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BOUNDARY OF ANOTHER WORLD.
STATEMENT OF THE SUBJECT.
"As I did ever hold, there mought be as great a vanitie in retiring and withdrawing men's conceites (except they bee of some nature) from the world as in obtruding them; so, in these particulars, I have played myself the Inquisitor, and find nothing to my understanding in them contrarie or infectious to the state of Religion or manners, but rather, as I suppose, medecinable."-BACON: Dedication to Essays, 1597.
In an age so essentially utilitarian as the present, no inquiry is likely to engage the permanent attention of the public, unless it be practical in its bearings.
Even then, if the course of such inquiry lead to the examination of extraordinary phenomena, it will be found that evidence the most direct, apparently sufficing to prove the reality of these, will usually leave the minds of men incredulous, or in doubt, if the appearances be of isolated character, devoid of authentic precedent in the past, and incapable of classification, in the proper niche, among analogous results; much more, in case they involve a suspension of the laws of nature.
THE INQUIRY PRACTICAL.
If I entertain a hope of winning the public ear, while I broach, broadly and frankly, the question whether occasional interferences from another world in this be reality or delusion, it is, first, because I feel confident in being able to show that the inquiry is of a practical nature; and, secondly, because the phenomena which I purpose to examine in connection with it are not of isolated, still less of miraculous, character. In the etymological sense of the term, they are not unlikely, there being many of their like to be found adequately attested throughout history. They appear in groups, and lend themselves, like all other natural phenomena, to classification.
Extraordinary, even astounding, they will usually be considered; and that, not so much because they are really uncommon, as because they have been, in a measure, kept out of sight. And this again arises, in part, because few dispassionate observers have patiently examined them; in part, because prejudice, which discredits them, has prevented thousands to whom they have presented themselves from bearing public or even private testimony to what they have witnessed; in part, again, because, although these phenomena are by no means of modern origin, or determined by laws but recently operative, they appear to have much increased in frequency and variety, and to have reached a new stage of development, in the last few years; and finally, because they are such as readily stir up in weak minds blind credulity or superstitious terror, the prolific sources of extravagance and exaggeration. Thus the intelligent conceal and the ignorant misstate them.
This condition of things complicates the subject, and much increases the difficulty of treating it.
Again: though no article of human faith is better founded than the belief in the ultimate prevalence of truth, yet, in every thing relating to earthly progress,
TIME AN ESSENTIAL ELEMENT.
time enters as an essential element. The fruit drops not till it has ripened: if nipped by early blight or plucked by premature hand it is imperfect and worthless. And the world of mind, like that of physical nature, has its seasons: its spring, when the sap rises and the buds swell; its summer, of opened flower and blossom; its autumn, of yellow grain. We must not expect to reap, in any field, until harvest-time.
Yet, how gradual soever time's innovations and the corresponding progress of the human mind, there are certain epochs at which, by what our short sight calls chance, particular subjects spring forth into notice, as it were, by a sudden impulse, attracting general attention, and thus predisposing men's minds to engage in their investigation. At such epochs, words that at other times would fall unheeded may sink deep and bear good fruit.
It seldom happens, however, at the first outbreak of any great excitement, when some strange novelty seems bursting on the world, that the minds of men, whether of supporters or of opponents, maintain due moderation, either in assent or in denial. The hasty ardor of newborn zeal, and the sense, quick to offense when first impinged upon, of prejudice long dominant, alike indispose to calm inquiry, are alike unfavorable to critical judgment.
And thus, at the present day, perhaps, (when the din of the earliest onset has subsided and the still small voice can be heard,) rather than at any period of the last ten years, during which our country has witnessed the rise and progress of what may be called a revival of Pneumatology, may the subject be discussed with less of passion and received with diminished prejudice. And if a writer, in treating of it at this juncture, escape some of those shoals upon which earlier inquirers have stranded, it may be due as much to a happy selec
tion of time, as to any especial merit or superior dis
Then, too, as to the great question of which I purpose to examine the probabilities, recent events have not only enlisted the attention of the audience: they have also, in a measure, opened way for the speaker. The strictness of the taboo is relaxed. And this was greatly to be desired. For the inquiry touching the probability of ultramundane intervention—though it cannot be said to have been lost sight of at any moment since the dawn of civilization, though Scripture affirm it as to former ages, and though, throughout later times, often in various superstitious shapes, it has challenged the terrors of the ignorant—had seemed, for a century past, to be gradually losing credit and reputable standing, and to be doomed to exclusion from respectable society or philosophical circles. Able men cared not to jeopard a reputation for common sense by meddling with it at all.
With honorable exceptions, however. Of these I have met with none so original in thought, so philosophic in spirit, as Isaac Taylor. Yet he has treated, with a master's hand, one branch only of the subject,—the analogical.*
Another portion of this field of research has been partially occupied, from time to time, by a class of writers, often German, usually set down as superstitious dreamers; of which Jung Stilling, perhaps, is one of the fairest examples.† Pious, earnest, able, of a pro
"Physical Theory of Another Life," by the Author of the "Natural History of Enthusiasm," (Isaac Taylor,) 1 vol. 12mo, pp. 336. London, 1839.
"Theorie der Geisterkunde,” (“ Theory of Spiritualism," or, literally, of Spirit-Knowledge,) by Jung Stilling, originally published in 1809. Johann Heinrich Jung, better known by his adjunct name of Stilling, born in the Duchy of Nassau in 1740, rose from poverty and the humblest position to he, first, Professor of Political Economy at Heidelberg, and afterward a member of the Aulic Council of the Grand Duke of Baden.