Popular Science Monthly/Volume 15/May 1879/Disease of the Body as a Mental Stimulant
|←Dangers of Darwinism|| Popular Science Monthly Volume 15 May 1879 (1879)
Disease of the Body as a Mental Stimulant
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DURING special states of disease the mind sometimes develops faculties such as it does not possess when the body is in full health. Some of the abnormal qualities thus exhibited by the mind seem strikingly suggestive of the possible acquisition by the human race of similar powers under ordinary conditions. For this reason, though we fear there is no likelihood at present of any practical application of the knowledge we may obtain on this subject, it seems to us that there is considerable interest in examining the evidence afforded by the strange powers which the mind occasionally shows during diseases of the body, and especially during such diseases as are said, in unscientific but expressive language, to lower the tone of the nervous system.
We may begin by citing a case which seems exceedingly significant. Miss H. Martineau relates that a congenital idiot, who had lost his mother when he was less than two years old, when dying, "suddenly turned his head, looked bright and sensible, and exclaimed, in a tone never heard from him before, 'O my mother! how beautiful!' and sank down again—dead." Dr. Carpenter cites this as a case of abnormal memory, illustrating his thesis that the basis of recollection "may be laid at a very early period of life." But the story seems to contain a deeper meaning. The poor idiot not only recalled a long-past time, a face that he had not seen for years except in dreams, but he gained for a moment a degree of intelligence which he had not possessed when in health. The quality of his brain was such, it appears, that with the ordinary activity of the circulation, the ordinary vitality of the organ, mental action was uncertain and feeble; but when the circulation had all but ceased, when the nervous powers were all but prostrate, the feeble brain, though it may have become no stronger actually, became relatively stronger, in such sort that for the time being, a mere moment before dissolution, the idiot became an intelligent being.
A somewhat similar case is on record in which an insane person, during that stage of typhus fever in which sane persons are apt to become delirious, became perfectly sane and reasonable, his insanity turning with returning health. Persons of strongest mind in health are often delirious for a short time before death. Since, then, the idiot in the same stage of approaching dissolution may become intelligent, while the insane may become sane under the conditions which make the sane become delirious, we recognize a relationship between the mental and bodily states which might be of considerable use in the treatment of mental diseases. It may well be that conditions of the nervous system which are to be avoided by persons of normal mental qualities may be advantageously superinduced in the case of those of abnormally weak or abnormally violent mind. It is noteworthy that different conditions would seem to be necessary for the idiotic and for the insane, if the cases cited sufficed to afford basis for generalization. For the idiot of Miss Martineau's story became intelligent during the intense depression of the bodily powers immediately preceding dissolution, whereas the insane person became sane during that height of fever when delirium commonly makes its appearance.
Sir H. Holland mentions a case which shows how great bodily depression may affect a person of ordinarily clear and powerful mind. "I descended on one and the same day," he says, "two very deep mines in the Hartz Mountains, remaining some hours underground in each. While in the second mine, and exhausted both from fatigue and inanition, I felt the utter impossibility of talking longer with the German inspector who accompanied me. Every German word and phrase deserted my recollection; and it was not until I had taken food and wine, and been some time at rest, that I regained them again."
A change in the mental condition is sometimes a sign of approaching serious illness, and is felt to be so by the person experiencing it. An American writer, Mr. Butterworth, quotes the following description given by a near relative of his who was suffering from extreme nervous debility: "I am in constant fear of insanity," she said, "and I wish I could be moved to some retreat for the insane. I understand my condition perfectly; my reason does not seem to be impaired; but I can think of two things at the same time. This is an indication of mental unsoundness, and is a terror to me. I do not seem to have slept at all for the last six months. If I sleep, it must be in a succession of vivid dreams that destroy all impression of somnolence. Since I have been in this condition, I seem to have a very vivid impression of what happens to my children who are away from home, and I am often startled to hear that these impressions are correct. I seem to have also a certain power of anticipating what one is about to say, and to read the motives of others. I take no pleasure in this strange increase of mental power; it is all unnatural. I can not live in this state long, and I often wish T were dead."
It must, however, be remembered that persons who are in a state of extreme nervous debility not only possess at times abnormal mental qualities, but are also affected morally. As Huxley has well remarked of some stories bearing on spiritualism, they come from persons who can hardly be trusted even according to their own account of themselves. Mr. Butterworth's relation described a mental condition which, even if quite correctly pictured as she understood it, may yet be explained without believing that any very marvelous increase had taken place in her mental powers. Among the vivid impressions which she constantly had of what might be happening to her children away from home, it would have been strange if some had not been correct. The power of anticipating what others were about to say is one which many imagine they have, mistaking the occasional coincidence between their guesses and what has been next said for indications of a power which in reality they do not possess. And so also with regard to the motives of others. Many are apt, especially when out of health, to guess at others' motives, sometimes rightly, but oftener very wrongly, yet always rightly in their own belief, no matter what evidence may presently appear to the contrary.
