HITHERTO we have dealt only with knowledge of the present and the past; but assertions are made that there is a kind of lucidity occasionally attainable by healthy people which is beyond the powers of any ordinary intelligence, even aided by telepathy; inasmuch as knowledge is sometimes exhibited not only of occurrences at a distance but also of events which have not yet happened, and which could not by any process of reasoning be inferred.
Is it possible to become aware of events before they have occurred, by means other than ordinary scientific prediction?
The anticipation of future events is a power not at all necessarily to be expected on a Spiritistic or any other hypothesis; it is a separate question, and will have important bearings of its own. An answer to this question in the affirmative may vitally affect our metaphysical notions of "Time," but will not of necessity have an immediate bearing on the existence in the universe of intelligences other than our own. A cosmic picture gallery (as Mr. Myers calls it), or photographic or phonographic record of all that has occurred or will occur in the universe, may conceivably - or perhaps not conceivably - in some sense exist, and may be partly open and dimly decipherable to the lucid part of the automatist's or entranced person's mind.
But the question for us now is whether we can obtain clear and unmistakable proof of the existence of this foreseeing power in any form. It is not an easy thing to establish beyond any kind of doubt. Casual and irresponsible critics have said that documentary evidence, such as a postmark on a letter which detailed an event either not yet happened or certainly not known by ordinary methods at the date of the postmark (like a recent shipwreck in mid-ocean for instance), would be proof positive to them of something occult. A writer in The Nineteenth Century goes so far as to say that a document thus officially verified by a Post Office clerk would be worth thousands of pounds to the British Museum. If so it would be singularly easy to get rich. I believe that a postmark on an envelope would satisfy some of these critics but a postmark on the document itself would be entirely convincing.
I wonder some enterprising forger has not endeavoured to gull a leading journal by an elaborate account say, of the Victoria disaster, or the Santander explosion, or the Messina earthquake, written on foolscap paper transmitted blank through the post, at small cost, in preparation for any such striking event; or perhaps on paper subsequently covered with previous postmarks by a genial Post Office friend, and decorated with red tape by a live Government clerk!
The feeling that everything done by a Post Office official is conclusive, is of the same order as the opinion that barristers or criminal judges or medical practitioners are the only people fit to investigate unusual mental phenomena, because their practice makes them familiar with the warpings of the human mind.
But to consider the case of a medical practitioner, as I understand a doctor's business, it is to cure an abnormality if he can, not to prolong and investigate it. True, a doctor may be a scientific man in addition, but qua physician he is out of his element as a general investigator, and as a leading practitioner he has very little spare time. Were it not so, the record against the profession - the attitude the main body of doctors has taken or used to take to everything new - would be not only pitiful, as it is, but essentially disgraceful.
But about this question of postmarks. Let it not be thought that I claim that their evidence is worthless. As evidence subsidiary to testimony they may be very valuable, and every effort should be made to get them; my contention only is that they do not dipense with testimony.
This I hold is the function of all circumstantial evidence, or of any automatic record; it lessens the chance of self-delusion or over-exuberant imagination, it can never be held to guard against fraud. If a couple of friends by interchanging letters, with their dates verified in some cold-blooded official manner, are able to establish foreknowledge of events such as could hardly be guessed or inferred, then their testimony is strengthened by the date-marks to this extent:- Either the things happened as they say, or they are in some sort of collusion to bear false witness and deceive. One could only grant them the loophole of self-deception on the alternative of something very like insanity.
That is how these automatic records, photographs and the like, may be so valuable-as supplementary to human testimony-never as substitutes for it.
Have we any trustworthy evidence at all as to the power of foreseeing unpredictable events? Strange to say, we have, but it is not yet sufficient in volume to justify any generalisation: it is only enough to cause us to keep an open mind, even in this direction, and be ready critically to scrutinise future evidence as it arrives. Mrs. Sidgwick's paper on the evidence for premonitions is in vol. v. of Proceedings
I attach no high importance to predictions of illness and death: they may represent an unusual power of diagnosis, but need not represent anything more. Besides, a great number of these predictions fail; so much so that a prediction of this kind now hardly perturbs an experienced person who receives it.
And even the successful prevision of an accident must be attributed as a rule to accidental concordance unless it is accompanied by an exceptional amount of detail.
The following case is contained in Mrs. Sidgwick's paper, Proceedings, vol. v. P. 333. It is from an enginedriver who was interviewed afterwards by an agent of the S.P.R. in America.
