Графични страници
PDF файл
ePub

THE SURGEON'S ASSISTANT.

325

out adducing her authority, and which I have not myself verified, is, in substance, as follows:

In the latter part of the last century, in the city of . Glasgow, Scotland, a scrvant-girl, known to have had illicit connection with a certain surgeon's apprentice, suddenly disappeared. There being no circumstances leading to suspicion of foul play, no special inquiry was made about her.

In those days, in Scottish towns, no one was allowed to show himself in street or public ground during the hours of church-service; and this interdiction was enforced by the appointment of inspectors, authorized to take down the names of delinquents.

Two of these, making their rounds, came to a wall, the lower boundary of “The Green,” as the chief public park of the city is called. There, lying on the grass, they saw a young man, whom they recognized as the surgeon's assistant. They asked him why he was not at church, and proceeded to register his name; but, instead of attempting an excuse, he merely rose, saying,

a miserable man; look in the water!" then crossed a style and struck into a path leading to the Rutherglen road. The inspectors, astonished, did proceed to the river, where they found the body of a young woman, which they caused to be conveyed to town. While they were accompanying it through the streets, they passed one of the principal churches, whence, at the moment, the congregation were issuing; and among them they perceived the apprentice. But this did not much surprise them, thinking he might have had time to go round and enter the church toward the close of the service.

The body proved to be that of the missing servantgirl. She was found pregnant, and had evidently been murdered by means of a surgeon's instrument, which had remained entangled in her clothes. The apprentice,

"I am

312

EXCEPTIONAL CASES OF PERCEPTION.

If we were all born deaf and dumb, we could not imagine how a human being should be able to perceive that a person he did not see was in an adjoining room, or how he could possibly become conscious that a townclock, a mile off and wholly out of sight, was half an hour faster than th watch in his pocket. If to a deafmute, congenitally such, we say, in explanation, that we know these things because we hear the sound of the person's voice and of the clock striking, the words are to him without significance. They explain to him nothing. He believes that there is a perception which those around him call hearing, because they all agree in informing him of this. He believes that, under particular circumstances, they do become conscious of the distant and the unseen. But, if his infirmity continue till death, he will pass to another world with no conviction of the reality of hearing save that belief alone, unsustained except by the evidence of testimony.

What presumption is there against the supposition that, as there are exceptional cases in which some of our fellow-creatures are inferior to us in the range of their perceptions, there may be exceptional cases also in which some of them are superior? And why may not we, like the life-long deaf-mute, have to await the enlightenment of death before we can receive as true, except by faith in others' words, the allegations touching these superior perceptions ?

There is, it is true, between the case of the deaf-mute and ours this difference: he is in the minority, we in the majority: his witnesses, therefore, are much more numerous than ours. But the question remains, are our witnesses, occasional only though they be, sufficient in number and in credibility?

That question, so far as it regards what are commonly called apparitions, it is my object in the next chapter to discuss.

EFFECT OF MEDICINE ON PERCEPTIONS.

313

Before doing so, however, one or two remarks touching current objections may here be in place.

It has usually been taken for granted that, if medicine shall have removed a perception, it was unreal. This does not follow. An actual perception may, for aught we know, depend on a peculiar state of the nervous system, and may be possible during that state only; and that state may be changed or modified by drugs. Our senses frequently are, for a time, so influenced; the sense of sight, for example, by belladonna. I found in England several ladies, all in the most respectable class of society, who have had, to a greater or less extent, the perception of apparitions; though they do not speak of this faculty or delusion (let the reader select either term) beyond the circle of their immediate friends. One of these ladies, in whose case the perception has existed from early infancy, informed me that it was suspended by indisposition, even by a severe cold. In this case, any medicine which removed the disease restored the perception.

