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THE COCK-LANE GHOST.
An extract from the French papers appeared in the Times a short time since, containing a strange story. The Emperor Napoleon and the Empress Eugenie were closeted with a professor of Science Spirituelle, when a spirit-hand was evoked for the benefit of this remarkable trio. It was attached to no body, but the five fingers, exquisitely delicate, and appended to a beautifully formed hand, moved freely about the mahogany; and when his Imperial Majesty requested the honour of a kiss, very graciously submitted to the royal salute—which was repeated by the Empress, and, upon his humble petition, by the grand doctor of wonders. We know, too, that a handsome living is made among the nobility and gentry by certain proficients in mesmerism and clairvoyance, who are able to read with the napes of their necks and the pits of their stomachs, and to tell what absent friends are doing in Paris or Sydney, quite as well as if they were at your elbow.
Who has forgotten the curious fashion for “tableturning,” when the town went wild over the imaginary gyrations of rose and satin-wood prophets; when evangelical clergymen verily believed that his Satanic majesty gave his oracles from legs and claws of tables ; and that departed spirits made revelations from bewitched chairs and chess-boards ? Nothing, in fact, can be too absurd to find ready belief in this highly civilized nineteenth cen. tury. Need we feel astonished, then, that implicit faith was accorded by our grandmammas to the vagaries of the Cock-lane Ghost ? Old Stow thus describes the locality: “Over against the said Pie-corner lieth Cock-lane, which runneth down to Holborn conduit."
I remember the dingy, narrow, half-lighted street well. In my boyhood, recollections of the strange doings there were comparatively fresh, and it was not uncommon to visit the house once so thronged by lovers of mystery. The tale has almost died out, and it may amuse some of our readers to have a glimpse at the modes of delusion and superstition a hundred years ago. This singular imposture was carried on during January and February, 1762. A Mr. William Kent was living with his deceased wife's sister, Miss Fanny L., at apartments in the house of a Mr. Parsons, clerk of the parish, in Cock-lane. Mr. Kent having occasion to leave on business, Parsons's daughter, a girl eleven years old, slept with Miss Fanny, who complained one morning of having been disturbed by violent noises. Mr. Parsons assigned the disturbance to a neighbouring shoemaker, who went to work very early of a morning. Soon after, on a Sunday night, Miss Fanny, getting out of bed, called out to Mrs. Parsons, “Pray, does your shoemaker work so hard on Sunday nights, too ?” Mrs. Parsons then came in to hear the noise. Mr. Kent, on his return, being obliged to arrest Mr. Parsons for £20 he had lent him, left the house, but took lodgings in the same street. There Miss Fanny was taken ill of small-pox, and died on the 2nd of February. The remains were deposited in a vault under St. John's Church, Clerkenwell. Hereupon a report was circulated by Mr. Parsons that the spirit which had formerly disturbed his daughter and Miss Fanny was succeeded by the spirit of the latter, who harassed his family with continued visitations, which took place as soon as the child was put to bed. Upon certain knockings and scratchings, which seemed to proceed from under the bedstead, the child appeared to be thrown into violent fits. Then the father questioned the ghost, and dictated how many knocks should signify a negative or affirmative. In this way, long conversations were carried on; and the spirit charged Mr. Kent with poisoning her by giving her arsenic in purl. Numbers of persons of high rank visited Cock-lane; the floor and wainscot were ripped up, but the trick remained undetected. The ghost having engaged to follow the girl wherever she was carried, it was proposed to remove the child to some respectable house, and the following proposal, contained in an advertisement, was made to Parsons :
“We, whose names are underwrit, with the approbation of the Lord Mayor, saw Mr. Parsons yesterday, and asked when his daughter should be brought to Clerkenwell. He replied that he would consent to the examination if some of her relatives might be with her in the daytime. This we refused. He then "mentioned one who, he said, was a stranger; but she proved to be very intimate with them. We then told him that none but respectable housekeepers would serve, and at last we got a message from him, “If the Lord Mayor approves, the child shall be removed to the Rev. Mr. Aldrich's.' This plan was proposed :- She was to be brought to the clergyman's house alone. If the father came, he must not be in the same room, but must have a suitable attendant. A bed, without furniture, was to be placed in the midst of a large room, with chairs placed round it. Some clergymen, a physician, surgeon, apothecary, and a justice of the peace, were to be present. The child was to be undressed, examined, and put to bed by a lady of known
character; a noble lord was to be present.'
We are anxious to detect the imposture, if any. “(Signed)
• STEPHEN ALDRICH,
Rector of St. John's, Clerkenwell. « JAMES PENN,
Lecturer of St. Ann's, Aldersgate." In pursuance of this plan, many persons, eminent for rank and character, assembled at Mr. Aldrich's house on January 31, and, about ten at night, met in the chamber where the girl had been put to bed with proper
caution. After an hour, hearing nothing, they went down stairs and examined the father, who strongly denied any knowledge or belief of fraud. As the pretended spirit had publicly promised, by an affirmative knock, that she would attend one of the gentlemen to the vault under the church, and give a token by a knock upon the coffin, it was determined to make that trial. While deliberating, they were called into the chamber by ladies who sat near the bed, and had heard noises. The girl said that she felt the spirit like a mouse upon her back, and being required to hold her hands out of bed, from that time there was no evidence of anything preternatural. The spirit was then told they were about to visit the vault, and that the promise about striking the coffin must now be performed. At one o'clock in the morning the party repaired to the church, and two of them entered the vault, but in spite of a solemn demand of the promised sign, all was silent. Then Mr. Kent, accused of murder by the ghost, went down, but no effect followed. The girl would make no confession, and the assembly concluded “that she had some art of counterfeiting particular noises, and that there was no higher agency.” It was then reported that the coffin had been displaced or removed.
On the 25th of February, Mr. Kent the undertaker who performed the funeral, and several gentlemen, descended into the vault, when the coffin being identified, it was opened, and the body found to be undisturbed. Other means were used to detect the fraud. The girl was taken from house to house, but was constantly attended by mysterious noises, though bound and muffled hand and foot. There was no motion of the lips when she seemed asleep, yet the sounds were frequent, and were said to be heard in rooms a considerable distance from that where she lay. At last she was placed in a hammock six feet from the ground, her hands extended and fastened with fillets, when for two nights no noises were heard. She was then told that if the knockings were not heard again, she and her parents would be sent to Newgate.
She asked to be put to bed, to see if the scratchings would return, but they did not. This was on a Saturday. Being told that only one night more would be allowed, she concealed a board under her stays, and said "she would bring Fanny at six the next morning." The master of the house was warned that she had a board in bed with her. In the morning noises were heard, but quite unlike the former, and, being searched, the board was found. It was thought she had been frightened into this attempt, as the sounds had no resemblance to those heard previously.
Things remained thus, when Mr. Kent resolved to vindicate his character at law. On the 10th of July, the Parsonses, Mary Fraser, who acted as the ghost's interpreter, the Rev. Mr. Moore, minister of St. Sepulchre, and one James, a tradesman, were tried at Guildhall, before Lord Mansfield, and convicted of a conspiracy against the life and character of Mr. Kent. The Court permitted Moore and James to purchase their pardon of the injured party by a payment of £600. Parsons was sentenced to be set on the pillory three times in one month, once at the end of Cock-lane, and to be imprisoned