Project Gutenberg's The Philosophy of Mystery, by Walter Cooper Dendy This eBook is for the use of anyone anywhere in the United States and most other parts of the world at no cost and with almost no restrictions whatsoever. You may copy it, give it away or re-use it under the terms of the Project Gutenberg License included with this eBook or online at www.gutenberg.org. If you are not located in the United States, you'll have to check the laws of the country where you are located before using this ebook. Title: The Philosophy of Mystery Author: Walter Cooper Dendy Release Date: March 23, 2018 [EBook #56822] Language: English Character set encoding: UTF-8 *** START OF THIS PROJECT GUTENBERG EBOOK THE PHILOSOPHY OF MYSTERY *** Produced by Mardi Desjardins & the online Distributed Proofreaders Canada team at http://www.pgdpcanada.net from page images generously made available by the Internet Archive (https://archive.org)
“We so intreateth this serious and terrible matter of Spirites, that now and then insertyng some strange stories of counterfeyts, doth both very lybely display their falsehood, and also not a little recreate his reader: and yet in the ende he so aptly concludeth to the purpose, that his hystories seeme not idle tales, or impertinent vagaries, but very truethes, naturally falling under the compasse of his matter.”
WALTER COOPER DENDY,
FELLOW AND HONORARY LIBRARIAN OF THE MEDICAL SOCIETY OF LONDON;
SENIOR SURGEON TO THE ROYAL INFIRMARY FOR CHILDREN, &c. &c.
LONGMAN, ORME, BROWN, GREEN, & LONGMANS,
Gilbert and Rivington, Printers,
St. John’s Square, London.
TO HIS COUSINS,
STEPHEN DENDY, ESQ.
CHARLES COOK DENDY, ESQ.
OF SOUTHGATE HOUSE, CHICHESTER;
AND TO HIS BROTHER,
EDWARD STEPHEN DENDY,
THIS VOLUME IS INSCRIBED,
IN TOKEN OF THE AFFECTIONATE REGARD
OF THE AUTHOR.
|Scenery on the Wye—A Ghost Seer—Tintern Abbey—Faith and Scepticism in the reality of Phantoms||1-5|
| || |
|NATURE AND MOTIVES OF GHOSTS.|
|Notions of the Ancients regarding the nature of Ghosts—Confidence of the Ancients in their appearance—Modern Incidents in illustration of real appearance—Qualities of Ghosts—Motives of Apparitions—Ancient and modern Stories||6-17|
| || |
|PROPHECY OF SPECTRES.|
|Ancient spectral Prophecy—Modern Stories in illustration of prophetic Spectres—Philosophy and Poesy of Shakspere—Holy influence of Spectral Visitations—Stories of apparently special influence of the Deity||18-33|
| || |
|ILLUSION OF SPECTRES.|| || |
|Reasons for early faith in Phantoms—Modern errors regarding classic Superstitions—Shallowness and Fallacy of modern Incidents—Explanation of Ghost Stories by Coincidence—Incidents in proof of Coincidence—Proneness of intellectual Minds to credulity and exaggeration—Innocent invention of an incident at Bowood||34-51|
| || |
|PHANTASY FROM MENTAL ASSOCIATION.|
|Influence of interesting localities—Definition of a Phantom—An intense idea—Demonomania—Stings of Conscience—Curious effect of peculiar study or intense thought—Darkness and Obscurity—Romance of reality—A mysterious incident||52-66|
| || |
|PHANTASY FROM CEREBRAL EXCITEMENT.|
|Second Sight—National propensity to the Sight—Romance and Poetry of the Mountains—Morbid predisposition to Second Sight—Unearthly Visions on the eve of Dissolution—Glimpses of Reason in dying Maniacs||67-79|
| || |
|PHANTASY FROM CEREBRAL CONGESTION.|
|Phantoms of intellectual Minds—Illusion of Opium—Illustrations of Narcotic Influence||80-88|
| || |
|POETIC PHANTASY, OR FRENZY.|
|Inspiration of Poesy and Painting—Shakspere—Fuseli—Blake—Philosophy and Madness—Illusion of Tasso—Truth of Poesy—Splendid illusions at the onset of Mania—Melancholy constitution and decay of Poetic Minds—Letter of a Cheromaniac—Sensibility—Unhappy consequences of cherishing Romance—Fragment of John Keats||89-100|
| || |
|PHANTASY FROM SYMPATHY WITH THE BRAIN.|
|Philosophy of Moral Causes—Effect of thought and of the function of the Stomach in producing physical changes in the Brain—Stories in proof of this influence—Illusions from Derangements of Vision—Curious cases of ocular Spectra from peculiar conditions of the Eye||101-112|
| || |
|MYSTERIOUS FORMS AND SIGNS.|
|Stories of Supernatural Appearances||113-122|
| || |
|ANALYSIS AND CLASSIFICATION OF SPECTRAL ILLUSION.|
|Credulity—Arrangement of Causes of Spectral Illusion—Illustration of Atmospheric Illusions—Natural Phenomena—Fata Morgana—Schattenman of the Brocken—Romance of unlettered minds||123-140|
| || |
|ILLUSIONS OF ART.|
|Monkish Impostures—Optical Toys—Spontaneous Combustion||141-146|
| || |
|ILLUSTRATION OF MYSTERIOUS SOUNDS.|
|Elemental Causes—Impositions at Woodstock—Tedworth—Cock Lane—Subterranean Sounds—Currents of Air—Memnon—Phonic Instruments—Vocal curiosity in young Richmond||147-154|
| || |
|Origin of Faëry—Legends of the Mythology of various Climes—Cauld Lad of Hilton||155-165|
| || |
|Classic and Indian Mythology—Embodying of a Demon—Stories illustrative of the Superstitions of Ireland and Cornwall—Legend of the Changelings—Poetry of Nature—Preadamite Beings||166-177|
| || |
|NATURE OF SOUL AND MIND.|
|Psychology of the Greeks and of the Moderns—Essence of Phrenology—Lord Brougham—Priestley—Paley—Johnson—Modes of Sepulture—Paradise—Atheism—Deity—Hindu Mythology—Senile Intellect||178-192|
| || |
|NATURE OF SLEEP.|
|Unconsciousness of Sleep—Necessity of Slumber—Malady of Collins—Somnolency of the Brute and of Savages—Periods of Sleep—Sleeplessness and its Antidotes||193-204|
| || |
|SUBLIMITY AND IMPERFECTION OF DREAMING.|
|Unconsciousness of the Dream—Arguments on this question—Episode of a dreaming Life||205-213|
| || |
|PROPHECY OF DREAMS.|
|Ancient Prophetic Dreams—Stories of modern Prophecies in Dreaming||214-222|
| || |
|MORAL CAUSES OF DREAMING.|
|Associations of Dreaming—Incongruous Combinations—Source of Ideas in Dreams—Innate Idea—Undreaming Minds—Flitting of the Spirit—Fallacy of Mental Energy in the Dream—Illusion of Dreams—Marmontel||223-235|
| || |
|ANACHRONISM AND COINCIDENCE OF DREAMS.|
|Celerity of Ideas in the Dream—Sacred Records of Dreams—Danger of profane Discussion of Scripture—Fallacy of Dreams—Consequences of Credulity in Dreams||236-256|
| || |
|MATERIAL CAUSES OF DREAMS.|
|Blending of Metaphysics and Philosophy—Confusion of ancient and modern Classifications of Dreams—Curious Cases of suspended Memory—Anecdotes of Tenacity of Memory—Physiology of Memory—Ghost of an amputated Limb||257-269|
| || |
|Curious Cases of Associations—Deranged Memory—Dreams of Animals—Poetic Illustrations||270-280|
| || |
|INFLUENCE OF DARK BLOOD IN THE BRAIN.|
|Conditions of the Brain—Analogy of Dreaming and Mania—Sympathetic Causes of Dreaming—Repletion—Effects of Posture in inducing Dreams—Phrenological Illustrations||281-294|
| || |
|INCUBUS OR NIGHT-MARE.|
|Illustrative Incidents—Night-mare of the Mind||295-303|
| || |
|Stories of Sleep-talking—Stories of Sleep-walking—Changes of disposition in Somnambulism—Abeyance of Memory during the Interval—Exactness and Energy during Somnambulism—Concentration of Power—Unconsciousness—Analysis of Sleep-walking—Theory of Reflex Action of the Nervous System—Irresistibility—Disease of the Brain in Somnambulists||304-328|
| || |
|Dance of the Middle Ages—Tarantulism—Saint Vitus’ Dance—Tigretier—Lycanthropy—Fanaticism during the Commonwealth—Moravians—The Kent Tragedy—Stories of Imitative Suicide—Effects of Stramonium, and of Gaseous Inhalation||329-340|
| || |
|Abstraction of Idiocy—Cretinism—Wandering of the Mind—Concentrativeness—Anecdotes illustrative of Illusive Abstraction||341-352|
| || |
|ABSTRACTION OF INTELLECT.|
|Anecdotes in illustration—Brown Study—Apathy—Heroism—Reverie of Philosophy—Sonata di Diavolo—Reverie at Caerphilly—Intense Impression—Abstraction of Deep Study—Reverie of the Dying||353-366|
| || |
|Description of Trance—Legends of Deep Sleepers—Stories of Modern Trances—Analogies from Intense Impression—Periodical Catalepsy||367-377|
| || |
|Stories in Illustration—Romance, Life in Death—Causes of Resuscitation—Disunion of Mind and Body—Insensibility of the Decollated Head—Sensations during Hanging and Drowning—Case of Dr. Adam Clarke||378-392|
| || |
|TRANSMIGRATION.—ANALYSIS OF TRANCE.|
|State of the Spirit after Death—Fables of Transmigration—Superstition in India and England—Tenacity of Life—Hybernation—Sleep of Plants—Physiology of Trance||393-404|
| || |
|Its origin—Commissions for its investigation—Caspar Hauser—Sensations of Magnetism—Magnetized Trees—Operations during Magnetic Trance—Transference of Senses—Mineral Traction—Clairvoyance—Trance of Santa Theresa—Prophetess of Prevorst—Magnetic Aura—Personal Sympathy—Socrates—Fascino—Prince Hohenlohe||405-430|
| || |
|Occult Science—A Gipsy—Spells and Charms—Relics—Ordeals—Philosophy of Prophetic Fulfilment—Melancholy effects of Prophecy—Astrology—Conclusion||431-443|
PHILOSOPHY OF MYSTERY.
