name was Joseph Collins, was a concealed royalist, and
had passed his early life within the bowers of Woodstock; so that he
knew every hole and corner of the place, and the numerous trap-doors
and secret passages that abounded in the building. The commissioners,
never suspecting the true state of his opinions, but believing him to
be revolutionary to the back-bone, placed the utmost reliance upon
him; a confidence which he abused in the manner above detailed, to his
own great amusement, and that of the few cavaliers whom he let into
the secret.

Quite as extraordinary and as cleverly managed was the trick
played off at Tedworth, in 1661, at the house of Mr. Mompesson, and
which is so circumstantially narrated by the Rev. Joseph Glanvil,
under the title of "The Demon of Tedworth," and appended, among other
proofs of witchcraft, to his noted work, called "Sadducismus
Triumphatus." About the middle of April, in the year above mentioned,
Mr. Mompesson, having returned to his house, at Tedworth, from a
journey he had taken to London, was informed by his wife, that during
his absence they had been troubled with the most extraordinary noises.
Three nights afterwards he heard the noise himself; and it appeared to
him to be that of "a great knocking at his doors, and on the outside
of his walls." He immediately arose, dressed himself, took down a pair
of pistols, and walked valiantly forth to discover the disturber,
under the impression that it must be a robber: but, as he went, the
noise seemed to travel before or behind him; and, when he arrived at
the door from which he thought it proceeded, he saw nothing, but still
heard "a strange hollow sound." He puzzled his brains for a long time,
and searched every corner of the house; but, discovering nothing, he
went to bed again. He was no sooner snug under the clothes, than the
noise began again more furiously than ever, sounding very much like a
"thumping and drumming on the top of his house, and then by degrees
going off into the air."

These things continued for several nights, when it came to the
recollection of Mr. Mompesson that some time before, he had given
orders for the arrest and imprisonment of a wandering drummer, who
went about the country with a large drum, disturbing quiet people and
soliciting alms, and that he had detained the man's drum, and that,
probably, the drummer was a wizard, and had sent evil spirits to haunt
his house, to be revenged of him. He became strengthened in his
opinion every day, especially when the noises assumed, to his fancy, a
resemblance to the beating of a drum, "like that at the breaking up of
a guard." Mrs. Mompesson being brought to bed, the devil, or the
drummer, very kindly and considerately refrained from making the usual
riot; but, as soon as she recovered strength, began again "in a ruder
manner than before, following and vexing the young children, and
beating their bedsteads with so much violence that every one expected
they would fall in pieces." For an hour together, as the worthy Mr.
Mompesson repeated to his wondering neighbours, this infernal drummer
"would beat 'Roundheads and Cuckolds," the 'Tat-too,' and several
other points of war, as cleverly as any soldier." When this had lasted
long enough, he changed his tactics, and scratched with his iron
talons under the children's bed. "On the 5th of November," says the
Rev. Joseph Glanvil, "it made a mighty noise; and a servant, observing
two boards in the children's room seeming to move, he bid it give him
one of them. Upon which the board came (nothing moving it, that he
saw), within a yard of him. The man added, 'Nay, let me have it in my
hand ;' upon which the spirit, devil, or drummer pushed it towards him
so close, that he might touch it. "This," continues Glanvil, "was in
the day-time, and was seen by a whole room full of people. That
morning it left a sulphureous smell behind it, which was very
offensive. At night the minister, one Mr. Cragg, and several of the
neighhours, came to the house, on a visit. Mr. Cragg went to prayers
with them, kneeling at the children's bedside, where it then became
very troublesome and loud. During prayer time, the spirit withdrew
into the cock-loft, but returned as soon as prayers were done; and
then, in sight of the company, the chairs walked about the room of
themselves, the children's shoes were hurled over their heads, and
every loose thing moved about the chamber. At the same time, a
bed-staff was thrown at the minister, which hit him on the leg, but so
favourably, that a lock of wool could not have fallen more softly." On
another occasion, the blacksmith of the village, a fellow who cared
neither for ghost nor devil, slept with John, the footman, that he
also might hear the disturbances, and be cured of his incredulity,
when there "came a noise in the room, as if one had been shoeing a
horse, and somewhat came, as it were, with a pair of pincers,"
snipping and snapping at the poor blacksmith's nose the greater part
of the night. Next day it came, panting like a dog out of breath; upon
which some woman present took a bed-staff to knock at it, "which was
caught suddenly out of her hand, and thrown away; and company coming
up, the room was presently filled with a bloomy noisome smell, and was
very hot, though without fire, in a very sharp and severe winter. It
continued in the bed, panting and scratching for an hour and a half,
and then went into the next room, where it knocked a little, and
seemed to rattle a chain."

