Page images
PDF
EPUB

which was not at all that of the showman or the conjurer. At the conclusion of the course he assured us that most persons possessed in some degree the power of mesmerising others, and that by trying with a few of our younger friends or acquaintances, and simply doing what we had seen him do, we should probably succeed. He also showed us how to distinguish between the genuine mesmeric trance, and any attempt to imitate it.

In consequence of this statement, one or two of the elder boys tried to mesmerise some of the younger ones, and in a short time succeeded; and they asked me to see their experiments. I found that they could produce the trance state, which had all the appearance of being genuine, and also a cataleptic rigidity of the limbs by passes and by suggestion, both in the trance and afterwards in the normal waking state. This led me to try myself in the privacy of my own room, and I succeeded after one or two attempts in mesmerising three boys from twelve to sixteen years of age, while on others within the same ages I could produce no effect, or an exceedingly slight one. During the trance they seemed in a state of semi-torpor, with apparently no volition. They would remain perfectly quiescent so long as I did not notice them, but would at once answer any questions or do anything I told them. On the two boys with whom I continued to experiment for some time, I could produce catalepsy of any limb or of the whole body, and in this state they could do things which they could not, and certainly would not have done in their normal state. For example, on the rigid outstretched arm I would hang an ordinary chair at the wrist, and the boy would hold it there for several minutes, while I sat down and wrote a short letter for instance, without any complaint, or making any remark when I took it off. I never left it more than five minutes because I was afraid that some injury might be caused by it. I soon found that this rigidity could be produced in those who had been mesmerised by suggestion only, and in this way often fixed them in any position, notwithstanding their efforts to change it. One experiment was to place a shilling on the table in front of a

boy, and then say to him, “Now, you can't touch that shilling. He would at once move his hand towards it, but when halfway it would seem to stick fast, and all his efforts could not bring it nearer, though he was promised the shilling if he could take it.

Every phenomenon of suggestion I had seen at the lecture, and many others, I could produce with this boy. Giving him a glass of water and telling him it was wine or brandy, he would drink it, and soon show all the signs of intoxication, while if I told him his shirt was on fire he would instantly strip himself naked to get it off. I also found that he had community of sensation with myself when in the trance. If I held his hand he tasted whatever I put in my mouth, and the same thing occurred if one or two persons intervened between him and myself; and if another person put substances at random into my mouth, or pinched or pricked me in various parts of the body, however secretly, he instantly felt the same sensation, would describe it, and put his hand to the spot where he felt the pain.

In like manner any sense could be temporarily paralyzed so that a light could be flashed on his eyes or a pistol fired behind his head without his showing the slightest sign of having seen or heard anything. More curious still was the taking away the memory so completely that he could not tell his own name, and would adopt any name that was suggested to him, and perhaps remark how stupid he was to have forgotten it; and this might be repeated several times with different names, all of which he would implicitly accept. Then, on saying to him, “Now you remember your own name again; what is it?" an inimitable look of relief would pass over his countenance, and he would say, 'Why, Pof course," in a way that carried complete conviction.

But perhaps the most interesting group of phenomena to me were those termed phreno-mesmerism. I had read, when with my brother, George Combe's “Constitution of Man," with which I had been greatly interested, and afterwards one of the writer's works on Phrenology, and at the lecture I had

seen some of the effects of exciting the phrenological organs by touching the corresponding parts of the patient's head. But as I had no book containing a chart of the organs, I bought a small phrenological bust to help me in determining the positions.

Having my patient in the trance, and standing close to him, with the bust on my table behind him, I touched successively several of the organs, the position of which it was easy to determine. After a few seconds he would change his attitude and the expression of his face in correspondence with the organ excited. In most cases the effect was unmistakable, and superior to that which the most finished actor could give to a character exhibiting the same passion or emotion.

