Frederic William Henry Myers.

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

. (page 8 of 89)
Online LibraryFrederic William Henry MyersHuman personality : and its survival of bodily death (Volume 2) → online text (page 8 of 89)
Font size
QR-code for this ebook


I must tell you that my father-in-law, M. N. J. Ponomareff, died in the
country. This did not happen at once, but after a long and painful illness,
whose sharp phases had obliged my wife and myself to join him long before
his death. I had not been on good terms with M. Ponomareff. Different cir-
cumstances, which are out of place in this narrative, had estranged us from
each other, and these relations did not change until his death. He died very
quietly, after having given his blessing to all his family, including myself. A
liturgy for the rest of his soul was to be celebrated on the ninth day. I re-
member very well how I went to bed between one and two o'clock on the eve
of that day, and how I read the Gospel before falling asleep. My wife was
sleeping in the same room. It was perfectly quiet. I had just put out the
candle when footsteps were heard in the adjacent room a sound of slipper?



722] PHANTASMS OF THE DEAD 41

shuffling, I might say which ceased before the door of our bedroom. I called
out, " Who is there ? " No answer. I struck one match, then another, and when
after the stifling smell of the sulphur the fire had lighted up the room, I saw M.
Ponomareff standing before the closed door. Yes, it was he, in his blue
dressing-gown, lined with squirrel furs and only half-buttoned, so that I could
see his white waistcoat and his black trousers. It was he undoubtedly. I was
not frightened. They say that, as a rule, one is not frightened when seeing a
ghost, as ghosts possess the quality of paralysing fear.

"What do you want?" I asked my father-in-law. M. Ponomareff made
two steps forward, stopped before my bed, and said, " Basil Feodorovitch, I
have acted wrongly towards you. Forgive me ! Without this I do not feel
at rest there." He was pointing to the ceiling with his left hand whilst hold-
ing out his right to me. I seized this hand, which was long and cold, shook it,
and answered, " Nicholas Ivanovitch, God is my witness that I have never had
anything against you."

[The ghost of] my father-in-law bowed [or bent down], moved away, and
went through the opposite door into the billiard-room, where he disappeared.
I looked after him for a moment, crossed myself, put out the candle, and fell
asleep with the sense of joy which a man who has done his duty must feel.
The morning came. My wife's brothers, as well as our neighbours and the
peasants, assembled, and the liturgy was celebrated by our confessor, the Rev.
Father Basil. But when all was over, the same Father Basil led me aside, and
said to me mysteriously, " Basil Feodorovitch, I have got something to say to
you in private/' My wife having come near us at this moment, the clergyman
repeated his wish. I answered, " Father Basil, I have no secrets from my
wife ; please tell us what you wished to tell me alone."

Then Father Basil, who is living till now in the Koi parish of the district of
Kashin [Gov. of Tver], said to me in a rather solemn voice, " This night at
three o'clock Nicholas Ivanovitch [Ponomareff] appeared to me and begged of
me to reconcile him to you." (Signed) BARON BASIL DRIESEN.

Mr. Solovovo adds :

The Baroness von Driesen is now dead, so that her evidence cannot be
obtained . . .

I also saw Baron Basil von Driesen himself, and spoke with him about
M. Ponomareff' s ghost. He stated to me that if he were going to die to-morrow,
he should still be ready to swear to the fact of his having seen the apparition,
or something to this effect. I asked him to obtain for me the clergyman's
account, to whom I had already written before seeing Baron von Driesen
(though not knowing him), but without receiving an answer which is but
natural, after all. Baron von Driesen kindly promised to procure for me the
account in question, as it was then his intention to visit different estates in
Central Russia, including the one that had belonged to M. Ponomareff.

Baron Nicholas von Driesen Baron Basil's son called on me a few days
ago. He stated, with regard to the case in question, that it was necessary to
see the clergyman in order to induce him to write an account of what had
happened to him.

Baron N. von Driesen afterwards sent a note to Mr. Solovovo, stating
that his grandfather (M. Ponomareff) died on November 2ist, 1860; and



42 CHAPTER VII [723

the testimony of the priest was obtained later. Mr. Solovovo, who had
already ascertained independently that the Rev. Basil Bajenoff had been
a priest at Koi in the year 1861, and was there still, writes :

The following is the translation of the Rev. Basil Bajenoff's statement :

" Koi, July 2yd [August 4fh\, 1891.

