( Originally Published Late 1800's )
The following reflections on apparitions, ghosts, and supernatural admonitions, arose from the reading of Mr. Wraxall's relation of an extraordinary scene which passed at Dresden some years ago (Letter 8, vol. i.). If this essay suits, your Miscellany, it is at your service ; perhaps it may not be unseasonable, when the present German taste in novels is considered.
Generally speaking, Ghosts may be resolved either into gross imposture, into pious fraud, or into mere strength of imagination. To the first of these causes we may safely impute the necromancy at Dresden (related by Wraxall). It was a whimsical spirit which stayed long with the company which it scared. Yet no one dared to approach it; so that that proof of imposture which would have been gained by touch was wanting. And similar impositions will always escape detection if the persons to be duped can be stupefied by terror.
To pious fraud may well be ascribed the ghost of Buckingham's father, the story of which is found in Lord Clarendon's history. This was a respectable apparition, both as to manner and motive; and probably was an artifice employed by the Duke's mother in the hope of reforming and saving him.
The strength of imagination is a cause equal to the production of very wonderful effects. At the Council of Trente the Legate Crescentio, having long laboured at his despatches, rose from his chair, and thought he saw a huge ugly dog advance and run under the table. In haste he called for his servants, but no dog could be found. The Legate took his bed and died of the fright. [Jurieu, Hist. Conc. Trente.]
Lord Herbert of Cherbury is an eminent example of the illusive power of imagination. He had written a book, and doubting whether he ought to publish, he solemnly asked Divine direction to be given by some manifest sign. Immediately a loud yet gentle noise like nothing on earth was heard ; this he considered as heavenly approbation, and he published his work.
Morhof relates a wonderful story of a gentleman, who, waking suddenly, felt an invisible impulse to pronounce distinctly certain words which he did not understand. This he thought so odd that he wrote them down, and next day consulted a learned friend about their probable meaning. He perceived that it was Greek, and its literal translation, " Not about to avoid the misfortune which is within." No mischief seemed impending; however, the friend advised a change of lodging. In a few days, the house so quitted fell, and crushed its inhabitants. [Morhof, Polyhist, i. 19, p. 257.]
Very different is any admonition made by the Supreme Being : His work bears the impress of the Workman, it is free from all obscurity. Such was the vision which converted Col. Gardiner. This officer, a man of gallantry, had an assignation at midnight with a married woman ; the company in which he had supped broke up at eleven, and Mr. Gardiner took up a book to beguile the tedious hour. As he read, an unusual blaze of light seemed to fall on his book, which he supposed to arise from some accident in the candle; but, on lifting up his eyes, he beheld suspended in the air Jesus Christ upon the Cross, and words to this effect, "Sinner, did I suffer this for thee, and are these the returns ?" were uttered, or impressed on his mind as if uttered. [Doddridge's Life of Col. Gardiner.]
The effects of this astonishing scene were such as it was fitted to produce; regret, compunction, dismay, followed by repentance and a thorough change of life.