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Darwin Correspondence Project

From G. H. Darwin to Emma Darwin   [before 24 November 1873]1

I have made an engagement to go with him to the same place again (61 Lambs’ Conduit St) at Xmas.2 One pays 2s/6d only & Myers3 says that it is inconceivable that a man who is such a consummate actor as the medium must be if an imposter, & so marvellous a conjuror, shd. consent to go on for such a wretched pay. M. had hold of a Spirit hand wh. came vertically downward from the ceiling & also saw some extraordinary ‘spirit lights’. It appears that Sidgwick4 gave up a whole vacation once to going to séances & I think is almost convinced that there is something new in it; & this is a good deal from a man of such excessively sober judgment. We talked a good deal about it & Myers (senior)5 said he knew a Man at Caius6 who was a wonderful medium but who had much difficulty with his exams. So that his parents particly. wished him not to mediumize until after his degree. However at about 9.45 Myers started off to fetch him & came back with him at 10.15. The 2 myers & Gurney7 & he sat round a small table & it soon began to rock about & to answer questions by means of rocking— All the questions were asked on the supposition of the real presences of spirits, but the answers were all great rubbish. They then began rapping & the raps were certainly remarkable & I put my ear down on the table & heard hard clear raps coming apparently from right under my ear wherever I moved it— this is however a thing on wh one may easily be deceived

The Medium Woosenam8 is certainly a wonderful actor if an impostor, for I never saw anyone less constrained & natural; & if he produced the raps it was very remarkable for I watched his hands & feet intently & did’nt see a muscle move & at one time his head was touching his nearer hand when the raps were coming loud & distinct from underneath. There was this point however wh made the thing very unsatisfactory, that the top of the table was loose & one cd., tho’ not easily, produce raps by moving it, but then the motion of the top was quite visible & when my head was resting on it there was’nt the slightest perceptible motion. The table wandered all about the room with these men’s hands on it, but I observed that all the motions were in a direction wh. might have been caused by Woosenam— tho’ he certainly did it without the slightest apparent effort. Per contrà there were feeble raps when he was’nt touching the table at all & when only the 2 Myers & Gurney were at it. There was a good example of how worthless an impressible man’s evidence may be; in answer to a question the table rapped out d e c e p d I think & in 1/2 a min. afterwards Gurney said it had spelt deceit only spelling it deceipt   The answers to the questions are not really worth relating they were such trash. We afterwards got another table, but the raps were very unsatisfac. & cd hardly be distinguished from the scraping of the legs of the table on the carpet. On the whole the only thing wh. impressed me at all were the raps under my ear & that is rendered almost nugatory by the fact that the table cd. be made to rap. Woosenam on several occasions said he was hardly touching the table; nor he was, but I fancied I noticed that immediately before the palms of his hands had been resting on the table— this he said they ought to do, so that I do’nt mean it was surreptitious only it is a little suspicious his directing attention to the lightness of the touch, if he changed his position in doing so.

Will you let me have this letter back sometime as in case I go to any more séances I shd like to have a record of my first impressions altho’ there was so little remarkable.

Did you read Snow’s review of the Fair Haven in the Spec. it was the most unintelligible mystical thing I ever read. Butler says he thought it must have been written by the deceased John Pickard Owen (his own hero in the F. H) himself!9

Yours affectionately | G H Darwin

Footnotes

The date is established by the relationship between this letter and the letter to G. H. Darwin, 24 November 1873. It is part of a collection of letters from George Howard Darwin to his mother, Emma.
The address was that of the medium Charles E. Williams (Melton 1996, pp. 1293 and 1404). There was an advertisement for Williams’s public séances, including sessions on Monday evenings at 8pm for 2s. 6d., in the Spiritualist, 21 November 1873, p. 451.
Arthur Thomas Myers.
George probably refers to Henry Sidgwick.
Frederic William Henry Myers.
Gonville and Caius College, Cambridge.
Edmund Gurney.
Woosenam has not been identified.
George refers to Frances Julia Wedgwood (known as Snow). There was an anonymous review of Samuel Butler’s novel The fair haven ([Butler] 1873) in the Spectator, 15 November 1873, p. 1442. John Pickard Owen was the fictional author of the novel.

Bibliography

[Butler, Samuel.] 1873. The fair haven. A work in defence of the miraculous element in our Lord’s ministry upon earth, both as against rationalistic impugners and certain Orthodox defenders. By the late John Pickard Owen, edited by William Bickersteth Owen, with a memoir of the author. 2d edition. London: Trübner.

Melton, J. Gordon, ed. 1996. Encyclopedia of occultism & parapsychology. 4th edition. 2 vols. Detroit, Mich.: Gale Research.

Summary

Describes a seance attended by George Darwin and Myers.

Letter details

Letter no.
DCP-LETT-9157F
From
James William Colvile
To
Emma Wedgwood/Emma Darwin
Source of text
DAR 210.2: 31
Physical description
Incomplete

Please cite as

Darwin Correspondence Project, “Letter no. 9157F,” accessed on 21 October 2019, https://www.darwinproject.ac.uk/letter/DCP-LETT-9157F.xml

Also published in The Correspondence of Charles Darwin, vol. 21

letter