D Davidson.

Remembrances of a religio-maniac; an autobiography online

. (page 1 of 33)
Online LibraryD DavidsonRemembrances of a religio-maniac; an autobiography → online text (page 1 of 33)
Font size
QR-code for this ebook

Ex Libris





S '



A Where I first spoke to the doctor.

B Spot at which we parted.

C Where I turned to look again.

D Place where the doctor disappeared into the air.

(See page 34.)







" But if the watchman see the sword come, and blow
not the trumpet, and the people be not warned . . . their
blood will I require at the watchman's hand. So thou,
son of man, I have set thee a watchman unto the house of
Israel : therefore, hear the word at my mouth, and give
them warning from me. When I say unto the wicked,
wicked man, thou shall surely die, and thou dost not speak
to warn the wicked from his way ; that wicked man shall
die in his iniquity ; but his blood will I require at thy
hand. Nevertheless, if thou warn the wicked of his way,
to turn from it, and he turn not from his way, he shall die
in his iniquity ; but thou hast delivered thy soul."

EZEKIEL xxxiii. 6-9.


And He suffered him not, but sailh unto Mm, "Go to thy house,
unto thy friends, and tell them how great things the Lord
hath done for thee, and how He had mercy on thee." And
he went his way and began. MARK v. 19.

INSANE, and acting and speaking under the delusion of
Unseen Agency, is a heading under which certain forms
of madness are classified and considered. Monomania
of Unseen Agency, as it is shortly called, is usually
succeeded by dementia (idiocy) in the course of two or three

It has fallen to my lot to have been twice certified as
insane. These somewhat unusual events unusual in view
of the fact that insanity has never been known in previous
generations on either side of my family 1 occurred when I
was between twenty-one and twenty-two years of age, and
again when I was between thirty-three and thirty-four.
Each time my seclusion was only for a short period of about
six months. After my last incarceration I wrote to the
asylum authorities, and asked for some information about
my case, but my enquiry was treated with silence. A
moment's consideration shewed me this was not altogether
unreasonable, for some patients might use such informa-
tion for purposes of revenge. Nothing was further from
my thoughts, for it would be a perversion of the truth for me
to try and make out that I was wrongly or unfairly certified ;
indeed, it was only a sort of post-mortem curiosity, in order
to find out what experts who had studied my case really
thought, that 'induced me to make any enquiries. The last
thing I wish to do is to take my brother by the throat, for I
feel that I myself have been forgiven so much.

(i) A very large one, for I have some twenty-seven uncles and aunts, all of whom
were sound in mind and well formed in body, and most of them robust in



The whole question, however, of Unseen Agency must
appeal strongly to mental experts and theologians, for by
far the most important parts of a book which they study
closely, and criticise minutely, were written by those, or about
those, who were considered at times to be suffering from this
very identical form of insanity. At times they did not seem
to be speaking quite of their own minds ; they seemed to be
under an outside and unseen influence, similar to an appear-
ance often seen in cases of lunacy, or else under some inside
mental influence, similar to the effects sometimes caused by

Now it is obvious that the more certain this was at the
cime, the less reasonable it was afterwards to bring accusations
against such persons of inventing altogether out of their own
minds what they then said and did.

In a less materialistic age Unseen Agencies were not
always regarded as delusions, and possession by a good spirit
causing inspiration must have had an effect producing some-
thing similar in appearance to possession by an evil spirit
causing insanity ; otherwise, common sense tells us that
the accusation of insanity, which was the reproach (above all
others) of Christ, would not have been brought, and could
not have been sustained. In a sense, indeed, these men
were mad ; but it was the right sort of madness, the right
sort of possession.

Again, it may happen that if a man is rendered very
sensitive to the influences of a good spirit, he may perhaps
be equally sensitive to the attacks of evil spirits. This seems
to me to be in accordance with one of the meanings of the
proverb, " Where the body is, there will the vultures be
gathered together." As everyone knows, this was spoken in
connection with the coming or presence of our Lord, which
later on was mentioned as a thing at hand and immediate,
that might occur to anyone at any time. And it is implied
that it was of the same nature, though distinct from the
Second Advent, to raise the dead and judge the world.

