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scription of it might be sufficiently definite for identification. But though one
or more of these conditions would have to be fully satisfied before we could be
convinced that any particular apparition of the dead had some cause external to
the percipient's own mind, there is one more general characteristic of the class
which is sufficiently suggestive of such a cause to be worth considering. I mean
the disproportionate number of cases which occur shortly after the death of the
person represented. Such a time-relation, if frequently enough encountered,
might enable us to argue for the objective origin of the phenomenon in a manner
analogous to that which leads us to conclude that many phantasms of the living
have an objective (a telepathic) origin. For, according to the doctrines of pro-
babilities, a hallucination representing a known person would not by chance
present a definite time-relation to a special cognate event viz., the death of
that person in more than a certain percentage of the whole number of similar
hallucinations that occur ; and if that percentage is decidedly exceeded, there
is reason to surmise that some other cause than chance in other words, some
objective origin for the phantasm is present.

Supposing the peculiarity which I have mentioned to be established, the
significance of the time-relation would of course be quite a different question.
The popular mind naturally leaps to explanations of an exciting fact, before
the fact itself is at all established. Thus it is said that the deceased person
comes to say farewell, or to cheer the hearts of mourners while their grief is
fresh ; or that his " spirit " is " earth-bound," and can only gradually free itself.
Or, again, there is the elaborate theory of "shells " propounded by M. D'Assier,
who holds that, though consciousness and individuality have died, some basis
of physical manifestation is still left, which fades away by slow degrees. I do
not propose now to discuss any of these hypotheses. Our business at present
is wholly with the facts of post-mortem appearances. The question for science
is simply whether those facts point to any external cause at all; and it is as
bearing on this great primary question that the inquiry as to the relative fre-
quency of the phenomena near the time of death assumes importance.

It was in the formation of a large collection of first-hand testimony on the
subject of sensory hallucination, that I was first struck by the large proportion
of cases where the phantasm represented a friend or relative recently.dead.
Out of two hundred and thirty-one hallucinations representing recognised human
beings, twenty-eight, or nearly an eighth part, occurred within a few weeks of
the death of the person represented. There are two reasons, however, why
little weight can be allowed to this fact. In the first place a phantasm repre-

1 I am not here considering mediate manifestations, as where evidence of "spirit
identity " is alleged to have been given through, e.g., the writing of a medium under
" control."


senting a person whose death is recent is specially likely to excite interest, and
so to be noted and remembered ; and this might easily swell the percentage of
this class of cases in such a collection as mine. And in the second place, the
fact of the death was in every instance known to the percipient. It is, there-
fore, natural to conclude that the emotional state of the percipient was the
sufficient cause of the hallucination; and that is the explanation which the
large majority of psychological and medical experts would at once adopt. I
should myself feel more completely satisfied with it if we had any record of
the phantasmal appearance of a person whom the friend who saw the appear-
ance believed to be dead, but who was really safe and sound. Still, false alarms
of death are not so common as to make it certain, or perhaps even likely, that
we should have encountered such a case. And meanwhile I think that grief,
and the sense of awe commonly connected with death, ought to be held as the
sufficient cause of abnormal sensory experiences connected with persons whose
recent death is being mourned, until the objective reality of phantasms of the
dead in certain cases is established by some independent line of proof.

If, then, we are to draw any probable conclusion as to the objective nature
of post-mortem appearances and communications (or of some of them) from
the fact of their special frequency soon after death, we must confine ourselves
to cases where the fact of death has been unknown to the percipient at the
time of his experience. Now, in these days of letters and telegrams, people
for the most part hear of the deaths of friends and relatives within a very
few days, sometimes within a very few hours, after the death occurs ; so that ap-
pearances of the sort required would, as a rule, have to follow very closely indeed
on the death. Have we evidence of any considerable number of such cases ?