The case cited by Mr. Butterworth affords evidence rather of the unhealthy condition of the patient's mind than of abnormal powers, except as regards the power of thinking of two things at the same time, which we may fairly assume was not ordinarily possessed by his relatives. It is rather difficult to define such a power, however. Several persons have apparently possessed the power, showing it by doing two things at the same time which both appear to require thought, and even close attention. Julius Caesar, for example, could write on one subject and dictate on another simultaneously. But, in reality, even in cases such as these, the mind does not think of two things at once. It simply takes them in turn, doing enough with each, in a short time, a mere instant, perhaps, to give work to the pen or to the voice, as the case may be, for a longer time. When Cæsar was writing a sentence, he was not necessarily thinking of what he was writing. He had done the thinking part of the work before; and was free, while continuing the mere mechanical process of writing, to think of matter for dictation to his secretary. So also while he was speaking, he was free to think of matter for writing. If, indeed, the thought for each sentence of either kind had occupied an appreciable time, there would have been interruptions of his writing, if not of his dictation (dictation is not commonly a continuous process under any circumstances, even when shorthand writers take down the words). But a practiced writer or speaker can in a moment form a sentence which shall occupy a minute in writing and several seconds in speaking.
The present writer, who certainly does not claim the power of thinking of two things at once (nay, believes that no one ever had or could ' have such a power), finds it perfectly easy, when lecturing, to arrange the plan for the next ten minutes' exposition of a scientific subject, and to adopt the words themselves for the next twenty seconds or so, while continuing to speak without the least interruption. He has also worked out a calculation on the blackboard, while continuing to speak of matters outside the subject of the calculation. It is more a matter of habit than an indication of any mental power, natural or acquired, to speak or write sentences, even of considerable length, after the mind has passed on to other matters. In a similar way some persons can write different words with the right and left hands, and this, too, while speaking of other matters. (We have seen this done by Professor Morse, the American naturalist, whose two hands added words to the diagrams he had drawn while his voice dealt with other parts of the drawing; to add to the wonder, too, he wrote the words indifferently from right to left or from left to right.) In reality the person who thus does two things at once is no more thinking of two things at once than a clock is, when the striking and the working machinery are both in action at the same time.
As an illustration of special mental power shown in health, by a person whose mental condition in illness we shall consider afterward, Sir Walter Scott may be mentioned. The account given by his amanuensis has seemed surprising to many, unfamiliar with the nature of literary composition (at least after long practice), but is in reality such as any one who writes much can quite readily understand, or might even have known must necessarily be correct. "His thoughts," says the secretary to whom Scott dictated his "Life of Napoleon Bonaparte," "flowed easily and felicitously, without any difficulty to lay hold of them or to find appropriate language" (which, by the way, is more than all would say who had read Scott's "Life of Bonaparte," and certainly more than can be said of his secretary, unless it really was a familiar experience with him to be unable to lay hold of his thoughts). "This was evident by the absence of all solicitude (miseria cogitandi) from his countenance. He sat in his chair, from which he rose now and then, took a volume from the bookcase, consulted it, and restored it to the shelf—all without intermission in the current of ideas, which continued to be delivered with no less readiness than if his mind had been wholly occupied with the words he was uttering. It soon became apparent to me, however, that he was carrying on two distinct trains of thought, one of which was already arranged and in the act of being spoken, while at the same time he was in advance, considering what was afterward to be said. This I discovered" (he should rather have said, "this I was led to infer") "by his sometimes introducing a word which was wholly out of place—entertained instead of denied, for example—but which I presently found to belong to the next sentence, perhaps four or five lines further on, which he had been preparing at the very moment when he gave me the words of the one that preceded it." In the same way the present writer has unconsciously substituted one word for another in lecturing, the word used always belonging to a later sentence than the word intended to be used. We have noticed also this peculiarity, that, when a substitution of this kind has been once made, an effort is required to avoid repeating the mistake, even if it be not repeated quite unconsciously to the end of the discourse. In this way, for example, the writer once throughout an entire lecture used the word "heavens" for the word "screen" (the screen on which lantern pictures were shown). A similar peculiarity may be noticed with written errors. Thus in a treatise on a scientific subject, in which the utmost care had been given to minute points of detail, the present writer once wrote "seconds" for "minutes" throughout several pages in fact, from the place where first the error was made, to the end of the chapter. (See the first edition of Proctor's "Transits of Venus," pp. 131-136, noting as an additional peculiarity that the whole object of the chapter, in which this mistake was made, was to show how many minutes of difference existed between the occurrence of certain events.)
