MR. PUNCH’S SPECTRAL ANALYSES.
Punch, August 5, 1903
The Ghost’s Point of View.
“Phew!” gasped the Spectre, collapsing into a chair at my bedside, “you did give me a start.”
“If it comes to that,” I replied severely—for the first intimation I had had of his presence had been the touch of an icy finger on my forehead while I was asleep—“if it comes to that, you gave me a start; you nearly frightened me into a fit. I wish you would learn to be more careful what you do with your hands.”
The Spectre eyed me doubtfully.
“Do you mean to tell me,” he said, “that human beings are frightened when they see ghosts?”
“Did you think they were amused?”
“I always imagined that they took a purely scientific interest in the matter. Of course, we are simply terrified when we see you——”
“What! A ghost is frightened when he sees a human being?”
“Out of his wits. Did you not know that? Dear me. Well, well, we live and learn.”
“But, surely,” I said, interested by this time, “I should have thought that you so constantly saw us——”
“Ah, but that is not the case. We see you as seldom as—apparently—you see us. Why it is, I don’t know. There are fellows at the Club who could explain it to you. It is something to do with planes or dimensions or something. I remember that, because we were discussing it only the other evening. Jones—I don’t know if you have ever met him: tall, handsome man with a dagger sticking in his chest—maintained that there were no such things as human beings; said they didn’t exist, don’t you know. He said that the cases cited where ghosts had actually seen them were in reality pure hysteria. A ghost goes into a house which he knows is haunted, and naturally he imagines that every shadow is a human being. Jones is a thorough sceptic—hard-headed man, you know—won’t believe a thing till he sees it. Smith, on the other hand—I think you must have met Smith, or at any rate heard him. You would know him by his get-up. He is a dandy, is Smith. Faultless winding-sheet, chains on his legs, and so on; carries his head in his right hand, and groans.”
“Ah,” I said, “I have heard the groans.”
“Yes, I thought you must have done. He’s always practising: groans bass in our choir, you know. Well, Smith maintained that some of the hundreds of cases quoted must be authentic. How, for instance, did Jones account for the haunted room at Blamis Castle?”
“What was that?” I asked.
“Oh, it was rather a painful affair. The castle was said to be haunted, and a young spectre, who scoffed at the idea, offered to walk the night there. They allowed him to go, stipulating, however, that directly he saw anything supernatural he should ring the bell.”
“Oh,” I interrupted, “then ghosts can ring bells?”
“My dear Sir,” said the Spectre a little testily, “we have many limitations, but we can do a simple thing like that. You might just as well ask if a ghost can wind up a night watch or write a dead letter. Well, at the stroke of midnight a violent peal was heard. They rushed to the room, and there lay the poor young fellow senseless. Some time after he had entered, it seemed, he had suddenly become aware—how, he could not say—that he was not alone, and, looking round, he saw a man standing in the doorway. The apparition advanced slowly, and, to his unspeakable horror, walked straight through him. Then he fainted, and knew no more until he found himself being given spirits in a spoon by his friends. He was never quite himself after that.”
“And did that convince Jones?”
“Not a bit. He simply said that owing to the stories connected with the place it had been hypnotically suggested to the young fellow that there was a human being in that particular room, and the rest had followed naturally. But I know what would settle him.”
“If I could bring him here and show you to him. Could you excuse me for one minute?”
“Then I’ll just run and fetch him.”
And he disappeared. I think something must have gone wrong with the dimensions, for though I waited long he never returned, and to this day I have not seen him again.
Unsigned story as printed; all other items in this series credited to P. G. Wodehouse in the Index to Vol. 125 of Punch, though this item’s page reference is missing in the index. Title and publication date of this story entered by Wodehouse in “Money Received for Literary Work.”
The title of this series of ghost stories is in itself a bit of wordplay. Spectral analysis in science refers to the identification of chemical substances based on their emission or absorption of specific wavelengths of light, creating bright or dark lines of specific colors when light is spread out into colors, rainbow-fashion, by a prism or spectroscope. This was one of the most powerful tools of physical chemistry in the 19th century, and was widely discussed even in popular articles on science. Wodehouse (or the Punch editors) punned on the fact that ‘spectrum’ and ‘spectre’ have the same adjectival form.
Blamis Castle: clearly a takeoff on Glamis Castle, in Angus, Scotland, described by many sources as “the most haunted castle in Scotland.” Glamis was the childhood home of Elizabeth Bowes-Lyon, better known to us as the late Queen Elizabeth the Queen Mother, and a cousin of the Bowes-Lyon girls to whom PGW dedicated The Pothunters. Wodehouse may well have altered the name of the haunted castle in this story to keep on good terms with the Lyon family, who had lived at Glamis since the 14th century.