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The Old Conjurors And The New
by [?]

As there are few better tests of the general health of an individual than in the things he imagines to be injurious to him, so there is no surer evidence of the delicate condition of a State than in the character of those who are assumed to be dangerous to it. Now, after all that has been said of Rome and the corruptions of Roman government, I do not know anything so decidedly damnatory as the fact, to which allusion was lately made in Parliament, that the Papal Government had ordered Mr Home, the spiritualist, to quit the city and the States of his Holiness, and not to return to them.

In what condition, I would ask, must a country be when such a man is regarded as dangerous? and in what aspect of his character does the danger consist?

Do we want ghosts or spirits to reveal to us any more of the iniquities of that State than we already know? Is there a detail of its corrupt administration that the press of Europe has not spread broadcast over the world? What could Mr Home and all his spirits tell us of peculation, theft, subornation, bigotry, and oppression, that the least observant traveller has not brought home with him?

And then, as to the man himself, how puerile it is to give him this importance! The solitary bit of cleverness about him is his statement that he has no control whatever over the spirits that attend him. Asking him not to summon them, is pretty like asking Mr Windham not to send for his creditors. They come pretty much as they like, and probably their visits are about equally profitable.

In this respect Home belongs to a very low order of his art. When Bosco promises to make a bouquet out of a mouse-trap, or Houdin engages to concoct a batter-pudding in your hat, each keeps his word. There is no subterfuge about the temper the spirits may happen to be in, or of their willingness or unwillingness to present themselves. The thing is done, and we see it–or we think we see it, which comes much to the same.

With this provision of escape Mr Home secures himself against all failure. Should, for instance, the audience prove to be of a more discriminating and observant character than he liked or anticipated, and the exhibition in consequence be rendered critical, all he had to do was, to aver that the spirits would not come; it was no breakdown on his part Homer was sulky, or Dante was hipped, or Lord Bacon was indisposed to meet company, and there was the end of it. You were invited to meet celebrities, but it was theirs to say if they would present themselves.

On the other hand, when the proper element of credulity offered–when the seance was comprised of the select few, emotional, sensitive, and hysterical as they ought to be–when the nervous lady sat beside the timid gentleman, and neuralgia confronted confirmed dyspepsia–the artist could afford to be daring, and might venture on flights that astounded even himself. What limit is there, besides, to contagional sympathy? Look at the crowded theatre, with its many-minded spectators, and see how one impulse, communicated occasionally by a hireling, will set the whole mass in a ferment of enthusiastic delight. Mark, too, how the smile, that plays like an eddy on a lake, deepens into a laugh, and is caught up by another and another, till the whole storm breaks out in a hearty ocean of merriment. These, if you like, are spirits; but the great masters of them are not men like Mr Home–they have ever been, and still are, of a very different order. Shakespeare and Moliere and Cervantes knew something of the mode to summon these imps, and could make them come at their bidding besides.