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“I have been trying to examine a center table covered with coral, more beautiful than any I ever saw.” She asked me if I had heard the college bell which rang a few moments before; I answered, No. My impression is, that the first view of the coral was in a dream, and that upon returning consciousness I was endeavoring to examine it in a manner to be more particularly described hereafter. As I awaked, I was looking down a large valley where was an immense quarry of limestone. I kept my eyelids closed after consciousness returned, in order to look at it farther. I saw that the strata were made up of alternating layers of white and dark color. On opening my eyes there lay before me a piece of bed-ticking, which appeared like the alternating beds of limestone in miniature. I awoke one morning in the midst of most wild and magnificent scenery. The morning sun had just risen upon it, and the shadows of the mountain peaks were intermingled with bright streams of light, and the graceful curling of the fog up the mountain sides produced one of the grandest panoramas that I ever witnessed. After consciousness had returned, I tried to retain the image that I might re-examine it. I succeeded better than usual, especially in getting a full view of one of the grandest mountains the imagination could conceive. It rose in solemn majesty from a deep valley; the fog still lingered about its summit, and its aspect was darker than the mountains around. As I gazed upon its stern and awful front, I could not but feel that I was looking upon Sinai. In order to render the remaining cases more intelligible, I must make some preliminary statements. At that stage of my complaint, when irregular objects began to assume regular forms upon the retina, I noticed that both by day and by
night the images which surrounding objects made upon the eye, remained for a considerable time after closing the eyelid. Presently, I perceived that those images began to change their figures into objects and scenes as unlike the original as possible. This was especially the case when I directed the attention of the mind to the light that seemed directly before me. So long as the mind concentrated its attention upon the objects, the changes went on ; and I know not but I might have followed the succession of images for hours, had I dared to do it. From the particular image before me, I could form no idea of that which would succeed. And yet one scene would graduate into another in the easiest and most natural manner. I soon found that after my eyes were closed, the more entirely the external light was excluded, the more distinct would be the images, and the more rapid the changes of scene. Hence I usually placed my hand or a handkerchief over my eyes. If questions were put to me while examining the images, it seemed to produce some confusion, but simply by withdrawing the attention. Rolling my eye-balls in their sockets did not increase the power of vision at all. I went about the examination of these objects with as entire freedom from drowsiness, and with as perfect a command of all my powers, as ever I possessed in my life. In a few instances, after closing the eyes for some time, I began to feel slightly drowsy, and this I think rendered the vision more distinct. Withdrawing the attention from the object would usually end the illusion, even though the eyes continued shut; but sometimes, especially at night, it would continue as long as the eyes were closed. An examination of these images produced no more fatigue than it would to look over a collection of pictures in a
gallery—probably not as much.
The chief agent in producing the changes of objects before my mind, appeared to be internal motion among the particles. The figures, say of the paper hangings of the wall, or of the landscape abroad, usually at first became smaller and smaller, until the surface appeared granulated, very much like what I have frequently seen upon the screen of the solar microscope, when a menstruum was in the focus, containing a salt which was just beginning to crystallize. The next step in the process was usually a rising of the particles and rolling round an axis, just as I have seen a whirlwind raise the dust and leaves, and sweep the whole, while thus revolving, along the surface : or sometimes the whole body before me would pass away in a continuous current, and another succeed. After these motions, objects would usually begin to assume more regular forms, and there came before me mountains and valleys, cities and temples, and human beings. They were almost always however in motion, scarcely lingering long enough for me to get a distinct conception of them, especially, as in almost all cases the light seemed more like that of twilight than like that of midday. Frequently, vast rocks and even huge mountains came moving towards ine, and I seemed to pass under them. They came apparently within a few inches of my eyes; and had I believed them real, I should have trembled as I saw myself about to be ground to powder. But so perfectly conscious was I of the illusion, that it merely amused me to see them approaching, because I loved to see how, by their curious convolutions, they would pass me unharmed. Sometimes the rolling together of these vast masses of rocks, exactly resembled that which we witness among the clouds when a thunder storm is rising and contrary winds are curling the vapor in every direction.
