CRIMES, CRIMINALS, AND PRISONS.
ONLY the most
discreet of newspapers ever crossed our threshold in my girlhood.
It seemed to me in my innocence that, though the Sixth, Seventh, and
Eighth Commandments were probably broken—or they would not have been
required—yet they were disobeyed only by a certain set of people
quite outside my range of vision—people who might be almost supposed
to carry some palpable mark of Cain.
I was soon disillusioned!
Everybody knows that the eastern end of Henrietta Street,
Covent Garden, where it opens upon the market, is full of
associations with the Carlovingian and Georgian eras and their
profligate nobles and literary men. It was reserved for the
beginning of the second half of the nineteenth century to crowd the
same region—our immediate neighbourhood—with tragic and melancholy
The superstitious "commonalty" always whispered that "it"
began with sundry disturbances Of the dead occurring during
certain rearrangements of the churchyard of St. Paul's, Covent
Garden, which occupies the space between the backs of the houses on
the north of Henrietta Street and the south of King Street, and
abounds in burial-places of wits, playwrights, and noble criminals
of the Stuart days.
At this length of time it is impossible for me to remember
the exact order in which the events I have to recount happened, nor
the precise number of weeks or months elapsing between each.
Nor can I easily help my memory by external aid, as only one of the
tragedies ended on the gibbet, and that was in 1858.
But I can remember that the first melancholy event was the
instantaneous death of a young woman seated in apparently good
health at a window of her father's house at the north-eastern corner
of Henrietta Street. This happened while the excavations were
proceeding in the churchyard, and there was a rumour that she died
of shock caused by seeing the labourers attack her mother's grave.
There was an old man, a "Mr. Tooth," who gained a fairly
comfortable living by doing odd jobs for a connection he had secured
in our neighbourhood. He worked for us for many years.
He had fixed days for most of his employers, and if any of them
wanted him on other occasions, they sent to the house where he was
likely to be at work, and left a message to summon him.
Now, in one of the handsome residences on the south-eastern
side of Henrietta Street lived a medical man, keeping an
establishment of two or three maids and a liveried manservant.
"Mr. Tooth" worked for this household, and the footman was sent to
our house several times to summon him. Those who had taken the
message had remarked what a hard, stern manner the man had; and one
day my mother, seeing him, observed that his dark eyebrows met on
the bridge of his nose, a physiognomic peculiarity which she said
"she did not like." (I must say that two or three of my girl
school-fellows had the same feature, one very markedly so, but were
perfectly harmless and good-natured!)
On a certain day this footman asked the doctor for a holiday,
and then went to his home on the other side of the Thames, and in
the course of an hour or two killed his sweetheart, his mother, and
two younger brothers. I never heard any details of the trial,
but he was found guilty and hanged, and we all felt a painful thrill
of consciousness that a murderer had moved about freely in our
neighbourhood, and had even crossed our own threshold.
Shortly afterwards the son of a manufacturer living and
working on premises quite close to the doctor's house decamped with
a large sum of money.
Then the son of a highly respected tradesman living just
opposite on the north side went out one evening for a country walk
with his sweetheart, and goaded, as it appeared, by her avowed
inconstancy, struck her down, and fled, leaving her for dead.
However, she did not die, so his sentence was not a capital one, and
much sympathy was felt for his family, who, I believe, had not even
known of his entanglement.
By-and-by London was horrified—on a Boxing Day—by the tidings
that, somewhere in the City, a cab had been found to contain the
dead bodies of a lady and two or three children. On Christmas
Day the cabman had taken them up, alive, and accompanied by a
gentleman, who had presently stopped the vehicle, got out, and
bidden the driver await his return. As his absence was
prolonged, the cabman descended from his box to inquire if his fares
were chilly, and to offer them some additional comfort in the way of
a rug. When he saw the terrible thing that had happened he at
once called the police. Of course, the absentee "fare" did not
return, and the dead were removed to the mortuary, there being
nothing found on any of them to identify them.
When the Christmas holidays were over, a leading seedsman of
Covent Garden, occupying premises facing the north-east end of
Henrietta Street, found that his manager did not come back to
business. Inquiries at this man's suburban home discovered it
to be shut up and deserted, and almost simultaneously a lady came
forward and claimed the dead bodies as those of her sister and
nieces, the wife and children of the missing man. His dead
body was presently discovered—if memory serves me truly, it was
drawn from the river. At the inquest a terrible story came
out. In his office the dead man had seemed quite sane and
normal, but in his little suburban home he had shown the traits and
temper of a fiend. The dead woman's letters to her sisters
revealed the torments she had undergone, but evidently she had never
even dreamed of any possible escape.
Almost at the same time a man owning large business and
residential premises at the same fateful corner, while surrounded by
his work-people, suddenly became a violent maniac. He never
recovered reason, and I do not think he lived long. We knew
him well—by sight only—as he had attended St. Paul's Church.
Finally, after the lapse of a rather longer interval,
Southampton Street, opening into this same south-eastern end of
Henrietta Street, figured as part of the scene of a particularly
odious and mysterious criminal trial.
It must be remembered that this was no slum or degraded
neighbourhood. It was high-class, in the old-fashioned sense
of London streets, half commercial and half residential. I was
overawed by the horror of it all, but as I grew older I began to
wonder whether there might not be some sort of reason for this
apparently sporadic epidemic of crime and misery, and if so, what
was it? The marvel has often returned to my mind. Within my
own experience, I know of no case like it. But then the general
public did not know all that the neighbours did. Still, they did
know of murders, an attempted murder, and more murders and a
suicide, all radiating from a small centre, and among people every
one of whom had been held respectable and worthy. The sudden death
and the more awful sudden madness did not, of course, to any
noticeable degree appear in the public press. If there had been a
corresponding outbreak of virulent physical disease—say cholera or
typhus—what inquiries and investigations would have been made!
I have since observed that when murders and suicides
occur—especially if of great horror or pitifulness—it is often
casually mentioned that they happened "not far from the scene" of
some previous tragedy.
I draw no deduction from what I have related whatever the curious
influence was, it must be remembered that it did not affect
everybody on the doomed spot. Like disease, it seized only on one
here and there, evidently prepared to receive it. The neighbourhood
from that day gradually ceased to be residential, but as it was
eagerly taken up for business purposes, its value did not diminish.
Many years afterwards I saw another murderer-that-was-to-be. In that
case I got far behind the facts known to the general public, and an
infinitely pathetic story stood revealed. I think I will tell it as
Many years ago there was at Trinity College, Dublin, a certain poor
student named Watson. He belonged to an obscure family, and was
uncouth, shy, and unattractive. As a student he was invited to a
certain house (I think it was one of his professor's houses) where
there were two daughters. The heart of the rough, silent youth was
touched by one of these, a tall, willowy woman with some beauty of
the aquiline kind. But he worshipped afar off; he would never have
dared to approach the lady in her elegant home.
In time he was ordained, and took scholastic appointments and some
clerical duty. A change came to the house in Dublin, where his
thoughts still haunted. The parents died, and the daughters, past
their first youth, were left to face the world with practically no
provision. Then the silent lover took courage and presented himself anew. A friend of mine, a London vicar for whom this unhappy
man had acted as curate, saw (after the final catastrophe) the
letters with which he had gradually drawn near to the lady of his
heart. At first they began with "Madam" only, then with "Dear
madam," "My dear madam," rising to "Dear Miss
―," and then "My
dear Miss Anne," ending only at "long last" in "My dearest Anne." He laid his hand and his modest income at her feet. She accepted
both. Her sister was an invalid, and though she was to remain in
Dublin, the enraptured bridegroom arranged to provide her with an
annuity of £75, which was apparently paid in a lump sum each year.
The husband and wife took up their abode in a genteel London suburb,
where he had the headmastership of a foundation school and also, for
a while, a curacy. His whole income could never have been large; he
had not inherited a farthing; his sister-in-law's allowance was a
He never complained, but he cast about him for some way of adding to
his resources, and hoped to do so by producing sundry little books
of academic nature. They were dry and unpopular, and probably proved
a source of loss rather than gain.
But here the tragedy became manifest. The vicar's young daughters
resented being sent with messages to the curate and his wife, saying
that, while the former was always kind and patient, the latter was
abominably disagreeable both to him and to his young visitors. It
appeared that she never allowed him a moment's solitude, even in his
study. When his books came out and brought adverse reviews, she read
these aloud, with jeers not only to him, but to any casual guest. She had read them to these girls.
Small wonder that, in his school and in social life, his awkwardness
and unattractiveness increased. Yet he had reached late middle age
before the trustees of the school finally resolved to ask for his
He found himself, well over fifty, thrown out of his old groove,
with two helpless elderly women on his hands, and nothing between
the pitiful group and sheer starvation save his petty savings,
rapidly dwindling in the upkeep of the decent house he must maintain
if he was to have any hope of future work.
It was about this time that I saw the couple. It was just before my
marriage, when my people had a temporary home in a suburban lane,
abutting on another of much the same type. This latter was where the
old clerical schoolmaster lived, and he and his wife generally went
for an afternoon walk at the same hour as did my sister and I, and
we frequently saw them. She, a gaunt woman rather oddly dressed, and
carrying a parasol usually open, whether needed or not, invariably
strode on a few paces ahead. He, heavy and slow, plodded after her. She never looked to the right or to the left. But once or twice I
met his eyes—those of a half-stunned and bewildered animal. At that
time we knew nothing of their history, but we formed the opinion
that they were not a happy couple, and that "the old gentleman," as
we recklessly called him, had much
In those days—it afterwards appeared—he was making desperate efforts
to get employment. It was a hopeless quest. Educational methods were
rapidly changing. Probably he had never been a born educationist. Anyhow, he was utterly out-of-date.
When he had little more than £200 in the world, he punctually
despatched the whole of the annual £75 to the invalid sister-in-law,
still living in Dublin all unconscious of the facts.
In his hopelessness he was known to have applied even for resident
usherships. Old contemporaries to whom he presented himself knew
that he was now "impossible" even for such humble posts as these. But they feared to break his heart by telling him this plain truth,
so they tried to soften it to him by saying with a smile: "Oh,
Mr. Watson, that would never do! What would Mrs. Watson say to your
leaving her?" It was remembered afterwards that he made a heavy
pause, and then remarked: "I think that could be managed." It was
even thought that this might have suggested to his tottering mind
the terrible deed he was soon to do.
Into the details of the tragedy one need not go. But on one quiet
Sunday evening, when the pair were alone in the house, he slew this
wife of his by a sudden mortal blow, concealed the body, and when
their maid came home, accounted for a locked room and the mistress's
absence by a naïve story which would have aroused suspicion in
anybody but an easily-satisfied London girl. Two or three terrible
days passed by. He made some futile effort to get the body disposed
of, and occupied the intervals of his time by writing curious
stilted eulogia as by a widower over an inestimable wife. Discovery
was inevitable. He was formally accused, tried, and convicted but
charity was allowed to intervene (some thought not legally) and
consign him to Broadmoor Criminal Lunatic Asylum rather than to the
Old clerical friends were sometimes inclined to wonder which would
have been the kinder fate. Said one: "I often wake in the morning
and marvel what must be poor Watson's feelings when he realizes
himself in that awful place." Said the other, that vicar who had
known most of the miserable ménage: "He must feel that he has not
been in such peace for many years."
The poor, defeated old "criminal" long survived, but of course
never left his confinement.
I may be permitted to allude to two other well-known crime stories,
because a grim but almost poetically suggestive accident attached
itself to the one, while the other shows a mysterious turn of
thought in the criminal. Both incidents occurred in the sufficiently
tragic vicinity of the Strand, and therefore not far from the home
of my youth.
