' An yron man,........
.... made of yron mould.'"—Fairy Queen.
There is every reason to believe that instances of this kind are frequent among persons of a certain temperament ; and when such occur in an early period of society, they are almost certain to be considered as real supernatural appearances. They differ from those of Nicolai, and others formerly noticed, as being of short duration, and constituting no habitual or constitutional derangement of the system. The apparition of Maupertuis to Monsieur Gleditsch, that of the Catholic clergyman to Captain C-, that of a late poet to his friend, are of the latter character. They bear to the former the analogy, as we may say, which a sudden and temporary fever-fit has to a serious feverish illness. But, even for this very reason, it is more difficult to bring such momentary impressions back to their real sphere of optical illusions, since they accord much better with our idea of glimpses of the future world than those in which the vision is continued or repeated for hours, days, and months, affording opportunities of discovering, from other circumstances, that the symptom originates in deranged health.
Before concluding these observations upon the deceptions of the senses, we must remark, that the eye is the organ most essential to the purpose of realizing to our mind the appearance of external objects, and that whet-the visual organ becomes depraved for a greater or less time, and to a farther or more limited extent, its misrepresentation of the objects of sight is peculiarly apt to terminate in such hallucinations as those we have been detailing. Yet the other senses or organs, in their turn, and to the extent of their power, are as ready, in their various departments, as the sight itself, to retain false or doubtful impressions, which mislead, instead of informing, the party to whom they are addressed.
Thus, in regard to the ear, the next organ in importance to the eye, we are repeatedly deceived by such sounds as are imperfectly gathered up and erroneously apprehended. From the false impressions received from this organ, also arise consequences similar to those derived from erroneous reports made by the organs of sight. A whole class of superstitious observations arise, and are grounded upon inaccurate and imperfect hearing. To the excited and imperfect state of the ear, we owe the existence of what Milton sublimely calls " The airy tongues that syllable men's names, On shores, in desert sands, and wildernesses."
These also appear such natural causes of alarm, that we do not sympathize more readily with Robinson Crusoe's apprehensions when he witnesses the print of the savage's foot in the sand, than in those which arise from his being waked from sleep by some one calling his name in the solitary island, where there existed no man but the shipwrecked mariner himself. Amidst the train of superstitions deduced from the imperfections of the ear, we may quote that visionary summons which the natives of the Hebrides acknowledged as one sure sign of approaching fate. The voice of some absent, or, probably, some deceased relative, was, in such cases, heard as repeating the party's name. Sometimes the aerial summoner intimated his own death, and at others, it was no uncommon circumstance that the person who fancied himself so called, died in consequence;—for the same reason that the negro pines to death who is laid under the ban of an Obi woman, or the Cambro-Britain, whose name is put into the famous cursing well, with the usual ceremonies, devoting him to the infernal gods, wastes away and dies, as one doomed to do so. It may be remarked also, that Dr. Johnson retained a deep impression that, while he was opening the door of his college chambers, he heard the voice of his mother, then at many miles' distance, call him by his name ; and it appears he was rather disappointed that no event of consequence followed a summons sounding so decidedly supernatural. It is unnecessary to dwell on this sort of auricular deception, of which most men's recollection will supply instances. The following may be stated as one serving to show by what slender accidents the human ear may be imposed upon. The author was walking, about two years since, in a wild and solitary scene with a young friend, who laboured under the infirmity of a severe deafness, when he heard what he conceived to be the cry of a distant pack of hounds, sounding intermittedly. As the season was summer, this, on a moment's reflection, satisfied the hearer that it could not be the clamour of an actual chase, and yet his ears repeatedly brought back the supposed cry. He called upon his own dogs, of which two or three were with the walking party. They came in quietly, and obviously had no accession to the sounds which had caught the author's attention, so that he could not help saying to his companion, "I am doubly sorry for your infirmity at this moment, for I could otherwise have let you hear the cry of the Wild Huntsman." As the young gentleman used a hearing tube, he turned when spoken to, and, in doing so, the cause of the phenomenon became apparent. The supposed distant sound was in fact a nigh one, being the singing of the wind in the instrument which the young gentleman was obliged to use, but which, from various circumstances, had never occurred to his elder friend as likely to produce the sounds he had heard.
It is scarce necessary to add, that the highly imaginative superstition of the Wild Huntsman in Germany seems to have had its origin in strong fancy, operating upon the auricular deceptions, respecting the numerous sounds likely to occur in the dark recesses of pathless forests. The same clew may be found to the kindred Scottish belief, so finely embodied by the nameless author of Albania :—
'There, since of old the haughty Thanes of Boss Were wont, with clans and ready vassals throng'd, To wake the bounding stag, or guilty wolf; There oft is heard, at midnight or at noon, Beginning faint, but rising still more loud, And louder, voice of hunters, and of hounds, And horns hoarse-winded, blowing far and keen. Forthwith the hubbub multiplies, the air Labours with louder shouts and rifer din Of close pursuit, the broken cry of deer Mangled by throttling dogs, the shouts of men, And hoofs, thick-beating on the hollow hill: Sudden the grazing heifer in the vale Starts at the tumult, and the herdsman's ears Tingle with inward dread. Aghast he eyes The upland ridge, and every mountain round, But not one trace of living wight discerns, Nor knows, o'erawed and trembling as he stands, To what or whom he owes his idle fear— To ghost, to witch, to fairy, or to fiend, But wonders, and no end of wondering finds."*