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and with curious inconsistency described the elementary operation of the supposed gift-his adversaries attributed it to the power of friction, neglecting to observe, that if friction had anything to do with the cures supposed, it must be as the means of setting in motion some other cause, without a knowledge of which nothing was explained.
Mr Boyle was appealed to, and he appears to have viewed the question with the temperate and impartial mind of a philosopher-which is to be neither hasty to affirm nor deny. He admitted the possibility of miraculous gifts, because he found no absolute reason to deny it: but, considering the description of the actual facts, he saw no reason to class them as miracles: he justly observed, and the observation is very important, that they were wholly dissimilar from the miracles related in Scripture. He did not deny that there might be some mechanical cause, or some healing virtue applicable by the touch of the hand, especially considering the known powers of the imagination. And he illustrated his reasoning by examples of cures performed by the immediate and direct effect of this influence.
As subsequent controversies have given very considerable importance to the principles involved in this question, we shall not leave it without making some general remarks; and in doing this we shall, to the utmost extent, avoid the slightest leaning to the controverted opinions of any class of persons. It may be unnecessary to mention, that the main form in which these considerations have been latterly involved, has been the great controversy concerning mesmerism; or as it has been recently termed, animal magnetism.
On the facts, concerning which these questions have arisen, we are no further acquainted than by hearsay. But as they are not authoritatively contradicted, their reality may for the present purpose be assumed. Both parties have, so far as we have had cognizance, joined issue on the facts, and are at variance upon the law. We only design to notice here, the errors in reason which they have committed—what may become of the question concerning mesmerism, is a matter of great comparative unimportance: it is our object to guard the integrity of reason which is so apt to suffer grievously in the heat of such disputes.
Against those who have been the assertors or practitioners of mesmerism, two objections are to be made, neither of which demand much comment-that of imposture, and that of premature theorizing. On the first, we must be very brief: we have not personally had any experience of the facts commonly alleged; they have been affirmed on very strong authority, and submitted to every test of which they seem capable. Some of them appear to admit of no deception. And it ought to be observed that, among the most intelligent of their opponents adınissions have been directly or indirectly made, which amount to the concession of all that can be contended for short of idle speculation. The other charge is, indeed, but too well warranted against both sides; it rests on that common infirmity of human reason, which has from the beginning of time loaded human knowledge with the encumbrance of idle speculations. The almost universal fallacy of assuming that every thing known is to be explained by the best conjecture that occurs. Accordingly, the magnetists have in their tracts upon the subject, so amply involved their very debatable facts in such idle reasonings as very much to multiply their vulnerable points, and to raise questions on which they can be assailed beyond the power of effective defence. When the ridiculous reason, or the absurd pretence, is exposed, the multitude, equally shallow in its scepticism as in its credulity, will easily be induced to overlook the facts. The charge of sleight, or imposture, is as effective as any other explanation—it is at least as cheap as a miracle.
Against the adversaries of the magnetists, the charges to be made are the hasty denial of facts; and the opposition of these facts, so far as admitted, by fallacies and evasions.
Of those who deny facts, simply on the ground that they are impossible, or that they have not witnessed them, there is nothing to be said—they are unreasonable, and not to be met by reason. The most respectable opponents of mesmerism are those who, admitting the facts so far as they have been actually ascertained by competent trial and observation, have considered it as a sufficient argument to silence all further consideration of the subject, to find a name for them, or to refer them to some known natural cause; and then take it for granted that there is nothing further, and assert that the whole matter is undeserving of further notice.
In the reign of Louis XVI. of France, the question was referred to a committee of professional men, who completely put an end to the question for the time, by referring the phenomena to imitation. This was explained by the fact of that species of sympathy which is known in numerous cases to take place in the human mind and body. The argument has been since taken up, and received various improvements of the same character-nervous influence has been of some use, and the mere agency of the imagination has been of still more. And, finally, in our own times, it has been thought full sufficient reason against the magnetists to say that the phenomena are no more than disease.
