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Mr. Perceval's Murder

Dreamed May 2-3, 1812 by John Williams

Sundhill, December, 1832.

(Some account of a dream which occurred to John Williams, Esq., of Scorrier House, in the county of Cornwall, in the year 1812. Taken from his own mouth, and narrated by him at various times to several of his friends.)

Being desired to write out the particulars of a remarkable dream which I had in the year 1812, before I do so I think it may be proper for me to say that at that time my attention was fully occupied with affairs of my own--the superintendence of some very extensive mines in Cornwall being entrusted to me. Thus I had no leisure to pay any attention to political matters, and hardly knew at that time who formed the administration of the country. It was, therefore, scarcely possible that my own interest in the subject should have had any share in suggesting the circumstances which presented themselves to my imagination. It was, in truth, a subject which never occurred to my waking thoughts.

My dream was as follows:

About the second or third day of May, 1812, I dreamed that I was in the lobby of the House of Commons (a place well known to me). A small man, dressed in a blue coat and a white waistcoat, entered, and immediately I saw a person whom I had observed on my first entrance, dressed in a snuff-coloured coat with metal buttons, take a pistol from under his coat and present it at the little man above-mentioned. The pistol was discharged, and the ball entered under the left breast of the person at whom it was directed. I saw the blood issue from the place where the ball had struck him, his countenance instantly altered, and he fell to the ground. Upon enquiry whom the sufferer might be, I was informed that he was the Chancellor. I understood him to be Mr. Perceval, who was Chancellor of the Exchequer. I further saw the murderer laid hold of by several of the gentlemen in the room.

Upon waking I told the particulars above related to my wife; she treated the matter lightly, and desired me to go to sleep, saying it was only a dream. I soon fell asleep again, and again the dream presented itself with precisely the same circumstances. After waking a second time and stating the matter again to my wife, she only repeated her request that I would compose myself and dismiss the subject from my mind. Upon my falling asleep the third time, the same dream without any alteration was repeated, and I awoke, as on the former occasions, in great agitation. So much alarmed and impressed was I with the circumstances above related, that I felt much doubt whether it was not my duty to take a journey to London and communicate upon the subject with the party principally concerned.

Upon this point I consulted with some friends whom I met on business at the Godolphin mine on the following day. After having stated to them the particulars of the dream itself and what were my own feelings in relation to it, they dissuaded me from my purpose, saying I might expose myself to contempt and vexation, or be taken up as a fanatic. Upon this I said no more, but anxiously watched the newspapers every morning as the post arrived.

On the evening of the 13th of May (as far as I recollect) no account of Mr. Perceval's death was in the newspapers, but my second son, returning from Truro, came in a hurried manner into the room where I was sitting and exclaimed: "O father, your dream has come true! Mr. Perceval has been shot in the lobby of the House of Commons; there is an account come from London to Truro written after the newspapers were printed."

The fact was Mr. Perceval was assassinated on the evening of the 11th.

Some business soon after called me to London, and in one of the print-shops I saw a drawing for sale, representing the place and circumstances which attended Mr. Perceval's death. I purchased it, and upon a careful examination I found it to coincide in all respects with the scene which had passed through my imagination in the dream. The colours of the dresses, the buttons of the assassin's coat, the white waistcoat of Mr. Perceval, the spot of blood upon it, the countenances and attitudes of the parties present were exactly what I had dreamed.

The singularity of the case, when mentioned among my friends and acquaintances, naturally made it the subject of conversation in London, and in consequence my friend, the late Mr. Rennie, was requested by some of the commissioners of the navy that they might be permitted to hear the circumstances from myself. Two of them accordingly met me at Mr. Rennie's house, and to them I detailed at the time the particulars, then fresh in my memory, which form the subject of the above statement.

I forbear to make any comment on the above narrative, further than to declare solemnly that it is a faithful account of facts as they actually occurred.

(Signed) JOHN WILLIAMS.

EDITOR'S NOTE

Should Williams have tried to warn Perceval? Could he have saved him? As I read this account, knowing how often I've failed to act on what turned out to be accurate dream-warnings, my first impulse is to resent his wife and friends for discouraging him from even trying. But even if Williams convinced Perceval, the Chancellor of the Exchequer could scarcely avoid the House of Commons for the rest of his life, nor could the London police arrest men for the crime of wearing a snuff-colored coat--not based on some mad Cornishman's dream! I hate to admit it, but maybe his wife was right.

This dream was famous in its day. I have chosen this account from The Dream World (Ed. R.L. Megroz, 1939) because it's Williams's own, though that of course doesn't guarantee complete accuracy; it's written twenty years later. Megroz introduces it with this peculiar provenance-note: "Miss Gertrude Bacon, the woman balloonist, owns an account by Williams as copied out by her grandmother, who knew him, and it follows here..." He adds that the full story was reported by the SPR (vol.5, Proceedings); presumably the Society for Psychical Research.

--Chris Wayan



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