A True Relation of the Apparition of One Mrs. Veal, published in 1706, is one of the earliest ghost stories printed in English. Ghosts had, of course, appeared in English literature before–think of the ghost of Hamlet’s father in Shakespeare–but this is something different: an essay that purports to be the true story of a ghostly visit to a real person. How should we class it? Is it a work of fiction, a short story designed to give the reader the thrill of believing, of only for a minute, the possibility of a supernatural realm beyond the world that we can see? Or is it a work that is better classed as journalism, as a sincere account of an event that the author takes to be true? It is hard to say; part of the power of the story, one suspects, is that way that it seems suspended between fiction and truth, documentary reality and more unsettling possibilities.
Another mystery about this story is the identity of its author. For a long time, The Apparition of Mrs. Veal was attributed to Daniel Defoe. But so were many anonymous pamphlets of this period, as literary historians later got into a habit of attributing anonymous texts to him, because by the late eighteenth century he had become known as the era’s most famous writer of popular literature, and because we know that he did write many things that were published anonymously. Defoe was indeed prolific, but there’s no way that he is the author of all of the books, pamphlets, and essays that have attributed to him over the years. The Apparition of Mrs. Veal, for example, was first attributed to Defoe in 1795, decades after his death, when a publisher wrote that Defoe had written the story largely as a way to boost sales of Charles Drelincourt’s A Christian’s Defense against the Fears of Death. Drelincourt’s work does get praised several times in Mrs. Veal, as both the title character and Mrs. Bargraves, the teller of the story, attest to the spiritual comfort that they have found in it. But A Christian’s Defense, first published in French in 1651 and translated into English in 1675, was quite popular already, and may not have needed anyone’s help. This story, the only “evidence” of Defoe’s authorship, might be true, but it might also be little more than decades-old print shop folklore.
Since the 1980s or so, scholars have turned a skeptical eye towards a lot of the anonymous texts that have been credited to Defoe, and The Apparition of Mrs. Veal is no exception. For example, George Starr has argued persuasively that this pamphlet is very unlikely to be by Defoe, given that in texts that we know to be by him, Defoe argued that ghosts do not exist, and also that The Apparition of Mrs. Veal praises a number of Anglican clergymen whom Defoe mocked in other places. (Starr, 2003). The best answer right now is that we may never be certain who wrote The Apparition of Mrs. Veal. And that is all right; there is no need that every text from the past have a known author, and although it is interesting to speculate on the authorship of a pamphlet like this (and, for Defoe scholars, great fun to argue about whether or not they believe this and other such works are by him or not), a work like The Apparition of Mrs. Veal stands on its own as a testament to the way that readers in 1706, like readers now, had a strong desire for ghost stories and a work that anticipates the Gothic fiction that would become enormously popular beginning later in the century.
And there may be other kinds of desire at issue here as well. Terry Castle has argued that The Apparition of Mrs. Veal can be read as a love story between two women, an early lesbian narrative before the word “lesbian” had been invented. Mrs. Bargrave, trapped in a terrible marriage, so desires her friend Mrs. Veal that she conjures up her spirit in her imagination, and then leaves her husband to find her. This is story with powerful emotional appeal, its speaks to the universal difficulty of grieving for those you have lost, and the wish that you might still see them once more.
This edition has been adapted from the text produced for the Oxford Text Archive. We have regularized the long “s” and added explanatory notes.
For further reading:
Terry Castle, The Apparitional Lesbian: Female Homosexuality and Modern Culture (New York: Columbia University Press, 1995)
George Starr, “Why Defoe Probably Did Not Write The Apparition of Mrs Veal,” Eighteenth-Century Fiction 14: 3-4 (April-July 2003): 421-450
Walton, James, “On the Attribution of Mrs. Veal,” Notes and Queries March 2007: 60-62
The next Day after Her DEATH:
The 8th of September, 1705.
