Графични страници
PDF файл



much more philosophical to adopt it than to reject the clear and palpable evidence of sense.

For, if we assume any other principle, all received rules of evidence must be set at naught;* nay, our very lives would be made up of uncertainty and conjecture. We might begin to doubt the most common events of daily occurrence,† and perhaps, at last, to dream, with Berkeley, that the external world exists only in our sensations. Indeed, if the senses of an entire community of men were to concur in imposing on them unreal sights and sounds, appearing to all the same, who would there be to declare it a delusion, and what means would remain to prove it such?

Nor is it irrational to trust the evidence of our senses in cases so marvelous that we may reject hearsay testimony of an ordinary character when brought to prove

*The reader will find in Reid's excellent work on the Mind (Essay 2, 66 Perception") some remarks much in point. He says, "No judge will ever suppose that witnesses may be imposed upon by trusting to their eyes and ears; and if skeptical counsel should plead against the testimony of witnesses that they had no other evidence for what they declared but the testimony of their eyes and ears, and that we ought not to put so much faith in our senses as to deprive men of life and fortune upon their testimony, surely no upright judge would admit a plea of this kind. I believe no counsel, however skeptical, ever dared to offer such an argument; and if it were offered it would be rejected with disdain."

†The legal records of the Middle Ages furnish examples, scarcely credible, of such skepticism. During the thousand trials for witchcraft which occurred in France throughout the sixteenth century, the women suspected were usually accused of having joined the witches' dance at midnight under a blasted oak. "The husbands of several of these women (two of them were young and beautiful) swore positively that, at the time stated, their wives were comfortably asleep in their arms; but it was all in vain. Their word was taken; but the archbishop told them they were deceived by the devil and their own senses. It is true they might have had the semblance of their wives in their beds, but the originals were far away at the devil's dance under the oak."-Mackay's Popular Delusions; chapter on the WitchMania.



them. "I must see that to believe it," is often the expression of no unreasonable scruple.*

La Place puts the case, that we should not trust the testimony of a person who would allege that, having thrown a hundred dice into the air, they all fell with the same side up; while if we saw the thing happen, and carefully inspected the dice, one after the other, we should cease to doubt the fact. He says, "After such an examination we should no longer hesitate to admit it, notwithstanding its extreme improbability; and no one would be tempted, by way of explaining it, to resort to the hypothesis of an illusion caused by an infraction of the laws of vision. Hence we may conclude that the probability of the constancy of natural laws is, for us, greater than the probability that the event referred to should not occur."

So it may be, fairly enough, as to the phenomena witnessed by myself and others, to which allusion has just been made; the moving, namely, without apparent physical agency, of tables and other material substances. These are of a character so extraordinary, that the evidence of testimony, credible though it be regarded, may bring home to the reader no conviction of their reality. If that should be so, he will but find himself in the same position in which I myself was before I witnessed them. Like him whom La Place supposes to be listening to the story of the hundred dice, I doubted hearsay evidence, even from persons whose testimony in any ordinary case I should have taken without hesi*ation. But I doubted only: I did not deny. I resolved, on the first opportunity, to examine for myself; and the

"I have finally settled down to the opinion that, as to phenomena of so extraordinary a character, one may, by dint of discussion, reach the conviction that there are sufficient reasons for believing them, but that one really does believe them only after having seen them."-BERTRAND: "Traité du Somnambulisme," p. 165.



evidence of my senses wrought a conviction which testimony had failed to produce. If the reader, doubting like me, but seek the same mode of resolving his doubts, I may have rendered him a service. Let him demand, like Thomas, to see and to feel; let him inspect the dice one after the other; let him avoid, as in the preceding pages I have sought to induce him, the extremes of credulity and unbelief; but let him not imagine that the senses his Creator has given him are lying witnesses, merely because they testify against his preconceptions.

And thus, it may be, shall he learn a wholesome lesson; a lesson of warning against that wisdom in his own conceit which, we are told, is more hopeless than folly itself.

Thus, too, perhaps he may be induced, as I was, patiently to listen to the testimony of others, as contained in many of the following pages, touching what I once considered, and what he may still consider, mere fanciful superstitions. And thus he may be led, as I have been, as to these strange phenomena, carefully to weigh the contending probabilities. I assume not to have reached absolute certainty. How seldom, in any inquiry, is it attained! Where the nature of the case admits but more or less probable deductions, it suffices to show a fair balance of evidence in favor of the conclusions we infer. Nor is it unreasonable to act on such an inference though it fall short of infallible proof. Of all the varied knowledge which regulates our daily actions, how overwhelming a portion, as La Place reminds us, appertains, strictly speaking, to the various shades of the possible only!

And of that knowledge how much has been gradually drawn forth from the obscurity where for ages it lay, vailed by the mists of incredulity, under the ban of the Improbable!





"Half our days we pass in the shadow of the earth, and the brother of death exacteth a third part of our lives."-SIR THOMAS BROWNE.

If we sit down to make clear to ourselves what is, and what is not, marvelous,-to define, with precision, the wonderful,—we may find the task much more difficult than we apprehend. The extraordinary usually surprises us the most; the ordinary may be not only far more worthy of our attention, but far more inexplicable also.

We are accustomed to call things natural if they come constantly under our observation, and to imagine that that single word embodies a sufficient explanation of them. Yet there are daily wonders, familiar household marvels, which, if they were not familiar, if they were not of daily recurrence, would not only excite our utmost astonishment, but would also, beyond question, provoke our incredulity.

Every night, unless disease or strong excitement interpose, we become ourselves the subjects of a phenomenon which, if it occurred but once in a century, we should regard-if we believed it at all-as the mystery of mysteries. Every night, if blessed with health and tranquillity, we pass, in an unconscious moment, the threshold of material existence; entering another world,




where we see, but not with our eyes; where we hear, when our ears convey no perception; in which we speak, in which we are spoken to, though no sound pass our lips or reach our organs of hearing.

In that world we are excited to joy, to grief; we are moved to pity, we are stirred to anger; yet these emotions are aroused by no objective realities. There our judgment is usually obscured, and our reasoning faculties are commonly at fault; yet the soul, as if in anticipation of the powers which the last sleep may confer upon it, seems emancipated from earthly trammels. Time has lost its landmarks. Oceans interpose no barrier. The Past gives back its buried phantoms. The grave

restores its dead.

We have glimpses into that world. A portion of it is revealed to us dimly in the recollections of some sleep. ing thoughts. But a portion is inscrutable,-almost as inscrutable as that other world beyond the tomb.

What means have we of knowing that which passes through our minds in sleep? Except through our memory, (unless, indeed, we are sleep-talkers, and our sleep-talking is overheard,) none whatever. Sleeping thoughts not remembered are, for us in our waking state, as if they had never existed. But it is certain that many such thoughts are wholly forgotten before we awake. Of this we have positive proof in the case of persons talking in sleep, and thus indicating the subject of their dreams. It constantly happens that such persons, interrogated as to their dreams the next morning, deny having had any; and even if the subject of their sleep-talking be suggested to them, it awakens no train of memory.*

*Abercrombie's "Intellectual Powers," 15th ed., p. 112.

But all physiologists are agreed as to this phenomenon. In some cases, however, two mental states seem to be indicated; the memory of the dream being not so wholly lost that it cannot be revived, at a future time, in sleep.

« ПредишнаНапред »