Once a Week, it must be recollected that thousands of respectable persons in England and America would not hesitate for an instant to answer them in the affirmative. As holding a prominent place amongst the faithful, I must be permitted to instance the writer of a recent very able article in the “Cornhill Magazine.” That gentleman witnessed, or was made to believe that he witnessed, phenomena quite as remarkable as any of those just alluded to. Nor am I in the slightest degree disposed to question his veracity, or to pronounce an opinion on spiritual manifestations generally. But, agreeing with him, that the subject cannot be too much ventilated in this which may be described as the earlier stage of its revival, I shall proceed to give the reader a brief account of a séance recently held at my chambers, and at which the presiding medium was the celebrated Mrs. Marshall, of Red Lion Street, Bloomsbury.
I must premise this account by stating that the reports which had been brought to me of Mrs. Marshall’s performances fell very little short of what, in the article in question, has been described by an eye-witness as having been accomplished by Mr. Home. Friends, in whose truthfulness and good sense I placed the highest confidence, had furnished me with their personal experiences on the subject. Not only had they seen tables rise half way to the ceiling, sofas walk mysteriously about the room; and heard guitars and accordions, untouched by human hands, emit the most ravishing and ethereal sounds; but they had also been favoured with special messages from the invisible world, which, relating to bygone events known only to themselves, had of necessity carried conviction to their minds. One of my informants on the subject of Mrs. Marshall—one of the firmest believers in that lady, and to whom indeed I am indebted for her acquaintance—is also a personal friend of Mr. Home’s, and was actually present at the séances described in the “Cornhill Magazine.” I mention these facts merely by way of assuring the reader that Mrs. Marshall is a person of high standing in her profession, with a considerable body of followers—not a mere unrecognised poacher on the domain of magic: a person, in short, through whose agency manifestations of a remarkable kind (whether produced by supernatural means or by clever legerdemain was of course another question); but, at any rate, certain phenomena of an unusual and inexplicable nature might fairly be expected, and, indeed, were expected, by all those who had assembled to meet her on the evening which I shall attempt to describe.
At the appointed time she made her appearance, accompanied by a young lady whom she introduced as her “niece.” The presence of this assistant, or confederate, struck several among us as being, to say the least, suspicious (for why should a spirit require two mediums?); but on this, and every other point, we agreed for the present to suspend our judgment. After a little preliminary conversation, some eight or ten of us seated ourselves round a circular drawing-room table, Mrs. Marshall being some places to my left, with her niece next but one to her, and exactly opposite to me. The “spirits” having been invited to manifest themselves, three distinct raps were heard under the table. These raps resembled those made by a thin stick or cane, and might easily have been produced by a stick concealed under the ample crinoline still in fashion, and attached to the foot and ankle, so that by an upward motion of the leg it would be brought to bear on the under-surface of the table. Of course, I am not entitled to affirm that they were so produced; but simply that being capable of being wrought by a very ordinary piece of mechanism, they were hardly to be accepted, off-hand, as evidences of a supernatural visitation. The same may be said of a violent motion, or tilting-up of the table, which occurred frequently afterwards, and especially at times when the “spirits” were becoming somewhat hazy and confused in their replies. The table was invariably lifted up, from the side at which the younger medium was sitting, until (curious to know whether this “manifestation” might not be accomplished by natural means), I produced a precisely similar result, from my own side, to the great confusion of all sceptics, the immeasurable comfort and consolation of the believers present, and, as it struck me, the astonishment of the mediums. In my own case I am free to confess that a movement of the knee supplied the place of spiritual assistance.
A spirit being, however, announced by Mrs. Marshall, as positively situate and lying under the table, and ready for cross-examination, Mrs. C——n, a friend seated on my left, was invited to question it as to its identity. This she proceeded to do, in the usual manner, by the help of a printed alphabet. The spirit declared itself to be that of one of her relations (I am unable to recollect the precise degree of relationship) and the following dialogue ensued:
Q. What is your name?
Q. Your surname?
Q. How did you die?
A. In Spain.
During the progress of this interrogatory, Mrs. C——n had evinced a continually increasing agitation. At its close she fairly broke out:
“Yes, I did have a relative of that name, and the family have always suspected that he was murdered in Spain.”
A dead silence fell upon the company; and, as a matter of course, every lady present was transformed into an ardent believer.
This, however, was not precisely the case with the gentlemen, some of whom, like myself, had been intently watching the process, and to whom this experiment would have been (but for an unfortunate circumstance to which I shall presently refer) a really interesting one—interesting as throwing a strong light upon some of the spiritual revelations of which we have all heard so much. For we noticed that Mrs. C——n, in her trepidation, made a distinct pause at each particular letter which she expected to hear rapped out. As thus: “a, b, c, d. . . .g (a pause). Spirit raps. So with e, with o, r, g, e, and