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from Chambers's journal of popular
literature, science and art Fifth series.
No. 208.--Vol. IV Saturday, December 24, 1887.
"A man may see how this world goes with no eyes," says the unhappy Lear; and, as is often the case with the demented, he embodies a profound truth in a paradox. We hear in everyday conversation, for instance, such expressions as, "Any one can see that with half an eye." Or, again, if a peculiarly sharp person is spoken of "Oh, he can see as far into a brick wall as most people;" and so on: thus showing that the veracity of the principle expressed in Shakespeare's words in this matter, as in most, has since been universally accepted. Hence, we have only to go a step further, and it may readily be assumed that, if a man with no eyes can see how this world goes, he can with equal clearness observe what is being done in the world of ghosts. To a blind man, therefore, we ought to turn for all reliable information from that mysterious and awe-inspiring region. He should be the accredited special correspondent, for he, above all people, has the capacity which entirely qualifies him for the post his papers are, as it were, strictly en règle, and must go unchallenged. He is free of the whole country, even from its frontier to its innermost fastnesses and recesses.
The common question, Have you ever seen a ghost? can only be put to the sightless with any likelihood of getting a reliable reply in the affirmative. To suggest, therefore, that there is anything paradoxical in the query heading these remarks would be absurd; for not only is a blind man the best qualified to see a ghost, but he sees nothing else: we are all ghosts to him; all the world, and all the men and women, merely shadows, with whom, however, he is on the most familiar terms; his every-day companions, his intimates, his bosom friends. His mind's eye clothes them in forms and endows them with attributes entirely of his own creations, according to what he thinks should fit them, by the measurement he takes, from their voice and manners, of their character, stature, and appearance. These are to him the touchstones to his judgments, and become either the passports to his good graces, or the features which inspire him with distrust, dislike, terror or even horror. In that they are, in one sense, but visual phantoms, however nothing but creations of the brain, reflections of ideas ghosts, in fact it may be thought they could not imprint themselves on his intelligence so indelibly and substantially as if beheld through the common channel of normal sight. No greater mistake could be made. The spectral image of his friend once established in his mind, the blind man beholds him plainly whenever he thinks of him or talks to him yes, as plainly, unmistakably as those would do who are blessed with perfect physical vision. When, in our mind's eye, we see a person whom we know by sight, whose features and bodily attributes are familiar to us, his personal appearance is recalled with the vividness of reality, directly we think of him. Equally, the spectral image of any person as self-created by the blind man stands out on his retina not, of course, with the actual vraisemblance of life that is impossible but with what to the blind man passes for the same thing. Thus, this can only be a phasma of the real person in a word, the ghost. It is not necessary, urge the scientific investigators in these matters, for the physical retina actually to reflect the object and convey an impression of it to the brain, in order that the brain may conceive an image of that object; the mind's eye is all-sufficient in some cases for the mind; it is so for the blind man, fortunately for him.
His condition, perhaps, may be best compared with that in which the seeing find themselves when asleep and dreaming. What other men see only in dreams, he sees perpetually; for in one sense, his life is a dream, his world nothing but a world of dreams and shadows. Of him as of the dreamer, it may be truly said:
Modern scientific, psychological research endeavours to demonstrate that nothing in this region, any more than in any other, is due to chance, but that all in it is regulated by unswerving laws, if we have the wit to read them aright. But the region of psychology being impalpable, there is more difficulty in submitting its phenomena to recognised tests than those of the material world. Hence it is put forward that although, of course, there are no such things as ghosts, in the usual acceptation of the word, there does exist that influence of one mind over another which will create apparitions sufficient to warrant those who behold them in saying they have seen a ghost. In other words, "one mind may impress another otherwise than through the recognised channels of sense" sufficiently, that is, to be entirely independent of matter. There is no commoner form of ghost-story than that which supplies the motive of the popular drama of the Corsican Brothers, where a person on the point of death, or in some extreme moment of peril, suddenly appears, independently of the distance between them, to another person, over whom he has some mental power, or with whom he is bound up by a close personal tie. Extend the principle herein enunciated, and although there may be no dire catastrophe invoking the presence, the image of some one far away, summoned up by thought in a blind man's brain, becomes to him literally the ghost of that some one. For, if that some one were actually standing side by side with his sightless brother, he could only appear in the same ghost-like form. The imaginative presentment of him would be, could only be, identical in both cases; for the man with no eyes could not see him in any palpable shape, but that shape would be none the less real or substantial to him because it was spectral.
We are not, however attempting to write a scientific or psychological treatise. We have but a fanciful notion for showing that your blind man should be accepted as your most true ghost-seer, and that, therefore, the paradoxically sounding question with which we start has for answer a very significant affirmative. If ever it be given to man to see the ghost of his fellow-man, the sightless should be in this respect privileged beyond all others. To them we should look for all true ghost-stories particularly at a season when such vanities are in the ascendant. Now, therefore, that there is a Royal Commission siting to inquire into the condition and welfare of the blind, this fact should be remembered. There is always difficulty in finding employment for the sightless, so perhaps the suggestion will open up a new occupation for them. Let it not be supposed there is any lack of sympathy expressed in these words. The blind are proverbially cheerful and light-hearted, and will not misunderstand them. They love a joke above all things, and are keenly appreciative of everything which diversifies there circumscribed existence. A professed raconteur with no eyes might conjure up such romances from his darkened world as would make the blood of all us curdle. At his command, and under every kind of fantastic guise and thrilling circumstance, spirits might be made to parade so startlingly before us that all the ghostly traditions of yore would be utterly eclipsed. Were he likewise a skilled musician and music should be his especial métier he could, with appropriate and creepy pianoforte accompaniment, tell tales which would strike awe into the souls of the listeners. With a darkened room and suggestive surroundings in harmony with the occasion, such ghostly séances might be got up as would far exceed those of any table-turning, spirit-rapping medium who has hitherto appeared before a credulous public. Recitals of this kind would at least be a novelty, and form an outlet for any histrionic ability possessed among a class of the community who only lack encouragement in the right direction to show themselves not one whit behind the rest of mankind in intelligence, humour, and pathos. It may sound like a quaint conceit, but your blind man may lay the hint to heart, and see if it cannot be acted on, to his own and others' advantage. It is a sportive, if not a sporting notion let him look to it.