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ADVERTISEMENT TO THE FOURTH EDITION.
To this Edition is added [at p. 208] a Prayer now in my possession in Dr. Johnson's own handwriting, in which he expressly supposes that Providence may permit him to enjoy the good effects of his wife's attention and ministration by appearance, impulses, or dreams. It is well known, that he admitted the credibility of apparitions: and in his Rasselas,* he maintains it, in the person of Imlac, by the following acute train of reasoning :
“ That the dead are seen no more," said Imlac,“ I will not undertake to maintain, against the concurrent and unvaried testimony of all ages and of all nations. There is no people, rude or learned, among whom apparitions of the dead are not related and believed. This opinion, which, perhaps, prevails as far as human nature is diffused, could become universal only by its truth; those that never heard of one another, would not have agreed in a tale which nothing but experience can make credible. That it is doubted by single cavillers, can very little weaken the general evidence; and some who deny it with their tongues confess it by their fears.”
Cavillers have indeed doubted the credibility of this tale, rejecting it in every instance as the dream of delusion, or the fiction of imposture.
That many tales of apparitions have originated in delusion, and many in imposture, cannot be denied; and the whole question to be considered in this case is, how far we have authority for believing that any are founded in truth or pro
Some have thought all such reported appearances liable to suspicion, because in general they seem called forth by no exigency, and calculated to administer to no end or purpose. This
* Vol. I. Chap. xxxi.
circumstance, so far as it may be observed, will authorize a presumption that they are not the fabrications of imposture; which has always some end, commonly a discoverable end, to promote by its illusions. At any rate, our ignorance of the purpose or end can be no disproof of the fact: and the purposes of Providence in the events most obvious to our notice, observably often elude our scrutiny.
Still the acknowledged millions of the dead that are seen no more induce a reluctance to believe in the reappearance of any, however attested. Common incidents, though often not less inexplicable than those which are unusual, become familiar to our observation, and soon cease to excite our wonder. But rare and preternatural occurrences astonish and shock belief by their novelty; and apparitions are by many accounted things so improbable in themselves, as not to be rendered credible by any external testimony. The same charge of insuperable incredibility has been urged against miracles; and in both cases proceeds upon a supposition, evidently erroneous, that the improbable nature of any alleged event is a stronger evidence of its falsity, than the best approved testimony can be of its truth.
It is confessed that extraordinary events, when rumoured, are, till proved, less probable than those that are common; because their occurrence having been less frequent, their existence has been verified in fewer instances by experience. And, upon the same principle, the more remote any reported phenomenon appears to be from what we ordinarily observe in nature, the greater, antecedently to its authentication by evidence, is its improbability.
But improbability arising from rarity of occurrence, or singularity of nature, amounts to no disproof; it is a presumptive reason of doubt, too feeble to withstand the conviction induced by positive and credible testimony, such as that which has been borne to shadowy reappearances of the dead. These, as our author intimates, have been uniformly attested in every age and country, by persons who had no communication or knowledge of each other, and whose concurrence of testimony
017 in this case can be accounted for only by a supposition of its 2 truth. It is evidently a far greater improbability, that witnesses so numerous, so dispersed, and uncon
nnected, should concur in forging so extraordinary a relation, than that such a relation, extraordinary as it is, should be true. For though the several objects we meet in the world be in general forined according to observably stated laws; yet anomalies in nature may occur, and their occurrence has been occasionally asserted and believed on less accumulated attestation. We now at length have ceased to question the supernatural stature of the Patagonians; why, then, are we so unwilling to admit the more amply witnessed existence of apparitions ? because the degree of prodigiousness implied in the supposition of a visible spirit strikes the imagination as too stupendous for belief. This is the effect of measuring the credibility of the attested achievements of nature by our own narrow experience, not by the power of Him, who is the author of nature, and to whom all things, even the investing spirits with visibility, are possible. We have constant assurance of other natural processes not less difficult to account for than this, which we contemplate with such indignant mistrust. Nor can it on reflection appear more surprising or incomprehensible, that a spirit should assume a visible shape, than that it should animate and move a material body. The wonders we see may soften our ineredulity to patience of those which we have not seen, but which all tradition attests. Nothing possible in itself, and proved by sufficient evidence, can be too prodigious for rational belief.
