S. Weir (Silas Weir) Mitchell.

The autobiography of a quack and the case of George Dedlow online

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not 5 but, well aware how absurd I should
seem after such a question, I refrained from
speaking of my case, and strove more keenly
to analyze my feelings. At times the convic-
tion of my want of being myself was over-
whelming and most painful. It was, as well
as I can describe it, a deficiency in the egoistic
sentiment of individuality. About one half
of the sensitive surface of my skin was gone,
and thus much of relation to the outer world
destroyed. As a consequence, a large part
of the receptive central organs must be out
of employ, and, like other idle things, degen-
erating rapidly. Moreover, all the great cen-
tral ganglia, which give rise to movements in
the limbs, were also eternally at rest. Thus
one half of me was absent or functionally
dead. This set me to thinking how much a
man might lose and yet live. If I were un-
happy enough to survive, I might part with
my spleen at least, as many a dog has done,
and grown fat afterwards. The other organs
with which we breathe and circulate the blood
would be essential ; so also would the liver ;
but at least half of the intestines might be
dispensed with, and of course all of the limbs.
And as to the nervous system, the only parts


really necessary to life are a few small ganglia.
Were the rest absent or inactive, we should
have a man reduced, as it were, to the lowest
terms, and leading an almost vegetative ex-
istence. Would such a being, I asked myself,
possess the sense of individuality in its usual
completeness, even if his organs of sensation
remained, and he were capable of conscious-
ness? Of course, without them, he could
not have it any more than a dahlia or a tulip.
But with them how then ? I concluded that
it would be at a minimum, and that, if utter
loss of relation to the outer world were capa-
ble of destroying a man's consciousness of
himself, the destruction of half of his sensi-
tive surfaces might well occasion, in a less
degree, a like result, and so diminish his
sense of individual existence.

I thus reached the conclusion that a man
is not his brain, or any one part of it, but all
of his economy, and that to lose any part
must lessen this sense of his own existence.
I found but one person who properly appre-
ciated this great truth. She was a New Eng-
land lady, from Hartford an agent, I think,
for some commission, perhaps the Sanitary.
After I had told her my views and feelings,
she said: "Yes, I comprehend. The frac-


tional entities of vitality are embraced in the
oneness of the unitary Ego. Life," she added,
"is the garnered condensation of objective
impressions; and as the objective is the re-
mote father of the subjective, so must indi-
viduality, which is but focused subjectivity,
suffer and fade when the sensation lenses, by
which the rays of impression are condensed,
become destroyed." I am not quite clear that
I fully understood her, but I think she ap-
preciated my ideas, and I felt grateful for
her kindly interest.

The strange want I have spoken of now
haunted and perplexed me so constantly that
I became moody and wretched. While in
this state, a man from a neighboring ward
fell one morning into conversation with the
chaplain, within ear-shot of my chair. Some
of their words arrested my attention, and I
turned my head to see and listen. The
speaker, who wore a sergeant's chevron and
carried one arm in a sling, was a tall, loosely
made person, with a pale face, light eyes of
a washed-out blue tint, and very sparse yel-
low whiskers. His mouth was weak, both
lips being almost alike, so that the organ
might have been turned upside down without
affecting its expression. His forehead, how-


ever, was high and thinly covered with sandy
hair. I should have said, as a phrenologist,
will feeble; emotional, but not passionate;
likely to be an enthusiast or a weakly bigot.

I caught enough of what passed to make
me call to the sergeant when the chaplain
left him.

" Good morning," said he. " How do you
get on?"

" Not at all," I replied. " Where were you

" Oh, at Chancellorsville. I was shot in the
shoulder. I have what the doctors call paral-
ysis of the median nerve, but I guess Dr.
Neek and the lightnin' battery will fix it.
When my time 's out I '11 go back to Kear-
sarge and try on the school-teaching again.
I Ve done my share."

" Well," said I, "you >re better off than I."

"Yes," he answered, "in more ways than
one. I belong to the New Church. It 's a
great comfort for a plain man like me, when
he ? s weary and sick, to be able to turn away
from earthly things and hold converse daily
with the great and good who have left this
here world. We have a circle in Coates
street. If it wasn't for the consoling I get
there, I 'd of wished myself dead many a time.


I ain't got kith or kin on earth; but this
matters little, when one can just talk to them
daily and know that they are in the spheres
above us."

"It must be a great comfort/' I replied,
" if only one could believe it.' 7

" Believe ! " he repeated. " How can you
help it ? Do you suppose anything dies ? "

" No," I said. " The soul does not, I am sure ;
and as to matter, it merely changes form."

" But why, then," said he, " should not the
dead soul talk to the living? In space, no
doubt, exist all forms of matter, merely in
finer, more ethereal being. You can't sup-
pose a naked soul moving about without a
bodily garment no creed teaches that; and
if its new clothing be of like substance to
ours, only of ethereal fineness, a more deli-
cate recrystallization about the eternal spir-
itual nucleus, must it not then possess
powers as much more delicate and refined as
is the new material in which it is reclad ? "

" Not very clear," I answered ; " but, after
all, the thing should be susceptible of some
form of proof to our present senses."

" And so it is," said he. " Come to-morrow
with me, and you shall see and hear for your-


"I will," said I, "if the doctor will lend
me the ambulance."

It was so arranged, as the surgeon in
charge was kind enough, as usual, to oblige
me with the loan of his wagon, and two
orderlies to lift my useless trunk.

