Dreaming Murder in Parliament #5: Andrew Lang Speaks! October 16, 2013Author: Beach Combing | in : Modern , trackback
***Lots of great correspondence on this, but legal wrangles with builder mean still not time to put up. Will try tomorrow. My comment about three fold dreams were particularly misguided!***
Andrew Lang on the Perceval murder and Mr Williams’ dream, the single most cogent discussion we’ve found.
The most commonly known of dreams prior to, or simultaneous with an historical occurrence represented in the vision, is Mr Williams’s dream of the murder of Mr Perceval in the lobby of the House of Commons, May 11, 1812. Mr. Williams, of Scorrier House, near Redruth, in Cornwall, lived till 1841 [this seems to be incorrect, obit 1836/1837]. He was interested in mines, and a man of substance. Unluckily the versions of his dream are full of discrepancies. It was first published, apparently, in The Times during the ‘silly season’ Perceval’s murder. 37 of 1828 (August 28) [see our previous post]. According to The Times, whose account is very minute, Mr. Williams dreamed of the murder thrice before 2 a.m. on the night of May 11. He told Mrs. Williams, and was so disturbed that he rose and dressed at two in the morning. He went to Falmouth next day (May 12), and told the tale to everyone he knew. On the evening of the 13 he told it to Mr and Mrs Tucker (his married daughter) of Tremanton Castle. Mr Williams only knew that the chancellor was shot; Mr. Tucker said it must be the Chancellor of the Exchequer. From the description [Tucker] recognised Mr. Perceval, with whom he was at enmity [though whom he had never met or seen]. Mr. Williams had never been inside the House of Commons. As they talked, Mr William’s son galloped up from Truro with news of the murder, got from a traveller by coach. Six weeks later, Mr Williams went to town, and in the House of Commons walked up to and recognised the scene of the various incidents in the murder. So far The Times, in 1828.
But two forms of a version of 1832 exist, one in a note to Mr. Walpole’s Life of Perceval (1874), ‘an attested statement, drawn up and signed by Mr. Williams in the presence of the Rev. Thomas Fisher and Mr. Charles Prideaux Brune’. Mr. Brune gave it to Mr. Walpole. With only verbal differences this variant corresponds to another signed by Mr. Williams and given by him to his grandson, who gave it to Mr Perceval’s great-niece, by whom it was lent to the Society for Psychical Research [our fourth post]. These accounts differ toto caelo from that in The Times of 1828. The dream is not of May 11, but ‘about’ May 2 or 3. Mr. Williams is not a stranger to the House of Commons; it is ‘a place well known to me’. He is not ignorant of the name of the victim, but ‘understood that it was Mr. Perceval’. He thinks of going to town to give warning. We hear nothing of Mr. Tucker. Mr. Williams does not verify his dream in the House, but from a drawing. A Mr. C. R. Fox, son of one to whom the dream was told before the event, was then a boy of fourteen, and sixty-one years later was sure that he himself heard of Mr. Williams’s dream before the news of the murder arrived. After sixty years, however, the memory cannot be relied upon.
The real problem here is the origin of the earliest source. A lot would be cleared up if its author could be identified. drbeachcombing AT yahoo DOT com: for more comments or sources
Next episode, news of the murder 24 hours before in Scotland with some digging in 19 cent newspapers!!
