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- Without Prejudice - 30/66 -


seeing of dead people in dreams gave rise to the idea of ghosts. I would suggest that the same process as that of dreaming gives rise to the ghosts themselves. Great is the Sub-Consciousness! Who shall say what it does not contain, either _in esse_ or _in posse!_ Till we have exhausted the Sub-Consciousness let us not talk of spooks.

Two things alone remain to be considered. One is how the Planchette or the table is able to read cards placed face downwards upon it; the second is, is telepathy or thought-transference a possibility? As to the first point I have never yet been able to satisfy myself whether the results are more than Chance would account for; for Chance has strange vagaries--themselves part of the doctrine of Chances--and in order to decide, one would have to make a far more extended induction than I have had time for. But if the mathematical probabilities are really exceeded, one would be driven to the suspicion that there resides in the Sub-Consciousness a sense of which we are unaware, perhaps an extra way of perceiving by the tips of the fingers, which may be either a new embryonic sense, not yet developed by the struggle for existence, or the rudimentary survival of an old sense eliminated in the struggle, perhaps a relic from those primeval homogeneous organisms in which every part of the body did every kind of work. After all, the senses are all developments of the sense of touch. This suspicion is strengthened by the fact that the correct card is often given at the first trial, and not after, as if this unused sense were soon exhausted. By the way, though the "spirits" mostly failed to tell a card placed face down, and unknown to any one in the room, they were invariably successful when it was placed face up: a sufficient proof--is it not?--that there could be nothing in the replies which was not already in some one's mind.

With regard to the question of telepathy, though I am tempted to believe in it, I have not yet met with any convincing instance of it. Thought-reading _ŕ la_ Stuart Cumberland almost any one could do who practised it. The thought-reader merely takes the place of the table as a receiver of muscular vibrations. What tempts me to believe in the transfer of thought without physical connection is that, given telepathy, all the mysterious phenomena that have persisted in popular belief through the centuries could be swept away at one fell swoop. By telepathy, working mainly through the Sub-Consciousness, I will explain you Clairvoyance (that is, not the mere seeing of pictures, which is a phenomenon akin to dreaming, but the vision of other people's Sub-Consciousnesses), ghosts, witchcraft, possession, wraiths, Mahatmas, astral bodies, etc., etc. But it is rather absurd to call in a new mystery to explain what may not even be facts. And so, till I am convinced either of ghosts or of telepathy, I must accord an impartial incredulousness to both. _Credat Christianus_, F. W. Myers or W. T. Stead! For I gather that the Psychical Society assert that they _must_ exist. But as yet--_je n'en vois pas la nécessité_. If it is indeed possible to telegraph without fees and to put a psychical girdle round the earth in twenty seconds, by all means let the noses of those extortionate cable companies be put out of joint. To me it is just as wonderful that mind can communicate with mind by letter or even by speech. One more puzzle adds no light to our darkness. And as for ghosts, I have more than a lurking sympathy with the farrier in "Silas Marner."

"'If ghos'es want me to believe in 'em, let 'em leave off skulking i' the dark and i' lone places--let 'em come where there's company and candles!'

"'As if ghos'es 'u'd want to be believed in by anybody so ignorant!' said Mr. Macey, in deep disgust at the farrier's crass incompetence to apprehend the conditions of ghostly phenomena."

And supposing "ghos'es" do exist--the moment the Supernatural is attested and classified it becomes as natural as anything else. Such spooks would add nothing to the dignity and sanctity of the scheme of creation, and are no friends to religion. The world would only be made to look more ridiculous if our deceased friends really rapped tables and pulled off bedclothes, as Miss Florence Marryat's do. Mrs. Besant (who up to the moment of going to press is still a Theosophist), in her latest reading of the riddle of this painful earth, does but explain _obscurum per obscurius_. Where is the point of a progression through stages, if there is no continuous consciousness? What does it matter if I am not myself, but somebody else in his fifth plane or her nineteenth incarnation? Decidedly it is better to bear the religions we have, than fly to others that we know not of. If Mr. F. W. Myers hears that some ill-trained observers have seen ghosts, he becomes Dantesque and dithyrambic about "the love that rules the world and all the stars." For my part, I fail to draw the moral. I am content to look nearer home--at coal-heavers and costermongers, poets and engineers--and to found my theory of life on less deniable data. A fig for your ghosts! What! Here have I been living and working and thinking nigh half a lifetime, and only now these gentry should deign to give me cognisance of their existence. Dame Nature would have indeed treated me scurvily had she reduced me to such absurd oracles. The phenomena seem so rare and so irregular, the vast majority of mankind having to go through life only afraid of ghosts, but never seeing them, that no general law of posthumous existence could be based on these obscure and erratic accidents. There may be only a survival of the fittest. It is not in the aberrations, but in the constant factors of human life that we must seek for light, and the attitude of these smellers after immortality is precisely that of the mediaevals who sought for the workings of divinity in eccentric variations from its own habits, till miracles became so commonplace that, as Charles Reade deliciously sums it up, a man in "The Cloister and the Hearth" could reply to his fellow, who was anxious to know why the market-place was black with groups, "Ye born fool! it is only a miracle." If I am to seek for "intimations of immortality," let me find them not in the haphazard freaks of disembodied intelligence, but where Wordsworth found them, and where Mr. Myers was once content to find them, in

Those obstinate questionings Of sense and outward things, Fallings from us, vanishings! Blank misgivings of a creature Moving about in worlds not realised, High instincts before which our mortal nature Did tremble like a guilty thing surprised.

