Victorian London - Publications - Social Investigation/Journalism - About London, by J. Ewing Ritchie, 1860 - Chapter 2 - Spiritualism

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IN the Morninq Star, a few months since, appeared a letter from William Howitt, intimating that if the religions public wished to hear a man truly eloquent and religious, a Christian and a genius, they could not do better than go and hear the Rev. Mr. Harris. Accordingly, one Sunday in January, we found ourselves part of a respectable congregation, chiefly males, assembled to hear the gentleman aforesaid. The place of meeting was the Music Hall, Store-street; the reverend gentleman occupying the platform, and the audience filling up the rest of the room. It is difficult to judge of numbers, but there must have been four or five hundred persons present. Mr. Harris evidently is an American, is, we should imagine, between thirty and forty, and with his low black eye-brows, and black beard, and sallow countenance, has not a very prepossessing appearance. He had very much of the conventional idea of the methodist parson. I do not by this imply that the conventional idea is correct, but simply that we have such a conventional idea, and that Mr. Harris answers to it. As I [-13-] have intimated that I believe Mr. Harris is an American, I need not add that he is thin, and that his figure is of moderate height. The subject on which he preached was the axe being laid at the foot of the tree, and at considerable length - the sermon lasted more than an hour - the reverend gentleman endeavoured to show that men lived as God was in them, and that we were not to judge from a few outward signs that God was in them, and, as instances of men filled and inspired by God's Spirit, we had our Saxon Alfred, Oliver Cromwell, and Florence Nightingale. In the prayer and sermon of the preacher there was very little to indicate that he was preaching a new gospel. The principal thing about him was his action, which, in some respects, resembled that of the great American Temperance orator, Mr. Gough. Mr. Harris endeavours as much as possible to dramatise his sermon. He stands on tiptoe, or he sinks down into his desk, he points his finger, and shrugs up his shoulders. He has a considerable share of poetical and oratorical power, but he does not give you an idea of much literary culture. He does not bear you away  "far, far above this lower world, up where eternal ages roll." You find that it was scarce worth while coming all the way from New York to London, unless the Rev. Gentleman has much more to say, and in a better manner, than the sermon delivered in Store-steet. Of course I am not a Spiritualist. I am one of the profane-I am little better than one of the wicked, though I, and all men who are not beasts, feel that man is spirit as well as [-14-] flesh; that he is made in the image of his Maker; that the inspiration of the Almighty giveth him understanding. Spiritualism in this sense is old as Adam and Eve, old as the day when Jehovah, resting from his labours, pronounced them to be good. But this is not the Spiritualism of Mr. Harris, and of the organ of his denomination, The Spiritual Magazine. That spirits appear to us - -that they move tables - that they express their meaning by knocks, form the great distinctive peculiarity of Spiritualism, and they are things which people in our days are many of them more and more beginning to believe. At any rate the Spiritualists of the new school ought not to be angry with us. Mr. Howitt writes, "Moles don't believe in eagles, nor even skylarks; they believe in the solid earth and earth-worms;-things  which soar up into the air, and look full at the noon sun, and perch on the tops of mountains, and see wide prospect of the earth and air, of men and things, are utterly incomprehensible, and therefore don't exist, to moles. Things which, like skylarks, mount also in the air, to bathe their tremulous pinions in the living aether, and in the floods of golden sunshine, and behold the earth beneath; the more green, and soft, and beautiful, because they see the heavens above them, and pour out exulting melodies which are the fruits and streaming delights of and in these things, are equally incomprehensib1e to moles, which, having only eyes of the size of pins' heads, and no ears that ordinary eyes can discover, neither can see the face of heaven, nor hear the music [-15-] of the spheres, nor any other music. Learned pigs don't believe in pneumatology, nor in astronomy, but in gastronomy. They believe in troughs, pig-nuts, and substantial potatoes. Learned pigs see the wind, or have credit for it-but that other Pneuma [in Greek, ed.], which we translate SPIRIT, they most learnedly ignore. Moles and learned pigs were contemporaries of Adam, and have existed in all ages, and, therefore, they know that there are no such things as eagles, or skylarks and their songs; no suns, skies, heavens, and their orbs, or even such sublunary objects as those we call men and things. They know that there is nothing real, and that there are no genuine entities, but comfortable dark burrows, earthworms, pig-troughs, pig-nuts, potatoes, and the like substantials." If this be so, - and Mr. Howitt is an old man and ought to know, especially when he says there are not in London at this time half-a-dozen literary or scientific men who, had they lived in Christ's time, would have believed in him - well, there is no hope for us. Spiritualism is beyond our reach; it is a thing too bright for us. It is high, we cannot attain unto it. The other Sunday night, Mr. Harris was very spiritual, at any rate, very impractical and unworldly. At the close of the service he informed us that some few of his sermons, containing an outline of his religious convictions, were for sale at the doors, and would be sold at one penny and a half, a mere insignificant sum, just sufficient to cover the expense of paper and printing. On inquiring, we found, of the three sermons, one was [-16-] published at three-halfpence, one at twopence, and one at fourpence, prices which, if we may judge by the copy we purchased, would yield a fair profit, if the sale were as great as it seemed to be on Sunday night.
    But Mr. Harris is a poet - there is not such another in the universe. The Golden Age opens thus:-

