« ForrigeFortsett »
violent agitation, such as is occasioned by the stronger pas. sions almost always occasions insanity, and it is more than probable that the same kind of irritation continues it. The talents which are evolved in a state of madness, by the excitement of the mind, reveal to us one other of the secrets of nature, viz. how large a proportion of the finest talents among mankind, lie in a dormant state, and are never disclosed to the world, for the want of those exciting causes that stimulate them into action; although I am inclined to think, that it is not they whose minds are of ordinary or vulgar structure, who usually become insane. Madness is more apt to result from over-wrought sensibility and refinement of feeling, than from dull and sluggish perceptions; and I feel convinced in my own mind, that if the matter could be accurately tested and fully ascertained, our mad-houses would be found to be inhabited by many of the choicest spirits of the nation, but spirits which have exhausted their energy in eating out their own peace, and by the tempests which their passions excite, throwing their systems into confusion and wild uproar.
The only phenomena, under this head which remain to be explained, are, those of spectral visions and apparitions, which, even at this enlightened age, to the disgrace of mankind, have popular belief on their side. Nothing can be more absurd and ridiculous than such credulity, and yet there is nothing to which mankind seem to discover a more violent propensity to give credence, and upon which their superstition is more unconquerable. The only fact recorded in the sacred writings, which would seem to furnish any countenance to a superstition of this kind, is that which relates to Saul and the witch of Endor, who undertook by magical incantations to raise Samuel from the dead. In regard, however, to this transaction, it appears evident from the recital, when all its parts are viewed in connection, that in the true spirit of her art, she practised a gross imposition upon Saul. The cry which this sorceress uttered upon the pretended appearance
of Samuel, her feigned discovery of the person of her king, with which no doubt she had been before acquainted, the wily questions and answers which were represented, perhaps, by the power of ventriloquism, as proceeding from Samuel, whose ghost Saul does not see during the whole conversation, the bold prophecies which she hazarded, trusting to her knowledge of all the facts, exhibit in a strong point of view the address and artifice of this necromancer, or dealer with familiar spirits, and the weak credulity with which Saul, in his state of despondency and discomposure of mind, allowed himself to be duped.
This transaction, therefore, as related in holy scripture, when justly interpreted and rightly understood, gives no support to those idle superstitions so prevalent among the vulgar, about ghosts and apparitions. It shows nothing more than that there were among the Jews, as among other nations, a set of persons who made it their trade thus to tamper with the ignorance and credulity of the people.
Considering the scriptures, then, in this matter, as not interfering with or superseding the speculations of philosophy, we proceed to account, upon the known and acknowledged principles of the science of the human mind, for those de. ceptions of the senses which have given rise to the belief in spectral visions and apparitions. We have already shown in our previous disquisitions, that in every case in which there is perception, through the instrumentality of the external organ of sense, there is always some action produced in that organ. Whether that action be a vibratory motion of the nerves, as Hartley imagines, or a longitudinal motion, or any other of which we can form no conception, we are unable to decide. Now, if we suppose it to happen that this action should from any circumstances, or the operation of any causes whatever, be produced in the system when the object is not present, the same effect will be produced upon the mind as if it were, and it will appear to be present. This
action, however, never takes place irregularly, in a sound and heal:hful state of the organs, but only through the influence of disease or a delicate condition of the nervous system, brought on by sedentary habits, by watchfulness and solicitude, too intense application of mind to any subjects unusually interesting, or by intemperance and excessive in. dulgence of the passions. Those sounds which infest the ears of all of us, and particularly upon the approach of a cold or catarrh, can be occasioned in no other way but by such an effect being produced upon the auditory nerves, as if those nerves had really been affected by undulations of air. In a similar manner we may account for those noises which are heard by persons of a gloomy and superstitious temperament, which they consider as ominous and prognosticating their death, as well as those blows which they not unfrequently suppose themselves to have felt upon different parts of the body, and to which a timid imagination too readily affixes some secret meaning. Those who are weak enough to al. low such apprehensions to disturb their peace, may be as. sured that their fears are visionary, and that heaven will not be likely to resort to such fantastic expedients as these, expedients unworthy of its dignity, to communicate to mankind that knowledge about futurity which it has so sedulously, and for the wisest purposes, concealed from his most eager curiosity, and most profound research.
