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Paradoxes of the Highest Science

Eliphas Levi

Leaves of Grass

Walt Whitman

The Diplomatic Background of the War

Charles Seymour

Esoteric Buddhism

A. P. Sinnett

An essay on demonology, ghosts and apparitions, and popular superstitions

by James Thacher


answer questions, as if engaged in conversation with some of his visionary personages. His disorder, the doctor said, was evidently not of that species which is usually denominated mania, but appeared to be wholly the effect of a habit of nervous irregularity, delirium tremens, induced by previous intemperance. But the Baron Von Swedenborg, in his most visionary moments, was never surrounded by more extraordinary assemblages of strange sights. A very striking example of the power of nervous impression, occurred a few years ago in the Rev. James Wilson, formerly assistant minister with Dr Rodgers, in the first Presbyterian Church in New York. He was a native of Scotland, and was a man highly esteemed for his good sense, and the soundness of his judgment; although not distinguished for a warm and popular eloquence. Being obliged for a time to relinquish the exercise of his ministry from a hemorrhage in his breast, he employed himself for several years in different occupations in Scotland and America, but chiefly in presiding over an Academy in Alexandria, in the State of Virginia. The expectoration of blood having

teased for a considerable time, his conscience began to reproach him for indolence and selfindulgence, in not renewing his ministerial functions. In this uneasy state of mind, a vision, as he thought, of a man of very dignified aspect, stood at the foot of his bed in the morning, after he was perfectly awake, and surveying him steadily for some moments, commanded him to resume his duties in the pulpit: but added, that as considerable error had crept into the church, he should undertake to reform it according to the model of the primitive age. Mr Wilson, conscious of his want of eloquent talents, and reforming zeal, rea-* soned with the supposed apparition, alleging his utter incompetency to the task imposed upon him. The dialogue ended in a repetition of the command, and assurance of ability and success. The good man, wholly unable to explain this clear and palpable vision, on any principles of nature or philosophy with which he was acquainted, was deeply distressed, yet perfectly sensible of his insufficiency for such an undertaking, he neglected attempting to fulfil it. After an interval of two or three years, the vision was repeated, with

nearly the same circumstances, except that the aspect of the person who appeared to present himself, was more severe, and expressive of displeasure at his past delinquency. Mr" Wilson repeated his former reasonings on his want of health, and want of talents, with other topics. But the answer was still the same; a repetition of the injunction, and assurance of the necessary ability, and ultimate success. His distress was raised to the highest degree in the conflict of his mind between what he thought a sensible demonstration of a supernatural requisition, and an invincible consciousness of his own incompetency, and his fear of doing an injury to true religion by his failure. After consulting several of his friends upon the subject, he at length addressed a letter to the author, stating all the circumstan-ces which have just been detailed. He was answered with the general reasonings contained in this lecture, to convince him that his vision was merely a consequence of nervous affection, resulting from bodily disorder. Three letters passed between Mr Wilson and the author, reasoned on the part of Mr Wilson with great calmness and good sense, admitting all the objections to such an apostolic undertaking as that to which he was urged, both from scripture and from his own peculiar deficiency of power and talents, but pleading the impulse of a sensation as clear and strong, and, to his mind, as real as he had ever felt. But it was replied that there were other considerations combined with the whole system and harmony of nature, which ought to have greater authority with a rational mind than any single and individual impression of sense, which evidently violates its general order. The correspondence came to this issue at last, that, as he agreed with the church as she now exists, in most of her doctrines, and especially in the moral precepts of religion, he should begin his course by inculcating only those principles in which all were agreed, and if he found the promise of his vision verified in his returning strength and successful eloquence, he would then have sufficient encouragement to proceed further. He actually came to New York with the intention to put this experiment into execution, but died in that city shortly after his landing. He published one discourse introductory to the design.


The following observations are from Dr Rush, found in his Treatise on Diseases of the Mind. 'By this term, (Illusions) I mean that disease, in which false perceptions take place in the ears and eyes in the waking state, from a morbid affection of the brain, or of the sense which is the seat of the illusion. It may be considered as a waking dream. Persons affected with it fancy they hear voices, or see objects that do not exist. These false perceptions are said, by superstitious people, to be premonitions of death. They sometimes indicate either the forming state, or the actual existence of disease, which being seated most commonly in a highly vital part of the body, that is, in the brain, now and then ends in death, and thus administers support to superstition. They depend, like false perception in madness, upon motion being excited in a part of the ear or the eye, which does not vibrate with the impression made upon it, but communicates it to a part upon which the impression of the noise heard, or of the person seen, was formerly made, and hence the one becomes audible, and the other visible.

'The deception, when made upon the ears, consists most commonly in hearing our own names, and for this obvious reason; we are accustomed to hear them pronounced more frequently than any other words, and hence the part of the ear, which vibrates with the sound of our names, moves more promptly, from habit, than any other part of it. For the same reason the deception, when made upon the eyes, consists in seeing our own persons, or the persons of our intimate friends, whether living or dead, oftener than any other people. The part upon the retina, from which those images are reflected, move more promptly, from habit, than any other of that part of the organ of vision.

'The voice which is supposed to be heard, and the objects which are supposed to be seen, are never heard nor seen by two persons, even when they are close to each other. This proves them both to be the effect of disease in the single person who hears, or sees, the supposed voice or object.'

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