Trance Mediums and “Historical” Visions
SOPHIE PEROVSKY AS A “SPIRIT”
Theosophist, December, 1881
The reliability of the identification of returning spirits, may be inferred from this bit of fresh intelligence recently received through the Religio-Philosophical Journal, of July 23. A lady from Rochester, U.S.—a Mrs. Cornelia Gardner—writes to narrate a personal experience of her own clairvoyant powers. Treating of the “identity of spirits, and their messages,” she says:—
“I usually take them for what they are worth, and if I get evidence of truth, I am more than glad; if not, I put it into the scales with much else that comes, and wait for evidence before deciding, for I believe the spirits need trying as well as their mediums.”
Precisely; and a great pity it is, that the writer should have departed, in the present instance, from her wise policy. Having neglected to “wait for evidence,” she now throws a considerable doubt upon the reliability and lucidity of her clairvoyance. This is the substance of what she tells us: Madame (?) Perovsky—the Nihilist executed for the foul murder of Czar Alexander II—hastened, as it seems, on the Saturday afternoon following the execution of the five Nihilists at St. Petersburg, to put in an ethereal appearance at Rochester before Mrs. Gardner who heard her exclaim “I am glad I did it! It was the cause of freedom and of my countrymen. I had suffered with others of my family from the power of tyranny, and I felt a power impelling me onward that I could not resist. Now I know what that unseen influence was, and why I could not resist it. I acted in concert with the invisible forces of higher intelligences who are bringing about the great changes upon the earth that will prove that the people’s hour has come.”
To the clairvoyant’s question “Who are you?” the voice replied: “I am Madame Sophie Perovsky. I was executed in St. Petersburg with the Nihilists for the assassination of the Czar.”
The upper features of a face becoming visible, they showed “a clear cut, broad, high forehead,” which forehead helped the clairvoyant to identify the face as that of Sophie Perovsky. On the following day, she found in a newspaper the account of the execution. “The most noticeable object,” she writes, “in the conveyance that carried the prisoners to the scaffold, was the ‘broad, high forehead’ of Madame Perovsky, who rode to her execution bareheaded. This answered to the head I had seen clairvoyantly.”
Very well. And now we will analyse this remarkable vision. To begin then. In hardly a dozen lines said to have been pronounced by the “spirit,” we find about half a dozen posthumous fibs. Sophie Perovsky, who, by the way, never had “a broad, high forehead,” but a very narrow and high forehead—we have her photograph—a brow enhancing but little her natural beauty—could not have—“rode to her execution, bareheaded.” Besides the regulations demanding that all the prisoners should have their black caps on, her hands were tied. And with that cap she appears, at least in the photographed illustration of the ghastly procession and the official reports of the execution where, poetical fancy finding no room, the caps are mentioned. Nor would Sophie Perovsky have introduced herself after death as “Madame,” no more than she would have done so during life, since she was unmarried and was always called “Mlle” Perovsky in the Russian, as in all the European papers. Again—all “others of my (her) family” suffered but through the eternal disgrace brought by that wretched, heartless creature upon her family. That family, established for years in Crimea, is known to all the Odessa society, and to the writer personally as well; and we say, with little fear of being contradicted, that no Russian was ever more loyal or more devoted to the late Emperor than the unfortunate father of Sophie Perovsky—the father who, unable to survive the dishonour, has since died of a broken heart, or, as many suspect a suicide. The “cause of freedom” and of her countrymen! By the insane act of the regicides, unfortunate Russia was thrown forty years back, her political fetters being now made heavier and stronger than ever. But the most damaging part (damaging to the “angels”) in the Perovsky-Spook’s tirade is the concluding sentence of her short communication. If that cold-blooded murderess acted “in concert with the invisible forces of higher intelligences,” and those “higher intelligences” influenced her to perpetrate the most foul of crimes—that of killing an old man (the fact of his being the Emperor adding nothing to our indignation)—and the kindest, most patriotic, as the best-disposed man and ruler towards his people that Russia ever had, and who, if left alone instead of being daily threatened, and given time, would have brought about to a certainty every needed reform and so added to the great reforms already accomplished—then of what character, may we ask, must be the “lower” intelligences? And to think that such a “spiritual communication” was published just at the time when the U.S. President, General Garfield, was himself dying from the hand of a vile assassin and has actually died since . . . Is it also the “higher intelligences” that prompted Guiteau’s hand? If so, the sooner we mortals shut our doors against the intrusion of such dangerous visitors, the better it will be for the world’s morality.
This remarkable letter is wound up by other information of no less damaging a character. “Once since,” writes Mrs. Gardner, “at the house of a friend, she (Perovsky) came again, and with her the woman whom Russian justice took from childbed and cruelly tortured to death.”
How very remarkable! Now, had the clairvoyant but waited “for evidence,” she might have learned from the August papers, the official news that the “woman whom Russian justice . . . had cruelly tortured to death” (an ignoble invention of the Russian Nihilists at Paris), namely, the Jewess Jessie Gelffman—has just been pardoned by the Emperor, and her death sentence commuted into deportation for life. It is in consequence of a petition sent by her to the Empress, begging for mercy in the name of the Imperial children and her own—the regicide’s—innocent babe, that her worthless life was spared. Would Mrs. Gardner expect the murderess to be made, in addition to the pardon, “lady-in-waiting” upon the Russian Empress?—We would advise her, in such a case, to use her psychological powers to move the U.S. Republicans to vote for the murderer Guiteau’s nomination as State-Secretary, if not President of the U.S. in lieu of his victim.
