COLONELELIJAH PROWLEY, like all good and true genealogists, held the mother-country in tender reverence. For, if there be any truth in the well-known mot which calls Paris the Paradise of virtuous Yankees, it is limited to a few city-bucks of mongrel caste. England must be the Promised Land for the genuine representative of the Puritan. Whatever we may have felt about her lately, — and I confess there have been times when the declaration of the FeeFaw - Fum giant of nursery - romance seemed to be of a moral and praiseworthy eharacter, — there is no doubt, that, in the year of grace of which I write, and in the regards of many ratherishscliolarly gentlemen of our country-towns, the British Islands were the nearest terrestrial correspondences to the Islands of the Blest. About the massive Past Colonel Prowley never ceased to thrust his epistolary tendrils. Was not Great Britain a genealogical hunting-ground where game of rarest plumage might be started ? Was not a family-connection with Sir Walter Raleigh (whose name should be written Praleigh, a common corruption of “Prowley” in the sixteenth century) susceptible of the clearest proof? There were, in fact, few distinguished Englishmen of the present day, who, if a provoking ancestor or two could be unearthed, might not be shown to have the Prowley fluid in their veins. To many of these eminent personages the head of the American branch of the family had written, and with several he had succeeded in establishing a correspondence. Old sermons, moral obituaries of public characters, celebrations of centennial anniversaries, and heavy reading of like description, constantly lelt the Foxden Post-Office addressed to the British Museum. The printed formulas of acknowledgment which arrived in return were preserved as the rarest treasures.
And in fulness of time all this corresponding and presenting produced a glorious result. Elijah Prowley, of Foxden, was chosen an Honorary Member of the Royal Society of British Sextons, — an association than which there is none more mouldy in the whole world. Certainly, this was glory enough for any Western genealogist,—yet Fortune had a higher gratification to bestow. For, in His Worship, the Most Primordial, the High Senior Governour and Primitive Patriarch of all Sextons, Colonel Prowley soon discovered a relative of his own. Sir Joseph Barley, a rubicund old knight, and the Most Primordial in question, after an elaborate investigation and counter-investigation, a jockeying of the wits of very old women, and a raid into divers registers, scrolls, schedules, archives, and the like, —Sir Joseph Barley, I say, turned out to be a long - lost cousin. “ Barley,” it appeared, had anciently been written “ Parley,” and “ Praley,” and even “ Proley.” Having arrived at this point, Sir Joseph conjectured that his ancestor Proley might have dropped a w out of his name, and the Colonel conjectured that his progenitor, the Puritan, might have put one into his. Now it did not matter which was right, for, as was convincingly underscored in one of my letters from Foxden, “ upon eitherhypothesis, the relationship of the Barleys of Old England to the Prowleys of New England was positively established.”
And so Sir Joseph Barley was dead !
Although shocked, when the fact of his demise was abruptly announced m the familiar chirography of my old friend, I was unable to prevent a certain sense of the grotesque from mingling with the idea. A portrait in pastel, which hung over the chimney-piece in the Colonel’s study, had given me a thorough acquaintance with the outward Sir Joseph. That brief, but bulky figure, clad in official robes as High Senior Governour, that weighty seal of the Sextons which dangled from the fob, those impressive spectacles with the glasses cut in parallelograms, above all, that full-blown face blandly contemplating our American rudeness like a smiling Phœbus from British skies,—how could all these things, which had so individualized the natural body of Sir Joseph Barley, be dispensed with in its spiritual counterpart ? No answer to such question, — only the grim facts, that one brother more had “ gone over to the majority,” and that the living minority got on very comfortably without him. Comfortably ? Ay, truly ; for in the very letter that brought the news I was begged to spend the approaching Fast-Day in Foxden, just as if nothing had happened. The season, so I was assured, was unusually advanced, and already the flavor of spring was perceptible in the air; moreover, the different congregations in town were to unite in services at the Orthodox Church, and, by extraordinary favor, one of the Colonel’s Boston correspondents, no less a man than the distinguished Dr. Burge, was to preach the sermon.
A noble specimen of our New - England clergy was this Dr. Burge. He held the old creed-formulas through which Wilson and Mather declared their faith, yet warmed them into ruddy life by whatever fire the last transcendental Prometheus or Comte-devoted scientist filched from aërial or material heaven. A good diner-out, a good visitor among the poor. His parishioners supplied him with a wood-fire, a saddle-horse, and, it was maliciously said, a boxing - master ; and he, on his part,—so ran the idle rumor of the street,—covenanted never to call upon them for cod-liver oil, Bourbon whiskey, or a tour to Europe. In his majestic presence there was a total impression sanative to body and soul. The full powers of manner and tone, of pause and emphasis, were at his commandHe would rise in a shingled meetinghouse as effective as choir, organ, and sacerdotal vestments in full cathedralservice. I was glad to learn that this stalwart servant of the Word would be at Foxden. He had formerly been well acquainted with the Reverend Charles Clifton, late pastor of a church in that place, He might deal wisely with the evil intelligence, or, possibly, the infatuated egotism, which controlled that unfortunate man. Dr. Burge would possess his soul in calmness in presence of the singular epidemic which was then running through Foxden, as it had previously run through, and run out of, other river-towns.
And now it has come in my way to speak of that strange murmuring of phantoms and their attendant seers, psychometers, and dactylomaneers, which in these latter days has revived among us. And what I may have to say about what is called Spiritualism will reflect actual observations. I do not forget that to the advocacy of the “ New Dispensation ” are devoted many men of earnestness and a few of ability. It is possible that the facts they build upon may render mine exceptional and unimportant. What is here set down is but a trifling contribution to that mass of human testimony and human opinion from which the truth must be finally elicited.
Mr. Stellato had been celestially commissioned to Barnum the spirits in their Foxden exhibitions. Two years previously this gentleman was to be seen at the head of a fanatical and tumultuary offshoot from a cause the most humane and noble. He had done whatever his slender abilities permitted to bring into discredit large-hearted and devoted men and women whom history will honorably remember as New-England Reformers. But to lead anything on a large scale, without a continual windingup by his companion, the fibrous Mrs. Romulus, was beyond the crassitude of Stellato’s pursy nature. Now it had come to pass that this acidulated lady, essaying fresh flurries of progression, discovering higher passional affinities and new duties of demolition, proving that in Church and State every brick was loose and every timber rotten, testifying ever to the existence of a certain harmonial mortar by which the rubbish of a demolished civilization could be rebuilt into unexceptionable forms, — it happened that this woman, having towered for one proud moment at the very apex of her mission, slipped suddenly into the Romish communion, and was no more seen of men. Stellato, perceiving that the peculiar machinery he had been taught to manage was now out of repair and impracticable, looked about for some new invention whereby to gain a livelihood from the credulity of his neighbors. “ The spirits,” then at the height of their profit and renown, were adapted to his purpose. A blank and vacant mind was freely offered to any power of earth or air which would condescend to enter and possess it. And so Mr. Stellato, with his three parts knavery and two parts delusion, became a popular and successful ghost-monger.