" To the account I heard from Baron B. F. Driesen in the presence of his
wife's brothers, MM. N. N., A. N., and I. N. Ponomareff, as to how M. Nicholas
I. Ponomareff appeared to him in the night of November 29-30^1, 1860, having
died nine days before, and begged of the Baron to be reconciled to him, I may
add that to me also did he appear at the same time and with the same request,
which fact, before hearing the Baron's narrative, I communicated to all those
present at the liturgy for the rest of the soul of the late M. N. I. Pouomareff.

"(Signed) BASIL BAJENOFF,

" Priest of Trinity Church, at Koi, District of Kashin,
Government of Tver."

723. In this connection I may refer again to Mrs. Storie's dream of the
death of her brother in a railway accident, given in Chapter IV. (427) .
While I think that Gurney was right in the state of the evidence at the
time Phantasms of the Living was written in doing his best to bring this
incident under the head of telepathic clairvoyance, I yet feel that the
knowledge since gained makes it impossible for me to adhere to that view.
I cannot regard the visionary scene as wholly reflected from the mind of
the dying man. I cannot think, in the first place, that the vision of Mr.
Johnstone, interpolated with seeming irrelevance among the details of
the disaster, did only by accident coincide with the fact that that gentle-
man really was in the train, and with the further fact that it was he who
communicated the fact of Mr. Hunter's death to Mr. and Mrs. Storie. I
must suppose that the communicating intelligence was aware of Mr. John-
stone's presence, and at least guessed that upon him (as a clergyman) that
task would naturally fall. Nor can I pass over as purely symbolic so im-
portant a part of the vision as the second figure, and the scrap of conversa-
tion, which seemed to be half heard. I therefore consider that the case
falls among those where a friend recently departed appears in company of
some other friend, dead some time before.

724. We have thus seen the spirit occupied shortly after death with
various duties or engagements, small or great, which it has incurred during
life on earth. Such ties seem to prompt or aid its action upon its old sur-
roundings. And here an important reflection occurs. Can we prepare
such a tie for the departing spirit ? Can we create for it some welcome
and helpful train of association which may facilitate the self-manifestation
which many souls appear to desire ? I believe that we can to some extent
do this. At an early stage of our collection, Edmund Gurney was struck
by the unexpectedly large proportion of cases where the percipient in-
formed us that there had been a compact between himself and the deceased
person that whichever passed away first should try to appear to the other.



725] PHANTASMS OF THE DEAD 43

"Considering," he adds, "what an extremely small number of persons
make such a compact, compared with those who do not, it is difficult to
resist the conclusion that its existence has a certain efficacy."

The cases recorded in Phantasms of the Living are such as fell, or may
have fallen, within twelve hours of the death ; otherwise they would not
have been introduced into that work. It will, of course, occur to the reader
that since the especial object of that compact is to assure the surviving
friend that the deceased person has safely traversed the gate of death, its
fulfilment affords some presumption that he is not merely approaching that
gate, but feels that he has passed it. On the other hand, Gurney remarks,
that " considering how often spontaneous telepathy acts without any con-
scious set of the distant mind towards the person impressed, it is safer to
refer the phenomenon to the same sort of blind movements as seem some-
times at supreme crises to evoke a response out of memories and affinities
that have long lapsed from consciousness ; on which view the efficacy of
the compact may quite as readily be conceived to depend on its latent
place in the percipient's mind as in the agent's."

Since these words were written the general trend of the evidence has
somewhat changed ; and it may be well briefly to refer to the compact-
cases in Phantasms of the Living, considering how far they seem to indicate
anU '-mortem or post-mortem communication.

725. Taking the cases as they follow each other in that work, the first
(vol. i. p. 395) is the well-known incident recorded by Lord Brougham
his vision, while taking a warm bath in Sweden, of a school friend from
whom he had parted many years before, but with whom he had long ago
" committed the folly of drawing up an agreement written with our blood,
to the effect that whichever of us died first should appear to the other,
and thus solve any doubts we had entertained of the life after death."
This incident happened about 2 A.M. apparently on December igth
(possibly on December 2Oth), 1799. G. died in India on December
1 9th, 1799 place and hour not stated. The time in any part of India is,
of course, several hours ahead of the time in Sweden. In this case the
time-coincidence cannot be clearly determined.