The rumour of these wonderful occurrences soon spread all over the
country, and people from far and near flocked to the haunted house of
Tedworth, to believe or doubt, as their natures led them, but all
filled with intense curiosity. It appears, too, that the fame of these
events reached the royal ear, and that some gentlemen were sent by the
King to investigate the circumstances, and draw up a report of what
they saw or heard. Whether the royal commissioners were more sensible
men than the neighbours of Mr. Mompesson, and required more clear and
positive evidence than they, or whether the powers with which they
were armed to punish anybody who might be found carrying on this
deception, frightened the evil-doers, is not certain; but Glanvil
himself reluctantly confesses, that all the time they were in the
house, the noises ceased, and nothing was heard or seen. "However,"
says he, "as to the quiet of the house when the courtiers were there,
the intermission may have been accidental, or perhaps the demon was
not willing to give so public a testimony of those transactions which
might possibly convince those who, he had rather, should continue in
unbelief of his existence."

As soon as the royal commissioners took their departure, the
infernal drummer re-commenced his antics, and hundreds of persons were
daily present to hear and wonder. Mr. Mompesson's servant was so
fortunate as not only to hear, but to see this pertinacious demon; for
it came and stood at the foot of his bed. "The exact shape and
proportion of it he could not discover; but he saw a great body, with
two red and glaring eyes, which, for some time, were fixed steadily on
him, and at length disappeared." Innumerable were the antics it
played. Once it purred like a cat; beat the children's legs black and
blue; put a long spike into Mr. Mompesson's bed, and a knife into his
mother's; filled the porrengers with ashes; hid a Bible under the
grate; and turned the money black in people's pockets. "One night,"
said Mr. Mompesson, in a letter to Mr. Glanvil, "there were seven or
eight of these devils in the shape of men, who, as soon as a gun was
fired, would shuffle away into an arbour;" a circumstance which might
have convinced Mr. Mompesson of the mortal nature of his persecutors,
if he had not been of the number of those worse than blind, who shut
their eyes and refuse to see.

In the mean time the drummer, the supposed cause of all the
mischief, passed his time in Gloucester gaol, whither he had been
committed as a rogue and a vagabond. Being visited one day by some
person from the neighbourhood of Tedworth, he asked what was the news
in Wiltshire, and whether people did not talk a great deal about a
drumming in a gentleman's house there? The visiter replied, that he
heard of nothing else; upon which the drummer observed, "I have done
it; I have thus plagued him; and he shall never be quiet until he hath
made me satisfaction for taking away my drum." No doubt the fellow,
who seems to have been a gipsy, spoke the truth, and that the gang of
which he was a member knew more about the noises at Mr. Mompesson's
house than anybody else. Upon these words, however, he was brought to
trial at Salisbury, for witchcraft; and, being found guilty, was
sentenced to transportation; a sentence which, for its leniency,
excited no little wonder in that age, when such an accusation, whether
proved or not, generally insured the stake or the gibbet. Glanvil
says, that the noises ceased immediately the drummer was sent beyond
the seas; but that, some how or other, he managed to return from
transportation; "by raising storms and affrighting the seamen, it was
said;" when the disturbances were forthwith renewed, and continued at
intervals for several years. Certainly, if the confederates of this
roving gipsy were so pertinacious in tormenting poor weak Mr.
Mompesson, their pertinacity is a most extraordinary instance of what
revenge is capable of. It was believed by many, at the time, that Mr.
Mompesson himself was privy to the whole matter, and permitted and
encouraged these tricks in his house for the sake of notoriety; but it
seems more probable that the gipsies were the real delinquents, and
that Mr. Mompesson was as much alarmed and bewildered as his credulous
neighhours, whose excited imaginations conjured up no small portion of
these stories,

"Which rolled, and as they rolled, grew larger every hour."

Many instances, of a similar kind, during the seventeenth century,
might be gleaned from Glanvil and other writers of that period; but
they do not differ sufficiently from these to justify a detail of
them. The most famous of all haunted houses acquired its notoriety
much nearer our own time; and the circumstances connected with it are
so curious, and afford so fair a specimen of the easy credulity even
of well-informed and sensible people, as to merit a little notice in
this chapter. The Cock Lane Ghost, as it was called, kept London in
commotion for a considerable time, and was the theme of conversation
among the learned and the illiterate, and in every circle, from that
of the prince to that of the peasant.

