A Strange Story, by Edward Bulwer-Lytton

Chapter 71.

“You may remember,” said Julius Faber, “Sir Humphry Davy’s eloquent description of the effect produced on him by the inhalation of nitrous oxide. He states that he began to lose the perception of external things; trains of vivid visible images rapidly passed through his mind, and were connected with words in such a manner as to produce perceptions perfectly novel. ‘I existed,’ he said, ‘in a world of newly-connected and newly-modified ideas.’ When he recovered, he exclaimed: ‘Nothing exists but thoughts; the universe is composed of impressions, ideas, pleasures, and pains!’

“Now observe, that thus a cultivator of positive science, endowed with one of the healthiest of human brains, is, by the inhalation of a gas, abstracted from all external life — enters into a new world, which consists of images he himself creates and animates so vividly that, on waking, he resolves the universe itself into thoughts.”

“Well,” said I, “but what inference do you draw from that voluntary experiment, applicable to the malady of which you bid me hope the cure?”

“Simply this: that the effect produced on a healthful brain by the nitrous oxide may be produced also by moral causes operating on the blood, or on the nerves. There is a degree of mental excitement in which ideas are more vivid than sensations, and then the world of external things gives way to the world within the brain.30 But this, though a suspension of that reason which comprehends accuracy of judgment, is no more a permanent aberration of reason than were Sir Humphry Davy’s visionary ecstasies under the influence of the gas. The difference between the two states of suspension is that of time, and it is but an affair of time with our beloved patient. Yet prepare yourself. I fear that the mind will not recover without some critical malady of the body!”

“Critical! but not dangerous? — say not dangerous! I can endure the pause of her reason; I could not endure the void in the universe if her life were to fade from the earth.”

“Poor friend! would not you yourself rather lose life than reason?”

“I— yes! But we men are taught to set cheap value on our own lives; we do not estimate at the same rate the lives of those we love. Did we do so, Humanity would lose its virtues.”

“What, then! Love teaches that there is something of nobler value than mere mind? Yet surely it cannot be the mere body? What is it, if not that continuance of being which your philosophy declines to acknowledge — namely, soul? If you fear so painfully that your Lilian should die, is it not that you fear to lose her forever?”

“Oh, cease, cease!” I cried impatiently. “I cannot now argue on metaphysics. What is it that you anticipate of harm to her life? Her health has been stronger ever since her affliction. She never seems to know ailment now. Do you not perceive that her cheek has a more hardy bloom, her frame a more rounded symmetry, than when you saw her in England?”

“Unquestionably. Her physical forces have been silently recruiting themselves in the dreams which half lull, half amuse her imagination. Imagination! that faculty, the most glorious which is bestowed on the human mind, because it is the faculty which enables thought to create, is of all others the most exhausting to life when unduly stimulated and consciously reasoning on its own creations. I think it probable that had this sorrow not befallen you, you would have known a sorrow yet graver — you would have long survived your Lilian. As it is now, when she recovers, her whole organization, physical and mental, will have undergone a beneficent change. But, I repeat my prediction — some severe malady of the body will precede the restoration of the mind; and it is my hope that the present suspense or aberration of the more wearing powers of the mind may fit the body to endure and surmount the physical crisis. I remember a case, within my own professional experience, in many respects similar to this, but in other respects it was less hopeful. I was consulted by a young student of a very delicate physical frame, of great mental energies, and consumed by an intense ambition. He was reading for university honours. He would not listen to me when I entreated him to rest his mind. I thought that he was certain to obtain the distinction for which he toiled, and equally certain to die a few months after obtaining it. He falsified both my prognostics. He so overworked himself that, on the day of examination, his nerves were agitated, his memory failed him; he passed, not without a certain credit, but fell far short of the rank amongst his fellow competitors to which he aspired. Here, then, the irritated mind acted on the disappointed heart, and raised a new train of emotions. He was first visited by spectral illusions; then he sank into a state in which the external world seemed quite blotted out. He heeded nothing that was said to him; seemed to see nothing that was placed before his eyes — in a word, sensations became dormant, ideas preconceived usurped their place, and those ideas gave him pleasure. He believed that his genius was recognized, and lived amongst its supposed creations enjoying an imaginary fame. So it went on for two years, during which suspense of his reason, his frail form became robust and vigorous. At the end of that time he was seized with a fever, which would have swept him in three days to the grave had it occurred when I was first called in to attend him. He conquered the fever, and, in recovering, acquired the full possession of the intellectual faculties so long suspended. When I last saw him, many years afterwards, he was in perfect health, and the object of his young ambition was realized; the body had supported the mind — he had achieved distinction. Now what had so, for a time, laid this strong intellect into visionary sleep? The most agonizing of human emotions in a noble spirit — shame! What has so stricken down your Lilian? You have told me the story: shame! — the shame of a nature preeminently pure. But observe that, in his case as in hers, the shock inflicted does not produce a succession of painful illusions: on the contrary, in both, the illusions are generally pleasing. Had the illusions been painful, the body would have suffered, the patient died. Why did a painful shock produce pleasing illusions? Because, no matter how a shock on the nerves may originate, if it affects the reason, it does but make more vivid than impressions from actual external objects the ideas previously most cherished. Such ideas in the young student were ideas of earthly fame; such ideas in the young maiden are ideas of angel comforters and heavenly Edens. You miss her mind on the earth, and, while we speak, it is in paradise.”

