The Remarkable Case of Davidson's Eyes
by H. G. Wells
Bacillus and Other Incidents
The transitory mental aberration of Sidney Davidson, remarkable enough
in itself, is still more remarkable if Wade's explanation is to
be credited. It sets one dreaming of the oddest possibilities of
intercommunication in the future, of spending an intercalary five
minutes on the other side of the world, or being watched in our most
secret operations by unsuspected eyes. It happened that I was the
immediate witness of Davidson's seizure, and so it falls naturally to
me to put the story upon paper.
When I say that I was the immediate witness of his seizure, I mean
that I was the first on the scene. The thing happened at the Harlow
Technical College, just beyond the Highgate Archway. He was alone in
the larger laboratory when the thing happened. I was in a smaller
room, where the balances are, writing up some notes. The thunderstorm
had completely upset my work, of course. It was just after one of the
louder peals that I thought I heard some glass smash in the other
room. I stopped writing, and turned round to listen. For a moment
I heard nothing; the hail was playing the devil's tattoo on the
corrugated zinc of the roof. Then came another sound, a smash—no
doubt of it this time. Something heavy had been knocked off the bench.
I jumped up at once and went and opened the door leading into the big
I was surprised to hear a queer sort of laugh, and saw Davidson
standing unsteadily in the middle of the room, with a dazzled look on
his face. My first impression was that he was drunk. He did not notice
me. He was clawing out at something invisible a yard in front of his
face. He put out his hand, slowly, rather hesitatingly, and then
clutched nothing. "What's come to it?" he said. He held up his hands
to his face, fingers spread out. "Great Scot!" he said. The thing
happened three or four years ago, when everyone swore by that
personage. Then he began raising his feet clumsily, as though he had
expected to find them glued to the floor.
"Davidson!" cried I. "What's the matter with you?" He turned round in
my direction and looked about for me. He looked over me and at me
and on either side of me, without the slightest sign of seeing me.
"Waves," he said; "and a remarkably neat schooner. I'd swear that was
Bellows' voice. Hullo!" He shouted suddenly at the top of his voice.
I thought he was up to some foolery. Then I saw littered about his
feet the shattered remains of the best of our electrometers. "What's
up, man?" said I. "You've smashed the electrometer!"
"Bellows again!" said he. "Friends left, if my hands are gone.
Something about electrometers. Which way are you, Bellows?" He
suddenly came staggering towards me. "The damned stuff cuts like
butter," he said. He walked straight into the bench and recoiled.
"None so buttery that!" he said, and stood swaying.
I felt scared. "Davidson," said I, "what on earth's come over you?"
He looked round him in every direction. "I could swear that was
Bellows. Why don't you show yourself like a man, Bellows?"
It occurred to me that he must be suddenly struck blind. I walked
round the table and laid my hand upon his arm. I never saw a man more
startled in my life. He jumped away from me, and came round into an
attitude of self-defence, his face fairly distorted with terror. "Good
God!" he cried. "What was that?"
"It's I—Bellows. Confound it, Davidson!"
He jumped when I answered him and stared—how can I express it?—right
through me. He began talking, not to me, but to himself. "Here in
broad daylight on a clear beach. Not a place to hide in." He looked
about him wildly. "Here! I'm off." He suddenly turned and ran
headlong into the big electro-magnet—so violently that, as we found
afterwards, he bruised his shoulder and jawbone cruelly. At that he
stepped back a pace, and cried out with almost a whimper, "What, in
heaven's name, has come over me?" He stood, blanched with terror and
trembling violently, with his right arm clutching his left, where that
had collided with the magnet.
By that time I was excited and fairly scared. "Davidson," said I,
"don't be afraid."
He was startled at my voice, but not so excessively as before. I
repeated my words in as clear and firm a tone as I could assume.
"Bellows," he said, "is that you?"
"Can't you see it's me?"
He laughed. "I can't even see it's myself. Where the devil are we?"
"Here," said I, "in the laboratory."
"The laboratory!" he answered, in a puzzled tone, and put his hand to
his forehead. "I was in the laboratory—till that flash came, but
I'm hanged if I'm there now. What ship is that?"
"There's no ship," said I. "Do be sensible, old chap."
"No ship!" he repeated, and seemed to forget my denial forthwith. "I
suppose," said he, slowly, "we're both dead. But the rummy part is I
feel just as though I still had a body. Don't get used to it all at
once, I suppose. The old shop was struck by lightning, I suppose.
Jolly quick thing, Bellows—eigh?"
