Frederic William Henry Myers.

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

. (page 11 of 89)
Online LibraryFrederic William Henry MyersHuman personality : and its survival of bodily death (Volume 2) → online text (page 11 of 89)
Font size
QR-code for this ebook


in, and asked if she saw anything, and her reply was, " Oh, miss ! the
master." Graham Captain Towns' old body servant was then sent
for, and he also immediately exclaimed, " Oh, Lord save us ! Mrs. Lett,
it's the Captain ! " The butler was called, and then Mrs. Crane, my wife's
nurse, and they both said what they saw. Finally, Mrs. Towns was sent for,
and, seeing the apparition, she advanced towards it with her arm extended as
if to touch it, and as she passed her hand over the panel of the wardrobe
the figure gradually faded away, and never again appeared, though the room
was regularly occupied for a long time after.

These are the simple facts of the case, and they admit of no doubt ; no kind
of intimation was given to any of the witnesses; the same question was put to
each one as they came into the room, and the reply was given without
hesitation by each. It was by the merest accident that I did not see the
apparition. I was in the house at the time, but did not hear when I was
called. C. A. W. LETT.

We, the undersigned, having read the above statement, certify that it is
strictly accurate, as we both were witnesses of the apparition.

SARA LETT.

SIBBIE SMYTH (ne'e TOWNS).
Gurney writes :

Mrs. Lett assures me that neither she nor her sister ever experienced a
hallucination of the senses on any other occasion. She is positive that the
recognition of the appearance on the part of each of the later witnesses was
independent, and not due to any suggestion from the persons already in the
room.

I add in 741 A another collective case noticeable from the fact that
the departed spirit appears to influence two persons at a distance from
each other in a concordant way, so that one of them becomes conscious
of the appearance to the other. Compare with this the incident given
at the end of 751 A, when Miss Campbell has a vision of her friend
seeing an apparition at a time when this is actually occurring.

742. In the case which I shall next quote, the evidence, though
coming from a young boy, is clear and good, and the incident itself is
thoroughly characteristic. The decedent was satisfying both a local and
a personal attraction.

We owe this case (which I quote from Proceedings S.P.R., vol.
viii. p. 173) to the kindness of Lady Gore Booth, from whom I first heard
the account by word of mouth. Her son (then a schoolboy aged 10) was
the percipient, and her youngest daughter, then aged 15, also gives a first-
hand account of the incident as follows :

LISSADELL, SLIGO, February 1891.

On the loth of April 1889, at about half-past nine o'clock A.M., my youngest
brother and I were going down a short flight of stairs leading to the kitchen, to



64 CHAPTER VII [742

fetch food for my chickens, as usual. We were about half-way down, my
brother a few steps in advance of me, when he suddenly said " Why, there's
John Blaney, I didn't know he was in the house ! " John Blaney was a boy
who lived not far from us, and he had been employed in the house as hall-boy
not long before. I said that I was sure it was not he (for I knew he had left
some months previously on account of ill-health), and looked down into the
passage, but saw no one. The passage was a long one, with a rather sharp
turn in it, so we ran quickly down the last few steps, and looked round the
corner, but nobody was there, and the only door he could have gone through
was shut. As we went upstairs my brother said, " How pale and ill John
looked, and why did he stare so ? " I asked what he was doing. My brother
answered that he had his sleeves turned up, and was wearing a large green
apron, such as the footmen always wear at their work. An hour^or two after-
wards I asked my maid how long John Blaney had been back in the house ?
She seemed much surprised, and said, " Didn't you hear, miss, that he died
this morning ? " On inquiry we found he had died about two hours before my
brother saw him. My mother did not wish that my brother should be told this,
but he heard of it somehow, and at once declared that he must have seen his
ghost. MABEL OLIVE GORE BOOTH.

The actual percipient's independent account is as follows :

March 1891.

We were going downstairs to get food for Mabel's fowl, when I saw John
Blaney walking round the corner. I said to Mabel, " That's John Blaney ! "
but she could not see him. When we came up afterwards we found he was
dead. He seemed to me to look rather ill. He looked yellow ; his eyes looked
hollow, and he had a green apron on. MORDAUNT GORE BOOTH.

We have received the following confirmation of the date of death :

THE PRESBYTERY, BALLINGAL, SLIGO,

lot A February 1891.

