Punch,  47 (1864), 161–62.

A Sybilline Leaf



News-Commentary, Drollery


Spiritualism, Imposture, Skill, Magic, Commerce, Supernaturalism, Telegraphy, Electricity

    Begins by judging that 'Humbug to spiritualism' is '"looking up", now that the Brothers Davenport [William H H Davenport and Ira E Davenport] are making "a sensation" out of their cupboard [the Davenports' site of spiritualistic activity]'. Insists that the conjuror John H Anderson 'may outdo all the marvels of all the Mediums', and contends that while it can accept Anderson, whose 'ingenuity and dexterity are legitimately employed in tricking our senses', it cannot accept spiritualism whose '"media" are substituted for mechanism, "spirits" for sleight-of-hand, and the mystical jargon of uneducated impostors' for Anderson's 'clever jugglery'. Proceeds to ridicule a 'circular' entitled 'The Greatest Discovery Ever Made' which it regards as the 'about the biggest dose of "flapdoodle" [nonsense]' to arrive in Britain from American spiritualists. The circular describes 'MEDIATION WRITING direct to, and from, the Spirit World, in One Minute', and Punch attacks the publication for poor grammar, a claim suggesting that only 'incapable ghosts' can communicate with mediums with 'degrading performances', such as 'accordion-playing out of tune'. Gives the false name Mrs Bounce Bubbler to the medium in question. Her powers of spirit communication prompt Punch to sympathise with the 'poor ghosts', unable to rest in peace. Presents the medium's explanation of her 'extraordinary gift' drawing on the analogy between the ability of man to communicate via the electric telegraph and the power of spirits to 'communicate from one sphere to another'. Punch thinks her argument begs the question of whether her gift is 'true' and wonders why the gift should be given to such 'hands' as Daniel D Home and Charles H Foster. However, points out that Bubbler wishes to share her gift with others, although she does not explain how to receive answers to questions written out for the spirits of 'loved ones'. Goes on to express bewilderment at the number of spirits with whom Bubbler claims to be acquainted, a claim suggesting that 'Death, like misery, evidently makes men "acquainted with strange bedfellows"; and not the most heterogeneous "crush" at a scientific London conversazione'. These spirits include Isaac Newton, who 'gives a philosophical explanation of this mediation writing', Emanuel Swedenborg, Francis Bacon (1st Viscount St Alban), Benjamin C Brodie, and John Franklin. (161) Concludes by noting the low cost of Bubbler's séances and classes on spirit-writing.

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