« VorigeDoorgaan »
though, from what the author says, many years had probably elapsed. During this time the wonder, as it came from the lips of the original speaker, had ample time to develop still further in the mind of the narrator. What limit can we set to its possible growth, first in one mind and then in another? I cannot but feel that the more experience the reader has had in observing this form of growth, the less he will be inclined to set any limit to it.
Considering the natural processes of adaptation and exaggeration, from which no mind is so well disciplined as to be absolutely free, we conclude that the annual number of seeming but groundless telepathic phenomena in Great Britain alone is probably to be counted by thousands. The volumes of Phantasms of the Living might be continued annually without end, could all the cases be discovered. The few hundred cases published are actually fewer than what we should expect as the result of known conditions. There is therefore no proof of telepathy in any of the wonders narrated in these volumes, and in the publications of the Psychical Society.
We have considered the evidence for the various forms of telepathy with some fullness because the theory is, in form at least, a scientific one, and the evidence admits of being treated by the established methods of logical inference. But telepathy is only the beginning of the wonders collected by modern inquirers into the occult, who find so many phenomena unexplainable, even by this agency, that they regard the latter as only a first step in the science they are trying to construct. Our conclusion from all these supposed phenomena are so much matters of individual judgment, not admitting of being readily reduced to first principles, that they must be disposed of quite briefly. The belief in specially gifted persons-doers of miracles and practitioners of witchcraft-was once almost universal. Our modern students of occultism have revived what seems very like these discarded beliefs, though the word 'witchcraft' is no longer used to express the abnormal powers in question. These powers are not merely those possessed by men in general and heightened in degree, like the faculty of the lightning calculator or the muscular dexterity of the acrobat ; but they are powers of which men in general are absolutely devoid. Examples of them are 'levitation,' clairvoyance, ability to make one's self seen in distant places, to move objects without touching them, to put one's head into the fire or walk over burning coals without injury, and as many others as ingenuity can suggest. Men are still living who testify to having seen a medium rise in the air, and waft himself around a room, or disappear through a window.
Now, if we admit the existence of gifted individuals having such
abnormal powers as these, why not equally admit the existence of men having the faculty of seeing, or thinking they remember having seen, the non-existent? The latter certainly seems much easier to suppose than does the former. It is a familiar fact of physiological optics that, in a faint light, if the eyes are fixed upon an object, the latter gradually becomes clouded and finally disappears entirely. Then it requires only a little heightening of a not unusual imagination to believe that, if the object that disappeared was a man, he wafted himself through the air and went out of the window. What are
we to say of the performances of mediums, tiers and untiers of hands, table-rappers, slate-writers, cabinet-workers, materialisers, and the whole class of performers to which they belong ? May we not adduce the general principle that similar phenomena are to be attributed to similar causes? These performances are quite similar to those of legerdemain, which we may witness for a few shillings in broad daylight at any exhibition of the juggler's art. The principal point of difference is that they are less wonderful and, being generally seen in a faint light, give much greater opportunity for trickery than do those of the professional operators on the stage. Is it logical to attribute them to occult causes when we regard the professional performers as mere mystifiers? This question seems to the writer to answer itself.
I have not considered the supernatural knowledge supposed to be possessed by the 'trance-medium,' because the data for reaching any conclusion on the subject are too vague to admit of precise statements. The careful examination of Mrs. Piper made by the Psychical Society several years ago is unique in that the proceedings were reported stenographically. A few of her expressions did seem to show supernatural knowledge of, or impression by, facts with which she could not have been acquainted by any natural process. But the relation was wanting in that definiteness on which alone a positive conclusion could be based. The balancing of the probabilities on the two sides can well be made by everyone for himself.
In reaching a general conclusion upon all the evidence for the occult I would lay special stress on a feature already mentioned in narrating my personal experience. Almost all the narratives I have seen or heard relate to experiences of years previous, and scarcely ever to the present, so that the wonder had plenty of time to grow in the memory. The latest work on occultism with which I am acquainted is that of Mr. Willson, already cited. Turning over its leaves I fail to find any occurrence, in England at least, of later date than 1896, twelve years before publication. There are a few dubious-looking reports from other countries of a little later date than this, but nothing of the present time. Except the trance-mediums and fortunetellers, who still ply their trade, and an occasional materialiser,' the
writer has heard nothing of mediumistic performances for ten or even twenty years. Why do
Peor and Baalim
Forsake their temples dim ?
in the memory, like an oak from an acorn ? The writer fails to see how a sane review of the whole subject can lead to any other conclusion than that occultism has no other basis than imperfect knowledge of the conditions, or how a wide survey of the field can leave any room for mystery.
