« ZurückWeiter »
lowed me to have gaslight to what extent I liked, and to keep the keys of the various doors of the rooms.
Night after night did I sit there, absorbed and rapt in my solitary study, my light visible to no human creature, and the only sound I heard being the dropping of a cinder from the fire, or the rattle of a mouse or rat among the bones in the glass-cases below.
Well, one day I was told by a young man, one of the pupils, that as he was to go up to some examination next day, he wished to sit up all night, to study the bones. Of course I could not object, and that evening he came.
After we had smoked together for a little at the fire, he took his book and the bones, and began to pore silently upon them. I resumed my labour, and soon became so absorbed, as to be altogether unaware of his presence. I was dissecting on the side of the face, the branches of the fifth and seventh, where the motor twigs of the latter run into the sentient ones of the former-a fact into which an insight was essential to my progress. I was deeply engrossed with it for several hours.
At length, when it was between midnight and one o'clock-(I knew the time from the cold feeling that always comes on one sitting up at that hour : if you have ever studied by night, you will know that there is no time when you feel so chilly, or when your fire, if you are inattentive to it, is so apt to go out, as this)—having been for a long time in a bent and cramped position, leaning over my task, I instinctively sat up erect, to relax my wearied muscles, and half absently looked out into the empty room.
What was my surprise to behold another being besides myself, standing on the opposite side of the table, and apparently scrutinizing my dissection with much interest. My first impression was, that the other student had left his own work, and come to look at mine; but on turning my head to satisfy myself, I saw him laid along, sound asleep, on a form before the fire. My eyes now returned, with unspeakable awe and terror, to the figure before me, and rooted to my seat, with my forceps in one hand, and my scalpel in the other, I sat gazing on it, holding my breath, whilst my hair stood up, and a cold shivering ran through my limbs. But judge of my amazement, when regarding it steadily, I saw its features to be identical in form and expression with those of the subject under my knife.
I could easily perceive this, for I had only dissected one side of the face, and the other half was untouched, the open glassy eye of the corpse being one in colour with that which sparkled with unearthly radiance in the head of the spectre.
Paralyzed with fear, I remained unable to remove my sight from its countenance. It stood with one hand behind, and the other in its bosom. The features had an expression of much intelligence, but seemed to have been wasted with continual distress, and wore a look of humiliation and hopelessness, apparently habitual to them. Had I met such a figure by day in the street, I should have taken it for an artisan out of employ—most likely a hand-loom weaver. Round the waist a white apron, in appearance, was tied, which had been caught up and secured through the string to one side, leaving a triangular corner hanging down before.
The feelings which actuated it in this strange inspection, appeared to be not at all of a wrathful description ; deep interest and curiosity were all that I could read in the look that was so fixedly bent upon my work.
Imagine the hour, the scene, the solitude, the silence, the ghastly remains that everywhere surrounded me !
I looked around into the dim corners of the large hall, with the dark gowns, grim fragments of mortality, and blood-coloured pictures, darkly visible on the walls. Then my eye travelled to the yawning mouth of the pitchy passage leading down to the museum, and away to the far distant lane. I turned my gaze aloft; there swung the two skeletons, both turned towards me, their caged ribs and sharp limb-bones distinctly lined and shaded, under the light of the single jet of gas that, depending from the ceiling over my table, illuminated the place, and their grotesque attitude adding a diabolic mockery to the dread and disgust themselves inspired ; like the effect German romancers seek to produce when they tell of wild bursts of demoniac laughter, marking the ratification of unballowed compacts of mortals with the fiend.
A feeling of terror now possessed me, so strange and strong, that I can never express it in words. I wist not what to do—whether to address this unearthly visitant—to rise and flee from its presence, or experiment with the view to ascertain whether it might not be a delusion of the eye. You perhaps may consider, and many others with you, that this last would have been the most rational proceeding. It is all very well for one so to think, but let him be placed in the circumstances, and how will he act?
Retreating backwards under the influence of overpowering fear, I went to where the other student lay asleep before the fire, and endeavoured to wake him-not with any view that he might witness the phenomenon of this breach of nature's laws, but solely from that master instinct that so urgently prompts us to seek the society of our own kind, when we deem that beings of another order are near us.
