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An essay by Israel Zangwill

A Theory Of Table-Turning

Title:     A Theory Of Table-Turning
Author: Israel Zangwill [More Titles by Zangwill]

The yearning of humanity for the supernatural, even for the pseudo-supernatural, is as pathetic as it is profound. Wherefore I regret that I can make no concessions to it. The following theory of table-turning came to me as I experimented, from my general knowledge of psychology. I have not compared it with the theories of the Psychical Society, which I have never read, preferring to jot down the impressions of an independent observer, which, if they should at all coincide with the explanations of the spook-hunters, will irrefutably demonstrate that their Society was founded in vain. If, moreover, as Mr. Andrew Lang has since pointed out, it coincides largely with the theory of Dr. Carpenter, so much the better.

What are the facts? If two or more people (according to the size of the table) place their hands in circular contact around a table, and possess their souls in patience for a delightfully uncertain period, sundry strange manifestations will occur. Even after the first few moments the more imaginative will feel the table throbbing, unsuspicious of the fact that it is the blood at their finger-tips. Presently, too, an uncanny wave of cold air will pass underneath the arch of their palms. This is, according to the professional witches of Endor, the frigid flitting of the spirits, but the most superficial meteorologist will expound it you learnedly. Your hand, passive and in a fixed position, heats the air under it, which, becoming lighter, is constantly displaced by the colder circumambient air. Finally, when everybody is wrought up to an exalted expectation of the supernatural, the table begins to oscillate, to move slowly to and fro, to waltz, and even to raise itself partially or wholly off the ground. Sometimes it taps instead of moving. Nor are these motions and these taps merely the intoxicated irregularities of an exuberant energy. They are coherent responses (according to a code agreed upon with the "spirit" in possession) to questions asked by one of the sitters. They are the expression of infinite and ungrudging information on almost every subject. Through this wooden language, through this music of the tables and this dancing movement of their legs, tabular information respecting your past or other people's past and future lives, together with full details of the doings of the departed in those other spheres of heaven or hell which they adorn or illumine respectively, may be obtained at the lowest rates, and with only that reasonable delay which results from the exigencies of a letter-code. For the "spirits" of the table, be it understood, are unable to communicate with earth except by taps and movements for "yes" or "no," or by rapping out numbers; so that they have to signify their meaning, snailwise, letter by letter. The "spirit" of the Planchette will indeed write you out sentences; but to that, like the actor in melodrama, I will return anon. In the stock _seances_, I know, spirits materialise themselves and glide white-sheeted through darkened rooms. But as my own _seances_ and "spirits" were personally conducted by myself, the optical illusions of Messrs. Maskelyne & Cook, the Pepper's Ghost of the dear old Polytechnic, had no opportunity of putting in an appearance. My spooks did nothing but answer questions, so that the very suggestion that they were spirits came entirely from me. In fact, they do but dance to the "medium's" piping; and should he suggest that they are methylated, the chances are that not a few would cheerfully acquiesce in this description of themselves. In short, it is only the prepossession, the pathetic prejudice, in favour of visitors from other worlds that leads at all to the thought of "spirits," drawing such a red herring across the track that the average observer, who is nothing if not unobservant, has all his partisan faculties of mis-observation brought into full play on behalf of the spirit-world. Doubtless the actual presence of "spirits" is the cheapest way of accounting for the phenomena. But one might as well call in "spirits" to explain the dancing of a kettle-lid. Not till every natural hypothesis has been exhausted is the scientific observer entitled to call in the supernatural. And in reality all that has to be explained is the mechanical movements of tables under certain specified conditions, the said movements having an apparent relation to will and intelligence.

First of all, what moves the table?

