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[This is taken from Arthur Conan Doyle's The History of Spiritualism.]
The early Spiritualists have frequently been compared with the early Christians, and there are indeed many points of resemblance. In one respect, however, the Spiritualists had an advantage. The women of the older dispensation did their part nobly, living as saints and dying as martyrs, but they did not figure as preachers and missionaries. Psychic power and psychic knowledge are, however, as great in one sex as in another, and therefore many of the great pioneers of the spiritual revelation were women. Especially may this be claimed for Emma Hardinge Britten, one whose name will grow more famous as the years roll by. There have, however, been several other women missionaries outstanding, and the most important of these from the British point of view is Mrs. Hayden, who first in the year 1852 brought the new phenomena to these shores. We had of old the Apostles of religious faith. Here at last was an apostle of religious fact.
Mrs. Hayden was a remarkable woman as well as an excellent medium. She was the wife of a respectable New England journalist who accompanied her in her mission, which had been organized by one Stone, who had some experience of her powers in America.
At the time of her visit she was described as being “young, intelligent, and at the same time simple and candid in her manners.” Her British critic added:
The ignorant British Press treated Mrs. Hayden as a common American adventuress. Her real mental caliber, however, may be judged from the fact that some years later, after her return to the United States, Mrs. Hayden graduated as a doctor of medicine and practiced for fifteen years. Dr. James Rodes Buchanan, the famous pioneer in psychometry, speaks of her as “one of the most skilful and successful physicians I have ever known.” She was offered a medical professorship in an American college, and was employed by the Globe Insurance Company in protecting the company against losses in insurance on lives. A feature of her success was what Buchanan describes as her psychometric genius. He adds a unique tribute to the effect that her name was almost forgotten at the Board of Health because for years she had not a single death to report.
This sequel, however, was beyond the knowledge of the skeptics of 1852, and they cannot be blamed for insisting that these strange claims of other-world intervention should be tested with the utmost rigor before they could be admitted. No one could contest this critical attitude. But what does seem strange is that a proposition which, if true, would involve such glad tidings as the piercing of the wall of death and a true communion of the saints, should arouse not sober criticism, however exacting, but a storm of insult and abuse, inexcusable at any time, but particularly so when directed against a lady who was a visitor in our midst. Mrs. Hardinge Britten says that Mrs. Hayden no sooner appeared upon the scene than the leaders of the Press, pulpit and college leveled against her a storm of ribaldry, persecution and insult, alike disgraceful to themselves and humiliating to the boasted liberalism and scientific acumen of their age. She added that her gentle womanly spirit must have been deeply pained, and the harmony of mind so essential to the production of good psychological results constantly destroyed, by the cruel and insulting treatment she received at the hands of many of those who came, pretending to be investigators, but in reality burning to thwart her, and laying traps to falsify the truths of which Mrs. Hayden professed to be the instrument. Sensitively alive to the animus of her visitors, she could feel, and often writhed under the crushing force of the antagonism brought to bear upon her, without-at that time-knowing how to repel or resist it.
At the same time, the whole nation was not involved in this irrational hostility, which in a diluted form we still see around us. Brave men arose who were not afraid to imperil their worldly career, or even their reputation for sanity, by championing an unpopular cause with no possible motive save the love of truth and that sense of chivalry which revolted at the persecution of a woman. Dr. Ashburner, one of the Royal physicians, and Sir Charles Isham, were among those who defended the medium in the public Press.
Mrs. Hayden’s mediumship seems, when judged by modern standards, to have been strictly limited in type. Save for the raps, we hear little of physical phenomena, nor is there any question of lights, materializations or Direct Voices. In harmonious company, however, the answers as furnished by raps were very accurate and convincing. Like all true mediums, she was sensitive to discord in her surroundings, with the result that the contemptible crew of practical jokers and ill-natured researchers who visited her found her a ready victim. Deceit is repaid by deceit and the fool is answered according to his folly, though the intelligence behind the words seems to care little for the fact that the passive instrument employed may be held accountable for the answer. These pseudo-researchers filled the Press with their humorous accounts of how they had deceived the spirits, when as a fact they had rather deceived themselves. George Henry Lewes, afterwards consort of George Eliot, was one of these cynical investigators. He recounts with glee how he had asked the control in writing: “Is Mrs. Hayden an impostor?” to which the control rapped out: “Yes.” Lewes was dishonest enough to quote this afterwards as being a confession of guilt from Mrs. Hayden. One would rather draw from it the inference that the raps were entirely independent of the medium, and also that questions asked in a spirit of pure frivolity met with no serious reply.
