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Tarantism was universally believed to proceed from the bite of the Tarantula, a spider in Italy. Those afflicted generally fell into a state of melancholy, and appeared to be stupified, and to lose all their sense, with the exception of a great sensibility to music. At the first tones of it they sprang up and commenced dancing, till they fell exhausted to the ground. Others wept, and seemed pining away with some unsatisfied desire; others had morbid fits of love; others actually expired in paroxysms of laughing or weeping. All this shows clearly the symptoms of nervous hysteria. Sometimes the nerves lost their power entirely, some being temporarily deprived of speech, hearing, and even sight, music alone having power to rouse them. Several of the melodies of the dance of the Tarantati, as well as the words of the song, have been preserved, and are given by Dr. Hecker in an appendix; and what was singular, those who had been apparently cured of Tarantism always relapsed into dancing as soon as they heard the notes of the Tarantella. Those who were bitten by the Tarantula, or thought they were, resisted all aids of medicine, and perished miserably if the Tarantella was not played to them. The effects of this music, or most probably the sympathy caused by seeing others affected by it, extended themselves to deaf people, and they joined in the dance, as if they heard the music. Like S. Vitus' dance the mania lay concealed in the system, occasionally breaking out, and being thrown off by dancing; some women had thus continued for thirty years. Tarantism attacked the sceptical, and vin. dicated its power. Quinzato, Bishop of Foligno, having allowed himself by way of a joke to be bitten by a Tarantula, could obtain a cure in no other way than by being, through the influence of the Tarantella, compelled to dance. . Others among the Clergy, who wished to shut their ears to the music, fell into a dangerous state of illness, by thus delaying the crisis of the malady, and were obliged at last to save themselves from a miserable death by submitting to the unwelcome, but sole means of cure. Tarantism has disappeared as an epidemic, though individual cases are reported. It is, however, of great importance to note a remark of Dr. Hecker, who, speaking of Sevao, a Neapolitan physician, that set himself to disprove the reality of the disease, says " by shaking the already vacillating belief in this disorder, he is said to have actually succeeded in rendering it less frequent.”
In these cases religion did not come in as a prime cause, it was superinduced upon a system already labouring under mania ; and, being the most powerful principle that acts on the mind, gave the disease a new direction.
We shall now have to follow our author to a place in which religion is the moving power, the Convulsionaires in France. In the year 1727 there died at Paris the celebrated Abbé Paris, well known for his opposition to Ultra-montanism. Four years after
ning from and telebicured. pero had paid
his death a report spread that some of the people who had paid visits to his tomb had been miraculously cured. Persons were suddenly seized with convulsions and tetanic spasms; they rolled on the ground, suffering from the greatest oppression, which manifested itself by horrible contortions of the limbs and face. It was among these Convulsionaires that clairvoyance first appeared. One woman is reported to have read a book blindfold, and distinguished the character of unknown persons. It was computed that at one time there were eight hundred Convulsionaires; these generally suffered fearfully from pain, especially in the stomach ; to subdue which extraordinary and violent measures were resorted to. They were beaten with clubs, sticks, hammers, and goaded with swords; one is reported to have received eight thousand blows before the oppression was removed. At length this degenerated into decided insanity, displaying itself in different ways; some became quite childish ; others, generally women, with gowns closed at the feet, stood on their heads for an incredible length of time. Penault, the advocate, every day for some hours barked like a dog. This sect continued in all its extravagance for fifty-nine years; after which, like many other things in France, good and bad, it was swept away at the Revolution : with returning tranquillity, it returned, and was existing in a modified form in 1828.
Besides these remarkable phenomena, there were others of less general character: in some places Lycanthropia, or wolf madness, prevailed; men ran howling about graves in the night, fully persuaded that they had been turned into wolves. A nun in a large convent in France began to mew like a cat; shortly after other nuns mewed ; at last all the nuns mewed regularly at a certain time for hours together. This feline mania was at last cured by a company of soldiers being brought to the convent, and the nuns being informed that they were provided with rods, and would use them unless the mewing ceased. In a convent in Germany, a nun commenced biting her companions: in a short time all the nuns were seized with this infatuation, and continued to bite one another; this biting mania soon spread over other parts of Germany and Holland, and even went so far as Rome.
