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A Mortal Antipathy: first opening of the new portfolio   By: (1809-1894)

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A MORTAL ANTIPATHY

By Oliver Wendell Holmes

PREFACE.

"A MORTAL ANTIPATHY" was a truly hazardous experiment. A very wise and very distinguished physician who is as much at home in literature as he is in science and the practice of medicine, wrote to me in referring to this story: "I should have been afraid of my subject." He did not explain himself, but I can easily understand that he felt the improbability of the physiological or pathological occurrence on which the story is founded to be so great that the narrative could hardly be rendered plausible. I felt the difficulty for myself as well as for my readers, and it was only by recalling for our consideration a series of extraordinary but well authenticated facts of somewhat similar character that I could hope to gain any serious attention to so strange a narrative.

I need not recur to these wonderful stories. There is, however, one, not to be found on record elsewhere, to which I would especially call the reader's attention. It is that of the middle aged man, who assured me that he could never pass a tall hall clock without an indefinable terror. While an infant in arms the heavy weight of one of these tall clocks had fallen with aloud crash and produced an impression on his nervous system which he had never got over.

The lasting effect of a shock received by the sense of sight or that of hearing is conceivable enough.

But there is another sense, the nerves of which are in close relation with the higher organs of consciousness. The strength of the associations connected with the function of the first pair of nerves, the olfactory, is familiar to most persons in their own experience and as related by others. Now we know that every human being, as well as every other living organism, carries its own distinguishing atmosphere. If a man's friend does not know it, his dog does, and can track him anywhere by it. This personal peculiarity varies with the age and conditions of the individual. It may be agreeable or otherwise, a source of attraction or repulsion, but its influence is not less real, though far less obvious and less dominant, than in the lower animals. It was an atmospheric impression of this nature which associated itself with a terrible shock experienced by the infant which became the subject of this story. The impression could not be outgrown, but it might possibly be broken up by some sudden change in the nervous system effected by a cause as potent as the one which had produced the disordered condition.

This is the best key that I can furnish to a story which must have puzzled some, repelled others, and failed to interest many who did not suspect the true cause of the mysterious antipathy.

BEVERLY FARMS, MASS., August, 1891. O. W. H.

A MORTAL ANTIPATHY.

FIRST OPENING OF THE NEW PORTFOLIO.

INTRODUCTION.

"And why the New Portfolio, I would ask?"

Pray, do you remember, when there was an accession to the nursery in which you have a special interest, whether the new comer was commonly spoken of as a baby? Was it not, on the contrary, invariably, under all conditions, in all companies, by the whole household, spoken of as the baby? And was the small receptacle provided for it commonly spoken of as a cradle; or was it not always called the cradle, as if there were no other in existence?

Now this New Portfolio is the cradle in which I am to rock my new born thoughts, and from which I am to lift them carefully and show them to callers, namely, to the whole family of readers belonging to my list of intimates, and such other friends as may drop in by accident. And so it shall have the definite article, and not be lost in the mob of its fellows as a portfolio.

There are a few personal and incidental matters of which I wish to say something before reaching the contents of the Portfolio, whatever these may be. I have had other portfolios before this, two, more especially, and the first thing I beg leave to introduce relates to these.

Do not throw this volume down, or turn to another page, when I tell you that the earliest of them, that of which I now am about to speak, was opened more than fifty years ago... Continue reading book >>




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