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of resolution, some pretext, however far-fetched or discordant with the genuine motive, to shield him from his own weakness.
One remarkable effect of this perpetual contest in the bosom of Hamlet between a sense of the duty, enjoined as it were by heaven, and his aversion to the means which could alone secure its accomplishment, has been to throw an interest around him of the most powerful and exciting nature. It is an interest not arising from extrinsic causes, from any anxiety as to the completion of the meditated vengeance, or from the intervention of any casual incidents which may tend to hasten or retard the catastrophe, but exclusively springing from our attachment to the person of Hamlet. We contemplate with a mixture of admiration and compassion the very virtues of Hamlet becoming the bane of his earthly peace, virtues which, in the tranquillity either of public or private life, would have crowned him with love and honour, serving but, in the tempest which assails him, to wreck his hopes, and accelerate his destruction. In fact, the very doubts and irresolution of Hamlet endear him to our hearts, and at the same time condense around him an almost breathless anxiety, for, while we confess them to be the offspring of all that is lovely, gentle, and kind, we cannot but perceive their fatal tendency, and we shudder at the probable event.
It is thus that the character of Hamlet, notwithstanding the veil of meditative abstraction which the genius of philosophic melancholy has thrown over it, possesses a species of enchantment for all ranks and classes. Its popularity, indeed, appears to have been immediate and great, for, in 1604, Anthony Scoloker, in a dedication to his poem, entitled "Daiphantus," tells us, that his "epistles" should be "like friendly Shake-speare's tragedies, where the commedian rides, when the tragedian stands on tiptoe: Faith it should please all, like prince Hamlet."
We should bear in mind, however, that the favour of the public must, in part, have been attached to this play through the vast variety of incident and characters which it unfolds, from its rapid interchange of solemnity, pathos, and humour, and more particularly from the awful, yet grateful terror which the shade of buried Denmark diffuses over the scene.
That a belief in Spiritual Agency has been universally and strongly impressed on the mind of man from the earliest ages of the world, must be evident to every one who peruses the writings of the Old Testament. It is equally clear that, with little but exterior modification, this doctrine has passed from the East into Europe, flowing through Greece and Rome to modern times. It is necessary, however, to a just comprehension of the subject, that it be distinctly separated into two branches,-into the Agency of Angelic Spirits, and into the Agency of the Spirits of the Departed, as these will be found to rest on very dissimilar bases.
To the Agency of Angelic Spirits, both good and bad, and to their operation on and influence over the intellect and affairs of men, the records of our religion bear the most direct and undubitable testimony; nor is it possible to disjoin a full admission of this intercourse from any faith in its scriptures, whether Jewish or Christian.
"That the holy angels," observes Bishop Horsley, "are often employed by God in his government of this sublunary world, is indeed clearly to be proved by holy writ: that they have powers over the matter of the universe analogous to the powers over it which men possess, greater in extent, but still limited, is a thing which might reasonably be supposed, if it were not declared : but it seems to be confirmed by many passages of holy writ, from which it seems also evident that they are occasionally, for certain specific purposes, commissioned to exercise those powers to a prescribed extent. That the evil angels possessed, before the Fall, the like powers, which they are still occasionally permitted to exercise for the punishment of wicked nations, seems also evident. That they have a power over the human sensory (which is part of the material universe), which they are occasionally permitted to exercise, by means of which they may inflict diseases, suggest evil thoughts, and be the instruments of temptations, must also be admitted.”
Sermons, vol. ii. p. 369.
Of a doctrine so consolatory as the ministration and guardianship of benevolent spirits, one of the most striking instances is afforded us by the Book of Job, perhaps the most ancient composition in existence; it is where Elihu, describing the sick man on his bed, declares, that
and from the same source was the awful but monitory vision described in the fourth chapter of this sublime poem.
Subsequent poets have embraced with avidity a system so friendly to man, and so delightful to an ardent and devotional imagination. Thus Hesiod, repeating the oriental tradition, seems happy in augmenting the number of our heavenly protectors to thirty thousand, Τρὶς γὰρ μύριοι :
"Invisible the Gods are ever nigh,
Pass through the midst and bend th' all-seeing eye:
The upright judgments, aud th' unrighteous ways.”
