Transcriber's Note: Inconsistency between TOC and Chapter headings have been retained as in the original.
SEEN AND UNSEEN
BY E. KATHARINE BATES
NEW YORK DODGE PUBLISHING COMPANY 214-220 EAST 23RD STREET
First Published July 1907
Second Impression October 1907
Third Impression March 1908
Popular Edition 1908
C. E. B.
IN MEMORY OF
ONE WHO LOVED AND SUFFERED
AND IN THE SURE AND CERTAIN HOPE
OF A JOYFUL MEETING WITH
HIM, AND WITH OTHERS
WHO HAVE CROSSED
INTRODUCTION ix I. EARLY RECOLLECTIONS 1 II. INVESTIGATIONS IN AMERICA, 1885-1886 13 III. AUSTRALIA AND NEW ZEALAND 49 IV. HONG KONG, ALASKA, AND NEW YORK 71 V. INDIA, 1890-1891 80 VI. SWEDEN AND RUSSIA, 1892 97 AN INTERLUDE 129 VII. LADY CAITHNESS AND THE AVENUE WAGRAM 144 VIII. FROM OXFORD TO WIMBLEDON 161 IX. 1896, HAUNTINGS BY THE LIVING AND THE DEAD 176 X. FURTHER EXPERIENCES IN AMERICA 195 XI. A HAUNTED CASTLE IN IRELAND 218 XII. 1900-1901, ODDS AND ENDS 232 XIII. 1903, A SECOND VISIT TO INDIA 260 XIV. A FAMILY PORTRAIT AND PSYCHIC PHOTOGRAPHY 274 APPENDIX 298
Many years ago, whilst living at Oxford, I was invited by a very old friend, who had recently taken his degree, to a river picnic; with Nuneham, I think, as its alleged object.
Unfortunately, the day proved unfavourable, and we returned in open boats, also with open umbrellas; a generally drenched and bedraggled appearance, and nothing to cheer us on the physical plane except a quantity of iced coffee which had been ordered in anticipation of a tropical day.
Under these rather trying conditions I can remember getting a good deal of amusement out of the companions in the special boat which proved to be my fate. Our host, being a clever and interesting man himself, had collected clever and interesting people round him, on the "Birds of a Feather" principle, and I happened to sit between two ladies, one the wife (now, alas! the widow) of a man who was to become later on one of our most famous bishops; the other—her bosom friend and deadly rival—the wife of an equally distinguished Oxford don.
The iced coffee combined with the pouring rain may have been partly to blame, but certainly the conversation that went on between the two ladies, across my umbrella, was decidedly Feline.
To pass the time we were valiantly endeavouring to play "Twenty Questions" from the bottom of the boat, and the Bishop's widow was asking the questions. She had triumphantly elicited the fact that we had thought of a cinder—and an historical cinder—and the twentieth and last permissible question was actually hovering on her lips. "It was the cinder that Richard Coeur de Lion's horse fell upon," she said eagerly. Of course, we all realised that this was a most obvious "slip" in the case of so highly educated a woman; but the Bosom Friend could not resist putting out the velvet paw: "A little confusion in the centuries, I think, dear," she said sweetly. The unfortunate questioner practically "never smiled again" during that expedition. But a still more crushing blow was in store for her.
The conversation turned later upon questions of style in writing or speaking, and with perhaps pardonable revenge, she said to her rival:
"I always notice that you say 'one' so often—'one does this or that,' and so forth."
"Really, dear? That is curious. Now I always notice that you say 'I' so continually!"
The cut and thrust came with the rapidity of expert fencers.
And this brings me to the real gist of my story.
It is considered the most heinous offence "to say I," and every conceivable device is resorted to, no matter how clumsy, in order to prevent the catastrophe of a writer being forced to speak of himself in the first person.
To my mind, there is a good deal of affectation and pose about this, and in anything of an autobiography it becomes insupportable.
"The writer happened upon one occasion to be present, etc." "He who pens these unworthy pages was once travelling to Scotland, etc. etc."
Which of us has not groaned under these self-conscious euphemisms? "Why not say 'I' and have done with it?" we are wont to exclaim in desperation after pages of this kind of thing.
Now I propose "to say I" and "have done with it," and not waste time in trying to find ingenious and wearisome equivalents.
That is my first point.
Secondly, in this record of psychic experiences I mean to keep clear of another intolerable nuisance—I mean the continual introduction of capital letters and long dashes in order to conceal identity in such episodes.
The motive is admirable, but the method is detestable.
One can only judge by personal experience. I know that when I read a rather involved narrative of sufficiently involved psychic doings, and Mr Q——, Miss B——, Mr C——, and Mr C.'s maternal aunt Mrs G—— figure wildly in it, I am driven desperate in trying to force some idea of personality into these meaningless letters of the alphabet.
To conceal the identity of Mr Brown, who was once guilty of seeing a ghost, may be and most frequently is, a point of honour, but why not call him Mr Smith, and say he lived in Buckinghamshire, and thus rouse a definite mental conception in your reader's brain, instead of calling him Mr Z. of W——, and thus setting up mental irritation before the ghost comes upon the scene?
Having cleared the ground so far, I will now mention my third and last point.
It is usual when writing reminiscences of any kind to anticipate your reader's criticisms, and try to increase his interest in your experiences by a sort of false humility in deprecating their value. The idea is doubtless founded on a sound knowledge of Human Nature, but it may easily fall into exaggeration. Nothing is, of course, so disastrous as to praise beforehand a person, a picture, a voice, a poem, a book, or anything else in the wide world, in which we wish our friends to take any special interest. Such a course naturally rouses unconscious antagonism in poor, fallen Human Nature before we even see or hear the object of our later bitter aversion. But there is a medium in all things, and it is scarcely polite to put the intelligence of our readers sufficiently low to be manipulated by such obvious arts.
Moreover, it has been well said that the history of any one human being—truthfully told (I would add, intelligently assimilated)—would be of enthralling interest and value. If this be true on the ordinary physical, intellectual, and spiritual planes it should not be less true, surely, where a fourth plane of psychic experience is added to the other three?
Then again, there is no need to apologise for experiences limited in interest or in amount.
These terms are of necessity comparative. For example, my experiences are limited compared with those of some people I have known, who have been either more highly endowed with psychic gifts or who have considered it advisable to cultivate such gifts to a high point of efficiency; or lastly, with whom opportunities for experience have been more numerous. But, on the other hand, my experiences have been great compared with those of some people at least equally interested in these subjects.
Geographically speaking, I have been peculiarly fortunate, having had the opportunity of witnessing phenomena of this kind in many countries, differing widely in Race, Climate, and other conditions.
I have been told many times that I could develop clairvoyance, clairaudience, or sit as a materialising medium, but have had no desire to go further in these matters.
I have seen quite as much as I wish to see, I have heard quite as much as I wish to hear, and should be very sorry personally to increase either of these psychic possibilities by the practice that makes more perfect.
Some consider this lamentable cowardice and want of faith. Each one must judge for himself in such a matter. Faith in this connection may easily degenerate into foolhardiness.
"Greater is He that is for you than all those who are against you" has been quoted to me again and again in deprecation of my attitude in these things. It has always appeared to me a matter in which individual judgment must be exercised, and upon which no broad and general lines of conduct can be laid down.
One man can cycle fifty miles in the day, and dance all night, and be the better for the experience. Another attempting the same feat, but not having the same constitution, might do himself lasting injury. It is exactly the same thing on the psychic plane. Our psychic constitutions differ at least as much as our physical ones. We may overtax either, and with similar consequences. We have no right to expect protection or immunity on either plane, where we neglect the warnings of that inner monitor who is always our best guide.
As a final word of warning, I would say: "Beware of your motives in cultivating psychic capacity." It is so easy to mistake love of notoriety, even in one's own little milieu, for love of Truth. There is always an eager, curious crowd anxious to get "messages" or "hear raps," or to see any other little psychic parlour tricks which we may be induced to play for their benefit. At first one feels it is almost a sacred duty to satisfy, or attempt to satisfy, these psychic cormorants; but later, wisdom comes with experience.
At one time I felt bound to collect my friends and acquaintances round me and tell them all I knew upon these subjects, and doubtless it was right to do so whilst I "felt that way," to quote an expressive Americanism.
