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Medical distinctions of spectral impressions.
Sepulchral remedies : Preparations of the human skull-Mumia — Apparition of Ficinus to Michael Mercato.-Warning voice to Quarræus.-Visions of Dr. Pordage. Latent lunacy--Exemplified in the character of Hamlet.
In medicine, we have fine names, at least, for every species of disease. The peculiar disorder, which I have endeavoured to elucidate, is termed generally HALLUCINATION, including all delusive impressions, from the wandering mote before the eye, to the tremendous spectre, which is equally destitute of exist
It is unnecessary to my purpose, to pursue the subdivisions of this affection, which have been traced by nosologists. I shall only mention one extreme species, called the Lycanthropia, in which the patient imagines himself to have beconie a wolf, abandons society, and takes refuge in the woods. These impressions have no doubt been produced, or strengthened by narcotic potions, of hyoscyamus, datura stramonium, and other deleterious infusions, either ignorantly taken, or maliciously administered.
But we may well be surprized to find, that impressions of this kind are registered, under the title of experimental philosophy. Dr. Garmann, * in his chapter on the ghosts of the dead, informs us, that “ when human salt, “ extracted and depurated from the skull
* De Miraculis Mortuorum.
" of a man, was placed in a water-dish, “and covered with another plate, there " appeared next morning, in the mass,
figures of men fixed to the cross.”
Another philosopher relates, that, when fresh earth from a church-yard was put into an oblong plate, after the performance of certain ceremonies, a thousand spectres were visible in it.
During the sixteenth century, preparations from the human skull were favourite remedies : the moss which was found on skulls long-interred, and the bones reduced to powder, were often prescribed. In a very respectable work, WEPFER's Historiæ Apoplecticorum, there is a dissertation on this subject, by Dr. Emanuel Kænig, * in which he asserts, that on those nights when the human skull was poạnded in the apothecary's house, the family was alarmed by unusual noises, by clappings of the doors and windows, by groans, and other indications that the spirits of the dead were abroad.
* Wepfer. Histor. Apoplectic. p. 459.
I have never found that any effects of this kind were attributed to the MUMIA, a favourite remedy of the same period : that is, - the flesh of mummies, which were imported from Alexandria, and which was swallowed in the form of pills or boluses, by the noble and rich, in Europe. The medical writings of that time are full of accounts of this horrible and useless practice, which was at length discontinued, when it was found that the Alexandrians, instead of disinterring the embalmed mummies of the ancient Egyptians, contented themselves with exporting the putrid carcases of Jews, to which they had easier access. *
* Garmann de Cadaverum Mumiis. Tit. ii. p. 1042, 3.
In this manner was anthropophagy sanctioned by physicians, even as late as the reign of Louis XIV. while some writers affected to doubt, whether the practice had ever existed.
From the principles which I have established, the reader will easily proceed with me, to account for the most imposing relations of apparitions.
I have shewn that a morbid disposition of the brain is capable of producing spectral impressions, without any exter.nal prototypes.
The religion of the ancients, which peopled all parts of nature with deities of different ranks, exposed them, in a peculiar manner, to delusions of the imagination; and I have had occasion, in another essay, *
* On Genius.