On the day following I found myself, with
my new comrade, in a house in Coates 1 street,
where a "circle" was in the daily habit of
meeting. So soon as I had been comfortably
deposited in an arm-chair, beside a large pine
table, the rest of those assembled seated them-
selves, and for some time preserved an
unbroken silence. During this pause I scru-
tinized the persons present. Next to me, on
my right, sat a flabby man, with ill-marked,
baggy features and injected eyes. He was,
as I learned afterwards, an eclectic doctor,
who had tried his hand at medicine and sev-
eral of its quackish variations, finally settling
down on eclecticism, which I believe professes
to be to scientific medicine what vegetarianism
is to common-sense, every-day dietetics. Next
to him sat a female authoress, I think, of
two somewhat feeble novels, and much pleas-
anter to look at than her books. She was, I
thought, a good deal excited at the prospect
of spiritual revelations. Her neighbor was a


pallid, care-worn young woman, with very
red lips, and large brown eyes of great
beauty. She was, as I learned afterwards,
a magnetic patient of the doctor, and had
deserted her husband, a master mechanic, to
follow this new light. The others were, like
myself, strangers brought hither by mere
curiosity. One of them was a lady in deep
black, closely veiled. Beyond her, and op-
posite to me, sat the sergeant, and next to
him the medium, a man named Brink. He
wore a good deal of jewelry, and had large
black side- whiskers a shrewd- visaged, large-
nosed, full-lipped man, formed by nature to
appreciate the pleasant things of sensual

Before I had ended my survey, he turned
to the lady in black, and asked if she wished
to see any one in the spirit- world.

She said, Yes," rather feebly.

" Is the spirit present ? n he asked. Upon
which two knocks were heard in affirmation.
" Ah ! " said the medium, "the name is it is
the name of a child. It is a male child. It

"Alfred! "she cried. " Great Heaven ! My
child ! My boy ! "

On this the medium arose, and became


strangely convulsed. "I see/' he said "I
see a fair-haired boy. I see blue eyes I
see above you, beyond you' 7 at the same
time pointing fixedly over her head.

She turned with a wild start. "Where
whereabouts I "

"A blue-eyed boy," he continued, "over
your head. He cries he says, ' Mama,
mama ! ' "

The effect of this on the woman was
unpleasant. She stared about her for a mo-
ment, and exclaiming, "I come I am com-
ing, Alfy ! n fell in hysterics on the floor.

Two or three persons raised her, and aided
her into an adjoining room; but the rest
remained at the table, as though well accus-
tomed to like scenes.

After this several of the strangers were
called upon to write the names of the dead
with whom they wished to communicate.
The names were spelled out by the agency
of afftrmative knocks when the correct letters
were touched by the applicant, who was
furnished with an alphabet-card upon which
he tapped the letters in turn, the medium,
meanwhile, scanning his face very keenly.
With some, the names were readily made
out. With one, a stolid personage of disbe-


lieving type, every attempt failed, until at
last the spirits signified by knocks that he
was a disturbing agency, and that while he
remained all our efforts would fail. Upon
this some of the company proposed that he
should leave, of which invitation he took
advantage, with a skeptical sneer at the whole

As he left us, the sergeant leaned over and
whispered to the medium, who next addressed
himself to me. " Sister Euphemia," he said,
indicating the lady with large eyes, "will
act as your medium. I am unable to do
more. These things exhaust my nervous

" Sister Euphemia," said the doctor, " will
aid us. Think, if you please, sir, of a spirit,
and she will endeavor to summon it to our

Upon this a wild idea came into my head.
I answered : "I am thinking as you directed
me to do."

The medium sat with her arms folded,
looking steadily at the center of the table.
For a few moments there was silence. Then
a series of irregular knocks began. "Are
you present ? " said the medium.

The affirmative raps were twice given.


"I should think," said the doctor, "that
there were two spirits present."

His words sent a thrill through my heart.

" Are there two ? " he questioned.

A double rap.

"Yes, two," said the medium. "Will it
please the spirits to make us conscious of
their names in this world ? "

A single knock. " No."

" Will it please them to say how they are
called in the world of spirits I "

Again came the irregular raps 3, 4, 8, 6;
then a pause, and 3, 4, 8, 7.

"I think," said the authoress, "they must
be numbers. Will the spirits," she said, " be
good enough to aid us? Shall we use the

" Yes," was rapped very quickly.

" Are these numbers 1 "

"Yes," again.

" I will write them," she added, and, doing
so, took up the card and tapped the let-
ters. The spelling was pretty rapid, and ran
thus as she tapped, in turn, first the letters,
and last the numbers she had already set
down :

Nos. 3486, 3487."


The medium looked up with a puzzled ex-

" Good gracious ! " said I, " they are my legs
my legs ! "

What followed, I ask no one to believe
except those who, like myself, have com-
muned with the things of another sphere.
Suddenly I felt a strange return of my self-
consciousness. I was reindividualized, so to
speak. A strange wonder filled me, and, to
the amazement of every one, I arose, and,
staggering a little, walked across the room
on limbs invisible to them or me. It was no
wonder I staggered, for, as I briefly reflected,
my legs had been nine months in the strongest
alcohol. At this instant all my new friends
crowded around me in astonishment. Pres-
ently, however, I felt myself sinking slowly.
My legs were going, and in a moment I was
resting feebly on my two stumps upon the
floor. It was too much. All that was left
of me fainted and rolled over senseless.

I have little to add. I am now at home in
the West, surrounded by every form of kind-
ness and every possible comfort ; but alas !
I have so little surety of being myself that I
doubt my own honesty in drawing my pen-
sion, and feel absolved from gratitude to


those who are kind to a being who is uncer-
tain of being enough himself to be conscien-
tiously responsible. It is needless to add
that I am not a happy fraction of a man,
and that I am eager for the day when I shall
rejoin the lost members of my corporeal
family in another and a happier world.


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Online LibraryS. Weir (Silas Weir) MitchellThe autobiography of a quack and the case of George Dedlow → online text (page 7 of 7)