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Title: Charles Dickens
Author: To be Taken with a Grain of Salt
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eBook No.: 0800751.txt
Language:  English
Date first posted: August 2008
Date most recently updated: August 2008

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Title: Charles Dickens
Author: To be Taken with a Grain of Salt

(From: "All the Year Round", Christmas Number, 1865)

I have always noticed a prevalent want of courage, even among persons of
superior intelligence and culture, as to imparting their own
psychological experiences when those have been of a strange sort. Almost
all men are afraid that what they could relate in such wise would find
no parallel or response in a listener's internal life, and might be
suspected or laughed at. A truthful traveller who should have seen some
extraordinary creature in the likeness of a sea-serpent, would have no
fear of mentioning it; but the same traveller having had some singular
presentiment, impulse, vagary of thought, vision (so-called), dream, or
other remarkable mental impression, would hesitate considerably before
he would own to it. To this reticence I attribute much of the obscurity
in which such subjects are involved. We do not habitually communicate
our experiences of these subjective things, as we do our experiences of
objective creation. The consequence is, that the general stock of
experience in this regard appears exceptional, and really is so, in
respect of being miserably imperfect.

In what I am going to relate I have no intention of setting up,
opposing, or supporting, any theory whatever. I know the history of the
Bookseller of Berlin, I have studied the case of the wife of a late
Astronomer Royal as related by Sir David Brewster, and I have followed
the minutest details of a much more remarkable case of Spectral Illusion
occurring within my private circle of friends. It may be necessary to
state as to this last that the sufferer (a lady) was in no degree,
however distant, related to me. A mistaken assumption on that head,
might suggest an explanation of a part of my own case--but only a
part--which would be wholly without foundation. It cannot be referred to
my inheritance of any developed peculiarity, nor had I ever before any
at all similar experience, nor have I ever had any at all similar
experience since.

It does not signify how many years ago, or how few, a certain Murder was
committed in England, which attracted great attention. We hear more than
enough of Murderers as they rise in succession to their atrocious
eminence, and I would bury the memory of this particular brute, if I
could, as his body was buried, in Newgate Jail. I purposely abstain from
giving any direct clue to the criminal's individuality.

When the murder was first discovered, no suspicion fell--or I ought
rather to say, for I cannot be too precise in my facts, it was nowhere
publicly hinted that any suspicion fell--on the man who was afterwards
brought to trial. As no reference was at that time made to him in the
newspapers, it is obviously impossible that any description of him can
at that time have been given in the newspapers. It is essential that
this fact be remembered.

Unfolding at breakfast my morning paper, containing the account of that
first discovery, I found it to be deeply interesting, and I read it with
close attention. I read it twice, if not three times. The discovery had
been made in a bedroom, and, when I laid down the paper, I was aware of
a flash--rush--flow--I do not know what to call it--no word I can find
is satisfactorily descriptive--in which I seemed to see that bedroom
passing through my room, like a picture impossibly painted on a running
river. Though almost instantaneous in its passing, it was perfectly
clear; so clear that I distinctly, and with a sense of relief, observed
the absence of the dead body from the bed.

It was in no romantic place that I had this curious sensation, but in
chambers in Piccadilly, very near to the corner of Saint James's Street.
It was entirely new to me. I was in my easy-chair at the moment, and the
sensation was accompanied with a peculiar shiver which started the chair
from its position. (But it is to be noted that the chair ran easily on
castors.) I went to one of the windows (there are two in the room, and
the room is on the second floor) to refresh my eyes with the moving
objects down in Piccadilly. It was a bright autumn morning, and the
street was sparkling and cheerful. The wind was high. As I looked out,
it brought down from the Park a quantity of fallen leaves, which a gust
took, and whirled into a spiral pillar. As the pillar fell and the
leaves dispersed, I saw two men on the opposite side of the way, going
from West to East. They were one behind the other. The foremost man
often looked back over his shoulder. The second man followed him, at a
distance of some thirty paces, with his right hand menacingly raised.
First, the singularity and steadiness of this threatening gesture in so
public a thoroughfare, attracted my attention; and next, the more
remarkable circumstance that nobody heeded it. Both men threaded their
way among the other passengers, with a smoothness hardly consistent even
with the action of walking on a pavement, and no single creature that I
could see, gave them place, touched them, or looked after them. In
passing before my windows, they both stared up at me. I saw their two
faces very distinctly, and I knew that I could recognize them anywhere.
Not that I had consciously noticed anything very remarkable in either
face, except that the man who went first had an unusually lowering
appearance, and that the face of the man who followed him was of the
colour of impure wax.

