H. ADDINGTON BRUCE
Author of "The Riddle of Personality"
MOFFAT, YARD & COMPANY
Copyright, 1908, by
MOFFAT, YARD & COMPANY
Published, September, 1908
The Plimpton Press Norwood Mass. U.S.A.
THE MEMORY OF MY FRIEND
JOHN J. HENRY
I. THE DEVILS OF LOUDUN 1
II. THE DRUMMER OF TEDWORTH 17
III. THE HAUNTING OF THE WESLEYS 36
IV. THE VISIONS OF EMANUEL SWEDENBORG 56
V. THE COCK LANE GHOST 81
VI. THE GHOST SEEN BY LORD BROUGHAM 102
VII. THE SEERESS OF PREVORST 120
VIII. THE MYSTERIOUS MR. HOME 143
IX. THE WATSEKA WONDER 171
X. A MEDIEVAL GHOST HUNTER 198
XI. GHOST HUNTERS OF YESTERDAY AND TO-DAY 216
The following pages represent in the main a discussion of certain celebrated mysteries, as viewed in the light of the discoveries set forth in the writer's earlier work "The Riddle of Personality."
That dealt, it may briefly be recalled, with the achievements of those scientists whose special endeavor it is to illumine the nature of human personality. On the one hand, it reviewed the work of the psychopathologists, or investigators of abnormal mental life; and, on the other hand, the labors of the psychical researchers, those enthusiastic and patient explorers of the seemingly supernormal in human experience. Emphasis was laid on the fact that the two lines of inquiry are more closely interrelated than is commonly supposed, and that the discoveries made in each aid in the solution of problems apparently belonging exclusively in the other.
To this phase of the subject the writer now returns. The problems under examination are, all of them, problems in psychical research: yet, as will be found, the majority in no small measure depend for elucidation on facts brought to light by the psychopathologists. Of course, it is not claimed that the last word has here been said with respect to any one of these human enigmas. But it is believed that, thanks to the knowledge gained by the investigations of the past quarter of a century, approximately correct solutions have been reached; and that, in any event, it is by no means imperative to regard the phenomena in question as inexplicable, or as explicable only on a spiritistic basis.
Before attempting to solve the problems, it manifestly was necessary to state them. In doing this the writer has sought to present them in a readable and attractive form, but without any distortion or omission of material facts.
H. ADDINGTON BRUCE.
BROOKLINE, N. H., July, 1908.
THE DEVILS OF LOUDUN
Loudun is a small town in France about midway between the ancient and romantic cities of Tours and Poitiers. To-day it is an exceedingly unpretentious and an exceedingly sleepy place; but in the seventeenth century it was in vastly better estate. Then its markets, its shops, its inns, lacked not business. Its churches were thronged with worshipers. Through its narrow streets proud noble and prouder ecclesiastic, thrifty merchant and active artisan, passed and repassed in an unceasing stream. It was rich in points of interest, preeminent among which were its castle and its convent. In the castle the stout-hearted Loudunians found a refuge and a stronghold against the ambitions of the feudal lords and the tyranny of the crown. To its convent, pleasantly situated in a grove of time-honored trees, they sent their children to be educated.
It is to the convent that we must turn our steps; for it was from the convent that the devils were let loose to plague the good people of Loudun. And in order to understand the course of events, we must first make ourselves acquainted with its history. Very briefly, then, it, like many other institutions of its kind, was a product of the Catholic counter-reformation designed to stem the rising tide of Protestantism. It came into being in 1616, and was of the Ursuline order, which had been introduced into France not many years earlier. From the first it proved a magnet for the daughters of the nobility, and soon boasted a goodly complement of nuns.
At their head, as mother superior, was a certain Jeanne de Belfiel, of noble birth and many attractive qualities, but with characteristics which, as the sequel will show, wrought much woe to others as well as to the poor gentlewoman herself. Whatever her defects, however, she labored tirelessly in the interests of the convent, and in this respect was ably seconded by its father confessor, worthy Father Moussaut, a man of rare good sense and possessing a firm hold on the consciences and affections of the nuns.
Conceive their grief, therefore, when he suddenly sickened and died. Now ensued an anxious time pending the appointment of his successor. Two names were foremost for consideration—that of Jean Mignon, chief canon of the Church of the Holy Cross, and that of Urbain Grandier, cure of Saint Peter's of Loudun. Mignon was a zealous and learned ecclesiastic, but belied his name by being cold, suspicious, and, some would have it, unscrupulous. Grandier, on the contrary, was frank and ardent and generous, and was idolized by the people of Loudun. But he had serious failings. He was most unclerically gallant, was tactless, was overready to take offense, and, his wrath once fully roused, was unrelenting. Accordingly, little surprise was felt when the choice ultimately fell, not on him but on Mignon.
With Mignon the devils entered the Ursuline convent. Hardly had he been installed when rumors began to go about of strange doings within its quiet walls; and that there was something in these rumors became evident on the night of October 12, 1632, when two magistrates of Loudun, the bailie and the civil lieutenant, were hurriedly summoned to the convent to listen to an astonishing story. For upwards of a fortnight, it appeared, several of the nuns, including Mother Superior Belfiel, had been tormented by specters and frightful visions. Latterly they had given every evidence of being possessed by evil spirits. With the assistance of another priest, Father Barre, Mignon had succeeded in exorcising the demons out of all the afflicted save the mother superior and a Sister Claire.
In their case every formula known to the ritual had failed. The only conclusion was that they were not merely possessed but bewitched, and much as he disliked to bring notoriety on the convent, the father confessor had decided it was high time to learn who was responsible for the dire visitation. He had called the magistrates, he explained, in order that legal steps might be taken to apprehend the wizard, it being well established that "devils when duly exorcised must speak the truth," and that consequently there could be no doubt as to the identity of the offender, should the evil spirits be induced to name the source of their authority.
Without giving the officials time to recover from their amazement, Mignon led them to an upper room, where they found the mother superior and Sister Claire, wan-faced and fragile looking creatures on whose countenances were expressions of fear that would have inspired pity in the most stony-hearted. About them hovered monks and nuns. At sight of the strangers, Sister Claire lapsed into a semi-comatose condition; but the mother superior uttered piercing shrieks, and was attacked by violent convulsions that lasted until the father confessor spoke to her in a commanding tone. Then followed a startling dialogue, carried on in Latin between Mignon and the soi-disant demon possessing her.
"Why have you entered this maiden's body?"
"Because of hatred."
"What sign do you bring?"
"Who has sent them?"
A moment's hesitation, then the single word—"Urbain."
"Tell us his surname?"
In an instant the room was in an uproar. But the magistrates did not lose their heads. To the bailie in especial the affair had a suspicious look. He had heard the devil "speak worse Latin than a boy of the fourth class," he had noted the mother superior's hesitancy in pronouncing Grandier's name, and he was well aware that deadly enmity had long existed between Grandier and Mignon. So he placed little faith in the latter's protestation that the naming of his rival had taken him completely by surprise. Consulting with his colleague, he coldly informed Mignon that before any arrest could be made there must be further investigation, and, promising to return next day, bade them good night.
Next day found the convent besieged by townspeople, indignant at the accusation against the popular priest, and determined to laugh the devils out of existence. Grandier himself, burning with rage, hastened to the bailie and demanded that the nuns be separately interrogated, and by other inquisitors than Mignon and Barre. In these demands the bailie properly acquiesced; but, on attempting in person to enforce his orders to that effect, he was denied admittance to the convent. Excitement ran high; so high that, fearful for his personal safety, Mignon consented to accept as exorcists two priests appointed, not by the bailie, but by the Bishop of Poitiers—who, it might incidentally be mentioned, had his own reasons for disliking Grandier.
Exorcising now went on daily, to the disgust of the serious-minded, the mystification of the incredulous, the delight of sensation-mongers, and the baffled fury of Grandier. So far the play, if melodramatic, had not approached the tragic. Sometimes it degenerated to the broadest farce comedy. Thus, on one occasion when the devil was being read out of the mother superior, a crashing sound was heard and a huge black cat tumbled down the chimney and scampered about the room. At once the cry was raised that the devil had taken the form of a cat, a mad chase ensued, and it would have gone hard with pussy had not a nun chanced to recognize in it the pet of the convent.
