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“ The publication of the case in the Journal of Practical Medicine, by Professor Hufeland of Jena, is the cause of my now communicating it to the academy. When I had the pleasure of spending a few happy days with that gentleman last summer, at Pyrmont, I related to him this curious incident.”
The narrator now explains the state of his system at the time; but this important part of the account not being at present connected with our subject, it will be noticed in its proper place.
- In the first two months of the year 1791, I much affected in my mind by several incidents of a very disagreeable nature ; and on the 24th of February a circumstance occurred which irritated me extremely. At ten o'clock in the forenoon my wife and another person came to console me ; I was in a violent perturbation of mind, owing to a series of incidents which had altogether wounded my moral feelings, and from which I saw no possibility of relief ; when suddenly I observed at the distance of ten paces from me a figure,--the figure of a deceased person. I pointed at it, and asked my wife whether she did not see it. She saw nothing; but being much alarmed, endeavoured to compose me, and sent for the physician. The figure remained some seven or eight minutes, and at length I became a little more calm ; and as I was extremely exhausted, I soon afterwards fell into a troubled kind of slumber, which lasted for half an hour. The vision was ascribed to the great agitation of mind in which I had been, and it was supposed I should have nothing more to apprehend from that cause ; but the violent affection had put my nerves into some unnatural state; from this arose further
consequences, which require a more detailed description.
“In the afternoon, a little after four o'clock, the figure which I had seen in the morning again appeared. I was alone when this happened ; a circumstance which, as may be easily conceived, could not be very agreeable. I went therefore to the apartment of my wife, to whom I related it. But thither also the figure pursued me.
Sometimes it was present, sometimes it vanished, but it was always the same standing figure. A little after six o'clock several stalking figures also appeared; but they had no connexion with the standing figure. I can assign no other reason for this apparition than that, though much more composed in my mind, I had not been able so soon entirely to forget the cause of such deep and distressing vexation, and had reflected on the consequences of it, in order, if possible, to avoid them; and that this happened three hours after dinner, at the time when the digestion just begins.
“At length I became more composed with respect to the disagreeable incident which had given rise to the first apparition ; but though I had used very excellent medicines, and found myself in other respects perfectly well, yet the apparitions did not diminish, but on the contrary rather increased in number, and were transformed in the most extraordinary manner.”
Nicolai now makes some very important remarks on the subject of these waking dreams, and on their incongruous character. Of these observations I shall not fail to avail myself on another occasion. The narrative then proceeds after the following manner :
“ The figure of the deceased person never appeared to me after the first dreadful day ; but several other figures shewed themselves afterwards very distinctly; sometimes such as I knew, mostly, however, of persons I did not know, and amongst those known to me, were the semblances of both living and deceased persons, but mostly the former: and I made the observation, that acquaintance with whom I daily conversed never appeared to me as phantasms; it was always such as were at a distance.”
“ It is also to be noted, that these figures appeared to me at all times, and under the most different circumstances, equally distinct and clear. Whether I was alone, or in company, by broad day-light equally as in the night-time, in my own as well as in my neighbour's house ; yet when I was at another person's house, they were less frequent, and when I walked the public street they very seldom appeared. When I shut my eyes, sometimes the figures disappeared, sometimes they remained even after I had closed them. If they vanished in the former case, on opening my eyes again, nearly the same figures appeared which I had seen before.
“ I sometimes conversed with my physician and my wife, concerning the phantasms which at the time hovered around me; for in general the forms appeared oftener in motion than at rest. They did not always continue present—they frequently left me altogether, and again appeared for a short or longer space of time, singly or more at once; but, in general, several appeared together. For the most part I saw human figures of both sexes ; they commonly passed to and fro as if they had no connexion with each other, like people at a fair where all is bustle ; sometimes they appeared to have business with one another. Once or twice I saw amongst them persons on horseback, and dogs and birds; these figures all appeared to me in their natural size, as distinctly as if they had existed in real life, with the several tints on the uncovered parts of the body, and with all the different kinds and colours of clothes. But I think, however, that the colours were somewhat paler than they are in nature.
“None of the figures had any distinguishing characteristic, they were neither terrible, ludicrous, nor repulsive; most of them were ordinary in their appearance, --some were even agreeable.
“On the whole, the longer I continued in this state, the more did the number of phantasms increase, and the apparitions became more frequent. About four weeks afterwards I began to hear them speak : sometimes the phantasms spoke with one another ; but for the most part they addressed themselves to me : these speeches were in general short, and never contained any thing disagreeable. Intelligent and respected friends often appeared to me, who endeavoured to çonsole me in my grief, which still left deep traces on my mind. This speaking I heard most frequently when I was alone ; though I sometimes heard it in company, intermixed with the conversation of real persons; frequently in single phrases only, but sometimes even in connected discourse.
“ Though at this time I enjoyed rather a good state of health both in body and mind, and had become so very familiar with these phantasms, that at last they did not excite the least disagreeable emotion, but on the contrary afforded me frequent subjects for amusement and mirth; yet as the disorder sensibly increased, and the figures appeared to me for whole days together, and even during the night, if I happened to awake, I had recourse to several medicines.” *
Such is the curious case of Nicolai, in which it would not occasionally be very difficult to explain why certain mental images, to the exclusion of other objects of his waking visions, should have acquired an undue degree of vividness. Frequently, however, it would be impossible to trace any correspondence which the particular complexion or disposition of his mind might have with the quality of the phantasms that were the offspring of his wild imagination. The uninteresting recollections incidental to each train of thought, as well as the lively objects of his grief, appear to have alternately assumed an embodied form. From this circumstance, then, arises the suspicion, that there were not only causes of a moral description,
* Memoir on the Appearance of Spectres or Phantoms occasioned by Disease, with Psychological Remarks. Read by Ni. colai to the Royal Society of Berlin, on the 28th of February, 1799. The translation of this paper is given in Nicholson's Jour. nal, vol. vi. p. 161.