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And this precautionary rule might be extended to other cases; for instance, of madness. "It is a question, (says Mr. Stewart in the chapter already referred to,) worthy of more attention than has yet been bestowed upon it by physicians, whether certain kinds of insanity have not a contagious tendency, somewhat analogous to that which has just been remarked. That the incoherent ravings and frantic gestures of a madman have a singularly painful effect in unsettling and deranging the thoughts of others, I have more than once experienced in myself; nor have I ever looked upon this most afflicting of all spectacles, without a strong impression of the danger to which I should be exposed, if I were to witness it daily. In consequence of this impression, I have always read, with peculiar admiration, the scene in the Tragedy of Lear, which forms the transition from the old king's beautiful and pathetic reflections on the storm, to the violent madness in which, without any change whatever in his external circumstances, he is immediately after represented. In order to make this transition more gradual, the poet introduces Edgar, who, with a view of concealing himself from Lear, assumes the dress and behavior of a madman. At every sentence he utters, the mind of the king, "whose wits," (as we are told in the preceding scene,) were "beginning to turn," becomes more and more deranged, till at length every vestige of reason vanishes completely."
§. 327. Application of these views to legislative and other assemblies.
We have already had occasion to intimate, that the effects of sympathetic imitation have been strikingly experienced in public assemblies; and we may here add, when those effects have been strongly marked, they have seldom been beneficial. In all political deliberative assemblies, external signs of approbation and disapprobation should be in a great degree suppressed. There is generally enough in the subjects, which are discussed, to excite the members, without the additional excitement, (to use a phrase of Buffon,) of “body speaking to body." It is said of the famous Athenian tribunal of the Areopagus, that they held their deliberations in the night, in order that their attention might not be diverted by external objects. And without expressing an opinion on this prac
tice, it is certainly not unwise to guard against the terrible influences under consideration; otherwise truth, honor, and justice, will often be sacrificed to feeling. Every public deliberative assembly has probably furnished facts, illustrative of the propriety of this caution.
Similar remarks will apply to religious assemblies, and perhaps with still more force; as religious subjects are more important and in general more exciting than any other. If in such an assembly the feelings of a few individuals become so strong as to show themselves very decidedly in the countenance, and the movements of the body, and particularly by sobs and loud outcries, it will not be surprising, if this state of things should quickly spread itself through the whole body. In this way it is probable, that serious evils have sometimes been experienced; and that true and false religious feelings have been confounded. It is true, that people may sometimes be led by the mere power of sympathy to attend to religious things; and so far, if there are no collateral evils, the result may be regarded as favorable; but at the same time it should be kept in recollection, that the feelings, which are really propagated from one to another by mere sympathy, are not in themselves religious feelings in any proper sense of the terms, though they are often confounded with them.
DISORDERED ACTION OF THE AFFECTIONS.
§. 328. Of the states of mind denominated presentiments.
WE proceed now to remark, that there may be a disordered action of the Affections or Passions, as well as of the lower principles of the Sensitive nature; and this remark is designed to apply to both classes of the Affections, the benevolent and those of an opposite kind. We do not propose, however, in this Chapter to confine ourselves very strictly to the Affections properly so called; but shall introduce some collateral or connected subjects; which may be regarded as too interesting to be omitted, and at the same time as too unimportant to require a distinct place. They may be expected, moreover, to throw indirectly some light upon the leading topic of the chapter. We begin with the subject of PRESEN
Many individuals have had at certain times strong and distinct impressions in relation to something future; so much so that not the least doubt has remained in their own minds of its being something out of the common course of nature. It is related for instance, of the non-conformist writer, Isaac Ambrose, whose religious works formerly had some celebrity, that he had such a striking internal intimation of his approaching death, that he went round to all his friends, to bid them farewell. When the day arrived, which his presentiments indicated as the day of his dissolution, he shut himself up in his room and died. Mozart, the great musical composer, had a strong presentiment, that the celebrated Requiem which bears his name, would be his last Work. Nothing
could remove this impression from his mind. He expressly said, "it is certain I am writing this requiem for myself; it will serve for my funeral service." The foreboding was realized. It is stated of Pendergrast, an officer in the Duke of Marlborough's army, that he had a strong foreboding, that he would be killed on a certain day. He mentioned his conviction to others, and even made a written memorandum in relation to it. And the event was such as he had foretold it would be.* Henry the Fourth of France, for some weeks previous to his being assassinated by Ravaillac, had a distinct presentiment, which he mentioned to Sully and other men of his time, that some great calamity was about to befal him.
Some cases of Presentiments can undoubtedly be explained on natural principles. Some accidental circumstance, a mere word, the vagaries of a dream, any trifling event which happens in the popular belief of the time and country to be regarded as a sinister omen, may have been enough in some cases to have laid the foundation for them; and the subsequent fulfilment may have been purely accidental. Nor is it necessary, so far as we are able to perceive, to suppose that in any cases whatever there is any supernatural or miraculous interposition. But if this is not the case, it is difficult to account for the deep conviction which sometimes fastens upon the mind, a conviction upon which arguments and persuasions are found to make no impression, except upon the ground, that the action of the Sensibilities is in some degree disordered. But of the specific nature of that disorder, the trait or circumstance which distinguishes it from other forms of disordered mental action, it is difficult to give any account.
§. 329. Of sudden and strong impulses of mind.
There is another disordered condition of mind, different from that which has just been mentioned, and yet in some respects closely allied to it. Some persons, whose soundness of mind on all ordinary occasions is beyond question, find in themselves at certain times a sudden and strange propensity to do things, which, if done, would clearly prove them, to some extent at least, deranged. As an illustration, a person Boswell's Life of Johnson, Vol. II, p. 48.
of a perfectly sane mind, according to the common estimate of insanity, once acknowledged, that, whenever he passed a particular bridge, he felt a slight inclination to throw himself over, accompanied with some dread, that his inclination might hurry him away. Such slight alienated impulses are probably more frequent, than is commonly supposed. And they exist in every variety of degree, sometimes scarcely attracting notice; at others, bearing the broad and fatal stamp of dangerous insanity.
Dr. Gall mentions the case of a woman in Germany, who, having on a certain occasion witnessed a building on fire, was ever afterwards at intervals subject to strong impulses, prompting her to fire buildings. Under the influence of these impulses she set fire to twelve buildings in the borough where she lived. Having been arrested on the thirteenth attempt, she was tried, condemned, and executed. "She could give no other reason, nor show any other motive, for firing so many houses than this impulse, which drove her to it. Notwithstanding the fear, the terror, and the repentence she felt in every instance after committing the crime, she went and did it afresh."* Would not sound philosophy, to say nothing of the requisitions of religion, have assigned such a person to an insane hospital, rather than to the block of the executioner?
The same writer, who has collected numerous valuable facts in relation to the operations of the human mind, mentions the case of a German soldier, who was subject every month to a violent convulsive attack. "He was sensible, (he proceeds to remark,) of their approach, and as he felt, by degrees, a violent propensity to kill, in proportion as the paroxysm was on the point of commencing, he was earnest in his intreaties to be loaded with chains. At the end of some days the paroxysm and the fatal propensity diminished, and he himself fixed the period, at which they might without danger set him at liberty. At Haina, we saw a man, who, at certain periods, felt an irresistible desire to injure others. He knew this unhappy propensity, and had himself kept in chains till he perceived that it was safe to liberate him. An individual of melancholic temperament was present at the * Gall's Works, Vol. 4th, Am. Ed. p. 105.