“Much that you say, my friend, is authorized by the speculations of great writers, with whom I am not unfamiliar; but in none of those writers, nor in your encouraging words, do I find a solution for much that has no precedents in my experience — much, indeed, that has analogies in my reading, but analogies which I have hitherto despised as old wives’ fables. I have bared to your searching eye the weird mysteries of my life. How do you account for facts which you cannot resolve into illusions — for the influence which that strange being, Margrave, exercised over Lilian’s mind or fancy, so that for a time her love for me was as dormant as is her reason now; so that he could draw her — her whose nature you admit to be singularly pure and modest — from her mother’s home? The magic wand; the trance into which that wand threw Margrave himself; the apparition which it conjured up in my own quiet chamber when my mind was without a care and my health without a flaw — how account for all this: as you endeavoured, and perhaps successfully, to account for all my impressions of the Vision in the Museum, of the luminous, haunting shadow in its earlier apparitions, when my fancy was heated, my heart tormented, and, it might be, even the physical forces of this strong frame disordered?”

“Allen,” said the old pathologist, “here we approach a ground which few physicians have dared to examine. Honour to those who, like our bold contemporary, Elliotson, have braved scoff and sacrificed dross in seeking to extract what is practical in uses, what can be tested by experiment, from those exceptional phenomena on which magic sought to found a philosophy, and to which philosophy tracks the origin of magic.”

“What! do I understand you? Is it you, Julius Faber, who attach faith to the wonders attributed to animal magnetism and electro-biology, or subscribe to the doctrines which their practitioners teach?”

