D. S. (David Samuel) Margoliouth.

The Popular science monthly (Volume 19) online

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to the color they associate with the same sound, I have one of the
most extraordinary diagrams of these color associations that has, I
suppose, ever been produced. It has been drawn by Mr, J. Key, of
Graham's Town, South Africa. He sent me in the first instance a
communication on the subject, which led to further correspondence,
and eventually to the production of this diagram of colors in connec-
tion with letters and words. I have no reason to doubt its trust-
worthiness, and am bound to say that, strange as it looks, and elaborate
as it is, I have other written accounts that almost match it.

A third curious and abiding fantasy of certain persons is invari-
ably to connect visualized pictures with words, the same picture to the
same word. I have collected many cases of this, and am much in-
debted to the authoress, Mrs. Ilaweis, who sees these pictures, for her
kindness in sketching some of them for me, and her permission to use
her name in guarantee of their genuineness. She says :

Printed words have alvrays bad faces to me: they had definite expressions,
and certain faces made me think of certain words. The words Iiad no connec-
tion with these except sometimes by accident. The instances I give are few
and ridiculous. When I think of the word Beast, it has a face something like a
gargoyle. The word Green has also a gargoyle-face, with the addition of big
teeth. The word Blue blinks and looks silly, and turns to the right. The word
Attention has the eyes greatly turned to the left. It is difficult to draw them
properly, because, like " Alice's" "Cheshire cat," which at times became a grin
without a cat, these faces have expression without features. The expression, of
course [note the naive phrase, " of course." — F. G.], depends greatly on those of
the letters, which have likewise their faces and figures. All the little a's turn
their eyes to the left; this determines the eyes of Attention. Ant, however,
looks a little down. Of course, these faces are endless as words are, and it
makes my head ache to retain them long enough to draw.

Some of the figures are very quaint. Thus the interrogation
" what ? " always excites the idea of a fat man cracking a long whip.
They are not the capricious creations of the fancy of the moment,
but are the regular concomitants of the words, and have been so as
far back as the memory is able to recall.

When in perfect darkness, if the field of view be carefully watched,
many persons will find a perpetual series of changes to be going on
automatically and wastefully in it. I have much evidence of this. I
will give my own experience the first, which is striking to me, because
I am very unimpressionable in these matters. I visualize with effort ;
I am peculiarly inapt to see "after-images," " phosphenes," "light-
dust," and other phenomena due to weak sight or sensitiveness ; and,
again, before I thought of carefully trying, I should have emphati-
cally declared that my field of view" in the dark was essentially of a


uniform black, subject to an occasional liglit-purple cloudiness and
other small variations. Now, however, after habituating myself to
examine it with the same sort of strain that one tries to decipher a
sign-post in the dark, I have found out that this is by no means the
case, but that a kaleidoscopic change of patterns and forms is continu-
ally going on, but they are too fugitive and elaborate for me to draw
Avith any approach to truth. My deficiencies, however, are well sup-
plied by other drawings in my possession. They are by the Rev.
George Henslow, whose visions are far more vivid than mine. His
experiences are not unlike those of Goethe, who said, in an often-quoted
passage, that, whenever he bent his head and closed his eyes and
thought of a rose, a sort of rosette made its appearance, which would
not keep its shape steady for a moment, but unfolded from within,
throwing out a succession of petals, mostly red, but sometimes green,
and that it continued to do so without change in brightness and with-
out causing him any fatigue so long as he cared to watch it. Mr.
Henslow, when he shuts his eyes and waits, is sure, in a short time, to
see before him the clear image of some object or other, but usually not
quite natural in its shape. It then begins to change from one object
to another, in his case, also, for as long a time as he cares to watch it.
Mr. Henslow has zealously made repeated experiments on himself, and
has drawn what he sees. He has also tried how far he is able to mold
the visions according to his will. In one case, after much effort, he
contrived to bring the imagery back to its starting-point, and thereby
to form what he terms a "visual cycle." The following account is
extracted and condensed from his very interesting letter :