"As many ages as it took to form
The world, it takes to form the human race.
Humanity was injured at its birth,
And its existence in the past has been
That of a suffering infant. God through Christ
Appearing, healed that sickness, pouring down
Interior life: so Christ our Lord became
The second Adam, through whom all shall live.
This is our faith. The world shall yet become
The home of that great second Adam's seed;
Christ-forms, both male and female, who from Him
Derive their ever-growing perfectness,
Eventually shall possess the earth,
And speak the rythmic language of the skies,
And mightier miracles than His perform;
They shall remove all sickness from the race,
Cast out all devils from the church and state,
And hurl into oblivion's hollow sea
the mountains of depravity. Then earth,
From the Antarctic to the Arctic Pole,
Shall blush with flowers; the isles and continents
Teem with harmonic forms of bird and beast,
And fruit, and glogious shapes of art more fair
Than man's imagination yet conceived,
Adorn the stately temples of a new
Divine religion. Every human soul
[-17-] A second Adam, and a second Eve,
Shall dwell with its pure counterpart, conjoined
In sacramental marriage of the heart.
God shall be everywhere, and not, as now,
Guessed at, but apprehended, felt and known." -p. 1.

    I will take, says Mr. Howitt, as a fair specimen of the poetry and broad Christian philosophy of this spiritual epic, the recipe for writing a poem. In this, we see how far the requirements of Spiritualism are beyond the standard of the requirements of the world in poetry. They include the widest gatherings of knowledge, and still wider and loftier virtues and sympathies.

"To write a poem, man should be as pure
As frost-flowers; every thought should be in tune
To heavenly truth, and Nature's perfect law,
Bathing the soul in beauty, joy, and peace.
His heart should ripen like the purple grape;
His country should be all the universe;
His friends the best and wisest of all time.
He should be universal as the light,
And rich as summer in ripe-fruited love.
He should have power to draw from common things
Essential truth !-and, rising o'er all fear
Of papal devils and of pagan gods,
Of ancient Satans, and of modern ghosts,
Should recognise all spirits as his friends,
And see the worst but harps of golden strings
Discordant now, but destined at the last
To thrill, inspired with God's own harmony,
And make sweet music with the heavenly host.
[-18-] He should forget his private preference.
Of country or religion, and should see
All parties and all creeds with equal eye;
His the religion of true harmony;
Christ the ideal of his lofty aim;
The viewless Friend, the Comforter, and Guide,
The joy in grief, whose every element
Of life received in child-like faith,
Becomes a part of impulse, feeling, thought-
The central fire that lights his being's sun.
He should not limit Nature by the known;
Nor limit God by what is known of him;
Nor limit man by present states and moods;
But see mankind at liberty to draw
Into their lives all Nature's wealth, and all
Harmonious essences of life from God,
And so, becoming god-like In their souls,
And universal in their faculties,
Informing all their age, enriching time,
And building up the temple of the world
With massive structures of eternity.
He shall not fail to see how infinite
God is above humanity, nor yet
That God is throned in universal man,
The greater mind of pure intelligence,
Unlimited by states, moods, periods, creeds,
Self-adequate, self-balanced in his love,
And needing nothing and conferring all,
And asking nothing and receiving all,
Akin by love to every loving heart,
By nobleness to every noble mind,
By truth to all who look through natural forms,
And feel the throbbing arteries of law
In every pulse of nature and of man."