17 Oct 2013: Note that some of these comments were for earlier posts related to the dream but that I only put up now. Writers in then cannot be blamed for missing information. This is my fault for putting this stuff up late, they were all perfectly cogent at the time. Apologies to readers and to contributors! The Count on the dream: I must admit to being unimpressed by your prophetic dream story. It appears that no detailed record of it was made until 16 years after the event, during which our hero must have retold the anecdote a great many times – probably everybody he knew was thoroughly sick of it. Human memory is a funny thing, and tales grow in the telling! I’m particularly puzzled as to how he knew he was right about the precise details of the clothes the murderer and his victim were wearing. The newspapers would presumably have illustrated the story with black and white drawings. Would they have supplied detailed descriptions of what everybody was wearing? It seems unlikely! I think it most probable that he had a coincidental dream in which something quite similar to the assassination occurred, and gradually persuaded himself that it was a perfect fit. I recently read an article somewhere or other about a study demonstrating that a quite large percentage of adults – 15%, I think it was – could, with the help of doctored photos, be persuaded that when they were children they’d had a ride in a hot air balloon, and, once “reminded”, they’d recall this exciting event vividly, even though they’d never been up in a balloon in their lives. Then a little later the Count added a slight correction. I think he may be onto something here, see my comments on secondary elaboration. ‘Here’s a little point which may be of interest. I previously commented that the papers of the time would have had black and white illustrations. You have just demonstrated that this is wrong by printing a colored picture! However, it’s a fairly crude print, not a photo. Still, it does prove that the vision was accurate in terms of getting the colors of everybody’s clothes right. But is that drawing accurate? The color printing is pretty basic, and it looks as though the colors have been chosen the same way they are for a map – no two items of clothing the same color overlap. Blue coat and white waistcoat are a dignified combination for the dead man, but the people behind him are clad in red, yellow, green, or whatever makes for an interesting contrast with him and each other, while the murderer has a drab, seedy brown coat. It looks a lot more like artistic license than accurate reportage. The odd thing is, the “psychic vision” must in that case have been of this picture of the event, not the event itself! It’s a perfect depiction of the dream, right down to our hero knowing who the victim was, even though he didn’t know him by sight, just as if his dream had a caption like this picture does! Is this perhaps a case of somebody having a half-remembered, vaguely troubling dream about somebody who seemed important being shot, then subsequently seeing this picture and persuading himself that the details matched perfectly, and subsequently, over more than a decade of retelling the story, persuading himself that every little detail shown here, including the victim’s name and the color of his coat, was what he’d dreamed in the first place? That would be entirely in keeping with the way we know human memory works. Just a thought.’ Then the Count offers some more food for thought: I don’t quite know why you’re devoting so much space to the tedious case of Mr. Williams and his miraculous vision of the future! As the skeptics are fond of saying at times like this, extraordinary claims require extraordinary proof. What is the “proof” that Mr. Williams is the infallible oracle he claims to be? That he had a disturbing dream, told his wife, son, and a few close friends about it, and then, when it allegedly came true, sat on his thumbs for 16 years before telling anybody else. Although allegedly it troubled him greatly at the time, and he thought of reporting it to the authorities, no mention is made of his making a notarized statement, or indeed recording it in writing in any way, however informal, at the time, or at any other time between 1812 and 1828. Also, the only witnesses he mentions who could corroborate his story are people who aren’t very likely to disagree with him, none of whom seem to have actually made any statements to the press at all. Basically, three explanations exist, in ascending order of plausibility. Firstly, Mr. Williams was indeed vouchsafed a vision of the future – one he couldn’t usefully act upon, concerning the death of a complete stranger he cared about so little that he couldn’t even identify him by sight. So, not a terribly helpful bit of supernatural wisdom, then. Secondly, he told a complete lie so that he could be a little bit famous. It had all happened too long ago to check, the only identifiable witnesses were his wife and son, and the propensity of otherwise normal human beings to tell whoppers in order to get the attention of the media is rather better established than the truth concerning claims that sometimes we can see into the future by various means. And thirdly – well, consider this. Newspapers by definition prefer to print things which are new. They wouldn’t have waited until 1828 to report something which took place in 