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THE learned and eloquent Professor of Physiology at Turin has given us in the book which he has entitled “Fear,” an analysis of this mental condition and its accompanying physical states, which, marked as it is by scientific accuracy and couched in charming and even in poetical diction, will take high rank as a popular exposition of our knowledge of the expression of one of the most interesting of the emotions of both men and animals.

Genre: Health

INTRODUCTION I Never shall I forget that evening! From behind the curtains of a glass door I peered into the large amphitheatre crowded with people. It was my first appearance as a lecturer, and most humbly did I repent having undertaken to try my powers in the same hall in which my most celebrated teachers had so often spoken. All I had to do was to communicate the results of some of my investigations into the physiology of sleep, and yet, as the hour drew nearer, stronger waxed within me the fear that I should become confused, lose myself, and finally stand gaping, speechless before my audience. My heart beat violently, its very strings seemed to tighten, and my breath came and went, as when one looks down into a yawning abyss. At last it struck eight. As I cast a last glance at my notes, I became aware, to my horror, that the chain of ideas was broken and the links lost beyond recall. Experiments performed a hundred times, long periods which I had thought myself able to repeat word for word--all seemed forgotten, swept away as though it had never been. My anguish reached a climax. So great was my perturbation that the recollection of it is dim and shadowy. I remember seeing the usher touch the handle of the door, and that, as he opened it, I seemed to feel a puff of wind in my face; there was a singing in my ears, and then I found myself near a table in the midst of an oppressive silence, as though, after a plunge in a stormy sea, I had raised my head above water and seized hold of a rock in the centre of the vast amphitheatre. How strange was the sound of my first words! My voice seemed to lose itself in a great wilderness, words, scarce fallen from my lips, to tremble and die away. After a few sentences jerked out almost mechanically, I perceived that I had already finished the introduction to my speech, and discovered with dismay that memory had played me false just at that point where I had thought myself most sure; but there was now no turning back, and so, in great confusion, I proceeded. The hall seemed enveloped in mist. Slowly the cloud began to lift, and here and there in the crowd I could distinguish benevolent, friendly faces, and on these I fixed my gaze, as a man struggling with the waves clings to a floating spar. I could discern, too, the attentive countenances of eager listeners, holding a hand to their ear as though unwilling to lose a single word, and nodding occasionally in token of affirmation. And lastly, I saw myself in this semicircle, alone, humbled, discouraged, dejected--like a sinner at confession. The first greatest emotional disturbance was over; but my throat was parched, my cheeks burned, my breath came in gasps, my voice was strained and trembling. The harmony of the period was often interrupted in the middle by a rapid inspiration, or painfully drawn out, as the chest was compressed to lend force to the last words of a sentence. But to my joy, in spite of all, the ideas began to unfold of their own accord, following each other in regular order along the magic thread to which I blindly clung without a backward glance, and which was to lead me out of the labyrinth. Even the trembling of the hands, which had made me shake the instruments and drawings I had from time to time to exhibit, ceased at last. A heaviness crept over my whole body, the muscles seemed to stiffen, and my knees shook. Towards the end I felt the blood begin to circulate again. A few minutes passed of which I remember nothing save a great anxiety. My trembling voice had assumed the conclusive tone adopted at the close of a speech. I was perspiring, exhausted, my strength was failing; I glanced at the tiers of seats, and it seemed to me that they were slowly opening in front of me, like the jaws of a monster ready to devour me as soon as the last word should re-echo within its throat. II He who one day will write a book on the physiology of the orator will render a great service to society--to us who have to pay so dearly for 'that extravagant idolatry of ourselves’ which incites us to speak in public. But such a work must be a complete treatise, a mirror in which each might see himself and learn to what ridicule he exposes himself, what punishment awaits him, when he mounts the rostrum uncalled for and untried. Each must see himself with pallid cheeks, perturbed, distorted countenance, suffering from that unhealthy excitement which, like a storm of emotion, breaks out in trembling. Before entering the lists let each feel the oppression on the chest, the cough, the compression of the bladder, the loss of appetite, the unquenchable thirst, the dizziness which will blind him; and lastly, let each endure in advance all the innumerable gradations of pitying sympathy awakened in the audience by his own timidity. We can better understand the influence of the emotions on the organism if we consider the long novitiate, the unwearying efforts and the countless trials of even the greatest orators before they attained to self-control, and to the simple end of preserving before the public the same intonation, gestures, and persuasive force which are natural to them when in the company of their friends or the retirement of the family circle. I have seen men of brilliant intelligence standing rigid, their arms hanging at their sides like recruits, their features distorted and their eyes fixed on the ground, stammering and grinding out their speech, so as to move one to pity. Others, known to their intimates as jovial anecdotists, make one turn away one’s eyes in compassion when, on important occasions, they stop short in the middle of a sentence, gasp, repeat the same word four or five times, struggling for utterance, and at last stand still open-mouthed, clutching the table or their watch-chain, as though in search of an anchor of salvation. Others, again, go to a banquet and succeed in damping all gaiety. At the very beginning it is evident that food is swallowed with difficulty, their speech lies heavy on their heart, they are nervous and tortured by the fear that their memory may leave them in the lurch. One pities them when at last they rise pale and trembling, then speak confusedly, jerkily, swaying to and fro with wide-open eyes, as though stupefied with agitation.
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Angelo Mosso

Angelo Mosso (30 May 1846 – 24 November 1910) is the 19th century Italian physiologist who invented the first neuroimaging technique ever, known as 'human circulation balance'. more…

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