Now I neither thought of writing about these things, nor
knew anything about them, till after I had left the stone walls
and high railings of a lunatic asylum for the second time.
I then knew that I had had a great deal of experience in this


respect, and wished to let others know. Great difficulties
presented themselves as to the manner in which this was to
be done, or, indeed, whether I ought to speak clearly at all.
I thought of writing ; but what was the use ! I should not
be believed, and there was no chance of any credible cor-
roborative evidence. My family were most anxious that,
above all things, I should refrain from even mentioning the
painful subject, both for the sake of their own feelings and,
what hit me hardest, for the sake of my son's future. Indeed,
they were inclined to consider my mentioning it to anyone
as a sign that I had not yet recovered my senses. I was
asked to bury and forget the misfortune, and, if I could not
do that, at any rate to lock up this skeleton in a cupboard
and never take it out ; and it was pointed out to me that I
had quite rightly done so after my first illness. Now, in spite
of the very peculiar incidents that befel me, I felt strongly
tempted to follow this advice, both from great acquired
laziness of disposition (where work and not sport was con-
cerned) and from an intense fear of ridicule, to which I was
always abnormally sensitive. But the parable of the wicked
servant and the one talent reminded me not to go back to
a life of sport and pleasure ; and thankfulness for my own
rescue, and the chance that has been given me, made the
very thought of such a thing treason.

In a very unsettled frame of mind I passed through
London and called at a well-known doctor's house. He was
not a mental specialist, but had been a friend of the family,
and had known me as a child. I began to tell him a few of
my experiences, and had not gone far when he quietly took
up from his desk a book which he was in the middle of
reading, entitled " A Mind that Found Itself," and asked
me if I had read it. It had just been published, and I had
not ; but I very soon got it, and, after reading, saw that I
had not to wait for corroborative evidence, but give it, as
regards the " treatment " that one sometimes meets with
in asylums. The rest of my evidence which, by the way, is
far the most important is merely corroborative also.

After this, I went so far as to make a rough draft of the
matter, but it was so disjointed and disconnected, and so full
of uncharitableness towards all men, especially doctors and

i 2


clergymen, that I thought most of it was madness, and I
tore it up. I easily persuaded myself that the account of
my experiences, coming as it does with a double certificate
of insanity behind it, would do more harm than good, and
that it would be safer for me to try and teach like any other
lay evangelist or catechist, without mentioning how I myself
had been taught.

Now dreams seldom come to me, but just at this time I
had a peculiarly vivid and appropriate dream. I was sitting
in my study thinking, when a woman came up to me and
gave me a pen. I looked at it with curiosity, whereupon I
heard her say, " What did I give you that pen for ?" When
I stated my ignorance, she was extremely angry at my stu-
pidity and laziness, and I had just time in my dream to realise
that she was an angel, when I awoke. I was astonished and
startled, and determined to carefully write out this record,
knowing that it will do exactly what God intends it should
do, and nothing else. I finished it practically as it now
stands within fifteen months of my release, and without ever
having read any books on psychology or theology, and under
the impression that there never had been any genuine re-
ligious experiences since Pentecost.

There are, of course, dreams and dreams, and some of
them impress an individual far more than others : their
vividness and reality is a matter known only between the
soul and God ; but no one who believes in the Bible can
afford to scoff at all at dreams. If ever the words, " Homo
sum ; humani nihil a me alienum puto," 1 were true of anyone,
they were true of Jesus Christ, and are true of Him still.
Beast-like licentiousness, cruelty, greed, and pride are foreign
to Him, but human weakness never. Surely dreams, strong
presentiments, visions, voices, mysteries are " humani "
of a man even some forms of hallucination or insanity.
God's Spirit works upon the minds of men ; and in this respect
it is hardly out of place to remark that one recognised form
of mental peculiarity is where the patient has a very vivid
dream and wakes with the idea that he must, at all costs,
travel to some foreign country, and does do so, unless forcibly

(i) I am a man and deem nothing "of a man" strange or foreign to me.


