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Darwin Correspondence Project

From T. H. Huxley   27 January 1874

Jany 27, 1874

Report of Séance1

We met in a small room at the top of the house with a window capable of being completely darkened by shutters and curtains opposite the [door]. A small light table with two flaps and four legs—unsteady and easily moved—occupied the middle of the room, leaving not much more than enough space for the chairs at the sides— There was a chair at each end, two chairs on the fireplace side and one on the other. Mr. Williams was seated in the chair at the door end, Mr. Wedgwood in the opposite chair, Mr. G. Darwin on the medium’s right Mr. Huxley on the left, Mr. Myers between Mr. Huxley and Mr. Darwin.2 The table was small enough to allow these five people to rest their hands on it, linking them together. On the table was a guitar which lay obliquely across it, an accordion on the Medium’s side of the Guitar, a couple of paper horns, a Japanese fan, a matchbox and a candle stick with a candle.

At first the room was slightly darkened (leaving plenty of light from the window however) and we all sat round for half an hour. My right foot was against the Medium’s left foot, and two fingers of my right hand had a good grip of the little finger of his left hand. I compared my hand (which is not small and is strong) with his, and was edified by its much greater massiveness and strength.)

G. D.’s left hand was, as [I learn,]3 linked with medium’s right hand and left foot on medium’s left foot.

We sat thus for half an hour as aforesaid and nothing happened.

The room was next thoroughly darkened by shutting the shutters and drawing the curtains. Nevertheless by great good fortune I espied three points of light, coming from the lighted passage outside the door. One of these came beneath the door straight to my eye, the other two were on the wall (or on a press) obliquely opposite   By still greater good fortune these three points of light had such a position in reference to my eye that they gave me three straight lines traversing and bounding a space in which the medium sat

[DIAG HERE]

and I at once saw that if medium moved his body forwards or backwards he must occult one of my three rays. While therefore taking care to feel his foot and keep a good grip of his hand I fixed my eyes intently on rays A and B.

illeg.4 I felt sure that I could trust to G. D. keeping a sharp look out on the right hand and foot; and so no instrument of motion was left the medium but his body and head—the movements of which could not have been discernible in absolute darkness. Nothing happened for some time. At length a very well executed muscular twitching of the arm on my side began and I amused myself by comparing it with the convulsions of a galvanised frog’s leg—but at the same time kept a very bright look out on my two rays A and B.

The twitchings ceased, and then after a little time A was shut out— B then became obscure and A became visible. “Ho ho!” thought I “Medium’s head is well over the table, now we are going to have some manifestations.” Immediately followed a noise obviously produced by the tumbling over of the accordion and some shifting of the position of the Guitar. Next came a twanging very slight but of course very audible by some of the strings during which B was invisible. By and by B and A became visible again and Medium’s voice likewise showed that he had got back to his first position. But after he had returned to this position there was noise of the guitar and other things on the table being stirred and creeping noises like something light moving over the table. But no more actual twanging.

To my great disgust G. D. now began to remark that he saw two spots of light which I suppose must have had the same origin as my rays A and B, and moreover that something occasionally occulted one or other of them. I blessed him for spoiling my game, but the effect was excellent, nothing more happened. By and by after some talk about these points of light the Medium suggested that this light was distracting and that we had better shut it out. The suggestion was very dexterously and indirectly made and was caught up more strongly (I think by Mr Myers)   Anyhow we agreed to shut out all light. The circle was broken and the candle lighted for this purpose. I then took occasion to observe that the guitar was turned round into the position noted in the margin, the end a being near my left hand. On examining it I found a longish end of one of the catgut strings loose and I found that by sweeping this end over the strings I could make quite as good twangs as ever heard. I could have done this just as well with my mouth as with my hand, and I could have pulled the guitar about by the end of the catgut with my mouth and so have disturbed the other things—as they were disturbed. Before the candle was lighted some discussion arose as to why the spirits could not do any better (started by Mr. Wedgwood and Mr Myers I think) in which the Medium joined. It appeared that (in the opinion of the spirits as interpreted by the Medium) we were not quite rightly placed. When the discussion arose I made a bet with myself that the result would be that either I or G. D. would have to change places with somebody else. And I won my wager (I have just paid it with the remarkably good cigar I am now smoking)   G. D. had to come round to my side, Mr. Myers went to the end and Mr. Wedgwood took G. D’s place. Good Medium said I to myself now we shall see something. We were in pitch darkness and all I could do was to bring my touch to bear with extreme tension upon the medium’s hand, still well in my grip.