At the commencement of the year 1760, there resided in Cock Lane,
near West Smithfield, in the house of one Parsons, the parish clerk of
St. Sepulchre's, a stockbroker, named Kent. The wife of this gentleman
had died in child-bed during the previous year, and his sister-in-law,
Miss Fanny, had arrived from Norfolk to keep his house for him. They
soon conceived a mutual affection, and each of them made a will in the
other's favour. They lived some months in the house of Parsons, who,
being a needy man, borrowed money of his lodger. Some difference arose
betwixt them, and Mr. Kent left the house, and instituted legal
proceedings against the parish clerk for the recovery of his money.

While this matter was yet pending, Miss Fanny was suddenly taken
ill of the small-pox; and, notwithstanding every care and attention,
she died in a few days, and was buried in a vault under Clerkenwell
church. Parsons now began to hint that the poor lady had come unfairly
by her death, and that Mr. Kent was accessory to it, from his too
great eagerness to enter into possession of the property she had
bequeathed him. Nothing further was said for nearly two years; but it
would appear that Parsons was of so revengeful a character, that he
had never forgotten or forgiven his differences with Mr. Kent, and the
indignity of having been sued for the borrowed money. The strong
passions of pride and avarice were silently at work during all that
interval, hatching schemes of revenge, but dismissing them one after
the other as impracticable, until, at last, a notable one suggested
itself. About the beginning of the year 1762, the alarm was spread
over all the neighbourhood of Cock Lane, that the house of Parsons was
haunted by the ghost of poor Fanny, and that the daughter of Parsons,
a girl about twelve years of age, had several times seen and conversed
with the spirit, who had, moreover, informed her, that she had not
died of the smallpox, as was currently reported, but of poison,
administered by Mr. Kent. Parsons, who originated, took good care to
countenance these reports; and, in answer to numerous inquiries, said
his house was every night, and had been for two years, in fact, ever
since the death of Fanny, troubled by a loud knocking at the doors and
in the walls. Having thus prepared the ignorant and credulous
neighhours to believe or exaggerate for themselves what he had told
them, he sent for a gentleman of a higher class in life, to come and
witness these extraordinary occurrences. The gentleman came
accordingly, and found the daughter of Parsons, to whom the spirit
alone appeared, and whom alone it answered, in bed, trembling
violently, having just seen the ghost, and been again informed that
she had died from poison. A loud knocking was also heard from every
part of the chamber, which so mystified the not very clear
understanding of the visiter, that he departed, afraid to doubt and
ashamed to believe, but with a promise to bring the clergyman of the
parish and several other gentlemen on the following day, to report
upon the mystery.

On the following night he returned, bringing with him three
clergymen, and about twenty other persons, including two negroes,
when, upon a consultation with Parsons, they resolved to sit up the
whole night, and await the ghost's arrival. It was then explained by
Parsons, that although the ghost would never render itself visible to
anybody but his daughter, it had no objection to answer the questions
that might be put to it, by any person present, and that it expressed
an affirmation by one knock, a negative by two, and its displeasure by
a kind of scratching. The child was then put into bed along with her
sister, and the clergymen examined the bed and bed-clothes to satisfy
themselves that no trick was played, by knocking upon any substance
concealed among the clothes. As on the previous night, the bed was
observed to shake violently.

After some hours, during which they all waited with exemplary
patience, the mysterious knocking was heard in the wall, and the child
declared that she saw the ghost of poor Fanny. The following questions
were then gravely put by the clergyman, through the medium of one Mary
Frazer, the servant of Parsons, and to whom it was said the deceased
lady had been much attached. The answers were in the usual fashion, by
a knock or knocks:--

"Do you make this disturbance on account of the ill usage you received
from Mr. Kent ?" -- "Yes."

"Were you brought to an untimely end by poison ?" -- "Yes."

"How was the poison administered, in beer or in purl ?" -- "In

"How long was that before your death?" -- "About three hours."

"Can your former servant, Carrots, give any information about the
poison?" -- "Yes."

"Are you Kent's wife's sister ?" -- "Yes."

"Were you married to Kent after your sister's death?" -- "No."

