The first of these books contains a condensation of the account given by Dr. Kerner, a learned and high-minded German, of the most remarkable case of natural somnambulism yet recorded. We say natural, because, though the results are out of the common course of nature, they were not induced by the action of foreign means upon the patient.—They were the development of her character, and gave the crisis to dispositions that had appeared in her family for several generations.
The Translator’s Preface gives so good an account of the book, and in so wise and candid a spirit, that we insert it as the best we can do for our readers:
TRANSLATOR’S PREFACE.—As, in presenting this curious work to the public, it was my object to make a book that should be generally accessible, a literal translation became out of the question. Besides considerable prolixity, there is a great deal of repetition, in the original; some parts would have been found too dry, and others too mystical, for the general reader. I have, therefore, thought it advisable to make a free translation, giving the sum and substance of the book as succinctly as I could; only varying from this plan, where I thought a close adherence to the words of the author was indispensable.
I apprehend that many of the extraordinary phenomena recorded by Kerner will not find very general credence with English readers; but to the believers in clairvoyance, the book will have deep interest—whilst, to the larger class, who are not yet prepared to yield faith to its wonders, I should imagine that the facts would still be considered well worthy of attention both in a physiological point of view. I say facts; because I cannot conceived the possibility of any candid mind doubting the greatest number of them, after reading the book; or of such an one entertaining a suspicion of imposture, on the part either of physician or patient. Indeed, Kerner’s well-known character ought to exempt him from such an imputation from any quarter; and, for my own part, I reject with horror the idea, that in a suffering creature, who lived ever on the verge of the grave, so much apparent innocence and piety should have been but the cloak to so useless and cruel a deception.
Nothing is more easy than to set up a cry of imposture. It is a convenient mode of eluding the trouble of inquiry, and of stifling fact obnoxious to preconceived theories; but it is a vulgar recourse, as well as a cowardly one; though, I am sorry to say, in no country does this practice prevail so much as in this.
Ridicule is another weapon easily handled; but what many learned, sensible, and good men of a neighboring nation believe they have ascertained to be true, is certainly a very proper subject for its exercise. If we cannot also believe, we are at least bound to listen with attention to what they have to tell us; and the candid and inquiring will receive the information with respect, if they cannot with conviction.
The sincerity and good faith of Dr. Kerner in this affair, has never, we believe, been impugned, even by the most determined sceptic. He is well known in Germany as an exceedingly sensible, amiable, and religious man; and is a lyric poet of considerable eminence. The point of attack, for those who seek one, must be his sanguinity; but except the assailant were one who had had the same opportunities for observation and investigation that he had, the gratuitous imputation of credulity should be, at least, cautiously received. At the same time, although I confess I should be very sorry myself to be one of the many who, I am aware, will receive these alleged facts with contempt or derision, I do not deny that the question, whether the apparitions were subjective or objective—projections of the nervous system, or actually external appearances—is one which can only, if ever, be definitively answered by the exhibition of repeated phenomena of the same description. Even Kerner himself, however ultimately convinced, seems long to have doubted; whilst he freely admits the impossibility of absolute conviction on the part of those who have never had any ocular testimony that such appearances are permitted.
But in any case, there are few readers, I should think, who will not find the book interesting; whilst the amiable, earnest, and pious spirit in which it is written, should, at least, constitute the author’s defence against ridicule or malignity, and be accepted as the translator’s justification for presenting the work to the English public in an accessible form.
We have been familiar with the book in the original, and could have wished that the translator (Mrs. Crowe) had screwed herself up to the wearisome task of exact translation. The book, as is so often the case with the books of Germany, is diffuse and heavy; Germans rarely being gifted with the art of knowing where to stop or what to leave out. The abridgment is made, so far as we have examined it, with good judgment, the translator knowing how to condense, instead of mutilating—still, we miss important facts. However, this pamphlet is very good, where we cannot get better, and we hope it may penetrate far and wide. We are sure to every unprejudiced mind it will seem a most beautiful psychological memoir, and fraught, in that view, with important suggestions, even if they do not adopt Dr. Kerner’s opinion of the case.
