Roman Legends: A Collection of the Fables and Folk-lore of Rome | Annotated Tale

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White Soul, The


THE people he had named were a husband and wife, shopkeepers, with a good business. They had taken in a woman, a widow, as they thought, to board with them for life. [2]

               The first night after she came the wife suddenly woke up the husband, saying:--

               'What is it that kneels at the foot of the bed? surely it is a white soul.'

               'I see nothing,' said the husband; 'go to sleep!'

               The wife said no more, but the next night it was the same thing, and the next, and the next; and she described so sincerely what she saw, and with so much earnestness, that the husband could have no doubt that what she said was true. And as he saw it disturbed her rest, and made her ill, he said:--

               'If it comes again, to-night, we will conjure it.'

               It had been going on almost a month (I told you it happened in October), and it was just the night of All Souls' day [3] that he happened to say this.

               That night, again, the wife woke him with a start--

               'There it is,' she said, 'the white soul; it kneels at the foot of the bed.'

               The husband said nothing, but following the direction of his wife's hand, he solemnly bid the apparition depart, in the name of the Most Holy Trinity and the Madonna.

               Though he had seen nothing, he, too, now heard a voice, and the voice said that it was her father whom the wife had seen; that it was not well that they should have in the house the woman whom they had taken in to board, for that it was on her account he was now suffering penance. 'Think of this,' he said, finally, 'for I cannot stay to tell you more; for it is the hour of prayer.' [4]

               The lighting up of a masked ball could not be compared to the brightness [5] which filled the room as the spirit disappeared. And this the husband saw well, though he had not seen the soul.

               The husband and wife thought a good deal of what they had heard; they had never known before of the father's intimacy with this woman, but they inquired, and found it was even so.

               Then the man took into his head to go to one of these new people, what do they call it? spiritismo, magnetismo, [6] or whatever it is. He made them call up the spirit of his wife's father, and he asked if it was he who had appeared at night in the bedroom all the month through, and he said, 'yes, that it was.' And he asked him about all the particulars, and he confirmed them all. 'Then,' he said, 'if indeed it was you, give me some sign to-night;' and he said he would.

               There was a ruler in the chest of drawers in the bedroom, and all through the night there were knocks; now on the ceiling, now on the floor, now on the walls, as if given with that ruler, and we know those 'spiritismo' people say the spirits make themselves understood by knocking.

               After that, they sent away their boarder, though at considerable pecuniary loss.


'I know a story like that,' said the first man, 'and a true one too; it happened in 1848 or 1849.'


[1] 'L'Anima Bianca.'

[2] 'A vitalizia' is an agreement by which persons pay a sum down and are taken in to board for the rest of their lives.

[3] 'La Festa dei Morti,' November 2.

[4] 'Chè è ora dell' orazione.' I give this very quaint idea in the words in which it was told to me.

[5] 'Era altro che un festino, il chiarore.' The lighting up of a theatre for a public masqued ball would naturally be the highest impression of brightness for a poor man in Rome. 'Altro che' is his favourite word in the sense of 'no comparison.' 'Altro!' alone stands for 'I should think so!' 'Isn't it indeed!' &c.

[6] Since the invasion of September 1870, Rome has been placarded with announcements of mediums who may be consulted on every possible occasion. I give the whole story as it was told me, but I have, of course, no means of knowing how the séance was conducted, and there is every likelihood the man would be so full of the strange occurrence that he would begin by letting out all on which he came to it to seek confirmation. The introduction of these mediums has been welcomed as supplying the means of gratifying that craving after the supernatural which was denied them under the former administration. 'Witchcraft was forbidden by the former law, therefore we may suppose it was wrong,' reason the less intelligent and those who wish to be deceived; 'spiritismo is allowed by the law which rules us to-day, therefore we may suppose it is right;' and thus we are beginning to see here what Cantù had written of other parts of Italy and Europe: 'But who will feel the courage to contemn the follies of another age when he sees the absurd credulity of our own, which upon similar manifestations founds other theories.... Recent writers on the subject (see in particular, Allan Kardec, 'Le Spiritisme à sa plus simple expression,' 'Le Livre des esprits,' &c.), themselves acknowledge that the oracles and pythonesses of old, and the genii, sorcerers, and magicians of later ages, were the predecessors of these mediums. We have therefore come back to that which we ridicule in our ancestors.'

Bibliographic Information

Tale Title: White Soul, The
Tale Author/Editor: Busk, Rachel Harriette
Book Title: Roman Legends: A Collection of the Fables and Folk-lore of Rome
Book Author/Editor: Busk, Rachel Harriette
Publisher: Estes and Lauriat
Publication City: Boston
Year of Publication: 1877
Country of Origin: Italy
Classification: unclassified

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