The parsonage had been closed since Charles Clifton terminated his connection with the parish two years before. The newest lights of the Liberal persuasion, fledglings from divinity-schools, youths of every possible variety of creed and no creed, had by turns occupied the vacant pulpit. The Gospel vibrated at all points between the interpretations of Calvin and Strauss. The congregation grew more and more critical, and could agree upon no candidate for settlement. They demanded the respectability of belief with the showy talents of skepticism, — an impossible combination, at least for a parish which offered only eight hundred dollars and a decrepit house. At length Colonel Prowley took a pew in the Orthodox Church; — it was a temporary arrangement, he said, to be terminated whenever a settled minister should be provided for the First Parish.
The Reverend Charles Clifton seldom left the rooms which he had taken in a farmer’s family on the outskirts of the town. We have seen how this man had once believed that Providence had called him to an exceptional and brilliant destiny. The total renouncement of what once glowed as a mission requires a sturdy nature and plenty of active work. Clifton possessed an exceeding susceptibility of nervous organization; he was full of subtile intimations of what was passing in the minds of other men, and at times seemed to have a strange power of controlling them. The deep passion for metaphysical knowledge, which in his youth had been kindled, was stifled, but never overcome. Wifeless, childless, he was put under no bonds to struggle with the world. He knew the coldness of the church in which he had been ordained to minister, — the hard and dreary lives of those whom he had undertaken to illumine. But he made the fatal mistake — inexcusable, it would seem, in a man of his liberal nurture —of supposing that this world’s evil was owing to the absence of right opinion, and not of right feeling. It is to be feared that it was not principle, but only a paroxysm of cowardice, which caused Clifton to bury Vannelle’s legacy in the Mather Safe. At all events, the minister found himself unable to dismiss a certain thin and impalpable fantasy which lingered behind that ponderous speculation of an all-embracing philosophy. For the past two years he had fitfully sought, or rather persuaded himself that he sought, some clue through the sad labyrinth of his fate, He had indulged in the most morbid conditions of his physical organism; there was neither steadiness in his purpose nor firmness in his action. He yearned for that proximity to hidden things, which, if not forbidden to all men, yet is dangerous to most men. At length he succeeded in freeing his soul from the weight of conscious intellectual life which had become too heavy for it to bear. And while the Foxden people were wondering about the occupation of a late pastor in one of their churches, and inquiring of each other whether he would again speak before them, their gossiping solicitude was suddenly set at rest. Printed show-bills were posted about the streets: “ Grand Festival of Spiritualists at the Town Hall.” “ The Reverend Charles Clifton will speak” — a line of largest type gloated upon the scandal — “ IN A TRANCE - STATE.”
“ I really ought to apologize,” said Colonel Prowley, upon opening the halldoor for my admittance, on the afternoon of the second Wednesday in April, and this after repeated summons had been sounded by the brazen knocker,—“ I ought to apologize for keeping you here so long; but there has been so much knocking about the house of late, and our cook and housemaid having turned out to be such excellent mediums, taking just as much interest in their circle down-stairs as we do in ours in the parlor, and then Mrs. Colfodder being so positive that it was either Sir Joseph Barley or Roger Williams,—though I am sure neither of them ever knocked half so satisfactorily before, and besides ”-
“ My dear Sir,” interrupted I, “ no excuse is necessary. I have seen enough of ‘ the spirits ’ to know how they put aside all conventionalities. I should have accompanied Dr. Burge to the hotel, had I anticipated disturbing the circle which, I infer, is at present in session.”
“ You would have grieved me very much by doing so,” rejoined the kind old gentleman. “ Dr. Burge dines with me to-morrow, and I confess — not yet calling myself a convert to these miracles which are now vouchsafed in Foxden — it would not be amiss to rid my premises of the amiable magicians congregated in my parlor before a minister were invited to enter. But a layman, as I take it, might witness these thaumaturgical matters without scandal, — nay, perchance you may help me to that wholesome credence in their reality which my celestial visitants so unceasingly demand.”
Colonel Prowley was in the state of mind not unusual to many well-meaning, unoccupied people, when this modern necromancy was thrust upon them by those pecuniarily or socially interested in its advocacy. The upheaval to the air of that dark inward nature which is ever working in us, — the startling proof of that loudly proclaimed, faintly realized truth, that this mind, so pervading every fibre of the body, is yet separate in its essence, — the novel gratification of the petty vanities and petty questionings which beset undecided men,—what wonder that persons not accustomed to sound analysis of evidence should be beguiled by these subtilest adaptations to their conditions, and hold dalliance with the feeble shades that imposture or enthusiasm vended about the towns ? Historical personages— a nerveless mimicry of the conventional stage-representation of them— stalked the Colonel’s parlor. Departed friends, Indians à discrétion, local celebrities, Deacon Golly, who in the year ’90 took the ten first shares in the Wrexford Turnpike, the very Pelatiah Brimble from whom “ Brimble’s Corner” had taken its name, the identical Timson forever immortal in “ Timson’s Common,” — these defunct worthies were audibly, visibly, or tangibly present, peeking at great subjects in ghostly feebleness, swimming in Tupperic dilutions of cheapest wisdom, and finally inducing in their patrons strange derangements of mind and body.
The circle, which was very select, consisted of three highly susceptible ladies and Stellato as medium-in-chief. Miss Turligood, a sort of Oroveso to the Druidical chorus, was a muscular spinster, fierce and forty, sporting steel spectacles, a frizette of the most scrupulous honesty, and a towering comb which formed what the landscape-gardeners call “ an object ” in the distance. Next this commanding lady, with fat hands sprawled upon the table, sat Mrs. Colfodder, widow, according to the flesh, of a respectable Foxden grocer. By later spiritual communications, however, it appeared that matters stood very differently; for no sooner had the departed Colfodder looked about him a little in the world to come than he proceeded to contract marriage with Queen Elizabeth of England, thereby leaving his mortal relict quite free to receive the addresses of the late Lord Byron, whose proposals were of the most honorable as well as amatory character. Miss Branly, by far the most pleasing of the ladypatronesses, was a fragile, stove-dried mantua-maker, •— and, truly, it seemed something like poetic justice to recompense her depressed existence with the satisfactions of a material heaven full of marryings and givings in marriage.
“Will Sir Joseph tip for us again?” inquired bliss Turligood, with her eyes fixed upon a crack in the mahogany table. “ Will he ? Will he not ? Will he ? ”
Sir Joseph vouchsafed no answer.
“ Hark ! was n’t that a rap ? ” cried Stellato, in a husky whisper.
Here every one pricked an ear towards the table.
“ Doctor Franklin, is that you ? ”
“ The Doctor promised to be present to give a scientific and philosophical view of these communications,” parenthesized the interrogator.
“ Doctor Franklin, is that you ? ”
A faint creaking is audible.
“ Byron’s sign, as I ’m a living woman ! ” ejaculated the Widow Colfodder.
“ Her spiritual partner and guardianangel,” explained Miss Turligood, — and this for my satisfaction as the last-comer.