An even more curious instance of a mistake arising from doing one thing while thinking of another occurred to the writer fourteen years ago. He was correcting the proof-sheets of an astronomical treatise in which occurred these words: "Calling the mean distance of the earth 1, Saturn's mean distance is 9·539; again, calling the earth's period 1, Saturn's mean period is 29·457: now, what relation exists between these numbers 9*539 and 29·457 and their powers? The first is less than the second, but the square of the first is plainly greater than the second; we must therefore try higher powers," etc. The passage was quite correct as it stood, and, if the two processes by which the writer was correcting verbal errors and following the sense of the passage had been really continuous processes of thought, unquestionably the passage would have been left alone. If the passage had been erroneous and had been simply left in that condition, the case would have been one only too familiar to those who have had occasion to correct proofs. But what the writer actually did was deliberately to make nonsense of the passage while improving the balance of the second sentence. He made it run, "The first is less than the second, but the square of the first is plainly greater than the square of the second," the absurdity of which statement a child would detect. If the first proof in its correct form, with the incorrect correction carefully written down in the margin, had not existed, when, several months later, the error was pointed out in the "Quarterly Journal of Science," the writer would have felt sure that he had written the words wrongly at the outset. For blunders such as this are common enough. But, that he should deliberately have taken a correctly worded sentence and altered it into utter absurdity, he could not, but for the evidence, have believed to be possible. The case plainly shows that not only may two things be done at once, when the mind, nevertheless, is thinking only of one, but that something may be done which suggests deliberate reflection, when in reality the mind is elsewhere or not occupied at all. For in this case both the processes on which the writer was engaged were manifestly carried on without thought, one being purely mechanical, and the other, though requiring thought if properly attended to, being so imperfectly effected as to show that no thought was given to it.
To return to Sir Walter Scott. It is known but too well that during the later years of his life there came with bodily prostration a great but not constant failure of his mental powers. Some of the phenomena presented during this part of his career are strikingly illustrative of abnormal mental action occurring even at times when the mental power is on the whole much weakened. "The Bride of Lammermoor," though not one of the best of Scott's novels, is certainly far above such works as "Count Robert of Paris," "The Betrothed," and "Castle Dangerous." Its popularity may perhaps be attributed chiefly to the deep interest of the "ower true tale" on which it is founded; but some of the characters are painted with exceeding skill. Lucy herself is almost a nonentity, and Edgar is little more than a gloomy, unpleasant man, made interesting only by the troubles which fall on him. But Ailsie Gourlay and Caleb Balderstone stand out from the canvas as if alive; they are as lifelike and natural, yet as thoroughly individualized, as Edie Ochiltree and Meg Merrilies. The novel neither suggested when it first appeared, nor has been regarded even after the facts became known, as suggesting that Scott, when he wrote it, was in ill health. Yet it was produced under pressure of severe illness, and when Scott was at least in this sense unconscious, that nothing of what he said and did in connection with the work was remembered when he recovered. "The book," says James Ballantyne, "was not only written, but published, before Mr. Scott was able to rise from his bed; and he assured me that, when it was first put into his hands in a complete shape, he did not recollect one single incident, character, or conversation it contained! He did not desire me to understand, nor did I understand, that his illness had erased from his memory the original incidents of the story, with which he had been acquainted from his boyhood. These remained rooted where they had ever been; or, to speak more explicitly, he remembered the general facts of the existence of the father and mother, of the son and daughter, of the rival lovers, of the compulsory marriage, and the attack made by the bride upon the hapless bridegroom, with the general catastrophe of the whole. All these things he recollected, just as he did before he took to his bed; but he literally recollected nothing else—not a single character woven by the romancer, not one of the many scenes and points of humor, not anything with which he was himself connected, as the writer of the work."
Later, when Scott was breaking down under severe and long-continued labor, and first felt the approach of the illness which ultimately ended in death, he experienced strange mental phenomena. In his diary for February 17, 1829, he notes that on the preceding day, at dinner, though in company with two or three old friends, he was haunted by "a sense of preëxistence," a confused idea that nothing that passed was said for the first time; that the same topics had been discussed, and that the same persons had expressed the same opinions before. "There was a vile sense of a want of reality in all that I did or said."
