« السابقةمتابعة »
extending round the room little more than three feet high ; as there was no carpet, we could see that the boarded floor was so close, that no opening whatever of any kind appeared in it: close to the wall there was a four-footed table uncovered, and on this table stood a little open desk, on which the book was deposited. On the floor was a circle of parchment, covered with various painted characters, and near this was another strip of parchment also covered with characters, on which the ghost-seer passed to and fro. There was also another circle similar to the first, and on which, we, the spectators stood. By the side of the wall was
a row of nine chairs, of which the conjuror removed the middle one in going, and replaced it in returning. A blue silk cord, fastened with small hooks to the two rings of the book, was extended over several pillars in two parallel lines along the ceiling of the room, to the circle on which we stood, and from it hung a chain, about five feet from the ground, and seven candlesticks, with burning waxtapers, were ranged on the floor.
The ghost-seer having desired us to enter the circle, we did not quit it 'till all was over, He himself knelt before the book, and began the invocation with a Hebrew recitative; he often rose, and turning the leaves of the book rapidly, occasionally caught hold of the chain, and turned his face to us as often as he did so, with an expression of wildness, and made other grimaces unnecessary to particularize.
After this bustle of about half an hour, be entered the other circle, and remained there equally long, praying and chanting as before : he then turned to us, opened the partition between us by removing a chair, and came into our circle. He then made us kneel with our faces to the window, seized the chain with a strong pull, and giving it into our hands, desired us to bold it fast, which he also did. Having prayed again for some minutes, he laid his hands on our heads, knelt with his face to ours, and during a long prayer, kept his left hand on my right ear, and his right on my companion's left ear, pressing our heads together, but not so as to obstruct the free use of my right eye, with which I could see both door and window distinctly. After a short pause, he took the chain from our hands, and ordered us to rise; we now distinctly heard a soft rustling noise behind us, smelt an agreeable odour, and heard a few clear bell-like sounds, similar to those of a repeater. I confess that at this moment I was a little surprised. I had observed the door and window attentively; no other possible opening did there seem to be, and this tedions trick had just given rise to the fancy in my mind, that nothing would come of the whole matter, but that the conjuror would excuse himself by the ill-humour or occupation of the spirit intended to be summoned. I now however perceived some evidence of a fourth living being in the room with us, and I started.
The ghost-seer noticed me earnestly, and that I might not recover my surprise, addressed the spirit from our circle, and it answered. The answer soon restored my self-possession, for I could clearly distinguish that the spirit spoke a mixture of bad Hebrew, and indifferent German. I regained my confidence, and should certainly have taken the ghost by the collar, had not 'my previous promise, and my curiosity to see the end, withheld me.
We now looked round; the ghost-seer went into his own circle, and the spirit stood before him, between that circle and the table. The figure was perfectly that which I had chosen from the book, a boy, namely, about thirteen, with a long white, (and as I fancied), perfumed, shirt or robe, his hands and face red, perhaps coloured with some powder. The conversation of the spirit and the conjuror, as far as I can judge,
was a Jewish chant, sung by them alternately, in which no doubt, the ghost-seer gave the ghost instructions for its behaviour, since the discourse grew earnest, and the spirit began to stamp with its feet, as if intending to pass the circle.
The ghost-seer at this moment, rushed frightened into our circle, and entreated us to go out for a moment; that we should then be permitted to re-enter, and ask questions of the spirit. My colleague, although he had been present at several of these appearances, perspired most grievously, and dragged me out at the door, which the ghost-seer closed after us.
I broke from the hold of X., and re-entered the chamber; but all was in perfect order, the spirit gone, and the ghost-seer in the act of extinguishing the tapers. He said that the spirit had vanished in anger with me, and refused to re-appear, because I had neglected to keep the seven days observances, and had harboured evil thoughts towards him.
My patron X., who most unquestionably was no party to any connivance with the ghost-seer, was very angry with me on the occasion, and to this hour, my explanation of the whole plan, will not at all convince him. He still meets me with coolness, and will not follow my advice, to examine this matter as a reasonable man ought to do.
I made many enquiries after the ghost-seer.—He was not known as a rabbi, but as a private gentleman of good character, just arrived from England, and living on his fortune.
I:afterwards saw, in another quarter, 'a boy, who appeared to me the same lad who personated the spirit. I could not however find an opportunity of speaking to him alone, and my further enquiries were put a stop to, by my departure from the place in question. The whole affair, I consider, may be easily explained.
The quiet, melancholy deportment of the impostor served his cause more effectually than any boasting would have done, for it led to the notion of enthusiasm rather than deceit. A man who can pass for an enthusiast, less frequently fails of his end than the real enthusiast who works heart and soul.
