Ghostology 101: Recommended Reading

This isBookshelf a bibliography of 19th- and early 20th-century non-fiction works addressing ghosts. Many of the works debate the reality of ghosts, either for or against. Several of the sources relate allegedly true ghostly encounters.

I’ve arranged the works chronologically, decade by decade, to chart the evolution of discussion about ghosts. I’ve also included hyperlinks to scans of specific editions. This is an ongoing project. Please stop by from time to time, and certainly feel free to suggest potential additions.

 

1800s

John Tregortha. News from the Invisible World; or, Interesting Anecdotes of the Dead (Bruslem: John Tregortha, 1800; Bruslem: John Tregortha, 1813; Halifax: J. Nicholson, 1840). Tregortha presents several accounts of experiences with ghosts, attempting to “relate nothing but what is upon the surest foundation of credit.” Though he claims to be neutral regarding whether ghostly encounters are real or delusion, his opening remarks on Biblical precedent for ghostly encounters suggest his bias.

1810s

John Ferriar. An Essay towards a Theory of Apparitions (London: Cadell and Davies, 1813). Dr. Ferriar argues that perceiving ghosts is a matter of psychological deception, not actual encounters with the supernatural.

Joseph Taylor. Apparitions; or, The Mystery of Ghosts, Hobgoblins, and Haunted Houses Developed (London: Lackington, Allen, 1814; 2nd, enlarged edition: London: Lackington, Allen, 1815). A collection of stories gathered by Taylor in person and from “historical sources,” designed to dissuade readers from believing in ghosts, etc. As the full title says, the stories form “a collection of entertaining stories founded on fact; and selected for the purpose of eradicating those ridiculous fears, which the ignorant, the weak, and the superstitious, are but too apt to encourage, for want of proper examining into the causes of such absurd impositions.”

“On Ghosts.” The Edinburgh Observer (1.9 [Jan. 3, 1818] pp. 200-202). Reprinted from the American Port Folio, this article opens by discussing how ghosts are either “commissioned” to ensure that justice be done on Earth or return to atone for having committed an injustice in life. It then recounts several ghost stories, drawing generalizations from them, such as ghosts tend to show up at midnight and, with some exceptions, they wear what was worn in life.

1820s

William Andrew Mitchell. “An Enquiry into the Nature of Ghosts and Other Appearances Supposed to be Supernatural.” In An Essay on Capacity and Genius (London: W. Simpkin and R. Marshall, 1820, pp. 335-573). This long essay classifies apparitions and attributes them to “deceptions of the senses” and the imagination. (The essay is coupled with another that argues the Lockean tabla rasa theory: rather than being innate, mental capacity and genius are productions of environment. A hostile critic for The Electric Review first lambasts that essay and, regarding the second, huffs: “The Essay on Ghosts does not merit a single sentence of criticism.”)

Ghost Stories: Collected with a Particular View to Counteract the Vulgar Belief in Ghosts and Apparitions, and to Promote a Rational Estimate of the Nature of Phenomena Commonly Considered as Supernatural (London: R. Ackermann, Repository of Arts, 1823; Philadelphia: Carey and Hart, 1846; Philadelphia: Henry Carey Baird, 1854; New York: James Miller, 1865). As the titles suggests, these are stories in which ghosts are debunked. The interesting introduction in the 1823 edition makes the editor’s stance on ghosts clear: “It is fear, superstition, and a heated imagination that creates spectres and their train: sober, scrutinizing reason finds nothing of their kind.” Curiously, this collection does not repeat any of the stories run the same year in the magazine series noted below, and Rudolph Ackermann published both the book and the magazine.

“The Three Brothers,” The Repository of Arts, Literature, Fashion, Manufactures, &c. (2.7 [July, 1823] pp. 9-15; 2.8 [Aug., 1823] pp. 83-87; and 2.9 [Sept., 1823] pp. 129-34.) This was the first of a series titled “Ghost Stories,” which was followed by “The Widow of Milan” (2.11 [Nov., 1823] pp. 274-76); “The Ghost of St. Germain” (1.12 [Dec., 1823] pp. 346-49); “The Illuminated Church at Neisse, in Silesia” (3.13 [Jan., 1824] pp. 21-24); “The Drilled Goblins” (3.15 [Mar., 1824] pp. 150-52); “Apparition of Lady Lee” (3.16 [Apr., 1824] pp. 223-25); and “The Apparition of Woodstock” (3.18 [June, 1824] pp. 323-26). Like the collection immediately above, all of the stories in this series provide “rational” explanations for ghostly sightings.

