Contributions to All the Year Round, by Charles Dickens

The Martyr Medium

“After the valets, the master!” is Mr. Fechter’s rallying cry in the picturesque romantic drama which attracts all London to the Lyceum Theatre. After the worshippers and puffers of Mr. Daniel Dunglas Home, the spirit medium, comes Mr. Daniel Dunglas Home himself, in one volume. And we must, for the honour of Literature, plainly express our great surprise and regret that he comes arm-in-arm with such good company as Messrs. Longman and Company.

We have already summed up Mr. Home’s demands on the public capacity of swallowing, as sounded through the war-denouncing trumpet of Mr. Howitt, and it is not our intention to revive the strain as performed by Mr. Home on his own melodious instrument. We notice, by the way, that in that part of the Fantasia where the hand of the first Napoleon is supposed to be reproduced, recognised, and kissed, at the Tuileries, Mr. Home subdues the florid effects one might have expected after Mr. Howitt’s execution, and brays in an extremely general manner. And yet we observe Mr. Home to be in other things very reliant on Mr. Howitt, of whom he entertains as gratifying an opinion as Mr. Howitt entertains of him: dwelling on his “deep researches into this subject”, and of his “great work now ready for the press”, and of his “eloquent and forcible” advocacy, and eke of his “elaborate and almost exhaustive work”, which Mr. Home trusts will be “extensively read”. But, indeed, it would seem to be the most reliable characteristic of the Dear Spirits, though very capricious in other particulars, that they always form their circles into what may be described, in worldly terms, as A Mutual Admiration and Complimentation Company (Limited).

Mr. Home’s book is entitled Incidents in My Life. We will extract a dozen sample passages from it, as variations on and phrases of harmony in, the general strain for the Trumpet, which we have promised not to repeat.

1. MR. HOME IS SUPERNATURALLY NURSED

“I cannot remember when first I became subject to the curious phenomena which have now for so long attended me, but my aunt and others have told me that when I was a baby my cradle was frequently rocked, as if some kind guardian spirit was attending me in my slumbers.”

2. DISRESPECTFUL CONDUCT OF MR. HOME’S AUNT NEVERTHELESS

“In her uncontrollable anger she seized a chair and threw it at me.”

3. PUNISHMENT OF MR. HOME’S AUNT

“Upon one occasion as the table was being thus moved about of itself, my aunt brought the family Bible, and placing it on the table, said, ‘There, that will soon drive the devils away’; but to her astonishment the table only moved in a more lively manner, as if pleased to bear such a burden.” (We believe this is constantly observed in pulpits and church reading desks, which are invariably lively.) “Seeing this she was greatly incensed, and determined to stop it, she angrily placed her whole weight on the table, and was actually lifted up with it bodily from the floor.”

4. TRIUMPHANT EFFECT OF THIS DISCIPLINE ON MR. HOME’S AUNT

“And she felt it a duty that I should leave her house, and which I did.”

5. MR. HOME’S MISSION

It was communicated to him by the spirit of his mother, in the following terms: “Daniel, fear not, my child, God is with you, and who shall be against you? Seek to do good: be truthful and truth-loving, and you will prosper, my child. Yours is a glorious mission — you will convince the infidel, cure the sick, and console the weeping.” It is a coincidence that another eminent man, with several missions, heard a voice from the Heavens blessing him, when he also was a youth, and saying, “You will be rewarded, my son, in time”. This Medium was the celebrated Baron Munchausen, who relates the experience in the opening of the second chapter of the incidents in HIS life.

6. MODEST SUCCESS OF MR. HOME’S MISSION

“Certainly these phenomena, whether from God or from the devil, have in ten years caused more converts to the great truths of immortality and angel communion, with all that flows from these great facts, than all the sects in Christendom have made during the same period.”

7. WHAT THE FIRST COMPOSERS SAY OF THE SPIRIT-MUSIC, TO MR. HOME

“As to the music, it has been my good fortune to be on intimate terms with some of the first composers of the day, and more than one of them have said of such as they have heard, that it is such music as only angels could make, and no man could write it.”

These “first composers” are not more particularly named. We shall therefore be happy to receive and file at the office of this Journal, the testimonials in the foregoing terms of Dr. Sterndale Bennett, Mr. Balfe, Mr. Macfarren, Mr. Benedict, Mr. Vincent Wallace, Signor Costa, M. Auber, M. Gounod, Signor Rossini, and Signor Verdi. We shall also feel obliged to Mr. Alfred Mellon, who is no doubt constantly studying this wonderful music, under the Medium’s auspices, if he will note on paper, from memory, say a single sheet of the same. Signor Giulio Regondi will then perform it, as correctly as a mere mortal can, on the Accordion, at the next ensuing concert of the Philharmonic Society; on which occasion the before-mentioned testimonials will be conspicuously displayed in the front of the orchestra.

