Index ~ Home

 

 

 

FOOTFALLS

ON THE

  BOUNDARY OF ANOTHER WORLD

WITH NARRATIVE ILLUSTRATIONS.
BY

ROBERT DALE OWEN,
[1801-1877]

 

FORMERLY MEMBER OF CONGRESS,
AND AMERICAN MINISTER

[Excerpted to include only the final chapters on Apparitions, etc.]

"As it is the peculiar method of the Academy to interpose no personal judgment, but to admit those opinions which appear most probable, to compare arguments and to set forth all that may be reasonably stated in favor of each proposition, and so, without obtruding any authority of its own, to leave the judgment of the hearers free and unprejudiced, we will retain this custom which has been handed down from Socrates; and this method, dear brother Quintus, if you please, we will adopt as often as possible, in all our dialogues together."—Cicero I, Divin. Lib. ii. §72.


 

PREFACE.

  

IT may interest the reader, before perusing this volume, to know some of the circumstances which preceded and produced it.

 

The subjects of which it treats came originally under my notice in a land where, except to the privileged foreigner, such subjects are interdicted,—at Naples, in the autumn of 1855. Up to that period I had regarded the whole as a delusion which no prejudice, indeed, would have prevented my examining with care, but in which, lacking such examination, I had no faith whatever.

 

To an excellent friend and former colleague, the Viscount de St. Amaro, Brazilian Minister at Naples, I shall ever remain debtor for having first won my serious attention to phenomena of a magneto­psychological character and to the study of analogous subjects. It was in his apartments, on the 4th of March 1856, and in presence of himself and his lady, together with a member of the royal family of Naples, that I witnessed for the, first time, with mingled feelings of surprise and incredulity, certain physical movements apparently without material agency. Three weeks later, during an evening at the Russian Minister's, an incident occurred, as we say, fortuitously, which, after the strictest scrutiny, I found myself unable to explain without referring it to some intelligent agency foreign to the spectators present,—not one of whom, it may be added, knew or had practiced any thing, connected with what is called Spiritualism or mediumship. From that day I determined to test the matter thoroughly. My public duties left me, in winter, few leisure hours, but many during the summer and autumn months; and that leisure, throughout more than two years, I devoted to an investigation (conducted partly by personal observations


 

4                                         PREFACE.

 

made in domestic privacy, partly by means of books) of the great question whether agencies from another phase of existence ever intervene here, and operate, for good or evil, on mankind.

 

For a time the observations I made were similar to those which during the last ten years so many thousands have instituted in our country and in Europe, and my reading was restricted to works for and against Animal Magnetism and for and against the modern spiritual theory. But, as the field opened before me, I found it expedient to enlarge my sphere of research,—to consult the best professional works on Physiology, especially in its connection with mental phenomena, on Psychology in general, on Sleep, on Hallucination, on Insanity, on the great Mental Epidemics of Europe and America, together with treatises on the Imponderables,—including Reichenbach's curious observations, and the records of interesting researches recently made in Prussia, in Italy, in England and elsewhere, on the subject of Human Electricity in connection with its influence on the nervous system and the muscular tissues.

 

I collected, too, the most noted old works containing narrative collections of apparitions, hauntings, presentiments, and the like, accompanied by dissertations on the Invisible World, and toiled through formidable piles of chaff to reach a few gleanings of sound grain.

 

Gradually I became convinced that what by many have been regarded as new and unexampled phenomena are but modern phases of what has ever existed. And I ultimately reached the conclusion that, in order to a proper understanding of much that has excited and perplexed the public mind under the name of Spiritual Manifestations, historical research should precede every other inquiry,—that we ought to look throughout the past for classes of phenomena, and seek to arrange these, each in its proper niche.

 

I was finally satisfied, also, that it behooved the student in this field (in the first instance, at least) to devote his attention to spontaneous phenomena, rather, than to those that are evoked,—to appearances and disturbances that present themselves occasionally only, it is true, but neither sought nor looked for; like the rainbow, or the Aurora Borealis, or the


 

PREFACE.                                           5

 

wind that bloweth where it listeth, uncontrolled by the wishes or the agency of man. By restricting the inquiry to these, all suspicion of being misled by epidemic excitement or expectant attention is completely set aside.

 

A record of such phenomena, carefully selected and authenticated, constitutes the staple of the present volume. In putting it forth, I am not to be held, any more than is the naturalist or the astronomer, to the imputation of tampering with holy things. As regards the special purpose of this work, no charge of necromantic efforts or unlawful seeking need be met, since it cannot possibly apply. The accusation, if any be brought, will be of a different character. If suspicion I incur, it will be not of sorcery, but of superstition,—of an endeavor, perhaps, to revive popular delusions which the lights of modern science have long since dispelled, or of stooping to put forth as grave relations of fact what are no better than idle nursery-tales.

 

Accepting this issue, I am content to put myself on the country. I demand a fair trial before a jury who have not prejudged the cause. I ask for my witnesses a patient hearing, well assured that the final verdict, be it as it may, will be in accordance with reason and justice.

 

I aspire not to build up a theory. I doubt, as to this subject, whether any man living is yet prepared to do so. My less ambitious endeavor is to collect together solid, reliable building-stones which may serve some future architect. Already beyond middle age, it is not likely that I shall continue here long enough to see the edifice erected. But others may. The race endures, though the individual pass to another stage of existence.

 

If I did not esteem my subject one of vast importance, I should be unworthy to approach its treatment. Had I found other writers bestowing upon it the attention which that important merits, I should have remained silent. As it is, I have felt, with a modern author, that "the withholding of large truths from the world may be a betrayal of the greatest trust."

 

I am conscious, on the other hand, that one is ever apt to *"Friends in Council," Art. Truth.


 

6                                         PREFACE.

 

overestimate the importance of one's own labors. Yet even effort such as this may suffice to give public opinion a true or a false direction. Great results are sometimes determined by humble agencies. "A ridge-tile of a cottage in Derbyshire," says Gisborne, "decides whether the rain which falls from heaven shall be directed to the German Ocean or the Atlantic."

 

Let the reader, before he enters on the inquiry whether ultramundane interference be a great reality or a portentous delusion, permit me one additional remark. He will find that, in treating that hypothesis, I have left many things obscure and uninterpreted. Where no theory was clearly indicated, I preferred to state the facts and waive all explanation, having reached that period of life when, if good use has been made of past years, one is not ashamed to say, "I do not know," in any case in which that is the simple truth. We do well, however, to bear in mind that a difficulty unsolved does not amount to an argument in opposition.*

 

To the many friends whose kindness has aided my undertaking, these pages owe their chief value. To some therein named I am enabled here to tender my grateful acknowledgments. To others who have assisted in private I am not less deeply indebted.

 

I doubt not that if I were to delay the publication of this book for some years I should find much to modify, something to retract. But if, in this world, we postpone our work till we deem it perfect, death comes upon us in our hesitation, and we effect nothing, from bootless anxiety to effect too much. R. D. O.

(On page 511 will be found "Addenda to the Tenth Thousand.")

* "Where we cannot answer all objections, we are bound, in reason and in candor, to adopt the hypothesis which labors under the least."—

"Elements of Logic," by ARCHBISHOP WHATELY.

"That is accounted probable which has better argument producible for it than can be brought against it"—SOUTH.


 

CHAPTER III. APPARITIONS OF THE DEAD

 

BOOK V.
INDICATIONS OF PERSONAL INTERFERENCES.
CHAPTER I. RETRIBUTION