The second compact-case in Phantasms of the Living (vol. i. p. 419)
tells definitely against the assumption that the apparent fulfilment of a
compact must needs indicate actual death. Captain P. was washed over-
board at sea ; but though in extreme danger, did not lose consciousness,
caught hold of a rope, and was saved. On the same night, perhaps at the
same moment, a lady with whom Captain P. had made a death-compact,
saw his phantasm in her room. This seems precisely the kind of incident
which Gurney's last-quoted sentences have in view.

The third case (vol. i. p. 427) is remarkable inasmuch as the phan-
tasmal figure appeared not only to the partner in the compact, but also to
a child unacquainted with the decedent, but who chanced to be sleeping
in a room near to that occupied by the said partner. It is not known which



44 CHAPTER VII [725

of the two appearances came first ; but to the child the figure appeared as
though groping its way. The death occurred on the same night, but the
time-coincidence is not more precisely known.

In the fourth case 1 (vol. i. p. 506) the coincidence is said to have
been very close : the mother dying at five minutes to three, and the
son seeing the figure just before the clock struck three. It is, of course,
impossible to say whether the phantasm preceeded or followed actual
death.

'\\itfifth case, again, given in Chapter VI. (667 A), shows us the phan-
tasm, which had been promised at death, appearing when the agent was still
alive, but had been stunned by a fall from a coach, which left for some time
much mental confusion. The case is interesting as showing what may
be called a ready dissociability of spirit and organism, coincident with
complete obscuration of the supraliminal consciousness.

The sixth case is that of Captain Colt of Gartsherrie. I quote this at
length in 725 A, since it is probable though not certain that the agent
had been dead for some hours at the time of the apparition. Allowing for
difference of time, he had probably been shot in the temple some fourteen
hours before. He had apparently not moved after he was shot. He had
been previously wounded in several places, and no surgical aid was attain-
able. There is here a curious analogy with the narrative of the red scratch
already given. Captain Colt says, " I saw ... a wound on the right
temple with a red stream from it. His face was of a waxy pale tint," &c.
The " red stream " the aspect of the body just after death seems to
have been made prominent for an evidential purpose. On the dead man's
body was found a letter from his brother, the percipient, which begged
him, if killed in battle, to manifest himself in the very room in which his
phantasm did actually appear.

The seventh case (vol. i. p. 531) is that of a half-caste Indian, called
" Mountain Jim," over whom the well-known traveller, Mrs. Bishop
(then Miss Bird), had established a great influence. At their last
parting he vowed that he would see her again when he died ; and, in
fact, some hours either before or after his death in Colorado she, being
in Switzerland, saw his phantasm, and heard the words, " I have corre, as
I promised."

In the eighth case Chevalier Fenzi's (vol. ii. p. 63) the percipient
had a sudden fit of deep depression, and went out to walk on the sea-shore
in the midst of a violent thunderstorm. There he thought he saw his
brother who was really at Florence, seventy miles off walking a little
way off over some rocks, behind one of which the figure disappeared.
The brother died at the time. He had not only promised to try to appear
after death, but had at the same time predicted to Chevalier Fenzi that

1 Gurney did not give this case an " evidential number," regarding it as " ambiguous "
on account of the anxiety subsisting in the percipient's mind. For the present purpose,
however, it plainly ought to be taken into consideration.



726] PHANTASMS OF THE DEAD 45

he would die within three months. The prediction was fulfilled. It may,
of course, have had some influence in producing Chevalier Fenzi's
experience.

In the ninth case (vol. ii. p. 253), already referred to above (in 718),
the decedent was still living, but her strong desire had been for a sight
of the percipient before her own death; and this she appears to have
attained.

In the tenth case (which is given at second-hand in vol. ii. p. 477)
two girl friends exchanged rings, with the promise that the friend who
died first would restore the ring to the survivor. At about the time when
the first friend died the surviving friend saw her standing by her bedside,
and holding out the ring.

In the eleventh case (in vol. ii. p. 489, which is again at second-hand,
and very remote) there were three parties to the compact, and two of these
successively are said to have appeared at about the time of death to the
last survivor.

The tivelfth case (vol. ii. p. 496) although second-hand and remote,
was written down apparently within a year of its occurrence. The time-
coincidence cannot be exactly known, as the decedent was shipwrecked.
His appearance was that of a drowned man.

726. In three of these twelve cases of fulfilment of compact, then, the
agent whose phantasm appeared was certainly still alive. In most of the
other cases the exact time-relation is obscure ; in a few of them there is
strong probability that the agent was already dead. The inference will
be that the existence of a promise or compact may act effectively both
on the subliminal self before death and also probably on the spirit after
death.

