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telepathy from the sitter seems to be rendered unlikely, or at least an incomplete explanation, by the fact that in some cases the knowledge shown went beyond the knowledge of the sitters, as when communications came from two of Mr. B. Coleman's aunts, who had died before he was born.1 Confirmatory testimony of another kind was supplied by Lord Lindsay, who, sleeping on a sofa in Home's room-having missed his train -saw standing near Home's bed a female figure which faded away as he watched it, afterwards recognising it, when looking at some photographs, as Home's deceased wife. A similar shadowy figure was seen on another occasion by Lord Adare and two others.
Home's more purely physical phenomena were carefully studied in 1870 and onward by Mr. (afterwards Sir William) Crookes, who testified to the operation of some agency unknown to science. An accordion, placed under the table and untouched by the medium, played tunes, and could manage a few notes, though no tune, when it was held by Mr. Crookes himself. A lath of wood on the table, three feet from Home, rose ten inches and floated about in the air for more than a minute, moving gently up and down as if it were on rippling water, the medium's hands, meanwhile, being held by Mrs. Walter Crookes and Mrs. William Crookes. A pencil on the table stood up on its point and tried to write, but fell down; the lath then slid across to it and buttressed the pencil while it tried again. Tables slid about, untouched. Luminous clouds were seen, and materialised hands, which carried flowers about. And Home himself was lifted into the air, thus paralleling the levitations of many saints." All this in a fair light, usually one gas burner. The most famous of the levitations, however, occurred in 1868, at 5, Buckingham Gate, London, in the presence of Lords Lindsay and Adare and Captain Wynne. Home floated, or appeared to float, out of one window and in at another. The windows were seven feet six inches apart, eighty-five feet from the ground, and there was no ledge or foothold between them. But the accounts do not quite tally, and are not detailed enough; so this incident must be dismissed as insufficiently evidenced. But it is difficult to believe that the whole of Home's phenomena were due to fraud or hallucination. As we so often have to say, certainty concerning matters of history, which are vouched for only by a few people, most or all of whom are now dead, is not attainable, and when the alleged events are of a kind to which our own experience supplies no parallel, it is easiest to suppose that the things were done fraudulently somehow. But we must admit that this conclusion is due to prejudice, for in any other matter we should unhesitatingly accept as final the word of so distinguished a man of science as Sir William Crookes, especially when supported by such a mass of other testimony
*Myers's "Human Personality," ii., pp. 581-2.
On the other hand, there was certainly a great deal of extreme credulity and even perilous obsession in those early days. The faculty of automatic drawing and writing became widely cultivated, even by such people as Mr. and Mrs. William Howitt, and great claims were made of the agency of the angel Gabriel and the like. The doctrine of the subliminal self was still below the horizon, and it is not surprising that the phenomena were accepted by many at their face value. Indeed, no other explanation seemed possible, for it could not be doubted that the movement of the automatist's hand was involuntary. The thing became too common, among people of unimpeachable integrity, to admit of wholesale imputations of fraud. Accordingly "spirit-drawings" abounded, with curious mystical explanations of their symbology; also writings, and to a less extent visions, purporting to give descriptions of the next world, some few of them evidential, but most of them unverifiable.
1 “Proceedings,” S.P.R., vi., pp. 90-127. "Researches in the Phenomena of Spiritualism," p. 93. This latter is out of print; it is to be hoped it may appear in Sir William's collected works.
For further evidential detail see the Report of the Dialectical Society, and Home's "Incidents of My Life"-many of them vouched for by people of standing—which received a three-column review in the Times of April 9, 1863.
These early happenings and interpretations, though sometimes seeming to us now absurd and mistaken, nevertheless directed thought towards truth in rather unexpected ways. For example, Keighley, in Yorkshire, had for some time in the eighteen-fifties been notable for the activities of a group of Secularists, and it was among these vigorous-minded freethinkers that Spiritualism secured its first adherents in that part of the country, thus bringing them back to religion. They started the first spiritualist paper in England, the Yorkshire Spiritual Telegraph (April, 1855), and for some time Keighley was the chief provincial centre of the movement. The records of these pioneers' experiences in circles may seem crude, and "Bacon," "Shelley,' “Luther," etc., were accepted too easily, along with the angel Gabriel; but there was probably a nearer approach to truth in the excesses of their belief than in the excesses of their previous unbelief. When released from the small horizons of materialism the imagination is apt to run loose a little in an unwonted freedom, until the critical faculty reasserts itself.
During the next few years many "mediums" arose, some coming from America. It is not now possible to disentangle true from false, but it seems fairly certain that false some of them were. The Davenport Brothers caused much mystification in London by their physical phenomena; but in Liverpool the tying in the rope trick was too efficient, and a riot followed the abortive performance. The same thing happened in Leeds and Huddersfield, and the Davenports' career in England came to a sudden and inglorious end. Even the Spiritual Magazine admitted that trickery was occasionally used by genuine mediums when the occult power was lacking, and this had been amply verified since, some of the smaller physical phenomena being produced along the line of least resistance, perhaps unconsciously, if conditions are not stringent, as in the case of Eusapia Palladino. But such elaborate performances as those of the Davenports hardly admit of this mixed hypothesis. Sleight-of-hand, pure and simple, seems an adequate explanation. Moreover, beginning when they were fourteen and fifteen, the brothers had plenty of practice before coming to England ten years later.1
1“A Biography of the Brothers Davenport,” by Dr. T. L. Nichols (London, 1864), describes their phenomena in a humorous and unfanatical yet very sympathetic manner, but Dr. Nichols's own experience was slight. He quotes accounts of other people's sittings, and
The existence of occasional counterfeits, however, does not negate, but rather confirms, the existence of the real thing which they copy, and it is undeniable that there were many private mediums who cannot hastily be supposed to have been deliberately fraudulent. Mrs. Everitt was one of the best known of these, her mediumship beginning in the early eighteen-sixties and extending over a long period. Her phenomena were largely raps and the direct voice—i.e. voices produced in the dark and apparently not issuing from the medium's larynx. The present writer knows several competent people who sat with Mrs. Everitt, and who were completely convinced of the genuineness of the manifestations. Another lady, who became similarly famous, was Miss Nichol (afterwards Mrs. Guppy), whose phenomena Dr. A. Russel Wallace investigated." The medium was lifted on the table, flowers and ferns damp with dew were brought into the room by supernormal means, spirits sent messages of various kinds, and so forth. These people were in comfortable circumstances and made no charge; the Everitts kept open house, and would have been better off without the mediumship; Miss Nichol would have been a serious loser by the cost of the flowers alone. We cannot reasonably, therefore, assume ordinary fraud, unless we also assume a sort of lunacy, for which there is no relies even on the brothers' own statements as to their early history in America. It is noteworthy, however, that the alleged phenomena, raps, levitation, appearance of hands from the cabinet, etc., are very like those later established as occurring in the presence of Home and Eusapia, and there may have been some genuine happenings. But in view of performances like Houdini's, mere tying-in a dark sitting, too-can never eliminate the possibility of sleight of hand.
S“Miracles and Modern Spiritualism," pp. 132-7 (second edition).