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APPARITIONS OF THE DEAD.
"Dare I say
No spirit ever brake the band
That stays him from the native land
Where first he walked when clasped in clay?
"No visual shade of rome one lost,
But he, the spirit himself, may come,
Where all the nerve of sense is dumb,
Spirit to spirit, ghost to ghost."-TENNYSON.
IF, as St. Paul teaches and Swedenborgians believe, there go to make up the personality of man a natural body and a spiritual body;* if these co-exist, while earthly life endures, in each one of us; if, as the apostle further intimatest and the preceding chapter seems to prove, the spiritual body--a counterpart, it would seem, to human sight, of the natural body-may, during life, occasionally detach itself, to some extent or other and for a time, from the material flesh and blood which for a few years it pervades in intimate association; and if death be but the issuing forth of the spiritual body from its temporary associate; then, at the moment of its exit, it is that spiritual body which through life may have been occasionally and partially detached from the natural body, and which at last is thus entirely and forever
1 Corinthians xv. 44. The phrase is not, "a natural body and a spirit" it is expressly said, "There is a natural body, and there is a spiritual body."
† 2 Corinthians xii. 2.
THEORY AND FACT.
divorced from it, that passes into another state of exist
But if that spiritual body, while still connected with its earthly associate, could, under certain circumstances, appear, distinct and distant from the natural body, and perceptible to human vision, if not to human touch, what strong presumption is there against the supposition that after its final emancipation the same spiritual body may still at times show itself to man ?*
If there be no such adverse presumption, then we ought to approach the subject, not as embodying some wild vagary barely worth noticing, just within the verge of possibility, but as a respectable and eminently serious question, worthy of our gravest attention, and as to which, let us decide as we will, there is much to be said on both sides before reaching a decision.
Nor is an apparition of the dead a phenomenon (or alleged phenomenon) of which the reality can be settled, affirmatively or negatively, by speculation in the closet. A hundred theorists, thus speculating, may decide, to their own satisfaction, that it ought not to be, or that it cannot be. But if sufficient observation show that it is, it only follows that these closet theorists had no correct conception of the proper or the possible.
The Rev. George Strahan, D.D., in his preface to his collection of the "Prayers and Meditations" of his friend Dr. Samuel Johnson, (London, 1785,) has the following passage:—
"The improbability arising from rarity of occurrence or singularity of nature amounts to no disproof: it is a presumptive reason of doubt too feeble to withstand the conviction induced by positive credible testimony, such as that which has been borne to shadowy reappearances of the dead." "One true report that a spirit has been seen may give occasion and birth to many false reports of similar incidents; but universal and unconcerted testimony to a supernatural casualty cannot always be untrue. An appearing spirit is a prodigy too singular in its nature to become a subject of general invention." . . . "To a mind not influenced by popular prejudice, it will be scarcely possible to believe that apparitions would have been vouched for in all countries had they never been seen in any."
APPARITIONS AND AEROLITES.
It was in the field, not in the closet, that the question was decided whether aerolites occasionally fall upon our earth. Chladni and Howard might have theorized over their desks for a lifetime: they would have left the question open still. But they went out into the world. They themselves saw no aerolite fall. But they inspected meteoric masses said to have fallen. They made out lists of these. They examined witnesses; they collected evidence. And finally they convinced the world of scientific skeptics that the legends in regard to falling stones which have been current in all ages, ever since the days of Socrates, were something more than fabulous tales.
I propose, in prosecuting a more important inquiry, to follow the example of Chladni and Howard, with what success time and the event must determine.
Innumerable examples may be met with of persons who allege that they have seen apparitions,-among these, men eminent for intelligence and uprightness. A noted example is that of Oberlin, the well-known Alsatian philanthropist, the benevolent pastor of Bande-la-Roche.
He was visited, two years before his death,-namely, in 1824,-by a Mr. Smithson, who published an account of his visit.* Thence are gleaned the following particulars.
The valley of Ban-de-la-Roche, or Steinthal, in Alsace, the scene for more than fifty years of Oberlin's labors of love, surrounded by lofty mountains, is for more than half the year cut off from the rest of the world by snows obstructing the passes.
"Intellectual Repository" for April, 1840, pp. 151 to 162.
There Oberlin found the peasantry with very peculiar opinions. He said to Mr. Smithson that when he first came to reside among the inhabitants of Steinthal they had what he then considered "many superstitious notions respecting the proximity of the spiritual world, and of the appearance of various objects and phenomena in that world, which from time to time were seen by some of the people belonging to his flock. For instance, it was not unusual for a person who had died to appear to some individual in the valley." . . . "The report of every new occurrence of this kind was brought to Oberlin, who at length became so much annoyed that he was resolved to put down this species of superstition, as he called it, from the pulpit, and exerted himself for a considerable time to this end, but with little or no desirable effect. Cases became more numerous, and the circumstances so striking as even to stagger the skepticism of Oberlin himself." (p. 157.)
Ultimately the pastor came over to the opinions of his parishioners in this matter. And when Mr. Smithson asked him what had worked such conviction, he replied "that he himself had had ocular and demonstrative experience respecting these important subjects." He added that "he had a large pile of papers which he had written on this kind of spiritual phenomena, containing the facts, with his own reflections upon them." (p. 158.) He stated further to Mr. Smithson that such apparitions were particularly frequent after that well-known and terrible accident which buried several villages, (the fall of the Rossberg, in 1806.) Soon after, as Oberlin expressed it, a considerable number of the inhabitants of the valley "had their spiritual eyesight opened" (p. 159) and perceived the apparitions of many of the sufferers.
Stöber, the pupil and biographer of Oberlin, and throughout his life the intimate friend of the family, states that the good pastor was fully persuaded of the
OBERLIN'S BELIEF IN
actual presence of his wife for several years after her decease. His unswerving conviction was that, like an attendant angel, she watched over him, held communion with him, and was visible to his sight; that she instructed him respecting the other world and guarded him from danger in this; that, when he contemplated any new plan of utility, in regard to the results of which he was uncertain, she either encouraged his efforts or checked him in his project. He considered his interviews with her not as a thing to be doubted, but as obvious and certain,-as certain as any event that is witnessed with the bodily eyes. When asked how he distinguished her appearance and her communications from dreams, he replied, "How do you distinguish one color from another?"*
I myself met, when in Paris, during the month of May, 1859, Monsieur Matter, a French gentleman holding an important official position in the Department of Public Instruction, who had visited Oberlin some time before his death, and to whom the worthy pastor submitted the "large pile of papers" referred to by Mr. Smithson.† He found it to contain, among other things, a narrative of a series of apparitions of his deceased wife, and of his interviews with her.
Monsieur Matter, who kindly furnished me with notes, in writing, on this matter, adds, "Oberlin was convinced that the inhabitants of the invisible world can appear to us, and we to them, when God wills; and that we are apparitions to them, as they to us."§
Neither the intelligence nor the good faith of Oberlin
"Vie de J. F. Oberlin," par Stöber, p. 223.
The manuscript was entitled "Journal des Apparitions et Instructions par Rêves."
Entretiens was the word employed.
This appears to have been the opinion of Jung Stilling, with whom Oberlin was well acquainted. See "Theorie der Geisterkunde," ? 3.