This conclusion is confirmed by the following cases, of which two
must be quoted at length in the text, as specially instructive. I first give
one in which the deceased person's impulse has been the fulfilment of an
immediate engagement.

From Proceedings S. P. R., vol. viii. p. 214. The following letter was
addressed to the late Professor Adams, Cambridge :

ST. LUKE'S CHURCH, CER VAN NESS AVENUE, AND CLAY STREET,
SAN FRANCISCO, CALIFORNIA, September nth, 1890.

. . . [A few weeks ago] my choir-trainer, a man in robust health
and with a predisposition against anything " Spiritualistic," saw plainly
the apparition of one of his choir, a man of fifty years old. It happened
thus :

Mr. R[ussell], the bass-singer of the choir, fell in an apoplectic fit upon the
street at to o'clock on a certain Friday; he died at ii o'clock at his house.
My wife, learning of his death, sent my brother-in-law down to the house of
the choirmaster [Mr. Reeves] to ask him about music for the funeral. The
messenger reached the house of the choirmaster about 1.30 P.M. He was
told that the choirmaster was upstairs, busy looking over some music. He



46 CHAPTER VII [726

accordingly sat down in the drawing-room, and, while waiting, began to tell
the ladies (sister and niece of the choirmaster) about Mr. R.'s death. While
they were talking they heard an exclamation in the hall-way. Some one said,
"My God!" They rushed out, and half-way down, sitting on the stairs, saw
the choirmaster in his shirt-sleeves, showing signs of great fright and con-
fusion. As soon as he saw them he exclaimed, " I have just seen R. ! " The
niece at once said, " Why, R. is dead ! " At this the choirmaster without a
word turned back upstairs and went to his room. My brother-in-law followed
him and found him in complete prostration, his face white, &c. He then told
my brother-in-law what he had experienced.

He had been looking over some music ; had just selected a " Te Deum "
for the morning service. This " Te Deum " closed with a quartette setting for
two bass and two tenor voices. He was wondering where he could get a
second tenor. Finally, he went to the door on his way downstairs to look up
another " Te Deum." At the door he saw Mr. R., who stood with one hand
on his brow, and one hand extended, holding a sheet of music. The^choir-
master advanced, extended his hand, and was going to speak, when the
figure vanished. Then it was that he gave the exclamation mentioned
above.

You must remember that he knew nothing of R.'s death until he heard his
niece speak of it as detailed above.

This is the best authenticated ghost story I ever heard. I know all the
parties well, and can vouch for their truthfulness. I have no doubt that the
choirmaster saw something, either subjectively or objectively. Whatever it
was, the experience was so vivid that it made him sick for days, though he is a
man of exceptional physique.

At finst I tried to explain this on natural grounds. I thought possibly he
had been in the room overhead, and had overheard, unconsciously, the story
of R.'s death, and by a process of unconscious cerebration summoned up the
image of the dead man. But this is impossible, because the house is very
large, the rooms widely apart, &c.

My present conviction is this : Mr. R. was a man of the utmost regularity
and faithfulness in fulfilling his duties. He has sung for us without pay for
many years. His first thought (or one of the first), after his stroke of apoplexy,
must have been : " How shall I get word to the choirmaster that I cannot go
to rehearsal to-morrow night?" In an hour he died, without ever having
recovered consciousness. My notion is that in some way he was enabled
to make himself appear to the choirmaster. If you refer to the attitude in
which he appeared, you will see that it answers to my supposition. It indicates
his illness (a pain in the head), and his desire to give up, so to speak, his duty
as singer. . . . WM. W. DAVIS, Rector.

Mr. Reeves' own account is reported in the San Francisco Chronicle
(quoted in Light, September zyth, 1890), as follows :

Early on Friday morning Edwin Russell, an Englishman, well known as a
real estate agent, was walking near the corner of Sutter and Mason Streets
when he sustained an apoplectic stroke, from the effects of which he died
shortly before noon. He had resided in the city ten years, and was well and
favourably known in the commercial world here.