Dr. Reynolds related to Dr. Carpenter a case in which a Dissenting minister, who was in apparently sound health, was rendered apprehensive of brain-disease—though, as it seemed, without occasion—by a lapse of memory similar to that experienced by Sir Walter Scott. He "went through an entire pulpit service on a certain Sunday morning with the most perfect consistency—his choice of hymns and lessons and his extempore prayer being all related to the subject of his sermon. On the following Sunday morning he went through the introductory part of the service in precisely the same manner giving out the same hymns, reading the same lessons, and directing the extempore prayer in the same channel. He then gave out the same text and preached the very same sermon as he had done on the previous Sunday. When he came down from the pulpit it was found that he had not the smallest remembrance of having gone through precisely the same service on the previous Sunday; and, when he was assured of it, he felt considerable uneasiness lest his lapse of memory should indicate some impending attack of illness. None such, however, supervened; and no rationale can be given of this curious occurrence, the subject of it not being liable to fits of "absence of mind," and not having had his thoughts engrossed at the time by any other special preoccupation." It is possible that the explanation here is the simple one of mere coincidence. Whether this explanation is available or not would depend entirely on the question whether the preacher's memory was ordinarily trustworthy or not, whether in fact he would remember the arrangements, prayers, sermon, etc., he had given on any occasion. These matters becoming, after long habit, almost automatic, it might very well happen that the person going through such duties would remember them no longer and no better than one who had been present when they were performed, and who had not paid special attention to them. That if he had thus unconsciously carried out his duties on one Sunday he should (being to this degree forgetful) conduct them in precisely the same way on the next Sunday, would rather tend to show that his mental faculties were in excellent working order than the reverse. Wendell Holmes tells a story which effectively illustrates our meaning; and he tells it so pleasantly (as usual) that we shall quote it unaltered: "Sometimes, but rarely," he says, "one may be caught making the same speech twice over, and yet be held blameless. Thus a certain lecturer" (Holmes himself, doubtless), "after performing in an inland city, where dwells a littératrice of note, was invited to meet her and others over the social teacup. She pleasantly referred to his many wanderings in his new occupation. 'Yes,' he replied, 'I am like the huma, the bird that never lights, being always in the cars as he is always on the wing.' Years elapsed. The lecturer visited the same place once more for the same purpose. Another social cup after the lecture, and a second meeting with the distinguished lady. 'You are constantly going from place to place,' she said. 'Yes,' be answered, 'I am like the huma,' and finished the sentence as before. What horrors, when it flashed over him that he had made this fine speech, word for word, twice over! Yet it was not true, as the lady might perhaps have fairly inferred, that he had embellished his conversation with the huma daily during that whole interval of years. On the contrary, he had never once thought of the odious fowl until the recurrence of precisely the same circumstances brought up precisely the same idea." He was not in the slightest degree afraid of brain-disease. On the contrary, he considered the circumstance indicative of good order in the mental mechanism. "He ought to have been proud," says Holmes, speaking for him, and meaning no doubt that he was proud, "of the accuracy of his mental adjustments. Given certain factors, and a sound brain should always evolve the same fixed product with the certainty of Babbage's calculating machine."
Somewhat akin to the unconscious recurrence of mental processes after considerable intervals of time is the tendency to imitate the actions of others as though sharing in their thoughts, and according to many because mind acts upon mind. This tendency, though not always associated with disease, is usually a sign of bodily illness. Dr. Carpenter mentions the following singular case, but rather as illustrating generally the influence of suggestions derived from external sources in determining the current of thought, than as showing how prone the thoughts are to run in undesirable currents when the body is out of health: "During an epidemic of fever, in which an active delirium had been a common symptom, it was observed that many of the patients of one particular physician were possessed by a strong tendency to throw themselves out of the window, while no such tendency presented itself in unusual frequency in the practice of others. The author's informant, Dr. C, himself a distinguished professor in the university, explained the tendency of what had occurred within his own knowledge; he having been himself attacked by the fever, and having been under the care of this physician, his friend and colleague, Dr. A. Another of Dr. A.'s patients, whom we shall call Mr. B., seems to have been the first to make the attempt in question; and, impressed with the necessity of taking due precautions, Dr. A. then visited Dr. C., in whose hearing he gave directions to have the windows properly secured, as Mr. B. had attempted to throw himself out. Now, Dr. C. distinctly remembers that, although he had not previously experienced any such desire, it came upon him with great urgency as soon as ever the idea was thus suggested to him; his mind being just in that state of incipient delirium which is marked by the temporary dominance of some one idea, and by the want of volitional power to withdraw the attention from it. And he deemed it probable that, as Dr. A. went on to Mr. D., Mr. E., etc., and gave similar directions, a like desire would be excited in the minds of all those who might happen to be in the same impressible condition." The case is not only interesting as showing how the mind in disease receives certain impressions more strongly than in health, and, in a sense, may thus be said to possess for the time an abnormal power, but it affords a useful hint to doctors and nurses, who do not always (the latter indeed scarcely ever) consider the necessity of extreme caution when speaking about their patients and in their presence. It is probable that a considerable proportion of the accidents, fatal and otherwise, which have befallen delirious patients might be traced to incautious remarks made in their hearing by foolish nurses or forgetful doctors.