“There are more things in heav’n and earth, Horatio,
Than are dreamt of in your philosophy.”—Hamlet.
There was a shallop floating on the Wye, among the gray rocks and leafy woods of Chepstow. Within it were two fair girls reclining: the one blending the romantic wildness of a maid of Italy with the exquisite purity of English nature; the other illuming, with the devotion of a vestal, the classic beauty of a Greek.
There was a young and learned bachelor sitting at the helm. Study had stamped an air of thoughtfulness on his brow; yet a smile was ever playing on his lips, as his heart felt the truth and influence of the beautiful life around him.
Listen, gentle reader, we pray thy courtesy and thy patience, as a rude unskilful pen traces the breathed thoughts of these wanderers of the Wye.
Castaly. We have roamed, dear Ida, among the classic lands of the far-off Mediterranean: we have looked, from her pinnacles of snow, on the silvery gleaminess of Switzerland, and from purple sierras on the sunny splendour of Spain; yet these English meadows, with their fringes of wild bloom, come o’er the heart with all the freshness of an infant’s dream. Yon majestic crag of Wyndcliff is flinging its purple shadows athwart the water, and floods of golden glory are streaming through the beech-woods of Piercefield: and see, our little sail, white as the wing of a swan, is wafting us towards Abbey Tintern, along this beautiful valley, where the river almost doubles on itself; meandering among its mead-flowers and its mosses, as loth to leave its luxuriant bed. Listen! the breath of evening is among the trees that dip in the ripple of the Wye their leaves of shivering gold. What a scene for minions of the moon to revel in! Say, shall we charm the lingering hours of this midsummer night among the ivied cloisters of the abbey? But where is Astrophel, our moon-struck student, who, like Chaucer’s scholar, keeps
——“at his bed’s head,
A twenty books clothed in black and red,
Of Aristotle and his philosophy?”——
They have not taught him courtesy, or he would not steal away from the light of our eyes to commune with owls and ivy-bushes.
Yet we promise him our smile for your sake, Evelyn. Indeed, I am thinking his mysteries will chime in admirably with the solemnity of this lone abbey. We appoint him master of our revels.
Evelyn. Let your smile be in pity, fair Castaly, on the illusions of Astrophel. Ensconced in his dark closet, within a charmed ring of black-letter folios, he has wofully warped his studies, and has read himself into the belief that he is a GIFTED SEER. Yet love him, lady, for his virtues; for his history is a very paradox. His heart is melting with charity for the beings of earth, yet his mind is half-weaned from their fellowship. At his imminent peril, he leaps into the Isis to save a drowning boy, and the world calls him misanthrope, withal. It is the fate indeed of many a cloistered scholar, whose
——“desires are dolphin like,
And soar above the element they live in.”
Such is Astrophel.
Ida. He looks his part to perfection. There is a shadowy expression in his dark eye, as it were poring over the volume of his own thoughts. Beneath the slender shaft of yon eastern window, behold this proselyte to the sublime science of shadows. He approaches.
Ev. The hour is on him yet.—Astrophel!
Astrophel. Whisper, and tread lightly, Evelyn, for this is haunted ground. Underneath this velvet turf rest the mouldering bones of a noble. I have held communion in my slumber with the spirit by which they were once animated and moved; and the mysteries of the tomb have been unfolded to me. The eidōlon of Roger Bigod has thrice come across my sight.
Cast. A ghost!
Ev. And Astrophel believes the truth of this vision! Such phantasy might well become the Cistercian monks, who once stalked along these gloomy cloisters, but not an Oxford scholar.
Astr. And why not an Oxford scholar, Evelyn? I do believe in the existence of beings out of the common course of nature; and, indeed, the history of the world has ever proved the general leaning to this belief, and my own mind feels that this universal adoption is a proof of reality of existence. Smile at, or reason with me, you will not shake my faith, for I believe it true; and even Johnson confessed, that “although all argument might be against it, yet all belief is for it.”
Ev. The diffusion of this fallacy, Astrophel, proves only the universal sameness of the constitution of mind. You may, indeed, cite the high authority of Johnson, that “a belief in the apparitions of the dead could become universal only by its truth.” Yet, if this one word, apparition, be rightly interpreted, it will not imply the existence of real phantoms, however ethereal, before the eye, for the notion so construed would have been a grand error of Imlac; no, he adopts an indefinite expression, conscious that mere metaphysics were not illustrative of this subtle question.
There was one Theophilus Insulanus, who, I think, calls all those who have not faith in phantoms, irreligious, because, forsooth, “these ghosts are never employed on subjects of frivolous concern.” I may be under the ban of this flimsy enthusiast, but you will not gain me as a proselyte, Astrophel, for, like our great poet, I have seen too many ghosts myself.
Yet I know some few self-created wizards, who have solved to their hearts’ content those two grand mysteries, the real existence and the purpose of ghostly visitations; who, like Owain Glyndwr, “can call spirits from the vasty deep,” and even expect that they will “come when they do call for them.” Others have laboured under self-glamourie, and believed themselves magicians, until put to the proof. I remember the painter, Richard Cosway, was under this illusion; and, when the old cynic Northcote desired him to raise Sir Joshua Reynolds, the pseudo-magus confessed himself foiled, by advancing this simple excuse, “I would, were it not sinful!”
It were well if these monomaniacs were laid in the famous bed of St. Hilary at Poitiers; for there, with the muttering of a prayer or two, as the legend tells us, madmen may be cured.
But, in truth, the light of divine reason has so far dispelled these fancies for the supernatural, that very few of us, I presume, are confident in the hope of raising a ghost when we want one; or of laying it in the Red Sea for a hundred years, by two clergymen, with “bell, book, and candle,” and scraps of mystic Latin, when it becomes rude or troublesome.
Ida. Will you not concede that many visionaries have believed, and written from pure and even holy motives?
Ev. There is no doubt of this, lady; yet while it has fanned the flame of superstition in minds of lower intellect, with many, the endeavour to prove too much has marred these motives, and weakened faith, even in the credulous; so that we may hope the wild romances of Beaumont, and Burthogge, and Baxter, and Aubrey, and Glanville, and that arch-mystagogue Moreton (whose book is half full of prolix dialogues between ghosts and ghost-seers), will soon be mere objects of interest and curiosity to the black-letter bibliomaniac and the more erudite legend-hunter.
