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WHEN CAUSES ACT ACUTELY UPON ORGANS OF SENSATION, AND ARE UNREMITTINGLY PROLONGED, THEY OCCASIONALLY CHANGE THE QUALITY OF THEIR ACTION; AS, FOR INSTANCE, FROM PAIN TO PLEASURE. IDEAS LIKEWISE PARTAKE OF THIS CHANGE OF EX
"The visage of a hangman frights not me:
Ir has been shewn in the last chapter, that when sensations and ideas are stimulated conjointly, and to an excessive degree, an ecstacy may ensue which is alternately pleasurable and painful. An effect analogous to this may occur, when the organs of sensation alone are subjected to an acute excitement, as the following remarkable case, which is to be found in Dr Crichton's Dissertation on Mental Derangement, sufficiently well illustrates. It is a translation from the Gazette Literaire, published in France. "An extraordinary young man, who lived at Paris, and who was passionately fond of mechanics, shut himself up one evening in his apartment, and bound not only his breast and belly,
but also his arms, legs, and thighs, around with ropes, full of knots, the ends of which he fastened to hooks in the wall. After having passed a considerable part of the night in this situation, he wished to disengage himself, but attempted it in vain. Some neighbouring females, who had been early up, heard his cries, and calling the assistance of the patrol, they forced open the door of his apartment, where they found him swinging in the air, with only one arm extricated. He was immediately carried to the lieutenant-general of the police for examination, where he declared that he had often put similar trials into execution, as he experienced indescribable pleasure in them. He confessed that at first he felt pain, but that after the cords became tight, he was soon rewarded by the most exquisite sensations of pleasure."*
As this curious fact requires explanation, I shall again advert to the remark which was made in a preceding chapter, that an irritating cause, which primarily operates upon organs of sensation, may eventually influence the whole of the circulation,-to the varied conditions of which the general vividness of sensations and ideas holds a more immediate correspondence than to states of the nervous system. Again, it has been shewn, that an irritating cause, which excites to an intense degree organs of sensation, may change the quality of its operation, namely, from pain to pleasure. When, therefore, the same cause of irritation has so generally influenced the state of the circulating system, as to add to the influence of ideas of a similar
* Crichton on Mental Derangement, vol. i. p. 132.
pleasurable quality, we are entitled to expect that ecstatic illusions may ensue, such as have been described by the superstitious under the name of beatific visions.
This explanation may assist us, in accounting for some incidents relative to the spectral impressions of many individuals, who, in times of religious persecution, have been exposed to all the cruelties which intolerant power could devise. Thus it is recorded of Theodorus, that, in pursuance of the orders of Julian the Apostate, he was unremittingly tortured, even by a change of executioners, for an interval of ten hours. But at length the tyrant's engines of persecution ceased to have their wonted effect;-instead of inflicting pain, the sensations over which they had control imparted a grateful influence, which was eventually extended to the renovated feelings of the mind. The thoughts of this firm Christian had dwelt upon that blessed state of immortality, which was promised as a reward to those who were prepared to lay down their lives for the sacred cause they had espoused; and the indication of this state of mind was the subject of his illusions. For Theodorus has related, that while he was under the hands of the executioners, he was cheered by the aspect of a bright youth, conceived by him to be a messenger from heaven, who allayed his sufferings by wiping the perspiration from his body, and by pouring cool water upon his irritated limbs. At length, as he has likewise affirmed, he felt no pain at all. This confession has been supposed to afford a satisfactory explanation, why the sufferer continued on the scaffold, in the sight of all men, smiling, and even singing, until it was
thought expedient to take him down. Ruffinus, to whom we are indebted for this narrative, remarks, that he had subsequently many conversations with Theodorus touching this supernatural interposition (for such it was readily conceived to be), and that the martyr uniformly assured him, that he was so comforted and confirmed by it in the faith, that he could not but regard the hours which he passed under the hands of the torturers as imparting exquisite delight rather than pain.
Such is the effect which may take place when causes of acute suffering are unremittingly prolonged, and when their influence, which has become grateful, is imparted to ideas.
An incident, similar to the foregoing, is recorded by La Trobe, in the history which he has given of the Moravians. He relates, "That about the year 1458, the Brethren in Lititz, founders of the Moravians, did not cease to send to all places to strengthen the persecuted in the faith, and to exhort them to patience. Among others, Gregory, nephew of Rokyzan, the archbishop of Prague, came to Prague; but upon his having just held a meeting, he was surprised on a sudden, and, together with some others, committed to prison by the judge or justice, with these affecting words: It is written, all that will live godly in Christ Jesus shall suffer persecution; therefore follow me, by command of the higher powers! Under the rack he fell into a swoon; during which, it is said, he had a vision of the three men, who were, six years after, elected the first bishops of the Brethren. They appeared as the guardians of a blooming tree,
on the fruit of which many lovely singing-birds were feeding."
But examples of this kind have been so frequently recorded, that poets have even attempted to dramatise them. Thus, Massinger, in his play of the Virgin Martyr:
'Tis not for life I sue for,
To be again tormented, 'twere to me
For miserable Christians; let me feel,
As the Sicilian did his brazen bull,
The horrid'st you can find, and I will say,
In this thou shalt prevail. Go fetch them hither: