London: Saturday, September 16, 1865The Illustrated London News, vol. 47, no. 1334, p. 258.
September 16, 1865
Once more the Americans have taken a step in advance of the old countries, and we record the fact with some humiliation, while giving the fullest and frankest recognition of the good sense which has been officially displayed by our cousins. A legal tribunal in America has solemnly declared the Spiritualists to be mere jugglers, and has decided, therefore, that they must pay the jugglers' tax to the State before their exhibitions can be permitted for the future.
After what has from time to time appeared in these columns upon the subject of the mischievous and impudent quacks in question, our readers will not be surprised to see that we hail this decision, tardy though it be, with unqualified satisfaction. The sentence which places the knaves in their true position, which strips them of the mock dignity into which they had lifted themselves by dint of audacious profanity, and which puts them among the knife-swallowers, fortune-tellers, and card-manipulators, is, of course, a most sensible and righteous sentence, but that is not all. It formally degrades them and makes them ridiculous while they tamely pay the tax, and subjects for the care of the police if they dare to refuse to pay. They are pronounced to be more or less diverting vagabonds. Had they taken this position when they first showed themselves in England we should never have noticed them, except with the goodnatured praise we give to any other entertainer. A mountebank may not be a very dignified member of society, but he may be an honest man. Honesty, however, and Spiritualism are, it would seem, bitter enemies. Even the better educated idiots, who allow themselves to be mystified by jugglers' jargon and jugglers' tricks, and who profess a spiritual belief, can never tell the exact truth when making a statement on the subject, and they wriggle angrily under cross-examination. Better morals were not to be expected from the illiterate and greedy quacks who trade upon the folly of the believers, and it was still less to be expected when we remember upon what trash, in the shape of evidence, Spiritualists framed their miserable faith. To have said, "The world calls us jugglers; we accept the name, and hope to convince, in spite of that name," would have been the course of a philosopher. But to have said this would have been to drive away 90 per cent of boobyism, which is ever ready to be deluded, but insists upon gravity and long words from the operators. So we had pretensions disgusting and even blasphemous, puffs as unscrupulous as those of the quack medicine-venders, and testimony as large as was desired and as valuable as the pickpocket's alibi. Much mischief was done, much plunder was gained, and now the country in which the humbug was invented brands it on the brazen forehead with the word jugglery.
The news comes at a fortunate moment; for we perceive that the most notorious of these spiritualistic quacks, after throwing the English press off the scent by causing it to be circulated that they had slunk back to America, have appeared in Paris, and are said to be making a success. Portions of the French press are as unprincipled as portions of that in America, and are as open to pecuniary influences, and we have no doubt that bribery has done its work in the procurement of many of the articles which we read. A cynical love of mystification also characterises some of the French journalists, who revenge themselves for much enforced silence by talking very wildly upon topics on which they are left free. It is, perhaps, hard to refrain from occasionally hoaxing solemn and pompous, but credulous, folks, who give themselves superior airs--and this is not an unfair description of a good many well-to-do people in Paris and elsewhere. The two agencies we have indicated are working in favour of Spiritualism in France--the hirelings are earning their pay and the cynics are affecting to be astonished. Could we hope that these lines would be translated by the respectable part of the French press, for the benefit of their readers, we would ask that the Parisians may be told that Spiritualists' quackery, having been exposed a hundred times in England, in spite of the efforts of the quacks to avoid all real investigation, became the laughing-stock of the people, until the jugglers ventured into rather rougher company than that of the metropolis, and then they were simply kicked out, and fled. If the spiritual Parisians will accept cast-off Spiritualism from England, after this information, of course the laugh will not be against the jugglers.
So, the American tribunals having formally done that which had from the first been done non-officially by all rational folk in England, we shall, we suppose, not have common-sense insulted any more by American quacks of the spiritualist kind. Any future "mediums" who may come to us with their Transatlantic nasalities, will come as do the ingenious vagabonds whose advertisements in some of our weekly contemporaries are far more amusing reading than most of the new novels. We shall know that, if they really come from America, they are licensed tumblers, who have their tax-receipts in their trunks. With these, of course, we can have no quarrel. If they choose to announce that, by means of spectral hands, they can carry old guitars across the room, with scraps of phosphorus stuck on them, and fools like to pay for such an exhibition, this is a free country, and every man has a right to amuse himself his own way, provided he annoys nobody else. Those who do not like to pay spiritual prices for such tomfoolery have but to wait until Christmas, when they will see it much better done in the pantomimes. But all this is the business of the not very wise people themselves. America exports no more spirits, and that is enough. The seal of the Republic is on the article pretending to be spirits, and we know that it is harmless.
But, unluckily, we have no jugglers' tax in England. Shakspeare and Mozart cannot be played without a license; but a fellow may take a room and call up the spirits of Shakspeare and Mozart without let or hindrance. The police have no power of interference. We are still, therefore, exposed to the humiliation of hearing that spiritualistic quackery is freely practised in England. Sometimes we hear, with extreme regret, that it is countenanced by families in other respects creditable. If there is a son whose intellects are too exalted for his father's office or counting-house, and who lounges at home on the sofa, smoking, and lets hair grow all over his face, we learn, without surprise, that the idle blockhead has strong convictions as to spirit influences. If there is a spoiled and silly girl who has disgusted sensible young men, and who cannot get an offer, we are quite prepared to be told that she visits a spiritualistic family, and has had revelations. The regular practitioners in the business look out for such creatures, and practise upon them with as much honesty as that of an advertising, puffing dentist, who privately avows that he never expects or wishes to see the same victim twice. For such fools as these whom we have described, for hysterical dowagers, for the half-educated, and for the wholly silly there is at present no protection like that which the American tribunal has luckily devised. The jugglers will still penetrate into certain English circles, and for hire will continue to do very great mischief. The only effectual weapon which can be used against them is the press, and that can perseveringly, and at the risk of being accused of monotony and bigotry, proclaim that a hireling Spiritualist is a vulgar rascal. That truth we have proclaimed upon various occasions, and have been thanked for doing so, and we shall go on with our not very agreeable work until the Vagabond Act shall be amended so as to bring these abominable quacks within the reach of the law. We shall then leave the Spiritualist to the policeman and hemp-picking. In the mean time we offer our congratulations to the Americans that they have done so much to remedy an evil which they certainly fostered, as the keepers of their gaols and madhouses can testify. Their Spiritualist is henceforth a juggler in law, as well as in fact.
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