What is known as the Waterloo Bridge Mystery happened in 1857. All
one need recount is that late one evening a person, apparently an
elderly woman, passed the then existing toll-gate of Waterloo
Bridge, carrying with her a heavy bag. The toll-gate was at the
Strand end of the bridge. Next day the bag was seen resting on one o
the abutments of the bridge, which had checked its downward plunge
to the river. On examination, it was found to contain the remains
and clothing of a man. His identity was never discovered, but there
were signs that he had been a foreigner. The mystery remained
unsolved, though it was thought possible that the murdered man had
been a spy who had incurred the vengeance of some of the
conspirators against Napoleon III. London was then swarming with
Yet the tollman had been able to give a detailed description of the
person carrying the bag. His attention had been specially directed
to her because, by the clumsy way she had dragged her heavy burden
through the toll, his "marker" had recorded the passage of
people, and he had sworn at her for costing him a halfpenny!
It was a materialistic and gruesome version of the poet's pathetic
"Take, O boatman, thrice they fee;
Spirits twain have crossed with me."
The other story is rather more involved. A solicitor on the shady
side of middle age lured to his chambers in a street near Charing
Cross an elderly military man, whom he straightway attacked with
murderous missiles. A violent combat ensued, ending in the death of
the lawyer, while the officer himself had a narrow escape. The bone
of contention between these two well-placed elderly men was a woman,
herself no longer young, whose whole life, as I heard many years
after, had left a trail of misery behind.
But the curious thing was that, an hour or two before the tragedy,
and while the lawyer was planning it, he sent out his boy or his
housekeeper to buy a little singing-bird! The harmless mite was
found dead in its shop-cage when the terrible mêlée was
disentangled. What conceivable idea had been in the man's mind when
he did this?
In a fishing village in a Northern district of Scotland, I heard
from one who had known all the people concerned of a projected
murder which did not come off, but which in time developed a
A young man and maiden had loved—not wisely. Shame was staring them
in the face; suspicions must be very soon aroused. One night a
party of youths of the neighbourhood, returning from late choir
practice across a moor lying on their homeward way, came upon what
was unmistakably an open grave, and to make this doubly sure, a
spade lay beside the narrow pit. The young men instantly realized
that they had alighted on the scene of a crime, whether or not it
was yet carried out. They secreted themselves round about, and
waited. Presently they saw a girl timidly approach a neighbouring
clump of trees. Recognizing her, one of them made himself known to
her, discovered whom she was there to meet, hastily showed her what
she had to expect, and withdrew her also into hiding. Almost on the
instant the traitor lover hurried up, and, believing himself to be
first on the scene, went straight to the grave and pottered about
with the spade. Straightway the young men pounced on him, and he,
seeing how unmistakably his diabolic purpose stood revealed, neither
fled nor offered any denials. His neighbours, I think, promptly determined not to give him up to the law, but thrashed him
soundly on the spot. They took the girl safely to her home, leaving
him to follow how
he might. It was said that on his recovery he offered to marry her,
but she refused. He did not leave the place, but lived on, pursuing
sundry small vocations—a solitary, disowned man.
Now comes an awful fact. When this potential murderer had reached
middle age, a murder—one of mere quarrel and violence—occurred in
the district. A capital sentence was passed. The neighbouring
population has a great objection to "executions," and it was thought
a hangman would be hard to find. The potential murderer offered his
services, and they were accepted!
It is the psychology of the criminal, and not the horrors of his
crime, which interests thoughtful people. It seems to me singular
that there is no systematic inquiry into the genealogy, birth,
breeding, environment, and early tendencies of all criminals.
Without that, executions and punishments are a mere cutting-off of
the tops of the weeds, while society may be actually fostering the
soil and the atmosphere in which they multiply. Nor is it easy to join heartily in the popular cry that
"education" (so-called) and
good housing conditions will "put down" crime. They may, at most,
change its conditions. For the vilest criminals seldom come from the
poorest, the most uneducated, or the worst housed classes. Cold and
hunger are not usually incitements to horrible deeds. Even the
simple offence of drunkenness—the most likely to be affected by
better surroundings—often exists where material environment at least
is apparently of the best, as would be more manifest if drunkenness
were not easily veiled where there are friend, and money. The
inebriate of the better class is put into a cab and taken home; the
poverty-stricken drunkard is conveyed to the police-station. If
petty theft is generally—and naturally —confined to the needy,
fraudulent speculations and financial malpractices flourish in a
different class. A police-officer said to me the other day: "Some of
the poorest people are the most honest."
In my later middle age I undertook for a while to hold a Sunday
afternoon service for the women culprits in a provincial gaol. It
was the first time such a thing had been done in that place. I also
had leave to visit, when desirable, any prisoner in her cell.
These women were almost all of the lowest class, but it was those
slightly raised above it who seemed the most hopeless cases, while
the most promising of any were the tramps—often cheerful, elderly
dames, who bade one cordial farewell when their sentences expired,
and volunteered that they were "gaein' up avant the hills, whaur
there were no so mony 'hooses' [licensed], and then they would be a' richt."
There was one girl who had killed her infant, and it was not the
first time she had done this. She was the daughter of a respectable
widow with a small farm and well-doing younger children. This girl
was such a good "worker," and so generally quiet and reliable, that
she was given the privilege of acting as the matron's servant. I
never saw her without an artificial smile on her face. She never
showed any slightest sign of emotion.
There was another prisoner, a girl of respectable birth, and so
well-bred and educated that one of the many charges against her was
of successfully personating the daughter of a county gentleman for
purposes of fraud. Suddenly she professed a desire to turn over an
entirely new leaf, and special opportunities were given her. (I
remember the sudden and peculiar change which passed over her face
just before she announced this resolution.) After her release and
probation in a Rescue, I saw her several times in her father's
comfortable home. She remained there for some months, then "broke
out" again, and after manifold chances and changes, but no more
effort after reform, she got married rather suddenly to a man said
to be respectable, who, anyhow at the time, knew nothing of her past
history. She was specious in speech and dramatic in manner. From
information given me by her relatives, I could readily deduce that
from her cradle she had been "peculiar," degenerate, with criminal
tendencies. What horrified and startled me was that the secretary of
a certain philanthropic society was willing to aid and abet her in
entering domestic service without any forewarning to the luckless
employers. She did get a place as chambermaid at an hotel.
A frequent "short-sentence" prisoner was an elderly,
comfortable-looking matron, widow of a ship-captain. She had an
annuity of £52. Most of this must have gone in drink, as she was
freely supported in His Majesty's prisons for the greater part of
her time. Drunkenness was her sole offence.
There were many women who were constantly " in and out." They all
drank, but most were girls of the streets, who told me that their
lives would be insupportable without drink. A few were married
women, and some of these stole when drunk, but not otherwise. Others
were by habit and repute thieves.
One had a very sad story. She was thief and drunkard, had been in
prison unnumbered times, her sentences running from a few days or
weeks to three or four months. She had had two brothers, both
idiots, and her own mental calibre was of the poorest. Yet, despite
her dissipated life, she needed only a few days' prison discipline
to make her look like a rough but respectable country servant. She
had been so missionized "that whenever I suggested that my audience might
choose a hymn for itself, she always spoke first, naming some of the
hottest "revival" tendency. In the end she landed in the lunatic
asylum, where, I think, she should have been long before.
There was another even sadder story of the same sort. The central
figure was the daughter of a respectable rural postmaster with other
daughters of unblemished repute. The hearts of this family were wellnigh broken. They had repeatedly received the girl back to her
home, only to find it impossible to retain her. She, too, came in
and out of prison. She had had many children, whose, fatherhood she
herself could not indicate. To any ordinary observing eye she was
half-witted—had become so, if she had not been so always. The
matrons said she was so. But the doctors could not or would not "certify."
A case which for a long time gave us some hope was a young girl, "the maid of an inn," who, infatuated by one of the waiters, had
followed him to provincial cities, sacrificing honesty and character
for her passion. She was in gaol for robbing an employer of no very
high character. She, too, professed repentance. We got her two
years' probation and training in a Refuge, and then secured her a
suitable and kindly situation where her history and difficulties
were known. She gave great satisfaction for more than a year, and
then went off in a perfect cloud of lies and bewilderments—with a
There was another story, too, with singular sidelights on social
In one of the chief Scottish cities dwelt an old charwoman who,
whatever else she might be, worked hard for her own bread and for
that of a little girl who called her "grannie," and believed herself
to be the child of the old woman's daughter, an actress in Cairo. Presently the girl was old enough to be useful, and was very sharp
and bright. Then a well-dressed, well-appointed woman "made up to
her," as she expressed it, and told her that she was her
daughter—her illegitimate daughter—who had been given in infancy to
the old charwoman with a premium. The mother professed unbounded
penitence for her sin and her desertion of her child, and told her
that she was married to a respectable man who knew nothing of this
episode in her past. She gave the girl her address in a large house
in a good-class street, and the proposal she made was that her
alleged daughter should enter her service and enjoy most of the
privileges of her home without any unseemly revelation to the
The girl laughed her to scorn. It was plain that at first she had
the darkest suspicions as to the stranger's object. But she verified
her story so far that she did live in a respectable house, and was
the wife of a man in a good position. This did not alter the girl's
determination. "I'll stick to her who has behaved to me as a mother
and slaved for me," was her rejoinder.
Then the mysterious "mother" did a very unaccountable thing. She put
herself into communication with the "ladies" of a great charitable
organization, told them her story, and by her protestations of
remorse, and her reiterated fears for the girl's future, completely
won their sympathies. An attempt was made to prove legally that the
old charwoman was not a fit guardian for the girl, and the upshot
was that the girl was officially relegated to a reformatory.
But the "powers" had reckoned without their host. Twice the daring
maiden escaped, and twice was she re-consigned to durance, each time
farther from her old home. Then she was sent to a reformatory nearly
one hundred and fifty miles away. Again she escaped, and walked back!
She told me the story of that walk—of the "lifts" she got, and the
occasional bed at a cottage; how she spent one night in a field,
sitting in its midst in the bright moonlight so that she could see
if anybody approached.
She made straight to her "grannie," and there, of course, she was
promptly seized and officially "returned" by train. Her final
destination was to be the deserted reformatory, but first she was to
have a few days in prison.
As I entered the room where the prisoners were met, it struck me at
once that there was nothing of the criminal in this latest arrival,
only a blaze of defiance. I sought her story from the matron; it
was from her I got all its main lines. The girl was to go back to
the reformatory in a day or two, and there I followed her, and she
herself filled in the details.
I found the matron of the reformatory at her wits' end. She was
afraid to shut up her culprit, afraid to let her loose among the
other girls. The lass would not put on the reformatory clothes, and
made no secret of her intentions. She would escape again. If they
guarded her, she would wait till they were off their guard. She
would walk back; she had done it before, and could do it again;
and this time she would take care not to be caught at her journey's
She blazed away at me, jumping to the conclusion that I should
espouse her mother's cause as everybody else had done. "She is your
mother, they say," she mocked. "A pretty mother, to leave me all
these years, and now to want to 'take in' her husband and have me
sneaking about the house, a living lie!"
As soon as I could make myself heard I told her that my sympathies
were not instinctively with the mother that I quite agreed with
herself that the mother's conduct had forfeited her maternal rights,
and that the course of deception she had desired made her as unfit a
guardian and friend as the old charwoman could possibly be.
