Fireside Storytelling Descriptions & Depictions TARDIS*

*Trusted Archival Research Documents in Sequence

c. 1592

Barabas: Now I remember those old women’s words,
Who, in my wealth, would tell me winter’s tales
And speak of spirits and ghosts that glide by night.

Christopher Marlowe, The Jew of Malta


Hermione: [P]ray you sit by us,
And tell’s a tale.
Mamillius: Merry or sad shall’t be?
Hermione: As merry as you will.
Mamillius: A sad tale’s best for winter: I have one
Of sprites and goblins.

William Shakespeare, A Winter’s Tale


1695 Les Contes de ma mère l'Oye
From the first, the frontispiece for many early editions of Charles Perrault’s Contes de ma mère l’Oye (Tales of Mother Goose) established the stories as befitting a fireside telling.


I remember last Winter there were several young Girls of the Neighbourhood sitting about the Fire with my Land-lady’s Daughters, and telling Stories of Spirits and Apparitions…. I seated myself by the Candle that stood on a Table at one End of the Room; and pretending to read a Book that I took out of my Pocket, heard several dreadful Stories of Ghosts as pale as Ashes that had stood at the Feet of a Bed, or walked over a Churchyard by Moonlight: And of others that had been conjured into the Red-Sea, for disturbing People’s Rest, and drawing their Curtains at Midnight; with many other old Women’s Fables of the like Nature. As one Spirit raised another, I observed that at the End of every Story the whole Company closed their Ranks and crouded about the Fire: I took Notice in particular of a little Boy, who was so attentive to every Story, that I am mistaken if he ventures to go to bed by himself this Twelvemonth.

Joseph Addison, The Spectator


Nothing is commoner in Country Places, than for a whole family in a Winter’s Evening, to sit around the Fire, and tell Stories of Apparitions and Ghosts. And no Question of it, but this adds to the natural Fearfulness of Men, and makes them many times Imagine they see Things, which really are nothing but their own Fancy.

Henry Bourne, Antiquitates Vulgares, or, Antiquities of the Common People


When the Men and the Maids have ended their Gambols, are all seated around the Fire, and Bed-time is drawing on, then John begins some dismal Story to the Company about Apparitions and Hobgoblins, and so about it goes till all the rest of the Society are drawn into the same kind of Discourse, and frightened out of their Wits with dreadful Apprehension.

Dick Merryman, Round about our Coal Fire; or, Christmas Entertainments


The village-matron, round the blazing hearth,
Suspends the infant-audience with her tales,
Breathing astonishment! of witching rhymes
. . . [And] of unquiet souls
Ris’n from the grave to ease the heavy guilt
Of deeds in life conceal’d; of shapes that walk
At dead of night, and clank their chains, and wave
the torch of hell around the murd’rer’s bed.
At every solemn pause the croud recoil
Gazing each other speechless, and congeal’d
With shiv’ring sighs: till for th’ event,
Around the belldame all arrect they hang
Each trembling heart with grateful terror quell’d.

Mark Arkenside, The Pleasures of Imagination


Hail! tranquil-brow’d Content, forth sylvan God,
Who lov’st to sit beside some cottage fire,
Where the brown presence of the blazing clod,
Regales the aspect of the aged sire.
There, when the Winter’s children, bleak and cold,
Are through December’s gloomy regions led;
The church-yard tale of sheeted ghost is told
While fix’d attention dares not turn its head.

Josephus [Thomas Gent], “Content”


In the evening, when the party met round the social fire, after the usual sports, Charles Woodley proposed that they should each tell a story, and, if they pleased, he would begin. “I will tell you,” said he, “such a terrible story about a ghost, that you will be afraid to look around you.”

Sarah Wheatley, The Christmas Fire-Side; or, The Juvenile Critics


Another of [Ichabod Crane’s] sources of fearful pleasure was to pass long winter evenings with the old Dutch wives, as they sat spinning by the fire, with a row of apples roasting and spluttering along the hearth, and listen to their marvellous tales of ghosts and goblins, and haunted fields, and haunted brooks, and haunted bridges, and haunted houses, and particularly of the headless horseman, or Galloping Hessian of the Hollow, as they sometimes called him.

Washington Irving, “The Legend of Sleepy Hollow”


1823 German Popular Stories vol 2
From German Popular Stories, illustrated by George Cruikshank


Then, sometimes, when it grew late, the party would creep around the fire, and indulge in the fascinating past-time of telling ghost stories;–the old sailor, of threatening shadows that glided slowly across the water, before a storm came on;–the lady, of strange knockings and whispers heard in the dead of night, in a certain wainscotted chamber of her father’s house;–the clergyman, not a few college stories of the appearances of friends standing, at the precise moment of their death, by the bed-sides of those they loved best when alive;–while Anna would sit, nestling closer to the speaker every moment, and listening, until every tinge of bloom faded out of her ripe red cheek. Those were, perhaps, the pleasantest evenings of all.

Henry Fothergill Chorley, “Parson Clare”


Großmutter erzählt
Großmutter erzählt (Grandma Tells Tales), by Friedrich Wilhelm Schloen


If any one doubts that telling ghost-stories is the proper employment for a winter’s night, let him open his window and look out. Can anything be more spectral? There is not a hill or a hollow in sight but has put on a shroud, and stares at him with a still, white face, the phantom of itself. The trees stand like giant skeletons, lifting their bleached arms toward the trooping clouds that hurry across the sky, like witches flocking to their sabbath. What is all that but a ghost-story in dumb-show, told by the earth to the stars?

Clarence S. Day, “Fireside Horrors for Christmas”


There is probably a smell of roasted chestnuts and other good comfortable things all the time, for we are telling Winter Stories — Ghost Stories, or more shame for us — round the Christmas fire; and we have never stirred, except to draw a little nearer to it.

