14 AUGUST 1841, Page 19


THIS work is wrongly named. Containing an amusing digest of various phases of superstitious belief, whether caused by the arta of impostors or arising directly from a misinterpretation of natural phmnomena, it may be classed with the volumes of Scorr and BREWSTER 011 Demonology and Natural Magic ; but, inasmuch as, like these, it treats only of the errors which have arisen in all ages from the misdirected activity of a faculty common to our race, without once touching upon the nature of the faculty itself, the primary object for which it was implanted in the human mind, or the mode of its operation in its healthy state, the volume has no more claim to the title of the Philosophy of Mystery than the Percy Anecdotes have to that of the Philosophy of Wit, or WILLIAM HOWITT'S History of Priestcraft and Kingcraft to the Philosophy of Veneration.

The highest fascinations of mystery arise from the excitement which they afford to that love of the sublime which has bees recognized by metaphysicians as one of the inherent faculties of the mind; and, as we have reason to believe that every faculty which is common to man has been planted in his constitution for the purpose of adapting him to some special moral or physical law of the world in which he is to play his part, we may naturally infer that the one in question has a legitimate sphere of operation ; and that, although the abuse of it which is manifested by the credulous in an unquestioning reception of prophecies and omens should be counteracted and suppressed, its healthful action, in whatever this action may consist, should be promoted with no less care than that which we bestow upon the training of any other natural power.

The desire to penetrate into the dark unknown, and to fathom the mysteries of the past and the future, the conic nplations of infinity, the occasional dreams of previous existences, and the cer- tainties of a perpetuity of being, which at times find a place in the minds of all, even the most uncivilized races of mankind, have sometimes been traced to the activity of the faculty to which we have alluded ; and, if a clear analysis of its primary function could be made, it might lead us to the conclusion, that as the ultimate conception of the sublime is to be found in the contemplation of eternity, man has been endowed by his Creator with the intuitive tendency to this emotion in order to impel him to carry his views habit ually beyond the bounds of his present life, and to adapt him to the nature of his moral destiny.

These considerations form no part of the volume before us; and we are, therefore, as far as ever from having attained the " philosophy of mystery." But although we were disappointed with the nature of the work after the expectations aroused by its title, we have no quarrel with the work itself excepting for this cause. It has little .originality, and is only remarkable for the vast number of amusing facts which it contains, and the industry which has been shown in the collection and arrangement of them : but it is characterized throughout by a refinement of feeling and grace of expression, which remind us of the style—and of the style only, for it does not possess any of the vigour—of Sir HUMPHRY DAVY'S Con- solations in Travel. We have the conversations of the Stranger and his companions renewed in the dialogues of Astrophel and Evelyn, two youths, one a student of divinity, the other an M. D. and practical philosopher, who, accompanied by a pair of gentle girls, beguile a few hours of summer moonlight on the banks of the sylvan Wye, by holding discourse on the nature of appari..

tions, dreams, transmigration, &c. The embryo divine, under the inspiration of a night passed with the velvet lawn of Tintern for his couch, brings forward his narratives and facts to establish the certainty of ghostly influences; while the M. D. remorselessly, though not always conclusively, explains them away by simple references to natural laws. Here is his


You will call me presumptuous, but, believe me, Astrophel, it is superstition which is presumptuous and positive, and not philosophy ; for credulity believes on profane tradition, or the mere assertion of a mortal. But the glory of phi- losophy is humility; for they who, like Newton, and Playfair, and Wollaston, and Davy, look deeply into the wonder and beauty of creation, will be ever humbled by the contemplation of their own being—an atom of the universe. A philosopher cannot be proud; for, like Socrates, he confesses his ignorance, because he is ever searching for truth. He cannot be a sceptic; for when he has dived into the deeps of science, his thoughts will ascend the more toward the Deity: he has rasped at all that science can afford him, and there is no- thing left for his mighty mind but divine things and holy hopes. Philosophy is not confident either; because she ever waits for more experience and more weight of testimony. How often, Astrophel, must we be deceived, like children, by distance, until experience teaches us truth ? By this we know that the turrets of distant towers are high ; yet they dwindle in our sight to the mere vanishing-point, as the child believes them. Such is the power of demonstration.


That destructive brainworm demonomania is often excited in the mind of a proselyte by designing religious fanatics. Let the life of the selected person be ever so virtuous and exemplary, she (for it is usually on the softer sex that these impostures are practised) becomes convinced of the influence of the daemon over her, and she is thus criminally taught the necessity of conversion— is won over to the erroneous doctrine of capricious and unqualified election.

These miseries do not always spring from self-interested impostors. The parent and the nurse, in addition to the nursery-tales of fairies and of genii, too often inspire the minds of children with these diabolical phantoms. The effect is always detrimental—too often permanently destructive. I will quote one case from the fourth volume of the Psychological Magazine of Jena. " A young girl, about nine or ten years old, bad spent her birth-day with several companions of her own age, in all the gayety of youthful amusement. Her parents were of a religious devout sect, and had filled the child's head with a number of strange and horrid notions about the Devil, hell, and eternal damna- tion. In the evening, as she was retiring to rest, the Devilappeared to her and threatened to devour her. She gave a loud shriek, fled to the apartment where her parents were, and fell down apparently dead at their feet. A physician was called in, and she began to recover herself in a few hours. She then re- lated what had happened, adding that she was sure she was to be damned. This accident was immediately followed by a severe and tedious nervous com- plaint." There is a close analogy between some of the alleged effects of Mesmerism and the circumstances of the following case of SUSPENDED MEMORY.

There is a very curious case on record, of a lady "whose memory was capa- felons, and well stored with a copious stock of ideas. Unexpectedly, and without any forewarning, she fell into a profound sleeep, which continued several hours beyond the ordinary term. On waking, she was discovered to have lost every trait of acquired knowledge her memory was a blank. All vestiges, both of words and things, were obliterated and gone; it was found necessary for her to learn every thing again. She even acquired by new efforts the art of spelling, reading, writing, and calculating; and gradually became acquainted with the persons and objects around, like a being for the first time brought into the world. In these exercises she made considerable proficiency; but after a few months, another fit of somnolency invaded her. On rousing from it, she found herself restored to the state she was in before the first paroxysm; but she was wholly ignorant of every event and occurrence that Lad befallen her afterwards. The former condition of her existence she now calls the old state, and the latter the new state ; and she is as unconscious of her double character as two distinct persons are of their respective natures. For example, in her old state she possesses all her original knowledge ; in her new state, only what she acquired since. if a lady or gentleman be introduced to her in the old state, and vice versa, (so, indeed, of all other matters,) to know them satisfactorily she must learn them in both states. In the old state she possesses fine powers of penmanship, while in the new she writes a poor awkward hand, not having had time or means to become expert During four years and upwards, she has had periodical transitions from one of these states to the other. The alterations are always consequent upon a long and sound sleep. Both the lady and her family are now capable of conducting the affair without embarrassment by simply knowing whether she is in the old or new state, they regulate the intercourse, and govern themselves accordingly."

To Mesmerism itself a chapter is specially devoted; and the author arrives at the conclusion that " it is true in part,—that it may induce catalepsy, somnambulism, exalted sensation, apathetic insensibility, suspended circulation, even death" ; clairvoyance and prophecy alone being the impositions connected with it.