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Tales of the Dead





translated from the French


            "Graves, at my command,
Have waked their sleepers; oped, and let them forth
By my so potent art."


Printed for White, Cochrane, and Co., Fleet-Street,


{ii} Although the passion for books of amusement founded on the marvellous relative to ghosts and spirits may be considered as having very much subsided; yet I cannot but think that the tales which form the bulk of this little volume, may still afford gratification in the perusal. From the period when the late Lord Orford first published The Castle of Otranto, till the production of Mrs. Ratcliffe's romances, the appetite for the species of reading in question gradually increased; and perhaps it would not have been now surfeited, but for the multitude of contemptible imitations which the popularity of the latter writer called forth, and which continually issued from the press, until the want of readers at length checked the inundation.

The Northern nations have generally discovered more of imagination in this description of writing than their neighbours in the South or West; and in proportion as they have been more the victims of credulity with respect to spirits, they have indulged in the wanderings of fancy on subjects of this kind, and have eagerly employed their invention in forming narrations founded on the supposed communication between the spiritual world and mankind. The productions of Schiller, and others of the modern German literati, of this nature, are well known in England.

{ii} The first four tales in this collection, and the last, are imitated from a small French work, which professes to be translated from the German1. It contains several other stories of a similar cast; but which did not appear equally interesting, and they have therefore been omitted. The last tale has been considerably curtailed, as it contained much matter relative to the loves of the hero and heroine, which in a compilation of this kind appeared rather misplaced. The fifth tale, (or rather fragment,) is founded on an incident similar in its features, which was some years since communicated to me, by a female friend of very deserved literary celebrity, as having actually occurred in this country; and I have therefore no other claim in respect to it, than that of having a little amplified the detail. The termination is abrupt, and necessarily so, as I must candidly confess a want of imagination to fulfil the expectations which may have been excited by the early part of the tale.

The translation was the amusement of an idle hour; and if it afford an equal portion of gratification to the reader, the time has not been altogether misemployed.


{[iii]} It is generally believed that at this time of day no one puts any faith in ghosts and apparitions. Yet, on reflection, this opinion does not appear to me quite correct: for, without alluding to workmen in mines, and the inhabitants of mountainous countries, -- the former of whom believe in spectres and hobgoblins presiding over concealed treasures, and the latter in apparitions and phantoms announcing either agreeable or unfortunate tidings, -- may we not ask why amongst ourselves there are certain individuals who have a dread of passing through a church-yard after night-fall? Why others experience an involuntary shuddering at entering a church, or any other large uninhabited edifice, in the dark? And, in fine, why persons who are deservedly considered as possessing courage and good sense, dare not visit at night even places where they are certain of meeting with nothing they need dread from living beings? They are ever repeating, that the living are only to be dreaded; and yet fear night, because they believe, by tradition, that it is the time which {iv} phantoms choose for appearing to the inhabitants of the earth.

Admitting, therefore, as an undoubted fact, that, with few exceptions, ghosts are no longer believed in, and that the species of fear we have just mentioned arises from a natural horror of darkness incident to man, -- a horror which he cannot account for rationally, -- yet it is well known that he listens with much pleasure to stories of ghosts, spectres, and phantoms. The wonderful ever excites a degree of interest, and gains an attentive ear; consequently, all recitals relative to supernatural appearances please us. It was probably from this cause that the study of the sciences which was in former times intermixed with the marvellous, is now reduced to the observation of facts. This wise revolution will undoubtedly assist the progress of truth; but it has displeased many men of genius, who maintain that by do doing, the sciences are robbed of their greatest attractions, and that the new mode will tend to weary the mind and disenchant study; and they neglect no means in their power to give back to the supernatural, that empire of which it has been recently deprived: They loudly applaud their efforts, though they cannot pride themselves on their success: for in physic and natural history prodigies are entirely exploded.