Readers of Phantasms of the Living will know that we have. In a number
of cases which were treated in that book as examples of telepathic transference
from a dying person, the person was actually dead at the time that the perci-
pient's experience occurred ; and the inclusion of such cases under the title of
Phantasms of the Living naturally occasioned a certain amount of adverse
criticism. Their inclusion, it will be remembered, required an assumption
which cannot by any means be regarded as certain. We had to suppose that the
telepathic transfer took place just before, or exactly at, the moment of death ;
but that the impression remained latent in the percipient's mind, and only after
an interval emerged into his consciousness, whether as waking vision or as
dream or in some other form. Now, as a provisional hypothesis, I think that
this assumption was justified. For, in the first place, the moment of death is,
in time, the central point of a cluster of abnormal experiences occurring to
percipients at a distance, of which some precede, while others follow, the death ;
it is natural, therefore, to surmise that the same explanation will cover the whole
group, and that the motive force in each of its divisions lies in a state of
the " agent " prior to bodily death. In the second place, some of the facts
of experimental thought-transference countenance the view that "transferred
impressions " may be latent for a time before the recipient becomes aware of
them ; and recent discoveries with respect to the whole subject of automatism
and " secondary intelligence " make it seem far less improbable than it would
otherwise have seemed that telepathy may take effect first on the " unconscious "
part of the mind. 1 And in the third place, the period of supposed latency has

1 In some experimental cases, it will be remembered, the impression takes effect
through the motor, not the sensory, system of the recipient, as by automatic writing, so
that he is never directly aware of it at all.


in a good many instances been a period when the person affected was in
activity, and when his mind and senses were being solicited by other things ;
and in such cases it is specially easy to suppose that the telepathic impression
did not get the right conditions for rising into consciousness until a season of
silence and recueillement arrived. 1 But though the theory of latency has thus
a good deal to be said for it, my colleagues and I are most anxious not to be
supposed to be putting forward as a dogma what must be regarded at present
merely as a working hypothesis. Psychical research is of all subjects the one
where it is most important to avoid this error, and to keep the mind open for
new interpretations of the facts. And in the present instance there are certain
definite objections which may fairly be made to the hypothesis that a telepathic
impression derived from a dying person may emerge after hours of latency.
The experimental cases to which I have referred as analogous are few and
uncertain, and, moreover, in them the period of latency has been measured by
seconds or minutes, not by hours. And though, as I have said, some of the
instances of apparent delay among the death-cases might be accounted for by
the fact that the percipient's mind or senses needed to be withdrawn from
other occupations before the manifestation could take place, there are other
instances where this is not so, and where no ground at all appears for con-
necting the delay with the percipient's condition. On the whole, then, the
alternative hypothesis that the condition of the phenomenon on the "agent's"
side (be it psychical or be it physical) is one which only comes into existence
at a distinct interval after death, and that the percipient really is impressed
at the moment, and not before the moment, when he is conscious of the
impression is one which must be steadily kept in view.

So far I have been speaking of cases where the interval between the death
and the manifestation was so short as to make the theory of latency possible.
The rule adopted in Phantasms of the Living was that this interval must not
exceed twelve hours. But we have records of a few cases where this interval
has been greatly exceeded, and yet where the fact of the death was still un-
known to the percipient at the time of his experience. The theory of latency
cannot reasonably be applied to cases where weeks or months divide the vision
(or whatever it may be) from the moment of death, which is the latest at which
an ordinary 2 telepathically transferred idea could have obtained access to the
percipient. And the existence of such cases so far as it tends to establish
the reality of objectively-caused apparitions of the dead diminishes the ob-
jection to conceiving that the appearances, &c., which have very shortly
followed death have had a different causation from those which have coincided
with or very shortly preceded it. For we shall not be inventing a wholly new
class for the former cases, but only provisionally shifting them from one class
to another to a much smaller and much less well-evidenced class, it is true,
but one nevertheless for which we have evidence enough to justify us in ex-
pecting more.

