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A LADY MESMERIST.
WHEN a man's whole existence has resolved itself into
hunting up strange people and poking his nose into
queer nooks and corners, he has a sorry time of it in
London during August; for, as a rule, all the funny
folks have gone out of town, and the queer nooks and
corners are howling wildernesses. There is always, of
course, a sort of borderland, if he can only find it out,
some peculiar people who never go out of town, some
strange localities which are still haunted by them ;
only he has to find them out - people and places - for
it is so universally allowed now-a-days that all
genteel people must be out of London in August, and
all respectable places must be covered up in old newspapers,
that it is difficult to get them to own the soft
However, there is one queer place that is never shut up, the Progressive Library in Southampton Row; and Mr. Burns and the Spiritualists, as a rule, do not shut up shop even in August. Their Summerland lies elsewhere than Margate or the Moors; and a valse with a pirouetting table or a little gentle levitation or elongation delights them more than all the [-261-] revels of the countryside. I was getting a little blasť, I own, on the subject of Spiritualism after my protracted experiences during the Conference, and I do not think I should have turned my steps in the direction of the Progressive Institution that week had not the following announcement caught my eye as I scanned the ghostly pages of the Medium and Daybreak :- "We have been authorized to announce that Miss Chandos, whose advertisement appears in another part of this paper, will give a mesmeric dance at the Spiritual Institution, 15, Southampton Row, on Wednesday evening, August 19th, at eight o'clock. Admission will be free by ticket, which may be obtained at the Institution. The object which Miss Chandos has in view is to interest a few truth-seekers who could aid her in promoting a knowledge of psychological phenomena. As a crowded meeting is not desired, an early application should be made for tickets."
I do not know that I said "Eureka!" Indeed I have considerable historic doubts as to whether anybody ever did, but I felt it. I was a truth-seeker forthwith. I resolved to sit at the feet of Miss Chandos, and, should her mesmeric efforts prove satisfactory, "aid her in promoting a knowledge of psyohological phenomena." I did not go through the prescribed process of getting a ticket beforehand, [-262-] because I thought in my innocence that everybody would be out of town, or that the Hall of the Progressive Institute would certainly accommodate those who remained. Never was a more fatal mistake. The psychological folks were all in London, and the capacities of the Progressive Library are not palatial. Miss Chandos had a crowded meeting whether she desired it or not. Genius will not be concealed; and Miss Chandos was learning that lesson in a very satisfactory way. It was a sultry evening when a small boy opened the back door of the little first floor apartment in Southampton Row, and squeezed me in like the thirteenth in an omnibus, and I found myself walking on people's toes, and sitting down on their hats in the most reckless manner. At length, however, I struggled to a vacant corner, and deposited myself perspiring and expectant.
Mr. Burns was "orating" on the revival mesmerism was destined to make, and telling us how, like the Plumstead Peculiars, we should be able to do without doctors as soon as the healing powers of animal magnetism were properly recognised and diffused. I did not listen very carefully, I fear, for I was nervously looking about for Miss Chandos. Nervously, I say, because lady mediums and mesmerizers are so apt to run to eighteen stone, or be old and frumpish, that I had terrible fears lest I should be scared when I met Miss Chandos in the flesh. I was very agreeably surprised, however, for when [-263-] Mr. Burns resumed - not his chair but his table, since he sat on that article of furniture, a very pretty young lady indeed, of not more than eighteen or twenty years of age, took his place, and, in a few well-chosen words, said this was her first appearance as a public mesmerist, and claimed indulgence should any failure in the phenomena result. She also drew attention to the fact that the apartment was "pernicious snug" (she put it, of course, in more scientific language), and straightway proceeded to business.
When Miss Chandos invited patients to put themselves in her hands I thought the room had risen en masse. Everybody wanted to be mesmerized. I had no chance in my retired position ; but she soon got a front row of likely people, and I sat down once more disappointed and exuding.
She was a tall active young lady was Miss Chandos, and had a mystic crop of long black curls, which waved about like the locks of a sibyl when she made a lunge at an innocent looking young man who sat No. 1 - and whom, with the other patients, I shall designate thus numerically. He seemed to like it immensely, and smiled a fatuous smile as those taper fingers lighted on his head, while the other hand rested on the frontal portion of his face, as though Miss Chandos were going to pull his nose. He was off in a moment, and sat facing the audience in his magnetic trance, looking like a figure at a waxwork show. Miss Chandos then passed on to a gentleman, [-264-] No. 2, who never succumbed during the entire evening, though she made several onslaughts upon him. Consequently I dismiss No. 2 as incorrigible forthwith. No. 3 was a lady who only gave way after a lengthened attack, and did not seem to appreciate the effect of Miss Chandos' lustrous eyes so much as No. 1 did. He gave signs of "coming to," but Miss Chandos kept looking round at him and No. 2, while she was attending to No. 3, and directly she did this No. 1 closed his eyes, and slept the sleep of innocence again.