Charles Dickens, “A Christmas Tree”


Eventÿrfortællersken (The Storyteller), by Adolph Tidemand


It was the 31st of October, All Hallow’s Eve, a ghostly season, as every one properly posted in ghostly lore knows very well. A dreary storm of rain and wind was beating against the windows; but the fire on the old sitting-room hearth was burning warmly, the candles were not yet lighted, our father, the pastor, had not returned from a sick call, and with a delightful show of expectation we all gathered around the fire to hear Aunt Madeleine’s ghost story.

E.D.E.N. Southworth, “The Spectre Revels: A Tale of All Hallow’s Eve


A Ghost Story - George Thomas smaller
“A Ghost Story,” by George Thomas, Illustrated London News


In those days we had no magazines and daily papers, each reeling off a serial story…. There was no theatre, no opera; there were in Oldtown no parties or balls, except, perhaps, the annual election, or Thanksgiving festival; and when winter came, and the sun went down at half-past four o’clock, and left the long, dark hours of evening to be provided for, the necessity of amusement became urgent. Hence, in those days, chimney-corner story-telling became an art and an accomplishment. Society then was full of traditions and narratives which had all the uncertain glow and shifting mystery of the firelit hearth upon them. They were told to sympathetic audiences, by the rising and falling light of the solemn embers, with the hearth-crickets filling up every pause.

Harriet Beecher Stowe, “The Ghost in the Mill”

R.N. Brooke
“Telling Stories Round the Camp Fire,” by R.N. Brooke, Harper’s Weekly


This is the season for ghost stories. Have we not all in our childhood sat round the fire on a stormy winter’s night when the wind moaned outside, as it seemed sometimes, with a human voice, when the dark corners of the room looked terribly black, and when a sudden flash from the logs showed us faces, almost as scared as our own, while we listened with a fearful pleasure to some old world ghost story, or it might be a modern tale of a visitor from the spirit world? And the winter time is the season for ghosts, though many of them wander about also in the summer.

Anonymous, “Ghosts,” The Standard (December 25th issue)


Let us imagine a group of young people sitting about the dying embers of a fire on a winter’s evening, listening to a ghost story. The black darkness, the sound of the wind howling without, accord with the low tones, the dim light, and the tale of horror within. The minds of the listeners insensibly cast off their ordinary trains of thought, and give themselves up to the unreal impressions of the moment. The incredible circumstances of the apparition are accepted without question or criticism; the impression of the supernatural occurrences is alone thought of and enjoyed. But now, let the same tale be read aloud after breakfast, from a newspaper, with the affidavits of the witnesses of the apparition duly attached, and only laughter can be the result.

Bayard Tuckerman, A History of English Prose Fiction


There is nothing like ghost stories for a winter fireside, especially when there are sufficient in number of the company to strengthen courage; a pleasurable feeling pervades the whole body, and even goes tingling to the fingers’ ends; and if the thought intrudes of a dark staircase and lonely bed it only heightens the fearful pleasure.

Anonymous, “A Tale for Christmas Fireside,” Doidge’s Western Counties Illustrated Annual


Mr. Rangle's Ghost Story
An anonymous illustration for H.J.V. Torode’s “Mr. Rangle’s Ghost Story,” The Lamp


The wood piled on with generous hand,
The huge back-log and fiery brand
Light up the room and o’er the wall
Fantastic shadows gently fall
And then the weird tales of ghosts,
Of heroes, and of mighty hosts
That met in battle’s shock afar;
The thunders of the mighty war
That rocked our country, when the sun
Of Freedom rose at Lexington.

Anonymous, History of Bucks County, Pennsylvania, edited by J.H. Battle


“We sped the time with stories old,” by E.H. Garrett, in Snow-bound; A Winter Idyll, by John Greenleaf Whittier


The story had held us, round the fire, sufficiently breathless, but except the obvious remark that it was gruesome, as, on Christmas Eve in an old house, a strange tale should essentially be, I remember no comment uttered till somebody happened to say that it was the only case he had met in which such a visitation had fallen on a child. The case, I may mention, was that of an apparition in just such an old house as had gathered us for the occasion….

Henry James, “The Turn of the Screw”


‘God bless you and your good wife, sir, for the cordial welcome you have given to the poor stranger. It reminds me of the gay old times when I was a happy boy under the roof-tree of my parents, when we loved to pass the Christmas-eve by the cheerful fireside, singing the old songs of our persecuted land, and listening to the ghost stories and fairy tales until the hour arrived to attend the midnight mass. Oh, those times! those grand old times will never come again.’

Barry O’Connor, Turf-fire Stories & Fairy Tales of Ireland


H.M. Brock
“Ghost Stories Round the Christmas Fire,” by H.M. Brock, in The Christmas Tree, by Charles Dickens


Ghosts have always been invited to Christmas parties, and whether they are seen or not, they always come; nor is any form of story so popular by the Christmas fire as the ghost-story — which, when one thinks of it, is rather odd, considering the mirthful character of the time. Yet, after all, what are our memories but ghost-stories? Ah! the beautiful ghosts that come to the Christmas fire!

Richard Le Gallienne, “A Christmas Meditation”


[T]he people of the Victorian age, when ghost stories were ghost stories, loved nothing better than to get round a blazing fire as the night grew late and listen to a tale of ‘apparitions’ and ‘figures’ till even the stoutest of them took up his tallow candle to go to bed in a fit of the shudders, or, more dreadful and more delicious still, to read the awful tale in bed itself and by the uncertain light of the taper.

Stephen Leacock, “The Passing of the Christmas Ghost Story”


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