It is not necessary to follow our author further. He has clearly pointed out some facts of the greatest importance: he has shown, 1st, that these manias are epidemic; they come externally on persons whose state of body and nerves makes them exactly fitted to receive such impressions; 2ndly, that the main cause of the spread of such mania is sympathy; the last cases we have mentioned distinctly prove this ; 3rdly, that religion is superinduced upon the mania, as being always the most powerful agent, on weak or disordered minds. Even the Convulsionaires were considered by high medical authority, which investigated the subject at the time, as VOL. XXII.
primarily influenced by hysteria, and only secondarily by religion. Now apply all this to the Revival cases in Ireland, and their partial spread in Scotland, and we shall see a very remarkable parallel : the Revival was confined to certain districts, like the cholera, or any other epidemic; it was propagated almost entirely by sympathy, . and lastly, it was not necessarily connected with religion. As this last point may be disputed, we will give two instances which we heard from an Archdeacon in the north of Ireland, in the midst of the Revival district. A young woman, of religious character, and a regular communicant, was seized with all the symptoms, extending to a partial loss of some of her senses: the Archdeacon attended her till sbe was well; neither during the attack, nor afterwards, did this young woman connect religion with it in any way. The second case is that of a clergyman, who altogether disapproved of Revival proceedings, and expressed his disbelief in their being manifestations of the Spirit of God: in visiting those in his parish who were afflicted be more than once felt the epidemic creeping over himself, and only by the exercise of a strong will could he save himself from its influence.
Besides these, there are other symptoms in each case similar, the oppression, the loss of senses, the celestial visions, the clairvoyance. We have before us three works on the Revival ; the “ Revival,” by Mr. Wilkinson, “ The Work and the Counterwork,” by Archdeacon Stopford, “Three Letters on the Religious Revival," by Archdeacon Edwards : we might add many more, but these will be sufficient to illustrate our case. We shall take the symptoms in their order. First, oppression about the stomach and heart
“Mrs. C— , has been one of the most striking cases I have seen. Her bodily affection was very severe. She screamed, as I was told, so as to be heard a quarter of a mile off. She said she felt very heavy for some days, and had to hold up her heart, putting her hands to her stomach.'"
He speaks of another who "complained of a burning from her throat down to the bottom of her heart." —Revival, p. 113.
Of another :
“A young woman lay extended at full length, her eyes closed, her hands clasped and elevated, and her body curved in a spasm so violent, that it appeared to rest arch-like, upon her heels and the back portion of her head. In that position she lay without speech or motion for several minutes. Suddenly she uttered a terrific scream, and tore handfuls of hair from her uncovered head.”—P. 62.
It will at once be seen that these cases of oppression or spasm are · precisely similar to that felt by the S. John's or S. Vitus' dancers,
whose stomachs had to be bound with cloths, or beaten with clubs : the rigidity just mentioned is quite similar to those women who stood on their heads for an unnatural length of time. The propensity to dance is likewise a feature:
“A young boy, in a most frightful state, stricken in a moment, and fearfully distracted, throwing out his arms, and kicking with his feet, and dancing and shaking in great agitation.”—P. 77.
