Death-Bed Visions - The Psychical Experiences of the Dying
Sir William Barrett
Publisher: Rider & Co. Published: 1926
Pages: 123 Availability: Out of Print
Preface: Editor's Preface
- William Barrett -
THIS book is sent out to the public in an unfinished state. It will be seen that in the introduction the author has only sketched the line of discussion which he would have elaborated, and even this outline is incomplete.
The editor prefers, however, to leave untouched both the introduction and the discussion of cases, believing that by so doing the thought of the author will be more truly conveyed than would be the case were any elaboration undertaken by another hand. The outline was clearly unfinished, for several passages in the books of reference had been marked by him for discussion, and particularly paragraphs in Professor Bozzano's recently published book,Phenomenes Psychiques au Moment de la Mort, translated from Italian to French by C. de Vesme (Editions de la B.P.S., 8 Rue Copernic [16c], Paris), 1923.
He was specially interested in Bozzano's observation that if the phenomena were caused by the thoughts of the dying person being directed to those he loved, the appearances might be expected to represent living persons at least as frequently as deceased persons who had long passed from this world, whereas no records had come to hand of dying persons seeing at their bedside visions of friends still living.
He would have liked to ask those who believe the visions to be the product of intense desire or thought to collect evidence in support of their theory, showing that desire for living friends may produce visions of them at the bedside seen during moments of full consciousness.
There are, no doubt, cases of so-called travelling clairvoyance (see Chapter IV), in which the dying persons, after a period of trance or unconsciousness, said they had seen living relatives at a distance; and there was in some instances reciprocal vision by the distant relative of the figure of the dying person - usually mistaken for a real appearance. This is clearly a very different type of phenomenon.
Another point which the author had discussed with friends was that in the cases of phantasms of the living collected by the Society for Psychical Research it has usually been the person thinking, and not the one thought of, whose image was projected in vision.
On this analogy, when a dying person sees the phantasm of one already deceased the initiative would appear to come from the thought of the latter, whose survival is thereby demonstrated.
He was greatly impressed by a feature not uncommon at the death-beds of young children, viz., the description of the vision in terms not in keeping with ideas arising from their religious upbringing. He considered that in such circumstances the hallucination could hardly be ascribed to a mere flight of fancy.
In arranging the groups of cases he gave the first place to those relating to visions of a deceased person whom the dying percipient did not know to be dead. A recent and striking experience was that of Mrs. B., the first narrative in Chapter II. He recognized that where the death was known to anybody present in the room an attempt might be made to stretch telepathy to cover the incident, but he maintained that such an explanation would not account for the cases in this chapter, in which the percipient and the bystanders were equally unaware of the death.
The author had given considerable time and thought to the subject, and looked forward to making the groups of cases as complete and representative as possible before publication. This, however, was not to be, for he himself, in the midst of active work, passed suddenly into "that little-known country" towards which his thought had so often taken wing.
He was anxious to prove that even people who have been sceptical all their lives of any survival after death have sometimes given evidence that at the very end they knew there was an after life.
He did not therefore choose material representing visions seen only by believers in survival of the soul, or by those with special psychic powers, but also visions seen by people with no belief in a future life (see cases at the end of Chapter III).
He put each case fairly, without keeping weak points in the background, and he left it to the reader himself to consider how far telepathy or some other mental attribute could be stretched to cover the circumstances. He expected impartial critics to realize that sometimes such an explanation would appear itself to involve a flight or extension of the soul incompatible with the material bounds of life.
It is hoped that this little book, though it falls short of what the author contemplated, will to some extent carry out his plan and direct attention in this country to phenomena which seemed to him to deserve more study than they have received.
The editor gratefully acknowledges the help given by Mr. Trethewy, in his careful reading of the manuscript, in preparation of the index and in many valuable suggestions.
F. E. B.