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On Some Mental Effects Of The Earthquake
by [?]


When I departed from Harvard for Stanford University last December, almost the last good-by I got was that of my old Californian friend B: “I hope they’ll give you a touch of earthquake while you ‘re there, so that you may also become acquainted with that Californian institution.”

Accordingly, when, lying awake at about half past five on the morning of April 18 in my little “flat” on the campus of Stanford, I felt the bed begin to waggle, my first consciousness was one of gleeful recognition of the nature of the movement. “By Jove,” I said to myself, “here’s B’ssold [Transcriber’s note: ‘B’s old’?] earthquake, after all!” And then, as it went crescendo. “And a jolly good one it is, too!” I said.

Sitting up involuntarily, and taking a kneeling position, I was thrown down on my face as it went fortior shaking the room exactly as a terrier shakes a rat. Then everything that was on anything else slid off to the floor, over went bureau and chiffonier with a crash, as the fortissimo was reached; plaster cracked, an awful roaring noise seemed to fill the outer air, and in an instant all was still again, save the soft babble of human voices from far and near that soon began to make itself heard, as the inhabitants in costumes negliges in various degrees sought the greater safety of the street and yielded to the passionate desire for sympathetic communication.

The thing was over, as I understand the Lick Observatory to have declared, in forty-eight seconds. To me it felt as if about that length of time, although I have heard others say that it seemed to them longer. In my case, sensation and emotion were so strong that little thought, and no reflection or volition, were possible in the short time consumed by the phenomenon.

The emotion consisted wholly of glee and admiration; glee at the vividness which such an abstract idea or verbal term as “earthquake” could put on when translated into sensible reality and verified concretely; and admiration at the way in which the frail little wooden house could hold itself together in spite of such a shaking. I felt no trace whatever of fear; it was pure delight and welcome.

Go it,” I almost cried aloud, “and go it stronger!”

I ran into my wife’s room, and found that she, although awakened from sound sleep, had felt no fear, either. Of all the persons whom I later interrogated, very few had felt any fear while the shaking lasted, although many had had a “turn,” as they realized their narrow escapes from bookcases or bricks from chimney-breasts falling on their beds and pillows an instant after they had left them.

As soon as I could think, I discerned retrospectively certain peculiar ways in which my consciousness had taken in the phenomenon. These ways were quite spontaneous, and, so to speak, inevitable and irresistible.

First, I personified the earthquake as a permanent individual entity. It was the earthquake of my friend B’s augury, which had been lying low and holding itself back during all the intervening months, in order, on that lustrous April morning, to invade my room, and energize the more intensely and triumphantly. It came, moreover, directly to me. It stole in behind my back, and once inside the room, had me all to itself, and could manifest itself convincingly. Animus and intent were never more present in any human action, nor did any human activity ever more definitely point back to a living agent as its source and origin.

All whom I consulted on the point agreed as to this feature in their experience. “It expressed intention,” “It was vicious,” “It was bent on destruction,” “It wanted to show its power,” or what not. To me, it wanted simply to manifest the full meaning of its name. But what was this “It”? To some, apparently, a vague demonic power; to me an individualized being, B’s earthquake, namely.