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Wherefore, O Ruler of the World, impart
It has been an opinion countenanced in the preceding chapters, that the human mind is not naturally endowed with any power of foreknowing or presaging future events, however it may occasionally have been inspired with prophetic apprehensions by the immediate impulse of God's Spirit. It may be proper, therefore, to consider now what may be alledged in favour of the second sight, which has often beea maintained to prevail in the Highlands of Scotland, as this inquiry is intimately connected
* Lucan's Pharsalia, L. ij.
with the subject of our present discussion; and since if it can be admitted that such faculty does really exist, it may be judged unreasonable to dispute the existence also of a prophetic power of the mind operating in dreams.
That full scope may be allowed for the examination of this subject, I shall set down the result of the inquiries which were made by Dr. Johnson in his celebrated Tour with Mr. Boswell to the Highlands, accompanied with his reflections which are philosophical and just, and which it would be an injury to give in any
other words than his own.
“ The second sight,” says this great writer, “ is an impression made either by the mind upon the eye, or by the eye upon the mind, by which things distant or future are perceived, and seen as if they were present; a man on a journey far from home falls from his horse, another who is perhaps at work about the house sees him bleeding on the ground, commonly with a landscape of the place where the
accident befalls him; another seer driving home his cattle, or wandering in idleness, or musing in the sunshine, is suddenly surprised by the appearance of a bridal ceremony, or funeral procession, and counts the mourners or attendants, of whom, if he knows them, he relates the names, if he knows them not, he can describe the dresses. Things distant are seen at the instant when they happen, of things future I know not that there is any rule for determining the time between the sight and the event.
“ This receptive faculty, for power it cannot be called, is neither voluntary nor constant, the appearances have no dependance upon choice, they cannot be summoned, detained, or recalled, the impression is sudden, and the effect often painful.
“ By the term second sight seems to be meant a mode of seeing superadded to that which nature generally bestows.
" I do not find it to be true, as it is reported, that to the second sight nothing is presented but phantoms of evil; good seems to have the same proportion in these visionary scenes, as it obtains in real life. Almost all remarkable events have evil for their basis, and are either miseries incurred, or miseries escaped. Our sense is so much stronger of what we suffer, than of what we enjoy, that the ideas of pain predominate in almost every mind. What is recollection but a revival of vexations, is history but a record of wars, treasons, and calamities? Death, which is considered as the greatest evil, happens to all, the greatest good be it what it will is the lot but of a part.
“ That they should often see death is to be expected, because death is an event frequent and important, but they see likewise more pleasing incidents. A gentleman told me that when he had once gone far from his own island, one of his labouring servants predicted his return, and described the livery of his attendant which he had never worn at home, and which had been without any previous design occasionally given him.
“ It is the common talk of the Lowland Scots, that the notion of the second sight is wearing away with other superstitions, and that its reality is no longer supposed but by the grossest people. How far its prevalence was extended, or what ground it has lost, I know not. The islanders of all degrees, whether of rank or understanding, universally admit it, except the ministers, who universally deny it in consequence of a system against conviction : one of them honestly told me that he came to Sky with a resolution not to believe it.
“Strong reasons for incredulity will readily occur: this faculty of seeing things out of sight is local and commonly useless, it is a breach of the common order of things, without
any visible reason, or perceptible benefit; it is ascribed only to a people very little enlightened, and among them, for the most part, to the meau and ignorant.