It has gone unnoticed by his biographers, but the Eton lodgings in which M.R. James set his scholarship in the 1870s was the location of a famous 17th Century ghost story. Roger Clarke, who attended the same school exactly one hundred years later, tells the story for the first time.
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I have in front of me the original third-edition of Saducismus Triumphatus by Joseph Glanvill. It’s a very old book, from 1700, and it's full of ghosts and witches. It has the royal insignia on the front, which means it was owned and probably read by George III or “Mad King George.” His grandfather George II was a staunch believer in vampires, but I digress. I’m not allowed to photograph it, but I’m in the British Library in London.
Saducismus was a theological work designed to rebut the cynics and sceptics by trying to demonstrate that the supernatural world—and by extension, God—really existed. It influenced, famously, Cotton Mather and the witch trials held 1692-3 in Salem, Massachusetts. In those days, ghosts were thought not to be spirits but demons, and often associated with witches and witchcraft. Glanvill, a Fellow of the Royal Society and Chaplain to the King, managed to make a belief in ghosts and witchcraft respectable in England for about a decade. One of his early jobs was as a curate to Eton College.
Curiously, this book also includes a now-forgotten ghost story that’s relevant to one of the best English ghost story writers of them all, M.R. James (1862-1936).