Some writers have attempted to show that hallucination is epidemical, like the plague or the small-pox. If this be true at all, it is to an extent so trifling and under circumstances so peculiar that it can only be regarded as a rare exception to a general rule.* De Gasparin

* I find in De Boismont's elaborate work on Hallucinations but a single example detailed of what may be regarded as a collective hallucination, and that given (p. 72) on the authority of Bovet, and taken from his Pondemonium, or The Devil's Cloyster,published in 1684, (p. 202 ;) not the most conclusive evidence, certainly. It is, besides, but the case of two men alleged to have seen, at the same time, the same apparition of certain richly-dressed ladies. But one of these men was at the time in a stupor, apparently suffering from nightmare, and did not speak of the vision at all until it was suggested to him by the other. We know, however, that suggestions made to a sleeping man sometimes influence his dreams. (See Abercrombie's “ Intellectual Powers," 15th ed., London, 1857, pp. 202, 203.) A case cited and vouched for by Dr. Wigan (Duality of the Mind,Lon.

328

APPARITION SEEN SIMULTANEOUSLY

acquainted, and who was at that time, though they then knew it not, a patient of Dr. D's. They observed also, as he came nearer, that he was dressed in a blue frock-coat, black satin waistcoat, and black pantaloons and hat. Also, on comparing notes afterward, both ladies, it appeared, had noticed that his linen was particularly fine and that his whole apparel seemed to have been very carefully adjusted.

He came up so close that they were on the very point of addressing him; but at that moment he stepped aside, as if to let them pass; and then, even while the eyes of both the ladies were upon him, he suddenly and entirely disappeared.

The astonishment of Mrs. D- and her daughter may be imagined. They could scarcely believe the evidence of their own eyes. They lingered, for a time, on the spot, as if expecting to see him reappear; then, with that strange feeling which comes over us when we have just witnessed something unexampled and incredible, they hastened home.

They afterward ascertained, through Dr. D—, that his patient Mr. Thompson, being seriously indisposed, was confined to his bed; and that he had not quitted his room, nor indeed his bed, throughout the entire day.

It may properly be added that, though Mr. Thompson was familiarly known to the ladies and much respected by them as an estimable man, there were no reasons existing why they should take any more interest in him, or he in them, than in the case of any other friend or acquaintance. He died just six weeks from the day of this appearance.

The above narrative is of unquestionable authenticity. It was communicated in Washington, in June, 1859, by Mrs. D— herself; and the manuscript, being submitted to her for revision, was assented to as accurate. It had been frequently related, both by mother and daugh

FOR EPIDEMICAL HALLUCINATIONS ?

315

saw and heard them. The very details whicn accompany many of them suffice to discredit the idea they are adduced to prove. In the relation of Pausanias, for example, touching the nightly noises on the battle-field of Marathon, we read that those who were attracted to the spot by curiosity heard them not: it was to the chance traveler only, crossing the haunted spot without premeditation, that the phantom horses neighed and the din of arms resounded. Imagination or expectation, it would seem, had nothing to do with it. It was á local phenomenon. Can we believe it to have been a perversion of the sense of hearing? If we do, we admit that hallucination may be endemic as well as epidemic.

I would not be understood as denying that there have been times and seasons during which instances of hallucination have increased in frequency beyond the usual rate. That which violently excites the mind often reacts morbidly on the senses.

But this does not prove the position I am combating. The reaction consequent upon the failure of the first French Revolution, together with the horrors of the reign of terror, so agitated and depressed the minds of many, that in France suicides became frequent beyond all previous example. Yet it would be a novel doctrine to assert that suicide is of a contagious or epidemical character.

De Boismont reminds us that considerable assemblages of men (“des réunions considérables”) have been the dupes of the same illusions. “A cry," he says, "suffices to affright a multitude. An individual who thinks he sees something supernatural soon causes others, as little enlightened as he, to share his conviction.”* As to illusions, both optical and oral, this is undoubtedly true; more especially when these present themselves in times

* Des Hallucinations,” p. 128.

« ПредишнаНапред »