“I have not examined into those doctrines, nor seen with my own eyes the wonders recorded, upon evidence too respectable, nevertheless, to permit me peremptorily to deny what I have not witnessed.31 But wherever I look through the History of Mankind in all ages and all races, I find a concurrence in certain beliefs which seem to countenance the theory that there is in some peculiar and rare temperaments a power over forms of animated organization, with which they establish some unaccountable affinity; and even, though much more rarely, a power over inanimate matter. You are familiar with the theory of Descartes, ‘that those particles of the blood which penetrate to the brain do not only serve to nourish and sustain its substance, but to produce there a certain very subtle Aura, or rather a flame very vivid and pure, that obtains the name of the Animal Spirits;’32 and at the close of his great fragment upon Man, he asserts that ‘this flame is of no other nature than all the fires which are in inanimate bodies.’33 This notion does but forestall the more recent doctrine that electricity is more or less in all, or nearly all, known matter. Now, whether in the electric fluid or some other fluid akin to it of which we know still less, thus equally pervading all matter, there may be a certain magnetic property more active, more operative upon sympathy in some human constitutions than in others, and which can account for the mysterious power I have spoken of, is a query I might suggest, but not an opinion I would hazard. For an opinion I must have that basis of experience or authority which I do not need when I submit a query to the experience and authority of others. Still, the supposition conveyed in the query is so far worthy of notice, that the ecstatic temperament (in which phrase I comprehend all constitutional mystics) is peculiarly sensitive to electric atmospheric influences. This is a fact which most medical observers will have remarked in the range of their practice. Accordingly, I was prepared to find Mr. Hare Townshend, in his interesting work,34 state that he himself was of ‘the electric temperament,’ sparks flying from his hair when combed in the dark, etc. That accomplished writer, whose veracity no one would impugn, affirms that between this electrical endowment and whatever mesmeric properties he might possess, there is a remarkable relationship and parallelism. Whatever state of the atmosphere tends to accumulate and insulate electricity in the body, promotes equally’ (says Mr. Townshend) ‘the power and facility with which I influence others mesmerically.’ What Mr. Townshend thus observes in himself, American physicians and professors of chemistry depose to have observed in those modern magicians, the mediums of (so-called) ‘spirit manifestation.’ They state that all such mediums are of the electric temperament, thus everywhere found allied with the ecstatic, and their power varies in proportion as the state of the atmosphere serves to depress or augment the electricity stored in themselves. Here, then, in the midst of vagrant phenomena, either too hastily dismissed as altogether the tricks of fraudful imposture, or too credulously accepted as supernatural portents-here, at least, in one generalized fact, we may, perhaps, find a starting point, from which inductive experiment may arrive, soon or late, at a rational theory. But however the power of which we are speaking (a power accorded to special physical temperament) may or may not be accounted for by some patient student of nature, I am persuaded that it is in that power we are to seek for whatever is not wholly imposture, in the attributes assigned to magic or witchcraft. It is well said, by a writer who has gone into the depth of these subjects with the research of a scholar and the science of a pathologist, ‘that if magic had exclusively reposed on credulity and falsehood, its reign would never have endured so long; but that its art took its origin in singular phenomena, proper to certain affections of the nerves, or manifested in the conditions of sleep. These phenomena, the principle of which was at first unknown, served to root faith in magic, and often abused even enlightened minds. The enchanters and magicians arrived, by divers practices, at the faculty of provoking in other brains a determined order of dreams, of engendering hallucinations of all kinds, of inducing fits of hypnotism, trance, mania, during which the persons so affected imagined that they saw, heard, touched, supernatural beings, conversed with them, proved their influences, assisted at prodigies of which magic proclaimed itself to possess the secret. The public, the enchanters, and the enchanted were equally dupes.’35 Accepting this explanation, unintelligible to no physician of a practice so lengthened as mine has been, I draw from it the corollary, that as these phenomena are exhibited only by certain special affections, to which only certain special constitutions are susceptible, so not in any superior faculties of intellect, or of spiritual endowment, but in peculiar physical temperaments, often strangely disordered, the power of the sorcerer in affecting the imagination of others is to be sought. In the native tribes of Australasia the elders are instructed in the arts of this so-called sorcery, but only in a very few constitutions does instruction avail to produce effects in which the savages recognize the powers of a sorcerer: it is so with the Obi of the negroes. The fascination of Obi is an unquestionable fact, but the Obi man cannot be trained by formal lessons; he is born a fascinator, as a poet is born a poet. It is so with the Laplanders, of whom Tornoeus reports that of those instructed in the magical art ‘only a few are capable of it.’ ‘Some,’ he says, ‘are naturally magicians.’ And this fact is emphatically insisted upon by the mystics of our own middle ages, who state that a man must be born a magician; in other words, that the gift is constitutional, though developed by practice and art. Now, that this gift and its practice should principally obtain in imperfect states of civilization, and fade into insignificance in the busy social enlightenment of cities, may be accounted for by reference to the known influences of imagination. In the cruder states of social life not only is imagination more frequently predominant over all other faculties, but it has not the healthful vents which the intellectual competition of cities and civilization affords. The man who in a savage tribe, or in the dark feudal ages, would be a magician, is in our century a poet, an orator, a daring speculator, an inventive philosopher. In other words, his imagination is drawn to pursuits congenial to those amongst whom it works. It is the tendency of all intellect to follow the directions of the public opinion amidst which it is trained. Where a magician is held in reverence or awe, there will be more practitioners of magic than where a magician is despised as an impostor or shut up as a lunatic. In Scandinavia, before the introduction of Christianity, all tradition records the wonderful powers of the Vala, or witch, who was then held in reverence and honour. Christianity was introduced, and the early Church denounced the Vala as the instrument of Satan, and from that moment down dropped the majestic prophetess into a miserable and execrated old hag!”

“The ideas you broach,” said I, musingly, “have at moments crossed me, though I have shrunk from reducing them to a theory which is but one of pure hypothesis. But this magic, after all, then, you would place in the imagination of the operator, acting on the imagination of those whom it affects? Here, at least, I can follow you, to a certain extent, for here we get back into the legitimate realm of physiology.”

