Portentous, derisive, dull, dismal, damnable...
Charles Dickens goes on a ghost hunt
In 1860, a few years after moving into Gad’s Hill Place in Kent, Charles Dickens received word that a ghost had been spotted at the nearby Larkin Monument. Days later, he (Dickens, that is) wrote to a friend and fellow novelist Wilkie Collins and described the hunt that ensued.
Wednesday, Oct. 24th, 1860.
My dear Wilkie,
I have been down to Brighton to see Forster, and found your letter there on arriving by express this morning.
I also found a letter from Georgina, describing that Mary’s horse went down suddenly on a stone, and how Mary was thrown, and had her riding-habit torn to pieces, and has a deep cut just above the knee—fortunately not in the knee itself, which is doing exceedingly well, but which will probably incapacitate her from walking for days and days to come. It is well it was no worse. The accident occurred at Milton, near Gravesend, and they found Mary in a public-house there, wonderfully taken care of and looked after. . .
Rumours were brought into the house on Saturday night, that there was a “ghost” up at Larkins’s monument. Plorn1 was frightened to death, and I was apprehensive of the ghost’s spreading and coming there, and causing “warning” and desertion among the servants. Frank was at home, and Andrew Gordon was with us. Time, nine o’clock. Village talk and credulity, amazing. I armed the two boys with a short stick apiece, and shouldered my double-barrelled gun, well loaded with shot.
“Now observe,” says I to the domestics, “if anybody is playing tricks and has got a head, I’ll blow it off.”
Immense impression. New groom evidently convinced that he has entered the service of a bloodthirsty demon.
We ascend to the monument. Stop at the gate.
Moon is rising. Heavy shadows.
“NOW, LOOK OUT!” (from the bloodthirsty demon, in a loud, distinct voice). “If the ghost is here and I see him, so help me God I’ll fire at him!”
Suddenly, as we enter the field, a most extraordinary noise responds. Terrific noise. Human noise—and yet superhuman noise.
Bloodthirsty demon brings piece to shoulder.
“Did you hear that, pa?” says Frank. “I did,” says I.
Noise repeated. Portentous, derisive, dull, dismal, damnable.
We advance towards the sound. Something white comes lumbering through the darkness...
An asthmatic sheep!
Dead, as I judge, by this time. Leaving Frank to guard him, I took Andrew with me, and went all round the monument, and down into the ditch, and examined the field well, thinking it likely that somebody might be taking advantage of the sheep to frighten the village.
Drama ends with discovery of no one, and triumphant return to rum-and-water.
LETTERS WERE LIVE
On Thursday and Friday we took Letters Live to the Royal Albert Hall and it was magnificent—the venue, the audience, the performers, the letters, the music. All of it. It’ll take me a little while to process, at which point I’ll say more, but until then: thank you to all who came.
Edward Bulwer Lytton Dickens, Charles’ youngest son.