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The Old Young Man

Dreamed Feb. 21, 1880 by Anna Kingsford

SOURCE: Dreams and Dream-Stories by Anna Kingsford (1888; edited by Edward Maitland)

I dreamed that I was in Rome with C., and a friend of his called on us there, and asked leave to introduce to us a young man, a student of art, whose history and condition were singular. They came together in the evening. In the room where we sat was a kind of telephonic tube, through which, at intervals, a voice spoke to me. When the young man entered, these words were spoken in my ear through the tube:--

"You have made a good many diagnoses lately of cases of physical disease; here is a curious and interesting type of spiritual pathology, the like of which is rarely met with. Question this young man."

Accordingly I did so, and drew from him that about a year ago he had been seriously ill of Roman fever; but as he hesitated, and seemed unwilling to speak on the subject, I questioned the friend. From him I learnt that the young man had formerly been a very proficient pupil in one of the best-known studios in Rome, but that a year ago he had suffered from a most terrible attack of malaria, in consequence of his remaining in Rome to work after others had found it necessary to go into the country, and that the malady had so affected the nervous system that since his recovery he had been wholly unlike his former self.

His great aptitude for artistic work, from which so much had been expected, seemed to have entirely left him; he was no longer master of his pencil; his former faculty and promise of excellence had vanished. The physician who had attended him during his illness affirmed that all this was readily accounted for by the assumption that the malaria had affected the cerebral centres, and in particular, the nerve-cells of the memory; that such consequences of severe continuous fever were by no means uncommon, and might last for an indefinite period. Meanwhile the young man was now, by slow and painful application, doing his utmost to recover his lost power and skill.

Naturally, the subject was distasteful to him, and he shrank from discussing it. Here the voice again spoke to me through the tube, telling me to observe the young man, and especially his face. On this I scanned his countenance with attention, and remarked that it wore a singularly old look,--the look of a man advanced in years and experience. But that I surmised to be a not unusual effect of severe fever.

"How old do you suppose the patient to be?" asked the interrogative voice.

"About twenty years old, I suppose," said I.

"He is a year old," rejoined the voice.

"A year! How can that be?"

"If you will not allow that he is only a year old, then you must admit that he is sixty-five, for he is certainly either one or the other."

This enigma so perplexed me, that I begged my invisible informant for a solution of the difficulty, which was at once vouchsafed in the following terms:--

"Here is the history of your patient. The youth who was the proficient and gifted student, who astonished his masters, and gave such brilliant indications of future greatness, is dead. The malaria killed him.

But he had a father, who, while alive, had loved his son as the apple of his eye, and whose whole being and desire centred in the boy. This father died some six years ago, about the age of sixty. After his death his devotion to the youth continued, and as a "spirit," he followed him everywhere, never quitting his side. So entirely was he absorbed in the lad and in his career, that he made no advance in his own spiritual life, nor, indeed, was he fully aware of the fact that he had himself quitted the earthly plane. For there are souls which, having been obtuse and dull in their apprehension of spiritual things during their existence in the flesh, and having neither hopes nor aims beyond the body, are very slow to realise the fact of their dissolution, and remain, therefore, chained to the earth by earthly affections and interests, haunting the places or persons they have most affected.

But the young artist was not of this order. Idealist and genius, he was already highly spiritualised and vitalised even upon earth, and when death rent the bond between him and his body, he passed at once from the atmosphere of carnal things into a loftier sphere.

But at the moment of his death, the phantom father was watching beside the son's sick-bed, and filled with agony at beholding the wreck of all the brilliant hopes he had cherished for the boy, thought only of preserving the physical life of that dear body, since the death of the outward form was still for him the death of all he had loved. He would cling to it, preserve it, re-animate it at any cost. The spirit had quitted it; it lay before him a corpse. What, then, did the father do? With a supreme effort of desire, ineffectual indeed to recall the departed ghost, but potent in its reaction upon himself, he projected his own vitality into his son's dead body, re-animated it with his own soul, and thus effected the resuscitation for which he had so ardently longed. So the body you now behold is, indeed, the son's body, but the soul which animates it is that of the father. And it is a year since this event occurred.

Such is the real solution of the problem, whose natural effects the physician attributes to the result of disease. The spirit which now tenants this young man's form had no knowledge of art when he was so strangely reborn into the world, beyond the mere rudiments of drawing which he had learned while watching his son at work during the previous six years. What, therefore, seems to the physician to be a painful recovery of previous aptitude, is, in fact, the imperfect endeavour of a novice entering a new and unsuitable career.

"For the father the experience is by no means an unprofitable one. He would certainly, sooner or later, have resumed existence upon earth in the flesh, and it is as well that his return should be under the actual circumstances. The study of art upon which he has thus entered is likely to prove to him an excellent means of spiritual education. By means of it his soul may ascend as it has never yet done; while the habits of the body he now possesses, trained as it is to refined and gentle modes of life, may do much to accomplish the purgation and redemption of its new tenant. It is far better for the father that this strange event should have occurred, than that he should have remained an earth-bound phantom, unable to realise his own position, or to rise above the affection which chained him to merely worldly things."

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