Mr. William Eglinton’s Departure from India
Theosophist, April, 1882
The enemies of Spiritualism and Theosophy can rejoice and triumph, and the Calcutta bigoted and dyspeptic fogies—old or young—are invited to render thanks to their respective gods. Mr. Eglinton is gone having left for England on the S.S. “Vega” on the 16th ult. And now, for some time to come at least, they are allowed a respite and can draw a long breath of relief. Newspaper accounts of levitations, of materialization and direct writing, of instantaneous transfer of articles and letters through distances of thousands of miles, and many other weird and inexplicable phenomena may trouble their dreams no longer. The nightmare of a new religious belief—with its genuine, palpable, demonstrated “miracles” to support its claims; a belief arresting the progress, if not entirely superseding the religions based upon blind faith and unverifiable traditions no better than fairy tales, has vanished and dissolved behind the great ocean mists, like one of Macbeth’s unclean witches. . . .
Well, time alone will show which of the two now prevailing superstitions is calculated to survive. Whether it is occult phenomena—based upon actual, though yet undiscovered, correlations of natural forces; or—belief in Divine and Satanic “miracles.” Methinks, faith in the “miracles” of an Infinite, personal NO BODY, and in those of his hereditary foe—the cloven-footed, horned, and caudated gentleman, the Lord of the hot regions—is more calculated to disgrace our age of agnosticism and blank denial, than belief in the spiritual agencies. Meanwhile, Mr. Eglinton is gone, and with him the best opportunity that was ever offered to India to investigate and vindicate the claims of her old world-renowned sages and philosophers—is also gone. Thus for some time at least, will the assertions of the Hindu Shastras, the Buddhist and Zoroastrian books of wisdom, to the effect that there exist occult powers in man as well as in nature— be still held as the unscientific vagaries of the ancient savages.
Since the appearance of the editorial, “A Medium Wanted” (THEOSOPHIST, May, 1881), in which Mr. Eglinton was mentioned for the first time, and our readers shown that the wonderful phenomena produced through him were attested to over the signature of such witnesses as Mr. A. R. Wallace, Sir Garnet Wolseley, General Brewster, Mr. Robert S. Wyld, LL.D., Edin., M. Gustave von Vay, and a host of others—from that day to this one we never met him personally, nor even held a correspondence with him. We refused going to Calcutta to meet him, and felt obliged to deny ourselves and our numerous members the instructive pleasure of seeing him here, as was several times proposed. We have done so intentionally. Feeling that we had no right to subject him to insulting suspicions—such as we had ourselves to suffer from, and which once we were brought together would be sure to follow in our trail—we abstained from seeing him, and spoke even of his work but casually, once or twice in this journal and only for the purpose of giving publicity to some wonderful phenomena of his. Our cautious policy inspired by a natural feeling of delicacy—more for his sake than our own—was misunderstood and misinterpreted by our best friends, who attributed it to a spirit of opposition to everything connected with Spiritualism or its phenomena. No greater mistake was ever made, no more erroneous misconception ever set afloat. For now that Mr. Eglinton is gone, and with him every danger from malicious slanders has disappeared, we give our reasons publicly for such a “policy of noninterference,” on our part, and gladly publish a full recognition of the good that gentleman has achieved in India. If he has failed to convince the general public and the masses, it is because, knowing of him, they yet knew nothing of his wonderful gifts, having never had an opportunity of witnessing his phenomena. The séances given were limited to a small fraction of the Anglo-Indian Society, to educated ladies and gentlemen—worth convincing. And so much Mr. Eglinton has most undoubtedly achieved with great success. During the several months he passed in Calcutta, and notwithstanding the determined and ferocious opposition coming from ingrained sceptics as much as from religious Zealots, no one who came to his séances ever went away with a shadow of doubt but that what he had seen was pucka genuine phenomena, which to whatsoever agency it might be attributable was no sleight of hand or clever conjuring. The life of a medium—especially that of a genuine and honest medium, born with the instincts of a gentleman—is a hard and a bitter one. It is one of daily mental tortures, of deep-felt and everlasting anxiety, lest through the brutal interference and precipitation of the first dissatisfied sceptic, who imagines he detects fraud where there is but the manifestation of a weird genuine phenomenon, his hard-won reputation for honesty should be ruined in a few moments. This is an agony that few of the investigators, even among the Spiritualists are able to fully realize. There are so few genuine, honest mediums among the professionals of that class, that accustomed to the feigned agitation—as easily soothed as exhibited—and to the feigned indifference, manifested at the first symptoms of suspicion by the mediums of the tricky crew, the Spiritualists themselves become insensible to the degree of mental suffering inflicted upon the true sensitive who feels he is unjustly suspected. And such an insufferable state of mind, we suspect, must have fallen to the lot of Mr. Eglinton during his stay in India. Notwithstanding that he lived under the strong protection of devoted friends, we have reasons to believe that it was that, which made him hasten the day of his departure. At all events, it would have been in store for him had he remained much longer in Calcutta. While disgusting intrigues were set on foot by the public enemies of truth, who plotting secretly, as they always do, wrote unguarded letters to Bombay (which we have seen and read); in Calcutta, peremptory clamouring for séances more open to the public than was thought advisable, was becoming with every day louder, and all his watchful friends could do was to keep the curious mob at arm’s length. They have done well; for that mob—which in many cases may include so-called ladies and gentlemen—would have surely brought in with the tide Calcutta Lankesters, Dr. Beards, and other like benefactors of “deluded” humanity. Therefore, for Mr. Eglinton’s sake, we are glad he has left just at the right time. No greater misfortune could have befallen the Theosophical Society, and with it Spiritualism, in the present psychologically undeveloped state of mind of the Anglo-Indian Society, were its ignorant, but would-be all-wise areopagus to take it into its clever head that a medium was exposed, when de facto he would be perhaps only suspected, and very unjustly too. Sad experience has taught us in the past that it is not sufficient that a medium should be all that is honest and fair, but that he had yet to so appear. The supposed cheating of Dr. Slade owing to the undoubted one of Mr. Lankester and Co. has now crystalized itself in India into an axiomatic truth. The fact that the great American medium, has never yet been proved guilty on any incontrovertible testimony, disappears from the memory of the scoffer, the fool and the sceptic, to leave instead but the one vivid recollection—that of his unjust trial and disgraceful sentence in London.
Alive to the above, we would never advise a professional medium, unless he is a coarse-fibered charlatan, to bring to India his “angel-guides.” No gentleman ought to ever run such a risk. Yet we must say that in the case in hand the loss is decidedly India’s, and not Mr. Eglinton’s. Some hope to see him back in June, but we doubt whether it will be so. Many will be those who will regret his departure, and the opportunities lost unless he returns. But it is too late in the day for useless regrets. If his friends are really worthy of that name, and if they are anxious to show themselves above mere phenomena-hunters, who regard the medium in no better light than an instrument they have hired at so much per hour, let them now use their influence to get Mr. Eglinton into a position which would place him above every risk and peril of professional mediumship. Among his proselytes we have heard of many an Honourable, and of more than one official in high and influential position, for whom it would be an easy task to undertake.—It now remains to be seen whether any one of them will lift up a finger for the sake of SCIENCE, TRUTH and FACT.