"Don't talk nonsense. You're very much alive. You are in the
laboratory, blundering about. You've just smashed a new electrometer.
I don't envy you when Boyce arrives."
He stared away from me towards the diagrams of cryohydrates. "I must
be deaf," said he. "They've fired a gun, for there goes the puff of
smoke, and I never heard a sound."
I put my hand on his arm again, and this time he was less alarmed. "We
seem to have a sort of invisible bodies," said he. "By Jove! there's a
boat coming round the headland. It's very much like the old life after
all—in a different climate."
I shook his arm. "Davidson," I cried, "wake up!"
It was just then that Boyce came in. So soon as he spoke Davidson
exclaimed: "Old Boyce! Dead too! What a lark!" I hastened to explain
that Davidson was in a kind of somnambulistic trance. Boyce was
interested at once. We both did all we could to rouse the fellow out
of his extraordinary state. He answered our questions, and asked
us some of his own, but his attention seemed distracted by his
hallucination about a beach and a ship. He kept interpolating
observations concerning some boat and the davits and sails filling
with the wind. It made one feel queer, in the dusky laboratory, to
hear him saying such things.
He was blind and helpless. We had to walk him down the passage, one
at each elbow, to Boyce's private room, and while Boyce talked to
him there, and humoured him about this ship idea, I went along the
corridor and asked old Wade to come and look at him. The voice of our
Dean sobered him a little, but not very much. He asked where his hands
were, and why he had to walk about up to his waist in the ground. Wade
thought over him a long time—you know how he knits his brows—and
then made him feel the couch, guiding his hands to it. "That's a
couch," said Wade. "The couch in the private room of Professor Boyce.
Davidson felt about, and puzzled over it, and answered presently that
he could feel it all right, but he couldn't see it.
"What do you see?" asked Wade. Davidson said he could see nothing
but a lot of sand and broken-up shells. Wade gave him some other
things to feel, telling him what they were, and watching him keenly.
"The ship is almost hull down," said Davidson, presently, apropos of
"Never mind the ship," said Wade. "Listen to me, Davidson. Do you know
what hallucination means?"
"Rather," said Davidson.
"Well, everything you see is hallucinatory."
"Bishop Berkeley," said Davidson.
"Don't mistake me," said Wade. "You are alive and in this room of
Boyce's. But something has happened to your eyes. You cannot see; you
can feel and hear, but not see. Do you follow me?"
"It seems to me that I see too much." Davidson rubbed his knuckles
into his eyes. "Well?" he said.
"That's all. Don't let it perplex you. Bellows, here, and I will take
you home in a cab."
"Wait a bit." Davidson thought. "Help me to sit down," said he,
presently; "and now—I'm sorry to trouble you—but will you tell me
all that over again?"
Wade repeated it very patiently. Davidson shut his eyes, and pressed
his hands upon his forehead. "Yes," said he. "It's quite right. Now my
eyes are shut I know you're right. That's you, Bellows, sitting by me
on the couch. I'm in England again. And we're in the dark."
Then he opened his eyes, "And there," said he, "is the sun just
rising, and the yards of the ship, and a tumbled sea, and a couple of
birds flying. I never saw anything so real. And I'm sitting up to my
neck in a bank of sand."
He bent forward and covered his face with his hands. Then he opened
his eyes again. "Dark sea and sunrise! And yet I'm sitting on a sofa
in old Boyce's room! … God help me!"
That was the beginning. For three weeks this strange affection of
Davidson's eyes continued unabated. It was far worse than being blind.
He was absolutely helpless, and had to be fed like a newly-hatched
bird, and led about and undressed. If he attempted to move he fell
over things or stuck himself against walls or doors. After a day or
so he got used to hearing our voices without seeing us, and willingly
admitted he was at home, and that Wade was right in what he told him.
My sister, to whom he was engaged, insisted on coming to see him, and
would sit for hours every day while he talked about this beach of his.
Holding her hand seemed to comfort him immensely. He explained that
when we left the College and drove home—he lived in Hampstead
village—it appeared to him as if we drove right through a
sandhill—it was perfectly black until he emerged again—and through
rocks and trees and solid obstacles, and when he was taken to his own
room it made him giddy and almost frantic with the fear of falling,
because going upstairs seemed to lift him thirty or forty feet above
the rocks of his imaginary island. He kept saying he should smash all
the eggs. The end was that he had to be taken down into his father's
consulting room and laid upon a couch that stood there.