Well, the slightest exercise of the finger or wrist muscles is sufficient to move the small, light round table which is usually the subject of experiment; and when once the slightest movement is established--by the involuntary contraction of a single muscle--all the other persons' muscles, in accommodating themselves to the movement of the table, cannot help helping it, either by pulling or pushing in the direction in which it is going. It is, in fact, almost impossible to follow the movement of a moving table and yet keep your superimposed hands perfectly passive; and with ninety-nine persons out of a hundred the startled interest in the movement even begets an unconscious desire to help it, which at times almost rises to a curious semi-conscious self-deception, a voluntary exaggeration of the marvellous. Yet nothing makes the ordinary sitter angrier than to be told he has helped to move the table. It is as though he were accused of cheating at whist, or worse, of playing a foolish card. Take half a dozen persons at random, and there are sure to be one or two so impressionable and emotional that they cannot help contributing the slight initial impulse which gathers force as it goes. These nervous subjects cannot sit a quarter of an hour perfectly still without a twitching of the muscles, while the tense state of expectation which subtly transforms itself into a wish to see the table move and not have the experiment in vain, finally compels them, despite themselves, to start the "manifestations." Indeed, to think of a thing is half to do it. Every idea has a tendency to project itself in action. If you think strongly, for instance, of lifting your hand, it is difficult not to do it, for the idea of motion is motion in embryo. The wish is father to the thought, and the thought to the deed. The wish to see the table move is the grandfather of its motion. Even with the most sceptical, when the table is requested to go in a particular direction the muscles involuntarily tend thither. All the deepest analyses of scientific psychology are involved in this wretched little episode of table-turning, and it is not marvellous that the ordinary observer should perceive only the marvellous.

So much for the movements. But how about the raps? How about those mysterious tappings which come from the very heart of the table, as eloquent of the preternatural as those immortal taps heard by Poe ere the raven stepped into his chamber? I should be more impressed by these taps if I were not capable of manufacturing them myself _ad lib._ without detection, by secretly manipulating the ball of my thumb. One is therefore justified in assuming that, where these raps are not produced by conscious fraud, they are the involuntary result of the same motions that produced them voluntarily. Even wood has a certain elasticity, and an imperceptible increase followed by an imperceptible relaxation of pressure on the surface of the table will alter the tension of the wood, the molecules of which in springing back to their prior position will emit a creak or a tap, just as a piece of extended elastic will when let go again. Both the raps and the movements, then, are in essence phenomena of the same order: simple results of muscular pressure, conscious, sub-conscious, or unconscious.

It now only remains to explain the answers themselves, to account not only for their almost invariably logical form, but also for their occasionally astonishing content. For the table is not infrequently wiser than anybody in the room; also it knows the past and is ready to predict the future.

The whole thing is really an excellent object-lesson in Psychology. For the solution is obvious. The table being unconscious, _you answer yourself_--you not only produce the raps and movements, but you regulate them.

The connection between mind and body is, it seems to me, admirably illustrated by table-turning. According to the latest philosophic view, the connection itself defies human comprehension. It is simply a case of _non possumus intelligere_. But the connection itself may be expressed thus: No idea or feeling without physical disturbance, no physical disturbance without feeling or idea. Mind and body are as related as the tune to the violin-string. Every state of mind tends to set up nervous vibration, and every nervous vibration tends to set up a state of mind. In either case the tendency may be, and usually is, counteracted. The average member of a spiritualistic circle cannot prevent the thought in his brain taking on bodily expression to the extent of a muscular contraction stimulating the very sensitive tips of the fingers. You cannot think of a joke or see the humour of anything without wanting to smile, though you may suppress your smile in obedience to other considerations. Nor can you put your features into smiling position, without experiencing a latent sense of amusement, though you would not know what you were smiling at. But if six cool scientific intellects, acquainted with the tricks of their own organisms and determined to dissever thought from motion, were to sit round a table, they might sit till doomsday without the "spirit" turning up. This is what the spiritualists mean by unsympathetic persons, persons obnoxious to the spirits, persons with antipathetic auras, and all the rest of the jargon. But six intellects taken at random, being anything but cool and scientific, are not able to prevent their ideas passing over into action in the shape of muscular twitches; though if even the unscientific were to look up at the ceiling and forget all about the table, the table would probably forget to move. Now the majority of the replies of the table deal with matters actively present to the consciousness of at least one of the six owners of the superimposed hands. When the table raps out something known only to this one person, and the startled person admits that the table is right, an uncanny feeling is produced; the table seems at least to be a thought-reader, and on this wave of astonishment the hypothesis of "spirits" rides up triumphantly. When the topic is one of which nobody knows anything--_e.g._, whether the supposed spirit is a man or woman--chance, or a vague idea floating up in the mind of one of the party, determines the reply.

