Open main menu

The Naturalisation of the Supernatural/Chapter 14


CHAPTER XIV
ON CLAIRVOYANCE AND PREVISION

TELEPATHY, as we have seen, furnishes a key which will unlock many things hitherto occult. But not all doors can thus be opened. There are incidents reported by competent witnesses which would seem to point to other unrecognised faculties of acquiring knowledge beyond the scope of the normal senses. Provisionally the chief of these hypothetical faculties have been named Clairvoy— ance, and Prevision or Precognition. The proof of such faculties, however, is on an entirely different footing from the proof of telepathy. We have seen that the hypothesis of the transmission of ideas from one brain to another by means of ethereal vibrations presents, so far as we can see, no insuperable difficulty. Moreover, if such a faculty should be proved to exist, we could understand how it might have been called into being by the pressure of the environment to meet the needs of an earlier stage in human, perhaps even in animal history. We should see in it the last traces of a faculty which rose before the birth of speech, and is already passing below the human horizon, at all events, now that its work is done. In other words, if the theory of telepathy were accepted, it would not necessarily carry us beyond the boundaries of the known. In its physical aspect, it would be but one more effect of ethereal vibrations; historically, we should rank it as a vestigial faculty, reminding us, like the prehensile powers of the newly born infant, of a time when man was in the making.

But clairvoyance and prevision, the postulated faculties of seeing without the intermediation of any definite sense organ, and of foreseeing events yet to come, could not apparently be explained by any conceivable extension of physical laws. Nor could the existence of such faculties be accounted for by any process of terrestrial evolution. It is on the supposed existence of these superterrestrial modes of acquiring knowledge, that the late F. W. H. Myers has founded a cogent argument for immortality. As we have seen in the last two chapters, recent psychology tends to show that consciousness in the last analysis is but the transitory co-ordination of countless ill-defined and variable factors; and the study of hypnotism and hysteria has only served to deepen our sense of the inadequacy of this surface consciousness, and to reveal the possibility of other combinations amongst its shifting elements.

Myers accepted to the full the results of recent research. He recognised that the human consciousness, as we know it, is a highly composite and unstable thing, having neither completeness nor essential unity. It is in short, to employ his favourite simile, like the visible spectrum, a selection —accidental, interrupted, and variable—from a larger whole. But at this point Myers's view diverges from those of the recognised schools. To him the surface consciousness, the only thing which we know as consciousness in ordinary life, is comparatively unimportant. "I accord no primacy," he writes, "to my ordinary waking self, except that among my potential selves this one has shown itself the fittest to meet the needs of common life." It is the hidden life which counts—the self which the struggle of the market-place and the senate has thrust back into the darkness, or has not yet called into conscious activity. "Each of us," he continues, "is in reality an abiding psychical entity far more extensive than he knows—an individuality which can never express itself completely through any corporeal manifestation. . . . All this [unexpressed] psychical action is conscious, all is included in an actual or potential memory below the threshold of our habitual consciousness."[1]

Again, the student of the laboratory or the asylum teaches that the rays omitted from the psychical spectrum are merely the ultra-red rays, the representatives of organic activities, of obscure bodily sensations, and possibly of primitive modes of perception which in the long ascent from the ascidian have been crowded out from the waking consciousness, at any rate, of civilised man. But Myers claimed that the analysis of the orthodox school is defective and that a more resolute search would find traces, beyond the violet end of our soul's spectrum, of other faculties and modes of perception, "which this material or planetary life could not have called into being, and whose exercise even here and now involves and necessitates the existence of a spiritual world."

Amongst these dormant faculties, which we yet cannot reckon as vestigial, are the exceptional powers exhibited by some hypnotic subjects of subconsciously reckoning with precision long periods of time, and the remarkable feats of calculating boys. For at what point of man's upward progress, Myers would ask, could it have profited him to possess a psychic alarum of this kind? or how could it have nerved the arm of the cave-dweller to be able to extract cube-roots, or reckon out logarithms at sight? Telepathy also, to Myers and those who think with him, seems to point to a wider plane of existence, and a spiritual as opposed to a merely terrestrial process of evolution. But it is in its equipment with the transcendental faculties referred to at the beginning of this chapter that the strongest proof of the extra-planetary affinities of the human soul will naturally be sought. It is important therefore to examine carefully the basis upon which the assumption of the existence of these faculties depends.

The earlier students of Mesmerism or "Animal Magnetism" in this and other European countries believed that certain of their subjects possessed the power of vision without the use of the eyes. Sometimes the power of vision was believed to be transferred to some other part of the body—the pit of the stomach, the fingers, or the back of the head. Sometimes it had no apparent relation to the bodily organism, but was thought to be exercised by the soul itself, released for a time from the prisoning flesh. It was the supposed clairvoyance at close quarters, however, which first attracted attention. The Commission appointed by the Royal Academy of Medicine at Paris, which presented their report on the phenomena of Animal Magnetism in 1831, stated that they had found certain subjects who in the magnetic trance could distinguish objects placed before them when their eyes were fast closed and normal vision was impossible. During the next thirty years many exponents of this supposed faculty gave public exhibitions, especially in this country and in France. Some careful experiments with a view to test the reality of the alleged faculty were made by the Rev. C. H. Townshend in 1840–50. Townshend convinced himself that certain mesmerised persons could see objects placed outside the range of vision. Indeed, as described, it seems impossible to account for some of his results by the exercise of the normal senses. In most of the experiments it was found necessary for the object to be held in front of the eyes, which were, however, so bandaged as to make it impossible, in the view of the experimenters, for the subject to see anything. It was found, however, that a variation in the angle at which the object was held, the addition of a further covering to the head, or the interposition of a screen, interfered with success. It is quite clear therefore that in these cases—as indeed in nearly all those hitherto reported by careful observers—the supposed power of "clairvoyance" had some relation to the normal organs of vision. Moreover the experience of the investigators of the Society for Psychical Research has led them to the conclusion that there is no method of bandaging the eyes, without risk of injury to those organs, which will effectually preclude normal vision. We gained our most instructive lesson with a subject named Dick, a pit lad. Dick, who had given successful exhibitions of his powers on platforms in the North of England, was brought to us in 1884 for examination. The method of bandaging practised by his manager was as follows: a penny was placed over each eye, ostensibly to protect the organ from sticking-plaster, strips of which were applied copiously over the orbits and the surrounding features. A handkerchief was then tied tightly over all. Under these conditions Dick correctly described objects held in front of him at a considerable distance. The bandaging seemed to be effective and normal vision appeared impossible. It was observed, however, that Dick was most successful when the objects were held directly in front, and a little above the level of the eyes. A variation in the position frequently led to the failure of the experiment. Further the experiment would fail if the bandages were placed above the level of the eyebrows. Eventually, after repeated trials, Dr. Hodgson succeeded, under the same conditions of bandaging, in seeing, though fitfully and imperfectly, objects held in a corresponding position. The channel of vision was a small chink in the sticking-plaster on the line where it was fastened to the brow. Possibly with Dick vision under these conditions may have been rendered easier by some degree of visual hyperaesthesia. His trance seemed to be genuine.[2] In short, until we can find a subject who can see an object through an opaque screen or inside a closed box, we need not seriously consider this kind of clairvoyance.

