Spiritualism and Table Tappers

This is from a wonderful book, The Year of the Wombat, tracing events, mostly in London, for the year 1857:

“”Spiritualistic experiments made by persons interested in the new electro-biological discoveries” were infiltrating both religion and science with a stream of double-agents. The most successful practitioner of the cult, Daniel Douglas Home (a grandson of the 10th earl) had for the time being transferred himself from his Sloane Street Academy to Paris, where he moved as “Mr Hume” in the higher circles. Earl Granville, President of the Council in Palmerston’s Cabinet, crossed his tracks on one of his visits to the French capital:

‘The evening ended in a lecture on table-turning, etc., in which the Emperor and Empress believe. A certain Mr Hume produces hands raises heavy tables 4 feet from the ground with a finger, knocks on the Emperor’s hand from a distance. The Emperor is rather pleased at the table coming more to hm than to the others; but seeing Lady G. and me look incredulous, he broke off saying, “They think us mad, and Lord Granville will report that the alliance is on a most unstable footing.”

The alliance was not entirely stable, but neither was English mahogany. In Bayswater and St John’s Wood, in Battersea and Highgate, dining tables skipped and tilted, objects of unexpected import materialised from behind the shaded candle-light, and the voices of trance delivered their cryptic messages. Mesmerism had already had a long vogue. Monkton Milnes mesmerised a monkey. Florence Nightingale mesmerised her pet owl. Tennyson mesmerised Mrs Tennyson, and Harriet Martineau was regularly mesmerised for the relief of those lifelong infirmities which her dogged industry set at defiance. “

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