prevented. St. Joseph's dreams and the flight into Egypt
are of this nature, and were caused by the Spirit of God.
An evil spirit, it is true, might cause a similar phenomenon
with disastrous results, and this is doubtless why the Church
forbids attention being given to such things. But God is
above all ; nothing happens that His eye cannot see : He is
a God of the Spirits, and evil spirits could do nothing if they
were not allowed to test and try the hearts of men, though
in doing so they may but heap up judgment for themselves.
The Church, of course, is right ; and yet visions and voices
may become so remarkable as to convince the most stubborn
sceptic, especially if they have changed his life and given
him back faith in the real (not nominal) Fatherhood of God,
and above all in the glorious fact of the Trinity ; and then
it becomes his duty to take heed to the Heavenly Vision, and
obey God rather than men.

There are many things in this record I cannot explain,
but it is well " to keep back nothing of a case " ; and if I
leave out what still seems inexplicable or ridiculous, my
evidence might be worthless, perhaps misleading. I know
well the risk I run, for it has been laid down as law by mental
specialists that if a man believes in his hallucinations and
delusions he is from that very fact insane. Some people
have got the idea that eternal and infinite things, the deepest
things of existence, do not enter now-a-days into human
life, and that it is almost blasphemy to state very clearly
that they do. If they do not enter into every human life,
then our faith is vain, and the light that lighteth every man
into the world is vanity in which case the only sane course
of action is to cultivate the greatest possible selfishness.
If it is not vanity, then selfishness is the greatest possible

I thought of writing an allegory, or trying to insert the
facts into some story, but I am not clever enough, and perhaps
it is just as well. I must therefore give my evidence by
giving the thing in the exact terms in which I received it,
which is a stilted way of saying, " I must tell you the story
simply, just as it happened to me." In order to do this, I
cannot avoid the constant use of the personal pronoun. In
this world of pretence and veneer it requires a distinct effort


to find oneself, and in breaking away a little from the bondage
of conventionality the greatest care is required to keep from
running riot. I know that this autobiography is a record of
close self-inspection, but that is not the same thing as self-
conceit. God knows it is an account of miserable and sordid
foolishness and failure, contemptible weakness, cowardice,
and sin, and that if I were not absolutely certain of its truth,
and that there is another world and an after-life, and that
it is His wish that I should write the thing out, I would let
the dead past bury its dead.

The more a man is shewn, the better able he is to begin
to realise a little of that vast infinity of knowledge and
power which separates the creature from the Creator. I do
not wish to rule, or to teach my fellow men, even though a
man who has been well taught himself often makes a good
teacher ; least of all am I trying to teach Eternal Wisdom
how to rule ; but I am trying to shew how Eternal Wisdom
in mercy taught a fool. I can relate carefully how I was
taught ; I cannot explain it.

Some people are so credulous that they will believe a
Piccadilly palmist or the latest development in scientific
seance ; others can believe nothing ; others, again, cannot
persuade themselves to believe a thing unless it suits them,
or unless it comes to them with the seal of time and the
stamp of authority. In such a state, anything genuine that
comes from the spiritual world unsought, is almost certain
to be misunderstood. I am not blind to difficulties, and I
know I may be accused of acting like a fool and then calling
myself a victim ; and if, indeed, I escape the charge of blas-
phemy, I may yet be told that I am entirely lacking in good
taste. Robinson Crusoe very wisely remarks that many
people who are not at all ashamed to sin, are very much
ashamed to repent, or to let it be known they had repented.
If, however, I can stop some who are on the downward grade
to terrific punishment, I shall not have written in vain. In
urgent matters of ordinary life and death good taste has
sometimes to be dispensed with ; in matters of everlasting
life, or everlasting madness, it must not be allowed to stand
in the way.

