Графични страници
PDF файл
[blocks in formation]

mistake one thing for another; but there is something to mistake.

On the other hand, if but one person perceive some prodigy, it may be a pure hallucination only, especially if the person be under the influence of great agitation or of a nervous system unduly excited. If such a person perceive what others around him do not, it may be taken as prima facie evidence that he is the subject of hallucination. Yet we can imagine circumstances that would rebut such a presumption. If, for example, it should be satisfactorily proved, in any given case, that a certain appearance, perceived by one witness only out of many present, conveyed to that witness, with unmistakable accuracy, correct information touching the distant or the future, which it was impossible by ordinary means to acquire, we should needs conclude that there was something other than hallucination in the case. The alleged second-sight in Scotland, and especially in the island of Skye,* if perfectly authenticated in any one

* The curious will find many details of the pretensions touching the Scottish second-sight, and particularly in the Hebrides, recorded in Description of the Western Islands of Scotland,by M. Martin, London, 1706. The author regards this phenomenon as sufficiently proved, especially among the inhabitants of the island of Skye. He alleges that the gift of second-sight is usually hereditary; that animals are wont to distinguish, at the same time as the seer, the apparition which he alone of all the human beings present perceives, and to be violently affected by it. He adds that the gift seems endemical, since natives of Skye noted as seers, if they pass into a distant country, lose the power, but recover it as soon as they return to their native land.

The subject is mentioned, also, in Dr. Johnson's “ Journey to the Western Islands of Scotland,” p. 247, and in Boswell's “ Journal of a Tour to the Hebrides with Samuel Johnson,1785, p. 490.

Scheffer, too, in his History of Lapland, adduces various examples wbich he considers as indicating the existence of second-sight among the people of that country. But it appears to differ in its form from the second-sight of Scotland, and more nearly to approach somnambulism; for the seer is, according to Scheffer, plunged into a deep sleep, or lethargy, during which bis prophecies are uttered. See his work translated from the original Latin into French by the Geographer of the King, and entitled “ Histoire de Laponie,” Paris, 1778, vol. iv. p. 107 et seq.




example where chance prediction or conjecture could not be imagined, would be a case in point. Beyond all question, however, such cases ought to be scrupulously scanned. That one unlikely prediction, for instance,

. should be fulfilled, while a hundred fail, may be a rare coincidence, only, fairly to be ascribed to what we call chance. Cicero relates that Diagoras, when at Samothrace, being shown in a temple, as evidence of the power of the god there adored, the numerous votive offerings of those who, having invoked his aid, were saved from shipwreck, asked how many persons, notwithstanding such invocation, had perished.* Predictions, however, may be of such a nature, and so circumstantial in their details, that the probabilities against their accidental fulfillment suffice to preclude altogether that supposition.

In a general way, it may be said that where a phenomenon observed by several persons, however extraordinary and unexampled it may be, is of a plain and evident character, palpable to the senses, especially to the sight, we are not justified in distrusting the evidence of sense in regard to it.

Suppose, for example, that, sitting in one's own welllighted apartment, where no concealed machinery or other trickery is possible, in company with three or four

* Cicero “De naturâ deorum,” lib. iii.

† It is the remark of a distinguished theologian, “In some circumstances our senses may deceive us; but no faculty deceives us so little or so seldom; and when our senses do deceive us, even that error is not to be corrected without the help of our senses.”—Tillotson's Works, Sermon XXVI.

# The case supposed is not an imaginary one. It occurred in my apartments at Naples, on the 11th of March, 1856, and, with slight variations, on two subsequent occasions. I had the table and the lamp which were used on these occasions weighed. The weight of the former was seventy-six pounds and of the latter fourteen,-together, ninety pounds.

[blocks in formation]

friends, all curious observers like oneself, around a large center-table, weighing eighty or a hundred pounds, the hands of all present resting upon it, one should see and feel this table, the top maintaining its horizontal, rise suddenly and unexpectedly to the height of eight or ten inches from the floor, remain suspended in the air while one might count six or seven, then gently settle down again; and suppose that all the spectators concurred in their testimony as to this occurrence, with only slight variations of opinion as to the exact number of inches to which the table rose and the precise number of seconds during which it remained suspended : ought the witnesses of such a seeming temporary suspension of the law of gravitation to believe that their senses are playing them false?