“And possibly,” said Faber, “we may find hints to guide us to useful examination, if not to complete solution of problems that, once demonstrated, may lead to discoveries of infinite value — hints, I say, in two writers of widely opposite genius, Van Helmont and Bacon. Van Helmont, of all the mediaeval mystics, is, in spite of his many extravagant whims, the one whose intellect is the most suggestive to the disciplined reasoners of our day. He supposed that the faculty which he calls Fantasy, and which we familiarly call Imagination — is invested with the power of creating for itself ideas independent of the senses, each idea clothed in a form fabricated by the imagination, and becoming an operative entity. This notion is so far favoured by modern physiologists, that Lincke reports a case where the eye itself was extirpated; yet the extirpation was followed by the appearance of luminous figures before the orbit. And again, a woman, stone-blind, complained of ‘luminous images, with pale colours, before her eyes.’ Abercrombie mentions the case ‘of a lady quite blind, her eyes being also disorganized and sunk, who never walked out without seeing a little old woman in a red cloak, who seemed to walk before her.’36 Your favourite authority, the illustrious Miller, who was himself in the habit of ‘seeing different images in the field of vision when he lay quietly down to sleep, asserts that these images are not merely presented to the fancy, but that even the images of dreams are really seen,’ and that ‘any one may satisfy himself of this by accustoming himself regularly to open his eyes when waking after a dream — the images seen in the dream are then sometimes visible, and can be observed to disappear gradually.’ He confirms this statement not only by the result of his own experience, but by the observations made by Spinoza, and the yet higher authority of Aristotle, who accounts for spectral appearance as the internal action of the sense of vision.37 And this opinion is favoured by Sir David Brewster, whose experience leads him to suggest ‘that the objects of mental contemplation may be seen as distinctly as external objects, and will occupy the same local position in the axis of vision as if they had been formed by the agency of light.’ Be this as it may, one fact remains — that images can be seen even by the blind as distinctly and vividly as you and I now see the stream below our feet and the opossums at play upon yonder boughs. Let us come next to some remarkable suggestions of Lord Bacon. In his Natural History, treating of the force of the imagination, and the help it receives ‘by one man working by another,’ he cites an instance he had witnessed of a kind of juggler, who could tell a person what card he thought of. He mentioned this ‘to a pretended learned man, curious in such things,’ and this sage said to him, ‘It is not the knowledge of the man’s thought, for that is proper to God, but the enforcing of a thought upon him, and binding his imagination by a stronger, so that he could think of no other card.’ You see this sage anticipated our modern electro-biologists! And the learned man then shrewdly asked Lord Bacon, ‘Did the juggler tell the card to the man himself who had thought of it, or bid another tell it?’ ‘He bade another tell it,’ answered Lord Bacon. ‘I thought so,’ returned his learned acquaintance, ‘for the juggler himself could not have put on so strong an imagination; but by telling the card to the other, who believed the juggler was some strange man who could do strange things, that other man caught a strong imagination.’38 The whole story is worth reading, because Lord Bacon evidently thinks it conveys a guess worth examining. And Lord Bacon, were he now living, would be the man to solve the mysteries that branch out of mesmerism or (so-called) spiritual manifestation, for he would not pretend to despise their phenomena for fear of hurting his reputation for good sense. Bacon then goes on to state that there are three ways to fortify the imagination. ‘First, authority derived from belief in an art and in the man who exercises it; secondly, means to quicken and corroborate the imagination; thirdly, means to repeat and refresh it.’ For the second and the third he refers to the practices of magic, and proceeds afterwards to state on what things imagination has most force — ‘upon things that have the lightest and easiest motions, and, therefore, above all, upon the spirits of men, and, in them, on such affections as move lightest — in love, in fear, in irresolution. And,’ adds Bacon, earnestly, in a very different spirit from that which dictates to the sages of our time the philosophy of rejecting without trial that which belongs to the Marvellous — ‘and whatsoever is of this kind, should be thoroughly inquired into.’ And this great founder or renovator of the sober inductive system of investigation even so far leaves it a matter of speculative inquiry, whether imagination may not be so powerful that it can actually operate upon a plant, that he says: ‘This likewise should be made upon plants, and that diligently; as if you should tell a man that such a tree would die this year, and will him, at these and these times, to go unto it and see how it thriveth.’ I presume that no philosopher has followed such recommendations: had some great philosopher done so, possibly we should by this time know all the secrets of what is popularly called witchcraft.”

And as Faber here paused, there came a strange laugh from the fantastic she-oak-tree overhanging the stream — a wild, impish laugh.

“Pooh! it is but the great kingfisher, the laughing-bird of the Australian bush,” said Julius Faber, amused at my start of superstitious alarm.

We walked on for some minutes in musing silence, and the rude log-hut in which my wise companion had his home came in view — the flocks grazing on undulous pastures, the lone drinking at a watercourse fringed by the slender gum-trees, and a few fields, laboriously won from the luxuriant grassland, rippling with the wave of corn.

I halted, and said, “Rest here for a few moments, till I gather up the conclusions to which your speculative reasoning seems to invite me.”

We sat down on a rocky crag, half mantled by luxuriant creepers with vermilion buds.

“From the guesses,” said I, “which you have drawn from the erudition of others and your own ingenious and reflective inductions, I collect this solution of the mysteries, by which the experience I gain from my senses confounds all the dogmas approved by my judgment. To the rational conjectures by which, when we first conversed on the marvels that perplexed me, you ascribe to my imagination, predisposed by mental excitement, physical fatigue or derangement, and a concurrence of singular events tending to strengthen such predisposition, the phantasmal impressions produced on my senses — to these conjectures you now add a new one, more startling and less admitted by sober physiologists. You conceive it possible that persons endowed with a rare and peculiar temperament can so operate on imagination, and, through the imagination, on the senses of others, as to exceed even the powers ascribed to the practitioners of mesmerism’ and electro-biology, and give a certain foundation of truth to the old tales of magic and witchcraft. You imply that Margrave may be a person thus gifted, and hence the influence he unquestionably exercised over Lilian, and over, perhaps, less innocent agents, charmed or impelled by his will. And not discarding, as I own I should have been originally induced to do, the queries or suggestions adventured by Bacon in his discursive speculations on Nature, to wit, ‘that there be many things, some of them inanimate, that operate upon the spirits of men by secret sympathy and antipathy,’ and to which Bacon gave the quaint name of ‘imaginants,’ so even that wand, of which I have described to you the magic-like effects, may have had properties communicated to it by which it performs the work of the magician, as mesmerists pretend that some substance mesmerized by them can act on the patient as sensibly as if it were the mesmerizer himself. Do I state your suppositions correctly?”