But the inevitable day came when I realised that I had spent my strength and my muffins in vain; for these gatherings generally took the form of tea-parties, not too large to cope with single-handed—say from ten to twenty people. They came at 4.30 P.M. and stayed till 8 P.M., when most of them remembered they ought to have dined at 7.45 P.M., and went away saying "How immensely they had enjoyed themselves," and "How interesting it all was."
And so far as any permanent good came of it, there the matter ended.
Believe me, when people are prepared for this development of their finer senses they will come to you. There is no need to go into the highways and hedges and compel them to come in. If they do come they won't stay—why should they? They have not got there yet, to use a thoroughly hateful and ungrammatical but absolutely accurate sentence.
If you try to carry them on the back of your own knowledge and experiences, you can do so for a time, but eventually they will struggle down, or you will put them down from sheer fatigue, and then they will run back to the spot where you found them, and thence work out their own psychic evolution either in this or in some future term of existence.
When their interest is exhausted—to say nothing of your patience—you will hear that they have called you a crank and lamented your "wasting your time over such nonsense." That will be your share of the transaction.
I know this because I have been there—moi qui vous parle.
"Let every man be persuaded in his own mind," but don't try to persuade anyone else. When the right time comes he will ask your help and counsel without any persuasion.
Of course, I am speaking only of private work. Lectures and congresses are of the greatest possible value; for no one knows whom he may be addressing on these occasions, and the seed may be falling into soil prepared, but often unconsciously prepared, for its reception.
To sum up the whole matter:
1. Be strong in the conviction that eventually good must always conquer evil, but remember also that you individually may have a very bad time meanwhile if you go amongst mixed influences and evoke that which at present you are not strong enough to withstand.
2. Know when to speak and when to be silent.
3. Receive what comes to you spontaneously, but never allow yourself to be cajoled or persuaded into developing your mediumship to gratify curiosity; not even on the plea of scientific duty, unless you are fully conscious in your own mind that this is the special work which is laid upon you.
And bearing these three simple rules in mind, we may go forward with brave hearts and level heads on the Quest which has been so plainly opened out to us in this twentieth century. E. KATHARINE BATES.
SEEN AND UNSEEN
Having set myself to write a personal record of psychic experiences, I must "begin at the beginning," as the children say.
When only nine years old I lost my father—the Rev. John Ellison Bates of Christ Church, Dover—and my earliest childish experience of anything supernormal was connected with him. He had been an invalid all my short life, and I was quite accustomed to spending days at a time without seeing him. His last illness, which lasted about a fortnight, had therefore no special significance for me, and my nurse, elder brother, and godmother, who were the only three people in the house at the time, gave strict orders that none of the servants should give me a hint of his being dangerously ill. These instructions were carefully carried out, and yet I dreamed three nights running—the three nights preceding his decease—that he was dead. I was entirely devoted to my father, who had been father and mother to me in one, and these dreams no doubt broke the terrible shock of his death to me. How well I remember, that cold, dreary February morning, being hastily dressed by candle-light by strange hands, and then my dear old nurse (who had been by his bedside all night) coming in and telling me the sad news with tears streaming down her cheeks. It seemed no news at the moment; and yet I had spoken of my dreams to no one, "for fear they should come true," having some pathetic, childish notion that silence on my part might avert the catastrophe. In all his previous and numerous illnesses I had never dreamt that any special one was fatal.
During the next few years of school life my psychic faculty remained absolutely in abeyance. In a fashionable school, surrounded by chattering companions and the usual paraphernalia of school work, classes, and masters, etc., I can, however, recall many a time when suddenly everything around me became unreal and I alone seemed to have any true existence; and even that was for the time merged in a rather unpleasant dream, from which I hoped soon to wake up. This sensation was quite distinct from the one—also well known to me in those days and later—of having "done all this before," and knowing just what somebody was about to say.
Probably both these sensations are common to most young people. It would be interesting to note which of the two is the more universal.
I pass on now to the time when I was about eighteen years old, and a constant visitor, for weeks and months at a time, in the house of my godfather, the archdeacon of a northern diocese. His grandson, then a young student at Oxford, of about my own age, must have been what we should now call a very good sensitive. It was with him that I sat at my first "table," more as a matter of amusement than anything else, and certainly young Morton Freer treated the "spirits" in the most cavalier fashion. They did not seem to resent this, and he could do pretty much what he liked with them. This may be a good opportunity for explaining that when I speak in this narrative of "spirits" I do so to save constant periphrasis, and am quite consciously "begging the question" very often, as a matter of verbal convenience.
In those days I don't think we troubled ourselves much about theories, and when we found that Morton and I alone could move a heavy dining-room table, or any other piece of heavy furniture quite beyond our normal powers, practically without exerting any strength at all, we looked upon it as an amusing experience without caring to inquire whether the energy involved had been generated on this side the veil or on the other side. We could certainly not have moved such weights under ordinary circumstances, even by putting forth all our combined strength, and we could only do so, for some mysterious reason, when we had been "sitting at the table" beforehand. Ingenious Theories of Human Electricity raised to a higher power by making a Human Battery, etc. etc., were not so common then as now, and we accepted facts without trying to solve their problems.
The dear, hospitable Archdeacon would put his venerable head inside the door now and then, shake it at us half in fun, and yet a good deal in earnest, and I think he was more than doubtful whether our parlour games were quite lawful!
We were very innocent and very ignorant in those days on the subject of psychic laws; and probably this was our salvation, for I can remember no terrible or weird experience, such as one reads of nowadays when tyros take to experiments.
And yet my knowledge and experiences of later days lead me to endorse most heartily the well-known dictum of Lawrence Oliphant—namely, that when he saw people sitting down in a casual, irresponsible way to "get messages through a table," it reminded him of an ignorant child going into a powder magazine with a lighted match in its hand.
Staying in this same house, I can next recall a flying visit from a brother of mine, who had just spent three months, on leave from India, in America, where he had taken introductions, and had been the guest of various hospitable naval and military men, who had shown him round the Washington Arsenal, West Point Academy, and so forth. My kind old host had begged him to take us on his way back to London; and I remember well his look of utter amazement when Morton and I had lured him to "the table" one afternoon, and he was told correctly the names of two or three of these American gentlemen.
"I must have mentioned them to my sister in my letters," he said, turning to the younger man. I knew this was not the case, but it was difficult to prove a negative.
It was a relief, therefore, when my brother suggested what he considered a "real test," where previous knowledge on my part must be excluded.
"Let them tell me the name of a bearer I had once in India—he lived with me for more than twelve years—always returning to me when I came back from English furlough, and yet at the end of that time he suddenly disappeared, without rhyme or reason, and I have neither seen nor heard of him since. I know my sister has never heard his name. That would be something like a test, but, of course, it won't come off," he added cynically.
The wearisome spelling out began.
The table rose up at R, then at A.
"Quite wrong," my brother called out in triumph. "I knew how it would be when any real test came. Fortunately, too, it is wildly wrong—neither the letter before nor the letter after the right one, so you cannot wriggle out of it that way."
"Never mind, Major Bates," said Morton Freer good-naturedly. "Let us go on all the same, and see what they mean to spell out."
Fortunately, we did so, with a most interesting result; for the right name was given after all, but spelt in the Hindoostanee and not the European fashion. The name in true Hindoostanee was Ram Din—but Europeans spelt it Rham Deen—and so my brother himself had entirely forgotten when the A was given that it had any connection with the man's name. When the whole word was spelt out, of course he remembered, and then his face was a study!
"Good gracious! it is right enough, and that is the real Hindoostanee spelling, too. I never thought of that when the A came!"
I think this episode knocked the bottom out of his scepticism for some years to come.
Even now this case precludes ordinary and conscious telepathy. Mr Podmore would be reduced to explaining that the Hindoostanee spelling was latent in my brother's consciousness, though his normal self repudiated it.
Another curious incident—still more difficult to explain upon the Thought Transference Theory (unless we stretch it to include a possible impact of all thoughts, at all times and from all quarters of the globe, upon everyone else's brain)—occurred under the same hospitable roof.
One of the Archdeacon's nieces came to stay in the house about this time. She was considerably my senior, and was very kind to me, with the thoughtful kindness an older woman can show to a sensitive young girl. This awakened in me an affection which, I am thankful to say, still exists between us. This lady was considerably under thirty years old at the time, but to my young ideas she seemed already in the sear and yellow leaf from the matrimonial point of view! One must remember how different the standard of age was more than thirty years ago!
