In July 1901, the families on holiday at Biarritz could see, each day around noon, an elegant gentleman in his fifties strolling among the bathing cabins. His gaze was deep, his little beard tidy, and he seemed melancholy, evidently coming from northern Europe. The ladies considered him with insistent curiosity from underneath their sunshades. Not that they had any dishonest or matrimonial designs on him, but because they were fascinated by him. There he was, in front of their eyes, within touching distance even, the famous Polish fiction writer Henryk Sienkiewicz, the author of Quo Vadis?, a book of fiction which had been translated into 22 languages! The French adaptation, published a year earlier, in June 1900, had already arrived at 100,000 copies printed, an extraordinary figure for the epoch.
The prestige enjoyed by the writer was so great that none of his fervent female admirers would have had the audacity to go up to speak to him, even to stammer the most insipid compliment.
However, that which the French ladies, to their great regret, did not have the courage to do, an English lady dared. She was a charming young, blonde girl with myosotis eyes. One evening, in the hallway of the hotel where he was staying, she went up to him and told him that she had read Quo Vadis? and had been extremely moved by it.
Sienkiewicz, delighted and rather troubled, invited her to drink a cup of tea. They saw each other again the next day, then all the days that followed, and took the habit of walking together.
One morning, the writer says to the young lady:
“I am not in the habit of attaching any importance to dreams, but last night I had a strange dream which has left me with an uncomfortable impression I would like to get rid of… I was in the street where there was a hearse, behind which there was a young, blond man with very light eyes, dressed in a blue suit with metal buttons. I can still see him very distinctly…”
“Did he speak to you?”
“No. He smiled at me while looking fixedly at me and inviting me to enter this hearse… I awoke very oppressed…”
The young English girl was interested in the metapsychical sciences. She even sometimes, when in London, went to listen to the conferences made by members of the Society for Psychical Research. She advised the writer to write down his dream without leaving out the slightest detail. She told him that it perhaps had a meaning that he would one day discover.
Docilely, Sienkiewicz follows his friend’s advice. The following morning, when they meet again on the beach, the young lady notices that the writer appears preoccupied. She questions him.
“You are not going to believe me, but I had the same dream again last night. The young man that I described to you, dressed identically, was inviting me smilingly to enter a hearse. I was backing away, but he was advancing towards me and holding out his hand to grip me… It was horrible! I awoke dripping with perspiration. Do you think that this is announcing that I am in danger?”
The young girl reassures him, saying that it is very difficult to know when a dream is premonitory, and that the specialists were incapable of giving an opinion on it. Then they talked about other things.
But, on the following morning, when the little English girl left her hotel, she found Sienkiewicz even more depressed than the day before.
“What has happened to you? Don’t tell me that you had the same dream again?”
“Yes! Exactly the same! It’s terrible and this hearse is haunting me. I know that I am going to think about it all day, just like yesterday and the day before.”
The little English girl takes his arm.
“Today, I won’t leave you. This morning, we shall go for a walk, at noon, you will invite me to luncheon, this afternoon, we shall go for a walk on the Beach of the Basques, and this evening, we shall dine together…”
At midnight, when they separate, Sienkiewicz is smiling.
“Thank you! I believe that I won’t have a nightmare tonight…”
The next morning, at eight o’clock, the young girl is in front of the writer’s hotel door, looking a bit anxious.
“Finished! I dreamed of you!…”
Sienkiewicz remains for a while at Biarritz without his strange dream coming back to torment him. Then one evening, he tenderly says goodbye to the little English girl and takes the train for Paris where a theatrical adaptation of Quo Vadis? is being prepared.
There, he settles into a hotel on the Rue de Rivoli. Around noon, he wants to lunch, so he leaves his room and goes towards the lift. The cabin is just at his floor and the lift-boy is holding the grille open. Sienkiewicz stops, horrified. The boy, a blond adolescent with light eyes who is looking at him fixedly while inviting him to enter the lift is the person that he had seen in his dream. The same blue suit, the same metal buttons, the same gesture with his hand…
Terrified, the writer turns around and rushes to the staircase, which he descends, running. Having arrived at the ground floor, he enters the reading room and lets himself fall into an armchair.
He is scarcely seated than he hears a most frightful noise, which is so terrifying that he loses consciousness. When he regains it, people are running in the hallway and an employee tells him that the lift has just crashed to the ground.
He rises, pushes his way through the crowd and sees bodies stretched out on the rug. In the midst of them, he immediately recognizes the blond lift-boy in the blue suit decorated with metal buttons…
This story is known to us by Henryk Sienkiewicz himself who wrote down all the details, and by Anton Niedermeier who published it in his Souvenirs.
This is not a premonitory dream, but rather a warning dream. In a purely premonitory dream, Sienkiewicz would have seen the lift crash to the floor and the cadavers in the hallway of the hotel. Here, there is nothing like that. He only sees a symbol of death: the hearse. But on the other hand, the young, blond man, with his characteristic blue suit, is of photographic precision, so as to be recognized in real life. His role is to alarm the subject to prevent him from being a victim of the mortal accident. And so that Sienkiewicz does not forget his face, or his aspect, the dream occurs three times.
Two specialists, Steven and Monfang say:
“Our dreams explore, practically every night, dimensions of the Universe which the science elaborated by vigilant thought has not yet attained… Beyond the dream itself, begins a new world of thought so far out of our everyday experience that those to whom it is familiar, find no words to describe it to us…”
We have no idea how our minds transform events into symbols.
Serious researchers have today abandoned Freud’s puerile and delirious symbolism where an umbrella was considered to be a phallic symbol “because of its possibilities of development”, and a railway station a sexual symbol, on the pretext “that trains go in and out of it”…
In France, England, Germany, the United States of America and the former USSR, biologists are studying our brain in an attempt to discover the secrets of our oniric activity, to decode the symbols which people our dreams and to find out in what measure we could cease to be simple spectators… For perhaps one day, we shall know how to direct our dreams toward a precise point in the future to learn what will happen to us…