by Charles Dickens

I have always noticed a prevalent want of courage, even among
persons of superior intelligence and culture, as to imparting their
own psychological experiences when those have been of a strange
sort. Almost all men are afraid that what they could relate in such
wise would find no parallel or response in a listener’s internal
life, and might be suspected or laughed at. A truthful traveller,
who should have seen some extraordinary creature in the likeness of
a sea-serpent, would have no fear of mentioning it; but the same
traveller, having had some singular presentiment, impulse, vagary of
thought, vision (so-called), dream, or other remarkable mental
impression, would hesitate considerably before he would own to it.
To this reticence I attribute much of the obscurity in which such
subjects are involved. We do not habitually communicate our
experiences of these subjective things as we do our experiences of
objective creation. The consequence is, that the general stock of
experience in this regard appears exceptional, and really is so, in
respect of being miserably imperfect.

In what I am going to relate, I have no intention of setting up,
opposing, or supporting, any theory whatever. I know the history of
the Bookseller of Berlin, I have studied the case of the wife of a
late Astronomer Royal as related by Sir David Brewster, and I have
followed the minutest details of a much more remarkable case of
Spectral Illusion occurring within my private circle of friends. It
may be necessary to state as to this last, that the sufferer (a
lady) was in no degree, however distant, related to me. A mistaken
assumption on that head might suggest an explanation of a part of my
own case,–but only a part,–which would be wholly without
foundation. It cannot be referred to my inheritance of any
developed peculiarity, nor had I ever before any at all similar
experience, nor have I ever had any at all similar experience since.

It does not signify how many years ago, or how few, a certain murder
was committed in England, which attracted great attention. We hear
more than enough of murderers as they rise in succession to their
atrocious eminence, and I would bury the memory of this particular
brute, if I could, as his body was buried, in Newgate Jail. I
purposely abstain from giving any direct clue to the criminal’s

When the murder was first discovered, no suspicion fell–or I ought
rather to say, for I cannot be too precise in my facts, it was
nowhere publicly hinted that any suspicion fell–on the man who was
afterwards brought to trial. As no reference was at that time made
to him in the newspapers, it is obviously impossible that any
description of him can at that time have been given in the
newspapers. It is essential that this fact be remembered.

Unfolding at breakfast my morning paper, containing the account of
that first discovery, I found it to be deeply interesting, and I
read it with close attention. I read it twice, if not three times.
The discovery had been made in a bedroom, and, when I laid down the
paper, I was aware of a flash–rush–flow–I do not know what to
call it,–no word I can find is satisfactorily descriptive,–in
which I seemed to see that bedroom passing through my room, like a
picture impossibly painted on a running river. Though almost
instantaneous in its passing, it was perfectly clear; so clear that
I distinctly, and with a sense of relief, observed the absence of
the dead body from the bed.

It was in no romantic place that I had this curious sensation, but
in chambers in Piccadilly, very near to the corner of St. James’s
Street. It was entirely new to me. I was in my easy-chair at the
moment, and the sensation was accompanied with a peculiar shiver
which started the chair from its position. (But it is to be noted
that the chair ran easily on castors.) I went to one of the windows
(there are two in the room, and the room is on the second floor) to
refresh my eyes with the moving objects down in Piccadilly. It was
a bright autumn morning, and the street was sparkling and cheerful.
The wind was high. As I looked out, it brought down from the Park a
quantity of fallen leaves, which a gust took, and whirled into a
spiral pillar. As the pillar fell and the leaves dispersed, I saw
two men on the opposite side of the way, going from West to East.
They were one behind the other. The foremost man often looked back
over his shoulder. The second man followed him, at a distance of
some thirty paces, with his right hand menacingly raised. First,
the singularity and steadiness of this threatening gesture in so
public a thoroughfare attracted my attention; and next, the more
remarkable circumstance that nobody heeded it. Both men threaded
their way among the other passengers with a smoothness hardly
consistent even with the action of walking on a pavement; and no
single creature, that I could see, gave them place, touched them, or
looked after them. In passing before my windows, they both stared
up at me. I saw their two faces very distinctly, and I knew that I
could recognise them anywhere. Not that I had consciously noticed
anything very remarkable in either face, except that the man who
went first had an unusually lowering appearance, and that the face
of the man who followed him was of the colour of impure wax.