John Alderson. An Essay on Apparitions, in which Their Appearance Is Accounted for by Causes Wholly Independent of Preternatural Agency (Revised edition:  London: Longman, et al, 1823). As the title suggests, Dr. Alderson proposes ghostly visions as arising from psychological disorder. He chronicles some of his own cases and reviews what great minds such as John Locke and William Shakespeare have taught regarding the subject.

T.M. Jarvis. Accredited Ghost Stories (London: J. Andrews, 1823).  Jarvis opens this collection of allegedly true reports of encounters with ghosts by refuting several arguments that such encounters should be dismissed as false.

Mary Shelley. “On Ghosts.” The London Magazine (9 [Mar., 1824] pp. 253-56). The author of Frankenstein first laments the loss of a general belief in ghosts and other fantasy beings — but then asks: “Yet is it true that we do not believe in ghosts?” After saying she’s only seen one in a dream, Shelley narrates two stories told by acquaintances who claim they encountered real ghosts.

Samuel Hibbert. Sketches of the Philosophy of Apparitions; or, An Attempt to Trace Such Illusions to Their Physical Causes (Edinburgh: Oliver and Boyd; London: George B. Whittaker 1825). Like Dr. Ferriar before him, Dr. Hibbert attributes experiences with ghosts to psychological deception.

Horace Welby (pseudonym of John Timbs). Signs Before Death, and Authenticated Apparitions: in One Hundred Narratives (London: Simpkin and Marshall, 1825; revised edition: London: William Tegg, 1875). Introducing this anthology of accounts culled from earlier “authorities” on ghostly activity, Welby summarizes various theories regarding visions of ghosts and offers a concise overview of earlier works on the topic, especially those from which he took his selections.

Past Feelings Renovated; or, Ideas Occasioned by Perusal of Dr. Hibbert’s “Philosophy of Apparitions” (London: Geo. B. Whittaker, 1828). This is a book-length rebuttal of Hibbert’s book above. The author aims to counteract the materialism of Hibbert’s famous book, not by going to the extreme of believing in ghosts, but by striking a greater balance and allowing some credence to accounts of ghosts, second sight, etc.

1830s

Sir Walter Scott. Letters on Demonology and Witchcraft (London: John Murray, 1830). Though there are mentions of ghosts throughout this series of letters regarding a variety of supernatural subjects, Scott devotes a section to them in the tenth letter. There, he says the phenomenon is “so general, that it may be called proper to mankind in every climate; so deeply rooted also in human belief, that it is found to survive in states of society during which all other fictions of the same order are entirely dismissed from influence.”

James Thatcher. An Essay on Demonology, Ghosts and Apparitions, and Popular Superstitions (Boston: Carter and Hendee, 1831). Dr. Thatcher argues: “The popular belief in supernatural visitations in the form of apparitions and spectres, is fostered and encouraged by the baneful influence of superstition and prejudice.” He offers a physical explanation of how nerves trick people into thinking they see apparitions and then explores the history of alleged witchcraft and sorcery, ending with a detailed examination of the Salem witches

W.B.O. Peabody. “New-England Superstitions.” The New England Magazine (4 [Feb., 1833] pp. 139-53.) Peabody looks at witchcraft, ghosts, and very briefly, fortune-telling with a global and a local perspective. He dismisses the reality of such things, for example, attributing ghosts to dreams, disease, or delusion.

“A Chapter on Ghosts.” The Cambridge University Magazine (1.2 [May, 1839] pp. 145-49). A carefully reasoned argument that reports of ghostly encounters should be given credence.

G. “Ghosts.” Southern Literary Messenger (5.11 [Nov., 1839] pp. 747-48). A short but interesting refutation of the claim that ghosts are real because the belief in ghosts is universal among humanity. (On a related note, the claim that the widespread belief in ghosts validates their reality has been attributed to Dr. Samuel Johnson. In Life of Samuel Johnson, LL.D. (1791), however, James Boswell says this belief was expressed, not by Johnson himself, but by a fictional character in his novel Rasselas (1756). I discuss this and Johnson’s own views of ghosts here.)

1840s

Charles Mackay. “A Chapter on Haunted Houses.” Bentley’s Miscellany (5 [Feb., 1840] pp. 161-71). A nice overview of several of England’s houses alleged to be haunted, from the Palace of Woodstock to the Cock Lane Ghost.

Cornelia Augusta. “Optical Illusion; or Ghost-Seeing.” The Ladies’ Repository (2 [Oct., 1842] p. 316). A short parable of the author’s own ghostly encounter that turns out to be a trick of moonlight and reflection.

