Satires and Profanities/Spiritism in the Police Court

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Spiritism in the Police Court by James Thomson (B.V.)
as published in Satires and Profanities

SPIRITISM IN THE POLICE COURT.

(1876.)

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We have just had a couple of professional "mediums" in the police courts, and it is to be heartily hoped that all their colleagues of any notoriety will soon be submitted to the same searching test, and duly rewarded according to their merits. At Huddersfield the Rev. Francis Ward Monck, formerly a minister at Bristol, was cleverly caught out by Mr. Lodge, a woollen merchant and amateur conjurer, who at the close of a private séance offered to do all the "Doctor" had done, and insisted on seeing his "paraphernalia." The Doctor protested with profuse virtuous indignation, but his detecter was firm. At length this reverend medium took refuge in his own bedroom and locked himself in, and while the profane sceptics were besieging the door he managed to escape from the window by the help of a sheet. In his sore haste he left behind him some of the "paraphernalia," whose existence he had so indignantly denied, including "spirit hands" and prepared musical boxes. He took out a warrant against Mr. Lodge for the recovery of these precious articles, and was met by a counter-warrant issued by the chief constable under the Vagrant Act, for using subtle craft means and devices to deceive and impose on certain of her Majesty's subjects; he being charged with thus defrauding one person of £20, while Mr. Heppleston, a general dealer, in whose house the exposure took place, had paid him £4 for two séances, the prisoner assuring him that the manifestations were genuine, and were produced by spiritual agency. The prisoner's solicitor said that the Vagrant Act did not apply to a gentleman in the position of Dr. Monck, who kept his carriage and yacht at Bristol. We may admit that the application of the Vagrant Act is an awkward and round-about mode of dealing with such cases, and the sooner Parliament in its great wisdom provides a more direct and effectual remedy, the better; nor could a stronger argument for its provisions be adduced than the fact, if fact it be, that this reverend medium by the illicit production of spirits very much below proof, has been getting money enough to keep a carriage and yacht. When the Huddersfield magistrates remanded him for a week at the request of the chief constable, offering to accept bail, himself in £250, and two sureties in £100 each, the bail was not forthcoming; and the prisoner made a high-minded and pathetic appeal to the bench, "asking them not to make him suffer the indignity of incarceration in the police-cells; he said he had forsaken everything to follow this calling, believing in his inmost soul that it was right." So far as I can see, a convicted burglar or manufacturer of counterfeit coin, might with as good reason make just such an appeal; pleading pathetically that he had forsaken everything to follow this calling, affirming nobly that he believed in his inmost soul that it was right; while as to the jemmy and the skeleton keys, or the moulds and the battery, which had been seized in his possession, they were manifestly for purely scientific experimental investigations—exactly as were the spirit-hands affixed to wires and the musical boxes of the Rev. "Doctor" Monck.

The London case of "Doctor" Slade, is too well known to require being detailed here. As his fee was a sovereign, well-off people having much time to kill with any excitement, and empty heads to fill with any nonsense (much the same sort of silly people as those for whom some West-end High Church is the half-way house to the Pro-Cathedral), must have been his most numerous visitors. Thus Society with a capital S took great interest in him, and our penny daily press, always ready to pander to Society, and to the snobbery of its readers who are not in Society but ever on their knees worshipping it—our penny daily press furnished full reports of the proceedings. Mr. Flowers, the magistrate at Bow Street Police Court gave a written judgment on the case, sentencing the "Doctor" to three months' imprisonment with hard labor in the House of Correction; which sentence to the credit of our common sense, sadly discredited by much that came out on the trial, was received with some applause, and Mr. Lewis the prosecuting solicitor was cheered by a large crowd on leaving the court. Of course, there being money to back the "medium," notice of appeal was given, and bail accepted—the defendant in £200, and two sureties of £100 each.