He was sound asleep, and when I shook him, replied by some strangely murmured words of a dream. If you have ever had the nightmare, and when some hideous monster pounced upon you, and you essayed to spring away for very life, found yourself unaccountably devoid of powers to stir, you will have had an analogous, though far from equal feeling to what I experienced, when I found that thou this young man was with me in the body, his spirit was away in far distant scenes. There was now an idea of forsakenness, desolation, and defencelessness, mixed with the feelings of awe and terror—the sense of vague and undefinable, but dreadful danger which had previously filled my mind. I would have cried out; but had I power to scream, which I had not, for a temporary aphonia possessed me,* who would have heard me ? and if any did, how could they come to my belp through those dismal and labyrinthine passages, black with the thickest darkness, and blocked with numerous gates and doors, of which the keys lay there on the table, close under the eyes of that dreadful phantom. For during my attempts to rouse my companion, it had moved round to where I had been sitting, and now, stooping
Aphonia-Loss of voice-a symptom that may arise from various diseases of the larynx.
down over my dissection, appeared to be closely and minutely inspect
As I looked at it, I perceived that the peculiar apparatus which I have before alluded to, as planned and understood solely by myself, and which I had placed upon the table, around and over the subject, had become disarranged, and that various portions of it had fallen together, apparently by accident, forming entirely new combinations and co-operations.
I could not help starting forward to remedy this, as my whole heart was fixed upon the success of my experiments, but had just hurriedly touched it, when the spectre turned its head, and looked calmly and inquiringly at me.
I leaped back in affright, my momentary interference having confounded the apparatus more than ever; in fact, I could not help fearing that it was altogether ruined.
My concern at this was, however, in an instant absorbed in a new excitement. All at once the air of the apartment seemed to have acquired form, colour, and motion. A confused intermixture of vapoury wreaths, of every shade of colour,here and there dim, and scarcely perceptible, but elsewhere more palpable and distinct, appeared to move hither and thither, all over the large hall. More and more clear and vivid did they become, till at length the whole place seemed alive with a multitude of spectral figures, as plain to the eye as the single apparition that had erewhile so disconcerted me. They appeared to be of both sexes, and of all ages, from mere infants up to the most elderly, and they moved about, apparently each engrossed with some pursuit of its own.
I remarked that they did not avoid, or make way for each other to pass, as they glided about, but seemed to penetrate or go through each other. Two would come together, coalesce, their colours and forms seeming confounded, like one picture on paper seen behind another against a window. Then emerging, they would become distinct and separate. Their features, too, were very clearly marked, and expressive, all different, and of a more or less intellectual cast. The same look, however, of deep interest, which I had remarked in the first instance, pervaded all their countenances. They gazed at me as they went, too, but again I perceived no appearance of any thing like displeasure at me; in fact, they looked at me as they did at one another. They seemed to view with much attention the furniture and whole paraphernalia about the room, especially the morbid preparations and drawings that stood and hung everywhere around.
It was, indeed, a most striking spectacle. I stood crouching close to the fire, in wonder and fear, whilst my companion lay along in deep slumber, ever and anon murmuring in his dreams.
They were continually changing their places, like a company in an exhibition-room, and moving along the passages to the lecturing theatre, and down toward the museum. By and by I could perceive they had some means of holding converse with each other, and communicating ideas-not by speech, for I heard no sound. They even appeared now and then, as I watched them closely, to draw each other's attention to particular objects, and sometimes to myself, seeming to converse interestedly with regard to me, and then they would niove on as if some other thing attracted their thoughts.
At once the idea occurred to me that these were the spirits of the many hundreds of individuals that had, for three or four generations back, found their final earthly resting-place in these rooms, and whose remains were preserved in the glass bottles and cases. Of the truth of this surmise I became immediately convinced, and curiosity then began to rise in my mind from under the weight of dread that had oppressed it.
I have said that they appeared to be of all ages--they also seemed to have been of all callings and professions, of which their external appearance gave evidence. They were, likewise, of all ranks, from the nobleman to the beggar; for the hand of the medical student of former times, like that of death, had no respect of persons, and it mattered not to him, whether his subject were snatched from the sculptured vault and leaden coffin, or from the shallow grassy heap of the open churchyard.