Still, there were circumstances which tended to inspire conviction in the mind of many. The convulsions of the possessed were undoubtedly genuine, and undoubtedly they manifested phenomena seemingly inexplicable on any naturalistic basis. A contemporary writer, describing events of a few months later, when several recruits had been added to their ranks, states that some "when comatose became supple like a thin piece of lead, so that their body could be bent in every direction, forward, backward, or sideways, till their head touched the ground," and that others showed no sign of pain when struck, pinched, or pricked. Then, too, they whirled and danced and grimaced and howled in a manner impossible to any one in a perfectly normal state.[A]
For a few brief weeks Grandier enjoyed a respite, thanks to the intervention of his friend, the Archbishop of Bordeaux, who threatened to send a physician and priests of his own choice to examine the possessed, a threat of itself sufficient, apparently, to put the devils to flight. But they returned with undiminished vigor upon the arrival in Loudun of a powerful state official who, unfortunately for Grandier, was a relative of Mother Superior Belfiel's. This official, whose name was Laubardemont, had come to Loudun on a singular mission. Richelieu, the celebrated cardinal statesman, in the pursuit of his policy of strengthening the crown and weakening the nobility, had resolved to level to the ground the fortresses and castles of interior France, and among those marked for destruction was the castle of Loudun. Thither, therefore, he dispatched Laubardemont to see that his orders were faithfully executed.
Naturally, the cardinal's commissioner became interested in the trouble that had befallen his kinswoman, and the more interested when Mignon hinted to him that there was reason to believe that the suspected wizard was also the author of a recent satire which had set the entire court laughing at Richelieu's expense. What lent plausibility to this charge was the fact that the satire had been universally accredited to a court beauty formerly one of Grandier's parishioners. Also there was the fact that in days gone by, when Richelieu was merely a deacon, he had had a violent quarrel with Grandier over a question of precedence. Putting two and two together, and knowing that it would result to his own advantage to unearth the real author to the satire, Laubardemont turned a willing ear to the suggestion that the woman in question had allowed her old pastor to shield himself behind her name.
Back to Paris the commissioner galloped to carry the story to Richelieu. The cardinal's anger knew no bounds. From the King he secured a warrant for Grandier's arrest, and to this he added a decree investing Laubardemont with full inquisitorial powers. Events now moved rapidly. Though forewarned by Parisian friends, Grandier refused to seek safety by flight, and was arrested in spectacular fashion while on his way to say mass. His home was searched, his papers were seized, and he himself was thrown into an improvised dungeon in a house belonging to Mignon. Witnesses in his favor were intimidated, while those willing to testify against him were liberally rewarded. To such lengths did the prosecution go that, discovering a strong undercurrent of popular indignation, Laubardemont actually procured from the King and council a decree prohibiting any appeal from his decisions, and gave out that, since King and cardinal believed in the enchantment, any one denying it would be held guilty of lese majesty divine and human.
Under these circumstances Grandier was doomed from the outset. But he made a desperate struggle, and his opponents were driven to sore straits to bolster up their case. The devils persisted in speaking bad Latin, and continually failed to meet tests which they themselves had suggested. Sometimes their failures were only too plainly the result of human intervention.
For instance, the mother superior's devil promised that, on a given night and in the church of the Holy Cross, he would lift Laubardemont's cap from his head and keep it suspended in mid-air while the commissioner intoned a miserere. When the time came for the fulfilment of this promise two of the spectators noticed that Laubardemont had taken care to seat himself at a goodly distance from the other participants. Quietly leaving the church, these amateur detectives made their way to the roof, where they found a man in the act of dropping a long horsehair line, to which was attached a small hook, through a hole directly over the spot where Laubardemont was sitting. The culprit fled, and that night another failure was recorded against the devil.
But such fiascos availed nothing to save Grandier. Neither did it avail him that, before sentence was finally passed, Sister Claire, broken in body and mind, sobbingly affirmed his innocence, protesting that she did not know what she was saying when she accused him; nor that the mother superior, after two hours of agonizing torture self-imposed, fell on her knees before Laubardemont, made a similar admission, and, passing into the convent orchard, tried to hang herself. The commissioner and his colleagues remained obdurate, averring that these confessions were in themselves evidence of witchcraft, since they could be prompted only by the desire of the devils to save their master from his just fate. In August, 1634, Grandier's doom was pronounced. He was to be put to the torture, strangled, and burned. This judgment was carried out to the letter, save that when the executioner approached to strangle him, the ropes binding him to the stake loosened, and he fell forward among the flames, perishing miserably.
It only remains to analyze this medieval tragedy in the light of modern knowledge. To the people of his own generation Grandier was either a wizard most foul, or the victim of a dastardly plot in which all concerned in harrying him to his death knowingly participated. These opinions posterity long shared. But now it is quite possible to reach another conclusion. That there was a conspiracy is evident even from the facts set down by those hostile to Grandier. On the other hand, it is as unnecessary as it is incredible to believe that the plotters included every one instrumental in fixing on the unhappy cure the crime of witchcraft.
Bearing in mind the discoveries of recent years in the twin fields of physiology and psychology, it seems evident that the conspirators were actually limited in number to Mignon, Barre, Laubardemont, and a few of their intimates. In Laubardemont's case, indeed, there is some reason for supposing that he was more dupe than knave, and is therefore to be placed in the same category as the superstitious monks and townspeople on whom Mignon and Barre so successfully imposed. As to the possessed—the mother superior and her nuns—they may one and all be included in a third group as the unwitting tools of Mignon's vengeance. In fine, it is not only possible but entirely reasonable to regard Mignon as a seventeenth-century forerunner of Mesmer, Elliotson, Esdaile, Braid, Charcot, and the present day exponents of hypnotism; and the nuns as his helpless "subjects," obeying his every command with the fidelity observable to-day in the patients of the Salpetriere and other centers of hypnotic practice.
The justness of this view is borne out by the facts recorded by contemporary annalists, of which only an outline has been given here. The nuns of Loudun were, as has been said, mostly daughters of the nobility, and were thus, in all likelihood, temperamentally unstable, sensitive, high-strung, nervous. The seclusion of their lives, the monotonous routine of their every-day occupations, and the possibilities afforded for dangerous, morbid introspection, could not but have a baneful effect on such natures, leading inevitably to actual insanity or to hysteria. That the possessed were hysterical is abundantly shown by the descriptions their historians give of the character of their convulsions, contortions, etc., and by the references to the anesthetic, or non-sensitive, spots on their bodies. Now, as we know, the convent at Loudun had been in existence for only a few years before Mignon became its father confessor, and so, we may believe, it fell out that he appeared on the scene precisely when sufficient time had elapsed for environment and heredity to do their deadly work and provoke an epidemic of hysteria.
In those benighted times such attacks were popularly ascribed to possession by evil spirits. The hysterical nuns, as the chronicles tell us, explained their condition to Mignon by informing him that, shortly before the onset of their trouble, they had been haunted by the ghost of their former confessor, Father Moussaut. Here Mignon found his opportunity. Picture him gently rebuking the unhappy women, admonishing them that such a good man as Father Moussaut would never return to torment those who had been in his charge, and insisting that the source of their woes must be sought elsewhere; in, say, some evil disposed person, hostile to Father Moussaut's successor, and hoping, through thus afflicting them, to bring the convent into disrepute and in this way strike a deadly blow at its new father confessor. Who might be this evil disposed person? Who, in truth, save Urbain Grandier?
Picture Mignon, again, observing that his suggestion had taken root in the minds of two of the most emotional and impressionable, the mother superior and Sister Claire. Then would follow a course of lessons designed to aid the suggestion to blossom into open accusation. And presently Mignon would make the discovery that the mother superior and Sister Claire would, when in a hysterical state, blindly obey any command he might make, cease from their convulsions, respond intelligently and at his will to questions put to them, renew their convulsions, lapse even into seeming dementia.
Doubtless he did not grasp the full significance and possibilities of his discovery—had he done so the devils would not have bungled matters so often, and no embarrassing confessions would have been forthcoming. But he saw clearly enough that he had in his hand a mighty weapon against his rival, and history has recorded the manner and effectiveness with which he used it.
[A] Aubin's "Histoire des Diables de Loudun," a book by a writer who scoffed at the idea that the nuns had actually been bewitched. For an account by a contemporary who firmly believed the charges brought against Grandier, consult Niau's "La Veritable Histoire des Diables de Loudun." This latter work is accessible in an English translation by Edmund Goldsmid.
THE DRUMMER OF TEDWORTH
There have been drummers a plenty in all countries and all ages, but there surely has never been the equal of the drummer of Tedworth. His was the distinction to inspire terror the length and breadth of a kingdom, to set a nation by the ears—nay, even to disturb the peace of Church and Crown.
When the Cromwellian wars broke out, he was in his prime, a stout, sturdy Englishman, suffering, as did his fellows, from the misrule of the Stuarts, and ready for any desperate step that might better his fortunes. Volunteering, therefore, under the man of blood and iron, tradition has it that from the first battle to the last his drum was heard inspiring the revolutionists to mighty deeds of valor. The conflict at an end, Charles beheaded, and the Fifth Monarchy men creating chaos in their noisy efforts to establish the Kingdom of God on earth, he lapsed into an obscurity that endured until the Restoration. Then he reemerged, not as a veteran living at ease on laurels well won, but as a wandering beggar, roving from shire to shire in quest of alms, which he implored to the accompaniment of fearsome music from his beloved drum.