It is, however, by the positives and not by the negatives that such questions must be judged, and the author must here use quotations to a larger extent than is his custom, for in no other way can one bring home how those seeds were first planted in England which are destined to grow to such a goodly height. Allusion has already been made to the testimony of Dr. Ashburner, the famous physician, and it would be well perhaps to add some of his actual words. He says:
Again, in a long letter to THE REASONER, after admitting that he visited the medium in a thoroughly incredulous frame of mind, expecting to witness “the same class of transparent absurdities” he had previously encountered with other so-called mediums, Ashburner writes: “As for Mrs. Hayden, I have so strong a conviction of her perfect honesty that I marvel at anyone who could deliberately accuse her of fraud,” and at the same time he gives detailed accounts of veridical communications he received.
Among the investigators was the celebrated mathematician and philosopher, Professor De Morgan. He gives some account of his experiences and conclusions in his long and masterly preface to his wife’s book, “From Matter to Spirit,” 1863, as follows:
After a remark to the effect that for convenience he intends to speak of the raps as coming from spirits, Professor De Morgan goes on:
I then took the printed alphabet, put a book upright before it, and, bending my eyes upon it, proceeded to point to the letters in the usual way. The word “chess” was given by a rap at each letter. I had now a reasonable certainty of the following alternative: either some thought-reading of a character wholly inexplicable, or such superhuman acuteness on the part of Mrs. Hayden that she could detect the letter I wanted by my bearing, though she (seated six feet from the book which hid my alphabet) could see neither my hand nor my eye, nor at what rate I was going through the letters. I was fated to be driven out of the second alternative before the sitting was done.
As the next incident of the sitting, which he goes on to relate, is given with extra details in a letter written ten years earlier to the Rev. W. Heald, we quote this version published in his wife’s “Memoir of Augustus De Morgan” (pp. 221-2):
Presently came MY FATHER (OB., 1816), and after some conversation I went on as follows:
When Professor De Morgan says that some spirit was reading his thoughts, he omits to observe that the incident of the first letter was evidence of something that was not in his mind. Also, from Mrs. Hayden’s attitude throughout the séance, it is clear that it was her atmosphere rather than her actual conscious personality which was concerned.
Mrs. Fitzgerald, a well-known figure in the early days of Spiritualism in London, gives, in THE SPIRITUALIST of November 22, 1878, the following very striking experience with Mrs. Hayden:
I carried the paper upon which all this was written at the dictation of my spirit friend to his former legal adviser, and was assured by him that the dates, etc., were perfectly correct. They could not have been in my mind because I was not aware of them.
It is interesting to note that Mrs. Fitzgerald stated that she believed that Mrs. Hayden’s first séance in England was held with Lady Combermere, her son, Major Cotton, and Mr. Henry Thompson, of York.
In the same volume of THE SPIRITUALIST (p. 264) there appears an account of a séance with Mrs. Hayden, taken from the life of Charles Young, the well-known tragedian, written by his son, the Rev. Julian Young:
I was so astounded by the correctness of the answers I received to my inquiries that I told the gentleman who was with me that I wanted particularly to ask a question to the nature of which I did not wish him to be privy, and that I should be obliged to him if he would go into the adjoining room for a few minutes. On his doing so I resumed my dialogue with Mrs. Hayden.
Now, a will by which I had benefited was threatened to be disputed. I wished to know whether the threat would be carried out. The answer I received was correct.
It may be added that Mr. Young had no belief, before or after this séance, in spirit agency, which surely, after such an experience, is no credit to his intelligence or capacity for assimilating fresh knowledge.