The first image that spontaneously presented itself was a cross-bow ; this
was immediately provided with an arrow, remarkable for its pronounced barb
and superabundance of feathering. Some person, but too indistinct to recognize
much more of him than the hands, appeared to shoot the arrow from the bow.
The single arrow was then accompanied by a flight of arrows from right to
left, which completely occupied the field of vision. These changed into falling
stars, then into flakes of a heavy snow-storm ; the ground gradually appeared
as a sheet of snow where previously there had been vacant space. Then a well-
known rectory, fish-ponds, walls, etc., all covered with snow, came into view
most vividly and clearly defined. This somehow suggested another view, im-
pressed on his mind in childhood, of a spring morning, brilliant sun, and a bed
of red tulips : the tulips gradually vanished except one, which appeared now to
be isolated and to stanJ in the usual point of sight. It was a single tulip, but
became double. The petals then fell off rapidly in a continuous series until
there was nothing left but the pistil, but (as is almost invariably the case with
liis objects) that part was greatly exaggerated. The stigmas then changed into
three branching brown horns ; then into a knob, while the stalk changed into a
stick. A sliglit bend in it seems to have suggested a center-bit ; tliis passed into
a sort of pin passing through a metal plate ; this again into a lock, and after-
ward into a nondescript sliape, distantly suggestive of the original cross-bow.
Here Mr. Henslow endeavored to force his will upon the visions, and to repro-
duce the cross-bow, but the first attempt was an utter failure. The figure


changed into a leather strap with loops, but while he still endeavored to change
it into a bow the strap broke, the two ends were separated, but it happened that
an imaginary string connected them. This was the first concession of his auto-
matic chain of thoughts to his will. By a continued effort the bow came, and
then no difficulty was fdt in converting it into the cross-bow and thus returning
to the starting-point.

I have a sufficient variety of cases to prove the continuity between
all the forms of visualization, beginning with an almost total absence
of it, and ending with a complete hallucination. The continuity is,
however, not simply that of varying degrees of intensity, but of varia-
tions in the character of the process itself, so that it is by no means
imcommon to find two very different forms of it concurrent in the
same person. There are some who visualize well and who also are
seers of visions, who declare that the vision is not a vivid visualization,
but altogether a different phenomenon. In short, if we please to call
all sensations due to external impressions " direct^'' and all others " in-
duced^'' then there are many channels through which the induction
may take place, and the channel of ordinary visualization in the per-
sons just mentioned is very different from that through which their
visions arise.

The following is a good instance of this condition. A friend
writes :

These visions often appear with startling vividness, and, so far from depend-
ing on any voluntary effort of the mind, they remain when I often wish them
very much to depart, and no effort of the imagination can call them up. I lately
saw a framed portrait of a face which seemed more lovely than any painting I
have ever seen, and again I often see fine landscapes which bear no resemblance
to any scenery I have ever looked upon. I find it difficult to define the difference
between a waking vision and a mental image, although the difference is very ap-
parent to myself. I think I can do it best in this way : If you go into a theatre
and look at a scene, say of a forest by moonlight, at the back part of the stage,
you see every object distinctly and sufficiently illuminated (being thus unlike a
mere act of memory), but it is nevertheless vague and shadowy, and you might
have difficulty in telling afterward all the objects you have seen. This resembles
a mental image in point of clearness. The waking vision is like what one sees in
the open street in broad daylight, when every object is distinctly impressed on
the memory. The two kinds of imagery differ also as regards voluntariness, the
image being entirely subservient to the will, the visions entirely independent of
it. They differ also in point of suddenness, the images being formed compara-
tively slowly as raemoi'y recalls each detail, and fading slowly as the mental
effort to retain them is relaxed ; the visions appearing and vanishing in an
instant. The waking visions seem quite close, filling as it were the whole head,
while the mental image seems fai'ther away in some far-off recess of the mind.

