017: There Is No Death, by Florence Marryat: On Scepticism
There are two classes of people who have done more harm to the cause of Spiritualism than the testimony of all the scientists has done good, and those are the enthusiasts and the sceptics. The first believe everything they see or ear. Without giving themselves the trouble to obtain proofs of the genuineness of the manifestations, they rush impetuously from one acquaintance to the other, detailing their experience with so much exaggeration and such unbounded faith, that they make the absurdity of it patent to all. They are generally people of low intellect, credulous dispositions, and weak nerves. They bow down before the influences as if they were so many little gods descended from heaven, instead of being, as in the majority of instances, spirits a shade less holy than our own, who, for their very shortcomings, are unable to rise above the atmosphere that surrounds this gross and material world.
These are the sort of spiritualists whom Punch and other comic papers have very justly ridiculed. Who does not remember the picture of the afflicted widow, for whom the medium has just called up the departed Jones?
“Jones,” she falters, “are you happy?”
“Much happier than I was down here,” growls Jones.
“O! Then you must be in heaven!”
“On the contrary, quite the reverse,” is the reply.
Who also has not sat a seance where such people have not made themselves so ridiculous as to bring the cause they profess to adore into contempt and ignominy. Yet to allow the words and deeds of fools to affect one’s inward and private conviction of a matter would be tantamount to giving up the pursuit of everything in which one’s fellow creatures can take a part.
The second class to which I alluded – the sceptics – have not done so much injury to Spiritualism as the enthusiasts, because they are as a rule, so intensely bigoted, hardheaded and narrow-minded, that they overdo their protestations, and render them harmless. The sceptic refuses to believe anything, because he has found out one thing to be a fraud. If one medium deceives, all the mediums must deceive. If one seance is a failure, none can be successful. If he gains no satisfactory test of the presence of the spirits of the departed, no one has ever gained such a test. Now, such reason is neither just nor logical.
Again, a sceptic fully expects his testimony to be accepted and believed, yet he will never believe any truth on the testimony of another person. And if he is told that, given certain conditions, he can see this or hear the other, he says: “No! I will see it and hear it without any conditions, or else I will proclaim it all a fraud.”
In like manner, we might say to a savage, on showing him a watch: “If you will keep your eye on those hands, you will see them move round to tell the hours and minutes.” – And he should reply: “I must put the watch into boiling water – those are my conditions – and if it won't go then, I will not believe it can go at all.”
I don't mind a man being a sceptic in Spiritualism. I don't see how he can help (considering the belief in which we are reared) being a sceptic, until he has proved so strange a matter for himself. But I do object to a man or a woman taking part in a séance with the sole intention of detecting deceit, not when it has happened, but before it has happened – of bringing an argumentative, disputatious mind, full of the idea that it is going to be tricked and humbugged into (perhaps) a private circle who are sitting (like Rosa Dartle) “simply for information”, and scattering all the harmony and good-will about him broadcast.
He couldn't do it to a human assembly without breaking up the party. Why should he expect to be more kindly welcomed by a spiritual one? I have seen an immense deal of courtesy shown under such circumstances to men whom I should have liked to see kicked downstairs.
I have seen them enter a lady's private drawing-room, by invitation, to witness manifestations which were never, under any circumstances, made a means of gain, and have heard them argue, and doubt, and contradict, until they have given their hostess and her friends the lie to their faces. And the world in general would be quite ready to side with these (so-called) gentlemen, not because their word or their wisdom was better worth than that of their fellow guests, but because they protested against the truth of a thing which it had made up its mind to be impossible.
I don't mind a sceptic myself, as I said before, but he must be unbiassed, which few sceptics are. As a rule, they have decided the question at issue for themselves before they commence to investigate it. I find that few people outside the pale of Spiritualism have heard of the Dialectical Society, which was a scientific society assembled a few years ago for the sole purpose of enquiring into the truth of the matter. It was composed of forty members – ten lawyers, ten scientists, ten clergymen, and ten chemists (I think that was the arrangement), and they held forty seances, and the published report at the close of them was, that not one of these men of learning and repute could find any natural cause for the wonders he had witnessed.
I know that there are a thousand obstacles in the way of belief. The extraordinarily contradictory manner in which Protestants are brought up, to believe in one and the same breath that spirits were common visitants to earth at the periods of which the Bible treats, but that it is impossible they can return to it now, although the Lord is the same yesterday, to-day, and for ever.
The conditions of darkness for the creation of materialized spirits, and the resemblance they sometimes bear to the medium, are two fearful stumbling-blocks. Yet one must know that all things are created in the dark, and that even a seed cannot sprout if you let the light in upon it, while as for the resemblance between the spirit and the medium, from whom it takes the material being that enables it to appear, if investigators would only persevere with their enquiries, they would find, as I have, that that is a disappointment which has its remedy in Time. When people call on me to explain such things, I can only say that I know no more how they come than they do, or that I know how I came, a living, sentient creature, into the world.
Besides (as I have said before), I write these pages to tell only what I have seen, and not to argue how it came to pass that I saw it.
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