KEEPING in mind these few facts about Elizabeth M. and the nature of her trance, we turn now to a study of some of the 427 transmissions put through by R.L.S.
As was detailed in Chapter 13, these transmissions were made up of two separate but interlocking parts: a script and a vision. This double communication was given in this fashion: during her trance sleep, Elizabeth's hand and arm were activated in a
hand-slapping automatism; that is to say, as Dr. Hamilton repeatedly called out the letters of the alphabet, her hand would slap the
table-top, stopping at the desired letter. These letters would be noted by the secretary. During the time of the
trance-sleep, and simultaneously with the hand automatism, Elizabeth was seeing her 'picture'. When she returned to a normal state of consciousness after her trance, she told what she had seen, and her words were noted by the secretary. All this, of course, took place in the darkness of the
séance room, and not until the séance was over and the notes studied, did anyone have the slightest notion of what the double communication contained.
It was found that the script usually referred to an actual incident in Stevenson's life. Elizabeth's 'picture' frequently took the form of a 'playlet' in which the characters and their actions appeared to be chosen deliberately to illumine the text of the script.
The next step was up to the researcher - usually Mrs. Hamilton - to locate and identify the
memory-idea by searching through Stevenson's writings. This in itself was a formidable task, and meant that during the years of the Stevenson communications, we had to acquire a very extensive and
up-to-date library of all the books Stevenson himself had written, as well as all the books written about him, so that my mother could work at home with the accumulation of
séance records beside her. It must be stressed that Elizabeth M. was never allowed access to these records, and the results of my mother's researches and verifications were never discussed with her. Indeed, as I remember Mrs. Poole, she was
child-like in her ignorance of the material which came in such abundance through her psychic sensitivity, and even had she been told much about it, I doubt that she had the understanding to appreciate its significance.
Here now is a very simple example of the script-vision phenomenon. Early in the Stevenson work, the
hand-slapping method spelled out:
"It was a dream of father Thomas Stevenson for son to be a great
post-trance waking stage Elizabeth said this:
"I was away in an old place, Edinburgh, but it was an office I was in and that
round-faced man with the side whiskers was having some talk with the young man. The young man was displeased. He threw his papers down with a bang, didn't want to do what the old man asked him to. It was an office for I saw a
letter-press, then a couple of pictures of sailing ships."
Put the two parts of this communication side by side, and we see at once that R.L.S. is reminding us of the fact that Thomas Stevenson had earnestly desired his son Robert Louis to follow the family profession of lighthouse engineering, and that Robert Louis had been equally determined to become a writer. The purpose of the pantomime is clear: a young Louis showing his rebellious spirit. A fragment from R.L.S.' past has been played out in Elizabeth's mind.
Strangely enough, the most compelling clue as to the real nature of this method of communication was found weeks later in one of Stevenson's essays,
Memoirs of an Islet, an essay upon which not one of the many communications ever touched. In the introductory paragraphs of this essay Stevenson discloses the method by which he was able to summon memories of his past most vividly to his mind's eye in the form of pictures, which he would then turn to advantage in his work as an imaginative
"Those who try to be artists use, time after time, the matter of their recollections, setting and
re-setting little coloured memories of men and scenes, rigging up (it may be) some special friend in the attire of a buccaneer and decreeing armies to manoeuvre, or murder to be done on the playgrounds of their youth... After a dozen services in various tales, the little sunbright pictures of the past still shine in the mind's eye with not a lineament defaced, not a tint impaired... So that the writer begins to wonder at the perdurable life of these impressions ... and looking back on them with
ever-growing kindness, puts them at last, substantive jewels, in a setting of their own. One or two of these pleasant spectres I think I have laid. I used one the other day: a little eyot of dense, freshwater sand... Two of my puppets lay there a summer's day ... in time, perhaps, the puppets will grow faint; the original memories swim up instant as ever; and I shall once more lie in bed, and see the little sandy isle in Allan Water as it is in nature, and the child (that once was me) wading there in butterburrs; and wonder at the instancy and virgin freshness of that memory; and be pricked again, in season and out of season, by the desire to weave it into art.
"There is another isle in my collection, the memory of which besieges me. I put a whole family there, in one of my tales; and later on, threw upon its shores, and condemned to several days of rain and shellfish on its tumbled boulders, the hero of another. The ink is not yet faded, the sound of the sentences is still in my mind's ear; and I am under a spell to write of that island
In a manner far surpassing cold objective description, this extract exemplifies most effectively the intricate relationship which existed between the Elizabeth scripts and the visions; and it serves also to underline the role which Stevenson himself apparently played in their production.