It was also the time when marriage was looked upon not only as the most desirable, but as almost the only possible, career for a woman.
So when Morton and this lady and I were "sitting at the table" in the gloaming one evening, I said, with trembling eagerness: "Morton, do ask if Carrie will ever be married," for the case seemed to me almost desperate at the advanced age of twenty-seven or twenty-eight!
I must mention that for some occult reason (which I have entirely forgotten) I trusted fervently that a Hungarian or Polish name might be given after the satisfactory "Yes" had been spelt out, but, alas! nothing of the kind occurred.
"The table" began with a D, and then successively E, H, A, V were given. No one ever heard of a Polish or Hungarian name of the kind, and I remember saying petulantly: "Oh, give it up, Morton. It's all nonsense! Nobody ever heard of a Mr Dehav."
Once more Morton rescued a really good bit of evidence by his imperturbable perseverance.
"Wait a bit! Let us see what is coming," he said.
I took no further personal interest in the experiment. Either Morton concluded the name was finished, or there was some confusion in getting the next letters, owing doubtless to my impetuous disgust. Anyway, he went on to say:
"Let us ask where the fellow lives at the present time." This was instantly answered by "Freshwater," and the further information given that he was a widower.
None of us knew any man, married or single, who lived at Freshwater, and the incident was relegated to the limbo of failures.
Several years later, however, my friend did marry a gentleman whose name (a very pretty one) began with the five despised letters, and he was a widower, and had been living in his own house at Freshwater at the time mentioned. She did not meet him until some years after our curious experience.
About the same time, but in the south of England, my attention was again drawn to metapsychics by an experience connected with the death of the famous Marquis of Hastings, of horse-racing repute. As a young girl I lived close to the Mote Park at Maidstone, where his sister, the present Lady Romney, was then living as Lady Constance Marsham. The Reverend David Dale Stewart and his wife (he was Vicar of Maidstone, and I made my home with them for some years after leaving school) were friends of hers, and she sometimes came to see them in a friendly way in the morning. On one of these occasions, when Lady Constance had just returned from paying her brother a visit in a small shooting-box in the eastern counties (I think), Mrs Stewart remarked that she was afraid the change had not done Lady Constance much good, as she was looking far from well. In those days Lady Romney was an exceptionally strong and healthy young woman.
She said rather impatiently: "Well, the fact is I did a very stupid thing the other day—I never did such a thing before—I fainted dead away for the first time in my life."
Asked for the reason of this, she told us that she and her husband and Lord and Lady Hastings were dining quietly one evening together, two guests who had been expected not having arrived by the train specified.
Looking up Bradshaw, and finding no other train that could bring them until quite late at night, the other four sat down to dinner. Soup and fish had already been discussed, when a carriage was heard driving up to the door, and they naturally concluded that their guests had discovered some means of getting across country by another line. Lord Hastings said:
"Tell Colonel and Mrs —— that we began dinner, thinking they could not arrive till much later, but that we are quite alone, and beg they will join us as soon as possible."
The servant went to the door, prepared with the message given, flung it open—but no carriage, no horses were there! Everybody had heard it driving up, nevertheless.
Remembering the old family legend that a carriage and pair is heard driving up the avenue before the head of the Hastings family dies, Lady Romney fainted dead away, very much to her own surprise and mortification; for she was, and doubtless is still, an uncommonly sensible woman, "quite above all superstitions."
The episode struck me as curious at the time; but the impression passed, and a few days later I went to pay a visit to friends of mine in Buckinghamshire. Soon after my arrival I happened to mention the story, and was much laughed at as a "superstitious little creature, to think twice of such nonsense." "Of course, everyone had been mistaken in supposing they heard wheels or horses' hoofs—nothing could be simpler!"
And yet before I left that house, three weeks later, all the newspapers were full of long obituary notices of the Marquis of Hastings. These were so interesting that my friend's husband had reached the second long column in The Times before any of us remembered my story, which had been treated with so much contempt. It suddenly flashed across my mind: "Owen! Remember the carriage and pair and how you laughed at me!" They were forced to confess "it was certainly rather odd," the usual refuge of the psychically destitute!
A shake of the kaleidoscope, and I see another incident before me of more personal interest.
At the time of the outbreak of the Afghan War, in the autumn of 1878, I was living with very old friends in Oxford. My brother of the Ram Din incident was once more in India, and had been Military Secretary for some years at Lahore to Sir Robert Egerton, who was at that time Lieutenant-Governor of the Punjab.
When the war broke out, my brother, of course, went off to join his regiment for active service; but at the time of my experience it was impossible that he could have reached the seat of war, and I knew this well.
I was in excellent spirits about him, for he had been through many campaigns, and loved active service, as all good soldiers do. Moreover, I had just read a charming letter which Sir Robert Egerton had sent him on resigning his appointment as Military Secretary to take up more active duty to his country.
Yet it was just at this juncture—when, humanly speaking, there was no cause for any special anxiety—that I woke up one morning with the gloomiest and most miserable forebodings about this special brother. Nothing of the kind had ever occurred to me before, though he had been through many campaigns in India, China, Abyssinia, and elsewhere.
It was an overwhelming conviction of some great and definite disaster to him, and my friends in vain tried to argue me out of such an unreasonable terror by pointing out, truly enough, that he could not possibly be within the zone of danger at that time. I could only repeat: "I know that something terrible has happened to him, wherever he is. It may not be death, but it is some terrible calamity."
I spent the day in tears and in absolute despair, and wrote to tell him of my conviction. Allowing for difference of time between Quetta and Oxford, my mental telegram reached me in the same hour that my brother, whilst on the march, and only thirty miles beyond Quetta, was suddenly struck down in his tent by the paralysis which kept him confined to his chair—a helpless sufferer—for twenty-eight years.
Perhaps, now that I know so much more of mental currents, I might have received a more definite message as regards the true nature of the calamity. It could not have been more marked, nor more definite as regards the fact of it.
My condition of hopeless misery obliged me to put off all engagements that day, and I did nothing but fret and lament over him, with the exception of writing the one letter mentioned, in which I told him of my strange and sad experience.
In time, of course, the first sharp impression passed, and soon a cheery letter arrived from him, written, of course, before the fatal day. My experience in Oxford occurred on the morning of 4th December 1878. It was well on in January 1879 before the corroboration arrived, in a letter written to us by a stranger. Communication was delayed not only by the war, but also by the fact that my poor brother was lying at the time deprived of both movement and speech, and could only spell out later, by the alphabet, the address of his people at home.
INVESTIGATIONS IN AMERICA, 1885-1886
An interval of seven years occurs between the events recorded in the last chapter and my first visit to America, which took place in the autumn of 1885.
During these years no abnormal experiences came to me, nor had I the smallest wish for any.
The table turnings with Morton Freer were a thing of the past, and were looked back upon by me in the light of a childish amusement rather than anything else. Quite other interests had come into my life, specially as regards literature and music; and I never gave a thought to spooks or spiritualism, nor did I really know anything about the latter subject. It is true that on one occasion a curate at Great Marlow had spoken to me about Mr S. C. Hall and his researches, and I think he must have given me an introduction to the dear old man, for I remember going to see him "with a lady friend" (he made a great point of this, somewhat to my amusement), and finding a charming old man with silver locks, a fine head, and a nice white frilly shirt.
He spoke of his dear friend "Mrs Jencken," whom he considered the only reliable medium, and showed us some sheets full of hieroglyphics, which he said were messages obtained through her influence from "his dear wife."
It was all so much Greek to me in those days, and only true sympathy with the poor old man's evident loneliness and adoration of his wife's memory prevented my making merry over the extraordinary delusions of the old gentleman, when my companion and I had left his rooms in Sussex villas.
Later, I lived during two years with Mrs Lankester and her daughters whilst looking after an invalid brother in London; and I need scarcely point out that constant intercourse with Professor Ray Lankester in his mother's house was not calculated to encourage any psychic proclivities, even had these latter not been entirely latent with me at that time.
