Books and Bookmen, by Andrew Lang

Some Japanese Bogie-Books

There is or used to be a poem for infant minds of a rather Pharisaical character, which was popular in the nursery when I was a youngster. It ran something like this:—.

I thank my stars that I was born

A little British child.

Perhaps these were not the very words, but that was decidedly the sentiment. Look at the Japanese infants, from the pencil of the famous Hokusai. Though they are not British, were there ever two jollier, happier small creatures? Did Leech, or Mr. Du Maurier, or Andrea della Robbia ever present a more delightful view of innocent, well-pleased childhood? Well, these Japanese children, if they are in the least inclined to be timid or nervous, must have an awful time of it at night in the dark, and when they make that eerie “northwest passage” bedwards through the darkling house of which Mr. Stevenson sings the perils and the emotions. All of us who did not suffer under parents brought up on the views of Mr. Herbert Spencer have endured, in childhood, a good deal from ghosts. But it is nothing to what Japanese children bear, for our ghosts are to the spectres of Japan as moonlight is to sunlight, or as water unto whisky. Personally I may say that few people have been plagued by the terror that walketh in darkness more than myself. At the early age of ten I had the tales of the ingenious Mr. Edgar Poe and of Charlotte Bronte “put into my hands” by a cousin who had served as a Bashi Bazouk, and knew not the meaning of fear. But I DID, and perhaps even Nelson would have found out “what fear was,” or the boy in the Norse tale would have “learned to shiver,” if he had been left alone to peruse ‘Jane Eyre,’ and the ‘Black Cat,’ and the ‘Fall of the House of Usher,’ as I was. Every night I expected to wake up in my coffin, having been prematurely buried; or to hear sighs in the area, followed by light, unsteady footsteps on the stairs, and then to see a lady all in a white shroud stained with blood and clay stagger into my room, the victim of too rapid interment. As to the notion that my respected kinsman had a mad wife concealed on the premises, and that a lunatic aunt, black in the face with suppressed mania, would burst into my chamber, it was comparatively a harmless fancy, and not particularly disturbing. Between these and the ‘Yellow Dwarf,’ who (though only the invention of the Countess D’Aulnoy) might frighten a nervous infant into hysterics, I personally had as bad a time of it in the night watches as any happy British child has survived. But our ogres are nothing to the bogies which make not only night but day terrible to the studious infants of Japan and China.

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Chinese ghosts are probably much the same as Japanese ghosts. The Japanese have borrowed most things, including apparitions and awesome sprites and grisly fiends, from the Chinese, and then have improved on the original model. Now we have a very full, complete, and horror-striking account of Chinese harnts (as the country people in Tennessee call them) from Mr. Herbert Giles, who has translated scores of Chinese ghost stories in his ‘Strange Tales from a Chinese Studio’ (De la Rue, 1880). Mr. Giles’s volumes prove that China is the place for Messrs. Gurney and Myers, the secretaries of the Psychical Society.

Ghosts do not live a hole-and-corner life in China, but boldly come out and take their part in the pleasures and business of life. It has always been a question with me whether ghosts, in a haunted house, appear when there is no audience. What does the spectre in the tapestried chamber do when the house is NOT full, and no guest is put in the room to bury strangers in, the haunted room? Does the ghost sulk and complain that there is “no house,” and refuse to rehearse his little performance, in a conscientious and disinterestedly artistic spirit, when deprived of the artist’s true pleasure, the awakening of sympathetic emotion in the mind of the spectator? We give too little thought and sympathy to ghosts, who in our old castles and country houses often find no one to appear to from year’s end to year’s-end. Only now and then is a guest placed in the “haunted room.” Then I like to fancy the glee of the lady in green or the radiant boy, or the headless man, or the old gentleman in snuff-coloured clothes, as he, or she, recognises the presence of a spectator, and prepares to give his or her best effects in the familiar style.