But the suggested conditions are alleged to have been complied with in two well-known cases—those of Alexis Didier and of Major Buckley's subjects. And as both cases have been cited of recent years by distinguished writers[3] as proofs of clairvoyance, it seems necessary to consider their claims. Notwithstanding the testimony of Robert Houdin, who witnessed the performance, and professed himself quite unable to discover any trickery, it seems unnecessary to consider that part of Alexis' "clairvoyance" which was undertaken with eyes bandaged. Alexis, as we know from contemporary accounts, was very particular as to the arrangement of the bandages, and frequently fidgeted with them. In any case, bandaging the eyes, as already said, is a fallacious test. But Alexis did more than play cards or read books with eyes bandaged. We are told that he frequently described the contents of sealed packets, which had been specially prepared beforehand as a test of his powers. Accounts of this marvel are fairly numerous, and the witnesses, whose names are given, were frequently persons whose position removed them from all suspicion of collusion. If we regard their evidence as insufficient to prove clairvoyance, it is on quite other grounds. Briefly, Alexis was a professional medium, who received large sums for his services; he had a probable confederate in his business manager, Marcillet; the'séances were not conducted under conditions favourable to exact observation— the room would be thronged with people, twenty or thirty at a time; Alexis could not satisfy all the tests propounded to him, and no doubt selected those which gave him his opportunity. Lastly, the accounts of the experiments which have come down to us are hasty and incomplete; we probably have in no case a full report of what took place. But by comparing reports by different observers of the same experiment, we find in one or two cases that the contents of the sealed packet could not be described when first presented. The secret would only be revealed after the packet had been opened in another room and the contents shown to a sympathetic bystander. Apart from the danger of collusion, it is obvious that this procedure offered opportunity for the prying eyes of M. Marcillet. On the whole, we are forced to the conclusion that Alexis' performances so closely resembled conjuring tricks, and took place under conditions so little favourable for exact experiment, that we should not be justified in citing them as evidence for clairvoyance.[4]

The case of Major Buckley's clairvoyants is much simpler. Major Buckley was an elderly gentleman, a retired officer of the Indian Army, who prided himself on his remarkable powers as a mesmerist. Amongst his pet subjects were several young women who developed remarkable powers of clairvoyance. Their specialty—and it is remarkable that this particular power, though exhibited by many of Major Buckley's subjects, has not, as faras I know, been claimed in any other case—consisted in reading the mottoes in nuts purchased at the confectioner's, hazel nuts or walnuts, the natural contents of which had been replaced by sweetmeats and a piece of paper bearing a motto. From reports given in the Zoist, by Ashburner and others, it is not difficult to see how the feat was accomplished. The young women had apparently brought with them nuts which they had previously opened and rescaled, and they contrived during the proceedings to substitute these prepared nuts for those brought by the investigators. When the nuts were marked, so as to prevent substitution, the young ladies pleaded headache and the experiments proved inconclusive.[5]

On the whole we are bound to conclude that the evidence for the alleged power of clairvoyance at close quarters is quite insufficient. The case, however, for what the older mesmerists styled "travelling clairvoyance" is very much stronger, though the hypothesis implied by that term, viz., that the soul of the entranced subject left the body and actually visited the scene which he described, is of course gratuitous. The locality "visited" was generally the home of one of the experimenters, selected as being at a distance and unknown to the clairvoyant. So far as the details given by the sleeper were known to the experimenter, telepathy from his mind would be sufficient to account for the results. In the rarer cases, when details would be given of the scene taking place at the moment of the experiment and unknown to any of those present in the room with the sleeper, the operation of telepathy from a distance is still not excluded. We should clearly not be justified in attributing a power of independent vision to the clairvoyant. The following example will serve to illustrate the type.

The narrative, written by Dr. Alfredo Barcellos, was communicated to us by Professor Alexander, of Rio de Janeiro, who has himself investigated the circumstance.

