"Ghosts" Being The Experiences of Flaxman Low.
Prichard, K. and Hesketh. Ghosts, Being the Experiences of Flaxman Low. London, C. Arthur Pearson. 1899. 8vo. 300pp. + 2pp. Ads. Bound in smart bottle green illustrated cloth, titled in gilt and red to spine and front board, with illustration in black and cream, clean and tight, minor bumping to spine ends and extremities, a very good copy indeed of a book that is more usually seen somewhat haunted. Internally clean, (mainly due to very good paper stock, which sometimes tones a bit, which is notably not the case with this copy), bearing the bookplate of notable collector Jim Whitford to the front pastedown. One gathering standing a little proud due to a starting inner gutter. Frontispiece and 11 other illustrations by B.E. Minns (a couple of which are downright unsettling). 12 splendid tales of supernatural detection, originally published in Pearson's Magazine (cited by the editor as “Real” rather ambitiously), written by Hesketh Prichard (soldier, adventurer, cricketer and writer of the weird and stirring), and his mother, Kate, who actually should take major credit for the encouragement and collaboration which made these stories so commercially viable. Arguably the first supernatural detective, he predates Carnacki by at least a handful of years (depending on how and when you think Hodgson wrote his stories), and John Silence by a similar span, Dion Fortune's Dr. Taverner ploughed his own notable furrow in the 20's. Certainly the most fluent and, at the time popular, example of the melding of the weird and uncanny with the undeniable (and profitable) allure of the consulting detective genre. Prichard seems to have been rather thirsty for adventure and derring do, and the steadying collaborative influence of Kate, not to mention her habit of accompanying him on a number of his risky travels, seems to have been a lifelong grounding influence. In 1899 Pearson commissioned Prichard to travel across Haiti, something no civilised representative (read: White dude), had done since 1803. Kate accompanied him, at least as far as Jamaica (so she wasn't there for the poisoning incident), and his subsequent travelogue “Where Black Rules White: A Journey Across and About Hayti.” despite the rather incendiary title choice, is a well observed account, including as it does some of the first written description of the rituals and practices of Vodoun. Such was the success of his crisp, descriptive narration style with the readers of Pearson's that the magazine commissioned him to immediately pop off to Patagonia to search for a Giant Sloth (you can see why this bloke was mates with Conan Doyle, there's definite shades of a Roxton/Fawcett/Malone hybrid in the making), he didn't find a prehistoric sloth (or did he??), but he did fall into the terribly European habit of wandering about naming things after himself, of the various discoveries he accumulated, most were discounted, but there is a variety of pampas grass named after him, and, rather pleasingly, a river ; “Rio Caterina” named after his mother. Following that, there was a stint in the Canadian Wilderness in an effort to strike the words “Terra Incognita” from the maps of the Empire, a campaign to stop seal clubbing, another to ban harvesting birds for decorative feathers, and without a shade of irony, a philanthropic donation of stag heads he had hunted to the Newfoundland Exhibition in London. In addition to what already should be a whole life's catalogue of thrills and spills, there was his military career; he founded the first school of Sniping during the First World War, having been scandalised at the withering attrition to Allied forces by German marksmen. He invented the sniper's dummy (yes, it's a head on a stick), pioneered the use of the trench periscope for sniper spotting and investigated the efficacy of German armour by popping into an enemy trench, getting some and then shooting it with a variety of ammunition until he found something that would penetrate. He received the Military Cross in 1916, the recommendation for which includes the phrase: “He has, directly and indirectly, inflicted enormous casualties on the enemy.” The flipside of that, war being rather an odd business apparently, is that he was reckoned, through his efforts, to have saved over 3500 lives
during three months, reducing German sniping superiority from 5 a week per battalion, to 44 in total across 60 Battalions. The point of all this is that he was clearly a remarkable man, with a remarkable mother, who did remarkable things, and incidentally wrote some remarkably good ghost stories. Rare.