It must also be remembered, that to the auricular deceptions practised by the means of ventriloquism or otherwise, may be traced many of the most successful impostures which credulity has received as supernatural communications.
The sense of touch seems less liable to perversion than either that of sight or smell, nor are there many cases in which it can become accessary to such false intelligence, as the eye and ear, collecting their objects from a greater distance, and by less accurate enquiry, are but too ready to convey. Yet there is one circumstance in which the sense of touch as well as others is very apt to betray its possessor into inaccuracy, in respect to the circumstances which it impresses on its owner. The case occurs during sleep, when the dreamer touches with his hand some other part of his own person. He is clearly, in this case, both the actor and patient, both the proprietor of the member touching, and of that which is touched ; while, to increase the complication, the hand is both toucher of the limb on which it rests, and receives an impression of touch from it; and the same is the case with the limb, which at one and the same time receives an impression from the hand, and conveys to the mind a report respecting the size, substance, and the like, of the member touching. Now as, during sleep, the patient is unconscious that both limbs are his own identical property, his mind is apt to be much disturbed by the complication of sensations arising from two parts of his person being at once acted upon, and from their reciprocal action ; and false impressions are thus received, which, accurately enquired into, would afford a clew to many puzzling phenomena in the theory of dreams. This peculiarity of the organ of touch, as also that it is confined to no particular organ, but is diffused over the whole person of the man, is noticed by Lucretius :—
" Ut si forte manu, quam vis jam corporis ipse Tute tibi partem ferias, aeque experiare."
* The poem of Albania is, in its original folio edition, so extremely scarce, that I have only seen a copy belonging to the amiable and ingenious Dr. Beittie, besides the one which I myself possess, printed in the earlier part of last century. It was reprinted by my late friend Dr. Leyden, in a small volume, entitled Scottish Descriptive Poems. Albania contains the above, and many other poetical passages of the highest merit.
A remarkable instance of such an illusion was told me by a late nobleman. He had fallen asleep, with some uneasy feelings arising from indigestion. They operated in their usual course of visionary terrors. At length they were all summed up in the apprehension, that the phantom of a dead man held the sleeper by the wrist, and endeavoured to drag him out of bed. He awaked in horror, and still felt the cold, dead grasp of a corpse's hand on his right wrist. It was a minute before he discovered that his own left hand was in a state of numbness, and with it he had accidentally encircled his right arm.
The taste and the smell, like the touch, convey more direct intelligence than the eye and the ear, and are less likely than those senses to aid in misleading the imagination. We have seen the palate, in the case of the porridge-fed lunatic, enter its protest against the acquiescence of eyes, ears, and touch, in the gay visions which gilded the patient's confinement. The palate, however, is subject to imposition as well as the other senses. The best and most acute bon vivant loses his power of discriminating betwixt different kinds of wine, if he is prevented assisting his palate by the aid of his eyes,—that is, if the glasses of each are administered indiscriminately while he is blindfolded. Nay, we are authorized to believe, that individuals have died in consequence of having supposed themselves to have taken poison, when, in reality, the draught they had swallowed as such, was of an innoxious or restorative quality. The delusions of the stomach can seldom bear upon our present subject, and are not otherwise connected with supernatural appearances, than as a good dinner and its accompaniments are essential in fitting out a daring Tam o' Shanter, who is fittest to encounter them, when the poet's observation is not unlikely to apply—
" Inspiring bauld John Barleycorn, What dangers thou canst make us scorn I Wi' tippenny we fear nae evil, Wi' usquebae well face the devil: The swats sae ream'd in Tammie's noddle, Fair play, he caredna deils a boddle!"
Neither has the sense of smell, in its ordinary state, much connexion with our present subject. Mr. Aubrey tells us, indeed, of an apparition, which disappeared with a curious perfume as well as a most melodious twang; and popular belief ascribes to the presence of infernal spirits, a strong relish of the sulphureous element of which they are inhabitants. Such accompaniments, therefore, are usually united with other materials for imposture. If, as a general opinion assures us, which is not positively discountenanced by Dr. Hibbert, by the inhalation of certain gases or poisonous herbs, necromancers can dispose a person to believe he sees phantoms, it is likely that the nostrils are made to inhale such suffumigation, as well as the mouth. *
I have now arrived, by a devious path, at the conelusion of this letter, the object of which is to show from what attributes of our nature, whether mental or corporeal, arises that predisposition to believe in supernatural occurrences. It is, I think, conclusive, that mankind, from a very early period, have their minds prepared for such events by the consciousness of the existence of a spiritual world, inferring in the general proposition the undeniable truth, that each man, from the monarch to the beggar, who has once acted his part on the stage, continues to exist, and may again, even in a disembodied state, if such is the pleasure of Heaven, for aught that we know to the contrary, be permitted or ordained to mingle amongst those who yet remain in the body. The abstract possibility of apparitions must be admitted by every one who believes in a Deity, and his superintending omnipotence. But imagination is apt to intrude its explanations and inferences founded on inadequate evidence. Sometimes our violent and inordinate passions, originating in sorrow for our friends, remorse for our crimes, our eagerness of patriotism, or our deep sense of devotion—these or other violent excitements of a moral character, in the visions of night, or the rapt ecstasy of the day, persuade us that we witness, with our eyes and ears, an actual instance of that supernatural communication, the possibility of which cannot be denied. At other times, the corporeal organs impose upon the mind, while the eye and the ear, diseased, deranged, or misled, convey false impressions to the patient. Very often both the mental delusion and the physical deception exist at the same time, and men's belief of the phenomena presented to them, however erroneously, by the senses, is the firmer and more readily granted, that the physical impression corresponded with the mental excitement.