Frequently our communicator cast himself in a dual role: he was not only the director of the visions which showed 'puppets' from Stevenson's past; he might at the same time himself become a puppet, picturing himself as a young boy or as a little child. For example, Elizabeth described "Stevenson as a child playing in a pool of water", or "helping a lamplighter" - both images later found in
A Child's Garden of Verses. She described Stevenson as a youth on board a ship with a gang of ruffians: here the 'puppet' Stevenson pretends to be Jim Hawkins, the hero of
Treasure Island. So Stevenson the director, showed Stevenson, the puppet, as a boy, as a young man, as a writer in France or in America, or as an ailing man in Samoa. Because of Elizabeth's total ignorance of Stevenson the writer, of his style, his technical skill, and his surpassing descriptive powers, it was impossible for her to distinguish between a puppet which
re-enacted some incident of Stevenson's past, and a puppet which represented a character in one of his novels. To her Long John Silver was as real as any one of the people she saw in her 'pictures'. Furthermore, the trance director subtly emphasized his dual role
- often Elizabeth said: "Stevenson was there but he stood off a bit", meaning that he appeared to her as a witness of the scene but
not part of it; while at other times she would remark: "I saw Stevenson. He was a lad of twenty. He was doing ... " Here he showed himself in his actor or puppet role. Although she seemed to be no more than an observer at these
playlets, nevertheless in many cases the scenes appeared to have been very real to her, and she shared fully in the emotion of the situation. This involvement was particularly marked when Stevenson or Livingstone showed visions which were repugnant to her. In her trance state she would mutter objections and would try to
re-establish her own emotional integrity - obviously a protective mechanism.
R.L.S. made the fullest use of the imaginative processes opened to him through Elizabeth's trance visions
- pure picturizations representing incidents in Stevenson's life;
vision-settings which displayed
humour, irony, whimsy, nostalgia; plays on words. Often these subtleties were extended so as to be associated with secondary memories, which themselves formed a background for the main memory.
Nor were these all. R.L.S.' repertoire seemed endless, a skilful set of variations on a theme. Even though the references to any given aspect of Stevenson's life extended over a considerable number of trance periods, in not a single case did any of the
vision-scripts duplicate the ideas and/or imagery of any other one that had been used earlier. If the communicator had been working on a poem, and after a space of several months chose again a text he had used previously, he gave the selection a slightly different wording and illustrated it with a different but appropriate vision. On the other hand, if he chose to repeat a vision, he would attach to it a different script into which a new idea had been added, giving an entirely new slant to the imagery, and thus changing the interpretation and meaning. In short,
R.L.S. constantly demonstrated that he was no copyist or chance designer, but an intelligent, consciously planning entity, possessing a decidedly imaginative literary outlook, fully aware of the most intimate details of the life and literary output of Robert Louis Stevenson, from which he chose to fashion his games of skill, his literary puzzles, for us to solve.
In terms of Stevenson's published works, the range of his efforts was astonishingly wide. Of the 470 transmissions analyzed and verified, 8 were found to have been based on material discovered in poems of Stevenson's
In Scots; 50 were found to be based on material drawn from various poems in the
Underwoods collection; 60 were based on excerpts found in A Child's Garden of
Verses; 12 dealt with brief extracts taken from the essay Thomas
Stevenson; 2 were found in A Humble Remonstrance; 2 dealt with The
Manse; 2 with A Penny Plain; one mentioned The Merry Men; 4 were related to events recorded in
The Amateur Immigrant; 14 owed their basic material to incidents in Treasure
Island; 22 referred to certain sections of the essay A Gossip on Romance; 25 and 22 respectively owed to brief selections found in the Dedication to
Underwoods, and to Preface Note to Underwoods. A number gave the names of Stevenson's leading novels, and the remainder, referring to innumerable phases of the author's life from childhood to his last days, were largely biographical.
Within the limits of a single chapter it is impossible to describe in other than a most cursory way the impressive nature of these literary phenomena. Indeed, one cannot hope to do full justice even to the few examples arbitrarily chosen for presentation here.
These we have grouped around certain themes. Some are purely biographical; others refer to Stevenson's method of learning to write, and the criticism which this method drew down upon his head. Some themes look to Stevenson's essays for their material. Other communications were found to be based on incidents in
Treasure Island and A Child's Garden of Verses. Finally, we offer comments based on messages which revealed Stevenson not as a director of Stevensonia but as a discarnate person engaged in communicating through his medium.