Now, what renders all this deplorably fallacious is, that every one of these objections may be fully admitted, and still leave every question worthy of consideration untouched. Imitation, as an act of the will, to which it may be referred as a cause, is not the kind of imitation intended: involuntary imitation is but an effect to be accounted for, and which can explain nothing. If the phenomena are such as to be properly called imitative, it neither tells nor explains to say that they are the effects of imitation; this is still but the very fact to be explained. If, however, a further step is taken towards the discovery of an efficient cause, and that nervous sympathy, or the influence of imagination be considered as such; the first point would be to trace the indications of these several causes in the actual phenomena; when this is done, it will remain to be proved that anything is gained in the controversy. The same may be said with greater force of the objection, that the phenomena in question are nothing but disease. The answer to all these is, that the phenomena of mesmerism or magnetism, are altogether independent of any theory by which their explanation may be attempted: they may be nervous, or some form of disease; but, if it can be proved that such facts have real existence, there is nothing to justify the charge of imposture maintained by an explanation, which, if it has any force, proves something different. Our objection to such a course is this, that a presumed imposture is resisted by a gross fallacy. Before we leave this part of the subject we must observe of the methods of solution to which we have here adverted, that many of the alleged facts are such as to exclude altogether both imitation and imagination, and every other known agency. That the same facts are justly referred to certain diseased states of the mind or body, of which they are the known symptoms, presents a different question on which we have some remarks to offer.
Now, supposing the charge of mere imposture abandoned (as we believe it to be), by the most reasonable opponents; and the far more just objection made, that the effects in question are disease-that the practice is dangerous—and, though not imposture in one sense, yet is a most pernicious resource in the hands of quacks and other impostors. This may be very true, and if so cannot be answered. But, in the meantime, it does not justify the course which has been followed with regard to magnetism. It was not, perhaps, so much amiss in the time of Louis XVI., when investigation was limited, and authority despotic, to put down a pernicious practice by any means. But neither conclave, college, nor court, can now exercise the smallest influence to arrest the expansive curiosity and intelligence of the human mind—the tricks of night are too visible in the full daylight of reason. Such ineffectual opposition can only awaken resistance from the multitudes who wonder at magnetism, and the few who respect reason. Let the really rational opponents of magnetic experiments take a more open and philosophic course.
If the practice of magnetism is really pernicious, this is surely the practical ground to take against it; but this cannot effectually be taken by those who treat it as a fiction. Surely they who should have the leading voice in such a question, have put themselves inadvertently in a position from which the sooner they extricate themselves the better.
But if the allegations of so many of the most authoritative wita nesses are—as we are here taking for granted really true, there is a wider view of the subject. · If in any one single case out of a thousand trials—for the number of failures is of no real importance--any one of the most remarkable phenomena of mesmerism is actually produced, as a natural phenomenon, it is not less worthy of notice and investigation, than if the trial should succeed in every instance. The small class of facts, thus observed-supposing no defect in the observation-would be the certain indications of some principle, or of some process in human nature, beyond the limit of that circle of cause and effect hitherto ascertained. Such an extension of our knowledge would be rejected by no true philosophy. In such a supposition it is vain and absurd to pretend that all further questions, concerning such facts, must end by referring them to disease, or imagination, or nerves. None of which causes even make a seeming approach towards the explanation of the facts. If, for instance, there is a state of disease in which the patient becomes cognizant of things existing and passing elsewhere, and not otherwise known, it may be catalepsy; but it is evident that the symptom indicates some process beyond the ordinary range of human faculties, as yet otherwise known. It is at once evident that no mental or physical cause yet distinctly known, named, or classed, in any department of natural phenomena, can account for it. It cannot be sympathy or imagination, or nervous affection, in any sense yet intelligibly contained in these words.
But it may, perhaps, be inexplicable--so is every fact in nature beyond some point-but, it is enough that it is, if truly stated, a fact · which extends our knowledge of our intellectual constitution, by proving that it contains capabilities and provisions which are developed in certain states of disorder, more powerful in action and range than any known in health, and wholly different in kind. It surely manifests the existence of a function, and a capability which extends our knowledge of the human mind. If disease can develop some new sense, the provision is probably designed for some use beyond disease by the great Creator, who can scarcely be presumed to have made so elaborate a provision for the information of a cataleptic patient.