I am a bachelor, and my valet and his wife constitute my whole
establishment. My occupation is in a certain Branch Bank, and I wish
that my duties as head of a Department were as light as they are
popularly supposed to be. They kept me in town that autumn, when I stood
in need of a change. I was not ill, but I was not well. My reader is to
make the most that can be reasonably made of my feeling jaded, having a
depressing sense upon me of a monotonous life, and being 'slightly
dyspeptic'. I am assured by my renowned doctor that my real state of
health at that time justifies no stronger description, and I quote his
own from his written answer to my request for it.

As the circumstances of the Murder, gradually unravelling, took stronger
and stronger possession of the public mind, I kept them away from mine,
by knowing as little about them as was possible in the midst of the
universal excitement. But I knew that a verdict of Wilful Murder had
been found against the suspected Murderer, and that he had been
committed to Newgate for trial. I also knew that his trial had been
postponed over one Sessions of the Central Criminal Court, on the ground
of general prejudice and want of time for the preparation of the
defence. I may further have known, but I believe I did not, when, or
about when, the Sessions to which his trial stood postponed would come

My sitting-room, bedroom, and dressing-room, are all on one floor. With
the last, there is no communication but through the bedroom. True, there
is a door in it, once communicating with the staircase; but a part of
the fitting of my bath has been--and had then been for some years--fixed
across it. At the same period, and as a part of the same arrangement,
the door had been nailed up and canvassed over.

I was standing in my bedroom late one night, giving some directions to
my servant before he went to bed. My face was towards the only available
door of communication with the dressing-room, and it was closed. My
servant's back was towards that door. While I was speaking to him I saw
it open, and a man look in, who very earnestly and mysteriously beckoned
to me. That man was the man who had gone second of the two along
Piccadilly, and whose face was of the colour of impure wax.

The figure, having beckoned, drew back and closed the door. With no
longer pause than was made by my crossing the bedroom, I opened the
dressing-room door, and looked in. I had a lighted candle already in my
hand. I felt no inward expectation of seeing the figure in the
dressing-room, and I did not see it there.

Conscious that my servant stood amazed, I turned round to him, and said:
'Derrick, could you believe that in my cool senses I fancied I saw
a----' As I there laid my hand upon his breast, with a sudden start he
trembled violently, and said, 'O Lord yes sir! A dead man beckoning!'

Now, I do not believe that this John Derrick, my trusty and attached
servant for more than twenty years, had any impression whatever of
having seen any such figure, until I touched him. The change in him was
so startling when I touched him, that I fully believe he derived his
impression in some occult manner from me at that instant.

I bade John Derrick bring some brandy, and I gave him a dram, and was
glad to take one myself. Of what had proceeded that night's phenomenon,
I told him not a single word. Reflecting on it, I was absolutely certain
that I had never seen that face before, except on the one occasion in
Piccadilly. Comparing its expression when beckoning at the door, with
its expression when it had stared up at me as I stood at my window, I
came to the conclusion that on the first occasion it had sought to
fasten itself upon my memory, and that on the second occasion it had
made sure of being immediately remembered.

I was not very comfortable that night, though I felt a certainty,
difficult to explain, that the figure would not return. At daylight, I
fell into a heavy sleep, from which I was awakened by John Derrick's
coming to my bedside with a paper in his hand.

This paper, it appeared, had been the subject of an altercation at the
door between its bearer and my servant. It was a summons to me to serve
upon a Jury at the forthcoming Sessions of the Central Criminal Court at
the Old Bailey. I had never before been summoned on such a Jury, as John
Derrick well knew. He believed--I am not certain at this hour whether
with reason or otherwise--that that class of Jurors were customarily
chosen on a lower qualification than mine, and he had at first refused
to accept the summons. The man who served it had taken the matter very
coolly. He had said that my attendance or nonattendance was nothing to
him; there the summons was; and I should deal with it at my own peril,
and not at his.

