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[left margin] 4 [/leftmargin] THE ARGONAUT. [right margin] MARCH 24, 1888. [/right margin]
[column one] A MODERN PROTEUS.
Some Account of a MYsterious Gift of Personation.
BY ROBER DUNCAN MILNE.
It is now little more than a week ago since a company of gentlemen were sitting and talking in a certain room in a certain club - I am not at liberty to say which - in this city. The company numbered some eight or ten persons, three of whom were strangers. I forget how the conversation turned upon the mysterious and occult - I think, however, now that I consider the whole matter calmly, that the subject was led up to, with a definite purpose, by one of the gentlemen present, who had, as it turned out, a vert definite object in doing so. At any rate, the topic is one possessing a certain charm for the average human mind, and each of the company was contributing his quotum of information, or idea, to the general fund.
"Now, take your theosophists," said Robson; "if one can only credit what they claim, they must be possessed of powers which ought to make them masters of any situation, either for good or evil. But what have they done, practically in either direction?"
"But then," objected Harding, "one of the conditions of acquirinh control over matter, it must be remembered, is a course of training which practically robs them of the desire to use that control."
"And," put in Thurman, "this course of training is said to so elevate the moral and intellectual nature, as to render an adept incapable of doing an evil action."
"Madam Blavatsky," remarked the cynical Cook, "is, I suppose, a case in point. I am of opinion, for one, that all of her miracles were well-arranged and preconcerted tricks."
"Whatever may be the case with Madam Blavatsky, gentlemen," put in one of the strangers who had been introduced as a Mr. Wharncliffe, "I do not think that anyone who has visited India, and seen the performances of the native jugglers, can apply the same strictures to them. I have myself been witness of some most strange and unaccountable feats in that mysterious country."
The speaker was a tall, dark, fine-looking, bearded man, of perhaps forty or thereabouts, on whose skin tropical suns had evidently done their work, of a rather grave and serious aspect, and distinguished air. Beyond these features, which are not so rare as to be extraordinary among polished and travelled gentlemen of any country in the world, there was another, which at once withdrew him from the conventional type I have depicted. That was the eye. It was an eye with a bright, black, dazzling pupil, which would have served to render its own singular in any company. It was an eye, too, that seemed to lack, when I first saw it, what I shall term soul, and depth, and calm. Not that it was forbidding, but, on the contrary, attractive, and the longer I looked at it, the more pleasant and attractive did it seem to become.
"My friend, Mt. Wharncliffe, here" explained Harding, who had introduced him, himself a member of a large mercantile house, "is recently from the East, and can give us, I doubt not, some interesting points on the occult from his own personal experience."
The stranger waved his hand deprecatingly, and assured us that his knowledge was confined merely to what he had seen. He was prepared, he said, to philosophize upon causes.
"You have, all of you," he went on, "doubtless read of - perhaps some of you have seen - those feats or tricks of legerdemain, performed commonly by Hindoo jugglers of the better sort; such as planting a seed in a flower-pot, wherefrom rises a plant before your eyes; producing bowls of water, when there was apparently no possible place of concealment for objects of such dimensions; and all this with no stage paraphernalia, such as our modern conjurors, who imitate these tricks, have ready to ther hand, but simply upon the open ground, the spectators standing round. But perhaps, the most marvelous of these tricks, or deceptions," he preceeded, "is that in which the juggler plants a wooden pole in the soil, up which he successively sends a cat, a monkey, and several other small animals, each of which disappears on reaching the top - vanishes, so to speak, into thin air. Not a vestige of them is afterward seen"
"May it not be, " suggested some one, "that this miraculous effect is produced by exerting some sort of influence, akin to mesmeric, upon the eyes of the spectators? That the juggler really sends no animals at all up his pole, but merely makes the spectators think he does."
"Just like that power," remarked some one else, "with which some mediæval necromancers were supposed to have been gifted. Scott uses it, if I remember right, in his 'Lay of the Last Minstrel' - the glamour, I think it was called. the Lady of Branksome sends some one she does not wish to be recognized from the castle - or was it the hobgoblin, Gilpin? - but anyhow, as he passes the warder at the gate, he casts the 'glamour' over him, and the warder avers that nothing passed the gate but 'a wisp of hay'."
"But admitting the possibility of the existence of such a power," said a materialistic doctor, who was present, "upon what form of matter would it be exerted? On the rays of light before they reached the retina, so as to cause them to project a false picture there? or on the substance of the retina itself? or on the optic nerve, so as to cause it to transmit a false message to the brain? or upon neither light rays, nor retina, nor optic nerve, but upon the brain itself, causing it thereby to substitute an image of its own creation, as in the case of a lunatic, or of some one else's creation, as in the case of a mesmerized subject, for the true image which it was physically incapable of perceiving?"
"The latter, I think, would be the most reasonable solution of the problem," observed Harding, "always admitting, as you say, that the power exists."
"If it does not exist," objected another, "what are we to think of the scores of independent witnesses - gentlemen of unimpeachable veracity - who testify to the vagaries of the [/column one]
[column two] Hindoo and his pole?
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