The following letter in THE SPIRITUALIST from Mr. John Malcom, of Clifton, Bristol, mentions some well-known sitters. Discussing the question that had been raised as to where the first séance in England was held and who were the witnesses present at it, he says:
The battle in the British Press raged furiously. In the columns of the London CRITIC, Mr. Henry Spicer (author of “Sights and Sounds”) replied to the critics in HOUSEHOLD WORDS, the LEADER, and the ZOIST. There followed in the same newspaper a lengthy contribution from a Cambridge clergyman, signing himself “M.A.,” considered to be the Rev. A. W. Hobson, of St. John’s College, Cambridge.
This gentleman’s description is graphic and powerful, but too long for complete transcription. The matter is of some importance, as the writer is, so far as is known, the first English clergyman who had gone into the matter. It is strange, and perhaps characteristic of the age, how little the religious implications appear to have struck the various sitters, and how entirely occupied they were by inquiries as to their grandmother’s second name or the number of their uncles. Even the more earnest seem to have been futile in their questions, and no one shows the least sense of realization of the real possibilities of such commerce, or that a firm foundation for religious belief could at last be laid. This clergyman did, however, in a purblind way, see that there was a religious side to the matter. He finishes his report with the paragraph:
It was not the clergy but the Free Thinkers who perceived the real meaning of the message, and that they must either fight against this proof of life eternal, or must honestly confess, as so many of us have done since, that their philosophy was shattered, and that they had been beaten on their own ground. These men had called for proofs in transcendent matters, and the more honest and earnest were forced to admit that they had had them. The noblest of them all was Robert Owen, as famous for his humanitarian works as for his sturdy independence in religious matters. This brave and honest man declared publicly that the first rays of this rising sun had struck him and had gilded the drab future which he had pictured. He said:
Mrs. Emma Hardinge Britten comments on the interest and astonishment created by the conversion of Robert Owen, the influence of whose purely materialistic belief was regarded as exerting an injurious effect on religion. She says that one of England’s most prominent statesmen declared “that Mrs. Hayden deserved a monument, if only for the conversion of Robert Owen.”
Shortly afterwards the famous Dr. Elliotson, who was the president of the Secular Society, was also converted after, like St. Paul, violently assailing the new revelation. He and Dr. Ashburner had been two of the most prominent supporters of mesmerism in the days when even that obvious phenomenon had to fight for its existence, and when every medical man who affirmed it was in danger of being called a quack. It was painful to both of them, therefore, when Dr. Ashburner threw himself into this higher subject with enthusiasm, while his friend was constrained not only to reject but actively to attack it. However, the breach was healed by the complete conversion of Elliotson, and Mrs. Hardinge Britten relates how in his declining years he insisted upon her coming to him, and how she found him a “warm adherent of Spiritualism, a faith which the venerable gentleman cherished as the brightest revelation that had ever been vouchsafed to him, and one which finally smoothed the dark passage to the life beyond, and made his transition a scene of triumphant faith and joyful anticipation.”
As might have been expected, it was not long before the rapid growth of table phenomena compelled scientific skeptics to recognize their existence, or at least to take steps to expose the delusion of those who attributed to the movements an external origin. Braid, Carpenter, and Faraday stated publicly that the results obtained were due simply to unconscious muscular action. Faraday devised ingenious apparatus which he considered conclusively proved his assertion. But, like so many other critics, Faraday had had no experience with a good medium, and the well-attested fact of the movement of tables without contact is sufficient to demolish his pretty theories. If one could imagine a layman without a telescope contradicting with jeers and contempt the conclusions of those astronomers who had used telescopes, it would present some analogy to those people who have ventured to criticize psychic matters without having had any personal psychic experience.
The contemporary spirit is no doubt voiced by Sir David Brewster. Speaking of an invitation from Monckton Milnes to meet Mr. Galla, the African traveler, “who assured him that Mrs. Hayden told him the names of persons and places in Africa which nobody but himself knew,” Sir David comments, “The world is obviously going mad.”