No. 72

[The incident occurred on the 19th of March, 1895, and the account was sent to us on the 29th December, 1896. Dr. Barcellos had just visited a patient, Donna X., who was convalescing from pleurisy on the left side. The recovery was retarded by severe anaemia, from which, however, no danger was apprehended. From Donna X.'s house Dr. Barcellos went direct to the house of Donna G., another patient whom he was treating by means of hypnotism. On this occasion Donna G. after passing into the trance] "suddenly became grave—frowned as if engaged in some effort of thought (como figurative e preoccupada), and with that vivid presentation that characterises somnambules, uttered, in substance, the following words, which made a profound impression on my memory: 'Dr. Barcellos, that patient of yours is dying. Poor thing!—See the children weeping round her. Look—there goes a messenger in all haste to your house to call you. This is what she said:' (Here G. tried to imitate the faint tones of a person in articulo mortis)—#"Help me, Dr. Barcellos, I am dying!"' (Returning to her natural voice)' Poor thing!—a stout woman, too—and to say that stoutness is a sign of health. It is useless, doctor—she is dead! ' As at that time the person I had just visited was [G. excepted] my only female patient, I supposed, on hearing these words, that the reference must be to her, and I therefore said to G., 'Examine the dying woman. See what she is dying of'; to which the somnambule, after [another] effort of thought, replied, 'She has an obstruction in her chest on the left side; but it is not that that is killing her, doctor. What is killing her is her state of profound anaemia. It may be said that this woman's blood has been changed to water in her veins. She is dead!'"

In fact Donna X. had died, as stated, and a messenger had been dispatched to summon a doctor. Dr. Barcellos on his way to the house met Dr. Dias, who had just come from thence, and Dr. Dias testifies that Dr. Barcellos was able to tell him that Donna X. was already dead.[6]

We find a few instances of "clairvoyance" of this kind recorded as occurring during severe illness. Dr. Sutphin, of Glasgow, Kentucky, has given an account of two cases occurring in his practice in which typhoid fever patients saw events taking place at a distance. The vision in one case represented a detailed picture of a distant scene and the actors in it.[7]

It is perhaps hardly necessary to point out that the finding of lost objects through indications given in dreams, in the crystal, or though planchette cannot be attributed to clairvoyance. In most cases the revival of a lost memory on the part of the actual seer will explain the fact. More rarely, we have to assume that the seer is enabled to reach telepathically the subliminal memory of another. This seems the simplest explanation of a remarkable incident reported to the Society by Sir Harry and Lady Vane. Lady Vane had lost a notebook, and had had the whole house searched for it. Some weeks later meeting Lady Mabel Howard, who has received many veridical messages through automatic writing, Lady Vane asked her to find out where the book was. Lady Mabel's pencil wrote that the book would be found in a locked cupboard in the bookcase, at the tapestry end of the room, and after a further close search the book was actually found in the place indicated concealed in a scrapbook. This particular cupboard had already been searched on more than one occasion.[8]

There are, however, a few cases reported of dreams picturing the scene of a burglary, or other event, in which it is difficult, with any plausibility, to invoke human agency. The following case will serve to illustrate the point.

No. 73. From Miss Busk.[9]

"16 Montague Place, W., 1884.

"I dreamt that I was walking in a wood in my father's place in Kent, in a spot well-known to me, where there was sand under the firs; I stumbled over some objects, which proved to be heads, left protruding, of some ducks buried in the sand. The idea impressed me as so comical that I fortunately mentioned it at breakfast next morning, and one of two persons remember that I did so. Only an hour later it happened that the old bailiff of the place came up for some instructions unexpectedly, and as he was leaving he said he must tell us a strange thing that had happened. There had been a robbery in the farmyard, and some stolen ducks had been found buried in the sand, with their heads protruding, in the very spot where I had seen the same. The farm was underlet, and I had not even any interest in the ducks to carry my thoughts towards them under the nefarious treatment they received.

"R. H. Busk."

Miss Busk's sister, Mrs. Pitt Byrne, who was present when this dream was told, corroborates as follows:

"I distinctly remember, and have often since spoken of, the circumstance of Miss R. H. Bush's relating to me her dream of ducks buried in the wood, before the bailiff who reported the incident came up to town.

"J.Pitt Byrne."

Impressions of this type are, however, very rare, and their occurrence is reported, so far as I am aware, only in dreams. It would not be safe, therefore, to build any hypothesis on such slender support. Moreover, improbable though the conception may appear of a malefactor revealing telepathically his own misdeed to any of those concerned, the remarkable dream connected with the death of W. Terriss, which is given below, would certainly seem to indicate such a possibility.

The evidence for precognition is at first sight, perhaps, more impressive than that for clairvoyance. But a little consideration will show us that it is as yet wholly inadequate to justify the tremendous assumptions implied in the hypothesis of foreknowledge of the future. Telepathy, as already indicated, does not seem necessarily to involve more than a slight enlargement of the physical scheme of the universe—just the addition of a new mode of force operating by means already sufficiently familiar. But foreknowledge of the future, of the detailed kind indicated in some of the narratives forwarded to us, would involve the shattering of the whole scientific fabric. If the things reported in some of these narratives really happened we must set to work to construct a new heavens and a new earth. But the hypothesis of telepathy, as already shown rests primarily upon rigid experiment; the spontaneous instances furnish subsidiary support, but are in themselves hardly sufficient to justify the theory. Now the hypothesis of prevision derives no support from experiment; it rests entirely on the testimony of witnesses who rarely have any claim to be regarded as expert observers. And the impressions by which foreknowledge of the future seems to be conveyed are mostly dreams—that is, they belong to a class of impressions which we have already recognised as being evidentially so weak as to give but dubious support to telepathy.

It is scarcely necessary to repeat what has been said in a previous chapter as to the inherent defects of dream evidence. But as the "prophetic" dream often does not meet with its fulfilment until weeks or months later, it is clear that there is greater risk even than in the cases already considered of the dream being reshaped in memory to fit the event. As Gurney has put it:

"When the actual facts are learnt a faint amount of resemblance may often suggest a past dream, and set the mind on the track of trying accurately to recall it. This very act involves a search for detail, for something tangible and distinct; and the real features and definite incidents which are now present to the mind, in close association with some definite scene or fact which actually figured in the dream, will be apt to be unconsciously read back into the dream . . . dreams in this way resemble objects seen in the dusk; which begin by puzzling the eye, but which when once we know or think we know what they are, seem quite unmistakable and even full of familiar detail."[10]

Nor have we in most of these "prophetic" dreams the kind of certificate which we were enabled to produce in several of the dreams quoted in Chapter IV.—the evidence of contemporary documents. In comparatively few cases does it appear that any note of the "prophetic" dream was made before the fulfilment.