From that moment our way was clear. She at once calmed down,
discussed, reasoned, even admitted the reformatory matron to our
conclave though all the while she did not abate one whit of her
resolve "to take the road" as soon as possible. It was touching to
notice that she did not wish to believe it was her own mother who
had deserted her to strangers. She would not accept that "mother's" whole story, even though in part she could prove its truth. "She'll deceive her husband, she'll deceive me !" she cried Shakespeareanly. "Perhaps her own baby died," she hinted, "and she
wants me instead." She clung rather to the motherhood of the "actress in Cairo." "She must ha' left me with her own mother, and
she's always heard about me," she said. Yet as she named her, her
eyes blazed a warning that she dared say we would like to asperse
that "actress in Cairo," and had better not, and we did not, as
that dubious person was not in the question. She was stout in her
defence of "poor old grannie," even though she made the shrewd
admission, "She can't be so very bad, or she would not have to go
down on her old knees and scrub for her bread, now, would she?"
We got to practical things. She told us that there was a factory
near "grannie's" home where she could earn quite enough to keep
herself, and it was suggested that peace and security might be
insured if she went to work there, and no longer lived under "grannie's" roof, however often she saw her.
She considered the matter. "Grannie's getting old," she said. "She
stuck to me when I was a baby, and I'm going to stick to her now. But
think I might manage it. Only I shan't get there unless I run away,
and I'll run as soon and as fast as I can."
In the end officialdom yielded. A ticket was given her to return to
her native place, and the last we heard of her was that she was
working in the factory, and had opened an account with the
post-Office Savings Bank!
Despite its tremendous interest, "prison work is a most
heart-breaking and perplexing experience. The gaol I knew was one in
which the longest sentence was, I think, for one year. The "crimes"
were of a minor kind—socially, of course, troublesome and
unwholesome enough. But people doing deeds far more prejudicial to
the community never got inside the prison, but were often feasted
municipally and ecclesiastically belauded. The greater number of the
prisoners might have retained their freedom if they could have
afforded to pay a fine. Much of their mere ruffianism would have
been condoned and smiled over by high authorities if they had
chanced to be university students. Most of them must have known that
for one offence detected by the police ten quite as bad must have
been committed with "better luck."
Nearly every time I left the portal I said to the friend who
generally accompanied me: "Would this city of ours be really any
the worse if that gate were left open, and all those people regained
their freedom at once, as they all will regain it individually in
the course of a few months at most?"
It was a question neither of us could answer.
We know there are two aspects of punishment—one that it be
reformatory, the other that it be strictly punitive, with a view to
deterrence. But I own I could not see that the prison system, as I
beheld it, acted satisfactorily in either direction, possibly
because it halts between the two aims. I saw no movement either
towards the reformation of the prisoner or the protection of the
community. To most of the prisoners there could have been nothing
disagreeable in the rough but substantial prison cleanliness and
food. To many, prison was a place wherein to rest and recruit. On
the other hand, there was little or nothing to soften, to inspire,
to uplift. The best part of each degraded nature was as suppressed
as its worst part. Humanity was simply stultified. The perpetually
returning prisoners had actually that mysterious thing, the "institution-look."
Those perpetual returns showed how little there was about prison
that was "deterrent." I know of one poor young ex-prisoner—a lad,
the victim of his parents and the community which left him in their
evil power—who, when a Salvation Army officer asked him how he had
been able to endure his three months in that "dreadful place,"
promptly replied: "Dreidfu' place? Na, na; I never was so
comfortable, except years ago, when I was in the Sisters'
The inefficacy of even the sternest punishment to awaken the moral
sense, or even startle it, is well shown in an incident which
occurred to an ancestor of friends of mine. The good man, a farmer,
had taken a sack of meal to dispose of in Aberdeen
Castle market. It was in the days when people were hanged for any
petty theft, and an execution was in progress, the culprit being a
sheep-stealer. The worthy countryman stood aghast, when a stranger
bustled up with the question: "What's a-do?" "A hanging," said
the other, awed, "for stealing a sheep." "Eh, what won't folk risk
for gear!" cried the stranger. "Will ye just gie me a hand-up with
this sack?" The farmer promptly complied. It was only afterwards
that he discovered he had helped a thief to make off with the sack
he had brought to sell!
Somehow, when society is forced to defend itself, its action should
be at once curative and preventive. But how? That is not so easy to
explain. Only it will be certainly not attained by any uniform
treatment. Each individual case will have to be met on its own
ground. Is that too costly and troublesome? Whatever is worth doing
at all is worth doing well, and in the end it will be found most
economical so to do it.
THE MYSTERIOUS BORDERLAND.
I SHALL begin
this chapter by saying that I shall tell no story which I have not
heard, either from the people chiefly concerned, or from some who
had heard these narrate them. I could supply the names of all
my authorities, and I refrain simply because in some cases they have
passed beyond according me their permission, and in others I know
they would shrink from personal publicity. If some of our
deepest depths are ever to be opened, it must be nearly always under
a veil of anonymity. Indeed, some of the stories which reach
us only as fiction have deepest roots in genuine experiences.
There was a married couple whom we will call Mr. and Mrs.
Three, who had a friend much younger than themselves, in whom they
were greatly interested, but whom they did not see very often, as he
lived far away. Presently they heard of him as passing through
much domestic sorrow and trial, and finally breaking down in health.
By-and-by he paid them a visit, and they were pained by the change
in his appearance and by his visibly low spirits. Owing to her
husband's professional engagements, it fell to Mrs. Three to "speed
the parting guest." They were actually in the King's Cross
Railway-station, walking up and down awaiting the train, when the
invalid suddenly confided to his old friend that he had lost all
faith; that, aware of standing on the edge of the grave, he could
see no hope whatever beyond it. This was a sad change in his
views, and Mrs. Three tried to cheer him by suggesting that it was
only the gloom attendant on his low physical condition. Their
parting was sorrowful, both realizing it was likely to be the last,
and she returned home melancholy, and buried the pathetic confidence
in her own heart.
The young man shortly afterwards went abroad—to the other
side of the world. He wrote letters to the Threes, but never
alluded to that parting conversation, though he made it clear that
he still realized his end was drawing near. On his way home he
died almost suddenly, and this happened when Mrs. Three's husband
was so dangerously ill that she could not tell him even of the death
until some time afterwards. His condition was still precarious
when they went down into the country. Mrs. Three was very sad.
In the farm-house where the Threes lodged there was also
staying a young artist. He had his own apartments, and they
were all in the house for two or three weeks before they ever came
in contact. Then the landlady asked, as a favour to herself,
that the Threes would allow the young man to share their parlour for
a day or two, as she was expecting a visit from some relations.
They consented. The young man was introduced, and seemed a
good-hearted, thoughtless sort of youth, inclined to shirk the more
serious side of life. In the course of conversation it was
found that the artist came from the town where the Threes' dead
friend had lived, and had been acquainted with him. He
deplored his death, and added that "he had been too religious."
Mrs. Three, with her doleful secret, said nothing.
Next morning the party met again at breakfast. The
young man once or twice made as if he would say something he could
not quite bring out. At last he said, with some hesitation: "I
have a message for you, Mrs. Three. I suppose I ought to
deliver it, only the worst of it is it is not true." She
listened, astonished. "It is from our mutual friend who is
dead," he said. "I woke in the night—I don't know what I had
been dreaming about—but I sat up wide awake, and said: 'I am to be
sure and tell Mrs. Three that C. B. is not dead. He says I am
to tell her that was all a mistake.'"
Mrs. Three says that the gloom lifted from her mind as a
cloud rises from the landscape. The secret between her and the
dead made this a veritable message of reassurance. With
perhaps too much reticence, she made no explanation to the young
artist. Had she herself received this dream-message, she would
have set it down as the working of her own mind.
It was during that same country visit that Mrs. Three says
she had an experience which had tremendous influence on herself, and
yet was so subtle and elusive that it wellnigh vanishes from any
attempt to tell it. The Threes had a large bedroom, one end of
which was filled by a wide east window looking straight into the
heart of some fine old trees, through which poured the early morning
sunshine. For three or four nights in succession she had a
series of dreams, which, when she awoke at dawn, she remembered
clearly, but dared not rouse her convalescent husband to report them
to him. She went to sleep again, and on re-awakening the
dreams were forgotten. After this had happened more than once
she tried hard to fix them in her mind as she lay, seeing the early
sunlight among the leaves, but motionless, lest any movement should
deprive the invalid of priceless repose. It was no use.
In common daylight all had faded, save the recollection that in
dream after dream she and her husband had been seated side by side
watching dramas in which they themselves and their friends and the
circumstances of their lives were pourtrayed. Mysteries had
been made plain. Tangles had been smoothed out. She
could recall that in the dreams she and her husband constantly
turned to each other, whispering: "Now we understand; now we see why
such and such an event had to be. And all is well." That
impression stayed, but the dramas were gone for ever, and could
never be recaptured.
Once Mrs. Three had a singular dream on a voyage to X., where
neither she nor her husband had ever before been. She was
slightly seasick, and her husband made a couch for her on deck,
where she fell asleep. After a while she woke suddenly to find
him bending over her with a cup of coffee, and she cried in much
agitation: "How glad I am to see you! I had dreamed that you
were dead, and that I was travelling to X. I was very sad, and
I was accompanied by a youth." Mr. Three was much interested,
and asked if she could describe this companion. "Was he Y. or
W.?" naming relations and friends. "No," she said: "it was
nobody I have ever seen."
After they had left X. and were returning homeward by land,
they made acquaintance at a friend's house with a youth, also a
stranger in the district. Mrs. Three had thought no more of
her dream, and did not recognize this young man as figuring in it.
But she did realize a singularly painful impression on meeting
him—an impression so strong that he and others noticed it; an
impression, too, which was justified by many after circumstances,
though at the time it soon passed utterly away.
After Mrs. Three's widowhood, events of a most unexpected
nature directed the removal of her household to X., and she and this
young man proved to be the forerunners of the family, though they
did not travel together; nor did she recall her dream until she had
been settled in X. for some time, when it returned on her mind in a
vivid flash of memory.
Most who have had experience of these
Of sense and outward things,
Fallings from us, vanishings,"
will agree that months and years may pass without any visitations of
the sort, at least to be realized or remembered.
In the next story Mrs. Three had reached later middle age.
There was a lad—motherless—whom she had for years mothered,
and for whom she had felt much of a mother's affection. He had
gone from her home into the world, had met with sundry
disappointments and rebuffs, but on the whole had fared very well,
and was welcomed in his holidays under her roof. Such a visit
she was expecting. He had not been able to fix the precise
date by letter, and she thought he might appear quite suddenly or
with the brief forewarning of a telegram.
At this juncture she had an invitation to spend a day or two
in a mansion house not very far from her home. As there was a
special reason for the invitation, and as its duration was to be
short, she accepted it, and left instructions that the visitor, if
he arrived, should be welcomed in her house, or that if a telegram
came, it should be at once forwarded to her. She went off in
high spirits, passed a pleasant evening with her hosts and their
house-party, and retired to her room.
It was a large, cheerful apartment, with splendid views, and
provided with every appointment to meet any need of any guest.
She went straight to bed, but kept a light burning for a while, and
from the bedside books selected nothing more emotional than a volume
of Matthew Arnold's Poems. As she soon grew drowsy, she
extinguished her light and slept.
When she awoke it was broad daylight, and every detail of the
furniture was visible. But between her in bed and the pedestal
writing-table there hung something like a transparent scene.
At least, she could see everything through it, yet it too was quite
distinct. At its top and bottom it faded off into
nothingness—as vignettes do—but in its middle stood something like a
shelf. On this lay a human form under a grey covering.