Mr. Faraday says that, unless they do, they are not only “ignorant as respects education of the judgment,” but are also “ignorant of their ignorance."* An educated judgment, he alleges, knows that “it is impossible to create force.” But “if we could, by the fingers, draw a heavy piece of wood upward without effort, and then, letting it sink, could produce, by its gravity, an effort equal to its weight, that would be a creation of power,

* The assertion occurs in Mr. Faraday's lecture at the Royal Institution, already referred to, delivered on the 6th of May, 1854. It may be supposed to embody the author's deliberate opinion, since, after five years, it is republished by him in his “ Experimental Researches in Chemistry and Physics," London, 1859. The passage quoted, with its essential context, is as follows:

“You hear, at the present day, that some persons can place their fingers on a table, and then, elevating their hands, the table will rise and follow them; that the piece of furniture, though heavy, will ascend, and that their bands bear no weight, or are not drawn down to the wood.” . assertion finds acceptance in every rank of society, and among classes that are esteemed to be educated. Now, what can this imply but that society, generally speaking, is not only ignorant as respects the education of the Judgment, but is also ignorant of its ignorance ?”—p. 470.

« The

[blocks in formation]

and cannot be."* His conclusion is, that tables never rise. The thing is impossible.

That is a very convenient short-cut out of a difficulty. The small objection is, that the facts are opposed to it. It is all very well for Mr. Faraday to bid the witnesses carry with them an educated judgment. The recommendation does not reach the case. Unless this educated judgment could persuade them that they did not see what they actually saw and did not feel what they actually felt, it would certainly never convince them, as Mr. Faraday proposes it should, that what happened before their eyes cannot be.

They might very properly doubt whether what they saw and felt was a suspension of a law universal as that of gravitation. They would do quite wrong in asserting, as Mr. Faraday takes it for granted they must, that “ by the fingers they draw a heavy piece of wood upward without effort:"† that might be mistaking the post

* Work cited, p. 479. The italics are Faraday's.

That gentleman is among the number of those who believe that "before we proceed to consider any question involving physical principles, we should set out with clear ideas of the naturally possible and impossible.”—p. 478. But it avails nothing to set out with what we cherish as clear ideas, if on the way we encounter phenomena which disprove them. Mr. Faraday is one of those imprudent persons spoken of by Arago. (See motto to chap. ii. Book I.)

† The imposition of hands is not a necessary condition. In the diningroom of a French nobleman, the Count d'Ourches, residing near Paris, I saw, on the 1st day of October, 1858, in broad daylight, at the close of a déjeuner à la fourchette, a dinner-table seating seven persons, with fruit and wine on it, rise and settle down, as already described, while all the guests were standing around it, and not one of them touching it at all. All present saw the same thing. Mr. Kyd, son of the late General Kyd, of the British army, and his lady, told me (in Paris, in April, 1859) that, in December of the year 1857, during an evening visit to a friend, who resided at No. 28 Rue de la Ferme des Mathurins, at Paris, Mrs. Kyd, seated in an armchair, suddenly felt it move, as if some one had laid hold of it from beneath. Then slowly and gradually it rose into the air, and remained there kuspended for the space of about thirty seconds, the lady's feet being four or five feet from the ground; then it settled down gently and gradually, so that there was no shock when it reached the carpet. No one was touching the chair when it rose, nor did any one approach it while in the air, except Mr. Kyd, who, fearing an accident, advanced and touched Mrs. Kyd. The room was at the time brightly lighted, as a French salon usually is; and of the eight or nine persons present all saw the same thing, in the same way. I took notes of the above, as Mr. and Mrs. Kyd narrated to me the occurrence; and they kindly permitted, as a voucher for its truth, the use of their names.



hoc for the propter hoc. All they would be justified in saying is, that they placed their hands on the table, and the table rose.

If still Mr. Faraday should reply that it did not rise, because it could not, he would afford an eminent example of a truth as old as the days of Job, that “great men are not always wise.” That which does happen can happen; and the endeavor by argument to persuade men to the contrary is labor lost.

I make no assertion that tables are raised by spiritual agency. But suppose Mr. Faraday, by disproving every other hypothesis, should drive one to this:* it would be

[ocr errors]

Here is no drawing up of a heavy object, without effort, with the fingers, the concomitant which Mr. Faraday speaks of as indispensable. And the phenomenon occurred in a private drawing-room, among persons of high social position, educated and intelligent. Thousands, in the most enlightened countries of the world, can testify to the like. Are they all to be spoken of as “ignorant of their ignorance”?

* He scorns the idea. In his letter on Table-Turning, published in the London “ Times” of June 30, 1853, he says, “The effect produced by tableturners has been referred to electricity, to magnetism, to attraction, to some unknown or hitherto unrecognized physical power able to affect inanimato bodies, to the revolution of the earth, and even to diabolical or supernatural agency. The natural philosopher can investigate all these supposed causes but the last: that must, to him, be too much connected with credulity or superstition to require any attention on his part.”— Work cited, p. 382.

This is a summary and convenient disclaimer,-more convenient than satisfactory. Mr. Faraday thinks of ultramundane agency as Hume did of miracles, that "supported by human testimony it is more properly a subject of derision than of argument." The time is coming when, in this world or another, he may discover his mistake.

« ПредишнаНапред »