I certify from the parish register of deaths that John Blaney (Dunfore) was
interred on the I2th day of April 1889, having died on the loth day of April
1889. P. J. SHEMAGHS, C. C.

Lady Gore Booth writes :

May ^ist, 1890.

When my little boy came upstairs and told us he had seen John Blaney, we
thought nothing of it till some hours after, when we heard that he was dead.
Then for fear of frightening the children, I avoided any allusion to what he had
told us, and asked every one else to do the same. Probably by now he has
forgotten all about it, but it certainly was very remarkable, especially as only
one child saw him, and they were standing together. The place where he
seems to have appeared was in the passage outside the pantry door, where
John Blaney's work always took him. My boy is a very matter-of-fact sort of
boy, and I never heard of his having any other hallucination.

G. GORE BOOTH.

Now this apparition unless we explain it as a telepathic impression
projected at' the moment of death and remaining latent for some hours
before it attained externalisation may possibly be taken as showing
something of continued memory in the departed boy. Something of him



744] PHANTASMS OF THE DEAD 65

or from him, it may be said, reverted to well-known haunts, and was
discerned in habitual surroundings. But even of this there is no sure
indication. If it be suggested that the dead boy waited to manifest until
his young master reached a suitable spot, it may be replied that the living
boy's presence in that spot merely enabled him to discern some influence
which might have been discernible in that spot possibly at any moment
during some hours, if the fitting percipient had been at hand. Or else,
and perhaps more simply, we may suppose that there was a mere
influence transmitted from the departed mind to the living mind, which
influence the living mind discerned when in surroundings in which its
own recollection of the decedent might most readily be evoked.

I add in 742 A a somewhat similar case. The figure of the grand-
mother looking at the clock resembles the figure of the pantry-boy seen in
the offices, but was seen by both persons in a position to see it, instead
of by one only. See also an account given in Proceedings S.P.R., vol. iii.
p. 93, by the Rev. G. Lewis of his seeing an apparition of a young man
who unknown to him had died three days before. The young man
had much wished to see Mr. Lewis before he died, but Mr. Lewis, not
having heard of his illness, had not been to visit him. This narrative, if
interpreted in the way which the percipient suggests, might have been
placed among cases where the figure communicates a message , the re-
proachful expression implying a recollected sense of injury. It is, at any
rate, an example of the class now under discussion.

743. The case given in 743 A which comes from excellent inform-
ants is one of those which correspond most nearly to what one would
desire in a posthumous message. I may refer also to General Campbell's
case (in Proceedings S.P.R., vol. v. p. 476) in which a long-continued
series of unaccountable noises and an apparition twice seen by a child in
the house suggested to the narrator the agency of his dead wife. The
case, which depends for its evidential force on a great mass of detail,
is too long for me to quote ; but it is worth study, as is any case
where there seems evidence of persistent effort to manifest, meeting with
one knows not what difficulty. It may be that in such a story there
is nothing but strange coincidence, or it may be that from records of
partially successful effort, renewed often and in ambiguous ways, we shall
hereafter learn something of the nature of that curtain of obstruction which
now seems so arbitrary in its sudden lifting, its sudden fall.

744. I will conclude this group with three cases closely similar, all
well attested, and all of them capable of explanation either on local or
personal grounds. In the first (see 744 A) an apparition is seen by two
persons in a house in Edinburgh, a few hours before the death of a lady
who had lived there, and whose body was to be brought back to it. In
the second (see 744 B) the dead librarian haunts his library, but in the
library are members of his old staff. In the third, the dead wife loiters
round her husband's tomb, but near it passes a gardener who had been

VOL. II. K



66 CHAPTER VII [744

in her employ. This last the case of Mrs. de FreVille and the gar-
dener Bard I must insert in the text. As often happens when (as I
do here) one knows the percipient and his milieu, even the very plot of
ground on which he dodged about to watch the phantom, one feels a
reality in the incident which the most satisfactory depositions from a
distance will not always bring. The case is quoted from Phantasms of
the Living, vol. i. p. 212. Gurney there remarks of it :

The next case again exhibits the slight deferment of the percipient's expe-
rience which I have already mentioned. But its chief interest is as illustrating
what may be called a local, as distinct from a personal, rapport between the
parties concerned. The percipient, at the moment of his impression, was
contemplating a spot with which the agent was specially connected, and which
may even have had a very distinct place in her dying thoughts; and it is
natural to find in this fact a main condition why he, of all people, should have
been the one impressed.

