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THE OPINIONS ENTERTAINED REGARDING THE CREDI
BILITY OF GHOST-STORIES.
* We thinke that to be a lie, which is written, or rather fa. thered upon Luther; to wit, that he knew the devill, and was verie conversant with him, and had eaten manie bushels of salt and made jollie good cheere with him; and that he was confuted, in a disputation with a real divell, about the abolishing of private masse."-Scot's Discovery of Witchcraft.
To give a regular history of the various opinions entertained in successive ages relative to apparitions, would form the copious subject of a large volume ; a selection of them, therefore, is all that will be here attempted.
There is perhaps no age of history in which the idle attempts to reconcile the wild incidents of spectral impressions have not induced many learned people to reject the whole, or most of them, as fabulous, or as the coinage of rank impostors. Hence, probably, the ridiculę w Meh apparitions incurred from Lucian, and hence the doubt which, in the 16th century, Reginald Scot.entertained relative to Martin Luther's visions, a few of which were certainly fabrications. It is, inyleed, certain, that many stories of apparitions are either gross forgeries, or are attributable to the tricks of jugglers. The devils which Benvenuto Cellini saw, when he got into a conjurer's circle, are, by Mr Roscoe, the learned translator of his life, referred to the effects of a magic-lantern. Granting, however, that this was the case, the excited state of Cellini's mind would greatly contribute to aid the deception practised upon him.*
It must thus be instantly kept in view, that however numerous ghost-stories may be, there are comparitively few which are to be depended upon. If they had their origin in true spectral illusions, they are, at the same time, grossly exaggerated, while other narratives are nothing more than the device of rank impostors. As specimens of this dubious kind of visions may be adduced, the popular narratives published in the commencement of the 18th century, one of which relates, how one Mr John Gairdner, minister near to Elgin, “ fell into a trance on the 10th of January 1717, and lay as if dead, to the sight and appearance of all spectators, for the space of two days; and being put in a coffin, and carried to his parish, in order to be buried in the church-yard; and when
* See Note 1st at the end of the volume.
going to put him in his grave, he was heard to make a noise in his coffin, and it being opened, he was found alive, to the wonderful astonishment of all there present; being carried home and put in a warm bed, he in a little time coming to himself, related many strange and amazing things which he had seen in the other world.” Another choice production of this kind narrates, “ how Mr Richard Brightly, minister of the gospel near Salcraig, at several times heard heavenly music when at prayer, when many persons appeared unto him in white raiment; also how, on the 9th of August, at night, as he was praying, he fell into a trance, and saw the state of the damned in everlasting torment, and that of the blessed in glory; and being then warned of his death by an angel, how he afterwards ordered his coffin and grave to be made, and invited his parishioners to hear his last sermon, which he preached the Sunday following, having his coffin borne before him, and then declared his visions ;-and how he saw Death riding in triumph on a pale horse, -of the message he had given him to warn the inhabitants of the wrath to come, and of his dying in the pulpit when he had delivered the same; lastly, of his burial, and of the harmonious music that was heard in the air during his interment;" the truth of all which was certified by the signatures of Mr William Parsons, two ministers, and three other honest
A third pamphlet describes what vealed to William Rutherford, farmer in the Merse, by an angel which appeared unto him as he was praying in his corn-yard, who opened up to him strange visions unknown to the inhabitants of the
earth, with the dreadful wrath that is coming on Britain, with an eclipse of the gospel, and the great death that shall befall many, who shall be suddenly snatched
before these things come to pass ; also the glorious deliverance the church will get after these sad times are over; with the great plenty that will follow immediately thereafter, with the conversion of the heathen nations, and with meal being sold for four shillings a boll :-the truth of all this being attested by the minister of the parish, and four honest men who were eye and ear-witnesses.”*
Truly ridiculous as such pretended visions are, and unworthy of the smallest degree of attention, there are however some narratives on record, which require a more serious notice. Of this kind is the curious account written many years ago by Nicolai, the famous bookseller of Berlin,-a narrative which Dr Ferrier very properly characterizes as
of the extreme cases of mental delusion which a man of strong judgment has ventured to report of himself.” It is, indeed, a case which affords correct data for investigations relative to the belief in apparitions ; on which account I shall take the liberty of transcribing the narrative in this essay, however frequently it may have appeared before the public.
“ Individuals who pretend to have seen and heard spirits are not to be persuaded that their apparitions were simply the creatures of their senses. You may tell them of the impositions that are frequently prac
* Preface to the Memorials by the Rev. Mr Robert Law, edited by Charles Kirkpatrick Sharpe, Esq. Edinburgh, A.D. 1818.
tised, and the fallacy which may lead us to take a spirit of our imagination by moonlight for a corpse. We are generally advised to seize the ghosts, in which case it is often found that they are of a very corporeal nature. An appeal is also made to self-deception, because many persons believe they actually see and hear where nothing is either to be seen or heard. No reasonable man, I think, will ever deny the possibility of our being sometimes deceived in this manner by our fancy, if he is in any degree acquainted with the nature of its operations. Nevertheless, the lovers of the marvellous will give no credit to these objections, whenever they are disposed to consider the phantoms of imagination as realities. We cannot therefore sufficiently collect and authenticate such proofs as shew how easily we are misled, and with what deļusive facility the imagination can exhibit, not only to deranged persons, but also to those who are in the perfect use of their senses, such forms as are scarcely to be distinguished from real objects.
“I myself have experienced an instance of this, which not only in a psychological, but also in a medical point of view, appears to me of the utmost importance. I saw, in the full use of my senses, and (after I had got the better of the fright which at first seized me, and the disagreeable sensation which it caused) even in the greatest composure of mind, for almost two months constantly, and involuntarily, a number of human and other apparitions ;-nay, I even heard their voices ;-yet after all, this was nothing but the consequence of nervous debility, or irritation, or some unusual state of the animal system.