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Letter 7347

Gage, John to Darwin, C. R.

19 Oct 1870

Summary

Convinced by CD’s Origin.

As a “student of spirit intercourse”, he asks CD for more details about the scene of the dancing spoon in Journal of researches [p. 546].

Transcription

Vineland New Jersey

Oct 19/70.

My friend.

Two years sinse I read with much interest your origin of species.f1The evidences produced were so clear to my mind that when I hadfinished the reading, I accepted the theory and felt the better for it,& it has been a text book for me sinse. Two months ago I was in theoffice of my friend Henry T Child MD, of Philadelphia,f2 talking aboutyour work Origin of Species, & he says I have another work of Darwinsthat you will be pleased to read, his voyage in the Beagle.f3 I borrowedit & have read it with much interest, & I want to say to you that Ifound many things in both works, that made me wish I was where I could callon you & ask questions; & there is one on page 250 second Vol. of Voyage,in Harpers publication,f4 that has caused me to write this communication.It is as follows.

“After dinner we stayed to see a curious half superstitious scene,acted by the Malay women. A large wooden spoon dressed in garments, andwhich had been carried to the grave of a dead man, they pretend becomesinspired at the full of the moon, and will dance & jump about. Afterthe proper preperations, the spoon, held by two women, became convulsed, anddanced in good time to the song of the surrounding children & women.It was a most foolish spectacle; but Mr Liesk maintained thatmany of the Malays believed in its spiritual movements.”f5

How I wish you had written out all the minutiæ of this scene,& any others that you may have witnessed amongst this race of men,f6whose common parent with our white race, or the original Adam if therewas one who was father to us all, must have been far back & low downin the scale of being, & possibly so low as not to have partaken ofthe fruit of the tree of knowledge of good & evil. I want to know whatthis race of men know, or even what they believe, of Spiritmanifestations

I have been a student of this spirit intercourse for twenty two years,& have allowed no good opportunity of examining its facts to escape me;& have been well situated for observing the facts amongst theAnglo Saxon race.

Will you do me the favor to write to me all the particulars ofthis seance, relative to its claims to spirit origin, both for & against.

Did the spoon stand erect?

Did not the women make it dance?

How did the women hold the spoon?

Did the women & children form a circle around the spoon?

Were you so situated as to detect any deception?

If you saw any other manifestations amongst these races that gaveevidence of spirit power, or presence; & will communicate themto me you will much oblige. | Your Friend. | John Gage

DAR 165: 2

true

Footnotes

f1
Gage probably read the US edition of Origin.
f2
Henry T. Child was a physician in Philadelphia, and a spiritualist(US Federal Census, 1870, and Britten 1870, pp. 273–5).
f3
Prior to 1870, the American edition of Journal ofresearches US ed. (1846) was reprinted, unaltered, in 1855,1859, and 1864 (R. B. Freeman 1977, p. 40).
f4
The American editions of the Journal of researches werepublished by Harper & Brothers in New York.
f5
Gage’s transcription of the passage in Journal of researchesUS ed., 2: 250, contains minor punctuation errors. The passage,written 3 April 1836, was part of CD’s account of the Cocos (nowCocos-Keeling) Islands. For more on the ceremony described, seeArmstrong 1991, p. 59. William C. Liesk was the leader of the Cocos(Keeling) Islanders when the nominal king was away, as during CD’s visit(Hughes [1950], p. 41, and Jones 1910, p. 22).
f6
CD wrote that the non-British people on the Keeling Islands were‘Malays’ from different islands in the ‘East Indian Archipelago’(Journal of researches US ed., 2: 249). However, the residents thenalso included people from the Cape (South Africa), New Guinea, andChina (Jones 1910, pp. 16–17, 21).
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