If we consider only those "prophetic" dreams which are attested by contemporary documents, or in which there is other satisfactory evidence that the experience has been correctly reported, we shall find that in many cases the facts admit of some other explanation than foreknowledge of the future. Thus, we have several cases in which the winner of the Derby or some other race was revealed in a dream; or in which the position of a candidate in some important examination was accurately foreseen. Professor G. Hulin, of the University of Ghent, has communicated to us five instances, all occurring within a few years, apparently in the same district of Belgium, in which young men had dreamt beforehand of the actual number which they would draw for conscription, and had announced the number, before the drawing, to the presiding officer. The facts in each case are certified by the commissaire d' arrondissement, who was himself the presiding officer on at least two of the occasions referred to.[11] Cases of this kind are certainly much more remarkable than dreams of the winning horse, because the numbers concerned are much larger (the highest number in the urn in one case is given as 223), and the results are of course quite incalculable. It is not difficult to suppose, in the case of the lottery or the horse race, that the fears and hopes centred on the issue breed dreams so numerous that here and there one must in the long run coincide with the event, while those which remain fruitless soon pass away and leave no trace in the memory. Possibly dreams of the number drawn for conscription—since the event would affect the dreamer more nearly than the result of a race or lottery—are even more common. In the only case given by Professor Hulin in detail, the dream took place two months beforehand, and the lad had been for months previously in great anxiety as to the issue. Further it is to be noted that in all five cases the number dreamt of was a high, i.e., a favourable one, and the dream no doubt would win more credence because of its good augury. But it is not quite so easy to be satisfied that the dreams last noted—of which three are reported as occurring in the same village, Eecloo, in the course of less than ten years—were due wholly to chance. It would certainly appear that there is a case for further enquiry here.[12]

We have a few cases of correct predictions made by professional mediums.[13] But here again, in view of the large number of predictions made under similar circumstances which are not fulfilled and are forgotten, it would be unsafe at present to count too highly the few shots which hit the mark.

We have numerous cases reported to us of unusual sights or sounds—animals, corpse-lights, Banshees, the death-watch—preceding a death. But the evidence in these cases is in its present state quite insufficient to establish any connection. One obvious defect in the symbolic dream or omen is that there is no intrinsic relation between the event and its symbol. Our own ancestors saw a connection between comets and disasters; and the modern Celt believes will-o'-the-wisp lights to betoken death. Prima facie, the one belief has as much to say for itself as the other. There is a natural tendency to believe that an unusual occurrence, anything out of the ordinary routine of life, is to be construed as a portent. Hence the almost universal belief, at a certain stage of civilisation, in omens. Clearly, to establish a connection between an unusual sight or sound and a subsequent event (most commonly a death) we need a long series of coincidences. But in the symbolic prophecies before us we have no unimpeachable record to attest such a series of coincidences. We are forced to rely upon fallible memories, for the most part unsupported by documents. In other words, we have little security that the "misses" have been recorded as well as the "hits." And this forgetfulness of the unfulfilled omen is especially likely to occur with persons of the peasant class, who form the bulk of our witnesses for symbolic hallucinations; and, again, is specially liable to affect dreams, the form of symbolism for which we have most educated testimony. Yet another defect of this class of evidence is that no definite term is fixed for the fulfilment of the omen. This, indeed, is a defect common to prophetic intimations in general, but is peculiarly noticeable in this class. The death may follow the corpse-lights by two or three days; but the omen may fulfil itself unquestioned in months or years. Again, there is the vagueness of the event foreshadowed. The omen may point to a mother or son. But some of our seers are contented with the death, after an interval of weeks, of a step-grandmother, an uncle by marriage, or even a mere acquaintance.

One case may perhaps be quoted, as illustrative of the kind of evidence which is required to make reports of vague occurrences of this kind worthy of serious consideration.

No. 74 From Mrs. Verrall[14]

"5 Selwyn Gardens, Cambridge,
"[Tuesday] September 20th, 1898, 3 p.m

"Dear Mr. Myers:

"Just a line for the stamp of the post—in case anything has 'occurred'—to say that this afternoon, at 2.30, I heard the curious ticking which I think I have mentioned to you. It comes usually, if not always, when I am lying down, and may be due to some physical cause; but it has at least once been associated with the illness of a friend, so I make a point of noting it, and I suppose the stamp of the post is desirable.

"But absit omen!

"M. De G. Verrall."

Mr. Myers noted on this letter: "Received September 20th, 1898, 8.30 p.m."

The omen was "fulfilled" on the following day. Mrs. Verrall's sister, landing from the steamer at Ouistreham, between ten and eleven P.M., on the fist, made a false step and plunged into the water of the harbour. She was rescued by the boatswain, who heard the splash, and suffered no serious ill effects. But no one had seen her fall, there was imminent risk of being drawn under the ship, and her life was for a few moments in great danger.

On another occasion Mrs. Verrall noted down the occurrence of the ticking, and subsequently found that the time coincided with the commencement of the serious illness of an intimate friend. On the only two other occasions on which Mrs. Verrall has heard the ticking, it seemed to have a premonitory significance.

It may be hoped that, as attention is increasingly called to the subject, careful records like that last quoted may be multiplied, so that it may ultimately be found possible to estimate the real significance of these omens.