For a day or two I was undecided whether to respond to this call, or
take no notice of it. I was not conscious of the slightest mysterious
bias, influence, or attraction, one way or other. Of that I am as
strictly sure as of every other statement that I make here. Ultimately I
decided, as a break in the monotony of my life, that I would go.

The appointed morning was a raw morning in the month of November. There
was a dense brown fog in Piccadilly, and it became positively black and
in the last degree oppressive East of Temple Bar. I found the passages
and staircases of the Court House flaringly lighted with gas, and the
Court itself similarly illuminated. I _think_ that until I was conducted
by officers into the Old Court and saw its crowded state, I did not know
that the Murderer was to be tried that day. I _think_ that until I was
so helped into the Old Court with considerable difficulty, I did not
know into which of the two Courts sitting, my summons would take me. But
this must not be received as a positive assertion, for I am not
completely satisfied in my mind on either point.

I took my seat in the place appropriated to Jurors in waiting, and I
looked about the Court as well as I could through the cloud of fog and
breath that was heavy in it. I noticed the black vapour hanging like a
murky curtain outside the great windows, and I noticed the stifled sound
of wheels on the straw or tan that was littered in the street; also, the
hum of the people gathered there, which a shrill whistle, or a louder
song or hail than the rest, occasionally pierced. Soon afterwards the
Judges, two in number, entered and took their seats. The buzz in the
Court was awfully hushed. The direction was given to put the Murderer to
the bar. He appeared there. And in that same instant I recognized in
him, the first of the two men who had gone down Piccadilly.

If my name had been called then, I doubt if I could have answered to it
audibly. But it was called about sixth or eighth in the panel, and I was
by that time able to say 'Here!' Now, observe. As I stepped into the
box, the prisoner, who had been looking on attentively but with no sign
of concern, became violently agitated, and beckoned to his attorney. The
prisoner's wish to challenge me was so manifest, that it occasioned a
pause, during which the attorney, with his hand upon the dock, whispered
with his client, and shook his head. I afterwards had it from that
gentleman, that the prisoner's first affrighted words to him were, '_At
all hazards challenge that man!_' But, that as he would give no reason
for it, and admitted that he had not even known my name until he heard
it called and I appeared, it was not done.

Both on the ground already explained, that I wish to avoid reviving the
unwholesome memory of that Murderer, and also because a detailed account
of his long trial is by no means indispensable to my narrative, I shall
confine myself closely to such incidents in the ten days and nights
during which we, the Jury, were kept together, as directly bear on my
own curious personal experience. It is in that, and not in the Murderer,
that I seek to interest my reader. It is to that, and not to a page of
the Newgate Calendar, that I beg attention.

I was chosen Foreman of the Jury. On the second morning of the trial,
after evidence had been taken for two hours (I heard the church clocks
strike), happening to cast my eyes over my brother-jurymen, I found an
inexplicable difficulty in counting them. I counted them several times,
yet always with the same difficulty. In short, I made them one too many.

I touched the brother-juryman whose place was next to me, and I
whispered to him, 'Oblige me by counting us.' He looked surprised by the
request, but turned his head and counted. 'Why,' says he, suddenly, 'We
are Thirt----; but no, it's not possible. No. We are twelve.'

According to my counting that day, we were always right in detail, but
in the gross we were always one too many. There was no appearance--no
figure--to account for it; but I had now an inward foreshadowing of the
figure that was surely coming.

The Jury were housed at the London Tavern. We all slept in one large
room on separate tables, and we were constantly in the charge and under
the eye of the officer sworn to hold us in safe-keeping. I see no reason
for suppressing the real name of that officer. He was intelligent,
highly polite, and obliging, and (I was glad to hear) much respected in
the City. He had an agreeable presence, good eyes, enviable black
whiskers, and a fine sonorous voice. His name was Mr Harker.

When we turned into our twelve beds at night, Mr Harker's bed was drawn
across the door. On the night of the second day, not being disposed to
lie down, and seeing Mr Harker sitting on his bed, I went and sat beside
him, and offered him a pinch of snuff. As Mr Harker's hand touched mine
in taking it from my box, a peculiar shiver crossed him, and he said:
'Who is this!'

