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whether to helieve or disbelieve. If the miracles of the New Testament, to which these spiritual manifestations have been, not very reverently, compared, had been performed, not in the open day, in the streets and highways, and on such occasions as naturally offered themselves, but at sittings arranged beforehand, in an appointed place, before a few invited spectators, and by an imperfect light; if all the silly or revolting stories of the Apocryphal Gospels had been mixed up with the canonical narrative in such a manner that both must stand or fall together; if all the petty passions and wayward caprices of the spurious legends were blended into the moral atmosphere of the supernatural together with the purity and holiness of the genuine history; if no living institution perpetuated the memory of its founder, and no important consequences, here or hereafter, depended on our belief or unbelief,—surely these circumstances, though by no means precluding the examination of evidence, would have at any rate seriously increased the difficulty, and in the same proportion diminished the importance, of belief.
We do not approve of this comparison, and we should not have made it of our own choice; but it has been made for us, and forced upon us by the writings of some of the recent defenders of 'Spiritualism,' who have not hesitated to claim for the modern rappings, as for the older ghost-stories, a rank as phenomena of the same kind (they do not yet venture to say of the same degree) with the miracles of Christ and His Apostles. No doubt this is done with a good intent, and in the supposed interests of Christian belief; but the effect on the mind of the reader is, not to raise the modern manifestations to the rank of the Scripture miracles, but rather to sink the latter to the level of a common ghost-story. When Mr. Howitt, for instance, in his preface, tells us that, 'So far from holding that what are called miracles are interruptions or violations of the course of nature, he regards them only as the results of spiritual laws, which in their occasional action subdue, suspend, or neutralise the less powerful physical laws, just as a stronger chemical affinity subdues a weaker one;'—and when in his first chapter, headed 'An Apology for Faith,' after alluding to the spiritual influence acknowledged in the Scriptures, 'from the first page to the last, from the Creation to Christ,' he adds, 'it glows in the Zend-Avesta; it stands mountain-high in the Vedas; Buddhu lives in it in divine reverie; Brahma proclaims it in his Avataras;'—he does, in effect, concur with Professor Powell, in maintaining that 'the constant belief in the miraculous may neutralise all evidential distinctions which it may be attempted to deduce;' and with Mr. Atkinson, the correspondent of Miss Martineau, when he asserts that' Christ, the prophets, the
oracles, oracles, all exhibit features of the same great fact,' that great fact being Mesmerism.*
To us, we must confess, so far as such a comparison can be made at all, the strange stories in Mr. Home's book appear far more nearly to resemble the marvels recorded in the Gospel of the Infancy, than the miracles of the genuine Scriptures. Some of Mr. Home's spirits are very Pucks for wanton mischief, reminding us strongly of that 'merry wanderer of the night' lurking in a gossip's bowl for the noble purpose of spilling the ale; others betray the impotent petulance of a spoilt child against some person who has offended him; others appear to delight in tricks of a grotesque and ludicrous character, simply for their absurdity; while nearly all exhibit that aimless love of the marvellous for its own sake, which is characteristic of false miracles as compared with true ones. Take, for example, the following ' spiritual' exhibitions :—
'Mr. Home was then thrown into the trance state, and taking the decanter in his right hand, he walked a few feet from the table, holding it in full view all the time, when, to my astonishment, I saw another decanter, apparently precisely similar to the other, in his left hand. Thus, in each of his hands I saw a decanter; and so real was the second, that I could not have told which of them was the material one.
A little later, Mr. Owen's spirit came, and desired his
wife's writing-desk to be placed on the table: and now the room was darkened to see if we could distinguish spirit lights, which were then seen by three of us. Presently we heard the writing-desk opened, and a hand was placed in mine, another in my wife's, and a third in Mr. Home's, each hand differing in size from the others. The alphabet was called for, and " I fear 1 may have spoilt your Claude," was spelt out. We could not understand this; but when the lamp was relighted, we found that somo paint had been taken from the box from inside the desk, and had been freely used on ono of my paintings, which hung several feet from where we were sitting.'—pp. 181-2.
