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Civil War Harper's Weekly, December 14, 1861

This WEB site contains online readable versions of the original Harper's Weekly newspapers published during the Civil War. These original documents contain a wealth of incredible content to help you develop a more full understanding of the important issues of the war. We hope you enjoy studying these priceless documents.

 

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Slave Map

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Contrabands

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Urbanna

Urbanna, Virginia

Benham and Nelson

General Benham and General Nelson

Rat Hole Squadron

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Beaufort

Beaufort

Beaufort, South Carolina

Stone Fleet

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Tybee Island

Tybee Island, Georgia

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Interior of Fort Pickens

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HARPER'S WEEKLY.

[DECEMBER 14, 1861.

796

"I SEATED MYSELF ON A BENCH, PLACED BETWEEN THE CLIPPED YEW-TREES," ETC.

not even in the house.* But instances of the facility with which phantasms once admitted repeat themselves to the senses are numberless. Many are recorded by Hibbert and Abercrombie, and every physician in extensive practice can add largely, from his own experience, to the list. Intense self-concentration is, in itself, a mighty magician. The magicians of the East inculcate the necessity of fast, solitude, and meditation for the due development of their imaginary powers. And I have no doubt with effect ; because fast, solitude, and meditation—in other words, thought or fancy intensely concentred, will both raise apparitions and produce the invoker's belief in them. Spinello, striving to conceive the image of Lucifer for his picture of the Fallen Angels, was at last actually haunted by the Shadow of the fiend. Newton himself has been subjected to a phantom, though to him, son of Light, the spectrum presented was that of the sun ! You remember the account that Newton gives to Locke of this visionary appearance. He says that 'though he had looked at the sun with his right eye only, and not with the left, yet his fancy began to make an impression upon his left eye as well as his right, for if he shut his right and looked upon a book or a cloud with his left eye, he could see the sun almost as plain as with the right, if he did but intend his fancy a little while on it ;' nay, 'for some months after, as often as he began to meditate on the phenomena, the spectrum of the sun began to return, even though he lay in bed at midnight, with his curtains drawn!' Seeing, then, how any vivid impression once made will recur, what wonder that you should behold in your prison the Shining Shadow that had first startled you in a wizard's chamber when poring over the records of a murdered visionary ? The more minutely you analyze your own hallucinations—pardon me the word—the more they assume the usual characteristics of a dream ; contradictory, illogical, even in the marvels they represent. Can any two persons be more totally unlike each other, not merely as to form and years, but as to all the elements of character, than the Grayle of whom you read, or believe you read, and the Margrave in whom you evidently think that Grayle is existent still? The one represented, you say, as gloomy, saturnine, with vehement passions, but with an original grandeur of thought and will, consumed by an internal remorse ; the other you paint to me as a joyous and wayward darling of Nature, acute yet frivolous, free from even the ordinary passions of youth, taking delight in innocent amusements, incapable of continuous study, without a single pang of repentance for the crimes you so fancifully impute to him. And now, when your suspicions, so romantically conceived, are dispelled by positive facts—now, when it is clear that Margrave neither murdered Sir Philip Derval nor abstracted the memoir, you still, unconsciously to yourself, draw on your imagination in order to excuse the suspicion your pride of intellect declines to banish, and suppose that this youthful sorcerer tempted the madman to the murder, the woman to the theft—"

"But you forget the madman said 'that he

* Sir David Brewster's Letters on Natural Magic, p. 39.

was led on by the Luminous Shadow of a beautiful youth,' that the woman said also that she was impelled by some mysterious agency."

" I do not forget those coincidences ; but how your learning would dismiss them as nugatory were your imagination not

 disposed to exaggerate them ! When you read the authentic histories of any popular illusion, such as the spurious inspirations of the Jansenist Convulsionaries, theapparitions that invaded convents, as deposed to in the time of Urban Grondier, the confessions of witches and wizards in places the most remote from each other, or, at this day, the tales of 'spirit-manifestation' recorded in half the towns and villages of America—do not all the superstitious impressions of a particular time have a common family likeness? What one sees another sees, though there has been no communication between the two. I can not tell you why these phantasms thus partake of the nature of an atmospheric epidemic ; the fact remains incontestable. And, strange as may be the coincidence between your impressions of a mystic agency and those of some other brains not cognizant of the chimeras of your own, still, is it

not simpler philosophy to say, They are coincidences of the same nature which made witches in the same epoch all tell much the same story of the broomsticks they rode and the sabbats at which they danced to the fiend's piping,' and there leave the matter, as in science we must leave many of the most elementary and familiar phenomena inexplicable as to their causes—is not this, I say, more philosophical than to insist upon an explanation which accepts the supernatural rather than leave the extraordinary unaccounted for ?"

