018 - There Is No Death, by Florence Marryat: A Small Experiment in Spiritualism


I have a little story to tell here which powerfully illustrates the foregoing remarks. The lines

A woman convinced against her will
is of the same opinion still

might have been penned with as much truth of sceptics.

Men who are sceptical, i.e., so thoroughly wrapt up in conceit of their powers of judgment and determination that it becomes impossible for them to believe themselves mistaken, will deny the evidence of all their senses sooner than confess they may be in the wrong. Such man may be a clever scientist or a shrewd man of business, but he can never be a genius. For genius is invariably humble of its own powers, and, therefore, open to conviction. But the lesser minds, who are only equal to grasping such details as may have been drummed into them by sheer force of study, appear to have no capability of stretching beyond a certain limit. They are hedged in and cramped by the opinions in which they have been reared, or that they have built up for themselves out of the petty material their brain affords them, and have lost their powers of elasticity.

"Thus far shalt thou go and no further," seems to be the fiat pronounced on too many men’s reasoning faculties. Instead of believing the power of God and the resources of nature to be illimitable, they want to keep them within the little circle that encompasses their own brains.

“I can't see it, and therefore it cannot be.” There was a time when I used to take the trouble to try and convince such men, but I have long ceased to do so. It is quite indifferent to me what they believe or don't believe. And with such minds, even if they were convinced of its possibility, they would probably make no good use of spiritual intercourse. For there is no doubt it can be turned to evil uses as well as to good.

Some years ago I was on friendly terms with a man of this sort. He was a doctor, accounted clever in his profession, and I knew him to be an able arguist, and thought he had common sense enough not to eat his own words, but the sequel proved that I was mistaken. We had several conversations together on Spiritualism, and as Dr. H. was a complete disbeliever in the existence of a God and a future life, I was naturally not surprised to find that he did not place any credence in the account I gave him of my spiritualistic experiences. Many medical men attribute such experiences entirely to a diseased condition of mind or body.

But when I asked Dr. H. what he should think if he saw them with his own eyes, I confess I was startled to hear him answer that he should say his eyes deceived him.

“But if you heard them speak?” I continued.

“I should disbelieve my ears.”

“And if you touched and handled them?”

“I should mistrust my sense of feeling.”

“Then by what means,” I argued, “do you know that I am Florence Marryat? You can only see me and hear me and touch me! What is there to prevent your senses misleading you at the present moment?”

But to this argument Dr. H. only returned a pitying smile, professing to think me, on this point at least, too feeble-minded to be worthy of reply, but in reality not knowing what on earth to say. He often, however, recurred to the subject of Spiritualism, and on several occasions told me that if I could procure him the opportunity of submitting a test which he might himself suggest, he should be very much obliged to me.

It was about this time that a young medium named William Haxby, now passed away, went to live with Mr. and Mrs. Olive in Ainger Terrace, and we were invited to attend a seance given by him. Mrs. Olive, when giving the invitation, informed me that Mr. Haxby had been very successful in procuring direct writing in scaled boxes, and she asked me, if I wished to try the experiment, to take a secured box, with writing materials in it, to the seance, and see what would happen to it.

Here was, I thought, an excellent opportunity for Dr. H 's test, and I sent for him and told him what had been proposed. I urged him to prepare the test entirely by himself, and to accompany me to the seance and see what occurred – to all of which he readily consented. Indeed, he became quite excited on the subject, being certain it would prove a failure; and in my presence he made the following preparations:

I. Half a sheet of ordinary cream-laid note-paper and half a cedar-wood black lead pencil were placed in a jeweller's cardwood box.

II. The lid of the box was carefully glued down all round to the bottom part.

III. The box was wrapt in white writing paper, which was gummed over it.

IV. It was tied eight times with a peculiar kind of silk made for tying up arteries, and the eight knots were knots known to (as Dr. H. informed me) medical men only.

V. Each of the eight knots was sealed with sealing-wax, and impressed with Dr, H.'s crest seal, which he always wore on his watch-chain.

VI. The packet was again folded in brown paper, and sealed and tied to preserve the inside from injury.

When Dr. H. had finished it, he said to me: “If the spirits (or anybody) can write on that paper without cutting the silk, 1 will believe whatever you wish.”

“Are you quite sure that the packet could not be undone without your detecting it?" I asked.

“That silk is not to be procured except from a medical man; it is manufactured expressly for the tying of arteries; and the knots I have made are known only to medical men. They are the knots we use in tying arteries. The seal is my own crest, which never leaves my watch-chain, and I defy anyone to undo those knots without cutting them, or to tie them again, if cut. I repeat—if your friends can make, or cause to be made, the smallest mark on that paper, and return me the box in the condition it now is, I will believe anything you choose.”

And I confess I was very dubious of the result myself, and almost sorry that I had subjected the doctor's incredulity to so severe a test.

On the evening appointed we attended the seance, Dr. H. was taking the prepared packet with him. He was directed to place it under his chair, but he tied a string to it and put it under his foot, retaining the other end of the string in his hand. The meeting was not one for favorably impressing an unbeliever in Spiritualism. There were too many people present, and too many strangers. The ordinary manifestations, to my mind, are worse than useless, unless they have been preceded by extraordinary ones; so that the doctor returned home more sceptical than before, and I repented that I had taken him there.

One thing had occurred, however, that he could not account for. The packet which he had kept, as he thought, under his foot the whole time, was found, at the close of the meeting, to have disappeared. Another gentleman had brought a sealed box, with paper and pencil in it, to the seance; and at the close it was opened in the presence of all assembled, and found to contain a closely written letter from his deceased wife. But the doctor's box had evaporated, and was nowhere to be found. The door of the room had been locked all the time, and we searched the room thoroughly, but without success.

