A Premonition Of Sir H M Stanley

This incident is related by the famous explorer, Sir Henry M. Stanley,

in his autobiography edited by Dorothy Stanley (Houghton Mifflin Co.,

1909), on pages 207-208.

Stanley, then a private in the Confederate Army, was captured in the

battle of Shiloh and sent to Camp Douglas near Chicago. It was while

here that the incident in question occurred.

"On the next day (April 16), after the mornin
duties had been

performed, the rations divided, the cooks had departed contented, and

the quarters swept, I proceeded to my nest and reclined alongside of my

friend Wilkes in a posture that gave me a command of one half of the

building. I made some remarks to him upon the card-playing groups

opposite, when suddenly, I felt a gentle stroke on the back of my neck,

and in an instant I was unconscious. The next moment I had a vivid view

of the village of Tremeirchion and the grassy slopes of the hills of

Hirradog, and I seemed to be hovering over the rook woods of Brynbella.

I glided to the bed-chamber of my Aunt Mary. My aunt was in bed, and

seemed sick unto death. I took a position by the side of the bed, and

saw myself, with head bent down, listening to her parting words which

sounded regretful, as though conscience smote her for not having been as

kind as she might have been, or had wished to be. I heard the boy say,

'I believe you, Aunt. It is neither your fault, nor mine. You were good

and kind to me, and I knew you wished to be kinder; but things were so

ordered that you had to be what you were. I also dearly wished to love

you, but I was afraid to speak of it lest you would check me, or say

something that would offend me. I feel our parting was in this spirit.

There is no need of regrets. You have done your duty to me, and you had

children of your own who required all your care. What has happened to me

since, it was decreed should happen. Farewell.'

"I put forth my hand and felt the clasp of the long thin hands of the

sore-sick woman. I heard a murmur of farewell, and immediately I awoke.

"It appeared to me that I had but closed my eyes. I was still in the

same reclining attitude, the groups opposite me were still engaged in

their card games, Wilkes was in the same position. Nothing had changed.

"I asked, 'What has happened?'

"'What could happen?' said he. 'What makes you ask? It is but a moment

ago you were speaking to me.'

"'Oh, I thought I had been asleep a long time.'

"On the next day the 17th of April, 1862, my Aunt Mary died at Fynnon

Beuno, in Wales!

"I believe that the soul of every human being has its attendant

spirit--a nimble, delicate essence, whose method of action is by a

subtle suggestion which it contrives to insinuate into the mind, whether

asleep or awake. We are too gross to be capable of understanding the

signification of the dream, the vision, or the sudden presage, or of

divining the source of the premonition or its import. We admit that we

are liable to receive a fleeting picture of an act, or a figure at any

moment, but, except being struck by certain strange coincidences which

happen to most of us, we seldom make an effort to unravel the mystery.

The swift, darting messenger stamps an image on the mind, and displays a

vision to the sleeper; and if, as sometimes follows, among tricks and

twists of the errant mind, by reflex acts of memory, it happens to be a

true representation of what is to happen, we are left to grope

hopelessly as to the manner and meaning of it, for there is nothing

tangible to lay hold of.

"There are many things relating to my existence which are inexplicable

to me, and probably it is best so; this death-bed scene, projected on my

mind's screen, across four thousand five hundred miles of space, is one

of these mysteries."

The precise meaning of the passage wherein Sir Henry speculates on the

nature and meaning of such facts, is not entirely clear. Does he by the

word spirit mean what is usually meant by that term, or does he mean

some part of the mind functioning upon the rest as its object, like

Freud's psychic censor though with a different purpose? And the

affirmative employment of the terms "presage" and "premonition" do not

seem to be consistent with the expression "it happens to be a true

representation of what is to happen." It seems plain that the

distinguished explorer did believe that the death-bed scene was

"projected on" his "mind's screen, across four thousand five hundred

miles of space." However, what Stanley thought about the facts is of

much less importance than the facts themselves, as reported by one whose

life was one long drill in observing, appraising and recording facts.