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Good Words 1860
Was it Spirit-Knocking?


Previous to the occurrence of the following incident, I had been a disbeliever in Spirit-knocking. I had never heard any arguments which seemed to me even plausible, in defence of this phenomenon, as one supposed to be connected with the unseen world. It would have revolutionized my whole ideas of the illustrious dead, to conceive of departed poets, philosophers, statesmen, reformers, or divines, charmed by a Yankee or London "medium" to amuse idle gossips at a tea-party, or even when 2s. 6d. a head was paid for the aristocratic entertainment. It was equally difficult to recognise the resposive knocks on a table by any spirit, however intelligent, to the questions of a petulant sceptic, as a legitimate branch of the evidences of Christianity. No doubt "Satanic influence" in this case, as in many others, has proved an easy, ready-made way of accounting for what might seem to be otherwise so unaccountable; and we have heard orthodox divines speak as if it were unpardonable scepticism to doubt the presence, or to be blind to the deceitful purposes, of a wicked spirit on such occasions. Yet remembering the power, the character, and designs of Satan, as recorded in Scripture, with the mighty work of evil which he is represented as doing upon earth, it always appeared to us rather beneath even his contempt, and that of his principalities and powers, to spend their time and employ their faculties in telling perhaps pious, yet curious and inquisitive idlers the age of some respectable middle-aged, meditative curate, who formed one of the party, or the year in which some old dowager of their acquaintance had died. Yet all this communicativeness we have heard repeatedly attributed to the Devil. It never strikes people as a possible thing to speak evil against such dignities, or to be guilty of lying with reference to their conduct. Moreover, we never heard knocks at exhibitions of spiritualism, which seemed to us to be the result of any but a material cause, or to prove anything save the cleverness of some people, and the immense credulity of others.

Nevertheless things do happen which we may find it difficult to account for. Experience teaches us humility while it enlarges our knowledge. Who has not often been so puzzled by strange and "mysterious" events in his life, as to have been compelled to fall back upon the grand text from Hamlet, so familiar to puzzled brains and weak nerves, "there are more things in heaven and earth than are dreamt of in our philosophy!" The reader will judge for himself how far the following incident tends to increase or diminish faith in mysterious knocking. We seriously assure him that the facts are strictly accurate in all their details. The story must, however, be told, as all stories ought to be, in the first person.

Well then, some years ago, on an autumnal night, I sat along with an old friend and his sister, conversing round the fire, upon a subject which has not unfrequently been discussed by persons in similar circumstances, viz., the possible manifestation of spirits from the unseen world. The room in which we sat was a large, dimly-lighted drawing-room in an old family mansion. The night was quite an ideal one for ghost stories. The wind blew sullenly through the old trees which surrounded the house, and sometimes whistled through the house itself, as if searching everywhere for a victim of its anger. The rain fell in heavy showers which battered fiercely against the glass, followed ever and anon by a lull and silence, broken only by the tossing branches of the trees. My friend was, I admit, rather superstitious, and had a rare collection of curious stories which he told with wonderful power, of dreams, warnings, sights and sounds, with odd incidents which had been treasured up in his family as having happened to various members of it who had served in "the wars" by sea and land, and had been mingled up with the religious and political "troubles" of the earlier times. Hour after hour passed until we almost forgot where we were, and lost all idea of time, till, warned by one of the candles burning to its socket, we found it was past midnight and full time certainly to retire to bed. My friend's sister did so, while he himself accompanied me to my room to tell one other curious fact. By this time he had fairly succeeded in so far exciting my nervous system, that my sense of hearing seemed painfully acute, and I acknowledge having had a tendency to pause, listen, and ask with a low voice, "What was that?" "Did you not hear something?"

The reader may be disposed to doubt the worth of my evidence regarding the supernatural when in such a state of mind. But it will be seen how impossible it was to have been mistaken as to the presence of a sound which could not but at once arrest our attention. For, while thus conversing we suddenly heard a series of dull heavy knocks, at intervals of a second or so, and as if directed against the foundation of the house beneath our window. We both paused and listened, and looked into one another's faces, without speaking a word ; for my friend had told a striking story that evening of mysterious knocks, which had been heard half a century ago, before the death of a reckless and profane old ancestor of his. As we stood and listened, knock, knock, knock, was heard very distinctly. "You will smile at me," said my friend, "as if I of course believed that there was something ghostly in all this, but I rather suspect that these strange sounds may be caused by some of those more material agents who come before me as a magistrate. Does it not seem," he said, listening, and speaking in a whisper, "as if persons were trying to get into the dining-room below from the flower-garden?" But at this moment a tap was heard at our bedroom door. It was my friend's sister, begging of him to " come and see what a strange knocking meant which was outside of her bedroom." He ran out, but soon returned, looking very grave, and saying, "I heard it distinctly on the wall near the window in my sister's room." "Well," said I, "here is a capital opportunity of fairly testing the supernatural." "Which," he replied, "you are far too sceptical about;" but immediately added, "I have hit it! It is very ludicrous, after all. The servants, I am certain, are ironing clothes in the laundry, connected to this room by a wall. The sounds we hear are those of their irons on the table." "Not unlikely. Go and see." He came back in a few minutes, more perplexed than ever, saying, "All the servants, John tells me, are long ago retired to rest. Listen!"— knock, knock (then a pause of a few seconds)— knock. We opened the window and looked out, the wind, by the way, extinguishing our light. I heard the knocking distinctly, though it occurred at longer intervals. "Ah! my friend," said I, "some one, I guess, is cutting your trees for firewood near the bowling-green." "Perhaps so," he said, "but yet I never heard such very strange knocks, they seem so low and muffled and peculiar. And what an ' eerie' night! It is enough to make any man superstitious. The very clatter of the leaves, and the distant roar of the waves on the shore, and the whusch, whusch, of these old trees, the pitch darkness, and old Tory, with his occasional howl, as if he too heard something; and —Who goes there?" suddenly demanded my friend, with a loud voice, as he heard, or seemed to hear, footsteps on the gravel. "Stuff!" I said. "Don't, man, get frightened. It's all fancy." But my sentence was not finished when a rough voice replied from out the darkness, "It's I, sir!" "Peter?" "Yes!" Peter was the game-keeper. ''What are you about such a night as this? Anything wrong?" "Nothing, sir," replied Peter, "except those knocks." We both started. "What knocks, Peter ? Who makes them? Where are they?" "Oh, I don't know, sir, as how anything about them, only that I have heard them in my house. I thought it might be poachers, sir, and I hear them everywhere through the woods, but I can't nohow lay my hands on them."