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Now in China and Japan certainly a ghost does not wait till people enter the haunted room: a ghost, like a person of fashion, “goes everywhere.” Moreover, he has this artistic excellence, that very often you don’t know him from an embodied person. He counterfeits mortality so cleverly that he (the ghost) has been known to personate a candidate for honours, and pass an examination for him. A pleasing example of this kind, illustrating the limitations of ghosts, is told in Mr. Giles’s book. A gentleman of Huai Shang named Chou-t’ien-i had arrived at the age of fifty, but his family consisted of but one son, a fine boy, “strangely averse from study,” as if there were anything strange in THAT. One day the son disappeared mysteriously, as people do from West Ham. In a year he came back, said he had been detained in a Taoist monastery, and, to all men’s amazement, took to his books. Next year he obtained is B.A. degree, a First Class. All the neighbourhood was overjoyed, for Huai Shang was like Pembroke College (Oxford), where, according to the poet, “First Class men are few and far between.” It was who should have the honour of giving his daughter as bride to this intellectual marvel. A very nice girl was selected, but most unexpectedly the B.A. would not marry. This nearly broke his father’s heart. The old gentleman knew, according to Chinese belief, that if he had no grandchild there would be no one in the next generation to feed his own ghost and pay it all the little needful attentions. “Picture then the father naming and insisting on the day;” till K’o-ch’ang, B.A., got up and ran away. His mother tried to detain him, when his clothes “came off in her hand,” and the bachelor vanished! Next day appeared the real flesh and blood son, who had been kidnapped and enslaved. The genuine K’o-ch’ang was overjoyed to hear of his approaching nuptials. The rites were duly celebrated, and in less than a year the old gentleman welcomed his much-longed-for grand child. But, oddly enough, K’o-ch’ang, though very jolly and universally beloved, was as stupid as ever, and read nothing but the sporting intelligence in the newspapers. It was now universally admitted that the learned K’o-ch’ang had been an impostor, a clever ghost. It follows that ghosts can take a very good degree; but ladies need not be afraid of marrying ghosts, owing to the inveterate shyness of these learned spectres.

The Chinese ghost is by no means always a malevolent person, as, indeed, has already been made clear from the affecting narrative of the ghost who passed an examination. Even the spectre which answers in China to the statue in ‘Don Juan,’ the statue which accepts invitations to dinner, is anything but a malevolent guest. So much may be gathered from the story of Chu and Lu. Chu was an undergraduate of great courage and bodily vigour, but dull of wit. He was a married man, and his children (as in the old Oxford legend) often rushed into their mother’s presence, shouting, “Mamma! mammal papa’s been plucked again!” Once it chanced that Chu was at a wine party, and the negus (a favourite beverage of the Celestials) had done its work. His young friends betted Chu a bird’s-nest dinner that he would not go to the nearest temple, enter the room devoted to coloured sculptures representing the torments of Purgatory, and carry off the image of the Chinese judge of the dead, their Osiris or Rhadamanthus. Off went old Chu, and soon returned with the august effigy (which wore “a green face, a red beard, and a hideous expression”) in his arms. The other men were frightened, and begged Chu to restore his worship to his place on the infernal bench. Before carrying back the worthy magistrate, Chu poured a libation on the ground and said, “Whenever your excellency feels so disposed, I shall be glad to take a cup of wine with you in a friendly way.” That very night, as Chu was taking a stirrup cup before going to bed, the ghost of the awful judge came to the door and entered. Chu promptly put the kettle on, mixed the negus, and made a night of it with the festive fiend. Their friendship was never interrupted from that moment. The judge even gave Chu a new heart (literally) whereby he was enabled to pass examinations; for the heart, in China, is the seat of all the intellectual faculties. For Mrs. Chu, a plain woman with a fine figure, the ghost provided a new head, of a handsome girl recently slain by a robber. Even after Chu’s death the genial spectre did not neglect him, but obtained for him an appointment as registrar in the next world, with a certain rank attached.