The countenance was turned from her; the whole had the curious,
melancholy effect of the "face turned to the wall" in pain or
sorrow. But by the form of the head, with its thickly-curling
brown hair, she recognized the young friend who was expected at her
own home. All was motionless, all swiftly faded, but she
remained alarmed, uneasy. She puzzled herself over the
shelf-like construction. What could it signify? Suddenly
she remembered the arrangements of a mortuary to which she had once
gone to visit the remains of one who had died in exile. It
sprang into her mind that her young friend might have been
travelling through the night, that there might have been a railway
accident, and that he might be lying dead in some such place.
Breakfast-time brought her no telegrams nor other tidings.
There was no account of any accident in the papers, but as she knew
the lad would have been on some branch-lines, there might not have
been time for such a report to travel. After spending a day of
miserable depression she was thankful when her visit came to an end
She returned to her own house, to find all well, but no news
of the expected guest, whose brother was also eagerly and cheerfully
Next morning the brother came to her, much agitated, with an
open letter in his hand. "My brother is not coming at all," he
cried; and as she exclaimed in surprise, he went on: "He bids me
break the news to you—he knows how you will feel it—he has started
off for the other side of the world."
The shock was overwhelming, for, without explanation or
farewell, the young man had gone off to a deadly climate. The
night that Mrs. Three had spent in the country house had been his
first night at sea, and the vision "shelf " had been clearly his
berth. It was not till long afterwards that Mrs. Three learned
that there had been circumstances which had made his going away
tragic and pitiful to the last degree, evidently filling him with a
remorseful regret for those he left behind which had been strong
enough to convey his image, condition, and environment to her mind.
Many years afterwards, in connection with the same young
friend, Mrs. Three had one of those most perplexing dreams which
forecast a whole sequence of conditions not yet in existence.
She had never seen the young man since he went away; his letters had
been few and brief, giving little indication of his present life or
Mrs. Three was at that time living in a large house, her own
property, which, for many reasons, it was then most unlikely she
would ever leave.
One April evening she went with a friend, Miss O., to look
over a house Miss O. thought of renting. It pleased them.
It was empty, and they did not linger there many minutes. Miss
O. decided to take it, but was not to enter into tenancy for some
About a fortnight afterwards Mrs. Three dreamed vividly of
her young friend abroad. But she dreamed he had returned to
the old country, and he was with her in a strange room furnished for
habitation, which, she recorded in her diary next day, "looked like
the drawing-room in Miss O.'s new house." But in the dream
this was apparently her own home.
More than a year after, owing to many unexpected changes,
illness, and difficulties with domestic service, Mrs. Three
determined to sell her house, and as she knew that might mean a
sudden departure, she arranged with Miss O. that she should take up
her abode with her temporarily. There were great difficulties
in the arrangement, but it seemed the best thing to be done, and
Miss O. kindly consented. Mrs. Three's house was sold with
unexpected quickness, and she had not been under Miss O.'s roof for
more than a few weeks when most unexpectedly the young man wrote
from abroad that he was coming back to this country. And it
was in the drawing-room of the dream that he paid her his first
These forecasting dreams are very strange. A friend of
mine told me that shortly after her mother's death she dreamed that
they two were walking together across a bridge amid magnificent
scenery quite new to my friend. She spoke of this dream to her
father next day. Many years afterwards, through sudden
changes, she went to a town in the South of France. The moment
she left the railway-station and looked around the strange place she
recognized the landscape of her dream, even in some of its smaller
details. Eventually she settled there for some years.
Another story told me by those chiefly concerned in it is as
A brother and sister were sitting together in an upper
chamber adjoining that in which an aged grandmother was in bed and,
as they believed, asleep. Suddenly they saw her enter their
room in a quiet, mysterious sort of way. She turned to a table
and fingered some Bibles and prayer-books lying thereon. They
watched her, astonished, as she had not left her bed for some time,
and they did not speak to her because they thought she must be
sleep-walking, and alarm might be dangerous. She stayed only a
minute or two, and as soon as she had gone out the sister crept
after her to her bedroom. But she found the door shut, and the
old lady in bed, lying quietly, sound asleep, with no sign of recent
movement. It is many years since this story was told me by the
young man, and I may have omitted or varied some details which I
have no opportunity to revise. But it is substantially
correct. The young people told their parents of the
"apparition," and it was remarked that it probably bore a fatal
significance. The old lady died two days afterwards.
I recall a "dream" incident told me by those to whom it
occurred—a Scottish minister and his wife. They had been in
New Zealand, and just before they started for their return the wife
dreamed that they were on their voyage, when their vessel was
suddenly overshadowed and overpowered by some large white mass,
which she could not define. She told her dream to her husband, and
after she was on shipboard she repeated it, until the captain
requested her husband to ask her not to do so, lest it might make
other passengers nervous. One night they were all in the saloon
amusing themselves, when they suddenly heard much trampling and
urgent cries on deck. The minister ran up the companion stairway to
see what was happening. He met one of the officers coming down, with
a face deathly white. "We have had the narrowest escape from
collision," said he, "with a great liner coming at full speed, with
all her sails set." The minister went on deck, and saw the danger
veering away, a vague mass of whiteness in the surrounding gloom.
It is not many years since the country was startled by news of Cecil
Rhodes' dangerous illness. A friend of mine, a doctor, had cherished
very bitter feelings against him as a politician—had regarded him in
that light almost as a personification of evil, whose removal might
be a national blessing. One evening he remarked to his household: "Cecil Rhodes is not going to die yet; he is reported as better." Next morning, as he came to the breakfast-table, he said, with a
strangely changed manner: "Cecil Rhodes is dead. I was at his
death-bed last night. He was so distressed at leaving all his work,
and I tried to cheer him by saying who knew what he might be able to
do yet? One of his doctors, who should have been there, could not
come, and I took his place." He went on to describe the room—rather
bare, and the death-bed as more like a couch than a bed. I heard my
friend relate this dream some hours before the report of Cecil
Rhodes' death reached us. I know, too, that my friend had not been
outside his own house between the dream and his narrating it. When
details of the dying scene came, it was stated that one of the
doctors who should have been present was unavoidably absent. Also
that Rhodes' last utterances were to the effect "that there was so
little done, and so much to do." I have never been able to discover
if the description of the room was correct.
Another significant dream was dreamed by a lady whom we will call
Mrs. Four—a very quiet, sensible, matter-of-fact person, who, owing
to her husband's avocations, spent much of her life in Australia,
whence, however, she frequently returned to the old country. On one
of these occasions their homeward passage was taken, and all their
luggage packed for their departure early next morning. She had
received her usual letters from her family in Britain, full of good
news and prospective welcome. But when she slept she dreamed that
her father passed slowly by the foot of the bed. The old gentleman
had been twice married, and both his wives were dead. In the vision
the first wife walked before him, and the second followed after. Mrs. Four woke her husband and told him, but he did not think much
of it, and she fell asleep again, when the dream was repeated. Again
she roused her husband, and he was now interested, and made a note
of the date and hour. They went on shipboard, made the voyage in
perfect comfort, but when the ship neared the docks, there stood
Mrs. Four's maiden Sister, attired in deepest mourning. The father
had died—allowing for difference of latitude [ED.―longitude?]—at the very time of his
daughter's dream. His death had been very sudden, preceded only by
an hour or two of illness.
Yet another dream story was told me by one of its principals, nearly
thirty-five years ago, but my memory is quite clear as to the main
points of the story.
When my friend, whom I will call Mr. Five, told me the story, he was
a man well over sixty, who had spent all his life in a Government
office where the work demanded scrupulous exactitude. He was a man
of singularly sweet and transparent character. His story was this:
His wife had had a sister, to whom they had both been fondly
attached, and who died in early womanhood. Some time afterwards a
friend of the husband's—I think he was a lieutenant in the
navy—undertook an expedition to the neighbourhood of the Dead Sea—an
exploration somewhat allied to Mr. Five's official work, and the
lieutenant was well known in his office.
The lieutenant and his journeyings had been heard of several times
before a certain night, when my friend, at that time a young man,
had a dream. He dreamed that he walked beside an expanse of water,
when suddenly he saw his dead sister-in-law walking in front of him,
briskly and gaily, though he did not notice how quickly till he
tried to overtake her, and found he could not do so. Presently his
friend, the young lieutenant, rose up out of the waters—but not at
all as a dripping, disconsolate figure—and joined the young maiden
in front, they linking their arms together. The dreamer now made
desperate effort to overtake them, when at a turn in the path they
wholly disappeared, and in his surprise, he awoke! In the morning he
told his wife, and, on her advice, made a note of the date in his
Some time passed. In those days—the middle of last
century—communication between Great Britain and remote districts of
Palestine was both difficult and slow. The dreamer and his wife had wellnigh forgotten the incident, when one morning, on entering his
office, his chief said to him:
"We have sad news of your friend, Lieutenant
―. He is drowned—" (I
think it was in the Dead Sea.)
"Stop!" cried my friend. "I will tell you the date of his death;"
and, producing his notebook, he read out the date of the day
immediately preceding the night of his dream. The chief, astonished,
at once showed him the letter which confirmed the fact.
I know a lady—we will call her Mrs. Six―who has been more than once
guest in the mansion of a territorial magnate, who had succeeded to
his estate only by the deaths of two brothers, both dying—at many
years' interval—under singularly tragic and romantic circumstances. Both their histories, which Mrs. Six had heard at the time, had
deeply interested her—the one quite as much as the other. On her
first visit, as a perfect stranger, to their successor, she says she
was always aware that he was accompanied by another figure, which
entered and left the rooms as he did. She was aware that this was
one of the dead brothers, but had no impression as to which it was.
In speaking of the matter, she always used the word "aware," saying
that she knows she saw nothing "with these eyes." At the time she
says she wondered which of the brothers it could be, and asked
herself why, if it were "all her imagination," she was not aware of
both, since her interest had been as much arrested by the one story
as by the other. The impression was not repeated at later visits.
I will now pass on to one or two other stories, not told to me by
the actual actors therein, but received from those in intimate
relation with them, or who had learned them from public report at
In one of the Indian border wars there was engaged an officer of
high repute, the member of an ancient county family. One night the
laird, its head, started from his sleep, exclaiming: "There's the
shot that has killed my brother!" His wife told him: "It was but
a dream; he must have given an anxious thought to his brother
before going to sleep."
Next day the pair were in their garden, directing their gardeners,
when the laird suddenly exclaimed: "Do you hear the bagpipes?" "No," answered the lady. "I can hear nothing. I am sure there is no
"Strange!" said the laird, "for I can even hear what is played. It
is 'The Flowers o' the Forest are a' wede away.'"
A few hours later came the telegram reporting that the brother had
been shot down by some border warrior, and over his lonely grave the
men of his regiment had played the pathetic air whose mysterious
echo seemed to have reached the laird.
A very picturesque dream-story was told me by a young Indian
Mohammedan who was at that time studying medicine in this country. He was the
younger member of a large family. Their father had been
long dead, but the widowed mother (though she had never seen the
outside of her own house) remained the most important member of the
family, whom all her grown-up children consulted on all matters
connected with the management of the family estate. Two of the elder
sons had left home to fill important educational and legal posts. Suddenly the mother was taken seriously ill. The absent members of
the family were at once recollected. It was decided to send for one
of them, as he was near enough to come quickly; but as the other
was about two days' journey off, and as death was imminent, it was
resolved not to send him any distressing news till it could be
definite. To the surprise of the household, this brother presently
appeared at the gate, announcing: "I fear something is wrong with
my mother, for the night before last I dreamed of my father, and he
was measuring off a new grave in our burying-place." I think it was
added that the mother had not even been ill at that time. In the
result, while the brother who had received the mysterious message
was in good time, he who had been summoned by telegram arrived too
Another story, of quite different nature, is peculiar in this—that
its whole significance lies in its two parts coming together only
through both happening to reach the ears of a person wholly
unconcerned in the matter.
