How does one know when one is looking at a ghost?
The superstitious belief that the dead may return as a shrouded figure to haunt the land of the living accounts for the sheets and skeletons used to illustrate ghost stories and decorate Halloween celebrations. Scientists explain them as being a delusion arising from one's imagination, if not a hoax. But, the doppelganger is a troubling ghost whose appearance and behavior resembles that of a living person.
If the person seen is not dead, where does this apparition originate? If it is an imaginary delusion, how can that delusion be shared when none of the witnesses are aware that they are only seeing a ghost?
There have been authors who have claimed to have been literally beside themselves. Once, Percy Shelley was said to have met himself on a road outside of Pisa, Italy, with his double riding on horseback. And, Guy de Maupassant, when writing his short story, "The Horla," was said to have met his double, who dictated the story to him. However, both of these gentlemen were fond of telling ghostly tales, and Guy de Maupassant was also said to be going mad at the time.
Can we trust authors who claim to see their own ghost when they are not yet dead, and without confirmation from independent witnesses? If not, then what about politicians?
A curious story emerged in London and was reported by the newspapers in May of 1905. I first came across it in Drewry's Derby Mercury but take the details from the Daily News and the Daily Express.
The incident took place shortly before Easter of 1905. Sir Gilbert Parker, M.P., described his experience as follows:
"I wished to take part in the debate in progress, but missed being called. As I swung round to resume my seat I was attracted first by seeing Sir Carne Rasch out of his place, and then by the position he occupied. I knew that he had been very ill, and in a cheery way nodded towards him and said, `Hope you are better.'
"But he made no sign and uttered no reply. This struck me as odd. My friend's position was his and yet not his. His face was remarkably pallid. His expression was steely. It was a altogether a stony presentment -- grim, almost resentful.
"I thought for a moment. Then I turned again toward Sir Carne Rasch, and he had disappeared. That puzzled me, and I at once went in search of him. I expected, in fact, to overtake him in the lobby. But Rasch was not there. No one had seen him. I tried both the Whips and the doorkeeper, equally without avail. No one had seen Sir Carne Rasch.
"I went round the House, inquiring in all the corridors and to the same end -- Sir Carne Rasch had not been seen. Going again to the lobby, I heard that Sir Henry Meysey-Thompson, who was at the lobby post office, had also been inquiring for the major, but without result.
"I joined Sir Henry, and we exchanged views."
Sir Henry had been looking for Sir Carne Rasch for a parliamentary reason, but he was impressed by Sir Gilbert's experience. Sir Gilbert was familiar with psychic phenomena and had become concerned that the major had died or was dying, and was putting in a final ghostly appearance. The two members thus made a note of the hour and the day.
Major Sir Frederick Carne Rasch, a Unionist Member of Parliament representing the Chelmsford Division of Mid-Essex since 1900, had become ill with influenza. However, he was neither dead nor dying. Several days later, when he met Sir Gilbert and Sir Henry and learned of their concern, he accepted their congratulations upon his having not died, went home, told the story, and "made every one in his family appropriately miserable."
"Ghosts are generally supposed to be the apparitions of the dead aren't they?" Sir Carne Rasch asked his constituents.
"I was rather ill at the time, and had to keep my bed, and why I should have gone to the House of Commons that night I don't know. However, the Express of Friday says that I did. I am worth a good many dead ones yet, I hope. At any rate, I mean to go on a little longer.
"I feel, however, that I ought to apologize to the Liberal Party for not having died when I suppose I ought. Had I done so it would have saved them a good deal of trouble. If I have another chance perhaps I will endeavor to oblige them."
What was unexpected did come from the Liberal ranks, Sir Gilbert's odd claim of seeing a doppelganger lacked any confirmation. A letter from Colonel Sir Arthur Hayter, published in the Daily News of May 17, gave that confirmation.
"Sir, On my way home to Southhill Park today I noticed in The Daily News that Sir Carne Rasch had been seen in the House of Commons by Sir Gilbert Parker when he was reported to be lying ill at home, and that further evidence in confirmation was required.
"I beg to say that I not only saw Sir Carne Rasch myself sitting below the gangway (not in his usual seat), but that I called the attention of Sir Henry Campbell-Bannerman to whom I was talking on the Front Opposition Bench, saying that I wondered why all the papers inserted notices of Sir Carne Rasch's illness, while he was sitting opposite apparently quite well. Sir Henry replied that he hoped his illness was not catching. -- Yours, etc.
"Arthur D. Hayter
"Bracknell Berks, May 13."
Sir Carne Rasch's "Grim Double" was thus noticed by three members of the Commons, including "C.B.," who would become the prime minister before the end of that year. Though the doppelganger was not seated in Sir Carne Rasch's usual place, Sir Gilbert and Sir Arthur both recognized him in the same location, though no one else, neither doorkeeper nor Whips, was aware of his coming or going. The Daily News summarized the incident this way: "Indeed, the wonder is , not only that Sir Gilbert Parker, Sir Arthur Hayter, and Sir Campbell-Bannerman saw a ghost, but that it was the ghost of so unghostly a member."
Sir Carne Rasch took the incident in soldierly stride, but he saw fit to bring the affair to a conclusion with a letter to the Daily News, published on May 18.
"Sir, The only Excuse I can offer for being the reason of an encroachment on your space is that of confession and avoidance -- as Sir William Harcourt used to say -- and that I will not be the cause of it again.
"I certainly was not in my place at Westminster at the time, and had I been seen by other than hon. members (for whom I have, of course, the most profound respect) I should say they had `got `em again.' As it is, the tale wants finish. I ought to have done what was expected of me -- and I must try to remedy this on a future occasion. Yours, etc.
"Carne Rasch, M.P. Mid-Essex
"Windham Club, St. Jame's-square, S.W."
Sir Carne Rasch continued to serve as the representative for Mid-Essex until his resignation in November of 1908. He was shortly afterwards appointed Steward and Bailiff of the Manor of Northstead. On September 27, 1914, Sir Carne Rasch died at the age of 66.
Of all the famous ghosts to haunt London, I find it odd the only ghost told of in Westminster was a doppelganger, but, then, many strange things happen in Parliament.
"Unghostly apparition" was first published in the Whig-Standard Magazine, 12 (no. 9; December 15, 1990): 6.
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