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Guided by Voices: 6 Books Supposedly Written by Ghosts

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They’ve left our earthly world, but spirits sure have a lot to share with us. At least, that seems to have been the case in the late 19th and early 20th centuries, a period that witnessed a boom in books said to have been drafted by the departed. That era was the golden age of Spiritualism, and many people claimed they communicated with spirits who guided their minds and hands into recording stories, poems, and even voluminous novels. Here are six books supposedly dictated by ghosts that remain widely accessible today.

1. HISTORICAL REVELATIONS ...(1886), EMPEROR JULIAN & THOMAS CUSHMAN BUDDINGTON

The Roman Emperor Julian was apparently so taken aback by how civilization developed in the 1500 years following his death in 363 CE that he felt compelled to express himself from beyond the grave via the printed word. Historical Revelations of the Relation Existing Between Christianity and Paganism Since the Disintegration of the Roman Empire, recorded by American writer Thomas Cushman Buddington, attacked Christianity as the root cause of what Julian supposedly saw as a world in utter disarray and desolation. Julian’s spirit condemned Constantine and his successors for embracing “a false religion” that bred violence and stagnated Europe’s development.

More realistically, this call to return to traditional Roman values was Cushman’s rather creative way to share his own grievances. Perhaps Cushman felt uncomfortable openly lambasting Christianity as an obstacle to moral and intellectual growth and found the emperor, who studied Platonic philosophy, a suitable figure to vocalize his concerns about the human race. In his preface to Julian’s writings, he praises the spirit, saying he “is of the most of the most pure and elevated character.”

2. MY TUSSLE WITH THE DEVIL, AND OTHER STORIES (1918), O. HENRY & ALBERT HOUGHTON PRATT

William Sydney Porter, a.k.a. O. Henry. Image credit: Wikimedia Commons via Public Domain 

Born William Sydney Porter, the celebrated writer known as O. Henry died in 1910 with hundreds of short stories to his name. Yet even death could not halt his creative output, as eight years later, a collection of stories surfaced, all purportedly newly written by him. They arrived through the medium Albert Houghton Pratt, who claimed that he communicated with O. Henry through a ouija board. The very first conversation had supposedly occurred on September 18, 1917, and many more followed, with Pratt inviting friends to gather around the board to listen to O. Henry’s spirit rattle off tales. Pratt, in his opening comments to the book, describes O. Henry as a chatty spirit; apparently “overburdened with plots,” the ghost at times even exhausted his human companions as sessions stretched into late hours of the night. He would also self-edit his narrations: Once, he told Pratt to erase the last half of a story that had come to him too quickly and that fell short of his standards.

Pratt apparently had full control over his own thoughts throughout these sittings and found opportunities to pose his own questions. Once, he asked O. Henry what he thought about movie adaptations of his books. The spirit’s response: “Foolish rehash of yesterday’s ignorance.”

It appears Pratt anticipated the negative reception of O. Henry’s alleged latest writings, too. In an introduction signed by “Parma”—Pratt’s pseudonym—he brushed off nonbelievers and any skeptics who might have found the prose style different from O. Henry’s. The spirit world, Pratt explained, simply inspires a different voice; furthermore, the stories prove that a leopard can change its spots.

3. HOPE TRUEBLOOD (1918), PATIENCE WORTH & PEARL CURRAN

Pearl Curran. Image credit: Walter Franklin Prince via Wikimedia Commons // Public domain

Also dictated through a ouija board was Hope Trueblood, just one of many works of fiction purportedly penned by the spirit Patience Worth in 1918. Arguably one of the most famous of spirit authors, Worth communicated through Pearl Curran, a housewife who lived in St. Louis. From 1913 through 1937, Curran dutifully recorded books, plays, poems, and short stories, at times receiving and scribbling thousands of words in one session.

