Frederic William Henry Myers.

Human personality : and its survival of bodily death (Volume 2) online

. (page 10 of 89)
Online LibraryFrederic William Henry MyersHuman personality : and its survival of bodily death (Volume 2) → online text (page 10 of 89)
Font size
QR-code for this ebook

closely similar.

In Dr. Bruce's case one might interpret the visions as coming to the
percipient through the mind of his wife, who was present at the scene of
the murder. But this explanation would be impossible in Miss Hall's
case. Rather it seems as though some telepathic link, set up between
the dying brother and the sister, had been maintained after death
until all duties had been fulfilled to the departed. The case reminds
one of the old Homeric notions of the restless appeal of unburied
comrades. ,

732. In the case of Mrs. Green, already quoted in Chapter IV., 429 D,
we come across an interesting problem. Two women are drowned under
very peculiar circumstances. A friend has apparently a clairvoyant vision
of the scene, yet not at the moment when it occurred, but many hours
afterwards, and about the time when another person, deeply interested,
heard of the death. It is therefore possible to suppose that the
apparently clairvoyant scene was in reality impressed telepathically on
the percipient by another living mind. I think, however, that both the
nature of the vision and certain analogies, which will appear later in our
argument, point to a different view, involving an agency both of the dead
and of the living. I conjecture that a current of influence may be started
by a deceased person, which, however, only becomes strong enough to be
perceptible to its object when reinforced by some vivid current of emotion
arising in living minds. I do not say that this is yet provable ; yet the
hint may be of value when the far-reaching interdependencies of telepathy
between the two worlds come to be better understood.

733. Two singular cases in this group remain, where the departed


spirit, long after death, seems pre-occupied with the spot where his bones
are laid. The first of these cases (see 733 A) approaches farce; the
second (in which the skeleton of a man who had probably been murdered
about forty years before was discovered by means of a dream ; see
Proceedings S.P.R., vol. vi. p. 35) stands alone among our narratives in
the tragedy which follows on the communication. Mr. Podmore in an
article in the same volume (p. 303) suggests other theories to account for
this case without invoking the agency of the dead ; but to me the least
impossible explanation is still the notion that the murdered man's dreams
harked back after all those years to his remote unconsecrated grave. I
may refer further to another case (in Proceedings S.P.R., vol. iv. p. 155,
footnote) where feelings of horror and depression were constantly experi-
enced in a room over which a baby's body was afterwards found. This
case makes, perhaps, for another explanation depending not so much on
any continued influence of the departed spirit as on some persistent influ-
ence inhering in the bones themselves deposited under circumstances of
terror or anguish, and possibly in some way still radiating a malignant
memory. Bizarre as this interpretation looks, we shall find some con-
firmation of such a possibility in our chapter on Possession. Yet another
case belonging to the same group, and given in 733 B, supplies a variant
on this view; suggesting, as Edward Gurney has remarked, the local
imprintation of a tragic picture, by whom and upon what we cannot tell.

I think it well to suggest even these wild conjectures ; so long as they
are understood to be conjectures and nothing more. I hold it probable
that those communications, of which telepathy from one spirit to another
forms the most easily traceable variety, are in reality infinitely varied and
complex, and show themselves from time to time in forms which must for
long remain quite beyond our comprehension.

734. The next class of cases in this series well illustrates this
unexpectedness. It has only been as the result of a gradual accumulation
of concordant cases that I have come to believe there is some reality in
the bizarre supposition that the departed spirit is sometimes specially
aware of the time at which news of his death is about to reach some
given friend. Proof of such knowledge on his part is rendered harder by
the alternative possibility that the friend may by clairvoyance become
aware of a letter in his own proximity. As was shown in Phantasms of
the Living, there is some evidence for such clairvoyance even in cases
where the letter seen is quite unimportant (see also 421 H and J and
656 B). May there be here also some conjuncture of the spheres of
knowledge of the departed and the incarnate spirits, so that a glimpse ob-
tained by the one in some way reinforces a glimpse obtained by the other ?

I quote a typically difficult instance of this coincidence of an
apparition with the arrival of the news of a death.