At this very time the excitement caused by painless surgical operations during the mesmeric trance was at its full height, as I have described it in my “Wonderful Century" (chapter xxi.), and I had read a good deal about these, and also about the supposed excitement of the phrenological organs, and the theory that these latter were caused by mental suggestion from the operator to the patient, or what is now termed telepathy. But as the manifestations often occurred in a different form from what I expected, I felt sure that this theory was not correct. One day I intended to touch a particular organ, and the effect on the patient was quite different from what I expected, and looking at the bust while my finger was still on the boy's head, I found that I was not touching the part I supposed, but an adjacent part, and that the effect exactly corresponded to the organ touched and not to the organ I thought I had touched, completely disproving the theory of suggestion. I then tried several experiments by looking away from the boy's head while I put my finger on it at random, when I always found that the effect produced corresponded to that indicated by the bust. I thus established, to my own satisfaction, the fact that a real effect was produced on the actions and speech of a mesmeric patient by the operator touching various parts of the head ; that the effect corresponded with the natural expression of the emotion due to the phrenological organ

He was

situated at that part—as combativeness, acquisitiveness, fear, veneration, wonder, tune, and many others; and that it was in no way caused by the will or suggestion of the operator.

As soon as I found that these experiments were successful I informed Mr. Hill, who made no objection to my continuing them, and several times came to see them. so much interested that one evening he invited two or three friends who were interested in the subject, and with my best patient I showed most of the phenomena. At the suggestion of one of the visitors I told the boy he was a jockey, and was to get on his horse and be sure to win the race. Without another word from me he went through the motions of getting on horseback, of riding at a gallop, and after a minute or two he got excited, spoke to his horse, appeared to use his spurs, shake the reins, then suddenly remain quiet, as if he had passed the winning-post; and the gentleman who had suggested the experiment declared that his whole motions, expressions, and attitudes were those of a jockey riding a race. At that time I myself had never seen a race. The importance of these experiments to me was that they convinced me, once for all, that the antecedently incredible may nevertheless be true; and, further, that the accusations of imposture by scientific men should have no weight whatever against the detailed observations and statements of other men, presumably as sane and sensible as their opponents, who had witnessed and tested the phenomena, as I had done myself in the case of some of them. At that time lectures on this subject were frequent, and during the holidays, which I generally spent in London with my brother, we took every opportunity of attending these lectures and witnessing as many experiments as possible. Knowing by my own experience that it is quite unnecessary to resort to trickery to produce the phenomena, I was relieved from that haunting idea of imposture which possesses most people who first see them, and which seems to blind most medical and scientific men to such an extent as to render them unable to investigate the subject fairly, or to arrive at any trustworthy conclusions in regard to it.

[ocr errors][ocr errors]

How I was introduced to Henry Walter Bates I do not exactly remember, but I rather think I heard him mentioned as an enthusiastic entomologist, and met him at the library. I found that his specialty was beetle collecting, though he also had a good set of British butterflies. Of the former I had scarcely heard, but as I already knew the fascinations of plant life I was quite prepared to take an interest in any other department of nature. He asked me to see his collection, and I was amazed to find the great number and variety of beetles, their many strange forms and often beautiful markings or colouring, and was even more surprised when I found that almost all I saw had been collected around Leicester, and that there were still many more to be discovered. If I had been asked before how many different kinds of beetles were to be found in any small district near a town, I should probably have guessed fifty or at the outside a hundred, and thought that a very liberal allowance. But I now learnt that many hundreds could easily be collected, and that there were probably a thousand different kind within ten miles of the town. He also showed me a thick volume containing descriptions of more than three thousand species inhabiting the British Isles. I also learnt from him in what an infinite variety of places beetles may be found, while some may be collected all the year round, so I at once determined to begin collecting, as I did not find a great many new plants about Leicester. I therefore obtained a collecting bottle, pins, and a store-box; and in order to learn their names and classification I obtained, at wholesale price through Mr. Hill's bookseller, Stephen's “Manual of British Coleoptera,” which henceforth for some years gave me almost as much pleasure as Lindley's Botany, with my MSS. descriptions, had already done.

This new pursuit gave a fresh interest to my Wednesday and Saturday afternoon walks into the country, when two or three of the boys often accompanied me. The most delightful of all our walks was to Bradgate Park, about five miles from the town, a wild, neglected park with the ruins of a mansion, and many fine trees and woods and ferny or bushy slopes. Sometimes the whole school went for a picnic, the

« EelmineJätka »