We live in a world where in every country there are millions of people subject to illusions too numerous to be even classified. They arise from dreams, visions, errors of memory which can rarely be detected, and mistakes to which all men are liable. It is unavoidable that when any of these illusory phenomena are associated with a moving event at a distance, there will be an apparent coincidence which will seem more wonderful every time it is recalled in memory. There is no limit to devices by which ingenuity may make us see what is unreal. Every country has ingenious men by the thousand, and if a willingness to deceive overtly characterises only a small fraction of them, that fraction may form so large a number of individuals, always ready to mystify the looker-on, that the result will be unnumbered phenomena apparently proving the various theories associated with occultism and spiritualism. Nothing has been brought out by the researches of the Psychical Society and its able collaborators except what we should expect to find in the ordinary course of nature. The seeming wonders—and they are plentiful—are at best of the same class as the wonder when a dozen drawers of the black grain of corn out of a million are presented to us. We are asked to admit an attraction between their hands and the black grain. The proof is conclusive enough until we remember that this dozen is only a selection out of millions, the rest of whom have not drawn the black grain. The records do not tell us, and never can tell us, about the uncounted . millions of people who have forgotten that they ever had a vision or any illusion, or who, having such, did not find it associated with any notable occurrence. Count them all in, and nothing is left on which to base any theory of occultism.
THE CENTENARY OF EDGAR ALLAN POE
(BORN JANUARY 19, 1809)
It came as a shock to the present writer recently to read in an American newspaper that the town of Richmond, Virginia, U.S.A., where Edgar Allan Poe lived for many years, objects to honour the memory of that great writer by the erection of a statue on the occasion of the centenary of his birth, not from any lack of faith in the artistic powers of the sculptors of their country, nor from any dislike of that particular form of commemoration; not even from an incapacity to appreciate the genius of the man—which would at least be an excuse for its want of common sense at the expense of its literary judgment—but on account of his private life! This, in the case of a man who has been dead sixty years, is surely unique. It is true that in this country Byron's name was held in abhorrence for a period nearly, if not quite, as long; but, then, the feeling was kept alive by the tone of some of his works. Poe, however, never wrote a line against which the most austere moralist could protest; and, if the authenticity of the statement concerning the attitude of Richmond was not beyond question, it would surely be deemed inconceivable that any sane man could oppose the bestowal of posthumous honour to a man who in life was gladdened by all too few tributes, yet whose work shares with that of Hawthorne the supreme honours of American literature.
The feeling against Poe in his lifetime was very strong among second-rate men of letters; but this was not the result of any disgust excited by his character or his failings : it was brought about by his terrible onslaughts upon contemporary authors of mediocre talent, which, though written in all honesty and without malice, were not for those reasons easily to be condoned by the authors whose works fell under the lash of this caustic critic. The vigour of his language was certainly excessive, as witness this excerpt from his review of Lever's Charles O'Malley :
But why speak of vulgarisms of language? There is a disgusting vulgarism of thought which pervades and contaminates this whole production, and from which a delicate or lofty mind will shrink as from a pestilence. Not the least repulsive manifestation of this leprosy is to be found in the author's blind and grovelling worship of mere rank.
Lever must have been astonished that it should have been thought worth while to break on the wheel such a butterfly-writer as he held himself to be. Being human, the Irishman must have felt sore, and have chafed at the savagery with which his amusing book was treated; but, being what he was, the most kindly of men and the most diffident of novelists, he assuredly bore no malice; he might, perhaps, have cherished the hope, humbly entertained, that time would vindicate him, as, indeed, it has done. Unfortunately for Poe's reputation after death, it was not only such men as Lever he attacked, but the small fry of American book-makers.
We hesitate not to say that no man in America has been more shamefully over-estimated. We say shamefully, for ... the laudation in this instance, as it stands upon record, must be regarded as a laughable although bitter satire upon the general zeal, accuracy, and independence of that critical spirit which, but a few years ago, pervaded and degraded the land
he wrote of Rufus Dawes ; and he fell foul of Griswold's Poets and Poetry of America, published in 1842.
Whatever Griswold's feelings were about Poe's scathing review of his work, he contrived to appear the friend of his critic, with such success that Poe, just before he left his home in Fordham for the last time, on the 29th of June 1849, under an impression that he might never return, wrote to request Griswold to act as his literary executor and superintend the publication of his works. Poe died on the 7th of October, and Griswold, seeing his opportunity-a live dog, in his opinion, being better than a dead lion-hastened to have his revenge for the offence seven years earlier. On the very day of Poe's burial, a bitter attack on his life and character appeared in the New York Tribune over the signature of “ Ludwig '— Ludwig,' it was subsequently proved by N. P. Willis, being no other than Rufus Griswold. In the following year, as a preface to the third volume of an edition of Poe's works, appeared the literary executor's memoir& tissue of lies and deliberate misrepresentations that have made the name Griswold infamous for all time. 'Are there, then, no regulations in America to keep the curs out of cemeteries ? ' Charles Baudelaire cried, in a fine frenzy of anger at the defamation of his literary hero. But though to-day Griswold has been exposed and stands pilloried before the world, his memoir, it is sad to relate, was at the time and for many years after generally accepted as authoritative. In vain were protests made in newspapers and magazines by those who were acquainted with Poe, in vain did Beaudelaire, James Hannay, and Moy Thomas decline to accept the estimate of this Judas; it was not until 1874 that public opinion began to veer, convinced at last by the statements of Mr. John H. Ingram, who, six years later, expanded his ‘Introduction' to Black's edition of Poe's works into a formal biography. Then, and then only, did Poe