King Street, Westminster
The following account of an experience on Westminster’s King Street (which no longer existes) was published in ‘The Haunted Homes and Family Traditions of Great Britain’ by John Ingram (1897).
In his Miscellanies, Aubrey cites the singular narrative of Captain Henry Bell, originally given in the Preface to the translation of Luther’s Table Talk. Captain Bell begins by declaring that whilst employed beyond the seas in various State affairs for King Charles II. and his successor, James II., he had heard much lamentation made over the great destruction, by burning and otherwise, of Martin Luther’s Discourses. This work, which was supposed to have largely promoted the reformation, was condemned by Pope Gregory XIII., and placed under the ban of the Empire by Rudolph III. This latter monarch ordered that all printed copies of the work should be burned, and that any person retaining a copy would be liable to the punishment of death. In consequence of this rigorous edict, and the stringency with which it was enforced, in a little while no copies were obtainable.
A certain Caspar von Sparr, however, according to Captain Bell’s account, accidentally discovered a copy, in 1626, which had escaped the wholesale destruction the work had suffered. As the prosecution of Protestantism still continued, this gentleman was afraid to retain possession of the interdicted book, and yet, unwilling to destroy it, thought of Captain Bell. Knowing that he was thoroughly acquainted with German, he forwarded him the wonderfully preserved work, earnestly impressing upon him the utility of translating it into English.
Captain Bell did not appear to he in any great haste to comply with this request, but, nevertheless, took the work in hand, “and many times began to translate the same,” as he remarks, “but always I was hindered therein, being called upon about other business, insomuch that by no possible means I could remain by that work.” About six weeks after he had received the book from Germany, “it fell out,” to cite his own words, “that being in bed with my wife, one night between twelve and one o’clock, she being asleep, but myself yet awake, there appeared unto me an ancient man, standing at my bedside, arrayed in white, having a long and broad white beard hanging down to his girdle, who, taking me by the right ear, spake these words following unto me: ‘Sirrah, will not you take time to translate that book which is sent unto you out of Germany? I will provide for you both place and time to do it’; and then he vanished out of my sight.
“Whereupon, being much affrighted,” Captain Bell continues, “I fell into an extreme sweat, insomuch that, my wife awaking, she asked me what I ailed. I told her what I had seen and heard ; but I never did heed or regard visions nor dreams, and so the same fell soon out
of my mind.
“Then about a fortnight after I had seen the vision, on a Sunday, I went to Whitehall to hear the sermon, after which ended, I returned to my lodging, which was then in King Street, Westminster, and sitting down to dinner with my wife, two messengers were sent from the Council Board to carry me to the keeper of the gate-house at Westminster, there to be safely kept, until further orders from the Lords of the Council.”
This was done, avers Bell, without any cause being shown; but his real offence, according to Aubrey, was that he had much importuned the Lord Treasurer for considerable arrears which were due to him, and which that official not being willing to discharge, “clapt him up into prison.” Be the cause what it may, Bell was detained in close confinement for ten years, five of which, he states, he spent in translating the work of Luther above referred to. As he quaintly remarks, “I found the words very true which the old man in the aforesaid vision said unto me, ‘I will shortly provide you both place and time to translate it.’