“They are Burying Me!”: 1815

minaiture coffin


Two clergymen at Oxford, in the early part of the present century, had agreed in writing that whichever died first should visit his friend (if such were permitted), in order to confirm his belief in the Unseen World. They were both devout believers in the intervention of angelic beings in the concerns of the present life; and had largely studied the literature of the Supernatural.

One of them, Dr W., was a fellow of his college; the other, Mr P., a bachelor, had taken a living about eighteen miles from Oxford, where he resided.

In the month of November 1815 or 1816 (for the exact date seems uncertain, owing to the deaths of those who themselves knew the circumstances), Dr W. twice dreamt of his friend P., who appeared to him in his dream, as pale and suffering great pain; and on the second appearance exclaimed, “W., they are burying me!” So vivid an impression did this dream make that he had almost resolved to ride over to the house of his friend on the morrow. However, some pressing work in college demanded his time and attention; so putting aside his half-formed resolution, he did not go, and the day passed.

In due course he retired to bed, had no dreams, and rose as usual the next morning.

He had breakfasted and was sitting near the fire reading a book, when he heard an ordinary knock at the door, such as his servant the scout usually gave, and at once, without looking round, mechanically responded “Come in.”

Suddenly he seemed to hear a distinct and hollow whisper, in his friend P.’s voice,

“W., they are burying me!”

Starting up somewhat alarmed, he found no one in the room, and no one in his adjoining chambers. The servant, on inquiry, had not been in; and no one had entered the apartment.

Coupling this occurrence with his previous dreams, he resolved to go and see his friend at once, and immediately ordered his horse. After a hard ride he came up to the clergyman’s house, where to his intense amazement he found the blinds of the windows down, and saw a plumed hearse and pair of horses waiting at the front door.

On inquiry he found that his friend had died very suddenly; that the coffin was being actually screwed down, that the mourners were in the house, and that the funeral was to take place at three in the afternoon.

Having earnestly appealed for one more sight of the features of his friend, the relatives consented to have the lid of the coffin unscrewed, when Dr W., stooping down to kiss the forehead, fancied that there were signs of life. Putting his ear to the breast and face, he cried out, “P., do you hear me? This is a trance! Surely he breathes! This is not death! He is not dead!”

A slight motion of the muscles at the corner of the mouth was the immediate response.

The body as a consequence was lifted out of the coffin and placed again in bed. Warm applications were made use of; the hands and feet were rubbed; and, though he still lay in a trance, the signs of life were unmistakable.

Three days afterwards Mr P. regained consciousness. In the earlier part of his illness (when the trance was upon him), as he asserted, he could hear the remarks of the attendants, but was wholly unable to stir. Subsequently he lost all consciousness; and by no mental effort could he remember anything.

He recovered his strength so far, as that he was able to get about again, but in enfeebled health; and resigning the active duties of his office, he lived until the spring of 1825 at Bath, where he then died. He was always extremely reticent as to the incident recorded. To a friend these were his words: “The voice of entreaty heard at Oxford may have been my spiritual voice. Of that I can say nothing, for I know nothing, . . . or it may have been the voice of my guardian angel—if so, Laus Deo!”

Glimpses in the Twilight, Frederick George Lee, 1885

Mrs Daffodil’s Aide-memoire: This story plays on the very real fears of being buried alive, which Mrs Daffodil has previously mentioned in this story of a young person who revived on the dissection table and this tale from a conscience-stricken undertaker. That subterranean person over at Haunted Ohio has also considered the matter in several horrid posts including “The Druggist and the Dagger” and “The Corpse Wanted Help.”

There is a good fund of college ghost stories arising from the dreaming spires of Oxford and a certain Provost of King’s College, Cambridge. See, for example, this one about a companionable ghost at Cambridge. If one were a cynic, one might suggest that some of the stories arise from scholarly gentlemen who have spent their evenings in the Common Room with a diminishing decanter of port. “Hinc lucem et pocula sacra.”

Mrs Daffodil invites you to join her on the curiously named “Face-book,” where you will find a feast of fashion hints, fads and fancies, and historical anecdotes

You may read about a sentimental succubus, a vengeful seamstress’s ghost, Victorian mourning gone horribly wrong, and, of course, Mrs Daffodil’s efficient tidying up after a distasteful decapitation in A Spot of Bother: Four Macabre Tales.


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