Obrazy na stronie

the contagion ; which spreads and increases, until the whole assembly is in a tumult. The spread of this sympathetic communication will be particularly rapid, if the first instances of emotion and action are of a decided and strong character.

-The statements, which have been made, are matters of common observation, and can hardly be supposed to have escaped the notice of any. But there are various other facts on record of a less common character, although involving essentially the same principles.

§. 322. Of the animal magnetism of M. Mesner in connection with this subject.

About the year 1784, M. Mesner of Vienna professed to perform various and important cures by what he called animal magnetism. As this new mode of healing was introduced into France, and much interest was felt on the subject, Louis the Sixteenth appointed a number of persons to examine into it; among whom were Lavoisier, Bailly, and Dr. Franklin, at that time American minister at Paris. On inquiry it appeared, that it was common in the process to assemble a considerable number of patients together. The patients were placed round a circular box or bucket of oak, the lid of which was pierced with a number of holes, through which there issued moveable and curved branches of iron. These branches were to be applied by the patient to the diseased part. The commissioners, who were witnesses to these proceedings, found that no effect was produced at first. The patients usually sat an hour and sometimes two, before the crisis came on; being connected with each other meanwhile by means of a cord passed round their bodies. At length some one, wearied and nervous, and with feelings evidently much excited, was thrown into extraordinary convulsions. And in a short time the whole body of patients became similarly affected, in a greater or less degree. But the commissioners themselves, after having witnessed these singular results, consented to become the subjects of these experiments in their own persons. But they testify, that no ef fect was produced upon them. They also aver, when the process was gone through on persons alone, the same effects were not produced, as when a number were together, provided the attempt were made for the first time. In the fol

lowing extract they seem to attribute the results partly to imagination, and partly to sympathy, that is to say, to Sympathetic Imitation.

"The magnetism, then, (the commissioners remark,) or, rather, the operations of the imagination, are equally discoverable at the theatre, in the camp, and in all numerous assemblies, as at the bucket; acting, indeed, by different means, but producing similar effects. The bucket is surrounded with a crowd of patients; the sensations are continually communicated and recommunicated; the nerves are at last worn out with this exercise, and the woman of most sensibility in the company gives the signal. In the meantime, the men, who are witnesses of these emotions, partake of them in proportion to their nervous sensibility; and those, with whom this sensibility is greatest, and most easily excited, become themselves the subjects of a crisis.

"This irritable disposition, partly natural and partly acquired, becomes in each sex habitual. The sensations having been felt once or oftener, nothing is now necessary but to recall the memory of them, and to exalt the imagination to the same degree, in order to operate the same effects. The public process is no longer necessary. You have only to conduct the finger and the rod of iron before the countenance, and to repeat the accustomed ceremonies. In many cases, the experiment succeeds, even when the patient is blindfolded, and, without any actual exhibition of the signs, is made to believe that they are repeated as formerly. The ideas are re-excited; the sensations are reproduced; while the imagination, employing its accustomed instruments, and resuming its former routes, gives birth to the same phenomena."*

§ 329. Instance of sympathetic imitation at the poor-house of Haerlem. Multitudes of other facts, equally well attested, show the sympathetic connection between mind and mind; and the sympathy between the mind and the nervous and muscular system. Few are more interesting, or decisive than what is stated to have occurred at Haerlem under the inspection of Boerhave."In the house of charity at Haerlem, (says

* Rapports des Commissaires charges par le Roi, de l'Examen du Magnetisme Animal, (as quoted by Stewart.)

the account,) a girl, under an impression of terror, fell into a convulsive disease, which returned in regular paroxysms. One of the by-standers, intent upon assisting her, was seized with a similar fit, which also recurred at intervals; and on the day following, another was attacked; then a third, and a fourth; in short, almost the whole of the children, both girls and boys, were afflicted with these convulsions. No sooner was one seized, than the sight brought on the paroxysm in almost all the rest at the same time. Under these distressing circumstances, the physicians exhibited all the powerful antepileptic medicines with which their art furnished them; but in vain. They then applied to Boerhave, who compassionating the wretched condition of the poor children, repaired to Haerlem; and whilst he was inquiring into the matter, one of them was seized with a fit, and immediately he saw several others attacked with a species of epileptic convulsion. It presently occurred to this sagacious physician, that, as the best medicines had been skillfully administered, and as the propagation of the disease from one to another appeared to depend on the imagination, [the sympathy of imagination,] by preventing this impression upon the mind, the disease might be cured; and his suggestion was successfully adopted. Having previously apprized the magistrates of his views, he ordered, in the presence of all the children, that several portable furnaces should be placed in different parts of the chamber, containing burning coals, and that iron, bent to a certain form should be placed in the furnaces; and then he gave these farther commands; that all medicines would be totally useless, and the only remedy, with which he was acquainted, was, that the first, who should be seized with a fit, whether boy or girl, must be burnt in the arm to the very bone, by a red hot iron. He spoke this with uncommon dignity and gravity; and the children, terrified at the thoughts of this cruel remedy, when they perceived any tendency to the recurrence of the paroxysm, immediately exerted all their strength of mind, and called up the horrible idea of the burning; and were thus enabled, by the stronger mental impression, to resist the influence of the morbid propensity."

