Victorian London - Publications - Social Investigation/Journalism - Mystic London, by Charles Maurice Davies, 1875 - Chapter XXXIII - A Lady Mesmerist

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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  impeachment.
    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.