Though such was the usual mode in which a change of images was effected, yet sometimes the change took place without any visible intestime motion among the particles, and no less perfectly. The only thing approaching the apparent motions above described, which I witnessed with my eyes open, was this : In the evening the ceiling of the room sometimes appeared as if numerous threads of white silk were suspended at various points and hung in festoons; appearing indeed exactly as if numerous cobwebs hung in the usual manner from the ceiling, and were strongly illuminated. There was, however, among them no apparent motion. Finding myself possessed of the extraordinary power above described, I could not resist the temptation to make a few experiments, partly to relieve the tedium of those who were watching at my bed-side. I told them that if they would record my descriptions, I would close my eyes and give myself up to the control of fancy. I did not dare to prolong my excursions much ; but such facts as were thus recorded I will now present, as recorded by the individuals who acted as amanuenses. I will only say, that never in my life am I aware of having been more perfectly awake, and of possessing more entire control over the faculties of attention and observation than during these examinations, although all my powers were weakened by disease. The following notes were made on Tuesday evening by Mrs. Hitchcock, and did not constitute a continuous series of examinations, but are the record of a few striking facts as I mentioned them from time to time. And the same indeed is more or less true of all the cases subsequently described. Tuesday evening, Feb. 1.-" I see beautiful clouds that appear to be produced by the glimmering of the candle in the room, falling upon my eyelids.” “I am in a room hung round by fine paintings.” (Interrupted.) “I seem to be in a parlor in the city of New York richly furnished.” “I am looking into a cedar swamp during a snow storm. I see also a deep rail road cut in granite; and the whole scene appears to me to be on the Boston and Worcester rail road a little east of Westborough.” “I stand at the east end of a large hall filled with a great variety of articles. The whole reminds me somewhat of a fair in Boston last December, which I attended for a few moments.” Wednesday morning, Feb. 2.“I stand now in the piazza of a large circular house, with a circular fence before it and brick walks.” “I am upon the sea coast, examining some large masses and walls of granite. The rock resembles that in southeastern Massachusetts. On one of the walls which does not face the ocean, but forms the bank between a small creek and the ocean, I see four colossal carved fgures represented as wrestling, two and two.” Afternoon.—“I have been looking out the window towards the college until, upon closing my eyes, a strong impression of objects remains upon the retina. This has slowly changed into a long room, with pillars on one side indistinctly seen; and now it opens on one side and at the end, and appears to be a piazza. Till this moment I had not covered my eyes; but on placing a thick handkerchief over them, objects become much more distinct. I now stand at the east end of the piazza, and before me is a landscape: on my right a hill, apparently pasture ground, partially covered with snow, and its top more or less with trees. Towards the left is a valley partially wooded, and down this valley the strongest light seems to conduct me. I have now
come to an enclosure, where I see indistinctly large masses of timber laid up with a good deal of regularity. I now see them more distinctly, and they are two ships upon the stocks. I now withdraw my attention and open my eyes.” The next case was recorded immediately after the images had passed through my mind. I closed my eyes after looking a moment steadily upon the paper hangings on one side of my room, which had on them numerous small spots and figures of a reddish or buff color. As they began to change their aspect, I accidentally rubbed my head, when the changes became more rapid. The experiments lately detailed in the newspapers, in which particular phrenological organs were mesmerized and rubbed, recurred to my mind, and I immediately rubbed my head in the region where I supposed the organs of benevolence lie ; although I confess I know too little of phrenology to fix upon the precise spot. Immediately the surface before me assumed the appearance of a piece of sole leather; which soon enlarged, so as to cover an acre or two, swelling up into numerous little hillocks, and appearing just like an Indian corn field in the spring, with cracks running among the hillocks. On one side of the field were shelves, on which great numbers of these little hillocks were placed, appearing in fact, as did the whole field, to be loaves of well baked bread. I waited to see what the organ of benevolence would do with this large supply of the staff of life, when I found myself on one of the poorest and most dreary parts of the coast of New England; which I will not name, because I am not sure that I recognized it. Whether the bread was to be distributed at this place, or some other, I did not see, as some one entered the room and withdrew my attention. What a striking proof was here of the truth of phrenology and mesmerism Just about as good, it seems to me, as the following statement is of the metamorphic theory in geology. In one instance, as a huge mass of rock was brought near me, a most distinct petrifaction of the heads of two large reptiles appeared, that seemed to have perished in combat, the tusks of one being interlocked with those of the other. As I looked upon the curious specimen, a change came over it; the rock slowly melted down; and in a short time, the organic relics had disappeared, and a rock like fine granite or gneiss, alone remained. Now I suppose in this case, as well as in the phrenological one just described, imagination made use of such materials as she found existing in the mind ; and had I known nothing of the mesmeric-phrenological experiments detailed in the newspapers, nor of the metamorphic theory in geology, the above visions would never have existed. Wednesday night. (Record made by Mr. Josiah Stearns, of the Junior Class.)—“The space around me is mostly filled with huge rocks, moving past me in all modes, full of caverns, but too dark to be well seen : they hang over me now and look splendidly; some of them appear to be serpentine. Some of the caverns in these rocks seem a hundred feet long.” “Against the side of a wall I see three young ladies sitting and laughing; lighted candles are before them, and chairs, machinery, &c., around them.” “I lie in a vast cavern; the rocks are rolling around me like clouds: they are within a foot of my face; some are sandstone and some granite.” “I have a glimpse into a large city: but a carriage-maker's yard, full of rubbish, almost entirely obstructs my view.” “I see half a dozen negroes, men and women, dressed in oil-cloth,
