There is not a great deal known about the author herself. She was born in 1832, in Indianapolis, Indiana; and the daughter of a Methodist clergyman. She graduated from the Wesleyan Female College in 1850, and Methodist Christianity remained her spiritual home. In 1859, two years before the Civil War, she married William Springer, who went on to become a lawyer, and member of the Illinois General Assembly. They had one son, also called William, but Rebecca’s health was never good, and described by one person as ‘feeble’. In 1868, the couple went on a two-year European tour to improve her health, but it remained poor until her death.
It was amidst ill health that her classic work was born. She wrote a number of other works, including Beachwood, Self, Songs by the Sea and Leon. But she is best remembered for Intra Muros (‘between the walls’), which was written in 1898. It was a vision given to her during severe illness; she was unconscious for some days as she received the vision, which in the telling covers a period of years. On reflection, she came to understand the short book as a series of basic truths about heaven, written in a simple and readable style, as if being told to a child.
In the latter half of 19th century America, there was huge interest in the afterlife, and some doubts about it. The savagery of the Civil War had raised questions and left its mark on popular consciousness. Spiritualist séances were well attended, as the bereaved wondered about loved ones lost. Where were they? How were they? Springer was writing when spiritualism was at its peak, with an estimated 8 million followers in the United States and Europe.
As the Civil War came to a close, therefore, there were many evocations of heaven written to meet people’s needs for reassurance, and a number became bestsellers. My Dream of Heaven was one of them, offering readers both confidence that God had prepared a place for them; and that awaiting them there was a wonderful reunion with loved ones who had gone before.
Springer did not bestow the status of ‘prophecy’ on her work, but rather intended it as comfort. As she said, she wrote the book with ‘the hope that it may comfort and uplift some who read, even as it did, and as its memory will ever do, for me. I submit the imperfect sketch of a most perfect vision.’ Reader reviews of this vision on Amazon suggest that for Christians and the bereaved in particular, Springer’s desire has been realised. Words like ‘comfort’, ‘uplifting’, ‘hope’, ‘consolation’ ‘life-changing’ and ‘encouragement’ ring like bells through the reactions. Years on, a dream simply told still apparently reaches people.