But, next to the sacred writers, and more immediately derived from their inspiration, has this heavenly superintendence been best described by two of our own poets: by Spenser, with his customary piety, sweetness, and simplicity:—
"And is there care in heaven? and is there love
In heavenly spirits to these creatures base," &c.†
by Milton, in a strain of greater sublimity, and with more philosophic dignity and grace:
"Millions of spiritual creatures walk the earth
Unseen, both when we wake, and when we sleep :" &c. ‡
But mankind, not satisfied with this angelic interposition, though founded on indisputable authority, and exercised on their behalf, has, in every age and nation, fondly clung to the idea, that the souls or Spirits of the Dead have also a communication with the living, and that they occasionally, either as happy or as suffering shades, re-appear on this sublunary scene.
The common suggestions and associations of the human mind have laid the foundation for this general belief; man has ever indulged the hope of another state of existence, feeling within him an assurance, a kind of intuitive conviction, emanating from the Deity, that we are not destined as the beasts to perish. It is true, says Homer.
""Tis true, 'tis certain, man though dead, retains
but to this mental immortality, which is firmly sanctioned by religion, affection,
* Vide Good's Translation of Job, part v. chap. 33, ver. 22, 23.--I have ventured to alter the language, though I have strictly adhered to the import of the last line. Ministers of Death have also been substituted for Destinies.
Vide Todd's Spenser, vol. iv. p. 1. 2, 3. Faerie Queene, book ii. canto 8. stanz. 1 and 2. Todd's Milton, vol. iii. p. 138, 139. Paradise Lost, book iv. 1. 677.-Shakspeare, it may be remarked, occasionally alludes to the same species of spiritual hierarchy, and, in the very play we are engaged upon, Laertes says
"A ministring angel shall my sister be,
When thou liest howling."
Pope's Iliad, book xxiii.
Act. v. sc. 1.
grief, and superstition have added a vast variety of unauthorised circumstances. The passions and attachments which were incident to the individual in his earthly, are attributed to him in his spiritual state; he is supposed to be still agitated by terrestrial objects and relations, to delight in the scenes which he formerly inhabited, to feel for and to protect the persons with whom he was formerly connected, to be actuated, in short, by emotions of love, anger, and revenge, and to be in a situation which admits of receiving benefit or augmented suffering through the attentions or negligence of surviving friends. Accordingly, the spirit or apparition of the deceased was supposed occasionally to revisit the glimpses of the moon, and to become visible to its dearest relatives or associates, for the purpose of admonishing, complaining, imploring, warning, or directing.
Now all these additions to the abstract idea of immortality, though perhaps naturally arising from the affectionate regrets, the conscious weakness, and the eager curiosity of man, and therefore universal as his diffusion over the globe, are totally unwarranted by our only safe and sure guide, the records of the Bible; for though we are taught that man exists in another state, and disembodied of the organs which he possessed whilst an inhabitant of this planet, we are also told, that he is supplied with a new body, of a very different nature, and, without a miracle, indiscernible by our present senses. We are told by St. Peter, that even the body of our Saviour after his resurrection could only be seen through the operation of a miracle: "Him God raised up the third day, and gave him to he visible: Et dedit eum manifestum fieri." Vulg. "He was no longer," observes Bishop Horsley, "in a state to be naturally visible to any man. His body was indeed risen, but it was become that body which St. Paul describes in the fifteenth chapter of his first epistle to the Corinthians, which, having no sympathy with the gross bodies of this earthly sphere, nor any place among them, must be indiscernible to the human organs, till they shall have undergone a similar refinement."*
We have no foundation, therefore, in Scripture, nor according to its doctrine, can we have, for attaching credibility to the re-appearance of the Departed; yet, independent of the predisposition of the human mind, from the influence of affectionate regret, to think upon the dead as if still present to our wants and wishes, a state of feeling which, in Celtic poetry, has given birth to an interesting system of mythology entirely built on apparitional intercourse, the relations which we possess of the apparent return of the dead, are so numerous, and, in many instances, so unexceptionably attested, that they have led to several ingenious, and, indeed, partially successful attempts to account for them. One or two of these attempts, as terminating in some curious speculations on the character of Hamlet, and on the apparition of his father, it will be necessary more particularly to notice.