I am a bachelor, and my valet and his wife constitute my whole
establishment. My occupation is in a certain Branch Bank, and I
wish that my duties as head of a Department were as light as they
are popularly supposed to be. They kept me in town that autumn,
when I stood in need of change. I was not ill, but I was not well.
My reader is to make the most that can be reasonably made of my
feeling jaded, having a depressing sense upon me of a monotonous
life, and being “slightly dyspeptic.” I am assured by my renowned
doctor that my real state of health at that time justifies no
stronger description, and I quote his own from his written answer to
my request for it.

As the circumstances of the murder, gradually unravelling, took
stronger and stronger possession of the public mind, I kept them
away from mine by knowing as little about them as was possible in
the midst of the universal excitement. But I knew that a verdict of
Wilful Murder had been found against the suspected murderer, and
that he had been committed to Newgate for trial. I also knew that
his trial had been postponed over one Sessions of the Central
Criminal Court, on the ground of general prejudice and want of time
for the preparation of the defence. I may further have known, but I
believe I did not, when, or about when, the Sessions to which his
trial stood postponed would come on.

My sitting-room, bedroom, and dressing-room, are all on one floor.
With the last there is no communication but through the bedroom.
True, there is a door in it, once communicating with the staircase;
but a part of the fitting of my bath has been–and had then been for
some years–fixed across it. At the same period, and as a part of
the same arrangement,–the door had been nailed up and canvased

I was standing in my bedroom late one night, giving some directions
to my servant before he went to bed. My face was towards the only
available door of communication with the dressing-room, and it was
closed. My servant’s back was towards that door. While I was
speaking to him, I saw it open, and a man look in, who very
earnestly and mysteriously beckoned to me. That man was the man who
had gone second of the two along Piccadilly, and whose face was of
the colour of impure wax.

The figure, having beckoned, drew back, and closed the door. With
no longer pause than was made by my crossing the bedroom, I opened
the dressing-room door, and looked in. I had a lighted candle
already in my hand. I felt no inward expectation of seeing the
figure in the dressing-room, and I did not see it there.

Conscious that my servant stood amazed, I turned round to him, and
said: “Derrick, could you believe that in my cool senses I fancied
I saw a–” As I there laid my hand upon his breast, with a sudden
start he trembled violently, and said, “O Lord, yes, sir! A dead
man beckoning!”

Now I do not believe that this John Derrick, my trusty and attached
servant for more than twenty years, had any impression whatever of
having seen any such figure, until I touched him. The change in him
was so startling, when I touched him, that I fully believe he
derived his impression in some occult manner from me at that

I bade John Derrick bring some brandy, and I gave him a dram, and
was glad to take one myself. Of what had preceded that night’s
phenomenon, I told him not a single word. Reflecting on it, I was
absolutely certain that I had never seen that face before, except on
the one occasion in Piccadilly. Comparing its expression when
beckoning at the door with its expression when it had stared up at
me as I stood at my window, I came to the conclusion that on the
first occasion it had sought to fasten itself upon my memory, and
that on the second occasion it had made sure of being immediately

I was not very comfortable that night, though I felt a certainty,
difficult to explain, that the figure would not return. At daylight
I fell into a heavy sleep, from which I was awakened by John
Derrick’s coming to my bedside with a paper in his hand.

This paper, it appeared, had been the subject of an altercation at
the door between its bearer and my servant. It was a summons to me
to serve upon a Jury at the forthcoming Sessions of the Central
Criminal Court at the Old Bailey. I had never before been summoned
on such a Jury, as John Derrick well knew. He believed–I am not
certain at this hour whether with reason or otherwise–that that
class of Jurors were customarily chosen on a lower qualification
than mine, and he had at first refused to accept the summons. The
man who served it had taken the matter very coolly. He had said
that my attendance or non-attendance was nothing to him; there the
summons was; and I should deal with it at my own peril, and not at

For a day or two I was undecided whether to respond to this call, or
take no notice of it. I was not conscious of the slightest
mysterious bias, influence, or attraction, one way or other. Of
that I am as strictly sure as of every other statement that I make
here. Ultimately I decided, as a break in the monotony of my life,
that I would go.

