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SIR ROGER DE COVERLEY PAPERS
Here I saw my friend a little embarrassed, and turned my face to the next protraiture.
Sir Roger went on with his account of the gallery in the following manner: “This man (pointing to 5 him I looked at) I take to be the honor of our
house. Sir Humphrey de Coverley; he was in his dealings as punctual as a tradesman, and as generous as a gentleman. He would have thought himself
as much undone by breaking his word, as if it were 10 to be followed by bankruptcy. He served his
country as knight of the shire 10 to his dying day. He found it no easy matter to maintain an integrity in his words and actions, even in things that re
garded the offices which were incumbent upon him, 15 in the care of his own affairs and relations of life, and therefore dreaded (though he had great talents) to go into employments of state, where he must be exposed to the snares of ambition. Innocence of
life and great ability were the distinguishing parts 20 of his character; the latter, he had often observed,
had led to the destruction of the former, and he used frequently to lament that great and good had not the same signification. He was an excellent
husbandman,11 but had resolved not to exceed 25 such a 12 degree of wealth; all above it he be
stowed in secret bounties many years after the sum he aimed at for his own use was attained. Yet he did not slacken his industry, but to a decent old age spent the life and fortune which was superfluous to himself, in the service of his friends and neighbors."
Here we were called to dinner, and Sir Roger ended the discourse of this gentleman, by telling me, as we followed the servant, that this his ancestor 5 was a brave man, and narrowly escaped being killed in the civil wars; “For,” said he, "he was sent out of the field upon a private message, the day before the battle of Worcester.” 13 The whim of narrowly escaping by having been within a day of danger, 10 with other matters above-mentioned, mixed with good sense, left me at a loss whether I was more delighted with my friend's wisdom or simplicity.
SPECTATOR No. 110. Friday, July 6, 1711
Virg. Æn. ii. 755.
At a little distance from Sir Roger's house, among the ruins of an old abbey, there is a long 15 walk of aged elms; which are shot up so very high, that when one passes under them, the rooks and crows that rest upon the tops of them seem to be cawing in another region. I am very much delighted with this sort of noise, which I consider as a kind of 20 natural prayer to that Being who supplies the wants of his whole creation, and who, in the beautiful
language of the Psalms,feedeth the young ravens that call upon him. I like this retirement the better, because of an ill report it lies under of being
haunted; for which reason (as I have been told in 5 the family) no living creature ever walks in it
besides the chaplain. My good friend the butler desired me with a very grave face not to venture myself in it after sunset, for that one of the footmen
had been almost frighted out of his wits by a spirit 10 that appeared to him in the shape of a black horse
without a head; to which he added, that about a month ago one of the maids coming home late that way with a pail of milk upon her head, heard such
a rustling among the bushes that she let it fall. 15 I was taking a walk in this place last night be
tween the hours of nine and ten, and could not but fancy it one of the most proper scenes in the world for a ghost to appear in. The ruins of the abbey
are scattered up and down on every side, and half 20 covered with ivy and elder bushes, the harbors of
several solitary birds which seldom make their appearance till the dusk of the evening. The place was formerly a churchyard, and has still several
marks in it of graves and burying-places. There is 25 such an echo among the old ruins and vaults, that
if you stamp but a little louder than ordinary, you hear the sound repeated. At the same time the walk of elms, with the croaking of the ravens which from time to time are heard from the tops of them,
looks exceeding solemn and venerable. These objects naturally raise seriousness and attention; and when night heightens the awfulness of the place, and pours out her supernumerary horrors upon everything in it, I do not at all wonder that 5 weak minds fill it with specters and apparitions.
Mr. Locke, in his chapter of the Association of Ideas, has very curious remarks to show how, by the prejudice of education, one idea often introduces into the mind a whole set that bear no resemblance 10 to one another in the nature of things. Among several examples of this kind, he produces the following instance: "The ideas of goblins and sprites have really no more to do with darkness than light: yet let but a foolish maid inculcate these often on 15 the mind of a child, and raise them there together, possibly he shall never be able to separate them again so long as he lives; but darkness shall ever afterwards bring with it those frightful ideas, and they shall be so joined, that he can no more bear 20 the one than the other."
As I was walking in this solitude, where the dusk of the evening conspired with so many other occasions of terror, I observed a cow grazing not far from me, which an imagination that was apt to 25 startle might easily have construed into a black horse without an head: and I dare say the poor
footman lost his wits upon some such trivial occasion.
My friend Sir Roger has often told me with a
great deal of mirth, that at his first coming to his estate he found three parts of his house altogether useless; that the best room in it had the reputation
of being haunted, and by that means was locked up; 5 that noises had been heard in his long gallery, so
that he could not get a servant to enter it after eight o'clock at night; that the door of one of his chambers was nailed up, because there went a story
in the family that a butler had formerly hanged him10 self in it; and that his mother, who lived to a great
age, had shut up half the rooms in the house, in which either her husband, a son, or daughter had died. The knight seeing his habitation reduced to so small a
compass, and himself in a manner shut out of his 15 own house, upon the death of his mother ordered
all the apartments to be flung open, and exorcised by his chaplain, who lay in every room one after another, and by that means dissipated the fears which had so long reigned in the family.
I should not have been thus particular upon these ridiculous horrors, did not I find them so very much -prevail in all parts of the country. At the same time I think a person who is thus terrified with the
imagination of ghosts and specters much more 25 reasonable than one who, contrary to the reports of
all historians, sacred and profane, ancient and modern, and to the traditions of all nations, thinks the appearance of spirits fabulous and groundless. Could not I give myself up to this general testimony