The Days of My Life, by H. Rider Haggard

Chapter 19

PSYCHICAL

With eldest daughter to Egypt — Return by Italy and Spain — Abu Simbel with Carter — Bee’s nest 2000 years old — “The Way of the Spirit” — Dedicated to Kipling — Death of H. R. H.‘s retriever Bob — Appears to him in dream — Report published in Journal of Society for Psychical Research — Lasting effect on H. R. H.‘s mind — More dream-pictures — Sir Oliver Lodge.

Early in 1904 I took my daughter Angela on a trip to Egypt, returning by way of Italy and Spain. We went out on one of the new P. & O. boats which was making her maiden voyage, and experienced the most awful weather. We began by grounding in the Thames and, after a short stop to bury a Lascar overboard — who, poor fellow, had died of the cold — ran into a terrific gale in the Channel. The wind-gauges registered its pace at about eighty miles the hour, after which their bottoms were blown out or something happened to them. Then the fore-hatch was stove in and filled with water, as did the passages along which we had to walk from the cabins. Time after time did we stop to try and make that hatch good with four-inch teak planks, but always these were broken by the force of the sea.

Our subsequent misfortunes were many. We were taken in closer to Ushant than I thought pleasant; the new engines heated; the chief engineer went mad with the strain and, when at length we did reach Port Said, had to be carried ashore raving. I believe that he died not long afterwards. One night this poor fellow, dressed in full uniform, rushed from cabin to cabin, telling the passengers to get up as the ship was sinking!

We took the turn into the Mediterranean about twenty-four hours late, and in the dense darkness caused by a fearful squall nearly went ashore on the coast of Africa, as the Delhi did in after years — I saw her wreck only the other day. When the light came I had a nearer view of that shore than I ever wish to see again — from the deck of an ocean liner. In Gibraltar harbour we fouled our anchor in a man-of-war’s mooring chains and had to slip it. In the Gulf of Lyons we encountered a very bad mistral while we were trying to sling another anchor into its place. There it hung over the bow, bumping against the side of the ship. By this time the Lascars seemed to be practically useless, and the first officer was obliged to slide down the chain and sit on the fluke of the anchor, shouting directions. It was a strange sight to see this plucky young gentleman swinging about there over the deep. He was — and I trust still is — a man of whom the country might be proud, but I have long forgotten his name. In the end we crawled into Marseilles at three knots the hour, where some of the passengers left the ship, one of them explaining, for the comfort of the rest of us, that he had the strongest presentiments that she was going to sink.

Our next adventure was a sandstorm blowing from the coast of Africa which turned the day to darkness and covered the decks with a kind of mud. Then suddenly the vessel was put about, and it was discovered that the soundings showed that we were uncomfortably near the coast of Crete. As the dear old captain, who had been much cut about by a sea that knocked him down on the bridge, remarked, “he knew what was behind him and did not know what was before”; also that “where he had once been he could go again.” Subsequently our fore well-deck filled three times to the bulwarks, shipping seas in the most unaccountable manner.

However, we came to Port Said at length, and got ashore at about midnight as best we could. Never was I more glad to find myself on land again.

I enjoyed that trip in Egypt very much. The place has a strange fascination for me, and if I could afford it I would go there every year. On this my second visit we went as far as the wonderful rock-temple of Abu Simbel, near the Second Cataract of the Nile. Also I had the good fortune to be with Mr. Carter, then the local custodian of antiquities at Luxor; when we visited the tomb of Queen Nefer-tari, which, with the exception of the discover, who, I think, was Professor Scaparelli, we were, I believe, the first white men to enter.

It was wonderful to see those paintings of her late Majesty as fresh as the day that the artist left them. In one of them, I remember, she is represented playing chess. The tomb had been robbed a couple of thousand years or so ago. When the ancient thief broke in it had recently been flooded by a rain-storm, and there on the walls were the marks of his hand printed on the paint which then was wet. Also a hermit bee had built its nest upon the roof — two thousand or so of years ago! The sarcophagus had been broken up for its costly granite, which doubtless was worked into statues by some old-world sculptor, and the body of the beautiful favourite queen of Rameses destroyed. Some bones lay about in the tomb-chamber, probably those of the funeral offerings, and among them ushapti figures, laid there to serve her Majesty in the other world.