These two little psychological blunders remind us of another blunder of the same kind, which found room likewise in the Religio-Philosophical Journal, a few years back. In a series of letters, the reminiscences of a stay at St. Petersburg, a Mr. Jesse Sheppard—a really genuine, though rather erratic, medium, a “trance pianist” and singer of America, through whose marvellous windpipe, the late Mesdames Catalini, Malibran, Grisi, and the Signori Lablache, Ronconi and Co., with a host of other deceased operatic celebrities, give daily their posthumous performances—narrates some remarkable “visions” of his. These visions which we may term historical—were obtained by him in a state of clairvoyant trance, in Russia. The thrilling subject of one of them is the assassination of the Emperor Paul I. Mr. Jesse Sheppard was at that time visiting the palace in which the awful regicide had been perpetrated, and the trance and subsequent vision were induced, as he tells us, by the gloomy associations hanging like an invisible shroud over the palace. How, in the world, that remarkable medium could have ever got into a palace which was razed to the ground more than eighty years back—in fact almost as soon as the crime had been committed, a military school now being erected on its emplacement—is something that has always puzzled us to explain. However, and nevertheless, Mr. J. Sheppard was there—since he himself so tells us—and there it was that he beheld, in an apocalyptic and well retrospective vision, the scene of the ghastly murder, with all its sickening yet historical details. He saw the Emperor Paul having his throat cut by two serfs rejoicing in Russo-Yankee names, the favourites of Catherine II—the “wife of Paul”—whom the medium saw quietly waiting for the finale of this little conjugal drama in her own chamber, etc., etc. . . . Now, taking into consideration the trifling and undeniably historical fact, which informs us that Catherine the Great was Paul’s mother, and had died before Paul ever ascended the throne of Russia, and that, as a logical deduction, she could not be at the same time his wife, ergo had nothing to do with his unpleasant death; and thirdly—that the Emperor Paul having been strangled with his own regimental sash, to cut, therefore, his throat in addition to that, would only be most rashly adding insult to injury—for the life of us we could never, since we read and pondered over this remarkable vision, make out the rationale of such a “phenomenon”! Nor can we make head or tail of most of the modern mediumistic visions. Can anyone else?
As a matter of course, these remarks will bring upon our head a new tornado of abuse, which, during its whirling and progressive motion, will develop at each rotation a fresh column of most wonderful and unexpected vilification and abuse. So, we expect to be called again an “impostor”; a subsidized agent of living Jesuits, hired to ruin Spiritualism; and the “medium” of dead Jesuits, namely, “Jesuit Spirits” who use us with that object. We will be accused of bigamy, trigamy and polygamy; of having robbed the Bank of England and, perhaps, killed with our “psychological powers in combination with jugglery” a Pope and several British Premiers; of being one of the heroines of Émile Zola, and of speaking French argot (slang) like one of Eugène Sue’s pickpockets in the Mysteres de Paris; (rather a compliment to our linguistic capabilities, than otherwise, the more so as most of our own detractors can hardly speak even their own language grammatically). To wind up the list of our ghastly iniquities, we will be placed under the direct accusation of pipe and “cigar-smoking” (!), “violent profanity (!!) and— “habitual INTEMPERANCE” (!!!). All that, because we question the veracity of “Spirits” who neglect to study history, and refuse to recognize the “ghosts” of persons, whom we know to be alive. Furor arma ministrat . . . Indeed, truth alone, and very unwelcome truth it must be—is capable of throwing people into such fits of absurd fury!
Editor’s Note.—In relation to the above we regret to find a hitherto respectable and “philosophical” paper descending to the level of the most scurrilous little journal—a certain crazy spiritual Weekly of Philadelphia. It is grievous that the conductors of a journal claiming to be devoted to religion and philosophy should permit unscrupulous correspondents to convert their columns into a vehicle for the dissemination of most ignoble slanders concocted together for the gratification of private malice. A disgraceful letter (disgraceful for the journal that printed it) for the appearance of which, we hope that Colonel Bundy, the Editor of the Religio-Philosophical Journal, then absent from the country, was not immediately responsible, directs a flood of foul calumny against the editors of The THEOSOPHIST. This tirade—which no gentleman, not even one with the weak instincts of a gentleman, could have ever written—is beneath notice as regards the details, as it is calculated to provoke, in a few, a sickening feeling of contempt for the writer and in all the rest—a homeric laugh. As it stands, however, it appears to be due to the revengeful hostility of a half-witted French woman, from the “far West,” a would-be medium for “spirit photographs,” who will never forgive the Theosophists for denying her the honour of being constantly surrounded by the late illustrious Bonaparte family in astral shape. The “facts in my possession” of which the writer so naïvely boasts, are mostly due to the secondhand information derived by him from that poor, deluded creature. The fact that he accuses us of intemperance and connivance with Jesuits will be enough in itself, in the eyes of everyone who knows us, to determine the character of an attack concerning which we need say no more.