I heard a great deal about the "Slade exposure," both from Professor Lankester and his friend Dr Donkin, who often came to us with him. When arranging my American tour in 1885, Mrs Lankester kindly gave me an introduction to Mrs Edna Hall, an old friend of theirs, who had been living in their house during the whole period of the Slade trial. This lady—an American—lived permanently in Boston, and curiously enough (in view of the preceding facts) it was she who persuaded Miss Greenlow and me to attend our first seance in Boston. Mrs Edna Hall had honoured Mrs Lankester's introduction most hospitably; but she was too busy a woman to do as much for us as her kindness suggested, and she had therefore introduced us to another friend—Mrs Maria Porter—a most picturesque, clever, and characteristic figure in Boston society in the eighties.
Both these ladies accompanied us to the "Sisters Berry." Mrs Edna Hall had no sort of illusions on the subject. She said quite frankly that she only took us there because it was a feature of American life which we ought not to miss, and which would probably amuse us, if only by showing the gullibility of Human Nature.
One is always apt to read past experiences in the light of present convictions. Fortunately, I kept a diary at the time, and have a faithful record of what took place, and, which is still more valuable, of the impressions formed at the time.
The extracts connected with this seance in Boston, and later experiences in New York, are taken partly from my record at the time and partly from the chapter on "Spiritualism in America," published in my book entitled "A Year in the Great Republic."
Speaking of this first seance in Boston, I see that I have said:
"I went to the 'Sisters Berry' in a very antagonistic frame of mind, determined beforehand that the whole thing was a swindle (italics are recent), accompanied by friends who were even more sceptical than myself, if that were possible." I go on then to describe the usual cabinet, and pass on to the following extract:—
An old Egyptian now appeared, and a man in the circle, who had been sitting near my friend Miss Greenlow all the evening, went up and spoke to him, and then asked "that the lady who had been sitting near him" might come up also, which she did; but she said she could distinguish no features, and only felt a warm, damp hand passed over hers. Miss Greenlow was next called up by the spirit of a young man who wished to embrace her, but who was finally proved to be the departed friend of the lady who sat next to her. Miss Greenlow returned to her seat, furious, declaring that it was a horrible, coarse-looking creature, unlike anyone she had ever seen in her life.
Mrs Porter made valiant attempts to investigate the figures who came forth at intervals, but was invariably waved back by the master of the ceremonies.
"Will that lady kindly sit down? This spirit is not for her. It wishes to communicate with its own friends, and she is disturbing the conditions, and forcing the spirit back into the cabinet."
There were evidently many old stagers there, who flew up like lamp-lighters on every possible occasion, with exclamations of: "Oh, Uncle Charlie, is that you?" "How do you do, Jem?" and so forth.
One old lady, in a mob cap and black gown, was introduced as a certain Sister Margaret who had taught in St Peter's School, Boston. She came to speak to a former pupil, who gave her spiritualistic experiences in such remarkably bad grammar as reflected small credit on Sister Margaret's teaching of the English language.
This girl told us how anxious she had always been to see her old teacher, who had appeared to her several times in the seance room, but never in her old garments—a sort of sister's dress. After wishing very fervently one night, Sister Margaret appeared dressed in mob cap and gown, saying: "Don't you see my dress? I came in it at your wish."
"Yes," answered the girl; "and I thank you for gratifying my wish. Since which time," she added, "I have been a firm believer in spiritualism."
A young French girl, in draggly black garments and a shock of thick black hair, then came forward and rushed amongst us, trying to find someone to talk French with her. My friend Mrs Hall went up first, and then I was told to go up and speak to her. I took hold of her hands, and grasped them firmly for a moment. They seemed to be ordinary flesh and blood, but I am bound to confess that they appeared to lengthen out in a somewhat abnormal fashion when the pressure was removed.
Her face was very cadaverous, and she spoke in a quick, hurried way, as if time were an object. She said she understood a little English, but could not speak it. Her mother had been French; her father an Indian, "un brave homme."
It seemed to me that a good deal of kissing and embracing went on. One old grey-headed gentleman was constantly walking up to the cabinet and being embraced by a white figure, whose arms we could just see, thrown round his neck, in the dim light. (I note that the light here was much less than with Mrs Stoddart Gray in New York.)
The only excitement was the chance of some disturbance before we left; for Mrs Porter became more and more indignant with the "gross imposture," which culminated when at length she was called up and told that "a young man wished to speak with her." She asserted that it was "the most horrible, grinning, painted creature who hissed into her ears."
The master of the house begged her to be patient, and try to hear what the spirit wished to say, but with a very emphatic "NO, NO, NO" she resumed her seat, amidst a general titter of laughter.
At the last we were told that three little girls, whose mother sat near the cabinet, wished to materialise, but found it difficult to do so, owing to the absence of children in the audience.
The mother seemed very anxious to see them; but suddenly the gas was turned up, and the seance declared over—a very abrupt finale to a piece of unmitigated humbug, I should say.
These extracts sufficiently show the spirit in which I entered upon my investigations and the result of that spirit. I think even Mr Podmore would have considered me thoroughly sound on that first evening. I have no doubt that the violence of Mrs Porter's antagonism, and the smiling cynicism of Mrs Hall in face of the "American experience" she had proposed for us, added to my own preconceived prejudices.
I am aware that the Berry Sisters have been "exposed," thus sharing the fate of all other public mediums. In the light of later experiences, however, I feel sure that I might have received something personally evidential on this occasion had my attitude of mind given hospitality to any possible visitors from the Unseen.
The next extracts from my diary refer to a seance which we attended in New York a few days after our arrival there, and some two or three weeks later than the Boston sitting already described.
Our stay in Boston had extended to three months from the original fortnight we had planned for the visit. I had taken a few very good introductions there: to Dr Oliver Wendell Holmes, Colonel Wentworth Higginson, and others of the Boston alumni, and as several receptions had been kindly arranged for us, and my name had appeared many times during the winter in various local papers, it would have been easy for the Sisters Berry to find out something about me and my companion, and utilise the knowledge by faking up a convenient spirit, who could have talked glibly of my literary tastes, and so forth. Nothing of the sort occurred, however, although our first seance only took place a week or two before we left Boston, after my three months' stay there.
This fact should certainly be "counted as righteousness" to the much abused Sisters!
It was the more curious, that our first seance in New York, within a few days of our arrival, and in a metropolis where at the time we were absolute strangers, should have been so much more successful as regards evidential experiences.
I will again quote from my diary of 1886. The medium visited on this occasion was Mrs Cadwell, who has since died.
* * * * *
We knew nothing beforehand of the medium, who lived in a small flat in an unfashionable quarter. Some eight people only were assembled in the extremely small room. All were perfect strangers to Miss Greenlow and me, but a fancied likeness in one lady present to a picture I had seen of Mrs Beecher Stowe led me to ask if it were she, and I was told that my surmise was correct.
There was no room for a cabinet, so a curtain was hung across a tiny alcove, just the ordinary "arch" found in most rooms of the kind.
When I went behind the curtain with the female medium, before the sitting began, there was barely space for us both to turn round in. The carpet on either side the curtain was one piece. There was absolutely no room for any trap-door machinery, even could such have been worked successfully in the perfect silence in which we sat, within two feet of the alcove. The room was about the size of the small back dining-room in an ordinary London lodging—say in Oxford or Cambridge Terrace, for example.
The medium sat amongst us at first, only going behind the curtain after a few moments, when she was "under control" as it is called.
A little child of hers, who died some years ago at the age of four, is supposed to help in the materialisations, but is never seen outside the curtains. If she came out herself she would not be able to help the others to do so. I mention these things in the words in which they were told to me, offering no comment, but putting the case for the moment as spiritualists would put it. To do this, and then to give a faithful and unprejudiced account of what took place, seems to me the only fair way of treating such a subject.
I was told again and again that too much concentration of thought on the part of the audience was deterrent. This accounts for music as an invariable accompaniment of all such sittings. It seems to harmonise the circle, to break up over-concentration, and may also, unfortunately, serve to cover the doings of dishonest mediums.
It must not, however, be supposed that in this case the materialisations went on only whilst we were singing. This might point to a possible "trap-door theory," although in a city where flats abound (rooms, not human beings!) there would still be the difficulty of getting your downstairs neighbours to look kindly upon such proceedings. As a matter of fact, we were often sitting in absolute silence when fresh "spirits" appeared.
I can corroborate the assertion that too much concentration of thought upon them proves deterrent to the spirits, for on more than one occasion I heard a voice from the curtain or cabinet saying: "Do get the people's minds off us; we can do nothing whilst they are fixed upon us so intensely," as though thought in spirit life corresponded to some physical obstacle on the earth plane.