Direct examination by the widow : —
“ Have you brought your patent lyre here to-night ? ”
For the enlightenment of the company : —
“ He played the lyre so beautiful on earth, that when he got to the spheres a committee gave him a golden one, with all the modern improvements.”
Question concerning the lyre repeated. A mysterious rubbing interpreted as an affirmative reply.
“ Have you brought Pocahontas with you ? (she ’most always comes with him) — and if so, can she kiss me to-night ? ”
The table is exceedingly doubtful.
“ Could she kiss Colonel Prowley, or even pull his hair a little ? ”
No certainty of either.
“ Can she kiss Miss Turligood ? ”
The table is satisfied that it could n’t be done.
“ Let me try her,” urged Stellato, with the confidence of an expert; then in seductive tones, —
“ Could n’t Pocahontas kiss Miss Branly, if all the lights were put out ? ”
Pocahontas thought it highly probable that she could.
Here some interesting badgering. Miss Branly declined being kissed in the dark. Miss Turligood thought it would be very satisfactory, if she would, and could n’t see why any one should object to it. She (Miss Turligood) would willingly be kissed in the dark, or in the light, in furtherance of scientific investigation.
Stellato suggested a compromise.
“ Might not the kissing be done through a medium ? ”
At first the table thought it could n’t, but afterwards relented, and thought it might.
“Would Pocahontas appoint that medium ? ”
“ Should the alphabet be called ? ”
It should not.
“Would the table tip towards the medium indicated ? ”
It could not be done.
Should somebody call over the names of all mediums present, and would the table tip at the right one ? ”
Ah, that was it!
“ I suppose you and I have no share in this Gift Enterprise,” whispered Colonel Prowley.
“ Order ! order ! ” shouted Miss Turligood, glancing in our direction with great seventy. “ This general conversation cannot be permitted. We are about to have a most interesting manifestation.—Pocahontas, do you wish me to call over the names ? ”
Pocahontas did not object.
“ “Very well, then, you will tip when I come to the name of the medium through whom you consent to kiss Miss Sarah Branly ? ”
Pocahontas certainly would.
“ Is it Mrs. Colfodder ? ”
“ Is it I, Eugenia Turligood ? ”
No, it certainly was not.
“ Well, then, I suppose it must be Sir. Stellato ! ”
Here the table was violently convulsed, as if somebody were pulling it very hard upon Mr, Stellato’s side, and somebody else holding it with rigid firmness upon the other.
“ Is it Mr. Stellato ? ”
“ I don’t think you stopped long enough at Mrs. Colfodder’s name,” interposed Miss Branly. “ I am sure the table was going to move, if you had given it time.”
“ Nothing easier than to try again,” responded Miss Turligood. “Is it Mrs. Colfodder ? ”
This time the table fairly sprang into the lap of the lady indicated.
And so that worthy widow arose and saluted — or rather Pocahontas, through her mediumship, arose and saluted—Miss Sarah Branly. And the skeptic will please take notice that this extraordinary manifestation is neither enlarged nor magnified, but that it actually happened precisely as is here set down.
After this, Mr. Stellato, being put under inspiration, delivered a discursive homily upon the “ New Dispensation ” which was at present vouchsafed to the citizens of Foxden. He testified to the great relief of getting clear of the “ Old Theology,” — meaning thereby such interpretations of Scripture as are held by the mass of our New - England churches. Moreover, he would announce his personal satisfaction in having, under spiritual guidance, eradicated every vestige of belief in hell, — a circumstance upon which, it is needless to say, that a gentleman of his profession might be honestly congratulated. With a view, as I could not help thinking, to my peculiar necessities, Stellato finally enlarged upon what he termed “ the principle of the thing,” or, as he otherwise phrased it, “ a scientiiic explanation of the way the spirits worked mediums,” — “ sperrets ” and “ meejums ” according to celestial pronunciation, but I am loath to disturb the carnal orthography. This philosophical exposition, drawled forth in interminable sentences, was a dark doctrine to the uninitiated. There was a good deal about “ Essences,” which, at times, seemed to relate to the perfumery vended in the fancy-department of apothecaries’ shops, and then again to some obscure matters of “ Zones,” “ Interiors,” “ Magnetic Relations,” and the like. The central revelation, if I remember rightly, had to do with a sort of putty, by which, according to the Stellato cosmogony, Chaos had been stuck together into a Universe. This adhesive composition was known as “ Detached Vitalized Electricity.” And having got upon this sounding title, which conveyed no meaning whatever to the “ undeveloped ” understanding, Stellato was profuse in windy talk. This Detached Vitalized Electricity, spread out over space, connected the parts of all systems; it appeared at that very instant in the form of “power” about Miss Turligood’s head ; in short, it diluted all stray bits of modern rhetoric, all exploded feats of ancient magic, into the thinnest of spiritual gruel, which was to supersede the strong meat upon which the Puritan walked before his Maker.
Somebody summoned the eminent Twynintuft. Like every spirit that was ever called for, this ex-elocutionist happened to be within a Few seconds’ flight of the circle, and had nothing in the world to do but to swoop down and tip as long as the company could possibly endure him.
The following information was elicited by affirmative or negative replies to the interrogatories of those present: —
The spirit communicating was Twynintuft, grandfather to Mrs. Widesworth. Was unable to give his Christian name. Thought Mrs. Colfodder’s lungs in a healthy condition. Could nut undertake to move the table when no hands were upon it. If the room were made totally dark, would attempt that curious experiment. Was unable to give the maiden name of his earthly wife. Thought Mr. Stellato was a healing-medium of great power, Had been something of a RootDoctor when in the body, and would gladly prescribe through that gentleman for the cure of all diseases. Considered mineral medicines destructive to the vital principle. Doctor Dastick, being a drugdoctor, would not be recognized by any medical association in the spheres. Would give any information about the fixed stars. The inhabitants of the Milky Way telegraphed to each other by means of the Detached Vitalized Electricity. Also, they bottled up the same to cure humors. Would privately impart their recipe to Mr. Stellato. It could not be afforded upon this earth at less than three dollars a bottle. Would, however, authorize an exception in favor of clergymen, when they gave certificates of cures. The spirits did not recognize Fast-Day, — it was a remnant of the Old Mythological Religion. Demanded further investigation, and promised greater marvels in future.
Here Miss Turligood became violently convulsed, and, having slapped the table some forty times or more, seized a pencil and began to write : —
“DEAR PrOWLEY,— Surrounded by a bank of silver-tunieked attendants, I hover near you. The atmosphere is redolent of costly herbs, which, with the wellknown rotary motion of the earth, impart density and spacefulness to our spheral persons: this is the philosophy of our presence. Many shining friends, supported upon fluted pillars, are with you this evening. These grieve at your lack of faith, and flap gold bespattered wings in unison. Spherically yours,
“ SIR JOSEPH BARLEY.”
“ Why does he sign himself Sir ? ” inquired Colonel Prowley, rather taken aback at the sudden termination of this exquisite composition.
It was evidently an oversight, for the medium’s hand erased the offending title.
“ When did Sir Joseph die ? ” I ventured to ask.