But what of those replies in which some striking truth is told of which none of the party was conscious, as for instance in the examples I gave in my last, when the table informed us that Mr. Jones's "Bauble Shop" was then playing at Eastbourne, or that "The Road to Fortune" had been playing in the town in which we were the week before we arrived? To clear up this most remarkable aspect of the whole matter we must go still deeper into Psychology.

What we are pleased to call our Mind is made up of two parts--our Consciousness and--what I shall call loosely yet sufficingly and without prejudice to Metaphysics--our Sub-Consciousness. The latter is immeasurably the vaster portion. It is a tossing ocean of thoughts which feeds the narrow little fountain of Consciousness. It holds all our memories. We cannot be conscious of all ourselves and all our past at once--that way madness lies, or divinity. We may know ten languages, but we can only think in the mould of one at a time. Our thoughts and memories can only come up into clear Consciousness by ones or twos--to be dealt with and then dismissed. They spirit from the great deep of Sub-Consciousness into the thin fountain-stream of Consciousness, and fall back again into the great deep. And this great deep is never still, though we know nothing of its churning save by its tossing up through the fountain some new mental combination of which it had received only the elements--as when the mathematician has the solution of a problem flashed upon him at the moment of waking, or as the author has the development of his plot thrust upon him when he is playing billiards, or as the wit finds repartees invented for him by his brilliant but unknown collaborator. This is what the crowd calls "inspiration," the late Mr. Stevenson "Brownies," and the scientist "unconscious cerebration." A man of talent has a good Working Consciousness, a man of genius a good Working Sub-Consciousness. Hence the frequent mental instability of genius. The Infant Prodigy's feats are done by his Sub-Consciousness. Instinct is Racial Genius, Genius is Individual Instinct. The highest Genius is sane. A Shakespeare or a Goethe has both a good Working Consciousness and a good Working Sub-Consciousness, with the former so self-balanced that it regulates the products of the latter. The cultivation of the Working Consciousness may either improve or impair the products of its bigger brother. Education, the cultivation of the critical faculty, would be fatal to some writers, actors, painters, and musicians; it would but spoil the Working Sub-Consciousness. Others--more sanely balanced--would gain in art more than they lost in nature.

Now, what are the elements with which our Sub-Consciousness works?--what does this ocean contain? It would be easier to discover what it does not contain. Wrecks and argosies and dead faces, mermaidens and subterranean palaces, and the traces of vanished generations; these are but a millionth part of its treasures: the Sub-Consciousness were perhaps better likened to the property-room and scene-dock of the Great Cosmic Theatre, holding infinite wardrobes and scenes ready-painted, parks and seas and libraries, and ruined cottages and whitewashed attics, to say naught of an army of supers ready to put on all the faces we have ever seen. In our Sub-Consciousness, moreover, are stored up all the voices and sounds and scents we have ever perceived, and to all these reminiscences of our own sensations are perhaps added the shadows of our ancestors' sensations--episodes that perchance we re-experience only in dreamland--so that part of the vivid vision of genius, of the poet's eye bodying forth the shapes of things unknown, may be inherited Memory. And thus Imagination, when it is not a mere fresh combination of elements experienced, may be only a peculiar variety of atavism.