The first spirit who came (the daughter of an old gentleman sitting near me) intimated through him that she would like me to go up and help her to materialise the white veil which all in turn wore, and which, though perfectly transparent, is considered a necessary shield between them and the earth's influences; on the same principle, I suppose, that we put on blue spectacles to protect us from the blinding rays of the sun.
She came out from the alcove, held both her hands in front of her, turning them backward and forward that I might be satisfied that nothing was concealed in them. The soft, clinging material of her gown ended high up on the shoulders, so there were no sleeves to be reckoned with. I stood close over her, holding out my own dress, and as she rubbed her hands to and fro a sort of white lace or net came from them, like a foam, and lay upon my gown which I was holding up towards her.
I touched this material, and held it in my hands. It had substance, but was light as gossamer, and quite unlike any stuff I ever saw in a shop.
The very softest gossamer tulle that old ladies sometimes produce as having belonged to their grandmothers is perhaps the nearest approach to what I then lifted in my hands, but even this does not accurately describe it.
When long enough she took up the veil, unfolded it, covering her head with it, and saying very graciously "Thank you" to me.
Other spirits now appeared for the other people in the room, who conversed with them in low tones.
All these had evidently materialised before and could consequently speak with comparative ease. One, called the "Angel Mother" (the mother of the medium), answered questions on the spirit life in a loud American voice, prefacing every remark, whether to man or woman, by an affectionate "Well, de-ar!" Her answers showed considerable shrewdness, but not much depth, and were often rather wide of the mark.
"Nels Seymour" (who appears to have belonged to a sort of Christy Minstrel Company over here) cracked jokes all the time with a gentleman amongst the audience in a good-natured but flippant and very unspiritual manner, and even the ladies joined in the undignified punning and "play upon words" that went on all the time.
The little child's voice came in as a relief every now and then. She spoke broken, childish English, but used the expressions of a grown-up person. She described several spirits as "chying" (trying) to come, but not being strong enough.
I was becoming drowsy, and rather tired of the performance, when my attention was once more aroused by hearing that a very beautiful female spirit, with a diamond star in her forehead, had appeared and asked for me, saying she had been a friend of mine on earth, and wished to communicate with me.
This was conveyed to me by the little child's voice, the spirit herself not having yet emerged from the curtain; but the medium's husband looked behind it, and told me of the diamond star, which he said was some "order" in spirit life.
Having no idea who the friend might be, I begged for some further particulars before going up to speak to her.
"She passed from earth life about five years ago, and in Germany," answered the medium's husband, who had conducted the conversation behind the curtain.
This was less vague, and now for the first time a suspicion of the spirit's identity crossed my mind; but I would not go up until a name had been given, and I asked for this before leaving my seat.
My travelling companion—a recent acquaintance—had never heard me mention the lady in question, who had died in Germany at the time specified. The little child said the spirit would give the name through her, and the process was a curious one. Instead of mentioning the whole name or each letter of it to her father, the child described each letter to him as you might describe the lines of the large capitals in a child's reading-book. The father guessed the letter from the child's description, and asked me if the first one were correct? It was; but I did not tell him so, merely saying I should like to have the Christian name in full before giving any opinion.
In due time the six letters (Muriel, we will call it) were correctly given, and I had then no further excuse for refusing to speak to the spirit.
I went up to the curtain, and she appeared in front of it. I have been frequently asked: "Should you have recognised her as your friend had no name been given?" With every wish to be perfectly truthful, I find it difficult to answer this question, for the following reason:—None of the "materialisations" I saw were exactly human in face. There was no idea of a mask or clever "get up," but if one could accept the theory of a body hastily put together and assumed for a time, the result is exactly what might have been expected under the circumstances.
My friend in real life was very pale, and had exquisitely chiselled features, and the ones I now looked upon were of the same cast. The height was also similar, and an indescribable atmosphere of refinement, purity, and quiet dignity, for which she had been remarkable; all this was present with this materialisation. More than this I cannot say, for no materialisation I have ever seen could be truthfully considered identical with the human original.
I did not feel frightened, but I did feel embarrassed, and naturally so, considering how unwilling and grudging my recognition of her individuality must have appeared. She seemed conscious of this, for almost immediately she mentioned her hands, holding them out for inspection, and saying:
"Don't you remember my hands? I was so proud of my hands!"
Now, as a matter of fact, my friend was noted for her beautiful hands, but she was too sensible and clever a woman to have been conceited about them, and had too much good taste ever to have made their beauty a subject of remark, even to an intimate friend.
Moreover, the hands now en evidence, although well shaped and with tapering fingers, were as little identical with a human hand as the face was identical with a human face.
Casting about for something to say to her, my first thought was for an only and dearly loved married sister of hers, also a friend of mine, and I mentioned the latter in a guarded way, saying: "If you are in reality my friend, have you no message for your sister?"
In a moment, and without the slightest hesitation, she said: "Tell poor Jessie," going on with a message peculiarly appropriate to the facts of the case, but of much too private a nature for publication.
Almost immediately afterwards, and with no shadow of suggestion from me, she added:
"Poor Jessie! She suffered terribly when I passed away so suddenly."
My friend had died in a foreign country, under peculiarly sad circumstances. She was young, beautiful, and accomplished; a prominent local figure in the well-known capital where she had spent several winters. Her death was so sudden that there was not even time to put off a large afternoon "At Home" arranged for that day. Moreover, this sister, by a most merciful chance, happened to be spending a few months with her, out of England, at the time. These were all special facts, spontaneously referred to by her, but which would not have applied equally well to the death of any other friend, even supposing such a death to have occurred abroad.
The spirit spoke feebly and with difficulty, "not having much strength," she told me.
I asked if her father (who had died a few months previously) were with her.
"Not yet," she said gently; "but I know that he has passed over." She then kissed my hand, and faded away before my eyes, not apparently returning to the curtain (close to which I stood), but vanishing into thin air.
Some ten days later my friend and I went again to an evening seance at the same house, different people being present on this occasion. A stupid, "unintelligent sceptic" woman put us all out of harmony by making inane suggestions, always declaring that "she would not for the world interfere with the conditions," but doing so all the same. The "Angel Mother" came again, and rather lost her temper, I thought, with an aggravating, illogical man in the circle, who hammered away about Faraday's opinions on the spirit world without much idea of what he was talking about. "Nels Seymour" appeared, as well as spoke, this time. He took my hand and kissed it; but he does not leave the cabinet, as he is the "control." It was eleven years on this day since he had "passed over," so he called it his "birthday."
A very beautiful female spirit materialised and offered to sit on my lap; an offer I closed with at once.
She was some five feet eight inches in height, and a large, well-developed woman. Anticipating the possibility of her resting her feet on the ground, and so concealing her real weight, I moved my own feet from the ground the moment she sat down, which was easily done, as my chair was a high one.
She remained for several minutes in this position, resting, of necessity, her whole weight upon me, which was about equal to that of a small kitten or a lady's muff, in the days when small muffs were in fashion. There was an appreciable weight, but I have never nursed any baby that was not far heavier.
The veil this time was materialised in the usual way, my friend going up to watch the process.
My spirit friend appeared again, and more strongly this time. At a public seance, where so many are eager to communicate with their friends, it is impossible to monopolise more than a few minutes of the public time, and consequently any communications are as hurried and unsatisfactory as a conversation with an intimate friend in the public reading-room of a hotel would be.
* * * * *
I pass over another most excellent and evidential incident as a concession to family prejudice. It has already appeared in my book on America entitled "A Year in the Great Republic," and may be found there.
* * * * *
At a third materialising seance at the same house an excitable Italian friend of mine, who had never seen anything of the kind before, came with much the same prejudices as I had felt at the Boston seance, and disturbed the conditions very much by his attitude of determined antagonism; whilst his comparative ignorance of English, and my feeble Italian, made explanations, under the circumstances, rather hopeless. The whole circle was put out of harmony, and a dead weight lay upon us all. The materialisations continued, it is true; but personally it was a great relief to me when my excitable friend left, declaring that everything he had seen was "physiquement impossible mon ange."
He departed so abruptly as to bring down much abuse upon his absent head for having "broken the battery" and almost "killed the medium" by his sudden disappearance from the circle.
This awful threat had so much power over the rest of the party that we sat out to the bitter end, leaving the medium at last still in her trance, with husband and son hovering over her in an anxiety which, if acted, showed first-class dramatic power.