726] PHANTASMS OF THE DEAD 47

Mr. Russell was a member of the Protestant Episcopal Church, and also
the possessor of a rich bass voice. This made him a welcome addition to the
choir of St. Luke's Church, and brought him in immediate contact with the
Rev. W. W. Davis, vicar of the church, and with Harry E. Reeves, the
recently appointed choir leader. Mr. Reeves is a nephew of the distinguished
English tenor of the name, and conducted the musical services at the funeral
of President Chester A. Arthur.

It was to Mr. Reeves that the very sensational and startling revelation
now to be recorded was vouchsafed. Mr. Reeves was found at the residence
of his sister, Mrs. Cavanagh, 2121 California Street, by a Chronicle reporter.
He became evidently agitated when asked if it were true that he had seen the
apparition of Russell before hearing of the tatter's death. [Mr. Reeves stated
that he was not a Spiritualist, and proceeded]:

" I last saw Russell alive on the Saturday night previous to his death.
Russell came to the choir rehearsal. I said to him : ' Do you know where I
can get a good cigar ? ' and he recommended a place. I went there with him,
and then took such a fancy to him that I invited him to come to my house, or
rather my sister's house. We agreed to postpone his visit till the following
Saturday, and he said: 'Well, I'll call on you next week anyhow.' The
matter passed from my mind until Friday afternoon, about three o'clock. I
always make it a point to look over my music for Sunday a day or two before,
and on this occasion I was sitting in the parlour and took up two Te Deums
to make a choice. One was Starkweather's in G, the other a composition of
Kroell's. Just as I had taken one in my hand and was going upstairs to my
room to look over it I heard the front door bell ring, and recognised that
some visitor whom I did not then know had called. I afterwards learned
that it was young Mr. Sprague, who can tell you his story when you ask
him.

" I went into my room. I lay down on the lounge for a moment, then by
an impulse I cannot account for, I walked to the door. The head of the stair-
way was somewhat dimly lighted, as you see it now, but not so dimly but what
I could at once see what appeared to be the figure of Russell. It was so real, so
lifelike, that I at once stepped forward and stretched out my hand, and was
about to speak some words of welcome.

" The figure seemed to have a roll of music in one hand and the other over
its face, but it was Russell's image. I am quite sure of that. As I advanced
to the head of the stairway the figure seemed to turn, as if about to descend^
and faded into the air.

" I remember trying to speak to the figure, but the tongue clung to the
roof of my mouth. Then I fell against the wall and gasped out. ' Ah ! My
God ! ' just like that. My sister and niece, with the other folks, came up.
My niece said, 'Uncle Harry, what's the matter?' I went on to explain
what it was, but was so scared I could hardly speak. My niece said, ' Don't
you know Russell is dead?' Well, that flabbergasted me; it only made
matters worse, and I nearly fainted. Then they told me that the Rev. Mr.
Davis had sent Mr. Sprague to tell me of the sad news. I was terribly
startled by the affair, and feel shaky even now, but I am not given to super-
stitious fears, and I suppose it can be explained. Mr. Sprague had been
waiting nearly half-an-hour before I saw him and obtained corroboration of
the news of Russell's death. It is very strange; very strange, indeed. I saw
that man Russell after he must have been dead three hours at least, as plainly
as I see you in that chair."



48 CHAPTER VII [727

Mr. Reeves confirms this account in a letter to Dr. Hodgson as
follows :

SAN FRANCISCO, September i$th, 1890.

DEAR SIR, With reference to your favour of the 5th inst., just received, the
full particulars were given in city papers; some things not just exactly as
stated, especially the word " flabbergasted," which is foreign to me.

Apart from what you read, there is nothing more to be given.

H. E. REEVES.

Dr. Hodgson received the following independent and corroborative
account from Mr. Sprague :

GRAND FORKS, DAK., November zgtk, t8oo.

. . . You probably know all about Mr. Russell's death and connectktiMvith
St. Luke's Church, so I shall only give you the facts as they came to my
knowledge.

On Friday noon, August 22nd, a young lady friend of the Russells came to
my brother-in-law's (Mr. Davis') house and asked to see Mr. Davis. As Mr.
Davis was out, his wife (my sister) saw this young lady. I was not present at
the interview, but my sister told me shortly afterwards the facts of Mr. Russell's
death, &c., and said that this young lady had come to ask Mr. Davis if the
church choir would be willing to sing at Mr. Russell's funeral, as Mr. R.'s family
were of limited means and could not afford to pay the choir.



Online LibraryFrederic William Henry MyersHuman personality : and its survival of bodily death (Volume 2) → online text (page 8 of 89)