“I work for myself, which is fun. Except when I call in sick, I know I’m lying” – Rita Rudner

Stranger things have happened in Parliament…

Sir Frederic Carne Rasch (1847-1914) was a respected, hardworking conservative British politician.  Well, he was a British politician at any rate.  The parliamentary records from the House of Commons show that between February and April 1905, he was a busy man, arguing a wide range of issues including inquiries into why the cavalry’s regulation sash has been changed in color and texture, the status of the three campaigns in Somaliland, the decrease in the number of ex-soldiers employed in the War Office, and consistently berating the other members to “shorten the extraordinary prolixity of speeches”.  He was a busy man.  He had stuff to do.  And we know how politicians like to talk for as P.J. O’Rourke once said, “Politicians are wonderful people as long as they stay away from things they don’t understand, such as working for a living”.  Rasch was one of that rare breed of statesmen who wanted to shut up, put his nose to the grindstone, and get some questions answered.  So deep did Rasch’s work ethic apparently run, that when confined to his bed with a pernicious influenza, he enlisted the aid of his own apparition to let those ne’er-do-well parliamentarians know that he was still on the job.  Given his enduring battle against politicians wasting his precious time as noted in the 1905 register of members of the House of Commons, this is no surprise.

Sir Frederic Carne Rasch served for some time in the 5th Dragoon Guards (Carabiners), has been under fire, and is a major in the Militia. He is also chairman of the Leicester Malting and Brewing Company and county alderman for Essex. In1885 he unsuccessfully contested Elland, and from 1885 to 1900 sat for the Grays division of Essex, whence he migrated to Chelmsford.  In Parliament he nobly waged a crusade for the slaying of “the Jabberwock” — in other words, for the enforced curtailment of Parliamentary speeches—but the frabjous day has not yet arrived, although Sir Carne Rasch’s own practice is worthy of his preaching. He has strong views on the necessity of redistributing seats with the object of securing justice to England. He was educated at Eton and Trinity, Cambridge, is 58, and married to a daughter of the late Henry Lysons Griffin-hoofe, of Arkesden, Essex. He was baroneted in1903 (Pall Mall Press, 1906, p77).

Rasch certainly had his work cut out for him in the House of Commons, as he had the misfortune of taking office as a conservative member of parliament as what has been dubbed the 1906 “Liberal Landslide” approached, which crushed the Conservatives under Arthur Balfour and also happened to be the last time the Liberal Party won an absolute majority in the House of Commons.  Rasch was not to be deterred and continued to slog away.  And even when incapacitated and bedridden, he wasn’t about to coast and let those whining liberals pull one over on him regarding the two major issues of the day, free trade and the Boer War.  One way or another, he would not be ignored.  Enter his apparition.

The strange case of the apparition in the House of Commons last Friday of the double of Major Sir Carne Rasch has created a great deal of interest. The Umpire of the 14th inst. says: “Shortly before the Easter rising of Parliament for the recess, Major Sir Carne Rasch was overtaken by influenza, which developed into neurosia. He grew seriously ill, but stuck to his post to)’ help Hood’ (the Ministerial Whip). During his absence from the evening sitting prior to the rising for the holidays, his friend, Sir Gilbert Parker, was grieved and alarmed to see him seated near his usual place. “Sir Gilbert’s own words on the matter are as follows: ‘I wished to take part in the debate in progress, but missed being called. As I swung round to resume my seat, I was attracted first by seeing Sir Carne Rashe out of his place, and then by the position he occupied, I knew that he had been ill, and in a cheery way nodded to him, and said, “I hope you are better.” But he made no sign and uttered no reply. This struck me as odd. My friend’s position was his, and yet not his. His face was remarkably pallid. He sat hunched up, and his expression was steely. It was altogether a stony presentment—grim, almost resentful. I thought for a moment. Then I turned again towards Sir Carne, and he had vanished. That puzzled me, and I at once when in search of him. I expected, in fact, to overtake him in the Lobby. But Rasch was not there. No one had seen him. I tried both the Whips and the doorkeeper, equally without avail. No one had seen him. I heard that Sir Henry Meysey-Thompson had also been inquiring but without result. I joined Sir Henry, and we exchanged views. But Sir Henry had only a prosaic and Parliamentary reason for seeing Sir Carne. Still he was greatly impressed, and made notes of the hour and the day.” “When seen some days later by both members, Sir Carne Rasch, with soldierly lightedheartedness, cheerfully accepted the congratulations of his friends that he was not dead, went home, told the story, and made everyone in his family miserable. There is no doubt whatever in the mind of Sir Carne Rasch himself as to the presence in some strange evanescent form. He has been ‘precipitated’ in the spirit, as he now believes, to ‘help Hood,’ of whom he was constantly thinking. “Sir Gilbert Parker, in concluding, said the mystery naturally turned upon the question whether Sir Carne Rasch was in the House at the time. This question Sir Carne has answered. He was ill at home, and could not have been at his place in the House” (APS, 1905, p389-390).

