Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 2.djvu/40

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I have paid a great deal of attention during the last twenty years to this subject, and I can assure you that I have, in many instances, known things most absurd in themselves, and most inconsistent with the facts of the case as seen by myself and other sober-minded witnesses, believed in by persons of very great ability, and, upon all ordinary subjects, of great discrimination. But I account for it by the previous possession of their minds by this dominant idea—the expectation they have been led to form, either by their own earnest desire for this kind of communication, or by the sort of contagious influence to which some minds are especially subject. I say "the earnest desire," for it is a very curious thing that many of those who are the most devout spiritualists are persons who have been themselves previously rather skeptical upon religious matters; and many have said to me that this communication is really the only basis of their belief in the unseen world. Such being the case, I cannot wonder that they cling to it with very strong and earnest feeling. A lady, not undistinguished in the literary world, assured me several years ago that she had been converted by this spiritualism from a state of absolute unbelief in religion; and she assured me, also, that she regarded medical men and scientific men, who endeavored to explain these phenomena upon rational principles, and to expose deception, where deception did occur, as the emissaries of Satan, who so feared that the spread of spiritualism would destroy his power upon earth, that he put it into the minds of medical and scientific men to do all that they could to prevent it. Now that, I assure you, is a fact. That was said to me by a lady of considerable literary ability, and I believe it represents, though rather extravagantly, a state of mind which is very prevalent; the great spread of the intense materialism of our age tending to weaken, and in some instances to destroy, that healthful longing which we all have, I believe, in our innermost nature, for a higher future existence, and which is to my mind one of the most important foundations of our belief in it. We live too much in the present; we think too much of the things of the world as regards our material comfort and enjoyment, instead of thinking of them as they bear upon our own higher nature. I believe that this tendency, which I think is especially noticeable in America—or at least it was a few years ago—from all that I was able to learn, had a great deal to do with the spread of this belief in what is called Spiritualism. The spiritualists assert that in America they are numbered by millions, and that there are very few people of any kind of intellectual culture who have not either openly or secretly given in their adhesion to it. I believe that is a gross exaggeration; still, there can be no doubt, from the number of periodicals they maintain, and the advertisements in them of all kinds of strange things that are done—spirit-drawings made, drawings of deceased friends, and spiritual instruction given of various kinds that there must be a very extended belief in this notion of communication with the unseen world through these "media."