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The Book of Dreams and Ghosts by Andrew Lang online

The Book of Dreams and Ghosts by Andrew Lang


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. 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" of 1828 (August 28). 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 every one he knew. On the evening of the 13th 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 he recognised Mr. Perceval, with whom he was at enmity. 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.

These accounts differ toto coelo 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.

One very curious circumstance in connection with the assassination of Mr. Perceval has never been noticed. A rumour or report of the deed reached Bude Kirk, a village near Annan, on the night of Sunday, May 10, a day before the crime was committed! This was stated in the Dumfries and Galloway Courier, and copied in The Times of May 25. On May 28, the Perth Courier quotes the Dumfries paper, and adds that "the Rev. Mr. Yorstoun, minister of Hoddam (ob. 1833), has visited Bude Kirk and has obtained the most satisfactory proof of the rumour having existed" on May 10, but the rumour cannot be traced to its source. Mr. Yorstoun authorises the mention of his name. The Times of June 2 says that "the report is without foundation". If Williams talked everywhere of his dream, on May 3, some garbled shape of it may conceivably have floated to Bude Kirk by May 10, and originated the rumour. Whoever started it would keep quiet when the real news arrived for fear of being implicated in a conspiracy as accessory before the fact. No trace of Mr. Williams's dream occurs in the contemporary London papers.