Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 11.djvu/23

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MESMERISM, ODYLISM, TABLE-TURNING, ETC.

of which ordinary experience does not furnish the rationale. And while this very continuity is maintained by some to be an evidence of the real existence of such agencies, it will be my purpose to show you that it proves nothing more than the wide-spread diffusion, alike among minds of the highest and of the lowest culture, of certain tendencies to thought, which have either created ideal marvels possessing no foundation whatever in fact, or have by exaggeration and distortion invested with a preternatural character occurrences which are perfectly capable of a natural explanation. Thus, to go no further back than the first century of the Christian era, we find the most wonderful narrations, alike in the writings of pagan and Christian historians, of the doings of the Eastern "sorcerers" and Jewish "exorcists" who had spread themselves over the Roman Empire. Among these the Simon Magus slightly mentioned in the book of Acts was one of the most conspicuous, being recorded to have gained so great a repute for his "magic arts" as to have been summoned to Rome by Nero to exhibit them before him; and a Christian father goes on to tell how, when Simon was borne aloft through the air in a winged chariot in the sight of the emperor, the united prayers of the apostles Peter and Paul, prevailing over the demoniacal agencies that sustained him, brought him precipitately to the ground. In our own day, not only are we seriously assured by a nobleman of high scientific attainments that he himself saw Mr. Home sailing in the air, by moonlight, out of one window and in at another, at a height of seventy feet from the ground; but eleven persons unite in declaring that Mrs. Guppy was not only conveyed through the air in a trance all the way from Highbury Park to Lamb's Conduit Street, but was brought by invisible agency into a room of which the doors and windows were closed and fastened, coming "plump down" in a state of complete unconsciousness and partial deshabille upon a table, round which they were sitting in the dark, shoulder to shoulder.

Of course, if you accept the testimony of these witnesses to the aërial flights of Mr. Home and Mrs. Guppy, you can have no reason whatever for refusing credit to the historic evidence of the demoniacal elevation of Simon Magus, and the victory obtained over his demons by the two apostles. And you are still more bound to accept the solemnly-attested proofs recorded in the proceedings of our law courts within the last two hundred years, of the aërial transport of witches to attend their demoniacal festivities; the belief in witchcraft being then accepted not only by the ignorant vulgar, but by some of the wisest men of the time, such as Lord Bacon and Sir Matthew Hale, Bishop Jewell, Richard Baxter, Sir Thomas Browne, and Addison, while the denial of it was considered as virtual atheism.

The general progress of rationalism, however, as Mr, Lecky has well shown, has changed all this; and to accept any of these marvels we must place ourselves in the mental attitude of the narrator of Mrs.