The sympathy between body and mind, and the influence exerted by one over the other, we know exists to a very great extent. A man perplexed and annoyed about business-matters, which may be a little out of the regular course of his affairs, is very liable to feel the effect in some physical derangement. Cases are every day occurring where persons unfortunate in business, seeing the fruits of years swept away in some financial crisis, or disappointed in domestic relations, finding friends false, the sanctuary of home outraged, or perhaps the young, lifting the cup of love, bright and sparkling with joy to their lips, only to see it dashed to the earth and shattered at their feet, or feeling in the orange blossoms of the wedding wreath the sting of the asp and the poison of death, in every circle of life, in every grade of society, these fearful blows are followed by slow decline, rapid and prostrating disease, the maniac shrieks, or an early death. On many a marble monument, and on many a simple gravestone, might with truth be traced: "Died of a broken heart"
Could we tear away the veil which hides the working of the mind from outward gaze, - and thank God we cannot, - how many bleeding hearts we should find, hearts crushed and broken, withering away beneath a grief more terrible than death itself. How the painful cause would flash upon us with the brightness of noonday, of many a death, where disease was rapid, defying medical skill, or where, as in slow decline, the poor victim sweetly faded away, or where the last breath was drawn when the light and breath of heaven came in through the grated windows of the home of the insane.
Intense grief, freely indulged, is very liable to undermine the constitution, and also bring on severe and painful forms of disease. Intense grief has in a single night blanched the blackest hair to a snowy white. Oftentimes the death of a loved companion, an idolized child, seems to change entirely the current of life, and wither the frame, as if it had been exposed to the poisonous breath of the upas.
There are innumerable cases on record, where persons have died from the effect of fear alone. The history of every pestilence or epidemic shows that in thousands of cases the disease has been induced by fear. In the seventeenth century, when the plague ravaged London, carrying off its victims by thousands, and turning the city into a vast charnel-house, simply looking on a person on whom the plague-spot had made its appearance was considered almost a sure passport to the grave. Terror and consternation filled the minds of nearly all, and thousands died whose lives might have been spared had they not given way to useless fears.
An Eastern writer illustrates the effect of fear in a very beautiful and striking manner. "A traveler approaching the gates of a city, beheld entering in a pestilence, and thus accosted it: Whither are you going? Into the city, replied the pestilence, to destroy three thousand lives, and sternly passed in to fulfil his fearful mission. The traveler paused, and soon from the city was heard the death cry, the wailings of friends for friends, and from the gates were carried forth thousands of corpses and hurriedly placed beneath the ground. Finally the traveler beheld the pestilence stalking forth, and said, why have you exceeded your mission, and destroyed thirty thousand lives instead of three thousand. I have destroyed but three thousand, was the reply - fear has done the rest."
It was common for those who perished by violence to summon their destroyers to appear within a stated time before the tribunal of God, and the guilty ones in many instances have withered away and died as speadily as if smitten by the breath of a pestilence. Pestilence does not kill with the rapidity of terror. The abbess of a convent the Princess Conzaga, and the Archbishop of Rheims, for a jest visited one of the nuns and exhorted her as a person visibly dying. While in the performance of their scheme, they whispered to each other, "she is just departing." She departed in earnest, and the guilty pair discovered in the midst of their sport, they were making merry over a corpse. In France, several physicians obtained leave of government to experiment on a criminal who had just been condemned to death. The criminal gladly availed himself of the privilege of being bled to death instead of being executed in public. He was placed in a chair, his eyes blind-folded, his arm slightly pricked with a pin, and a slight jet of water so directed, as to fall on his arm, thence trickling down to fall into a basin prepared for the purpose. The physicians then conversed together on the tragic symptoms, stated the amount of blood in the body, the quantity he had lost, and the length of time he would probably be in dying. In the mean time the breathing of the victim gradually became fainter, and in a few moments he expired, without having lost one drop of blood. Montaigne tells of a man, who was pardoned on the scaffold, and was found to have expired while awaiting the stroke.
Despair produces a very strong impression on the mind, and thus on the system, and often either drives a person to idiocy, madness, or a speedy death. Almost every physician occasionally meets cases in his practice, when through the injudicious words of friends, or a variety of other causes, all hope vanishes in the patient's mind, and in utter despair he calmly waits what seems 23* to him an inevitable doom. Even though it may be at the turning-point of the disease, when a feather's weight may turn the scale for life or death, if he sees around him hopeful countenances, and hears words of encouragement, new life may be infused into his lagging pulse, and he called back from the verge of the grave on which he was trembling.
Keep the lamp of hope burning brightly, unless all ground for hope is over.
The influence of the mind on the system is, as we have already seen, all-powerful, tormenting existence, bringing on and hastening disease and death, or where exerted for good, smoothing the rough pathway of life, and imparting health, vigor and harmony to the whole system.
We cannot look for health and happiness without harmony, and this can only exist where there is a beautiful blending of the moral, the intellectual, and the physical, and where man is in harmony with nature, with his own being, and thus with God.