Thus he journeyed, undisturbed and gaining a sufficient living, until he chanced in the spring of 1661 to invade the quiet Wiltshire village of Tedworth. At that time the interests of Tedworth were identical with the interests of a certain Squire Mompesson, and he, being a gouty, irritable individual, was little disposed to have his peace and the peace of Tedworth disturbed by the drummer's loud bawling and louder drumming. At his orders rough hands seized the unhappy wanderer, blows rained upon him, and he was driven from Tedworth minus his drum. In vain he begged the wrathful Mompesson to restore it to him; in vain, with the tears streaming down his battle-worn, weather-beaten face, he protested that the drum was the only friend left to him in all the world; and in vain he related the happy memories it held for him. "Go," he was roughly told—"go, and be thankful thou escapest so lightly!" So go he did, and whither he went nobody knew, and for the moment nobody cared.
But all Tedworth soon had occasion to wish that his lamentations had moved the Squire to pity. Hardly a month later, when Mompesson had journeyed to the capital to pay his respects to the King, his family were aroused in the middle of the night by angry voices and an incessant banging on the front door. Windows were tried; entrance was vehemently demanded. Within, panic reigned at once. The house was situated in a lonely spot, and it seemed certain that, having heard of its master's absence, a band of highwaymen, with whom the countryside abounded, had planned to turn burglars. The occupants, consisting as they did of women and children, could at best make scant resistance; and consequently there was much quaking and trembling, until, finding the bolts and bars too strong for them, the unwelcome visitors withdrew.
Unmeasured was Mompesson's wrath when he returned and learned of the alarm. He only hoped, he declared, that the villains would venture back—he would give them a greeting such as had not been known since the days of the great war. That very night he had opportunity to make good his boast, for soon after the household had sought repose the disturbance broke out anew. Lighting a lantern, slipping into a dressing-gown, and snatching up a brace of pistols, the Squire dashed down-stairs, the noise becoming louder the nearer he reached the door. Click, clash—the bolts were slipped back, the key was turned, and, lantern extended, he peered into the night.
The moment he opened the door all became still, and nothing but empty darkness met his eyes. Almost immediately, however, the knocking began at a second door, to which, after making the first fast, he hurried, only to find the same result, and to hear, with mounting anger, a tumult at yet another door. Again silence when this was thrown open. But, stepping outside, as he afterward told the story, Mompesson became aware of "a strange and hollow sound in the air." Forthwith the suspicion entered his mind that the noises he had heard might be of supernatural origin. To him, true son of the seventeenth century, a suspicion of this sort was tantamount to certainty, and an unreasoning alarm filled his soul; an alarm that grew into deadly fear when, safe in the bed he had hurriedly sought, a tremendous booming sound came from the top of the house.
Here, in an upper room, for safe-keeping and as an interesting relic of the Civil War, had been placed the beggar's drum, and the terrible thought occurred to Mompesson: "Can it be that the drummer is dead, and that his spirit has returned to torment me?"
A few nights later no room for doubt seemed left. Instead of the nocturnal shouting and knocking, there began a veritable concert from the room containing the drum. This concert, Mompesson informed his friends, opened with a peculiar "hurling in the air over the house," and closed with "the beating of a drum like that at the breaking up of a guard." The mental torture of the Squire and his family may be easier imagined than described. And before long matters grew much worse, when, becoming emboldened, the ghostly drummer laid aside his drum to play practical, and sometimes exceedingly painful, jokes on the members of the household.
Curiously enough, his malice was chiefly directed against Mompesson's children, who—poor little dears—had certainly never worked him any injury. Yet we are told that for a time "it haunted none particularly but them." When they were in bed the coverings were dragged off and thrown on the floor; there was heard a scratching noise under the bed as of some animal with iron claws; sometimes they were lifted bodily, "so that six men could not hold them down," and their limbs were beaten violently against the bedposts. Nor did the unseen and unruly visitant scruple to plague Mompesson's aged mother, whose Bible was frequently hidden from her, and in whose bed ashes, knives, and other articles were placed.
As time passed marvels multiplied. The assurance is solemnly given that "chairs moved of themselves." A board, it is insisted, rose out of the floor of its own accord and flung itself violently at a servant. Strange lights, "like corpse candles," floated about. The Squire's personal attendant John, "a stout fellow and of sober conversation," was one night confronted by a ghastly apparition in the form of "a great body with two red and glaring eyes." Frequently, too, when John was in bed he was treated as were the children, his coverings removed, his body struck, etc. But it was noticed that whenever he grasped and brandished a sword he was left in peace. Clearly, the ghost had a healthy respect for cold steel.
It had less respect for exorcising, which, of course, was tried, but tried in vain. All went well as long as the clergyman was on his knees saying the prescribed prayers by the bedside of the tormented children, but the moment he rose a bed staff was thrown at him and other articles of furniture danced about so madly that body and limb were endangered.
Mompesson was at his wits' end. Well might he be! Apart from the injury done to his family and belongings, his house was thronged night and day by inquisitive visitors from all sections of the country. He was denounced on the one hand as a trickster, and on the other as a man who must be guilty of some terrible secret sin, else he would not thus be vexed. Sermons were preached with him as the text. Factions were formed, angrily affirming and denying the supernatural character of the disturbances. News of the affair traveled even to the ears of the King, who dispatched an investigating commission to Mompesson House, where, greatly to the delight of the unbelieving, nothing untoward occurred during the commissioners' visit. But thereafter, as if to make up for lost time, the most sensational and vexatious phenomena of the haunting were produced.
Thus matters continued for many months, until it dawned on Mompesson and his friends that possibly the case was not one of ghosts but one of witchcraft. This suspicion rose from the singular circumstance that voices in the children's room began, "for a hundred times together," to cry "A witch! A witch!" Resolved to put matters to a test, one of the boldest of a company of spectators suddenly demanded, "Satan, if the drummer set thee to work, give three knocks and no more!" To which three knocks were distinctly heard, and afterward, by way of confirmation, five knocks as requested by another onlooker.
Now began an eager hunt for the once despised drummer, who was presently found in jail at Gloucester accused of theft. And with this discovery word was brought to Mompesson that the drummer had openly boasted of having bewitched him. This was enough for the outraged Squire. There was in existence an act of King James I. holding it a felony to "feed, employ, or reward any evil spirit," and under its provisions he speedily had his alleged persecutor indicted as a wizard.
Amid great excitement the aged veteran was brought from Gloucester to Salisbury to stand trial. But his spirit remained unbroken. Instead of confessing, humbly begging mercy, and promising amends, he undertook to bargain with Mompesson, promising that if the latter secured his liberty and gave him employment as a farm hand, he would rid him of the haunting. Perhaps because he feared treachery, perhaps because, as he said, he felt sure the drummer "could do him no good in any honest way," Mompesson rejected this ingenuous proposal.
So the drummer was left to his fate, which, for those days, was most unexpected. A packed and attentive court room listened to the tale of the mishaps and misadventures that had made Mompesson House a national center of interest; it was proved that the accused had been intimate with an old vagabond who pretended to possess supernatural powers; and emphasis was laid on the alleged fact that he had boasted of having revenged himself on Mompesson for the confiscation of his drum. Luckily for him, Mompesson was not the power in Salisbury that he was in Tedworth, and the drummer's eloquent defense moved the jury to acquit him and to send him on his way rejoicing. Thereafter he was never again heard of in Wiltshire or in the pages of history, and with his disappearance came an end to the knockings, the corpse candles, and all the other uncanny phenomena that had made life a ceaseless nightmare for the Mompessons.
Such is the astonishing story of the drummer of Tedworth, still cited by the superstitious as a capital example of the intermeddling of superhuman agencies in human affairs, and still mentioned by the skeptical as one of the most amusing and most successful hoaxes on record.
To us of the twentieth century its chief significance lies in the striking resemblance between the tribulations of the Mompesson family and the so-called physical phenomena of modern spiritism. All who have attended spiritistic seances are familiar with the invisible and perverse ghost, which, for no apparent reason other than to mystify, causes furniture to gyrate violently, rings bells, plays tambourines, levitates the "medium," and favors the spectators with sundry taps, pinches, even blows. Precisely thus was it with the doings at Mompesson House, where many of the salient phenomena of modern spiritism were anticipated nearly two hundred and fifty years ago.
The inference is irresistible that a more or less intimate connection exists between the disturbances at Tedworth and the triumphs of latter-day mediumship, and it thus becomes doubly interesting to examine the evidence for and against the supernatural origin of the performances that so perplexed the Englishmen of the Restoration. This evidence is presented in far greater detail than is here possible, in a curious document written by the Reverend Joseph Glanvill, a clergyman of the Church of England and an eye witness of some of the phenomena. His point of view is that of an ardent believer in the verity of witchcraft, and his narrative of the Tedworth affair finds place in a treatise designed to discomfit those irreligious persons who maintained the opposite.[B] It is therefore evident that his account of the case is to be regarded as a piece of special pleading, and as such must be received with critical caution.