From this boundless reservoir, then, which holds our heredity and our experience, go forth the battalions of dreams--the infinitely possible permutations and combinations of its elements, wrought by the Working Sub-Consciousness when the poor Working Consciousness cannot get sound asleep, but must watch perforce with half an eye the procession of thoughts and images over which it has lost control. For it is the duty of Consciousness to control the stream sent up by Sub-Consciousness. When it is awake but unable to do this, we have Insanity; when asleep, Dreams. In Somnambulism the Working Sub-Consciousness is seen in an accentuated phase. It does all the work of its little brother, even to exercising its owner's muscles. To be "possessed" by a popular song is a species of insanity--Consciousness ridden by a singing Sub-Consciousness.

Between our Consciousness and our Sub-Consciousness there is more or less easy communication. It is not perfect. You cannot draw up what you will from the ocean: you cannot always directly remember a name or a date that you know--you can only set an indirect train of thought at work. _Per contra_, it is not easy to transfer certain conscious states to the storehouse of Sub-Consciousness--to learn a page of prose, or deposit the memory of a piece of music, which you are forced to play slowly and thoughtfully before the digital dexterity is added to the treasures of your Sub-Consciousness. Under exceptional conditions, exceptional flotsam and jetsam is tossed up into Consciousness, as in the case of that servant girl who spoke Latin, Greek, and Hebrew in her delirium, having unconsciously absorbed the same from overhearing the studies of her learned master many years before.

Now, just as a conscious thought has an accompaniment of physical motion, so has a sub-conscious thought. Thus, then, a thought which does not pass through the thin fountain-stream of Consciousness may yet produce the same muscular twitches as if it were clearly present to the presiding Ego. In the case of the "Road to Fortune," the name must have really sunk into my brain, although I was unaware of it, and probably could not have consciously recalled it to save my life. The stage-manager subsequently reminded me that he had in my presence regretted that the "Road to Fortune" had done such good business, since there would probably be a reaction. _I_ have only a recollection of his telling me that the success of the preceding piece would hurt his--my Consciousness had grasped at the intellectual side of his remark, my Sub-Consciousness had absorbed the irrelevant fact of the name of the piece. In examining the "Era," to verify this item, Lady Macbeth's eye must have unconsciously noted that "The Bauble Shop" was at Eastbourne; but the information was not registered in her Consciousness, for there is a struggle of thoughts to catch the thinker's I--that is to say the Central Consciousness--and only the fittest can survive. We are indeed wiser than we know. Our Sub-Consciousness knows all we know, and all we have forgotten, and all that our mental sponge sucked in without spirting it through Consciousness. In fact, attention or inattention often determines whether a thought or a feeling shall come up into clear Consciousness or not. You can feel a pain in your big toe if you want to. Conversely, in the excitement of battle soldiers do not always feel their wounds.

When the table prophesies or delivers "a message from the other world," the result is a compound of fluke with expectation or with apprehension. Fears or hopes dimly in the mind get accentuated, or transmuted, or distorted as in dreams; and when the "spirits" are proved wrong, as in the matter of the Chaperon's mother, the spiritualists tell you that you have got hold of a "lying spirit." Verily a cheap explanation! "They play tricks sometimes," say their apologists. The true explanation is that your Sub-Consciousness was ignorant of the reply your Consciousness asked for. Endless as its contents seem, there are limits; and when it does not know, your Sub-Consciousness will rarely confess it. It makes a brazen guess, keeping the logical form of the answer, because your Sub-Consciousness knows that, but blundering deplorably in the matter. Sometimes it will not speak at all, but when it does it is cocksure to the last degree. Its humour is the humour of the stock joke, the Old Humour--as when it will not tell a woman's age. Its sulkiness and eccentricity and occasional indecency are just what one would expect from a Sub-Consciousness, whose thoughts have no central I to keep them in order. (Compare Goethe's explanation of the obscenities of Ophelia.) Sometimes, too, there are Obstructive Associations, which account for its inability to make up its want of mind; and as there are usually several persons at table, the result is complicated by their separate Sub-Consciousnesses. In brief, table-turning is a method of interrogating your Sub-Consciousness. It is, so to speak, objective introspection. The table enables you to peep at your Sub-Consciousness, to know your larger self. It is an external medium on which you may see registered visibly and audibly (through the vibrations you sub-consciously communicate to it) that Sub-Consciousness which _ex hypothesi_ you cannot peep at directly. The moving table may be considered the objectification of Sub-Consciousness, or a mirror in which Sub-Consciousness is reflected to the gaze of Consciousness (to the great benefit of the science of Psychology, which may be revolutionised by table-turning). By humouring your Sub-Consciousness, by addressing it as though it were a separate identity utterly unconnected with you, by asking a "spirit" to answer you, you help to break your Mind in two, to detach the Sub-Consciousness from the Consciousness, and so to get results which astonish yourself. So divided is mind against itself that (as when I thought "The Pro--" was to be "The Professor's Love Story") even a conscious expectation of something different does not turn the Sub-Consciousness from its first dogged determination; or it may be that somebody else's Sub-Consciousness was in the ascendant. The "mediums" who excuse the "spirits" on the ground of their mendacity are not necessarily frauds: they are themselves deceived; they do not know that if the "spirits" lie, it is because a true reply was not latent in any one of the _human_ Consciousnesses or Sub-Consciousnesses present. But the conclusion of the whole matter seems to be this: there is a germ of scientific truth which the professional spiritualists doctor and wrap round with complex trickery in order to extract backsheesh from poor old women of both sexes anxious for information about deceased relatives. Circles are formed with pretentious mysticism, and no self-respecting "spirit" will appear without being received in state with extinguished lights and creepy accompaniments. The unconscious revelations made by the sitters are the sole genuine foundation of the spiritualists' influence. Consciousness holds converse with deceased relatives, and Sub-Consciousness, which knows all about them, answers for them. "I can call spirits from the vasty deep" myself, and they will come when I call them, but the "vasty deep" is the deep of my own Sub-Consciousness. We seem to hear voices from spirit-land; but as when we hold a sea-shell to our ear and seem to hear the ocean it is only the blood in our own veins, so--to continue Eugene Lee-Hamilton's fine sonnet--

Lo! in my heart I hear, as in a shell,
The murmur of a world beyond the grave,
Distinct, distinct, though faint and far it be.
Thou fool! this echo is a cheat as well,--
The hum of earthly instincts,--and we crave
A world unreal as the shell-heard sea.

Tables might be "turned" to various purposes. Criminals might be compelled to yield up their secrets to them in uncontrollable muscular vibrations, their Sub-Consciousness being tapped. For students under examination table-turning would be very useful for recalling forgotten knowledge. The Planchette would be the most convenient form. For obviously the _modus operandi_ of the Planchette is exactly the same as the table's. The medium's Sub-Consciousness arrives at an answer by guesswork, reminiscence, etc., and produces the muscular movements of writing without first passing the message through the writer's Consciousness. Mr. Stead has, I believe, a familiar spirit called Julia. This is merely a projection of his own Sub-Consciousness, the Planchette being the artificial instrument for enabling him to give pseudo-objectivity to his thought, to detach a shred of his mind. Even so, many a dramatist marshals toy figures on a mimic stage. The external image is a help to weak imaginations. The process of novel-writing involves breaking up your mind into bits--one for each character. And when the characters are said to take the reins into their own hands, it means that the bits are developing an independent existence. If Mr. Stead is not careful, Julia will get the upper hand of him, his Sub-Consciousness will dominate his Consciousness, and then he will be mad. This detachment of bits of mind is dangerous; the monster may overpower Frankenstein. Julia is literally a child of Mr. Stead's brain, a psychical daughter embodied in a Planchette. Double Consciousness, Double Identity, are well-known forms of insanity. In a mild degree they consist with sanity. Landseer could paint different heads simultaneously with both hands.