The first group of transmissions relates to Stevenson's concern with the art of writing. In this group we find reference to two boyhood experiences associated with his nurse, Alison Cunningham, and to Stevenson's public admission that
"Cummie" had been largely responsible for the development of his boyish dramatic tendencies. In his
Life of Robert Louis Stevenson(1) Balfour tells how in a room full of people, the mature Stevenson had said to Miss Cunningham "It's you that gave me my love for the drama,
Cummie, to which Cummie is said to have replied: "Me, Master Lou? I never put foot inside a playhouse in my life!" The communicator also makes it clear that as a youth Stevenson used two rooms for his study, rooms that had been his childhood nursery; and that in the fashion of the times, these rooms had been poorly
Stevenson, through Elizabeth, had also recalled his memory of the arrival of the morning carts in Edinburgh, and their association with the long hours of his nurse's patient
"My recollections of the long nights when I was kept awake by coughing were only relieved by the thought of the tenderness of my nurse and second mother, Alison Cunningham. She was more patient than I can suppose, and an angel, hours together she would help and console me ... till the first of that long string of country carts, that in the dark hours of the morning, creaked, rolled and pounded past my window …
These varied recollections were distributed between the two trance outlets, the hand signals spelling out "Me … master ... never put (foot) in playhouse (in) ... my life … " while the vision showed Cummie disclaiming indignantly, and drew attention to the stuffiness of the nursery and the noise of the carts. As a demonstration of the communicator's extreme skill in putting these memories into a picture, the
trance-vision is outstanding. The medium, now simply an observer, moves from scene to scene in a very natural fashion. Here are Elizabeth's
"I was on a long journey tonight. I landed in the old place but by a different road. I walked on a beautiful road, a fence on either side, and hills. Then I passed a big gate. It opened in the middle. I think it was the way into an estate. I got up into the city and up to the old house where I have been before. I went up the steps, two, I think, and into a hall and then into a room.
"There was a boy there in his teens. He was telling a woman something. She had on a black dress and a little white apron. I saw a little desk where he was doing his writing. He was telling her something but she wouldna (wouldn't) take it in. She stampit (stamped) her foot at him. He had no collar on this coat; very baggy trousers. The room was awful (very) close. He was thin, had dark hair. As I was coming into the city, I saw milk carts. The people came out to get the milk with dishes. The stones of the buildings were very
Our second example, received on June 5, 1925, had to do with R.L.S.' early determination to become an author. Like many of the
R.L.S. scripts this one was given in the third person:
"It was not so much that he wished to be an author, as that he vowed he would learn to
Compare this with Stevenson's lines which he wrote in
A College Magazine:
"It was not so much that I wished to be an author (though I wished that too) as that I vowed I would learn to
As J. A. Steuart observed in
Robert Louis Stevenson, Man and Writer:
"One result … one inevitable result of his persistency was domestic disapproval, which as time passed touched on the verge of tragedy ... between father and son it developed into a contest of wills, and in the end the stronger will prevailed, as in the nature of things it must prevail…
trance-vision of June 5, 1925, depicted in pantomime form the opposition which Thomas Stevenson first showed to this decision. The elder Stevenson was bitterly disappointed that his only son chose not to follow the profession of lighthouse engineering which had distinguished the Stevenson family for two generations. The contest of wills between father and son is clearly
"I was away in the old city and saw him there. He lookit (looked) like one in his teens. Tall and thin. I think it was his father and him. His father wanted him to take some work but he wouldna (wouldn't). The lad had a lot of books and his pencil and stood at times and then sat down. It was in a room. There was a writing desk and a big table with a back on it for writing. And there was two big chairs. There was a big picture with a ship on it. This was above the writing desk. The ship was painted. He was not twenty ... near it, though. I could not tell why he was wrong to do what he wants hisself (himself). The father came to take the papers and the lad held them as he was going to do what he wanted. He had long black hair. The father had on an ulster jacket like a house coat. I saw no other people. It was daylight. I just seemed to appear in this room … I seemed almost behind young Stevenson. The father was at the side …"
Having conquered his father, the young Stevenson turned to the more difficult task of conquering his pen. His methods of learning to write were regarded as somewhat peculiar, and at that time, and indeed, more recently, have come in for a good deal of criticism. The next example of the
Stevenson-Elizabeth trance products is concerned with this phase of Stevenson's life.
In April 1873, Stevenson, then in his 28th year, had chosen to spend three weeks at a small English inn known as Burford Arms, situated at the foot of Box Hill, and near the home of literary friends whom Stevenson sometimes visited. Stevenson mentions this holiday in his essay
A Gossip of Romance, and he tells how he tried to describe the surrounding
"It is one thing to write about the Inn at Burford, or to describe the scenery with the
word-painters. It is quite another to seize on the heart of the suggestion and make a country famous with a legend ...
In still another essay in
The College Magazine he speaks of his methods of learning to write:
"Whenever I read a book or a passage that particularly pleased me, I must sit down and at once set myself to ape that particular quality ... I have thus played the sedulous ape to
Hazlitt, to Lamb, to Wordsworth and to Obermanne... "
In this same essay he tells how when he went walking, his mind was continually busy fitting what he saw with appropriate words "to note down the features of the scene or commemorate some halting
In transmission 152, November 9, 1924, these various memories were cleverly
The script: "Until now have been content to write about an inn at Burford … describe scenery word painter … sedulous ape
In panoramic form the vision suggests these same memories with their associations: walking to observe and note the landscape; the inn at
Burford; the home near Burford which Stevenson visited; and his habit of copying the styles of various classical writers
- in Elizabeth's words:
"I was away in a pretty place. I was at the shore and I left the shore and went away along the road, and there were hills on the right hand and lowland on the left. I went on a long road until I came to a hotel. I saw the name of it ... it had 'ford' in it.... It was not
Hurtford. Then I went on till I came to a little house on the left hand. I was in it ... a small cottage with thatched roof. I was in there and my friend and two or three others were there. He lookit (looked) about twenty years. He had a tweed suit with knickerbockers on. They had a lot of books. They were writing. The hills were all green, the lowland was green with trees and rocks and quite a nice shore of the ocean showing...