Catherine Crowe. The Night-Side of Nature; or, Ghosts and Ghost-Seers (London: T.C. Newby, 1848, Vol. 1 and Vol. 2; New York: J.S. Redfield, 1850; Philadelphia: Henry T. Coates, 1901). In this well-researched defense of the reality of ghosts, Crowe organizes a variety of accounts of ghostly experiences into chapters about doppelgangers, haunted houses, poltergeists and possession, etc.

Clarence S. Day. Remarkable Apparitions, and Ghost-Stories; or, Authentic Histories (Real or Imaginary) of the Unseen World:  Containing also Accounts of Spectral Warnings, Haunted Houses and Places, Extraordinary Prophecies, Aerial Visions, &c. (New York: Wilson, 1848).

Charles Ollier. Fallacy of Ghosts, Dreams, and Omens: With Stories of Witchcraft, Life-in-Death, and Monomania (London: Charles Ollier, 1848). The title says it all. The first chapters debunk, and the final selections relate stories of strange things.

1850s

presenceAugustine Calmet. The Phantom World: The History and Philosophy of Spirits, Apparitions, &c. (London: Richard Bentley, 1850, Vol. 1 and Vol. 2; Philadelphia: A. Hart, 1850). This appears to be a new — and liberal — translation of Calmet’s Dissertations upon the Apparitions of Angels, Demons, and Ghosts; And Concerning the Vampires of Hungary, Bohemia, Moravia, and Silesia (London: M. Cooper, 1751). Covering angels, magic, elves, ghosts, vampires, and more, Calmet attempts to offer readers only “facts and instances; after which they can with me form their opinion — affirm, deny, or remain in doubt.”

Edwin Paxton Hood. Dream Land and Ghost Land: Visits and Wanderings There in the Nineteenth Century (London: Partridge and Oakey, 1852). An inquiry into ghosts, haunted houses, magnetism, guardian spirits, and other supernatural matters with Hood leaning on the side of belief but considering skeptical viewpoints.

John Netten Radcliffe. Fiends, Ghosts, and Sprites: Including an Account of the Origin and Nature of Belief in the Supernatural (London: Richard Bentley, 1854). After an impressive historical survey of belief in the supernatural — combining mythology, religion, folklore, and even fairy tales — Radcliffe discusses sensory delusions, trickery, and hallucinations. He ends by relating stories of ghosts, prescient dreams and presentiments.

Nathaniel Hawthorne. “The Ghost of Dr. Harris.” Nineteenth Century (47.1 [Jan., 1900] pp. 88-93). At a dinner party in 1856, the author of The Scarlet Letter and The House of the Seven Gables told about his personal encounter with a ghost in a Boston reading room. The hostess asked that he write it down for her, and he obliged. The manuscript went unpublished until 1900.

Charles Nordhoff. “Ghost, or No Ghost?” Ladies’ Repository (19.3 [Mar., 1859] pp. 171-74). Nordhoff takes an informal yet informative look at both sides of the ghost debate, ending by advising readers to distrust secondhand accounts and, if experiencing an encounter firsthand, “knock down your visitor, if you have nerve enough for the operation.”

1860s

Robert Dale Owen. Footfalls on the Boundary of Another World (Philadelphia: J.B. Lippincot, 1860, 1865, 1872, 1889London: Trübner, 1860). Claiming to be objectively presenting well-authenticated evidence, Owen hopes to provide historical records to better assess modern “Spiritual Manifestations.” Book III is titled “Of Disturbances Popularly Termed Hauntings,” and Book IV is titled “Of Appearances Commonly Called Apparitions.”

T.M. Griffith. “Ghosts.” Ladies’ Repository (22.10 [Oct., 1862] pp. 622-623). Reverend Griffith takes a religious stance in favor of the idea that the dead visit living in ghostly form.

“A Word about Ghosts.” The Cheltonian (1.2 [June, 1866] pp. 38-48.). Though hostile toward the belief in ghosts, the anonymous writer provides an interesting broad history of ghost stories and lore.

Henry Johnson Brent. Was It a Ghost? The Murders in Bussey’s Woods (Boston: Loring, 1868). In 1865, two children named Isabella and John Joyce were murdered in a wooded area near Boston. Three weeks afterward, Brent saw an apparition near the murder site, and he tells the story of the unsolved case and his own supernatural encounter. Chapter 16 offers Brent’s thoughts on ghosts, and in Chapter 17, he recounts other cases of murder and ghostly visitations.

Enoch Pond. “Spectral Appearances; Their Causes and Laws.” The Princeton Review (40.2 [Apr., 1868] pp. 293-317.) Pond opens by declaring his belief in an afterlife and in scriptural accounts of ghostly visitations. He is doubtful, though, of modern manifestations and attributes them to deliberate trickery, natural and “occult natural” causes, medically related causes, or optical and psychological illusions.

