Somnambulism by Albany Poyntz

“Dreams are the interludes of a busy fancy,” say the copybooks; and in some instances they appear to excite in the body impulses equally active.

Condillac, the mathematician, when surprised by sleep in the midst of his abstruse calculations, often found that, on awaking, the solution of a problem presented itself spontaneously to his mind, as though he had been working in his sleep.

But a more familiar instance of somnambulism is that of a deceased Hampshire Baronet.

This gentleman was nearly driven to distraction by the fact that, every night, he went to bed in a shirt, and every morning awoke naked, without the smallest trace of the missing garment being discovered.

Hundreds of shirts disappeared in this manner; and as there was no fire in his room, it was impossible to account for the mystery. The servants believed their master to be mad; and even he began to fancy himself bewitched. In this conjuncture, he implored an intimate friend to sleep in the room with him; and ascertain by what manner of mysterious midnight visitant his garment was so strangely removed. The friend, accordingly, took up his station in the haunted chamber; and lo! as the clock struck one, the unfortunate Baronet, who had previously given audible intimation of being fast asleep, rose from his bed, rekindled with a match the candle which had been extinguished, deliberately opened the door, and quitted the room. His astonished friend followed; saw him open in succession a variety of doors, pass along several passages, traverse an open court, and eventually reach the stable-yard; where he divested himself of his shirt, and disposed of it in an old dung heap, into which he thrust it by means of a pitch fork. Having finished this extraordinary operation, without taking the smallest heed of his friend who stood looking on, and plainly saw that he was walking in his sleep, he returned to the house, carefully reclosed the doors, re-extinguished the light, and returned to bed; where the following morning he awoke, as usual, stripped of his shirt!

The astonished eye-witness of this extraordinary scene, instead of apprizing the sleep-walker of what had occurred, insisted that the following night, a companion should sit up with him; choosing to have additional testimony to the truth of the statement he was about to make; and the same singular events were renewed, without the slightest change or deviation. The two witnesses, accordingly, divulged all they had seen to the Baronet; who, though at first incredulous, became of course convinced, when, on proceeding to the stable-yard, several dozens of shirts were discovered; though it was surmised that as many more had been previously removed by one of the helpers, who probably looked upon the hoard as stolen goods concealed by some thief.

A far stranger circumstance has been related by a highly-beneficed member of the Roman Catholic Church.

In the College where he was educated was a young Seminarist who habitually walked in his sleep; and while in a state of somnambulism, used to sit down to his desk and compose the most eloquent sermons; scrupulously erasing, effacing, or interlining, whenever an incorrect expression had fallen from his pen. Though his eyes were apparently fixed upon the paper when he wrote, it was clear that they exercised no optical functions; for he wrote just as well when an opaque substance was interposed between them and the sheet of paper.

Sometimes, an attempt was made to remove the paper, in the idea that he would write upon the desk beneath. But it was observed that he instantly discerned the change; and sought another sheet of paper, as nearly as possible resembling the former one. At other times, a blank sheet of paper was substituted by the bystanders for the one on which he had been writing; in which case, on reading over, as it were, his composition, he was sure to place the corrections, suggested by the perusal, at precisely the same intervals they would have occupied in the original sheet of manuscript.

This young priest, moreover, was an able musician; and was seen to compose several pieces of music while in a state of somnambulism; drawing the lines of the music paper for the purpose with a ruler and pen and ink, and filling the spaces with his notes with the utmost precision, besides a careful adaptation of the words, in vocal pieces.

On one occasion, the somnambulist dreamt that he sprang into a river to save a drowning child; and, on his bed, was seen to imitate the movements of swimming. Seizing the pillow, he appeared to snatch it from the waves and lay it on the shore. The night was intensely cold; and so severely did he appear affected by the imaginary chill of the river, as to tremble in every limb; and his state of cold and exhaustion when roused, was so alarming, that it was judged necessary to administer wine and other restoratives.

It would require a volume to relate the wonders of artificial somnambulism produced by Animal Magnetism, i. e. the somnolency produced in certain organizations by persons constitutionally endowed for the purpose; during which, some patients become so utterly insensible, that surgical operations of the most painful nature, such as amputation, have been performed upon them without their knowledge. Others appear to be transported into a higher sphere; and in a frame of mind described under the name of clairvoyance, become capable of reading sealed letters and closed books; of speaking languages of which they are otherwise ignorant, and indicating the name and nature of misunderstood diseases, as well as the means of cure; though at the cessation of the state of somnambulism, all recollection is effaced of the wonders they have performed under its influence.

The mysteries of Magnetic Science are at present so imperfectly understood, and afford so wide a field for scientific argument, that it would be presumptuous to enter further into the subject in a work affecting to treat of errors and superstitions.