I seem to have been under some mystic influence this month: we have seen several posts on Spiritualism: Victoria Claflin Woodhull’s cursed furniture, Conan Doyle debates “are spirits demons?”, spiritualist humor, and sex in the seance room and Summerland. I’ll finish the month with one more: this account of some devilish hi-jinks by the enthusiastic Mr. Guppy, which was published posthumously.
AN UNEXPECTED VISITOR: A DEVIL.
By SAMUEL GUPPY.
[Previous to the death of Mr. Samuel Guppy he forwarded for insertion in the “Spiritual Magazine” the narrative as under. It has been held in reserve till now but its publication will stay the foolish and unlearned thinkings of many who dislike the belief in personal devils—they approve of evil, mischievous spirits, but dislike that the letter “d” be placed on the left-hand side of evil. What the difference is we cannot perceive. With such a narrative as this, we can credit the more easily the action of the “devil” in the church-yard, when Christ commanded the turbulent spirit to come out of the man.]
The Davenports felt themselves at home at my house. I was introduced to them as the author of a book [Mary Jane, see the end of the post] which some friends have told me they had had pleasure in perusing—a book of which 10 times or 100 times the number of copies I ever authorised has been put in circulation. I asked them to my house—my friends know what that means—and they came whenever they had spare time. Ferguson said to me, one day, “Mr. Guppy, these young men are under great obligations to you; you have made them feel really at home in your house, and you have never asked them for a seance.”
I did not want seances, but I wanted to study the men who produced the manifestations; but it really and truly turned out that the course I took was the very one to have manifestations —not stereotyped, asked-for manifestations—but those genuine ones which arise spontaneously when the medium is happy; in fact, it is then that the spirits hold high holiday.
To those who were not acquainted with the Davenports, I may mention that Ira had a never-failing fund of quiet wit, besides being so good an artist, that it would have been a better career for him than mediumship. William Davenport excelled in carpentry, cabinet work—that is, he had talent enough for it, whenever there was need. As for Fay, he was a perfect Babbage, never so happy as when he was engaged in making up accounts. Otherwise, as candid, sensible, and unassuming young men as you could find in a very long search. They had at times had to bear severe and unmerited rebuffs, and had learnt patience and firmness.
Ferguson, who conducted the seances, was a most exemplary and worthy man; he had been a preacher; had been attracted to the subject, and finding the manifestations real, had devoted his life to it. Nothing short of a perfect conviction of the reality of spirit manifestations and of the thorough integrity of the Brothers would have induced Ferguson to have joined them. He left a lucrative position, where he was esteemed and loved, to accompany and preside for them. I before said that I never asked them for a seance; but, in fact, the result of their feeling themselves at home, made their visits to me, whether at table or in the billiard room, one continued seance.
Matters standing thus, when they told me they were going; to Manchester, I said I would go with them, paying, of course, my share of the hotel expenses, at which they were very glad.
We got to Manchester, and, besides bed rooms, had a sitting room to ourselves. After they had given two or three seances, they told me that they had an engagement next day for one day at, I think, Nottingham, some 70 miles off; and asked me if I would accompany them. “Certainly not,” I replied; “as I have now seen full 100 seances, I am not going to travel 70 miles and back for one; so I shall stay quietly in Manchester till you return.”
The next morning, when I entered the breakfast room, Ferguson said, “Mr. Guppy, we are going to leave Ira with you; he has not been well for some days past, and Fay and William can do the seance at Nottingham.” “Very well,” I replied. So Ferguson, Fay, and William Davenport took their departure.
“Now,” said I, ” Ira, we will have a pleasant, day; first we will go and take possession of some photographer’s room, and do a little photography; then we can dine; and then a few games at billiards.”
It being winter, and Manchester a very smoky place, we soon found a photo-studio at our service, and I made several of those duplicate positives [double-exposure joke pictures]; one was Ira pouring out a glass of beer to himself, in another he was holding up one fist and threatening himself.
Leaving the photographer to put on the black varnish [the black backing for an ambrotype], we discovered a favourite dining-place of the Manchester men of business—generally we look upwards for angels, or any human approach to such beings—but in Manchester, down in a cellar, the best dinners are given; and all the service is done by the prettiest females the proprietor can find.