1870s

Newton Crosland. Apparitions; an Essay, Explanatory of Old Facts and a New Theory (London: Trübner, 1873). Taking the long history of ghost sightings as proof of the reality of ghosts, Crosland answers why ghosts visit the living. His answer is that they prove the immortality of the soul and that they reaffirm a Judeo-Christian view of Divine justice and intervention. By the end, Crosland praises Spiritualism.

Bourchier Wrey Sevile. Apparitions: A Narrative of Facts (London: Longmans, 1874; second edition with extensive new preface: London: Longmans, 1880). After a thorough introduction that presents ghost sightings as confirmation of Biblical beliefs, Sevile narrates a series of stories of ghostly encounters.

Robert G. Ingersoll. “The Ghosts.” The Ghosts and Other Lectures (Washington D.C.:  C.P. Farrell, 1878, pp. 9-70). Ingersoll reviews the history of damage done by believing in ghosts, and he expands on this to discuss a variety of superstitions and religious doctrines.

William H. Harrison. Spirits Before Our Eyes. (London: W.H. Harrison, 1879; Volume One and Volume Two). Harrison says that Volume One deals with “apparitions of the living and dying” while Volume Two addresses “apparitions of the so-called ‘dead’.” Unfortunately, I have not been able to locate an online copy of that second book. Harrison’s purpose is to counter materialist views of the afterlife and, in a way, Spiritualism by focusing on apparitions observed without the aid of a psychic medium. He favors recent reports rather than simply “add another to the already long list of books full of ghost stories . . .”.

1880s

Frederic H. Hedge. “Ghost-Seeing.” North American Review (133.298 [Sept., 1881] pp. 286-301). Hedge presents an impressively unbiased and well-documented overview of how ghosts are perceived (e.g., dreams, “second-sight,” hallucinations, hearing, apparitions of the living and dead).

“Spectre Striken” (pseudonym of William Stainton Moses). Ghostly Visitors: A Series of Authentic Narratives (London: E.W. Allen, 1882). A collection of ghost stories alleged to be true.

Mrs. H. Sidgwick [Eleanor Mildred Sidgwick]. “Notes on the Evidence, Collected by the Society, for Phantasms of the Dead.” Proceedings of the Society for Psychical Research (Vol. 3, London: Trübner, 1885, pp. 69-150). As the title suggests, this is a thorough overview of the Society for Psychical Research’s investigation into communications from the dead to the living. It includes frequent mentions of haunted houses.

L.J. Vance. “Ghost Stories.” The Open Court (2.59 [Oct.11, 1888] pp. 1247-51; 2.60 [Oct. 18, 1888] pp. 1259-63 ; 2.61 [Oct. 25, 1888] pp. 1273-78). A cross-cultural analysis of ghosts stories finding commonality between “savage” and “civilized” groups.

D.R. McAnally, Jr. Irish Wonders: The Ghosts, Giants, Pookas, Demons, Leprechawns, Banshees, Faires, Witches, Widows, Old Maids, and Other Marvels of the Emerald Island (Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1888). “Peasant” tales reputed to have been collected during McAnally’s long journey through Ireland.

1890s

woodbury-photographic-amusementsIrving Montagu. “Ghosts.” The Strand (2.12 [Dec. 1891] pp. 20-27). Using a tone something like that of telling ghost stories by the fire, Montagu recounts his own experiences with ghosts and then relates some other tales that are perhaps more twice-told than verifiable.

Arthur Morrison. The Shadows Around Us: Authentic Tales of the Supernatural (London: Simpkin, Marshall, Hamilton, Kent & Co., 1891). The title clarifies the contents.

W. T. Stead. Real Ghost Stories: A Record of Authentic Apparitions (London: Review of Reviews, 1891). A believer, Stead attempts to open readers’ minds to the possibility of ghosts and related phenomenon. This was followed by More Ghost Stories: A Sequel to Real Ghost Stories (London: Review of Reviews, 1892), but I haven’t been able to find an online copy.

Thomas Jay Hudson. “Phantasms of the Dead,” in The Law of Psychic Phenomena (London: G.P. Putnam, 1892, pp. 286-308). This is a key work of parapsychology and dual-brain theory, though Hudson refers to what we might think of as the subconscious as the “subjective” mind. Hudson explains ghosts as creations of the subjective mind. In some cases, these are shared with others telepathically, and when in the company of a medium, they can become manifested tangibly enough to be photographed.