There is another class of predictions, the existence of which seems to be well established. The early Magnetists have put on record that some of their somnambules could accurately foretell the approach of disease in their own persons; could forecast the course of the disease, predict the occurrence of crises, and indicate the date of recovery. More rarely this power of prediction extended to the ailments of others. Recent observations have confirmed the accuracy of these early reports in both respects. Several cases have been reported to us in which persons have predicted serious illness or death to themselves. For an instance, see the case recorded by the Rev. A. T. Fryer, in which a lady, the wife of a clergyman, had a warning in a dream of a serious illness and her eventual recovery. The illness—blood-poisoning—in fact came on the day following the dream.[15]

In a case recorded by Mr. Glardon, his aunt, Mme. O. predicted early in August that her death would take place in six weeks. Mr. Glardon sent us a note of the prediction before the death was known, intimating that the period would expire on the 15th of September. As a matter of fact, the lady died on the 14th.[16]

These predictions occur, almost invariably, in trance or dreams, and the circumstances would seem occasionally to indicate that the subject of them is able, in the enlarged and more primitive stage of consciousness existing in those states, to perceive the latent presence of disease and the workings of organic processes, in himself or in others, which are hidden from the work-a-day self. More generally, however, the explanation is of a simpler kind. The prophecy is made to work out its own fulfilment; the seer sets his organism sub-consciously to explode in a predestined crisis, or to emerge in sanity from a self-imposed period of ill health.

Speaking generally this particular class of cases points at most to the vestiges of a lost power of forecasting or guiding organic processes, rather than to the rudiments of a new faculty transcending human limitations.[17]

There are one or two striking cases, at first glance apparently prophetic, which again suggest another explanation. Mrs. McAlpine, who has had several telepathic experiences, has given us the following account of a vision which took place in June, 1889.

No. 75. From Mrs. McAlpine[18]

"Garscadden, Berasden, Glasgow, April 20th. 1892.

[Whilst waiting for a train at Castleblaney, Mrs. McAlpine wandered by the side of a lake] "Being at length tired, I sat down to rest upon a rock at the edge of the water. My attention was quite taken up with the extreme beauty of the scene before me. There was not a sound or movement, except the soft ripple of the water on the sand at my feet. Presently I felt a cold chill creep through me, and a curious stiffness of my limbs, as if I could not move, though wishing to do so. I felt frightened, yet chained to the spot, and as if impelled to stare at the water straight in front of me. Gradually a black cloud seemed to rise, and in the midst of it I saw a tall man, in a suit of tweed, jump into the water and sink.

"In a moment the darkness was gone, and I again became sensible of the heat and sunshine, but I was awed and felt 'eerie.'"

A few days later a man, a clerk in a bank, actually committed suicide in this very piece of water. Mrs. McAlpine's sister has a dim recollection of being told of the vision before the occurrence of the tragedy.

With this may be compared another vision foreshadowing a tragedy. It will be remembered that William Terriss, the actor, was stabbed at the entrance to the Adelphi Theatre, by a discharged member of the company who fancied that he had a grievance against him. The murder took place at 7.20 p. m. on the 16th December, 1897. On the same evening a member of the company, Miss H ———, told some friends of mine of the murder, and of the dream told to her by Mr. Lane. Four days later I saw Mr. Lane, who had been acting as understudy to Terriss, and obtained from him the following account.

No. 76. From Mr. Frederick Lane[19]

"Adelphi Theatre, December 20th, 1897.

"In the early morning of the 16th December, 1897, I dreamt that I saw the late Mr. Terriss lying in a state of delirium or unconsciousness on the stairs leading to the dressing-rooms in the Adelphi Theatre. He was surrounded by people engaged at the theatre, amongst whom were Miss Millward and one of the footmen who attend the curtain, both of whom I actually saw a few hours later at the death scene. His chest was bare and clothes torn aside. Everybody who was around him was trying to do something for his good. This dream was in the shape of a picture. I saw it like a tableau on which the curtain would rise and fall. I immediately after dreamt that we did not open at the Adelphi Theatre that evening. I was in my dressing-room in the dream, but this latter part was somewhat incoherent. The next morning on going down to the theatre for rehearsal the first member of the company I met was Miss H ———, to whom I mentioned this dream. On arriving at the theatre I also mentioned it to several other members of the company, including Messrs. Creagh Henry, Buxton, Carter Bligh, &c. This dream, though it made such an impression upon me as to cause me to relate it to my fellow artists, did not give me the idea of any coming disaster. I may state that I have dreamt formerly of deaths of relatives and other matters which have impressed me, but the dreams have never impressed me suficiently to make me repeat them the following morning, and have never been verified. My dream of the present occasion was the most vivid I have ever experienced, in fact, life-like, and exactly represented the scene as I saw it at night.

"Frederick Lane."

Mr. Lane explained to me that he was in the neighbourhood of the theatre when Mr. Terriss was stabbed and ran to the Charing Cross Hospital for a doctor; on his return he looked in at the private entrance, and saw Mr. Terriss lying on the stairs as in the dream.

Miss H——— writes as follows:

"Adelphi Theatre, [Saturday], 18th Dec., 1897.

"On Thursday morning about 12 o'clock I went into Rule's, Maiden Lane, and there found Mr. Lane with Mr. Wade. In the course of conversation after Mr. Wade had left, Mr. Lane said that he had had a curious dream the night before the effects of which he still felt. It was to this effect: he had seen Terriss on the stairs inside the Maiden Lane door (the spot where Terriss died) and that he was surrounded by a crowd of people, and that he was raving, but he (Mr. Lane) could n't exactly tell what was the matter. I remember laughing about this, and then we went to rehearsal."

Mr. Carter Bligh writes:

"4th Jun. 1898.