“ That I cannot tell you,” replied his late correspondent. “ I have heard nothing from him for several months. When he last wrote, he was suffering under a severe influenza which must have terminated fatally. But why not ask him the question ? ”
“ That is just my purpose. — Sir Joseph Barley, can you give me the date of your death ? ”
“It is hard for spirits to give numbers,” said Mr. Stellato.
“ It is sometimes done by tips,” quoth Miss Turligood.
I pressed the demand, and, after much cajoling and counting, a certain day of March was fixed upon.
“ Can you give me the place ? ”
I was instructed to call over the names of such foreign cities as I might remember, and assured that Sir Joseph would tip at the right one.
It turned out to be “ London.”
“ And now, Sir Joseph, could you oblige me with the name of the physician who attended your last sickness ? ”
But no sooner had I propounded this final query than Mr. Stellato declared his consciousness of a skeptical influence in the company which would go far to impede other manifestations. Where people were not harmonial, he explained, the Detached Vitalized Electricity being unable to unite with the Imponderable Magnetic Fluid given off by mediums, satisfactory results could not be obtained.
“ But we have at least obtained this satisfaction,” said I, addressing Colonel Prowley: “Sir Joseph has committed himself about the day and place of his decease, A ou must soon hear from some member of his family. If these particulars have been correctly given, there will be, at least, the beginning of evidence upon which to establish his identity.”
Mrs. Colfodder was so shocked with the perversity of unbelief which she detected in this harmless remark, that, nudging Miss Branly, she solemnly arose and moved to break up the circle for the night.. And as it was already past nine o’clock, no violent objection was made to the proposition.
“ The circle will meet in this place tomorrow morning at eight o’clock, for the pursuance of further investigations,” proclaimed Miss Turligood, in sonorous accents.
“Fast-Day, Madam,” mildly suggested Colonel Prowley.
“ The spirits do not recognize FastDay. To-morrow at eight o’clock. In this place. Let every medium be punctual. It is to be hoped that the conditions will then be favorable !”
This latter aspiration, with its feminine redundancy of emphasis, was cast in my direction, as Miss Turligood swept haughtily from the room.
Her final exit, however, was neither curt nor in any way effective. For it was no easy matter to gather up the bags, parcels, shawls, and other devices which the good lady had brought with her and scattered about the entry. One Indiarubber shoe in particular eluded our search, till I was ready to admit the supposition that the spirits had carried it off, as entirely reasonable and satisfactory. A good-natured Irishman, servant to Miss Turligood, who had come with a lantern to see her home, at length discovered this missing bit of apparel upon Miss Branly’s foot, — that medium, as it appeared, having in a fit of abstraction appropriated three. Finally the lantern glimmered down the gravel-walk, and Mr. Stellato, with a lady upon each arm, was persuaded to follow it. It was waking from a nightmare to get rid of them.
“ Over at last! ” exclaimed Miss Prowley, when we returned to the drawingroom. She had been sitting in silence in an obscure corner, and I had scarcely realized her presence. “ Over at last 1 and of all fatiguing and unprofitable employments that the folly of man ever devised. this trifling with spirits is certainly the chief.”
“ Nay, my dear,” urged the brother, in his placid way, “these good people who have fastened themselves upon us seem so anxious to continue the investigation that I cannot find it in my heart to refuse them. I did wish, to be sure, that we might have our Fast-Day in quiet; but Miss Turligood, who knows much more about the matter than we do. thinks the spirits would not like it, if we did, and so — although we will absent ourselves from the sitting long enough to go to church — we must really make the best of it, and receive the circle.”
“ You speak like a believer, Colonel Prowley,” I said.
“ No, not quite that,” replied the old gentleman, — “ yet, truly, I sometimes hardly know why I am not. The knockings alone are quite inexplicable; and when it comes to a fiery hand ringing the dinner-bell, which Stellato can show in the dark — Besides, there are the communications from distinguished characters, many of them so very important and interesting. To be sure, my poor cousin Barley did not do himself justice this evening, though some of his ideas were very poetical; but, really, the other night, when he told us how much the Royal Sextons were thought of in the spheres, and repeated that very high compliment which Thomas Herne paid to my familyhistory, it all seemed so marvellous, and vet so natural, that I could not help subscribing pretty handsomely to the cause.”
“ And one of the privileges that your subscription has gone to purchase I am yet to enjoy. Dr. Burge wished me to visit, in his company, your former pastor, Mr. Clifton,—and we must look for him, as I see, at the Spiritualists’ Festival in the Town Hall.”
“ Sad ! sad! ” cried Colonel Prowley, thoughtfully chewing upon my remark. “ It is an abiding shame for a minister of the gospel to meddle with these things, except, possibly, in the way of exorcism. Truly, a deep humiliation has fallen upon the town.”
And the chagrin of this respected gentleman was wholly sincere. The Puritanical distinction between clergy and laity had scarcely faded in his mind. The pastor of the First Church had belonged to a cherished class, — a class whose moral and intellectual consequence must be maintained by avoidance of all dangerous inquiries, common interests, and secular amusements. A minister attending a Jenny-Lind Charity-Concert in a play-house, or leading armed men in the most sacred cause for which human blood might be shed,—what offences would these have been to this titular Colonel of Foxden, who had won his honors by a six-months’ finery and dining as aide-de-camp to some forgotten Governor !
“ I fear I shall not be back before you wish to close the house.”
“ Never mind, you remember the old arrangement: door-key under the scraper,— light burning in the drawingroom.”
With hearty thanks I went forth to keep my appointment with Dr. Burge.
THE narrative here takes us to a portion of the shadowy perturbation which any who have turned these pages as a fictitious rendering of the grotesque in experience will do well to omit. Only a mortifying, though perchance salutary, sense of human infirmity comes from beholding one set over the people as intercessor and counsellor struggling in the meshes of that snare which the Enemy had spread for the undisciplined and wandering multitude. No, not even struggling now. That Clifton had fought through solitary days against the wretched enervation which invited him, I had reason to know. But he had dared to tamper with the normal functions of mind and body, to try fantastic tricks with that mysterious agent through which the healthy will commands the organism. And when the mental disorder, mocked at and preached against in happier years, at length ran through Foxden, the morbid condition of his system was powerless to resist the contagion.
And let us not overlook the fact that in these manifestations there was to be found a palpable reality, a positive marvel, well calculated to lay hold of a skeptic like Clitton. His early associations with the Transcendentalists had undermined his faith in all popular presentations of Christianity. But his peculiarly emotional nature could never dwell in that haziness of opinion upon august subjects in which sounder men among the brethren made out to live cheerfully and to work vigorously. While Clifton madly sought a position of intelligence and satisfaction beyond the reach of humanity, the necessary abstraction enlarged and stimulated his reasoning powers. But the penalty was to be paid. For with terrible recoil from its tension his mind contracted to far less than normal limits. Then came a listless vacuity, a tawdry dreaminess. And this poor minister, who flattered himself that he had outgrown every graceful and touching form with which human affection or human infirmity had clothed the Christian idea, stumbled amid the rubbish of an effete heathenism, with its Sibylline contortions and tripod-responses, which the best minds of Pagan civilization found no difficulty in pronouncing a delusion and a lie.