Cast. We will not submit to your anathema, Evelyn. This learned clerk has challenged our faith. What a treasury of secrets might he unfold to us from the mystic tomes of antiquity, the wonders of profane psychology; from the tales of Arabia to Vatheck and the Epicurean—from the classic mythology of Homer to the wild romances of his humble prototype Ossian.
Let it be a match: we will listen, Astrophel, while you “unsphere the spirit of Plato;” and here we sit in judgment, on the velvet throne of this our court of Tintern.
“In the most high and palmy state of Rome,
A little ere the mightiest Julius fell,
The graves stood tenantless, and the sheeted dead
Did squeak and gibber in the Roman streets.”
Hamlet, 4to. B.
Astr. It is not from the sources of mythology alone, that I adduce my illustrations of the reality of ghosts, but from the myriads of incidents which ancient and modern history record. Yet may I well crave your courtesy for the scraps of fable, and perchance of imposture, that may unwittingly creep into my discourse. Listen to me.
It was believed by the ancients that each body possessed three ghosts—to be released on its dissolution. The manes at once emigrated to the region of Pluto: the spiritus ascended to the skies: the umbra or shade still wandered on the earth. Or, as the poet has more comprehensively sung,
“Bis duo sunt homini, manes, caro, spiritus, umbra;
Quatuor ista loci bis duo suscipiunt:
Terra tegit carnem, tumulum circumvolat umbra,
Orcus habet manes, spiritus astra petit.”
Meaning that there are four principles in man, and this is their destiny:—the flesh to earth; the ghost to the tomb; the soul to Hades; and the spirit to heaven.
The queen of Carthage, confiding in this creed, threatens Æneas that her umbra will haunt him upon earth, while her manes will rejoice in his torments.
The notions of other mystic scholars are thus recorded by old Burton, in his “Anatomy of Melancholy:” as those of Surius—“that there be certain monsters of hell and places appointed for the punishment of men’s souls, as at Hecla in Iceland, where the ghosts of dead men are familiarly seen, and sometimes talk with the living. Saint Gregory, Durand, and the rest of the schoolmen, derive as much from Ætna in Sicily, Lipara, Hiera—and those volcanoes in America, and that fearful mount Heckleberg in Norway, where lamentable screeches and howlings are continually heard, which strike a terror to the auditors: fiery chariots are continually seen to bring in the souls of men in the likeness of crows, and devils ordinarily goe in and out.” And then, to bring this phantasy to a climax by a pandemonium of ghosts, listen to Bredenbachius, in his “Perigranions in the Holy Land,” where “once a yeare dead bodies arise about March, and walk, and after awhile hide themselves again: thousands of people come yearly to see them.” And this reminds me of the phantom of old Booty, who at the hour of his death in England was seen by the crew of a ship running into the crater of Stromboli in the remote Mediterranean,—a story which even in the present century was made the subject of discussion in a justice court.
Now, you must know, the ancients believed that only those who died of the sword possessed this privilege.
These are the words of Flavius Josephus: “What man of virtue is there that does not know that those souls which are severed from their fleshly bodies in battles by the sword are received by the ether, that purest of elements, and joined to that company which are placed among the stars:—that they become good demons and propitious heroes, and shew themselves as such to their posterity afterwards; while upon those souls that wear away in and with their distempered bodies, comes a subterranean night to dissolve them to nothing, and a deep oblivion to take away all the remembrance of them? And this, notwithstanding they be clean from all spots and defilements of this world; so that in this case the soul at the same time comes to the utmost bounds of its life, and of its body, and of its memorial also.”
The mystery of the nature of these ghosts I may not presume to define; but there are many learned writers of antiquity who believed in their materiality, and broached the intricate question of their quality and formation.
The alchymist Paracelsus writes of the astral element or spirit—one of the two bodies which compose our nature: being more ethereal, it survived some time after the death of the more substantial form, and sometimes became the familiar spirit of the magician. And what writes Lucretius the Epicurean to illustrate his credence in apparitions? That the surfaces of bodies are constantly thrown off by a sort of centrifugal force; that an exact image is often presented to us by this surface coming off as it were entire, like the cast skin of the rattle-snake or the shell of the chrysalis; and thus the ideas of our absent or departed friends strike on the mind.
The olden chymists, in the age of Louis XIV. accounted for spectral forms by the saline atoms of a putrid corpse being set free, and combining again in their pristine form. Listen, I pray you, to this grave philosophy of an abstruse essay, writ in 1794.
“The apparitions of souls departed do, by the virtue of their formative plastic power, frame unto themselves the vehicles in which they appear out of the moisture of their bodies. So ghosts do often appear in church-yards, and that but for a short time, to wit, before the moisture is wholly dried up.”
“Such are those thick and gloomy shadows damp,
Oft seen in charnel-vaults and sepulchres,
Lingering and sitting by a new-made grave.”
And we read in the chronicles, that “during the time the ancients burned, not buried their dead, there was no such appearance of ghosts as is now.”
Why waves the coarse grass ranker over the grave? It is touched by the larva of the rotting carcase, which, ascending from its putrid chrysalis, a butterfly, or Psyche, flits awhile like an ephemera, and drops again into the vault.
A sentiment something like this, I believe, was the grand cause of the enrolment of the mummies by the Egyptians; for they thought while the body remained entire, the soul was flitting about it: and the early Christians even believed that a portion at least of the soul remained, uncorrupted by the body.
Evelyn will grant that among the Romans there was a devout wish to be buried near venerated beings and saints, an emanation from whose bodies, they believed, would inspire the hearts of the believers.
And here I will relate a story from the Dinan Journal of 1840, and also the fragment of a very mysterious tale told with all the solemnity of a faithful chronicle.
“We had the curious spectacle of a long procession of girls from Pleudiheus, passing through our streets to the chapel of Saint Anne, to offer up prayers for the repose of the soul of the mother of one of them, who has been dead twenty-two years, and who every five years has appeared to her daughter, urging her to have masses said for her. This time the troubled spirit prescribed the day, hour, and place of the service, and even the precise dresses she would have the votaries wear. Consequently, they were all lightly clothed in white, although the rain fell and the streets were full of mud.—Some of the inhabitants of Dinan affirm that they saw the ghost of the deceased, marching at the head of the procession to the door of the chapel, where it remained till the mass was finished, and then suddenly vanished.”
Returning from the harbour to Cadiz with some Spanish doñas, the Baron Geramb heard a voice in French, crying, “Save me! Help, help!” but at the time he took little or no heed of the matter. On the morrow was seen on the shore of the harbour a body on a black board, with lighted tapers by its side, which was covered by the Baron’s direction. During a tempest in the evening, some secret impulse directed him again to the shore. Before his bewildered sight arose from the spot a shapeless phantom wrapped in the black winding-sheet which he had provided.
The phantom moved along with gigantic strides, assuming a globular form, and then, whirling in spiral circles, bounded off, and appeared at a distance like a giant. The spectre led the Baron to the streets of Cadiz, its course being accompanied by a noise as of the tinkling of autumnal leaves. In Cadiz a door suddenly opened with force, and the spectre rushed like lightning into the house, and plunged into the cellar. There was the sound of deep groaning, and the Baron descended into the vault: there lay the corpse naked and livid, and on it was prostrated an aged man, uttering the deep sighs of abject misery and despair. In a gloomy corner of this cave of death leaned the phantom, revolving in its spiral whirls, and then changing to a floating cloud of light; and then there beamed forth the pale features of a youth, undulating as if on the bosom of a wave, which murmured in the ear. Then came the chaunting of anthems and prayers for the dead, and a glittering young girl in white robes glided into the cellar, and knelt in devotion by the body.
The phantom—and so the legend proceeds.
There is a wondrous mystery, I grant, enveloping this story; but if there be any truth in that alchymic re-animation, Palingenesy —
“If chemists from a rose’s ashes,
Can raise the rose itself in glasses;”
nay, if the sparkling diamond shines forth from a mass of charcoal, why may not the ashes of a body be made into a ghost, illustrative of the philosophy of substantial apparitions, adopted by Kircher,—a body rebuilt, after being resolved, for a time, into its constituent elements? The Parisian alchymists of the seventeenth century, indeed, demonstrated this mystery, and raised a phœnix from its ashes. They submitted to the process of distillation some earth from the cemetery of the Innocents; during which ceremony, they were scared by the appearance of perfect human shapes, struggling in the glass vessels they were employing. And, lastly, Dr. Ferriar thus deposes:—A ruffian was executed, his body dissected, and his skull pulverised by an anatomist. The student, who slept in the chamber of experiment, saw, in the night-time, a progressive getting together of the fragments, until the criminal became perfect, and glided out at the door.