"I must apologise for delay in replying to your note. . . . I have much pleasure in being able to state that Mr. Fred Lane on the morning of the 16th ult. at rehearsal at the Adelphi Theatre told me among others in a jocular and chaffing way (not believing in it for an instant) how he probably would be called upon to play 'Captain Thomas' that night as he had dreamt that something serious had happened to Terriss. I forget now, and therefore do not attempt to repeat, the exact words Mr. Lane used as to the reason (in the dream) why Mr. Terriss would not appear that night, but I have a distinct recollection of him saying that he (Terriss) could not do so, because of his having dreamt that something had happened. It was all passed over very lightly in the same spirit in which it was given, i. e., in the spirit of unbelieving banter."

Mr. Creagh Henry, another member of the company, wrote on the 20th January to say that on the morning of the 16th December he heard Mr. Lane relate a dream in which he had seen Mr. Terriss "upon the landing where he died, surrounded by several people who were supporting him in what appeared to be a fit."

It seems here that the dream-vision presented a fairly accurate and detailed picture of the event. The dream was not of a common type, and it is difficult to dismiss it as merely a chance-coincidence. But neither in this case nor in the one related by Mrs. McAlpine is it necessary to suppose that for the seer the veil of the future was momentarily lifted.

The lines of telepathic influence, as we have had already occasion to observe, do not seem invariably to be marked out by kinship or affection. It would seem possible then that the chief actor in the tragedy, brooding in solitude, may have unawares communicated to some mind, which happened to be sensitive to its reception, the outline of the picture in which he embodied his desperate purpose. It is to be noted that the percipient in each case had some connection with the locality of the tragedy.

There are, however, a few well attested cases in which the coincidence seems too definite to be attributed to chance, while no other solution can apparently be suggested. Of the apparent references to future events contained in Mrs. Verrall's script I select the following:

No. 77. From Mrs. Verral.[20]

"On December 11th, 1901, the script wrote as follows:

"'Nothing too mean the trivial helps, gives confidence. Hence this. Frost and a candle in the dim light. Marmontel he was reading on a sofa or in bed—there was only a candle's light. She will surely remember this. The book was lent not his own—he talked about it.'

"Then, after a reference to a separate incident, recognised as such, there appeared a fanciful but unmistakable attempt at the name Sidgwick."

[Mrs. Verrall thought that "she" might refer to Mrs. Sidgwick, and wrote to ask whether the name Marmontel had any meaning for her. Mrs. Sidgwick replied in the negative, but suggested that it might possibly occur in some MSS. that she was reading.]

"On the 17th Dec. the script wrote:

"'I wanted to write Marmontel is right. It was a French book, a[21] Memoir I think. Passy may help Souvenirs de Passy or Fleury. Marmontel was not on the cover—the book was bound and was lent—two volumes in old-fashioned binding and print. It is not in any papers—it is an attempt to make some one remember—an incident.'"

[Mrs. Verrall is not conscious of having heard of Marmontel's name until it was written in the script. A few weeks later she saw the name in a bookseller's catalogue. In January, 190:, she wrote to a friend, Mr. Marsh, to invite him for a week-end visit. He fixed March the 1st. This was the only communication she had had with him since June, 1901.]

"On March 1st Mr. Marsh arrived, and that evening at dinner he mentioned that he had been reading Marmontel. I asked if he had read the Moral Tales, and he replied that it was the Memoirs. I was interested in this reference to Marmontel, and asked Mr. Marsh for particulars about his reading, at the same time explaining the reasons for my curiosity. He then told me that he got the book from the London Library, and took the first volume only to Paris with him, where he read it on the evening of February 20th, and again on February 21st. On each occasion he read by the light of a candle, on the 20th he was in bed, on the 21st lying on two chairs. He talked about the book to the friends with whom he was staying in Paris. The weather was cold, but there was, he said, no frost. The London Library copy is bound, as most of their books are, not in modern binding, but the name 'Marmontel' is on the back of the volume. The edition has three volumes; in Paris Mr. Marsh had only one volume, but at the time of his visit to us he had read the second also.

"I asked him whether 'Passy' or 'Fleury' would 'help,' and he replied that Fleury's name certainly occurred in the book, in a note; he was not sure about Passy, but undertook to look it up on his return to town, and to ascertain, as he could by reference to the book, what part of the first volume he had been reading in Paris. He is in the habit of reading in bed, but has electric light in his bedroom at home, so that he had not read 'in bed or on a sofa by candle light' for months, till he read Marmontel in Paris.

"On his return to town Mr. Marsh wrote to me (March 4, 1902), that on February 21st, while lying on two chairs, he read a chapter in the first volume of Marmontel's Memoirs describing the finding at Passy of a panel, etc., connected with a story in which Fleury plays an important part.[22]

"It will thus be noted that the script in December, 1901, describes (as past) an incident which actually occurred two and a half months later, in February, 1902,—an incident which at the time of writing was not likely to have been foreseen by any one. I ascertained from Mr. Marsh that the idea of reading Marmontel occurred to him not long before his visit to Paris. It is probable that had he not seen me almost immediately upon his return, when his mind was full of the book, I should never have heard of his reading it, and therefore not have discovered the application of the script of December 16th and 17th."

The coincidences here are so numerous and definite that it is extremely difficult to attribute them to chance, and the difficulty is increased when we take into account the other instances of the same kind contained in Mrs. Verrall's script.

There remain, as already indicated, a considerable number of cases of dreams which seem to foreshadow in some detail future events, and for which no explanation can apparently be suggested. Of these narratives the two which follow are perhaps the best attested.

No. 78. From Colonel K. Coghill, C. B.

"April, 1894.