Hypnotism, on this theory, would be the lulling of the patient's Consciousness, the closing of his central I, and the setting of his Sub-Consciousness to work in accordance with suggestions. Thought-transference seems a superfluous hypothesis here. Death is the cessation of both Consciousness and Sub-Consciousness; and when a drowned man is resuscitated his Sub-Consciousness can never have ceased. Do you fail to understand Sub-Consciousness? So do I--as much as that our digestion operates and our blood circulates without asking our permission. It is not unreasonable to suppose that Sub-Consciousness is simply the psychical side of the molecular changes that are going on in our nervous system. There is more than "metaphysical conceit" in that elegy of Donne's:

Her pure and eloquent blood
Spoke in her cheeks, and so distinctly wrought
That one might almost say her body thought.

Sub-Consciousness is a greater marvel in itself than any that it explains, and beats the spooks hollower than they are. Just consider the phenomena of dreams, what things we do, what sights we see. It is only the commonness of dreams that blinds us to the fact that they are more marvellous than ghost-stories. Mr. Lang thinks the theory of the sub-conscious self that uses our muscles for its own ends is "the most startling thing ever offered to the public; and that it should be regarded as true by a sceptic is staggering to our judicial faculties." But why? Our noble selves--are they not already exposed to the indignity of dreams? What matters another insult? We need not be greatly put out if Sub-Consciousness is busy in the day-time too. And what about Somnambulism? What about musical or literary creation? Are not our ideas made for us in the kitchen of our Sub-Consciousness? Our Consciousness is only a small part of ourselves. What produced De Quincey's opium dreams was certainly not Consciousness. I can see visions, myself, without opium. In certain excited states of the brain I can travel in my chair, or bed, perfectly awake, through an endless and variegated series of scenes--domestic interiors with people talking or eating or playing cards, battle-fields with glittering phalanxes, beautiful tossing seas, gorgeous forests, melancholy hospitals, busy newspaper offices, etc., etc. These are almost entirely detached from my will, and the chief interest of the spectacle is the unexpectedness of its episodes. The scenes and the people have all the concreteness and detail of actuality, although I never forget that I am observing my own hallucinations. Just fancy what ghosts I could see in the dark if I lost my central control and let my Sub-Consciousness get the upper hand! Sociologists say, the seeing of dead people in dreams gave rise to the idea of ghosts. I would suggest that the same process as that of dreaming gives rise to the ghosts themselves. Great is the Sub-Consciousness! Who shall say what it does not contain, either _in esse_ or _in posse!_ Till we have exhausted the Sub-Consciousness let us not talk of spooks.

Two things alone remain to be considered. One is how the Planchette or the table is able to read cards placed face downwards upon it; the second is, is telepathy or thought-transference a possibility? As to the first point I have never yet been able to satisfy myself whether the results are more than Chance would account for; for Chance has strange vagaries--themselves part of the doctrine of Chances--and in order to decide, one would have to make a far more extended induction than I have had time for. But if the mathematical probabilities are really exceeded, one would be driven to the suspicion that there resides in the Sub-Consciousness a sense of which we are unaware, perhaps an extra way of perceiving by the tips of the fingers, which may be either a new embryonic sense, not yet developed by the struggle for existence, or the rudimentary survival of an old sense eliminated in the struggle, perhaps a relic from those primeval homogeneous organisms in which every part of the body did every kind of work. After all, the senses are all developments of the sense of touch. This suspicion is strengthened by the fact that the correct card is often given at the first trial, and not after, as if this unused sense were soon exhausted. By the way, though the "spirits" mostly failed to tell a card placed face down, and unknown to any one in the room, they were invariably successful when it was placed face up: a sufficient proof--is it not?--that there could be nothing in the replies which was not already in some one's mind.