And here is a legend of deeper mystery still.
There was a merry party collected in a town in France, and amongst all the gay lords and ladies there assembled, there was none who caused so great a sensation as a beautiful young lady, who danced, played, and sang in the most exquisite style. There were only two unaccountable circumstances belonging to her: one was, that she never went to church or attended family prayers; the other, that she always wore a slender, black velvet band or girdle round her waist. She was often asked about these peculiarities, but she always evaded the interrogatories; and still, by her amiable manners and beauty won all hearts. One evening, in a dance, her partner saw an opportunity of pulling the loop of her little black girdle behind: it fell to the ground, and immediately the lady became pale as a sheet; then, gradually shrunk and shrunk, till at length nothing was to be seen in her place but a small heap of grey ashes.
And what think you now, Evelyn?
Ev. I think your candle burned very blue, Astrophel, when you were poring over these midnight legends; yet, I believe, I may, by and by, explain the story of your Lady of the Ashes;—all, excepting the mystery of the sable girdle. But, methinks, you should not have stopped short of the qualities by which we may recognise the genus of these phantoms. There was once, as I have heard, a ghost near Cirencester, which vanished in a very nice perfume, and a melodious twang; and Master Lilly, therefore, concluded it to be a fairy: and Propertius, I know, writes of another; and he decided, that the scent diffused on her disappearance, proclaimed her to be a goddess! Glanville has set himself to argue upon, nay, demonstrate, all questions regarding materiality and immateriality, and the nature of spirits; puzzling us with mathematical diagrams, and occupying fifteen chapters on the nature of the witch of Endor: and Andrew Moreton, too, in his “Secrets,” comments, with pedantic profanation, on the “infernal paw-wawing of this condemned creature.” Coleridge, and even Sir Walter, who had a mighty love of legends, propose a question, whether she was a ventriloquist or an aristocratic fortune-teller, or an astrologer or a gipsy, imposing on the credulity of Saul. And yet that same Sir Walter very shrewdly suggested to Sir William Gell the manufacture of a ghost, with a thin sheet of tin, painted white, so that by half a turn the spectre would instantly vanish.
Cast. A ghost, I believe, according to the rules of phantasy, ought to be without matter or form, or indeed any sensible properties. Yet are very serious tales related of guns bursting when fired at them, and swords broken by their contact, and of loud voices issuing from filmy phantoms through which the moonbeams are seen to glimmer. A spirit ought, of course, to communicate with us in another way than that which we know, and possess those ethereal faculties of creeping through chinks or keyholes, and of resuming its airy form, like the sylph of Belinda, when the “glittering forfex” had cut it in twain. An exquisite morceau of such a phantom just now flits across my memory. It is of two old ladies dwelling in two border castles in Scotland. One of these dames was visited by the spectre bust of a man; and the other by the lower half of him. Which had the better bargain, I know not, but I believe —
Astr. Nay, it were not difficult, lady, to overwhelm me with tales like yours—the idle and unmeaning gossip of a winter’s night: but there are many spectral visitations so intimately associated with events, that the faculty even of prophecy cannot be doubted. Bodine, as Burton writes, is fully satisfied that “these souls of men departed, if corporeal, are of some shape, and that absolutely round, like sun and moone, because that is the most perfect form: that they can assume other aërial bodies, all manner of shapes at their pleasure, appear in what likeness they will themselves: that they are most swift in motion, can pass many miles in an instant, and so likewise transform bodies of others into what form they please, and, with admirable celerity, remove them from place to place: that they can represent castles in the ayre, armies, spectrums, prodigies, and such strange objects to mortal men’s eyes; cause smells, savors, deceive all the senses; foretel future events, and do many strange miracles.”
Then the eccentric Francis Grose has thus summed up many of their wondrous attributes: —
“The spirit of a person deceased is either commissioned to return for some especial errand, such as the discovery of a murder, to procure restitution of lands, or money unjustly withheld from an orphan or widow: or, having committed some injustice whilst living, cannot rest till that is redressed. Sometimes the occasion of spirits revisiting this world is to inform their heir in what secret place or private drawer in an old trunk they had hid the title-deeds of the estate, or where, in troublesome times, they had buried the money and plate. Some ghosts of murdered persons, whose bodies have been secretly buried, cannot be at ease till their bones have been taken up and deposited in sacred ground, with all the rites of Christian burial.” The ghost of Hamlet’s father walked on the platform at Elsineur, to incite his son to revenge his murder; and many modern phantoms have enlivened the legends of our local histories, bent on the same mysterious errand.
The mythology of the ancients, and the fairy superstition of our own land, are also replete with legends of these apparitions. The rites of sepulture were essential for the repose of the manes. If the body was not quietly entombed, the soul was wandering on the banks of Styx for one hundred years, ere it was permitted Charon to ferry it across the river. Thus spoke the shade of Patroclus to Achilles, in his dream:
“Thou sleep’st, Achilles, and Patroclus, erst
Thy best belov’d, in death forgotten lies.
Haste, give me burial: I would pass the gates
Of Hades, for the shadows of the dead
Now drive me from their fellowship afar.”
And this is a prevailing sentiment among the North American Indians:
“The bones of our countrymen lie uncovered, their bloody bed has not been washed clean, their spirits cry against us,—they must be appeased.”
In the letter of Pliny the Consul, to Sura, we learn that there was at Athens a house haunted by a chain-rattling ghost. Athenodorus, the philosopher, hired the house, determined to quiet the restless spirit. “When it grew towards evening, he ordered a couch to be prepared for him in the fore part of the house, and, after calling for a light, together with his pencil and tablets, he directed all his people to retire. The first part of the night passed in usual silence, when at length the chains began to rattle. However he neither lifted up his eyes, nor laid down his pencil, but diverted his observation by pursuing his studies with greater earnestness. The noise increased, and advanced nearer, till it seemed at the door, and at last in the chamber. He looked up and saw the ghost exactly in the manner it had been described to him—it stood before him beckoning with the finger. Athenodorus made a sign with his hand that it should wait a little, and threw his eyes again upon his papers; but the ghost, still rattling his chains in his ears, he looked up and saw him beckoning him as before. Upon this he immediately arose, and, with the light in his hand, followed it. The spectre slowly stalked along as if encumbered with his chains, and, turning into the area of the house, suddenly vanished. Athenodorus, being thus deserted, made a mark with some grass and leaves where the spirit left him. The next day he gave information to the magistrates, and advised them to order that spot to be dug up. This was accordingly done, and the skeleton of a man in chains was there found; for the body having lain a considerable time in the ground, was putrified, and had mouldered away from the fetters. The bones, being collected together, were publicly buried; and thus, after the ghost was appeased by the proper ceremonies, the house was haunted no more.”
Yet, not only to entreat the rites of sepulture, the phantom will walk according to some law of those beings remote from the fellowship of human nature,—it may be to obtain readmission to that earth from which it was, by some fairy spell, in exile.
In the wilds of Rob Roy’s country, there is many a Highlander believing still the traditions of the Daoine Shi, or Men of Peace: and among the legends of Aberfoyle there is one phantom tale that is apropos to my illustrations.
There was one Master Robert Kirke. He was one evening taking his night walk on a fairy hill, or dunshi, in the vicinity of his manse. On a sudden he fell to the ground, struck, as it appeared to many, by apoplexy: the seers, however, believed it to be a trance inflicted on him by the fairy people for thus invading the sacred bounds of their kingdom. After the interment, the phantom of the minister appeared to one of his relatives, and desired him to go to Grahame of Duchray, his cousin, and assure him that he was not dead, but was at that time a prisoner in elf land, and the only moment in which the fairy charm could be dissolved, was at the christening of his posthumous child. The counter-spell was this: that Grahame should be present at the baptism, holding a dish in his hand, and that when the infant was brought, he should throw the dish over the phantom; the appearance of which at that moment was faithfully promised.
When the child was at the font, and while the guests were seated, the apparition sat with them at the table; but fear came upon the Græme at this strange glamourie: he forgot the solemn injunction, and it is believed that Mr. Kirke, to this day, “drees his weird in fairy land.”
