Ghosts I Have Seen
by Violet Tweedale
Violet Tweedale is described in the 1910-1912 Every Woman's Encyclopedia thusly:
“Exceedingly versatile, Mrs. Tweedale has been described as "a woman of all works." She can paint a landscape and cook a dinner; she can write a book and make a shirt; she can etch a sporting scene and embroider the finest, designs; she is a brilliant pianist and has the reputation of being one of the best political speakers of the day. "I never know an idle moment, and I never know an unhappy one until by some misadventure I am forced to sit with idle hands," is a remark she has often been heard to make.”
But who is, or should I say was, Violet Tweedale?
The Rev. Charles, Mrs. Tweedale and unidentified specter
She was born in 1862, the daughter of Scottish publisher and editor Robert Chambers (Chamber’s Journal). A wealthy eccentric, he loved his work and reportedly gave millions away – Violet said he loved jewels and would carry a bag of diamonds with him at all times. Chamber’s voracious appetite for knowledge meant the house was crammed with books which allowed Violet, who had inherited her father’s quizzical nature, to educate herself (as it was common at that time for the daughters of the house not to receive a formal education). At 16 she was a ‘reader’ at the journal and was, at that age, considered quite brilliant, immersing herself in literature and art while assisting her father.
In 1889 she moved to London, spending her time writing and doing charitable work with the poor and sick in the pestilent soul-destroying slums of the East End. She released her first novel And They Two in that year. In 1891 she married a gentleman whom she considered her ‘literary soulmate,’ Clarens Tweedale. Together they were quite flush, both in spiritual vim and financial vigor. They travelled, read and did everything one expects of a well-heeled, socially connected couple of that time, counting Lords, writers, free-thinkers and spiritualists as friends. Violet was a close companion of Theosophy co-founder Helena Blavatsky, and a member of The Hermetic Order of the Golden Dawn, which counted Aleister Crowley and the poet Yeats as members.
She published more than 30 novels, dying at the Villa Languard, Torquay, Devon on December 10, 1936 predeceasing her husband by 14 years.
Victorians are an odd lot to come to grips with. They were innovators, loved gadgets and new things, loved to travel, loved foreign experiences, loved to do good. They believed – as I do - that hanging a work of art in one’s home can save a life. They were also in love with empire, loved only what they owned, were bigoted explorers, xenophobic (it is commonly believed that the novel Dracula was born of their fear of foreigners), lovers of pornography and pain, shooting animals, ardent adherents to class by helping and yet holding down the poor…all with impeccable manners and the customs of royals.
Reading Ghosts I Have Seen was a delight to me. These are not the ghost stories of today, there are no Ghost Hunters with EMF readers, infrared lights and video cameras. These are the stories of spirit mediums, ghost photography, gooey ectoplasmic manifestations, The Society for Psychical Research and the British National Association of Spiritualists. These are stories heard each night as a child in the nursery, the rustling of a silk dress rushing up unseen stairwells. These are stories of cocktail parties with the literary lights, travels from Nepal to Brighton. This was a time when a horrific war had just ended not only killing sons and husbands, in fact more than 8 million deaths, but forcing one to question God and the Victorian invincibility. The book travels a serendipitous course through her spiritual and spectral experiences, while we hear of the social, political and artistic shining lights of the day along the way. And, with a breathtakingly straight face she talks of the ‘proof’ provided by doctors that mediums lose weight while in trances – proven when she effortlessly heaved an enormous medium who, in a trance, had fallen on the floor into the next room for a brandy.
It is a pleasure to be able to bring this book back to life (pardon the pun). Like all of the House of Pomegranates Esoteric imprint, they are designed to resemble books from the time when they were published; those books you find on dusty shelves in flea market stalls, paper wrapper gone, slightly worn and filed incongruously next to an almost complete set of Nancy Drew’s. In the coming months we will be releasing a slew of esoterica, starting with the first of the Bulldog Drummond mystery series of the ’20s and Ghosts I have Seen. We do so hope you enjoy them.