The need for caution is further emphasized by the important circumstance that of all the phenomena described, only those most susceptible of mundane interpretation were witnessed by Glanvill or Mompesson. All of the more extraordinary—the great body with the red and glaring eyes, the levitated children, etc.—came to the narrator from second or third or fourth hand sources not always clearly indicated, and doubtless uneducated and superstitious persons, such as peasants or servants, whose fears would lend wings to their imagination.
Keeping these facts before us, what do we find? We find that, so far from supporting the supernatural view, the evidence points to a systematic course of fraud and deceit carried out, not by the drummer, not by Mompesson and Glanvill (as many of that generation were unkind enough to suggest), not by the Mompesson servants, but by the Mompesson children, and particularly by the oldest child, a girl of ten.
It was about the children that the disturbances centered, it was in their room that the manifestations usually took place, and—what should have served to direct suspicion to them at once—when, in the hope of affording them relief, their father separated them, sending the youngest to lodge with a neighbor and taking the oldest into his own room, it was remarked that the neighbor's house immediately became the scene of demoniac activity, as did the Squire's apartment, which had previously been virtually undisturbed. Here and now developed a phenomenon that places little Miss Mompesson on a par with the celebrated Fox sisters, for her father's bed chamber was turned into a seance room in which messages were rapped out very much as messages have been rapped out ever since the fateful night in 1848 that saw modern spiritism ushered into the world.
Glanvill's personal testimony, the most precise and circumstantial in the entire case, strongly, albeit unwittingly, supports this view of the affair. It appears that he passed only one night in the haunted house, and of his several experiences there is none that cannot be set down to fraud plus imagination, with the children the active agents. Witness the following from his story of what he heard and beheld in the oft-mentioned "children's room":
"At this time it used to haunt the children, and that as soon as they were laid. They went to bed the night I was there about eight of the clock, when a maid servant, coming down from them, told us that it was come.... Mr. Mompesson and I and a gentleman that came with me went up. I heard a strange scratching as I went up the stairs, and when we came into the room I perceived it was just behind the bolster of the children's bed and seemed to be against the tick. It was as loud a scratching as one with long nails could make upon a bolster. There were two modest little girls in the bed, between seven and eight years old, as I guessed. I saw their hands out of the clothes, and they could not contribute to the noise that was behind their heads. They had been used to it and still[C] had somebody or other in the chamber with them, and therefore seemed not to be much affrighted.
"I, standing at the bed's head, thrust my hand behind the bolster, directing it to the place whence the noise seemed to come. Whereupon the noise ceased there, and was heard in another part of the bed; but when I had taken out my hand it returned and was heard in the same place as before.[D] I had been told it would imitate noises, and made trial by scratching several times upon the sheet, as five, and seven, and ten, which it followed, and still stopped at my number. I searched under and behind the bed, turned up the clothes to the bed cords, grasped the bolster, sounded the wall behind, and made all the search that possibly I could, to find if there were any trick, contrivance, or common cause of it. The like did my friend, but we could discover nothing.
"So that I was then verily persuaded, and am so still, that the noise was made by some demon or spirit."
Doubtless his countenance betrayed the receptiveness of his mind, and it is not surprising that the naughty little girls proceeded to work industriously upon his imagination. He speaks of having heard under the bed a panting sound, which, he is certain, caused "a motion so strong that it shook the room and windows very sensibly"; and it also appears that he was induced to believe that he saw something moving in a "linen bag" hanging in the room, which bag, on being emptied, was found to contain nothing animate. Therefore—spirits again! After bidding the children good night and retiring to the room set apart for him, he was wakened from a sound sleep by a tremendous knocking on his door, and to his terrified inquiry, "In the name of God, who is it, and what would you have?" received the not wholly reassuring reply, "Nothing with you." In the morning, when he spoke of the incident and remarked that he supposed a servant must have rapped at the wrong door, he learned to his profound astonishment that "no one of the house lay that way or had business thereabout." This being so, it could not possibly have been anything but a ghost.
Thus runs the argument of the superstitious clergyman. And all the while, we may feel tolerably sure, little Miss Mompesson was chuckling inwardly at the panic into which she had thrown the reverend gentleman.
* * * * *
If it be objected that no girl of ten could successfully execute such a sustained imposture, one need only point to the many instances in which children of equally tender years or little older have since ventured on similar mystifications, with even more startling results. Incredible as it may seem to those who have not looked into the subject, it is a fact that there are boys and girls—especially girls—who take a morbid delight in playing pranks that will astound and perplex their elders. The mere suggestion that Satan or a discarnate spirit is at the bottom of the mischief will then act as a powerful stimulus to the elaboration of even more sensational performances, and the result, if detection does not soon occur, will be a full-fledged "poltergeist," as the crockery-breaking, furniture-throwing ghost is technically called.
The singular affair of Hetty Wesley, which we shall take up next, is a case in point. So, too, is the history of the Fox sisters, who were extremely juvenile when they discovered the possibilities latent in the properly manipulated rap and knock. And the spirits who so maliciously disturbed the peace of good old Dr. Phelps in Stratford, Connecticut, a half century and more ago, unquestionably owed their being to the nimble wit and abnormal fancy of his two step-children, aged sixteen and eleven.
It is to be remembered, further, that contemporary conditions were exceptionally favorable to the success of the Tedworth hoax. In all likelihood the children had nothing to do with the first alarm, the alarm that occurred during Mompesson's absence in London; and possibly the second was only a rude practical joke by some village lads who had heard of the first and wished to put the Squire's courage to a test. But once the little Mompessons learned, or suspected, that their father associated the noises with the vagrant drummer, a wide vista of enjoyment would open before their mischief-loving minds. Entering on a career of mystification, they would find the road made easy by the gullibility of those about them; and the chances are that had they been caught in flagrante delicto they would have put in the plea that fraudulent mediums so frequently offer to-day—"An evil spirit took possession of me." As it was, the superstition of the times—and doubtless the rats and shaky timbers of Mompesson House did their part—was their constant and unfailing support. Everything that happened would be magnified and distorted by the witnesses, either at the moment or in retrospect, until in the end the Rev. Mr. Glanvill, recording honestly enough what he himself had seen, could find material for a history of the most marvelous marvels.
In short, the more closely one examines the details of the Tedworth mystery, the more will he find himself in agreement with George Cruikshank's brutally frank opinion:
"All this seems very strange, about this drummer and his drum; But for myself I really think this drumming ghost was all a hum."
[B] Glanvill's "Sadducismus Triumphatus," a most instructive and entertaining contribution to the literature of witchcraft. Contemporary opinion of Glanvill is well expressed in Anthony a Wood's statement that "he was a person of more than ordinary parts, of a quick, warm, spruce, and gay fancy, and was more lucky, at least in his own judgment, in his first hints and thoughts of things, than in his after notions, examined and digested by longer and more mature deliberation. He had a very tenacious memory, and was a great master of the English language, expressing himself therein with easy fluency, and in a manly, yet withal a clear style." Glanvill died in 1680 at the early age of forty-four.
[C] Used here in the sense of "always."
[D] The Italics are mine.
THE HAUNTING OF THE WESLEYS
The Rev. Samuel Wesley is chiefly known to posterity as the father of the famous John Wesley, the founder of Methodism, and of the hardly less famous Charles Wesley. But the Rev. Samuel has further claims to remembrance. If he gave to the world John and Charles Wesley, he was also the sire of seventeen other Wesleys, eight of whom, like their celebrated brothers, grew to maturity and attained varying degrees of distinction.
He was himself a man of distinction as preacher, poet, and controversialist. His sermons were sermons in the good, old-fashioned sense of the term. His poems were the despair of the critics, but won him a wide reputation. He was an adept in what Whistler called the gentle art of making enemies. Though more familiar with the inside of a pulpit, he was not unacquainted with the inside of a jail. He raised his numerous progeny on an income seldom exceeding one thousand dollars a year. And, what is perhaps the most astonishing fact in a career replete with surprises, he was the hero of one of the best authenticated ghost stories on record.
This visitation from the supermundane came as a climax to a series of worldly annoyances that would have upset the equanimity of a very Job—and the Rev. Samuel, in temper at any rate, was the reverse of Job-like. His troubles began in the closing years of the seventeenth century, when he became rector of the established church at Epworth, Lincolnshire, a venerable edifice dating back to the stormy days of Edward II., and as damp as it was old. The story goes that this living was granted him as a reward because he dedicated one of his poems to Queen Mary. But the Queen would seem to have had punishment in mind for him, rather than reward.
Located in the Isle of Axholme, in the midst of a long stretch of fen country bounded by four rivers, and for a great part under water, Epworth was at that epoch dreariness itself. The Rev. Samuel's spirits must have sunk within him as the carts bearing his already large family and his few household belongings toiled through quagmire and morass; they must have fallen still farther when he gazed down the one straggling street at the rectory of mud and thatch that was to be his home; and they must have touched the zero mark, zealous High Churchman that he was, with the discovery that his peasant parishioners were Presbyterian-minded folk who hated ritualism as cordially as they hated the Pope.