Hope Trueblood, which told the story of a girl in Mid-Victorian England searching for her father, stands out from the rest of Worth’s oeuvre. The spirit was known for her archaic language and typically set stories far in the past: Telka occurred in medieval England; The Sorry Tale was set in the days of Jesus. Hope Trueblood unfolded in the present era (when originally published) and Worth employed plain English for the first time. Like many of her works, the novel received critical acclaim.

Hope Trueblood, however, also drew more skeptics than Worth’s previous works. What would the spirit of a 17th-century English girl (whom Indians murdered when she immigrated to America) know of Victorian life? Yet people had difficulty explaining how Curran, who had little education and opportunity for travel, wove these stories that contained detailed, accurate descriptions of distant settings. The mystery captivated Worth and Curran’s readers, and it went with Curran to her grave. When she passed away in 1937, the headline of her obituary in the St. Louis Globe-Democrat read “Patience Worth is Dead.”

4. TO WOMAN (1920), MESLOM & MARY MCEVILLY

Internet Archive // Public Domain

An American medium in Paris known as Mary McEvilly received messages from a mysterious spirit named Meslom during a number of sessions held between October 1919 and March 1920. They form To Woman, a book describing the duties of the female sex to help better the world and lead mankind to salvation. Lofty, abstract statements fill the 108 pages, and Meslom’s often-repetitive ramblings are arduous to read. Overall, the spirit argues that women are responsible for human's spiritual progression since they are in more in touch with nature and have greater intuition than men, who have more highly developed powers of reason.

McEvilly identifies Meslom as a man, and although he praises women for their sensitivities, he also betrays sexist attitudes. Man will always be master, and women should surrender any hope of gender equality, he tells McEvilly; although they have good judgment, women will never make laws; women who steadily pursue an education may weaken their innate connection to all that is good. Most rewarding, he suggests, would be for a woman to instead pray frequently for knowledge that leads to spiritual development and happiness.

Curiously, To Woman emerged a few months before women in the U.S. received the full right to vote. Little record of Mary McEvilly exists, but her book must have come off as backward to more than a few people even when originally printed.

5. A WANDERER IN THE SPIRIT LANDS (1896), FRANCHEZZO & A. FARNESE

Google Books // Public Domain

Victorians would find a chilling moral lesson in A Wanderer in the Spirit Lands, supposedly dictated to one A. Farnese by an Italian man who had recently passed away. Identified only as Franchezzo, his spirit fills over 300 pages with vivid descriptions of his lonely, miserable journey through the spirit world. Those dark travels were his deserved punishment, he writes, as he had lived a selfish life in worship of the material rather than of God.

Franchezzo initially ventures into the cold and decaying realms of hell, and only through laborious works of atonement eventually passes through bright heavenly gates. His tale serves as an engrossing sermon, warning its readers of the terrible fate that awaits if they do not start changing their sinful behavior while on earth—before it is too late.

6. OUINA’S CANOE AND CHRISTMAS OFFERING, FILLED WITH FLOWERS FOR THE DARLINGS OF THE EARTH (1882), OUINA & CORA L. V. RICHMOND

Wikimedia Commons and Internet Archive // Public Domain

One of America’s most beloved spirits, Ouina was believed to be a young Native American girl who spread tens of thousands of uplifting messages from the spirit world. Beginning in 1851, she spoke through Cora Lodensia Veronica Scott, a famous Spiritualist from New York who had begun channeling spirits at a young age and launched a career as a trance lecturer (someone who performed public lectures supposedly received from the spirit world). Scott’s audience was often people who had lost loved ones; her romantic poems and tales painted the afterlife as a place filled with beauty and joy, offering mourners some comfort and rest from grief. Ouina’s Canoe was the first published collection of a handful of the spirit’s works, set to print at Christmas time as her gift to help and heal more people.