“Yes; always remembering that they are only suppositions, and volunteered with the utmost diffidence. But since, thus seated in the early wilderness, we permit ourselves the indulgence of childlike guess, may it not be possible, apart from the doubtful question whether a man can communicate to an inanimate material substance a power to act upon the mind or imagination of another man — may it not, I say, be possible that such a substance may contain in itself such a virtue or property potent over certain constitutions, though not over all. For instance, it is in my experience that the common hazel-wood will strongly affect some nervous temperaments, though wholly without effect on others. I remember a young girl, who having taken up a hazel-stick freshly cut, could not relax her hold of it; and when it was wrenched away from her by force, was irresistibly attracted towards it, repossessed herself of it, and, after holding it a few minutes, was cast into a kind of trance, in which she beheld phantasmal visions. Mentioning this curious case, which I supposed unique, to a learned brother of our profession, he told me that he had known other instances of the effect of the hazel upon nervous temperaments in persons of both sexes. Possibly it was some such peculiar property in the hazel that made it the wood selected for the old divining-rod. Again, we know that the bay-tree, or laurel, was dedicated to the oracular Pythian Apollo. Now wherever, in the old world, we find that the learning of the priests enabled them to exhibit exceptional phenomena, which imposed upon popular credulity, there was a something or other which is worth a philosopher’s while to explore; and, accordingly, I always suspected that there was in the laurel some property favourable to ecstatic vision in highly impressionable temperaments. My suspicion, a few years ago, was justified by the experience of a German physician, who had under his care a cataleptic or ecstatic patient, and who assured me that he found nothing in this patient so stimulated the state of ‘sleep-waking,’ or so disposed that state to indulge in the hallucinations of prevision, as the berry of the laurel.39 Well, we do not know what this wand that produced a seemingly magical effect upon you was really composed of. You did not notice the metal employed in the wire, which you say communicated a thrill to the sensitive nerves in the palm of the hand. You cannot tell how far it might have been the vehicle of some fluid force in nature. Or still more probably, whether the pores of your hand insensibly imbibed, and communicated to the brain, some of those powerful narcotics from which the Buddhists and the Arabs make unguents that induce visionary hallucinations, and in which substances undetected in the hollow of the wand, or the handle of the wand itself, might be steeped.40 One thing we do know, namely, that amongst the ancients, and especially in the East, the construction of wands for magical purposes was no commonplace mechanical craft, but a special and secret art appropriated to men who cultivated with assiduity all that was then known of natural science in order to extract from it agencies that might appear supernatural. Possibly, then, the rods or wands of the East, of which Scripture makes mention, were framed upon some principles of which we in our day are very naturally ignorant, since we do not ransack science for the same secrets; and thus, in the selection or preparation of the material employed, mainly consisted whatever may be referrible to natural philosophical causes in the antique science of Rhabdomancy, or divination and enchantment by wands. The staff, or wand, of which you tell me, was, you say, made of iron or steel and tipped with crystal. Possibly iron and crystal do really contain some properties not hitherto scientifically analyzed, and only, indeed, potential over exceptional temperaments, which may account for the fact that iron and crystal have been favourites with all professed mystics, ancient and modern. The Delphic Pythoness had her iron tripod, Mesmer his iron bed; and many persons, indisputably honest, cannot gaze long upon a ball of crystal but what they begin to see visions. I suspect that a philosophical cause for such seemingly preternatural effects of crystal and iron will be found in connection with the extreme impressionability to changes in temperatures which is the characteristic both of crystal and iron. But if these materials do contain certain powers over exceptional constitutions, we do not arrive at a supernatural but at a natural phenomenon.”

“Still,” said I, “even granting that your explanatory hypotheses hit or approach the truth; — still what a terrible power you would assign to man’s will over men’s reason and deeds!”

“Man’s will,” answered Faber, “has over men’s deeds and reason, habitual and daily, power infinitely greater and, when uncounterbalanced, infinitely more dangerous than that which superstition exaggerates in magic. Man’s will moves a war that decimates a race, and leaves behind it calamities little less dire than slaughter. Man’s will frames, but it also corrupts laws; exalts, but also demoralizes opinion; sets the world mad with fanaticism, as often as it curbs the heart’s fierce instincts by the wisdom of brother-like mercy. You revolt at the exceptional, limited sway over some two or three individuals which the arts of a sorcerer (if sorcerer there be) can effect; and yet, at the very moment in which you were perplexed and appalled by such sway, or by your reluctant belief in it, your will was devising an engine to unsettle the reason and wither the hopes of millions!”

