“When I was a kid I worried that when I woke up, I’d find my family having breakfast with my doppelgänger. We would fight to the death, and then my family would peacefully finish breakfast” ― Fran Krause
In 2011 Cardiff, Wales was ranked number six on National Geographic’s list of alternative tourist destinations. If I was a native of Cardiff, I wouldn’t be sure how to interpret that. Is it not a “tourist destination” unless you are looking for something “alternative”? And alternative to what? Apparently, Cardiff is so “alternative” that your doppelgänger won’t even visit, or at least prefers to lurk around London when in fact, you could probably use a hand (further proof that the average doppelgänger has its own inscrutable agenda). That’s exactly what happened to Mr. Algernon Joy in 1862.
Algernon Joy, formerly of the Royal Artillery, employed as a civil engineer at the Penarth Docks, not to mention his impressive credentials as the Honorable Secretary of the British National Association of Spiritualists, was meandering the back alleys and empty lanes of Cardiff at around 4PM in the afternoon, head in the clouds, trying to solve a particularly pernicious engineering calculation in his head. Sadly, a distracted civil engineer makes a good target for ruffians looking for trouble on lonely streets. Mr. Joy was viciously attacked by two colliers. Yeah, I had to look it up too. It’s a coal miner. Or possibly somebody who stokes coal on a steamboat. At any rate, two hooligans involved with coal decided to administer a beating to Algernon.
He was not rendered insensible by the onslaught of the men and was perfectly conscious from first to last. He knew what his thoughts were at the time. He thought to himself, ‘What do these scoundrels want? Do they want to rob me? If so, they can have all I have, as they are two to one.’ When they ran away, his first thought was to run after them, and he tried to do so, but found himself too weak, so concluded that the best thing he could do was to go home again (Holms, 1927, p457-458)
Presumably, Algernon got the important lesson to stay out of the back alleys of Cardiff when colliers are afoot. It’s not a lesson one gets in engineering school, but live and learn. In a curious twist, it appears that Algernon had a doppelgänger simultaneously lurking about London. A good friend of Mr. Joy’s swore that at approximately the same time Algernon was being beaten by the colliers, he encountered him strolling the streets of London.
Yet at almost the precise moment of the assault, this friend recognized Mr. Joy’s footstep in the street, behind him, then turned and saw Mr. Joy “as distinctly as ever he saw him in his life,” saw he looked distressed, asked what was the matter, and received the answer, “Go home, old fellow, I’ve been hurt. You will get a letter from me in the morning telling you all about it” (Wallace, 1891, p259).
Then as they are frequently want to, the doppelgänger vanished. Maybe we can chalk it up to the whole cultural “stiff upper lip thing”, but if one is going to have a doppelgänger that can bend time and space, it would be a tad more useful if it could jump into the fight, or at least materialize at a Cardiff police station and mention poor Algernon was being beaten bloody nearby. In many years of research on doppelgängers, I’ve found them to be rather lazy, unhelpful bastards. Of course, Algernon’s friend could have no notion of what was happening at the time of the attack, nor had Algernon at any time been thinking of his friend in particular, likely more concerned with whether any vital organs or bones were broken. Algernon returned home to nurse his wounds, and oddly decided to write a letter the next day to his friend about the incident. His friend, equally puzzled about his London encounter and suitably concerned wrote a letter to Algernon to make sure he was all right. The letters crossed in the mail. Algernon later reiterated that he had not been thinking of his friend. In his own words:
About 1862, I was walking in a country lane near Cardiff by myself, when I was overtaken by two young colliers, who suddenly attacked me. One of them gave me a violent blow on the eye, which knocked me down, half stunned. I distinctly remembered afterwards all that I had been thinking about, both immediately prior to the attack, and for some time after it. Up to the moment of the attack, and for some time previously, I was absorbed in a calculation, connected with the Penarth Docks, then in construction, on which I was employed. My train of thought was interrupted for a moment by the sound of footsteps behind me. I looked back, and saw the two young men, but thought no more of them, and immediately returned to my calculations. On receiving the blow, I began speculating on their object, what they were going to do next, how I could best defend myself, or escape from them; and when they ran away, and I had picked myself up, I thought of trying to identify them, and of denouncing them at the police-station, to which I proceeded, after following them till I lost sight of them. In short I am positive that for about half an hour previous to the attack, and for an hour or two after it, there was no connection whatever, direct or indirect, between my thoughts and a person at that moment in London (Gurney, 1886, p523-524).
One simply cannot trust a doppelgänger to be there when you need them. I mean, maybe said supernatural critters avoid fisticuffs when possible, but even putting in a little spectral appearance at the scene of the crime would have likely avoided the problem in the first place. Is that so much effort to ask? And the whole vanishing thing. So passé for the preternatural. Maybe this is just the practical precaution an engineer (and spiritualist) takes when he’s under assault. After all, as Robert Heinlein said, “One man’s ‘magic’ is another man’s engineering. ‘Supernatural’ is a null word”.
Holms, A. Campbell. The Facts of Psychic Science and Philosophy. Jamaica, N.Y.: Occult Press, 1927.
Gurney, Edmund, 1847-1888. Phantasms of the Living. [1st ed.] London: Rooms of the Society for psychical research; Trübner and Co., 1886.
Wallace, Alfred Russell. “What are Phantasms?”. The Arena V3 (February). Boston: Arena Pub. Co., 1891.
Wallace, Alfred Russel, 1823-1913. Miracles and Modern Spiritualism. London: G. Redway, 1896.