From Proceedings S.P.R., vol. v. p. 409. The case was sent to us by
the Bishop of Carlisle, the percipient being the Rev. G. M. Tandy, vicar


of West Ward, near Wigton, Cumberland, formerly of Loweswater, who
writes : *

When at Loweswater, I one day called upon a friend, who said, " You do
not see many newspapers ; take one of those lying there." I accordingly took
up a newspaper bound with a wrapper, put it into my pocket, and walked home.
In the evening I was writing, and wanting to refer to a book, went into
another room where my books were. I placed the candle on a ledge of the
bookcase, took down a book and found the passage I wanted, when, happening
to look towards the window, which was opposite to the bookcase, I saw the face
of an old friend whom I had known well at Cambridge, but had not seen for
ten years or more, Canon Robinson (of the Charity and School Commission).
I was so sure I saw him that I went out to look for him, but could find no trace
of him. I went back into the house, and thought I would take a look at my news-
paper. I tore off the wrapper, unfolded the paper, and the first piece of news
that I saw was the death of Canon Robinson ! a

Mr. Tandy further writes :

In reply to your note, October 6th, I may state, with regard to the narrative
I detailed to the Bishop of Carlisle, that I saw the face looking through the
window, by the light of a single Ozokerit candle, placed on a ledge of the book-
case, which stood opposite the window ; that I was standing, with the candle
by my side, reading from a book to which I had occasion to refer, and raising
my eyes as I read, I saw the face clearly and distinctly, ghastly pale, but with
the features so marked and so distinct that I recognised it at once as the face
of my most dear and intimate friend, the late Canon Robinson, who was with
me at school and college, and whom I had not seen for many years past (ten or
eleven at the very least). Almost immediately after, fully persuaded that my
old friend had come to pay me a surprise visit, I rushed to the door, but seeing
nothing I called aloud, searched the premises most carefully, and made inquiry
as to whether any stranger had been seen near my house, but no one had been
heard of or seen. When last I saw Canon Robinson he was apparently in
perfect health, much more likely to outlive me than I him, and before I opened
the newspaper announcing his death (which I did about an hour or so after
seeing the face) I had not heard or read of his illness or death, and there was
nothing in the passage of the book I was reading to lead me to think of him.

The time at which I saw the face was between ten and eleven P.M., the
night dark, and I was reading in a room where no shutter was closed or blind

I may answer in reply to your question " whether I have ever had any other
vision or hallucination of any kind ? " that, though I never saw any apparition,
I have heard mysterious noises which neither my friends nor I were able satis-
factorily to account for.

735. This incident, taken alone and without any apparent connection
with other forms of action of the departed, seems almost too quaint to be
included in a more or less coherent series like the present. But a hint

1 The narrative is undated, but the first part of it was printed in the Journal S.P.R.
for January 1885.

2 As we do not know what newspaper this was, it is not possible to ascertain the
precise interval which had elapsed since the death.


towards its comprehension is given by certain other cases where the per-
cipient states that a cloud of unreasonable depression fell upon him about
the time of his friend's death at a distance, and continued until the actual
news arrived ; when, instead of becoming intensified, it lifted suddenly.
In one or two such cases there was an actual presence or apparition, which
seemed to hang about until the news arrived, and then disappeared.
Or, on the other hand, there is sometimes a happy vision of the departed
preluding the news, as though to prepare the percipient's mind for the
shock (735 A). The suggested inference is that in such cases the spirit's
attention is more or less continuously directed to the survivor until the
news reaches him. This does not, of course, explain how the spirit learns
as to the arrival of the news ; yet it makes that piece of knowledge seem a
less isolated thing.

736. And here I will quote a case so divergent from accepted types
that the ordinary retailer of ghost stories might well be tempted to pass it
over in silence as incomprehensibly absurd. As will presently be seen,
however, it fits with singular appropriateness into just this place in my series.

The case was sent to Professor James, and I quote it from Proceedings
S.P.R., vol. viii. p. 220.

, WlS., September 22nd, 1890.

A very unusual thing occurred to the writer and one other person my

sister, Miss Mary Q. at the city of , Wisconsin, on the fth day of

November 1885, at 10 o'clock P.M.