§. 324. Other instances of this species of imitation.

It would not be difficult to multiply cases, similar to those, which have been mentioned. A few years since, there was a man in Chelmsford, Massachusetts, who had a family of six children, one of whom became affected with the CHOREA OF St. Vitus' dance. The others, in the indulgence of that thoughtless gaiety which is natural to children, amused themselves with imitating his odd gestures, until after a time they were irresistibly affected in the same way. At this state of things, which seems to be susceptible of an explanation in no other way than on the principles of sympathetic imitation, the family, as may naturally be supposed, were in great af fliction. The father, a man of some sagacity as well as singularity of humor, brought into the house a block and axe, and solemnly threatened to take off the head of the first child, who should hereafter exhibit any involuntary bodily movements, except the child originally diseased. By this measure, which proceeded on the same view of the human mind as the experiment of Boerhave just mentioned, a new train of feeling was excited, and the spell was broken.*

It may be added, that not only those in the same family, and in the same building, have been seized; but the contagion has sometimes spread from one to another, (by the mere imitation of sympathy as we suppose,) over whole towns, and even large districts of country. This was the case in a part of the island of Anglesey, in 1796; and still later in this country, in some parts of Tennessee.†

§. 325. Application of these views to the witchcraft delusion in New England.

The doctrines of this chapter furnish, in part at least, an explanation of the witchcraft delusion, which prevailed in New England about the year 1690. In the first place it is to be recollected, that the existence of witches and wizards, possessing a powerful but invisible agency, was a part of the popular creed, and was generally and fully believed. It is further to be recollected, that the people were as a general thing very ignorant at that time, a state of mind exceedingly * Powers' Essay on the Influence of the Imagination, p. 32. † See Edinburg Med. and Surg. Journal, Vol. 1, p. 446.

favorable to any superstition or delusion of that sort; and also that their minds were kept in a state of constant and high excitation, not only in consequence of living scattered abroad and remote from each other, but by residing, in many cases, in the midst of dense and dark forests.

Under these circumstances certain individuals, probably under the influence of some form of nervous disease, became affected with pains in certain parts of the body, resembling the pain occasioned by the pricking of pins or by sudden and heavy blows; and in some cases became subject to certain involuntary motions of the body, similar to those of the CHOREA or St. Vitus dance. Of course, in accordance with the common belief, those mysterious personages, popularly denomited Witches, were at their work; and the whole country was at once thrown into a ferment. It is not easy to conceive a more favorable basis than this for the operations of the powerful principle of Sympathetic Imitation. The few cases of nervous and muscular disease, which existed at first, were rapidly propagated and multiplied on every side; and as the popular belief ascribed them to the agency of Satan, manifested in the subordinate agency of witchcraft, the infatuation soon arose to the highest point. The accusations of innocent individuals as exercising the art of witchery, and the scenes of blood which followed, were the natural consequence. Similar views will probably apply to the witchcraft delusions, which to the ruin of thousands of individuals have prevailed in other periods and countries.

§. 326. Practical results connected with the foregoing views.

As sympathetic imitation, if it be correctly considered as a distinct and specific modification of the more ordinary form of Imitativeness, is to be regarded as an original part of our mental constitution, we may well suppose it has its beneficial ends. But it is evident from the facts, which have been given, that it may also be attended, and under certain circumstances is very likely to be attended, with results of a different kind. Hence the direction has sometimes been given by physicians, that a free intercourse with persons, subject to convulsive attacks, ought not to be unnecessarily indulged in, especially by such as are inclined to nervous affections.

« PoprzedniaDalej »