Surely this is a worthy companion to the roasted crab and the three-foot stool of the original hobgoblin, unless we suppose that the 'decanter' had something to do with the double vision and the subsequent phenomena. The following is nearly as silly, petulance being substituted for mischief:—
* This marvellous correspondence, the preface to which is dated November, 1850, affords a remarkable instance (our modern 'spiritualism' has many such) of the union of the extremes of unbelief and credulity in the same mind. In concluding her portion of the correspondence, the lady is enthusiastic in her gratitude to her guide, philosopher, and friend, for having emancipated her mind from 'the little enclosure of dogma'—that is to say, among other things, from belief in a personal God. In the same autumn of 1850 appeared an account, by the same lady, of the wonderful cure effected by mesmerising a cow! To be sure, Crummie had been bled and physicked, as well as mesmerised; but the cure was attributed to the ' passes made along the spine.'
'We had amused ourselves during the time with the article " Spiritrapping made easy," in the magazine " Once a Week," which we left on the chiffonier. I saw something pass from the room with great velocity, which vanished under the table. A curious noise was heard, like the crumpling of paper, a spirit hand arose, appeared, and placed in the medium's hand a sheet of " Once a Week," crumpled up and torn. The spirits were at work destroying the magazine ; they rubbed it strongly over Mr. Home's shoe, and then placed his foot upon it. The spirits gave each person a bit of the mangled magazine, and the remainder was raised up by a large spirit-hand, and placed on a vacant chair, which, by invisible power, had a short time before been moved from a distance to the table. The table was violently moved up to the centre window, before which stood a piece of the bough of the northern
poplar which had been sent from the Chateau de C , and which
was part of that from [the fall of which Mr. Home so miraculously escaped. The height of the bough was three feet eight inches, and the circumference three feet. Luminous hands were now and then visible, the table rose gently, and tipped many times against the bough; the spirits threw bits of the torn magazine about it, and placed one piece under it. I asked, in Hindostanee, " Are you making Mr. Novra do pooja * to the branch?" To which they loudly rapped "Yes." '—p. 193. ""'
Sometimes the departed spirit of a pickpocket exhibits a hankering after his earthly vocation; whether from pure mischief or felonious design is not stated :—
'During the seance I had the border of a white cambric handkerchief just appearing out of the side-pocket of my paletot, which was open; and though I could see no agency, I felt something twitching at the handkerchief, and very gradually drawing it from my pocket. Simultaneously with this, my eldest daughter, who sat opposite to me, exclaimed, "Oh! I see phosphoric fingers at papa's pocket!" and, now visibly to all, the handkerchief was slowly pulled out, and drawn under the table; whilst at the same time I felt an arm that was doing it, but which was invisible to me.'—p. 77.
Here is a specimen of the grotesque, reprinted from the 'Comhill Magazine.' The performer is a table :—
'Turning suddenly over on one side, it sunk to the floor. In this horizontal position it glided slowly towards a table which stood close to a large ottoman in the centre of the room. We had much trouble in following it, the apartment being crowded with furniture, and our difficulty was considerably increased by being obliged to keep up with it in a stooping attitude. Part of the journey it performed alone, and
* The word pooja, we are informed, always denotes worship paid to the Supreme Being: it is never used for any inferior homage. If this information is correct, the above story leaves us between the horns of a dilemma. Either the spirits did not understand the meaning of the word, or they offered divine worship to a block of wood.
we were never able to reach it at any time together. Using the leg of the large table as a fulcrum, it directed its claws towards the ottoman,, which it attempted to ascend, by inserting one claw in the side, then turning half-way round to make good another step, and so on. It slipped down at the first attempt, but again quietly resumed its tusk. It was exactly like a child trying to climb up a height. All this time we hardly touched it, being afraid of interfering with its movements, and, above all things, determined not to assist them. At last, by careful and persevering efforts, it accomplished the top of the ottoman, and stood on the summit of the column in the centre, from whence, in a few minutes, it descended to the floor by a similar process.'—p. 155.