Whatever his secret sentiments, he lost no time in endeavoring to stamp the imprint of his vigorous personality on Epworth. Forgetful, or unheedful, of the fact that the natives of the Isle of Axholme were notoriously violent and lawless, he began to rule them with a rod of iron. Thus they should think, thus they should do, thus they should go! Above all, the Rev. Samuel never permitted them to forget that in addition to spiritual they owed him temporal obligations. In the matter of tithes—always a sore subject in a community hard put to extract a living from the soil—he was unrelenting.
Necessity may have driven him; but it was only to be expected that murmurings should arise, and from words the angry islanders passed to deeds. For a time they contented themselves with burning the rector's barn and trying to burn his house. Then, when he was so indiscreet as to become indebted to one of their number, they clapped him into prison. His speedy release, through the intervention of clerical friends, and his blunt refusal to seek a new sphere of activity, were followed by more barn burning, by the slaughter of his cattle, and finally by a fire that utterly destroyed the rectory and all but cost the lives of several of its inmates, who by that time included the future father of Methodism.
The bravery with which the Rev. Samuel met this crowning disaster, and the energy with which he set about the task of rebuilding his home—not in mud and thatch, but in substantial brick—seem to have shamed the villagers into giving him peace, seem even to have inspired them with a genuine regard for him. He for his part, if we read the difficult pages of his biographers aright, appears to have grown less exacting and more diplomatic. In any event, he was left in quiet to prepare his sermons, write his poems, and assist his devoted wife (who, by the way, he is said to have deserted for an entire year because of a little difference of opinion respecting the right of William of Orange to the English crown) in the upbringing of their children. Thus his life ran along in comparative smoothness until the momentous advent of the ghost.
This unexpected and unwelcome visitor made its first appearance early in December, 1716. At the time the Wesley boys were away from home, but the household was still sufficiently numerous, consisting of the Rev. Samuel, Mrs. Wesley, seven daughters,—Emilia, Susannah, Maria, Mehetabel, Anne, Martha, and Kezziah,—a man servant named Robert Brown, and a maid servant known as Nanny Marshall. Nanny was the first to whom the ghost paid its respects, in a series of blood-curdling groans that "caused the upstarting of her hair, and made her ears prick forth at an unusual rate." In modern parlance, she was greatly alarmed, and hastened to tell the Misses Wesley of the extraordinary noises, which, she assured them, sounded exactly like the groans of a dying man. The derisive laughter of the young women left her state of mind unchanged; and they too gave way to alarm when, a night or so later, loud knocks began to be heard in different parts of the house, accompanied by sundry "groans, squeaks, and tinglings."
Oddly enough, the only member of the family unvisited by the ghost was the Rev. Samuel, and upon learning that he had heard none of the direful sounds his wife and children made up their minds that his death was imminent; for a local superstition had it that in all such cases of haunting the person undisturbed is marked for an early demise. But the worthy clergyman continued hale and hearty, as did the ghost, whose knockings, indeed, soon grew so terrifying that "few or none of the family durst be alone." It was then resolved that, whatever the noises portended, counsel and aid must be sought from the head of the household. At first the Rev. Samuel listened in silence to his spouse's recital; but as she proceeded he burst into a storm of wrath. A ghost? Stuff and nonsense! Not a bit of it! Only some mischief-makers bent on plaguing them. Possibly, and his choler rose higher, a trick played by his daughters themselves, or by their lovers.
Now it was the turn of the Wesley girls to become angry, and we read that they forthwith showed themselves exceedingly "desirous of its continuance till he was convinced." Their desire was speedily granted. The very next night paterfamilias had no sooner tumbled into bed than there came nine resounding knocks "just by his bedside." In an instant he was up and groping for a light. "You heard it, then?" we may imagine Mrs. Wesley anxiously asking, and we may also imagine the robust Anglo-Saxon of his response.
Another night and more knockings, followed by "a noise in the room over our heads, as if several people were walking." This time, to quote further from Mrs. Wesley's narrative as given in a letter to her absent son Samuel, the tumult "was so outrageous that we thought the children would be frightened; so your father and I rose, and went down in the dark to light a candle. Just as we came to the bottom of the broad stairs, having hold of each other, on my side there seemed as if somebody had emptied a bag of money at my feet; and on his, as if all the bottles under the stairs (which were many) had been dashed in a thousand pieces. We passed through the hall into the kitchen, and got a candle and went to see the children, whom we found asleep."
With this the Rev. Samuel seems to have come round to the family's way of thinking; for in the morning he sent a messenger to the nearby village of Haxey with the request that the vicar of Haxey, a certain Mr. Hoole, would ride over and assist him in "conjuring" the evil spirit out of his house. Burning with curiosity, Mr. Hoole made such good time to Epworth that before noon he was at the rectory and eagerly listening to an account of the marvels that had so alarmed the Wesleys.
In addition to the phenomena already set forth, he learned that while the knocks were heard in all parts of the house, they were most frequent in the children's room; that at prayers they almost invariably interrupted the family's devotions, especially when Mr. Wesley began the prayers for King George and the Prince of Wales, from which it was inferred that the ghost was a Jacobite; that often a sound was heard like the rocking of a cradle, and another sound like the gobbling of a turkey, and yet another "something like a man, in a loose nightgown trailing after him"; and that if one stamped his foot, "Old Jeffrey," as the younger children had named the ghost, would knock precisely as many times as there had been stampings.
None of these major marvels was vouchsafed to Mr. Hoole; but he heard knockings in plenty, and, after a night of terror, made haste back to Haxey, having lost all desire to play the role of exorcist. His fears may possibly have been increased by the violence of Mr. Wesley, who, after vainly exhorting the ghost to speak out and tell his business, flourished a pistol and threatened to discharge it in the direction whence the knockings came. This was too much for peace-loving, spook-fearing Mr. Hoole. "Sir," he protested, "you are convinced this is something preternatural. If so, you cannot hurt it; but you give it power to hurt you." The logic of Mr. Hoole's argument is hardly so evident as his panic. Off he galloped, leaving the Rev. Samuel to lay the ghost as best he could.
After his departure wonders grew apace. Thus far the manifestations had been wholly auditory; now visual phenomena were added. One evening Mrs. Wesley beheld something dart out from beneath a bed and quickly disappear. Sister Emilia, who was present, reported to brother Samuel that this something was "like a badger, only without any head that was discernible." The same apparition came to confound the man servant, Robert Brown, once in the badger form, and once in the form of a white rabbit which "turned round before him several times." Robert was also the witness of an even more peculiar performance by the elusive ghost. "Being grinding corn in the garrets, and happening to stop a little, the handle of the mill was turn [sic] round with great swiftness." It is interesting to note that Robert subsequently declared that "nothing vexed him but that the mill was empty. If corn had been in it, Old Jeffrey might have ground his heart out for him; he would never have disturbed him." More annoying was a habit into which the ghost fell of rattling latches, jingling warming pans and other metal utensils, and brushing rudely against people in the dark. "Thrice," asserted the Rev. Samuel, "I have been pushed by an invisible power, once against the corner of my desk in the study, a second time against the door of the matted chamber, a third time against the right side of the frame of my study door."
On at least one occasion Old Jeffrey indulged in a pastime popular with the spiritistic mediums of a later day. John Wesley tells us, on the authority of sister Nancy, that one night, when she was playing cards with some of the many other sisters, the bed on which she sat was suddenly lifted from the ground. "She leapt down and said, 'Surely Old Jeffrey would not run away with her.' However, they persuaded her to sit down again, which she had scarce done when it was again lifted up several times successively, a considerable height, upon which she left her seat and would not be prevailed upon to sit there any more."
Clearly, the Wesley family were in a bad way. Entreaties, threats, exorcism, had alike failed to banish the obstinate ghost. But though they knew it not, relief was at hand. Whether repenting of his misdoings, or desirous of seeking pastures new, Jeffrey, after a visitation lasting nearly two months, took his departure almost as unceremoniously as he had arrived, and left the unhappy Wesleys to resume by slow degrees their wonted ways of life.
Such is the story unfolded by the Wesleys themselves in a series of letters and memoranda, which, taken together, form, as was said, one of the best authenticated narratives of haunting extant. But before endeavoring to ascertain the source of the phenomena credited to the soi-disant Jeffrey, another and fully as important inquiry must be made. What, it is necessary to ask, did the Wesleys actually hear and see in the course of the two months that they had their ghost with them? The answer obviously must be sought through an analysis of the evidence for the haunting. This chronologically falls into three divisions. The first consists of letters addressed to young Samuel Wesley by his father, mother, and two of his sisters, and written at the time of the disturbances; the second, of letters written by Mrs. Wesley and four of her daughters to John Wesley in the summer and autumn of 1726 (that is to say, more than nine years after the haunting), of an account written by the senior Samuel Wesley, and of statements by Hoole and Robert Brown; the third, of an article contributed to "The Arminian Magazine" in 1784 (nearly seventy years after the event) by John Wesley.
