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THEORY OF APPARITIONS.
Reality of spectral impressions General laro of the system, to which they may
be referred— Division of the subject—Spectral illusions eremplified.
I shall begin this discussion, by admiting, as an undeniable fact, that the forms of dead, or absent persons have been seen, and their voices have been heard, by witnesses whose testimony is entitled to belief.
It would be an endless task to ransack the pages of antiquity, for instances of this kind. The apparition of the Genius to Brutus, and of the Fury to Dion, cannot be doubted. We may be allowed, however, to enquire, whether the improved state of physiology affords any glimpse of light on this subject, and whether such extraordinary and terrific impressions cannot be explained, from the known laws of the animal economy, independent of supernatural causes, in the examples furnished by profane history
It is well known, that in certain diseases of the brain, such as delirium and insanity, spectral delusions take place, even during the space of many days. But it has not been generally observed, that a partial affection of the brain may exist, which renders the patient liable to such imaginary impressions, either of sight or sound, without disordering his
judgment or memory. From this peculiar condition of the sensorium, I conceive that the best supported stories of apparitions may be completely accounted for.
To render this inquiry more perspicuous, I shall consider,
I. The general law of the system, to which the origin of the spectral impressions may be referred :
II. , The proof of the existence of morbid impressions of this nature, without any sensible external agency:
III. The application of these prin. ciples to the best-authenticated examples of apparitions.
It is a well-known law of the human æconomy, that the impressions produced
on some of the external sonses, especially on the eye, are more durable than the application of the i impressing cause. The effect of looking at the sun, in producing the impression of a luminous globe, for some time after the eye has been withdrawn from the object, is familiar to every one.'
This subject has been so thoroughly investigated by the late Dr. Darwin, that I need only to refer the reader to his treatise on ocular spectra.* In young persons, the effects resulting from this permanence of impression are extremely curious. I remember, that about the age of fourteen, it was a source of great amusement to myself. If I had been viewing any interesting object in the course of the day, such as a romantic ruin, a fine seat, or a review of a body
* The experiments in this Essay appear to have been suggested, by those of Mariotte, Le Cat, and Bernouilli.