In the course of the defence there was read from the Spiritualist an account of a sitting with Slade by Mr. Serjeant Cox, who, as Mr. Flowers observed, would, if an appeal were raised, be one of the judges of that appeal. The said account, after relating various wonders, concludes thus: "I offer no opinion on the causes of the phenomena, for I have formed none. If they be genuine, it is impossible to exaggerate their interest and importance. If they be an imposture it is equally important that the trick should be exposed in the only way in which trickery can be explained—by doing the same thing, and showing how it is done." Now this, at any rate, seems to show judical fairness if not judicial sagacity; and is beyond blame, as having been written before the learned Serjeant (unless warned by the spirits) could have had any expectation of being called upon to deliver a legal judgment on the matter. But after Mr. Flowers had passed sentence, and the appeal had been raised, this same Serjeant Cox, having become a prospective judge of the case, opened the third session of the Psychological Society of Great Britain, whereof he is president, and which, under such a president, will doubtless do a vast deal for the science of psychology. According to the report of the Standard of Friday the 3rd inst., much of the address of this admirable judge and philosophical president "was an indictment of materialist scientists for their attitude towards psychology, and on this point he said the most important event of the year in relation to psychology had been the recent prosecution. Of the true motive for that proceeding there could be no doubt. The pretence of public interests was transparent." To a mere layman the words of this judicial Serjeant read very much like a reckless libel. Perhaps only a lawyer can properly appreciate them. "The object really sought was plain enough. It was not to punish Dr. Slade, but to discredit through him all psychological phenomena, the proof of whose existence was destruction to the doctrines of materialism…. Whether Dr. Slade was or was not guilty, the trial had had the unlooked-for effect [!] of directing the attention of the whole public to the fact that phenomena were asserted to exist… which swept away now and for ever the dark and debasing doctrines of the materialists." After which, according to the same report, a Mr. Dunlop, with admirable gravity, whether sincere or ironical, expressed a high opinion of the judicial mind of the president! and said that he felt sure that if the appeal in the Slade case came before Mr. Serjeant Cox, he would give as dispassionate a decision as if he had had no previous knowledge of the circumstances!! For myself, as a mere unlearned layman, I can only ask in astonishment, Is this Serjeant Cox, with his indecent partizanship and wild personal imputations, fit to sit in judgment—I will not say on this Slade business—but on any case at all which requires impartiality and discretion?

"The dark and debasing doctrines of the materialists"! Can anything be darker and more debasing in a so-called civilised time and country than this Spiritism has proved itself from the beginning until now? I have yet to learn that the whole of its world of spirits, now for many years at the beck and call of countless mediums, professional and private, has ever dictated or written a single great sentence, revealed a single great truth—discovered a single important fact. Nothing but the dreamiest drivel, or delirium, the most wretched and imbecile juggling tricks, with all sorts of evasions, and deceptions and lies! Mr. Wallace himself, one of the few good men it has got hold of by some weak place in their minds, in his evidence for Slade said "that he attached no importance to the subject-matter of a message, but only to its being written intelligibly, the subject-matter seldom being of any value." And for seldom he might fairly have said never. The truth is the truth, whether dark or bright, debasing or ennobling; but if we are called upon to consider a theory in these aspects, what, I ask again, can be more dark and debasing than this, that we live after death to rap and turn tables, play villainous snatches on light musical instruments, write badly-spelt balderdash, dictate ungrammatical imbecilities or lies, grasp hands and jog knees—all for the profit of show-men and the hysterical wonder of fools? Who would not prefer annihilation to such a degraded and idiotic immortality? Shakespeare, Bacon, Byron, Shelley, and countless others who on earth were splendid geniuses, have been called from their spheres by knaves or dupes, for what?—to show themselves reduced to the hideous state of Swift's Struldbrugs. The only famous character I have heard of, not intellectually degraded since death, was Bucephalus (see Secularist, number 40), who told the company that he still took great interest in literary pursuits, particularly in connection with education; Bucephalus, whose name doubtless suggested an ancient philosopher to the shrewd medium, having been the war-horse of Alexander the Great!

We are compelled to accuse the religion which has been so long dominant among us, of fostering the state of mind which welcomes these miserable marvels instead of rejecting them with scorn. The Bible with its Witch of Endor, its recognition of witchcraft, its magicians, its angels releasing the Apostles, its doctrines of the supernatural, its abounding miracles, has saturated the people with superstitiousness, whose evil effects Science can but slowly counteract. And of those who have ceased to submit themselves to the Bible, the larger number are still infected with its non-natural spirit; having renounced one set of irrational marvels, they yearn more or less consciously for another to replace it. In this connection, the point on which Mr. Flower's judgment turned is very significant, and its significance is increased by the approval of our most Christian press: "I must decide according to the well-known course of nature." This is exactly what Science demands. Carry out honestly and thoroughly the application of this rule to the miracles of the Bible, from the speaking serpent, to the birth, resurrection and ascension of Jesus, and what sentence must be passed upon them? The Bow Street Magistrate has given us a really excellent, concise, practical maxim of Freethought. When a Christian comes with his super-natural dogmas and non-natural occurrences, one has but to answer on the judicial authority of Mr. Flowers: "I must decide according to the well-known course of nature."