All spectres, ominous sounds, unusual sights, apparitions and hob gublins, that are prone to haunt church-yards and gloomy recesses, we may be assured exist only in our perceptions. When the constitutions of men are destroyed by the intemperate use of ardent spirits, or the indulgence of illicit love, strange sights have infested their vision, produced beyond all doubt, by that irregular and anomalous action, introduced into the nervous system by such excesses. As we have seen that the body is sometimes made to act upon influence the mind, so the mind in its turn has a reciprocal
influence upon the body. Let, then, any object be presented to a timid imagination, which is calculated to excite its superstitious fears; as for instance, that kind of light which in damp and unwholesome places sometimes makes its appearance, and is denominated an ignis fatuus; and immediately amidst the gloom of night, the mind of the beholder, excited by superstitious terrors, produces the same effect upon the visual organs, as if some terrible figure was presented to the eye, and he sees a living monster or hobgoblin, with eyes, mouth, head, and distorted limbs, threatening to de. vour him. Dr. Samuel Smith, late president of Princeton College, in his 7th lecture upon Moral Philosophy, enumerates several very curicus instances of spectral visions of this nature, and very judiciously explains them all upon principles, similar to those which we have just propounded. “A young lady,” he informs us, “ who was peculiarly susceptible of impressions of fear in the dark, had attended the funeral of a friend who had died with the small pox. Waking suddenly the night afterwards from sleep, she discerned, by the light of the moon, which faintly illuminated her chamber, a white robe hanging on the back of a chair and a cap placed on the top. Her disturbed imagination soon converted the object before her into the image of her deceased friend, just as she was dressed to be laid in her coffin, and, as she declared afterwards, when the whole delusion was revealed to her, she was sure that she recognised every feature of her friend, and even the pits of the small-pox, with which she died, in her face.” Here we see out of what rude outlines, presented by nature, an agitated mind formed a complete and terrible picture. “A man,” continues the Dr., " who had reduced himself by intemperance to very distressing nervous irregularity, was continually disturbed by visions, sometimes of the most frightful, and sometimes of the most fantastic kind. He would hear strange voices, would ask and answer questions, as if engaged in conversation with vj.
sionary personages; so that the baron Von Swedenborg, in his most visionary moments, was never surrounded by more extraordinary assemblages of strange sights." These facts, together with the story of Lord Lyttleton's vision of his mother, who announced to him his approaching end but a few days before he died, together with several others of a similar nature, Dr. Smith very justly and philosophically ascribes to nervous excitement.
But the most complete series of facts which I have ever seen assembled together on this subject, and which, in truth, may be regarded as a course of moral experiments upon it, as perfectly satisfactory to the mind, as those of Cheselden, beforementioned, were, in regard to vision and the original perceptions of sight, are contained in the following statement, which is extracted from a German publication.
“M. Nicolai, a member of the Royal Society of Berlin, some time since presented to that institution, a memoir on the subject of a complaint with which he was affected; and one of the singular consequences of which was, the representation of various spectres or apparitions. M. Nicolai for some years had been subject to a congestion in the head, and was blooded frequently for it by leeches. After a detailed account of his health, on which he grounds much medical, as well as psycological reasoning, he gives the following interesting narrative.
“ In the first two months of the year 1791, I was much affected in my mind, by several incidents of a very disagreeable nature; and on the 24th of February, a circumstance occurred which irritated me extremely. At ten o'clock in the forenoon, my wife and another person camę to console me; I was in a violent perturbation of mind, owing to a series of incidents, which had altogether wounded my moral feelings, and from which I saw no possibility of relief, when suddenly I observed at the distance of ten paces from me, a figure, the figure of a deceased person, I pointed at it, and