"A curious case occurred to me last month, though it may be but a coincidence not worth recounting. On 28th March I received a letter from a lady, with whom I had not been in correspondence for about a year, stating that on the 26th she had either a vision or dream (I forget the expression) that she saw me in a very dangerous position under a horse from which many people were trying to relieve me. By return of post I wrote that I thought it a dream which was proved by contraries, as nothing of the sort had occurred. That afternoon I received notice of a last 'off day' with our pack of hounds, and the next morning on my way to covert I posted my letter. At the finish of a long run in the afternoon, my horse, pulling double down a steep hill, was unable to collect himself for a big bank at the bottom of the hill, breasted it, and fell head over heels into a deep and broad drop ditch on the far side, with me underneath him. His head and shoulders were at the bottom, and legs remained up on the landing side of the ditch. Many of the field dismounted, and after some minutes pulled the horse away, and got me from under, more or less stunned, but little the worse, except a few face cuts, the loss of a tooth, and a crushed stirrup, and the horse with a few head cuts. The horse was about my best hunter and never before guilty of such a thing, though, of course, it may have been but a hunting-field coincidence."

The letter in which the lady in question, the Hon. Mrs. Leir Carleton, related her dream, is unfortunately lost, but Sir Joseph Coghill writes:

"Glen Barrbane, Castle Townsend,
"May 3rd. 1894.

"On the 29th March last, my brother, Colonel Coghill, showed me a portion of a letter just received from a lady, who wrote describing a dream or vision in which she saw him meet with a serious accident from a horse, and she noticed a crowd of persons assisting him away."

Colonel Coghill himself wrote by return of post, before the accident, as follows:

"28th March.

"My dear Mrs. Carleton: Need I say how delighted I was to see your handwriting this morning, and how happy I am that your dream has so far proved the rule of going by 'contraries,' for I never in my life was going stronger than I am at present."

On the 31st March Colonel Coghill wrote to Mrs. Carleton again:

"You win, hands down . . . had you lived earlier you might have been burned as a witch, for by your dream you foretold a grief to me, though in prospective. Yesterday[23]

I enjoyed the imperial crowner which you saw in your dream, the hardest fall I have had for very many years. . Tableau—Six legs in the air. and view—A man in the ditch, with horse on top of his (the man's) head. Here your dream fails, for instead of an unsympathetic crowd helping him, I was released by half a dozen friends, including the Master, and about as many ladies. 3rd Tableau—All their loose horses pursuing the hounds riderless.

"My first thought, when down, was your dream, and before my head was out of the mud, I said, 'At any rate, as I am to be led away by some one, the neck must be all right,' and so it was, and I got off very cheaply."

Mrs. Leir Carleton has informed us that from a child she has "had premonitions of illness: sometimes the illness proved trivial and sometimes fatal. I have no distinct impressions, coming events seem to cast shadows before them."[24]

The next case was procured for us by Professor Romaine Newbold, of the University of Pennsylvania.

No. 79. From Professor Romaine Newbold[25]

"Sedgwick, Maine, August 29th. 1900.

"This morning my wife and I reached this out-of-the-way nook, some forty miles by water, though I believe but twenty by land, from Bar Harbour, and a few hours after our arrival I got the details of a coincidence which I wish to record and send you at once.

"My wife's parents, Rev. and Mrs. Geo. T. Packard, and her brother Kent, aged 13;, have been spending the summer here. Kent met us on the wharf, and on the way up told me something about being 'chased by a white horse,' but I paid little attention to him. After dinner, while his mother and sister and I were talking over the happenings of the summer, Kent came into the room and said to his mother something—I did not catch the exact words—as to the dream he had some time ago about being chased by a white horse. Great excitement ensued, all began to talk at once. I scented something of value for the S.P.R., and succeeded in quieting the confusion. Then I made them tell their stories in due order and took them down in writing. From the notes which I then made I have written out the following account. It has been verified by the witnesses.

"(1) Mrs. Packard's recollections. (Kent heard her tell this, but was not allowed to comment on it.) At home in Boston, not long before they came down here, Kent one night had a severe nightmare. He began to scream, thrash about in the bed, and strike wildly in all directions. Mrs. P. tried to soothe him and finally got him awake. He said he had dreamed that a white horse was chasing him around a wharf. He was so excited that he slept but little more that night, waking and crying out at intervals. Mr. Packard was wakened by the noise of the first attack, and Mrs. P. remembers going in and explaining to him the cause. She remembers no further details of the dream.

"(2) Ethel Packard Newbold remembers that she was told about the dream next morning, and that Kent at breakfast kept saying, 'Oh that white horse'; with expressive gestures of horror. (N .B.—This would fix the date as falling between May 28th, when E. P. N. went to Boston, and June 16th, when I went there. I heard nothing of this. The family left Boston June 25th.)

"(3) Mr. Packard remembers being awakened by the nightmare, and is sure it was in Boston, but did not at first remember anything about the content of the dream. Upon reflection he has a dim memory of the horse incident.

"(4) Kent is at first sure he had the dream after he came to Sedgwick, and that 'Ethel only imagines she remembers it.' After some reflection he concludes that it was in Boston he had it. He dreamed that he was on a wharf, walking along. Some people, among them his mother, had just got out of a row-boat, upon the wharf. He had just passed them,—heard cries and 'yells' of 'Look out,' heard footsteps but they were not heavy—very light indeed for a horse. Glanced over his shoulder and saw a white horse, mouth open, long jaw, about to bite him,—then he sprang into the water and—woke to fond his mother shaking him.

"(5) What happened. Kent's account. He had just come out of the baggage room on the wharf at Sedgwick and was walking along the end of the wharf. A row-boat came up and the people got out, as happened in the dream, but his mother was not among them. He passed them, heard the cries, the footsteps, looked back and saw the white horse, the open mouth, the long jaw and face, the ears pressed back; he jumped, not into the water, but into a gangway about ten feet wide, which ran from the level of the pier to high-water mark. About two hours afterwards he recalled the dream and was much startled when he recognised the coincidence.

