Изображения страниц
PDF
EPUB

Somnambulism.

THAT

AT a person deeply immersed in thought, should, like Dominie Sampson, walk along in a state of "prodigious" unconsciousness, excites no surprise, from the frequency of the occurrence; but that any one should, when fast asleep, go through a series of complicated actions which seem to demand the assistance of the senses while closed against ordinary external impressions, is, indeed, marvellous. Less to account for this mysterious state of being, than to arrange such a series of facts as may help further inquiry into the subject, we have assembled several curious circumstances regarding somnambulism.

Not many years ago a case occurred at the Police-office at Southwark, of a woman who was charged with robbing a man while he was walking in his sleep during the daytime along High Street, in the Borough, when it was proved in evidence that he was in the habit of walking in his somnambulic fits through crowded thoroughfares. He was a plasterer by trade, and it was stated in court that it was not an uncommon thing for him to fall asleep while at work on the scaffold, yet he never met with any accident, and would

answer questions put to him as if he were awake. In like manner, we are informed that Dr. Haycock, the Professor of Medicine at Oxford, would, in a fit of somnabulism, preach an eloquent discourse; and some of the sermons of a lady who was in the habit of preaching in her sleep have been deemed worthy of publication.

We remember meeting with a case of an Italian servant, who was a somnambulist, and who enjoyed the character of being a better waiter when he was asleep than when he was awake. Every book on the subject repeats the anecdote which has been recorded of the blind poet, Dr. Blacklock, who, on one occasion, rose from his bed, to which he had retired at an early hour, came into the room where his family were assembled, conversed with them, afterwards entertained them with a pleasant song, and then retired to his bed; and when he awoke had not the least recollection of what he had done. Here, however, on the very threshold of the mystery, we meet with this difficulty —were these persons, when they performed the actions described, partially awake, or were they really in a state of profound sleep? In solving this problem, we shall proceed to consider some of the phenomena of somnambulism, premising only that if we avail ourselves of cases which the reader may before have met with, it is to throw light on what we may perhaps call the physiology of this very curious affection.

There can be no doubt that somnambulism is hereditary. Horstius mentions three brothers, who were affected with it at the same period; and Dr. Willis knew a whole family subject to it. It is considered by all medical men as a peculiar form of disease. It seldom manifests itself before the age of six, and scarcely ever continues beyound the sixtieth year. It depends physically upon the susceptibility

or delicacy of the nervous system; and on this account fe males are more liable to it than males; and in youth it manifests itself more frequently than in mature age. It is caused mentally by any violent and profound emotion; as well as by excessive study, and over fatiguing the intellectual faculties. Some persons walk periodically in their sleep; the fit returns at stated intervals-perhaps two or three times only in a month. It has been also observed-although we by no means vouch for the fact by an eminent German physician, that some persons walk at the full, others at the new moon, but especially at its changes. One German authority-Burdach-goes the comical length of asserting that the propensity of somnambulists to walk on. the roofs of houses is owing to the attraction of the moon, and that they have a peculiar pleasure in contemplating the moon, even in the daytime. Whatever may be the cause of the affection, somnambulism undoubtedly assumes different degrees of intensity. The first degree evinces itself by the movements we have referred to, and by sleep-talking. This stage is said to be marked by an impossibility of opening the eyes, which are as if glued together. There are many curious circumstances to be observed concerning sleep-talking. The intonation of the voice differs from the waking state, and persons for the most part express themselves with unusual facility.

We were acquainted with a young lady accustomed to sit up in bed and recite poetry in her sleep, whose mother assured us that she sometimes took cognizance of circumstances which she could not, in any way, account for. On one occasion they had been to a ball; and, after the daughter was in bed and asleep, her mother went quietly into her room, and taking away her dress and gloves deposited them in another room. Presently, as usual, the fair somnambule

66

began talking in her sleep; her mother entered, as usual, into conversation with her; and, at length, asked, “But what have you done with your new ball-dress?" Why, you know," replied she, "you have laid it on the couch in the drawing-room." "Yes," continued the mother, "but your gloves-what have you done with them ?" "You know well enough," she answered, in an angry tone, "you have locked them up in your jewel-box." Both answers were correct; and it may here be observed that somnambulists, if equivocated with in conversation, or in any way played upon, will express themselves annoyed, and betray angry feelings. The truthfulness of sleep-talking may, we apprehend, always be relied on. In this state there is no attempt at evasion; no ingenuity exercised to disguise any thing. The master-mind of Shakspeare-which seems to have divined the secrets of Nature, and illustrated scientific principles before they were discovered by philosophers-recognized this fact, in making Iago thus rouse the jealousy of Othello :

"There are a kind of men so loose of soul

That in their sleep will mutter their affairs,―
One of this kind is Cassio.

In sleep I heard him say, 'Sweet Desdemona,
Let us be wary.'"

Hitherto Othello had borne up manfully against the cruel insinuations of Iago-but this sleep revelation "denotes a foregone conclusion, and carries with it irresistible conviction." Upon the same principle, Lord Byron founded the story of "Parisina." Not long ago a robbery was committed in Scotland, which was discovered by one of the guilty parties being overheard muttering some facts connected with it in his sleep. Mental anxiety will, almost at any age, give rise to sleep-talking. The ideas of children

during sleep are often very vivid; nor is there any thing more common than to hear them utter exclamations of distress, connected, particularly, with any fears that may, unwisely, have been impressed on the waking mind. The case of a little girl came lately under our notice, who exhibited the most alarming symptoms during sleep; sobbing and imploring help, under the imagination that she was being pursued by an evil spirit; in consequence of a foolish, fanatical person having frightened her with threats of this description, while the child, before going to bed, was saying her prayers. Very much convulsed inwardly, she was with difficulty awakened, and for some time afterwards remained in a state of agitation bordering on delirium. Assuredly parents cannot be too careful in endeavoring to make very young children go to bed with composed and happy minds, otherwise they know not what hideous phantom may draw aside the curtain of their sleep; and, by terrifying the imagination, produce fits, that may be incurable in after-life. We believe it quite possible that epilepsy, itself, may be so produced.

In schools sleep-talking is very common; anxious pupils, in their sleep, will frequently repeat a lesson they cannot remember when awake. The son of the eminent linguist and commentator, Doctor Adam Clarke, tells us that his father overheard him, in his sleep, repeat a Greek verb which he was endeavoring to learn, and which, the following morning, he was unable to remember. This is a curious fact he knew his lesson in his sleep, but did not do so when he was awake; the faculty of memory, however, in a state of somnambulism undergoes many singular modifications. Thus, persons who talk in their sleep, may, by conversation, be brought to remember a dream within a dream ; and it is very common, in the higher stages of somnambu

« ПредыдущаяПродолжить »