8. MR. HOME’S MIRACULOUS INFANT

“On the 26th April, old style, or 8th May, according to our style, at seven in the evening, and as the snow was fast falling, our little boy was born at the town house, situate on the Gagarines Quay, in St. Petersburg, where we were still staying. A few hours after his birth, his mother, the nurse, and I heard for several hours the warbling of a bird as if singing over him. Also that night, and for two or three nights afterwards, a bright starlike light, which was clearly visible from the partial darkness of the room, in which there was only a night-lamp burning, appeared several times directly I over its head, where it remained for some moments, and then slowly moved in the direction of the door, where it disappeared. This was also seen by each of us at the same time. The light was more condensed than those which have been so often seen in my presence upon previous and subsequent occasions. It was brighter and more distinctly globular. I do not believe that it came through my mediumship, but rather through that of the child, who has manifested on several occasions the presence of the gift. I do not like to allude to such a matter, but as there are more strange things in Heaven and earth than are dreamt of, even in my philosophy, I do not feel myself at liberty to omit stating, that during the latter part of my wife’s pregnancy, we thought it better that she should not join in Seances, because it was found that whenever the rappings occurred in the room, a simultaneous movement of the child was distinctly felt, perfectly in unison with the sounds. When there were three sounds, three movements were felt, and so on, and when five sounds were heard, which is generally the call for the alphabet, she felt the five internal movements, and she would frequently, when we were mistaken in the latter, correct us from what the child indicated.”

We should ask pardon of our readers for sullying our paper with this nauseous matter, if without it they could adequately understand what Mr. Home’s book is.

9. CAGLIOSTRO’S SPIRIT CALLS ON MR. HOME

Prudently avoiding the disagreeable question of his giving himself, both in this state of existence and in his spiritual circle, a name to which he never had any pretensions whatever, and likewise prudently suppressing any reference to his amiable weakness as a swindler and an infamous trafficker in his own wife, the guileless Mr. Balsamo delivered, in a “distinct voice”, this distinct celestial utterance — unquestionably punctuated in a supernatural manner: “My power was that of a mesmerist, but all-misunderstood by those about me, my biographers have even done me injustice, but I care not for the untruths of earth”.

10. ORACULAR STATE OF MR. HOME

“After various manifestations, Mr. Home went into the trance, and addressing a person present, said, ‘You ask what good are such trivial manifestations, such as rapping, table-moving, etc.? God is a better judge than we are what is fitted for humanity, immense results may spring from trivial things. The steam from a kettle is a small thing, but look at the locomotive! The electric spark from the back of a cat is a small thing, but see the wonders of electricity! The raps are small things, but their results will lead you to the Spirit-World, and to eternity! Why should great results spring from such small causes? Christ was born in a manger, he was not born a King. When you tell me why he was born in a manger, I will tell you why these manifestations, so trivial, so undignified as they appear to you, have been appointed to convince the world of the truth of spiritualism.’”

Wonderful! Clearly direct Inspiration! — And yet, perhaps, hardly worth the trouble of going “into the trance” for, either. Amazing as the revelation is, we seem to have heard something like it from more than one personage who was wide awake. A quack doctor, in an open barouche (attended by a barrel-organ and two footmen in brass helmets), delivered just such another address within our hearing, outside a gate of Paris, not two months ago.

11. THE TESTIMONY OF MR. HOME’S BOOTS

“The lady of the house turned to me and said abruptly, ‘Why, you are sitting in the air’; and on looking, we found that the chair remained in its place, but that I was elevated two or three inches above it, and my feet not touching the floor. This may show how utterly unconscious I am at times to the sensation of levitation. As is usual, when I had not got above the level of the heads of those about me, and when they change their position much — as they frequently do in looking wistfully at such a phenomenon — I came down again, but not till I had remained so raised about half a minute from the time of its being first seen. I was now impressed to leave the table, and was soon carried to the lofty ceiling. The Count de B— left his place at the table, and coming under where I was, said, ‘Now, young Home, come and let me touch your feet.’ I told him I had no volition in the matter, but perhaps the spirits would kindly allow me to come down to him. They did so, by floating me down to him, and my feet were soon in his outstretched hands. He seized my boots, and now I was again elevated, he holding tightly, and pulling at my feet, till the boots I wore, which had elastic sides, came off and remained in his hands.”