We did not hurry over our dinner,then we proceeded to billiards until it was dusk—”Now,” said I, ” Ira, we’ll call for our photographs, and we’ll buy an empty cigar box and go home to tea, and put the box, with paper and pencil in it, under the table and see if we can get some direct spirit-writing.” We went into my bed room, and there was a good fire, and it was more cozy; as the varnish on the photos was not quite hard, we stood them up on the mantel-piece.
A smallish room, feather bed, with very high top to the bedstead, washstand, with under shelf one side, my trunk open on a long stool in one corner, a table before the bright fire, with two wax candles burning, and the tea on the table, and we on each side—you see it all.
The ball or entertainment opened by a volume of “Mary Jane ” jumping from my trunk to the window seat, I got up to pick it up, and while so doing, my dress coat and waistcoat came flying out of the trunk at me; I took them up, remarking to my invisible friend, that I did not ask him to unpack my trunk. I stowed all in the trunk, shut it up, and resumed my chair at the table, but trunk and stool on which it was, marched off themselves up alongside the table. A second after, a nameless something, which was on the ledge, under the wash stand basin and was not empty, was emptied on the floor, and rolled under the bed. “Aren’t you ashamed of yourself,” said I, ” to make such a mess in a gentleman’s room?” The reply that I, or rather we got, was that a tumbler, half full of water, which was standing on the wash stand stand, was (the water), pitched at us. “Ira,” said I, “we had better get our tea, for it is getting rather lively.” We sat to the table, but the table began moving about: “Hold the table fast,” said I, we did, but then the tea tray began moving about on the table.—” We had better get our tea over,” said I, ” else we shall get those things broken.” So we hurried, much as people do aboard ship in a storm, and sent the things away. “Now,” said I, “for our cigar box,” and we put paper and pencil in it, and put it under the table (two candles and bright fire), in an instant a crash came like a heavy sledge hammer—the cigar box was smashed into little bits—at the same time a very loud rapping was heard. “It wants to say something,” said Ira, and he added, ” What is your name?” It spelt out, D-e-v-i-l. “Nice company we are got into, Ira,” said I. “What do you want?” said Ira. It spelt out W-h-i-s-ke-y. “Do you mean to say,” said I, “that if I order up a glass of whiskey you will drink it?” “Y-e-s.” I ordered up two glasses of whiskey, with water. I tasted the one, and putting very little water in the other, I said, “Shall we put it under the table?” “N-o.” “Shall Ira hold it?” “Y-e-s.”
With one hand on the table, he held the glass of whiskey and water under the table, and in a few seconds cried, “By heaven it is drinking!” He brought up the glass, it was as dry inside as if had been wiped out with a hot towel. We took a candle and examined the carpet, but there was not a trace of moisture. “I should very much like that Ferguson could witness such a thing,” said Ira. “Will you repeat this before Ferguson tomorrow ?” said I. “Y-e-s.” And so it did.
While we were at tea, Ira said “Look at the photographs;” they were all trembling, on the mantelpiece. Examining them, subsequently we found that the figure of Ira threatening his duplicate with his fist, was entirely erased. the black varnish and face having been scraped off apparently by nails. The whiskey having been drunk (or disposed of), “Now,” said I, ” Ira, let us put out the fire and the candles, and I think we shall have something lively.” “I should be afraid to,” said he, “it might take me up by the scruff of the neck.” Of course, I did not press it, and we prepared to go bed when a loud knocking was heard, and it spelt out, “Look on top of the bed.” The top of the bed was too high to reach, so I put an arm chair on the bed, and holding it, Ira got on it, and reaching his arm over the top of the bed, produced—the poker.
When the party returned from Nottingham next day, we related our seance, and all assembled in my room; and again a glass of whiskey and water disappeared in the same way. These occurences suggested to me to enquire of the Brothers whether similar events had occurred in their experience, and they told me that at home, in America, in their family circle, portions of vegetable food (Indian corn), &c., were so appropriated and carried away.
