Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 50.djvu/236

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222
POPULAR SCIENCE MONTHLY.

ish, in spite of the agencies that strive to effect their destruction, so thought germs occasionally take root in his mind, sprout and grow in spite of all that "he himself" can do to prevent it. Where are they to be found? In all that we can see, hear, or think, everything carries with it some suggestive power. Usually the trivial suggestions of the environment pass by unnoticed, but occasionally, under some special circumstances or in some sensitive temperaments, they take root. A friend of mine told me that he was talking with his wife one evening of a recent murder, and, as he talked, his eyes rested on her eyes for a moment longer than usual. He saw her shrink and turn pale, but paid little attention to it at the moment. A little later he fancied she still looked troubled, and tried to comfort her, but she would have none of it; she could not allow him to come near her. She kept thinking of his killing her and was afraid of him. She did not believe it at all; she knew how absurd it was as well as he did, but, she said, the moment he allowed his gaze to rest on her while speaking of that horrible subject, she saw him killing her, and could not shake the thought off. It wore off in the course of half an hour or so. An isolated suggestion of this kind very seldom gets lodged in a sound mind. The most common source of contagion is to be found in the beliefs of the community in which one lives. We are by nature social animals, and our aptness for social life is largely due to our sensitiveness to the collective suggestions of the social environment. An individual who proves refractory to such influences, and evolves along his own lines without reference to the claims or the standards of his age, soon lands either in Bedlam or the lockup. All the forces which we vaguely call evolutionary have for ages been impressing this trait upon man, and consequently we find it a potent factor in the production of automatisms of all kinds. A suggestible patient often responds to such impressions almost as mechanically as a mirror, and faithfully reflects the opinions and prejudices of his human environment without feeling his voluntary self to be in the least concerned in it. The cases of Mr. B—— and of Mr. Le Baron, which I gave in my August paper, are illustrations in point. Automatisms of this sort are always popularly ascribed to the intervention of some intelligence distinct from that of the patient, but the further definition of the intelligence varies in different ages and countries.

I shall pass over the familiar convulsive epidemics of flagellation, of dancing, of tarantism, the "holy jerks" of the great revival in the Southern States at the opening of this century, the convulsionaries of Saint-Médard, etc. All these have been often described, and I shall assume that my readers are acquainted with them. I shall, however, take a few cases from various periods of