First Published: 1904 by Methuen
My copy: free download on Kindle
Memorable quote: “Believe me, science has done good to mankind, but it has done mischief too. If we wish to be poetical or romantic, we must shut our eyes to facts.”
This collection of spooky tales from the late Victorian / Edwardian era is freely available as an ebook. Its author, the Reverend Sabine Baring-Gould (1834-1924) was a scholar and folklorist who has probably achieved most lasting renowned as the writer of that bombastic hymn, “Onward Christian Soldiers.” There are about twenty stories in this anthology, which is quite a mixed bag overall although its variety gives a good insight into the eclecticism of Baring-Gould’s scholarly interests. A couple of the stories are rather too moralistic to be entertaining, such as the one about the young wife who uses witchcraft to avoid pregnancy and is then haunted by all the seven children she “ought” to have had. Thankfully such tales are in the minority and plenty of others manage to be – if not what you’d call really scary – at least very atmospheric, with an enjoyable assortment of haunted houses, midnight graveyards and vengeful ghosts. However, it isn’t the straightforwardly spooky ones but the offbeat, odd tales that are really pick of the bunch here: “Jean Bouchon” the tale of a haunted restaurant slips into satire halfway through; in “H.P.” an archaeologist defends the civilised world to the disapproving ghost of a caveman; and the collection is worth downloading for the marvellously zany “A Professional Secret” alone. This story stages a link between hauntings and the process of authorial invention. It makes for a madcap read but one which any aspiring author can relate to as they begin the rewarding and exhilarating process of ‘fleshing out’ the characters in their imagination. Overall A Book of Ghosts is probably not worth paying money for but as a freebie it’s well worth a look.