The first account of it was sent to us by the Rev. C. T. Forster, Vicar
of Hinxton, Saffron Walden, as follows :

August 6th, 1885.

My late parishioner, Mrs. de FreVille, was a somewhat eccentric lady, who
was specially morbid on the subject of tombs, &c.

About two days after her death, which took place in London, May 8th, in
the afternoon, I heard that she had been seen that very night by Alfred Bard.
I sent for him, and he gave me a very clear and circumstantial account of what
he had seen.

He is a man of great observation, being a self-taught naturalist, and I am
quite satisfied that he desires to speak the truth without any exaggeration.

I must add that I am absolutely certain that the news of Mrs. de FreVille's
death did not reach Hinxton till the next morning, May Qth. She was found
dead at 7.30 P.M. She had been left alone in her room, being poorly, but not
considered seriously or dangerously ill. C. T. FORSTER.

The following is the percipient's own account :

July 2U/, 1885.

I am a gardener in employment at Sawston. I always go through Hinxton
churchyard on my return home from work. On Friday, May 8th, 1885, I was
walking back as usual. On entering the churchyard, I looked rather carefully
at the ground, in order to see a cow and donkey which used to lie just inside
the gate. In so doing, I looked straight at the square stone vault in which the
late Mr. de FreVille was at one time buried. I then saw Mrs. de Fre"ville
leaning on the rails, dressed much as I had usually seen her, in a coal-scuttle
bonnet, black jacket with deep crape, and black dress. She was looking full
at me. Her face was very white, much whiter than usual. I knew her well,
having at one time been in her employ. I at once supposed that she had come,
as she sometimes did, to the mausoleum in her own park, in order to have it
opened and go in. I supposed that Mr. Wiles, the mason from Cambridge,
was in the tomb doing something. I walked round the tomb, looking carefully
at it, in order to see if the gate was open, keeping my eye on her, and never
more than five or six yards from her. Her face turned and followed me. I
passed between the church and the tomb (there are about four yards between



745] PHANTASMS OF THE DEAD 67

the two), and peered forward to see whether the tomb was open, as she hid the
part of the tomb which opened. I slightly stumbled on a hassock of grass, and
looked at my feet for a moment only. When I looked up she was gone. She
could not possibly have got out of the churchyard, as in order to reach any of
the exits she must have passed me. 1 So I took for granted that she had quickly
gone into the tomb. I went up to the door, which I expected to find open, but
to my surprise it was shut and had not been opened, as there was no key in
the lock. I rather hoped to have a look into the tomb myself, so I went back
again and shook the gate to make sure, but there was no sign of any one's
having been there. I was then much startled and looked at the clock, which
marked 9.20. When I got home I half thought it must have been my fancy,
but I told my wife that I had seen Mrs. de FreVille.

Next day, when my little boy told me that she was dead, I gave a start,
which my companion noticed, I was so much taken aback.

I have never had any other hallucination whatever.

ALFRED BARD.

Mrs. Bard's testimony is as follows :

July 8M, 1885.

When Mr. Bard came home, he said, "I have seen Mrs. de Fre*ville to-
night, leaning with her elbow on the palisade, looking at me. I turned again
to look at her and she was gone. She had cloak and bonnet on." He got
home as usual between nine and ten. It was on the 8th of May 1885.

SARAH BARD.

The Times obituary confirms the date of the death.

From information more recently received (see Proceedings S.P.R., vol.
v. p. 415) we learn that the lady was found dead at 2 P.M. not 7.30 P.M.
as stated above so that the apparition was seen about seven and a half
hours after the death. This, as Gurney remarked, makes it still more
difficult to regard the case as a telepathic impression transmitted at the
moment of death, and remaining latent in the mind of the percipient.
The incident suggests rather that Bard had come upon Mrs. de
Freville's spirit, so to say, unawares. One cannot imagine that she
specially wished him to see her, and to see her engaged in what seems
so needless and undignified a retracing of currents of earthly thought.
Rather this seems a rudimentary haunting an incipient lapse into those
aimless, perhaps unconscious, reappearances in familiar spots which may
persist (as it would seem) for many years after death.