I knew Dr. Burge for one of those most useful instructors who will patiently examine with the intellect what the instinct teaches them to condemn. He seldom helped the doctrine he assailed by denying it such facts as were true and such attractions as were real. He had cheerfully accepted whatever reproach came to him from frequenting circles in the attempt to see the mystery from the believers’ point of view. I was not surprised at finding him upon one of the back benches in the Town Hall.
“ Nothing noteworthy,” he said, as I joined him. “ Only women have spoken, — the excited nervous system careering without restraint, — no spirits vet.”
“ They pretend inspiration, I suppose.”
“ Oh, yes; and it is not surprising that semi -educated people, ignorant of analogous phenomena, should take the omne ignotum pro magnifico.”
“ Yet you are said to be a believer in the possession which the mediums claim ? ”
“ Certainly,” replied Dr. Burge, “and to just this extent: — I do not doubt the possibility of intercourse between man and the lower grades of immaterial life, and I am willing to adopt this hypothesis to explain any occurrence where the facts demand it. That, in rare cases, such may be the most simple and natural supposition, I readily admit. The ordinary performances, however, may be accounted for without calling in god or demon to untie the knot.”
I remarked that Mr. Clifton was not to be seen upon the platform.
“He is kept out of the way until the last, — in the Selectmen’s Room, as I am told, and alone.”
“ I fear all appeal would now be in vain; yet, Sir, I would not have you spare an effort to awaken him to the peril of his course.”
“ Let us go to him, then,” assented Dr. Burge.
Upon common occasions, the Selectmen’s Room failed to suggest any exceptional character in its occupants. It was a narrow, ill-lighted, unventilated apartment, bitter with the after-taste of taxes, prophetically flavorous of taxes yet to be. Stove-accommodation beyond the criticism of the most fastidious salamander, a liberal sprinkling of sand with a view to the ruminant necessities of the town-patricians, two or three stiff armchairs with straws protruding from their well-worn cushions, intolerant benches for unofficial occupancy, — altogether a gloomy aggregate result of the diverse ideals of social well-being to be found among the inhabitants of Foxden. But now I recognized a new element in this familiar chamber; a strange contagion hung about the walls; a something which imparted delicate edge to the nervous system was perceptible in the dry heat of the air. Near an oracular table, which bore evidence of recent manipulation, stood the Reverend Charles Clifton: others had evidently been with him before our entrance; he was now alone. An oillamp sputtered feebly in the corner. The stove-devil glared at us through his one glazed eye, and puffed out his mephitic welcome as I shut the door.
“ Clifton, my old friend ! ” exclaimed Dr. Burge.
The person addressed raised his head, half closed his eyes, as one who endeavors to fix objects which are flitting before him. It seemed necessary to withdraw his inward gaze from some delicious dazzlement of dream-land. At last he spoke slowly and with effort.
“ Burge, you here ? — and one of us ? ”
“ Heaven forbid ! ” cried my companion. “ I but look upon these things for my own warning, and in the way of my duty as teacher to those who might be disposed to tamper with unknown powers, within or without.”
.“ Say, rather, to melt the iron links which gyve soul to body,” said Clifton, in constrained articulation, through which a moaning undertone seemed ever trying to be heard. “ Say, rather, to produce a finer exaltation than wine, opium, or hashish, —for it is most sweet to subject the animal organism to the control of spirit-wills.”
“ A grateful doctrine to those who dare to substitute a morbid receptivity for an active endeavor ! ”
“It is to soothe the sense - powers, so that others may use them to give us intimations far beyond their common capacity.”
“ 'I keep under my body and bring it into subjection,’ ” quoted Dr. Burge, emphasizing the personal pronoun. “ The Apostle declares that his own immortal individuality alone controls his members, — and why ? ' lest, when I have preached unto others, I myself should become a castaway.’ ”
The Doctor delivered the last sentence with rich cathedral - emphasis, and with the full unction of priestly authority.
Clifton, or whatever vague and dusky power controlled him, cowered at the rebuke. The nervous energy with which he had experimented, or which he had left passive for the experiments of others, seemed withdrawn from his frame.
Dr. Burge perceived his advantage, and continued : —•
“ I speak to you, my fallen brother, as I cannot speak to the foolish people who grope in this miasma of delusion. Silly women, yielding to the natural vanity of their sex, may mistake hysterics for inspiration. Vacillating and vacant men may seek a new sensation by encouraging a revival of the demoniacal epidemics of heathendom. But you, who have been a preacher of the gospel, though, as I must now more than ever believe, after a devitalized and perverted method, .— you, to leave the honest work of a dweller upon earth, to chatter of immensity, to weaken the brain that it may no longer separate the true from the false! — believe me, Clifton, you have been bought by the shallowest promises which the King of Evil ever exchanged for a sacred and inviolable soul.”
“You have spoken according to your business,” replied Mr. Clifton, impatiently. “ You, who begin by assuming the impossibility of spirit - intercourse since Bible times, with what candor can you examine the facts we build upon?”
“ I make no such assumption,” was the rejoinder. “ Has it not been foretold that ' in the latter times some shall depart from the faith, giving heed to seducing spirits and doctrines of devils’? Have we not aforetime been vexed with them in this very New England? For I almost justify Mather’s words, when he stigmatizes the necromancy of his day as ' a terrible Plague of Evil Angels,’ or, in still plainer speech, as ‘ a prodigious descent of devils upon divers places near the centre of this Province.' And how better can we characterize this confused and distracting babblement which gives no good gift to man ? ”
“It has given him this,” exclaimed Clifton, advancing towards Dr. Burge, and seeming for a few moments to resume his old personality,—“ it has given him the knowledge of a life to come ! You think it, preach it, believe it, —but you do not know it. A susceptibility to impressions from the inmost characters of men has been mine through life. It has been given me to perceive what facts and feelings most deeply adhered in the mental consciousness. And I tell you, Burge, ministers both of your communion and of mine repeat the old words of sublimest assurance, sway congregations with descriptions bright or lurid of future worlds, yet behind all this glowing speech and blatant confidence there has lurked, — oh, will you deny it? — there has lurked a grovelling doubt of man’s immortality.”
“ I will not deny it,” said Dr. Burge, with slow solemnity. “ Sinners that we are, how can we ask that faith be at no moment confused by the thousand cries of infidelity which our profession requires us to answer ? Let my soul be chilled by transient shades of skepticism, rather than dote in a blind and puerile credulity ! If I am not at all times equally penetrated by the great fact of man’s conscious immortality, it is because of my undesert. A way to know of the doctrine has been revealed : it is by doing the will of the Father : who of us has fulfilled the condition ? But I can meet you on lower ground, and declare, that, according to our human observation, it is not well for man to know the destiny of his being in all its details until the trials and victories of life have taught him to turn such knowledge to elevating use. It is the deplorable sinfulness of our nature which seeks to obtain without deserving, to possess the end and despise the appointed means.”
