TO THE READER
The origin of the foregoing curious story seems to have been as follows:--
An adventurous bookseller had ventured to print a considerable edition of a work by the Reverend Charles
Drelincourt, minister of the Calvinist church in Paris, and translated by M. D'Assigny, under the title of 'The
Christian's Defense against the Fear of Death, with several directions how to prepare ourselves to die well.'
But however certain the prospect of death, it is not so agreeable (unfortunately) as to invite the eager
contemplation of the public; and Drelincourt's book, being neglected, lay a dead stock on the hands of the
publisher. In this emergency, he applied to De Foe to assist him (by dint of such means as were then, as well
as now, pretty well understood in the literary world) in rescuing the unfortunate book from the literary death
to which general neglect seemed about to consign it.
De Foe's genius and audacity devised a plan which, for assurance and ingenuity, defied even the powers of
Mr. Puff in the Critic: for who but himself would have thought of summoning up a ghost from the grave to
bear witness in favor of a halting body of divinity? There is a matter-of-fact, business-like style in the whole
account of the transaction, which bespeaks ineffable powers of self-possession. The narrative is drawn up 'by
a gentleman, a Justice of Peace at Maidstone, in Kent, a very intelligent person.' And, moreover, 'the
discourse is attested by a very sober gentlewoman, who lives in Canterbury, within a few doors of the house
in which Mrs. Bargrave lives.' The Justice believes his kinswoman to be of so discerning a spirit, as not to be
put upon by any fallacy--and the kinswoman positively assures the Justice, 'that the whole matter, as it is
related and laid down, is really true, and what she herself heard, as near as may be, from Mrs. Bargrave's own
mouth, who, she knows, had no reason to invent or publish such a story, or any design to forge and tell a lie,
being a woman of so much honesty and virtue, and her whole life a course, as it were, of piety.' Skepticism
itself could not resist this triple court of evidence so artfully combined, the Justice attesting for the discerning
spirit of the sober and understanding gentlewoman his kinswoman, and his kinswoman becoming bail for the
veracity of Mrs. Bargrave. And here, gentle reader, admire the simplicity of those days. Had Mrs. Veal's visit
to her friend happened in our time, the conductors of the daily press would have given the word, and seven
gentlemen unto the said press belonging, would, with an obedient start, have made off for Kingston, for
Canterbury, for Dover,--for Kamchatka if necessary,--to pose the Justice, cross-examine Mrs. Bargrave,
confront the sober and understanding kinswoman, and dig Mrs. Veal up from her grave, rather than not get to
the bottom of the story. But in our time we doubt and scrutinize; our ancestors wondered and believed.
Before the story is commenced, the understanding gentlewoman (not the Justice of Peace), who is the
reporter, takes some pains to repel the objections made against the story by some of the friends of Mrs. Veal's
brother, who consider the marvel as an aspersion on their family, and do what they can to laugh it out of
countenance. Indeed, it is allowed, with admirable impartiality, that Mr. Veal is too much of a gentleman to
suppose Mrs. Bargrave invented the story--scandal itself could scarce have supposed that--although one
notorious liar, who is chastised towards the conclusion of the story, ventures to throw out such an insinuation.
No reasonable or respectable person, however, could be found to countenance the suspicion, and Mr. Veal
himself opined that Mrs. Bargrave had been driven crazy by a cruel husband, and dreamed the whole story of
the apparition. Now all this is sufficiently artful. To have vouched the fact as universally known, and believed
by every one, nem. con., would not have been half so satisfactory to a skeptic as to allow fairly that the
narrative had been impugned, and hint at the character of one of those skeptics, and the motives of another, as
sufficient to account for their want of belief. Now to the fact itself.
Mrs. Bargrave and Mrs. Veal had been friends in youth, and had protested their attachment should last as long
as they lived; but when Mrs. Veal's brother obtained an office in the customs at Dover, some cessation of their
intimacy ensued, 'though without any positive quarrel.' Mrs. Bargrave had removed to Canterbury, and was
residing in a house of her own, when she was suddenly interrupted by a visit from Mrs. Veal, as she was
sitting in deep contemplation of certain distresses of her own. The visitor was in a riding-habit, and announced
herself as prepared for a distant journey (which seems to intimate that spirits have a considerable distance to
go before they arrive at their appointed station, and that the females at least put on a habit for the occasion).
The spirit, for such was the seeming Mrs. Veal, continued to waive the ceremony of salutation, both in going
and coming, which will remind the reader of a ghostly lover's reply to his mistress in the fine old Scottish
Why should I come within thy bower? I am no earthly man; And should I kiss thy rosy lips, Thy days would
not be lang.
They then began to talk in the homely style of middle-aged ladies, and Mrs. Veal proses concerning the
conversations they had formerly held, and the books they had read together. Her very recent experience
probably led Mrs. Veal to talk of death, and the books written on the subject, and she pronounced ex cathedr,
as a dead person was best entitled to do, that 'Drelincourt's book on Death was the best book on the subject
ever written.' She also mentioned Dr. Sherlock, two Dutch books which had been translated, and several
others; but Drelincourt, she said, had the clearest notions of death and the future state of any who had handled
that subject. She then asked for the work [we marvel the edition and impress had not been mentioned] and
lectured on it with great eloquence and affection.