A somewhat similar case is that of Colonel Crealock (in Proceedings
S.P.R., vol. v. p. 432) where a soldier who had been dead some hours was
seen by his superior officer in camp at night rolling up and taking away
his bed.

745. It is, indeed, mainly by dwelling on these intermediate cases,

1 I was conducted over Hinxton churchyard by Mr. Forster, and can attest the sub-
stantial accuracy of Mr. Bard's description of the relative position of the church, the
tomb, and the exits. The words " must have passed me," however, give a slightly
erroneous impression ; " must have come very near me," would be the more correct
description. F. W. H. M.



68 CHAPTER VII [745

between a message-bringing apparition and a purposeless haunt, that we
have most hope of understanding the typical haunt which, while it has
been in a sense the most popular of all our phenomena, is yet to the
careful inquirer one of the least satisfactory. One main evidential diffi-
culty generally lies in identifying the haunting figure, in finding anything
to connect the history of the house with the vague and often various
sights and sounds which perplex or terrify its flesh and blood inhabitants.
We must, at any rate, rid ourselves of the notion that some great crime or
catastrophe is always to be sought as the groundwork of a haunt of this
kind. To that negative conclusion the cases now tfr^be described, and
the cases which have just been described, do concordantly point us. Mrs.
de FreVille was concerned in no tragedy ; she was merely an elderly lady
with a fancy for sepulchres. And as to the cases to which I now pro-
ceed although in Sir Arthur Becher's case, for example (see 745 A),
there was at least a rumour of some crime, 1 and in Mrs. M.'s case
(745 B) of past troubles, in which the percipients, of course, were in no
way concerned yet in Mr. Husbands' and Mrs. Clerke's cases (745 C
and D), and Mrs. Lewin's case {Proceedings S.P.R., vol. v. p. 462), there
was nothing, so far as we know, which could trouble the departed spirit with
importunate memories of his earthly home. Again, Mr. Husbands' case,
Mrs. Lewin's, Mrs. Clerke's, have much in common. In each case the
apparition is seen by a stranger, several months after the death, with no
apparent reason for its appearance at that special time. This last point is
of interest in considering the question whether the hallucinatory picture
could have been projected from any still incarnate mind. In another
case the vision of the Bishop of St. Brieuc (given in Proceedings S.P.R.,
vol. v. p. 460), there was such a special reason ; the Bishop's body,
unknown to the percipient, was at that moment being buried at the
distance of a few miles. Mr. Podmore suggests (op. cit., vol. vi. p. 301)
that it was from the minds of the living mourners that the Bishop's
phantasm was generated. That hypothesis may have its portion of truth ;
the surrounding emotion may have been one of the factors which made
the apparition possible. But the assumption that it was the only
admissible factor that the departed Bishop's own possible agency must
be set aside altogether lands us, I think, in difficulties greater than
those which we should thus escape. The reader who tries to apply
it to the apparitions quoted in my earlier groups will find himself in
a labyrinth of complexity. Still more will this be the case in dealing with
the far fuller and more explicit motor communications, by automatic
writing or speech, which we shall have to discuss in the two next chapters.
Unless the actual evidence be disallowed in a wholesale manner, we shall
be forced, I think, to admit the continued action of the departed as a
main element in these apparitions.

I do not say as the only element. I myself hold, as already implied,
1 See also the case of Mrs. Pennee in Proceedings S. P. R., vol. vi. p. 60.



747] PHANTASMS OF THE DEAD 69

that the thought and emotion of living persons does largely intervene, as
aiding or conditioning the independent action of the departed. I even
believe that it is possible that, say, an intense fixation of my own mind on
a departed spirit may aid that spirit to manifest at a special moment and
not even to me, but to a percipient more sensitive than myself. In the
boundless ocean of mind innumerable currents and tides shift with the
shifting emotion of each several soul.

746. But now we are confronted by another possible element in these
vaguer classes of apparitions, harder to evaluate even than the possible
action of incarnate minds. I mean the possible results of past mental
action, which, for ought we know, may persist in some perceptible manner,
without fresh reinforcement, just as the results of past bodily action per-
sist. This question leads to the still wider question of retrocognition, and
of the relation of psychical phenomena to time generally a problem
whose discussion cannot be attempted in this chapter. Yet we must
remember that such possibilities exist ; they may explain certain pheno-
mena into which little of fresh intelligence seems to enter, as, for instance,
the alleged persistence, perhaps for years, of meaningless sounds in a
particular room or house.