Now, the most cursory examination of the various documents shows remarkable discrepancies between the earlier and later versions. Writing to her son Samuel, when the ghost was still active, and she would not be likely to minimize its doings, Mrs. Wesley thus describes the first occurrences:
"On the first of December, our maid heard, at the door of the dining-room, several dismal groans like a person in extremes, at the point of death. We gave little heed to her relation and endeavored to laugh her out of her fears. Some nights (two or three) after, several of the family heard a strange knocking in divers places, usually three or four knocks at a time, and then stayed a little. This continued every night for a fortnight; sometimes it was in the garret, but most commonly in the nursery, or green chamber."
Contrast with this the portion of John Wesley's "Arminian Magazine" article referring to the same period:
"On the second of December, 1716, while Robert Brown, my father's servant, was sitting with one of the maids, a little before ten at night, in the dining-room which opened into the garden, they both heard one knocking at the door. Robert rose and opened it, but could see nobody. Quickly it knocked again and groaned.... He opened the door again twice or thrice, the knocking being twice or thrice repeated; but still seeing nothing, and being a little startled, they rose and went up to bed. When Robert came to the top of the garret stairs, he saw a handmill, which was at a little distance, whirled about very swiftly.... When he was in bed, he heard as it were the gobbling of a turkey cock close to the bedside; and soon after, the sound of one stumbling over his shoes and boots; but there were none there, he had left them below.... The next evening, between five and six o'clock, my sister Molly, then about twenty years of age, sitting in the dining-room reading, heard as if it were the door that led into the hall open, and a person walking in, that seemed to have on a silk nightgown, rustling and trailing along. It seemed to walk round her, then to the door, then round again; but she could see nothing."
As a matter of fact, the contemporary records are silent respecting the extraordinary happenings that overshadow all else in the records of 1726 and 1784. In the former, for example, we find no reference to the affair of the mill handle, the levitation of the bed, the rude bumpings given to Mr. Wesley. There is much talk of knockings and groanings, of sounds like footsteps, rustling silks, falling coals, breaking bottles, and moving latches; allusion is made to the badger like and rabbit like apparition; and there is mention of a peculiar dancing of father's "trencher" without "anybody's stirring the table"; but the sum total makes very tame reading compared with the material to be found in the accounts written in after years and commonly utilized—as it has been utilized here—to form the narrative of the haunting. Not only this, but a rigorous division of the contemporary evidence into first hand and second hand still further eliminates the element of the marvelous. Admitting as evidence only the fact set forth as having been observed by the relators themselves, the haunting is reduced to a matter of knocks, groans, tinglings, squeaks, creakings, crashings, and footsteps.
We are, therefore, justified in believing that in this case, like so many others of its kind, the fallibility of human memory has played an overwhelming part in exaggerating the experiences actually undergone; that, in fine, nothing occurred in the rectory at Epworth, between December 1, 1716, and January 31, 1717, that may not be attributed to human agency.
Who, then, was the agent? Knowing what we do of Wesley's previous relations with the villagers, the first impulse is to place the responsibility at their door. But for this there is no real warrant. Years had elapsed since the culminating catastrophe of the burning of the rectory, and in the interim matters had been put on an amicable basis. Moreover, the evidence as to the haunting itself goes to show that the phenomena could not possibly have been produced by a person, or persons, operating from outdoors; but must, on the contrary, have been the work of some one intimately acquainted with the arrangements of the house and enjoying the full confidence of its master.
Thus our inquiry narrows to the inmates of the rectory. Of these, Mr. and Mrs. Wesley, may at once be left out of consideration, as also may the servants, all accounts agreeing that from the outset they were genuinely alarmed. There remain only the Wesley girls, and our effort must be to discover which of them was the culprit.
At first blush this seems an impossible task; but let us scan the evidence carefully. We find, to begin with, that only four of the seven sisters are represented in the correspondence relating to the haunting. Two of the others, Kezziah and Martha, were mere children and not of letter-writing age, and their silence in the matter is thus satisfactorily accounted for. But that the third, Mehetabel, should likewise be silent is distinctly puzzling. Not only was she quite able to give an account of her experiences (she was at least between eighteen and nineteen years of age), but it is known that she had a veritable passion for pen and ink, a passion which in after years won her no mean reputation as a poetess. And, more than this, she seems to have enjoyed a far greater share of Jeffrey's attentions than did any other member of the family. "My sister Hetty, I find," remarks the observing Samuel, "was more particularly troubled." And Emilia declares, almost in the language of complaint, that "it was never near me, except two or three times, and never followed me as it did my sister Hetty."
Manifestly, it may be worth while to inquire into the history and characteristics of this young woman. Her biographer, Dr. Adam Clarke, informs us that "from her childhood she was gay and sprightly; full of mirth, good humor, and keen wit. She indulged this disposition so much that it was said to have given great uneasiness to her parents; because she was in consequence often betrayed into inadvertencies which, though of small moment in themselves, showed that her mind was not under proper discipline; and that fancy, not reason, often dictated that line of conduct which she thought proper to pursue."
This information is the more interesting, in the present connection, since it contrasts strongly with the unqualified commendation Dr. Clarke accords the other sisters. From the same authority we learn that as a child Miss Mehetabel was so precocious that at the age of eight she could read the Greek Testament in the original; that she was from her earliest youth emotional and sentimental; that despite her intellectual tastes and attainments she gave her hand to an illiterate journeyman plumber and glazier; and that when the fruit of this union lay dying by her side she insisted on dictating to her husband a poem afterward published under the moving caption of "A Mother's Address to Her Dying Infant." Another of her poems, by the way, is significantly entitled, "The Lucid Interval."
There can, then, be little question that Hetty Wesley was precisely the type of girl to derive amusement by working on the superstitious fears of those about her. We find, too, in the evidence itself certain fugitive references directly pointing to her as the creator of Old Jeffrey. It seems that she had a practice of sitting up and moving about the house long after all the other inmates, except her father, had retired for the night. The ghost was especially noisy and malevolent when in her vicinity, knocking boisterously on the bed in which she slept, and even knocking under her feet. And what is most suggestive, two witnesses, her father and her sister Susannah, testify that on some occasions the noises failed to wake her, but caused her "to tremble exceedingly in her sleep." It must, indeed, have been a difficult matter to restrain laughter at the spectacle of the night-gowned, night-capped, much bewildered parson, candle in one hand and pistol in the other, peering under and about the bed in quest of the invisible ghost.
To be sure, it is impossible to adduce positive proof that Hetty Wesley and Old Jeffrey were one and the same. But the evidence supports this view of the case as it supports no other, and, taken in conjunction with the facts of her earlier and later life, leaves little doubt that had the Rev. Samuel paid closer attention to the comings and goings of this particular daughter the ghost that so sorely tried him would have taken its flight much sooner than it did. Her motive for the deception must be left to conjecture. In all probability it was only the desire to amaze and terrorize, a desire as was said before, not infrequently operative along similar lines in the case of young people of a lively disposition and morbid imagination.
THE VISIONS OF EMANUEL SWEDENBORG
In mid April of the memorable year 1745, two men, hastening through a busy London thoroughfare, paused for a moment to follow with their eyes a third, whom they had greeted but who had passed without so much as a glance in their direction. The face of one betrayed chagrin; but the other smiled amusedly.
"You must not mind, dear fellow," said he; "that is only Swedenborg's way, as you will discover when you know him better. His feet are on the earth; but for the moment his mind is in the clouds, pondering some solution to the wonderful problems he has set himself, marvelous man that he is."
"Yet," objected the other, "he seems such a thorough man of the world, so finely dressed, so courtly as a rule in speech and manner."
"He is a man of the world, a true cosmopolitan," was the quick response. "I warrant few are so widely and so favorably known. He is as much at home in London, Paris, Berlin, Dresden, Amsterdam, or Copenhagen as in his native city of Stockholm. Kings and Queens, grand dames and gallant wits, statesmen and soldiers, scientists and philosophers, find pleasure in his society. He can meet all on their own ground, and to all he has something fresh and interesting to say. But he is nevertheless, and above everything else, a dreamer."
