A wise saying is that which
affirms that he who seeks to prove too much, in the end proves nothing.
Prof. W. B. Carpenter, F.R.S. (and otherwise alphabetically adorned), furnishes
a conspicuous example in his strife with men better than himself. His assaults
accumulate bitterness with every new periodical he makes his organ, and
in proportion with the increase of his abuse his arguments lose force and
cogency. And, forsooth, he nevertheless lectures his antagonists for their
lack of "calm discussion," as though he were not the very type
of controversial nitro-glycerine! Rushing at them with his proofs, which
are "incontrovertible" only in his own estimation, he commits
himself more than once. By one of such committals I mean to profit to-day,
by citing some-curious experiences of my own.
My object in writing the present is far from that of taking any part
in this onslaught upon reputations. Messrs. Wallace and Crookes are well
able to take care of themselves. Each has contributed in his own specialty
towards real progress in useful knowledge more than Dr. Carpenter in his.
Both have been honoured for valuable original researches and discoveries,
while their accuser has been often charged with being no better than a very
clever compiler of other mens ideas. After reading the able rejoinders
of the "defendants" and the scathing review of the mace-swinging
Prof. Buchanan, every one, except his friends, the psychophobists, can see
that Dr. Carpenter is completely floored. He is as dead as the traditional
In the December supplement of The Popular Science Monthly, Ifind, (p. 116) the interesting admission that a poor Hindû juggler
can perform a feat that quite takes the great Professors breath away!
In comparison, the mediumistic phenomena of Miss Nichol (Mrs. Guppy) are
of no account. Says Dr. Carpenter:
The celebrated "tree-trick,"
which most people who have been
long in India have seen, as described by several of our most distinguished
civilians and scientific Officers, is simply the greatest marvel I ever
heard of That a mango-tree should first shoot up to a height of six inches,
from a grass-plot to which the conjurers had no previous access, beneath
an inverted cylindrical basket, whose emptiness has been previously demonstrated,
and that this tree should appear to grow in the course of half an hour
from six inches to six feet, under a succession of taller and yet taller
baskets, beats Miss Nichol.
Well, I should think it did. At any rate, it beats anything that any
F.R.S. can show by daylight or dark, in the Royal Institution or elsewhere.
Would not one think that such a phenomenon so attested, and occurring under
circumstances that preclude trickery, would provoke scientific investigation?
If not, what would? But observe the knothole through which an F.R.S. can
creep out. "Does Mr. Wallace," ironically asks the Professor,
Attribute this to a
spiritual agency? or, like the world in general
[of course meaning the world that science created and Carpenter energizes
and the performers of the tree-trick in particular, does he regard it as
a piece of clever jugglery?
Leaving Mr. Wallace, if he survives this Jovian thunder-bolt, to answer
for himself, I have to say for the "performers" that they would
respond with an emphatic "No" to both interrogatories. The Hindû
jugglers neither claim for their performance a "spiritual agency,"
nor admit it to be a trick of clever jugglery." The ground they
take is that the tricks are produced by certain powers inherent in man himself,
which may be used for a good or bad purpose. And the ground that I, humbly
following after those whose opinion is based on really exact psychological
experiments and knowledge, take, is, that neither Dr. Carpenter nor his
body-guard of scientists, though their titles stream after their names like
the tail after a kite, have as yet the slightest conception of these powers.
To acquire even a superficial knowledge of them, they must change their
scientific and philosophical methods. Following after Wallace and Crookes,
they must begin with the A B C of Spiritualism, which meaning to be
very scornful Dr. Carpenter terms "the centre of enlightenment
and progress." They must take their lessons not alone from the true
but as well from spurious phenomena, from what his (Carpenters) chief
authority, the "arch-priest of the new religion," properly classifies
as "Delusions, Absurdities and Trickeries." After wading through
all this, as every intelligent investigator has had to do, he may get some
glimpses of truth. It is as useful to learn what the phenomena are not,
as to find out what they are.
Dr. Carpenter has two patent keys warranted to unlock every secret door
of the mediumistic cabinet. They are labelled "expectancy" and
"prepossession." Most scientists have some pick-lock like this.
But to the "tree-trick" they scarcely apply; for neither his "distinguished
civilians" nor "scientific officers" could have expected
to see a stark-naked Hindû on a strange glass-plot, in full daylight,
make a mango-tree grow six feet from the seed in half an hour, their "prepossessions"
would be all against it. It cannot be a "spiritual agency"; it
must be "jugglery." Now Maskelyne and Cooke, two clever English
jugglers, have been keeping the mouths and eyes of all London wide open
with their exposures of Spiritualism. They are admired by all the scientists,
and at Slades trial figured as expert witnesses for the prosecution.
They are at Dr. Carpenters elbow. Why does he not call them to explain
this clever jugglery, and make Messrs. Wallace and Crookes blush with shame
at their own idiocy? All the tricks of the trade are familiar to them; where
can science find better allies? But we must insist upon identical conditions.