Some reply would doubtless have been made to these pertinent considerations, had not the confused tramp of a committee been heard at the door. The professors of the “ New Dispensation ” had come to conduct the Reverend Charles Clifton to their platform. The distinguished convert shuddered, as if affected by some incorporeal presence, and suffered himself to be led away.
“ I can do nothing more,” murmured Dr. Burge; “ and why should I stay to hear diluted rhetoric, or inflated commonplace, from lips which, however unworthily, once proclaimed the simplicity of the gospel ? ”
“ Because it is not well to prejudge what may offer some possible variety in this credence,” I ventured to suggest.
“ You are right; we will stay.”
A murmur of applause followed the appearance of Clifton upon the platform, —yet it was only a murmur; for the flock, long pastured upon delicate delusions, received as matter of course whatever shepherding chance offered. Did not the face of the medium wear an expression of earthly disappointment at this slender recognition ? Could it be that there was needed the hot-house heat of a carnal “success” to favor this exquisite flowering of the spirit ? Can we suppose that this whole matter was no other than some Yankee patent to avoid the awful solitude in which each human soul must enter into relations with the unseen ?
Slowly and in dreamy heaviness the discourse began. The inspirational claims seemed to lie in the manifest improbability of a man of Clifton’s cultivation being so dull and diffuse in a natural condition. Yet, as the message wore on, it cannot be denied that a strange influence was at work. The words followed each other with greater fluency and in richer abundance. The meaning, to be sure, was still vague enough; and whenever some commonplace truth or plausibility protruded from the general washiness, it was seized upon and beaten and stretched to the last degree of tenuity. Phrases upon phrases of gorgeous dreaminess. A soothing delight, — yet such delight as only the bodily senses demanded. A joyful deliverance from the bondage of intellectual life. Hints that our human consciousness of sin was a vain delusion from which the “developed” man was happily delivered. “ Come up here,” said the preacher, in substance, “ and escape from this moral accountability which sits so heavily upon you. Here is a sensuous paradise, sweet and debilitating, offering varied delights to the eclecticism of personal taste. All angular and harsh things may be dissolved in copious floods of words, and washed into a ravishing, enervating Universe.”
An hour—two hours — passed. The air was thick and poisonous. Attention had been strained to the utmost. Other things were to be noted by those accustomed to regard mental disorder from a physiological point of view.
And now, by some abnormal mode of cerebral activity, the trance-speaker won strange sympathies from his auditors. Certain faculties in Clifton had reached an expansion not permitted to the healthy man. A plastic power came from him and took the impress of other minds. Old experiences groped out of forgotten corners and haunted the discourse. At one time it seemed as if all that was potential in the culture of the medium or his audience might be stimulated into specious blossom. Phenomena were exhibited which transcended the conscious powers of the human soul, — nay, which testified of its latent ability to work without organic conditions. Our unemployed brain-organs, as Hamilton and others have clearly proved, are always employing themselves. And from this self-employment—or was it demon - employment ? — there swept through the consciousness a vague delirium of excitement. In all that assembly a single pulse beat feverish measures. The climax was reached. Without was the soft spring night veiling the scarcely touched range of knowledge and beauty offered to the healthy energies of man; within were dazed wanderers in a region of morbid emotion, seeking to intensify the colors of Nature, willing to waste precious vitality in conjurations of the dead.
The wretched thraldom was over,— and what had it left ?
An exquisite sensitiveness of the nerves of sense, imagination exalted, memory goaded, reason and judgment overthrown.
IN his Fast-Day sermon Dr. Burge delivered himself of much weighty testimony against those thaumaturgical incantations of heathenism which had been revived among us. With his splendor of clerical pause and emphasis he read the denunciations against a sinful nation to which the prophet Isaiah has affixed the awful words,—“ Saith the Lord, the Lord of' Hosts.”
“ And they shall fight every one against his brother, and every one against his neighbor, city against city, and kingdom against kingdom.”
Here the preacher’s dark eyes left the Sacred volume, and seemed to gaze upon some coming struggle in which the sins of the people would meet a bloody retribution. Then, referring to the page, he pronounced with bitterness of holy indignation the prophetic curse which was that day fulfilled in our cherished New England.
“ And they shall seek to the idols, and to the charmers, and to them that have familiar spirits, and to the wizards.”
The sermon made no more visible impression upon the sinful portion of the congregation than homilies against novel and pleasant indulgences are wont to do.
“ The Apostle was right, after all,” said Colonel Prowley, quoting the text upon the meeting-house steps; “we should ‘ try the spirits.’ ”
“ No objection to that,” said the postmaster ; “ but here’s Dr. Burge tells us to keep out of their way, and call them all humbugs, without trying them at all.”
The gentleman referred to joined our party upon the meeting-house green, and accompanied us home.
As we entered the house, our ears were saluted by a sort of scuilling noise, with an accompaniment of broken English. Miss Turligood, highly charged with the Detached Vitalized Electricity, or some stimulant of equal potency, ran to meet us in the entry, to enjoin silence and a passive state of mind before entering the parlor. The manifestations during service had been most wonderful. Twynintuft had lifted the table to the ceiling, with Mr. Stellato clinging to the legs. Mrs. Colfodder had had her backhair taken down, and the housemaid was certain that somebody tried to kiss her.
We made for the parlor with all convenient speed. Notwithstanding the solemn adjurations of Dr. Burge, we entertained guilty hopes of seeing some of the marvels which had become such positive drugs in our absence. But to see anything was, for a long time, out of the question; for the spirits had insisted upon having the shutters closed, and shawls pinned up before the cracks in the same, ere they would favor mortals with an exhibition. Finally, dim outlines revealed themselves through the obscurity. We made out a female figure (it was the cook, so Miss Prowley whispered) who was haranguing the assembly at the rate of a word every thirty seconds, or thereabouts.
Cook as Twynintuft: — “ I am Mister Twyniutuft. I set lots by you all. I left my bright spirit-home to come here to-day. The squashes was musty afore they was brought into the house. No blame to the cook. Them pickled termarterses could n’t keep into spring, and so I tell you now. The spheres is a dry place, and everythin’ is most a-beautiful here.”
Belly, the housemaid, loquitur. — (She appears in the character of Red-Jaeket, a popular personation upon these occasions,—it. being very easy to talk Indian by the simple recipe of transposing the nominative and objective cases of the personal pronoun.) “ Me don’t like what yon say, old Twyney! I’s name’s RedJacket. Pale-face give fire-water to I. The squashes was good enough till cook left ’em out in the rain. Me have hunting-ground in fifth sphere. When me puts up tomatoes in the spirit-world, me rosins ’em when they bile. Great influence comes from I to-day ; also, much development.”
“ Dr. Burge,” whispered I, you claim to have devoted some time to the examination of these delusions; but I will venture to say you have never witnessed anything so humiliating as this ! ”
“ My dear Sir,” murmured the Doctor in return, “ the remark shows you to be a novice indeed. Why, I have listened to hours of no better drivel than this, fathered, not upon Indians and unknown elocutionists, but upon some of the wisest and most saintly spirits whose mortal teachings ever blessed mankind.”