1 See. for instance, case 500, Phantasms of the Living, vol. ii. p. 462.

2 I mean by " ordinary " the classes which are recognised and treated of in
Phantasms of the Living. But if the departed survive, the possibility of thought-
transference between them and those who remain is of course a perfectly tenable
hypothesis. " As our telepathic theory is a psychical one, and makes no physical
assumptions, it would be perfectly applicable (though the name perhaps would be in-
appropriatej to the conditions of disembodied existence." Phantasms, vol. i. p. 512.



708. This, as I conceive, is a sound method of proceeding from
ground made secure in Phantasms of the Living and retraversed in my
own just previous chapter to cases closely analogous, save for that little
difference in time-relations, that occurrence in the hours which follow,
instead of the hours which precede, bodily dissolution, which counts for
so much in our insight into cosmic law. 1

The hypothesis of latency which thus meets us in limine in this inquiry,
will soon be found inadequate to cover the facts. Yet it will be well to
dwell somewhat more fully upon its possible range.

It might conduce to a clearer view of the facts if we could draw a
curve, showing the proportionate number of apparitions observed at various
periods before and after death. It would then be seen that they increase
very rapidly for the few hours which precede death, and decrease gradu-
ally during the hours and days which follow. In the present state of our
evidence, however, and considering all the problems involved, there
would perhaps be an affectation of more exactness than we can actually
attain, were we to set forth such a curve, embodying the dates, in reference
to death, of all the cases as yet received by us. It may be enough to
say, generally, that if the length of the base-line represents a year, and
the point with the highest ordinate the moment of death, the comparative
frequency of veridical apparitions might be somewhat as follows :


That is to say, the recognised apparitions decrease rapidly in the few
days after death, then more slowly; and after about a year's time they
become so sporadic that we can no longer include them in a steadily
descending line.

1 Certain statistics as to these time-relations are given by Edmund Gurney as
follows (Proceedings S.P.R., vol. v. p. 408) : "The statistics drawn from the first-hand
records in Phantasms of the Living as to the time-relation of appearances, &c., occurring
in close proximity to deaths, are as follows : In 134 cases the coincidence is represented
as having been exact, or, when times are specifically stated, close to within an hour.
In 104 cases it is not known whether the percipient's experience preceded or followed
the death; such cases cannot be taken account of for our present purpose. There


Yet one more point must be touched on, to avoid misconception of
the phrase cited above, that " the moment of death is the centre of a
cluster of abnormal experiences, of which some precede, while others
follow the death." Gurney, of course, did not mean to assume that the
act of death itself was the cause of all these experiences. Those which
occur before death may be caused or conditioned, not by the death itself,
but by the abnormal state, as of coma, delirium, &c., which preceded the
death. This we say because we have many instances where veridical
phantasms have coincided with moments of crisis carriage-accidents and
the like occurring to distant agents, but not followed by death. Accord-
ingly we find that in almost all cases where a phantasm, apparently veridical,
has preceded the agent's death, that death was the result of disease and
not of accident. To this rule there are very few exceptions. There is
a case given in Phantasms of the Living (vol. ii. p. 5 2), where the phan-
tasm seems on the evidence to have preceded by about half-an-hour
(longitude allowed for) a sudden death by drowning. In this case the
percipient was in a Norfolk farmhouse, the drowning man or agent
was in a storm off the island of Tristan d'Acunha ; and we have sug-
gested that an error of clocks or of observation may account for the
discrepancy. In another case the death was in a sense a violent one,
for it was a suicide ; but the morbidly excited state of the girl a few hours
before death when her phantasm was seen was in itself a state of
crisis. But there are also a few recorded cases (none of which were cited
in Phantasms of the Living) where a phantasm or double of some person
has been observed some days previous to that person's accidental death.
The evidence obtained in the Census of Hallucinations, however, tended
to show that cases of this sort are too few to suggest even primd facie a
causal connection between the death and the apparition (see Proceedings
S.P.R., vol. x. p. 331).