I wrote a series of articles for the Daily Mail about these Egyptian experiences, which have never been republished, for such newspaper matter must needs be very scrappy. In one of these, however, I dwelt upon the wholesale robbery of the ancient Egyptian tombs and the consequent desecration of the dead who lie therein. It does indeed seem wrong that people with whom it was the first article of religion that their mortal remains should lie undisturbed until the Day of Resurrection should be haled forth, stripped and broken up, or sold to museums and tourists. How should we like our own bodies to be treated in such a fashion, or to be left lying, as I have often see those of the Egyptians, naked and unsightly on the sand at the mouths of the holy sepulchres which with toil and cost they had prepared for themselves in their life-days? If one puts the question to those engaged in excavation, the answer is a shrug of the shoulders and a remark to the effect that they died a long while ago. But what is time to the dead? To them, waking or sleeping, ten thousand years and a nap after dinner must be one and the same thing. I have tried to emphasise this point in a little story that I have recently written under the title of “Smith and the Pharaohs.”

Now I must dwell no more on Egypt with all its history and problems, which, whenever I can find time, it is my greatest recreation to study. Truly its old inhabitants were a mysterious and fascinating folk and, across the gulf of ages — largely, it must be admitted, through these very excavations — they have come very near to us again. I confess I know more of her kings, her queens, and her social conditions than I do of those of early England.

From Egypt we went to Naples and from Naples to the south of Spain, which I now visited for the first time in preparation for a tale which I wrote afterwards and named “Fair Margaret.”

At Granada we saw that wondrous building, the Alhambra, and in the cathedral the tomb of Ferdinand and Isabella the Catholic. I descended into a vault and was shown the coffins of these great people; also those of Philip le Bel and his wife Joanna. Readers of Prescott will remember that the man Joanna insisted upon opening the coffin of her husband after he had been some while dead. I procured a candle and examined it, and there I could see the line where the lead had been cut through and soldered together again.

Of all the buildings that I saw upon this journey I think the mosque at Cordova, with its marvellous shrine and its forest of pillars of many-coloured marbles, struck me as the most impressive. The great cathedral at Seville, however, with its vast cold spaces runs it hard in majesty.

On my return to England I wrote “The Way of the Spirit,” an Anglo–Egyptian book which is dedicated to Kipling, and one that interested him very much. Indeed he and I hunted out the title together in the Bible, as that of “Renunciation,” by which it was first called, did not please him. Or perhaps this had been used before. I was glad to receive many letters from strangers thanking me for it.

In July 1904 there happened to me a very extraordinary incident. The story is contained in a letter from me which appeared in The Times for July 21, 1904, together with letters from various other persons testifying to the facts of the case. These letters and other matter were included in the Journal of the Society for Psychical Research for October 1904, from which I make short extracts relating the facts. Should any one wish to study it in detail, with the corroborating letters, they are referred to the number of the Society’s Journal.

On the night of Saturday, July 9, I went to bed about 12.30, and suffered from what I took to be a nightmare. I was awakened by my wife’s voice calling to me from her own bed upon the other side of the room. I dreamed that a black retriever dog, a most amiable and intelligent beast named Bob, which was the property of my eldest daughter, was lying on its side among brushwood, or rough growth of some sort, by water. In my vision the dog was trying to speak to me in words, and, failing, transmitted to my mind in an undefined fashion the knowledge that it was dying. Then everything vanished, and I woke to hear my wife asking me why on earth I was making those horrible and weird noises. I replied that I had had a nightmare about a fearful struggle, and that I had dreamed that old Bob was in a dreadful way, and was trying to talk to me and to tell me about it.

On the Sunday morning Mrs. Rider Haggard told the tale at breakfast, and I repeated my story in a few words.

Thinking that the whole thing was nothing more than a disagreeable dream, I made no inquiries about the dog and never learned even that it was missing until that Sunday night, when my little girl, who was in the habit of feeding it, told me so. At breakfast-time, I may add, nobody knew that it was gone, as it had been seen late on the previous evening. Then I remembered my dream, and the following day inquiries were set on foot.

