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ART. I.-1. Experimental Investigation of the Spirit Manifesta
tions, demonstrating the Existence of Spirits and their Communion with Mortals. By Robert Hare, M.D., Professor of Chemistry
in the University of Pennsylvania New York, 1858. 2. Quarterly Journal of Science. London, July, 1871. 3. The Spiritualist. London, July 15, 1871. 4. Table-Turning. A Lecture by the Rev. R. W. Dibdin, M.A.
London, 1853 5. Robert Houdin, Ambassador, Author, and Conjuror. Written by himself. Paris, 1858.
BELIEF in occasional direct communications between
the disembodied spirits of the dead and the souls of the living, as well as in the possession of 'occult' powers of various kinds, derived from this intercourse with the nether world, by the individuals to whom such communications are vouchsafed, seems to have prevailed, under some form or other, from the earliest historic period. And at the present time it not merely lingers as a superstition among races that have made but slight advance on their primitive rudeness, but is extensively and seriously entertained in the very heart of nations that claim to lead the van of modern civilisation; being professed not only by the ignorant but by the well-instructed, and alike by those who avowedly trust—as to all that relates to the unseen--in Faith rather than in Reason, and by such as glory in their entire freedom from antiquated prejudices of every description.
For a time, indeed, the mental tendencies which lie at the foundation of this belief developed themselves in a different direction. The Witch Mania that had given occasion to frightful persecutions, under the influence of the most bigoted form of Roman Catholicism, in various parts of Continental Europe, and under that of a gloomy and fanatical Calvinism in Scotland and New England, had passed away by the middle of the last century. A more healthy Rationalism was beginning to grow up; the theory of Evidence was beginning to be better understood, Vol. 131.-No. 262.
And the great
and its rules more strictly applied; and sober-minded people had come to be ashamed of the credulity which had subjected so many harmless victims to the most terrible tortures, and had caused the sacrifice of so many innocent lives. The ultraRationalism which, in the form of a sceptical and materialistic philosophy, held almost undisputed sway in France during the latter half of the eighteenth century, and was embraced elsewhere by many who welcomed it as releasing them from the trammels of slavish superstition, tended still further to throw discredit upon the narratives of spiritual visitations which had been previously received with a childlike trust. scientific discoveries in which that epoch was so fruitful made its savans look to an increased acquaintance with Nature, rather than to supernatural agencies, for the explanation of phenomena that seemed beyond the scope of ordinary knowledge. Thus, shortly before the outbreak of the first French Revolution, we had Mesmer and his followers claiming to be the vehicles of a new force, allied to electricity in its potent action on the living body, and derived, not from communication with the spirits of the dead, but from their own intense vitality. The tremendous cataclysm which occurred soon afterwards, and the gigantic struggles which followed it, absorbed the attention of Europe for the next quarter of a century; but so soon as the general peace left the public free to think of other than great political and social questions, Mesmerism cropped up again, and soon underwent a development so remarkable as to gain for it a very decided hold upon the minds not merely of the credulous vulgar, but of men distinguished in various departments of science. In fact, there were few who had witnessed its phenomena who were not inclined to admit that there must be something in it, though there was an entire want of accordance as to what that something' might be ; until the researches of the late Mr. Braid, a surgeon of Manchester, on a form of artificial somnambulism which he found himself able to induce in a large number of subjects by a very simple process, gave a clue to the mystery. Of these researches, and of other enquiries in the same direction
we gave an account in the pages of this Review, exactly eighteen years ago ;* essaying to guide our readers as to what to believe' in regard to Mesmerism, Electro-Biology, Odylism, Table-turning, and (we were almost ashamed to be obliged to add ') Spirit-rapping and Table-talking. We have the satisfaction of knowing that our exposition was regarded as satisfactory, not merely by the highly intelligent class to whom it
* Vol. xciii. p. 501, seqq., October, 1853.
was immediately addressed, but by the ablest of our physiologists and psychologists who had given special attention to the subject. We were not sanguine enough to expect that it would exert the like influence over minds specially predisposed to a belief in ‘occult' agencies; their want of scientific culture preventing them from appreciating the force of scientific reasoning, while their deficiency in practical good sense renders them liable to become the slaves of dominant ideus. Such persons,' we remarked, “are no more to be argued with than are insane patients. They cannot assent to any proposition which they fancy to be in the least inconsistent with their prepossessions; and the evidence of their own feelings is to them the highest attainable truth. It is not to these that we address ourselves :-“Ephraim is joined to idols ; let him alone."
The eighteen years that have elapsed since we penned these words have given them a melancholy significance. Under the designation ‘Spiritualists,' a great and increasing sect has arisen both in the United States and in our own country, which numbers among its members not only a large aggregate that may be considered as representing the average intelligence of our social community, but some of the most cultivated men and women of our time ; whilst distinguished representatives of various departments of science have attested the reality of some of the most extraordinary manifestations of the occult power exerted through the chiefs of the sect, though without committing themselves to any hypothesis as to its source.