The number of persons who see visions no less distinctly than this
correspondent is much greater than I had any idea of when I began
this inquiry. I have in my possession the sketch of one, prefaced by
a description of it by Mrs. Haweis. She says :


All my life long I have had one very constantly recurring vision, a sight
which came whenever it was dark or darkish, in bed or otherwise. It is a flight
of pink roses floating in a mass from left to right, and this cloud or mass of roses
is presently effaced by a flight of " sparks " or gold speckles across them. The
sparks totter or vibrate from left to right, but they fly distinctly upward : they
are like tiny blocks, half gold, half black, rather symmetrically placed behind
each other, and they are always in a hurry to efface the roses: sometimes they
have come at my call, sometimes by surprise, but they are always equally pleas-
ing. What interests me most is, that when a child under nine the flight of roses
was light, slow, soft, close to my eyes, roses so large and brilliant and palpable
that I tried to touch them : the scent was overpowering, the petals perfect, with
leaves peeping here and there, texture and motion all natural. They would stay
a long time before the sparks came, and they occupied a large area in black
space. Tlien the sparks came slowly flying, and generally, not always, effaced
the roses at once, and every effort to retain the roses failed. Since an early age
the flight of roses has annually grown smaller, swifter, and farther off, till by
the time I was grown up my vision had become a speck, so instantaneous that I
had hardly time to realize that it was there before the fading sparks showed
that it was past. This is how they still come. The pleasure of them is past,
and it always depresses me to speak of them, though I do not now, as I did
when a child, connect the vision with any elevated spiritual state. But, when I
read Tennyson's " Holy Grail," I wondered whether anybody else had had my
vision — " Rose-red, with beatings in it." I may add, I was a London child who
never was in the country but once, and I connect no particular flowers with that
visit. I may almost say that I had never seen a rose, certainly not a quantity of
them together.

A common form of vision is a phantasmagoria, or the appearance
of a crowd of phantoms, perhaps hurrying past like men in a street.
It is occasionally seen in broad daylight, much more often in the
dark ; it may be at the instant of putting out the candle, but it
generally comes on when the person is in bed, preparing to sleep, but
is by no means yet asleep. I know no less than three men, eminent
in the scientific world, who have these phantasmagoria in one form or
another. A near relative of my own had them in a marked degree.
She was eminently sane, and of such good constitution that her
faculties were hardly impaired until near her death at ninety. She
frequently described them to me. It gave her amusement during an
idle hour to watch these faces, for their expression was always
pleasing, though never strikingly so. Xo two faces were ever alike,
and they never resembled that of any acquaintance. When she was
not well the faces usually came nearer to her, sometimes almost suffo-
catingly close. She never mistook them for reality, although they were
very distinct. This is quite a typical case, similar in most respects to
many others that I have.

A notable proportion of sane persons have had not only visions,
but actual hallucinations of sight, sound, or other sense, at one or more
periods of their lives. I have a considerable packet of instances con-
tributed by my personal friends, besides a large number communicated


to me by other correspondents. One lady, a distinguished authoress,
who was at the time a little fidgeted, but in no way overwrought or
ill, said that she saw the principal character of one of her novels glide
through the door straight up to her. It was about the size of a large
doll, and it disappeared as suddenly as it came. Another lady, the
daughter of an eminent musician, often imagines she hears her father
playing. The day she told me of it the incident had again occurred.
She w^as sitting in a room with her maid, and she asked the maid to
open the door that she might hear the music better. The moment the
maid got up the hallucination disappeared. Again, another lady, ap-
parently in vigorous health, and belonging to a vigorous family, told
me that during some past months she had been plagued by voices.
The words were at first simple nonsense; then the word "pray" was
frequently repeated; this was followed by some more or less coherent
sentences of little import, and finally the voices left her. In short, the
familiar hallucinations of the insane are to be met with far more fre-
quently than is commonly supposed, among people moving in society
and in normal health.