The conjuror's book may have been so contrived as to open only where the owner chooses. It is not to be supposed that the ghost-seer had in readiness all the spirits painted in the book; but he seemed to permit an indiscriminate selection. This indifference may have been assumed, for, perhaps, no other spirit than that which he chooses can be fixed upon; in the same manner as many tricks with cards. Such only are shewn as the artist wishes to be seen.
The seven days abstinence, preparation, and so forth, was a juggle to give the matter a solemn effect, and it would serve to afford time for the conjuror to study his dupe. The fast of the seventh day is not without a particular view, that the spectator may not be heated by wine to make rude enquiries, and by fasting may be inclined more to credulity, and towards the tragical and supernatural.
The solemn promise to be quite still is not always exacted. My conductor was never called upon to make it. I, therefore, must have appeared so suspicious to the conjuror, that he thought it necessary. Had X. not been convined of the truth of the thing, he would not have urged this to me; but he wished to convince me, and only the dreadful consequences prophecied by the ghost-seer induced him to require this promise.
The statement, that the apartment in question was hired for the experiment on account of its particular situation, begets a suspicion as if a prepared room were undoubtedly necessary, or that the work required particular facilities, otherwise the ghost-seer might have used his own dwelling, especially as, according to his account, every room would do equally well, the aspect of which is the proper one as regards the heavenly bodies.
The solemn preparation, the book, the circles, the tapers, the long prayers, the pressing together of our faces, &c. are all well known artifices to excite terror and expectation; and the requisition to lay aside all metal is a wise provision to disarm the spectator.
The ghost-seer might readily permit me to examine the apartment, as I did not then know what situation we ourselves should occupy in the scene, and I could not therefore readily scrutinize where most needful.
That the room had only one door and one window, and these always in view of the spectator, made it appear more certain that the spirit could not enter secretly, and also fixed the attention to the only opening, quite distant from the real scene of action. The row of chairs would serve to impede a rash enquirer just sufficiently to bring all again into
Perhaps behind the table there might have been in the wall a sliding pannel, or door of wood or pasteboard, similar in height to the skirting, and painted like it; and behind this pannel, no doubt was a recess in which a man could creep. The two hinder feet of the table were probably placed exactly against the two grooves in which the pannel slid. At the upper part of the pannel perhaps were two little rings, behind the desk, and not visible. During the incantation, the ghost-seer might easily have taken the two hooks, unobserved, out of the rings on the book and hitched them on the rings attached to the pannel. Thus, the pannel being connected to the silken chords, when the ghost-seer stood with the spectators in their circle, and these turned their faces to the window, he then first pulled the chain strongly, and by that means raised the pannel, which was doubtless made to run very smoothly and softly in its grooves that nothing might be heard. He then ordered them to kneel and grasp the chain, which he also held, so that the ghost might readily enter from the recess. When the conjuror saw that his visitors had firm hold of the chain, that the hole was open, and all in order, which he could easily distinguish over the heads of the kneeling parties, he left the chain in their hands, knelt beside them and pressed their ears.
This pressure of the ears and the loud prayers, may have been intended to prevent the hearing of any noise when the ghost crept in, while they at the same induced the suspicious to direct their attention to the door, fancying that the ghost-seer was desirous to hide that when he pressed their heads. The distance of the conjuror from the spot where the spirit appeared, not only made the matter seem more wonderful but hindered the spectators from looking round till the proper moment, and the row of chairs contributed to the security by impeding too accurate a view.
The explanation which I have attempted is exceedingly simple, and although others might be started perhaps more satisfactory, the one I have given will be sufficient to shew how easily a person of too great credulity may be imposed upon.
On this occasion, the conjuror made us quit the room, because I had excited his suspicion, and he was apprehensive of scrutiny or violence at the close of the experiment.
My companion told me, that at other times the spirit had appeared and vanished with the same ceremonies. The rabbi, no doubt, informed the ghost during the chaunt that he must retire the moment we were led out.
The spirit's anger was well contrived. The impostor might easily conceive that I had not complied with his injunctions during the seven days' preparation for this juggling trick. That I should have laid bands on the spirit, I think my countenance might have probably shewn.
I may finally observe, that this ghost-seer was not the most adroit; that he had neither the requisite knowledge of the mysteries and ritual used by impostors in similar cases, which have so worked upon the eredulous, nor the circumspection or contrivance to conceal many things which must excite suspicion. My merit in this discovery is very small; I shall, however, be grateful if many worthy and talented persons, who have in the present day laid such matters too seriously to heart, be induced by it to bring less credulity with them to such an experiment, and not readily to surrender their good sense in a matter apparently incomprehensible.
