I determined at least to tell him of the two letters I had read, as well as of the extraordinary manner in which
they had disappeared, and I then inquired if he thought they had been addressed to the woman who had died in
the house, and if there were anything in her early history which could possibly confirm the dark suspicions to
which the letters gave rise. Mr. J---- seemed startled, and, after musing a few moments, answered, 'I am but
little acquainted with the woman's earlier history, except, as I before told you, that her family were known to
mine. But you revive some vague reminiscences to her prejudice. I will make inquiries, and inform you of
their result. Still, even if we could admit the popular superstition that a person who had been either the
perpetrator or the victim of dark crimes in life could revisit, as a restless spirit, the scene in which those
crimes had been committed, I should observe that the house was infested by strange sights and sounds before
the old woman died--you smile--what would you say?'
'I would say this, that I am convinced, if we could get to the bottom of these mysteries, we should find a
living human agency.'
'What! you believe it is all an imposture? for what object?'
'Not an imposture in the ordinary sense of the word. If suddenly I were to sink into a deep sleep, from which
you could not awake me, but in that sleep could answer questions with an accuracy which I could not pretend
to when awake--tell you what money you had in your pocket--nay, describe your very thoughts--it is not
necessarily an imposture, any more than it is necessarily supernatural. I should be, unconsciously to myself,
under a mesmeric influence, conveyed to me from a distance by a human being who had acquired power over
me by previous rapport.'
'But if a mesmerizer could so affect another living being, can you suppose that a mesmerizer could also affect
inanimate objects: move chairs--open and shut doors?'
'Or impress our senses with the belief in such effects--we never having been en rapport with the person
acting on us? No. What is commonly called mesmerism could not do this; but there may be a power akin to
mesmerism, and superior to it--the power that in the old days was called Magic. That such a power may
extend to all inanimate objects of matter I do not say; but if so, it would not be against nature--it would be
only a rare power in nature which might be given to constitutions with certain peculiarities, and cultivated by
practice to an extraordinary degree. That such a power might extend over the dead--that is, over certain
thoughts and memories that the dead may still retain--and compel, not that which ought properly to be called
the SOUL, and which is far beyond human reach, but rather a phantom of what has been most earth-stained on
earth, to make itself apparent to our senses--is a very ancient though obsolete theory, upon which I will hazard
no opinion. But I do not conceive the power would be supernatural. Let me illustrate what I mean from an
experiment which Paracelsus describes as not difficult, and which the author of the Curiosities of Literature
cites as credible:--A flower perishes; you burn it. Whatever were the elements of that flower while it lived are
gone, dispersed, you know not whither; you can never discover nor recollect them. But you can, by chemistry,
out of the burnt dust of that flower, raise a spectrum of the flower, just as it seemed in life. It may be the same
with the human being. The soul has as much escaped you as the essence or elements of the flower. Still you
may make a spectrum of it.
'And this phantom, though in the popular superstition it is held to be the soul of the departed, must not be
confounded with the true soul; it is but eidolon of the dead form. Hence, like the best attested stories of ghosts
or spirits, the thing that most strikes us is the absence of what we hold to be soul; that is, of superior
emancipated intelligence. These apparitions come for little or no object--they seldom speak when they do
come; if they speak, they utter no ideas above those of an ordinary person on earth. American spirit-seers have
published volumes of communications in prose and verse, which they assert to be given in the names of the
most illustrious dead--Shakespeare, Bacon--heaven knows whom. Those communications, taking the best, are
certainly not a whit of higher order than would be communications from living persons of fair talent and
education; they are wondrously inferior to what Bacon, Shakespeare, and Plato said and wrote when on earth.