Meanwhile I had made the acquaintance of a very beautiful and charming woman in New York, to whom I had brought a letter of introduction.
She has had a tragic and remarkable history; is a woman of great mental powers, in addition to very remarkable beauty; and is of the highest rank, being an Austrian princess, I believe, in her own right, and having spent her youth in foreign courts.
Apart from these facts, which had been told me by a mutual friend before we met, I knew nothing whatever of her family history, nor whether she had brothers or sisters, alive or dead.
I had spoken to her of my curious experiences, and she had discussed the matter with me from the standpoint of a thorough woman of the world, of strong mental power, who had seen too much of life to be dogmatic or narrow in her views, but too much also to believe in what is called the "supernatural," before every possible natural hypothesis had been admitted and dismissed as untenable.
Sitting in her pretty room the day before I left New York, we had talked for some two hours on various subjects connected with life and literature, and before the final "adieux" she said laughingly: "Well, have you been to any more seances?"
I said "No," and that we did not intend to do so, as our time was now so short. A few moments of careless talk on the subject ensued, and picking up a newspaper, I cast my eye over the usual list of mediums, clairvoyants, etc. A half-defined wish to see whether any spirit friend would come to me under totally different conditions and surroundings, and in an entirely different quarter of the city, led to my copying out one of the addresses at haphazard.
I could not prevail upon my hostess to accompany me (she is delicate, and dreads night air), but I took the slip of paper to my hotel, thinking that my friend there might care to take the cars after dinner to this distant end of the city.
My English companion proved rather indifferent and disinclined towards the expedition.
This was very natural. She was not magnetic in temperament, and had no expectation of seeing any of her own friends, although, of course, she had both seen and spoken to those who came for me.
However, a good dinner at the excellent Windsor Hotel fortified us so much after our fatigues that at the last moment we agreed to make one more attempt, no one, ourselves included, having known five minutes previously that we should leave the house.
On this occasion we were ushered into a much more imposing drawing-room, and the lady herself was evidently some degrees higher in the social scale than our first mediumistic friend.
The arrangements also were quite different. As we sat waiting for a few minutes (having arrived very punctually), Mrs Gray looked at my friend, and then described an elderly lady with grey hair who was standing over her, but, of course, invisible to our eyes. Almost immediately Mrs Gray began rubbing her knees, and complained of pain in them, adding: "The impression of dropsy is being conveyed to me. This spirit seems to have suffered from disease of that nature."
My friend—who was very self-contained and unemotional—gave no clue to the fact that she recognised anyone by this description, but as we were returning home in the cars she said quietly: "It is curious Mrs Gray should have described that old lady with grey hair—I suppose she meant my mother. She had grey hair, and died of dropsy."
On my expostulating with this lady for having given the impression that she did not recognise the description at the time she said, with conscious pride: "You don't suppose I was going to let the woman know that she had described my mother?"
To give a false impression in so good a cause as determined incredulity, seems not only justifiable, but actually praiseworthy to many minds.
Later in the evening, the seance being in full swing, a spirit dressed in some kind of white "sister's" dress appeared at the door of the cabinet; and Mrs Stoddart Gray asked if anyone in the circle could speak German, as this spirit did not seem to understand French, Italian, or English, and she herself only recognised German by the sound.
A gentleman volunteered his assistance, but apparently without much effect, and being a German scholar, I then offered to come to the rescue. The moment I went up to the figure she seemed to gain strength, and came quite out of the cabinet, and said to me in the most refined German (any readers who have studied the language know that there is as wide a difference between the highest and lowest type of German accent as between an educated Irish "accent" and an Irish brogue):
"Ich bin die schwester von Madame Schewitsch," mentioning the name of the foreign friend with whom I had been spending that afternoon: "Ich weisz das Sie Heute Nach mittag bei meiner schwester waren."
 Translation: "I am the sister of Madame Schewitsch—I know that you spent this afternoon with my sister."
She had evidently a strong, almost overwhelming desire to make some communication to me for her sister, but the difficulty in doing so seemed equally strong.
It lay beyond the question of language. She spoke with sufficient strength, and I could understand perfectly her well-chosen and well-pronounced words. But some insuperable obstacle seemed to prevent her telling me what she wished to convey, and the despairing attempt to surmount this was painful in the extreme.
I assured her of my willingness to help in any way possible, and made a few suggestions, but all in vain.
"Is it that you are not happy?"
"No—no! That is not it."
It seemed to me some sort of warning which she wished to convey, and had some connection with illness, for the words achtung and krankheit (warning and illness) were repeated more than once, but no definite message came.
I then asked if she could write it, and she caught eagerly at the idea. So I borrowed a pencil and some paper, and placed them on a small table in the middle of the room, with a chair in front of it. She came quite close to the table (five gas burners were more than half turned on, so there was plenty of light), sat down, and took up the pencil, but almost immediately threw it down again, saying in a most unhappy and despairing voice: "Nein! nein! Ich kann es selbst nicht schreiben!" and vanished before my very eyes as she rose from the table. Now had this been a case of fraud, and supposing that some woman had means of discovering the name of my New York friend and the fact of my having spent that very afternoon with her, what would have been easier than to write or give some commonplace message in a language of which she had already proved herself mistress?
 Translation: "No! no! I cannot even write it!"
The episode was so painful that I decided not to write to Madame Schewitsch about it. I have therefore no absolute corroboration of the fact that the lady mentioned had a sister who became a nun, or who was connected with some such establishment, and had passed over. This, however, is much more probable than not, because in every high-born Catholic family in Austria, one member in a large family almost invariably takes the veil. I have given the real name in this case, hoping Madame Schewitsch may perchance come across my book, and supply the information needed. I may remark, finally, that three or four months later, whilst travelling in California, I heard from my excitable and sceptical Italian friend (who had given me the introduction to Madame Schewitsch) that this lady had had a long and most serious illness during my absence in the West, and that her husband and he had both feared she would never recover from it. This fear, fortunately, proved to be groundless.
To return to the sitting.
About twenty minutes after the "sister" had disappeared, a figure in white came forward very swiftly, and without a moment's hesitation pointed towards me, saying quickly: "For you."
I went up at once, recognising who it was, but determined to give no sign of this fact.
The "spirit" looked at me for a moment with surprise, as one might look at any well-known friend who passed us in the street without a greeting.
As I remained silent she whispered: "Don't you know me?" I am afraid I gave the false impression this time, and asked her for her name.
"Why, I am Muriel!" came the instant answer, mentioning the name of the first friend who had appeared to me, after spelling out her name, at the previous seances held in another part of New York.
On this third appearance my spirit friend asked me to kiss her. I must confess that I complied with some amount of trepidation, which proved to be quite unnecessary.
There was nothing the least repulsive to the touch, although it was not exactly like kissing anyone on earth; but an indescribable atmosphere of freshness and purity, which seemed always to surround this friend whilst living, was very apparent under these changed conditions. Another curious little point is that I had entirely forgotten my friend's love of violets (she always wore them when possible, and used violet scent) until I smelt them distinctly whilst speaking to her.
It must be remembered that until the day of the sitting, we had never dreamed of going to Mrs Gray's house, nor had we even heard her name. I picked it out of a newspaper by chance—amongst at least thirty others.
Until past seven o'clock that evening we had not decided to visit her, and the seance began at eight P.M., no single person in the room being present who had been at the house of the other medium some weeks previously. Under these circumstances it would be difficult to account for the fact of my friend's reappearance on the ground of collusion between the two mediums. Moreover, such collusion would not account for the appearance earlier in the evening of a spirit claiming to be the sister of Madame Schewitsch.
No one hitherto has been able to suggest any intelligent explanation of my personal experiences on these occasions. Conjuring tricks and trap doors are, of course, "trotted out" by the unintelligent sceptic, but these do not meet the difficulty of an accurate knowledge of names and of family matters of comparatively small importance.
As I am just now chiefly concerned with presenting incidents in my life rather than in prosing over them, I resist the temptation to go further into the question of Materialisations either from the historical or ethical point of view, and pass on to the subject of clairvoyance.
INVESTIGATIONS IN AMERICA, 1885-1886
In speaking of clairvoyance I shall again have recourse to my notes taken at the time of my American visit and on the spot.
