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THE SPECTRAL ILLUSIONS OF HYPOCHONDRIACKS.
“ There is nothing so vaine, absurd, ridiculous, extravagant, im
possible, incredible, so monstrous a chymera, so prodigious and strange, such as painters and poets durst not attempt, which they will not really feare, faine suspect and imagine unto themselves.”
BURTON'S ANATOMY OF MELANCHOLY.
Nor unfrequently a partial and irregular state of nervous irritability acts in concurrence with highlyexcited conditions of certain temperaments. This gives rise, in very sanguine or melancholic constitutions, to the symptoms of hypochondrism. The irregular action of those nerves, upon which the production of external impressions and the renovated feelings of the mind depends, is indicated by false affecttions communicated to the organs of sense, particularly to those of touch. Hence the imaginary diseases of which hypochondriacks suppose they are the subject, as well as the ideal transformation of the texture of their bodies into such substances as glass, lead, or feathers. At the same time, the irregular action of other nerves, concerned in the processes of assimilation, is productive of the usual morbid state which takes place of the digestive organs. Burton has sum
med up the extravagancies of hypochondriacks in a few words: “ Humorous are they beyond all measure, they faigne many absurdities voide of reason; one supposes himself to be a dog, cock, beare, horse, glasse, butter, &c. He is a giant, a dwarfe, as strong as an hundred men, a lord, duke, prince, &c. And if he be told he hath a stinking breath, a great nose, that he is sick, or inclined to such or such a disease, he beleeves it eftsoones, and by force of imagination will worke it out.” It is useless to dwell much longer upon this disease, as no spectral impressions occur in it, which have not been described in the chapter that treated of the illusions of mania or melancholia. I might perhaps mention, that the quality of such phantasies not unfrequently harmonizes with any false conceit that may prevail. This circumstance is not unaptly described in the old comedy of Lingua:
Lately I came from fine Phantaste's house.-
CERTAIN LESS FREQUENT MORBID SOURCES OF
« Of various forms unnumber'd spectres more.”
HAVING shewn, from various authentic medical cases, the liability of spectral illusions to arise from many morbid affections which are of very frequent occurrence, it is by no means necessary to my present object, that this part of the investigation should proceed to a much greater extent.--I first stated, that certain gases, when inhaled, alter the composition of the blood, rendering, at the same time, more vivid some particular quality of our mental feelings. Might not then other aeriform substances be found, which would have nearly the same effect ? An eminent medical practitioner, from whose ingenious essay on apparitions I have freely quoted, insinuates the probability, that necromancers, in imposing upon any object of their art, may occasionally avail themselves of some gaseous matters, which, when inhaled,
“ The celebrated conjurer or master-mason,” remarks Dr Alderson of Hull, “ whom we had here some years ago, told me, that he could give me a recipe for a preparation of antimony, sulphur, &c. which, when burnt in a confined room, would so affect the person
up in it, that he would fancy he saw spectres and apparitions.” Notwithstanding, however, the liberal offer made to this gentleman, the existence of such a fumigation stands in great need of confirmation. But, besides the inhalation of gases, there are several poisons, particularly of the narcotic kind, such as opium, henbane, the conium maculatum, bella-donna, &c. which, when introduced into the system by the organs of digestion, have the effect of inducing delirium, and occasionally spectral illusions. In the violent mental excitement of hydrophobia it has been recorded, that the phantasm of the dog which inflicted the fatal wound has sometimes haunted the bed of the wretched patient.
In the constitutional affection of gout, where an altered quality of the circulating fluid is evinced by its tendency to a morbid secretion of calcareous matter, similar states of mind, particularly in the recedent form of the disease, have been experienced. An excitement of gouty inflammation, instead of attacking the hands or feet, has, from some occasional cause, been transferred to the brain, in which case, violent acute sensations have ensued, and these again have been followed by the most vivid yet painful ideas. To such symptoms spectral illusions have sometimes su
pervened, as the following case, related by Dr Alderson, sufficiently well illustrates :
“ I was soon after called,” says this writer, “ to visit Mrs B., a fine old lady about 80 years of age, whom I have frequently visited in fits of the gout. At a period when, from her general feelings, she rather expected the gout, she was seized with an unusual deafness, and great distension in the organs of digestion. From this time she was visited by several of her friends, whom she had not invited, and whom she at first so far considered as actually present, that she told them she was very sorry that she could not hear them speak, nor keep up conversation with them: she would therefore order the card-table, and rang the bell for that purpose. Upon the entrance of the servant, the whole party disappeared-she could not help expressing her surprise to her maid that they should all go away so abruptly; but she could scarcely believe her when she told her that there had been nobody in the room. She was so ashamed, that she suffered, for many days and nights together, the intrusion of a variety of phantoms, and had some of her finest feelings wrought upon by the exhibition of friends long lost, and who only came to cheat her fancy, and revive sensations that time had almost obliterated. She determined, however, for a long time, not to complain, and contented herself with merely ringing her bell, finding she could always get rid of the phantoms by the entrance of her maid, whenever they became distressing. It was not till some time after that she could bring herself to relate her distresses to me. She was all this time convinced of