(In 1853) I was firing a locomotive, a fine new passenger engine, built for speed, and just from the shop. I thought myself lucky to he on such a fine engine, and was proud of my position. One night, May 29th, 1853, I dreamed that the train ran through a shallow cut, and came out on a high stone bridge, over which the train passed, and then the engine turned over down the bank some 70 feet, into the river. I mentioned my dream the next morning to the family with whom I was living. The lady [now dead] told me I was going to be killed, but I told her that in my dream I had assurance that I should not be hurt. On the second morning after my dream, we were sent over a part of the road with which I was not familiar, and presently came to a shallow cut, and I saw a number of men ahead on the track. The engineer was near-sighted and did not see them. I called to him to stop the engine; he tried to do so, but the track was wet, and seeing that part of the track ahead had been taken up, he jumped from the engine. I remained on it and tried to stop it. Before this could be done, we were on a stone bridge, and I could not get off. The engine left the track, and at the other end of the bridge turned over twice before it reached the bottom, and I with it, receiving but a small scratch, how I do not know. I climbed the bank, and looking back, saw just what I had seen in my dream. The bridge was 200 feet long, with five stone arches, 54 feet high, and the bank down which the engine rolled 70 feet.
The perception of incidents at a distance is common enough, but the perception of incidents in the future is rare. The following selection from experiences of this kind received by Mrs. Verrall must serve as an example of the few trustworthy cases I know of (Proc. S.P.R., vol. xx. p. 331).
On December 11th, 1901 - i.e. towards the end of the first year in which Mrs. Verrall had developed the power of automatic writing - her hand wrote as follows:-
Nothing too mean, the trivial helps, gives confidence. Hence this. Frost and a candle in the dim light. Marmontel, he was reading on a sofa or in bed - there was only a candie's light She will surely, remember this. The book was lent, not his own - he talked about it.
Then there appeared a fanciful but unmistakable attempt at the name
No meaning was conveyed by the above, but the concluding effort naturally suggested that Mrs. Sidgwick should be applied to. This was done; and her reply, received on December 17th, said that she could make nothing of it but would report if the name Marmontel turned up.
Mrs. Verrall was now away from home and had decided to abandon writing till her return. But all the 17th she was so disturbed by a desire to write that she made time, and that evening obtained the following:
I wanted to write. Marmontel is right. It was a French book, a Memoir I think. Passy may help, Souvenirs de Passy, or Fleury. Marmontel was not on the cover-the book was bound and was lent-two volumes in old-fashioned binding and print. It is not in any papers-it is an attempt to make some one remember-an incident.
"Soon after my return to Cambridge - Mrs. Verrall reports-about December 25th, 1901, I was looking through a list of books - which I had glanced at before December 11th - and found an advertisement of "Marmontel, Moral Tales, selected and translated by G. Saintsbury." This, strange though such an admission may seem, was, as far as I could remember, my first conscious knowledge of Marmontel as a French writer."
So ends the record of the obtaining of the script. The sentence in the first portion "She will surely remember this" is a characteristic sotto voce remark which is not infrequent in these scripts, - having the same sort of signification as the terminal sentence of the second portion. It means that Mrs. Verrall herself will surely remember having obtained the writing, when at some future time the incident described is referred to.
Now begins the verification by quite unexpected means.
In January 1902 Mrs. Verrall happened to write to a friend of hers named Mr. Marsh, asking him to come for a weekend visit; and he replied fixing March 1st. She had had no recent communication with him since June 1901. On February 23rd she sent him a post card to remind him of his visit, and he replied with a letter on February 24th.
Mrs. Verrall then reports as follows:-
"On March 1st Mr. Marsh arrived, and that evening at dinner he mentioned that he had been reading Marmontel. I asked if he had read the Moral Tales, and he replied that it was the Memoirs. I was interested in this reference to Marmontel, and asked Mr. Marsh for particulars about his reading, at the same time explaining the reasons for my curiosity. He then told me that he got the book from the London Library, and took the first volume only to Paris with him, where he read it on the evening of February 20th, and again on February 21st. On each occasion he read by the light of a candle; on the 20th he was in bed, on the 21St lying on two chairs. He talked about the book to the friends with whom he was staying in Paris. The weather was cold, but there was, he said, no frost. The London Library copy is bound, as most of their books are, not in modem binding, but the name 'Marmontel' is on the back of the volume. The edition has three volumes; in Paris Mr. Marsh had only one volume, but at the time of his visit to us he had read the second also.
"I asked him whether 'Passy' or 'Fleury' would 'help,' and he replied that Fleury's name certainly occurred in the book, in a note; he was not sure about Passy, but undertook to look it up on his return to town, and to ascertain, as he could by reference to the book, what part of the first volume he had been reading in Paris. He is in the habit of reading in bed, but has electric light in his bedroom at home, so that he had not read 'in bed or on a sofa by candlelight' for months, until he read Marmontel in Paris.
"On his return to town Mr. Marsh wrote to me (March 4, 1902), that on February 21st while lying on two chairs he read a chapter in the first volume of Marmontel's Memoirs describing the finding at Passy of a panel, etc., connected with a story in which Fleury plays an important part.