The "Tree-Trick" must not be performed by gas-light on the platform
of any Egyptian Hall, nor with the performers in full evening dress. It
must be in broad daylight, on a strange grass-plot to which the conjurers
had no previous access. There must be no machinery, no confederates, white
cravats and swallow-tail coats must be laid aside, and the English champions
appear in the primitive apparel of Adam and Eve a tight-fitting "coat
of skin," and with the single addition of a dhoti, or a breechcloth
seven inches wide. The Hindûs do all this, and we only ask fair play.
If they raise a mango-sapling under these circumstances, Dr. Carpenter will
be at perfect liberty to beat therewith the last remnant of brains out of
the head of any "crazy Spiritualist" he may encounter. But until
then, the less he says about Hindû jugglery the better for his scientific
It is not to be denied that in India, China and elsewhere in the East
there are veritable jugglers who exhibit tricks. Equally true is it that
some of these performances surpass any with which Western people are acquainted.
But these are neither Fakirs nor the performers of the "mango-tree"
marvel, as described by Dr. Carpenter. Even this is sometimes imitated both
by Indian and European adepts in sleight-of-hand, but under totally different
conditions. Modestly following in the rear of the "distinguished civilians"
and "scientific officers," I will now narrate something which
I have seen with my own eyes.
While at Cawnpur, en route to Benares, the holy city, a lady,
my travelling companion, was robbed of the entire contents of a small trunk.
Jewelry, dresses, and even her note-book, containing a diary which she had
been carefully compiling for over three months, had mysteriously disappeared,
without the lock of the valise having been disturbed. Several hours, perhaps
a night and a day had passed since the robbery, as we had started at daybreak
to explore some neighbouring ruins, still freshly allied with the Nana Sahibs
reprisals on the English. My companions first thought was to call
upon the local police; mine for the help of some native gossain (a holy
man supposed to be informed of everything) or at least a jadugar, or conjurer.
But the ideas of civilization prevailed, and a whole week was wasted in
fruitless visits to the chabutara (police-house), and interviews with the
kotwal, its chief. In despair, my expedient was at last resorted to, and
a gossain procured. We occupied a small bungalow at the extreme end of one
of the suburbs, on the right bank of the Ganges, and from the verandah a
full view of the river was had, which at that place was very narrow.
Our experiment was made on that verandah in the presence of the family
of the landlord a half-caste Portuguese from the south my friend
and myself and two freshly-imported Frenchmen, who laughed outrageously
at our superstition. Time, three oclock in the afternoon. The heat
was suffocating, but notwithstanding, the holy man a coffee-coloured,
living skeleton demanded that the motion of the pankah (hanging fan
worked by a cord) should be stopped. He gave no reason, but it was because
the agitation of the air interferes with all delicate magnetic experiments.
We had all heard of the "rolling-pot" as an agency for the detection
of theft in India a common iron pot being made, under the influence
of a Hindû conjurer, to roll of its own impulse, without any hands
touching it, to the very spot where the stolen goods are concealed. The
gossain proceeded otherwise. He first of all demanded some article that
had been latest in contact with the contents of the valise; a pair of gloves
was handed him. He pressed them between his thin palms, and, rolling them
over and over again, then dropped them on the floor and proceeded to turn
himself slowly around, with arms outstretched and fingers expanded, as though
he were seeking the direction in which the property lay. Suddenly he stopped
with a jerk, sank gradually to the floor and remained motionless, sitting
cross-legged and with his arms still outstretched in the same direction,
as though plunged in a cataleptic trance. This lasted for over an hour,
which in that suffocating atmosphere was to us one long torture. Suddenly
the landlord sprang from his seat to the balustrade, and began intently
looking towards the river, in which direction our eyes also turned. Coming
from whence, or how, we could not tell, but out there, over the water, and
near its surface, was a dark object approaching. What it was we could not
make out; but the mass seemed impelled by some interior force to revolve,
at first slowly, but then faster and faster as it drew near. It was as though
supported on an invisible pavement, and its course was in a direct line
as the bee flies. It reached the bank, disappeared again among the high
vegetation, and anon, rebounding with force as it leaped over the low garden
wall, flew rather than rolled on to the verandah and dropped with a heavy
thud under the extended palms of the gossain. A violent, convulsive tremor
shook the frame of the old man, as with a deep sigh he opened his half-closed
eyes. All were astonished, but the Frenchmen stared at the bundle with an
expression of idiotic terror in their eyes. Rising from the ground the holy
man opened the tarred canvas envelope, and within were found all the stolen
articles down to the least thing. Without a word or waiting for thanks,
he salaamed low to the company and disappeared through the doorway, before
we recovered from our surprise. We had to run after him a long way before
we could press upon him a dozen rupees, which blessings he received in his
This may appear a very surprising and incredible story to Europeans and
Americans who have never been in India. But we have Dr. Carpenters
authority for it, that even his "distinguished civilian" friends
and "scientific officers," who are as little likely to sniff out
anything mystical there with their aristocratic noses as Dr. Carpenter to
see it with his telescopic, microscopic, double-magnifying scientific eyes
in England, have witnessed the mango "tree-trick," which is still
more wonderful. If the latter is "clever jugglery" the other must
be, too. Will the white-cravated and swallow-tailed gentlemen of the Egyptian
Hall, please show the Royal Society how either is done?
[From The Religio-Philosophical Journal, Dec. 22nd, 1877.
H. P. Blavatsky