Printed for B. Bragg, at the Black Raven in Pater-
THIS relation is Matter of Fact, and attended with such Circumstances as may induce any Reasonable Man to believe it. It was sent by a Gentleman, a Justice of Peace at Maidstone in Kent, and a very Intelligent Person, to his Friend in London, as it is here Worded; which Discourse is attested by a very sober and understanding Gentlewoman, a Kinswoman of the said Gentlemans, who lives in Canterbury, within a few Doors of the House in which the within named Mrs. Bargrave lives; who believes his Kinswoman to be of so discerning a Spirit, as not to be put upon by any Fallacy, and who possitively assured him, that the whole Matter, as it is here Related and laid down, is what is really True; and what She her self had in the same Words (as near as may be) from Mrs. Bargraves own Mouth, who she knows had no Reason to Invent and publish such a Story, nor any design to forge and tell a Lye, being a Woman of much Honesty and Virtue, and her whole Life a Course as it were of Piety. The use which we ought to make of it is, to consider, That there is a Life to come after this, and a Just God, who will retribute to every one according to the Deeds done in the Body; and therefore, to reflect upon our Past course of Life we have led in the World; That our Time is Short and Uncertain, and that if we would escape the Punishment of the Ungodly, and receive the Reward of the Righteous, which is the laying hold of Eternal Life, we ought for the time to come, to turn to God by a speedy Repentance, ceasing to do Evil and Learning to do Well: To seek after God Early, if happily he may be found of us, and lead such Lives for the future, as may be well pleasing in his sight.
A RELATION OF THE APPARITION OF Mrs. VEAL.
THIS thing is so rare in all its Circumstances, and on so good Authority, that my Reading and Conversation has not given me any thing like it; it is fit to gratifie the most Ingenious and Serious Enquirer. Mrs. Bargrave is the Person to whom Mrs. Veal Appeared after her Death; she is my Intimate Friend, and I can avouch for her Reputation, for these last fifteen or sixteen Years, on my own Knowledge; and I can confirm the Good Character she had from her Youth, to the time of my Acquaintance. Tho’ since this Relation, she is Calumniated by some People, that are Friends to the Brother of Mrs. Veal who Appeared; who think the Relation of this Appearance to be a Reflection, and endeavour what they can to Blast Mrs. Bargrave ‘s Reputation; and to Laugh the Story out of Countenance. But the Circumstances thereof, and the Chearful Disposition of Mrs. Bargrave, notwithstanding the unheard of ill Usage of a very Wicked Husband, there is not the least sign of Dejection in her Face; nor did I ever hear her let fall a Desponding or Murmuring Expression; nay, not when actually under her Husbands Barbarity; which I have been Witness to, and several other Persons of undoubted Reputation.
[Page 2] Now you must know, that Mrs. Veal was a Maiden Gentlewoman of about 30 Years of Age, and for some Years last past, had been troubled with Fits; which were perceived coming on her, by her going off from her Discourse very abruptly, to some impertinence: She was maintain’d by an only Brother, and kept his House in Dover. She was a very Pious Woman, and her Brother a very Sober Man to all appearance: But now he does all he can to Null or Quash the Story. Mrs. Veal was intimately acquainted with Mrs. Bargrave from her Childhood. Mrs Veals Circumstances were then Mean; her Father did not take care of his Children as he ought, so that they were exposed to Hardships: And Mrs. Bargrave in those days, had as Unkind a Father, tho’ She wanted for neither Food nor Cloathing, whilst Mrs. Veal wanted for both: So that it was in the Power of Mrs. Bargrave to be very much her Friend in several Instances, which mightily endear’d Mrs Veal ; insomuch that she would often say, Mrs. Bargrave you are not only the Best, but the only Friend I have in the World; and no Circumstances of Life, shall ever dissolve my Friendship. They would often Condole each others adverse Fortune, and read together, Drelincourt upon Death, and other good Books: And so like two Christian Friends, they comforted each other under their Sorrow.
Sometime after, Mr. Veals Friends got him a Place in the Custom-House at Dover, which occasioned Mrs Veal by little and little, to fall off from her Intimacy with Mrs. Bargrave, tho’ there was never any such thing as a Quarrel; but an Indifferency came on by degrees, till at last Mrs. Bargrave had not seen her in two Years and a half; tho’ above a Twelve Month of the time, Mrs. Bargrave had been absent from Dover, and this last half Year, has been in Canterbury about two Months of the time, dwelling in a House of her own.