waiting at a corner; some of them with striped clothing.” “I see a negro apparently tending a saw-mill: now lying down on a board, which seems to me not more than five feet distant.” “I think I recognize a street in Salem, and see an individual whom I have seen before.” “A pine wood on a hillside is before me; on the ground I see several small chickens, and some children, apparently on their way to school.” “I am now in a street of a city, full of carriages and men, and very muddy, appearing like the streets of New York, or Boston, about the heads of the principal wharves.” * “I am looking into a neat market street, but I have tried in vain to pass through it, and look at the articles offered for sale. At the lower end of it I see some strange looking men, who appear like American Indians.” “Slightly drowsy, which gives much greater distinctness to objects. I see large rooms,” &c. “Continual change of scenery: now streets, with people passing, dressed in white. I am now looking into the valley of the Connecticut, on a beautiful June morning, when the flowers are in bloom and the birds singing.” The preceding examples recorded by Mr. Stearns, were all given by me at a single examination: that is, after closing my eyes, and placing a handkerchief upon them, I did not open them till the images had all passed before me, with many others not recorded. How long I might have continued this play of fancy I know not, but thought it prudent to open my eyes. Thursday evening. (Mrs. Hitchcock recorder.)—“Close to me is a splendid temple, with granite pillars in front; the floor of marble, covered with a moss resembling Cenomyce rangiferina. The back part of it is less splendid, and of a reddish color. It extends back to a hill of red sandstone.” Miss Catharine Hitchcock, recorder.—“I have just bathed my forehead in sulphuric ether, which always renders my visions more distinct. I seem now to be looking upon a vast plain which gradually changes to an ocean, and over its whole surface the vapor is beautifully curling upwards in fantastic shapes: now it has changed to land again and a large temple rises in the distance : now it seems mostly rock, having the aspect of new red sandstone.” Mr. Jeremiah Taylor, of the Junor Class, recorder.—“I see a large tree across a brook, with limbs extending far from the trunk and enlarged by a succession of smaller branches. Thousands of men appear around some of the branches and in the top of the tree.” (Qu. Banyan tree ?) “Masses of rock are now coming over me: now there opens among them a dry valley, exceeding dry : its craggy sides are now in front of me. Now the hills and valleys seem made up of volcanic rocks and cinders: now I am in a shop, full of iron : now I am passing through a valley : now among coarse homely brick walls: now the country around is smooth and level.” You will observe in the concluding details above given, the images become more and more dull. In fact, I scarcely experienced any farther visions of this kind after Thursday night; and soon all power to produce them was gone. The question, however, often came up in my sickness, whether any one desirous of trying experiments of this sort might not acquire the power. Let him first yield to the operation of rather powerful medicines; then let him remain two or three days without eating ; then let him apply irritating applications to his surface, and if need be take opium or morPhine. I did almost believe that he
would succeed, but I suspect that without that unknown something, called fever, he would torment himself without reward. I have written this letter while yet in so feeble a state that I dare not make much mental effort, and therefore, you will find the style slovenly, though I hope intelligible. Whether you can make any use of the facts in your favorite science, or explain them by the rules of mental philosophy, I leave for you to decide. EDwARD HITCHcock.
Amherst College, Feb. 20, 1842. Highly respected and dear sir, Gratefully sensible of the respect you show me by asking me to “furnish the philosophy of the subject” of the phenomena occurring in your sickness, I am at the same time pained by the conviction that you are to be disappointed when you find so little philosophy furnished in return for so interesting a collection of facts. It has perhaps sometimes happened that for a fine selection of mineral specimens sent to an amateur or a collector, you have received in exchange but a poor parcel of comparatively worthless stones; such as one of my friends, (a mineralogist now eminent in our country,) was wont, in his youthful humor, joining as he said a Greek and a Latin in philological marriage, to call by the name of jactalite, (kitos and jacio.) So now, your rare psychological specimens bring back to you only what you may without any slander call a cheap fragment of common-place metaphysics. All the philosophy to be expected as to the subject of what you have called your “hallucinations,” must consist in reducing the phenomena as mere facts under other mere facts more general ; or in other words, in finding their due place in a classified arrangement of mental effects. Such an arrangement, in part at least, you have yourself made. Three classes of phenomena are