Fifteen months later, in February 1926, came a second reference to Stevenson's method of learning to write. Once again, in both script and vision, complex ideas clothed in apt imagery were presented with superlative skill and ingenuity.
The script was in two parts. The first sentence "Throughout immature years followed the example of many teachers ..." was taken to be an indirect reference to the 'sedulous ape' concept already mentioned. The second part of the script gave
"A naked moor, a shivering pool before the door, a poplar tree at the garden foot, the garden bare of fruit and flowers; bare without; such a place I live in ...
At first glance two completely unrelated concepts.
Elizabeth detailed her accompanying vision in this fashion:
"I was in a house and I saw R.L. there and two or three more men. They were arguing over something. I came out of there with them and went to a moor by a few trees and a stream running past. It came down a hill over stones nice and clear, and then went into a garden there; not much in it but bushes, but it had been a garden. There were two 'pictures': they were with me through the first, but in the second I was alone. I lost myself after I left the garden.
R.L. was over thirty anyway. He spoke to me. He had on a tweed suit with a Norfolk coat...
In both script and
trance-vision the opening imagery apparently relates to the learning process. The second
script-vision imagery depicts loneliness, solitude, and paucity of resources. Months later my mother came upon the poem
The House Beautiful(7). The truncated script message was found to have been derived from a descriptive passage in the first verse of that poem. By what we must regard as a deliberate choice of the communicator, that particular passage offers an excellent simile to the barrenness of Stevenson's early literary efforts.
Continuing on the subject of Stevenson's youthful less-than-successful professional attempts, a particularly cleverly designed transmission manifested on April 6, 1926. Here an incident in Stevenson's University experience was cleverly dressed up as a charade.
Entranced, Elizabeth M. wrote:
"Magazine emerged … yellow cover... Maiden number … Edited
Describing her vision, she
"I saw the prettiest hall, all done in silver. I saw some girls. They were very
old-fashioned. One had her hair in a net. They had long dresses and one had lace mitts. They were four girls and they all had books. One of them opened her book and gave a kind of smile. They were like magazines
- paper-covered. The centres were yellowish-cream. Oh, it was so pretty! Stevenson was in his teens. He was just looking on
During his undergraduate days at the University of Edinburgh, with three of his class mates Stevenson had founded a magazine which had been issued with a yellow cover. In his essay
A College Magazine he wrote: "This effort ran for four issues ... poor yellow sheets that looked so hopefully in the Livingstone's window. Poor harmless paper that might have gone to print a Shakespeare on, but was instead so clumsily defaced by nonsense ...
After searching for and ultimately discovering these biographical facts and placing them beside the words of the script, we finally understood the vision's significance. Considering the words 'maiden numbers' as the basic idea, we recognize that the four maidens, holding yellow magazines, symbolize the four maiden issues. One young lady reads and smiles, evoking memories of the poor yellow sheet defaced by nonsense, while from the wings, young Stevenson surveys the actions of his
A highly complex transmission came on January 31, 1926. The script read like a
"Tribute: Memorial sketch he gave to the world at the time Thomas Stevenson dead when were thrilling the world 'Hyde and
Jekyll' and 'Treasure Island' where he hit the sailor square on the spine
Elizabeth's vision accurately depicted the facts and fancies set forth in the script. The first part proved to be a symbolization of the memorial sketch, the second a dramatization of the fight scene in
Treasure Island, embodying the central idea of the crutch hitting the sailor on the
"I was away in a place I think I saw before. I saw them doing nothing but drawing pictures, but it was done with a thick black pencil. I saw a lot of things: I saw a dead corpse, old, stretched out, an old man, a corpse with a white robe on him. I saw one man,
Stevie, I think, drawing the pictures. He was drawing on an easel.
"And then I went away to an island. I saw sailors fighting, and I saw one with a crutch strike another with it. He took the crutch and struck another on the back. They were not on the boat. They were on land. One of these men was dark and had
side-breezes (whiskers). The corpse had nothing to do with the sailors.
"I have seen the man before, with Stevenson. I did not get his name. I know he was a corpse by the way he was dressed ...
It took many months of literary research to uncover the clues and to unravel and understand the complexities. The biographical sources appeared to be these: Stevenson's great pirate story Treasure Island was published in 1883, Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde in 1886. Both brought him world fame. His father Thomas Stevenson died in May 1887; shortly thereafter Stevenson wrote and published a memorial sketch entitled Thomas Stevenson, Civil Engineer.
