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Heaven. For, could this very learned author be ignorant, that apparitions no less genuine than the one which he has recorded have never failed, during every period of time, to sanction the grossest idolatry of the Heathens, or even of papal Rome? The Doctor was doubtless unaware that there was a vision on record, the authenticity of which no one can reasonably doubt, wherein a supernatural token, no less awful than that which appeared to Colonel Gardiner, and, to all appearance, no less sanctioned by Heaven, was sent to one of the most powerful enemies to Christianity that lived in the 17th century, encouraging him to publish the book in which his dangerous tenets were contained. This singular narrative is to be found in the Autobiography of Lord Herbert of Cherbury, which I shall give in this nobleman's own words. My book, De Veritate, prout distinguitur à revelatione verisimili, possibili et à falso, having been begun by me in England, and formed there in all its principal parts, was about this time finished; all the spare hours which I could get from my visits and negociations being employed to perfect this work, which was no sooner done but that I communicated it to Hugo Grotius, that great scholar, who, having escaped his prison in the Low Countries, came into France, and was much welcomed by me and Monsieur Tieleners, also one of the greatest scholars of his time, who, after they had perused it and given it more commendations than it is fit for me to repeat, exhorted me earnestly to print and publish it; howbeit, as the frame of my whole book was so different from any thing which had been written heretofore, I found I
must either renounce the authority of all that had been written formerly concerning the method of finding out truth, and consequently insist upon my own way, or hazard myself to a general censure concerning the whole argument of my book; I must confess it did not a little animate me, that the two great persons above-mentioned did so highly value it; yet, as I knew it would meet with some opposition, I did consider whether it was not better for me a while to
suppress it. Being thus doubtful in my chamber one fair day in the summer, my casement being open towards the south, I took my book, De Veritate, in my hand, and, kneeling on my knees, devoutly said these words:
O thou eternal God, author of the light which now shines upon me, and giver of all inward illuminations, I do beseech thee, of thy infinite goodness, to pardon a greater request than a sinner ought to make; I am not satisfied enough whether I shall publish this book De Veritate; if it be for thy glory, I beseech thee give me some sign from heaven; if not, I shall suppress it.'
"I had no sooner spoken these words, but a loud, though yet gentle noise came from the heavens, (for it was like nothing on earth,) which did so comfort and cheer me, that I took my petition as granted, and that I had the sign demanded, whereupon also I resolved to print my book.
"This, how strange soever it may seem, I protest before the eternal God is true; neither am I any way superstitiously deceived herein, since I did not only clearly hear the noise, but in the serenest sky that
ever I saw, being without all cloud, did to my thinking see the place from whence it came. And now I sent my book to be printed in Paris at my cost and charges, without suffering it to be divulged to others than to such as I thought might be worthy readers of it; though afterwards, reprinting it in England, I not only dispersed it among the prime scholars in Europe, but was sent to not only from the nearest but furthest parts of Christendome, to desire the sight of my book, for which they promised any thing I should desire by way of return."
On this narrative of Lord Herbert, Dr Leland, in his "View of the Deistical Writers," makes the following remarks:- "I have no doubt of his Lordship's sincerity in this account; the serious air with which he relates it, and the solemn protestation he makes as in the presence of the eternal God, will not suffer us to question the truth of what he relates; viz., that he both made that address to God which he mentions, and that, in consequence of this, he was persuaded that he heard the noise he takes notice of, and regarded as a mark of God's approbation of the request he had made; and accordingly this great man was determined by it to publish his book. He seems to have considered it as a kind of imprimatur given to it from Heaven, and as signifying the Divine approbation of the book itself, and of what was contained in it."
I shall now merely observe, that the inference which was drawn from Colonel Gardiner's story is completely neutralized by this counterpart to it; by the fact, that while one special sign warns a sinner of
the awful consequence of slighting the gospel, another encourages a deist to publish a work, the design of which is to completely overturn the Christian religion. Such are the contradictions which a superstitious belief in apparitions must ever involve; and well may a late writer, to whom we are indebted for some excellent remarks on Lord Herbert's life, exclaim with astonishment," In what strange inconsistencies may the human mind entangle itself!"*
It must be admitted, however, that, at the close of the 18th and at the commencement of the 19th century, the wish to explain the occurrence of apparitions on superstitious principles evidently declined. Nicolai, in the memoir which he read to the Royal Society of Berlin, on the appearance of spectres occasioned by disease, remarked, that a respectable member of that academy, distinguished by his merit in the science of botany, whose truth and credibility were unexceptionable, once saw, in the very room in which they were then assembled, the phantasm of the late president Maupertuis. But it appears that this ghost was seen by a philosopher, and, consequently, no attempt
Retrospective Review, vol. vii. page 328.-The following are the remarks made, in this well-conducted periodical work, on Lord Herbert's vision:-" It is highly singular that a writer, holding opinions like these, should, when doubtful as to the propriety of promulgating them, look for a special revelation of the Divine pleasure. In what strange inconsistencies will the human mind entangle itself! when, on the point of publishing a book which was to prove the inefficacy of revelation, Lord Herbert put up a prayer for an especial interposition of Heaven to guide him."
was made to connect it with superstitious speculations. Mr Coleridge, who has confessed to many mental illusions, informs us that a lady once asked him if he believed in ghosts and apparitions? “I answered," said he, "with truth and simplicity, No, madam! I have seen far too many myself."
But, before quitting entirely this subject, I ought to attempt a physical explanation of many ghost-stories which may be considered as most authentic, This is seldom, however, a very easy task. There is, for instance, a story related of Viscount Dundee, whose ghost, about the time he fell at the battle of Killiecranky, appeared to Lord Balcarras, then under confinement on the suspicion of Jacobitism at the castle of Edinburgh. The spectre drew aside the curtain of his friend's bed, looked steadfastly at him, leaned for some time on the mantle-piece, and then walked out of the room. The Earl, not aware at the time that he was gazing upon a phantasm, called upon Dundee to stop. News soon arrived of the unfortunate hero's fate. Now, regarding this and other stories of the kind, however authentic they may be, the most interesting particulars are suppressed. Of the state of Lord Balcarras's health at the time, it has not been deemed necessary that a syllable should transpire. No argument, therefore, either in support of, or in opposition to, the popular belief in apparitions, can be gathered from an anecdote so deficient in any notice of the most important circumstances upon which the development of truth depends. With re
The Friend, by S. T. Coleridge, Esq. vol. i. p. 248.