Now that’s multitasking.  Another version offered by the local newspapers provided a little more detail on the specifics of the apparition, including some suspicious vaporous manifestation presumed to be the escape of the phantasm.  Although, this was after all, Parliament, and one presumes that an excess of vaporous exhalations were par for the course.

The usefulness of Sir Carne Rasch’s Parliamentary career has been checked, if not absolutely blighted, by a strange circumstance. A short time ago, to the general regret, he was stricken down by an attack of illness that confined him to his room. One night Sir Gilbert Parker, determined to sacrifice the period of contented rest advised by the Faculty to be enjoyed after a good dinner, patriotically resolved to return to the House of Commons. Shortly after his arrival, looking round the familiar scene, his eye fell upon the figure of the Member for Mid-Essex seated in his accustomed place. Surprised that he should be out at a time when he was reported to be confined to his bed, Sir Gilbert, desirous of encouraging habit of self-sacrifice in that direction, tipped him a friendly nod. He felt a certain creepy sensation running up and down his spine when, instead of the hearty response customary from the genial baronet, he was conscious of a pair of glassy eyes fixed upon him, one slowly revolving with persistency that seemed to indicate desire to convey an important message.  This was uncomfortable, not to say uncanny. But there were several members about; the Sergeant-at-Arms was in the chair; one or two policemen were on duty in the lobby. Plucking up his courage, Sir Gilbert leaned across the gangway that separated him from the Baronet, and, affecting a light, trivial manner, congratulated him upon his return to the House. A ghastly countenance was turned upon him. The glassy eye he had noticed as revolving in response to his nod—it was the left one—stopped, and the other moved with precisely the same action. Otherwise there was no response. Sir Gilbert thought he would go home. He had often heard of “a speaking eye.” A first acquaintance with the phenomenon was not exhilarating. Possibly, had the matter stopped there Sir Gilbert Parker would have said nothing about it. There are some episodes of the post-prandial day which the frivolous-minded are apt to misconstrue. On the following afternoon there came to him unexpected confirmation of his first strong impression. Sir H. Meysey-Thompson had also seen Sir Carne Rasch in his place, had approached him with friendly intent to congratulate him on his convalescence, when, to his amazement, the figure vanished. Following its upward course, Sir Henry distinctly saw a wreath of smoke disappear through the cornice of the roof to the right of the Speaker’s chair, part of the elaborate ventilating apparatus by which exhausted air escapes from the legislative Chamber (Lucy, 1906, p378-379).

