Winslow Homer - The Obtuse Bard (draft 20150402) screen 032b
The book Visions: A Study of False Sight (Pseudopia), was written by Edward H. Clarke, M.D., but prepared for publication posthumously by Oliver Wendell Holmes, M.D. Both doctors taught medicine at Harvard in Cambridge.

Dr. Holmes was the father of Oliver Wendell Holmes, Jr., the Supreme Court justice. He was also a son of Dr. Abiel Holmes, who had been the minister of the Congregational Church in Cambridge. Around 1830, after Abiel Holmes, the congregation voted to become a Unitarian church and appointed a Unitarian minister as his replacement. Church members who wanted to remain Congregationists lost their church property. Washington Allston was involved in the design of the replacement church building that was built on property donated by the Dana family.
Doctor and poet Oliver Wendell Holmes Sr. wrote this in the Introduction to Visions,
It was left by Dr. Clarke to my decision what disposition should be made of the manuscript. I had heard many portions of it, and discussed many points involved in it with him.
While many kinds of visions occur due to abnormal mental conditions, there are some kinds of visions that are a part of normal health, a point made in the first paragraph of Dr. Clarke’s book. The visions Welles, Allston, Channing, Bryant, Dana, and Longfellow wrote about are also visions of normal health. Here is that first paragraph.
Visions have always held, and still hold, a place among the experiences of mankind. From the time that Abraham had a vision of angels in his tent, to the latest manifestation of modern spiritualism and spirit seeing; among all nations, savage, civilized, and enlightened; in all classes, whether cultivated, and enlightened; in every phase of human development, oriental and occidental, Pagan, Christian, and Mohammedan, there have been those who saw, or who pretended to see, visions. Visions have not only been recognized as part of the mysterious phenomena of disease, but of the equally mysterious phenomena of health. The hearty and strong, as well as the morbid and ill, have been visited by them. Neoromancers and charlatans, seers and prophets, enthusiasts and sober minded people, those who have deluded, and those who have inspired, the race, have, with varying degree of earnestness and success, supported their claims to reverence or obedience, by the assertion that they could see what was hidden from the eyes of others.
Dr. Clarke dealt with the full spectrum of visions, but clearly he recognized some visions to be a part of normal health.

In the next selection, Dr. Clarke wrote about the same kind of illusions we have been talking about and, as you will see in the visual examples that follow, that Winslow Homer saw with his imagination and recorded in his works.
One who expects to see the face of a departed friend or child, around which are clustered the deepest and tenderest emotions of the human heart, and with which are associated life's hopes and disappointments and deeds, is placed in the most favorable condition for the formation of cell-groups, capable of bringing the familiar face within the field of subjective vision. Under such circumstances the most remote suggestions and shadowy traces of resemblance are sometimes sufficient to produce an ideal vision, or even a sensory representation. When Polonius, at Hamlet's bidding, saw a cloud assume the likeness of a whale, he illustrated a profound physiological law as well as the obsequious subservience of a courtier.


Copyright 1992-2015 Peter Bueschen
The presentation is available at The Obtuse Bard website