Mrs. Hayden remained in England about a year, returning to America towards the close of 1853. Some day, when these matters have found their true proportion to other events, her visit will be regarded as historical and epoch-making. Two other American mediums were in England during her visit-Mrs. Roberts and Miss Jay-having followed shortly after, but they appear to have had little influence on the movement, and seem to have been very inferior in psychic power.
A contemporary sidelight on those early days is afforded by this extract from an article on Spiritualism in THE YORKSHIREMAN (October 25, 1856), a non-Spiritualist journal:
After declaring that Faraday’s attack made “the spirits suddenly subside,” so that for a time no more was heard of their doings, the journal continues:
But the general attitude of the influential Press was much the same then as now-ridicule and denial of the facts, and the view that even if the facts were true, of what use were they? THE TIMES, for instance (a paper which has been very ill-informed and reactionary in psychic matters), in a leading article of a little later date suggests:
It would be something to get one’s hat off the peg by an effort of volition, without going to fetch it, or troubling a servant.
If table-power could be made to turn even a coffee-mill, it would be so much gained.
Let our mediums and clairvoyants, instead of finding out what somebody died of fifty years ago, find out what figure the Funds will be at this day three months.
When one reads such comments in a great paper one wonders whether the movement was not really premature, and whether in so base and material an age the idea of outside intervention was not impossible to grasp. Much of this opposition was due, however, to the frivolity of inquirers who had not as yet realized the full significance of these signals from beyond, and used them, as the Yorkshire paper states, as a sort of social recreation and a new excitement for jaded worldlings.
But while in the eyes of the Press the death-blow had been given to a discredited movement, investigation went on quietly in many quarters. People of common sense, as Howitt points out, “were successfully testing those angels, under their own mode of advent, and finding them real,” for, as he well says, public mediums have never done more than inaugurate the movement.”
If one were to judge from the public testimony of the time, Mrs. Hayden’s influence might be considered to have been limited in extent. To the public at large she was only a nine days’ wonder, but she scattered much seed which slowly grew. The fact is, she opened the subject up, and people, mostly in the humbler walks of life, began to experiment and to discover the truth for themselves, though, with a caution born of experience, they kept their discoveries for the most part to themselves. Mrs. Hayden, without doubt, fulfilled her ordained task.
The history of the movement may well be compared to an advancing sea with its successive crests and troughs, each crest gathering more volume than the last. With every trough the spectator has thought that the waves had ended, and then the great new billow gathered. The time between the leaving of Mrs. Hayden in 1853 until the advent of D. D. Home in 1855 represents the first lull in England. Superficial critics thought it was the end. But in a thousand homes throughout the land experiments were being carried on; many who had lost all faith in the things of the spirit, in what was perhaps the deadest and most material age in the world’s history, had begun to examine the evidence and to understand with relief or with awe that the age of faith was passing and that the age of knowledge, which St. Peter has said to be better, was at hand. Devout students of the Scriptures remember the words of their Master: “I have yet many things to say unto you, but ye cannot bear them now,” and wondered whether these strange stirrings of outside forces might not be part of that new knowledge which had been promised.
Whilst Mrs. Hayden had thus planted the first seeds in London, a second train of events had brought spiritual phenomena under the notice of the people of Yorkshire.
This was due to a visit of a Mr. David Richmond, an American Shaker, to the town of Keighley, when he called upon Mr. David Weatherhead and interested him in the new development. Table manifestations were obtained and local mediums discovered, so that a flourishing centre was built up which still exists. From Yorkshire the movement spread over Lancashire, and it is an interesting link with the past that Mr. Wolstenholme, of Blackburn, who died in 1925 at a venerable age, was able as a boy to secrete himself under a table at one of these early séances, where he witnessed, though we will hope that he did not aid, the phenomena. A paper, THE YORKSHIRE SPIRITUAL TELEGRAPH, was started at Keighley in 1855, this and other expenses being borne by David Weatherhead, whose name should be honored as one who was the first to throw his whole heart into the movement. Keighley is still an active centre of psychic work and knowledge.
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