Essay # 4: Researched Argument

Inspired by the Stories of M. R. James


To prepare for this essay assignment, students in Rhetoric 102-17 read one of the best known and best loved collections of ghost stories in the English tradition, Ghost Stories of an Antiquary (1904), by M[ontague]. R[hodes]. James (1862-1936). "Monty," as he was known to his friends, was a leading scholar of apocryphal Biblical literature and medieval illuminated manuscripts; for many years he was successively Fellow, Dean, Tutor, and finally Provost of King's College, Cambridge, before leaving to become the Provost of Eton College in 1918.

James loved ghost stories, and beginning in the 1890s he began to write them himself. His friends liked them so much that he began a tradition of reading one of his ghost stories aloud, on Christmas Eve, to a circle of his close friends. At his friends' insistence, James gathered several of his stories into the now-famous collection published in 1904. He asked his good friend James McBryde to illustrate the stories. McBryde drew four illustrations, including the picture (an illustration from James's "'Oh, Whistle, and I'll Come to You, My Lad'") that graces this website,  before he died unexpectedly.

Once the students had read the eight stories in this volume, they chose a historical or literary topic--a topic demanding research--that pertains to one or more of the stories. Below are links to the results of their explorations.

(Biographical information comes from E. F. Bleiler's introduction to the Dover edition of Ghost Stories of an Antiquary (1971) and from a fine website devoted to the ghost stories of M. R. James (


Ben Brawley The Knights Templar and Their Continued Impact on Society
Bryan Breedlove Code-Breaking
Brett Chonko The Power of "Canon Alberic's Scrap-Book" in Antiquity
Ben Cronly Cryptography in Ghost Stories and Detective Stories
Matt HIll A Look at Historical Evidence in Literature
Charles Lacy The Superstitions of the Ash-Tree
Sean Lynch The Symbolism of English Country Houses
Daniel Mutispaugh Intrigue of Witch Trials in Ghost Stories
Chaz Peebles The Fear of the Number Thirteen
Phil Rice Greed and the Knights Templar: A Story of Transformation
Ross Turner The Uses of Cryptography
Gordon Wadsworth A Fascination with Magic
Evan Weinzierl Pious and Chivalrous, the Knights Templar: Failure is Not an Option
John West A Simple Scare