Tobias Smollett, The Expedition of Humphry Clinker: Ch. 63

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On the little river Nid, is situated the castle of Drumlanrig, one of the noblest seats in Great-Britain, belonging to the duke of Queensberry; one of those few noblemen whose goodness of heart does honour to human-nature — I shall not pretend to enter into a description of this palace, which is really an instance of the sublime in magnificence, as well as in situation, and puts one in mind of the beautiful city of Palmyra, rising like a vision in the midst of the wilderness. His grace keeps open house, and lives with great splendour — He did us the honour to receive us with great courtesy, and detain'd us all night, together with above twenty other guests, with all their servants and horses to a very considerable number — The dutchess was equally gracious, and took our ladies under her immediate protection. The longer I live, I see more reason to believe that prejudices of education are never wholly eradicated, even when they are discovered to be erroneous and absurd. Such habits of thinking as interest the grand passions, cleave to the human heart in such a manner, that though an effort of reason may force them from their hold for a moment, this violence no sooner ceases, than they resume their grasp with an increased elasticity and adhesion.

I am led into this reflection, by what passed at the duke's table after supper. The conversation turned upon the vulgar notions of spirits and omens, that prevail among the commonalty of North-Britain, and all the company agreed, that nothing could be more ridiculous. One gentleman, however, told a remarkable story of himself, by way of speculation 'Being on a party of hunting in the North (said he), I resolved to visit an old friend, whom I had not seen for twenty years — So long he had been retired and sequestered from all his acquaintance, and lived in a moping melancholy way, much afflicted with lowness of spirits, occasioned by the death of his wife, whom he had loved with uncommon affection. As he resided in a remote part of the country, and we were five gentlemen with as many servants, we carried some provision with us from the next market town, lest we should find him unprepared for our reception. The roads being bad, we did not arrive at the house till two o'clock in the afternoon; and were agreeably surprised to find a very good dinner ready in the kitchen, and the cloth laid with six covers. My friend himself appeared in his best apparel at the gate, and received us with open arms, telling me he had been expecting us these two hours. Astonished at this declaration, I asked who had given him intelligence of our coming? and he smiled without making any other reply. However, presuming upon our former intimacy, I afterwards insisted upon knowing; and he told me, very gravely, he had seen me in a vision of the second sight — Nay, he called in the evidence of his steward, who solemnly declared, that his master had the day before apprised him of my coming, with four other strangers, and ordered him to provide accordingly; in consequence of which intimation, he had prepared the dinner which we were now eating; and laid the covers according to the number foretold.' The incident we all owned to be remarkable, and I endeavoured to account for it by natural means. I observed, that as the gentleman was of a visionary turn, the casual idea, or remembrance of his old friend, might suggest those circumstances, which accident had for once realized; but that in all probability he had seen many visions of the same kind, which were never verified. None of the company directly dissented from my opinion; but from the objections that were hinted, I could plainly perceive that the majority were persuaded there was something more extraordinary in the case.

Another gentleman of the company, addressing himself to me, 'Without all doubt (said he), a diseased imagination is very apt to produce visions; but we must find some other method to account for something of this kind, that happened within these eight days in my neighbourhood — A gentleman of a good family, who cannot be deemed a visionary in any sense of the word, was near his own gate, in the twilight, visited by his grandfather, who has been dead these fifteen years — The spectre was mounted seemingly on the very horse he used to ride, with an angry and terrible countenance, and said something, which his grandson, in the confusion of fear, could not understand. But this was not all — He lifted up a huge horse whip, and applied it with great violence to his back and shoulders, on which I saw the impression with my own eyes. The apparition was afterwards seen by the sexton of the parish, hovering about the tomb where his body lies interred; as the man declared to several persons in the village, before he knew what had happened to the gentleman — Nay, he actually came to me as a justice of the peace, in order to make oath of these particulars, which, however, I declined administering. As for the grandson of the defunct, he is a sober, sensible, worldly minded fellow, too intent upon schemes of interest to give in to reveries. He would have willingly concealed the affair; but he bawled out in the first transport of his fear, and, running into the house, exposed his back and his sconce to the whole family; so that there was no denying it in the sequel. It is now the common discourse of the country, that this appearance and behaviour of the old man's spirit, portends some great calamity to the family, and the good-woman has actually taken to her bed in this apprehension.'