“I’ll take the ghost’s word for a thousand pound.”
Ev. These are very meagre spectres, Astrophel, or accomplices, as the lawyer would say, after the fact.
Astr. I have reserved Prophecies for this evening. In the earliest profane records of our globe, we read of the frequent visitations of prophetic phantoms. Listen, Evelyn, to a story of your own Pliny;—the legend of Curtius Rufus. When he was in low circumstances, and unknown in the world, he attended the governor of Africa into that province. One evening, as he was walking in the public portico, he was extremely surprised with the apparition of a woman, whose figure and beauty were more than human. She told him she was the tutelar power who presided over Africa, and was come to inform him of the future events of his life: that he should go back to Rome, where he should be raised to the highest honours, should return to that province invested with the proconsular dignity, and there should die. Upon his arrival at Carthage, as he was coming out of the ship, the same figure accosted him upon the shore. It is certain, at least, that being seized with a fit of illness, though there were no symptoms in his case that led his attendants to despair, he instantly gave up all hope of recovery, and this prediction was in all its points accomplished.
The shade of Romulus appeared to Julius Proculus, a patrician, foretelling the splendour of Rome. The fate of the battle of Philippi was shown to Brutus in his tent, by the evil spirit of Cæsar; and Cassius also saw the phantom of Julius on his horse, prepared to strike him, shortly before his suicide. In the Talmud we read of the announcement of the Rabbi Samuel’s death to two of his friends, six hundred miles off. Then, the host of legends in that ‘treasure-booke’ of mystery, “Wanley’s Wonders;” the visions of Dion; of Alexander; of Crescentius; of the Pope’s legate at the Council of Trent; of Cassius Severus of Parma; and myriads of analogies to these; nay, may we not believe that the Grecian bards wrote fragments of real history, when Patroclus foretels the death of Hector, Hector that of Achilles, and Mezentius of Orodes, or when Œdipus predicts the lofty fate of his family to Theseus?
But leave we the olden classics for the proofs of later ages. In the pine-forests of Germany, and in wild Caledonia, the legends of spirits and shadows abound in the gossip of the old crones, both in the hut of the jager and the sheiling of the Highland peasant.
The Taisch (like the Bodach Glas of Fergus Mac Ivor,) murmurs the prophecy of death, in the voice of the Taishtar, to one about to die; and the Wraith, Swarth, Waft, or Death-Fetch, appears in the Eidōlon, or likeness, of the person so early doomed, to some loved friend of the party, or sounds of wailing and prophetic voices scream and murmur in the mountain-blast. The wild romances of Ossian, and the shadowy mysteries so brightly illustrated in the poesy of the “Lay,” the “Lady of the Lake,” and “Marmion,” prove how deeply the common mind of Scotland leans to her mysteries; how devoutly her seers foretell a doom. The evidence of Martin, the historian of the Western Isles, is clear and decisive testimony of the possession of a faculty of foresight; and in the reflecting minds of many sages, who seek not to explain it by the term coincidence, or to impute the vision to mere national superstition. Indeed, in their records we have rules noted down, by which the seer may overcome the imperfections of his vision. If this be filmy or indistinct, the cloak or plaid must be turned, and the sight is clear; but then the fated seer is often presented with his own wraith.
In Aubrey’s “Miscellanies” we read how Sir Richard Napier, immediately before his death, was journeying from Bedfordshire to Berks, and saw his own apparition lying stark and stiff on the bed; how Lady Diana Rich, the Earl of Holland’s daughter, was met by her death-fetch in the garden at Kensington, a month ere she died of small-pox;—and listen to this legend of Aventine.
“The emperor Henry went down through the Strudel: in another vessel was Bruno, bishop of Wurtzberg, the emperor’s kinsman. There sat upon a rock, that projected out of the water, a man blacker than a Moor, of a horrible aspect, terrible to all who beheld it, who cried out, and said to Bishop Bruno, ‘Hear! hear! Bishop: I am thine evil spirit; thou art mine own; go where thou wilt, thou shalt be mine: yet, now will I do nought to thee, but soon shalt thou see me again.’ The bishop crossed and blessed himself; but the holy sign was powerless. At Posenbeis, where dwelt the Lady Richlita of Ebersberg, the floor of the banqueting-room fell, in the evening: it was the death-fall of the bishop.”
As the protector Seymour was walking with his duchess, at their country seat, they perceived a spectral bloody hand thrust forth from a wall; and he was soon after beheaded.
It is recorded, that, like Julius Cæsar, James of Scotland had three warnings. The saintly man in Lithgow palace, and another phantom, in Jedburgh, warned King James of his fate: the latter wrote a Latin couplet on the mantel-piece in the hall: had he read it wisely, he had not died at Flodden.
The demon, or the guardian angel of Socrates, was also a prophetic mentor—not only to the sage himself, but even to his companions in his presence; and the slighting of its counsel often brought regret to those who were the subjects of its warning.
In the minds of Xenophon and Plato its influence was devoutly believed, and from the hive of the Attic bee I steal this honied morsel:—“One Timarchus, a noble Athenian, being at dinner in company with Socrates, he rose up to go away, which Socrates observing, bade him sit down again, for, said he, the demon has just now given me the accustomed sign. Some little time after, Timarchus offered again to be gone, and Socrates once more stopped him, saying, he had the same sign repeated to him. At length, when Socrates was earnest in discourse, and did not mind him, Timarchus stole away; and, in a few minutes after, committed a murder, for which, being carried to execution, his last words were, ‘That he had come to that untimely end for not obeying the demon of Socrates.’ ”
When Ben Jonson was sojourning at Hawthornden, he told Mr. Drummond of his own prophetic vision, that, “about the time of the plague in London, being in the country at Sir Robert Cotton’s house, with old Camden, he saw, in a vision, his eldest son, then a young child, and at London, appear unto him, with the mark of a bloody cross on his forehead, as if it had been cut with a sword; at which, amazed, he prayed unto God; and in the morning, he came to Mr. Camden’s chamber, to tell him, who persuaded him it was but an apprehension, at which he should not be dejected. In the mean time, there came letters from his wife, of the death of that boy in the plague. He appeared to him of a manly shape, and of that growth he thinks he shall be at the resurrection.”
From Walton’s Lives I select the following fragment: it is a vision of Doctor Donne, the metaphysician, whose wife died after the birth of a dead child. “Sir Robert (Drury) returned about an hour afterwards. He found his friend in a state of extasy, and so altered in his countenance, that he could not look upon him without amazement. The doctor was not able for some time to answer the question, what had befallen him; but, after a long and perplexed pause, at last said, ‘I have seen a dreadful vision since I last saw you. I have seen my dear wife pass twice by me through this room, with her hair hanging about her shoulders, and a dead child in her arms: this I have seen since I saw you.’ To which Sir Robert answered, ‘Sure, Sir, you have slept since I went out, and this is the result of some melancholy dream, which I desire you to forget, for you are now awake.’ Donne replied, ‘I cannot be more sure that I now live, than that I have not slept since I saw you; and am as sure, that at her second appearing, she stopped, looked me in the face, and vanished.’ ”
There was a promise by Lord Tyrone to Lady Beresford of a visitation from the tomb. Even when the phantom appeared to her in the night, the lady expressed her diffidence in its reality, but it placed a mark upon her wrist, and adjusted her bed-curtains in some supernatural fashion, and even wrote something in her pocket-book: so that with earnestness she related to her husband in the morning this impressive vision; and it was not long ere missives came, which by announcing the death of Lord Tyrone proved the spectre prophetic.
The tragedian John Palmer died on the stage at Liverpool. At the same hour and minute, a shopman in London, sleeping under a counter, saw distinctly his shade glide through the shop, open the door, and pop into the street. This, an hour or two after, he mentioned very coolly, as if Mr. Palmer himself had been there.
Cardan saw, on the ring-finger of his right hand, the mark of a bloody sword, and heard at the same time a voice which bade him go directly to Milan. The redness progressively increased until midnight: the mark then faded gradually, and disappeared. At that midnight hour his son was beheaded at Milan.
It was told by Knowles, the governor of Lord Roscommon when a boy, that young Wentworth Dillon was one day seized with a mood of the wildest eccentricity, contrary to his usual disposition. On a sudden he exclaimed, “My father is dead!” And soon after missives came from Ireland to announce the fact.