Of the Seeress Kerner mentions one fact of the same character with that now exhibited by the Ecstasies and Dominica of the Catholic church.
When she was placed in a bath in this state, extraordinary phenomena were exhibited–namely, that her limbs, breast, and the lower part of her person, possessed by a strange elasticity, involuntarily emerged from the water. Her attendants used every effort to submerge the body, but she could not be kept down; and had she at these times been thrown into a river, she would no more have sunk than a cork.
This circumstance reminds us of the test applied to witches, who were often, doubtless, persons under magnetic conditions; and thus, contrary to the ordinary law, floated on water. Andrew Mollen mentions a woman who lived in 1620, who, being in a magnetic state, rose suddenly into the air, in the presence of many persons, and hovered several yards above it, as if she would have flown out of the window. The assistants called upon God, and forced her down again. * * * * According to the testimony of St. Theresa, Peter of Alcantara, for fourteen years allowed himself but half an hour’s sleep, and that he took sitting with his head leaning on a post; he lived on bread and water, which he took at intervals of three, and, sometimes, of eight days, till, by the mortification of his body, it became transparent, and he saw through it as through a veil. His spirit being in constant communion with God, he was frequently enveloped in a lustrous light, and lifted into the air. St. Theresa, also, felt her soul, and then her head, and, finally, her whole body, lifted from the earth; and, in the sight of all the sisterhood, she floated over the grate of the door. Many such instances are recorded in the lives of the Saints—phenomena which we cannot comprehend, and therefore pronounce to be fables.”
Exactly similar to the state of St. Theresa, as recorded by herself, is that of the Ecstatica, Maria Morl, as seen by the thousands who now visit her, and of the Italian wonder also, whose name we forget. Raphael has intuitively adopted this miracle and that of the luminous atmosphere of Peter of Alcantara in that greatest of his works which embodies the idea of the Transfiguration of Jesus.
We shall often have occasion to advert farther to this book of Dr. Kerner’s.
The second of the pamphlets named at the head of this notice is an account of the revelations made by Jackson Davis, the Clairvoyant of Poughkeepsie, during his trances, as to the laws of matter and of mind.
This Davis is a young man about eighteen, by trade a shoemaker, and well known for five years past in the neighborhood of Poughkeepsie. He has received scarce any instruction from books or schools. The statements given in this pamphlet, where his views are thrown by the pen of his editor into the shape of lectures, would be remarkable from any source: from a youth so situated they appear miraculous—we mean in point of intelligence. The only way in which the skeptic might evade this conclusion would be to suppose them the thoughts of his editor, whether infused into the mind of Davis in a magnetic state or inferred from slight data given by words of the magnetized.
We do not feel competent to pronounce upon this, without knowing the parties, and, exactly, the circumstances, having seen so much of unconscious self-delusion and mutual delusion where we did know them. But the impression made by the book is favorable. We have read with care the Fourth Lecture, and with this are much pleased, for it corresponds with our own impressions as to spiritual facts. If the book is accessible, (its cover gives no information as to whether or where other copies than this before us can be obtained) all who are interested in the subject will find in this lecture a simple and commanding statement.
Another pamphlet, sent us some time since, to which we meant to have referred, is unfortunately mislaid. It is by an officer in the U. S. Army, and shows a habit of fair examination and love of truth. It cites many instances from the history of former ages which we must now class with those we are observing under this title of Animal Magnetism. By the way, though every writer invents a new title, there is no improvement. Each new name is clumsier than the last. How can it be otherwise? we cannot name what we know so little about. Get hold of the child first, before you are so anxious to baptize it. For the present, a name is good for nothing except as a hook to angle for the subject withal. The facts, the facts, are what we want now, no hasty, ambitious theories, no premature definitions, but carefully examined, distinctly recorded facts! All these three pamphlets please us in this, that they aim at facts or inquiry merely, not at theory.