"Was anybody else, besides Kent, concerned in your murder?" -- "No."

"Can you, if you like, appear visibly to anyone?" -- "Yes."

"Will you do so?" -- "Yes."

"Can you go out of this house?" -- "Yes."

"Is it your intention to follow this child about everywhere?" -- "Yes."

"Are you pleased in being asked these questions?" -- "Yes."

"Does it case your troubled soul?" -- "Yes."

[Here there was heard a mysterious noise, which some wiseacre
present compared to the fluttering of wings.]

"How long before your death did you tell your servant, Carrots, that
you were poisoned? -- An hour?" -- "Yes."

[Carrots, who was present, was appealed to; but she stated
positively that such was not the fact, as the deceased was quite
speechless an hour before her death. This shook the faith of some of
the spectators, but the examination was allowed to continue.]

"How long did Carrots live with you?" -- "Three or four days."

[Carrots was again appealed to, and said that this was true.]

"If Mr. Kent is arrested for this murder, will he confess?" --

"Would your soul be at rest if he were hanged for it?" -- "Yes."

"Will he be hanged for it?" -- "Yes."

"How long a time first?" -- "Three years."

"How many clergymen are there in this room?" -- "Three."

"How many negroes?" -- "Two."

"Is this watch (held up by one of the clergymen) white?" -- "No."

"Is it yellow?" -- "No."

"Is it blue?" -- "No."

"Is it black?" -- "Yes."

[The watch was in a black shagreen case.]

"At what time this morning will you take your departure?"

The answer to this question was four knocks, very distinctly heard
by every person present; and accordingly, at four o'clock precisely,
the ghost took its departure to the Wheatsheaf public-house, close by,
where it frightened mine host and his lady almost out of their wits by
knocking in the ceiling right above their bed.

The rumour of these occurrences very soon spread over London, and
every day Cock Lane was rendered impassable by the crowds of people
who assembled around the house of the parish clerk, in expectation of
either seeing the ghost or of hearing the mysterious knocks. It was at
last found necessary, so clamorous were they for admission within the
haunted precincts, to admit those only who would pay a certain fee, an
arrangement which was very convenient to the needy and money-loving
Mr. Parsons. Indeed, things had taken a turn greatly to his
satisfaction; he not only had his revenge, but he made a profit out of
it. The ghost, in consequence, played its antics every night, to the
great amusement of many hundreds of people and the great perplexity of
a still greater number.

Unhappily, however, for the parish clerk, the ghost was induced to
make some promises which were the means of utterly destroying its
reputation. It promised, in answer to the questions of the Reverend
Mr. Aldritch of Clerkenwell, that it would not only follow the little
Miss Parsons wherever she went, but would also attend him, or any
other gentleman, into the vault under St. John's Church, where the
body of the murdered woman was deposited, and would there give notice
of its presence by a distinct knock upon the coffin. As a preliminary,
the girl was conveyed to the house of Mr. Aldritch near the church,
where a large party of ladies and gentlemen, eminent for their
acquirements, their rank, or their wealth, had assembled. About ten
o'clock on the night of the 1st of February, the girl having been
brought from Cock Lane in a coach, was put to bed by several ladies in
the house of Mr. Aldritch; a strict examination having been previously
made that nothing was hidden in the bedclothes. While the gentlemen,.
in an adjoining chamber, were deliberating whether they should proceed
in a body to the vault, they were summoned into the bedroom by the
ladies, who affirmed, in great alarm, that the ghost was come, and
that they heard the knocks and scratches. The gentlemen entered
accordingly, with a determination to suffer no deception. The little
girl, on being asked whether she saw the ghost, replied, "No; but she
felt it on her back like a mouse." She was then required to put her
hands out of bed, and they being held by some of the ladies, the
spirit was summoned in the usual manner to answer, if it were in the
room. The question was several times put with great solemnity; but
the customary knock was not heard in reply in the walls, neither was
there any scratching. The ghost was then asked to render itself
visible, but it did not choose to grant the request. It was next
solicited to give some token of its presence by a sound of any sort,
or by touching the hand or cheek of any lady or gentleman in the room;
but even with this request the ghost would not comply.

