Recently I bought a copy of ‘Dreams and Ghosts’ by the pioneering folklorist Andrew Lang. In the book, published in 1897, Lang discusses the lore of ghosts; many of the stories he therefore discusses at some length, or mixes up with other examples. There are a few, though, which are not well-known and which stand alone. The following tale of a Taunton ghost, which he put under the heading ‘Put out the light!’ (on page 185), is one such and since it comes from a named source and possesses at least one odd feature, I shall quote it here.
‘The Rev D W G Gwynne, MD, was a physician in holy orders. In 1853 he lived at P—- House, near Taunton [Somerset], where both he and his wife “were made uncomfortable by auditory experiences to which they could find no clue”, or, in common English, they heard mysterious noises.
“During the night”, writes Dr Gwynne, “I became aware of a draped figure passing across the foot of the bed towards the fireplace. I had the impression that the arm was raised, pointing with the hand towards the mantel-piece on which a night-light was burning. Mrs Gwynne at the same moment, seized my arm, and the light was extinguished! [Lang's or Dr Gwynne's italics.] Notwithstanding, I distinctly saw the figure returning towards the door, and being under the impression that one of the servants had found her way into our room, I leaped out of bed to intercept the intruder, but found and saw nothing. I rushed to the door and endeavoured to follow the supposed intruder, and it was not until I found the door locked, as usual, that I was painfully impressed.
“I need hardly say that Mrs Gwynne was in a very nervous state. She asked me what I had seen, and I told her. She had seen the same figure,” “but,” writes Mrs Gwynne, “I distinctly saw the hand of the figure placed over the night-light, which was at once extinguished. [Lang or Mrs Gwynne's italics.] “Mrs Gwynne also heard the rustle of the ‘tall man-like figure’s’ garments. In addition to the night-light there was moonlight in the room.”
‘Other people had suffered many things in the same house, unkown to Dr and Mrs Gwynne, who gave up the place soon afterwards.
‘In plenty of stories we hear of ghosts who draw curtains or open doors, and these apparent material effects are usually called part of the seer’s delusion. But the night-light certainly went out under the figure’s hand, and was relit by Dr Gwynne. Either the ghost was an actual entity, not a mere hallucination of two people, or the extinction of the light was a curious coincidence.’
© Richard Holland 2011. Quoting from ‘Dreams and Ghosts’ by Andrew Lang, 1897.