My object is not to theorise, but to give facts ; not to


prove what ought to have happened, or what ought to
happen, but to state what did happen. I am well aware
that the whole account is childlike, even childish, but that
is no bar to its truth if childlike faith is a blessing. All my
life I was the reverse of superstitious, and laughed at the
idea of such things as ghosts or spirits, or even devils. I
have been told that any visions or hallucinations which I
saw later on in life were the result of dreams or the memory
of pictures. As a matter of fact, I know perfectly well what
dreams I dreamt, when I was awake and when asleep, and
anything I saw was totally different from any possible pre-
vious conceptions, or misconceptions, I could have had from
pictures. My wish to try and prove this must be my excuse
for entering, as minutely as I do, into trivial incidents of

" Thy sons, O Zion, against thy sons, O Greece ! " is
a battle-cry that still comes ringing down the terraces of
time. The sons of Greece represented all that the intellec-
tual, philosophical, logical, critical, and sceptical minds of men
by powers of thought and reason could fathom of the great
mysteries of the universe, of life and being, of the nature of
an after-life, if any, and of the nature and existence, or non-
existence, of a Being who created and who rules all things.

The sons of Zion were not many mighty, not many
learned, for God often chose the weak things of the earth
and the things that were despised. They represented, how-
ever, a simple childlike faith in Him and in what He told
them, and in what He had told their brethren before them,
and they also had the certain knowledge of their own often-
times extraordinary experiences.

Someone has very wisely said that we can know nothing
of God but from our inner conscience, and from the effects
felt, seen, or discovered by ourselves, or by others, of which
He is the cause, or which He in eternal wisdom sees good
to permit.

It is better for me, however, not to beat about the bush,
but to get on with the matter ; and in order to keep back
nothing of a case, I must begin at the very beginning, and
try to be accurate, not picturesque. At the risk of being
disconnected in places, I have endeavoured to follow faith-

8 Remembrances.

fully the chronological order of events, but I cannot guarantee
accuracy in this respect. Any notes are for the most part
afterthoughts in the nature of comments, and I do not claim
that they are even sagacious comments. The poetry at the
beginning of each chapter seems to me to aptly concentrate
what is in it, and it is nearly all out of a book called " The
Cloud of Witness," which I have read quite recently for the
first time.

I remember the gleams and glooms that dart

Across the schoolboy's brain :
And the song and the silence in the heart,
That in part are prophecies, and in part
Are longings wild and vain.
And the voice of that fitful song
Sings on, and is never still :
'A boy's will is the wind's will,
And the thoughts of youth are long, long thoughts.'

And Deering's Woods are fresh and fair,

And with joy that is almost pain
My heart goes back to wander there,
And among the dreams of the days that were
I find my lost youth again.

And the strange and beautiful song,
The groves are repeating it still :
'A boy's will is the wind's will,
And the thoughts of youth are long, long thoughts.'

" My lost youth." LONGFELLOW.



I AM the eldest of twelve children : eight of a first family,
four of a second ; and tradition informs me that I
was born in Dublin, and taken out to India three
months afterwards as an infant in arms. I have also
in myself internal evidence of my sojourn in that country
from the memory of a few incidents during my childhood

I was taking a walk early one morning with my father
along the margin of a big sheet of water 1 near our bungalow,
when we suddenly came upon some dead snakes. One of
them, with broad markings of orange and black bands,
attracted my attention. My father told me that there had
been a big storm not long before, and that this accounted
for our seeing them washed up dead.

Though incidents like this may now seem trivial, or
even absurd, to the reader, they may not do so by the time
he has read through this record, especially if he is at all
interested in the mystery of human life and the human
mind, and able to realise that few things happen accident-
ally. So great an authority as John Locke lays stress on
the importance that childish impressions have upon all of
us, and we were all children once. It is the little things in
life, rather than great events in history, that loom large to
a private person and form the basis of a marvellous process
which leads to that tremendous event, the judgment of the

During my childhood in India, I remember once seeing a
native, who had been convicted of theft, tied to a ladder
and whipped by order of the Court. While he was awaiting
punishment, a woman who was sitting under a tree, not far
away, began to howl and throw dust upon her head. She
made a great deal of noise, and I was much interested in her
performance, and was told that she was his wife. When
the man began to cry out, which he did very soon after the
rod was applied, I was taken away, and the ayah who had
thoughtlessly brought me to the place was blamed for doing
so. I was informed that the man richly deserved what he

(i) I have since discovered that it was the sea.