12. THE UNCOMBATIVE NATURE OF MR. HOME

As there is a maudlin complaint in this book, about men of Science being hard upon “the ‘Orphan’ Home”, and as the “gentle and uncombative nature” of this Medium in a martyred point of view is pathetically commented on by the anonymous literary friend who supplies him with an introduction and appendix — rather at odds with Mr. Howitt, who is so mightily triumphant about the same Martyr’s reception by crowned heads, and about the competence he has become endowed with — we cull from Mr. Home’s book one or two little illustrative flowers. Sir David Brewster (a pestilent unbeliever) “has come before the public in few matters which have brought more shame upon him than his conduct and assertions on this occasion, in which he manifested not only a disregard for truth, but also a disloyalty to scientific observation, and to the use of his own eyesight and natural faculties”. The same unhappy Sir David Brewster’s “character may be the better known, not only for his untruthful dealing with this subject, but also in his own domain of science in which the same unfaithfulness to truth will be seen to be the characteristic of his mind”. Again, he “is really not a man over whom victory is any honour”. Again, “not only he, but Professor Faraday have had time and ample leisure to regret that they should have so foolishly pledged themselves”, etc. A Faraday a fool in the sight of a Home! That unjust judge and whited wall, Lord Brougham, has his share of this Martyr Medium’s uncombativeness. “In order that he might not be compelled to deny Sir David’s statements, he found it necessary that he should be silent, and I have some reason to complain that his Lordship preferred sacrificing me to his desire not to immolate his friend.” M. Arago also came off with very doubtful honours from a wrestle with the uncombative Martyr; who is perfectly clear (and so are we, let us add) that scientific men are not the men for his purpose. Of course, he is the butt of “utter and acknowledged ignorance”, and of “the most gross and foolish statements”, and of “the unjust and dishonest”, and of “the press-gang”, and of crowds of other alien and combative adjectives, participles, and substantives.

Nothing is without its use, and even this odious book may do some service. Not because it coolly claims for the writer and his disciples such powers as were wielded by the Saviour and the Apostles; not because it sees no difference between twelve table rappers in these days, and “twelve fishermen” in those; not because it appeals for precedents to statements extracted from the most ignorant and wretched of mankind, by cruel torture, and constantly withdrawn when the torture was withdrawn; not because it sets forth such a strange confusion of ideas as is presented by one of the faithful when, writing of a certain sprig of geranium handed by an invisible hand, he adds in ecstasies, “WHICH WE HAVE PLANTED AND IT IS GROWING, SO THAT IT IS NO DELUSION, NO FAIRY MONEY TURNED INTO DROSS OR LEAVES”— as if it followed that the conjuror’s half-crowns really did become invisible and in that state fly, because he afterwards cuts them out of a real orange; or as if the conjuror’s pigeon, being after the discharge of his gun, a real live pigeon fluttering on the target, must therefore conclusively be a pigeon, fired, whole, living and unshattered, out of the gun! — not because of the exposure of any of these weaknesses, or a thousand such, are these moving incidents in the life of the Martyr Medium, and similar productions, likely to prove useful, but because of their uniform abuse of those who go to test the reality of these alleged phenomena, and who come away incredulous. There is an old homely proverb concerning pitch and its adhesive character, which we hope this significant circumstance may impress on many minds. The writer of these lines has lately heard overmuch touching young men of promise in the imaginative arts, “towards whom” Martyr Mediums assisting at evening parties feel themselves “drawn”. It may be a hint to such young men to stick to their own drawing, as being of a much better kind, and to leave Martyr Mediums alone in their glory.

As there is a good deal in these books about “lying spirits”, we will conclude by putting a hypothetical case. Supposing that a Medium (Martyr or otherwise) were established for a time in the house of an English gentleman abroad; say, somewhere in Italy. Supposing that the more marvellous the Medium became, the more suspicious of him the lady of the house became. Supposing that the lady, her distrust once aroused, were particularly struck by the Medium’s exhibiting a persistent desire to commit her, somehow or other, to the disclosure of the manner of the death, to him unknown, of a certain person. Supposing that she at length resolved to test the Medium on this head, and, therefore, on a certain evening mentioned a wholly supposititious manner of death (which was not the real manner of death, nor anything at all like it) within the range of his listening ears. And supposing that a spirit presently afterwards rapped out its presence, claiming to be the spirit of that deceased person, and claiming to have departed this life in that supposititious way. Would that be a lying spirit? Or would it he a something else, tainting all that Medium’s statements and suppressions, even if they were not in themselves of a manifestly outrageous character?

http://ebooks.adelaide.edu.au/d/dickens/charles/d54ca/chapter8.html

Last updated Friday, March 7, 2014 at 15:30