“My will! What engine?”

“A book conceived by your intellect, adorned by your learning, and directed by your will, to steal from the minds of other men their persuasion of the soul’s everlasting Hereafter.”

I bowed my head, and felt myself grow pale.

“And if we accept Bacon’s theory of ‘secret sympathy,’ or the plainer physiological maxim that there must be in the imagination, morbidly impressed by the will of another, some trains of idea in affinity with such influence and preinclined to receive it, no magician could warp you to evil, except through thoughts that themselves went astray. Grant that the Margrave who still haunts your mind did really, by some occult, sinister magnetism, guide the madman to murder, did influence the servant-woman’s vulgar desire to pry into the secrets of her ill-fated master, or the old maid’s covetous wish and envious malignity: what could this awful magician do more than any commonplace guilty adviser, to a mind predisposed to accept the advice?”

“You forget one example which destroys your argument — the spell which this mysterious fascinator could cast upon a creature so pure from all guilt as Lilian!”

“Will you forgive me if I answer frankly?”


“Your Lilian is spotless and pure as you deem her, and the fascination, therefore, attempts no lure through a sinful desire; it blends with its attraction no sentiment of affection untrue to yourself. Nay, it is justice to your Lilian, and may be melancholy comfort to you, to state my conviction, based on the answers my questions have drawn from her, that you were never more cherished by her love than when that love seemed to forsake you. Her imagination impressed her with the illusion that through your love for her you were threatened with a great peril. What seemed the levity of her desertion was the devotion of self-sacrifice. And, in her strange, dream-led wanderings, do not think that she was conscious of the fascination you impute to this mysterious Margrave: in her belief it was your own guardian angel that guided her steps, and her pilgrimage was ordained to disarm the foe that menaced you, and dissolve the spell that divided her life from yours! But had she not, long before this, willingly prepared herself to be so deceived? Had not her fancies been deliberately encouraged to dwell remote from the duties we are placed on the earth to perform? The loftiest faculties in our nature are those that demand the finest poise, not to fall from their height and crush all the walls that they crown. With exquisite beauty of illustration, Hume says of the dreamers of ‘bright fancies,’ ‘that they may be compared to those angels whom the Scriptures represent as covering their eyes with their wings.’ Had you been, like my nephew, a wrestler for bread with the wilderness, what helpmate would your Lilian have been to you? How often would you have cried out in justifiable anger, ‘I, son of Adam, am on earth, not in Paradise! Oh, that my Eve were at home on my hearth, and not in the skies with the seraphs!’ No Margrave, I venture to say, could have suspended the healthful affections, or charmed into danger the wide-awake soul of my Amy. When she rocks in its cradle the babe the young parents intrust to her heed; when she calls the kine to the milking, the chicks to their corn; when she but flits through my room to renew the flowers on the stand, or range in neat order the books that I read, no spell on her fancy could lead her a step from the range of her provident cares! At day she is contented to be on the commonplace earth; at evening she and I knock together at the one door of heaven, which opes to thanksgiving and prayer; and thanksgiving and prayer send us back, calm and hopeful, to the task that each morrow renews.”

I looked up as the old man paused, and in the limpid clearness of the Australian atmosphere, I saw the child he thus praised standing by the garden-gate, looking towards us, and though still distant she seemed near. I felt wroth with her. My heart so cherished my harmless, defenceless Lilian, that I was jealous of the praise taken from her to be bestowed on another.

“Each of us,” said I, coldly, “has his or her own nature, and the uses harmonious to that nature’s idiosyncrasy. The world, I grant, would get on very ill if women were not more or less actively useful and quietly good, like your Amy. But the world would lose standards that exalt and refine, if no woman were permitted to gain, through the indulgence of fancy, thoughts exquisite as those which my Lilian conceived, while thought, alas! flowed out of fancy. I do not wound you by citing your Amy as a type of the mediocre; I do not claim for Lilian the rank we accord to the type of genius. But both are alike to such types in this: namely, that the uses of mediocrity are for every-day life, and the uses of genius, amidst a thousand mistakes which mediocrity never commits, are to suggest and perpetuate ideas which raise the standard of the mediocre to a nobler level. There would be fewer Amys in life if there were no Lilian! as there would be far fewer good men of sense if there were no erring dreamer of genius!”