The father of Doctor Blomberg, clerk of the closet to George IV., was captain in an army serving in America. We are told by Doctor Rudge, that six officers, three hundred miles from his position, were visited after dinner by this modern Banquo, who sat down in a vacant chair. One said to him, “Blomberg, are you mad?” He rose in silence, and slowly glided out at the door. He was slain on that day and hour.
In the “Diary of a Physician” (an embellished record of facts), we read the story of the spectre-smitten Mr. M——, whose leisure hours were passed in the perusal of legends of diablerie and witchcraft. One evening, when his brain was excited by champagne, he returned to his rooms, and saw a dear friend in his chair; and this friend had died suddenly, and was at that moment laid out in his chamber;—a combination of horrors so unexpected and intense, that monomania was the result.
May I also recount to you this vision from Moore’s Life of Byron? “Lord Byron used sometimes to mention a strange story which the commander of the packet, Captain Kidd, related to him on the passage. This officer stated, that being asleep one night in his berth, he was awakened by the pressure of something heavy on his limbs, and, there being a faint light in the room, could see as he thought distinctly the figure of his brother, who was at that time in the same service in the East Indies, dressed in his uniform, and stretched across the bed. Concluding it to be an illusion of the senses, he shut his eyes and made an effort to sleep. But still the same pressure continued, and still as often as he ventured to take another look, he saw the figure lying across him in the same position. To add to the wonder, on pulling his hand forth to touch this form, he found the uniform, in which it appeared to be dressed, dripping wet. On the entrance of one of his brother officers, to whom he called out in alarm, the apparition vanished; but in a few months after, he received the startling intelligence, that on that night his brother had been drowned in the Indian seas. Of the supernatural character of this appearance Captain Kidd himself did not appear to have the slightest doubt.”
From Dr. Pritchard, I quote this fragment:—“A maid-servant, who lived in the house of an elderly lady, some years since deceased, had risen, early on a winter’s morning, and was employed in washing by candle-light the entry of the house; when she was greatly surprised at seeing her mistress, who was then in a precarious state of health, coming down stairs in her night dress. The passage being narrow, she rose up to let her mistress pass, which the latter did with a hasty step, and walked into the street, appearing, to the terrified imagination of the girl, to pass through the door without opening it. The servant related the circumstance to the son and daughter of the lady, as soon as they came down stairs, who desired her to conceal it from their mother, and anxiously waited for her appearance. The old lady entered the room, while they were talking of the incident, but appeared languid and unwell, and complained of having been disturbed by an alarming dream. She had dreamed that a dog had pursued her from her chamber down the staircase, and along the entry, and that she was obliged to take refuge in the streets.”
In the manuscripts of Lady Fanshawe, how evident is the fact of spectral prophecy! Sir Richard Fanshawe and his lady were sleeping in a baronial castle in Ireland, surrounded by a moat. At midnight she was awoke by a ghostly and fearful screaming; and, gleaming before the window in the pale moonlight, a female spectre hovered, her light auburn hair dishevelled over her shoulders. While the lady looked in mute astonishment, the spectre vanished, uttering two distinct shrieks. Her terrific story was told in the morning to her host, who evinced no wonder at the mystery, “Indeed,” quoth he, “I expected this. This was the prophetic phantom of our house, the spectre of a lady wedded to an ancestor, and drowned by him in the moat from false notions of dignity, because she was not of noble blood. Since this expiation, the phantom appears before every death of my near relations, and one of these died last night in my castle.”—Here may be the prototype of the “White Lady of Avenel.”
Among the most exalted families we have other confident records of the recurrence of prophetic phantoms, antecedent to great events. A spectre of this kind formed a part of the household establishment of the Macleans. During the peninsular war, at the moment that the head of the clan died at Lisbon, this wraith was seen to ride screaming along the shore in Scotland.
Arise Evans, in a 12mo. tract, “sold at his house in Long Alley in Blackfriars in 1653,” entitled “An Echo from Heaven,” foretold the restoration of Charles II.; and his true prophecy was based on the vision of a young face with a crown on, appearing after the shades of Fairfax and of Cromwell.
There is an incident in Roman history so impressive in its catastrophe, so exact in its periods, that few, I think, will deny the inspiration. At the moment that Stephanus stabbed Domitian in his palace at Rome, the philosopher Apollonius Tyaneus, in his school at Ephesus, exclaimed: “Courage, Stephanus! strike the tyrant home!” and a minute after, when Parthenius completed this homicide, he added, “he suffers for his crimes—he dies.”
I have slightly sketched these illustrations, and I presume to term them prophecies. There are others so complex, yet so complete in every part, as to convert, I might hope, even the unbelief of Evelyn. To the relations of Sir Walter and Dr. Abercrombie, I will add one from Moreton, in his “Essay on Apparitions:” “The Reverend D. Scott, of Broad Street, was sitting alone in his study. On a sudden the phantom of an old gentleman, dressed in a black velvet gown, and full bottom wig, entered, and sat himself down in a chair opposite to the doctor. The visitor informed him of a dilemma in which his grandson, who lived in the west country, was placed, by the suit of his nephew for the recovery of an estate. This suit would be successful, unless a deed of conveyance was found, which had been hidden in an old chest in a loft of the house. On his arrival at this house, he learned that his grandson had dreamed of this visit, and that his grandfather was coming to aid him in the search. The deed was found in a false bottom of the old chest, as the vision had promised.”
In a letter of Philip, the second Earl of Chesterfield, is told the following strange story, which, although not a prophecy, cannot be within the pale of our philosophy. “On a morning in 1652, the earl saw a thing in white, like a standing sheet, within a yard of his bedside. He attempted to catch it, but it slid to the foot of the bed, and he saw it no more. His thoughts turned to his lady, who was then at Networth, with her father, the Earl of Northumberland. On his arrival at Networth, a footman met him on the stairs, with a packet directed to him from his wife, whom he found with Lady Essex her sister, and Mrs. Ramsey. He was asked why he returned so suddenly. He told his motive; and on perusing the letters in the packet, he found that his lady had written to him requesting his return, for she had seen a thing in white, with a black face, by her bedside. These apparitions were seen by the earl and countess, at the same moment, when they were forty miles asunder.”
The miraculous spirit which the influence of Joan of Arc infused into the desponding hearts of the French army, is writ on the page of history. Before her proposition for the inauguration of Charles VII. at Rheims, she heard a celestial voice in her prayer, “Fille, va, va! je seray à ton ayde—va!” and her revelation of secrets to the king, which he thought were locked within his own bosom, raised in the court implicit belief in her inspiration.
And now, Evelyn, I ask you,
“Can such things be,
And overcome us like a summer cloud,
Without our special wonder?”——
Ere you smile at my phantasie, and overwhelm me with doubts and solutions, I pr’ythee let me counsel your philosophy. Dig to a certain depth in the field of science, and you may find the roots and the gold dust of knowledge: penetrate deeper, and you will strike against the granite rock, on which rest the cold and profitless reasonings of the sceptic.
Cast. You look on me, Astrophel, as on a bending proselyte. Yet, sooth to tell, it may be difficult to convert me, although I am half won to romance already by the witch-thoughts of him who gilded the science of the heart and mind, with all the iridescent charm of poesy; an unprofessing philosopher, yet with marvellous insight of human hearts,—my own loved Shakspere. And you listen to my Lord Lyttelton, he will tell you, in his “Dialogues of the Dead,” that “in the annihilation of our globe, were Shakspere’s works preserved, the whole science of man’s nature might still be read therein.” And so beautifully are his sketches of the heart and the fancy blended withal, that we hang with equal delight on the mystic philosophy of Hamlet, the witchcraft of Mab, and Ariel, and Oberon, with their golden wreaths of gay blossoms, as on the dying visions of Katherine, as pure and holy as the vesper-breathings of a novice. Yet the shade of superstition never darkened the brow of Shakspere. Therefore, plume not yourself on your hope of conquest, Astrophel: Evelyn may win me yet. Philosophy may frown on the visions of an enthusiast, while she doth grace her pages with a poet’s dream. But you will not wear the willow, Astrophel: there is a beam of pity for you in the eyes of yon pensive Ida.
Ida. You are a witch, Castaly. Yet I have as little faith in the quaint stories of Astrophel. A mystery must be purified and chastened by sacred solemnity, ere it may be blended with the contemplation of holy study. And yet there is an arch voluptuary, Boccacio, the coryphæus of a loose band of novelists, who has stained a volume by his profane union of holiness and passion. The scenes of his Decameron are played amidst the raging of the plague, by flaunting youths and maidens, but that moment arisen from the solemnity of a cathedral prayer!