But even the evidence of our own senses is disputed by some reasoners, who pronounce every believed view of these unsubstantial forms to be a mere illusion of the fancy, engendered by disease, indigestion, and other bodily affeetions. Bodily affections, it is certain, have been known to bewilder the views of the mind; and instances enough may be produced of men nut generally supposed insane, who have been deluded and possessed with the most extravagant conceptions, by the vapours of distempered health. But by what token do these philosophers discover, that the witnesses of the fact in question, whom
they never saw, and of whose mental or bodily state they can have no knowledge, were so enfeebled and distracted in their powers of perception ? Can it be proved, that apparitions of the dead, however astonishing, are impossible ? Or, if not, upon what principle is it maintained invariably, that they who think they see such phantoms, see them only in imagination? According to this tenour of reasoning, all truth, not obvious to common experience, might be sacrificed to prejudice, and every rare fact, which we were unwilling to admit, might be exploded, by the short method of supposing, that the witnesses of it at the time must have been bereft of their senses. Writers, who thus get rid of evidence by presuming it the effect of fascination, betray some share of the infirmity they impute, and judge with a reason palpably overpowered and distorted by the influence of opinion.
Others, perceiving that few, if any, apparitions have been authenticated in the present day, are thence induced to infer too hastily that none were ever seen.
These visible departed shades are extraordinary exhibitions in nature, reported to have been observed in all nations occasionally, but at no stated times. During some periods they may occur with more frequency, in others with less; and the proof of their former occurrence, onee established, is not to be weakened, much less done away, by the protracted delay or discontinuance of their renewal.
Nor ean it generally reflect discredit on averred appearances of the dead, that they are observed to abound most in ignorent and dark ages. At such junetures, a fabulous increase of these, and other strange casualties, we may expect, will be supplied by the reveries of superstition, or the interested impositions of eratt upon credulity. But because in times of ignorance, prodigies of this sort will seem to multiply by the more than usual obtrusion of such as are false ; is it reasonable to conclude, that none we hear of, either in those times, or at any other, are true ? Does the utmost abundance of counterfits, in this or in any case, disprove the existence of genuine originals ? Ou the contrary, without the supposition of some
such originals, might it not be difficult to conjecture, how even the counterfeits of occurrences so strange should become so universal? And does not their experienced universality hence strongly tend to prove, that at least the earliest of them were 'imitations of some real models; shadows devised after substances; forgeries of fancy or fraud, which derived their origin, and received their form, from the suggestion and example of fact ?
Possibly it may yet be objected that the belief in the existence of the soul in a separate state, which has always obtained extensively, might lead to the belief, without the experimental witness, of its appearance.
It were easy to show, that disembodied souls have been believed, not only to exist, but to be constantly present, where they were not imagined to be visible; and consequently that the supposition mentioned, which can be proved true in no case, is ascertained to be groundless in some cases, and upon the balance of its evidence not probable in any.
But it is needless to contend against a supposition so manifestly visionary. All men, in all times, must have perceived, that the soul, however it might continue to exist after its separation from the body, did not ordinarily appear on earth ; and, till it had appeared, they could have no reason for supposing, in opposition to their past experience, that it ever would. The departed spirit, for aught they could foresee, might always survive invisibly; and their belief, if they afterwards entertained any, could be induced only by their sensible perception of its appearance.
Accordingly, tradition informs us, that sensible evidence has not been wanting in this case. In every age and country the posthumous appearance of the soul has been believed, not on the authority of conjecture, but on the attestations of persons who severally declared themselves eye-witnesses of it in distinct instances. If it be said, that these attestations might all be founded, as many of them confessedly were, in delusion or imposture; still it will be difficult, if not impossible, to account for so general a consent in so strange a fiction. One