Category Archives: Mary Shelley

I Do Not Believe in Ghosts Because I Have Seen Too Many of Them

Samuel Taylor Coleridge? Mary Wollstonecraft Shelley? Don Marquis? Apocryphal?

banquo09Dear Quote Investigator: While perusing the book “Dim Wit: The Stupidest Quotes of All Time” I came across an entertaining topic for Halloween in the following entry about a famous poet: 1

Samuel Taylor Coleridge was asked, “Do you believe in ghosts?” “No, ma’am,” he replied, “I’ve seen too many.” Lucy Finn

Did Coleridge really make this remark?

Quote Investigator: Yes, there is good evidence that he did make a comment of this type. The context helps to explain what he was trying to communicate.

Coleridge died in 1834, and more than sixty years later in 1895 excerpts from his unpublished notebooks were printed in the work “Anima Poetae”. An entry dated May 12, 1805 discussed an extraordinary episode during which Coleridge saw an apparition. He had been engaged in a long conversation with a companion who said goodbye and retired. Coleridge began to doze for five minutes while sitting in a red armchair. He awoke suddenly and perceived that his companion who had left was somehow still present. He was startled but started to doze again. Awakening he saw the same spectral figure: 2

The appearance was very nearly that of a person seen through thin smoke distinct indeed, but yet a sort of distinct shape and color, with a diminished sense of substantiality — like a face in a clear stream.

Coleridge’s skepticism about his own perceptions led him to record information about these mental excursions. Emphasis added to excerpts by QI:

Often and often I have had similar experiences, and, therefore, resolved to write down the particulars whenever any new instance should occur, as a weapon against superstition, and an explanation of ghosts — Banquo in “Macbeth” the very same thing. I once told a lady the reason why I did not believe in the existence of ghosts, etc., was that I had seen too many of them myself.

In the passage above Coleridge referred to Lord Banquo who was a character in Shakespeare’s play “Macbeth”; during the course of the drama Banquo was murdered by Lord Macbeth and reappeared as a ghost.

Below are additional selected citations in chronological order.

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Notes:

  1. 2010, Dim Wit: The Stupidest Quotes of All Time, Compiled by Rosemarie Jarski, Quote Page 348, Ulysses Press, Berkeley, California. (Google Books Preview)
  2. 1895, Anima Poetae: From the Unpublished Note-Books of Samuel Taylor Coleridge, Edited by Ernest Hartley Coleridge, Entry Title: Illusion, Entry Date: May 12, 1805, Start Page 122, Quote Page 123, Houghton, Mifflin and Company, Boston, Massachusetts. (HathiTrust Full View) link