The Spiritist Review - Journal of Psychological Studies - 1860

Allan Kardec

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New York’s Library

The Courier from the United States reports: “A New York paper publishes a very curious fact already known by a certain number of people and about some very interesting comments that have been made for several days. The spiritualists see in that fact one more example of manifestations from the other world. Sensible people don’t go that far to find the explanation, and clearly acknowledge symptoms that characterize hallucination. That is also the opinion of Dr. Cogswell, hero of this adventure.


Dr. Cogswell is the chief librarian of the Astor Library. His dedication to the final stages of construction of a complete catalogue of the library has him using hours of work which should actually been dedicated to his sleep. That is how he has the occasion of visiting rooms alone where so many volumes sit on the shelves. About fifteen days ago, around eleven o’clock at night, he was passing by one side room full of books when he saw, with great surprise, a well-dressed man standing and apparently examining the titles of the books with great attention. In the beginning he thought it was a thief, he then backed up and carefully examined the intruder. His surprise became even livelier when he recognized the visitor as Dr. … who had lived near Lafayette-Place, who had died and was buried six months earlier. Dr. Cogswell does not believe much in apparitions and fears them even less. Nonetheless, he thought it to be appropriate to treat the ghost with consideration and raising his voice he said: - Doctor, how come you have perhaps never visited this library when alive and you come to visit it after your death? The ghost kindly looked at the librarian and disappeared without responding, leaving him still perplex in his contemplation.
• A singular hallucination, Dr. Cogswell said to himself. I might have eaten something spoiled over dinner.


He then returned to work and later went to bed and slept uneventfully. On the next day, at the same time, he felt like visiting the library again. He found the ghost at the same spot as the night before. He addressed him with the same words and got the same outcome.
• That is curious, he thought. I must come back tomorrow.


However, before returning, Dr. Cogswell examined the shelves that seemed to have the ghost’s attention and out of a singular coincidence he identified a large number of both old and new books about necromancy. Hence, the next day and a third time he meets the deceased doctor again, and now varying the question he said:
• It is the third time I meet you doctor. Tell me if any of these books trouble your resting so that I can have it removed from the collection.


The ghost did not respond as it had not on previous occasions but it disappeared definitely and the persistent librarian returned to the same place, at the same time on several occasions, not finding him ever again. Yet, advised by friends to whom he had told the story, as well as doctors who he had consulted with, he decided to take a break and travel to Charlestown where he spent a few weeks, before resuming the painstaking task that he had imposed upon himself and whose fatigue, no doubt, had caused the hallucination that we have just described.” 


Observation: A first observation about the article: the nonchalance with which the detractors of Spiritism attribute to themselves the monopoly of common sense. “The spiritualists, says the author, see in that fact one more example of manifestations from the other world. Sensible people don’t go that far to find the explanation, and clearly acknowledge symptoms which characterize hallucination.” Thus, according to this author, only people that think like him are sensible people; the others don’t have common sense, even if they are doctors, and Spiritism can count them to the thousands. Strange modesty, really, the one that uses the maxim: Nobody is right but only my friends and us.


We still wait for a clear and accurate definition, a physiological explanation of hallucination. However, in the absence of that, there is a meaning that is related to the word. In the mind of those who use that term it means illusion. Well, illusion means lack of reality. According to them it is a purely fantastic image produced by imagination, under some sort of overly excited cerebral. We don’t deny the fact that in certain cases it may well be so. What remains to be determined is if every event of that kind occurs under the same conditions. From the examination of the above case it seems that Dr. Cogswell was perfectly calm, as he declares himself, and that no moral or physiological cause had disturbed his mind. On another hand, and even admitting his temporary illusion, it is still necessary to explain how come such an illusion had lasted for so many days in a roll, at the same time of the day and in similar circumstances, since this is not the character of hallucination, per say. Had his brain been impressed by a given material cause on the first day, it is obvious that the cause had ceased after a few moments when the apparition vanished. How could such a material impression be identically reproduced over a period of three consecutive days, with 24-hour intervals? It is regrettable, the fact that the author disregarded this when providing explanations because, no doubt, he must have excellent reasons since he is part of the group of sensible people.


Nevertheless, we agree that in the case above there is no positive proof of reality and that, strictly speaking, we can admit that the same aberration of the senses could have repeated. However, would the same thing happen when the apparitions are followed by events of some sort of material nature? For example, when well alert people (and not in their dreams) see their absent relatives or friends, who they were not thinking of, coming to announce their passing to them, at the time of their death, can it be said to be a result of imagination?


If the fact of death was not real there would undeniably be an illusion; but when the event confirms the prediction, and that is very frequent, how is it possible that the only thing admitted is silly ghost stories? Besides, if it were an isolated or rare fact one could believe in a game of chance. However, as we have been saying, the examples are uncountable and perfectly confirmed. It is up to the “hallucinationists” to bring us an irrefutable explanation and we will then see if their reasons are more demonstrable than ours. In particular we would like to have them demonstrating to us, especially if they consider themselves the owners of common sense and do admit that we have a soul which outlives the body, we would like to have them demonstrating, we were saying, the material impossibility that the soul that must be somewhere, cannot be around us, seeing us, hearing and communicating with us.

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