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eventually inducing proper ecstatic illusions. The traveller Chardin, while recounting the effects of a certain drink prepared with a decoction of the head and seeds of the poppy, remarks, that “there is a decoction" [of this kind] “ called Coquenar, for the sale of which there are taverns in every quarter of the town, similar to coffee-houses. It is extremely amusing to visit these houses, and to observe carefully those who resort there for the purpose of drinking it, both before they have taken the dose, before it begins to operate, and while it is operating. On entering the tavern, they are dejected, sad, and languishing ; soon after they have taken two or three cups of this beverage, they are peevish, and find fault with every thing, and quarrel with one another ; but, in the course of its operation, they make it up again, and each one giving himself up to his predominant passion, the lover speaks sweet things to his idol; another, half-asleep, laughs in his sleeve; a third talks big and blusters; a fourth tells ridiculous stories; in one word, a person would believe himself to be really in a madhouse. A kind of lethargy and stupidity succeeds to this unequal and disorderly gaiety ; but the Persians, far from treating it as it deserves, call it an ecstacy, and maintain that there is something supernatural and heavenly in this state. As soon as the effect of the decoction diminishes, each one retires to his own house."
That peculiar insanity which is connected with a melancholic temperament presents analogous pheno
“ This progresse of melancholy,” says Burton, “you shall easily observe in them that they have been so affected; they goe smiling to themselves at first, at
length they laugh out; at first solitary, at last they can endure no company; or if they doe, they are now dizards, past sense and shame, quite moped; they are not what they say or doe, all their actions, words, gestures, are furious or ridiculous. Upon a sudden, they whoop and hollow, or run away, and sweare they see or heare players,* divells, hobgoblins, ghosts, strike or strut, and grow humorous in the end.”
From this last illustration it is evident, that when there is an intense excitement of the melancholic temperament, painful and pleasurable feelings become al. ternately affected by the undue vivifying influence. During the interval that painful feelings are rendered intense, there is a perfect unconsciousness of pleasure able feelings; and (vice versa) during the interval that opposite or pleasurable feelings are excited, there is a similar unconsciousness of painful feelings.
But it is now time that these important phenomena, connected with the vivifying action of morbific causes, should meet with some explanation.
I have before described the influence imparted by the brain and nerves to the sanguineous system. Hence the contractility of the involuntary fibres of the heart and blood-vessels, and the resistance which such fibres make to the dilating power of the blood, during the course of its circulation. Thus, when heat is partially applied to a blood-vessel, its first effect is to increase the dilatibility of the contained fluid, and with it, to give rise to a pleasurable feeling. But, up
* Probably the frightful shapes of demons represented in an. cient mysteries are here alluded to.
on the farther continuation of this cause of excitation, the contractility of vascular fibres is opposed to the expansile influence of the contained fluid, and a feeling of pain is the consequence. Arguing, then, by analogy, from the phenomenon of heat, Sir Humphrey Davy has supposed it probable, that pleasurable feeling is uniformly connected with a moderate increase of nervous action; and that this increase, when carried to certain limits, produces mixed emotions or sublime pleasure, and beyond those limits absolute pain.”*
Lately much countenance has been given to this opinion, by the publication of an experiment in which, from some idiosyncracy in the constitution of the individual who inhaled the nitrous oxide, a moderate dose of the gas was found to exert a most powerful action on the state of the mind. This effect was experienced by a student at Yale College in America.
“A gentleman,” says Professor Silliman,“ about nineteen years of
age, a sanguine temperament and cheerful temper, and in the most perfect health, inhaled the nitrous oxide, which was prepared and administered in the usual dose and manner. Immediately his feelings were uncommonly elevated, so that (as he expressed it) he could not refrain from dancing and shouting! To such a degree was he excited, that he was thrown into a frightful delirium, and his exertions became so violent that he sunk to the earth exhausted ; and, having there remained till he in some degree recovered
* Sir Humphrey Davy's Researches concerning the Nitrous Oxide, p. 552.
his strength, he again rose only to renew the most convulsive muscular efforts, and the most piercing screams and cries, until, overpowered by the intensity of the paroxysms, he again fell to the ground, apparently senseless, and panting vehemently. For the space of two hours these symptoms continued; he was perfectly unconscious of what he was doing, and was in every respect like a maniac : he states, however, that his feelings vibrated between perfect happiness and the most consummate misery. After the first violent effects had subsided, he was obliged to lie down two or three times from excessive fatigue, although he was immediately roused upon any one's entering the room. The effects remained in a degree for two or three days, accompanied by a hoarseness, which he attributed to the exertions made while une der the influence of the gas.
This is a very singular experiment; and is so far instructive, that the alternations of pleasure and pain, which indicate an extreme state of excitement, sufficiently well explain the mixed character of many of the visions of enthusiasts. St Teresa, for instance, of whom I have before spoken, had ecstacies, wherein the vividness' of her ideas was so intense, that, like the American student, she often “ vibrated between perfect happiness and perfect misery;" or, in other words, she had alternate prospects of heaven and of hell, of benignant spirits and of devils. She saw St Peter and St Paul, but she saw likewise foul fiends, whom
Edinburgh Philosophical Journal for January 1, 1823, page
she insulted by crossing herself, and by making signs of scorn, or whom she kept at bay, by sprinkling holy water on the ground. She had, afterwards, the felicity of seeing souls freed from purgatory, and carried up to heaven; but none, to her recollection, ever escaped the purifying flame, except Father Peter of Alcantara, Father Ivagnez, and a Carmelite friar. *
* Townsend's Tour through Spain, vol. ii. p. 100.