The vision is in two parts - the first symbolizing the memorial sketch, the second picturing the well known scene of the fight in which Long John's crutch strikes one of the sailors in his back.
Treasure Island was found to be the source for numerous incidents which our communicator shared with Elizabeth. Thumbnail sketches of Long John Silver, Jim Hawkins, the parrot Flint, the apple barrel scene were skilfully portrayed in her 'pictures', with Stevenson himself sometimes the onlooker, sometimes the actor.
One script contained the name 'Long John Silver', and the accompanying vision revealed Stevenson, resting in an armchair, suggesting that he considered himself as the director. A later vision showed the author as a passive witness, while his medium talked of sailors in an inn, bending over a map, talking, and outside, a ship riding at anchor.
A few sittings later Elizabeth spoke of:
"seeing a hollow, and a higher sort of land ... I saw a man, not Stevenson… He was in a uniform with yellow trimming. There was a parrot on his shoulder. I heard a nice word 'Silver' spoke the night (tonight). There was a man lying on the ground. Whether this man had shot him, I could not tell …"
At a subsequent sitting she gave a more detailed description of the notorious 'Long John':
"There was a man lying on the ground as if he had been shot. A man stood over him and he seemed to have a gun in one hand and a heavy stick in the other. He leaned on the stick as if to steady himself. He appeared to have one leg. Stevenson was standing off a bit. Whether he was pleased or displeased I could not tell …"
And of course the parrot had to make his entry, which he did at Stevenson's behest in a subtle
"I saw a few sailors. I can hear some talk yet. They were standing near a shore but I did not see any boats. I got a couple of names. Who is Flint? Two men are here, one with a red coat on, and one with a bird on his shoulder. I hear Flint as an echo, far, far away...
The young hero of Treasure Island was shown too, for in yet another 'picture' Elizabeth described the famous 'apple barrel' scene, with Stevenson himself playing the role of Jim
"I got Stevenson in warships. I saw a captain. R.L.S. was about twenty… He seemed on a holiday. He had on a cap with a black band on it… Then he seemed as if he were standing in a barrel as if he had been hiding, and two or three men on his right side. Whether they were spying on him, or whether he was spying on them, I couldna (couldn't) say. These men had long coats of blue, and
three-cornered hats bound with yellow. Stevenson's pants were light
coloured, very tight to the knee. At the end of the ship were ropes. I saw a man and he had not a wooden leg, but a stick on the end of it. They wanted Stevenson to do something, but oh! what a look this man with the leg gave Stevenson! He is something in the sailor
line-red-faced and a long nose. Stevenson wanted him to do something. He sure resented
Treasure Island probably the best known and widely read work is the Child's Garden of
Verses. Over the five years of the Stevenson transmissions through Elizabeth's
scripts-and-visions came many descriptive passages easily recognized as
prose-counterparts of the poems. Here is a random sampling; one notes how precisely the salient details are
"I saw him sitting on his bed with his stocking either on or off. There was a patchwork quilt. Chairs were in there and a tunic and a belt were thrown over these chairs …"
('Bed in Summer').
"I saw him in a cute picture. He was paddling in shallow water with his bare feet. When he put his foot down he seemed to be delighted and then he lifted it up and put it down in another place … " ('At the
"I saw him as in a field of hay but it was not cut by a machine. He was a young boy and was playing with a young girl. The little girl had curls. They were throwing armfuls of hay at each other and having a good time…" ('The Hayloft').
"I got Stevenson - he was only a boy along with a little girl with a bonnet all done with fur. It was winter. Snow was about. They went into a cottage to get warmed. It had a great big open fireplace. There was a dresser with rows of plates. These kiddies warmed themselves beside the fire. They held out their hands to get warm…"
"I was out with R.L. lighting lamps on the street with an old man. He put his ladder up against the lamp and R.L. went up and lit the lamp. Stevenson was just a young lad...' ('The Lamplighter').
"I saw Stevenson a little boy the night (tonight). I had two pictures of him. I am mixed; some other boy was there but he kept out of the way. I know the other boy called for Louis. I did not see the other boy but I heard him call. It was beside a big house of stone. There was another seat on the lawn. I did not go far from there when I got another picture of it. It saw his nurse the night at this other boy. I heard the other boy's name too. I'm no sure if it wasna (wasn't) Stewart …" (''The Wind' and 'My
This next example, also found to have been inspired by a poem from the
Child's Garden of Verses, deals in a most intimate and touching manner with a purely abstract idea. The
trance-script was found to be a condensed transcription of the last four lines of the poem "To Any Reader". Elizabeth's words convey a sense of nostalgia for the
care-free days of childhood, and a sadness that those days are forever gone, as she describes the adult Stevenson saying farewell to the child who was once
"I got R.L. and an awful (very) nice little picture of him the night (tonight). They (there) seemed to be a house a bit off. He had opened a gate and stood with his back to me. There was a child. He seemed to have a lonesomeness as if he had left somebody or they had left him. It looked like that. I don't remember where I was. I don't remember being around there before…"
Here is the
"As from the house your mother sees
You playing round the garden trees,
So you may see, if you will look
Through the windows of this book,
Another child, far, far away,
And in another garden, play.