If Moses came to London he would be very disgusted with Mr. Stead and the correspondents of "Borderland" who collect "facts" for him. For that supremely sane and sage legislator made one clean sweep of all the festering superstitions that fascinate the silly and the sentimental to-day as much as they did three thousand years ago. Mr. Stead is a Puritan, and the Old Testament should be his impregnable rock. Yet Deuteronomy is most definite about "Julia." "There shall not be found with thee ... a consulter with a familiar spirit. For whosoever doeth these things is an abomination unto the Lord." His organisation of research is a delusion; science is not to be thus syndicated. The ordinary observer has no idea of scientific sifting, and in ten minutes I exposed a gentleman who impressed a large London club as "the most wonderful thought-reader in Europe."

"Nature has many methods of producing the same effect," says Henry James's greater brother. "She may make our ears ring by the sound of a bell, or by a dose of quinine; make us see yellow by spreading a field of buttercups before our eyes, or by mixing a little Santonine powder with our food." Probably not ten per cent. of the correspondents of "orderland" are aware of the existence of such "subjective sensations," or realize, despite their nightly experience of dreams, that it does not take an actual external object to give you the sensation of something outside yourself. And passing optical illusions may have all the substantiality of ghosts. When Benvenuto Cellini went to consult a wizard, as he relates in his "Memoirs," countless spirits were raised for his behoof, dancing amid the voluminous smoke of a kindled fire. He actually _saw_ them: it was a splendid case for "Borderland." Yet the probabilities are that the cunning magician merely projected magic-lantern pictures on the background of the vapour. My brother woke up one morning, and accidentally directing his eyes to the ceiling, beheld there a couple of monsters--uncouth, amorphous creatures with ramifying conformations and deep purple veins. After a few moments they passed away; but the next morning, lo! they were there again, and the next, and the next, till at last, in alarm, off he goes to a specialist in eyes and unfolds his tale of woe. Is he, perhaps, going blind? "So you've discovered them at last!" laughs the eminent oculist. "These things are Purkinje's Figures--the shadows of the network of blood-vessels of the retina microscopically magnified on the ceiling: everybody ought to see them--it's a sign the eye is a good working lens. But they don't notice them except by accident, when the light slants sideways, and when there's a specially good background for them to be projected and magnified upon." And, taking him into his mystic chamber, and reconstituting the conditions, "Look!" says he, "there are your old friends again!" And there they were, sure enough, in all their amorphous horror. It is, in fact, not so much the actual external object that determines our perception, as attention or inattention; and with wise unconsciousness we ignore all that it is not necessary for us to see at the moment. If our organism were always in perfect health, if our senses were not deceivers ever, if we did not dream as solid a world as that which we inhabit by day, then, indeed, a single appearance of a ghost would settle the question; but as things are, our own eyes are just what we mustn't believe.

As Helmholtz pointed out, we ought to see everything double, except the few objects in the centre of vision; and as a matter of fact we do get double images, but the prejudiced intelligence perceives them as one. The drunken man is thus your only true seer. Genius, which has always been suspected of affinity with drunkenness, is really a faculty for seeing abnormally--that is to say, veraciously. Andrew Lang, who thinks that all children have genius, is thus partially justified; for till they have been taught to see conventionally, they see with fresh insight. Hence the awkwardness of their questions. Mr. Bernard Shaw recently wrote an article on "How to Become a Genius," but he omitted to supply the recipe. It is simply this: see what you do see, and not what everybody tells you you see. To think what everybody says is to be a Philistine, and to say what everybody thinks is to be a genius. Every healthy eye sees Purkinje's Figures when the conditions are present; but only a rare eye perceives them consciously. That is the eye of genius, but the Philistines cry, "Disease! Degeneration!"

XVIII

SOCIETIES TO FOUND

I have noted in my Sancho Panza moments a number of deficiencies in the commonweal which can only be remedied--in our modern manner--by societies. Let me start with a few of the most needed.

1. SOCIETY FOR PROVIDING NEW OATHS

The present currency is badly worn and was always nasty. Swear-words are a necessity. They are the safety-valves of the soul. Why not have them nice and innocent--the kind of oath a girl can use to her mother? It is unfair men should monopolise the bad language. I wonder the Women's Rights women have not sworn about it. I have already suggested that Wellington's "twopenny damn" be replaced by "I don't care a double-blank domino." This gives a compound or twopenny sensation of the unspeakable, combined with absolute innocuity, like a vegetarian chop or a temperance champagne. A milder form (the penny plain) would be "a blank cheque." The society ought to offer prizes for the best suggestions.


Without Prejudice - 30/66

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