Imagens das páginas

could, he never could have buried himself again. Yet in his grave they always found him. So the body could not have been the visitant. Then, in popular language, it was the ghost of the Vampyr that haunted its future victim. The ghostly nature of the visitant could not have been identified at a luckier moment. The very subject which I next propose to undertake is the analysis of ghosts. I have, therefore, only to throw the Vampyr ghost into the crucible with the rest; and to-morrow I may perhaps be able to report the rational composition of the whole batch.


UNREAL GAOSTS. - Law of Sensorial Ilusions - Cases of Nicolai, · Schwedenborg, Joan of Arc-Fetches—Churchyard ghosts.

The projected analysis has been crowned with success. The fumes of superstition have been driven off, and the ghosts have been reduced to rational elements. All trace of supernatural agency has vanished; and in its place are found three principles — one physical, two psychical—by the help of which every conceivable ghost may in future be alternately decomposed and recompounded by the merest tyro.

The first of which I shall describe the nature and operation is a psychical truth, already known to most persons of education. It is of very general use in ghostbuilding; it forms the immediate personnel of every ghost; and is of so active a nature that alone, or assisted by a little credulity, it is enough to constitute the simplest kind—a common fetch. Mixed with a dose of mental anxiety, or as much remorse as will lie on the point of a dagger, it will form a troublesome retrospective ghost. The second principle — a physical one, less generally known—is the basis of that sturdy apparition the churchyard ghost, which it will turn very fair style aided by fancy alone; but, to perfect the illusive result, the co-operation of the first principle is necessary. The third, an entirely new one, is the foundation of real ghosts—that is, of ghosts which announce unexpected events, distant in space or time; the same principle is concerned in true dreams, and in second-sight.

The first of the three principles adverted to is the physiological fact that, when the blood is heated, the nervous system overstrained, or digestion out of sorts, the thereby directly or sympathetically disordered brain is liable to project before us illusory forms, which are coloured and move like life, and are so far undistinguishable from reality. Sometimes a second sense is drawn into the phantasmagoria, and the fictitious beings speak as you do. Almost always the illusion stops there. But in one or two marvellous cases, the touch has been involved in the hallucination, and the ghost has been tangible. These phenomena are termed sensorial illusions. The visual part of them, the first and commonest, has been the most attended to. The cause immediately producing it appears to be an affection, not of the organ of vision, but of that part of the brain in which the nerves of seeing take their origin. This organ it is which in health realises our sensations of colour, and converts them into visual perceptions. Like other parts of the brain, it is stored with memories of its past impressions, ready to be evoked—either pure and true by conception, or anyhow combined by fancy. In perfect health, a chance moment of warm recollection will call up from this source the once familiar face transiently, but how distinctly!

In its morbid state, the beings it projects before us are for the most part strangers, just as the personages we meet in our dreams are exceptionally only our living and present acquaintance.

The most instructive case of sensorial illusions on record, as containing the largest illustration of their phenomena, is that of Nicolai, the bookseller of Berlin. The narrative was read before the Academy of Sciences at Berlin, in 1799. Its substance runs thus:-Nicolai had met with some family troubles, which much disturbed him. Then on the 1st of January 1791, there stood before him at the distance of ten paces the ghost of his eldest son. He pointed at it, directing his wife to look. She saw it not, and tried to convince Nicolai that it was · an illusion. In a quarter of an hour, it vanished. In the afternoon, at four o'clock, it came again. Nicolai was alone. He went to his wife's room, the ghost followed him. About six other apparitions joined the first, and they walked about among each other. After some days the apparition of his son stayed away; but its place was filled with the figures of a number of persons, some known, some unknown to Nicolai—some of dead, others of living persons. The known ones represented distant acquaintances only. The figures of none of Nicolai’s habitual friends were there. The appearances were almost always human; occasionally a man on horseback, and birds, and dogs, would present themselves. The apparitions came mostly after dinner, at the commencement of digestion; they were just like real persons, the colouring a thought fainter. The apparitions were equally distinct whether Nicolai was alone or in society, in the dark as by day; in his own house or in those of others; but in the latter case they were less frequent, and they very seldom made their appearance in the streets. During the first eight days they seemed to take very little notice of one another, but walked about like people at a fair, only here and there communing with each other. They took no notice of Nicolai, or of the remarks he addressed regarding them to his wife and physician. No effort of his would dismiss them, or bring an absent one back. When he shut his eyes, they sometimes disappeared, sometimes remained; when he opened

his eyes, they were there as before. After a week they became more numerous, and began to converse. They conversed with one another first, and then addressed him. Their remarks were short and unconnected, but sensible and civil. His acquaintances inquired after his health, and expressed sympathy with him, and spoke in terms comforting him. The apparitions were most conversable when he was alone; nevertheless, they mingled in the conversation when others were by, and their voices had the same sound as those of real persons. The illusion went on thus from the 24th of February to the 20th of April; so that Nicolai, who was in good bodily health, had time to become tranquillised about the nature of his visitors, and to observe them at his ease. At last they rather amused him; then the doctors thought of an efficient plan of treatment. They prescribed leeches; . and then followed the “ denouement” of this interesting representation. The apparitions became pale and vanished. On the 20th of April at the time of applying the leeches, Nicolai's room was full of figures moving about among each other. They first began to have a less lively motion; shortly afterwards their colours became paler, in another half hour paler still, though the forms still remained. About seven o'clock in the evening the figures had become colourless, and they moved scarcely at all; but their outline was still tolerably perfect. Gradually that became less and less defined ; at last they disappeared, breaking into air, fragments only remaining, which at last all vanished. By eight o'clock all were gone, and Nicolai subsequently saw no more of them.

In general, as in Nicolai's case, the sight is the sense at first and alone affected. Illusions of the hearing, if they occur, follow later. In some most extraordinary cases, I have observed that the touch has like

« AnteriorContinuar »