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One look he cast upon his child,
Still brightly shone the deep blue sky,
'What is frail man, O Lord, that thou
[This poem is founded upon a prose sketch in the Janus; or Edinburgh Literary Almanack, entitled 'The Transport.']
ON SUPERNATURAL APPEARANCES.
A more hackneyed subject than this the most unfortunate candidate for originality can hardly attempt to discuss. Thousands of scribblers have, I believe, vented upon the world their credulities and incredulities concerning' it: some professing to believe firmly in the existence and appearance of ghosts, and others making* such a belief the ally of folly and of ignorance. But to ask two plain questions—why are any of us, full grown in understanding and stature, afraid of such things? and why have even wise men unhesitatingly asserted their faith in them ?' 'Tis conscience that makes cowards of us all,' presents by no means a satisfactory solution to hundreds of cases of this description; though, where such a cause exists, we need not philosophise upon its effects. But there is, I think, scarcely an individual to be found who has not felt, at some period of life beyond the age of youth, an actual dread of supernatural appearances, the very idea of which he has, perhaps, at other times ridiculed as mere idle superstition. We can, of course, account, up to a certain stage of the mind's progress, for the terrors of those whose understandings have been early imbued with tales of horror, narrated with all the sincerity of conviction by their ignorant and ill-chosen protectors or companions. But, independently of the influence of early prepossessions, there seems to be in most men a natural fear, or some other kindred sensation, of something unseen, undefined, but yet believed in, because apprehended. My acquaintance is limited; but I have, as yet, conversed with no moral man of cultivated intellect who has not owned a sensation of fear or awe arising from this cause, on some occasion or other, which no argument, founded on unbelief or improbability, could subdue. Some have considered this fact as affording strong probability; because it is independent of reasonings which might, in various ways, be impugned and overthrown, to shew that there is implanted in us by nature, (as we say in popular terms) a belief in the existence of a future state, and in the proximity to us of its inhabitants. For, it appears, that any thing conducing to present eternity to us, as it were, in a real form, necessarily excites in us feelings correspondent with the condition of our mental attainments. Thus, the boy is terrified a.t the bare idea of seeing a ghost; the mature, and enlightened mind of the moral man, on certain impressive occasions, contemplates the eternal world and its spiritual occupants with profound awe, not unmixed with painful dread. ^
There are, I should think, but few who would venture to deny the possibility of apparitions; and, perhaps, as few who could be persuaded to receive, without qualifying their assent, the best authenticated account of such an occurrence. And certainly, the singularly absurd relations of ghosts, by weak or designing men, are almost sufficient to lead us to include all that has been said or proved in support of them in one sweeping charge of falsehoodand delusion. My earliest and most distressing fears were on the subject of ghosts. The living were comparatively unheeded by me, whilst the bare thought, in the midst of my youthful pastimes, of the dead, a source of nocturnal disquietude, was sufficient to render them all insipid and even hateful. I was eager, therefore, to avail myself of every argument and opinion denying their earthly visits, and at length, in fact, gained enough of scepticism to allay my terrors, and to render me a tolerably comfortable infidel. But this unbelief was afterwards much shaken by the following argument, with which a young barrister assailed me. 'You, of course, admit that apparitions were even common in the days of our Saviour; and as that which has happened once may happen again, you cannot deny their possibility.' This appears decisive: but, as in general, the point of contention is not the possibility—for what, strictly speaking, is not possible? but the probability of the fact, we shall find some little sophistry in it. To produce a fair conclusion, the proposition ought to stand thus: 'That which has occurred once may, under the same or similar circumstances, occur again. But the same or similar circumstances, our Saviour's appearance, namely, on earth,, which we conceive was then pervaded by a divine influence, fully accounting for every miraculous event, never will occur again: therefore we are not, from this precedent, warranted in expecting such facts in ordinary times.' This, 1 know, does not set the question at rest; it is designed to answer a single argument only, by which one side of it has been frequently upheld with unequivocal success. My own belief in the existence and earthly intercourse Of departed spirits is firmly, though humbly, entertained; and, after some preliminary remarks, explanatory of its nature, extent, and modifications, I shall offer two facts in confirmation of it.
