Have We Lived Before?
From The Arthur Conan Doyle Encyclopedia
Have We Lived Before?
Sir Arthur Conan Doyle considers the problem already discussed by Sir Oliver Lodge and Mr. Algernon Blackwood—
I have never entirely satisfied myself upon the subject of reincarnation, but I must admit that cases are occasionally brought to one's notice which can hardly be explained by any other hypothesis.
I think the following, which I have only recently examined, would be hard to beat for dramatic intensity. If my informant was inventing, we must suppose that a great imaginative writer has been lost to the world.
The story runs thus. Mr. Milner, as I will call him, has from childhood onwards been distressed by a horrible dream which has come to him most vividly again and again. In this dream he was a soldier, apparently an officer in a strange dress and equipment, commanding troops at a walled camp by a wide river.
While operating from this camp he came upon a but upon the river bank and as he tried to enter it was met by a short dirty, long-haired savage who thrust at him with a spear.
He deflected the point and stabbed the man with a short, heavy sword. He then entered the hut and killed two children who were lying in the corner. There was a woman there whom he seized, tying her arms behind her with a length of rough grass rope.
This woman he drove brutally back in front of him to the camp, where she was so ill-used that her she died. Before her death she cursed him, telling him that he would wear his uniforms a mockery and that one day he would beg her for food. At this he laughed scornfully the vision closed.
In his later life my informant went to the United States and while out of work took on a job as super at the New Amsterdam Theatre, Broadway, in "Ben Hur."
On being given his costume he was amazed. It was exactly the accoutrement of his dream. There was the same striped kilt, the same bronze helmet and shield, the same sandals, and the same short, heavy, broad-bladed sword. It was the dress of a Roman soldier.
Coming back to England, Milner dropped out of work, went rapidly downhill and for a time was compelled to tramp the roads. One day, passing through Kent, he walked from Gravesend to Chatham and was surprised to find that he knew the lie of the country thoroughly, although he had never been there before. Every bit of hill and hollow seemed quite familiar. On going down Frindsbury Hill and walking along the river to Rochester he recognised at once the familiar site of the camp of which he had so often dreamed. In the dream he had seen the tidal flat of Gillingham Reach, the River Medway, and the bit of rocky ground on which the camp stood westward from where the present Rochester Castle now stands.
He slept in a doss-house is Chatham that night. The next morning he went round some of the humbler houses in Frindsbury trying to get some help.
At one of these a young woman came out, and as Milner looked at her and asked her for food she gasped and exclaimed, "Go away!"
At the same time he recognised that this was the woman of his dream. "There was," he said, "no mistaking the blonde hair, the eyes, and the expression about the mouth; for the face had become very familiar to me through the often repeated dreams."
He dashed away in horror, feeling that some sin in a former life had been appropriately punished and that the dying woman's prophecy had come true. This case seems to support, not only reincarnation, but the Buddhist doctrine of "Karma," by which the unhappy life follows one which has been misspent.
Another interesting case which came under my notice was that of a gentleman who remembered his previous incarnation, which had been at the beginning of last century. He said that he had been at the Battle of Waterloo and that he had been a member of White's Club. He remembered his former name and found it upon the list of members at the club. I had not this case direct, but from a good source second-hand.
The most exciting experiments upon this subject were those by Colonel De Rochas, who hypnotised his subject and then drove her back through the whole series of her alleged incarnations, which, if I remember rightly, alternated from male to female, each being separated from the other by a long period of darkness. Some eight or ten incarnations took her back to the time of the Romans. Each incarnation was described with great detail and with a knowledge which one would hardly have imagined the subject to possess. There was nothing, however, that could be called conclusive proof.
My own conclusion, which may be modified by fresh evidence, is that the misspent life is punished, as it were, by reincarnation, so that the lesson which has not been learnt at once may be taught the second time. Outside this punitive reincarnation I believe that there is the element of choice an that one may either continue one's development upon the spiritual plane or may descend upon earth in order to complete one's education, or in the case of very high souls to carry wisdom and comfort to the human race.