Many years ago there was a young minister in trouble with his sect
concerning "heresy," which in his case at that time meant nothing
more than unwillingness to teach the doctrine of eternal punishment
in the fashion in which it was then inculcated. We will identify him
by the name Mr. Seven.
He was an old friend of a family in London, whom we will know as the
Eights, and at this time became a frequent guest in their house. On
one occasion he met there a young married lady, Mrs. Nine, a woman
of great beauty, and with every manner of one used to "good
society." All he remembered about her afterwards was that he was
told by one of the Eights that she was a member of the household of
distinguished literary people, whose very name he forgot!
Old Mr. Eight was much interested in spiritualistic phenomena, and
was given to impose experiments with planchette on any of his guests
who would yield to his wish. He suggested an experiment to Mrs. Nine
and Mr. Seven, and they both put their hands on the little
instrument, and presently there came some sort of indefinite
message, of which none of the party (all the Eights were present)
seemed to retain any remembrance. There was nothing more, and after
some desultory conversation the visitor went away, and Mr. Seven and
Mrs. Nine never met again.
Mr. Seven presently went off to some temporary charge in a remote
fishing town. He kept up some correspondence with the Eights, and
eventually wrote to them, asking if all was well with Mrs. Nine. They answered in the affirmative, and he then wrote them the
narrative of a singular experience. On a certain evening (we will
say the third Saturday in the month of November) he had returned
weary from a round of pastoral visits, and was very glad to sit down
beside the fire at his comfortable tea-table in his lamp-lit,
curtained room. His landlady brought in the meal, and left him
alone. Presently he "became conscious" of the presence of Mrs.
Nine, who stood at the other side of his table, and "conveyed to
his mind" that she was terribly miserable, and was passing through
some great crisis. He told me afterwards that he could not say he "saw" her, and he was sure he heard no sound. It was only a strong "interior" impression. Thereupon the Eights did what Mr. Seven had
not asked them to do: they told the story to Mrs. Nine, and made
direct inquiry if it had any basis. She laughed it to scorn,
declaring that she knew of nothing whatever to account for it. Of
this they informed Mr. Seven, who was vexed at their investigation,
and altogether bewildered and "put about," feeling that he had
been the befooled victim of misleading hallucination.
Presently Mrs. Nine, who had never called on me before, though I saw
her constantly at friends' houses, paid a visit to my house. I was
out, but she left a message entreating me to return her visit, and
spend a long afternoon at her home. I accepted the invitation a few
days afterwards. I found her alone. After some casual talk, she
alluded to the Eights' story, and laughed over it. But by-and-by she
changed her tone. She said she wished to tell me something, though
she had been determined not to gratify "the Eights' curiosity." Thereupon she revealed a dreadful story, of which I need only say
that she declared that throughout that month of November she had
been under severe physical and moral strain, exposed to a deadly
temptation, which culminated on (we will say) a certain Saturday
night. But though circumstances helped her memory as to the day of
the week, her mental and emotional bewilderment had been so extreme
that she could not recall the date, only she was sure it was not at
the beginning nor at the end of the month. She had not yielded in
the evil hour, though from her own account this seemed mainly from
weakness and irresolution. She declared that from beginning to end
of the trouble she had never given one thought to Mr. Seven, whose
very personality she did not find it easy to recall!
An Aberdeenshire medical man, working for some time among the
remotest of the Shetland Islands, told me the following curious
incident: Summoned one night to visit a patient on another island,
he was rowed over by two boatmen. When they were well out on the
water, they heard what they thought to be the oft-repeated and
pitiful cry of a lamb. It seemed to come from a strip of sand at the
foot of a cliff. As this was inaccessible from land in any other
way, the doctor thought the lamb must have fallen over, and, if not
already injured, would certainly starve to death. Therefore he
exhorted his boatmen, on their return journey (he himself having to
stay away all night), to put into that shore, and either take away
the animal or end its sufferings. When he came back during the next
day, the men, awed, told him that they had carried out his wish. But
there was no lamb there. There was the body of a drowned seaman.
"Second sight" lingered in Shetland till very recently. There were
two people who had the "gift," and the man, at least, very much
disliked to exercise it. Once he was induced to do so by an aged
Shetland lady who had been very kind to him. The occasion was the
loss—the absolute disappearance—of a Shetland boat, with all her
crew. It appears that when "Jamie" was, most reluctantly, thrown
into "the trance," he straightway described a spot among the rocks
of a certain island, adding the strange detail that "Jenny [the
other seer] was sitting there." I am told that it afterwards
transpired that at that very time "Jenny" was also making a
clairvoyant investigation, and had described the same scene. In
modern psychic phrase, it was her "astral body" which the other
seer had beheld. A few planks, believed to have belonged to the lost
vessel, were afterwards found at the place indicated.
Here I may permit myself to make one or two comments. Many of the
preceding incidents may be easily explained by some as "mere
coincidences." It may be replied that many "coincidences"
occurring in particular directions may well point to an underlying
law. Then it is often said that unless the forecast or the
coincidence "came out right" we should hear nothing of it—that we
know of all the "hits," but not of the "misses." To this one may
rejoin that we do not know all of the "hits." We have seen in the
story of Mr. Seven and Mrs. Nine how untruthfulness may intervene. And, again, I have known
many stories which would have been
excellent "hits" had they been laid before proper witnesses
before the event, or had there been any written record as to dates,
etc. I have not told any incidents which I found vitiated in this
way, for their sole value could be but as straws showing the way of
Again, if a dream-warning is heeded, it can never be verified
beyond a certain point—as, for instance, an old friend of ours, Miss
Ten, was a devoted worker among the poor in Edinburgh, daring the
worst slums in the course of her labours. One night her
brother-in-law, a minister working in a district quite apart from
hers, dreamed of seeing her going her rounds. He saw her pass from
house to house, till she entered one with a peculiar archway cutting
across its entry. She went upstairs, and on the top flat met a
hideous hunchback, who killed her with one blow. Next day he told
his wife, but they did not think much about it till the dream was
repeated next night. Then he called on his sister-in-law, and asked
her whether she was working in ― Close. She told him yes, but she
had not been working there very long. "Did she know a house with a
curious arch in its entry?" Yes, she had been in it; it had a bad
reputation, but she had seen most of its tenants, and found them
disposed to be friendly. She wondered where her relative's questions
were leading. "What tenant had she not seen?" "A deformed man who
lived on the top flat, and who was said to be 'very queer.'" The
minister persuaded her to leave off visiting that house, and secured
an arrangement by which a man-worker took her place.
I have always felt much sympathy with Mr. Seven's
painful perplexity, owing to a very slight experience of my own. In the
seventies "thought-reading" first came into notice. On one
occasion an acquaintance asked me if I could say what was in her
mind—there was something very definite. We had no "contact," but
were seated in a room among other people. I looked at her for a
moment, and indicated in a whisper what I felt sure her "thought"
was. She laughed derisively, and told me I was absolutely and
completely mistaken. I never forgot my feeling of dismay, of being
somehow "put wrong." It followed me for weeks. It was more than a
year afterwards when she told me I had been quite right, but that at
the time she was "not inclined to own it."
I could give more of these stories, and some of those I withhold are
of touching and poetic beauty, but they lie too near the sacred
secrets of loving hearts to be laid open, even under the thickest
and most guarded of disguises.
I will now pass on to mysteries of a more public nature.
When I was in Athens some years ago, a resident there told me that
there had lately been a bad accident to a coach on the road to
Phalerum Bay, a popular Athenian drive. On its outward way the
horses had, at a certain point, shown themselves very restless and
unmanageable. There was nothing to cause them to take fright—the
road was straight and bare, and absolutely solitary. The driver
succeeded in controlling them. On the return journey he was not so
fortunate. He saw a peasant woman in full local costume at the
roadside, and at that instant the horses became absolutely wild, and
overturned the coach. Nearly everybody was more or less hurt. A lady
who had been seated on the box exclaimed: "Where is that
country-woman, that we may send her forward to get help?" No peasant
woman was to be seen. Yet the passengers had seen one so near at
hand that it seemed she might be herself involved in the debris. But
she was never seen again, though there was no hiding-place into
which she could have disappeared. The Greek populace whispered the
superstition that it was "a nereid" who had frightened the horses.
When, in the early sixties, I first visited the Highland burgh of
Tain, witches were still to be found there, mostly women,
occasionally men, living alone in remote huts. Wonderful stories
were told of the cures they effected, even by what in the cant of
to-day would be called "absent treatment," and that not only in the
case of humans, but also of animals, whose "faith" could scarcely
be a part of the remedial measures.
My friends told me that at one part of the road as it approached the
ancient "royal burgh" riding and driving accidents were of very
frequent occurrence—indeed, that it might almost be said that these
happened nowhere else. There was nothing visible to account for
this, but one of the two most famous Tain witches declared that when
she passed the spot she always saw the figure of "a man in a bluidy
sark" (shirt). Strangely enough, when some digging was done in the
course of renewing the dyke, the labourers came on the skeleton of a
man, the skull clove in! The witch's fame rose high among the
uneducated people. But my friends felt that this strange
verification was rather discredited by the fantasticalness of other
of the same woman's revelations—as, for example, when she declared
that, coming from market in the company of the rival witch, this
companion had suddenly dropped down "and run away in a hundred
Yet some of us may think that this might be but a simple form of
that allegorical speech by which seers strive to convey their deeper
meanings. Is not Professor Münsterberg of Harvard, in his work on "Psychology and Crime," driven to express himself in the phrase "the
normal personality went to pieces"? In one household that I wot of
the phrase "dropped down and ran away in a hundred rabbits" has
become a phrase in use when anybody's arguments suddenly fall and
scatter themselves in weak and angry protests.
To-day the names of certain great scientists give prestige to the
investigation of what is called "occult phenomena." But less than
forty years ago so-called "investigators" were mostly divided into
fanatical and unphilosophic devotees or bitter sceptics. Therefore
any sensible people who felt interested and inquiring were inclined
to keep their researches as far as possible to themselves. I was
first drawn into such investigation through Mr. and Mrs. S. C. Hall,
who were both convinced believers, though he was by far the more
enthusiastic, while she was so alive to the difficulties and even
dangers of such investigation that she would not allow me to be
present at any séance until I had written my first book, and so
earned a right, as she put it, "to know what was going on in the
world." Even then she probed deeply into my faiths and feelings, and
it was not till she satisfied herself that these were of a kind not
likely to be shaken or unduly excited that she gave me an invitation
to be present at a gathering in her own house, presided over by the
famous Daniel D. Home. The rest of the circle consisted of the Halls
themselves; two young men of the highest rank, one since well known
as a scientist and the other as a traveller; an elderly barrister
from the Temple; another elderly man, a lecturer on social subjects; and a youth nearly related to the greatest British author then
I need not detail what happened. It was all novel then. It is quite
common and familiar now. But as some misconceptions seem still to
prevail among many, I should like to say that all the articles of
furniture which became involved were the familiar objects of the
Halls' own drawing-room, where we sat. Also that the room was
specially well-lighted, by an arrangement of wall illumination which
did not leave a shadow lurking in any corner. Further, the famous
author's relation sat on the floor during the greater part of the
séances to bear witness that Mr. Home's feet did not come into play.