He described the island as being a bleak kind of place on the whole,
with very little vegetation, except some peaty stuff, and a lot of
bare rock. There were multitudes of penguins, and they made the rocks
white and disagreeable to see. The sea was often rough, and once there
was a thunderstorm, and he lay and shouted at the silent flashes. Once
or twice seals pulled up on the beach, but only on the first two or
three days. He said it was very funny the way in which the penguins
used to waddle right through him, and how he seemed to lie among them
without disturbing them.
I remember one odd thing, and that was when he wanted very badly to
smoke. We put a pipe in his hands—he almost poked his eye out with
it—and lit it. But he couldn't taste anything. I've since found it's
the same with me—I don't know if it's the usual case—that I cannot
enjoy tobacco at all unless I can see the smoke.
But the queerest part of his vision came when Wade sent him out in a
bath-chair to get fresh air. The Davidsons hired a chair, and got that
deaf and obstinate dependent of theirs, Widgery, to attend to it.
Widgery's ideas of healthy expeditions were peculiar. My sister, who
had been to the Dogs' Home, met them in Camden Town, towards King's
Cross, Widgery trotting along complacently, and Davidson evidently
most distressed, trying in his feeble, blind way to attract Widgery's
He positively wept when my sister spoke to him. "Oh, get me out of
this horrible darkness!" he said, feeling for her hand. "I must get
out of it, or I shall die." He was quite incapable of explaining what
was the matter, but my sister decided he must go home, and presently,
as they went up hill towards Hampstead, the horror seemed to drop from
him. He said it was good to see the stars again, though it was then
about noon and a blazing day.
"It seemed," he told me afterwards, "as if I was being carried
irresistibly towards the water. I was not very much alarmed at first.
Of course it was night there—a lovely night."
"Of course?" I asked, for that struck me as odd.
"Of course," said he. "It's always night there when it is day here….
Well, we went right into the water, which was calm and shining under
the moonlight—just a broad swell that seemed to grow broader and
flatter as I came down into it. The surface glistened just like a
skin—it might have been empty space underneath for all I could tell
to the contrary. Very slowly, for I rode slanting into it, the water
crept up to my eyes. Then I went under and the skin seemed to break
and heal again about my eyes. The moon gave a jump up in the sky and
grew green and dim, and fish, faintly glowing, came darting round
me—and things that seemed made of luminous glass, and I passed
through a tangle of seaweeds that shone with an oily lustre. And so I
drove down into the sea, and the stars went out one by one, and the
moon grew greener and darker, and the seaweed became a luminous
purple-red. It was all very faint and mysterious, and everything
seemed to quiver. And all the while I could hear the wheels of the
bath-chair creaking, and the footsteps of people going by, and a man
in the distance selling the special Pall Mall.
"I kept sinking down deeper and deeper into the water. It became inky
black about me, not a ray from above came down into that darkness,
and the phosphorescent things grew brighter and brighter. The snaky
branches of the deeper weeds flickered like the flames of spirit
lamps; but, after a time, there were no more weeds. The fishes came
staring and gaping towards me, and into me and through me. I never
imagined such fishes before. They had lines of fire along the sides
of them as though they had been outlined with a luminous pencil. And
there was a ghastly thing swimming backwards with a lot of twining
arms. And then I saw, coming very slowly towards me through the gloom,
a hazy mass of light that resolved itself as it drew nearer into
multitudes of fishes, struggling and darting round something that
drifted. I drove on straight towards it, and presently I saw in the
midst of the tumult, and by the light of the fish, a bit of splintered
spar looming over me, and a dark hull tilting over, and some glowing
phosphorescent forms that were shaken and writhed as the fish bit at
them. Then it was I began to try to attract Widgery's attention.
A horror came upon me. Ugh! I should have driven right into those
half-eaten—things. If your sister had not come! They had great holes
in them, Bellows, and … Never mind. But it was ghastly!"
For three weeks Davidson remained in this singular state, seeing what
at the time we imagined was an altogether phantasmal world, and stone
blind to the world around him. Then, one Tuesday, when I called I met
old Davidson in the passage. "He can see his thumb!" the old gentleman
said, in a perfect transport. He was struggling into his overcoat. "He
can see his thumb, Bellows!" he said, with the tears in his eyes. "The
lad will be all right yet."
I rushed in to Davidson. He was holding up a little book before his
face, and looking at it and laughing in a weak kind of way.
"It's amazing," said he. "There's a kind of patch come there." He
pointed with his finger. "I'm on the rocks as usual, and the penguins
are staggering and flapping about as usual, and there's been a whale
showing every now and then, but it's got too dark now to make him out.