But if in these classes of writing, the marvellous {v} and supernatural would be improper, at least they cannot be considered as misplaced in the work we are now about to publish: and they cannot have any dangerous tendency on the mind; for the title-page announces extraordinary relations, to which more or less faith may be attached, according to the credulity of the person who reads them. Besides which, it is proper that some repertory should exist, in which we may discover the traces of those superstitions to which mankind have so long been subject. We now laugh at, and turn them into ridicule: and yet it is not clear to me, that recitals respecting phantoms have ceased to amuse; or that, so long as human nature exists, there will be wanting those who will attach faith to histories of ghosts and spectres.

I might in this preface have entered into a learned and methodical disquisition respecting apparitions; but should only have repeated what Dom Calmet2 and the Abbé Lenglet-Dufresnoy3 have already said {vi} on the subject, and which they have so thoroughly exhausted, that it would be almost impossible to advance any thing new. Persons curious to learn every thing relative to apparitions, will be amply recompensed by consulting the two writers above mentioned. They give to the full as strange recitals as any which are to be found in this work. Although the Abbé Lenglet-Dufresnoy says there really are apparitions; yet he does not appear to believe in them himself: but Dom Calmet finishes (as Voltaire observes) as if he believed what he wrote, and especially with respect to the extraordinary histories of Vampires. And we may add, for the benefit of those anxious to make deeper search into the subject in question, that the Abbé Lenglet-Dufresnoy has given a list of the principal authors who have written on spirits, demons, apparitions, dreams, magic, and spectres.

Since this laborious writer has published this list, Swedenborg and St. Martin have rendered themselves notorious by their Works; and there have also appeared in Germany treatises on this question of the appearance of spirits. The two authors who have the most largely entered into the detail are Wagener and Jung. The first, whose book is entitled The Spectres4, endeavours to explain apparitions by attributing {vii} them to natural causes. But the second, on the contrary, firmly believes in spirits; and his Theory on Phantasmatology5 furnishes us with an undoubted proof of this assertion. This work, the fruit of an ardent and exalted imagination, is in some degree a manual to the doctrines of the modern Seers, known in Germany under the denomination of Stillingianer, They take their name from Stilling, under which head Jung has written memoirs of his life, which forms a series of different works. This sect, which is actually in existence, is grafted on the Swedenborgians and Martinisme, and has a great number of adherents, especially in Switzerland. We also see in the number of the (English) Monthly Review for December 1811, that Mrs. Grant has given a pretty circumstantial detail of the apparitions and spirits to which the Scottish mountaineers attach implicit faith.

In making choice of the stories for my translations from the German, which I now offer to the public, I have neglected nothing to merit the approbation of those who take pleasure in this species of reading: and if this selection has the good fortune to meet with any success, it shall be followed by another; in which I shall equally endeavour to excite the curiosity of the lovers of romance; while to those who are {viii} difficult to please, and to whom it seems strange that any one should attach the slightest degree of faith to such relations, I merely say, -- Remember the words of Voltaire at the beginning of the article he wrote on "Apparition," in his Philosophical Dictionary: "It is no uncommon thing for a person of lively feelings to fancy he sees what never really existed."


1. Fantasmagoria; ou Recuil d'Histoires d'Apparitions, de Spectres, Revenans, Fantômes, &c. Traduit de L'Allemand, par un Amateur. Paris, 1812. 2 tom. 12mo.

2. Dissertation sur les Apparitions; par Dom Augustin Calmet: 3me édition. Paris. Paris, 1751, 2 tom. 12mo.

3. Traité Historique et Dogmatique sur les Apparitions, les Visions, et les Révélations particuliers; avec des Remarques sur la Dissertation du R. P. Dom Calmet: par l'Abbé Lenglet-Dufresnoy. Avignon ou Paris, 1751, 2 tom. 12mo.
    Receuil des Dissertations, Anciennes et Nouvelles, sur les Apparitions, les Visions, et les Songes; avec une Preface historique: par l'Abbé L. Dufresnoy. Avignon ou Paris, 1751. 4 tom. 12mo.

4. Die Gespenster Kurze Erzæhlungen aus dem Reiche der Wahrheit. Berlin, 1797, et suiv. in 8vo.

5. Theorie der Geister-Kunde. Nuremberg, 1808, in 8vo. -- This work has been censured by several Protestant consistories.