Before long Medium became a good deal convulsed at intervals, and soon a dragging sound was heard and Mr. Wedgwood told us that the arm-chair (mark its position) had moved up against his leg and was shoving against him. By degrees the arm-chair became importunate and by the manner of Mr. Wedgwood’s remarks it was clear that his attention was entirely given to its movements.

Then I felt the fingers of the Medium’s left hand become tense in such a manner as to show that the muscles of the left arm were contracting sympathetically, with those of the other arm, on which a considerable strain was evidently being put.

Mr. Wedgwood’s observations upon the eccentricities 〈of〉 the arm-chair became louder—a noise was heard as of the chair descending on the table and shoving the guitar before it (while at the same time or just before there was a crack of a falling thermometer) and the tension of the left hand ceased. The chair had got on to the table. Says the medium to Mr. Wedgwood, “Your hand was against mine all the time.” “Well, no,” replied Mr. Wedgwood, “not quite.” “For a moment as the chair was coming up I don’t think it was.” But it was agreed that this momentary separation made no difference. I said nothing, but like the Parrot, thought the more.5 After this nothing further happened. But conversation went on, and more than once the Medium was careful to point out that the chair came upon the table while his hand was really in contact with Mr. Wedgwood’s.

G. D. will tell you if this is a fair statement of the facts. I believe it is for my attention was on the stretch for three mortal hours and a half and I did not allow myself to be distracted from the main points in any way.

My conclusion is that Mr. Williams is a cheat and an imposter, and I have no more doubt that he got Mr. Wedgwood to sit on his right hand, knowing from the turn of his conversation that it would be easy to distract his attention; and that he then moved the chair against him with his leg and finally coolly lifted on to the table than that I am writing these lines.6

T. H. H

Footnotes

When CD was in London earlier in January 1874 (see ‘Journal’ (Appendix II)), a séance had been held in the home of his brother, Erasmus Alvey Darwin. CD had not been present for most of the time, but had reported some impressions of the event. See letter to J. D. Hooker, 18 January [1874].
Charles E. Williams was the medium. In a printed version of this report (L. Huxley ed. 1900, 1: 420), the medium is described as ‘Mr. X’ and the host sitting in the opposite chair as ‘Mr. Y’. The host was Hensleigh Wedgwood, who had attended the earlier séance (see n. 1, above). The other attendees were George Howard Darwin and Frederick William Henry Myers.
There is a gap in the copy; the text has been supplied from the version published in L. Huxley ed. 1900, 1: 421.
In L. Huxley ed. 1900, 1: 421, the text reads, ‘For’.
Like the Parrot, thought the more: an allusion to a translated French poem (Gresset 1848; The parrot, and other poems), in which a parrot trained to speak by nuns is taken aback by profane company: ‘He little said,—but haply thought the more’ (Gresset 1848, p. 19).
In the printed version of the account (L. Huxley ed. 1900, 1: 423) the following observation by George is added: It has given me a lesson with respect to the worthlessness of evidence which I shall always remember, and besides will make me very diffident in trusting myself. Unless I had seen it, I could not have believed in the evidence of anyone with such perfect bona fides as Mr. Y [Wedgwood] being so worthless.

Summary

Reports to CD on a spiritualist séance attended by himself (incognito) and G. H. Darwin.

Letter details

Letter no.
DCP-LETT-9256
From
Thomas Henry Huxley
To
Charles Robert Darwin
Sent from
unstated
Source of text
DAR 154: 128
Physical description
6pp

Please cite as

Darwin Correspondence Project, “Letter no. 9256,” accessed on 17 July 2019, http://www.darwinproject.ac.uk/DCP-LETT-9256

Also published in The Correspondence of Charles Darwin, vol. 22

letter