A firm belief in Visitation from the Spirits of the Deceased was so strong a feature in the age of Shakspeare, and the immediately subsequent period, and was supported by such an accumulation of testimony, that it roused the exertions of a few individuals of a philosophical turn of mind, to account for what they would not venture to deny; Lavaterus and others on the Continent, and Scot S and Mede ** in our own country, attempting to prove that these appearances were not occasioned by the return of the dead, but by the permitted and personal agency
Horsley's Nine Sermons on the Nature of the Evidence by which the Fact of our Lord's Resurrection is established, p. 209.
+ See an elegant and very satisfactory Dissertation on the "Mythology of the Poems of Ossian," by Professor Richardson of Glasgow, in Graham's "Essay on the Authenticity of the Poems of Ossian." Svo.
Lavaterus was translated into English by R. H. and printed by Henry Benneyman, in 1572. 4to. § See his Treatise on Divels and Spirits. annexed to his Discoverie of Witchcraft, 4to. 1584. Mede was born in 1586 and died in 1638, and the doctrine in question is to be found in the fortieth of his fifty-three Discourses, published after his decease.
of good or evil angels, who, as we occasionally find in Scripture, and more particularly in the case of Samuel, before the Witch of Endor, were allowed to assume the resemblance of the deceased.
But, though this hypothesis be constructed on a species of spiritual agency which we know to have existed, yet are the instances for which it is adopted by these writers much too trivial and frequent to secure to their solution a rational assent; nor is the presence of these superior intelligences, as objects of sight, at all necessary to account for the phenomena in question.
For it is obvious, that if relying, with Bishop Horsley, on the evidence of sacred history, we believe that the Deity oftentimes acts mediately, through his agents, on the human sensory, as a part of the material universe, thereby producing diseases and morbid impressions, the same effects will result. Not that we conceive matter can, in any degree, modify the thinking principle itself, but its organisation being the sole medium through which the intellect communicates with the external world, it is evident that any derangement of the structure of the brain must render the perceptions of the mind, as to material existences, imperfect, false, and illusory.
It is remarkable that a doctrine similar to this was produced in the last century to account for the spectral appearances of second sight, by a Scotchman too, himself an Islander, who has furnished us with an ample collection of instances of this singular visitation; this gentleman contending, that these prophetic scenes are exhibited not to the sight, but merely to the imagination. He adds, with great sagacity,
"As these Representations or waking Dreams, according to the best Enquiry I could make, are communicated (unless it be seldom) but to one Person at once, though there should be several Persons, and even some Seers in Company, those Representations seem rather communicated to the Imagination (as said is) than the Organ of Sight; seeing it is impossible, if made always to the latter, but all Persons directing their sight the same Way, having their Faculty of Sight alike perfect and equally disposed, must see it in common."†
We must refer, however, to the present day for demonstration, founded on actual experience, that the appearance of ghosts and apparitions is, in every instance, the immediate effect of certain partial but morbid affections of the brain; yet, it must be remarked, that the ingenious physiologists who have proved this curious fact, entirely confine themselves, and perhaps very justly, to physical phenomena, professedly discarding the consideration of any higher efficiency in the series of causation than what appears as the result of diseased organisation; so that their discovery, though completely overturning the common superstition as to the return of the departed spirit, or the visible interference of angelic agency, is yet very reconcileable with the pneumatology of Bishop Horsley.
In 1805, Dr. Alderson of Hull read to the Literary Society of that place, and published in 1811, an Essay on Apparitions, the object of which is to prove that the immediate cause of these spectral visitations "lies, not in the perturbed spirits of the departed, but in the diseased organisation of the living." For this purpose he relates several cases of this hallucination which fell under his own observation and treatment, and which, as distinguished from partial insanity, from delirium, somnabulism, and reverie, were completely removed by medical means.
In 1813, Dr. Ferriar of Manchester published, on a more extended scale, "An Essay towards a Theory of Apparitions;" whose aim and result are precisely similar to the anterior production of Dr. Alderson; both admitting the reality and universality of spectral impressions, and both attributing them to partial affections of the brain, independent of any sensible external agency; it is also remarkable that both have applied their speculations and experience in illustration of the
"A Treatise on the Second Sight, Dreams, Apparitions, &c. By Theophilus Insulanus." 8vo.. Reprint of 1815, annexed to Kirk's "Secret Commonwealth,” p. 74.
character of Hamlet, a circumstance which has, in a great measure, led to these general observations on the progress of opinion as to the nature of apparitional visitation.