With regard to the question of telepathy, though I am tempted to believe in it, I have not yet met with any convincing instance of it. Thought-reading _a la_ Stuart Cumberland almost any one could do who practised it. The thought-reader merely takes the place of the table as a receiver of muscular vibrations. What tempts me to believe in the transfer of thought without physical connection is that, given telepathy, all the mysterious phenomena that have persisted in popular belief through the centuries could be swept away at one fell swoop. By telepathy, working mainly through the Sub-Consciousness, I will explain you Clairvoyance (that is, not the mere seeing of pictures, which is a phenomenon akin to dreaming, but the vision of other people's Sub-Consciousnesses), ghosts, witchcraft, possession, wraiths, Mahatmas, astral bodies, etc., etc. But it is rather absurd to call in a new mystery to explain what may not even be facts. And so, till I am convinced either of ghosts or of telepathy, I must accord an impartial incredulousness to both. _Credat Christianus_, F. W. Myers or W. T. Stead! For I gather that the Psychical Society assert that they _must_ exist. But as yet--_je n'en vois pas la necessite_. If it is indeed possible to telegraph without fees and to put a psychical girdle round the earth in twenty seconds, by all means let the noses of those extortionate cable companies be put out of joint. To me it is just as wonderful that mind can communicate with mind by letter or even by speech. One more puzzle adds no light to our darkness. And as for ghosts, I have more than a lurking sympathy with the farrier in "Silas Marner."

"'If ghos'es want me to believe in 'em, let 'em leave off skulking i' the dark and i' lone places--let 'em come where there's company and candles!'

"'As if ghos'es 'u'd want to be believed in by anybody so ignorant!' said Mr. Macey, in deep disgust at the farrier's crass incompetence to apprehend the conditions of ghostly phenomena."

And supposing "ghos'es" do exist--the moment the Supernatural is attested and classified it becomes as natural as anything else. Such spooks would add nothing to the dignity and sanctity of the scheme of creation, and are no friends to religion. The world would only be made to look more ridiculous if our deceased friends really rapped tables and pulled off bedclothes, as Miss Florence Marryat's do. Mrs. Besant (who up to the moment of going to press is still a Theosophist), in her latest reading of the riddle of this painful earth, does but explain _obscurum per obscurius_. Where is the point of a progression through stages, if there is no continuous consciousness? What does it matter if I am not myself, but somebody else in his fifth plane or her nineteenth incarnation? Decidedly it is better to bear the religions we have, than fly to others that we know not of. If Mr. F. W. Myers hears that some ill-trained observers have seen ghosts, he becomes Dantesque and dithyrambic about "the love that rules the world and all the stars." For my part, I fail to draw the moral. I am content to look nearer home--at coal-heavers and costermongers, poets and engineers--and to found my theory of life on less deniable data. A fig for your ghosts! What! Here have I been living and working and thinking nigh half a lifetime, and only now these gentry should deign to give me cognisance of their existence. Dame Nature would have indeed treated me scurvily had she reduced me to such absurd oracles. The phenomena seem so rare and so irregular, the vast majority of mankind having to go through life only afraid of ghosts, but never seeing them, that no general law of posthumous existence could be based on these obscure and erratic accidents. There may be only a survival of the fittest. It is not in the aberrations, but in the constant factors of human life that we must seek for light, and the attitude of these smellers after immortality is precisely that of the mediaevals who sought for the workings of divinity in eccentric variations from its own habits, till miracles became so commonplace that, as Charles Reade deliciously sums it up, a man in "The Cloister and the Hearth" could reply to his fellow, who was anxious to know why the market-place was black with groups, "Ye born fool! it is only a miracle." If I am to seek for "intimations of immortality," let me find them not in the haphazard freaks of disembodied intelligence, but where Wordsworth found them, and where Mr. Myers was once content to find them, in

Those obstinate questionings
Of sense and outward things,
Fallings from us, vanishings!
Blank misgivings of a creature
Moving about in worlds not realised,
High instincts before which our mortal nature
Did tremble like a guilty thing surprised.