“ Do you think these people voluntary impostors ? ”
“ No; it would be nearer the truth to say that they are voluntary victims of a mental epidemic like that which developed itself in the St. Vitus’s dance of the Middle Ages. The subjects of that disease went through the same spasms, convulsions, and painful racking of the limbs which accompany such cases of this personation as are not designed deceptions. Even those accidentally present, when the effects of the ancient contagion were exhibited, became infected and were irresistibly impelled to join in the extravagance. Look at Miss Turligood and Mr. Stellato, and see if the parallel is not supported.”
The individuals named were seen to be twisting themselves up and making an awkward sort of obeisance to the housemaid, who (still as Red-Jacket) thus delivered herself; —
“ Me goin’ to dancey war-dance. Great Spirit sends lots more Indians Come dancey too.”
A cry of acquiescence,—perchance intended for a ghostly war-whoop,—and the beloved of my Lord Byron broke into a savage polka.
Stellato seized a paper-knife, and proceeded to scalp a chair with merciless ferocity.
Those unfortunate ladies, Miss Branly aud Miss Turligood, were unable to resist the infection, and so sprang among the party, whirled about, and exhibited absurdities painful and unnecessary to relate.
“ By the Muse of my ancestor the Poet! ” exclaimed Colonel Prowley, indignantly, “ I will no longer endure this clumsy travesty of that choric saltation with which Apollo was said to inspire his Pythian virgins. Dr. Burge, you will oblige me by pulling down that shawl! Sister, you will please to open the shutters of the south window ! ”
The requests were instantly complied with. The wholesome sunlight burst into the room, and checked, as if by magic, the unseemly mumming of these deluded convulsionaries. Mrs. Colfodder sank down exhausted upon the sofa, Betty ceased to be Red-Jacket. Mr. Stellato gave up his scalping-knife, flopped feebly upon a chair, and again became a transparent jelly-fish of philosophy and water. It was harder to bring Miss Turligood to herself, by reason of the singular intractability of the squaw who had taken possession of the premises, and was only to be dislodged by much tediousness of argument and adjuration. At length, however, even this was accomplished. The Indians sulked off into space, and their terrestrial mediums once more prepared to collect about the table.
“ Why, bless me ! past one, I declare ! ” said Miss Turligood, consulting her watch. “ How spirits do make the time pass ! A brief adjournment for dinner will now take place. The circle will meet for renewed investigation this afternoon at three o’clock. Every member will be punctual. Remember, in this place, at three o’clock.”
“ Stay,” said Miss Prowley, in a gentle, but at the same time decided tone; “it will not be convenient to us to receive this party again. The presence of friends from the city, who are in Foxden only for the day, renders a meeting this afternoon out of the question. And having once broken up our regular sittings, it will not be worth while to resume them, — at least, here.”
“But, Madam, Madam, you forget that the spirits have positively commanded us to hold sittings in your parlor three times a day till further notice!” gasped Miss Turligood, in extreme astonishment,
“ I do not recognize the authority of the spirits. They have no right to dictate the uses of my parlor.”
Here was a confession indeed on the part of Miss Prowley. Not recognize the authority of the spirits ! Miss Turligood fairly staggered, when she heard the impious announcement. The smooth sciolist Stellato rallied his weak wits anil uttered a cry of wonder at such flagitious heresy. The future Lady Byron, taking as a deliberate insult any doubts of the identity and authority of her posthumous spouse, threw up her arms in horror, and trotted out of the house.
Finally, we got rid of them all,—how, I don’t exactly remember, and if I did, it would not concern the reader to know. We delivered Miss Turligood over to her Irishman, (who had brought a carryall with him this time,) and charged him never to drive her back ; Betty and the cook were restored to the kitchen; Stellato and Miss Branly disappeared, no one could say where.
“ And now,” exclaimed Colonel Prowley, with a sigh of relief, “ let us forget this nonsense, and go to dinner, — for the spirits have given me an appetite, if nothing else.”
“ Then you intend to follow what I understand to be the teaching of your invisible visitors,” remarked Dr. Burge, pleasantly.
“ How so ? ”
“ You do not recognize Fast-Day.”
“ ha! ha ! ” laughed the Colonel; “ I doubt if the ghosts were quite unreasonable about that.”
“ Nay, brother, you should tell our good minister that we have but a cold collation, aud that prepared on the previous day, as is our custom on the Sabbath,” urged Miss Prowley, with the dignity of an exact and consistent housekeeper.
“ It is as well we have,” was the reply ; “ for those precious Indians, although wise in medicine, knew little enough about cookery. They would have made sorry work, had it been necessary to give a culinary direction to the inspirations of our damsels below-stairs.”
“ And yet, after all,” resumed our host, meditatively, and after a moment’s pause, “ it seems scarcely right to make a jest of this matter; for, although the manifestations of to-day have been ridiculous enough,—yet — really—when I think of some of those instructive observations of poor Sir Joseph Barley ”--
The remark was never concluded, for a sudden rattling and whoaing and bumping of baggage was heard. The interruption came from before the front-door. The “ Railroad - Omnibus ” had driven up to the house.
“ It is, doubtless, my good friend Professor Owlsdarck,” said Colonel Prowley,— courteously rebuking an exclamation of astonishment from his sister, who had gone to the window ; — “to be sure, we did not expect him to-day, but he is ever a most welcome guest.”
“ But it is not Professor Owlsdarck ! ” cried the sister, in shrillest tones of feminine amazement. “That portly figure to which the pencil of the artist has done such feeble justice ! the spectacles with the square glasses ! the enormous seal of the Sextons ! — it can be but one man ! ”
“ What! you don’t mean ”-
“ Yes, but I do mean ! Come and see for yourself! ”
“ A ghost in an omnibus ! Why, sister, sister, the Detached—what-you-maycall-it has got into your head, — or, heavens ! can it be that our unbelief is punished with this frightful manifestation ? ”
“It is Sir Joseph Barley himself!” ejaculated Miss Prowley.
“ Surrounded by his bank of silvertunicked attendants ? ” gasped the Colonel, in desperate interrogation.
“ No, no, nothing of the kind,” said Dr. Burge, assuringly; “ he has not brought even a footman.”
And it was Sir Joseph Barley, — in the flesh, — and in a good deal of it, too ; — Sir Joseph Barley, full to overflowing with talk and compliments. He had long planned a journey to America, and a surprise to his Fellow - Sexton in Foxden. The trip had been necessarily postponed from week to week, and then from month to month. Always expecting to leave by the next steamer, he had never thought it worth while to write. Had been on shore exactly nine hours, was delighted with the country, and had already written the first chapter of a book about it. Was, nevertheless, surprised to see none of the native Red Men upon the wharf when the Canada arrived. Should have thought the spectacle would have been both novel and imposing to them. After dinner, would, with permission, go into the forests about Foxden, and visit this singular people in their national wigwams.
How picture the delight of hospitable Colonel Prowley, when, volubly delivering these and other sentiments, the High Priest and Potentate over all Sextoudom entered the parlor and made himself comfortable in a rocking-chair ?