To be brief, on the morning of Thursday, the 14th, my servant, Charles Bedingfield, and I discovered the body of the dog floating in the Waveney against a weir about a mile and a quarter away.

On Friday, the 15th, I was going into Bungay when at the level crossing on the Bungay road I was hailed by two plate-layers, who are named respectively George Arterton and Harry Alger. These men informed me that the dog had been killed by a train, and took me on a trolly down to a certain open-work bridge which crosses the water between Ditchingham and Bungay, where they showed me evidence of its death. This is the sum of their evidence:

It appears that about 7 o’clock upon the Monday morning, very shortly after the first train had passed, in the course of his duties Harry Alger was on the bridge, where he found a dog’s collar torn off and broken by the engine (since produced and positively identified as that worn by Bob), coagulated blood, and bits of flesh, of which remnants he cleaned the rails. On search also I personally found portions of black hair from the coat of a dog. On the Monday afternoon and subsequently his mate saw the body of the dog floating in the water beneath the bridge, whence it drifted down to the weir, it having risen with the natural expansion of gases, such as, in this hot weather, might be expected to occur within about forty hours of death. It would seem that the animal must have been killed by an excursion train that left Ditchingham at 10.25 on Saturday night, returning empty from Harlestone a little after 11. This was the last train which ran that night. No trains run on Sunday, and it is practically certain that it cannot have been killed on the Monday morning, for then the blood would have been still fluid. Further, if it was living, the dog would almost certainly have come home during Sunday, and its body would not have risen so quickly from the bottom of the river, or presented the appearance it did on Thursday morning. From traces left upon the piers of the bridge it appeared that the animal was knocked or carried along some yards by the train and fell into the brink of the water where reeds grow. Here, if it were still living — and, although the veterinary thinks that death was practically instantaneous, its life may perhaps have lingered for a few minutes — it must have suffocated and sunk, undergoing, I imagine, much the same sensations as I did in my dream, and in very similar surroundings to those that I saw therein — namely, amongst a scrubby growth at the edge of water.

I am forced to conclude that the dog Bob, between whom and myself there existed a mutual attachment, either at the moment of his death, if his existence can conceivably have been prolonged till after one in the morning, or, as seems more probable, about three hours after that event, did succeed in calling my attention to its actual or recent plight by placing whatever portion of my being is capable of receiving such impulses when enchained by sleep, into its own terrible position.

On the remarkable issues opened up by this occurrence I cannot venture to speak further than to say that — although it is dangerous to generalise from a particular instance, however striking and well supported by evidence, which is so rarely obtainable in such obscure cases — it does seem to suggest that there is a more intimate ghostly connection between all members of the animal world, including man, than has hitherto been believed, at any rate by Western peoples; that they may be, in short, all of them different manifestations of some central, informing life, though inhabiting the universe in such various shapes. The matter, however, is one for the consideration of learned people who have made a study of these mysterious questions. I will only add that I ask you to publish the annexed documents with this letter, as they constitute the written testimony at present available to the accuracy of what I state. Further, I may say that I shall welcome any investigation by competent persons.

I am, your obedient servant,
H. Rider Haggard.

To the Editor of The Times.

The editor of the Journal of the Society for Psychical Research says:

This case is one of very unusual interest from several points of view. It is, therefore, specially satisfactory to have it so well authenticated, and Mr. Rider Haggard deserves the gratitude of psychical researchers for having collected all the available evidence so promptly and completely and put it at the disposal of the scientific world.

This experience produced a great effect upon me, and at first frightened and upset me somewhat, for without doubt it has a very uncanny side. By degrees, however, I came to see that it also has its lessons, notably one lesson — that of the kinship, I might almost say the oneness, of all animal life. I have always been fond of every kind of creature, and especially of dogs, some of which have been and are as very dear friends to me. But up to this date I had also been a sportsman. Shooting was my principal recreation, and one of which I was, and indeed still am, extremely fond. Greatly did I love a high pheasant, at which sometimes I made good marksmanship. But now, alas! I only bring them down in imagination with an umbrella or a walking-stick. From that day forward, except noxious insects and so forth, I have killed nothing, and, although I should not hesitate to shoot again for food or for protection, I am by no means certain that the act would not make me feel unwell. Perhaps illogically, I make an exception in favour of fishing, and I daresay that if salmon came my way I might once more throw a fly for them. I do not think that fish feel much; also I always remember that, if He did not fish Himself, our Lord was frequently present while others did, even after His Resurrection; further, that he ate of the results, and indeed by His power made those results more plentiful. Lastly, on one occasion — I allude to the case of the coin that was paid for poll-tax — this fishing was not carried on for the sake of food.