The following story we translate, by way of L’Envoy, from a French paper. We say not whether it be fact of fable, but it is vouched for as the former in its birth-place.
From La Presse of 5th June.
The following has of late made a great noise in the neighborhood of Paris, and its authenticity is attested by numerous witnesses.
On the 28th, a youth of nineteen, Mr. B. only son of a rich farmer of the commune Wuissons, near Antony, canton of Lonjumeau, left home with cart and carter to get a load of stone on the rock ofa Saulx-les-Charteux, eight kilometres from Wuissons.
Having there loaded the cart, the carter took it to Paris: the young B. accompanied him as far as Lonjumeau. There he met a young farmer of his acquaintance, R. of Chilly. They dined together.—At eight in the evening they parted; R. reconducting B. till he was within a short distance of his (B.’s) own home.
Meanwhile next morning found Mr. and Mrs B in great uneasiness, for their son had not returned. They assembled sixty persons of the neighborhood to search for him. Near a large and deep piece of water, called the Gironde, they found a letter which had been put under the young man’s care. This made them fear a crime had been committed; they sounded the waters, but found nothing.
Search was made in every way, on foot, on horseback, and in wagons, with Newfoundland dogs in the pond, but without any success. Every day they sent to Paris, to inquire at the Morgue and elsewhere. The Gendarmerie of Lonjumeau, the National Guard, set to work, and searched the country day and night.
He had disappeared on a Tuesday. On Friday night two men found in woods, seeking for game, were arrested on suspicion.
On Saturday they applied to the Prefect of Seine et Oise, who was at Lonjumeau, and he gave orders of search to the greater part of the brigades of Gendarmerie throughout the department.
But now, desperate with anxiety, Mr. and Mrs. B. recalled what they had heard of the wonders of magnetism, and went to Paris to consult a somnambulist. This also was on Saturday.
“Your son is not dead,” said the somnambulist. “I see him on a rock; (the cart had been loaded with stone) he descends, follows the cart to town.—There he dines with a friend. I see him at dinner and afterward walking. Then, I see your son met by two men, they stop him, make him drink, but I know not what liquid. From this moment I lose sight of him. I can tell no more, except that he is not dead. He will return to-morrow, Sunday, and will not know, himself, where he has been.”
Returning to Wuissons, Mr. and Mrs. B. imparted to their neighbors the faint hope with which the somnambulist had inspired them. The news spread to the villages round about: all were in a state of the greatest excitement—the singular disappearance of the young man who was universally beloved, the strange account given by the somnambulist, and the coincidence between the arrest of the two men with her story, exalted their imaginations. Sunday morning all the roads and paths by which it is possible to gain access to Wuissons were thronged with people. They wait, they look, fear, hope. At last, at eleven in the morning, the diligence of Orsay drives up, stops, young B. gets out and runs to embrace his parents.
They crowd upon him with questions. He confirms, in every point, the narrative of the somnambulist. After being left by his friend R. he was seized by two men who made him drink. After that, he remembers nothing, does not know where he was, nor what happened for three days, except that, on Saturday night, a woman took him to St. Aubin, but he does not know the place from which she took him. She left him in the middle of the street, saying, ‘A diligence passes through this village, which will take you home.’ He got in, accordingly, when it came up, and thus reached home.
All questioning and cross-questioning drew from him no better information. It was found that he had not been robbed; he had still his watch and a small sum of money.”
Now, whoever feels energy this hot weather will find stuff enough in this narrative to spin an Arabian Tale withal, apart from the grave scientific use we make of it as a testimony to the wonderful powers conferred on the mind in the state of trance. The wildest wish of a poet is realized. Time and space are annihilated and lovers may be happy.*
“Clairvoyance.” New-York Daily Tribune, 23 July 1845, p. 1.