Dr. H. was naturally triumphant. “They couldn't undo my knots and my seals,” he said, exulting over me, “and so they wisely did not return the packet. Both packets were of course taken from the room during the sitting by some confederate of the medium. The other one was easily managed, and put back again – mine proved unmanageable, and so they have retained it. I knew it would be so!”

And he twinkled his eyes at me as much as to say: “I have shut you up. You will not venture to describe any of the marvels you have seen to me after this.”

Of course the failure did not discompose me, nor shake my belief. I never believed spiritual beings to be omnipotent, omnipresent, nor omniscient. They had failed before, and doubtless they would fail again. But if an acrobatic performer fails to turn a double somersault on to another man's head two or three times, it does not falsify the fact that he succeeds on the fourth occasion.

I was sorry that the test had been a failure, for Dr. H.'s sake, but I did not despair of seeing the box again. And at the end of a fortnight it was left at my house by Mr. Olive, with a note to say that it had been found that morning on the mantelpiece in Mr. Haxby's bedroom, and he lost no time in returning it to me. It was wrapt in the brown paper, tied and sealed, apparently just as we had carried it to the stance in Ainger Terrace; and I wrote at once to Dr. H. announcing its return, and asking him to come over and open it in my presence.

He came, took the packet in his hand, and having stripped off the outer wrapper, examined it carefully. There were four tests, it may be remembered, applied to the packet.

I. The arterial silk, procurable only from a medical man.

II. The knots to be tied only by medical men.

III. Dr. H.'s own crest, always kept on his watch chain, as a seal.

IV. The lid of the cardboard box, glued all round to the bottom part.

As the doctor scrutinized the silk, the knots, and the seals, I watched him narrowly.

“Are you quite sure,” I asked, “that it is the same paper in which you wrapt it?”

“I am quite sure.”

“And the same silk?”

“Quite sure.”

“Your knots have not been untied?”

“I am positive that they have not.”

“Nor your seal been tampered with?”

“Certainly not! It is just as I sealed it.”

“Be careful, Dr. H.,” I continued. “Remember I shall write down all you say.”

“I am willing to swear to it in a court of justice,” he replied.

“Then will you open the packet?”

Dr. H. took the scissors and cut the silk at each seal and knot, then tore off the gummed white writing paper (which was as fresh as when he had put it on), and tried to pull open the card-board box. But as he could not do this in consequence of the lid being glued down, he took out his penknife and cut it all round. As he did so, he looked at me and said: “Mark my words. There will be nothing written on the paper. It is impossible!”

He lifted the lid, and behold the box was empty! The half sheet of notepaper and the half cedar wood pencil had both entirely disappeared. Not a crumb of lead, nor a shred of paper remained behind. I looked at the doctor, and the doctor looked completely bewildered.

“Well?” I said, interrogatively.

He shifted about – grew red – and began to bluster.

“What do you make of it?” I asked. “How do you account for it?”

“In the easiest way in the world,” he replied, trying to brave it out. “It's the most transparent deception I ever saw. They've kept the thing a fortnight and had time to do anything with it. A child could see through this. Surely your bright wits can want no help to an explanation.”

“I am not so bright as you give me credit for,” I answered. “Will you explain your meaning to me?”

“With pleasure. They have evidently made an invisible slit in the joining of the box cover, and with a pair of fine forceps drawn the paper through it, bit by bit. For the pencil, they drew that by the same means to the slit and then pared it, little by little, with a lancet, till they could shake out the fragments.”

“That must have required very careful manipulation,” I observed.

“Naturally. But they've taken a fortnight to do it in.”

“But how about the arterial silk?” I said.

“They must have procured some from a surgeon.”

“And your famous knots?”

“They got some surgeon to tie them!”

“But your crest and seal?”

“Oh! They must have taken a facsimile of that in order to reproduce it. It is very cleverly done, but quite explicable!”

“But you told me before you opened the packet that you would take your oath in a court of justice it had not been tempered with.”

“I was evidently deceived.”

“And you really believe, then, that an uneducated lad like Mr. Haxby would take the trouble to take impressions of seals and to procure arterial silk and the services of a surgeon, in order, not to mystify or convert jou, but to gratify me, whose box he believes it to be.”

“I am sure he has done so!”

“But just now you were equally sure he had not done so. Why should you trust your senses in one case more than in the other? And if Mr. Haxby has played a trick on me, as you suppose, why did you not discover the slit when you examined the box, before opening?”

“Because my eyes misled me!”

“Then after all,” I concluded, “the best thing you can say of yourself is that you – a man of reputed science, skill, and sense, and with a strong belief in your own powers – are unable to devise a test in which you shall not be outwitted by a person so inferior to yourself in age, intellect and education as young Haxby. But I will give you another chance. Make up another packet in any way you like. Apply to it the severest tests which your ingenuity can devise, or other men of genius can suggest to you, and let me give it to Haxby and see if the contents can be extracted, or tampered with a second time.”

“It would be useless,” said Dr. H. “If they were extracted through the iron panels of a fireproof safe, I would not believe it was done by any but natural means.”

“Because you do not wish to believe,” I argued.

“You are right,” he confessed. “I do not wish to believe. If you convinced me of the truth of Spiritualism, you would upset all the theories I have held for the best part of my life. I don't believe in a God, nor a soul, nor a future existence, and I would rather not believe in them. We have quite enough trouble, in my opinion, in this life, without looking forward to another, and I would rather cling to my belief that when we die we have done with it once and for ever.”

So there ended my attempt to convince Dr. H., and I have often thought since that he was but a type of the genus sceptic. 

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