The appointed morning was a raw morning in the month of November.
There was a dense brown fog in Piccadilly, and it became positively
black and in the last degree oppressive East of Temple Bar. I found
the passages and staircases of the Court-House flaringly lighted
with gas, and the Court itself similarly illuminated. I THINK that,
until I was conducted by officers into the Old Court and saw its
crowded state, I did not know that the Murderer was to be tried that
day. I THINK that, until I was so helped into the Old Court with
considerable difficulty, I did not know into which of the two Courts
sitting my summons would take me. But this must not be received as
a positive assertion, for I am not completely satisfied in my mind
on either point.

I took my seat in the place appropriated to Jurors in waiting, and I
looked about the Court as well as I could through the cloud of fog
and breath that was heavy in it. I noticed the black vapour hanging
like a murky curtain outside the great windows, and I noticed the
stifled sound of wheels on the straw or tan that was littered in the
street; also, the hum of the people gathered there, which a shrill
whistle, or a louder song or hail than the rest, occasionally
pierced. Soon afterwards the Judges, two in number, entered, and
took their seats. The buzz in the Court was awfully hushed. The
direction was given to put the Murderer to the bar. He appeared
there. And in that same instant I recognised in him the first of
the two men who had gone down Piccadilly.

If my name had been called then, I doubt if I could have answered to
it audibly. But it was called about sixth or eighth in the panel,
and I was by that time able to say, “Here!” Now, observe. As I
stepped into the box, the prisoner, who had been looking on
attentively, but with no sign of concern, became violently agitated,
and beckoned to his attorney. The prisoner’s wish to challenge me
was so manifest, that it occasioned a pause, during which the
attorney, with his hand upon the dock, whispered with his client,
and shook his head. I afterwards had it from that gentleman, that
the prisoner’s first affrighted words to him were, “AT ALL HAZARDS,
CHALLENGE THAT MAN!” But that, as he would give no reason for it,
and admitted that he had not even known my name until he heard it
called and I appeared, it was not done.

Both on the ground already explained, that I wish to avoid reviving
the unwholesome memory of that Murderer, and also because a detailed
account of his long trial is by no means indispensable to my
narrative, I shall confine myself closely to such incidents in the
ten days and nights during which we, the Jury, were kept together,
as directly bear on my own curious personal experience. It is in
that, and not in the Murderer, that I seek to interest my reader.
It is to that, and not to a page of the Newgate Calendar, that I beg

I was chosen Foreman of the Jury. On the second morning of the
trial, after evidence had been taken for two hours (I heard the
church clocks strike), happening to cast my eyes over my brother
jurymen, I found an inexplicable difficulty in counting them. I
counted them several times, yet always with the same difficulty. In
short, I made them one too many.

I touched the brother jurymen whose place was next me, and I
whispered to him, “Oblige me by counting us.” He looked surprised
by the request, but turned his head and counted. “Why,” says he,
suddenly, “we are Thirt-; but no, it’s not possible. No. We are

According to my counting that day, we were always right in detail,
but in the gross we were always one too many. There was no
appearance–no figure–to account for it; but I had now an inward
foreshadowing of the figure that was surely coming.

The Jury were housed at the London Tavern. We all slept in one
large room on separate tables, and we were constantly in the charge
and under the eye of the officer sworn to hold us in safe-keeping.
I see no reason for suppressing the real name of that officer. He
was intelligent, highly polite, and obliging, and (I was glad to
hear) much respected in the City. He had an agreeable presence,
good eyes, enviable black whiskers, and a fine sonorous voice. His
name was Mr. Harker.

When we turned into our twelve beds at night, Mr. Harker’s bed was
drawn across the door. On the night of the second day, not being
disposed to lie down, and seeing Mr. Harker sitting on his bed, I
went and sat beside him, and offered him a pinch of snuff. As Mr.
Harker’s hand touched mine in taking it from my box, a peculiar
shiver crossed him, and he said, “Who is this?”

