"It is not death I fear to face, but dying."
"And as we dwell, we living things, under the imminent hand of death, God forbid it should be man the erected, the reasoner, the wise in his own eyes-God forbid it should be man that wearies in well-doing, that despairs of unrewarded effort, or utters the language of complaint. Let it be enough for faith that the whole creation groans in mortal frailty, strives with unconquerable constancy; surely not all in vain."
From Pulvis et Umbra in Across the Plains, by
Robert Louis Stevenson.
WHEN WE remember the lengthy and persistent efforts shown by Stevenson through the Poole channel from 1923 to 1927, and the skill with which he chose and presented a multitude of later verified references to many details of his life and
work(1) it was no surprise to find, nearly fifteen years later, through the Dawn scripts that R.L.S. recalled many of the same memories and devised more clever literary puzzles for us to solve, as he had done through our first medium.
(1) For a discussion of the R.L.S. manifestations through Mrs. Poole from 1923 to 1927, see Chapter 13 of
"Intention and Survival" by T. Glen Hamilton.
R.L.S. communicator first appeared in mid-December, 1941, when the Dawn script of that date was found to consist of seven lines of writing which flowed continuously with no breaks between words. When it was scanned, separated into metrical phrases and Punctuated with the addition of one word (in brackets) it came out like this-the order or words has not been changed:
Reach your hand to me, my friend,
With its heartiest caress!
Some time there will come an end
To its present faithfulness.
Some time I may ask in pain
For the touch of it again
When between us, land or sea
Hold(s) it ever back from me.
Round the corner of the street
Who can (say) what waits for us?
Meeting? Greeting? Night and day
Reach out your hand to me, my friend!
I have read again most carefully three different editions of Stevenson's Complete
Poems. I have been unable to find anything to compare with this script. In my opinion it demonstrates a typical Stevensonian flavour and style in the metre, rhythm and use of alliteration and antithesis. Is it an original post-mortem effort?
I am inclined to think so. And further, I am of the firm opinion that it was given deliberately first, as a means of identification, and second, as a means of re-emphasising the theme of all these later Dawn scripts, "Let us keep in touch."
The next script of December 1941 consisted of four short lines:
My bed was made, the ... (writing illegible)
By punctual eve a st . a ... lit..
The air w ... s still
At God's green car ... v ... serai..
These lines pointed in the direction of a poem. Eventually, on page 131 of the Scribner Edition of Stevenson's
Complete Poems we found this:
A Camp (from
Travels With A Donkey)
The bed was made, the room was fit,
By punctual eve the stars were lit:
The air was still, the water ran,
No need was there for maid or man
When we put up, my ass and I,
At God's green caravanserai-"
We remembered that this was the same poem which R.L.S. had cleverly illustrated in a Poole trance vision and script in 1925. Now, in 1941, he was using the same device which had proved to be so effective a means of identification so many years before.
The next R.L.S. Dawn script, early in 1942, came in the form of a telegram:
"Sidney Colvin . . . schooner Equator ... dropped anchor ... harbour Apia."
Going to Stevenson's collected
Letters we found that our Dawn writing was an abbreviated form of the first part of a letter which Stevenson had written to his friend Sir Sidney Colvin from the schooner
Equator shortly before it had dropped anchor in the harbour of Apia for the first time.
A few weeks later the Dawn script was found to have been made up of single words or word phrases, written in a large and scrawling handwriting on separate areas of the sheets of paper:
"10 minutes past 8 eight"
Monday Dec 3 1894
"July 10 ... Mataafa is routed ... Malie had fled to Manono."
Extensive reading of our reference books confirmed that R.L.S. had died at "10 minutes past 8, on Monday, Dec. 3, 1894." Thus our communicator in 1942 recalled the hour and date of his death. "Fanny," of course, was Mrs. Stevenson's given name: while "Sosimo," we discovered, was the name of Stevenson's personal servant at Vailima. But it was not until 1946 that the final sentence of this script was tracked to its source. That year, in reading volume 2 of Balfour's
Life of Stevenson, on page 206 we came upon this: "Mataafa (a Samoan chief) retired to the village of Malie. In July he fled to the island of
In the book,
The Life of Mrs. Robert Louis Stevenson, by Nellie van der Grift Sanchez, we found this quotation from Mrs. Stevenson's diary: "July 10. Mataafa routed, and after burning Malie ... has fled to
Thus it became apparent to us that our communicator had made a specific reference to the inter-tribal wars in Samoa at the end of the nineteenth century, a conflict in which Stevenson had shown deep personal interest and concern.
The next 1942 R.L.S. script through Dawn consisted of two poems. We found that the first one had been condensed into the telegram type, and it is not reproduced here. But the second appeared to have been given almost in its entirety, except for gaps in the words of certain lines.
On page 221 of Volume 2 of Stevenson's
New Poems (Tusitala edition, published by Heinemann, London) we finally found the source of our Dawn writing. It was the poem,
To the Stormy Petrel, which Stevenson had written to commemorate his wife's birthday, celebrated at a time when the Samoan war was at its height, an event which is mentioned in the original poem. It is now quoted exactly as it came by Dawn's hand; where the script was blank we have inserted the words in brackets.
To The Stormy Petrel
And precious like an ember
From the fire,
Or gem from a volcano, we today,
When drums of war reverberate in lands
And every face is for the battle blacked
No less the sky that over sodden woods
Menaces now in the disconsolate calm
The hurly-burly of (the) hurricane,
Do now most fitly celebrate your day.
Yet amid turmoil (keep for me) my dear,
The kind domestic faggot. Let the hearth
Shine ever as (I praise my honest gods)
In peace and tempest it has ever shone.
