This section is from the book "Faith - Healing. Christian Science And Kindred Phenomena", by James Monroe Buckley. Also available from Amazon: Faith-Healing, Christian Science and Kindred Phenomena.
Presentiments concerning hours of death have sometimes been defeated by deceiving their subjects. Well-authenticated instances exist of chloroforming those who had made preparation for death, but whose gloomy apprehension was dispelled when they found that the time had passed and they were still living.
1 Dr. Henry M. Hurd, long the justly distinguished superintendent of the Eastern Michigan Asylum for the Insane at Pontiac, and now superintendent of Johns Hopkins General Hospital, Baltimore, Md., in speaking of imperative conceptions says: " By this term is understood a mental concept or impression, arising in the mind without external cause, or an emotional basis, or logical connection with any previous train of thought, which dominates the will and often compels to actions which are known to bo ludicrous or improper, or contrary to the judgment of the individual. The imperative conception differs from tho delusion in the fact that it is not elaborated by any process.
The case of the dissipated Lord Lyttleton, who was subject to " suffocating fits," and who claimed that his death had been predicted to occur in three days, at twelve o'clock, midnight, is easily explained. On the evening of that night some of his friends to whom he told the story said, when he was absent from the room, " Lyttleton will frighten himself into another fit with this foolish ghost story"; and thinking to prevent it they set forward the clock which stood in the room. When he returned they called out, " Hurrah, Lyttleton ! Twelve o'clock is past, you 've jockeyed the ghost; now the best thing to do is to go quietly to bed, and in the morning you will be all right." But they had forgotten about the clock in the parish church tower, and when it began slowly tolling the hour of midnight he was seized with a paroxysm and died in great agony. The opinion of those who knew the circumstances was that the sudden revulsion of feeling caused such a reaction as to bring on the fit which carried him off. This is a rational view, for when one nearly dead believes that he is about to die, the incubus of such an impression is as effective as a dirk-thrust or poison.
Many extraordinary tales are told of presentiments on the eve of battle, and the particulars are given; but this is not wonderful. Soldiers and sailors are of reasoning, and does not commend itself to the reasoning or to the judgment. . . . It is not necessarily an evidence of insanity, unless it persists and dominates the conduct habitually. All persons have imperative conceptions arising spontaneously in the mind, which momentarily influence action and compel attention." He gives as illustrations the common experience of an overpowering impression that a watch has not been wound, or a window fastened, or that some other regular duty has not been performed, which is enough to destroy a person's peace of mind after he has retired, and compels him to leave his bed only to find that there is no foundation for the impression proverbially superstitious. The leisure they frequently have favors the recital of marvelous experiences; and battles depend upon so many contingencies, and are liable to be controlled by such inexplicable circumstances, as to give to even the bravest of men a tinge of superstition. It has been observed that most unrighteous battles, fought against an oppressed people, have been attended by victories turning upon circumstances that may have been accidental; and that the most heroic patriotism has been defeated in the same way. That soldiers should have presentiments is not strange; and that those who have been exceedingly fortunate through a score of battles should sometimes in moments of depression conclude that they would die in the next battle is not extra-ordinary. In these voluminous narratives we find little or nothing of presentiments of certain escape, though they too are often fulfilled and as often disappointed.
A correspondent of " Notes and Queries," second series, thirty-fourth volume, having spent several months in the Crimea during the severest period of the bombardment, says: " I can state that many cases of presentiment were fulfilled; as also that some were falsified. There were also many deaths without any accompanying presentiment having been made known." The great Turenne exclaimed, " I do not mean to be killed to-day"; but a few moments afterward he was struck down in battle by a cannon-ball.
The possibilities of chance in the fulfilment of presentiments are incomputable, as a fact which occurred in this country during the civil war, and which is known by thousands yet living to be true, may serve to show. Joseph C. Baldwin, a young gentleman residing in Newark, N. J., was a journalist of more than local fame. He wrote under several pseudonyms, one of which was "Ned Carrol," and another "Frank Greenwood." The articles written under the latter name were unlike any of his other productions, being personal and censorious in character; and Frank Greenwood was in consequence most unpopular in Newark and vicinity, while Ned Carrol was a general favorite. Early in the war Mr. Baldwin enlisted in the 11th regiment of New Jersey Volunteers, and after arriving at the seat of war wrote several letters for publication, in one of which, sent to the Newark "Courier," he described the death of the mythical Greenwood in these words:
Army of the Lower Potomac, General Hooker's Division.