We do not read of music being tried in any case in Ireland; from the supposition that the epidemic was a purely spiritual work, and from the fact that those who encouraged it were Protestants, who consider instrumental music in meeting-houses to be profane, and would, of course, forbid secular music, the experiment was not made ; but for the propensity to motion displayed by many of the sufferers, we have little doubt, but that dancing would be as great a relief to them as it was to the sufferer in the Middle Ages : bad one begun to dance, no doubt the thing would become general. We do read of singing hymns affording great relief, how much more would cheerful music? The next point, loss of senses, or of some particular sense, wholly or partially, seems to be a very common feature in the Irish epidemic: this shows merely the intensity of the nervous disorder, affecting some by numbing the nerves, others by intensifying their action. This we saw was exactly the case in Tarantism-some, after the supposed bite of the spider, falling into a dull, lethargic state, others only being able to obtain relief by violent dancing. Neither is the seeing of visions peculiar to the Irish epidemic : the trance, and the heavenly glory, were equally characteristics of the S. John's dancers : their senses seemed to de. part, nay, like the Irish, they foretold how long the trance would last, and at what hour their senses would return, and in the interval they saw visions and heard voices. Previous to this they had their terrible visions or fancies; the notion that they were drowning in a sea of blood caused them to dance and leap to free themselves from it; in Ireland something very similar was po uncommon accompaniment of the epidemic: "describing how she felt, she said that she saw a great black mountain, or black cloud, coming slowly toward her, and about to cover her; she then saw a bright light come between her and the black mountain, and beyond it a narrow path, white as snow," &c. Visions of hell, fire and smoke, yawning pit, &c., &c., is common enough among those “under conviction.” Lastly, clairvoyance. We read of one of the Convulsionaires reading a book blindfold, the first instance, says Hecker, of clairvoyance. This latter assertion is not true, as we shall show presently: the former has many parallels in Ireland; we shall quote only one:
Previous in, and in
from fita of blood Fafancies; there.
“ She had never been taught to read or pray, and was unable to distinguish one letter of the Alphabet from another, yet she prayed with
intense fervency, and exhorted the people to repentance with the most astonishing fluency and accuracy of speech. This case, like many others, was accompanied by visionary scenes—illusion, certainly, but of a very extraordinary character. Among other things she maintained that a Bible, traced in characters of light, was open before her, and that although unable to read, a spiritual power had endowed her with a capacity to comprehend the meaning of every word of it. It is an undoubted fact that she repeated with literal accuracy, and as if reading from the volume, a very large number of quotations from the Old and New Testament, applying them in an appropriate manner in connection with the prayers and exhortations wherein she was incessantly engaged.”—P. 95.
Many other instances are given of persons in a clairvoyant state, either reading the Bible, or pointing out passages, who were un. able to read in their natural state. We read also of visions of ethereal light seen by those who were “struck," and had found “mercy and peace;" proofs to them and the bystanders of immediate manifestations of the glory of God, and undoubted proofs of His favour, and of the pardon of their sins: we pointed out how this was a feature of the S. John's dancers, and also, in one case at least, of the Convulsionaires. Hecker is, however, mistaken when he asserts that the latter were the first clairvoyants; long ago had this been known and practised by the monks of Mount Athos ; their claim to this heavenly vision was the subject of several councils in the Greek Church; even so early as the eleventh century we find an Abbot of a monastery in that sacred mountain giving these directions to the monks :
“When thou art alone in thy cell, shut thy door and seat thyself in a corner, raise thy mind above all things vain and transitory, recline thy beard and chin on thy breast, turn thine eyes and thy thoughts towards the middle of thy belly, the region of thy navel, and search the place of thy heart, the seat of the soul. At first all will be dark and comfortless, but if thou persevere day and night, you will feel an ineffable joy, and no sooner has the soul discovered the place of the heart, than it is involved in a mystic and ethereal light.”l
From all these premisses we think we are justified in drawing the following conclusions :
Ist. That the visitation is an epidemic, seizing, like other epidemics, on persons physically disposed from a peculiar state of the nervous system to receive it.
2ndly. That it is propagated chiefly by sympathy. Laughing, crying, and even yawning, are all catching ; take a school full of children, give some slight cause, and let one commence laughing or crying, if not checked, if rather encouraged, nearly all will take it up till the whole is in a state of uproar. We have seen Jewish women in the East go on some particular day to mourn at the
1 Gibbon, ch. lxiii.