Following Mr Harker's eyes and looking along the room, I saw again the
figure I expected--the second of the two men who had gone down
Piccadilly. I rose, and advanced a few steps; then stopped, and looked
round at Mr Harker. He was quite unconcerned, laughed, and said in a
pleasant way, 'I thought for a moment we had a thirteenth juryman,
without a bed. But I see it is the moonlight.'

Making no revelation to Mr Harker, but inviting him to take a walk with
me to the end of the room, I watched what the figure did. It stood for a
few moments by the bedside of each of my eleven brother-jurymen, close
to the pillow. It always went to the right-hand side of the bed, and
always passed out crossing the foot of the next bed. It seemed from the
action of the head, merely to look down pensively at each recumbent
figure. It took no notice of me, or of my bed, which was that nearest to
Mr Harker's. It seemed to go out where the moonlight came in, through a
high window, as by an arial flight of stairs.

Next morning at breakfast, it appeared that everybody present had
dreamed of the murdered man last night, except myself and Mr Harker.

I now felt as convinced that the second man who had gone down Piccadilly
was the murdered man (so to speak), as if it had been borne into my
comprehension by his immediate testimony. But even this took place, and
in a manner for which I was not at all prepared.

On the fifth day of the trial, when the case for the prosecution was
drawing to a close, a miniature of the murdered man, missing from his
bedroom upon the discovery of the deed, and afterwards found in a
hiding-place where the Murderer had been seen digging, was put in
evidence. Having been identified by the witness under examination, it
was handed up to the Bench, and thence handed down to be inspected by
the Jury. As an officer in a black gown was making his way with it
across to me, the figure of the second man who had gone down Piccadilly,
impetuously started from the crowd, caught the miniature from the
officer, and gave it to me with its own hands, at the same time saying
in a low and hollow tone--before I saw the miniature, which was in a
locket--'_I was younger then, and my face was not then drained of
blood_.' It also came between me and the brother-juryman to whom I would
have given the miniature, and between him and the brother-juryman to
whom he would have given it, and so passed it on through the whole of
our number, and back into my possession. Not one of them, however,
detected this.

At table, and generally when we were shut up together in Mr Harker's
custody, we had from the first naturally discussed the day's proceedings
a good deal. On that fifth day, the case for the prosecution being
closed, and we having that side of the question in a completed shape
before us, our discussion was more animated and serious. Among our
number was a vestryman--the densest idiot I have ever seen at large--who
met the plainest evidence with the most preposterous objections, and who
was sided with by two flabby parochial parasites; all the three
empanelled from a district so delivered over to Fever that they ought to
have been upon their own trial, for five hundred Murders. When these
mischievous blockheads were at their loudest, which was towards midnight
while some of us were already preparing for bed, I again saw the
murdered man. He stood grimly behind them, beckoning to me. On my going
towards them and striking into the conversation, he immediately retired.
This was the beginning of a separate series of appearances, confined to
that long room in which _we_ were confined. Whenever a knot of my
brother jurymen laid their heads together, I saw the head of the
murdered man among theirs. Whenever their comparison of notes was going
against him, he would solemnly and irresistibly beckon to me.

It will be borne in mind that down to the production of the miniature on
the fifth day of the trial, I had never seen the Appearance in Court.
Three changes occurred, now that we entered on the case for the defence.
Two of them I will mention together, first. The figure was now in Court
continually, and it never there addressed itself to me, but always to
the person who was speaking at the time. For instance. The throat of the
murdered man had been cut straight across. In the opening speech for the
defence, it was suggested that the deceased might have cut his own
throat. At that very moment, the figure with its throat in the dreadful
condition referred to (this it had concealed before) stood at the
speaker's elbow, motioning across and across its windpipe, now with the
right hand, now with the left, vigorously suggesting to the speaker
himself, the impossibility of such a wound having been self-inflicted by
either hand. For another instance. A witness to character, a woman,
deposed to the prisoner's being the most amiable of mankind. The figure
at that instant stood on the floor before her, looking her full in the
face, and pointing out the prisoner's evil countenance with an extended
arm and an outstretched finger.