Again, harmful creatures must be destroyed since man must live, and so must those that are necessary to his physical sustenance, such as sheep and cattle, that is, until he becomes a vegetarian, as perhaps he will one day — a long while hence. In fact, subsequent to this date, I fell into great trouble and was held up to the readers of sundry journals as a cruel brute by persons who call themselves “humanitarians” because, as a farmer, I advocated an organised State crusade against rats and sparrows, which (owing largely to the destruction of the hawk and owl tribes, and of other creatures of prey in the interest of game preservation) work such incalculable damage in this country. “Humanitarians” evidently do not earn their living from the land. If they did they might take a different view of sparrows. It is, however, cheap to be pitiful at the expense of others!

I know that the above views on shooting may be thought a hard saying by many who greatly enjoy what they consider a harmless and a healthful sport. But really it is not so, since in such matters every man must act according to his own heart. If his conscience is not afraid of a thing, let him do it; if it is afraid, let him leave it alone. So talks St. Paul of whatever is sold in the shambles. “To him that esteemeth anything to be unclean, it is unclean.” “All things indeed are pure; but it is evil for that man who eateth with offence.” And again, “He that doubteth is condemned if he eat because he eateth not of faith,” which I take it is another way of saying that a man must follow the light that is lit in him. Therefore, although I no longer shoot myself, I still go out shooting with my friends who are happy in so doing. So far as I am concerned, however, the net result of it all is that “Othello’s occupation’s gone.” I have now no recreation left save that of the garden and of my solitary walks about the farm, which lead, perhaps, to too much thinking.

The publication of this “Bob” correspondence in The Times and, I may add, everywhere throughout the civilised world, brought me many letters of which the general tenor went to prove that similar examples of such psychical or telepathic communications were by no means unknown, though none of these were quite so clear as that which I have set out above. Nor were they so well supported by evidence. Moreover, it seemed almost certain that the dog Bob communicated with me after its death, which, if it could be absolutely and finally proved, as it cannot, would solve one of the mysteries of our being, by showing that the spirit even of a dog can live on when its mortal frame is destroyed and physical death has happened. If a dog — then how much more a man!

None of the experiences of my correspondents went so far as this. A number of these letters I sent to the Psychical Research Society, but a great bundle of them still remains which I have not the time to re-read. On this point of the continuance of individual existence after physical death, I once wrote a letter to Sir Oliver Lodge, who is both an eminent man of science and a great student of such hidden matters. I asked him whether he possessed such evidence as would satisfy a reasonable person, say a judge or a juryman, of the fact of the continued existence of the individual after his physical death. He answered:

As to your question — it is not an easy one. By scientific experience I have myself become absolutely convinced of persistence of existence, and I regard death as an important episode — the reverse of birth — but neither of these episodes really initial or final. One is the assumption of connection with matter, the other is the abandoning of that connection.

If it be further asked whether after we have abandoned matter we can, by indirect means, occasionally continue to act upon it — on the matter of the inorganic world or the matter of our friends’ brains, for instance — I am inclined to answer, though now more doubtfully, that in my judgment the evidence points to the existence of some indistinct and undeveloped power of this sort.

The simplest and best developed variety of this continued interaction with matter is on the side of telepathy.

This is experimentally found existent between the living, and I have reason to believe that this is the one mode of communication which survives the transition, and that under favourable conditions we can still influence and be influenced by the process of events and emotions here . . . .

This is comforting, so far as it goes, and of course extremely interesting. But, after all, we have here only the experience and the deductions of one man who, brilliant and utterly upright as he is known to be, may still be mistaken like the rest of us. The manifestations exist — many can bear witness to them. But whence do they come? That is the question. May not some Power be mocking us that, directly or indirectly, draws its strength from our vital forces and has its roots in our own intelligence, exalted in an access of spiritual intoxication? Yet if so, this does not explain the “Bob” incident when I was seeking for nothing, and had gone to sleep tired out with my usual day’s work. Why, in such circumstances, should this dog have materialised itself in my slumbering brain and at the moment of its death, or rather, as I firmly believe, several hours after that event? Therein lies a hint of great marvels.