In this House, on the Eighth of September last, viz 1705. She was sitting alone in the Forenoon, thinking over her Unfortunate Life, and arguing her self into a due Resignation to Providence, tho’ her condition seem’d hard. And said she, I have been provided for hither to, and doubt not but I shall be still, and am well satisfied, that my Afflictions shall end, when it is most fit for me: And then took up her Sewing-Work, which she had no sooner done, but she hears a Knocking at the Door; she went to see who it was there, and this prov’d to be Mrs. Veal, her Old Friend, who was in a Riding Habit: At that Moment of Time, the Clock struck Twelve at Noon.
[Page 3] Madam says Mrs. Bargrave, I am surprized to see you, you have been so long a stranger, but told her, she was glad to see her and offer’d to Salute her, which Mrs. Veal complyed with, till their Lips almost touched, and then Mrs Veal drew her hand cross her own Eyes, and said, I am not very well, and so waved it. She told Mrs. Bargrave, she was going a Journey, and had a great mind to see her first: But says Mrs. Bargrave, how came you to take a Journey alone? I am amaz’d at it, because I know you have so fond a Brother. O! says Mrs. Veal, I gave my Brother the Slip, and came away, because I had so great a Mind to see you before I took my Journy. So Mrs. Bargrave went in with her, into another Room within the first, and Mrs. Veal sat her self down in an Elbow-chair, in which Mrs. Bargrave was sitting when she heard Mrs. Veal Knock. Then says Mrs. Veal, My Dear Friend, I am come to renew our Old Friendship again, and to beg your Pardon for my breach of it, and if you can forgive me you are one of the best of Women. O! says Mrs. Bargrave, don’t mention such a thing, I have not had an uneasie thought about it, I can easily forgive it. What did you think of me says Mrs. Veal? Says Mrs. Bargrave, I thought you were like the rest of the World, and that Prosperity had made you forget your self and me. Then Mrs. Veal reminded Mrs. Bargrave of the many Friendly Offices she did her in former Days, and much of the Conversation they had with each other in the time of their Adversity; what Books they Read, and what Comfort in particular they received from Drelincourt ‘s, Book of Death, which was the best she said on that Subject, was ever Wrote. She also mentioned Dr. Sherlock, and two Dutch Books which were Translated, Wrote upon Death, and several others: But Drelincourt she said, had the clearest Notions of Death, and of the Future State, of any who have handled that Subject. Then she asked Mrs. Bargrave, whether she had Drelincourt ; she said yes. Says Mrs. Veal fetch it, and so Mrs. Bargrave goes up Stairs, and brings it down. Says Mrs. Veal, Dear Mrs. Bargrave, If the Eyes of our Faith were as open as the Eyes of our Body, we should see numbers of Angels about us for our Guard: The Notions we have of Heaven now, are nothing like what it is, as Drelincourt says. Therefore be comforted under your Afflictions, and believe that the Almighty has a particular regard to you; and that your Afflictions are Marks of Gods Favour: And when they have done the business they were sent for, they shall be removed from you. And believe me my Dear Friend, believe what I say to you, One Minute of future Happiness will infinitely reward you for [Page 4]all your Sufferings. For I can never believe, (and claps her Hand upon her Knee, with a great deal of Earnestness, which indeed ran through all her Discourse) that ever God will suffer you to spend all your Days in this Afflicted State: But be assured, that your Afflictions shall leave you, or you them in a short time. She spake in that Pathetical and Heavenly manner, that Mrs. Bargrave wept several times; she was so deeply affected with it. Then Mrs. Veal mentioned Dr. Hornecks Ascetick, at the end of which, he gives an account of the Lives of the Primitive Christians. Their Pattern she recommended to our Imitation ; and said, their Conversation was not like this of our Age. For now (says she) there is nothing but frothy vain Discourse, which is far different from theirs. Theirs was to Edification, and to Build one another up in the Faith: So that they were not as we are, nor are we as they are; but said she, We might do as they did. There was a Hearty Friendship among them, but where is it now to be found? Says Mrs. Bargrave, ’tis hard indeed to find a true Friend in these days. Says Mrs. Veal, Mr. Norris has a Fine Coppy of Verses, call’d Friendship in Perfection , which I wonderfully admire, have you seen the Book says Mrs. Veal ? No, says Mrs. Bargrave, but I have the Verses of my own writing out. Have you, says Mrs. Veal, then fetch them ; which she did from above Stairs, and offer’d them to Mrs. Veal to read, who refused, and wav’d the thing, saying, holding down her Head would make it ake, and then desired Mrs. Bargrave to read them to her, which she did. As they were admiring Friendship, Mrs. Veal said, Dear Mrs. Bargrave, I shall love you for ever: In the Verses, there is twice used the Word Elysium. Ah! says Mrs. Veal, These Poets have such Names for Heaven. She would often draw her Hand cross her own Eyes; and say, Mrs. Bargrave Don’t you think I am mightily impaired by my Fits? No, says Mrs. Bargrave, I think you look as well as ever I knew you.