In some cases doctors have had to excite a strong antagonistic feeling against tendencies of this kind. Thus Zerffi relates that an English physician was once consulted by the mistress of a ladies' school where many girls had become liable to fits of hysterics. He tried several remedies, but in vain. At last, justly regarding the epidemic as arising from the influence of imagination on the weaker girls (one hysterical girl having infected the others), he determined to exert a stronger antagonistic influence on the weak minds of his patients. He therefore remarked casually to the mistress of the school, in the hearing of the girls, that he had now tried all methods but one, which he would try, as a last resource, when next he called—"the application of a red-hot iron to the spine of the patients so as to quiet their nervously excited systems." "Strange to say," remarks Zerffi—meaning, no doubt, "it is hardly necessary to say that"—"the red-hot iron was never applied, for the hysterical attacks ceased as if by magic."
In another case mentioned by Zerffi, a revival mania in a large school near Cologne was similarly brought to an abrupt end. The Government sent an inspector. He found that the boys had visions of Christ, the Virgin, and departed saints. He threatened to close the school if these visions continued, and thus to exclude the students from all the prospects which their studies afforded them. "The effect was as magical as the red-hot iron remedy—the revivals ceased as if by magic."
The following singular cases are related in Zimmermann's "Solitude": A nun, in a very large convent in France, began to mew like a cat. At last all the nuns began to mew together every day at a certain time, and continued mewing for several hours together. This daily cat concert continued until the nuns were informed that a company of soldiers was placed by the police before the entrance of the convent, and that the soldiers were provided with rods with which they would whip the nuns until they promised not to mew any more. . . . In the fifteenth century, a nun in a German convent fell to biting her companions. In the course of a short time all the nuns of this convent began biting each other. The news of this infatuation among the nuns soon spread, and excited the same elsewhere; the biting mania passing from convent to convent through a great part of German}'. It afterward visited the nunneries of Holland, and even spread as far as Rome." No suggestion of bodily disease is made in either case. But any one who considers how utterly unnatural is the manner of life in monastic communities will not need the evidence derived from the spread of such preposterous habits to be assured that in convents the perfectly sane mind in a perfectly healthy body must be the exception rather than the rule.
The dancing mania, which spread through a large part of Europe in the fourteenth and fifteenth centuries, although it eventually attacked persons who were seemingly in robust health, yet had its origin in disease. Dr. Hecker, who has given the most complete account we have of this strange mania, in his "Epidemics of the Middle Ages," says that when the disease was completely developed the attack commenced with epileptic convulsions. "Those affected fell to the ground senseless, panting and laboring for breath. They foamed at the mouth, and suddenly springing up began their dance amid strange contortions. They formed circles hand in hand, and appearing to have lest all control over their senses continued dancing, regardless of the bystanders, for hours together, in wild delirium, until at length they fell to the ground in a state of exhaustion. They then complained of extreme oppression, and groaned as if in the agonies of death, until they were swathed in clothes bound tightly round their waists; upon which they again recovered, and remained free from complaint until the next attack. . . . While dancing they neither saw nor heard, being insensible to external impressions through the senses; but they were haunted by visions, their fancies conjuring up spirits, whose names they shrieked out; and some of them afterward asserted that they felt as if they had been immersed in a stream of blood, which obliged them to leap so high. Others during the paroxysm saw the heavens open, and the Saviour enthroned with the Virgin Mary, according as the religious notions of the age were strangely and variously reflected in their imaginations." The epidemic attacked people of all stations, but especially those who led a sedentary life, such as shoemakers and tailors; yet even the most robust peasants finally yielded to it. They "abandoned their labors in the fields as if they were possessed by evil spirits, and those affected were seen assembling indiscriminately from time to time, at certain appointed places, and, unless prevented by the lookers-on, continued to dance without intermission, until their very last breath was expended. Their fury and extravagance of demeanor so completely deprived them of their senses, that many of them dashed their brains out against the walls and corners of buildings, or rushed headlong into rapid rivers, where they found a watery grave. Roaring and foaming as they were, the bystanders could only succeed in restraining them by placing benches and chairs in their way, so that, by the high leaps they were thus tempted to take, their strength might be exhausted. As soon as this was the case they fell, as it were, lifeless to the ground, and by very slow degrees recovered their strength. Many there were who even with all this exertion had not expended the violence of the tempest which raged within them, but awoke with newly revived powers and again and again mixed with the crowd of dancers; until at length the violent excitement of their disordered nerves was allayed by the great involuntary exertion of their limbs, and the mental disorder was calmed by the exhaustion of the body. The cure effected by these stormy attacks was in many cases so perfect that some patients returned to the factory or plow, as if nothing had happened. Others, on the contrary, paid the penalty of their folly by so total a loss of power that they could not regain their former health, even by the employment of the most strengthening remedies."