The next world, among the Chinese, seems to be a paradise of bureaucracy, patent places, jobs, mandarins’ buttons and tails, and, in short, the heaven of officialism. All civilised readers are acquainted with Mr. Stockton’s humorous story of ‘The Transferred Ghost.’ In Mr. Stockton’s view a man does not always get his own ghostship; there is a vigorous competition among spirits for good ghostships, and a great deal of intrigue and party feeling. It may be long before a disembodied spectre gets any ghostship at all, and then, if he has little influence, he may be glad to take a chance of haunting the Board of Trade, or the Post Office, instead of “walking” in the Foreign Office. One spirit may win a post as White Lady in the imperial palace, while another is put off with a position in an old college library, or perhaps has to follow the fortunes of some seedy “medium” through boarding-houses and third-rate hotels. Now this is precisely the Chinese view of the fates and fortunes of ghosts. Quisque suos patimur manes.

In China, to be brief, and to quote a ghost (who ought to know what he was speaking about), “supernaturals are to be found everywhere.” This is the fact that makes life so puzzling and terrible to a child of a believing and trustful character. These Oriental bogies do not appear in the dark alone, or only in haunted houses, or at cross-roads, or in gloomy woods. They are everywhere: every man has his own ghost, every place has its peculiar haunting fiend, every natural phenomenon has its informing spirit; every quality, as hunger, greed, envy, malice, has an embodied visible shape prowling about seeking what it may devour. Where our science, for example, sees (or rather smells) sewer gas, the Japanese behold a slimy, meagre, insatiate wraith, crawling to devour the lives of men. Where we see a storm of snow, their livelier fancy beholds a comic snow-ghost, a queer, grinning old man under a vast umbrella.

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The illustrations in this paper are only a few specimens chosen out of many volumes of Japanese bogies. We have not ventured to copy the very most awful spectres, nor dared to be as horrid as we can. These native drawings, too, are generally coloured regardless of expense, and the colouring is often horribly lurid and satisfactory. This embellishment, fortunately perhaps, we cannot reproduce. Meanwhile, if any child looks into this essay, let him (or her) not be alarmed by the pictures he beholds. Japanese ghosts do not live in this country; there are none of them even at the Japanese Legation. Just as bears, lions, and rattlesnakes are not to be seriously dreaded in our woods and commons, so the Japanese ghost cannot breathe (any more than a slave can) in the air of England or America. We do not yet even keep any ghostly zoological garden in which the bogies of Japanese, Australians, Red Indians, and other distant peoples may be accommodated. Such an establishment is perhaps to be desired in the interests of psychical research, but that form of research has not yet been endowed by a cultivated and progressive government.

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The first to attract our attention represents, as I understand, the common ghost, or simulacrum vulgare of psychical science. To this complexion must we all come, according to the best Japanese opinion. Each of us contains within him “somewhat of a shadowy being,” like the spectre described by Dr. Johnson: something like the Egyptian “Ka,” for which the curious may consult the works of Miss Amelia B. Edwards and other learned Orientalists. The most recent French student of these matters, the author of ‘L’Homme Posthume,’ is of opinion that we do not all possess this double, with its power of surviving our bodily death. He thinks, too, that our ghost, when it does survive, has but rarely the energy and enterprise to make itself visible to or audible by “shadow-casting men.” In some extreme cases the ghost (according to our French authority, that of a disciple of M. Comte) feeds fearsomely on the bodies of the living. In no event does he believe that a ghost lasts much longer than a hundred years. After that it mizzles into spectre, and is resolved into its elements, whatever they may be.