He does not hear; he will not look,
Nor yet be lured out of this book.
For, long ago, the truth to say,
He has grown up and gone away,
And it is but a child of air
That lingers in the garden there."
One more reference to the
Child's Garden of Verse in the script of May 6, 1923, read: "My first wife
- take the little book."
Elizabeth described her 'picture':
"I saw an old lady. She was very
old-fashioned. She had a tight bodice and cap on, a little black shawl over her shoulder. She was talking to a young man; he gave her something. He was pretty (somewhat)
frail-looking - whitely. He had a long face and dark hair. The woman was old enough to be his mother but I did not hear the name 'mother'. After he gave her the parcel she patted him on the shoulder. She was fond of him…"
With the clue revealed in the script, we turn to the Dedication, and discover that the vision had had its source in that part of the Dedication which
"My second Mother, my first Wife,
The angel of my infant life -
From the sick child now well and old
Take, nurse, the little book you hold"
While this aspect of the communications has not been stressed, undeniably there is a gentle whimsical touch evident in the artistry shown by R.L.S. who manipulated his material to suit his own purpose. Occasionally a totally unexpected twist of events resulted from his deliberately withholding certain facts, later found to be the heart of the incident which had inspired the transmission. Such appears to have been the case when this poem was found to have been used as source
"The brooding boy, the sighing maid,
Wholly fain and half afraid,
Now meet along the hazel'd brook
To pass and linger, pause and look.
"A year ago, and blithely paired,
Their rough and tumble play they shared;
They kissed and quarrel'd, laughed and cried,
A year ago at Eastertide."(9)
The script proved to be a condensed version of the two
"The brooding boy, the sighing maid
They kissed and quarreled
And laughed and cried
A year ago at Eastertide."
"My! I had a dandy picture the night! I saw a young couple sitting on a stone beside the water. The girl had on a tight bodice and sun bonnet; the young man was wearing knickers and a velvet coat. His hat was peaked back and front and he had a soft collar over his coat. I came down the slope and saw them but a tree got in my way for seeing them. R.L.S. stood a bit
off - he was watching them…"
What Elizabeth witnessed was a carefully censored version of the incidents in the poem
- the rustic setting, the boy and the girl. But she was allowed only a brief glimpse; then a tree got in her way! The privacy of the lovers remained
Simply by changing one detail, the communicator manifested a most remarkable skill to shift the point of emphasis in a vision-script. Here now are three examples of this ingenuity. In the first two cases the visions are almost identical in relationship to their scripts; in the third
vision-script, in a single sentence he gives an amusingly ironic twist to the whole matter.
Stevenson had visited America twice. On the first occasion he had disembarked at New York city, a poor unknown, on his way to California to see the woman who later was to become his wife. His second visit was made some years later, when he was enjoying the first flush of literary success. Of the first visit, in 1879, Stevenson
"… but we of the second cabin made our escape along with the lords of the salon, and by six o'clock Jones and I were issued into West Street, sitting on some straw in the bottom of an open express wagon. It rained miraculously…"(10)
fifty-first transmission the details of this arrival in New York were found to be divided between vision and script, cryptically worded: "Slow express wagon
- freight train - while the vision emphasized the straw in the wagon and the
"I was in a large city. I came off a boat. It was pouring and raining. I saw a wagon and straw in it. A man was lying on the straw. I went till I came to a train. It was a long way. It was a freight train. He got on. I wouldna (wouldn't) go. There was no pride about this man …"
Meanwhile the mediumship improved, and with it the methods of transmission. In 1924, one of the
trance-products referred more fully to the same incident:
The script: "Reached the city in floods of rain; repaired emigrant boarding place sitting on bottom of express wagon. Speeding freight. Wretched ride…"
The vision again called attention to Stevenson's lowly position in the bottom of the
"I think I was in this place before. I was in that big city. I saw my friend and he went into a wagon or a tram of some kind and then on a boat train. There was straw in the bottom of the cart. I was in the wagon with him and on the train. It did not look like a passenger train. It was day and it was raining…"
The 268th transmission, October 5, 1925, contained the third use of this vision. Here details in both script and vision marked the changed circumstances of the now
world-famous and affluent author and emphasized the deferential manner of both press reporters and book publishers, when Stevenson made his second trip to New York in 1887. The script read:
"So greatly had his lot altered since he rode through in an express wagon he refused thousands of dollars offer in Little Old New York…"
And in keeping with his new, exalted station, R.L.S. showed himself in Elizabeth's 'picture' riding, not on the straw at the bottom of the box along with the parcels, but upon the box, with the reporter interviewing him while he is still in the vehicle. The ironic contrast was evident. The
"I was in a big boat the night (tonight). I got to a town and got off the boat. It was a good big landing place; it was some big city. I saw a whole lot of buildings. R.L. was there. I got in a wagon with him. There were a lot of parcels. We were riding a long while in it. I was sitting on a box beside him in the wagon. R.L. had his carpet bag with him. And then a man came and talked to him and R.L. seemed not to agree with him. The man seemed to be a reporter. I left him there talking to them and R.L. spoke to me. There was a sign on the dock, an 'O' and an 'R' on a post of wood. I don't remember what he said …"
Regarding this arrival Balfour wrote:(11)
"By this time his reputation had crossed the Atlantic ... the next day the 'Ludgate Hill' arrived at New York where Stevenson was met by a crowd of reporters… He had already contributed to American magazines for several years, in the first instance to the 'Century' and then to the new periodical of Messrs. Scribner, for which he now undertook to write a series of twelve articles during the ensuing year. For this he was to receive 700 pounds, and this bargain was followed shortly afterwards by an offer of 1600 pounds from another firm for the American serial rights of his next story. The first proposal of all
- from the 'New York World' - was 2000 pounds for an article every week for a year; but this he had refused. In February 1883 he had written to his mother: 'My six books (since 1878) have brought me upwards of 600 pounds, about 400 of which came from magazines.' So great was the change in four years ...