I remember Mrs. S. C. Hall saying to me, even after all her previous
precautions, "that she hoped I would not be frightened," whereupon
Mr. Hall asserted: "Pussy [their pet name for me] would not be
frightened if she saw the mischief himself." I must say that on this
occasion, as on every other when I was present at séances—as I was
several times during a few following years—I was always conscious of
a curious sort of calm; I should have been astonished at nothing. I
was not so much fearless as oddly indifferent and "detached." It
was this that started me on the theory that some at least of the
so-called "phenomena" were, after all, not "objective," but were rather
produced on the minds of the sitters by some influence emanating,
whether consciously or not, from the medium. I always refused to say
what I had "seen "at a séance; I said only what I "thought I had
seen," adding, however, that it had seemed at the time as real as
did the presence of those who were questioning me on the subject.
I was confirmed in this by an incident which the Halls told me
happened at a séance at which I was not present. A "form"
appeared, looking, they said, like a "sketch" on the atmosphere,
but while those at the side saw a profile, those in front beheld a
full face. It stayed long enough for Mr. Hall and a scientific man
who was present to discuss its nationality, etc. There were ten or
eleven people present, and they could all see it save one lady, a
fanatical believer ready to accept everything without question. Yet
she could not see this form, visible to all the others, some of them
Mr. Hall told me that in some of his earlier "sittings" with
powerful "media" he had noticed that nothing whatever occurred
while a certain young friend was in the room. She was a mere girl,
fair and gentle. On one occasion of conspicuous failure it struck
him that she must be the cause, and he asked her to go to his study
and oblige him by doing some writing for him. Directly she was gone
the "phenomena" began and when questions were asked as to what
had been the obstacle, the girl's name was at once spelled out, but
no explanation was given. Mr. Hall said he could never understand
it, and he never did, for not till after his death did the lady
herself say to me, without any leading question on my part: "Nothing ever happened when I was there; I did not want to see
anything, and I willed with all my might and main that nothing
Everybody knows about the famous Home trial, which for the time
covered so-called spiritualism with obloquy, about as logically as
if Christianity were condemned because some of its ecclesiastics had
been found guilty of simony. Mr. Home had been consulted as a medium
by a wealthy old widow, who through him received messages of a
mundane nature reputed to be from her dead spouse—altogether the "under-side" of the whole matter. Presently the dead man was
supposed to bid her to adopt Daniel Home, and to secure him from any
future caprice of hers by a deed of gift of £70,000—only a part of
her fortune. Daniel Home certainly did not at once rise to this
offer. It is but fair to say this, for I happened to be at the
Halls' house on the very day when the matter was in the balance. Daniel Home was running in and out, consulting my two old friends. Mr. Hall was much excited, gleeful, and desirous that the old lady's
offer should be accepted. He said—what was quite true—that her
wealth was immense, that she had no near relatives, and none friendly
or helpful, and that she could not expect Daniel Home, a middle-aged
stranger, to devote his life to her old age without some security
against change or disputes over her will after her death. Mrs. Hall,
who was usually inclined to agree with her husband, strongly took
the opposite view. If "Daniel" would listen to her, she said he
would have nothing to do with the affair. She asked me what I
thought. I said I wholly agreed with her. Mr. Hall admitted that
"Daniel" was very doubtful of acceptance, and inclined to agree with
us. But in the end he took the fortune, and the result was misery,
caprice, the interference of the distant relatives, and a trial
which covered Home and his "spiritualism" with disgrace.
It must be said that if the mere money had been all Home's thought,
he could have saved it by going abroad and taking it with him, as I
understand there are countries where no civil action could have
followed him. After the trial, when, according to the verdict, he
had surrendered all, he looked much happier, and quite different
from the miserable creature he had seemed during the few months
while he was "a rich man." He was a strange being, accomplished, a
good reciter, and with other talents. He had two wives in
succession, both well-born Russians, but neither, so I understand,
him any appreciable fortune. The Halls declared that he did not
deteriorate under his "mediumship," as many media seem to do. But he
had no settled pursuit in life, and it was understood that any
regular employment would have interfered with his "gift "—a theory
which, to my mind, carried condemnation with it.
It has often struck me that the temperament and history of ordinary
"media" are not unlike those of what we call "genius" when not in
its highest developments. There is the same bewildering
inconsistency between the "inspiration" and the character of the
individual through whom it comes, and instead of the higher
gradually raising the lower, as it should do, and can, there is
generally the same downward tendency to the animal nature, the same
facile submission to any dominant influence. Finally, long before
old age comes to the minor "genius," inspiration fails, the "poem"
is palpably "pumped up," the whole tone is lowered. This answers to
that failure of the mediumistic "power" whereupon fraud is
attempted and detected, and another miserable story is added to the
many that have gone before!
I have had one or two quaint experiences in so-called "clairvoyance." My husband had a client whose wife claimed this gift. She did not exercise it as a public medium, but was willing to be
consulted privately, and, according to her husband detectives often
sought her help, her one proviso before giving it being that she
should never be asked to "see" anything which should unwittingly
put her in contact with a dead body, she having, in trance, once
come in connection with a drowned child, and had in consequence
suffered severely in health. Her husband, an artisan of high class,
was anxious that my husband should see something of her gift. That
evening my husband and I discussed it with some friends who
were supping with us, and who urged the experiment. Both my husband
and myself were averse to any investigation which should bring us
into pretended knowledge of the future, or of anything concerning
the absent, etc. But I had lately lost a silk dress which had
vanished mysteriously from my wardrobe, and I said I should be quite
willing that the clairvoyants be asked what had become of it.
Our servant was bringing in the dishes while we talked. Next
morning, immediately after breakfast, she made some false pretext
for going out, and never came back again, but sent a messenger to
fetch away her boxes.
It was evident that she, at least, was a believer in clairvoyance!
The question about the silk dress never got asked. But some months
afterwards I lost a Russian sable collarette. I still had the
appertaining muff. I had been to church on the previous Sunday
morning, and believed I had worn my collarette there, but fancied I
was wearing it when I returned home, and the person who had
accompanied me thought likewise. Everybody knows how hard it is to
have distinct memory of things or doings which fall within a
mechanical routine. Still, it had been such a stormy Sunday that it
seemed natural to believe I should have missed the warmth of my wrap
if I had not worn it during my homeward way. Consequently, I made no
inquiry at the church till we had rand-sacked every likely and
unlikely drawer and cupboard in our own house. When we did send to
the church, we got no satisfaction. No such
article had been found, and if it had been left there we were told
that it would certainly have been seen, for all such things were at
once brought by the pew-openers to the vestry-keeper, and till they
were claimed were kept by her in a certain cupboard which was opened
to disclose to us its utter emptiness. She made special inquiry of
the pew-opener of the aisle where I had sat, and she, too, knew
nothing of the collarette.
It was then that my husband laughingly suggested that this time we
should really try the clairvoyants. He arranged the interview with
his client, telling him it was only a matter of lost property. The
husband made but one suggestion, that if we had anything associated
with the missing article (whatever that might be), it would be
helpful if my husband brought it into the clairvoyante's presence,
though keeping it invisible.
We took this hint by locking my muff into a brief-bag, which my
husband was determined should not leave his own hands. He went
alone, and was not long on his errand.
He came back, shaking his head and saying things were not very
satisfactory. "Just as I expected," I put in. Then he narrated that
the clairvoyants went into her trance (I think her husband threw her
into it). She at once announced that there was a sable muff in the
closed bag, and that the missing article was its fellow collarette. She declared it had not been stolen (as we had been latterly
inclined to suspect). It had simply fallen out of my possession. She
said she could see it on the floor of a cupboard in a very old place
which she could not define more clearly. (We were then living in a Bishopsgate square, within five minutes' walk of the Bank.) She
added—and this seemed to us both ineffably ridiculous—that I should
certainly regain my collarette, as the line of association between
it and my muff had not been severed!
This made me absolutely incredulous of the whole thing. But her
description of the cupboard sent us searching again through ours,
and again fruitlessly. My husband was rather more impressed with his
interview than I was by his report, for he had seen the woman, and
knew how carefully he, a lawyer, had conducted the inquiry. But as
day after day passed by and the collarette never appeared, he became
as sceptical as myself.
At last, weeks afterwards, I was summoned downstairs to see "a
person." And there stood the vestry-keeper with my collarette! It
had been brought to her only that morning, not by any pew-opener,
but by a woman who had been helping to clean the church on the
Monday after I had been there. The pew-opener had not been to the
fore at the moment, and the cleaner threw the article into the
cupboard where she kept her brooms and pails, intending at first
opportunity to hand it to the proper person, and then forgot all
about it, and had never noticed it again till that very morning.
So the comical "line of association" between my muff and my collarette had held, and one
must suppose it still holds, as they
repose together in honoured old age in my wardrobe to-day.
On another occasion my husband planned what he thought a very severe
test for another clairvoyante. Without saying a word to anybody, he
on the day before my birthday, went out and bought a little
signet-ring to be gifted to me, and then went on to the "seer"
without any forewarning. He asked her, she being in trance or
seeming trance: "Do you know anything about to-morrow in my house?"
"Yes," she said, "it is your wife's birthday, and in your
waistcoat-pocket you have a little ring with one stone, which you
mean to give her."
Telepathy had not been seriously worked at in those days.
I had another experience of clairvoyance comparatively recently. I
was visiting in a great city where I was then almost a stranger. My
hostess had somehow got interested in this subject, and was very
anxious to see a professional clairvoyante of whom she had heard
many wonders. I did my utmost to dissuade her, feeling that her
interest was not scientific, but rather inquisitive and personal. She insisted that I should accompany her, and it is not always easy
to be ungraciously firm with a very kind hostess. However, I told
her that if I went I should take stringent precautions against any
private prophecies or revelations, so far as I was concerned, and
should confine myself to search for some elucidation of the subject
of a letter I had lately received from a person whom I had never
seen, and concerning facts in which I had no personal interest.
The clairvoyante, a lady-like woman, would see us only one by one,
which my friend had not reckoned on. She went first, and did not stay
very long. I heard afterwards that all she got was correct
information as to the number of her family, their present
whereabouts and future prospects, coupled with sundry forecasts from
which even the most foreboding mind would be happier and better to
When I was left alone with the clairvoyante I fully explained my
position, telling her she must not go on personal ground at all, but
that I wished to test her powers as to matters connected with a
letter which I should put into her hands, after carefully folding it
so that she could not see either the name or address of the writer,
or any word bearing the least significance. The clairvoyante said
she had never done such a thing before, but she should really like
I may say that the letter was written to me by the mother of a man
convicted, it was believed unjustly, of a series of most mysterious
and motiveless crimes, and at that time serving in a convict prison.
The clairvoyante did not go into trance. She had scarcely touched
the letter when she cried: "Oh, but the writer of this is a very
good woman, simple-hearted and kind. She is not writing about
herself. No; she is writing for somebody who is as unable as the
dead to get a hearing." All this she said without one prompting
question—a thing I was watching for and against.