I have now nearly done with my summary of facts ; it remains to
make a few comments on them.

The weirdness of visions lies in their sudden appearance, in their
vividness while present, and in their sudden departure. An incident
in the Zoological Gardens struck me as a helpful simile. I happened
to walk to the seal-pond at a moment when a sheen rested on the un-
broken surface of the water. After waiting a while I became suddenly
aware of the head of a seal, black, conspicuous, and motionless, just as
though it had always been there, at a spot on which my eye had rested
a moment previously and seen nothing. Again, after a while, my eye
wandered, and, on its returning to the spot, the seal was gone. The
water had closed in silence over its head without leaving a ripple, and
the sheen on the surface of the pond was as unbroken as when I first
reached it. Where did the seal come from, and whither did it go ?
This could easily have been answered if the glare had not obstructed
the view of the movements of the animal under water. As it was, a
solitary link in a continuous chain of actions stood isolated from all
the rest. So it is with the visions; a single stage in a series of mental
processes emerges into the domain of consciousness. All that precedes
and follows lies outside of it, and its character can only be inferred.
We see in a general way, that a condition of the presentation of vi-
sions lies in the over-sensitiveness of certain tracks or domains of brain-
action, and the under-sensitiveness of others; certain stages in a men-
tal process being vividly represented in consciousness while the other
stages are unfelt. It is also well known that a condition of partial hy-
peraesthesia and partial ansesthesia is a frequent functional disorder,
markedly so among the hysterical and hypnotic, and an organic dis-
order among the insane. The abundant facts that I have collected


show that it may also coexist with all the appearances of good health
and sober judgment.

A convenient distinction is made between hallucinations and illu-
sions. Hallucinations are defined as appearances wholly due to fancy;
illusions, as misrepresentations of objects actually seen. There is,
however, a hybrid case which deserves to be specifically classed, and
arising in this way: Vision, or any other sensation, may, as already
stated, be a " direct " sensation excited in the ordinary way through
the sense-organs, or it may be an *' induced " sensation excited from
within. We have, therefore, direct vision and induced vision, and
either of these may be the ground of an illusion. So we have three
cases to consider, and not two. There is simple hallucination, which
depends on induced vision justly observed ; there is simple illusion,
which depends on direct vision fancifully observed; and there is the
hybrid case of which I spoke, which depends on induced vision fanci-
fully observed. The problems we have to consider are, on the one
hand, those connected with induced vision, and, on the other hand,
those connected with the interpretation of vision, whether the vision
be direct or induced.

It is probable that much of what passes for hallucination proper
belongs in reality to the hybrid case, being an illusive interpretation
of some induced visual cloud or blur. I spoke of the ever-varying
patterns in the field of view ; these, under some slight functional
change, might easily become more consciously present, and be inter-
preted into phantasmal appearances. Many cases, if space allowed,
could be adduced to support this view.

I will begin, then, with illusions. "What is the process by Avhich
they are established ? There is no simpler way of understanding it
than by trying, as children often do, to see " faces in the fire," and to
carefully watch the way in which they are first caught. Let us call to
mind at the same time the experience of past illnesses, when the listless
gaze wandered over the patterns on the wall-paper and the shadows
of the bed-curtains, and slowly evoked faces and figures that were not
easily laid again. The process of making the faces is so rapid in health
that it is difficult to analyze it without the recollection of what took
place more slowly when we were weakened by illness. The first es-
sential element in their construction is, I believe, the smallness of the
area upon which the attention is directed at any instant, so that the
eye has to move much before it has traveled over every part of the
object toward which it is directed. It is as with a plow, that must
travel many miles before the whole of a small field can be tilled, but
with this important difference — the plow travels methodically up and
down in parallel furrows; the eye wanders in devious curves, with ab-
rupt bends, and the direction of its course at any instant depends on
four causes : on the most convenient muscular motion in a general
sense, on idiosyncrasy, on the mood, and on the associations current at