747. And since we are coming now to cases into which this element
of meaningless sound will enter largely, it seems right to begin their dis-
cussion with a small group of cases where there is evidence for the definite
agency of some dying or deceased person in connection with inarticulate
sounds, or I should rather say of the connection of some deceased person
with the sounds ; since the best explanation may perhaps be that they
are sounds of welcome before or after actual death corresponding to
those apparitions of welcome of which we have already had specimens. I
give one of these cases in full in the text, and a second in 747 A. A
third has already been cited in the "Peak in Darien" group (718 A).
The following is taken from Phantasms of the Living, vol. ii. p. 639.

A gentleman who is a master at Eton College wrote to us, on February
3 rd, 1884:

I enclose a copy of a memorandum made a few days after the event referred
to. My memorandum has been copied for me by Miss H., whose name occurs
in it. She is my matron a sensible, middle-aged, active, and experienced
woman. None of the people concerned were young, flighty, or fanciful. I
have the doctor's letter; his name is G., and he still resides here. Miss H.
only wishes to add that it must have occurred from twenty minutes to perhaps
thirty after dissolution, and she says that she has never heard anything like the
extreme sweetness of the sound. H. E. L.

The memorandum is as follows :

ETON COLLEGE, August 6M, 1881.

I wish to write down, before there is time for confusion, the following fact,
occurring on Thursday morning, July 28th, 1881, when my dear mother died,



70 CHAPTER VII [747

whom God rest ! After all was over, Miss E. I., Eliza W., Dr. G., and myself
being in the room, Miss I. heard a sound of " very low, soft music, exceedingly
sweet, as if of three girls' voices passing by the house." She described further
the sound as if girls were going home singing, only strangely low and sweet; it
seemed to come from the street, past the house towards the College buildings
(the road ends there in a cul-de-sac), and so passed away. She looked to call
my attention, and thought I perceived it. She noticed that the doctor heard
it, and that he went to the window to look out. The" window faces S.E. Eliza
W. being in the room at the same time heard a sound of a very low, sweet
singing. She recognised the tune and words of the hymn, " The strife is o'er,
the battle done." Miss I. recognised no tune, but felt "that the music sounded,
as it were, familiar." As a very accomplished musician, especially remarkable
for her quick memory of music, had words or air been those of a well-known
hymn, she would almost certainly have remembered it. These two spoke to
each other when alone about what they had heard. Miss I. gives the time at
about ten minutes after my dear mother expired. They were then unaware of
this additional circumstance. Miss H. had left the room, and had summoned
Charlotte C., with whom she had procured something required for laying out
the body. As the two returned upstairs they heard a sound of music, and both
stopped. Charlotte said to Miss H., " What is this ? " After a pause she said,
" It must be Miss I. singing to comfort master." They afterwards entered the
room, of which the door had been shut all along. Charlotte further described
the sound as very sweet and low, seeming to pass by them. She felt as if, had
she only been able to listen, she could have distinguished the words. It did
not occur to her that her description was most incongruous. She could not
listen attentively, but felt "as if rapture were all around her." It was not
until afterwards, when she mentioned to Eliza having heard Miss I. singing,
and how strangely it sounded, that they found that each had heard the sound.
Miss H. described the sound as very peculiar and sweet, seeming to pass by
them and pass away, as they both stopped on the stairs. All the staircase
windows give north-west. I heard nothing, and I should have given no weight
to a sound heard or described by these women in the room after communicating
with each other, or by these women out of the room respectively ; but the coin-
cidence of each party hearing it separately and independently without previous
communication, as well as the matter-of-fact explanation suggested for it by
one of them, seeming to imply that their thoughts were not dwelling on the
supernatural, added so much weight to this account that I wrote to the doctor,
who answers: " I quite remember hearing the singing you mention; it was so
peculiar that I went to the window and looked out, but although quite light I
could see no one, and cannot therefore account for it." The time must have
been about 2 A.M. on July 28th, 1881.



Online LibraryFrederic William Henry MyersHuman personality : and its survival of bodily death (Volume 2) → online text (page 11 of 89)