Thursday, November 26, 2015
Dreams and Ghosts by Samuel Taylor Coleridge 1899
DREAMS AND GHOSTS by Samuel Taylor Coleridge 1899
See also Forgotten Tales of Ghosts and Hauntings - 100 Books on CDrom and The Paranormal and Supernatural - 400 Books on DVDrom
EVEN in dreams nothing is fancied without an antecedent quasi case. It could not be otherwise. 1830
DEFINE a vulgar ghost with reference to all that is called ghost-like. It is visibility without tangibility; which is also the definition of a shadow. Therefore, a vulgar ghost and a shadow would be the same; because two different things cannot properly have the same definition. A visible substance, without susceptibility of impact I maintain to be an absurdity. Unless there be an external substance, the bodily eye cannot see it; therefore, in all such cases, that which is supposed to be seen is, in fact, not seen, but is an image of the brain. External objects naturally produce sensation; but here, in truth, sensation produces, as it were, the external object.
In certain states of the nerves, however, I do believe that the eye, although not consciously so directed, may, by a slight convulsion, see a portion of the body, as if opposite to it. The part actually seen will by common association seem the whole; and the whole body will then constitute an external object, which explains many stories of persons seeing themselves lying dead. Bishop Berkeley once experienced this. He had the presence of mind to ring the bell, and feel his pulse; keeping his eye still fixed on his own figure right opposite to him. He was in a high fever, and the brain image died away as the door opened. I observed something very like it once at Grasmere; and was so conscious of the cause that I told a person what I was experiencing whilst the image still remained. Of course, if the vulgar ghost be really a shadow, there must be some substance of which it is the shadow. These visible and intangible shadows, without substance to cause them, are absurd.
DEGREES OF CREDIBILITY IN GHOST STORIES, ETC.
THERE is a great difference in the credibility to be attached to stories of dreams and stories of ghosts. Dreams have nothing in them which is absurd and nonsensical; and though most of the coincidences may be readily explained by the diseased system of the dreamer, and the great and surprising power of association, yet it is impossible to say whether an inner sense does not really exist in the mind, seldom developed, indeed, but which may have a power of presentiment. All the external senses have their correspondents in the mind; the eye can see an object before it is distinctly apprehended- why may there not be a corresponding power in the soul? The power of prophecy might have been merely a spiritual excitation of this dormant faculty. Hence you will observe that the Hebrew seers sometimes seem to have required music. Everything in nature has a tendency to move in cycles; and it would be a miracle if, out of such myriads of cycles moving concurrently, some coincidences did not take place. No doubt many such take place in the daytime; but then our senses drive out the remembrance of them, and render the impression hardly felt; but when we sleep, the mind acts without interruption. Terror and the heated imagination will, even in the daytime, create all sorts of features, shapes, and colours out of a simple object possessing none of them in reality. 1823
GHOST STORIES ARE ABSURD
GHOST stories are absurd. Whenever a real ghost appears-by which I mean some man or woman dressed up to frighten another-if the supernatural character of the apparition has been for a moment believed, the effects on the spectator have always been most terrible - convulsion, idiotcy, madness, or even death on the spot. Consider the awful descriptions in the Old Testament of the effects of a spiritual presence on the prophets and seers of the Hebrews; the terror, the exceeding great dread, the utter loss of all animal power. But in our common ghost stories you always find that the seer, after a most appalling apparition, as you are to believe, is quite well the next day. Perhaps he may have a headache; but that is the outside of the effect produced. Alston, a man of genius, and the best painter yet produced by America, when he was in England told me an anecdote which confirms what I have been saying. It was, I think, in the University of Cambridge, near Boston, that a certain youth took it into his wise head to endeavour to convert a Tom-Painish companion of his by appearing as a ghost before him. He accordingly dressed himself up in the usual way, having previously extracted the ball from the pistol which always lay near the head of his friend's bed. Upon first awaking, and seeing the apparition, the youth, who was not to be frightened, A., very coolly looked his companion, the ghost, in the face, and said, 'I know you. This is a good joke; but you see I am not frightened. Now you may vanish!' The ghost stood still. 'Come,' said A., 'that is enough. I shall get angry. Away!' Still the ghost moved not. 'By----,' ejaculated A., if you do not in three minutes go away, I'11 shoot you. He waited the time, deliberately levelled the pistol, fired, and, with a scream at the immobility of the figure, became convulsed, and afterwards died. The very instant he believed it to be a ghost, his human nature fell before it. 1823
EXAMINATION OF GHOST STORIES