Reader, have you never laughed at a friend for disliking your own homely Cheshire cheese ? have you never seen such an one turn pale at the sight of your white cat-or shiver at the merry chirping of the cricket in your chimney corner ? If you have not such a whimsical friend, you must at any rate have heard of people who take such fancies into their heads. There are some who have an unaccountable dislike to toads, others have an unconquerable antipathy to spiders, and many (especially the fair sex) almost swoon when a mouse ventures to steal across the room. In the words of the poet.—“Some men there are love not a gaping pig; Some that are mad if they behold a cat." But why do they evince these dislikes and antipathies. Do these animals deserve such reproaches ? Are they so hateful or offensive that we should attempt their annihilation ? Or, are they not, on the contrary, perfectly innoxious, and devoid of evil? But, oh! they are so ugly!" Yes ! this is the wise reason that is urged by these qualmish individuals in defending themselves. “ The creatures are so horribly ugly!" If what Hogarth says of beauty be correct, viz. that those objects are most pleasing to the sight which present a gradually varied surface, as, for instance, in a spiral line; (which it is well known he called the “ line of beauty,” surely these creatures may then be called beautiful, for where shall we find such lines more fully developed than in the animals considered so ugly! We should like to know upon what principle their ugliness can be discussed. There is nothing in the form of the spider which can convey anything disagreeable to the spectator. Its different limbs have all been beautifully constructed by an unerring architect with a view to its particular mode of life; and the manner in which it forms its habitation and gains its food, the, unwearied industry with which it continues its labours, and above all the beautiful and wonderful apparatus which it brings into operation when constructing its labyrinth of silken threads, are, to a contemplative and unprejudiced observer, sources of the purest delight and admiration.
Yet are we sometimes called upon to sympathize with persons who, in their affected
horror of these harmless and for such we will maintain them to be. beautiful creatures, crush them beneath their feet as they are inoffensively crawling on the ground.
Were any good reason to be assigned for these prejudices, they might be excusable; but as this is not the case- --and it is seldom even attempted-no person of a liberal mind will, we are sure, even entertain them. But, generally speaking, people who have become thus prejudiced take a pleasure in informing others of the state of their feelings, and even exaggerating them to a degree perfectly ridiculous. Addison (we think) mentions a gentleman who had a great antipathy to cats, and, detailing his feelings on this account to a company of friends, he said, that passing through the Strand one day, a sensation of sickness suddenly oppressed him, apparently without a cause, but, upon accidently raisiøg his head, the mystery was solved, for the sign of a large black cat was hanging over him!
But of all prejudices, the most important, as they affect a greater class, are what are termed national—by which we mean those general and unfounded ideas preconceived of a nation. Thus, in England, the common notion of a Frenchman may be represented by a lean, halfstarved, suspicious-looking wretch, just managing to subsist by the aid of frogs and soup-maigre, and yet withal very foppishly dressed, and possessed of the manners and gait of a dancing master; while, as an emblem of his own nation, the Englishman fondly pictures to himself the figure of a stout, hale, hearty-looking fellow, with a countenance open as his hand, and an eye deep as his coat pockets. Such are the ideas commonly entertained, by Englishmen, of the two kingdoms. For the honour of our native country we will not dispute the justness of the laiter picture, (though we are much afraid we of the present day have sadly degenerated from our forefathers, if they were such men,) but the former is decidedly too exaggerated. Persons are often disappointed when they visit France, as they expect to meet such figures as I have described. But the French, though they sometimes eat frogs, subsist chiefly upon more substantial food; and their soup-maigre, as it is called, is not as may be supposed, mere pepper-and-water, but generally a rich dish of which an Englishman equally likes to partake. While upon this subject, we cannot avoid mentioning one thing in which the English would do well to imitate them. When the French soldiers receive their rations of meat, &c, instead of each man cooking his own dinner, as in our army, they form small parties among themselves, and each man of the party throws his share into a large cauldron, (tended by one who acts as cook), where, with the addition of spices, &c. it is converted into a rich and strong soup, which the men then partake of equally. By this means, much that would be wasted were each indi. vidual to cook for himself, is added to the general meal, much expense is saved, less trouble is occasioned, and a more savoury dish is thus served up to the men than it would have been possible for them to have prepared singly. Besides the prejudice which we have imbibed to the Frenchman's outward form, and the occasion of it, we have most unwarrantably taxed them with cowardice.
A reference to the many songs of the last war will evince this; they all tell us that one Englishman is stronger and more courageous than a dozen Frenchmen. And the print by Hogarth of Beer-street, where a butcher is seen carrying a French trayeller at arm's length with one hand, while he balances a quart pot in the other, shews the contempt in which the English hold the rival nation. Perhaps, however, it is to this contempt for our enemies and esteem for ourselves that we may refer much of the success