"Aye. They tell me that he will not rest content until he has found the seat of the soul in man. Up through mathematics, mechanics, mineralogy, astronomy, chemistry, even physiology, has he gone, mastering every science in turn, until he is now perhaps the most learned man in Europe. But his learning satisfies him not a whit, since the soul still eludes him,—and eludes him, mark you, despite month upon month of toil in the dissecting room. If the study of anatomy fail him, I know not where he will next turn. For my part, I fancy he need not look beyond the stomach. The wonder is that his own stomach has not given him the clue ere this; for, metaphysician though he be, he enjoys the good things of earth. Let me tell you a story—"
Thus, chatting and laughing, the friends continued on their way, every step taking them farther from the unwitting subject of their words. He, for his part, absorbed in thought, pressed steadily forward to his destination, a quiet inn in a sequestered quarter of the city. The familiar sounds of eighteenth-century London—the bawling of apprentices shouting their masters' wares, the crying of fishwives, the quarreling of drunkards, the barking of curs, the bellowing of cattle on their way to market and slaughter house—broke unheeded about him.
He was, as the gossip had put it, in the clouds, intent on the riddles his learning had rendered only the more complex, riddles having to do with the nature of the universe and with man's place in the universe. Nor did he rouse himself from his meditations until the door of the inn had closed behind him and he found himself in its common room. Then he became the Emanuel Swedenborg of benignity, geniality, and courtesy, the Swedenborg whom all men loved.
"I am going to my room," said he to the innkeeper, in charming, broken English, "and I wish to be served there. I find I am very hungry; so see that you spare not."
While he is standing at the window, waiting for his dinner, and gazing abstractedly into the ill-paved, muddy street illumined by a transitory gleam of April sunshine, let us try to gain a closer view of him than that afforded by the brief account of his unrecognized acquaintance. The attempt will be worth while; for at this very moment he has, all unconsciously, reached the great crisis of his life, and is about to leave behind him the achievements of his earlier years, setting himself instead to tasks of a very different nature. We see him, then, a man nearing the age of sixty, of rather more than average height, smooth shaven, bewigged, bespectacled, and scrupulously dressed according to the fashion of the day. Time in its passing has dealt gently with him. There is no stoop to his shoulders, no tremor in the fingers that play restlessly on the window-pane. Not a wrinkle mars the placid features.
Well may he feel at peace with the world. His whole career has been a steady progress, his record that of one who has attempted many things and failed in few. Before he was twenty-one his learning had gained for him a doctorate in philosophy. Then, enthusiastic, open-minded, and open-eyed, he had hurried abroad, to pursue in England, Holland, France, and Germany his chosen studies of mathematics, mechanics, and astronomy. Returning to Sweden to assume the duties of assessor of mines, he speedily proved that he was no mere theorizer, his inventive genius enabling the warlike Charles XII. to transport overland galleys and sloops for the siege of Frederikshald, sea passage being barred by hostile fleets. Ennobled for this feat, he plunged with ardor into the complicated problems of statecraft, problems rendered the more difficult by the economic distress in which Charles's wars had involved his Kingdom. Here again he attained distinction.
Yet always the problems of science and philosophy claimed his chief devotion. From the study of stars and minerals he passed to the contemplation of other marvels of nature as revealed in man himself. And now behold him turned chemist, anatomist, physiologist, and psychologist, and repeating in these fields of research his former triumphs. Still, indomitable man, he refused to stop. He would press on, far beyond the confines of what his generation held to be the knowable. "The end of the senses," to quote his own words, "is that God may be seen." He would peer into the innermost recesses of man's being, to discern the soul of man, mayhap to discern God himself.
But, if he were scientist and metaphysician, he was also human, and that pleasant April afternoon the humanity in him bulked large when he finally turned from the window and took his seat at the bountifully heaped table. He was, as he had told the innkeeper, very hungry, and he ate with a zest that abundantly confirmed his statement. How pleasant the odors from this dish and that—how agreeable the flavor of everything! Surely he had never enjoyed meal more, and surely he was no longer "in the clouds"; but was instead recalling pleasant reminiscences of his doings in one and another of the gay capitals of Europe! There would be not a little to bring a twinkle of delight to his beaming eyes, not a little to soften his scholastic lips into a gentle smile. And so, in solitary state, he ate and drank, with nothing to warn him of the impending and momentous change that was to shape anew his career and his view-point.
Conceive his astonishment, therefore, when, his dinner still unfinished, he felt a strange languor creeping over him and a mysterious obscurity dimming his eyes. Conceive, further, his horror at sight of the floor about him covered with frogs and toads and snakes and creeping things. And picture, finally, his amazement when, the darkness that enveloped him suddenly clearing, he beheld a man sitting in the far corner of the room and eying him, as it seemed, reproachfully, even disdainfully.
In vain, he essayed to rise, to lift his hand, to speak. Invisible bonds held him in his chair, an unseen power kept him mute. For an instant he fancied that he must be dreaming; but the noises from outdoors and the sight of the table and food before him brought conviction that he was in full possession of his senses. Now his visitor spoke, and spoke only four words, which astonished no less than alarmed him. "Eat not so much." Only this—then utter silence. Again the enveloping darkness—frogs, toads, snakes, faded in its depths—and with returning light Swedenborg was once more alone in the room.
Small wonder that the remaining hours of the day were spent in fruitless cogitation of this weird and disagreeable experience which far transcended metaphysician's normal ken. Nor is it surprising to find him naively admitting that "this unexpected event hastened my return home." Imagination can easily round out the picture,—the rising in terror, the overturning of the chair, the seizing of cocked hat and gold-headed cane, the few explanatory words to the astonished innkeeper, the hurried departure, and the progress, perchance at a more rapid gait than usual, to the sleeping quarters in another section of the town. Arrived there, safe in the refuge of his commodious bed-room, sage argument would follow in the effort to attain persuasion that the terrifying vision had been but "the effect of accidental causes." Be sure, though, that our philosopher, dreading a return of the specter if he permitted food to pass his lips, would go hungry to bed that night.
That night—more visions. To the wakeful, restless, perturbed Swedenborg the same figure appeared, this time without snakes or frogs or toads, and not in darkness, but in the midst of a great white light that filled the bed chamber with a wonderful radiance. Then a voice spoke:
"I am God the Lord, the Creator and Redeemer of the world. I have chosen thee to lay before men the spiritual sense of the Holy Word. I will teach thee what thou art to write."
Slowly the light faded, the figure disappeared. And now the astounded philosopher, his amazement growing with each passing moment, found himself transported as it seemed to another world,—the world of the dead. Men and women of his acquaintance greeted him as they had been wont to do when on earth, pressed about him, eagerly questioned him. Their faces still wore the familiar expressions of kindliness, anxiety, sincerity, ill will, as the case might be. In every way they appeared to be still numbered among the living. They were clad in the clothes they had been accustomed to wear, they ate and drank, they lived in houses and towns. The philosophers among them continued to dispute, the clergy to admonish, the authors to write.
But, his perception enlarging, Swedenborg presently discovered that this was in reality only an intermediate state of existence; that beyond it at the one end was heaven and at the other hell, to one or the other of which the dead ultimately gravitated according to their desires and conduct. For, as he was to learn later, the spiritual world was a world of law and order fully as much as was the natural world. Men were free to do as they chose; but they must bear the consequences. If they were evil-minded, it would be their wish to consort with those of like mind, and in time they must pass to the abode of the wicked; if pure-minded, they would seek out kindred spirits, and, when finally purged of the dross of earth, be translated to the realm of bliss. To heaven, then, voyaged Swedenborg, on a journey of discovery; and to hell likewise. What he saw he has set down in many bulky volumes, than which philosopher has written none more strange.[E]
With the return of daylight it might seem that he would be prompt to dismiss all memory of these peculiar experiences as fantasies of sleep. But he was satisfied that he had not slept; that on the contrary he had been preternaturally conscious throughout the long, eventful night. In solemn retrospect he retraced his past career. He remembered that for some years he had had symbolic dreams and symbolic hallucinations—as of a golden key, a tongue of flame, and voices—which had at the time baffled his understanding, but which he now interpreted as premonitory warnings that God had set him apart for a great mission. He remembered too that when still a child his mind had been engrossed by thoughts of God, and that in talking with his parents he had uttered words which caused them to declare that the angels spoke through his mouth. Remembering all these things, he could no longer doubt that Divinity had actually visited him in his humble London boarding house, and he made up his mind that he must bestir himself to carry out the divine command of expounding to his fellow men the hidden meaning of Holy Writ.
Forthwith, being still fired with the true scientist's passion for original research, he set himself to the task of learning Hebrew. He was, it will be remembered, approaching sixty, an age when the acquisition of a new language is exceedingly difficult and rare. Yet such progress did he make that within a very few months he was writing notes in explanation of the book of Genesis. And thus he continued not for months but years, patiently traversing the entire Bible, and at the same time carefully committing to paper everything "seen and heard" in the spiritual world; for his London excursion beyond the borderland which separates the here from the hereafter had been only the first of similar journeys taken not merely by night but in broad daylight. To use his own phraseology: "The Lord opened daily, very often, my bodily eyes; so that in the middle of the day I could see into the other world, and in a state of perfect wakefulness converse with angels and spirits."