After all this discourse, which the Apparition put in Words much finer than Mrs. Bargrave said she could pretend to, and was much more than she can remember (for it cannot be thought, that an hour and three quarters Conversation could all be retained, tho’ the main of it, she thinks she does.) She said to Mrs. Bargrave, she would have her write a Letter to her Brother, and tell him, she would have him give Rings to such and such; and that there was a Purse of Gold in her Cabinet, and that she would have Two Broad Pieces given to her Cousin Watson. Talking at this Rate, Mrs. Bargrave thought that a Fit was coming upon her, and so placed [Page 5] her self in a Chair, just before her Knees, to keep her from falling to the Ground, if her Fits should occasion it; for the Elbow Chair she thought would keep her from falling on either side. And to divert Mrs. Veal as she thought, she took hold of her Gown Sleeve several times, and commended it. Mrs. Veal told her, it was a Scower’d Silk, and newly made up. But for all this Mrs. Veal persisted in her Request, and told Mrs. Bargrave she must not deny her: and she would have her tell her Brother all their Conversation, when she had an opportunity. Dear Mrs. Veal, says Mrs. Bargrave, this seems so impertinent, that I cannot tell how to comply with it; and what a mortifying Story will our Conversation be to a Young Gentleman? Well, says Mrs. Veal, I must not be deny’d. Why, says Mrs. Bargrave, ’tis much better methinks to do it your self, No, says Mrs. Veal; tho’ it seems impertinent to you now, you will see more reason for it hereafter. Mrs. Bargrave then to satisfie her importunity, was going to fetch a Pen and Ink; but Mrs. Veal said, let it alone now, and do it when I am gone; but you must be sure to do it: which was one of the last things she enjoin’d her at parting; and so she promised her.
Then Mrs. Veal asked for Mrs. Bargraves Daughter; she said she was not at home; but if you have a mind to see her says Mrs. Bargrave, I’le send for her. Do, says Mrs. Veal. On which she left her, and went to a Neighbours, to send for her; and by the Time Mrs. Bargrave was returning, Mrs. Veal was got without the Door in the Street, in the face of the Beast-Market on a Saturday (which is Market day) and stood ready to part, as soon as Mrs. Bargrave came to her. She askt her, why she was in such hast? she said, she must be going; tho’ perhaps she might not go her journey till Monday. And told Mrs. Bargrave she hoped she should see her again, at her Cousin Watsons before she went whether she was a going. Then she said, she would not take her Leave of her, and walk’d from Mrs. Bargrave in her view, till a turning interrupted the sight of her, which was three quarters after One in the Afternoon.