Then she began to hesitate. The person whom the letter concerned was
"shut up," but she could not tell where. For a long time she was
not sure whether "it" was a man or a woman, but finally decided on
the former. He was falsely accused; there were great mysteries; a
man and a woman had been concerned in injuring him; she thought the
woman was dead. (All this accorded with the knowledge and belief of
the writer of the letter and of myself, and I naturally decided, "This is wonderful telepathy.") "The said innocence," she went on, "would be made manifest, but not at once, and not quite
satisfactorily." (This, so far, has "come true," as children say.) Then she came to a sudden pause, and gave a cry of horror. I urged
her to tell me whatever she "saw" or "felt," as the matter was
wholly outside my personal feelings. Thereupon she attributed to
this series of strange crimes a most terrible and loathsome motive
which had never entered into my mind, nor, as far as my cautious
inquiries have since gone, into the mind of any other person
connected with either the accusation or the defence. She then said
that the prisoner was naturally feeling very gloomy and despairing,
and was only comforted and upheld by enjoying the beauty of the
flowers in the garden. Now, it so happened that the one or two
prisons that I know about have no gardens, nor anything beyond most
dreary "exercising yards." I told her that here I thought she was
distinctly wrong. I expected her to waive the matter and "adapt"
it, but she persisted in it, reiterating it again and again. (Therefore, whatever this was, it was not telepathy.) Further, she
added: "There is some connection between these people and a
certain foreign country," a connection long back (which she named). She was right. The convict's father was a native of that country,
which he had left in his youth. At parting I said to her: "You
have been fairly right according to my present knowledge. Your
forecast remains to be proved. But I feel quite sure you are wrong
about the enjoyment of the flowers."
What was my astonishment when I presently left the city I was
visiting and returned to my own home, to receive there another
letter from the convict's mother, in which she said she had just
heard from her son, and he wrote that he thought he should be in
despair but for the cheer he received from the beautiful spring
blossoming in the prison garden !
I must relate one very peculiar séance story which was told to me by
its heroine, the wife of a well-known Nonconformist minister long
since dead. I will call the lady "Eleanor."
In her girlhood's days a young man, Mr. C―, a constant visitor at
her home, showed her marked attention, thereby exciting the merry
comments of her brothers. But in the end he went to India without "speaking," and nothing more was heard of him, though I think there
came a rumour of his marriage. Years passed by. Eleanor married the
Nonconformist divine. Then "spiritualism" came under
consideration, and a family party sat down round a little table
expectant of "taps." One or two insignificant messages were
received, and then suddenly the name of the old lover, followed by
the words: "I ought to have married Eleanor." The natural
inference was that he was dead, and the "sitting" broke up in some
Months afterwards Eleanor came in contact with a lady newly arrived
from India, and little dreaming of any success in the inquiry, asked
if she had ever met a Mr. C—. "Oh yes," said the other;
"he lived at
our station. Such a delightful man, but always so sad, and we were
so sorry for him, for his wife was a terrible woman." "But he is
dead," said Eleanor. "No," answered the other; "he was alive and
well when I left India six weeks ago."
Another curious story was told me by a minister of a "heretical"
body, and himself one of the "hardest" men I ever met. He tried an "experiment"
(I think with planchette), expecting nothing whatever. Almost at once came a woman's name quite unknown to him (let us call
it Hannah Bewlay). This was rapidly followed by furious objurgations
against an uncle of the minister's, of whom "Hannah" spoke as
having in his youth done her the deadliest of wrongs. The minister
was astounded and incredulous. He knew of his uncle only as a grave
and austere senior of the highest repute, living in a remote
provincial town. He had never had much correspondence with the old
gentleman, but he ventured to write to him, saying simply "that, in
consequence of certain inquiries, he wished to ask if his uncle had
ever known one 'Hannah Belay.'" He fully expected a denial of all
knowledge of such a person. Instead, by return of post, came me a
brief, indignant note asking why he was turning up old stories, and
meddling with other people's business with which he had no concern.
I think I cannot do better than close this strange chapter by
narrating an incident which
has happened within a few months of my writing this. The
circumstances are of so simple and unemotional a nature that it is
easy to admit that this experience was my own.
On Monday, May 17, I was busily engaged in writing a particularly
difficult paper, dealing with badly-set-forth details of scientific
fact. It had much occupied my mind for a day or two earlier, because
it lay apart from my usual style of work, and, being a labour of
love, I was very much afraid I should not do it justice. However, I
had applied myself to it, taking such precautions against
interruption as in all my life I had never once before done.
After about two hours' hard work, I felt suddenly strongly inclined
to leave off and have a rest by reading my "day-books." They lie on
a bookshelf in my study. I do not refer to them regularly, and,
having been away from home, I had not even looked into them for
about six weeks.
They are three in number:
1. "The Mary Lyon Year-book," a very simple little American manual
of old-fashioned sort.
2. "A Book of Thoughts," compiled by Mary B. Curry. On its margins
I have been in the habit of noting down dates of special joy or
3. "Being and Doing," an eclectic compilation made for the use of a
On turning up May 17 in the second of these books, I was suddenly
reminded by figures on the margin that the date was a double
anniversary of two shocks and sorrows associated with the same
person, but separated from each other by several years.
In the first instance the event was one which might have been a
source of satisfaction and joy to everybody concerned, but, owing to
a foolishly misplaced "secrecy" of thoughtlessly selfish origin,
it had instead given much pain to many. I had borne my own share of
this pain very unwisely. Instead of considering circumstances
tending to explain and excuse (though they could not justify) the
blunder made, I had given free vent to my indignation—that "wrath
of man which worketh not the righteousness of God," and which,
however well founded it may be, never does anybody any good.
I had repented myself quickly, had avowed my repentance, and all
wounds received and given seemed thoroughly healed. Then, oddly
enough, years after, on the same date, a new wound of the same type
had been given me by the same hands and under circumstances
seemingly even more thoughtless and selfish. In place of "secrecy"
there had been a lie—one of that type, with its subtle
transpositions of fact, which Tennyson so well describes when he
"That a lie which is half a truth is ever the blackest of lies."
This time I had not felt wrath nor wrong, but only unutterable
sorrow that some do not seem able to value friends who, amid many
vicissitudes of time and change, had been at least as delighted to
praise as unsparing in blame, and who had never withheld the hand of
active helpfulness. I had thought sometimes that perhaps I had taken
this last wound with but too little outcry, had been weak rather
than meek, had perhaps lost
spirit rather than gained "grace." Or else that nerves had merely
grown quieter as the strain of strenuous living had been relaxed. Year after year I had remembered this sad date, trying to send
kindly thoughts of peace to those who, I fancy, must sometimes
remember us, and whom I should like to spare from undue suffering if
the day should come when they shall "know what they did." But this
last May 17 all pain had so died down, and I had been so
preoccupied, that I had actually forgotten the date till my marginal
note recalled it. I was glad to be reminded.
Then I turned to my "Being and Doing." For the sake of the
significance of my little narrative, it is necessary that I should
transcribe what I read there. The quotation is from St. Francis de
"We ought to cherish the small virtues which grow at the foot of the
Cross, for they are watered with the blood of the Son of God. These
virtues are humility, patience, sweet-temper, kindness, helpfulness
to our neighbours, graciousness, good-will, heartiness, sympathy,
readiness to forgive, simplicity, truthfulness, and others like
them. These virtues are like the violets which love the coolness of
the shade, which are fed with dew, and which, though they have no
brilliancy, cease not to shed fragrance around. There are great
virtues on the top of the Cross which have great splendour,
especially when they are accompanied with love: such are wisdom,
justice, zeal, liberality, and such like: and everyone wishes to
have these virtues, because they are the most esteemed, and make us
the most thought of. But we should not judge of the greatness or
littleness of a virtue by that which it appears to the outward eye,
for a virtue that is very small in appearance may be practised with
great love to God, while one that is more shining may go along with
very little love. Yet this is the measure of their true value before
God. I put more value on prayer, which is the torch of all the
virtues: on devotion, which consecrates all our actions to the
service of God: on humility, which makes us have a low esteem of
ourselves and of our actions: on sweet-temper, which makes us kind
to all the world: on patience, which makes us bear all things —
than on heroism, magnanimity, liberality, virtues which do not cover
so much ground, and are more seldom in use. And these more splendid
virtues are a little dangerous, their brilliancy gives more occasion
for vain glory, which is the true poison of all the virtues."
I closed the book, leaned back in my chair, and reflected. I had in
my hand a little ivory wand with which I am accustomed to steady the
paper on which I write. I drew this about dreamily on the cover of
my book. Presently I found that letters and words were being formed. I gave them my close attention, as, of course, the ivory wand left
no trace as a pen or pencil would. I could make out the words:
"Go into the other room."
I instantly thought of my bedroom, which is next my study, but the
words which proceeded showed I was wrong.
"Go to the bookcase with back to garden."
This at once indicated the dining-room, which is downstairs, and
contains three bookcases.
"Go to third shelf. Take book nearest fireplace."
So far my mind had only followed the writing. At this point it ran
before it, for I received a "mental impression" of the next words
before the wand formed them.
"Look at page one hundred and thirty."
Nothing more came. Again I leaned back and tried to recall what
books were in that bookcase at end "nearest fireplace." I could only remember that Luther's "Table Talk" had once been in that
compartment, and a volume of essays by Norris, author of "The
Octopus," etc. I could not in the least realize "the third shelf."
I almost feared to investigate the matter lest I should be sharply
pulled up by some mocking incongruity. Then I thought this was
cowardly, and went downstairs.
In "the bookcase with back to garden" I found the fireplace end of
the third row occupied by Shannon's works in four volumes. I took
out that nearest the fireplace, and turned up page 130.
This is what I read:
"I fear that the importance of strength in the Christian character
has been in some degree obscured by the habit of calling certain
Christian graces of singular worth by the name of Passive virtues. This name has been given to humility, patience, resignation: and I
fear that the phrase has led some to regard these noble qualities as
allied to inaction, as wanting energy and determination. Now the
truth is, that the mind never puts forth greater power over itself
than when, in great trials, it yields up calmly its desires,
affections, interests to God. There are seasons when to be still
demands immeasurably more power than to act. Composure is often the
highest result of power. Think you it demands no power to calm the
stormy elements of passion, to moderate the vehemence of desire, to
throw off the load of dejection, to suppress every repining thought,
when the dearest hopes are withered, and to turn the wounded spirit
from dangerous reveries and wasting grief, to the quiet discharge of
ordinary duties? Is there no power put forth, when a man, stripped
of his property, of the fruits of a life's labour, quells discontent
and gloomy forebodings, and serenely and patiently returns to the
tasks which Providence assigns? I doubt not that the all-seeing eye
of God sometimes discerns the sublimest human energy under a form
and countenance, which by their composure and tranquillity indicate
to the human spectator only the passive virtues."
The passage occurs in Charming's discourse on "Self-Denial." Its
strict relevance to what one may call the matter in hand is most
striking, especially its reassurance as to my own self-questionings. The Unitarian minister expands the thesis of the great Catholic
I carefully examined the volume, one of a set published nearly
seventy years back, bound in dark cloth on which the gilt-lettering
has faded. I found I was reading from Vol. IV., the set, probably
during house-cleaning, having got transposed, going from left to
right instead of from right to left, and Vol. IV. standing,
therefore, where Vol. I. should have been. Yet this had not
interfered with the precision of the directions. I may add that I
had not looked into Canning for many years—I should say for nearly
thirty—indeed, that I had never studied him in this edition, having
in my younger days known something of his work in a tiny volume
which comprised only his great essays on War, Slavery, etc. I had
been quite unaware of the transposition of the volumes, or it would
have been at once altered, for it is a point on which I am very
I offer no comment, nor do I imagine I can make the matter so
arresting to others as it was to myself.
