You might call it parapsychology’s greatest mystery…
Did Catherine Crowe–the at-the-time sixty-something literary stalwart of the mid-nineteenth century, passionate advocate of the German ghost story, and author of that runaway best-seller The Night Side of Nature (London, 2 vols.: Newby, 1848)–really tear through the streets of Edinburgh toward the end of February 1854, naked but for a handkerchief clutched in one plump hand, and a visiting card in the other? And, if she did, was it because she had experienced a nervous breakdown, or because the spirits had convinced her that, once her clothes were shed, she would become invisible?
Crowe’s name may not ring too many bells today, but a century and a half ago she was famous. Born in 1790, she was noted as a novelist (she wrote Susan Hopley, an intricately plotted crime procedural that was some way ahead of its time) and as a friend of the great and good (she knew Thackeray, Dickens and Charlotte Brontë, among many others). Nowadays, however, she is best remembered as a pioneer parapsychologist–“a hugely important figure in the emergence of modern ghost-seeing culture chiefly because of her relentless calls for society to turn its attention to the unexplained phenomena in its midst and investigate them in an objective manner.” [McCorristine p.10]
The Monk’s Story
Catherine Crowe, 1850
[First appeared in Light and Darkness: or The Mysteries of Life, in Three Volumes, (1850)]
Edited by Sanguine Woods
One evening on which a merry Christmas party was assembled in an hospitable country mansion in the north of England, one of the company, a young man named Charles Lisle, called the host aside, as they were standing in the drawing-room before dinner, and whispered, “I say, Graham, I wish you’d put me into a room that has either a bolt or a key.”
“They have all keys, or should have,” returned Mr. Graham.
“The key of my room is lost,” returned the other. “I asked the housemaid. It is always the first thing I look to when I enter a strange bed-chamber. I can’t sleep unless the door is locked.”
“How very odd! I never locked my door in my life,” said Mr. Graham. “I say, Letitia,” continued he, addressing his wife, “here’s Charlie Lisle can’t sleep unless his door’s locked, and the room you’ve put him into has no key.”
At this announcement all the ladies looked with surprise at Charlie Lisle, and all the gentlemen laughed; and “how odd!” and “what a strange fancy!” was echoed among them.
“I daresay you think it very odd, and indeed it must appear rather a lady-like particularity,” responded Lisle, who was a fine active young man, and did not look as if he were much troubled with superfluous fears; “but a circumstance that occurred to me when I was on the continent last summer has given me a nervous horror of sleeping in a room with an unlocked door, and I have never been able to overcome it. This is perhaps owing to my having been ill at the time, and I can scarcely say I have recovered from the effects of that illness yet.”
Naturally, everybody wanted to hear what this adventure was—the programme being certainly exciting—and so one of the visitors offered to exchange rooms with Charlie Lisle, provided he would tell them his story; which accordingly, when assembled round the fire in the evening, he began in the following words:—
Rise, I say! Rise! Give my creature LIFE!!
I get a little excited, I guess, when publishers bring back awesome books we’ve forgotten about—or never knew about due to their having been published before our time!
Valancourt Books is doing just that, and here is a nice article on the subject with juicy details, from our buds over at Black Gate (an intensely cool website). And check out these revamped covers (below are 8 of them I liked)!
I’ll also include buying info below for those of you who like to build your own horror library.
Hey, life is short; only read the good stuff.
Click in thumbnails to enlarge…
Where to Buy
Don’t you just love a great cover? Click below to purchase the ebook. See what old Hitch was so on about…and start the shower…you know…to get the water nice and hot…it’s gonna be a long night…
The Brown Wasps
Loren Eiseley, 1969
“The Brown Wasps” was published in 1971 in Eiseley’s essay collection The Night Country.
There is a corner in the waiting room of one of the great Eastern stations where women never sit. It is always in the shadow and overhung by rows of lockers. It is, however, always frequented—not so much by genuine travelers as by the dying. It is here that a certain element of the abandoned poor seeks a refuge out of the weather, clinging for a few hours longer to the city that has fathered them. In a precisely similar manner I have seen, on a sunny day in midwinter, a few old brown wasps creep slowly over an abandoned wasp nest in a thicket. Numbed and forgetful and frost-blackened, the hum of the spring hive still resounded faintly in their sodden tissues. Then the temperature would fall and they would drop away into the white oblivion of the snow. Here in the station it is in no way different save that the city is busy in its snows. But the old ones cling to their seats as though these were symbolic and could not be given up. Now and then they sleep, their gray old heads resting with painful awkwardness on the backs of the benches.
Also they are not at rest. For an hour they may sleep in the gasping exhaustion of the ill-nourished and aged who have to walk in the night. Then a policeman comes by on his round and nudges them upright.
“You can’t sleep here,” he growls.
A strange ritual then begins. An old man is difficult to waken. After a muttered conversation the policeman presses a coin into his hand and passes fiercely along the benches prodding and gesturing toward the door. In his wake, like birds rising and settling behind the passage of a farmer through a cornfield, the men totter up, move a few paces, and subside once more upon the benches.
One man, after a slight, apologetic lurch, does not move at all. Tubercularly thin, he sleeps on steadily. The policeman does not look back. To him, too, this has become a ritual. He will not have to notice it again officially for another hour.
Once in a while one of the sleepers will not awake. Like the brown wasps, he will have had his wish to die in the great droning center of the hive rather than in some lonely room. It is not so bad here with the shuffle of footsteps and the knowledge that there are others who share the bad luck of the world. There are also the whistles and the sounds of everyone, everyone in the world, starting on journeys. Amidst so many journeys somebody is bound to come out all right. Somebody.