It may be doubted, perhaps, by some whether such instances as these illustrate so much the state to which the mind is reduced when the body is diseased, as the state to which the body is reduced when the mind is diseased, though, as we have seen, the dancing mania when fully developed followed always on bodily illness. In the cases we now have to deal with, the diseased condition of the body was unmistakable.
Mrs. Hemans on her death-bed said that it was impossible for imagination to picture or pen to describe the delightful visions which passed before her mind. They made her waking hours more delightful than those passed in sleep. It is evident that these visions had their origin in the processes of change affecting the substance of the brain as the disease of the body progressed. But it does not follow that the substance of the brain was undergoing changes necessarily tending to its ultimate decay and dissolution. Quite possibly the changes were such as might occur under the influence of suitable medicinal or stimulant substances, and without any subsequent ill effects. Dr. Richardson, in an interesting article on ether-drinking and extra-alcoholic intoxication ("Gentleman's Magazine" for October), makes a remark which suggests that the medical men of our day look forward to the discovery of means for obtaining some such influence over the action of the brain. After describing the action of methylic and ethylic ethers in his own case, he says: "They who have felt this condition, who have lived, as it were, in another life, however transitorily, are easily led to declare with Davy that 'nothing exists but thoughts! the universe is composed of impressions, ideas, pleasures, and pains!' I believe that it is so, and that we might by scientific art, and there is such an art, learn to live altogether in a new sphere of impressions, ideas, pleasures, and pains. . . . But stay," he adds, as if he had said too much, "I am anticipating, unconsciously, something else that is in my mind. The rest is silence; I must return to the world in which we now live, and which all know."
Mr. Butterworth mentions the case of the Rev. William Tennent, of Freehold, New Jersey, as illustrative of strange mental faculties possessed during disease. Tennent was supposed to be far gone in consumption. At last, after a protracted illness, he seemingly died, and preparations were made for his funeral. Not only were his friends deceived, but he was deceived himself, for he thought he was dead, and that his spirit had entered paradise. "His soul, as he thought, was borne aloft to celestial altitudes, and was enraptured by visions of God and all the hosts of heaven. He seemed to dwell in an enchanted region of limitless light and inconceivable splendor. At last an angel came to him and told him that he must go back. Darkness, like an overawing shadow, shut out the celestial glories; and, full of sudden horror, he uttered a deep groan. This dismal utterance was heard by those around him, and prevented him from being buried alive, after all the preparations had been made for the removal of the body."
We must not fall into the mistake of supposing, however, as many seem to do, that the visions seen under such conditions, or by ecstatics, really present truths of which the usual mental faculties could not become cognizant. We have heard such cases as the death-bed visions of Mrs. Hemans, and the trance visions of Tennent, urged as evidence in favor of special forms of doctrine. We have no thought of attacking these, but assuredly they derive no support from evidence of this sort. The dying Hindoo has visions which the Christian would certainly not regard as heaven-born. The Mohammedan sees the plains of paradise, peopled by the houris of his heaven, but we do not on that account accept the Koran as the sole guide to religious truth. The fact is, that the visions pictured by the mind during the disease of the body, or in the ecstatic condition, have their birth in the mind itself, and take their form from the teachings with which that mind has been imbued. They may, indeed, seem utterly unlike those we should expect from the known character of the visionary, just as the thoughts of a dying man may be, and often are, very far removed from the objects which had occupied all his attention during the later years of his life. But if the history of the childhood and youth of an ecstatic could be fully known, or if (which is exceedingly unlikely) we could obtain a strictly truthful account of such matters from himself, we should find nearly every circumstance of his visions explained, or at least an explanation suggested. For, after all, much which would be necessary to exactly show the origin of all he saw, would be lost, since the brain retains impressions of many things of which the conscious memory has entirely passed away.