If Moses came to London he would be very disgusted with Mr. Stead and the correspondents of "Borderland" who collect "facts" for him. For that supremely sane and sage legislator made one clean sweep of all the festering superstitions that fascinate the silly and the sentimental to-day as much as they did three thousand years ago. Mr. Stead is a Puritan, and the Old Testament should be his impregnable rock. Yet Deuteronomy is most definite about "Julia." "There shall not be found with thee ... a consulter with a familiar spirit. For whosoever doeth these things is an abomination unto the Lord." His organisation of research is a delusion; science is not to be thus syndicated. The ordinary observer has no idea of scientific sifting, and in ten minutes I exposed a gentleman who impressed a large London club as "the most wonderful thought-reader in Europe."

"Nature has many methods of producing the same effect," says Henry James's greater brother. "She may make our ears ring by the sound of a bell, or by a dose of quinine; make us see yellow by spreading a field of buttercups before our eyes, or by mixing a little Santonine powder with our food." Probably not ten per cent. of the correspondents of "orderland" are aware of the existence of such "subjective sensations," or realize, despite their nightly experience of dreams, that it does not take an actual external object to give you the sensation of something outside yourself. And passing optical illusions may have all the substantiality of ghosts. When Benvenuto Cellini went to consult a wizard, as he relates in his "Memoirs," countless spirits were raised for his behoof, dancing amid the voluminous smoke of a kindled fire. He actually _saw_ them: it was a splendid case for "Borderland." Yet the probabilities are that the cunning magician merely projected magic-lantern pictures on the background of the vapour. My brother woke up one morning, and accidentally directing his eyes to the ceiling, beheld there a couple of monsters--uncouth, amorphous creatures with ramifying conformations and deep purple veins. After a few moments they passed away; but the next morning, lo! they were there again, and the next, and the next, till at last, in alarm, off he goes to a specialist in eyes and unfolds his tale of woe. Is he, perhaps, going blind? "So you've discovered them at last!" laughs the eminent oculist. "These things are Purkinje's Figures--the shadows of the network of blood-vessels of the retina microscopically magnified on the ceiling: everybody ought to see them--it's a sign the eye is a good working lens. But they don't notice them except by accident, when the light slants sideways, and when there's a specially good background for them to be projected and magnified upon." And, taking him into his mystic chamber, and reconstituting the conditions, "Look!" says he, "there are your old friends again!" And there they were, sure enough, in all their amorphous horror. It is, in fact, not so much the actual external object that determines our perception, as attention or inattention; and with wise unconsciousness we ignore all that it is not necessary for us to see at the moment. If our organism were always in perfect health, if our senses were not deceivers ever, if we did not dream as solid a world as that which we inhabit by day, then, indeed, a single appearance of a ghost would settle the question; but as things are, our own eyes are just what we mustn't believe.

As Helmholtz pointed out, we ought to see everything double, except the few objects in the centre of vision; and as a matter of fact we do get double images, but the prejudiced intelligence perceives them as one. The drunken man is thus your only true seer. Genius, which has always been suspected of affinity with drunkenness, is really a faculty for seeing abnormally--that is to say, veraciously. Andrew Lang, who thinks that all children have genius, is thus partially justified; for till they have been taught to see conventionally, they see with fresh insight. Hence the awkwardness of their questions. Mr. Bernard Shaw recently wrote an article on "How to Become a Genius," but he omitted to supply the recipe. It is simply this: see what you do see, and not what everybody tells you you see. To think what everybody says is to be a Philistine, and to say what everybody thinks is to be a genius. Every healthy eye sees Purkinje's Figures when the conditions are present; but only a rare eye perceives them consciously. That is the eye of genius, but the Philistines cry, "Disease! Degeneration!"

[The end]
Israel Zangwill's essay: Theory Of Table-Turning