Astr. You will call up the shade of Valdarfar, Ida, that idol of the Roxburghe club, and printer of the Decameron ——
Ida. If he appear, he shall vanish at a word, Astrophel. Yet we may not lightly yield the influence of special visitations, even in our own days, when solemn belief is chastened by holy motives, and becomes the spring of living waters. Even the taint of superstition may be almost sanctified on such a plea; and Baxter may be forgiven half his credulity when he wrote his “Saints’ Rest,” and the “Essay on Apparitions,” to convert the sceptics of London, who, in the dearth of signs and wonders, expressed their willingness to believe the soul’s immortality, if they had proofs of ghostly visitations.
I will myself even quote a mystery, (I believe recorded in Sandys’s Ovid,) for the sake of the moral which it bears. It is the legend of “The Room of the Ladyes Figure:” whether it be a tale of Bavaria, or a mere paraphrase from the Saxon Sabinus, I know not.
This is the story of Otto, a Bavarian gentleman, of passionate nature, mourning for his wife. On one of his visits to her tomb, a mournful voice, which murmured, “A blessed evening, sir!” came o’er his ear; and while his eyes fell on the form of a young chorister, he placed a letter in his hands, and vanished. His wonder was extreme, while he read this mysterious despatch, which was addressed “To my dear husband, who sorrows for his wife,” and signed, “This, with a warm hand, from the living Bertha,” and appointing an interview in the public walk. Thither, on a beautiful evening, sped the Bavarian, and there, among the crowd, sat a lady covered by a veil. With a trembling voice he whispered “Bertha,” when she arose, and, with her warm and living arm on his, returned to his once desolate home. There were odd thoughts, surmises, and wonderings, passing among the friends of Otto, and suspicions of a mock funeral and a solemn cheat; but all subsided as time stole over, and their wedded life was without a cloud: until a paroxysm of his rage one fatal day was vented on the lady, who cried, “This to me! what if the world knew all!”—with this broken sentence she vanished from the room. In her chamber, whither the search led, erect, as it were gazing on the fire, her form stood; but when they looked on it in front, there was a headless hood, and the clothes were standing as if enveloping a form, but no body was there! Need I say, that a thrill of horror crept through all at the mystery, and a fear at the approach of Otto, who, though deeply penitent, was deserted by all but a graceless reprobate, his companion, and his almoner to many a stranger, who knew not the unhallowed source of bounty?
That belief cannot be an error, which associates divine thoughts with the events of human life. I remember, as I was roaming over the wild region of Snowdonia, we sat above the valley and the lakes of Nant Gwinant, on which the red ridge of Clwd Coch threw a broad and purple shadow, while over Moel Elion and Myneth Mawr, the sun was bathed in a flood of crimson light. The Welsh guide was looking down in deep thought on Llyn Gwinant; and, with a tear in his eye, he told us a pathetic story of two young pedestrians, who were benighted among the mountains, on their ascent from Beddgelert. They had parted company in the gloom of the evening, and each was alone in a desert. On a sudden, the voice of one of them was distinctly heard by the other, in the direction of the gorge which bounds the pass of Llanberis, as if encouraging him to proceed. The wanderer followed its sound, and at length escaped from this labyrinth of rocks, and arrived safely at Capel Currig. In the morning, his friend’s body was found lying far behind the spot where the phantom voice was first heard, and away from the course of their route. Was this a special spirit, a solemn instance of friendship after death, as if the phantom had been endowed with supernatural power, and become the guardian angel of his friend; or the special whisper of the Deity in the ear of the living? A belief in this spiritual visitation is often the consolation of pure Christianity, for “the shadow of God is light!” With some the hope of heaven rests on it; and holy men have thought, that the presence of a spirit may even sanctify the being which it approaches with an emanation of its own holiness. Nay, do we not witness a blessing like this in the common walks of life; as in that beautiful story (told by the Bishop of Gloucester) of the vision of her dead mother, by the daughter of Sir James Lee, in 1662?
Is not the effect of these visitations, to a chastened mind, ever fraught with good? It may be merely a wisdom or a virtue in decision; as when my Lord Herbert, of Cherbury, prayed to God to declare whether he should publish his book “De Veritate;” he heard a gentle voice from heaven, which answered his prayer, with a solemn approval of his design. It may be the checking of our pride of life, or our self-glory for success; a divine lesson that may counsel us against worldly wisdom, in this golden precept, “Seek to be admired by angels rather than by men.” So that complete conversion may follow the vision of a spirit. Doddridge has given us the stories of Colonel Gardiner and the Rev. Vincent Perronet; and in the “Baronii Annales” we read of Ticinus, a departed friend of Michael Mercator, then a profane student in philosophy, who, according to a preconcerted promise, appeared to him at the moment that he died, afar off in Florence. The vision so alarmed his conscience, that he at once became a devout student in divinity.
In the city of Nantes, as we see it written by William of Malmsbury, in the twelfth century, dwelt two young ecclesiastics. Between them was a solemn compact, that within thirty days after the death of either, his shade should appear, sleeping or waking, to the survivor, to declare if the true psychology was the doctrine of Plato, or of the Epicureans; if the soul survived the body, or vanished into air. The shade appeared like one dying, while the spirit passeth away; and discoursing, like the ghost of Hamlet’s father, of the pains of infernal punishments, stretched forth his ulcerous arm, and asked if “it seemed as light;” then, dropping the caustic humour from his arm on the temples of the living witness, which were corroded by the drop, he warned him of the same penalties if he entered not into holy orders, in the city of Rennes. This solemn warning worked his conversion, and he became a pious and exemplary devotee, under the holy wings of Saint Melanius.
In these instances, is not the special influence of the Deity evident? and why will our profane wisdom still draw us from our leaning to this holy creed, causing us to “forsake the fountains of living water, and hew out unto ourselves broken cisterns that can hold no water?”
How awfully beautiful is the Mosaic picture of the first mortal communion with the Creator, when the vision of God was heard by Adam and Eve, walking in the garden in the cool of the day; or, when the Deity appeared to Abraham and to Moses, and his word came to Manoah, and to Noah, with the blessings of a promise; or, when his angels of light descended to console, and to relieve from chains and from fire; or, when the angel of the Lord first appears in the vision to Cornelius; and the trance, or rather the counterpart of the vision, comes over St. Peter, at Joppa; and the arrival of the men, sent by the centurion, confirms the miracle: and then, the last sublime revealings of the Apocalypse. You will not call it presumption, Evelyn, that I adduce these holy records to confirm our modern faith; and ask you, why philosophy will yet chain our thoughts to earth, and affirm our visions to be a meaningless phantasy?
“More strange than true. I never may believe
These antique fables.”
Midsummer Night’s Dream.
Ev. Your holy thoughts, fair Ida, are but an echo of my own. The grand causes and awful judgments of the inspired æras of the world prove the truth by the necessity of the miracles, not only in answer to the Pharisees and Sadducees, who required a sign, but even before the eyes of the early disciples, whose apathetic hearts soon forgot the miracles, and their divine Master himself; for, as he was walking on the sea, “at the fourth watch, they thought he was a spirit.”
I would fain, however, adopt the precept of Lord Bacon, to waive theology in my discussions and my illustrations, because I am unwilling to blend the sacred truths of spiritual futurity with arguments on the imperfection of material existence.
In the abstract spiritual evidence of all modern superstition, I have little faith. These records are scarcely more to be confided in than fairy tales, or fictions like those of many antique sages: as the rabbins, that “the cherubim are the wisest, the seraphim the most amiable, of angels;” or of the visionary Jew of Burgundy, whom, in 1641, John Evelyn spoke with in Holland,—“He told me that, when the Messias came, all the ships, barkes, and vessels of Holland should, by the powere of certaine strange whirle winds, be loosed from their ankers, to convey their brethren and tribes to the holy citty.” Or even that of Melancthon, that his sable majesty once appeared to his own aunt in the shape of her husband, and grasping her hand, so scorched and shrivelled it, that it remained black ever after. These are fair samples of credulity.