"My dear Stormy Petrel
"Her Birthday, March 10."
So much then for R.L.S.' successful efforts to establish his identity. Having done so, he next turned to making original comment on the fife he was now living. His first communication of this nature was a script through Dawn which came in the form of a comment to my mother:
"Let me say how much pleasure it gives me to be able to write to you. I have been collecting notes together for years, always hoping to be able to get someone to dictate them for me."
This second sentence would imply that he needed help in his efforts, and suggested also that the whole process of communication was much more difficult than we had supposed.
Like Stead (as we will see in a later chapter) Stevenson too placed his seal of approval on certain teachings which had been expounded many years before in
Letters From Julia. Through Dawn's hand at this time he wrote:
"On this side things do not always appear as you imagine. In some cases the last are first and the first last. I have seen convicts and murderers, who worked their wickedness out in the material plane, standing far higher in the scale of goodness than many who never committed a crime, but whose minds were the breeding grounds for thoughts which were the seeds of crime in others. I do not want you to think that it is better to do wicked deeds than think them, but the doing of them is not always proof of wickedness. The sins of impulse and crimes done in the heat of passion-these do not harm the soul as much as thoughts of evil which in time poison the whole soul."(2)
(2) Compare the R.L.S. script of this date with pages 48 and 49 - The Thoughts and Intents of the
Heart - in" Letters From Julia."
This emphasis on the particular teaching from
Letters From Julia appears to be in line with Stevenson's well-known love of all kinds of individuals, and his deep understanding of human frailties, as so many of his letters and essays reveal. But he could be stem also, as he is in these two brief, but compelling pronouncements written through Dawn in 1942:
"I would also say this-which must be apparent to many, however much they may deplore it-Christianity must change or perish! Change is the law of life!
A few days later he wrote this:
"Those who believe will of course say that they
know that the future life is a fact." "R.L.S."
Showing that he still possessed his love of the tender and the whimsical, through Dawn's hand he wrote an original and delightful prose poem. We inserted the punctuation and arranged the lines in metrical order, although the sequence of the original has not been changed.
She was dressed in a pearl-coloured gossamer gown;
Her wings held the tints of the rainbow.
Her hair was like winter sunshine, pale yellow and misty.
And her eyes were the colour of the flowers
Of which she was the guardian.
Birds flew around her as she came through the wood.
She came light-footed down the path,
Singing soft and low under the trees. Tall green stalks rose above, The moss clustered around their stems.
The spirits dipped their heads as the angel passed by,
And called for the others to follow . . ."
His most arresting message about the nature of death came at a sitting on October 20, 1942, when Dawn's hand was found to have written this:
It is not death I fear to face, but dying;
The leaving those on earth I dearly love-
My books, my dog, the sound of wind-swept trees,
The scent of flowers, the glory of the stars,
(My cherished work.
(Must I leave too the dear wild birds
(That cheer the lonely hours,
(And no more tread the heather bright
(Nor pluck the sweet hill-flowers?)
Death is a glorious birth! No cause for sighing!
It is not death I fear to face, but dying!"
Persistent searching in several anthologies failed to discover any such poem. Finally, months later, my mother forwarded a copy of this poem to the inquiry column of the newspaper,
The Scotsman, published in Edinburgh, in the hope that some reader might see it and be able to supply us with information as to its author and source. This finally brought results. A reader of the newspaper wrote to us from Edinburgh to inform us that the poem was the work of Sir Alfred E. Pease, a noted English traveller of the nineteenth century, and that lines five to nine (enclosed in brackets) were
not part of the original poem.
Here again was a literary puzzle. Where could these lines have come from? The more we studied and considered this Dawn script, the more we felt that the metre, imagery and thought of the interpolated lines not only fitted more exquisitely into the original poem, but were at the same time characteristic of the poet Stevenson.
In light of all that we had so far received from R.L.S., we had to admit, to ourselves at least, that he was the originator of these lines. Once more we had to admit that our communicator had lost none of his skill as a versifier.
More than that, when we remembered the words of the unknown control through Dawn in April 1940, "What is written is written again," it became quite clear that R.L.S. had quoted a poem which had been created many years before by Sir Alfred Pease. Thus R.L.S. had helped to fulfil that earlier prediction. Now the real meaning of the double initials at last became clear-the "R.L.S. Pc" indicating the joint authorship, with Pc representing phonetically the name of the original poet!
To sum up: brief as were these individual Dawn-Stevenson writings of 1942, when we studied the entire series we realised fully that R.L.S. in a few words was saying a great deal, in effect this:
"I live. By drawing attention to certain poems I wrote while on earth, and by drawing attention to certain events of my life in Samoa, I have shown memories of my earthly existence, so that you may know that I still possess memory. Like Stead, I have used some of the writings from Julia's letters to emphasise that I have. found that these teachings are still true. I have sent a message to the Church. To you who are researchers I have pointed out your duty in the matter of making known the evidence for individual survival you have uncovered.
"I have demonstrated that I still possess ability for creative writing in my poem,
The Angel. And by quoting Pease's poem I have intimated that, while death is hard to face, it is a birth into a new and lovely country. In my addition to his poem I have shown that I remember my beloved hills of home and my literary work from which I was called too soon."
The final script in this Stevenson series, brief as it was, brought to us teachings that as yet lie beyond our understanding, although they would seem to be in fine with the germ thought discoverable in the world's noblest religions. It was this:
"This life is but a fragment of our existence, a fragment which by itself has no meaning. Its meanings are rooted in an eternal past and carried on into an eternal future. We are on the top of a high step with many steps yet to climb. What we call dying is only going on to this higher point."
Source: "Is Survival a Fact?" by Margaret Lillian
Hamilton (1969, Psychic Press).