T.F. Thiselton Dyer. The Ghost World (London: Ward & Downey, 1893; London: Ward & Downey, 1898). Ghost lore culled from the world’s cultures and literature, organized into chapters titled “Ghosts of the Murdered,” “Ghost Butterflies,” “Ghost Seers,” “Phantoms of the Sea,” and many more fascinating motifs.

Andrew Lang. Cock Lane and Common Sense (London: Longmans, Green, 1894).  Lang takes an anthropological approach to ghosts, spiritualism, haunted houses, clairvoyance, and similar phenomena.

Frederick George Lee. Sights and Shadows: Being Examples of the Supernatural (London: W.H. Allen, 1894). The book’s second chapter, “Haunted Localities,” relates several experiences with haunted places, including the author’s own.

“Ghosts and the Balance of Doubt.” The Spectator (79.3612 [Sept. 18, 1897] pp. 366-67). This is an argument in favor of striking a balance between belief and skepticism when dealing with ghosts, referring to important writers on the subject such as Andrew Lang, Joseph Addison, and Samuel Johnson.

Andrew Lang. The Book of Dreams and Ghosts (London: Longmans, Green, 1897). Despite the title, this volume is most concerned with ghosts, and it offers a wide variety of purported true encounters with them.

A[da] Goodrich-Freer (Miss X) and John [Crichton-Stuart], Marquess of Bute, K.T. The Alleged Haunting of B– House (London: George Redway, 1899). A journal of the investigation of Ballechin House, which has been called “The Most Haunted House in Scotland.”

1900s

W.J. Wintle. “Can You Explain It? True Stories of the Ghost World.” London Magazine (10 [Feb.-July, 1903] pp.355-58).

Charles G. Harper. Haunted Houses: Tales of the Supernatural with Some of Hereditary Curses and Family Legends (London: Chapman and Hall, 1907). Harper takes readers on a tour of many haunted places in Britain with a few detours for family curses, omens, and warnings.

H. Addington Bruce. Historic Ghosts and Ghost Hunters (New York: Moffat, Yard, 1908). Bruce recounts many celebrated cases of ghosts and related phenomena, such as the Cock Lane Ghost and the Seeress of Prevorst. He ends with chapters on ghost hunters Dr. John Dee and the many psychical researchers of the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries.

Hereward Carrington. The Coming Science (Boston: Small, Maynard, 1908). Carrington offers a series of theories, those of others as well as his own, regarding such phenomena as telepathy, premonitions, and of course, apparitions and haunted houses. The chapters most relevant to ghosts are titled “The Nature of Apparitions,” “Haunted Houses: Theories,” and “Haunted Houses and Their Cure.”

Elliot O’Donnell. Some Haunted Houses of England & Wales (London: Eveleigh Nash, 1908). This collection of allegedly true ghost encounters — with type of manifestation and type of evidence stated before each — concludes with a short but helpful glossary.

Beckels Willson. “The Best Attested Ghost Stories.” The Strand Magazine (36.216 [Dec., 1908] pp. 635-41). Drawing from the records of the Society for Psychical Research, Willson presents six ghost stories that he found to be the most impressive because of “their simplicity, their directness, and by the triumphant success with which their narrators have withstood searching cross-examination.”

Frank Podmore. Telepathic Hallucinations: The New View of Ghosts (London: Milner, 1909; New York: F.A. Stokes, 1909). A key figure in the Society for Psychical Research, Podmore defends the hypothesis that seeing ghosts is the result of telepathy. He ends the short book by suggesting that these telepathic connections might be made between living people — or between the living and the dead.

1910s

Robert Hugh Benson. “Phantasms of the Dead,” Dublin Review 150.300 (Jan., 1912) pp. 43-63. Benson theorizes that ghosts are actually the result of psychometry, psychic impressions captured in physical objects. For instance, a house’s walls, ceiling, floor, etc. can retain impressions of a murder that occurred there, and these are then sensed to be a ghost. A good report on/summary of Benson’s ideas is found in “Is a Ghost a Mere Emanation from a Physical Object?” Current Literature 53.3 (Sept., 1912) pp. 297-300.

Elliot O’Donnell. Ghostly Phenomenon (London: T.W. Lourie, 1913).

Hereward Carrington. True Ghost Stories (New York: J.S. Ogilvie, 1915). Carrington, a prominent psychical researcher, first presents “well-authenticated” reports and then less substantiated, “startling and interesting ghost stories” (Carrington’s emphasis). The book features sections on haunted houses, historical ghosts, and ghost armies. There’s also a bibliography of ghost fiction and non-fiction.