Along with verses filled with flowers, sunbeams, moonbeam fairies and morning stars, the book includes a biography of Ouina. Her own story is one of sorrow: Her mother had died in childbirth, and her father, chief of a tribe that resided along the Shenandoah River, decided to sacrifice her when she was about 15 to save his people from misfortune. With her touching history and messages of peace and love, it’s unsurprising that Scott’s guide received such great adoration, rather than cynical criticism.

(For five more books dictated from beyond the grave, click here.)

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This Harry Potter Candle Melts to Reveal Your Hogwarts House—and Smells Amazing
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As it gets darker and colder outside, the thought of lighting a candle in your room and curling up with a good book becomes more appealing. A sorting hat candle from the Muggle Library Candles Etsy store makes the perfect companion to whatever Harry Potter book you happen to be re-reading for the hundredth time this season. According to the Cleveland news outlet WKYC, the candle slowly reveals your Hogwarts house as it burns.

From the outside, the item looks like a normal white candle. But when lit, the outer layer of plain wax melts away, allowing the colorful interior to poke through. The candles come in one of four concealed colors: red for Gryffindor, blue for Ravenclaw, yellow for Hufflepuff, and green for Slytherin. The only way to know which house you’re destined to match with is by purchasing a candle and putting it to use. According to the label, the scent evokes “excitement, fear, and nervousness.” The smell can also be described as lemon with sandalwood, vanilla, and patchouli.

Due to its viral popularity, the Fort Worth, Texas-based Etsy store has put all orders on hold while working to get its current batch of shipments out to customers. You can follow Muggle Library Candles on Instagram for updates on the sorting candle, as well as other Harry Potter-themed candles in their repertoire, like parseltongue and free elf.

[h/t WKYC]

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10 Facts About Samuel Johnson’s Dictionary
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October 16 is World Dictionary Day, which each year celebrates the birthday of the American lexicographer Noah Webster, who was born in Connecticut in 1758. Last year, Mental Floss marked the occasion with a list of facts about Webster’s American Dictionary of the English Language—the enormous two-volume dictionary, published in 1828 when Webster was 70 years old, that established many of the differences that still divide American and British English to this day. But while Webster was America’s foremost lexicographer, on the other side of the Atlantic, Great Britain had Dr. Samuel Johnson.

Johnson—whose 308th birthday was marked with a Google Doodle in September—published the equally groundbreaking Dictionary of the English Language in 1755, three years before Webster was even born. Its influence was arguably just as great as that of Webster’s, and it remained the foremost dictionary of British English until the early 1900s when the very first installments of the Oxford English Dictionary began to appear.

So to mark this year’s Dictionary Day, here are 10 facts about Johnson’s monumental dictionary.

1. IT WASN’T THE FIRST DICTIONARY.

With more than 40,000 entries, Johnson’s Dictionary of the English Language was certainly the largest dictionary in the history of the English language at the time but, despite popular opinion, it wasn’t the first. Early vocabularies and glossaries were being compiled as far back as the Old English period, when lists of words and their equivalents in languages like Latin and French first began to be used by scribes and translators. These were followed by educational word lists and then early bilingual dictionaries that began to emerge in the 16th century, which all paved the way for what is now considered the very first English dictionary: Robert Cawdrey’s Table Alphabeticall—in 1604.

2. SAMUEL JOHNSON BORROWED FROM THE DICTIONARIES THAT CAME BEFORE HIS.

In compiling his dictionary, Johnson drew on Nathan Bailey’s Dictionarium Britanicum, which had been published in 1730. (Ironically, a sequel to Bailey’s dictionary, A New Universal Etymological English Dictionary, was published in the same year as Johnson’s, and borrowed heavily from his work; its author, Joseph Nicoll Scott, even gave Johnson some credit for its publication.)

But just as Johnson had borrowed from Bailey and Scott had borrowed from Johnson, Bailey, too had borrowed from an earlier work—namely John Kersey’s Dictionarium Anglo-Britannicum (1708)—which was based in part on a technical vocabulary, John Harris’s Universal English Dictionary of Arts and Sciences. Lexicographic plagiarism was nothing new.