There was now a considerable pause, and one of the clergymen went
downstairs to interrogate the father of the girl, who was waiting the
result of the experiment. He positively denied that there was any
deception, and even went so far as to say that he himself, upon one
occasion, had seen and conversed with the awful ghost. This having
been communicated to the company, it was unanimously resolved to give
the ghost another trial; and the clergyman called out in a loud voice
to the supposed spirit that the gentleman to whom it had promised to
appear in the vault, was about to repair to that place, where he
claimed the fulfilment of its promise. At one hour after midnight they
all proceeded to the church, and the gentleman in question, with
another, entered the vault alone, and took up their position alongside
of the coffin of poor Fanny. The ghost was then summoned to appear,
but it appeared not; it was summoned to knock, but it knocked not; it
was summoned to scratch, but it scratched not; and the two retired
from the vault, with the firm belief that the whole business was a
deception practised by Parsons and his daughter. There were others,
however, who did not wish to jump so hastily to a conclusion, and who
suggested that they were, perhaps, trifling with this awful and
supernatural being, which, being offended with them for their
presumption, would not condescend to answer them. Again, after a
serious consultation, it was agreed on all hands that, if the ghost
answered anybody at all, it would answer Mr. Kent, the supposed
murderer; and he was accordingly requested to go down into the vault.
He went with several others, and summoned the ghost to answer whether
he had indeed poisoned her. There being no answer, the question was
put by Mr. Aldritch, who conjured it, if it were indeed a spirit, to
end their doubts-make a sign of its presence, and point out the guilty
person. There being still no answer for the space of half an hour,
during which time all these boobies waited with the most praiseworthy
perseverance, they returned to the house of Mr. Aldritch, and ordered
the girl to get up and dress herself. She was strictly examined, but
persisted in her statement that she used no deception, and that the
ghost had really appeared to her.

So many persons had, by their openly expressed belief of the
reality of the visitation, identified themselves with it, that Parsons
and his family were far from being the only persons interested in the
continuance of the delusion. The result of the experiment convinced
most people; but these were not to be convinced by any evidence,
however positive, and they, therefore, spread abroad the rumour, that
the ghost had not appeared in the vault because Mr. Kent had taken
care beforehand to have the coffin removed. That gentleman, whose
position was a very painful one, immediately procured competent
witnesses, in whose presence the vault was entered and the coffin of
poor Fanny opened. Their deposition was then published; and Mr. Kent
indicted Parsons and his wife, his daughter, Mary Frazer the servant,
the Reverend Mr. Moor, and a tradesman, two of the most prominent
patrons of the deception, for a conspiracy. The trial came on in the
Court of King's Bench, on the 10th of July, before Lord Chief-Justice
Mansfield, when, after an investigation which lasted twelve hours, the
whole of the conspirators were found guilty. The Reverend Mr. Moor and
his friend were severely reprimanded in open court, and recommended to
make some pecuniary compensation to the prosecutor for the aspersions
they had been instrumental in throwing upon his character. Parsons was
sentenced to stand three times in the pillory, and to be imprisoned
for two years: his wife to one year's, and his servant to six months'
imprisonment in the Bridewell. A printer, who had been employed by
them to publish an account of the proceedings for their profit, was
also fined fifty pounds, and discharged.

The precise manner in which the deception was carried on has never
been explained. The knocking in the wall appears to have been the work
of Parsons' wife, while the scratching part of the business was left
to the little girl. That any contrivance so clumsy could have deceived
anybody, cannot fail to excite our wonder. But thus it always is. If
two or three persons can only be found to take the lead in any
absurdity, however great, there is sure to be plenty of imitators.
Like sheep in a field, if one clears the stile, the rest will follow.