A somewhat similar and (to my own mind) probably sound theory of ghosts prevails among savage tribes, and among such peoples as the ancient Greeks, the modern Hindoos, and other ancestor worshippers. When feeding, as they all do, or used to do, the ghosts of the ancestral dead, they gave special attention to the claims of the dead of the last three generations, leaving ghosts older than the century to look after their own supplies of meat and drink. The negligence testifies to a notion that very old ghosts are of little account, for good or evil. On the other hand, as regards the longevity of spectres, we must not shut our eyes to the example of the bogie in ancient armour which appears in Glamis Castle, or to the Jesuit of Queen Elizabeth’s date that haunts the library (and a very nice place to haunt: I ask no better, as a ghost in the Pavilion at Lord’s might cause a scandal) of an English nobleman. With these instantiae contradictoriae, as Bacon calls them, present to our minds, we must not (in the present condition of psychical research) dogmatise too hastily about the span of life allotted to the simulacrum vulgare. Very probably his chances of a prolonged existence are in inverse ratio to the square of the distance of time which severs him from our modern days. No one has ever even pretended to see the ghost of an ancient Roman buried in these islands, still less of a Pict or Scot, or a Palaeolithic man, welcome as such an apparition would be to many of us. Thus the evidence does certainly look as if there were a kind of statute of limitations among ghosts, which, from many points of view, is not an arrangement at which we should repine.

The Japanese artist expresses his own sense of the casual and fluctuating nature of ghosts by drawing his spectre in shaky lines, as if the model had given the artist the horrors. This simulacrum rises out of the earth like an exhalation, and groups itself into shape above the spade with which all that is corporeal of its late owner has been interred. Please remark the uncomforted and dismal expression of the simulacrum. We must remember that the ghost or “Ka” is not the “soul,” which has other destinies in the future world, good or evil, but is only a shadowy resemblance, condemned, as in the Egyptian creed, to dwell in the tomb and hover near it. The Chinese and Japanese have their own definite theory of the next world, and we must by no means confuse the eternal fortunes of the permanent, conscious, and responsible self, already inhabiting other worlds than ours, with the eccentric vagaries of the semi-material tomb-haunting larva, which so often develops a noisy and bear-fighting disposition quite unlike the character of its proprietor in life.

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The next bogie, so limp and washed-out as he seems, with his white, drooping, dripping arms and hands, reminds us of that horrid French species of apparition, “la lavandiere de la nuit,” who washes dead men’s linen in the moonlit pools and rivers. Whether this simulacrum be meant for the spirit of the well (for everything has its spirit in Japan), or whether it be the ghost of some mortal drowned in the well, I cannot say with absolute certainty; but the opinion of the learned tends to the former conclusion. Naturally a Japanese child, when sent in the dusk to draw water, will do so with fear and trembling, for this limp, floppy apparition might scare the boldest. Another bogie, a terrible creation of fancy, I take to be a vampire, about which the curious can read in Dom Calmet, who will tell them how whole villages in Hungary have been depopulated by vampires; or he may study in Fauriel’s ‘Chansons de la Grece Moderne’ the vampires of modern Hellas.

Another plan, and perhaps even more satisfactory to a timid or superstitious mind, is to read in a lonely house at midnight a story named ‘Carmilla,’ printed in Mr. Sheridan Le Fanu’s ‘In a Glass Darkly.’ That work will give you the peculiar sentiment of vampirism, will produce a gelid perspiration, and reduce the patient to a condition in which he will be afraid to look round the room. If, while in this mood, some one tells him Mr. Augustus Hare’s story of Crooglin Grange, his education in the practice and theory of vampires will be complete, and he will be a very proper and well-qualified inmate of Earlswood Asylum. The most awful Japanese vampire, caught red-handed in the act, a hideous, bestial incarnation of ghoulishness, we have carefully refrained from reproducing.

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Scarcely more agreeable is the bogie, or witch, blowing from her mouth a malevolent exhalation, an embodiment of malignant and maleficent sorcery. The vapour which flies and curls from the mouth constitutes “a sending,” in the technical language of Icelandic wizards, and is capable (in Iceland, at all events) of assuming the form of some detestable supernatural animal, to destroy the life of a hated rival. In the case of our last example it is very hard indeed to make head or tail of the spectre represented. Chinks and crannies are his domain; through these he drops upon you. He is a merry but not an attractive or genial ghost. Where there are such “visions about” it may be admitted that children, apt to believe in all such fancies, have a youth of variegated and intense misery, recurring with special vigour at bed-time. But we look again at our first picture, and hope and trust that Japanese boys and girls are as happy as these jolly little creatures appear.

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Last updated Friday, March 7, 2014 at 22:03