I am quite convinced that where a life has been in any way eventful or at all marked, any fairly developed clairvoyant can in some way "sense" your mental and moral atmosphere.
In some three or four personal cases, the notes taken at the time of such visits, paid several thousands of miles apart, might almost be read as descriptive of the same interview, with different witnesses.
My travelling companion, who had led a very uneventful life, seemed to puzzle them much more. There was apparently nothing to lay hold of, and only a very shadowy, indistinct picture was given in consequence.
In my own case the colours were put on freely, firmly, and without the least hesitation, and in every single instance the sketch was remarkably truthful, and yet would not have described the life of one other woman in three or four hundred.
That there is a good deal of guesswork done even under the supposed influence of "trance" is quite evident to me. I am not prepared to say that such trances were in no case genuine, but the remarks made during them were frequently of a tentative nature, and the slightest good "hit" was followed up with as much ingenuity as Sir Richard Owen displayed in putting together his skeleton from a single bone.
I was told some six or seven times that my mother (who died during my infancy) was my guardian spirit, and six times her name was given to me, with some difficulty in one or two cases, but invariably without the smallest guessing on the part of the clairvoyant or any hint from me.
One of my most successful interviews in New York was with a Mrs Parks of Philadelphia—a very pleasant, good-looking, healthy woman, quite unlike the usual cadaverous medium with whom one is more familiar.
Her terms being rather higher than those usually asked in America (where competition has made mediums a cheap luxury), I demurred at first; upon which she said brightly: "Well, don't come if you don't feel like paying that; but I never alter my prices. But I won't take your money if I don't give you satisfaction. Some get satisfaction from one person and some from another—you will soon see if I am telling you the truth about your friends, and I won't take a penny from you if you are dissatisfied."
I left the house saying I would think it over, and Mrs Parks did not at all press me to come, and from my manner could hardly have expected to see me.
I had a most satisfactory interview with her next day.
After referring to my mother's presence, and giving her name without any hesitation, she gave me several messages with regard to character which were singularly appropriate, and finished up by saying: "Your mother does not wish you to go to mediums or mix yourself too much up with such persons. It is not necessary for you to do so; she says you have enough mediumistic power for her to be able to communicate with you directly."
I could not help saying: "Well, Mrs Parks, you are going very much against your own interests in giving me this message. I am a perfect stranger to you in this city. I have told you that I am making some little stay here, and as you have given me so much satisfaction I might have been induced to come and see you several times again before leaving."
She laughed, and answered: "That is quite true; but I am an honest woman, and I am bound to give you the message that is given to me for you, even when it goes against my interest."
Seeing her bright, pleasant home, with every trace of comfort about it, and having received personal proof that money alone was not her consideration, I could not help asking why she continued such an arduous life.
"Well," she answered, "the truth is that I do it now against my own wish. My husband has always objected to it more or less. He was afraid it might injure my health, and for two years I gave it up entirely. But," she added, "the spirits would not leave me alone. It seemed as if I had to come back to it, as if I were refusing to use the powers that had been given to me for the help and comfort of my fellow-creatures. I name a higher price than others, to limit my work and to keep away those who would only come from idle curiosity." She also told me that sometimes she had to give orders beforehand that certain people should not be admitted on any pretext whatever. "I can see their spirits round them before they reach the door very often, and I would not have such people, bringing such an atmosphere into my house—no, not if they gave me a hundred dollars for each sitting."
I must mention one more incident connected with this period of my investigations, because it throws a strong light on some obscure problems.
Whilst consulting these clairvoyants, in widely different parts of America, two very near relatives of mine were almost invariably described, and the names—one male and one female—were generally given. The mediums invariably went on to say that the female spirit was further on in development than the male spirit. Now there were circumstances which made this statement, viewed from this world's standpoint, not only absolutely mistaken, but almost ludicrously so. The woman's nature had been a far more faulty one—more impetuous, less balanced, and so forth. The male spirit described had been a man of very exceptional character and spirituality, whilst on earth.
In spite of these facts the same "mistake," as I considered it, had consistently been made by every clairvoyant who described them; which, by-the-by, rules out telepathy as an explanation of these special experiences. It certainly seemed strange that after giving accurate descriptions of the two relatives referred to—names included—each clairvoyant should make exactly the same mistake upon so obvious a matter as the question involved.
Some months later, in the course of my travels, I found myself at Denver in Colorado. We stayed here, at first, one day only, to break our journey farther up into the Rocky Mountains. The previous day, when wandering about Colorado Springs, my friend and I had come across a lady doctor by chance; and having asked some trivial question, we were invited into her pretty little house, where we chatted for half-an-hour on various subjects—including spiritualism. We gave no account of our experiences, but simply mentioned the fact that we had some interest in the investigation.
Hearing this, and that we were going on to Denver next day, this lady gave me the address of a young married friend who lived in that city, and who had during the previous two years suddenly developed strong mediumistic power, but was in no way a professional. She begged us to call if possible, and I took down the address, but said it was very doubtful if we could do so in the short time we should have at our disposal.
At the end of a long afternoon's drive to the most interesting points of view in Denver, we found ourselves close to the quarter where this young woman lived, and called at the house mentioned. The lady was not at home, and a friend who received us explained that it would be impossible for her to come down in the evening to see us, as she was delicate, and not allowed to go out at night.
As we were leaving Denver early next morning, this made a meeting impossible, so we left our cards, and a note to explain our visit. Going into the hotel office after dinner that evening, I heard a gentleman inquiring for me by name, saying he had brought his wife to see me. I explained that I was the lady he asked for, and he then said, with the stoical resignation of the typical American husband: "I did not like her to come out, but she was bound to have her own way."
The lady in question came into my bedroom upstairs after dismissing her husband, and said she "preferred a room already permeated by my influence." She then continued very simply: "I do not know whether I shall be able to help you at all, but it seems there is something I have to tell you or explain. When I read your note I felt bound to come, although my husband tried to dissuade me. It seemed to me as if the spirits came all the way with me in the cars."
She then gave me quite a good sitting, but on the ordinary lines, ending up by the description of the relatives mentioned, and by making the usual "mistake" about their relative spiritual positions.
This was all said in trance. When she returned to consciousness I said: "Now, Mrs Brown (her real name), I must tell you honestly that you have made one cardinal mistake, but I am also bound to say that five or six professional mediums have done just the same as regards the same matter." I then explained, and asked if she could account for such a persistent and obvious misconception.
"Wait a moment," she answered; "perhaps the spirits will tell me."
She looked up with a very intent expression for a minute, as though listening to some explanation which did not cover the ground of her own experience, and then said very quickly and in a monotonous voice, as though repeating a verbal message:
"It has nothing exactly to do with our earthly idea of 'goodness.' Spiritual life can only come to those prepared for it, within the limits of their capacity. The male spirit you mention was a clergyman of the Church of England. He was a very holy man, but he was in some way creed bound. He was a man of strong creed; he clung to his creed here, and cannot quite free himself from it even now, although he has advanced very much in spiritual perception. Now his wife had a very sympathetic, apprehending nature. She can therefore receive spiritual light more fully and freely. That is why she has risen to a higher plane. This is not a question of character so much as of spiritual capacity, and in this she is the more highly gifted of the two. She is on a different plane, but she is able to help her husband very much, and in time he will join her, and they will progress together."
All this was said in a quick, decided way, and without the smallest hesitation.
One would hardly have expected a young woman in the midst of the Rocky Mountains to know the exact meaning of the term "clergyman of the Church of England," for the word is almost unknown in America, where they speak invariably of a minister. Yet the words were given with quick, firm precision, exactly as written down.
Later, in San Francisco, a clairvoyant at once referred to my friend "Muriel," and described her, but in rather vague terms. When I pointed this fact out she said a little impatiently, as though we were wasting time in quibbling: "Oh, well, it does not matter. The spirit tells me you know perfectly well who it is. She has already appeared to you in New York."
I had gone to this particular medium with several young friends, who were all in a very sceptical and rather frivolous state of mind. She described "an uncle," apparently over the heads of two of my friends, and gave the further information that he was surrounded by water, and appeared to have been drowned; also that he was extremely musical.
This was declared to be perfectly untrue and without a grain of foundation, in fact.
The woman looked puzzled and a little mortified, but turned to others in the circle, with better success, let us hope!