As with incidents from his life and writings, Stevenson's death was freely treated by our communicator. Many of the
vision-scripts referred to his last two novels, to his gaiety on the evening before his death, to his wife's premonitions, and to other facts relating to the closing period of his life. Of all the
literary-biographical puzzles put before us to be solved, one of the most arresting references to death appeared very early in the work with Elizabeth M., at a time when her facility for
trance-writing had yet to develop. On June 4, 1923, the 'hand-slapping' automatism spelled out these
"That will come like gray hair or
The accompanying vision was
"Oh, I've been among rocks. I saw a woman at the rock. But mind you I went one way but I didna (didn't) come back that way. I came back by a narrow footpath between the rocks ... I went along a road that wound around the hill, in and out. It seemed to be an island. Then I came to this lady beside the big stone. It came up past her waist. It was kind of
bluish-gray. It seemed to be peaked at the top, and long. I leaned over this rock with the lady. It might have been split rock. Then she came to me and talked to me but I could not tell what she said. But after we left the stone the lady went ahead and went down a footpath. I didna (didn't) want to go at first for I could not see any path at all, just rocks everywhere. It was dreadfully difficult; if you could have seen those rocks you would certainly have thought so! If you were going up you would certainly need chains to hang on to, it was so steep. The path had to go around big rocks. After a while I came to a little stream. I seemed to lose the lady. Then I could see a house. My! I like my pictures! I don't know whether they are correct or not but I see them so clear. The sun was so bright! ….
The setting in the vision was easily recognized
- a good representation of the ascent to, and the top of Mount Vaea in Samoa where Stevenson and his wife are buried. Finding the source and solving the meaning of the sentence of the script proved to be a much more difficult matter. Two years went by before it was found to be a condensed version of a letter which Stevenson had written to his mother when he was eighteen, from Wick, Scotland, where his father had taken him to give him some practical instruction in harbour engineering. In this letter Stevenson had described his own artistic appreciation of a storm, and had commented on his father's practical view of the same storm, writing: "I can't look at it practically; however, that will come, I suppose, like gray hair or coffin
The significance of the condensed sentence of the script is obvious - it refers to the inevitability of old age and death. And Elizabeth's picture of Stevenson's burial place serves as the fitting
That Stevenson the communicator believed himself to be the deceased author Robert Louis Stevenson is clear. More factual and less marked by
play-acting, many communications reminded the observers that he had been "marred by sickness in his youth"; that he "seemed to have gaiety, and because of his ailing body was praised"; that in his literary aspirations he had had "a thousand projects in the
future - essays, sketches, tales"; that he written with "unwearying elaboration"; and that he had made the "personal acquaintance of men of letters"
- notably Sidney Colvin and Andrew Lang. The communicator even tried his hand at criticising Stevenson's work; and while his efforts in this area could hardly be considered as wholly successful, he did make it clear that he considered that
The Master of Ballantrae had "neither psychology nor women". By both direct and indirect statement, the communicator implied that had he lived to the age at which Sir Walter Scott had written his Waverley novels, he too would have reached greater heights of creative ability, and in his turn would have produced his own Waverley masterpieces.