Dr. Hibbert has written a book on apparitions. I have not seen it, and know nothing of his theories, but what I have derived from one of our periodicals, in which they were briefly stated. They are, doubtless, applicable to many cases; but are by no means, I think, sufficient to account for all. My conclusion on the subject is deduced from the following reasoning. It seems physically impossible that a spirit can become visible to a corporeal being as such. How then can there be any communication between the two worlds; supposing some facts to exist which compel us to believe that there really is? Undoubtedly, through the channel of that soul which, but for its clay tenement, would resemble the unobstructed spirit. But of those who have professed to witness supernatural visitations, some affirm that their evidence was occular, others that it was auricular, and not a few that it was tangible. What theory can harmonize such discrepancies, rendering, as they do, the accounts, if unexplained, ridiculous? In reference to subjects beyond this earthly scene, I think that no man who has properly studied divine revelation, would dare to hazard one important conjecture, unsupported by some quotation from it. Accordingly I appeal to it. The Almighty claims to himself such faculties as those by which our knowledge is obtained, in these words, 'He that made the eye shall he not see? He that formed the ear shall he not hear?' Elsewhere it is said, 'God made man in his own image'—man, meaning, of course, his immaterial spirit. I conclude, therefore, that the soul, independent of the body, has faculties exactly corresponding with those of seeing, hearing, &c. appertaining to the body. Suppose then, though we know from general experience that such an event is uncommon, that an intercourse was permitted between a disembodied spirit and one yet confined in its earthly receptacle, and that this intercourse should be effected through one of these corresponding senses, (as we must call them,) whether that of hearing, or seeing, or feeling; would not the vision of the soul leave an impression producing a conviction of reality, a belief as strong,—nay stronger, almost in the proportion of finite to infinite—as that which is produced by mere sensual demonstration?
It will be seen, that metaphysical accuracy has not been much regarded in the above reasoning. The proof of the correctness of this view is, so far as I know, original; and it satisfies me that the following narrations are not even improbable. I offer both as facts; the latter of which, at least, illustrates this theory.
One of the most intimate friends of my earlier years, with whom I held frequent conversations on the subject of ghosts, in which his own unbelief was most explicitly avowed, and rationally sustained, related, in substance, the following accounts, as personal evidences of the truth of his creed. * I
lived for some years in the town of , during the time that my friend
— was settled there, we were in habits of almost daily intimacy, frequenting each other's rooms without even the semblance of ceremony. His health was not remarkably good, by his own frequent confessions; and, to my mind, his whole appearance indicated very often unequivocal symptoms of the silent attacks of some slow-wasting disease. At length he became aware, that some decisive remedy was necessary to rescue him from the yawning grave; and accordingly, in my absence, he took his
departure from , to a neighbouring village, the distance of which from
the town afforded no obstacle to his frequent visits to us. One morning, some time after this partial change of residence, previous to which we had not met for some days, I was passing by his room, in my way to another part of the town, when I observed the casement open, and my friend standing before it, simply clad in his night dress. His countenance was dead/y pale, but yet strongly expressive of that resignation to his anticipated fate, which I knew he had long endeavoured to acquire. In order that I might convey to his mind no additional alarm, by expressing the anxiety that I really felt, I assumed a cheerful air, and addressed him with the wonted friendly salutation. Instead of the usual smile and reply, he glided by the window, and disappeared, without the slightest change of look, or symptom of recognition. At a loss to conjecture, whether this conduct was real or feigned, I was yet unable, that day, to satisfy myself, as the urgency of my business was too great to allow me to await the completion of his toilet. I called, however, the next day, and learnt from one of the domestics, merely that his master was from home. Some few days afterwards, I met him by chance in one of my walks; and after the usual inquiries about health, his favourable answers to which were sadly belied by his ghastly looks, I asked him whether his reverie on —day morning was so deep, as to drown all self-recollection, and whether I might take that as an excuse for his not replying to his friend's morning address? 'You were certainly,' added I, 'in great mental absence.' 'Yes,' said he, 'and in bodily absence
too, for that morning I was at , from which place I am but just
returned, as my equestrian habiliments testify.' 'Impossible,' rejoined I, 'for I saw you at your room window, and spake to you, on —day morning, I certainly did; or seeing is no longer believing.' His explanations, however, were too clear to allow any room for doubting their accuracy; and, to my mind, they were fully confirmed by his death, which occurred just six days from that on which I received this information, in the same room, and at the same hour.