You will call me presumptuous, but, believe me, Astrophel, it is superstition which is presumptuous and positive, and not philosophy; for credulity believes on profane tradition, or the mere assertion of a mortal. But the glory of philosophy is humility; for they who, like Newton, and Playfair, and Wollaston, and Davy, look deeply into the wonder and beauty of creation, will be ever humbled by the contemplation of their own being,—an atom of the universe. A philosopher cannot be proud; for, like Socrates, he confesses his ignorance, because he is ever searching for truth. He cannot be a sceptic; for when he has dived into the deeps of science, his thoughts will ascend the more toward the Deity: he has grasped all that science can afford him, and there is nothing left for his mighty mind but divine things and holy hopes. Philosophy is not confident either, because she ever waits for more experience and more weight of testimony.
How often, Astrophel, must we be deceived, like children, by distance, until experience teaches us truth. By this we know that the turrets of distant towers are high, yet they dwindle in our sight to the mere vanishing point, as the child believes them. Such is the power of demonstration.
The ancient polytheists could not be other than idolaters and believers in prophecy. The rabbins were schooled, in addition to the books of Moses, in those of Zoroaster, in the Talmud, which was the magic volume of the Jews, and the Takurni, or Persian Almanac, the annual expositor of natural and judicial astrology in the clime of the sun.
The sages who lived immediately after the light of Christianity had been shed over the Holy Land, had not forgotten the miracles wrought in the holy city; but they profaned Omnipotence by making them purposeless.
Superstition then formed a part of the national creed: even a mere word, as “Epidamnum,” they dreaded to pronounce, as it was of such awful import; and credulity and blind faith in the prophetic truth of omens and oracles prevailed. We read in Montfaucon, that twelve hundred believed in this miracle of Virgil:
“Captus a Romanis invisibiliter exiit, ivitque Neapolim:”
that he rendered himself invisible to the Romans and escaped to Naples. The influence of this blind infatuation was the spring of many actions, which, like the daring of the Indian fatalist in battle, were vaunted as deeds of heroic self-martyrdom.
Marcus Curtius, the trembling of the earth having opened a chasm in the Roman forum, leaped into it on horseback, when the soothsayers declared it would not close until the most valuable thing in the city was flung into it. And the two Decii offered themselves as the willing sacrifice, to ensure a victory for their country,—one in the war with the Latins, the other in that of the Etrurians and Umbrians.
Aristotle and Galen were exceptions. It is true, that Socrates believed himself under the influence of a demon, a sort of delegate from the Deity,—indeed, that God willed his death; for when his friend pressed him on his trial to compose his defence, he answered thus:—“The truth is, I was twice going about to make my apology, but was twice withheld by my demon.” But remember, Astrophel, the Greek word which the philosopher employed, τò δαιμóνιον, and you will rather confess that it implies the Deity, as if some divine inspiration taught him; or perchance, as some of his commentators believe, this invisible monitor was merely the impersonation of the faculty of judgment, and of that deep knowledge and forethought with which his mind was fraught.
Cicero, too, is said to have written arguments to prove the divine origin of the oracle of Delphi; but it is well believed by classics, that Addison has, in his letter in the Spectator, mistaken Cicero for Cato.
Recollect, Astrophel, this is an old point with us, when we were reading the subject of Auguries, in his book, “De Divinatione,” in which he wonders “that one soothsayer can look another in the face without laughing;” and you remember Lucian ridicules ghost-seeing as the whim of imagination. You have cited Pliny. True,—Pliny is an interesting story-teller; although he warps somewhat the phantoms of his dreams. But what is the first sentence of his letter to Sura?—“I am very desirous to know your opinion concerning spectres; whether you believe them to have a real existence, and are a sort of divinities, or are only the visionary impressions of a terrified imagination.”
And what did Johnson confess?—That “this is a question, which, after five thousand years, is still undecided; a question, whether in theology or philosophy, one of the most important that can come before the human understanding.” So you see the vaunted creed of Johnson was at least like the coffin of Mahomet, poised between the affirmative and negative of the proposition. The sage was a strict spiritualist, and, as Boswell says, “wished for more evidence of spirit in opposition to materialism.” On some points he was also mighty superstitious, and constantly affirmed his conviction that he should himself run mad. This augury failed, and therefore the prophetic nature of second sight needs more convincing proof than the creed of Johnson.—In his own words, “Foresight is not prescience.”
As to the second sight of Caledon, he confesses that, although in his journey he searched diligently, he saw but one seer, and he was grossly ignorant, as indeed they usually are. “He came away only willing to believe;” the learned and literary even in the far Hebrides, especially the clergy, being altogether sceptics.
In the consideration of this question in the study of psychology, it has been an error to conclude that, because in some certain works arguments are adduced by imaginary characters, in support of the appearance of departed spirits: such was the positive belief of their authors. If then, for instance, the arguments of Imlac, in Rasselas, which aim at the proof of spectral reality, or rather the appearance of departed beings, be adduced as an evidence of Johnson’s own belief, I might observe that it were equally rational to identify the minds or dispositions of Massinger and Sir Giles Overreach,—of Shakspere and Iago.
Like the Catholic priesthood, who rule the ignorant by the force of superstition, leaders have been induced to profess the possession of this faculty, to overawe their proselytes by their own deeper knowledge; as Numa vaunted his intimacy with the nymph Egeria at her fountain.
For this purpose, even the Corsican general, Pascal Paoli, assumed the profession of a seer, and the mystery of his prescience was on the lips of every Corsican. When Boswell asked, if the fulfilments of his prophecies were frequent, a Corsican grasped a bundle of his hair, and whispered, “Tante, tante, signore!”
But I will not play the dullard, Astrophel, while you, with your legendary romance, charm the listening ears of ladyes fayre. I will have my turn of story-telling, (avoiding the myriads of queer tales, told by superstitious and unlettered visionaries, on the look out for marvels, by servant maids and rustics, and silly people, the chief actors in ghost stories). And therefore, in the face of these negative conclusions, even of Johnson, hear one unparalleled story, culled from the rich treasury of Master Aubrey’s “Miscellanies.” It was of an earl of Caithness, who, desirous of ascertaining the distance of a vessel which was laden with wine for his cellars, proposed a question to a seer. The answer was, “At the distance of four hour’s sail.” It may be some doubt was expressed of the truth of this oracle; for, to prove his gift of clairvoyance, he laid before the earl the cap of a seaman in the ship, which he had that moment taken off his head. The vessel duly arrived, and lo! a sailor claimed the cap in the seer’s hand, affirming that, four hours before, it had been blown from his head by the gale. Is not this the very acme of effrontery?
Carolan, the inspired bard of Erin, confessed he could not compose a planxty for a certain lady of Sligo, even when he made an effort to celebrate her wondrous beauty; and one day in despair he threw away his harp and fell into a lament, that some evil genius was hovering over him: from his harp strings, (in contrast with those of Anacreon,) he could sweep only a mournful music, and he thence prophesied, and that truly, the death of the lady within the year.
Dubuison, a dentist of Edinburgh, on the day preceding the death of President Blair, met him in the street, and was addressed by the president with a peculiar expression. On the day before the death of Lord Melville, the dentist was met by him exactly on the same spot, and accosted by my lord in the very same words. On the death of Lord Melville, Dubuison exclaimed that he should be the third. He became immediately indisposed, and died within an hour.
In the “Miscellanies” of Aubrey, we read, that John Evelyn related to the Royal Society the case of the curate of Deptford, Mr. Smith, who, in November, 1679, was sick of an ague. To this reverend clerk appeared the phantom of a master of arts, with a white wand in his hand, who promised that if he lay on his back three hours, from ten to one, his ague would leave him. And this prophecy was also to the very letter fulfilled.
Napoleon, when he was marching upon Acre, had a djerme, or Nile boat, with some of his troops, destroyed; the boat’s name was L’Italie; and from this he said, “Italy is lost to France.” And so it was.
During the siege of Jerusalem, for seven days a man paraded round the walls, exclaiming with a solemn voice, “Woe to Jerusalem!” and on the seventh day he added, “Woe to Jerusalem, and myself!” When, at the moment of this anathema, a missile from the enemy destroyed him.
Do you wonder that the prophecy of Monsieur Cazotte of his own decapitation, recorded in his “Œuvres de M. de la Harpe,” should have been fulfilled? for in 1788, when this prophecy was uttered, the guillotine was daily reeking with patrician blood; and the Duchess of Grammont, Vicq d’Azyr, Condorcet, and Cazotte himself, among a host of others, were dragged to the scaffold.