All explanation of the mysterious borderland is in its rudimentary
stage; yet whatever may be true in it has been always at work in
the world, even as was electricity in the days when its very name
was not known, or when, later—within the memory of people not long
dead—it seemed little more than a toy wherewith to enliven dull
"Experiments" of this nature often differ greatly in character from
those that one hears most about. I have known a series of "experiments" carefully carried on at intervals for many months
(1875-1877) without the intervention of any professional "medium,"
in which neither "Queen Mary," nor Napoleon, nor Joan d'Arc, nor
any great statesman, warrior, or pirate, or other of the stock "personalities" of public
séances, put in a single appearance, where
no compliments were paid, no promises made, where but few proper
names were ever used—scarcely any, indeed, save the unrecognized one
of an "influence" who professed to be helping in a scientific
investigation made from "the other end," and that of a certain
great German mystic of the Middle Ages, whose very name had never
before been heard by any of the three sitters, who required to look
it up in an encyclopædia. The "messages" were simply like
sentences taken from the conversation of thoughtful and occasionally
witty people. They sometimes bore rather severely on the failings or
prejudices of the sitters. Warning, too, was given that, in most
cases, the appearance of a proper name should be a signal to cease
the experiment. This advice, accepted as probably having some good
ground, caused an experiment to be stopped on a certain occasion
when, after two or three utterly unknown names had been swiftly and unmeaningly
given, there appeared one with which the sitters were familiar,
though they did not know its bearer in his own person. He was
a young naval officer whom they believed to have been ill on remote
foreign service, and to be arranging his return home. The
"name" however, was followed by an announcement that its bearer was dead, and
then came a remark concerning conduct and circumstances immediately
previous to the asserted death. At this juncture one of the sitters
resolutely refused to proceed. On inquiry, it was learned that the
young man was almost daily expected at home, and that the last news
of his health had been of restoration. To one of his personal
connections, not likely to be emotionally affected by the news, the
experimenters confided the message they had received. Yet so little
importance did any of them attach to it that the very sitter who had
"stopped" further revelation gave a promise to the young man's
betrothed to accompany her to Southampton or Plymouth whenever the
officer's arrival at either port should be announced. The mysterious
"message" had been received early in October, and from that time no
news of the absentee reached Britain until early in December, when a
letter from strangers abroad announced that the officer had died in
August. His death remained surrounded by mystery, which was never
penetrated, and the "sitters" were thankful that they had refused
an unverifiable confidence which could only have inflicted more
misery and pain on innocent mourners.
But dangers lurk about the handling of any unknown force, and though
it is not therefore to be avoided, those weakened by any moral or
emotional crisis are not suitable investigators, nor should any
personal element be admitted except under strongest guard and
restraint. As one who knows at least this much, I declare that to do otherwise is, in my opinion, as risky as it would be to send the
hungry and thirsty to satisfy their needs in a room where food and
refreshments were mixed with deadly poisons.
I regard the "investigation" of this phenomena as so delicate and
dangerous that I would not have even mentioned it but that the
subject is now fairly in the open air, and cannot be hidden under a
bushel. All unprepared and unwarned, people rush in—the unfit the
most greedily—and the specially incredulous are sometimes the most
A "professional medium"—an unfortunate lady who had started with
some genuine clairvoyant power, which got mixed up with a great deal
of humbug—once told us that she was sitting in the firelight with a
party of investigators, when a little dog belonging to the house
entered unseen by anybody but herself, and passing behind the
visitors, accidentally touched the foot of a widower who was
foolishly looking for consolation in these uncanny scenes. The poor
gentleman exclaimed: "That is my dear wife! How well I know her
Careful observation of facts happening spontaneously in one's own
life or in the lives of others is quite a different matter from
voluntary "experimentation"—as different as loving observation of
health and happiness is from the dissection of corpses. Such "
experimentation " should be left to the direction of disciplined and
disinterested minds. To draw into it the young, the ignorant, the
excitable, or the sorrowing, is, in the present position of things,
to court dire disaster of some kind.
To sit at a séance is, usually, but to prove to oneself the
incredible puerility and genuine materialism with which most "sitters"—sceptics or believers—approach the subject. The minority,
those with the purest and highest expectations and hopes, should
ever keep in view that, even should we gain knowledge of some of the
secrets of the modus operandi of intuition and inspiration, we do
not thereby necessarily augment their spiritual value, even as the
wonders of the world-wide postal system and the worth of the letters
it carries are two very different matters, never to be confused. Each individual's own soul lies open to the highest influence it is
able at the time to perceive. To follow that highest guidance of
to-day into a higher for to-morrow and a higher for the day after,
can never lead to evil, and is the only path of true spiritual
progress. All the rest is mere "science so-called," which, as we
see in physical matters, and above all in medicine, may assert
to-day what to-morrow it will flatly contradict. The wisest are
those who study how to guard their own health, to keep their own
consciences, and to follow the Divine Light which lights every soul
that comes into the world.
I think whoever has ventured even one step upon this borderland is
more than ever convinced of the profound wisdom which declared: "If they hear not Moses and the prophets [the garnered wisdom of all
humanity, increase of which should be growing in their own hand],
neither will they give heed [to spiritual wisdom] though one rose
from the dead."
THE END OF THE DAY.
NOW I must say
good-bye to my patient readers. How little have I said, after
all! How many regions of deepest feeling and most suggestive
fact must I leave wholly untouched!
I have tried not to moralize as I wrote—perhaps I have not
always perfectly succeeded. Yet when one knows one is old,
because one feels a smiling pity for the middle-aged, who are still
under the burden and heat of noon, one longs to say something
helpful, to give a hint at the end of the day as to what one sees
has been useful—or might have been useful—throughout its journey.
For one realizes the truth of the message which Leo Tolstoy has just
written to me:
"We can imagine nothing better than life if only in it we
fulfil what God desires of us."
And if, even in the smallest degree, one can help others to
cling to this ideal, where one is conscious that oneself lost hold
of it, this is the greatest blessing left to one—the sum total of
one's life, and makes one's last days one's best.
A centenarian I once met—an aged Lincolnshire peasant
woman—when I asked how she had managed to live so long and so
cheerily, straightway replied: "By not worrying, and, whenever I
felt a limb growing stiff, shaking it—so," and she nimbly suited the
action to the word. I, too, would fain say something
practical. Counsel on practical lines is most likely to be
followed. It is easier to shake a limb than to leave off
worrying! Where the deeper matters of life come in we must all
be left mainly to the Divine and to ourselves—i.e., to the
two sides of our own natures. Over and over again have I
proved the truth of the poet's yearning consciousness:
"My right would show like left,
My raising would depress thee:
My choice of light would blind thee:
Of end—would leave bereft—
My good reverts to ill:
My calmnesses would move thee:
My softnesses would prick thee:
My bindings up would break thee:
My crowning curse and kill!"
Still, there remain some practical suggestions which, like
that hint about shaking a stiffening limb, can scarcely go amiss.
First of all, then, if we don't like to hear "must" said to
us by others, let us be ever ready to say "must" to ourselves.
Let us never imagine that people are candid and trustworthy
because they are rude. Rudeness is often the mark of very
Let us keep exact accounts. Let us begin as early as
possible, though it is never too late to mend. By exact
accounts I do not mean such memoranda as a bewildered youth once
offered for my elucidation.
In exact accounts lie clear-mindedness, determination, and
the possibilities of enterprise and generosity. If regularly
discharged, the task is easy, and tends to economy, especially
economy of time and temper. Why is economy so often taught as
mere saving? Certainly it does save, but only for the sake of
Then I strongly advise everybody to keep a diary—not a large
one, and certainly not a record—save in rarest cases—of moods or
feelings. Let it keep to briefest record of facts. At
first it will be hard to write it regularly. There will
perhaps be long alternation of failure and success, but if success
has the last word it will mean the evolution of qualities which will
make life better worth living. It is soul-sickening to think
of the many diaries which are bought every January, kept up for a
week or two, then left blank, and finally torn up for
scribbling-paper. It means wastage of something beside the
It is impossible to enumerate the practical uses of a diary.
It keeps memory in good order; it strengthens it, it gives it
definite lines to run on when one turns to the past. The
driest record of facts holds up our former self before us as nothing
else can. What a revelation lies in the contrast between the
facts we have chosen to record thirty years ago and the facts we
should choose to-day! A diary helps us to count our blessings.
Apart from this, it may at any time do some substantial human
service, as did a diary—kept by one of the very few who have heeded
my representations on this matter—which, in a far-off land, by
proving an irrefutable alibi, saved the life of an innocent man,
falsely but speciously suspected and accused of murder.
Then, again, it is well for us to learn every little art we
can. One never knows when such may come in usefully and
pleasantly. Whoever has no hobby is an ill-provided person,
whether he be a millionaire or a pauper.
Again, let us look carefully into what we call "duty."
Neither pain nor pleasure are trustworthy finger-posts as to where
it lies. The nobler natures need to be reminded that
everything we do not like doing is not therefore our duty.
What is very pleasant to do may yet occasionally be our duty!
Let us do our real duty, however painful it be; but, apart from
duty, let us notice what we truly enjoy, and not "indulge ourselves"
in "pleasures" which bore and weary us. Why are intolerable
pleasures tolerated? Under what compulsion do we practise
Let us cultivate wide horizons for the mind. They say
that children reared in narrow streets tend to become short-sighted.
So minds bound up in a few petty personal pursuits lose elasticity.
There is a genuine public spirit apart from the taking of chairs or
the attending of committees. Let us take an interest in
everything near and far. So shall we ourselves become
Then let us try—whether we be tempted by wealth or by
poverty—never to forget the limitations of money. We have to
earn some that we may pay the grocer's bill. But there are
many other "bills" which money cannot pay. Rich people are
often dumbfounded when they find that gold cannot buy honest
service, nor faithful friendship, nor tender affection—that, indeed,
unless it be delicately guided, it is far more apt to alienate all
Let us always remember the power and worth of the seemingly
weak and small. Everything has within it possibilities of
importance. Many mountains are made of little broken shells.
The poisonous sting of an insect may kill a genius. These be
"truisms"—possibly worthy of Martin Tupper!—but one may scarcely
leave off repeating them until we are all acting upon them. I
have often noted that it is those who least act on them who are most
impatient of them.
Let us study, too, what are the things essential to us, that
we be not like the poor woman who kept her children in a sunless
room because her best carpet was in the sunny one—with the blinds
drawn down. Then she broke her heart when the children died.
Also, do not let us aspire to incompatibles—as when we think
to keep our highest ideals and yet to make a fortune—and then cry
out when we fail at one end, or, more likely, at both. All
life is an act of choice. For everything gained something must
be let go.
Above all, let us all be careful humbly to realize that we
have not reached the end of true progress. You, the saint of
to-day, are undoubtedly doing, with quite an easy conscience,
something which the veriest sinner of a few centuries hence will
pronounce to be abominable and a perfect disgrace to humanity.
Reference to history proves this as a commonplace, but only the very
thoughtful realize it and go softly.
I linger as I part from you, my reader, for whom I have
turned out my old stories and fought my battles over again, and have
even re-shed some of the old tears, and felt once more the beating
of the timorous heart.
When one reaches the days when one's own chief events are
dawns and sunsets, new shrubs in the garden, the pleasure of one's
pets, or the joy of a quiet talk with a cherished friend, one
wonders why one was ever "care-full," or disappointed, or angry, as
one knows one often was. Was it worth while? Yes, to
convince us that it is not worth while. It may seem a pity that one
did not understand it a little sooner. But possibly that would
have been as unwholesome and savourless as forced fruit in
springtime. Everything in its season.
And at the end of the day—leaving a window uncurtained to the
lights of the evening skies—there can be no greater pleasure than to
sit by one's cheerful household hearth, and turn over the pictured
pages of a strenuous past.