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The Book of Dreams and Ghosts by Andrew Lang online

The Book of Dreams and Ghosts by Andrew Lang


On 16th October, 1862, Lord Brougham copied this extract for his Autobiography, and says that on his arrival in Edinburgh he received a letter from India, announcing that G--- had died on 19th December. He remarks "singular coincidence!" and adds that, considering the vast number of dreams, the number of coincidences is perhaps fewer than a fair calculation of chances would warrant us to expect.

This is a concession to common-sense, and argues an ignorance of the fact that sane and (apparently) waking men may have hallucinations. On the theory that we _may_ have inappreciable moments of sleep when we think ourselves awake, it is not an ordinary but an extraordinary coincidence that Brougham should have had that peculiar moment of the "dream" of G--- on the day or night of G---'s death, while the circumstance that he had made a compact with G--- multiplies the odds against accident in a ratio which mathematicians may calculate. Brougham was used to dreams, like other people; he was not shocked by them. This "dream" "produced such a shock that I had no inclination to talk about it". Even on Brougham's showing, then, this dream was a thing unique in his experience, and not one of the swarm of visions of sleep. Thus his including it among these, while his whole language shows that he himself did not really reckon it among these, is an example of the fallacies of common-sense. He completes his fallacy by saying, "It is not much more wonderful than that a person whom we had no reason to expect should appear to us at the very moment we had been thinking or speaking of him". But Lord Brougham had _not_ been speaking or thinking of G---; "there had been nothing to call him to my recollection," he says. To give his logic any value, he should constantly when (as far as he knew) awake, have had dreams that "shocked" him. Then _one_ coincidence would have had no assignable cause save ordinary accident.

If Lord Brougham fabled in 1799 or in 1862, he did so to make a "sensation". And then he tried to undo it by arguing that his experience was a thoroughly commonplace affair.

We now give a very old story, "The Dying Mother". If the reader will compare it with Mr. Cleave's case, "An Astral Body," in this chapter, he will be struck by the resemblance. Mr. Cleave and Mrs. Goffe were both in a trance. Both wished to see persons at a distance. Both saw, and each was seen, Mrs. Goffe by her children's nurse; Mr. Cleave by the person whom he wished to see, but _not_ by a small boy also present.


"Mary, the wife of John Goffe of Rochester, being afflicted with a long illness, removed to her father's house at West Mulling, about nine miles from her own. There she died on 4th June, this present year, 1691.

"The day before her departure (death) she grew very impatiently desirous to see her two children, whom she had left at home to the care of a nurse. She prayed her husband to 'hire a horse, for she must go home and die with the children'. She was too ill to be moved, but 'a minister who lives in the town was with her at ten o'clock that night, to whom she expressed good hopes in the mercies of God and a willingness to die'. 'But' said she, 'it is my misery that I cannot see my children.'

"Between one and two o'clock in the morning, she fell into a trance. One, widow Turner, who watched with her that night, says that her eyes were open and fixed and her jaw fallen. Mrs. Turner put her hand upon her mouth and nostrils, but could perceive no breath. She thought her to be in a fit; and doubted whether she were dead or alive.