If any of your readers wish to ask me how it was that the spirit played such pranks, I shall be happy to give them a correct theory, when they explain to me to me why it was the favourite pastime of young noblemen formerly to wrench off knockers, paint over sign boards, and upset watchmen’s boxes; also how it was that when the Davenports gave a seance at Oxford, the lively young “fellows ” wanted to break up their cabinet, but being baulked in that they broke up all the benches.
Real human nature is not that which you see acted on the world’s stage—and under the masks and dominoes, furnished by Mrs. Grundy, Mrs. Propriety, and Mrs. Decorum, are spirits in the flesh, as ready for a lark as the one which. favoured me and Ira with its company at the hotel at Manchester. The Spiritual Magazine of Phenomena, Spiritual—Ethereal—Physical, edited by J. Enmore Jones, Third Series, Vol. III, 1877
Samuel Guppy was the husband of medium Agnes Nichol Guppy, whom we have seen before fraudulently materializing flower apports. He was a sincere believer in Spiritualist phenomena, i.e. he swallowed most of it whole. The book “Mary Jane” was Mary Jane: or, spiritualism chemically explained, with spirit drawings, a book written by Guppy in a somewhat whimsical, obscure style, published in 1863. It tells of Guppy’s unsatisfactory experiences with some shabby Bloomsbury mediums, theorizes about the nature of religion and belief, discusses his wife’s mediumistic gifts, and, finally, gives an account of “Mary Jane,” a familiar spirit in the Guppy household who moved tables, made mysterious drawings of flowers, and played the guitar.
The Davenport Brothers, Ira and William, were magicians or mediums, depending on who you believe; there is some ambiguity as to whether their performances were presented as conjuring tricks or if they imitated Spiritualist mediums’ manifestations and let the audience assume that something supernatural was occuring. The Rev. Ferguson (see below) supposedly introduced them as purveyors of spiritual power. They were eventually caught when they couldn’t escape from a special, untie-able magician’s knot.
“Fay” was not one of the brothers, but was Mr. William M. Fay, who accompanied them to England while “Ferguson” was the Rev. J. B. Ferguson, a former pastor from Nashville, Tennessee, who served as the master of ceremonies for the brothers’ seances/performances.
The Davenport’s 1864 visit to England was announced as an attempt to “convert” the country to the truths of Spiritualism. The more cynical among us would say that the Civil War was bad for business and they went in search of a new market. I assume that the more violent manifestations were just trickery but possibly there was some sort of telekinetic or poltergeist activity going on as well. Ira was 25 and William 23, so they were a bit beyond the usual teen polt vector stage. Spirits naming themselves as the “devil” often came through at seances, while I’ve read of conjuring tricks that would explain the emptying of the whiskey glass, but can’t find the reference–possibly a waterproof bladder or a syringe hidden in a waistcoat? Houdini claimed that Ira Davenport showed him how he slipped his bonds in the medium’s cabinet, while Sir Arthur Conan Doyle swore that the Davenports had never been exposed as frauds. The one section that rings strangely true here is the brothers’ assertion that their family’s food was mysteriously carried away. I’ve seen the claim that food was either spoiled or consumed by spirits in a number of other ghost/hoodoo/poltergeist cases. Another post, another day.
I previously wrote of a table-tipping lady bit by a demon. Other devils in the seance room? Place in a tumbler with a splash of (holy) water and send to Chriswoodyard8 AT gmail.com
Tune in next week for a series on the Things That Scare Us. Spiders, snakes, rats, ghosts, and the dark may be taken as read, but I’m open to suggestions.
Chris Woodyard is the author of The Victorian Book of the Dead, The Ghost Wore Black, The Headless Horror, The Face in the Window, and the 7-volume Haunted Ohio series. She is also the chronicler of the adventures of that amiable murderess Mrs Daffodil in A Spot of Bother: Four Macabre Tales. The books are available in paperback and for Kindle. Indexes and fact sheets for all of these books may be found by searching hauntedohiobooks.com. Join her on FB at Haunted Ohio by Chris Woodyard or The Victorian Book of the Dead.