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Secret Chambers and Hiding Places Historic, Romantic, & Legendary Stories & Traditions About Hiding-Holes, Secret Chambers, Etc.

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The secret chamber is unrivalled even by the haunted house for the mystery and romance surrounding it. Volumes have been written about the haunted house, while the secret chamber has found but few exponents. The ancestral ghost has had his day, and to all intents and purposes is dead, notwithstanding the existence of the Psychical Society and the investigations of Mr. Stead and the late Lord Bute. "Alas! poor ghost!" he is treated with scorn and derision by the multitude in these advanced days of modern enlightenment. The search-light of science has penetrated even into his sacred haunts, until, no longer having a leg to stand upon, he has fallen from the exalted position he occupied for centuries, and fallen moreover into ridicule!

In the secret chamber, however, we have something tangible to deal with—a subject not only keenly interesting from an antiquarian point of view, but one deserving the attention of the general reader; for in exploring the gloomy hiding-holes, concealed apartments, passages, and staircases in our old halls and manor houses we probe, as it were, into the very groundwork of romance. We find actuality to support the weird and mysterious stories of fiction, which those of us who are honest enough to admit a lingering love of the marvellous must now doubly appreciate, from the fact that our school-day impressions of such things are not only revived, but are strengthened with the semblance of truth. Truly Bishop Copleston wrote: "If the things we hear told be avowedly fictitious, and yet curious or affecting or entertaining, we may indeed admire the author of the fiction, and may take pleasure in contemplating the exercise of his skill. But this is a pleasure of another kind—a pleasure wholly distinct from that which is derived from discovering what was unknown, or clearing up what was doubtful. And even when the narrative is in its own nature, such as to please us and to engage our attention, how, greatly is the interest increased if we place entire confidence in its truth! Who has not heard from a child when listening to a tale of deep interest—who has not often heard the artless and eager question, 'Is it true?'"

From Horace Walpole, Mrs. Radcliffe, Scott, Victor Hugo, Dumas, Lytton, Ainsworth, Le Fanu, and Mrs. Henry Wood, down to the latest up-to-date novelists of to-day, the secret chamber (an ingenious necessity of the "good old times") has afforded invaluable "property"—indeed, in many instances the whole vitality of a plot is, like its ingenious opening, hinged upon the masked wall, behind which lay concealed what hidden mysteries, what undreamed-of revelations! The thread of the story, like Fair Rosamond's silken clue, leads up to and at length reveals the buried secret, and (unlike the above comparison in this instance) all ends happily!

Bulwer Lytton honestly confesses that the spirit of romance in his novels "was greatly due to their having been written at my ancestral home, Knebworth, Herts. How could I help writing romances," he says, "after living amongst the secret panels and hiding-places of our dear old home?...