1812 unless they’d only just heard about it. Which implies very strongly that Mr. Williams was, 16 years after the event, still going on about it on a sufficiently regular basis for it to happen to come to the attention of the press. Subsequent events prove that he was certainly still airing his increasingly repetitive tale in 1832. He sounds like a rather dull man obsessed with the one unusual thing that’s ever happened to him. And the tale wasn’t written down for 16 years, it was recited, probably hundreds of times, to everyone who would listen by somebody who was already somewhat obsessed with it. I think this is definitely a tale which could very easily have grown in the telling from a vaguely coincidental dream which the dreamer took too seriously to a Sybilline vision in which every minute detail was accurate, right down the assassin’s metal buttons! Have you ever read this book? Part of it covers something very similar. Although the Indian Rope Trick was in fact a complete myth invented by a newspaper just to fill some space with entertaining nonsense, and furthermore, especially in its most elaborate version, impossible to the point of being downright Surreal, dozens of perfectly respectable Edwardians who had no possible reason to lie swore they’d actually seen it! The author’s conclusion is interesting. He notes that the version of the trick people claimed to have seen became more elaborate, and increasingly impossible, the longer ago they claimed to have seen it. And all these claims went back rather a long time. There was, however, a form of acrobatics involving a flexible bamboo pole which was often performed by traveling Indian entertainers which, with only a slight exaggeration, be misremembered as a boy climbing a mysteriously unsupported rope. Of course, the more elaborate elements, such as the boy vanishing in plain sight when he got to the top, being gorily dismembered, and then miraculously returning to life, were only “remembered” by people who saw the trick a very long time ago indeed. I suspect something very similar happened as Mr. Williams bored his friends rigid with endless retellings of his “vision” over the best part of two decades. Had the papers gotten to him the day after the assassination, they would probably have gone away with a vague story about a dream of somebody being shot in a big building which miraculously came true, and decided it wasn’t worth printing. Also, if Sir Arthur Conan Doyle was very impressed by something improbable, as a rule of thumb this tended to mean it was utter nonsense. Ozzie writes: I’m sure many readers will point this out, but on the issue of three successive dreams, this is a parallel of the three dreams that Claude Sawyer had (albeit on three consecutive nights, rather than three times in one night) concerning the SS Waratah’s disappearance in 1909. Another case where details may have been filled in post hoc. Of course Mike Dash has written about this (http://blogs.forteana.org/node/53), as he has about everything else! And on the subject of MD, Mike wrote in with this comment I am very much enjoying your series on the remarkable Perceval assassination premonitions. With regard to your statement that “the experience of dreaming the same dream three times in quick succession seems absurd and, indeed, almost incredible. Beach has never had this experience and never read of it,” though, I suspect that the motif is probably fairly common. Certainly it appears in the case of another strange premonition which has the rare claim of being made public before the events that were predicted actually occurred; that is the case of the loss of the steamer Waratah in 1909 en route from South Africa to London. In this case, a passenger, Claude Sawyer, told a formal court of enquiry in London that he had experienced a dream relating to the Waratah’s loss three times in one night while on the ship before she reached South Africa. This is what Sawyer told the court [Source: The Times, 17 Dec 1910]: “Three of four days before reaching Durban, witness had a dream, which was unusual for him. He was a man with a long sword in his left hand, holding a rag or cloth in his right hand saturated with blood. He saw the same dream twice again the same night, and the last time he looked so carefully that he could almost draw the design on the edge of the sword. He mentioned his dream to Mr Ebsworth, who said it was a warning. Witness was then anxious to get off the ship. He landed at Durban and drafted a telegram to his wife. He tried to persuade Mrs and Miss Hay to leave the ship, but unfortunately they decided to go on. He saw theWaratah leave, and believed there was a slight list to starboard. While at Durban, on July 28, he had another dream. He dreamt he saw the ship in big waves; one big wave went over her bows and pressed her down,; she rolled over on her starboard side, and disappeared. On the 26th he called at the Union-Castle offices [Union Castle was another shipping line], saw a Mr Hadfield, and told him what he had told the Court. Witness sailed from Durban to Cape Town in the Kildonan Castle, and from Cape Town to London in the Galician on August 5. On August 4 he cabled to his wife: “Booked Cape Town. Thought Waratah top heavy. Landed Durban. Claude.” He produced the draft and the original cable.” I wrote about this story a few years ago here. Thanks Mike, Ozzy and the Count!
