Turning over the pages of Walton’s Lives the other day, I came upon the following very interesting account of the apparition of a living person appearing to another person at a distance:—
At this time of Mr. Donne’s and his wife’s living in Sir Robert’s house, the Lord Hay was by King James sent upon a glorious embassy to the then French King Henry the Fourth; and Sir Robert put on a sudden resolution to accompany him to the French Court, and to be present at his audience there. And Sir Robert put on as sudden a resolution to subject Mr. Donne to be his companion in that journey. And this desire was suddenly made known to his wife, who was then with child, and otherwise under so dangerous a habit of body, that she professed an unwillingness to allow him any absence from her; saying “her Divining Soul boded her some ill in his absence”, and therefore desired him not to leave her.
This made Mr. Donne lay aside all thought of the journey, and really to resolve against it. But Sir Robert became restless in his persuasions for it, and Mr. Donne was so generous as to think he had sold his liberty when he received so many charitable kindnesses from him, and told his wife so, who did therefore with an unwilling-willingness give a faint consent to the journey, which was proposed to be but for two months; for about that time they determined their return.
Within a few days after this resolve, the Ambassador, Sir Robert, and Mr. Donne left London, and were the twelfth day got all safe to Paris. Two days after their arrival there, Mr. Donne was left alone in that room in which Sir Robert and he and some other friends had dined together. To this place Sir Robert retuned within half-an-hour; and as he left, so he found Mr. Donne alone, but in such an ecstacy and so altered as to his looks, as amazed Sir Robert to behold him; insomuch that he earnestly desired Mr. Donne to declare what had befallen him in the short time of his absence. To which Mr. Donne was not able to make a present answer; but after a long and perplexed pause, did at last say, “I have seen a dreadful vision since I saw you; I have seen my dear wife pass twice by me in this room, with her hair hanging about her shoulders, and a dead child in her arms: this have I seen since I saw you”. To which Sir Robert replied, “Sure, Sir, you have slept since I saw you, and this is the result of some melancholy dream, which I desire you to forget, for you are now awake”. To which Mr. Donne’s reply was, “I cannot be surer than I now live, that that I have not slept since I saw you; and I am as sure that at her second appearance she stopped, and looked me in the face, and vanished”. Rest and sleep had not altered Mr. Donne’s opinion the next day; for he then affirmed this vision with a more deliberate and so confirmed a confidence that he inclined Sir Robert to a faint belief that the vision was true. It is truly said that desire and doubt have no rest; and it proved so with Sir Robert, for he immediately sent a servant to Drewry House, with a charge to hasten back and bring him word, whether Mrs. Donne was alive: and if alive, in what condition she was, as to her health. The twelfth day, the messenger returned with this account—that he found and left Mrs. Donne very sad and sick in her bed; and that after a long and dangerous labour, she had been delivered of a dead child. And upon examination it proved to be the same day, and about the very hour, that Mr. Donne affirmed he saw her pass by him in his chamber. This is a relation that will beget some wonder; and it well may, for most of our world are at present possessed with an opinion that visions and miracles are ceased. And though it is most certain, that two lutes being both strung and tuned to an equal pitch, and then one played upon, the other, that which is not touched, being laid upon a table, at a fit distance, will (like an echo to a trumpet), warble a faint audible harmony, in answer to the same tune, yet many will not believe there is such a thing as a sympathy of souls.
The last clause of this quotation seems to me particularly interesting. On reading it my “Divining Soul” at once informed me that I have seen something remarkably like it elsewhere,—in the “Proceedings of the Society for Psychical Research” (vide Procs. S.P.R. vol. i, Pt. I, pp. 32, 62, etc.).
Sure enough, on turning to these interesting documents, there was the identical illustration, but without any note of its source and woefully worsened in the translation. For where Izaak Walton wrote: “two lutes warbling a faint audible harmony”,—the adaptors of the S.P.R. cannot soar beyond: two tuning forks humming in unison; and in their pages the old Angler’s “sympathy of souls” is metamorphosed into “a suggested mode of reciprocatory psychical interaction”.
This is in itself an interesting psychical phenomenon. The question at once arises whether the theorisers of the S.P.R. came to consider this illustration and explanation of apparitions as their own through some process of fully developed “veridical hallucination”, or by the unconscious cerebration of the right hemisphere of the brain?
Of course the intellectual position of the members of the S.P.R. precludes the possibility of what they themselves have called “conscious collusion, (or of such imbecility as would take the place of deceit)”. After mature consideration, I am inclined to consider this a case of archeo-telepathical impact, acting upon the molecules of their cerebral organs of receptivity, and thereby producing a collective “veridical hallucination”.