Seeing is believing! Such is an old saw, not usually called in question, and yet it is exceedingly fallacious. A great many phenomena seemingly true by the eyesight are not true at all. Ignorance and prejudice have led to very extraordinary mistakes. We speak of the sun rising and setting, because it appears to do so, but it neither sets nor rises. The earth turns in front of it like a roast turning before a fire. A conjurer will clearly shew you that he will bring any number of eggs out of an empty hat. He only brings them out of his sleeve, where they were cunningly concealed. And so on with a great many other illusions, all seemingly fair and above board, but in which we are imposed on either by our senses, or by some fallacy in reasoning. Less than two hundred years ago, courts of justice were hanging and burning thousands of old women for being witches—all on a sort of evidence which in the present day would only be laughed at. The world now knows better than believe such trash, but it took a long time to learn; and even yet this highly experienced and much complimented world occasionally falls into the most absurd crazes; or perhaps we should more correctly say, there are large numbers of tolerably educated but credulous people who with a taste for the wonderful are ever ready to believe in any kind of nonsense that turns up. These worthy individuals are, of course, not without excuse. Starting with the principle that there may be forces in nature which science has as yet failed to disclose, we should be cautious in asserting that any particular phenomenon that seems incomprehensible is a result of mere illusion or imposture. Let every mysterious demonstration, they say, be impartially inquired into. Quite correct. The misfortune, however, is, that before the matters in question have been examined impartially by the light of science, the craze gets ahead, and many persons weakly allowing themselves to be carried away by their feelings, get painfully compromised, and are by the more cool and cautious part of mankind set down as little better than—fools. Very hard! But the warning offered is useful. If people of good standing will believe in absurdities without proper examination, they must take the consequences.
We have been led to make these remarks by a perusal of the lately issued work, Mesmerism, Spiritualism, &c., Historically and Scientifically considered, by Dr W. B. Carpenter. In this ably written and eminently readable small volume, the author brings to bear a long experience in scientific inquiry into the popular crazes and impostures of the last forty years, beginning with Mesmerism and Table-turning, and ending with Spiritualism in the several shapes it has assumed. We commend the book to the serious consideration of the credulous. Tracing the history of marvels of different kinds, Dr Carpenter states that the whole has been 'a long succession of epidemic delusions, the form of which has changed from time to time, whilst their essential nature has remained the same throughout; and that the condition which underlies them all is the subjection of the mind to a dominant idea. There is a constitutional tendency in many minds to be seized by some strange notion which takes entire possession of them; so that all the actions of the individual "thus possessed" are results of its operation.' Placed on this footing, the Predominant Delusion, be it a belief in witchcraft, mesmerism, or spiritualism, is a kind of monomaniacal frenzy. An absurd idea has got possession of the individual, and no reasoning with him to the contrary will have any effect in driving it out. He will absolutely get out of temper if his fanciful notions are so much as questioned. Usually the monomania spreads; and the more who suffer themselves to be affected, the keener and more demonstrative does the delusion become. Certain frantic religious ferments in past and recent times have been due to nothing else than strange contagious influences, of which, after a time, when passion has subsided, all are pretty well ashamed, and fain to stifle out of disagreeable remembrance. We happen to have seen several of these prevalent crazes, droll in some respects, but very pitiable. After such mental disturbances, things, happily, shake themselves right at last, and all goes on as usual. The fever has subsided.
Often, able and estimable men suffer themselves to be affected by the prevailing craze, and lead on others as imitators. It is now about forty years since, when by invitation to a friend's house, we were present at an evening séance in which an eminent professor at one of our universities entertained the company with what he confidently believed to be mesmeric experiments, such as sending persons to sleep, or rendering them temporarily mute by bidding them 'tie their tongue.' Here was a man skilled in a branch of physical science, but of eager temperament and with a rage for novelty, lending himself indiscreetly to certain popular delusions which had originated in the crazed fancy of a charlatan. Mesmeric experiments of this sort were for a time a favourite amusement. They reminded us of the superstition in the old legends, in which 'glamour' is said to have been cast over weak-minded individuals. This ancient glamour consisted in producing by looks and gestures a negation of self-assertion. The operator threw the patient into a kind of spell-bound or dreamy condition without any power of correct reasoning. It was the conquest of the strong and resolute will over the weak and irresolute, through the effects of a kind of jugglery.
Mesmeric sleep, as it is called, is ordinarily produced by seemingly mystic passes of the hands, and an intense