Puslapio vaizdai
PDF
„ePub“

MASSACHUSETTS QUARTERLY REVIEW.

NO. VII.-JUNE, 1849.

ART. I. -1. The Zooist for 1848. London.

2. Journal du Magnetisme: Quatrième Année. Paris. 1848.

3. Blätter aus Prevorst. Stuttgart. 1833–39. .

It is by no means the purpose of this article to enter into an extensive and penetrating criticism of the details of Mesmerism. Its object is not nearly so difficult of execution. It simply proposes to consider how far the phenomena of zoömagnetism do really deserve the serious investigation of inductive science; to convey to such readers as may not yet have attended to the subject, even as a literary appearance, some vivid conceptions concerning the sorts of things asserted by mesmeric authors; to pronounce a short, certainly not an uncharitable, and if possible a just, scientific judgment regarding the general character of the statements of the science; and to bring the universally accredited fact of the mere mesmeric sleep or trance into harmony with the system of Nature, so far as that system seems to be understood.

It is well known to the students of modern British literature that Samuel Taylor Coleridge, the “inspired charity-boy” of Charles Lamb, å poet of deep-going insight and most musical expression in youth, a well read and original metaphysician in manhood, an agonizing divine in old age, and altogether one of the most lustrous of modern spirits, bestowed a great deal of study on the subject now approached. It is duly recorded in a note to Southey's Life of Wesley, that, after having considered the question in all the aspects in which it had then been presented, and that during the course of nine years, he could not conscientiously decide either for or against the claims NO. VII.

19

of Mesmerism. It is worthy of notice, however that the word Mesmerism stood in the vocabulary of that time as the sign of nothing more nor less than the apparent transference of one species of sensibility to the organ of another on one hand, and the faculty of farseeing on the other; an equivalent which is far from sufficient for the symbol at this time of day. Furthermore, Coleridge did undeniably study the evidence in favor of such Mesmerism from an unwarrantable point of view. For example, he examined the testimony for the so-called fact of farseeing in inseparable connection with the theory usually advanced in explanation of it; being of the prejudged opinion that “nothing less than such an hypothesis would be adequate to the satisfactory explanation of the facts." This was to investigate the grounds on which an asserted thing was made to rest, but it was to investigate them with an intellect predisposed against the only conceivable idea of the possible fact, and that was to investigate them with an intellect predisposed against the very possibility of the asserted fact itself." Yet the evidences of Mesmerism were able to bear the scrutiny of this searching and not uncolored eye: They were “too strong and consentaneous for a candid mind to be satisfied of its falsehood, or its solvability on the supposition of imposture or coincidence ; too fugacious and unfixable to support any theory that supposes the always potential and, under certain conditions and circumstances, occasionally actual existence of a corresponding faculty (of farseeing, inseeing, foreseeing, &c.,) in the human soul.” The parenthesis in the last sentence is our own.

Every body must be aware, of course, that the inquiries of so hungering and thirsting a student as Coleridge always was could not consist in attendance upon ever so large a number of stray lectures or séances, or the perusal of the half-literary pamphlets and paragraphs that constitute the staple of mesmeric literature in Great Britain and America, or a professional glance through the notorious misreport of the French academicians.

“ Nine years,” says he, “has the subject of Zoö-magnetism been before me. I have traced it historically; have collected a mass of documents in French, German, and Italian, and from the Latinists of the sixteenth century; have never neglected an opportunity of questioning eye-witnesses (as Tieck, Treviranus, De Prati, Meyer, and others of literary or medical celebrity); and I remain where I was, and where the first perusal of Klug's work had left me, without having advanced an inch backward or forward.” Thus and after such a career of bookreading, this “most spacious of modern intellects,” to repeat the epithet applied to him by Thomas de Quincey, could neither bring himself to accept, nor suffer himself to reject the statements of the higher order of experimentalists and observers in this dim recess.

Yet he was a scholar peculiarly qualified to give a righteous judgment in so complicated a controversy. He had wrestled with almost every science one after the other, like the illustrious Goethe, and not let them go without leaving their blessings behind them. He was a good physiologist, as well as familiar with all the points of view from which the higher phenomena of humanity can be contemplated. His late posthumous work on the idea of Life, indeed, exemplifies the most singular familiarity with the details of Natural History, Physiology, and Physics ; and it is that unspeakable familiarity which consists, not in remembering scientific things by rote, but in knowing them by heart. Above all, he was a truly great master in Methodology, or the science whose laws are the rules of scientific discovery; for one may venture to express the matured opinion, that the dissertation, prefixed to the Encyclopedia Metropolitana, approves our present hero the greatest English writer on Method since Francis Bacon published his Instauration and his Organon. Nor needs any body be ashamed to profess himself afraid to speak with ridicule or indifference of a vast fabric of statements before which a sage so good, so learned, so penetrating, so catholic, and so candid as Coleridge was obliged to pause in anxious doubt, after nine long years