Thus much it has seemed needful to say in order to explain the diffi-
culty of representing by any one curved line the true time-relations in-
volved in this complex matter. I now proceed briefly to review some
of the cases where the interval between death and phantasm has been
measurable by minutes or hours.

It is not easy to get definite cases where the interval has been measur-
able by minutes ; for if the percipient is at a distance from the agent
we can seldom be sure that the clocks at both places have been correct,
and correctly observed ; while if he is present with the agent we can

remain 78 cases where it appears that there was an interval of more than an hour ; and
of these 38 preceded and 40 followed the death. Of the 38 cases where the percipient's
experience preceded the death (all of which, of course, took place during a time when
the 'agent' was seriously ill), 19 fell within twenty-four hours of the death. Of the
40 cases where the percipient's experience followed the death, all followed within an
interval of twenty-four hours, and in only one (included by mistake) was the twelve hours'
interval certainly exceeded, though there are one or two others where it is possible that
it was slightly exceeded."


rarely be sure that the phantasm observed is more than a mere subjective
hallucination. Thus we have several accounts of a rushing sound heard
by the watcher of a dying man just after his apparent death, or of some
kind of luminosity observed near his person ; but this is just the moment
when we may suppose some subjective hallucination likely to occur, and
if one person's senses alone are affected we cannot allow much evidential
weight to the occurrence. I may add that one of our cases (which I
quote below, in 747) is remarkable in that the auditory hallucina-
tion a sound as of female voices gently singing was heard by five per-
sons by four of them, as it seems, independently and in two places, on
different sides of the house. At the same time, one person the Eton
master whose mother had just died, and who was therefore presumably
in a frame of mind more prone to hallucination than the physician,
matron, friend, or servants who actually did hear the singing himself
heard nothing at all. In this case the physician felt no doubt that
Mrs. L. was actually dead ; and in fact it was during the laying out of
the body that the sounds occurred. In including this case and similar
collective ones in Phantasms of the Living, Gurney expressly stated
(vol. ii. pp. 190-92) that he did so because in his view they involved at
least an element of thought-transference between the living minds of the
percipients, whatever other influence may or may not have proceeded from
the deceased person. But if we are finding reason to suppose that the
deceased person's power of influencing other minds may persist after death,
it seems reasonable to dwell on that aspect of such an incident as this. 1

709. There are some other circumstances also in which, in spite of
the fact that the death is already known, a hallucination occurring shortly
afterwards may have some slight evidential value. Thus we have a case
where a lady who knew that her sister had died a few hours previously,
but who was not herself in any morbidly excited condition, seemed to see
some one enter her own dining-room, opening and shutting the door.
The percipient (who had never had any other hallucination) was much
astonished when she found no one in the dining-room ; but it did not till
some time afterwards occur to her that the incident could be in any way
connected with her recent loss. This reminds us of a case (ii. p. 6g^)
where the Rev. R. M. Hill sees a tall figure rush into the room, which
alarms and surprises him, then vanishes before he has time to recognise it.

1 The Proceedings of the American Society for Psychical Research (vol. i. p. 405)
contain a case where a physician and his wife, sleeping in separate but adjoining rooms,
are both of them awakened by a bright light. The physician sees a figure standing in
the light ; his wife, who gets up to see what the light in her husband's room may be,
does not reach that room till the figure has disappeared. The figure is not clearly
identified, but has some resemblance to a patient of the physician's, who has died sud-
denly (from hemorrhage) about three hours before, calling for her doctor, who did not
anticipate this sudden end. Even this resemblance did not strike the percipient until
after he knew of the death, and the defect in recognition has prevented me from quoting
this case at length.

a The references in this and the two following sections are to Phantasms of the Living.


An uncle, a tall man, dies about that moment, and it is remarked that
although Mr. Hill knew his uncle to be ill, the anxiety which he may
have felt would hardly have given rise to an unrecognised and formidable

There are cases also where a percipient who has had an apparition of
a friend shortly after that friend's known death has had veridical hallucina-
tions at other times, and has never had any hallucination of purely subjective
origin. Such a percipient may naturally suppose that his apparition of the
departed friend possessed the same veridical character which was common
to the rest, although it was not per se evidential, since the fact of the death
was already known.