The vivid picturing of forgotten events of life is a familiar experience of the opium-eater. Thus De Quincey says: "The minutest incidents of childhood, or forgotten scenes of later years, were often revived. I could not be said to recollect them, for, if I had been told of them when waking, I should not have been able to acknowledge them as part of my past experience. But placed as they were before me in dreams like intuitions and clothed in all their evanescent circumstances and accompanying feelings, I recognized them instantaneously." A similar return of long-forgotten scenes and incidents to the mind may be noticed, though not to the same degree, when wine has been taken in moderate quantity after a long fast.
The effects of hasheesh are specially interesting in this connection, because, unless a very powerful dose has been taken, the hachischin does not wholly lose the power of introspection, so that he is able afterward to recall what has passed through his mind when he was under the influence of the drug. Now Moreau, in his interesting "Études Psychologiques" ("Du Hachich et d'Aliénation Mentale"), says that the first result of a dose sufficient to produce the hasheesh fantasia is a feeling of intense happiness. "It is really happiness which is produced by the hasheesh; and by this simply an enjoyment entirely moral, and by no means sensual as we might be induced to suppose. This is surely a very curious circumstance; and some remarkable inferences might be drawn from it; this, for instance, among others—that every feeling of joy and gladness, even when the cause of it is exclusively moral—that those enjoyments which are least connected with material objects, the most spiritual, the most ideal, may be nothing else than sensations purely physical, developed in the interior of the system, as are those procured by hasheesh. At least so far as relates to that of which we are internally conscious, there is no distinction between these two orders of sensations, in spite of the diversity in the causes to which they are due; for the hasheesh-eater is happy, not like the gourmand or the famished man when satisfying his appetite, or the voluptuary in gratifying his amative desires, but like him who hears tidings which fill him with joy, like the miser counting his treasures, the gambler who is successful at play, or the ambitious man who is intoxicated with success."
Our special object, however, in noting the effects of opium and hasheesh, is rather to note how the mental processes or faculties observed during certain states of disease may be produced artificially, than to enter into the considerations discussed by Dr. Moreau. It is singular that while the Mohammedan order of Hachischin (or Assassins) bring about by the use of their favorite drug such visions as accompany the progress of certain forms of disease, the Hindoo devotees called the Yogi are able to produce artificially the state of mind and body recognized in cataleptic patients. The less advanced Yogi can only enter the state of abstraction called reverie; but the higher orders can simulate absolute inanition, the heart apparently ceasing to beat, the lungs to act, and the nerves to convey impressions to the brain, even though the body be subjected to processes which would cause extreme torture under ordinary conditions. "When in this state," says Carpenter, "the Yogi are supposed to be completely possessed by Brahma, 'the supreme soul,' and to be incapable of sin in thought, word, or deed." It has been supposed that this was the state into which those entered who in old times were resorted to as oracles. But it has happened that in certain stages of disease the power of assuming the death-like state has been possessed for a time. Thus Colonel Townsend, who died in 1797, we read, had in his last sickness the extraordinary power of apparently dying and returning to life again at will. "I found his pulse sink gradually," says Dr. Cheyne, who attended him, "so that I could not feel it by the most exact or nice touch. Dr. Raymond could not detect the least motion of the heart, nor Dr. Skrine the least soil of the breath upon the bright mirror held to the mouth. We began to fear he was actually dead. He then began to breathe softly." Colonel Townsend repeated the experiment several times during his illness, and could always render himself insensible at will.
Lastly, we may mention a case, which, however, though illustrating in some degree the influence of bodily illness on the mind, shows still more strikingly how the mind may influence the body—that of Louise Lateau, the Belgian peasant. This girl had been prostrated by a long and exhausting illness, from which she recovered rapidly after receiving the sacrament. This circumstance made a strong impression on her mind. Her thoughts dwelt constantly on the circumstances attending the death of Christ. At length she noticed that, on every Friday, blood came from a spot in her left side. "In the course of a few months similar bleeding spots established themselves on the front and back of each hand, and on the upper surface of each foot, while a circle of small spots formed in the forehead, and the hæmorrhage from these recurred every Friday, sometimes to a considerable amount. About the same time, fits of ecstasy began to occur, commencing every Friday between eight find nine in the morning, and ending about six in the evening; interrupting her in conversation, in prayer, or in manual occupations. This state," says Dr. Carpenter, "appears to have been intermediate between that of the biologized and that of the hypnotized subject; for, while as unconscious as the latter of all sense-impressions, she retained, like the former, a recollection of all that had passed through her mind during the ecstasy. She described herself as suddenly plunged into a vast flood of bright light, from which more or less distinct forms began to evolve themselves; and she then witnessed the several scenes of the Passion successively passing before her. She minutely described the cross and the vestments, the wounds, the crown of thorns about the head of the Saviour, and gave various details regarding the persons about the cross, the disciples, holy women, Jews, and Roman soldiers. And the progress of her vision might be traced by the succession of actions she performed at various stages of it: most of these movements expressive of her own emotions, while regularly about three in the afternoon she extended her limbs in the form of a cross. The fit terminated with a state of extreme physical prostration; the pulse being scarcely perceptible, the breathing slow and feeble, and the whole surface bedewed with a cold perspiration. After this state had continued for about ten minutes, a return to the normal condition rapidly took place."