His increasing absorption—absent-mindedness, his friends would call it—his habit of falling into trances, and his claim to interworld communication, could not fail to excite the surprise of all who had known him as scientist and philosopher. But these vagaries, as people deemed them, met the greater toleration because of the evident fact that they did not dim his intellectual powers and did not interfere with his activities in behalf of the public good. True, in 1747 he resigned his office of assessor of mines in order to have more leisure to prosecute his adventures into the unknown; but as a member of the Swedish Diet he continued to play a prominent part in the affairs of the Kingdom, giving long and profound study to the critical problems of administration, economics, and finance with which the nation's leaders were confronted during the third quarter of the century. So that—bearing in mind the further fact that he was no blatant advocate of his opinions—it seems altogether likely his spiritistic ideas would have gained no great measure of attention, had it not been for a series of singular occurrences that took place between 1759 and 1762.
Toward the end of July in the first of these years, Swedenborg (whose fondness for travel ceased only with his death) arrived in Gottenburg homeward bound from England, and on the invitation of a friend decided to break his journey by spending a few days in that city. Two hours after his arrival, while attending a small reception given in his honor, he electrified the company by abruptly declaring that at that moment a dangerous fire had broken out at Stockholm, three hundred miles away, and was spreading rapidly. Becoming excited, he rushed from the room, to reenter with the news that the house of one of his friends was in ashes, and that his own house was threatened. Anxious moments passed, while he restlessly paced up and down, in and out. Then, with a cry of joy, he exclaimed, "Thank God the fire is out, the third door from my house!"
Like wild the tidings spread through Gottenburg, and the greatest commotion prevailed. Some were inclined to give credence to Swedenborg's statements; more, who did not know the man, derided him as a sensation monger. But all had to wait with what patience they could, for those were the days before steam engine and telegraph. Forty-eight anxious hours passed. Then letters were received confirming the philosopher's announcement, and, we are assured, showing that the fire had taken precisely the path described by him, and had stopped where he had indicated.
No peace now for Swedenborg. His home at Stockholm, with its quaint gambrel roof, its summer houses, its neat flower beds, its curious box trees, instantly became a Mecca for the inquisitive, burning to see the man who held converse with the dead and was instructed by the latter in many portentous secrets. Most of those who gained admission, and through him sought to be put into touch with departed friends, received a courteous but firm refusal, accompanied by the explanation: "God having for wise and good purposes separated the world of spirits from ours, a communication is never granted without cogent reasons." When, however, his visitors satisfied him that they were imbued with something more than curiosity, he made an effort to meet their wishes, and occasionally with astonishing results.
It was thus in the case of Madam Marteville, widow of the Dutch Ambassador to Sweden. In 1761, some months after her husband's death, a goldsmith demanded from her payment for a silver service the Ambassador had bought from him. Feeling sure that the bill had already been paid, she made search for the receipt, but could find none. The sum involved was large, and she sought Swedenborg and asked him to seek her husband in the world of spirits and ascertain whether the debt had been settled. Three days later, when she was entertaining some friends, Swedenborg called, and in the most matter of fact way stated that he had had a conversation with Marteville, and had learned from him that the debt had been canceled seven months before his death, and that the receipt would be found in a certain bureau.
"But I have searched all through it," protested Madam Marteville.
"Ah," was Swedenborg's rejoinder; "but it has a secret drawer of which you know nothing."
At once all present hurried to the bureau, and there, in the private compartment which he quickly located, lay the missing receipt.
In similar fashion did Swedenborg relate to the Queen of Sweden, Louisa Ulrica, the substance of the last interview between her and her dead brother, the Crown Prince of Prussia, an interview which had been strictly private, and the subject of which, she affirmed, was such that no third person could possibly have known what passed between them.
More startling still was his declaration to a merry company at Amsterdam that at that same hour, in far away Russia, the Emperor Peter III. was being foully done to death in prison. Once more time proved that the spirit seer, as Swedenborg was now popularly known, had told the truth.
A decade more, and again we meet him in London, his whole being, at eighty-four, animated with the same energy and enthusiasm that had led him to seek and attain in his earlier manhood such a vast store of knowledge. And here, as Christmas drew near, he found lodging with two old friends, a wig maker and his wife. But ere Christmas dawned he lay a helpless victim of that dread disease paralysis. Not a word, not a movement, for full three weeks.
Then, with returning consciousness, a call for pen and paper. He would, he muttered with thickened speech, send a note to inform a certain John Wesley that the spirits had made known to him Wesley's desire to meet him, and that he would be glad to receive a visit at any time. In reply came word that the great evangelist had indeed wished to make the great mystic's acquaintance, and that after returning from a six months' circuit he would give himself the pleasure of waiting upon Swedenborg. "Too late," was the aged philosopher's comment as the story goes, "too late; for on the 29th of March I shall be in the world of spirits never more to return."
March came and went, and with it went his soul on the day predicted, if prediction there were. They buried him in London, and there in early season, out of his grave blossomed the religion that has preserved his name, his fame, his doctrines. To the dead Swedenborg succeeded the living Swedenborgianism.
* * * * *
But what shall those of us who are not Swedenborgians think of the master? Shall we accept at face value the story of his life as gathered from the documents left behind him and as set forth here; and, accepting it, believe that he was in reality a man set apart by God and granted the rare favor of insight into that unknown world to which all of us must some day go?
The true explanation, it seems to me, can be had only when we view Swedenborg in the light of the marvelous discoveries made during the last few years in the field of abnormal psychology. Beginning in France, and continuing more recently in the United States and other countries, investigations have been set on foot resulting in the solution of many human problems not unlike the riddle of Swedenborg, and occasionally far more complicated than that presented in his case. All these solutions, in the last analysis, rest on the basic discovery that human personality is by no means the single indivisible entity it is commonly supposed to be, but is instead singularly unstable and singularly complex. It has been found that under some unusual stimulus—such as an injury, an illness, or the strain of an intense emotion—there may result a disintegration, or, as it is technically termed, a dissociation, of personality, giving rise it may be to hysteria, it may be to hallucinations, it may even be to a complete disappearance of the original personality and its replacement by a new personality, sometimes of radically different characteristics.[F]
It has also been found, by another group of investigators working principally in England, that side by side with the original, the waking, personality of every-day life, there coexists a hidden personality possessing faculties far transcending those enjoyed by the waking personality, but as a rule coming into play only at moments of crisis, though by some favored mortals invocable more frequently. To this hidden personality, as distinguished from the secondary personality of dissociation, has been given the name of the subliminal self, and to its operation some attribute alike the productions of men of genius and the phenomena of clairvoyance and thought transference that have puzzled mankind from time immemorial.
Now, arguing by analogy from the cases scattered through the writings of Janet, Sidis, Prince, Myers, Gurney, and many others whose works the reader may consult for himself in any good public library, it is my belief that in Swedenborg we have a preeminent illustration both of dissociation and of subliminal action, and that it is therefore equally unnecessary to stigmatize him as insane or to adopt the spiritistic hypothesis in explanation of his utterances. The records show that from his father he inherited a tendency to hallucinations, checked for a time by the nature of his studies, but fostered as these expanded into pursuit of the absolute and the infinite. They further show that for a long time before the London visions he was in a disturbed state of health, his nervous system unstrung, his whole being so unhinged that at times he suffered from attacks of what was probably hystero-epilepsy.
It seems altogether likely, then, that in London the process of dissociation, after this period of gradual growth, suddenly leaped into activity. Thereafter his hallucinations, from being sporadic and vague, became habitual and definite, his hystero-epileptic attacks more frequent. But, happily for him, the dissociation never became complete. He was left in command of his original personality, his mental powers continued unabated; and he was still able to adjust himself to the environment of the world about him.
But, it may be objected, how explain his revelations in the matter of the fire at Stockholm, the missing receipt, the message to Queen Ulrica, and the death of Peter III.? This brings us to the question of subliminal action. Swedenborg himself, far in advance of his generation in this as in much else, appears to have realized that there was no need of invoking spirits to account for such transactions. "I need not mention," he once wrote, "the manifest sympathies acknowledged to exist in this lower world, and which are too many to be recounted; so great being the sympathy and magnetism of man that communication often takes place between those who are miles apart."
Here, in language that admits of no misinterpretation, we see stated the doctrine of telepathy, which is only now beginning to find acceptance among scientific men, but which, as I view it, has been amply demonstrated by the experiments of recent years and by the thousands of cases of spontaneous occurrence recorded in such publications as the "Proceedings of the Society for Psychical Research." And if these experiments and spontaneous instances prove anything, they prove that telepathy is distinctively a faculty of the subliminal self; and that a greater or less degree of dissociation is essential, not to the receipt, but to the objective realization, of telepathic messages. Thus, the entranced "medium" of modern days extracts from the depths of his sitter's subconsciousness facts which the sitter has consciously forgotten, facts even of which he may never have been consciously aware, but which have been transmitted telepathically to his subliminal self by the subliminal self of some third person.[G]