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Book of the Month

October 2001

Ghost Stories

London: 1823

Sp Coll Ferguson Al-d.47

Anticipating Halloween, the October book of the month is a nineteenth-century anthology of ghost stories.  However, as the full title makes explicit, these particular stories have been brought together not simply to thrill and frighten the reader, but rather to demonstrate that ghostly goings on can usually be attributed to somewhat more mundane activities: Ghost Stories, Collected with a Particular View to Counteract the Vulgar Belief in Ghost and Apparitions, and to Promote a Rational Estimate of the Nature of Phenomena commonly considered as Supernatural.

title-page and frontispiece

Now very rare, the book contains eighteen short stories in all. None of the authors of the stories are given, except for The Green Mantle of Venice which is attributed to H. Clauren, but it is obvious that some of the tales have been translated from French or German. The stories themselves are extremely tame. The preface states that they are a 'humble attempt to counteract the belief in Ghosts and Spectres, and to prevent the pernicious consequences arising from the fear of them.' Thus, as the sub-title implies, the stories aim to rubbish the belief  in the existence of ghosts and they all end up with final twists that provide plausible explanations for the foregoing ' ghostly' occurrences. Typical is The Ghost of Larneville where a resolute guest insists on staying in the haunted room of her hosts' chateau only to discover that 'the strange noises that had been for some time nocturnally heard' are caused by the visitation of a large dog who dislikes sleeping outdoors. Similarly, it transpires that the spectre of The Haunted Inn is none other than the landlord's sleepwalking daughter. 

table of contents

plate opposite p. 58 (The Green Mantle)

The book was published by Ackermann's Repository of Arts in 1823. Rudolph Ackermann was born in Germany, trained as a carriage designer in Paris, and moved to England between 1783 and 1786. By 1800 he had built up his unique business, the ' Repository of Arts', based at 101, The Strand, London. As part of his venture, Ackermann published over 300 books, many with hand-coloured plates. The 'Repository of Art's, however, was far more than a publishing house: it incorporated a drawing school, a Gallery of Ancient and Modern Paintings and Drawings, and a circulating library of prints and drawings, while it also manufactured watercolour paints (experimenting with  a number of new chemical pigments) and produced thousands of decorative prints in aquatint, mezzotint, stipple, lithography, steel plate engraving and soft-ground etching. Above all, Ackermann was fascinated by scientific and technological advances, especially in connection with the fine and decorative arts. He was consequently responsible for promoting many inventions: in 1801, for instance, he took out a patent for making substances more water-proof, in 1811 he became the first manufacturer to employ gas lighting, and in 1817 he patented Alois Senefelder's process of lithography in England.  

Ackermann's younger sons succeeded him in 1830 as Ackermann & Co. The firm has continued to flourish and now operates as Ackermann & Johnson, running a fine art gallery in London. 

Supernatural tales have been thrilling and chilling readers since antiquity. Towards the end of the eighteenth-century Gothic novels such as The Mysteries of Udolpho and The Castle of Otranto captured the imagination of an expanding reading public. Ghost stories became increasingly popular in the Victorian period; such short and self-contained stories were a well-loved element of the fictional periodicals of the day such as Blackwood's and All the Year Round. While the great majority of the early work was mediocre, the genre reached a peak at the end of the nineteenth century when many of major writers of the day dabbled with the supernatural, transforming it into a serious literary form.

plate opposite p.9 (The Green Mantle)

Six charming coloured engravings illustrate our anthology. Although the artist cannot now be traced, it is known that  Ackermann employed some of the finest painters of his time. William Henry Pyne, Augustus Charles Pugin, Thomas Uwins, John Gendall and Thomas Rowlandson are all associated with Ackermann commissions. His publications were invariably well printed, carefully coloured, and produced to the highest technical standards.

plate opposite p. 79 (The Green Mantle)

Two scenes from the story Marianne are shown below. To the left, the hero Folmar - guilelessly staying some nights in yet another haunted  inn - mistakes a pale figure in the night to be the ghost of his dead sister Marianne. On the right, Folmar embraces the mysterious 'Marianne' following another spine-chilling encounter.

plate opposite p. 247 (Marianne)

The pallid figure confusingly resembles both Folmar's dead sister Marianne and the dead wife (coincidentally still lying in a coffin downstairs) of the inn's landlord. She is eventually revealed to be the deranged daughter of a fellow lodger and, spookily, she too is named Marianne. Unperturbed by her apparent madness and penchant for midnight wanderings, Folmar goes on to court  Marianne until her sanity returns. They live happily ever after 'amidst a large circle of lovely children'.

plate opposite p. 254 (Marianne)

This book is from the library of John Ferguson (1837-1916), bibliographer and Regius Professor of Chemistry at Glasgow University from 1874 to 1915. Although most well known for its outstanding collection of alchemical and chemistry books, Ferguson also collected in related areas, including the occult.  There are subsequently several nineteenth-century anthologies of ghost stories to be found in the collection.

Other items of interest

Ann Radcliffe  The mysteries of Udolpho (1794) Sp Coll Z7-k.18-21; Horace Walpole The Castle of Otranto: a Gothic story (6th edition: 1791) Sp Coll BD11-c.44 

Other ghost stories from the Ferguson Collection include: T.M Jarvis Accredited ghost stories (1823) Sp Coll Ferguson Al-d.46; William Thomas Stead Real ghost stories (1905) Sp Coll Ferguson Al-d.43; Joseph Sheridan Lefanu Ghost stories and tales of mystery (1851) Sp Coll Ferguson Al-d.48; A. Eric Bayly The house of strange secrets (1899) Sp Coll Ferguson Al-d.53;  M. R. James Ghost-stories of an antiquary (1904) Sp Coll Ferguson Al-d.54; Theodore Gift Not for the night-time (1889) Sp Coll Ferguson Al-d.65.

Other publications by Ackermann in Special Collections include: The Repository of arts and literature (a monthly magazine published between 1809 and 1828: our holdings are imperfect):  Sp Coll periodicals (copies for the years: 1809-1810, 1811-1812, 1826-1827) and Sp Coll 2616-2625 (copies for the years 1809-1812, 1826-1827: see the decorative arts page for some images); 90 plates depicting furniture, taken from various volumes of Ackermann's Repository of arts (1811-1828) Sp Coll Hepburn q3; William Henry Pyne Etchings of rustic figures (1815) Sp Coll RQ 694; The world in miniature:  South Sea Islands (1824) Sp Coll Bl17-d.2 and Tibet, and India beyond the Ganges (1824) Sp Coll RB 3038; William Combe The English dance of death (1815-1816) Sp Coll Gemmell 20-21; William Combe The dance of life (1817) Sp Coll Hepburn q6; William Combe A history of Madeira (1821) Sp Coll RQ 865.


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Julie Coleman October 2001