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REAL GHOST STORIES (Collected and Edited by William T. Stead) online
A PREFATORY WORD.
The third class of objection takes the ground that there is something irreligious and contrary to Christianity in the chronicling of such phenomena. It is fortunate that Mary Magdalene and the early disciples did not hold that theory. So far from its being irreligious to ascertain facts, there is a subtle impiety in the refusal to face phenomena, whether natural or supernatural. Either these things exist or they do not. If they do not exist, then obviously there can be no harm in a searching examination of the delusion which possessed the mind of almost every worthy in the Old Testament, and which was constantly affirmed by the authors of the New. If, on the other hand, they do exist, and are perceptible under certain conditions to our senses, it will be difficult to affirm the impiety of endeavouring to ascertain what is their nature, and what light they are able to throw upon the kingdom of the Unseen. We have no right to shut our eyes to facts and close our ears to evidence merely because Moses forbade the Hebrews to allow witches to live, or because some of the phenomena carry with them suggestions that do not altogether harmonise with the conventional orthodox theories of future life. The whole question that lies at bottom is whether this world is divine or diabolic. Those who believe it divine are bound by that belief to regard every phenomenon as a window through which man may gain fresh glimpses of the wonder and the glory of the Infinite. In this region, as in all others, faith and fear go ill together.
It is impossible for any impartial man to read the narratives of which the present book is composed without feeling that we have at least one hint or suggestion of quite incalculable possibilities in telepathy or thought transference. If there be, as many of these stories seem to suggest, a latent capacity in the human mind to communicate with other minds, entirely regardless of the conditions of time and space, it is undeniable that this would be a fact of the very first magnitude. It is quite possible that the telegraph may be to telepathy what the stage coach is to the steam engine. Neither can we afford to overlook the fact that these phenomena have in these latter days signally vindicated their power over the minds of men. Some of the acutest minds of our time have learned to recognise in them scientific demonstration of the existence of the fact that personal individuality survives death.
If it can be proved that it is occasionally possible for persons at the uttermost ends of the world to communicate instantaneously with each other, and even in some cases to make a vivid picture of themselves stand before the eyes of those to whom they speak, no prejudice as to the unhealthy nature of the inquiry should be allowed to stand in the way of the examination of such a fact with a view to ascertaining whether or not this latent capacity of the human mind can be utilised for the benefit of mankind. Wild as this suggestion may seem to-day, it is less fantastic than our grandfathers a hundred years ago would have deemed a statement that at the end of the nineteenth century portraits would be taken by the sun, that audible conversation would be carried on instantaneously across a distance of a thousand miles, that a ray of light could be made the agent for transmitting the human voice across an abyss which no wire had ever spanned, and that by a simple mechanical arrangement, which a man can carry in his hand, it would be possible to reproduce the words, voice, and accent of the dead. The photograph, the telegraph, the telephone, and the phonograph were all more or less latent in what seemed to our ancestors the kite-flying folly of Benjamin Franklin. Who knows but that in Telepathy we may have the faint foreshadowing of another latent force, which may yet be destined to cast into the shade even the marvels of electrical science!
There is a growing interest in all the occult phenomena to which this work is devoted. It is in evidence on every hand. The topic is in the air, and will be discussed and is being discussed, whether we take notice of it or not. That it has its dangers those who have studied it most closely are most aware, but these dangers will exist in any case, and if those who ought to guide are silent, these perils will be encountered without the safeguards which experience would dictate and prudence suggest. It seems to me that it would be difficult to do better service in this direction than to strengthen the hands of those who have for many years past been trying to rationalise the consideration of the Science of Ghosts.
It is idle to say that this should be left for experts. We live in a democratic age and we democratise everything. It is too late in the day to propose to place the whole of this department under the care of any Brahmin caste; the subject is one which every common man and woman can understand. It is one which comes home to every human being, for it adds a new interest to life, and vivifies the sombre but all-pervading problem of death.
W. T. Stead.