There seems no reason for supposing that there was any deceit on the part of Louise Lateau herself, though that she was self-deceived no one can reasonably doubt. Of course many in Belgium, especially the more ignorant and superstitious (including large numbers of the clergy and of religious orders of men and women), believed that her ecstasies were miraculous, and no doubt she believed so herself. But none of the circumstances observed in her case, or related by her, were such as the physiologist would find any difficulty in accepting or explaining. Her visions were such as might have been expected in a person of her peculiar nervous organization, weakened as her body had been by long illness, and her mind affected by what she regarded as her miraculous recovery. As to the transudation of blood from the skin, Dr. Tuke, in his "Illustrations of the Influence of the Mind upon the Body in Health and Disease" (p. 267), shows the phenomenon to be naturally explicable. It is a well-authenticated fact that under strong emotional excitement blood escapes through the perspiratory ducts, apparently through the rupture of the walls of the capillary passages of the skin.
We see, then, in Louise Lateau's case, how the mind affected by disease may acquire faculties not possessed during health, and how in turn the mind thus affected may influence the body so strangely as to suggest to ignorant or foolish persons the operation of supernatural agencies. Of the influence of the mind on the body, we may speak more fully on another occasion.
The general conclusion to which we seem led by the observed peculiarities in the mental faculties during disease is that the mind depends greatly on the state of the body for the coördination of its various powers. In health these are related in what may be called the normal manner. Faculties capable of great development under other conditions exist in moderate degree only, while probably, either consciously or unconsciously, certain faculties are held in control by others. But during illness faculties, not ordinarily used, suddenly or very rapidly acquire undue predominance, and controlling faculties usually effective are greatly weakened. Then for a while the mental capacity seems entirely changed. Powers supposed not to exist at all (for of mental faculties, as of certain other qualities, de non existentibus et de non apparentibus eadem est ratio) seem suddenly created, as if by a miracle. Faculties ordinarily so strong as to be considered characteristic seem suddenly destroyed, since they no longer produce any perceptible effect. Or, as Brown-Séquard says, summing up the results of a number of illustrative cases described in a course of lectures delivered in Boston, "It would seem that the mind is largely dependent on physical conditions for the exercise of its faculties, and that its strength and most remarkable powers, as well as its apparent weakness, are often most clearly shown and recognized by some inequality of action in periods of disturbed and greatly impaired health."—Cornhill Magazine.
- Since the above was written we have noticed a passage in Dr. Carpenter's "Mental Physiology," p. 719, bearing on the matter we have been dealing with: "The following statement recently made to the writer by a gentleman of high intelligence, the editor of a most important provincial newspaper, would be almost incredible, if cases somewhat similar were not already familiar to us: 'I was formerly,' he said, 'a reporter in the House of Commons; and it several times happened to me that, having fallen asleep from sheer fatigue toward the end of a debate, I had found, on awaking after a short interval of entire unconsciousness, that I had continued to note down correctly the speaker's words. I believe,' he added, 'that this is not an uncommon experience among Parliamentary reporters.' The reading aloud with correct emphasis and intonation, or the performance of a piece of music, or (as in the case of Albert Smith) the recitation of a frequently repeated composition, while the conscious mind is entirely engrossed in its own thoughts and feelings, may be thus accounted for without the supposition that the mind is actively engaged in two different operations at the same moment, which would seem tantamount to saying that there are two egos in the same organism." An instance in the writer's experience seems even more remarkable than the reporter's work during sleep, for he had but to continue a mechanical process, whereas in the writer's case there must have been thought. Late one evening at Cambridge the writer began a game of chess with a fellow student (now a clergyman, and well known in chess circles). The writer was tired after a long day's rowing, but continued the game to the best of his ability until at a certain stage he fell asleep, or rather fell into a waking dream. At any rate, all remembrance of what passed after that part of the game had entirely escaped him when he awoke or returned to consciousness about three in the morning. The chess-board was there, but the men were not as when the last conscious move was made. The opponent's king was checkmated. The writer supposed his opponent had set the men in this position either as a joke or in trying over some end game. But he was assured that the game had continued to the end, and that he (the writer) had won, apparently playing as if fully conscious! Of course, he can not certify this of his own knowledge.