Our mother, Mrs. Mary Margaret Q. R., died at our home, in said city of

, Wisconsin, on the above date, at 8.40 P.M., very suddenly, of pneumonia.

Our youngest half-brother, Robert B. R., was working at S , N. Dakota, at

that time, about 700 miles distant from - , Wisconsin. At 9.45 we retired to
the guests' chamber, a room over the south parlour, and about the same
dimensions as said parlour, having two windows to the south and one to the
east. There were two beds in this large room, and I lay on one and my sister
on the other, trying to compose our broken hearts, for we loved our mother very
dearly. The night was cold and the windows were all closed, except the east
was down at the top a few inches, when, lo ! we both distinctly heard at the
same instant my brother, Robert B. R., singing, " We had better bide a wee,"
in a clear, deep tenor, accompanied by a high-pitched soprano and an old-
fashioned small melodeon accompaniment, and it sounded as though they were
upon a level with our windows, about 15 feet from the ground; and I arose
and threw up the south-west window, from whence the sounds seemed to
proceed, and then they the singing moved to the next, or south-east, window,
and sang another verse. And I threw that up and saw nothing, but still dis-
tinctly heard the words as well as the music, and so round to the east window,
where they sang the last verse, and then the music seemed to float away to the
north. But the queer part of this occurrence is the fact that at the very time

that we heard my brother singing in , Wisconsin, he was singing the same

song before an audience, with the identical accompaniment, an old, tiny
melodeon, and a high-pitched soprano young lady a Miss E., of North
Dakota as we learned two days afterwards, when he came home in response
to our telegram announcing the death of our mother.

Any verification of the above facts will be cheerfully made.

(Signed) [Miss Q.]


, Wis., October i\t/t, 1890.

DEAR SIR, Yours of the 6th inst. was duly received, and in reply to your
request for corroborative testimony relative to the "phenomenal occurrence"
on the night of November 5th, 1885, at Janesville, Rock Co., Wisconsin that
is, the hearing music and two human voices, and the words distinctly audible
one voice perfectly familiar to us as that of our half-brother, Robert B. R.,
then of N. Dakota, and the other voice that of a strange lady soprano, and
they, my said brother R. B. R., and Miss Sarah E., of N. Dak., were singing
the same song, "We had better bide a wee," at an entertainment given by a

church society of S , a printed programme of which my brother afterwards

sent to us.

I am an exceedingly busy person, but a lover of the truth, and interested in
the progress of the race; but my sister, Miss Mary Q., of this city, is very
conservative and proud, and when I asked her for an affidavit of her experience
on that eventful 5th of November 1885, she replied, " I do not wish the world
to think me or you a 'crank' or Spiritualist, and do not wish our names pub-
lished." I will add that my sister, who is blind, is very intuitive and clairvoyant,
and there is much in her experience to deeply interest the psychical student. It
seems to me that the loss of her sight has been compensated by another sense
a super-intuition.

I have written to my brother, R. B. R.,to reply to your request, and also to

obtain a programme of the church entertainments at S , N. Dak., on

November 5th, 1885, at which he and Miss Sarah E. sang, "We had better
bide a wee," and also to state the exact hour when they were called in the
programme, for as Robert stated to us when he arrived on that sad occasion
the death of our good mother he informed us that the telegram was brought
to him, and was held by the operator so as not to spoil the entertainment by
telling him before he sang, and we my sister Mary Q. and I both heard
every note and word of that song sung about seven hundred miles away,
while our mother's remains were in the parlour under our bedroom. Cordially
yours, (Signed) [Miss Q.]

Miss Mary Q. writes to Dr. Hodgson as follows :

, Wis., November i$tA, 1890.

DEAR SIR, [In reply to] your kind note of inquiry, relative to my experi-
ences on the night of November 5th, 1885, they were such as have been
described by my sister [Miss Q.J, who is a lover of scientific research, and is
not so timid as I and my brother; the latter is very much opposed to either
of us making known our experience on that night, and has urged me not to
tell any one of the occurrences of that eventful time, and he refuses to furnish
the printed programme of the entertainment, at which he and Miss E. were
singing, "We had better bide a wee," insisting that people will believe us all
luny " if we make known all the facts ; and so in deference to his prejudices I
must respectfully decline to make any further disclosures at present. Respect-
fully yours, [Miss MARY Q.]

