Creepy History 25. For the last couple of “Creepy History” articles we have been looking at the supernatural experiences of Bayard Taylor. They are merely a footnote in the life of this prolific traveller and adventurer, collected together in a couple of chapters of At Home and Abroad (1859). The first of the two relevant chapters focusses on the spirit world, with Taylor concluding that “I am fully satisfied that there was nothing whatever of a supernatural character” to the events described, despite a good deal of evidence to the contrary from his own experience. However, in the second chapter he looks at the realms of supernatural powers of the mind, and his opinions on this topic are quite the opposite.
When I was last in Florence, the sculptor Powers related to me a still more remarkable story, which had come to pass only a few days before my arrival. A young English lady of his acquaintance, who was living with her brother in the city, was on terms of great intimacy and affection with a lady of her own age, who was spending the summer with her father in a villa among the Apennines, near Pistoja. This friend had invited her to visit her during the summer; she had accepted the invitation; and the middle of August was fixed upon as the time. Three weeks before, however, the young lady had a remarkable dream. It seemed to her that the day of her departure for the villa near Pistoja had arrived. Her trunk was packed; and early in the morning, a very curious old carriage drove to the door to receive her. The vetturino slung her trunk to the axletree with ropes — a disposition of baggage which she had never before seen. She took her seat, and for several hours journeyed down the vale of the Arno, noticing the scenery, which was entirely new to her. Several trifling incidents occurred on the way, and there was a delay occasioned by the giving way of the harness; but towards evening she reached the Apennine villa.
As the carriage approached the building, she perceived the father of her friend standing in the door, with a very troubled countenance. He came forward, as she was preparing to alight, laid his hand on the carriage door, and said: “My daughter is very ill, and no one is allowed to see her. To-night is the crisis of her fever, which will decide whether she will recover. I have made arrangements for you to spend the night in the villa of Mr. Smith yonder; and pray heaven that my daughter’s condition will permit you to return to us to-morrow!” Thereupon he gave directions to the vetturino, who drove to Mr. Smith’s villa. The host received her kindly, ushered her into a broad entrance-hall, and said: “I will endeavor to make you comfortable for the night. That will be your room,” pointing to a glass door, with green curtains, at the end of the hall. Here her dream suddenly stopped.
The next morning she related the whole story to her brother. For a few days afterwards, they occasionally referred to it; but as she received information that her friend was in excellent health, she gradually banished from her mind the anxiety it had caused her. The day fixed upon for her journey at length arrived. What was her astonishment, when the identical queer old carriage of her dream drove up to the door, and her trunk was slung by ropes to the axletree! This was the commencement; and during the whole day everything occurred precisely as she had already seen it. Towards evening, she arrived at the villa near Pistoja; and the father of her friend stood in the door, with a troubled countenance. He came forward, repeating the intelligence of his daughter’s illness in the same words, and ordered the vetturino to drive to the villa of Mr. Smith. The excitement and alarm of the young lady had been continually on the increase; so that, when she finally reached the broad entrance-hall, and Mr. Smith said, “I will endeavor to make you comfortable for the night. That will be your room” (pointing to the glass door with green curtains), her nerves, strung to their utmost tension, gave way, and she fell upon the floor in a swoon. Fortunately, there was no ground for superstitious forebodings. The crisis passed over happily, and the very next day she was permitted to nurse her convalescent friend.
Here the dream, in all its details, was narrated three weeks before its verification — thus setting aside any question of the imagination having assisted in the latter. It is one of the most satisfactory examples of second-sight I have ever heard of, and this must be my justification for giving it to the world.
The sculptor mentioned in the quote above was Hiram Powers (1805 to 1873). More about him can be found in the work of John Corson, which we looked at in Journals 10 Part 4. Taylor was a successful American poet, who used his earnings from his poetry to fund travels in Europe in the late 1840s. He wrote about his experiences, and his articles were published in the Tribune, the Saturday Evening Post and the United States Gazette, leading to a career working as a correspondent for the Tribune during the California gold rush. When his wide died in 1850 he threw himself into his work, but his health began to suffer, so he instead embarked upon extensive travels around the world, and his journals were published in several volumes. We looked at one of his works in detail in Journals 7.