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Remarkable Instance Of The Power Of Imagination

It has been remarked, that when the royal vault is opened for the
interment of any of the royal family, Westminster Abbey is a place of
great resort: some flock thither out of curiosity, others to indulge
their solemn meditations.

By the former of these motives it was, when the royal vault was opened
for the interment of her illustrious Majesty Queen Caroline, that five
or six gentlemen who had dined together at a tavern were drawn to visit
that famous repository of the titled dead. As they descended down the
steep descent, one cried--"It's hellish dark;" another stopped his
nostrils, and exclaimed against the nauseous vapour that ascended from
it; all had their different sayings. But, as it is natural for such
spectacles to excite some moral reflections, even with the most gay and
giddy, they all returned with countenances more serious than those they
had entered with.

Having agreed to pass the evening together, they all went back to the
place where they dined; and the conversation turned on a future state,
apparitions, and some such topics. One among them was an infidel in
those matters, especially as to spirits becoming visible, and took upon
him to rally the others, who seemed rather inclinable to the contrary
way of thinking. As it is easier to deny than to prove, especially where
those that maintain the negative will not admit any testimonies which
can be brought against their own opinion, he singly held out against all
they had to alledge. To end the contest, they proposed to him a wager of
twenty guineas, that, as great a hero as he pretended, or really
imagined himself, he had not courage enough to go alone at midnight into
the vault they had seen that day. This he readily accepted, and was very
merry with the thoughts of getting so much money with such ease. The
money on both sides was deposited in the hands of the master of the
house; and one of the vergers was sent for, whom they engaged, for a
piece of gold, to attend the adventurer to the gate of the cathedral,
then shut him in, and wait his return.

Every thing being thus settled, the clock no sooner struck twelve, than
they all set out together; they who laid the wager being resolved not to
be imposed on by his tampering with the verger. As they passed along, a
scruple arose, which was, that though they saw him enter the church, how
they should be convinced he went as far as the vault; but he instantly
removed their doubts, by pulling out a pen-knife he had in his pocket,
and saying, "This will I stick into the earth, and leave it there; and
if you do not find it in the inside of the vault, I will own the wager
lost." These words left them nothing to suspect; and they agreed to wait
at the door his coming out, believing he had no less stock of resolution
than he had pretended: it is possible, the opinion they had of him was
no more than justice.

But, whatever stock of courage he had, on his entrance into that antique
and reverend pile, he no sooner found himself shut alone in it, than, as
he afterwards confessed, he found a kind of shuddering all over him,
which, he was sensible, proceeded from something more than the coldness
of the night. Every step he took was echoed by the hollow ground; and,
though it was not altogether dark, the verger having left a lamp burning
just before the door that led to the chapel (otherwise it would have
been impossible for him to have found the place), yet did the glimmering
it gave, rather add to, than diminish, the solemn horror of every thing

He passed on, however; but protested, had not the shame of being laughed
at, prevented him, he would have forfeited more than twice the sum he
had staked to have been safe out again. At length he reached the
entrance of the vault: his inward terror increased; yet, determined not
to be overpowered by fear, he descended; and being come to the last
stair, stooped forwards, and struck the pen-knife with his whole force
into the earth. But, as he was rising in order to quit so dreadful a
place, he felt something pluck him forward; the apprehension he before
was in, made an easy way for surprise and terror to seize on all his
faculties: he lost in one instant every thing that could support him,
and fell into a swoon, with his head in the vault, and part of his body
on the stairs.

Till after one o'clock his friends waited with some degree of patience,
though they thought he paid the titled dead a much longer visit than a
living man could choose. But, finding he did not come, they began to
fear some accident: the verger, they found, though accustomed to the
place, did not choose to go alone; they therefore went with him,
preceded by a torch, which a footman belonging to one of the company had
with him. They all went into the Abbey, calling, as they went, as loud
as they could: no answer being made, they moved on till they came to the
vault; where, looking down, they soon perceived what posture he was in.
They immediately used every means they could devise for his recovery,
which they soon effected.

After they got him out of the Abbey to the fresh air, he fetched two or
three deep groans; and, in the greatest agitation, cried, "Heaven help
me! Lord have mercy upon me!" These exclamations very much surprised
them; but, imagining he was not yet come perfectly to his senses, they
forbore farther questions, till they had got him into the tavern, where,
having placed him in a chair, they began to ask how he did, and how he
came to be so indisposed. He gave them a faithful detail, and said, he
should have come back with the same sentiments he went with, had not an
unseen hand convinced him of the injustice of his unbelief. While he was
making his narrative, one of the company saw the pen-knife sticking
through the fore-lappet of his coat. He immediately conjectured the
mistake; and, pulling out the pen-knife before them all, cried out,
"Here is the mystery discovered: for, in the attitude of stooping to
stick the knife in the ground, it happened, as you see, to go through
the coat; and, on your attempting to rise, the terror you was in
magnified this little obstruction into an imaginary impossibility of
withdrawing yourself, and had an effect on your senses before reason had
time to operate." This, which was evidently the case, set every one,
except the gentleman who had suffered so much by it, into a roar of
laughter. But it was not easy to draw a single smile from him: he
ruminated on the affair, while his companions rallied and ridiculed this
change in him: he well remembered the agitations he had been in. "Well,"
replied he; when he had sufficiently recovered, "there is certainly
something after death, or these strange impulses could never be. What is
there in a church more than in any other building? what in darkness more
than light, which in themselves should have power to raise such ideas as
I have now experienced? Yes," continued he, "I am convinced that I have
been too presumptuous: and, whether spirits be or be not permitted to
appear, that they exist, I ever shall believe."

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