Ghost Story of a Novelist

Katharine Tynan

Mrs. Katharine Tynan relates a Weird Tale—May Be a Coincidence.

Mrs. Katharine Tynan, the well-known novelist, sends to the Daily Graphic the following weird story:

“This may be a coincidence. On the other hand, it may be a ghost story. It happened to one near and dear to me. It was in his college days, and it was a long vacation, during which he had elected to stay on in his college rooms and work. The rooms were at the top of one of the highest houses in the ancient foundation of Queen Elizabeth, T.C.D. [Trinity College Dublin]. There was not a soul in the house but himself, and the quads and buildings were full of echoing emptiness after nightfall. He was not nervous in the ordinary sense of the word, and did not object to his solitude in his eyrie, although an impressionable Celtic visitor calling on him one afternoon remarked that he would not occupy those rooms in the empty house in the empty college for a single night, no matter what inducement were offered to him to do it.

“It was a night or two later. The sole occupant of No. — awoke in the dark. He had been awakened by an unusual sound on the stairs. He heard the foot ascend and pause outside his door. He sprang out of bed, and fumbled for a light. By the time he had got it, he heard the foot going downstairs again. He hurried to his door, opened it and listened. All was silent as the grave in the empty house. He returned to bed mystified, and slept till morning. In the morning, as he made his own breakfast, and thought of his mysterious visitor of the night before, he glanced toward the door, and noticed something white half-way under the door—a visiting card. He picked it up. It was the card of a man he knew—a college acquaintance, whom we shall call Roland White. In the corner of the card was written in pencil, ‘Just passing through.’ The mystery was not cleared. Why on earth should Roland White have called in the dead waste and middle of the night? He had heard of him a few days before as enjoying himself thoroughly grouse-shooting in the west.

“A day or two passed. As he came into college one afternoon he was stopped by one of the porters. ‘Very sad about poor Mr. White, sir?’ ‘What about Mr. White?’ ‘Haven’t you heard, sir? It’s in the evening papers.’ It was the familiar accident of the trigger of a gun catching in a twig as the sportsman scrambled through a fence. Shot in the head, Roland White had died within a few minutes of the accident. The coincidence would have been if the card was an old one, and had been dislodged from somewhere or another to lie below the door on the very night following the day when the fatal accident had occurred. But then the foot on the stairs in the middle of the night! Ghost story or coincidence, it remains a mystery to this day.”


Buy a copy of Katharine Tynan’s The Death Spancel and Others.

You might also be interested in Bending to Earth: Strange Stories by Irish Women.

Learn a bit more about Katharine Tynan.

Ghost Story of a Novelist

Ghosts of the Chit-Chat

“This Society shall be called the ‘Chit-Chat Club’, and consist of Members of the University, and have for its object the promotion of rational conversation.”

“Preface” to Ghosts of the Chit-Chat by Robert Lloyd Parry

This rule, the first in the founding charter of the Chit-Chat, was not always strictly observed during the thirty-seven years of the club’s existence. It’s true that membership was only ever drawn from undergraduates and staff of Cambridge University, but the name was subject to variation, and it was for an evening of supernatural storytelling rather than rational conversation that the Chit-Chat has earned its modest place in the history of English literature.

On the evening of Saturday, 28 October 1893, members past and present ought to have been enjoying a dinner in celebration of the club’s recently held 600th meeting. The secretary, A. B. Ramsay, had failed to make the necessary arrangements, however. So instead, ten current members and one guest gathered in the rooms of the Junior Dean of King’s College and listened—with increasing absorption one suspects—as their host read “Two Ghost Stories”.

Ghosts of the Chit-Chat is not the first book to celebrate this momentous event in the history of supernatural literature, the earliest dated record we have of M. R. James reading his ghost stories out loud. But it is the first to look more widely at the contributions that other club members made to the genre. The authors whose works appear in these pages are not a diverse group: they were the privately educated sons of bankers, lawyers, schoolmasters, and clergymen, who would themselves go on to careers in academia, journalism, the army and the church. But they were also men of imagination, curiosity, and wit, and the variety lies in the different approaches to supernatural fiction: here you’ll find tales of ghostly retribution and black magic; spatterings of gore and glimpses “beyond the veil”. You’ll read stories written to edify schoolboys, and poems composed to tickle undergraduates. You’ll encounter allegory, satire, and mysticism.

Artwork by John Coulthart

And while all the writers invoke ghosts in their work, many are also shades themselves; men whose remembrances have faded, whose voices are but faintly heard today. M. R. James and E. F. Benson remain in the mainstream, it’s true. But while names like Maurice Baring, Desmond MacCarthy, and J. K. Stephen may still ring faint bells with the book-loving public, their works are long out of print. Whereas the writings of Robert Carr Bosanquet and Will Stone are found only in the pages of unread memorial volumes.

Used with permission from the Syndics of Cambridge University Library

Each of the works selected here is preceded by an account of the author’s life and his relationship to M. R. James and—except in one case—formal membership of the Chit-Chat Club is a prerequisite for inclusion in this volume. Celebrated Cambridge supernaturalists like Arthur Gray, E. G. Swain, R. H. Malden, and others find no place here for the simple reason that they never made the commitment to attend a meeting every Saturday evening at 10 p.m. during term, take a pinch of snuff, and listen to one of their friend’s read a paper. Or perhaps they were never asked.

The designations of the Chit-Chat as a “club” and a “society” were interchangeable from the beginning—both appear in the first set of rules. The minute books, and the letters and memoirs of past members, variously render the name as “Chit-Chat”, “Chit Chat”, or “Chitchat”. Except when quoting other sources, I shall follow rule one from the first set of rules, quoted above, and use Chit-Chat Club.

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Ghosts of the Chit-Chat