Following Mr. Harker’s eyes, and looking along the room, I saw again
the figure I expected,–the second of the two men who had gone down
Piccadilly. I rose, and advanced a few steps; then stopped, and
looked round at Mr. Harker. He was quite unconcerned, laughed, and
said in a pleasant way, “I thought for a moment we had a thirteenth
juryman, without a bed. But I see it is the moonlight.”

Making no revelation to Mr. Harker, but inviting him to take a walk
with me to the end of the room, I watched what the figure did. It
stood for a few moments by the bedside of each of my eleven brother
jurymen, close to the pillow. It always went to the right-hand side
of the bed, and always passed out crossing the foot of the next bed.
It seemed, from the action of the head, merely to look down
pensively at each recumbent figure. It took no notice of me, or of
my bed, which was that nearest to Mr. Harker’s. It seemed to go out
where the moonlight came in, through a high window, as by an aerial
flight of stairs.

Next morning at breakfast, it appeared that everybody present had
dreamed of the murdered man last night, except myself and Mr.

I now felt as convinced that the second man who had gone down
Piccadilly was the murdered man (so to speak), as if it had been
borne into my comprehension by his immediate testimony. But even
this took place, and in a manner for which I was not at all

On the fifth day of the trial, when the case for the prosecution was
drawing to a close, a miniature of the murdered man, missing from
his bedroom upon the discovery of the deed, and afterwards found in
a hiding-place where the Murderer had been seen digging, was put in
evidence. Having been identified by the witness under examination,
it was handed up to the Bench, and thence handed down to be
inspected by the Jury. As an officer in a black gown was making his
way with it across to me, the figure of the second man who had gone
down Piccadilly impetuously started from the crowd, caught the
miniature from the officer, and gave it to me with his own hands, at
the same time saying, in a low and hollow tone,–before I saw the
miniature, which was in a locket,–”I WAS YOUNGER THEN, AND MY FACE
WAS NOT THEN DRAINED OF BLOOD.” It also came between me and the
brother juryman to whom I would have given the miniature, and
between him and the brother juryman to whom he would have given it,
and so passed it on through the whole of our number, and back into
my possession. Not one of them, however, detected this.

At table, and generally when we were shut up together in Mr.
Harker’s custody, we had from the first naturally discussed the
day’s proceedings a good deal. On that fifth day, the case for the
prosecution being closed, and we having that side of the question in
a completed shape before us, our discussion was more animated and
serious. Among our number was a vestryman,–the densest idiot I
have ever seen at large,–who met the plainest evidence with the
most preposterous objections, and who was sided with by two flabby
parochial parasites; all the three impanelled from a district so
delivered over to Fever that they ought to have been upon their own
trial for five hundred Murders. When these mischievous blockheads
were at their loudest, which was towards midnight, while some of us
were already preparing for bed, I again saw the murdered man. He
stood grimly behind them, beckoning to me. On my going towards
them, and striking into the conversation, he immediately retired.
This was the beginning of a separate series of appearances, confined
to that long room in which we were confined. Whenever a knot of my
brother jurymen laid their heads together, I saw the head of the
murdered man among theirs. Whenever their comparison of notes was
going against him, he would solemnly and irresistibly beckon to me.

It will be borne in mind that down to the production of the
miniature, on the fifth day of the trial, I had never seen the
Appearance in Court. Three changes occurred now that we entered on
the case for the defence. Two of them I will mention together,
first. The figure was now in Court continually, and it never there
addressed itself to me, but always to the person who was speaking at
the time. For instance: the throat of the murdered man had been
cut straight across. In the opening speech for the defence, it was
suggested that the deceased might have cut his own throat. At that
very moment, the figure, with its throat in the dreadful condition
referred to (this it had concealed before), stood at the speaker’s
elbow, motioning across and across its windpipe, now with the right
hand, now with the left, vigorously suggesting to the speaker
himself the impossibility of such a wound having been self-inflicted
by either hand. For another instance: a witness to character, a
woman, deposed to the prisoner’s being the most amiable of mankind.
The figure at that instant stood on the floor before her, looking
her full in the face, and pointing out the prisoner’s evil
countenance with an extended arm and an outstretched finger.

