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pear larger, although it is admitted, at the same time, that the image upon the retina of the rising and setting sun and moon, are not increased in magnitude; and moreover, that according to the usual laws by which light is refracted and reflected, their image upon the retina, formed by rays, passing through a denser medium, instead of being larger, must really be diminished.
Of the Progress of the Mind, in the Acquisition of
At what time the fætus in the womb of its mother begins to think, and when the soul is united to the budy, are questions which it is probable, the human understanding will Dever be able to determine, That at a very early period it begins to perceive, and becomes sensible of pain and pleasure, appears to be sufficiently proved from the fact of its frequent movements. From its intimate connexion with the mother, its deriving all its nutriinent from her, and the circulation of the same fluids through them both, it would appear to be scarcely subject to doubt, that it sympathises in all her emotions, is pained with her sorrows, and affected with pleasurable sensations when she is delighted. All these matters, however, are subjects not of science or knowledge, but of speculation and conjecture. We have no facts upon which to build certain conclusions. Many marvellous stories are upon record of the effects produced upon the body of infants, by the imagination and emotions of mothers during a state of pregnancy; but all such accounts are to be regarded by us, with a philosophical incredulity. Two of the most remarkable and best authenticated facts of this kind, which I ever remember to have read, are related by Mallebranche in his Search of Truth. He informs us, that there was to be seen in Paris, at the Hospital of Incurables, a voung man, an idiot, whose bones were all broken, or exhibited the appearance of having been broken, like those of a criminal put to death upon the rack; and that this effect was generally ascribed to the circumstance, that his mother, while big with him, had witnessed the execution of a criminal, who was put to death by that species of torture. He further informs us, that this young man lived to the age of twenty years, and was visited by the queen, and a great number of other persons, who could testify as to the truth of the facts which he records. The second instance mentioned, is that of a mother in a similar condition, who in celebrating the festival of the canonization of a Pope, was more than usually devout, keeping her eyes fixed upon the picture of the Pope which was hung up in the church; the consequence of which was, that upon the birth of her infant, it was found to exhibit a resemblance of the pontiff, having the visage of an old man, as far as a child could appear so without a beard, his arms crossed upon his breast, his eyes turned up towards heaven, and displaying at the same time the appearance of a mitre, and even of the precious stones with which the mitres of the popes are usually ornamented. Male branche ascribes all these results to the power of the mother's imagination, and endeavours to illustrate the manner in which they might be produced, by the operation of the animal spirits in the human system, the hypothesis by which at this period of science, many of the phenomena of the mind were attempted to be solved. For example, he alleges, that when the mother saw the criminal put to the rack, and his limbs successively broken upon the wheel, from the force of sympathy, the animal spirits would rush to a part of her body, which corresponded to the injured parts of the criminal, and occasion her to feel pain in it. Now from the intimate connection between the fætus in the womb, and the mother, a like operation of the animal spirits in it would occasion a like sensation, and its little limbs, not having as yet acquired a hardness and consistence, sufficient to enable it to resist the impression, as in the case of the mother, would be broken by the shock. The same explanation is given of the second instance mentioned above.
Notwithstanding the learned solution of this venerable Father, and that he tells us in both cases the facts were sufficiently attested by many witnesses, all of whom, no doubt, agreed in believing that there was a real and striking similitude between the objects here compared, and that these similitudes were to be traced only to the cause assigned, we must be allowed to lend to all stories of this nature a very unwilling ear, and to yield them an academic faith. There is no ground for denying that in both the cases recited, the children were really exhibited, and were thought to bear a resemblance to the objects abovementioned; but upon no just principles of science can we find any ground for concluding, that these effects were produced by the cause to which they are referred. We discover no caprice or freaks in the works of nature.
All the appearances she displays are the results of established principles or causes which operate by steady and uniform laws. Monsters, it is true, are sometimes produced by a departure from those uniform and established laws. What occasions nature in such instances, to depart from her usual course, and to flow in unaccustomed channels, philosophy is unable to explain. But least of all should we expect to find the cause of these phenomena in one of the constituent and most important principles of our nature, the imagination of the mother, a principle, which, if it act in this way at all, ought to be considered as acting uniformly and invariably to produce similar results; and then, instead of having a few cases of this kir.d during the lapse of ages, such monsters should become common, and man should appear to us, not with his present uniformity of proportions amidst such endless variety; but in every fantastic shape imaginable. Upon this principle, ought not every woman who in a state of pregnancy, witnesses the execution of a criminal upon the gallows, to have a child born with its neck injured or broken?