“You say well, Allen Fenwick. And who should be so indulgent to the vagaries of the imagination as the philosophers who taught your youth to doubt everything in the Maker’s plan of creation which could not be mathematically proved? ‘The human mind,’ said Luther, ‘is like a drunkard on horseback; prop it on one side, and it falls on the other.’ So the man who is much too enlightened to believe in a peasant’s religion, is always sure to set up some insane superstition of his own. Open biographical volumes wherever you please, and the man who has no faith in religion is a man who has faith in a nightmare. See that type of the elegant sceptics — Lord Herbert of Cherbury. He is writing a book against Revelation; he asks a sign from heaven to tell him if his book is approved by his Maker, and the man who cannot believe in the miracles performed by his Saviour gravely tells us of a miracle vouchsafed to himself. Take the hardest and strongest intellect which the hardest and strongest race of mankind ever schooled and accomplished. See the greatest of great men, the great Julius Caesar! Publicly he asserts in the Senate that the immortality of the soul is a vain chimera. He professes the creed which Roman voluptuaries deduced from Epicurus, and denies all Divine interference in the affairs of the earth. A great authority for the Materialists — they have none greater! They can show on their side no intellect equal to Caesar’s! And yet this magnificent freethinker, rejecting a soul and a Deity, habitually entered his chariot muttering a charm; crawled on his knees up the steps of a temple to propitiate the abstraction called ‘Nemesis;’ and did not cross the Rubicon till he had consulted the omens. What does all this prove? — a very simple truth. Man has some instincts with the brutes; for instance, hunger and sexual love. Man has one instinct peculiar to himself, found universally (or with alleged exceptions in savage States so rare, that they do not affect the general law41) — an instinct of an invisible power without this earth, and of a life beyond the grave, which that power vouchsafes to his spirit. But the best of us cannot violate an instinct with impunity. Resist hunger as long as you can, and, rather than die of starvation, your instinct will make you a cannibal; resist love when youth and nature impel to it, and what pathologist does not track one broad path into madness or crime? So with the noblest instinct of all. Reject the internal conviction by which the grandest thinkers have sanctioned the hope of the humblest Christian, and you are servile at once to some faith inconceivably more hard to believe. The imagination will not be withheld from its yearnings for vistas beyond the walls of the flesh, and the span of the present hour. Philosophy itself, in rejecting the healthful creeds by which man finds his safeguards in sober prayer and his guide through the wilderness of visionary doubt, invents systems compared to which the mysteries of theology are simple. Suppose any man of strong, plain understanding had never heard of a Deity like Him whom we Christians adore, then ask this man which he can the better comprehend in his mind, and accept as a natural faith — namely, the simple Christianity of his shepherd or the Pantheism of Spinoza? Place before an accomplished critic (who comes with a perfectly unprejudiced mind to either inquiry), first, the arguments of David Hume against the gospel miracles, and then the metaphysical crotchets of David Hume himself. This subtle philosopher, not content, with Berkeley, to get rid of matter — not content, with Condillac, to get rid of spirit or mind — proceeds to a miracle greater than any his Maker has yet vouchsafed to reveal. He, being then alive and in the act of writing, gets rid of himself altogether. Nay, he confesses he cannot reason with any one who is stupid enough to think he has a self. His words are: ‘What we call a mind is nothing but a heap or collection of different perceptions or objects united together by certain relations, and supposed, though falsely, to be endowed with perfect simplicity and identity. If any one, upon serious and candid reflection, thinks he has a different notion of himself, I must confess I can reason with him no longer.’ Certainly I would rather believe all the ghost stories upon record than believe that I am not even a ghost, distinct and apart from the perceptions conveyed to me, no matter how — just as I am distinct and apart from the furniture in my room, no matter whether I found it there or whether I bought it. If some old cosmogonist asked you to believe that the primitive cause of the solar system was not to ‘be traced to a Divine Intelligence, but to a nebulosity, originally so diffused that its existence can with difficulty be conceived, and that the origin of the present system of organized beings equally dispensed with the agency of a creative mind, and could be referred to molecules formed in the water by the power of attraction, till by modifications of cellular tissue in the gradual lapse of ages, one monad became an oyster and another a Man — would you not say this cosmogony could scarce have misled the human understanding even in the earliest dawn of speculative inquiry? Yet such are the hypotheses to which the desire to philosophize away that simple proposition of a Divine First Cause, which every child can comprehend, led two of the greatest geniuses and profoundest reasoners of modern times — La Place and La Marck.42 Certainly, the more you examine those arch phantasmagorists, the philosophers who would leave nothing in the universe but their own delusions, the more your intellectual pride may be humbled. The wildest phenomena which have startled you are not more extravagant than the grave explanations which intellectual presumption adventures on the elements of our own organism and the relations between the world of matter and the world of ideas.”

Here our conversation stopped, for Amy had now joined us, and, looking up to reply, I saw the child’s innocent face between me and the furrowed brow of the old man.

30 See, on the theory elaborated from this principle, Dr. Hibbert’s interesting and valuable work on the “Philosophy of Apparitions.”