WE fell upon ghosts, and [Coleridge] exposed many of the stories physically and metaphysically. He seemed to think it impossible that you should really see with the bodily eye what was impalpable, unless it were a shadow; and if what you fancied you saw with the bodily eye was in fact only an impression on the imagination, then you were seeing something out of your senses, and your testimony was full of uncertainty. He observed how uniformly, in, all the best-attested stories of spectres, the appearance might be accounted for from the disturbed state of the mind or body of the seer, as in the instances of Dion and Brutus. Upon_____'s saying that he wished to believe these stories true, thinking that they constituted a useful subsidiary testimony of another state of existence, Mr. C. differed, and said he thought it a dangerous testimony, and one not wanted: it was Saul, with the Scriptures and the Prophet before him, calling upon the witch of Endor to certify him of the truth! He explained very ingeniously, yet very naturally, what has often startled people in ghost stories-such as Lord Lyttelton's-namely, that when a real person has appeared, habited like the phantom, the ghost-seer has immediately seen two, the real man and the phantom. He said that such must be the case. The man under the morbid delusion sees with the eye of the imagination, and sees with the bodily eye too; if no one were really present, he would see the spectre with one, and the bed-curtains with the other. When, therefore, a real person comes, he sees the real man as hewould have seen any one else in the same place, and he sees the spectre not a whit the less: being perceptible by different powersof vision, so to say, the appearances do not interfere with each other. 1823
STORY OF THE PHANTOM PORTRAIT
HE [Coleridge] told us the following story of the Phantom Portrait:- A stranger came recommended to a merchant's house at Lubeck. He was hospitably received; but the house being full, he was lodged at night in an apartment handsomely furnished, but not often used. There was nothing that struck him particularly in the room when left alone, till he happened to cast his eyes on a picture, which immediately arrested his attention. It was a single head; but there was something so uncommon, so frightful and unearthly, in its expression, though by no means ugly, that he found himself irresistibly attracted to look at it. In fact, he could not tear himself from the fascination of this portrait till his imagination was filled by it, and his rest broken. He retired to bed, dreamed, and awoke from time to time with the head glaring on him. In the morning his host saw by his looks that he had slept ill, and inquired the cause, which was told. The master of the house was much vexed, and said that the picture ought to have been removed, that it was an oversight, and that it always was removed when the chamber was used. The picture, he said, was, indeed, terrible to every one; but it was so fine, and had come into the family in so curious a way, that he could not make up his mind to part with it, or to destroy it. The story of it was this: 'My father,' said he, 'was at Hamburgh on business, and whilst dining at a coffee-house he observed a young man of a remarkable appearance enter, seat himself alone in a corner, and commence a solitary meal. His countenance bespoke the extreme of mental distress, and every now and then he turned his head quickly round, as if he heard something, then shudder, grow pale, and go on with his meal after an effort as before. My father saw this same man at the same place for two or three successive days, and at length became so much interested about him that he spoke to him. The address was not repulsed, and the stranger seemed to find some comfort in the tone of sympathy and kindness which my father used. He was an Italian, well informed, poor but not destitute, and living economically upon the profits of his art as a painter. Their intimacy increased: and at length the Italian, seeing my father's involuntary emotion at his convulsive turnings and shudderings, which continued as formerly, interrupting their conversation from time to time, told him his story. He was a native of Rome, and had lived in some familiarity with, and been much patronised by, a young nobleman; but upon some slight occasion they had fallen out, and his patron, besides using many reproachful expressions, had struck him. The painter brooded over the disgrace of the blow. He could not challenge the nobleman, on account of his rank; he therefore watched for an opportunity, and assassinated him. Of course he fled from his country, and finally had reached Hamburgh. He had not, however, passed many weeks from the night of the murder, before, one day in the crowded street, he heard his name called by a voice familiar to him: he turned short round, and saw the face of his victim looking at him with a fixed eye. From that moment he had no peace; at all hours, in all places, and amidst all companies, however engaged he might be, he heard the voice, and could never help looking round; and whenever he so looked round, he always encountered the same face staring close upon him. At last, in a mood of desperation, he had fixed himself face to face, and eye to eye, and deliberately drawn the phantom visage as it glared upon him; and this was the picture so drawn. The Italian said he had struggled long, but life was a burden which he could now no longer bear; and he was resolved, when he had made money enough to return to Rome, to surrender himself to justice, and expiate his crime on the scaffold. He gave the finished picture to my father, in return, for the kindness which he had shown to him. 1823
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