Years afterwards another dream about an animal came to me which I embodied in the story called “The Mahatma and the Hare,” a little book that, up to the present, has no great public vogue. Largely this is because so many of the papers neglected it as though it were something improper. Their reason was, I think, that they feared to give offence to that great section of their readers who, directly or indirectly, are interested in sport, by extended notices of a parable which doubtless in its essence amounts to an attack upon our habit of killing other creatures for amusement. I hope, however, that its day may come, though perhaps not yet.

As I am touching on mystical subjects, probably for the last time, I will instance here a series of imaginings which developed themselves in my mind at intervals over a period of several months early in the present year. I noted them down at the time and, except for an addendum to No. 4, give them without alteration, as I think it best not to interfere with the original words, on which, perhaps unconsciously, I might attempt to improve. Indeed it would be easy to make a story out of each of these mind-pictures. At the head of them I have stated the alternative explanations which occur to me. Personally I favour — indeed I might almost say that I accept — the last.

Only then the question will arise as to whether it is possible for us to imagine anything that has not, somewhere in this great universe whereof we only know the fringe, an actual counterpart, perhaps very distorted, of some unseen truth? However far we throw out our mental hands, can they close on anything which is not in its essence a fact, or the reflection of a fact? Are we not walled in by facts, and is it within our scope to travel one inch beyond that wall? But the thing is very subtle, and I am by no means certain that I make my meaning clear. Moreover, it could be argued in a dozen ways, and as these dream-pictures are merely given as a curiosity in which I have no personal faith, it is not worth while to waste time in discussing them. Here they are:

During the past few months there have come to me, generally between sleeping and waking, or so it seemed, certain pictures. These pictures, it would appear, might be attributed to either of the three following causes:

(1) Memories of some central incident that occurred in a previous incarnation.

(2) Racial memories of events that had happened to forefathers.

(3) Subconscious imagination and invention.

Probably the last of these alternatives is the one which most people would accept, since it must be remembered that there is nothing in any one of these tableaux vivants which I could not have imagined — say as an incident of a romance.

Now, before I forget them, I will describe the pictures as well as I can.

1. A kind of bay in a thicket formed of such woods as are common in England today, especially hazel, as they would appear towards the end of June, in full leaf but still very green. A stream somewhere near. At back, in a tall bank, something like the Bath Hills,29 the mouth of a cavern. About thirty feet from this a rough hut made of poles meeting on a central ridge (I have forgotten how it was thatched). In front of the hut a fire burning, and an idea of something being cooked by a skin-clad woman, I standing by, a youngish man, tall; children playing round, and notably a boy of about ten standing on the hither side of the fire, his nakedness half covered by the pelt of some animal, his skin, as he lifts his arms, very white. A general sense of something about to happen.

28 Above the river Waveney. — Ed.

2. A round hut, surrounded by a fence, standing on a grassy knoll, no trees about. A black woman moving within the fence and, I think, some children; myself there also, as a black man. An alarm below, which causes me to take a spear and run out. A fight with attackers; attackers driven off, but I receive a spear-thrust right through the middle below the breast, and stagger up the slope mortally wounded back into the enclosure round the hut, where I fall into the arms of the woman and die.

3. A great palace built in the Egyptian style. Myself, a man of about thirty, in quaint and beautiful robes wound rather tightly round the body, walking at night up and down some half-enclosed and splendid chamber through which the air flows freely. A beautiful young woman with violet eyes creeps into the place like one who is afraid of being seen, creeps up to me, who start at seeing her and appear to indicate that she should go. Thereon the woman draws herself up and, instead of going, throws herself straight into the man’s arms.