For the present, however, it will be better to return to the cases which
are free from this important primd facie drawback cases where the perci-
pient was, at any rate, unaware that the death, which the phantasm seemed
to indicate, had in fact taken place.

710. In the first place, there are a few cases where a percipient is
informed of a death by a veridical phantasm, and then some hours after-
wards a similar phantasm, differing perhaps in detail, recurs.

Such was the case of Archdeacon Farler (i. p. 414), who twice during
one night saw the dripping figure of a friend who, as it turned out, had
been drowned during the previous day. Even the first appearance was
several hours after the death, but this we might explain by the latency of
the impression till a season of quiet. The second appearance may have
been a kind of recrudescence of the first ; but if the theory of latency be
discarded, so that the first appearance (if more than a mere chance-
coincidence) is held to depend upon some energy excited by the deceased
person after death, it would afford some ground for regarding the second
appearance as also veridical. The figure in this case was once more seen
a fortnight later, and on this occasion, as Archdeacon Farler informs me,
in ordinary garb, with no special trace of accident.

A similar repetition occurs (as noted by Gurney, vol. ii. p. 237, note)
in the cases of Major MoncrierT (i. p. 415) ; of Mr. Keulemans (i. p. 444),
where the second phantasm was held by the percipient to convey a fresh
veridical picture; of Mr. Hernaman (i. p. 561), where, however, the
agent was alive, though dying, at the time of each appearance ; in the case
of Mrs. Ellis (ii. p. 59) ; in the case of Mrs. D. (ii. p. 467) ; of Mrs.
Fairman (ii. p. 482), and of Mr. F. J. Jones (ii. p. 500), where the death
was again due to drowning, and the act of dying cannot, therefore, have
been very prolonged. We may note also Mrs. Reed's case (ii. p. 237),
where a phantom is seen three times, the first two visions being apparently
about the time of death, the third (occurring to a different percipient,
whether independently or not is not clear) a few hours later. And in
Captain Ayre's case (ii. p. 256), a phantom seen by one percipient at
about the time of the agent's death is followed by hallucinatory sounds
heard by the same and by another percipient for some three hours longer,



till the news of the death arrives. In the case of Mrs. Cox, again (ii. p.
235), a child sees a phantom at about 9 P.M., and Mrs. Cox sees the same
figure, but in a different attitude, at about midnight, the exact hour of the
corresponding death being unknown. In the case of Miss Harriss (ii. p.
117), a hallucinatory voice, about the time of the death, but not suggesting
the decedent, is followed by a dream the next night, which presents the
dead person as in the act of dying. One or two other cases might be
added to this list, and it is plain that the matter is one towards which
observation should be specially directed.

711. Turning now to the cases where the phantasm is not repeated,
but occurs some hours after death, let us take a few narratives where the
interval of time is pretty certain, and consider how far the hypothesis of
latency looks probable in each instance.

Where there is no actual hallucination, but only a feeling of unique
malaise or distress following at a few hours' interval on a friend's death at
a distance, as in Archdeacon Wilson's case (i. p. 280), it is very hard
to picture to ourselves what has taken place. Some injurious shock com-
municated to the percipient's brain at the moment of the agent's death
may conceivably have slowly worked itself into consciousness. The delay
may have been due, so to say, to physiological rather than to psychical

Next take a case like that of Mrs. Wheatcroft (i. p. 420), or of Mrs.
Evens (ii. p, 690), or Mr. Wingfield (quoted in 429 C), or Sister Bertha
(quoted below in 743 A), where a definite hallucination of sight or sound

Online LibraryFrederic William Henry MyersHuman personality : and its survival of bodily death (Volume 2) → online text (page 4 of 89)