3. THE DICTIONARY WASN’T THE ONLY THING JOHNSON WROTE.

Although he’s best remembered as a lexicographer today, Johnson was actually something of a literary multitasker. As a journalist, he wrote for an early periodical called The Gentlemen’s Magazine. As a biographer, he wrote the Life of Mr Richard Savage (1744), a memoir of a friend and fellow writer who had died the previous year. Johnson also wrote numerous poems (London, published anonymously in 1738, was his first major published work), a novel (Rasselas, 1759), a stage play (Irene, 1749), and countless essays and critiques. He also co-edited an edition of Shakespeare’s plays. And in between all of that, he even found time to investigate a supposed haunted house in central London.

4. IT WAS THE FIRST DICTIONARY TO USE QUOTATIONS.

Johnson’s dictionary defined some 42,773 words, each of which was given a uniquely scholarly definition, complete with a suggested etymology and an armory of literary quotations—no fewer than 114,000 of them, in fact.

Johnson lifted quotations from books dating back to the 16th century for the citations in his dictionary, and relied heavily on the works of authors he admired and who were popular at the time—Shakespeare, John Milton, Alexander Pope, and Edmund Spenser included. In doing so, he established a lexicographic trend that still survives in dictionaries to this day.

5. IT TOOK MORE THAN EIGHT YEARS TO WRITE.

Defining 42,000 words and finding 114,000 quotes to help you do so takes time: Working from his home off Fleet Street in central London, Johnson and six assistants worked solidly for over eight years to bring his dictionary to print. (Webster, on the other hand, worked all but single-handedly, and used the 22 years it took him to compile his American Dictionary to learn 26 different languages.)

6. JOHNSON WAS WELL PAID FOR HIS TROUBLES.

Johnson was commissioned to write his dictionary by a group of London publishers, who paid him a princely 1,500 guineas—equivalent to roughly $300,000 (£225,000) today.

7. HE LEFT OUT A LOT OF WORDS.

The dictionary’s 42,000-word vocabulary might sound impressive, but it’s believed that the English language probably had as many as five times that many words around the time the dictionary was published in 1755. A lot of that shortfall was simply due to oversight: Johnson included the word irritable in four of his definitions, for instance, but didn’t list it as a headword in his own dictionary. He also failed to include a great many words found in the works of the authors he so admired, and in several of the source dictionaries he utilized, and in some cases he even failed to include the root forms of words whose derivatives were listed elsewhere in the dictionary. Athlete, for instance, didn’t make the final cut, whereas athletic did.

Johnson’s imposition of his own tastes and interests on his dictionary didn't help matters either. His dislike of French, for example, led to familiar words like unique, champagne, and bourgeois being omitted, while those he did include were given a thorough dressing down: ruse is defined as “a French word neither elegant nor necessary,” while finesse is dismissed as “an unnecessary word that is creeping into the language."

8. HE LEFT OUT THE LETTER X.

    At the foot of page 2308 of Johnson’s Dictionary is a note merely reading, “X is a letter which, though found in Saxon words, begins no word in the English language."

    9. HIS DEFINITIONS WEREN’T ALWAYS SO SCHOLARLY.

      As well as imposing his own taste on his dictionary, Johnson also famously employed his own sense of humor on his work. Among the most memorable of all his definitions is his explanation of oats as “a grain, which in England is generally given to horses, but in Scotland supports the people.” But he also defined monsieur as “a term of reproach for a Frenchman,” excise as “a hateful tax levied upon commodities and adjudged not by the common judges of property but wretches hired by those to whom excise is paid,” and luggage as “anything of more weight than value.” As an example of how to use the word dull, he explained that “to make dictionaries is dull work.”

      10. HE POKED LOTS OF FUN AT HIS OWN OCCUPATION.

      Listed on page 1195 of his dictionary, Johnson’s definition of lexicographer was “a writer of dictionaries; a harmless drudge.”

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