Curiously, it was not only Rasch’s conservative compatriot Gilbert who noted his presence, but the oppositions as well.  “Sir Henry Campbell-Bannerman was on the front Opposition bench. Both he and Sir Arthur Hayter saw Sir Carne Rasch sitting in his usual seat” (Owen, 1922, p124).  Getting the opposition party to agree to anything in merry old England was an exercise in futility, thus it is particularly telling that esteemed members of “the other side” also noted the spectral presence of the “not-quite-dead” Rasch. The details and relative credibility of the witnesses to the apparition of Sir Carne Rasch were noted by his contemporary Nicolas Camille Flammarion, famed astronomer and psychical researcher.

The following story, taken from Flammarion, I hesitated to use, because there was no reference to the incident in the Journal of the S.P.R., although it was said to have happened in London. But since the article of May 14, containing the purported statements of Sir Gilbert Parker, was not only not contradicted, but was supported in a newspaper on May 17 by Sir Arthur Hayter, who appealed to Sir Henry Bannerman as a third witness, and no echo of any denial reached M. Flammarion, it at length dawned upon me that the silence of the Journal must be of the sort that spelled consent, or that at any rate it implied that nothing had transpired to warrant contradiction. Sir Gilbert Parker is, of course, the popular novelist, author of The Seats of the Mighty, The Battle of the Strong, The Lane That Had No Turning, and several more “The’s.” He was born in Canada and educated at Trinity College, Toronto, of which he is honorary D.C.L., being also F.R.S.C. He took up residence in England, and in 1900 was elected a member of Parliament. The Rt. Hon. Sir Henry Campbell-Bannerman, P.C., M.A., LL.D., D.L., J.P., M.P. (1836-1908), was educated at Glasgow University and Cambridge, and was constantly in Parliament from 1868, leader of the Liberals in the House of Commons for some years from 1899, and filled many offices, including Secretary to Admiralty, Chief Secretary for Ireland, Secretary for the State of War, and finally becoming Prime Minister in 1905. The Rt. Hon. Sir Arthur Divett Hayter, educated at Oxford, P.C., M.A., J.P., D.L., M.P., served a number of years in the army, then entered Parliament, was a Lord of the Treasury and afterwards Financial Secretary at the War Office. So far for the witnesses. The man whose “double ” was seen was Frederick Carne Rasch, J.P., D.L., M.P., a Cambridge man who had served in the army and was then in Parliament. Flammarion assures us that the following statement appeared in the English newspaper Empire of May 14, 1905, sometime before the Easter parliamentary recess, Major Sir Carne Rasch had an attack of influenza, which brought about a disordered state of his nervous system. His condition became so grave as to prevent attendance in the House of Commons, despite his desire to support the Government at the evening sitting immediately preceding the vacation, and which might be of serious consequence. It was then that his friend Sir Gilbert Parker was astonished and grieved to see him near his accustomed seat. This is how Sir Gilbert expresses it. “I wished to participate in the debate. My eyes fell on Sir Carne Rasch, seated near close to his habitual place. As I knew that he had been ill, I made him a friendly gesture and said, ‘I hope you are better.’ But he gave me no sign of response, which surprised me much. His countenance was very pale. He was seated, quietly supported by one hand; his face was impassible and severe. I pondered a moment what I had better do; when I looked in his direction again he had disappeared. I was sorry and immediately began to search for him, hoping to find him in the lobby. But Rasch was not there, and no one had seen him.” Of course Sir Gilbert meant that no one whom he questioned had seen him. But it appears that he was not the only one to perceive the figure. M. Flammarion says: In the Daily News of May 17, Sir Arthur Hayter added his testimony to that of Sir Gilbert Parker. He declared that he also had seen Sir Carne Rasch, and that, moreover, he had called the attention of Sir Henry Bannerman to his presence. This member of Parliament [Sir Carne Rasch] was not a little surprised at receiving, soon after, the felicitations of his two friends, who congratulated him on not being dead; he appalled all his family by telling them the story of his apparition. He himself did not doubt that he had really gone in spirit to the House, for he had been very anxious to be present at a debate which particularly interested him. This double was very real; two, three witnesses saw it. The question arises whether it was not a case of mistaken identity. But this is a very different case from thinking one has seen a casual acquaintance in a street when it was really someone resembling him. The number of persons entitled to sit on the benches of the House of Commons is limited to 670, whereas on the streets one meets unlimited thousands. A Member of Parliament meeting the same men day after day, naturally becomes more or less familiar with their faces, whereas in promiscuous crowds one sees, in the course of time, hosts of people whom he never saw before and will never see again.  Then, too, the figure identified as Sir Carne Rasch was sitting close to or near (one cannot be sure from the French translation just what the English word of Sir Gilbert Parker was) his habitual seat. An American might ask, “Why not in his seat?” if he thinks of the desks of members of our House of Representatives. But then he remembers that members of the House of Commons do not have individual desks, or desks at all, but sit on long benches, several to a bench, in a particular order when all are present. But often only a part are present, perhaps only one or two, in which case the member does not feel obliged to sit exactly in the spot which would be his if the bench were full. The figure identified as that of Sir Carne Rasch was sitting near or close to what would be his precise seat if the bench were fully occupied, that is, where one would expect to see him. Finally, he was not a member casually known to Sir Gilbert, but a friend. It is therefore, all things considered, not in the least likely that anyone else of the House of Commons should have seated himself where Rasch would be expected to be, and be identified by three men as Rasch. If there was such another person, who sat there and in the least resembled Rasch, why did he not come forward or someone else declare the fact, after the newspaper statements were printed? Besides, we must not forget that the figure rather unexpectedly disappeared, and Sir Gilbert, hurrying into the vestibule, could neither find it again nor find anyone there who had seen Rasch. If the figure was an apparition of the living, we hardly have to explain why only three persons saw it, as it should be well known that as a rule, when an apparition is seen by members of a company present, the majority are not capable of seeing it (Prince, 1928, p167-169).