The state of mind which Shakspeare exhibits to us in Hamlet, as the consequence of conflicting passions and events, operating on a frame of acute sensibility, Dr. Ferriar has termed latent lunacy.
"The subject of latent lunacy," he remarks, "is an untouched field, which would afford the richest harvest to a skilful and diligent observer. Cervantes has immortalized himself, by displaying the effect of one bad species of composition on the hero of his satire, and Butler has delineated the evils of epidemic, religious, and political frenzy; but it remains as a task for some delicate pencil, to trace the miseries introduced into private families, by a state of mind, which ⚫ sees more devils that vast hell can hold,' and which yet affords no proof of derangement, sufficient to justify the seclusion of the unhappy invalid.
"This is a species of distress, on which no novelist has ever touched, though it is unfortunately increasing in real life; though it may be associated with worth, with genius, and with the most specious demonstrations (for a while) of general excellence.
"Addison has thrown out a few hints on this subject in one of the Spectators; it could not escape so critical an observer of human infirmities; and I have always supposed, that if the character of Sir Roger de Coverley had been left untouched by Steele, it would have exhibited some interesting traits of this nature. As it now appears, we see nothing more than occasional absence of mind; and the peculiarities of an humourist, contracted by retirement, and by the obsequiousness of his dependants.
"It has often occurred to me, that Shakspeare's character of Hamlet can only be understood on this principle. He feigns madness, for political purposes, while the poet means to represent his understanding as really (and unconsciously to himself) unhinged by the cruel circumstances in which he is placed. The horror of the communication made by his father's spectre; the necessity of belying his attachment to an innocent and deserving object; the certainty of his mother's guilt; and the supernatural impulse by which he is goaded to an act of assassination, abhorrent to his nature, are causes sufficient to overwhelm and distract a mind previously disposed to 'weakness and to melancholy,' and originally full of tenderness and natural affection. By referring to the book, it will be seen, that his real insanity is only developed after the mock play. Then, in place of a systematic conduct, conducive to his purposes, he becomes irresolute, inconsequent, and the plot appears to stand unaccountably still. Instead of striking at his object, he resigns himself to the current of events, and sinks at length, ignobly, under the stream.” *
Dr. Alderson, alluding to the common but cogent argument against a belief in Ghosts, "that only one man at a time ever saw a ghost, therefore, the probability is, that there never was such a thing," adds, in reference to the character of Hamlet, and to Shakspeare's management of his supernatural machinery, the following observations:
Essay on the Theory of Apparitions, p. 111-115.-The following very curious instance of a striking renewal of terrific impressions, is given by the Doctor in this entertaining little work: it was communicated to him, he tells us, by the gentleman who underwent the deception :-"He was benighted, while travelling alone, in a remote part of the Highlands of Scotland, and was compelled to ask shelter for the evening at a small lonely hut. When he was to be conducted to his bed-room, the landlady observed, with mysterious reluctance, that he would find the window very insecure. On examination, part of the wall appeared to have been broken down, to enlarge the opening. After some enquiry, he was told, that a pedlar, who had lodged in the room a short time before, had committed suicide, and was found hanging behind the door, in the morning. According to the superstition of the country, it was deemed improper to remove the body through the door of the house; and to convey it through the window was impossible, without removing part of the wall. Some hints were dropped, that the room had been subsequently haunted by the poor man's spirit.
"My friend laid his arms, properly prepared against instrusion of any kind, by the bedside, and retired to rest, not without some degree of apprehension. He was visited, in a dream, by a frightful apparition, and awaking in agony, found himself sitting up in bed, with a pistol grasped in his right hand. On casting a fearful glance round the room, he discovered, by the moon-light, a corpse, dressed in a shroud, reared erect, against the wall, close by the window. With much difficulty, he summoned up resolution to approach the dismal object, the features of which, and the minutest parts of its funeral apparel, he perceived distinctly. He passed one hand over it; felt nothing; and staggered back to the bed. After a long interval, and much reasoning with himself, he renewed his investigation, and at length discovered that the object of his terror was produced by the moon-beams, forming a long, bright image, through the broken window, on which his fancy, impressed by his dream, had pictured, with mischievous accuracy, the lineaments of a body prepared for interment. Powerful associations of terror, in this instance, had excited the recollected images with uncommon force and effect." P. 24-28.