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.