The third change now to be added, impressed me strongly, as the most
marked and striking of all. I do not theorize upon it; I accurately
state it, and there leave it. Although the Appearance was not itself
perceived by those whom it addressed, its coming close to such persons
was invariably attended by some trepidation or disturbance on their
part. It seemed to me as if it were prevented by laws to which I was not
amenable, from fully revealing itself to others, and yet as if it could,
invisibly, dumbly and darkly, overshadow their minds. When the leading
counsel for the defence suggested that hypothesis of suicide and the
figure stood at the learned gentleman's elbow, frightfully sawing at its
severed throat, it is undeniable that the counsel faltered in his
speech, lost for a few seconds the thread of his ingenious discourse,
wiped his forehead with his handkerchief, and turned extremely pale.
When the witness to character was confronted by the Appearance, her eyes
most certainly did follow the direction of its pointed finger, and rest
in great hesitation and trouble upon the prisoner's face. Two additional
illustrations will suffice. On the eighth day of the trial, after the
pause which was every day made early in the afternoon for a few minutes'
rest and refreshment, I came back into Court with the rest of the Jury,
some little time before the return of the Judges. Standing up in the box
and looking about me, I thought the figure was not there, until,
chancing to raise my eyes to the gallery, I saw it bending forward and
leaning over a very decent woman, as if to assure itself whether the
Judges had resumed their seats or not. Immediately afterwards, that
woman screamed, fainted, and was carried out. So with the venerable,
sagacious, and patient Judge who conducted the trial. When the case was
over, and he settled himself and his papers to sum up, the murdered man
entering by the Judges' door, advanced to his Lordship's desk, and
looked eagerly over his shoulder at the pages of his notes which he was
turning. A change came over his Lordship's face; his hand stopped; the
peculiar shiver that I knew so well, passed over him; he faltered,
'Excuse me gentlemen, for a few moments. I am somewhat oppressed by the
vitiated air;' and did not recover until he had drunk a glass of water.

Through all the monotony of six of those interminable ten days--the same
Judges and others on the bench, the same Murderer in the dock, the same
lawyers at the table, the same tones of question and answer rising to
the roof of the court, the same scratching of the Judge's pen, the same
ushers going in and out, the same lights kindled at the same hour when
there had been any natural light of day, the same foggy curtain outside
the great windows when it was foggy, the same rain pattering and
dripping when it was rainy, the same footmarks of turnkeys and prisoner
day after day on the same sawdust, the same keys locking and unlocking
the same heavy doors--through all the wearisome monotony which made me
feel as if I had been Foreman of the Jury for a vast period of time, and
Piccadilly had flourished coevally with Babylon, the murdered man never
lost one trace of his distinctness in my eyes, nor was he at any moment
less distinct than anybody else. I must not omit, as a matter of fact,
that I never once saw the Appearance which I call by the name of the
murdered man, look at the Murderer. Again and again I wondered, 'Why
does he not?' But he never did.

Nor did he look at me, after the production of the miniature, until the
last closing minutes of the trial arrived. We retired to consider, at
seven minutes before ten at night. The idiotic vestry-man and his two
parochial parasites gave us so much trouble, that we twice returned into
Court, to beg to have certain extracts from the Judge's notes reread.
Nine of us had not the smallest doubt about those passages, neither, I
believe, had any one in Court; the dunder-headed triumvirate however,
having no idea but obstruction, disputed them for that very reason. At
length we prevailed, and finally the Jury returned into Court at ten
minutes past twelve.

The murdered man at that time stood directly opposite the Jury-box, on
the other side of the Court. As I took my place, his eyes rested on me,
with great attention; he seemed satisfied, and slowly shook a great grey
veil, which he carried on his arm for the first time, over his head and
whole form. As I gave in our verdict 'Guilty', the veil collapsed, all
was gone, and his place was empty.

The Murderer being asked by the Judge, according to usage, whether he
had anything to say before sentence of Death should be passed upon him,
indistinctly muttered something which was described in the leading
newspapers of the following day as 'a few rambling, incoherent, and
half-audible words, in which he was understood to complain that he had
not had a fair trial because the Foreman of the Jury was prepossessed
against him'. The remarkable declaration that he really made, was this:
'_My Lord, I knew I was a doomed man when the Foreman of my Jury came
into the box. My Lord, I knew he would never let me off because, before
I was taken, he somehow got to my bedside in the night, woke me, and put
a rope round my neck_.'


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