The law of gravitation, indeed, is sometimes entirely suspended in favour of tables, though we have not as yet heard that the same immunity has been extended to other articles of upholstery, or to anything not forming part of the furniture of a room. At one time, a long telescopic dining table is 'made light and heavy at command' (p. 67); at another, the phenomenon is still more extraordinary, if genuine, though apparently not very difficult as a conjuror's trick :—
'The table, which was mahogany, and perfectly smooth, was elevated to an angle of thirty degrees, and held there, with everything remaining on it as before It was interesting to see a lead pencil retaining a position of perfect rest, on a polished surface inclined at such an angle. It remained as if glued to the table, and so of everything else on it. The table was repeatedly made to resume its ordinary position, and then again its inclination as before, as if to fasten upon us the conviction that what we saw was no deception of the senses, but a veritable manifestation of spirit-presence and of spiritpower. They were then requested to elevate the table to the same angle as before, and to detach the pencil, retaining everything elso in their stationary positions. This was complied with. The table was elevated, the pencil rolled off, and everything elso remained. They were then asked to repeat the experiment, retaining the pencil and everything else upon tho table stationary, except the glass tumbler, and to let that slide off. This also was assented to, with the like result. All the articles retained their positions but the tumbler, which slid off, and was caught in the hands of one of the party, as it fell from the lower edge of the table.'—pp. 33-4.
On another occasion Mr. Home is thrown into a state of ecstasy, in which he is placed under the guidance of a spirit bearing a strong resemblance to Asmodeus in 'Le Diablo Boiteux':— ,
'For the first time I now looked to see what sustained my body, and I found that it was but a purple-tinted cloud, and that, as I desired to go onward with my guide, the cloud appeared as if disturbed by a gentle breeze, and in its movements I found I was wafted upward nntil I 6aw the earth, as a vision, far, far below us. Soon I found that we had drawn nearer, and were just hovering over a cottage that I bad never seen; and I also saw the inmates, but had never met them in life. The walls of the cottage were not the least obstruction to my sight; they were only as if constructed of a dense body of air, yet perfectly transparent; and the some might be said of every article of furniture. I perceived that the inmates were asleep, and I saw the various spirits who were watching over the sleepers.'—p. 46.
Another spiritual manifestation suggests the ghost of the gentle Katharina, somewhat softened in her temper since the days when in her earthly body she broke the head of the unfortunate Hortensio for telling her 'she mistook her frets':—
'Then the guitar was moved from its placo by the spirits, and brought towards the circle; but, encountering a heavy mahogany chair on the way, the instrument was laid down, and the chair dragged several feet out of the way; after which the guitar was taken up and carried all around the circle by the invisibles, and at length deposited in the opposite corner! In a few moments more the writer saw it poised in the air, top upwards, and nearly over his head! The remark was made, "Well, if I did not see this myself, I wouldn't believe it on other testimony ; "—whereupon the instrument reached forward and playfully tapped the speaker three times upon the shoulder. Then it was passed across tho table (over his head) towards Mr. Home, whom it lightly touched several times upon tho head! Being close to it during this performance, I watched it narrowly by the aid of the fire-light. The bottom end of tho instrument was very near my face, while the opposite end was thus being used; it was not, in fact, six inches above my head, and just in front of me. The indistinct outline of a human hand could be seen grasping the instrument just below its centre.'—p. 59.
The following occurrence admits of two interpretations. The author gives one; we will venture to suggest another :—
'One evening, at the chateau, as wo were seated at the table, tho spirits having requested that the candles should be extinguished,* the table drawn to the window, and the curtains opened to admit the moonlight, there had been some striking manifestations, and the time had been passing almost imperceptibly to us all, when a gentleman who was present said that he felt much exhausted, and he asked for a glass of brandy-and-water. It was brought, and he took it in his hand, and was about raising it to his mouth, when a spirit hand suddenly appeared, took hold of the lower part of the glass, and disappeared with it under the table. We laughingly said that our unseen friends surely did not believe in the use of stimulants. To this they assented by emphatic raps, and at the same moment the glass slowly rose again
• The 'requests' made at these spiritual assemblies are sometimes curious. The author of 'Strange Things among us' mentions 'a teance at a house situated in a London thoroughfare,' which commenced by requesting that 'Sperrits would be good enough to speak up, 'cos of the 'busses.'