4. An idea of boundless snows and great cold. Then the interior of a timber-built hall, say forty feet or more in length, a table by a doorway and on it three or four large dark-coloured trout, such as might come from a big lake. Wooden vessels about, brightly painted. A fire burning in the centre of the hall, with no chimney. On the farther side of the fire a bench, and on the bench a young woman of not more than two — or three-and-twenty, apparently the same woman as she of the Egyptian picture, or very like her, with the identical large violet eyes, although rather taller. She is clothed in a tight-fitting grey dress, quite plain and without ornament, made of some rough frieze and showing the outline of the figure beneath. The hair is fair, but I cannot remember exactly how it was arranged. The woman is evidently in great grief. She sits, her elbow resting on her knee, her chin in her hand, and stares hopelessly into the fire. Presently something attracts her attention, for she looks towards the door by the table, which opens and admits through it a tall man, who, I know, is myself, wearing armour, for I catch the sheen of it in the firelight. The woman springs from the bench, runs round the fire, apparently screaming, and throws herself on to the breast of the man.

The general impression left is that she had believed him to be dead when he, probably her husband, appeared alive and well.

(Some months later I was favoured with an impression of another scene set in the same surroundings. In this picture postscript, if I may call it so, the identical man and woman, now persons of early middle age, were standing together in bitter sorrow over the doubled-up and fully-dressed body of a beautiful lad of about eighteen years of age. Although I saw no wet upon his clothes I think that he had been drowned.)

5. The mouth of a tunnel or mine-adit running into a bare hillside strewn with rocks and debris. Standing outside the tunnel a short, little woman of about twenty-five, with black hair, brown eyes, and brownish but not black skin, lightly clad in some nondescript kind of garment. Resting on her, his arms about her shoulders, an elderly man, very thin and short, with a sad, finely-cut face and sparse grizzled beard, wearing a dingy loin-cloth. The man’s right foot covered with blood, and so badly crushed that one of the bones projects from the instep. The woman weeping. By his side on the ground a kind of basket filled with lumps of ore, designed to be carried on the back and fitted with two flat loops of hide, with a breast-strap connecting them, something on the principle of a children’s toy reins. Growing near by a plant of the aloe tribe, the bottom leaves dead, and some of those above scratched in their fleshy substance, as though for amusement.

Walking up the slope towards the pair a coarse, strong, vigorous, black-bearded man with projecting eyes. He is clothed in white robes and wears a queer-shaped hat or cap, I think with a point to it. From an ornamented belt about his middle hangs a short sword in a scabbard, with a yellowish handle ending in a knob shaped like to the head of a lion. He carries over his head a painted umbrella or sunshade that will not shut up, and is made either of thin strips of wood or of some kind of canvas stretched on a wooden frame.

General idea connected with the dream is that this man is an overseer of slaves who is about to kill the injured person as useless and take the woman for himself. She might be the daughter of the injured man, or possibly a wife a good deal younger than he. In any case she is intimately connected with him. Further idea. That the injured man was once an individual of consequence who has been reduced to slavery by some invading and more powerful race.

The characteristics of the site of the picture remind me of Cyprus.

I described these tableaux to Sir Oliver Lodge when I met him in the Athenaeum not long ago, and asked him his opinion concerning them. He was interested, but replied that if they had appeared to him he would have thought more of them than he did as they had appeared to me, because he said that he lacked imagination. The curious little details such as that of the dark-coloured trout on the table in No. 4, and that of the scratchings on the aloe leaves in No. 5, seemed to strike him very much, as did the fact that all the scenes were such as might very well, and indeed doubtless have occurred again and again in the course of our long human history, from the time of the cave-dwellers onwards. Probably if we could trace our ancestors back to the beginning, we should find that on one occasion or another they have happened to some of them. I may add that by far the prettiest and most idyllic of these pictures was that of the primitive family in the midst of its green setting of hazel boughs by the mouth of the cave. Only over it, as I have said, like a thunder-cloud brooded the sense of something terrible that was about to happen. I wonder what it was.

And now farewell to the occult. Mysticism in moderation adds a certain zest to life and helps to lift it above the level of the commonplace. But it is at best a dangerous sea to travel before the time. The swimmer therein will do well to keep near to this world’s sound and friendly shore lest the lights he sees from the crest of those bewildering, phantom waves should madden or blind him, and he sink, never to rise again. It is not good to listen for too long to the calling of those voices wild and sweet.

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