There is no need to dwell upon the matronly bustle of Miss Prowley, who, utterly ignoring the proper ordinances of the day, proceeded to send to the hotel for a beefsteak and a bottle of British Stout which could be warranted of genuine importation.
“ And stop, stop, sister ! ” whispered the Colonel, pursuing her to the door; “ the idea seems absurd, to be sure, but still don’t you think it barely possible, that, if Betty ran down to the river and caught a few of those snapping-turtles sunning themselves upon the old log, we might boil them into something which would faintly remind Sir Joseph of the Lord Mayor’s soup ? ”
This proposition being dismissed as impracticable,— first, by reason of the notorious unwillingness of the turtles to be caught, and, waiving that objection, because of the length of time it would take to achieve any passable imitation of the ahlermanic dainty, — I was moved to an aside - declaration to the effect that my slight observation of the tastes of British tourists in the Federal States led to the suggestion of oysters as delicacies not wholly unlikely to find favor with their eminent guest.
An explosion of impulsive gratitude responded to the hint. There was a new “ saloon ” just opened in Main Street,— Betty should stop there and leave a generous order.
Well! it was some time before we were summoned to our amended dinner; but, when we did get it, it was a dinner worth waiting for.
Sir Joseph Barley—Heaven bless him ! — knew nothing of that smattering of Cosmos into which we hungry New-Englanders are wont to thrust our wits. He bluntly declared that he had never heard of Detached Vitalized Electricity, Woman’s Bights, or Harmonial Development; also, he was delightfully confident that — he, Sir Joseph Barley, British subject, not having heard of them — they could not, by any possibility, be worth hearing about. Moreover, he had not read a word of Carlyle, and positively did not know of the existence of any English poet called Browning. Dr. Burge, he thoughtfully suggested, had probably mistaken the name; it was Byron, or possibly Bulwer, about whom he wished to inquire. The former of these personages was a British Peer, and a writer of some celebrity ; he was, however, no longer living, having never recovered from a fever he took at a place called Missolonghi, in Greece ; — the latter had written a book entitled “Pelham,” once popular, but now thought inferior to a series of romances known in Great Britain as the “ Waverley Novels ” ; these were the work of one Scott, a native of Edinburgh, whom George IV. honored with a baronetcy,—a splendid recompense for his great literary industry.
This, and much other information, adapted to our rude plantation in the New-England wilderness, did Sir Joseph patronizingly impart. And it was good to meet a man with a sense of corporeal identity so honest and satisfactory. A cynic might have said that his mind moved in rather narrow limits. But then within those limits he was so ruddy and jubilant that I could not but remember something Shakspeare says about the ease of being bounded in a nutshell and yet counting one’s self king of infinite space, — were it not for bad dreams. These “ bad dreams ” had never retarded the British digestion of Sir Joseph Barley. No American citizen could, by any possibility, be so shut in measureless content. It is only a very few of our well-to-do women of the Mrs. Widesworth class — ladies inclining to knitting and corpulency in the afternoon of life —who possess the like faculty of warming society with the blaze of an ecstatic egotism. Well, there are moments —why not confess it? for is not man body as well as soul ? — when it is a relief to get away from our mystics, system-mongers, and peerers into the future, and claim a brotherhood after the flesh with your average Briton, who looks out of his comfortable present only to look into his comfortable past. Yet let this estate be temporary ; for it is well to return to our thin diet, and, instead of jolly after - dinner talk, repeat the high and aspiring phrases of certain New - Englanders who lead the generous thought and life of a continent. Phrases ! Yes, but how many nebulous ideas, think you, would it take to stuff out their hollowness ? Nay, my objecting friend, if the ideas are not wholly clear, nor immediately practicable, they are seldom shallow, and never mean. If the wisdom of our true seers sometimes seems poured out in thin dilution, it nevertheless soon hardens to a thousand shining crystals upon men of worldly enterprise and grasp. And why this digression ? I think its suggestion lay in the fact that Sir Joseph, being the type of the ordinary Englishman, held and imparted a fine sunniness of temper, and a perfectly balanced screnity,— good gifts, which, so far as my experience goes, are possessed in full measure by only one or two exceptional Americans, and these men of high and acknowledged genius.
“ I don’t understand it, upon my honor,” cried our visitor, after we had endeavored to explain to him his own spiritual intrusion on the previous evening. “ I have heard of Doctor Pordage and the Dragon, and of the Drummer of Tedworth ; but when you tell a sane British subject that his apparition comes before him, and takes, as it were, the froth off his welcome —
“ No, no, my dear friend,” interrupted Colonel Prowley, “ you must know that nothing could do that! As to the obituary I had written, it may do for some other time, — for, indeed, my felicity in such compositions has been highly commended, and this by mundane authorities of no common weight.”
“ Let us change the subject,” said Sir Joseph, dryly; “ I have no wish to test your powers in that direction ; and so long as I don’t give up the ghost, I suppose. you must.”
“ I would only say this,” observed the Colonel,—“that in your book upon America I hope you will not fail to declare, that, in folly, deception, and unmitigated humbug, our Foxden spirits exceed all others ever seen or heard.”
“ Sir Joseph Barley would be a foolish chronicler to commit himself to any such statement,” said Dr. Burge, who seemed to feel it his duty to speak the moral tag to our little Fast-Day interlude. “ I cannot allow that these Foxden manifestations are one whit more silly or equivocal than many I have seen elsewhere. This shamming the ghost of somebody still alive is no uncommon deception : several cases of the sort have come under my recent observation. And it is well that they sometimes occur ; for they must cause reflection in all who are not victims of a mental disorder which seems to confound the reasoning powers of man, — causing: its subjects to accept as teachers phantoms of their morbid imaginations, or deceiving intelligences from without. To all, I say, but such as these, an imposition of the sort here noticed must send reflections of our total inability to identify any pretended spirit merely because he flatters our vanity, or talks what may seem to us good morality or sound sense.”
Dr. Burge had laid aside his knife and fork, and had launched bravely forth upon his theme. Sir Joseph moved uneasily. Things were getting serious. Our host happily interposed, —
“ Very true, Doctor, all very true ;— yet there is one piece of wisdom regulating the spiritual practice which now seems worth considering.”
“ And what is that, pray ? ”
“ They do not recognize Fast-Day.”
“ Well, well,” said Dr. Burge, taking the hint with the utmost good-humor, “ perhaps they were not altogether wrong there; and so I will trouble Miss Prowley for a bit more of the steak, and— No, thank you, no beer for me ; I am a water - drinker of twenty years’ standing.”
“ The toast I am about to propose,” observed Colonel Prowley, “ may, with exceeding propriety, be drunk in water, —that is, whenever milk-and-water is not to be had: —
“ Our spiritual demagogues, much weaker than our political ones, may they not he as much worse ! ”
“ And there is one other sentiment,” said good Dr. Burge, brimming over with an honest hilarity, — “a toast which I should be willing to drink in pretty strong — coffee.”
“ I have not forgotten that,” exclaimed our host, proffering a hearty shake of the hand to the High Senior Governour and Primitive Patriarch of All Sextons, —
“ Health and a long life to Sir Joseph Barley ! ”