We listened for about ten minutes. They had ceased. "If you hear them again, Peter, come and tell us." Peter not making his appearance for half an hour', and being disturbed no more, we bade good-night, and retired to rest, considerably puzzled,—my friend anything but happy. He looked really pained, as he said, "I can't think it is right to laugh at this." "Pray, don't judge," was my reply, "till after breakfast. It is wonderful what an effect a good breakfast, a fresh morning, daylight, a clear sky, not to speak of a clear intellect, have in accounting for such things. We shall see in the morning." As I lay trying to account for the knocks, I fell into a sound sleep, from which I was awoke only by the knock of the servant, with hot water, in the morning. "Master is not well," was the first information I received. "What is wrong, John?" I asked. "Did not sleep all night, sir; and headache, sir; kept awake I hear with strange knocks last night, and he don't like them sort of things, and no wonder, this is not the first time !" said John, shaking his head. He had been long in the family, and knew much of its secret history.

I went immediately to my friend's bedroom, and found him feverish, and suffering visibly from the effects of a sleepless night. He seemed dull and depressed. I rallied him on the excitement occasioned by the events of the previous evening. "My good fellow," replied my friend, "don't think me either superstitious, or under the influence of fear. But you know the story about the knocks heard on a memorable occasion in this very family; and believing, as I do, that story, I would think it almost profane to despise or laugh at anything which, for aught I know, may be sent by a benevolent Ruler to warn me. Besides, you know there was something in these knocks utterly inexplicable." Seeing my friend so serious, I became alarmed. I knew enough regarding the effects of imagination on the health, to excite my fears, lest some morbid idea might take possession of his mind. "If you are really serious," I said, "I shall be so also, and I beg to say, that I reject, with unutterable contempt, the belief in such superstitious nonsense. I abhor the idea of supposing it possible that the Lord, who alone has the keys of hell and death, should adopt such means as these to warn you or frighten you." "Pray account then for them." "I cannot at present. I only blame you for doing so; for you assume, without the slightest evidence, that they are supernatural, and that if so, they prognosticate evil. Did you ever hear what a great German philosopher said to an atheist, who told him that the day might come when man would no more believe in a God than they do now in ghosts? Should that day, was his reply, ever occur, depend upon it, men will believe in ghosts again. Even so." "I do not see the meaning of your anecdote on the point in hand?" "This far, certainly, that the only cure for superstition, and a belief in ghosts, is faith in the reality of a living God." "I hope I believe in Him," said my friend. "I hope you do," I replied; "and if so, how can you for one moment believe that such a God, who has given us His Word and Spirit, and conscience, and experience, and common sense, to guide and instruct us, should ever, even when these fail, have recourse to such a medium of instruction as raps and knocks, mysterious sights and sounds, all shadowy, impalpable, meaningless, except they receive such meanings as may be given to them by a loose fancy—or by a supper of toasted cheese," I added, looking hard at my friend; ''which, by the way, generally creates the ghost, and men in vain try to account for it." "All very fine, but you heard the knocks as well as myself." I really had forgot them for a moment, in realizing and expressing my utter dislike to the fearful state of mind which would even entertain seriously the question of such things being supernatural. "What of the witches in Scripture?" "Wicked! and so were all who believed in them, because either professing to possess or to believe in a power which belonged alone to God. Let us take care lest we trifle with the same practical atheism in our own day." My friend was silent, but not satisfied. He seemed to nurse his faith in the knocks, as if he had received some special compliment from unseen powers. "I will investigate this said night-wonder," I continued, "without delay. In the meantime, get up and aid me." "Should we not send for Peter?" "Certainly," I said; and ringing the bell, I asked John to send for the gamekeeper to come immediately to see us. I resumed my toilette, and was ready to discuss the grave problem, as I heard Peter's heavy foot ascending the stair. "Well, Peter," asked his master, "what of the knocks?" "Oh, sir," said Peter, "I found out all about them this morning, and"—my friend rose on his elbow, and listened attentively, "and what?"—"a fisherman's boat, sir. The Jacksons had put into the creek, and, just at the very time we were searching for the knocks, they were splitting a large block of drift wood to make a fire. That was all." "How very strange!" said my friend. ''And how very simple," I added, but refrained from pursuing a subject which had emerged so naturally from the darkness of the marvellous to the daylight of the commonplace. But yet the fact was interesting, if for no other cause than adding another illustration to the many already existing, of what may be called the ventriloquism of sounds. For here were knocks nearly half a mile from the house, yet so modified and transmitted by wind and rain and trees, that they seemed to be at our very ears, and, to Peter, everywhere. So ends my story. My faith in Spirit-knocking has not been increased thereby, nor my detestation of superstition lessened.


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