31 October 2013: Chris from Haunted Ohio books writes in with some triple dreams, so much for them not happening… ‘At the same house the following story was told by a Miss Williamson: I remember quite well how a very charming young surgeon came into this neighborhood, a Mr Stirling; he was beloved by everybody and, though he was as poor as a church mouse, he had not an enemy in the world. After his medical round he was in the habit of riding home through a lovely wooded lane which there is near Gibside, with trees on each side and the river below. One day—one Friday as he was riding home this way he was shot by some men concealed among the bushes. His body was dragged into the wood and searched and rifled; but he was very poor, dear man, he had nothing but his watch, and the brutes took that, and that is all I have to say about him. On the night before, the wife of Mr. Bowes’ agent, who was in the habit of going every week to receive money at the lead mines, some miles distant from Gibside, awoke dreadfully agitated. She told her husband that she had had a most terrible dream and conjured him, as he loved her, to stay at home that day and not to go to the mines. She said she did not know the place herself, but she saw a wooded lane above a river and some men hiding in bushes and she saw him come riding along and the men shoot at him from behind and drag him into the bushes. He laughed at her and said of course he could not neglect his duty to his master for such an idle fancy as that, and that he must go to the mines. She fell asleep again and she dreamed the same thing and she urgently entreated him and implored him not to go He said “I must; the men will be expecting me; they are to meet me there, and I have really no excuse to give.” She fell asleep the third time and she dreamt the same thing, and awoke with agonized entreaties that her husband would accede to her wishes. Then he really began to be frightened himself, and at last he said he would make a concession; he would go to the mines, but he would not go by the wooded lane at all (for he was obliged to allow there was such a place), but would both go and return by the high moorland way on the other side of the river. So the agent was saved, and the poor young surgeon was murdered in his place. The following was told to Mr. Hare by Mr. George Russell: On the railway which runs from Exeter to Earnstable is a small station called Lapford. A farmer who lives in a farmhouse near that station awoke his wife one night, saying that he had had a very vivid dream which troubled him—that a very valuable cow of his had fallen into a pit and could not get out again. The wife laughed, and he went to sleep and dreamt the same thing. Then he wanted to go and look after the cow. But the wife urged the piercing cold of the winter night, and he went to sleep instead, and dreamt the same thing a third time. Then he insisted upon getting up, and, resisting his wife’s entreaties, he went out to look after the cow. It was with – sense of bathos that he found the cow quite well and grazing quietly, and he was thinking how his wife would laugh at him when he got home, and wondering what he should say to her, when he became aware of a light in the next field. Crawling very quietly to the hedge, he saw, through the leafless branches of the hawthorns, a man with a lantern and a spade, apparently digging a pit. As he was watching, he stumbled in the ditch, and the branches crackled. The man, hearing a noise, started, threw down the spade and ran off with the lantern. The farmer then made his way round into the next field and came up to the place where the man had been digging. It was a long narrow pit like an open grave. At first he could make nothing of it, then by the side of the pit he found a large open knife. He took that and the spade and began to set out homeward, but with an indescribable shrinking from the more desolate feeling of the fields he went round by the lane. He had not gone far before he heard footsteps coming toward him. It was two o’clock in the morning and, his nerve being quite unstrung, he shrank before meeting whomever it was and climbed up into the hedge to conceal himself. To his astonishment, he saw pass below him in the moonlit road one of the maids of his own farmhouse. He allowed her to pass and then sprang out and seized her. She was most dreadfully frightened. He demanded to know what she was there for. She tried to make some excuse. “Oh,” he said, “there can be no possible excuse; I insist upon knowing the truth.” She then said, “You know I was engaged to be married and that I had a dreadful quarrel with the man I was engaged to, and it was broken off. Well, yesterday he let me know that if I would meet him in the middle of the night he had got something to show me which would make up for all the past.” “Would you like to know what he had to show you? It was your grave he had to show you,” said the farmer, and he led her to the edge of the pit and showed it to her. The farmer’s dream had saved the woman’s life. The Story of My Life. By Augustus J. C. Hare. Dodd, Mead 8: Co., New York.’ Thanks! Chris