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fronı his sleep, when there was no one on his solitary island but himself;
• The airy tongues, that syllable men's names,
0 338. Ist cause of permanently vivid conceptions or apparitions.
Morbid sensibility of the retina of the eye. We have been led to see, particularly in a former chapter ($ 119), as well as in the preceding part of this, that our conceptions or renovated ideas may be so vivid as to affect our belief for a short time hardly less powerfully than the original perceptions. But, as in the cases referred to, there was not supposed to be an unsound or disordered state of the body, this extreme vividness of conception was exceedingly transitory. There are other cases of a comparatively permanent character, which are deserving of a more particular notice in the history of pur mental nature. These last always imply a disordered state of the body, which we were led to see in the last chapter is often attended with very marked effects or the mind..
In attempting to give an explanation of the origin of permanently vivid conceptions, the first ground or cause of them which we shall notice is an unnatural and morbid sensibility of the retina of the eye, either the whole of the retina or only a part. This cause, it is true, is in some degree conjectural, in consequence of the retina being so situated as to render it difficult to make it a subject of observation and experiment. But knowing, as we do, that the nervous system generally is liable to be diseased, and that the disease of a particular portion is commonly productive of results having relation to the object or uses of that portion, we may for this reason, as well as for what we know directly and positively of the occasionally disordered affections of the optic nerve, give it a place in the explanations of the subject before us. In order to understand the applicability of this cause of permanently vivid conceptions or apparitions, it is necessary to keep in mind that, in conceptions of visible objects, there is probably always a slight sympathetic affection of the retina of the eye, analogous to what existe
when the visible object is actually present. In a pertectly healthy state of the body, inciuding the organ of visual sense, this affection of the retina is of course very slight. But, under the influence of a morbid sensibility, the mere conceptions of the mind may at times impart such an increased activity to the whole or a part of the retina as to give existence to visual or spectral illusions.
There is an account given in a foreign Medical Journal (the Medico-Chirurgical Repertory of Piedmont) of a young lady who attended for the first time the music of an orchestra, with which she was exceedingly pleased. She continued to hear the sounds distinctly and in their order for weeks and months afterward, till, her whole system becoming disordered in consequence of it, she died. Now we naturally suppose in this case that the nerve of the tympanum of the ear, which, both in a physiological point of view and in its relation to the mind, corresponds to the retina of the eye, continued actually to vibrate or reverberate with the sound, although she was no longer within hearing of it. In other words, it was diseased; it had become morbidly sensitive, and in this state was a source of action to itself
, independently of any outward cause. And as the mental state or sensation of sound depends upon the actual condition of the auditory nerve, independently of the outward causes which may have been instrumental in producing that particular con dition, we see how the sounds, which she at first heard for a few hours, continued for a number of months after to be generated and repeated. And so in regard to the optic nerve. It may be so morbidly sensitive, that the mere conception of a man or of some other visible object may affect it as really and in the same way as if the man were actually present to the sight. And if so, the individual who is subject to this morbid affection has the power in himself of originating and sustaining the representation or pictures of objects, although no such objects are present. In other words, as these results de pend upon the state of his physical system, and not upon volition, he is properly said to be subject to Apparitions.
-We will only add, in confirmation of what has been said, that in one of the most interesting cases of spectral
illusions or apparitions which has been published, the person who was the subject of them expressly states, that for some hours preceding their occurrence she had a peculiar feeling in the eyes, which was relieved as soon as they had passed away.*
$ 339. 2d cause of permanently excited conceptio.js or apparitions.
Neglect of periodical blood-letting, But there are other causes of the mental states under consideration, which, in some respects at least, are not so closely and exclusively connected with the eye. One is the neglect of periodical blood-letting. The doctrine that permanently excited conceptions or apparitions are attendant on a superabundance of blood, occasioned by this neglect, seems to be illustrated and confirmed by the actual and recorded experience of various individuals, as in the following instance.