Dr. Hodgson adds :

December iqttt.A letter of inquiry sent to Mr. Robert B. " R.," and an
envelope, with official stamp of our Society on the cover, has been returned to
me, unopened, by Mr. Robert B. " R.,'' so that further corroboration is lacking,
at least for the present. R. H.


It will be observed that Miss Mary Q.'s letter is virtually a confirma-
tion of Miss Q.'s account ; and that Mr. Q.'s action is in harmony with
his sister's belief that he cannot deny, but does not wish to confirm, the
truth of this singular narrative.

Now here the two minds aware of the mother's death were the mother's
own mind and the telegraphist's. The telegraphist was certainly aware
that, when the song came to an end, he should have to communicate to the
singer a painful shock. But, on ifrex other hand, the telegraphist did not
know the senders of the telegram ; 7 had no means of picturing them or
their surroundings. I think, therefore, that it will be more in accordance
with analogy to suppose that the mother's mind was aware of the impend-
ing communication, and transmitted, perhaps scarce consciously, to her
daughters the sensation of the trivial and tiresome cause of delay. I
give in 736 A an incident equally grotesque, where also the indication
is of impatience on the part of the deceased person, who perceives the
news of his death kept back by vexatious accidents. And I add thereto
Mr. Cameron Grant's case (736 B), where the date of arrival of the news
of Lord Z.'s death was specially difficult to calculate by ordinary means
Mr. Grant being in a wild part of Brazil. Mr. Grant's impulse to
draw what turned out to be Lord Z.'s death-scene might place this case
among motor automatisms. There is naturally no clear line between
seeing a scene in one's mind's eye and feeling an impulse to draw it
on paper. Finally, I quote in 736 C a case where a phantasmal appear-
ance became visible while the percipient actually held in her hand
an unopened letter, announcing, not the decedent's death, but her
dangerous illness. And on the strength of all these cases, and of some
less striking, I repeat my suggestion that in our ignorance as to the degree
of knowledge of earthly affairs possessed by the departed, and of the causes
which permit or stimulate their apparition, this possibility of their following
the diffusion of news of their own death may be well worth our continued

737. Having thus discussed a number of cases where the apparition
shows varying degrees of knowledge or memory, I pass on to the some-
what commoner type, where the apparition lacks the power or the impulse
to communicate any message much more definite than that all-important
one of his own continued life and love. These cases, nevertheless,
might be subdivided on many lines. Each apparition, even though it be
momentary, is a phenomenon complex in more ways than our minds can
follow. We must look for some broad line of demarcation, which may
apply to a great many different incidents, while continuing to some extent
the series which we have already been descending from knowledge and
purpose on the deceased person's part down to vagueness and apparent

Such a division gradual, indeed, but for that very reason the more
instructive exists between personal and local apparitions ; between mani-


festations plainly intended to impress the minds of certain definite
survivors and manifestations in accustomed haunts, some of which,
indeed, may be destined to impress survivors, but which degenerate and
disintegrate into sights and sounds too meaningless to prove either purpose
or intelligence.

738. Let us look, then, for these characteristics, not expecting, of
course, that our series will be logically simple ; for it must often happen
that the personal and local impulses will be indistinguishable, as when
the desired percipient is inhabiting the familiar home. But we may begin
with some cases where the apparition has shown itself in some scene
altogether strange to the deceased person.

We have had, of course, a good many cases of this type already. Such
was the case of the apparition with the red scratch (717) ; such was the
apparition in the Countess Kapnist's carriage (727), and the apparition
to Mrs. B. at Fiesole (728 B). Such cases, indeed, occur most frequently
and this fact is itself significant among the higher and more de-
veloped forms of manifestation. Among the briefer, less -developed appar-
itions with which we have now to deal, these invasions by the phantasm
of quite unknown territory are relatively few. I will begin by referring
to a curious case, where the impression given is that of a spiritual pre-
sence which seeks and finds the percipient, but is itself too confused for
coherent communication (Mrs. Lightfoot's case, 429 B). It will be seen
that this narrative is thoroughly in accordance with previous indications
of a state of posthumous bewilderment supervening before the spirit has
adjusted its perceptions to the new environment.