12 Remembrances.

got, which was indeed the case, and thus the first hint that
the way of transgressors is hard, was early and accidentally
put before my eyes.

I also remember that a large rogue monkey, which had
been driven from its herd, seemed to take a great fancy to
me, as he used to come frequently to the window of my
room, and grin and chatter at me while I was lying in my
cot. My mother was in fear lest he should do me some
harm, and an Irish nurse I had was terrified. 1 When my
father saw that the brute was behaving in a dangerous way
he shot it, much against his will.

These three incidents I have been able to carefully
verify as facts, and as they happened before I was four years
old, my memory for things that I have seen is good.

I have been told that I thought a great deal of myself
at this time, and I have also heard that I caused much
amusement to one of my uncles, who found me one morning
seated in front of a glass admiring myself and pulling vio-
lently at my upper lip with both hands as if I had a large
moustache. Every now and then I turned round to the
ayah and said, " Has it come ? Tell me, has it come ? "
while with a low salaam the eastern handmaid obsequiously
replied, " But certainly, sahib, certainly ! "

The only memory I have of riding, though I must have
ridden scores of times, was one day when I was riding on a
white Arab pony across a raised road or bridge running over
some stagnant swamps in which I saw some hideous reptiles.
Before I had crossed, the man who was leading the pony
left it, and went on quickly by himself. In terror lest I
should fall into the swamp, I called him back, and was led
across safely.

I also have a very vivid recollection of the same servant
going into the house one day, returning quickly with a gun,
and shooting a large wild sow close to where I was standing,
in some scrub undergrowth not far from the back of our
bungalow. I was very excited, and ran after a number of
young ones who scattered in every direction. I do not
remember, however, examining the carcase of the dead pig,
which I assuredly would have done ; and this, as well as recent
enquiries, makes me certain it was a dream.

I also remember an ayah taking me to fish in a river.
I caught two fine fish, one after the other, but the second
was the bigger one. As I pulled it out with a great jerk, it
hit the branch of a tree above my head and broke in two
pieces, just as if it had been cut clean in two with a knife.

(i) I do not remember this nurse at all ; but I have been told that there was one.
My impression is that there were only ayahs, or native nurses.

Childhood. 13

I was then hurried away home, for the ayah said a crocodile
was corning. This must have been a dream, for fish do not
break in two like that ; but my father had, as a matter of
fact, being trying to shoot a crocodile which had dragged
into the water and eaten a poor woman. He succeeded,
after first blinding it, and I remember watching the reptile
still moving its tail and seemingly alive, though his heart
had been cut out. This fact may have caused the dream,
and yet the dream is even now more vivid than the fact;
but it is easy to mix up things that occurred so long ago.
Indeed, it is more than likely that most of us carry into
life memories of childhood that are half of them dreams, half
of them facts, yet none of them without their meaning.

On the voyage home, when I was between four and five
years old, two incidents happened which left their impression.
The steamer was passing close to some desert sandy shore.
My father and uncle, who were on deck, were trying to throw
coins to a few Arabs on the beach who were eagerly trying
to get them, but they all fell short into the water. I got
excited, and begged to be given a coin to throw, but was
only given a biscuit. I threw it with all my might, but it
was blown back on to the deck of the ship, when I got hold
of it and threw it again. As I was looking at the few Arabs,
together with a solitary camel which happened to be there,
just above them a number of people appeared, and many
camels, and one elephant also, with crimson and gold trap-
pings in all a wonderfully gorgeous and brilliant pageant,
which I gazed at with great interest. Afterwards, I began
to talk about this, and I believe my father said that I
was " either the greatest liar that ever lived, or the most
imaginative child ever born." So real, however, and so
lasting was the memory of this sight, that when passing
through Suez and down the Red Sea some fourteen years
afterwards, I expected to see the same sort of thing again,
though I knew there were no elephants in Egypt.

Later on, on this my first voyage home, I remember

Online LibraryD DavidsonRemembrances of a religio-maniac; an autobiography → online text (page 1 of 33)