About ten years afterwards, London was again alarmed by the story
of a haunted house. Stockwell, near Vauxhall, the scene of the antics
of this new ghost, became almost as celebrated in the annals of
superstition as Cock Lane. Mrs. Golding, an elderly lady, who resided
alone with her servant, Anne Robinson, was sorely surprised on the
evening of Twelfth-Day, 1772, to observe a most extraordinary
commotion among her crockery. Cups and saucers rattled down the
chimney -- pots and pans were whirled down stairs, or through the
windows; and hams, cheeses, and loaves of bread disported themselves
upon the floor as if the devil were in them. This, at least, was the
conclusion that Mrs. Golding came to; and being greatly alarmed, she
invited some of her neighbours to stay with her, and protect her from
the evil one. Their presence, however, did not put a stop to the
insurrection of china, and every room in the house was in a short time
strewed with the fragments. The chairs and tables joined, at last, in
the tumults, and things looked altogether so serious and inexplicable,
that the neighbours, dreading that the house itself would next be
seized with a fit of motion, and tumble about their ears, left poor
Mrs. Golding to bear the brunt of it by herself. The ghost in this
case was solemnly remonstrated with, and urged to take its departure;
but the demolition continuing as great as before, Mrs. Golding finally
made up her mind to quit the house altogether. She took refuge with
Anne Robinson in the house of a neighbour; but his glass and crockery
being immediately subjected to the same persecution, he was
reluctantly compelled to give her notice to quit. The old lady thus
forced back to her own house, endured the disturbance for some days
longer, when suspecting that Anne Robinson was the cause of all the
mischief, she dismissed her from her service. The extraordinary
appearances immediately ceased, and were never afterwards renewed; a
fact which is of itself sufficient to point out the real disturber. A
long time afterwards, Anne Robinson confessed the whole matter to the
Reverend Mr. Bray field. This gentleman confided the story to Mr.
Hone, who has published an explanation of the mystery. Anne, it
appears, was anxious to have a clear house, to carry on an intrigue
with her lover, and resorted to this trick to effect her purpose. She
placed the china on the shelves in such a manner that it fell on the
slightest motion, and attached horse-hairs to other articles, so that
she could jerk them down from an adjoining room without being
perceived by any one. She was exceedingly dexterous at this sort of
work, and would have proved a formidable rival to many a juggler by
profession. A full explanation of the whole affair may be found in the
"Every-day Book."

The latest instance of the popular panic occasioned by a house
supposed to be haunted, occurred in Scotland, in the winter of the
year 1838. On the 5th of December, the inmates of the farm-house of
Baldarroch, in the district of Banchory, Aberdeenshire, were alarmed
by observing a great number of sticks, pebble-stones, and clods of
earth flying about their yard and premises. They endeavoured, but in
vain, to discover who was the delinquent; and the shower of stones
continuing for five days in succession, they came at last to the
conclusion that the devil and his imps were alone the cause of it. The
rumour soon spread over all that part of the country, and hundreds of
persons came from far and near to witness the antics of the devils of
Baldarroch. After the fifth day, the shower of clods and stones ceased
on the outside of the premises, and the scene shifted to the interior.
Spoons, knives, plates, mustard-pots, rolling-pins, and flat-irons
appeared suddenly endued with the power of self-motion, and were
whirled from room to room, and rattled down the chimneys in a manner
which nobody could account for. The lid of a mustard-pot was put into
a cupboard by the servant-girl in the presence of scores of people,
and in a few minutes afterwards came bouncing down the chimney to the
consternation of everybody. There was also a tremendous knocking at
the doors and on the roof, and pieces of stick and pebble-stones
rattled against the windows and broke them. The whole neighbourhood
was a scene of alarm; and not only the vulgar, but persons of
education, respectable farmers, within a circle of twenty miles,
expressed their belief in the supernatural character of these events,
and offered up devout prayers to be preserved from the machinations of
the Evil One. The note of fear being once sounded, the visiters, as is
generally the case in all tales of wonder, strove with each other who
should witness the most extraordinary occurrences; and within a week,
it was generally believed in the parishes of Banchory-Ternan,
Drumoak, Durris, Kincardine-O'Neil, and all the circumjacent districts
of Mearns and Aberdeenshire, that the devil had been seen in the act
of hammering upon the house-top of Baldarroch. One old man asserted
positively that, one night, after having been to see the strange
gambols of the knives and mustard-pots, he met the phantom of a great
black man, "who wheeled round his head with a whizzing noise, making a
wind about his ears that almost blew his bonnet off," and that he was
haunted by him in this manner for three miles. It was also affirmed
and believed, that all horses and dogs that approached this enchanted
ground, were immediately affected -- that a gentleman, slow of faith,
had been cured of his incredulity by meeting the butter-churn jumping
in at the door as he himself was going out -- that the roofs of houses
had been torn off, and that several ricks in the corn-yard had danced
a quadrille together, to the sound of the devil's bagpipes re-echoing
from the mountain-tops. The women in the family of the persecuted
farmer of Baldarroch also kept their tongues in perpetual motion;
swelling with their strange stories the tide of popular wonder. The
good wife herself, and all her servants, said that, whenever they went
to bed, they were attacked with stones and other missiles, some of
which came below the blankets and gently tapped their toes. One
evening, a shoe suddenly darted across a garret where some labourers
were sitting, and one of the men, who attempted to catch it, swore
positively that it was so hot and heavy he was unable to hold it. It
was also said that the bearbeater (a sort of mortar used to bruise
barley in) -- an object of such weight that it requires several men to
move it -- spontaneously left the barn and flew over the house-top,
alighting at the feet of one of the servant maids, and hitting her,
but without hurting her in the least, or even causing her any alarm;
it being a fact well known to her, that all objects thus thrown about
by the devil lost their specific gravity, and could harm nobody, even
though they fell upon a person's head.