I only fulfill the dying request of a beloved comrade in apprising you of his sad fate. Two months ago Frank Greenwood joined our company (C, 5th regiment), and soon became a general favorite, owing to his great sociability and undaunted courage. He received his death-wound from a shell, which was thrown from the Cockpit Point rebel battery, and burst within twenty feet of him, while holding the signal halyards at a review on the 3d inst. We mourn him as a brother.
On the loth of May, 1864, Lieutenant Baldwin, who had been in the battles of Bull Run, Gettysburg, Frederieksburg, Chancellorsville, Antietam, and the Wilderness, and a score or more of skirmishes, who had had many narrow escapes and many wounds in the active service, sat in camp knowing of no danger near, when a piece of iron from a shell "thrown from a rebel battery," which "burst within twenty feet of him." struck him in the hack of the head, killing him instantly.
Let those who propose to prove supernatural portents by mathematics determine what the " probability" was that in a mere spirit of jest he should describe in detail the manner of his own death months afterward.1
Soon after the civil war I concluded to go South by steamer, and took passage from St. Louis on the steamship Luminary for New Orleans. Navigation on the Mississippi River at that time was uncertain. Many old vessels were employed, the condition of the river was dangerous, and during the preceding twelve or fifteen months nine steamers had been blown up, or otherwise destroyed, resulting in great loss of life. Nearly all the accidents had been caused by the explosion of what are known as tubular boilers, and strong prejudice arose against vessels having boilers of that kind. The Luminary was of the old-fashioned sort, and a number of passengers had taken it solely on that account.
I was accompanied to the vessel by my brother, who up to that time had traveled with me, and was about to return by rail to the coast. As he was upon the point of bidding me farewell, I was seized without a moment's thought or preparation with an appalling impression that the vessel would be lost, aud that I was looking upon my brother for the last time. For some time I seemed to behold with almost the vividness of an actual perception the explosion, to hear the shrieks of the passengers, and to feel myself swallowed up in the general destruction. Composing myself as much as possible, I said to my brother: "If ever a man:
1 Dreams without any proper authentication of detail, are published and republished. " The night that President Lincoln was murdered, a neighbor of mine," writes a physician, "declared that the President was killed, and by an assassin. It was several hours before the news reached the town".
The wife of a New York clergyman made a similar statement just before tho news arrived of the assassination of President had a presentiment of death, I have it now; but you know I have for years held that presentiments spring from physical weakness, superstition, or cowardice. Would you yield to these terrible feelings He replied, "No! If you do, you will always be a slave to them." After some further conversation he went ashore, and the boat started.
For several hours the dread of disaster overhung me, but gradually wore off, and late at night I fell asleep. The distance from St. Louis to New Orleans is about twelve hundred miles. The time taken by the Luminary was seven days. It was in all respects, after the first day, a delightful voyage. After remaining in New Orleans a few days, I reembarked on the same vessel, continuing up the river eight hundred miles, making in all more than two thousaud miles without accident.
Since that experience, in many voyages I have made it an object to inquire of travelers and others concerning presentiments, and have found that they are very common, occasionally fulfilled, generally not so; and that it is the tendency with practically all persons who have had one presentiment come true to force themselves into all conversations, and to become tyrants over those dependent upon them or traveling with them. It is to be frankly admitted that no matter how vivid a supposed presentiment might be, its non-fulfilment would not demonstrate that there are no presentiments which must have originated external to the mind of the subject; but having been led by my experience to induce many persons to defy such feelings without a single instance of reported evil results, it confirms strongly the hypothesis of their subjective origin.
Garfield, and said that she saw him in a railway station, surrounded by ladies and others.
But we hear nothing of the seventeen persons who communicated to Andrew Johnson, in the course of the three years that he was President, dreams describing his death by assassination ; nor of similar communications made to the late President Arthur.
That presentiments are governed by no moral principle in the characters of the subjects to which they are applied, or of those who receive them, the occasions upon which they are given, and their effects, is apparent. The most immoral have claimed to have them, have communicated them to others, and they have sometimes been fulfilled by events from which those having them have derived great advantages. A few of the best of men have had presentiments that seemed to correspond with subsequent events, but the great majority of good people have not; and the calamities which have befallen most have come without any warning, except such as could be inferred from existing situations. Experience, foresight, and guidance by ordinary sagacity have been all that mankind have had to rely upon; and to be governed only by these, combating or disregarding presentiments, impressions, and powerful impulses for which no foundation can be found in the nature of things, is the only safe and stable rule.