There is an objection which we have heard with concern and surprise. Some good men have expressed their fear, that the miracles of the Scripture history might be attributed to animal magnetism. When we recall the reasonings of the deist, we cannot but admit that such a fallacy would not be too absurd. The first principle of scepticism is the confusion of distinctions; and this, though it would be a most egregious instance, would not be one of the worst. But such an oversight can only, for a moment, be indulged in by those who are in the habit of arguing on the sacred narrative without having taking the trouble to look into it; as the miracles of either the Old or New Testament are not such as to admit of explanation either by magnetism or any other natural means--and must be wholly fable, or wholly supernatural.
As for the cures practised, or supposed to be practised, by Greatrakes, and others since his time we believe that, in part, they may be safely attributed to the influence of the imagination. That they may also, to some extent, be attributable to the same influence as animal magnetism operating in some peculiar way, is not unreasonable to suspect. But, admitting the utmost as to the facts, we see no ground for the inference of any supernatural influence. It is easy to see why such a power, in the possession of an individual, should in certain circumstances be made available for imposture; but we cannot admit that imposture is to be best resisted by the weapons of fraud, or by that more comprehensive class of fallacies which from the beginning of time have retarded all knowledge. Any delusion which extensively affects the public mind must, in these days of opinion, be fairly examined; and when it becomes for any reason worth while to investigate, it ought to be such a fair investigation as alone can bear any decided conclusion. It should never be forgotten, on such occasions, that nothing can be called impossible but that which directly contradicts itself or some known truth.
. We have been led into this discussion by a remark, in which we agree, made by one of the writers of Mr Boyle's life, in commenting on the same facts. “It may in the present age, perhaps, be thought that Mr Boyle ought to have laid more emphasis on the power of
imagination over organized matter, and the effects of animal magnetism or enthusiasm, and rejected altogether the notion of supernatural influences.”
Greatrakes was himself under the firm, and we believe sincere, persuasion, that his power of healing was a supernatural gift. Some attacked him as an impostor, while others endeavoured to account for his cures, by the theory of a “sanative contagion in the body, which has an antipathy to some particular diseases and not to others." Among other opponents, St Evremond assailed him in a satirical novel. In the main, however, the most respectable physicians and philosophers of the time supported him with testimonies, which we should now find it hard to reject. Among these were Mr Boyle, Bishop Rust, the celebrated Cudworth, Dr Wilkins, Dr Patrick, &c. The writer of a brief, but full memoir of Greatrakes in the Dublin Penny Journal, cites a long letter from lord Conway to Sir George Rawdon, in which he gives an account of a cure to which he was an eyewitness. The subject was a leper who had for ten years been considered incurable. He was the son of a person of high respectability, and brought forward by the bishop of Gloucester, which makes fraudulent conclusion improbable—the cure was immediate. The case is, therefore, as strong and as well attested as any such case is likely to be.
The celebrity thus attained by Greatrakes in England was very great. And Charles II. who invited him to London, recommended him very strongly.
There is, however, no record of the latter part of his life. He is traced in Dublin, in 1681, when he was about fifty-three years of age.
Tue ancestry of this nobleman has been already noticed among these memoirs. He was son to the third earl of Roscommon, and by his mother, nephew to the illustrious earl of Strafford.
His father had been in the communion of the church of Rome, but was converted by Usher-so that he was educated as a protestant. His early years were wholly past in Ireland, and he first visited England when his uncle, the earl of Strafford, returned thither from his government, and carried him over to his seat in Yorkshire, where he placed him under the care of a Mr Hall, an eminent scholar. It is mentioned that, from this gentleman, he learned Latin without any previous instruction in grammar, of which it was found impossible to make him recollect the rules. The difficulty is, indeed, one of such frequent occurrence, that it is satisfactory to learn that his lordship was distinguished for the ease and purity of his Latin-in which he maintained a considerable correspondence.
The beginning of the civil wars made it unsafe to remain under the protection of the earl of Strafford, and, by the advice of archbishop Usher, he was sent to France. There was a Protestant university in Caen-here he studied for some time under the tuition of Bochart.