The fundamental tenet of the Spiritualists is the old doctrine of communication between the spirits of the departed and the souls of the living; but it now rests not upon vague accounts of ghostly visitations witnessed by a few individuals on rare and solemn occasions—as when a murder was to be discovered, or a hidden treasure revealed,—but upon the familiar converse held with departed relatives and friends by 'circles' sitting round a friendly table. For it was discovered, shortly after the publication of our former article, that the «Table-talking' therein described, instead of being the work of evil spirits (as maintained by the Evangelical clergymen who first investigated it) furnished a means of ready communication with spirits of a more harmless and benignant character, who are always waiting about us for a little cheerful talk, and who, after signifying their presence by causing the table to move round or to tilt over, or by rapping sonorously beneath it, obligingly follow the directions of the individual who leads the conversation, and return according to any system of spiritual telegraphy which he may dictate to them. The following are the directions given to
family parties desiring to profit by this method of satisfying themselves as to the reality of a “spirit world,' and of putting themselves in communication with it :
'1. Let the room be of a comfortable temperature, but cool rather than warm-let arrangements be made that nobody shall enter it, and that there shall be no interruption for one hour during ihe sitting of the circle. Wet, damp, and foggy weather is bad for the production of physical phenomena.
2. Let the circle consist of four, five, or six individuals, about the same number of each sex. Sit round an uncovered wooden table, with all the palms of the hands in contact with its top surface. Whether the hands touch each other or not is usually of no importance. Any table will do, just large enough to conveniently accommodate the sitters. The removal of a hand from the table for a few seconds does no harm, but when one of the sitters breaks the circle by leaving the table it sometimes, but not always, very considerably delays the manifestations.
'3. Before the sitting begins, place some pointed lead-pencils and some sheets of clean writing-paper on the table, to write down any communications that may be obtained.
•4. People who do not like each other should not sit in the same circle, for such a want of harmony tends to prevent manifestations, except with well-developed physical mediums; it is not yet known why. Belief or unbelief has no influence on the manifestations, but an acrid feeling against them is a weakening influence.
5. Before the manifestations begin, it is well to engage in general conversation or in singing, and it is best that neither should be of a frivolous nature. A prayerful, earnest feeling among the members of the circle is likely to attract a higher and more pleasing class of spirits.
6. The first symptom of the invisible power at work is often a feeling like a cool wind sweeping over the hands. The first manifestations will probably be table tiltings or raps.
67. When motions of the table or sounds are produced freely, to avoid confusion, let one person only speak, and talk to the table as to an intelligent being. Let him tell the table that three tilts or raps mean “Yes," one means “No," and two mean “Doubtful,” and ask whether the arrangement is understood. If three signals be given in answer, then say, “If I speak the letters of the alphabet slowly, will you signal every time I come to the letter you want, and spell us out a message ?” Should three signals be given, set to work on the plan proposed, and from this time an intelligent system of communication is established.
* 8. Afterwards the question should be put, “ Are we sitting in the right order to get the best manifestations?” Probably some members of the circle will then be told to change seats with each other, and the signals will be afterwards strengthened. Next ask, “Who is the medium?” When spirits come asserting themselves to be related or
known to anybody present, well-chosen questions should be put to test the accuracy of the statements, as spirits out of the body have all the virtues and all the failings of spirits in the body.
* Possibly at the first sitting of a circle symptoms of other forms of mediumship than tilts or raps may make their appearance.'
It is a very common thing, we are assured, for striking manifestations to be obtained in this way at the first sitting of a family circle,' even when no fully-developed "medium' is present among those who have never obtained manifestations before; but for one successful new circle' thus started without a 'medium,' there are six or seven failures. When once manifestations have been obtained, however, they will gradually increase in power and reliability at successive sittings; and some one of the circle' will probably come to be selected by the spirits as the favoured medium' of their higher communications. The gifts possessed by these 'mediums' are various in their kind. Some, if they only sit and listen for spirit voices, will scarcely ever fail to hear them; and lively conversations then ensue between themselves and their visitors, who are not always, however, such as a well-regulated household would welcome as its guests, being sometimes found out to be evil spirits' full of deceit and all manner of wickedness. Others are made aware of the presence of the spirits of their departed friends by the gentle contact of spiritual hands and the fond kisses of spiritual lips ; though the rougher handlings of unfriendly spirits sometimes take the place of these pleasant
Then there are writing mediums,' who, at the dictation of their spiritual instructors, 'give warnings of a personal and relative character, and inculcate purity of life and prayerfulness of inclination ; the person acted on simply consenting to let the hand be used, but being totally unconscious of what is to be produced.' Sometimes, instead of holding the pencil between their own fingers, the medium'makes use of a little platform running upon castors, which is called a planchette ; the pencil is fixed to the under-side of this platform, and moves over a piece of paper placed beneath, the hands of the medium' being simply laid upon its upper surface, and (as is asserted) communicating to it no motion whatever. Another mode of using the 'planchette' is to attach to its farther side an index, which spells out words by pointing downwards to their component letters in succession, upon an alphabet-card placed under its extremity; this method, however, which was the one first devised, is now generally discarded in favour of the more simple and direct planchette-writing. Others, again, are mediums;' sometimes delineating the portraits of departed rela