On our return home, when the young people were telling their mother of the "awful humbug" amid shouts of laughter, the mother said quietly: "But surely you remember, my dear children, hearing of your Uncle Robert, who was drowned years ago, before any of you were born? He was a great musician. He wanted to give up his life to art, but he was persuaded to take up another profession."
I give this as an instance of the carelessness with which, when we are determined to find fraud, we may do so sometimes at the expense of truth. These young girls had doubtless heard of their uncle, but the fact had possibly escaped their memories for the moment, and probably they had no wish to recall anything which could cast a doubt on their preconceived notion that "the whole thing was a swindle!"
Before closing the chapter of my American experiences in the years 1885 and 1886, I must give one more personal detail.
When investigating various clairvoyants in the Eastern States in March and April of the year 1886, I had been told more than once that a guardian band of six spirits was forming round me, and would be later supplemented by another band of six protectors. Whether this had any bearing upon the following incident, I must leave my readers to decide.
* * * * *
About three months after this pronouncement I found myself at Victoria, Vancouver's Island. Miss Greenlow and I had gone there from San Francisco for a week or two, not being able at that time to make the further trip to Alaska. After a very stormy voyage of two or three days we reached Victoria one morning about six A.M. There was only one large double-bedded room available at the hotel, and we took this on the understanding that two separate rooms should be found for us before the evening.
As we lay on our beds for a few hours of much needed rest, quite suddenly I realised that I saw something abnormal in the air—just above and in front of my head. I mentioned this with much surprise to my companion, who at once suggested the effects of liver after a sea voyage so tempestuous as ours had been. For the first few moments I was inclined to agree with her, and said so; but very shortly my opinion was altered by the fact that what I saw first as an indistinct blur gradually assumed a definite shape, and I then found there were six little swallows in front of me, apparently connected with each other by a waving ribbon, or so it appeared to me.
Opening and shutting one's eyes did not affect the vision. There they remained, both at the moment and for several succeeding years, during which time I was constantly in the habit of seeing "my birds," as we used to call them. About six months after their first appearance in the pure, clear atmosphere of Victoria (Vancouver), I was driving across the Blackheath Common on a very bright, frosty day, and looking out of the open window of my carriage, I saw my six birds as usual; but for the first time, parallel with them and lower down, were six new birds of just the same size and appearance (about half-an-inch between the tips of the wings).
A few days later the new birds and the old ones had amalgamated, and twelve little swallows floated in the air before my eyes. I could not see them in the house. It needed the background of uninterrupted sky apparently to throw them into sufficient relief to be recognised. After some years, this special sign was withdrawn, and others have taken its place. For example, I have seen in the same way, during the last fourteen years, an anchor, with the chain attached to it, and caught through one end of the former, a short reaping hook. This, doubtless, has some symbolical meaning. Near the anchor I see a sacrificial altar, with flames rising up from it; then a triangle, with loops at the corners, which I was once told was the sign of Nostradamus. Then an old-fashioned mirror in a quaintly-shaped frame, and finally a long staff, with the sign of Aries at one end. I have since realised that this is very much like the "Staff of Faith" found on the top of many of the tombs in the Roman catacombs. All these latter emblems come together as a rule, with a connecting thread binding them to each other. I cannot see them at will, but when the atmosphere is at all clear they are rarely absent, when I have time to look for them. I was much amused once by an earnest Christian scientist, with whom I happened to be spending a few days on the coast of the eastern counties. She had warned me repeatedly against "phenomena" of every kind, spontaneous or induced. On a specially bright morning we were sitting together in a beautiful park, which is thrown open to strangers on special days, and, forgetting my companion's prejudices, I exclaimed involuntarily:
"I never saw my signs more clearly than just now!—there must be something very pure about the atmosphere."
This was too much for my friend, who bent forward eagerly, saying:—"Do let me try if I cannot see them too!"
Well, she "tried" for the greater part of two hours, but absolutely in vain, and then got up, and suggested going home to luncheon. She added naively: "I thought they must have something wrong about them, and I am quite sure of it now, or I should have seen them."
But it had taken her two hours of failure to be absolutely convinced that they came straight from the devil!
One sign—also birds—appeared to me on one occasion only. We had returned to Denver, where Miss Greenlow and I were to separate after a year's constant travel together. She was going back to San Francisco to take steamer for the Sandwich Islands, and thence on to Australia; whilst I was returning to England for family reasons.
I had arranged to dine with the hospitable Dean of Denver the evening of the day of her departure, and I had not realised how much less lonely one would have felt had my journey East corresponded more closely with her journey West, especially as she was obliged to leave the hotel about nine o'clock in the morning.
Waking early, and lying in bed, feeling very melancholy at the idea of being left behind and alone in the very centre of America, I looked up, and, to my delight, saw a new sign.
Not my little birds this time, but two big, plump father and mother birds, with a short string attached, not horizontally as before, but perpendicularly. At the end of this little string was a tiny bird, even smaller than the swallows, being evidently guided by the two big birds, and quite safe in their charge.
My room communicated with that of my companion, whose door was open, and I told her of this new "sign in the heavens," adding that I hoped it had come to stay. Fortunately, I found a pencil, and made a rough sketch at the time, or I might have been tempted to imagine that I had never seen it at all, for the trio never appeared again, though I have longed to see them, and have certainly required the consolation quite as much, many times, since that far-away summer morning in Denver, Colorado.
* * * * *
On reaching home after this long American trip, I found a budget of letters awaiting me—amongst them a little registered box containing a kind birthday present from the brother who has been mentioned in the Introduction to this book. Was it another case of mental affinity which had induced him unconsciously to choose a gold brooch with two swallows in gold and pearls? Not an uncommon design; but the birds were exactly the same size as those I was in the habit of seeing just at that time.
I never told him how extraordinarily a propos his present had proved, but I have always looked upon that brooch as a mascot, and have certainly worn it every day since it came into my possession.
AUSTRALIA AND NEW ZEALAND
Shortly after the Jubilee of 1887 had taken place, I sailed for Australia and New Zealand.
My first psychic experience in the Colonies took place in Melbourne, some months after my landing in Tasmania.
The wife of one of the "prominent citizens" in Melbourne had been specially invited to meet me at an afternoon reception in the house of friends to whom I had carried letters of introduction, as she was said to be so deeply interested in everything psychic, and would greatly enjoy hearing my American experiences. Fortunately, the lady arrived late, and we had already enjoyed some interesting conversation before she came. A wetter "wet blanket" it has never been my fortune to encounter. She was a very handsome woman, and therefore good to look at, but in the role of sympathetic audience she was a miserable failure. She sat with a cold, glassy eye fixed upon me, whilst I endeavoured to continue the conversation which had been interrupted by her arrival.
She might just as well have said as have looked the words: "Now go on making a fool of yourself!—that is just what I have come to see."
The position was hopeless. So I began to talk about the weather, which is disagreeable enough from sirocco in the hot spring months (it was the end of October) to be useful.
Presently the daughter of the house came up to me, and said:
"Do, please, go on telling us your interesting experiences, Miss Bates; we can talk about other things at any time, and we asked Mrs Burroughes on purpose to meet you."
The lady in question had joined another group by this time, so I was able to whisper in reply: "I am so very sorry, but I cannot possibly talk of these things before your friend—she paralyses me absolutely from any psychic point of view. She is very handsome, and I like looking at her, but I cannot talk to her except about the weather."
"How very odd!" was the unexpected reply. "That is just what Lizzie Maynard says. And I did very much want Lizzie to hear about America too, but she has gone off to the other end of the room, saying she knows you won't be able to talk whilst Mrs Burroughes is here."
This was interesting, for I had not noticed the young girl mentioned, who had not been introduced to me. So when my young hostess asked "if she might bring Lizzie to see me at my hotel next day," I gladly acquiesced, in spite of feeling very far from well at the moment.
This feeling of malaise increased in the night, and was, in fact, the precursor of a short but sharp attack of a form of typhoid which was running through the hotel at the time. Being in bed next afternoon about four o'clock, I was dismayed to hear that Miss Maynard had arrived to see me, and, moreover, had arrived alone. I had never spoken to the girl nor even consciously set eyes on her before, but I knew she must have come at least three miles from the suburb where she lived, and would probably refuse to have a cup of tea downstairs during my absence. There was nothing for it, therefore, but to make an effort, order tea to be brought for her to my room, and send a message hoping she would not mind seeing me in my bedroom.