"Kent laid stress upon the points that both in the dream and in fact the people who got out of the row-boat were among those that called to him, that the footsteps were light, not heavy, as one would suppose those of a horse would be, and that the horse's jaw and head seemed so long. These items are of course of no evidential value, but the main facts—of being chased on a wharf by a white horse—are, I think, pretty well established.

"I have read this over to the witnesses, and it has been approved by them all with the changes indicated [in the original MS. and here incorporated]. Kent says he cannot be sure the wharf of his dream was the same wharf he was on this morning. It was 'just a wharf and all wharfs are pretty much alike.' And he did not notice in the dream that the white horse was attached to a buggy. It might have been, but he did not observe whether it was or not."

Professor Newbold afterwards ascertained from eye-witnesses that the incident had actually occurred as stated by the boy. In this case it seems to be conclusively proved that a dream of a dramatic character was dreamt by the boy Kent Packard, some weeks before the occurrence of an incident closely resembling in its main features the incident which figured in the dream. The impression made by the dream upon the boy's family seems to show that it was of an exceptional character. But one or two experiences of this kind, however impressive and however well attested, are of course insufficient in themselves to form the basis of a hypothesis. For if it is admitted that all evidence in such matters which depends at all on mere memory is subject to a large and at present indefinable discount, it seems clear that the instances of what purport to be prevision so far collected fall short of redeeming their pledge. Until we meet with records of prophetic visions which are at least on the same evidential level as the narratives quoted say in Chapter VI., and as much more numerous and more impressive than those narratives as the faculty which they purport to demonstrate is more remote than telepathy from mundane analogies, we can but regard these dream-stories which we have been considering as the sports of chance or the distorted mirage of our own hopes and fears. Questioning Leuconbe must still question in vain. It does not yet appear that there are Babylonish numbers or Wizard's spells, visions by day or dreams by night, which can reveal to her or us the hidden things of fate.


  1. Proceedings, S. P. R., vol. vii.. pp. 301, 305.
  2. Journal, S. P. R., vol. i., p. 84.
  3. Dr. A. R. Wallace in Proceedings S.P.R.. vol. xiv., p. 373. has claimed genuine powers of clairvoyance for Alexis Didier. Mr. Myers (Human Personality, vol. i., pp. 556–8), has quoted some of Major Buckley's experiments.
  4. See my Modern Spiritualism, vol. i., pp. 143–7.
  5. See Zoist, vol. vi.. pp. 98–110 and 380–4. The latest case of clairvoy. ance at close quarters has broken down like all the rest. In 1896, Dr. Ferroul, Mayor of Narbonne,—who has lately risen to fame in another field of action,—reported in the Annales des Science Physchiques the success of some experiments in reading the contents of closed envelopes. In the following year Professor Grasset made up a sealed envelope and sent it to Dr. Ferroul's subject. The contents were correctly read, and Professor Grasset could not ascertain that the envelope had been tampered with in any way. Subsequently. at his request, the Académie des Sciences et Lettres of Montpellier apppointed a committee to investigate the matter. Their report leaves no room to doubt that the results were achieved by deliberate fraud. (See Annales des Sciences Psychiques, May-June and July-August, 1896; November-December, 1897; January-February, 1898. Also Semaine Médicale, 1898, pp. 18–20, and Proceedings, S.P.R., xiv., pp. 115–118.)
  6. Journal, S. P. R., July, 1897.
  7. Ibid., June, 1896.
  8. Proceedings, S. P. R., vol. xi., p. 395.
  9. Phantasms of the Living, vol. i., p. 369.
  10. Phantasms, vol. i., p. 298.
  11. Journal, S.P.R., October, 1894. It is not clear from the account that M. Van Dooren, the comissaire, testifies of his own knowledge to the three cases occurring in 1893 and 1894.
  12. Even if the facts are admitted in these cases to be beyond the scope of chance, foreknowledge of the future, as Mr. Myers points out (Proceedings. S.P.R., xi., p. 547), is not necessarily involved. The guidance of a higher intelligence. gifted with clairvoyant powers, which should direct the dreamer's hand to the appointed number, would be a less incredible assumption. But until we have further information on such cases, it would be premature to pursue the speculation.
  13. A striking case will be found in Journal, S.P.R., March, 1901.
  14. Journal, S.P.R., November, 1899, p. 135.
  15. Journal, S.P.R., January, 1906.
  16. Proceedings, S.P.R., vol. xi.. p. 431.
  17. Dr. Liébeault has sent us his notes of a curious case. On the 26th December, 1879, M. C——— consulted a "Necromancer" in Paris, who told him, amongst other predictions, which were eventually fulfilled, that he would die at twenty-six. He was then nineteen. The young man came in January, 1886, to consult Dr. Liébeault, who made a note of the prediction. In fact M. C——— died in September of the same year, when still not twenty-seven. The young man was under treatment at the time for biliary calculi; and the cause of death was peritonitis, consequent on an internal rupture. It is difficult to suppose. therefore, that the prediction in this case wrought its own fulfilment or that the cause of death could have been foreseen normally seven years before. (Proceedings S.P.R., vol. xi, p. 528.)
  18. Proceedings, S. P. R., 1701. 8.. p. 332.
  19. Journal, S. P. R., Feb., 1898, p. 195.
  20. Proceedings, S. P. R., vol. an. pp. 331-333. See above, Chapter XIII., for some acoount of Mrs. Verrall's automatic writing.
  21. Possibly "or."
  22. Mrs. Verrall adds that, as far as she can discover, the names Pussy and Fleury do not appear together in any passage except that read by Mr. Marsh on 21st February.
  23. It may be noticed that there is a slight discrepancy here. According to Colonel Coghill's letter of April. the accident took place on the 29th March. Possibly his letter should have been dated 30th, not 31st, March.
  24. Proceedings, S. P. R., vol. xi., pp. 489–91.
  25. Journal, S. P. R., February. 1901.