Among the persons drawn to Baldarroch by these occurrences were
the heritor, the minister, and all the elders of the Kirk, under whose
superintendence an investigation was immediately commenced. Their
proceedings were not promulgated for some days; and, in the mean time,
rumour continued to travel through all the Highlands, magnifying each
mysterious incident the further it got from home. It was said, that
when the goodwife put her potato-pot on the fire, each potato, as the
water boiled, changed into a demon, and grinned horribly at her as she
lifted the lid; that not only chairs and tables, but carrots and
turnips, skipped along the floor in the merriest manner imaginable;
that shoes and boots went through all the evolutions of the Highland
fling without any visible wearers directing their motions; and that a
piece of meat detached itself from the hook on which it hung in the
pantry, and placed itself before the fire, whence all the efforts of
the people of the house were unable to remove it until it was
thoroughly roasted; and that it then flew up the chimney with a
tremendous bang. At Baldarroch itself the belief was not quite so
extravagant; but the farmer was so convinced that the devil and his
imps were alone the cause of all the disturbance, that he travelled a
distance of forty miles to an old conjuror, named Willie Foreman, to
induce him, for a handsome fee, to remove the enchantment from his
property. There were, of course, some sensible and educated people,
who, after stripping the stories circulated of their exaggeration,
attributed all the rest to one or other of two causes; first, that
some gipsies, or strolling mendicants, hidden in the neighbouring
plantation, were amusing themselves by working on the credulity of the
country people; or, secondly, that the inmates of Baldarroch carried
on this deception themselves, for some reason or other, which was not
very clear to anybody. The last opinion gained but few believers, as
the farmer and his family were much respected; and so many persons
had, in the most open manner, expressed their belief in the
supernatural agency, that they did not like to stultify themselves by
confessing that they had been deceived.

At last, after a fortnight's continuance of the noises, the whole
trick was discovered. The two servant lasses were strictly examined,
and then committed to prison. It appeared that they were alone at the
bottom of the whole affair, and that the extraordinary alarm and
credulity of their master and mistress, in the first instance, and of
the neighbours and country people afterwards, made their task
comparatively easy. A little common dexterity was all they had used;
and, being themselves unsuspected, they swelled the alarm by the
wonderful stories they invented. It was they who loosened the bricks
in the chimneys, and placed the dishes in such a manner on the
shelves, that they fell on the slightest motion. In short, they played
the same tricks as those used by the servant girl at Stockwell, with
the same results, and for the same purpose -- the gratification of a
love of mischief. They were no sooner secured in the county gaol than
the noises ceased, and most people were convinced that human agency
alone had worked all the wonder. Some few of the most devoutly
superstitious still held out in their first belief, and refused to
listen to any explanation.

These tales of haunted houses, especially those of the last and
present century, however they may make us blush for popular folly, are
yet gratifying in their results; for they show that society has made a
vast improvement. Had Parsons and his wife, and the other contrivers
of the Cock Lane deception, lived two hundred years earlier, they
would not, perhaps, have found a greater number of dupes, but they
would have been hanged as witches, instead of being imprisoned as
vagabonds. The ingenious Anne Robinson and the sly lasses of
Baldarroch would, doubtless, have met a similar fate. Thus it is
pleasant to reflect, that though there may be as much folly and
credulity in the world as ever, in one class of society, there is more
wisdom and mercy in another than ever were known before. Lawgivers, by
blotting from the statute-book the absurd or sanguinary enactments of
their predecessors, have made one step towards teaching the people. It
is to be hoped that the day is not far distant when lawgivers will
teach the people by some more direct means, and prevent the recurrence
of delusions like these, and many worse, which might be cited, by
securing to every child born within their dominions an education in
accordance with the advancing state of civilization. If ghosts and
witches are not yet altogether exploded, it is the fault, not so much
of the ignorant people, as of the law and the government that have
neglected to enlighten them.

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