of research. This example, however, contains another and a very different lesson. What a contrast does this long-suffering skepticism present to the easy credulity of the majority of proselytes ! Here a divine, there a physician, and here a man of science, are seen eagerly embracing the doctrine and the allegations of the disciples of Mesmer, without any thing worthy of the name of methodical investigation ; but because they, the allegations and the doctrine, appear to pass at once into easy consonation with this or that crotchet of their own. The neophyte of the New Jerusalem perceives at a glance that Mesmerism is unconsciously though essentially Swedenborgian, and therefore Mesmerism is true or very easily proved to be 80 : The homoeopathist soon observes that mesmeric cures are all reducible under the rule of Like to Like, and therefore they are undeniable: The disciple of Schelling is delighted to notice that the trance is an emphatic illustration of the duality of things, and therefore there is no mistake about it! Far be it from us, however, to insinuate that the dualistic scheme of the Universe, Homoeopathy, and Swedenborgianism are nothing but the crotchets of the visionary : nay, we revere the mighty spirits, who are represented and perpetuated by these outward embodiments of their potent lives, with a kind and a degree of reverence which can be shared only by the St. Pauls, the Keplers, and the Aristotles of the world. But there are men about the purlieus of the Church and the School, in all ages, in and by whom things the most sacred, the most beautiful, and the most important for their truth are degraded into crotchets and minims : and it is of such characters alone that we have dared to speak with some severity in the present paragraph. Nor is such severity unwarrantable, for the formation of a candid scientific judgment concerning new presentations is one of the most sacred duties of the scholar and the student.

But what shall be said of the levity with which so many of the laity have espoused the cause of Mesmer! We have known such light-hearted inquirers, after having sped their shaftlings of ridicule at some Dupotet or Spencer Hall of a morning, attend a peripatetic lecture in the evening; and no sooner have they seen a fellow solidified in some grotesque attitude upon the platform, or heard his head played upon like an instrument, or wondered at his writhing and wriggling in vain towards a heap of money the audience has laid upon the table for his reward if he can reach it, than they have hastened home with exultation in the character of what they call Believers in Mesmerism. Then there follows a crowd of the most unmeaning experiments, without a plan and without a result, without an initiative and without an aim. Every other chair in a hundred drawing-rooms is occupied by a passive subject, and every other by an operator more passive still in reality, for he is only one of fifty straws in the breath of a paltry popular delirium. The young disciples soon proceed, of course, like Gratiano in the play, to “talk an infinite deal of nothing, more than any man in all Venice"; and the city is not long of swarming with the frivolous convertites of the new science :

So fools rush in where angels fear to tread ! To rise, however, to things and thoughts more easily associated with the venerable name of Coleridge, it is a significant circumstance of Mesmerism that the celebrated Strauss, a man of unquestionable erudition, of the most laborious habits of study, of singular coherence of thought, and the most remarkable system-builder of his age, has not only considered but accepted the science. The people of Christendom are becoming aware that Strauss has shown himself, in his farfamed Life of Jesus, to be incomparably the most formidable opponent that has ever withstood the popular Christianity of Europe and America. That singular work has agitated many of the best intellects in the world to their very foundations, and moved many of the best hearts to their most sacred depths. Now, one may reject the mythological hypothesis of the history and the present phenomena of Christianity in the world, as it is expounded in the wonderful performance at present referred to; but nobody can blind himself to the fact that one of its very strongest points, especially for the AngloSaxon mind, resides in the use the ingenious author is able to make of his reception of the higher phenomena of zoö-magnetism. It is, indeed, an incidental and supplemental, rather than a systematic one; but not the less important in a practical point of view on that account. If it be true that the paltry, conscious, intentional Mesmerist of to-day can make water taste like any wine he chooses to his subject guests ; and if analogy demands the consequent possibility of making water look, smell, and touch like any such wine, so as to become veritable wine so far as the spell-bound patients are concerned; what is to become of the miracle at the marriage in Cana of Galilee? If the mesmerized do actually heal diseases without material means, or with only such amulets as a little clay lifted from the ground and tempered with spittle ; if they can see athwart the earth and look on their antipodes ; if they can prophesy the future, in ever so limited a range; if they ever become so intimately coadunated with such as are put in communion with them, that they share the memories of their unbosomed victims, and read off all that they have suffered and done ; if they behold visions of the dead and the angelic; if the mesmerizer can become invisible to them at his will ; in fine, if they sometimes rise superior to the centred force of gravity itself, and ascend into the bosom of the air : who shall find courage to deny that the supernaturalities of Old and New Testament life may possibly, if not probably, have been a manifold and normal manifesta

« AnkstesnisTęsti »