 

"As you speak," said I, resting my downcast face upon my hand, "I should speak to any patient who had confided to me the tale I have told to you." "And yet the explanation does not wholly satisfy you? Very likely: to some phenomena there is, as yet, no explanation. Perhaps Newton himself could not explain to his own satisfaction why he was haunted at midnight by the spectrum of a sun ; though I have no doubt that some later philosopher, whose ingenuity has been stimulated by Newton's account, has, by this time, suggested a rational solution of that enigma.* To return to your own case. I have offered such interpretations of the mystery that confound you, as appear to me authorized by physiological science. Should you adduce other facts which physiological science wants the data to resolve into phenomena, always natural, however rare, still hold fast to that saying of Goethe's, so simple, yet, when considered, so profound-'Mysteries are not always miracles.' And if all which physiological science comprehends in its experience wholly fails us, I may then hazard certain conjectures which, by acknowledging ignorance, is compelled to recognize the marvelous; for, as where knowledge enters the marvelous recedes, so where knowledge falters the marvelous advances. Yet still, even in those conjectures, l will distinguish the marvelous from the supernatural. But, for the present, I advise you to accept the

guess that may best quiet the fevered imagination which any bolder guess would only yet more excite."

"You are right," said I, rising proudly to the full height of my stature, my head erect and my heart defying. "And so, let this subject be renewed no more between us. I will brood over it no more myself. I regain again the unclouded realm of my human intelligence ; and in that intelligence I mock the sorcerer and disdain the spectre."

* Dr. Roget, Animal and Vegetable Physiology Considered, with reference to Natural Theology, Bridgewater Treatise, p. 524, 525, states, as a phenomenon which all of us may experience, that which Newton details as "strange," and offer a. very rational explanation of it.

"When the impressions are very vivid (Dr. Roget is speaking of visual impressions) another phenomenon often takes place, namely, their subsequent recurrence after a certain internal, during which they are not felt, and quite independently of any renewed application of the cause which had originally excited them. (I mark by italics the words which more precisely coincide with Julius Faber's explanations.) If, for example, we look steadfastly at the sun for a second or two, and then immediately close our eyes, the image or spectrum of the sun remains for a long time present to the mind as if the light were still acting on the retina. It then gradually fades and disappears; but if we continue to keep the eyes shut, the same impression will, after a certain time, recur and again vanish: and this phenomenon will be repeated at intervals, the sensation becoming fainter at each renewal. (I venture here, with the greatest humility, so far to differ from Dr. Roget as to doubt whether the sensation necessary does become fainter at each renewal. It does not seem to have become fainter by each renewal in Newton's case; and in other instances recorded by physiologists, spectral illusions have become stronger by renewal.) It then gradually fades and disappears; but if we continue to keep the eyes shut, the same impression will after a time recur, and then vanish, and this phenomenon will be repeated at intervals, the sensation becoming fainter at each renewal. It is probable that these reappearances of the image, after the light which produced the original impression has been withdrawn, are occasioned by spontaneous affections of the retina itself which are conveyed to the sensorium. In other cases where the impressions are less strong, the physical changes producing these changes are perhaps confined to the sensorium."

It may be said that the difference between the spectrum of the sun, for instance, and that which perplexed Allen Fenwick is, that we have already looked at the sun before its visionary appearance can be reproduced—and Allen Fenwick only imagines he has seen the apparition which repeats itself to his fancy. But according to Muller, the eye does behold the phantom which the mind conjures up, and, without here contesting a point on which other eminent physiologists however agree with Muller, an idea or image is at all events distinctly conveyed to the sensorium, and that idea or image the sensorium reproduces. Hence the Q. E. D. of Julius Faber's problem, the impression of an image once conveyed to the sense (no matter how) is liable to renewal, "independently of any renewed application of the cause which had originally excited it."

GENERAL HENRY W. BENHAM, U.S.A.—[SEE PAGE 799.]

GENERAL NELSON, OF KENTUCKY.—[SEE PAGE 799.]

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General Benham
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