Open main menu

Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 19.djvu/542

This page has been proofread, but needs to be validated.

to me by other correspondents. One lady, a distinguished authoress, who was at the time a little fidgeted, but in no way overwrought or ill, said that she saw the principal character of one of her novels glide through the door straight up to her. It was about the size of a large doll, and it disappeared as suddenly as it came. Another lady, the daughter of an eminent musician, often imagines she hears her father playing. The day she told me of it the incident had again occurred. She was sitting in a room with her maid, and she asked the maid to open the door that she might hear the music better. The moment the maid got up the hallucination disappeared. Again, another lady, apparently in vigorous health, and belonging to a vigorous family, told me that during some past months she had been plagued by voices. The words were at first simple nonsense; then the word "pray" was frequently repeated; this was followed by some more or less coherent sentences of little import, and finally the voices left her. In short, the familiar hallucinations of the insane are to be met with far more frequently than is commonly supposed, among people moving in society and in normal health.

I have now nearly done with my summary of facts; it remains to make a few comments on them.

The weirdness of visions lies in their sudden appearance, in their vividness while present, and in their sudden departure. An incident in the Zoölogical Gardens struck me as a helpful simile. I happened to walk to the seal-pond at a moment when a sheen rested on the unbroken surface of the water. After waiting a while I became suddenly aware of the head of a seal, black, conspicuous, and motionless, just as though it had always been there, at a spot on which my eye had rested a moment previously and seen nothing. Again, after a while, my eye wandered, and, on its returning to the spot, the seal was gone. The water had closed in silence over its head without leaving a ripple, and the sheen on the surface of the pond was as unbroken as when I first reached it. Where did the seal come from, and whither did it go? This could easily have been answered if the glare had not obstructed the view of the movements of the animal under water. As it was, a solitary link in a continuous chain of actions stood isolated from all the rest. So it is with the visions; a single stage in a series of mental processes emerges into the domain of consciousness. All that precedes and follows lies outside of it, and its character can only be inferred. We see in a general way, that a condition of the presentation of visions lies in the over-sensitiveness of certain tracks or domains of brain-action, and the under-sensitiveness of others; certain stages in a mental process being vividly represented in consciousness while the other stages are unfelt. It is also well known that a condition of partial hyperæsthesia and partial anæsthesia is a frequent functional disorder, markedly so among the hysterical and hypnotic, and an organic disorder among the insane. The abundant facts that I have collected