Mrs. Veal Dyed the 7th of September at 12 a Clock at Noon, of her Fits, and had not above four hours Senses before her Death, in which time she received the Sacrament. The next day after Mrs. Veals appearing being Sunday, Mrs. Bargrave was mightily indisposed with a Cold, and a Sore Throat, that she could not [Page 6] go out that day: but on Monday morning she sends a person to Captain Watsons to know if Mrs. Veal were there. They wondered at Mrs. Bargraves enquiry, and sent her Word, that she was not there, nor was expected. At this Answer Mrs. Bargrave told the Maid she had certainly mistook the Name, or made some blunder. And tho’ she was ill, she put on her Hood, and went her self to Captain Watsons, tho’ she knew none of the Family, to see if Mrs. Veal was there or not. They said, they wondered at her asking, for that she had not been in Town; they were sure, if she had, she would have been there. Says Mrs. Bargrave, I am sure she was with me on Saturday almost two hours. They said it was impossible, for they must have seen her if she had. In comes Captain Watson, while they were in Dispute, and said that Mrs. Veal was certainly Dead, and her Escucheons were making. This strangely surprised Mrs. Bargrave, who went to the Person immediately who had the care of them, and found it true. Then she related the whole Story to Captain Watsons Family, and what Gown she had on, and how striped. And that Mrs. Veal told her it was Scowred. Then Mrs. Watson cry’d out, you have seen her indeed, for none knew but Mrs. Veal and my self, that the Gown was Scowr’d ; and Mrs Watson own’d that she described the Gown exactly; for, said she, I helpt her to make it up. This, Mrs. Watson blaz’d all about the Town, and avouch’d the Demonstration of the Truth of Mrs. Bargraves seeing Mrs. Veal ‘s Apparition. And Captain Watson carried two Gentlemen immediately to Mrs. Bargraves House, to hear the Relation from her own Mouth. And then it spread so fast, that Gentlemen and Persons of Quality, the Judicious and Sceptical part of the World, flock’t in upon her, which at last became such a Task, that she was forc’d to go out of the way. For they were in general, extreamly satisfyed of the truth of the thing; and plainly saw, that Mrs. Bargrave was no Hypochondriack, for she always appears with such a chearful Air, and pleasing Mien, that she has gain’d the favor and esteem of all the Gentry. And its thought a great favor if they can but get the Relation from her own Mouth. I should have told you before, that Mrs. Veal told Mrs. Bargrave, that her Sister and Brother in Law, were just come down from London to see her. Says Mrs. Bargrave, how came you to order matters so strangely? it could not be helpt said Mrs. Veal ; and her Sister and Brother did come to see her, and [Page 7] entred the Town of Dover, just as Mrs. Veal was expiring. Mrs. Bargrave asked her, whether she would not drink some Tea. Says Mrs. Veal, I do not care if I do: But I’le Warrant this Mad Fellow (meaning Mrs. Bargraves Husband,) has broke all your Trinckets. But, says Mrs. Bargrave, I’le get something to Drink in for all that ; but Mrs. Veal wav’d it, and said, it is no matter, let it alone, and so it passed.
All the time I sat with Mrs. Bargrave, which was some Hours, she recollected fresh sayings of Mrs. Veal. And one material thing more she told Mrs. Bargrave, that Old Mr. Breton allowed Mrs. Veal Ten pounds a Year, which was a secret, and unknown to Mrs. Bargrave, till Mrs. Veal told it her. Mrs. Bargrave never varies in her Story, which puzzles those who doubt of the Truth, or are unwilling to believe it. A Servant in a Neighbours Yard adjoining to Mrs. Bargraves House, heard her talking to some body, an hour of the Time Mrs. Veal was with her. Mrs. Bargrave went out to her next Neighbours the very Moment she parted with Mrs. Veal, and told what Ravishing Conversation she had with an Old Friend, and told the whole of it. Drelincourt ‘s Book of Death is, since this happened, Bought up strangely. And it is to be observed, that notwithstanding all this Trouble and Fatigue Mrs. Bargrave has undergone upon this Account, she never took the value of a Farthing, nor suffer’d her Daughter to take any thing of any Body, and therefore can have no Interest in telling the Story.