739. In cases like Mrs. Lightfoot's, where the percipient's surroundings
are unknown to the deceased person, and especially in cases where the
intimation of a death reaches the percipient when at sea (as in 739 A),
there is plainly nothing except the percipient's own personality to guide
the spirit in his search. We have several narratives of this type. In one
of these Archdeacon Farler's, already referred to in 710 the appari-
tion appears twice, the second appearance at least being subsequent
to the death. It is plain that if in such a case the second apparition
conveys no fresh intelligence, we cannot prove that it is more than a
subjective recrudescence of the first. Yet analogy is in favour of its
veridical character, since we have cases (like Miss Hall's, cited in 713 A)
where successive manifestations do bring fresh knowledge, and seem to
show a continued effort to communicate. In this connection I may
refer to an experience of a witness who has had many experiences, Mr.
Keulemans (see 662 A, &c.), where his little son appeared to him both
about the time of death and again after death (739 C). In that case the
child, it would appear, sought his father first in familiar, then in unfamiliar

Then, again, there are auditory cases where the phantasmal peech has
occurred in places not known to the deceased person. One such case
is that of Mr. Wambey (see 735 A). In 739 B I give a case in which an


apparition was seen several weeks after death, the death being unknown
to the percipient.

740. One specially impressive characteristic of apparitions (as has
been already remarked) is their occasional collectivity the fact that more
percipients than one sometimes see or hear the phantasmal figure or
voice simultaneously. When one is considering the gradual decline in
defmiteness and apparent purpose from one group of apparitions to
another, it is natural to ask whether this characteristic in my view so
important is found to accompany especially the higher, more intelligent

I cannot find that this is so. On the contrary, it is, I think, in cases
of mere haunting that we oftenest find that the figure is seen by several
persons at once, or else (a cognate phenomenon) by several persons
successively. I know not how to explain this apparent tendency. Could
we admit the underlying assumptions, it would suit the view that the
" haunting " spirits are " earthbound," and thus somehow nearer to matter
than spirits more exalted. Yet instances of collectivity are scattered
through all classes of apparitions ; and the irregular appearance of a
characteristic which seems to us so fundamental affords another lesson
how great may be the variety of inward mechanism in cases which to us
might seem constructed on much the same type. 1

741. I pass on to a group of cases which are both personal and
local ; although the personal element in most of them the desire
to manifest to the friend may seem more important than the local
element the impulse to revisit some accustomed haunt.

In the first case which I shall cite the deceased person's image is seen
simultaneously by several members of his own household, in his own
house. Note the analogy to a collective crystal vision.

The account is taken from Phantasms of the Living, vol. ii. p. 213.
It is given by Mr. Charles A. W. Lett, of the Military and Royal Naval

Club, Albemarle Street, W.

December yd, 1885.

On the 5th April 1873 my wife's father, Captain Towns, died at his
residence, Cranbrook, Rose Bay, near Sydney, N. S. Wales. About six weeks
after his death my wife had occasion, one evening about nine o'clock, to go to
one of the bedrooms in the house. She was accompanied by a young lady,
Miss Berthon, and as they entered the room the gas was burning all the time
they were amazed to see, reflected as it were on the polished surface of the
wardrobe, the image of Captain Towns. It was barely half figure, the head,
shoulders, and part of the arms only showing in fact, it was like an ordinary
medallion portrait, but life-size. The face appeared wan and pale, as it did
before his death, and he wore a kind of grey flannel jacket, in which he had
been accustomed to sleep. Surprised and half alarmed at what they saw, their
first idea was that a portrait had been hung in the room, and that what they
saw was its reflection ; but there was no picture of the kind.

1 Certain appearances, collectively seen, in the actual, death-chamber, are discussed
in 740 A.


Whilst they were looking and wondering, my wife's sister, Miss Towns,
came into the room, and before either of the others had time to speak she
exclaimed, " Good gracious ! Do you see papa ? " One of the housemaids
happened to be passing downstairs at the moment, and she was called

Online LibraryFrederic William Henry MyersHuman personality : and its survival of bodily death (Volume 2) → online text (page 10 of 89)