The other fact is as follows:
'You know,' said my friend, 'that my mother's support had, for years, devolved solely upon me. And a stronger affection for a parent could not, I think, exist in any son's breast: acting, as it always must, if it be real, it urged me on, and animated me in striving to render her declining years unattended by a single pang of poverty or neglect. I have every reason to believe, that the solace afforded by such unwearied filial attentions more than compensated for the miseries of a comparative state of indigence, to which she had not been born, accompanied, as they were, by keen bodily affliction, forming an accumulation of ills, which, in ordinary cases, must have performed the workof death years before. We were the only members of our family whose union was at all perfect; and the neglect of those who might and ought to have done nearly all that I was called upon to effect alone, served only to draw closer and closer the endearing tie which bound us together. In fact, for myself, I cannot conceive that a heavier trial than her death could have befallen me, until the accumulation of mental and bodily disorders had rendered her so insensible to all the world, that this feeling became exchanged for the hope, promising a sad pleasure, that I might, ere long, be summoned to follow her disease-mangled frame to its mother earth.' This attachment of my friend to his mother was altogether the purest, the firmest, I ever knew; and aware, as I was, how well it had stood that true touchstone of sincerity, adversity, I could not doubt of its ennobling character. Whilst sauntering with him one delightful summer's afternoon, along a path that exhibited to our view, rather elevated as its position was, some of the richest glory of nature's scenery; stopping suddenly at a certain steep in it, he said, ' Here, here, I received the first intimation of my poor mother's death. I was returning from a solitary excursion, on—day night, lighted by a glorious uncovered moon, when I here received the clearest, the most satisfactory information of the event, that could have been conveyed me by one who had professed to have just returned fresh from witnessing the scene. I saw nothing, heard nothing, felt nothing; but I experienced that, whatever it might be, which instantaneously broke off a train of thought, not even remotely connected with such a subject, and gave me an assurance of reality, leaving no doubt of a supernatural visitation. I was then not far from my residence, and having arrived there, immediately communicated it to my wife. She appeared incredulous, and attempted to reason me out of it; but, of course, without success. The following post confirmed—not to me, for firmer faith no occular demonstration could have supplied—the fact, as to the day and hour when I believed her spirit had depared, shaken itself effectually from the grasp of its dire tormentor, the body, to wing its unimpeded way to those abodes, where is found * no sorrow, neither pain nor death.' Her hopes and desires had been long fixed and confined within the narrow precincts of the dark grave. And buffetted as we may be by trials assuming, as it were, the embodied shape of tyrants, delegated to inflict upon us the extremes of torture, amidst the direst ills of life, the pure mind may say, and feel, as hers did— .
* There is a calm for those that weep,
A rest for weary pilgrims found,
They softly lie, and sweetly sleep, ... Low in the ground.' Many years have passed away since I heard the above accounts. I firmly credited them then, and my faith still remains unshaken by one breath of doubt. Our belief in such things ought altogether to depend on the character of the witnesses who attest them. For, I should feel much inclined to doubt the best told, and most probable, ghost story, narrated by either a very immoral man, or a coward. The creative powers of fear are too well known to require any supernatural explanation of its visions. An instance of the effects of conscience occurred some years ago, near the town in