Obviously, a doppelganger politician and phantasm of the living (as opposed to the dead) raised quite the stir in the London Press, and no less than “three prominent journals of London reported, on I7th May, 1905, a case of an apparition in Parliament. The phantom of deputy Sir Carne Rasch, who was at that moment ill at his home, was seen by three other deputies” (Denis, 1918, p77-78).  Apparitions of the living are cool, when compared to phantasms of the dead.  I mean they are after all, well, dead, thus have an extraordinary amount of free time.  It’s no surprise when one happens across the dead loitering about.  What else are they going to do, except rot?  Apparitions of the living are about real commitment, folks who take their day jobs (be they existential or political) so seriously that they can’t even take a sick day without sending an astral representative to check in.  We must conclude that Rasch really liked his work, but this is to be expected, as the modus operandi of a politician largely consists of coming up with work for other people to do, best captured by Bertrand Russell when he asked, “What is work? Work is of two kinds: first, altering the position of matter at or near the earth’s surface relatively to other such matter; second, telling other people to do so. The first one is unpleasant and ill paid; the second is pleasant and highly paid.”

Denis, Léon, 1846-1927. Life & Destiny. New York: Doran, 1918.
Flammarion, Camille, 1842-1925. Death and Its Mystery: Before Death, Proofs of the Existence of the Soul V2. London: T. F. Unwin, 1922
Lucy, Henry W. Sir, 1845-1924. The Balfourian Parliament, 1900-1905. London: Hodder and Stoughton, 1906.
“An Apparition in the House of Commons”.  The Annals of Psychical Science (APS) V1. London: Office of the Annals, 1905.
Owen, G. Vale 1869-1931. Facts And the Future Life. 3d ed. London: Huchinson, 1922.
Prince, Walter Franklin, 1863-1934. Noted Witnesses for Psychic Occurrences: Incidents And Biographical Data, With Occasional Comments. Boston, Mass.: Boston society for psychic research, 1928.
Pall Mall Press.  The Popular Guide to the House of Commons.  “Pall Mall Gazette extra.” [London], 1906.