The communicator drew a clear distinction between "ghost" and "spirit". In his essay
A Gossip on Romance, Stevenson had written: 'Certain old houses demand to be haunted; certain coasts are set apart for shipwreck."(14) In one of her 'pictures' Elizabeth described a ghost in a house and then a shipwreck off a shore." Curiously enough, the "ghost" frightened her considerably, and noticeably disturbed her trance state. At the following
séance these reassuring words were found to have been written:
"You need not be afraid to enter the haunted house. Do not fear, my little friend, for I am in spirit, not a
ghost-discretion, tested by a hundred secrets ... "(15)
While R.L.S. mentioned his death some
two-score times in the third person, only once did he mention it directly in the first person. The script of April 14, 1927, gave
"When your own day is done, the coffin. One of a number of papers about myself. Lloyd. The end: eighteen
ninety-four, thirty-three years ago. It is one of the hardest things 'when the sky is blue and clear to go to bed by day
The quotation from the poem "Bed In Summer" was obviously intended to be an allegorical reference to his untimely death, which had cut short his career just as his genius was approaching its full maturity.
The parallelism implied between Stevenson's early death and the objection voiced against 'going to bed by day' was more fully amplified in the
"I saw Stevenson. I thought he was dead. I got two pictures: I saw him, he was dead and a whole lot of these dark men were carrying a coffin. They carried it up a hill. They seemed to be very sad, these men.
"In one picture I got Stevenson as if he was on the 'Other Side' and talking to a young man who was very dark too; he was a dark white man. Stevenson had on a beautiful cloak from head to foot; it was like the colour of the clouds.
"I saw Stevenson as a little boy sitting undressed. He was four or five. But he was not pleased. The woman, the nurse, was undressing him…"
Only rarely did Stevenson make any statement specifically detailing his reasons for communicating. In November 1923 he gave this brief but significant sentence:
"My message as man to man." Four years later on February 17, 1927, through Elizabeth's trance he voiced a second statement which expressed more fully the implications of the first: "Thank you, friends, and my Lowland woman. It is good work that you are doing for your
fellow-men. Commence again. R.L.S."
There can be no doubt that both the Stevenson and the Walter trance entities exhibited identity of Intention. Their methods of presenting data for observation were very different. With the Walter work, the strength lay in the indisputable authenticity of their occurrence. With the
Stevenson-Elizabeth work the value lay not only in the demonstration of memory, but also in the purpose and desire and the successful weaving of memories of the past into a type of art. Considering the medium's total ignorance of the life and works of Stevenson, considering the extreme complexity of many of the phenomena, and taking into account those factors which made telepathy between the observers and the medium unlikely in the extreme, we can find only the spiritistic hypothesis as the most plausible explanation. To interpret the foregoing events we believe that the use of the spiritistic hypothesis is successful. Regardless of whatever other explanation one may seek, we feel that the facts herein presented are compatible with this concept.
(1) Graham Balfour,
"The Life of Robert Louis Stevenson" (Methuen & Co., 1901) Vol. 1, p.
(2) Balfour, op. cit., p. 73. Back
(3) Balfour, op. cit., p. 35. Back
(4) J. A. Stewart, "Robert Louis Stevenson, Man and Writer" (Ryerson Press, Toronto, 1924) Vol. I, p.
(5) R. L. Stevenson, "Memories and Portraits" (Charles Scribner's Sons, New York, 1917),
"A Gossip on Romance", p. 238. Back
(6) Stevenson, op. cit., "A College Magazine", p.
(7) Stevenson, "Complete Poems" (Charles Scribner's Sons, New York, 1921.) Underwoods, p.
"The House Beautiful
A naked house, a naked moor,
A shivering pool before the door,
A garden bare of flowers and fruit
And poplars at the garden foot;
Such is the place that I live in,
Bleak without and bare within …" Back
(8) Stevenson, "Memories and Portraits" (Charles Scribner's Sons, New York, 1917), A College Magazine, p.
(9) Stevenson, "Complete Poems" (Charles Scribner's Sons, New York, 1921), Underwoods, p.
(10) Stevenson, "The Amateur Emigrant" (Charles Scribner's Sons, New York, 1921), p.
(11) Graham Balfour, "The Life of Robert Louis Stevenson" (Methuen & Co., London, 1901) Vol. 11, p.
(12) Compare Elizabeth M.'s description of her vision with these extracts from Laura Stubbs' Stevenson's Shrine (Musson Book Co., Ltd.,
"The mountain top and the grave are before me, and I am in the forest on my way thither… Over an hour had elapsed before we gained the summit, and the latter half of the ascent was by far the most difficult… The path zigzagged through the forest until it ended in a slender, fern-grown, almost imperceptible bush-track. More than once it led over the face of the solid rock, but branches of creepers, by which it was easy to swing one's self up, were abundant, though still the top appeared to recede and to become more and more unattainable…"
(13) R. L. Stevenson, "Letters" (William Heinemann, London, 1921), Tusitala Edition, edited by Sir Sidney Colvin. Vol. 1, p.
(14) R. L. Stevenson, "Memories and Portraits" (Charles Scribner's Sons, New York, 1917),
"A Gossip of Romance", p. 234. Back
(15) "Discretion, tested by a hundred secrets" is to be found in the "Dedication" to the Underwoods, p. 86 of Stevenson's Complete Poems (Charles Scribner's Sons, New York,