Tuesday, 22 October 2013

A SPECTRAL BAKER.

(New York Times.) 

The ancients firmly believed in a place of future punishment. When we remember that their method of conversation was to constantly remark, "What, ho! my Balbus," and "Thou sayest truly, my Sallust," we at once perceive that they must have bored one another to that extent that nothing less than a belief in Tartarus could have given them any comfort. It was held by all classic Scientific Persons and theologians that Tartarus was situated in the centre of the earth, and that rapid transit thereto was obtained by the way of volcanoes. Of course, with the progress of science, we have discarded this crude notion. We look upon the volcano as a steam safety valve, and feel perfectly certain that it has never been nor never will be exposed to the risk of being choked up with the souls of Western Democratic statesmen. And yet there are certain stories which the scientific persons cannot very well explain. Many years ago an Italian vessel was sailing near Stromboli, when, from its deck, a particularly bad priest was seen sailing through the air in charge of a determined looking demon. The pair made straight for the mouth of Stromboli, and disappeared down the crater, the bad priest loudly protesting that he preferred to go home. The astonished spectators simultaneously consulted their watches and noticed the hour. On arriving in port they hastened to buy the fourth edition of the afternoon paper, and, looking at the list of deaths, saw that the priest had died precisely at the time when they saw him navigating the air on his way to Stromboli. Now, on the supposition that the ancients were right in their opinion that Stromboli is one of the gateways of Tartarus, this story is by no means incredible ; but, if the ancients were wrong, it is quite inexplicable. The Scientific Person will take a short way out of the difficulty by denying that the crew of the vessel saw what they professed to have seen, and will maintain that it is easier to suppose that they were all drunk than to suppose that the soul of a bad priest was seen to descend into the crater. This, however, will not be satisfactory to thinking men, and if they refuse to believe the story, they will prefer the more charitable theory that the vessel, its crew, and all the rest of the tale, were invented by a paragraphist of the period.  
But now comes a fresh story which cannot be thus put aside. A few weeks since an Englishman, with his wife and children — the latter including quantities, of grown-up daughters— were on the summit of Vesuvius, accompanied by a number of guides. What they, were doing we were not told, but beyond a doubt they were engaged in roasting eggs in the ashes— that being the sole object for which the Neapolitan believes that Englishmen ascend the mountain. Suddenly, one of the daughters saw the baker who supplied them with bread at their English home walking hurriedly towards the crater. She instantly cried out, "Papa, there is Harry." The father looked up, and perceiving the baker, who was close at hand, exclaimed : "Bless my soul, its 'Arry— Harry, I mean. This is very hodd— I should say odd." Simultaneously the Englishman's wife and all his numerous children saw the baker, recognised him, and called to him to explain " what ever he had come there for." The man paid no attention to their calls, but hurried on with a troubled expression of face, and carrying under his arm a bundle, which, doubtless, consisted of heavy bread, or burnt tarts. Reaching the brink of the crater, he sprang into the abyss and disappeared from the horrified gaze of the English family. The guides who witnessed the affair remarked to one another that the strange English lord must have been even more than usually mad to thus jump into the crater, but took no further interest in him. One of them consented, for a large bribe, to climb a little way down the crater in search of the miserable baker, but was soon driven back by the smoke. Constantly remarking that "'Arry's conduct was most hextraordinary—that is extraordinary," the English traveller and his brood descended the mountain and returned to their hotel. Three days later they learned by a letter that at they precise hour when they were on the mountain, the baker had died in his bed at his English home.
Had one Englishman seen this remarkable vision, we might have said he was drunk or crazy ; but we can not pretend that a whole English family, which, at a moderate estimate, probably consisted of a father, a mother, and twenty-seven unmarried daughters were all labouring under a delusion. Moreover, the guides saw the shadowy baker plunge into the crater, and are prepared for a reasonable compensation to make affidavits to that effect, and to supplement them by appeals to the Virgin and San Gennaro to certify to the truth of their statements. The evidence in support of the story is precisely alike in character to that which the average person who stays at home has of the existence of a crater on the summit of Vesuvius. A number of tourists and a number of guides assert that they have seen the crater. If we believe them, why should we not believe a number of tourists and a number of guides who assert that they have seen the ghost of an English baker leap into the crater ?     
It will be readily acknowledged by all housekeepers that Vesuvius is peculiarly suited to the average baker. If the wretched "Harry" was like other bakers, he must have constantly exasperated the British public by bringing morning muffins three hours after breakfast time, by serving sour and heavy broad, and by supplying innocent nurseries with wholly inedible tarts. There was a peculiar fitness in his fate. He had burned tarts in his lifetime, and it was only fair that he should "know how it was himself "— to use the familiar expression of the late Mr. Tweed. He had baked heavy bread, and if his ghost was weighted with a bundle of such bread as a sinker, poetic justice was observed. On the whole, when we consider the evidence of the many eye-witnesses on the mountain, and the undoubted fitness of the crater as a final lodging for an habitual baker, the probability of the story seems too great to be denied.
It is to be hoped that American as well as English bakers will take warning. Like the plumbers, they have latterly taken great comfort in the encouraging theory of Col. Ingersoll. Here, however, is a signal refutation of the Western theologian's view. What has happened to one baker may, and probably, will happen to others. That only one spectral priest of notoriously bad character has been seen to be hurled into Stromboli, and that only one ghostly baker has been seen to descend into Vesuvius, is doubtless due to the fact that such incidents usually take place at night. We may now look to see a revival of faith in the classic opinion as to the functions of volcanoes, and an improvement in the character of English bread and tarts, and in the punctuality of English bakers. Of course, scientific persons will affect to doubt the story of Harry's ghost, but they cannot overthrow evidence by mere impudent denial.

 Wagga Wagga Advertiser 10 May 1879,

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