In respect of dress, a more motley masquerade could hardly be conceived. Here I would remark the elderly physician of bygone times, with his peruke, full-frilled shirt, velvet suit, diamond buckles, and goldheaded cane; there the lady of quality, with her hooped petticoat, highheeled shoes, monstrous head-dress, and the white of her complexion rendered more brilliant by fantastic patches of black; now my eye rested on a grotesque figure that seemed to have walked out of one of Hogarth's pictures; then it would be attracted by another in the old conicalcapped, and white-breeched and gaitered uniform of a soldier; anon, it would shift to a beauty of the days of the latter Charles, with hat and feather, long train, luxuriant hair, deep stomacher, and necklace of pearl. All kinds of attire were there; old white-fronted naval uniforms, broad-skirted coats of silk and velvet, covered with lace, longflapped waistcoats, periwigs, farthiogales, sacques, hoods, plaids and philabegs, quaker broad brims, and collarless coats, jewelled rapiers, and glancing decorations, though the majority seemed to have been of the lower classes, and wore dresses suited to their particular employments.
Many there were that had their limbs in fetters ; these were they who bad expiated their crimes upon the tree, and had been afterwards given to the schools for dissection. Some were stout, muscular bulliesthese were burglars and highwaymen; several were pale, thin, darklydressed, and wearing the aspect of mercantile and professional menthese were forgers, and others guilty of similar offences.
But the excitement—the terror-added to the fag of long study, want of food and of rest, were at last more than my exhausted frame was equal to, and I fell into some nervous fit, and remained for several hours insensible.
When I recovered consciousness, the morning was far advanced the sun shining gaily down through the skylight, and gilding with joyous radiance, even the forbidding walls and furniture of that loathsome chamber.
The other pupil had awakened, and finding me laid senseless on the floor, bad adopted some professional means to restore me, which were successful.
I went home to my rooms, and all that day gave myself up to a deep and refreshing slumber. But time was not to be lost, so next night I was again at my work, alone.
I now proceeded to arrange and disarrange my apparatus as formerly, convinced as I was that it had some influence in calling before my vision the remarkable spectacle I had that evening been witness to. My efforts were perfectly successful. Shortly before midnight I had again the spectral masquerade moving around me.
I was now less under the influence of awe or alarm, and finding they had really no power to harm my body, I got familiar with them, and went on to experiment upon them night after night. At length I struck upon a plan whereby I could render these beings palpable to the sense of hearing as well as to that of sight. This was the crisis, the hinge upon which ihe whole of my after discoveries turned. A while and I could call to my presence not only them, but spiritual essences of all degrees and descriptions; for if the classes and orders of earthly things are numerous, upon those of spirits the process of mind we call numeration cannot be brought to bear, so vast is the stupendous theme.
It was not long before I could discourse with them, and to this nocturnal converse I devoted myself with my whole energy and enthusiasm. Things now all went on smoothly with me, and from one vast view to another, I leaped with lightning celerity.
Was it not a proud, a maddening thought, that I had rent open the curtain that veils the world of spirits from the eye of sense that the abyss which sinks between mortality and immortality, matter and pure mind, was spanned by an arch of my construction, and that I could now snatch unbounded knowledge: for time and space had no more power to check the excursions of my intellect?
I now found not only that my former blind surmises and conclusions were all real, but that other facts existed, to the statement of which, in the wildest dreams of my unenlightened state, I could never have given credence. But the aphorism, " Know thysell," clung to me, and one of the first and most exciting of my investigations, was the inquiry into the nature and history of my own soul. With a delight beyond the conception of one whose spirit is not etherealized, I ascertained its origin, its migrations, and its destiny, and learned that almost all the noblest deeds which have been consummated in this world, have been by bodies which it has animated ; but my delight was increased to the wildest rapture, when I knew that the spirit now sojourning in my brain was that which had fired to their high deeds, Sobieski, the bula wark of Christendom, and Kosciusko the--"
“ Hillo!" cried I, starting as the poor Pole had got thus far in his rhapsody. The thought struck me instantaneously, “ Was this the way to follow the instructions I had received with regard to his treatment to fulfil my duty to my absent friend, and to him, too, my unfortunate patient, to whose ravings I was now listening with all interest and attention ?"
Up I sprang, covered with confusion, and unable to frame a pretence to break off the conference without exciting the suspicion or rousing the passion of the maniac.
“Excuse me for one moment,” said I, “the recollection has just struck me, I left a taper burning in the midst of some papers down in the doctor's room.”
Away I ran, but in place of returning sent one of the keepers to