Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 13.djvu/190

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stood that the claims of what individuals or multitudes concurrently see are, far more frequently than has been conceded, out of and beyond the reach of scientific investigation; the statements of what men experience furnishing oftentimes no basis for the study of those statements. These remarks are restricted to the evidences of the sense of sight; but with less force, proportioned to their feebler importance, they apply to evidences derived from other senses. Sounds and smells, taste and touch, can be subjectively created, even in a sane and healthy brain. Bring a watch near to the ear, so that its ticking is distinctly heard, then carry it slowly away; soon a point is reached where it is difficult to tell whether the sound heard is in the ear or in the watch: it is easy, indeed, for the most attentive listener to mistake the subjective for the objective, where any form of sound is expected, or feared, or waited for; the husband's footsteps are plainly heard by the anxious wife when they are miles away, and heard many times, it may be, before they come near; and between the deception and the reality there is no practical distinction.

Medical students, taking lessons in auscultation and percussion, on sounding the chest, often deceive themselves as well as their teachers, by hearing the sounds of their own ears perfectly counterfeiting the sounds they are hoping to hear. Not only whisperings and voices arise in the brain, but sustained conversations, with varied modulations, are consciously carried on between the cerebral cells, and are heard as though they proceeded from a distant room. These phenomena appear

    his "French Revolution:" "Nevertheless, poor Weber saw, or even thought he saw (for scarcely the third part of poor Weber's experiences, in such hysterical days, will stand scrutiny), one of the brigands level his musket at her majesty." Are not all the exciting and critical experiences that make up our histories and biographies hysterical or rather entrancing days? On this topic—the untrustworthiness of which is called history—the following remarks of Saint-Beuve, in his criticism of Guizot, are most pertinent, and, so far forth, are in harmony with the philosophy here announced: "I am one of those who doubt, indeed, whether it is granted to man to comprehend with this amplitude, with this certainty, the causes and the sources of his own history in the past; he has so much to do to comprehend it, even imperfectly, at the present time, and to avoid being deceived about it at every hour!" St. Augustine has made this very ingenious comparison: "Suppose that a syllable in the poem of the 'Iliad' were endowed, for a moment, with a soul and with life: could that syllable, placed as it is, comprehend the meaning and general plan of the poem? At most, it could only comprehend the meaning of the verse in which it was placed, and the meaning of the three or four preceding verses. That syllable, animated for a moment, is man; and you have just told him that he has only to will it, in order to grasp the totality of the things which have occurred on this earth, the majority of which have vanished without leaving monuments or traces of themselves, and the rest of which have left only monuments that are so incomplete and so truncated."
    When our youths are taught, as in the future not far away they must be, that the larger portion of historical and controversial literature is of no worth to those who seek for the truth in matters of history and controversy, the process of education will be much simplified; the area of what has hitherto passed for "sound learning" will be greatly restricted, to the relief of all who prefer realities to delusions, and who are oppressed, as every one must be, by the yearly-increasing burden that rests upon those who mingle in the society of scholars.