Sunday, May 31, 2015

Mark Twain's premonition

Mark Twain's premonition of his brother's death:


Then in the early days  of May, 1858, came a tragic trip–the last trip of that fleet and famous steamboat. I have told all about it in one of my books called "Old Times on the Mississippi." But it is not likely that I told the dream in that book…It is impossible that I can ever have published it, I think, because I never wanted my mother to know about that dream, and she lived several years after I published that volume. 

I had found a place on the Pennsylvania for my brother Henry, who was two years my junior…he was a "mud" clerk…The dream begins when Henry had been a mud clerk about three months…On the night of the dream he started away at eleven, shaking hands with the family, and said good-bye according to custom. I mention that hand-shaking as a good-bye was not merely the custom of that family, but the custom of the region–the custom of Missouri, I may say…These good-byes of Henry's were always executed in the family sitting-room on the second floor, and Henry went from that room and downstairs without further ceremony. But this time my mother went with him to the head of the stairs and said good-bye again, as I remember it she was moved to do this by something in Henry's manner, and she remained at the head of the stairs as he descended. When he reached the door he hesitated, and climbed the stairs and shook hands good-buy once more.

In the morning, when I awoke I had been dreaming, and the dream was so vivid, so like reality, that it deceive me, and I thought it was real. In the dream I had seen Henry a corpse. He lay in a metallic burial case. He was dressed in a suit of my clothing, and on his breast lay a great bouquet of flowers, mainly white roses, with a red rose in the center…I walked to 14th, and to the middle of the block beyond…before it suddenly flashed upon me that there was nothing real about this–it was only a dream. 

Henry always joined my watch about nine in the evening, when his own duties were ended, and we often walked my rounds and chattered together until midnight. This time we were to part, and so the night before the boat sailed I gave Henry some advice.

Two or three days afterward the boat's boilers exploded at Ship Island, below Memphis, early one morning…I found Henry stretched upon a mattress on the floor of a great building, along with thirty or forty other scalded and wounded persons, and was promptly informed, by some indiscreet person, that he had inhaled steam; that his body was badly scalded, and that he would live but a little while; also, I was told that the physicians and nurses were giving their whole attention to persons who had a chance of being saved. They were shorthanded in the matter of physicians and nurses; and Henry and such others as were considered to be fatally hurt were receiving only such attention as could be spared, from time to time, from the more urgent cases. 

The physicians on watch were young fellows hardly out of the medical college, and they made a mistake–they had no way of measuring the eight of a grain of morphine, so they guessed at it and gave him a vast quantity heaped on the end of a knife-blade, and the fatal effects were soon apparent. He was carried to the dead-room and I went away for a while to a citizen's house and slept off some of my accumulated fatigue–and meantime something was happening. The coffins provided for the dead were of unpainted white pine, but in this instance some of the ladies of Memphis had made up a fund of sixty dollars and bought a metallic case, and when I came back and entered the dead-room Henry lay in that open case, and he was dressed in a suit of my clothing. He had borrowed it without my knowledge during our last sojourn in St. Louis; and I recognized instantly that my dream of several weeks before was here exactly reproduced, so far as the details went–and I think I missed one detail; but that one was immediately supplied, for just then an elderly lady entered the place with a large bouquet consisting mainly of white roses, and in the center of it was a red rose, and she laid it on his breast. 

I don't believe that I ever had any doubts whatever concerning the salient points of the dream, for those points are of such a nature that they are pictures, and pictures can be remembered, when they are vivid, much better than one can remember remarks and unconcreted facts. Although it has been so many years since I have told that dream, I can see those pictures now just as clearly defined as if they were before me in this room. I have not told the whole dream. There was a good deal more of it. I mean I have not told all that happened in the dream's fulfillment. After the incident in the dead-room I may mention one detail, and that is this. When I arrived in St. Louis with the casket it was about eight o'clock in the morning…When I went upstairs there stood the two chairs which I had seen in my dream… Autobiography of Mark Twain, Volume 1: The Complete and Authoritative Edition (U. of California Press, 2010). 129-133. 

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