But put something there, and I see it—I do see it. It's very dim
and broken in places, but I see it all the same, like a faint spectre
of itself. I found it out this morning while they were dressing me.
It's like a hole in this infernal phantom world. Just put your hand by
mine. No—not there. Ah! Yes! I see it. The base of your thumb and a
bit of cuff! It looks like the ghost of a bit of your hand sticking
out of the darkling sky. Just by it there's a group of stars like a
cross coming out."
From that time Davidson began to mend. His account of the change, like
his account of the vision, was oddly convincing. Over patches of his
field of vision, the phantom world grew fainter, grew transparent, as
it were, and through these translucent gaps he began to see dimly
the real world about him. The patches grew in size and number, ran
together and spread until only here and there were blind spots left
upon his eyes. He was able to get up and steer himself about, feed
himself once more, read, smoke, and behave like an ordinary citizen
again. At first it was very confusing to him to have these two
pictures overlapping each other like the changing views of a lantern,
but in a little while he began to distinguish the real from the
At first he was unfeignedly glad, and seemed only too anxious to
complete his cure by taking exercise and tonics. But as that odd
island of his began to fade away from him, he became queerly
interested in it. He wanted particularly to go down into the deep sea
again, and would spend half his time wandering about the low lying
parts of London, trying to find the water-logged wreck he had seen
drifting. The glare of real daylight very soon impressed him so
vividly as to blot out everything of his shadowy world, but of a night
time, in a darkened room, he could still see the white-splashed rocks
of the island, and the clumsy penguins staggering to and fro. But even
these grew fainter and fainter, and, at last, soon after he married my
sister, he saw them for the last time.
And now to tell of the queerest thing of all. About two years after
his cure I dined with the Davidsons, and after dinner a man named
Atkins called in. He is a lieutenant in the Royal Navy, and
a pleasant, talkative man. He was on friendly terms with my
brother-in-law, and was soon on friendly terms with me. It came out
that he was engaged to Davidson's cousin, and incidentally he took
out a kind of pocket photograph case to show us a new rendering of
fiancée. "And, by-the-by," said he, "here's the old Fulmar."
Davidson looked at it casually. Then suddenly his face lit up. "Good
heavens!" said he. "I could almost swear—"
"What?" said Atkins.
"That I had seen that ship before."
"Don't see how you can have. She hasn't been out of the South Seas for
six years, and before then—"
"But," began Davidson, and then, "Yes—that's the ship I dreamt of,
I'm sure that's the ship I dreamt of. She was standing off an island
that swarmed with penguins, and she fired a gun."
"Good Lord!" said Atkins, who had now heard the particulars of the
seizure. "How the deuce could you dream that?"
And then, bit by bit, it came out that on the very day Davidson was
seized, H.M.S. Fulmar had actually been off a little rock to
the south of Antipodes Island. A boat had landed overnight to get
penguins' eggs, had been delayed, and a thunderstorm drifting up, the
boat's crew had waited until the morning before rejoining the ship.
Atkins had been one of them, and he corroborated, word for word, the
descriptions Davidson had given of the island and the boat. There is
not the slightest doubt in any of our minds that Davidson has really
seen the place. In some unaccountable way, while he moved hither and
thither in London, his sight moved hither and thither in a manner
that corresponded, about this distant island. How is absolutely a
That completes the remarkable story of Davidson's eyes. It's perhaps
the best authenticated case in existence of a real vision at a
distance. Explanation there is none forthcoming, except what Professor
Wade has thrown out. But his explanation invokes the Fourth Dimension,
and a dissertation on theoretical kinds of space. To talk of there
being "a kink in space" seems mere nonsense to me; it may be because
I am no mathematician. When I said that nothing would alter the fact
that the place is eight thousand miles away, he answered that two
points might be a yard away on a sheet of paper and yet be brought
together by bending the paper round. The reader may grasp his
argument, but I certainly do not. His idea seems to be that Davidson,
stooping between the poles of the big electro-magnet, had some
extraordinary twist given to his retinal elements through the sudden
change in the field of force due to the lightning.
He thinks, as a consequence of this, that it may be possible to live
visually in one part of the world, while one lives bodily in another.
He has even made some experiments in support of his views; but, so
far, he has simply succeeded in blinding a few dogs. I believe that is
the net result of his work, though I have not seen him for some weeks.
Latterly I have been so busy with my work in connection with the Saint
Pancras installation that I have had little opportunity of calling to
see him. But the whole of his theory seems fantastic to me. The facts
concerning Davidson stand on an altogether different footing, and I
can testify personally to the accuracy of every detail I have given.