This 1901 book by Richard Maurice Bucke, M.D., formerly medical superintendent of the asylum for the insane in London, Canada, was reissued as a paperback in 1969, and apparently thousands of copies were sent to the used bookstores of Ithaca, N.Y., where I ran into so many copies of it that I finally broke down and bought one. "A classic investigation of the development of man's mystic relation to the infinite," the book describes something that might sound similar to zen enlightment, or a born-again Christian experience, or various other mystical states. There are charts and footnotes. The best part is the second half that lists a number of people -- some well-known historical figures, others individuals listed only by their initials -- who the doctor believed had attained this state of consciousness. They include: Gautama the Buddha, Jesus the Christ, Paul (the saint), Mohammed, Bartolome le Casas, Francis Bacon, Honore de Balzac, Walt Whitman, Spinoza, Pushkin, Tennyson, and Thoreau. Among the anonymous adepts is H.B., who wrote of a realization that came upon him while reading the only copy of Darwin's "Origin of Species" available in his town:
The first real mental illumination I remember to have experienced was when I saw that the universe exists in each of its individual atoms -- that is, the universe is the result of a few simple processes infinitely repeated. When a drop of water has been mathematically measured, every principle will have been used which would be called for in the measurement of hte heavens. All life on the globe is sustaned by digestion and assimilation; when by voluntary and traumatic action these stop death follows. The history of an individual mind is the history of the race. Know one thing in its properties and relations and you will know all things.
This Old Book started as a Tumblr, which is also archived on Palafo.com. These are books that have survived many purges from my shelves over decades, with a few comments attempting to figure out why I have held onto them.