The third change now to be added impressed me strongly as the most
marked and striking of all. I do not theorise upon it; I accurately
state it, and there leave it. Although the Appearance was not
itself perceived by those whom it addressed, its coming close to
such persons was invariably attended by some trepidation or
disturbance on their part. It seemed to me as if it were prevented,
by laws to which I was not amenable, from fully revealing itself to
others, and yet as if it could invisibly, dumbly, and darkly
overshadow their minds. When the leading counsel for the defence
suggested that hypothesis of suicide, and the figure stood at the
learned gentleman’s elbow, frightfully sawing at its severed throat,
it is undeniable that the counsel faltered in his speech, lost for a
few seconds the thread of his ingenious discourse, wiped his
forehead with his handkerchief, and turned extremely pale. When the
witness to character was confronted by the Appearance, her eyes most
certainly did follow the direction of its pointed finger, and rest
in great hesitation and trouble upon the prisoner’s face. Two
additional illustrations will suffice. On the eighth day of the
trial, after the pause which was every day made early in the
afternoon for a few minutes’ rest and refreshment, I came back into
Court with the rest of the Jury some little time before the return
of the Judges. Standing up in the box and looking about me, I
thought the figure was not there, until, chancing to raise my eyes
to the gallery, I saw it bending forward, and leaning over a very
decent woman, as if to assure itself whether the Judges had resumed
their seats or not. Immediately afterwards that woman screamed,
fainted, and was carried out. So with the venerable, sagacious, and
patient Judge who conducted the trial. When the case was over, and
he settled himself and his papers to sum up, the murdered man,
entering by the Judges’ door, advanced to his Lordship’s desk, and
looked eagerly over his shoulder at the pages of his notes which he
was turning. A change came over his Lordship’s face; his hand
stopped; the peculiar shiver, that I knew so well, passed over him;
he faltered, “Excuse me, gentlemen, for a few moments. I am
somewhat oppressed by the vitiated air;” and did not recover until
he had drunk a glass of water.

Through all the monotony of six of those interminable ten days,–the
same Judges and others on the bench, the same Murderer in the dock,
the same lawyers at the table, the same tones of question and answer
rising to the roof of the court, the same scratching of the Judge’s
pen, the same ushers going in and out, the same lights kindled at
the same hour when there had been any natural light of day, the same
foggy curtain outside the great windows when it was foggy, the same
rain pattering and dripping when it was rainy, the same footmarks of
turnkeys and prisoner day after day on the same sawdust, the same
keys locking and unlocking the same heavy doors,–through all the
wearisome monotony which made me feel as if I had been Foreman of
the Jury for a vast cried of time, and Piccadilly had flourished
coevally with Babylon, the murdered man never lost one trace of his
distinctness in my eyes, nor was he at any moment less distinct than
anybody else. I must not omit, as a matter of fact, that I never
once saw the Appearance which I call by the name of the murdered man
look at the Murderer. Again and again I wondered, “Why does he
not?” But he never did.

Nor did he look at me, after the production of the miniature, until
the last closing minutes of the trial arrived. We retired to
consider, at seven minutes before ten at night. The idiotic
vestryman and his two parochial parasites gave us so much trouble
that we twice returned into Court to beg to have certain extracts
from the Judge’s notes re-read. Nine of us had not the smallest
doubt about those passages, neither, I believe, had any one in the
Court; the dunder-headed triumvirate, having no idea but
obstruction, disputed them for that very reason. At length we
prevailed, and finally the Jury returned into Court at ten minutes
past twelve.

The murdered man at that time stood directly opposite the Jury-box,
on the other side of the Court. As I took my place, his eyes rested
on me with great attention; he seemed satisfied, and slowly shook a
great gray veil, which he carried on his arm for the first time,
over his head and whole form. As I gave in our verdict, “Guilty,”
the veil collapsed, all was gone, and his place was empty.

The Murderer, being asked by the Judge, according to usage, whether
he had anything to say before sentence of Death should be passed
upon him, indistinctly muttered something which was described in the
leading newspapers of the following day as “a few rambling,
incoherent, and half-audible words, in which he was understood to
complain that he had not had a fair trial, because the Foreman of
the Jury was prepossessed against him.” The remarkable declaration
that he really made was this: “MY LORD, I KNEW I WAS A DOOMED MAN,


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