Page images
PDF
EPUB

While this was done in London, his brother, as far off as Boston in New England, writing to his master the merchant, (and who gives this account of it,) after other business, writ this postscript.

SIR,

I beg you will be pleased in your return to this to let me have some account, as much as conveniently may be, of how my brother does, and what condition he is in ; which you will excuse my importunity for, when you read the following account, viz, :

The 20th of last, about six o'clock in the morning, lying in my bed, and broad awake, my brother, or an apparition of my brother, came to the bed's feet, and opened the curtain, looking full in my face, but did not speak. I was very much frighted, but however I so far recovered as to say to him, Brother, what is the matter with you?

He had a napkin-cap on his head, which was very bloody, he looked very pale and ghastly, and said, I am basely murdered by , (naming the person,) but I shall have justice done me; and then disappeared.

Now this letter was so dated, that it was impossible any account could be sent of the disaster, that could reach thither in that time ; for it was not dated above fourteen days after the fact was committed in London ; and that it was genuine I am well assured, because I saw the letter within an hour after it was received in London, read it myself, and knew the young man's hand, and the young man also, perfectly well, as I did his brother that was killed also, very intimately.

The young man was sober, religious and sensible, not given to whimsey, or lightheaded fancies, not vapourish or distempered, not apt to see double, or to dream waking, as many of our apparition-making people are ; he was besides that a scholar, and very serious : the first I mention as a protection to him from foolish imagination, and the last from falsehood ; and I am satisfied, the reader may depend upon both the stories, I mean as to the truth of them.

In my speaking of apparitions as I have stated the case, I must take leave to differ from the notions of the ancients, who it is evident understood all apparition to be the souls, or, as we call them, the ghosts, of departed persons ; but when they came to make rational conclusions from those first opinions, what wild additions were they driven to make to the first just conceptions which they had formed in their minds?

Their first conceptions, I say, were indeed just, consistent with reason, and with nature; for they concluded, that when the body is dead, and the soul separated, the state was determined. This Mr. Pope expresses very well in his Translation of Homer,

For to the further shore
When once we pass, the soul returns no more.
This
was,

I say, a rational and just sentiment; but then they were confounded in all those imaginations, by seeing the apparitions of their departed friends, as if come back from those eternal shades ; and how to reconcile this they did not know.

To get over this difficulty, they were driven to strange shifts, and some of them, it must be confessed, were very foolish ones; such as these :

1. That the soul wandered about in the air, till such time as the body obtained its due funeral rites: from this notion, the friends of the deceased were mightily concerned to see the funeral pile erected for their departed friends, and to have the body honourably burned ; then the ashes of the bones were deposited in an urn, and that urn buried in the earth; when this was done, the soul was admitted to pass the flood, that is, to be transported into the Elysian fields, from whence they never should return any more ; but in case these rites were not performed for any person, the soul wandered restless and unfixed, in a state of perplexity for an hundred years. Hence those lines in Virgil, Æneid, vi. :

Hæc omnis, quam cernis, inops inhumataque turba est : Portitor ille, Charon : hi, quos vehit unda, sepulti. Nec ripas datur horrendas et rauca fluenta Transportare prius, quam sedibus ossa quiêrunt. Centum errant annos, volitantque hæc littora circum: Tum demum admissi stagna exoptata revisunt.

Æneid, lib. vi. line 325. Now between this time, or during this interval, that is to say, between death and the funeral pile, they pretended they allowed the separated or unembodied souls of men might appear, and visit their friends, or harass their enemies; and on this occasion, the ghost of Patroclus, slain by Hector at the siege of Troy, is brought in visiting his friend Achilles, and begging of him to get his funeral rites performed, that he might be admitted to rest.

Thus the phantasm said,
Sleeps my Achilles, his Patroclus dead ?
Living, I seem'd his dearest, tend'rest carc,
But now forgot, I wander in the air :
Let my pale corse the rites of burial know,
And give me entrance in the shades below :
'Till then the spirit finds no resting-place,
But here and there th' unbodied spectres chase
The vagrant dead-

Iliad, lib. xxiii, 2. Homer's notion of the state of the dead, was something like the ancient philosophy of the Egyptians, which gave the soul a shape like the body, and that it was only a receptacle of the mind; the mind they made to be the sublime and superior part, and that only.

Thus in the case of apparitions, they allowed that this case or shell called the soul, might appear after death, but the mind could not, but was exalted among the gods, and took up its eternal abode; from whence

it could return no more.

Thus the ghost of Patroclus, going with his speech to Achilles, says thus:

When once the last funereal flames ascend,
No more shall meet Achilles and his friend :
No more our thoughts to those we love make known.

This last notion, though gross and absurd in itself, was the utmost refuge they had, by which to solve the difficulty of apparitions. They imagined that the soul was not only separated by death from the body, but that there was a separation of the understanding from its case or vehicle, as they called it; so that the soul, which was but the image and form of the body, might be in hell; the body itself, burnt to ashes, remained in the urn; and the understanding, or mind, which was the sublime, divine part, be in heaven with the gods: this Homer expresses thus:

'Tis certain man, though dead, retains Part of himself; the immortal mind remains. The form subsists without the body's aid,

Aerial semblance, and an empty shade. Again he explains it in his Odyssey, lib. xi. line 600, speaking in the name of Ulysses :

Now I the strength of Hercules behold,
A tow'ring spectre of gigantic mould,

A shadowy form! For high in heaven's abodes,

Himself resides, a god among the 'gods. Here Homer fancies Hercules, that is, the mind, the sublime part of Hercules, was in heaven, and exalted there to the highest degree too:

A god among the gods; and yet at the same time his soul, his eidwiny, or image, was in hell. And Plutarch gives us the same description at large.

What learned nonsense, and what a great deal of it is here, to reconcile a thing, which, upon the Christian foundation, is made as easy as anything not immediately visible to the common eye can be made!

Nature dictated, and reason confirmed, that the first principle, namely, the soul, or, as they call it, the mind or understanding, fled to heaven immediately after death, and returned no more.

Thus Andromache, mourning for the loss of her husband Hector, is brought in speaking, according to the doctrine of the ancients :

Thou to the dismal realms for ever gone,
And I abandoned.

The dead, once passed to the dismal realms, as they called the shades below, were gone for ever, and to return no more; but then they were perplexed to find that they did return, as in this case of Patroclus to Achilles ; though that, by the way, was a dream only, not an apparition, or, as we may call it, an apparition in a dream, and no more.

But they had their apparitions, and we read of many apparitions of the dead to the living; as, particularly, in the famous example of Cæsar appearing to Brutus: and this perplexed them so, that they

« PreviousContinue »