"It will thus be noted that the script in December, 1901, describes (as [presumably] past) an incident which actually occurred two and a half months later, in February, 1902, - an incident which at the time of writing was not likely to have been foreseen by any one. I ascertained from Mr. Marsh that the idea of reading Marmontel occurred to him not long before his visit to Paris. It is probable that had he not seen me almost immediately upon his return, when his mind was full of the book, I should never have heard of his reading it, and therefore not have discovered the application of the scripts of December 11th and 17th.
"The description is definite, and in the main accurate. There are, however, errors: -Though the weather was cold, it does not seem to have been actually freezing on either of the two nights in question; the book was not in two volumes only, as seems implied, though only two volumes had been read when the incident was related to me; the name Marmontel was on the back of the book, though not on the face of the cover; the binding, though not modem, can hardly be described as old-fashioned. But the reference to Passy and Fleury - names which, so far as I can discover, are not together in any passage of Marmontel's Memoirs except that read by Mr. Marsh on February 21st - is a precise and, I think, remarkable coincidence."
Two other points may be noted: -
(1) That the script on December 17th did not accept the suggestion that the name Marmontel had anything to do with Mrs.
(2) The omission to give any name to the reader of
This latter kind of reticence is characteristic of the script; and, although it may be superficially regarded from a sarcastic point of view, it is really essential to the verification of the prevision, because if Mr. Marsh's name had been given, Mrs. Verrall would naturally have written to him a premature inquiry, which would have spoilt the whole thing.
But inasmuch as she had no inkling of Mr. Marsh in connexion with it, that gentleman was left unconsciously to carry out the anticipation, entirely ignorant of it and uninfluenced by it.
The anticipation received in December was fulfilled in February and was reported on in March.
The fact that the anticipation was received in December is proved by the preservation of Mrs. Sidgwick's letter of December 17th saying that she could make nothing of it, but that if the name turned up in some manuscripts she was then reading she would let Mrs. Verrall know.
In his book Mr. Myers contemplated the occurrence of prevision, and dealt with it in many an eloquent passage. The following is too eloquent for the incident just quoted, but it serves to illustrate his view of the possibility of such things:-
"Few men have pondered long on these problems of Past and Future without wondering whether Past and Future be in very truth more than a name - wbether we may not be apprehending as a stream of sequence that which is an ocean of co-existence, and slicing our subjective years and centuries from timeless and absolute things. The precognitions dealt with here, indeed, hardly overpass the life of the individual percipient. Let us keep to that small span, and let us imagine that a whole earth-life is in reality an absolutely instantaneous although an infinitely, complex phenomenon. Let us suppose that my transcendental self discerns with equal directness and immediacy every element of this phenomenon; but that my empirical self receives each element mediately, and through media involving different rates of retardation; just as I receive the lightning more quickly than the thunder. May not then seventy years intervene between my perceptions of birth and death as easily as seven seconds between my perceptions of the flash and the peal? And may not some intercommunication of consciousness enable the wider self to call to the narrower, the more central to the more external, 'At such an hour this shock will reach you! Listen for the nearing roar!' "
But let us consider whether there is any way, of regarding the fulfilment of a meaningless anticipation - such as this of the Marmontel case, just quoted without trenching on so difficult a question as the reality of time?
I can only suggest something of the nature of hypnotic suggestion, automatically effected. An outside or, let us say, a subliminal intelligence gets the record made by Mrs. Verrall. that an unspecified man will read Marmontel on a frosty night lying on a sofa by candle light, etc., and then sets to work to try and secure that within the next two or three months some man shall do it - some one who is sufficiently a friend of Mrs. Verrall to make it reasonably likely that in subsequent conversation she may sooner or later hear of the circumstance.
I make the suggestion for what it is worth, as the only way that occurs to me of avoiding still more difficult notions;- provided of course we do not dismiss the whole thing as invention - which is preposterous, or as chance, which in my judgment is put out of court by the amount of detail, and by other incidents of the same
general nature as this one which have also occurred in Mrs. Verrall's script.
It may be asked what possible object there can be in thus predicting a perfectly unimportant and commonplace incident.
The object, to those associated with the work or the Society for Psychical Research, is manifest enough.
During the lifetime of Professor Sidgwick and Mr. Myers we often discussed what sort of evidence could be regarded as conclusive as to the existence of supernormal, even if not posthumous, intelligence. And it was agreed that prediction of future events of an insignificant kind, such as could not be inferred or deduced by however wide a knowledge of contemporary events, - incidents which were outside the range of any amount of historical or mathematical or political skill, - would be conclusive, if obtained in quantity sufficient to eliminate chance. It did not at all follow that such anticipations were
possible, - so far as we could tell they might be beyond not only normal but supernormal powers, - but if possible it was realised that they would be singularly satisfactory.
Accordingly it is eminently characteristic of an intelligence purporting to be associated in any way with the late Professor Sidgwick or the late Mr. Myers that attempts of that kind should be made. Several attempts have now been made with more or less success, and I have selected one of them. Others will be found in Mrs. Verrall's paper (Proceedings, vol. xx.) in the chapter called "Future Events."
END OF SECTION III.