    [-19-] The peculiar doctrine of the Spiritualists seems to be the belief in Spiritual intercourse, and in mediums; as The Spiritual Magazine tells us "the only media we know accessible to the public are Mrs. Marshal and her neice, of 22, Red Lion-street, Holborn," we need not give ourselves much trouble about them. Concerning intercourse with departed spirits, an American Judge writes, "The first thing demonstrated to us is that we can commune with the spirits of the departed; that such communion is through the instrumentality of persons yet living; that the fact of mediumship is the result of physical organization; that the kind of communion is affected by moral causes, and that the power, like our other faculties, is possessed in different degrees, and is capable of improvement by cultivation, and from this doctrine the believers gather comfortable assurances." The Judge adds, "These things being established, by means which show a settled purpose and an intelligent design, they demonstrate man's immortality, and that in the simplest way, by appeals alike to his reason, to his affections, and to his senses. They thus show that they whom we once knew as living on earth do yet live, after having passed the gates of death, and leave in our minds the irresistible conclusion, that if they thus live we shall. This task Spiritualism has already performed on its thousands and its tens of thousands - more, indeed, in the last ten years than by all the pulpits in the land - and still the work goes bravely on. God speed it; for it is doing what man's unaided reason has for ages tried [-20-] in vain to do, and what, in this age of infidelity, seemed impossible to accomplish. Thus, too, is confirmed to us the Christian religion, which so many have questioned or denied. Not, indeed, that which sectarianism gives us, nor that which descends to us from the dark ages, corrupted by selfishness or distorted by ignorance, but that which was proclaimed through the spiritualism of Jesus of Nazareth in the simple injunction-' Thou shalt love the Lord thy God, with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy mind. This is the first aml great commandment; and the second is like unto it- Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself. On these two commandments hang all the law and the prophets.'"
    In the case of Mr. Harris, it seems to us, he lays his stress upon these peculiar doctrines, and rather aims at a universal Christianity; in all sects he sees goodness, and he would combine them all into his own. He and his disciples have found what all the rest are seeking after. His Christianity is the faith which all good spirits own, which all angels reverence. Christ came to reveal this faith: the whole world is but an expression of it; the whole universe but an illustration of it; and as we become Christ-like, in the renunciation of self, and the acceptance of the great law of service in the Lord and to the Lord, more and more we attain to an internal perception of the verities of that faith. The Word is opened before us, and the natural universe is perceived to be its outward illustration. The new church takes its stand upon this fundamental doctrine of regeneration, and it is [-21-] to the putting forth of this in art, science, literature, poetry, preaching, in all the uses of an ordered life, that the energy of the true churchman is continually, in the Divine Providence, directed. And to those thus regenerated it is given to become mediums. Mr. Harris, in his sermon preached at the Marylebone Literary and Scientific Institution, May 29, 1859, says : "Any man, good or bad, can become a medium for spirits. I have seen the vilest and the most degraded made the organs through which spirits utterly lost, yet with something of the beams of the fallen archangel's faded brightness lingering in the intellect - I say I have seen such, as well as others, earnest, sincere, and worthy, become the organs of communication between the visible and invisible spirits. But no man can become a medium, an organ or oracle for the Spirit, for the Word made flesh , giving to every man according to his will, until he hath passed through the door of penitence - until he hath gone up through the gateway of a sincere conversion, or turning from his evil - until he hath consecrated himself to the great law of right - until he lath voluntarily taken up all the burdens which God in ?his providence, whether social, or domestic, or moral, has imposed upon him - until, at any cost or any hazard, he lath sought to do, in his daily life, those things which God in His word doth most authoritatively and continually command. All such may, all such do, become, all such are, the mediums of the Lord Christ, omnipotent, omnipresent, and eternal, walking, as the Divine Man, in the midst of the paradise [-22-] of the angels. Breathing forth His breath, and so vivifying the very air which the angels respire and live, lie breathes down that great aura upon us continually. In prayer, and in the good self-sacrificing life, we drink in that aura. The breath of God inflows into the lungs; the thought of God streams into consciousness; the energies of God are directed to the will; man, weak, becomes strong; man, ignorant, becomes wise; man, narrow, becomes broad; man, sectarian, becomes catholic and liberal; man, self-conceited, becomes reverent and humble; man, transformed from the image of the tiger, the ape, the serpent, takes upon himself, in Christ, the angels' image. And as we drink in more and more of this Divine Spirit, our path in life - the path of humble uses (not the path of self-seeking ambition; not the path of prying curiosity), groweth brighter and brighter unto the perfect day."

source: J. Ewing Ritchie, Aboutf London, 1860