But Mr. Veal does what he can to stifle the matter, and said he would see Mrs. Bargrave ; but yet it is certain matter fact, that he has been at Captain Watsons since the Death of his Sister, and yet never went near Mrs. Bargrave ; and some of his Friends report her to be a great Lyar, and that she knew of Mr. Breton ‘s Ten Pounds a Year. But the Person who pretends to say so, has the Reputation of a Notorious Lyar, among persons which I know to be of undoubted Repute. Now Mr. Veal is more a Gentleman, than to say she Lyes; but says, a bad Husband has Craz’d her. But she needs only to present her self, and it will effectually confute that Pretence. Mr. Veal says he ask’d his Sister on her Death Bed, whether she had a mind to dispose of any thing, and she said, No. Now what the things which Mrs. Veals Apparition would have disposed of, were so Trifling, and nothing of Justice aimed at in their disposal, that the design of it appears to me to be only in order to make Mrs. [Page 8] Bargrave, so to demonstrate the Truth of her Appearance, as to satisfie the World of the Reality thereof, as to what she had seen and heard: and to secure her Reputation among the Reasonable and understanding part of Mankind. And then again, Mr. Veal owns that there was a Purse of Gold; but it was not found in her Cabinet, but in a Comb-Box. This looks improbable, for that Mrs. Watson own’d that Mrs. Veal was so very careful of the Key of her Cabinet, that she would trust no Body, with it. And if so, no doubt she would not trust her Gold out of it. And Mrs. Veals often drawing her hand over her Eyes, and asking Mrs. Bargrave, whether her Fits had not impair’d her; looks to me, as if she did it on purpose to remind Mrs. Bargrave of her Fits, to prepare her not to think it strange that she should put her upon Writing to her Brother to dispose of Rings and Gold, which lookt so much like a dying Persons Bequest; and it took accordingly with Mrs. Bargrave, as the effect of her Fits coming upon her; and was one of the many Instances of her Wonderful Love to her, and Care of her, that she should nor be affright ed: which indeed appears in her whole management; particularly in her coming to her in the day time, waving the Salutation, and when she was alone; and then the manner of her parting, to prevent a second attempt to Salute her.
Now, why Mr. Veal should think this Relation a Reflection, (as ’tis plain he does by his endeavouring to stifle it) I can’t imagine, because the Generality believe her to be a good Spirit, her Discourse was so Heavenly. Her two great Errands were to comfort Mrs. Bargrave in her Affliction, and to ask her Forgiveness for her Breach of Friend ship, and with a Pious Discourse to encourage her. So that after all, to suppose that Mrs. Bargrave could Hatch such an Invention as this from Friday-Noon, till Saturday-Noon, (supposing that she knew of Mrs. Veals Death the very first Moment) without jumbling Circumstances, and without any Interest too; she must be more Witty, Fortunate, and Wicked too, than any indifferent Person I dare say, will allow. I asked Mrs. Bargrave several times, If she was sure she felt the Gown.She answered Modestly, if my Senses be to be relied on, I am sure of it. I asked her, If she heard a Sound, when she clapt her Hand upon her Knee: She said, she did not remember she did: And she said, she Appeared to be as much a Substance as I did, who talked with her. And I may said she, be as soon persuaded that your Apparition is talking to me now, as that I did not really see her; for I was under no[Page 9] manner of Fear, I received her as a Friend, and parted with her as such. I would not, says she, give one Farthing to make any one believe it, I have no Interest in it; nothing but trouble is entail’d upon me for a long time for ought that I know; and had it not come to Light by Accident, it would never have been made Publick But now she says, she will make her own Private Use of it, and keep her self out of the way as much as she can. And so she has done since. She says, she had a Gentleman who came thirty Miles to her to hear the Relation; and that she had told it to a Room full of People at a time. Several particular Gentlemen have had the Story from Mrs Bargraves own Mouth.
This thing has very much affected me, and I am as well satisfied, as I am of the best grounded Matter of Fact. And why should we dispute Matter of Fact, because we cannot solve things, of which we can have no certain or demonstrative Notions, seems strange to me: Mrs. Bargraves ‘s Authority and Sincerity alone, would have been undoubted in any other Case. FINIS.
Drelincourts ‘s Book of the Consolations against the Fears of Death, has been four times Printed already in English, of which many Thousands have been Sold, and not without great Applause: And its bearing so great a Character in this Relation, the Impression is near Sold off.