Having reduced No. 3 to a comatose condition Miss Chandos reverted to No. 1, and by attractive passes got him on his legs and made him follow her up and down the limited space at her disposal. She looked then like a pretty Vivien manipulating a youthful Merlin ; and I was not at all surprised at the effect of her "woven paces and her waving hands." She asked him his name, and he told her. It was W-----. "No," she said, " it's Jones. Mary Jones. What's your name?" But the youth was not quite so far gone as to rebaptize himself with a female cognomen just yet. He stuck to his W., and Miss Chandos put him into his waxwork position again, and got No. 3 on her legs at last, but did nothing more with her than make her walk up and down. . Presently No. 3 woke up, and was put to air at the window. No. 4 was now selected, in the person of a big burly man; and I could not help thinking, as she [-265-] manipulated him, what a capital pose it would have .been for Hercules and Omphale. He seemed to like it exceedingly, and I thought was dropping comfortably off when he whispered something to his operator (I have no notion what the feminine of that word is), who fixed her brilliant eyes on somebody near me - I feared it was actually on me - and said, "Somebody at the back of the room is exercising control. I shall be glad if they will refrain." I was quite innocent of exercising conscious control, and did not quite know what the phrase meant. I certainly had once or twice thought it must be much pleasanter to be operated upon by so pretty a young lady than by some bull-necked male mesmerist or aged spinster above-mentioned, but I could scarcely believe that such a mild sentiment could affect that colossal man. However, I recollected the delicacy of these psychological relations, and sat down conscience-stricken and warmer than ever.
Miss Chandos selected No. 5 in the person of a young man with a nascent moustache, who had successfully struggled into the front row at the outset. He promised well at first; but, like other young men with incipient moustaches, disappointed us afterwards. Then came No. 6 upon the scene.
No. 6 was a lady who came late, and at once pushed to the front with the air of a person who was not doing so for the first time. She went off in a moment - far too suddenly, in fact, and then did everything [-266-] she was told in a very obedient way. Being told that she was in a beautiful garden, she stooped down on the floral carpet and proceeded to gather materials for a bouquet. I confess I did not care about No. 6, and was proceeding to read Professor Tyndall's Belfast Address, which I had in my pocket, when Miss Chandos looked up No. 1 again.
Reduced to a proper frame of mind, either by Miss Chandos' continued attentions or the contagion of No. 6's docility, the youth was now all submission. He walked up and down any number of times like a tame animal at the Zoological Gardens, and now quite agreed that his name was Mary Jones. He sang " Tom Bowling " at command, and No. 6, not to be outdone, warbled a ditty called, I think, " The Slave Girl's Love," the refrain of which, according to her version, was, "I cannot love, because I ham a slave." She broke down in the middle of this aspiring ditty, and then personated a Jew old clo' man, a woman selling "ornaments for your firestoves," and various other characters, all of which she overacted considerably. I may be wrong, of course, but I fancied the fair lecturess was as dissatisfied with No. 6 as I was. The audience was an indulgent one, and thought it splendid. Mr. Burns sat on the table and yawned. I relapsed into Tyndall, and wondered what he would have said about it all; or, at least, I did not wonder, for I knew he would have consigned us all to the nearest lunatic asylum as exceptions to the rule that [-267-] the European has so many more cubic inches of cerebral development than the Papuan.
When it was drawing near ten, Miss Chandos brought the proceedings to a close by animating - like Pygmalion - her waxwork statues. She apologized once more, in a few well-chosen sentences, for what she was pleased to call her "failure," but the audience would not hear of the term, and applauded to the echo, only there was no room for an echo in the Progressive Institute. The young man, No. 1, who I found was a spirit medium, wound up by an address from his Indian guide on the subject of "control."
I confess I failed to gather from the perambulating youth and maidens No. 1 and 3, or the impersonations of No. 6, any signs of the revival alluded to by Mr. Burns at the outset; and there was not the remotest connexion with the healing art. In fact, nobody seemed suffering from anything except heat.
Miss Chandos said to me, however, in a sensible conversation with which she favoured me in private, that all she had attempted to show was but the lowest manifestation of a power which had far higher ends in view. She doubted almost whether it was not something like sacrilege to use such a power for playing tricks and gratifying curiosity.
She was thoroughly in earnest; and laboured both physically during the evening and logically in her after-discourse, with an energy which some [-268-] persons would have said was worthy of a better cause.
It was nearly eleven when I left the miniature hall of the Progressive Institute, and as I passed along the streets, digesting what I had seen and heard during the evening, I took myself to task severely - as it is always well to do, if only to prevent somebody else doing it for me - and asked whether, if the lecturess had not been a lecturess but a lecturer - if being a lecturess she weighed eighteen stone, or was old and wizen, or dropped her h's - whether I should have stayed three mortal hours in that stuffy room, and I frankly own I came to the conclusion I should not.