Nicolai, the name of the individual to whom the statements here given relate, was an inhabitant of Berlin, a celebrated bookseller, and naturally a person of a very vivid imagination. He was neither an ignorant man, nor superstitious; a fact which some undoubtedly will esteem it important to know. The following account of the apparitions which appeared to him is given in his own words. My wife and another person came into my apartment in the morning in order to console me, but I was too much agitated by a series of incidents, which had most powerfully affected my moral feeling, to be capable of attending to them. On a sudden, I perceived, at about the distance of ten steps, a form like that of a deceased person. I pointed at it, asking my wife if she did not see it. It was but natural that she should not see anything; my question, therefore, alarmed her very much, and she immediately sent for a physician. The phantom continued about eight minutes. I grew at length more calm, and, being extremely exhausted, fell into a restless sleep, which lasted about half an hour. The physician ascribed the apparition to a violent mental emotion, and hoped there would be no return; but the violent agitation of my mind had in some way disorder
* - Brewster's Natural Magic, Letter iii.
cd my nerves, and produced further consequences, which deserve a more minute description.
“ At four in the afternoon, the form which I had seen in the morning reappeared. I was by myself when this happened, and, being rather uneasy at the incident, went to my wife's apartment; but there likewise I was persecuted by the apparition, which, however, at intervals disappeared, and always presented itself in a standing posture. About six o'clock there appeared also several walking figures, which had no connexion with the first. After the first day the form of the deceased person no more appeared, but its place was supplied with many other phantasms, sometimes representing acquaintances, but mostly strangers; those whom I knew were composed of living and deceased persons, but the number of the latter was comparatively small. I observed the persons with whom I daily conversed did not appear as phantasms, these representing chiefly persons who lived at some distance from me.
“ These phantasms seemed equally clear and distinct at all times and under all circumstances, both when I was by myself and when I was in company, as well in the day as in the night, and in my own house as well as abroad; they were, however, less frequent when I was in the house of a friend, and rarely appeared to me in the street. When I shut my eyes, these phantasms would sometimes vanish entirely, though there were instances when I beheld them with my eyes closed; yet, when they disappeared on such occasions, they generally returned when I opened my eyes. I conversed sometimes with my physician and my wife of the phantasms which at the moment surrounded me; they appeared more frequently walking than at rest, nor were they constantly present. They frequently did not come for some time, but always reappeared for a longer or shorter period, either singly or in company, the latter, however, being most frequently the case. I generally saw human forms of both sexes, but they usually seemed not to take the smallest notice of each other, moving as in a marketplace, where all are eager to press through the crowd; at times, however, they seemed to be transacting business
with each other. I also saw several times people on horseback, dogs, and birds. All these phantasms appeared to me in their natural size, and as distinct as if alive, exhibiting different shades of carnation in the uncovered parts, as well as different colours and fashions in their dresses, though the colours seemed somewhat paler than in real nature. None of the figures appeared particularly terrible, comical, or disgusting, most of them being of an indifferent shape, and some presenting a pleasing aspect. The longer these phantoms continued to visit me, the more frequently did they return; while, at the same time, they increased in number about four weeks after they had first appeared. I also began to hear them talk; these phantoms sometimes conversed among themselves, but more frequently addressed their discourse to me; their speeches were commonly short, and never of an unpleasant turn. At different times there appeared to me both dear and sensible friends of both sexes, whose addresses tended to appease my grief, which had not yet wholly subsided: their consolatory speeches were in general addressed to me when I was alone. Sometimes, however, I was accosted by these consoling friends while I was engaged in company, and not unfrequently while real persons were speaking to me. These consolatory addresses consisted sometimes of abrupt phrases, and at other times they were regularly executed.”
$ 340. Methods of relief adopted in this case These are the leading facts in this case, as far as the mere appearance of the apparitions is concerned. But as Nicolai, besides possessing no small amount of acquired knowledge, was a person of a naturally philosophic turn of mind, he was able to detect and to assign the true cause of his mental malady.—He was, it is to be remembered, in the first place, a person of a very vivid fancy, and hence his mind was the more likely to be affected by any disease of the body. A number of years before the occurrences above related, he had been subject to a violent vertigo, which had been cured by means of leeches; it was his custom to lose blood twice a year,