the moment. The effect of idiosyncrasy is excellently illustrated by
the " Number forms," where we saw that a very special sharply defined
track of mental vision was preferred by each individual who sees them.
The influence of the mood of the moment is shown in the curves that
characterize the various emotions, as the lank, drooping lines of grief,
which make the weeping-willow so fit an emblem of it. In construct-
ing fire-faces it seems to me that the eye in its wanderings follows a
favorite course, and notices the points in the pictures at large that
coincide with its course. It feels its way, easily diverted by associa-
tions based on what has just been noticed, and so, by the unconscious
practice of a system of " trial and error," at last finds a track that will
suit — one that is easy to follow, and that also makes a complete picture.
The process is essentially the same as that of getting a clear idea from
out of a confused multitude of facts. The fancy picture is dwelt upon,
all that is incongruous with it becomes disregarded, while all deficien-
cies in it are supplied by the fantasy. These latest stages are easily
represented after the fashion of a diorama. Three lanterns are made
to converge on the same screen. The first throws an image of what the
imagination will discard, the second of that which it will retain, the
third of that which it will supply. Turn on the first and second, and
the picture on the screen will be identical with that which fell on the
retina. Shut off the first and turn on the third, and the picture will
be identical with the illusion.

Visions, like dreams, are often mere patchworks built up of bits of
recollections. The following is one of these :

When passing a shop in Tottenham Court Eoad, I went in to order a Dutch
cheese, and the proprietor (a bulle^headed man whom I had never seen before)
rolled a cheese on the marble slab of his counter, asking me if that one would
do. I answered " Yes," left the shop, and thought no more of the incident. The
following evening, on closing ray eyes, I saw a head detached from the body
rolUng about slightly on a white surface. I recognized the face, but could not
remember where I had seen it, and it was only after thinking about it for some
time that I identified it as that of the cheesemonger who had sold me the cheese
on the previous day. I may mention that I have often seen the man since, and
that I found the vision I saw was exactly like him, although, if I had been asked
to describe the man before I saw the vision, I should have been unable to do so.

Recollections need not be joined like mosaic-work ; they may be
blended, on the principle I described two years age, of making com-
posite portraits. I showed that if two lanterns were converged upon
the same screen, and the portrait of one person was put into one and
that of another jjerson into the other, the portraits being taken under
similar aspects and states of light and shade, then on adjusting the two
images eye to eye and mouth to mouth, and so superposing them as
exactly as the conditions admitted, a new face will spring into exist-
ence. It will have a striking appearance of individuality, and will bear
a family likeness to each of its constituents. I also showed that these


composite portraits admitted of being made photographically * from a
large number of components. I suspect that the phantasmagoria may
be due to blended memories ; the number of possible combinations
would be practically endless, and each combination would give a new
face. There would thus be no limit to the dies in the coinage of the

I have tried a modification of this process with but small success,
which will at least illustrate a -cause of the tendency in many cases to
visualize grotesque forms. My object was to efface from a portrait
that which was common among persons of the same race, and therefore
too familiar to attract attention, and to leave whatever was peculiar
in it. I proceeded on the following principle : "VVe all know that the
photographic negative is the converse (or nearly so) of the photo-
graphic positive, the one showing whites where the other shows blacks,
and vice versa. Hence the superposition of a negative upon a positive
transparency of the same portrait tends to create a uniform smudge.
By superposing a negative transparency of a composite portrait on a
positive of any one of the individual faces from which it was com-
posed, all that is common to the group ought to be smudged out, and
all that is personal and peculiar to that face ought to remain.

I have found that the peculiarities of visualization, such as the ten-
liency to see Number-forms, and the still rarer tendency, to associate
color with sound, is strongly hereditary, and I should infer, what facts
seem to confirm, that the tendency to be a seer of visions is equally
so. Under these circumstances we should expect that it would be

Online LibraryD. S. (David Samuel) MargoliouthThe Popular science monthly (Volume 19) → online text (page 65 of 110)