31 What Faber here says is expressed with more authority by one of the most accomplished metaphysicians of our time (Sir W. Hamilton):

“Somnambulism is a phenomenon still more astonishing (than dreaming). In this singular state a person performs a regular series of rational actions, and those frequently of the most difficult and delicate nature; and what is still more marvellous, with a talent to which he could make no pretension when awake. (Cr. Ancillon, Essais Philos. ii. 161.) His memory and reminiscence supply him with recollections of words and things which, perhaps, never were at his disposal in the ordinary state — he speaks more fluently a more refined language. And if we are to credit what the evidence on which it rests hardly allows us to disbelieve, he has not only perception of things through other channels than the common organs of sense, but the sphere of his cognition is amplified to an extent far beyond the limits to which sensible perception is confined. This subject is one of the most perplexing in the whole compass of philosophy; for, on the one hand, the phenomena are so remarkable that they cannot be believed, and yet, on the other, they are of so unambiguous and palpable a character, and the witnesses to their reality are so numerous, so intelligent, and so high above every suspicion of deceit, that it is equally impossible to deny credit to what is attested by such ample and un exceptionable evidence.”— Sir W. Hamilton: Lectures on Metaphysics and Logic, vol. ii. p. 274.

This perplexity, in which the distinguished philosopher leaves the judgment so equally balanced that it finds it impossible to believe, and yet impossible to disbelieve, forms the right state of mind in which a candid thinker should come to the examination of those more extraordinary phenomena which he has not himself yet witnessed, but the fair inquiry into which may be tendered to him by persons above the imputation of quackery and fraud. Muffler, who is not the least determined, as he is certainly one of the most distinguished, disbelievers of mesmeric phenomena, does not appear to have witnessed, or at least to have carefully examined, them, or he would, perhaps, have seen that even the more extraordinary of those phenomena confirm, rather than contradict, his own general theories, and may be explained by the sympathies one sense has with another — “the laws of reflection through the medium of the brain.” (Physiology of the Senses, p. 1311.) And again by the maxim “that the mental principle, or cause of the mental phenomena, cannot be confined to the brain, but that it exists in a latent state in every part of the organism.” (Ibid., p. 1355.) The “nerve power,” contended for by Mr. Bain, also may suggest a rational solution of much that has seemed incredible to those physiologists who have not condescended to sift the genuine phenomena of mesmerism from the imposture to which, in all ages, the phenomena exhibited by what may be called the ecstatic temperament have been applied.

32 Descartes, L’Homme, vol. iv. p. 345. Cousin’s Edition.

33 Ibid., p. 428.

34 Facts in Mesmerism.

35 La Magic et l’Astrologie dans l’Antiquitd et an Moyen–Age. Par L. F. Alfred Maury, Membre de Institut. p. 225.

36 “She had no illusions when within doors.”— Abercrombie, On the Intellectual Powers, p. 277. (15th Edition.)

37 Muller, Physiology of the Senses, Baley’s translation, pp. 1068–1395, and elsewhere. Mr. Bain, in his thoughtful and suggestive work on the “Senses and Intellect,” makes very powerful use of these statements in support of his proposition, which Faber advances in other words, namely, “the return of the nervous currents exactly on their old track in revived sensations.”

38 Perhaps it is for the reason suggested in the text, namely, that the magician requires the interposition of a third imagination between his own and that of the consulting believer, that any learned adept in (so-called) magic will invariably refuse to exhibit without the presence of a third person. Hence the author of “Dogme et Rituel de la Haute Magic,” printed at Parisy 1852–53 — a book less remarkable for its learning than for the earnest belief of a scholar of our own day in the reality of the art of which he records the history — insists much on the necessity of rigidly observing Le Ternaire, in the number of persons who assist in an enchanter’s experiments.

39 I may add that Dr. Kerner instances the effect of laurel-berries on the Seeress of Prevorst, corresponding with that asserted by Julius Faber in the text.

40 See for these unguents the work of M. Maury, before quoted, “La Magic et l’Astrologie,” etc., p. 417.

41 It seems extremely doubtful whether the very few instances in which it has been asserted that a savage race has been found without recognition of a Deity and a future state would bear searching examination. It is set forth, for example, in most of the popular works on Australia, that the Australian savages have no notion of a Deity or a Hereafter, that they only worship a devil, or evil spirit. This assumption, though made more peremptorily, and by a greater number of writers than any similar one regarding other savages, is altogether erroneous, and has no other foundation than the ignorance of the writers. The Australian savages recognize a Deity, but He is too august for a name in their own language; in English they call Him the Great Master — an expression synonymous with “The Great Lord.” They believe in a hereafter of eternal joy, and place it amongst the stars. — See Strzelecki’s Physical Description of New South Wales.

42 See the observations on La Place and La Marck in the Introduction to Kirby’s “Bridgewater Treatise.”


Last updated Wednesday, March 12, 2014 at 13:31