Etherology; Or The Philosophy . . .

ETHEROLOGY; OR THE PHILOSOPHY OF MESMERISM AND PHRENOLOGY: Including a New Philosophy of Sleep and of Consciousness, with a Review of the Pretensions of Neurology and Phreno-Magnetism; By J. STANLEY GRIMES, Counsellor at Law, formerly President of the Western Phrenological Society, Professor of Medical Jurisprudence in the Castleton Medical College, and author of A New System of Phrenology. New-York: Saxton & Miles, 205 Broadway. 1845.

  MAN is always trying to get charts and directions for the super-sensual element in which he finds himself involuntarily moving. Sometimes, indeed, for long periods, a life of continual activity in supplying bodily wants or warding off bodily dangers will make him inattentive to the circumstances of this other life. Then, in an interval of leisure, he will start to find himself pervaded by the power of this more subtle and searching energy, and will turn his thoughts, with new force, to scrutinize its nature and its promises.

  At such times a corps is formed of workmen, furnished with various implements for the work. Some collect facts from which they hope to build up a theory; others propose theories by whose light they hope to detect valuable facts; a large number are engaged in circulating reports of these labors; a larger in attempting to prove them invalid and absurd. These last are of some use by shaking the canker-worms from the trees; all are of use in elucidating truth.

  Such a course of study has the civilized world been engaged in for some years back with regard to what is called Animal Magnetism. We say the civilized world, because, though a large portion of the learned and intellectual, to say nothing of the thoughtless and the prejudiced, view such researches as folly, yet we believe that those prescient souls, those minds more deeply alive, which are the heart of this and the parents of the next era, all, more or less, consciously or unconsciously, share the belief in such an agent as is understood by the largest definition of Animal Magnetism; that is, a means by which influence and thought may be communicated from one being to another, independent of the usual organs, and with a completeness and precision rarely attained through these.

  For ourselves, since we became conscious at all of our connexion with the two forms of being called the spiritual and material, we have perceived the existence of such an agent, and should have no doubts on the subject, if we had never heard one human voice in correspondent testimony with our perceptions. The existence of such an agent we know, have tested some of its phenomena, but of its law and its analysis find ourselves nearly as ignorant as in earliest childhood. And we must confess that the best writers we have read seem to us about equally ignorant. We derive pleasure and profit in very unequal degrees from their statements, in proportion to their candor, clearness of perception, severity of judgment, and largeness of view. If they possess these elements of wisdom, their statements are valuable as affording materials for the true theory, but theories proposed by them affect us, as yet, only as partially sustained hypotheses. Too many among them are stained by faults which must prevent their coming to any valuable results, sanguine haste, jealous vanity, a lack of that profound devotion which alone can win Truth from her cold well, careless classification, abrupt generalizations. We see, as yet, no writer great enough for the patient investigation, in a spirit liberal yet severely true, which the subject demands. We see no man of Shakspearean, Newtonian incapability of deceiving himself or others.

  However, no such man is needed, and we believe that it is pure democracy to rejoice that, in this department as in others, it is no longer some one great genius that concentrates within himself the vital energy of his time. It is many working together who do the work. The waters spring up in every direction, as little rills, each of which does its work. We see a movement corresponding with this in the region of exact science, and we have no doubt that in the course of fifty years a new circulation will be comprehended as clearly as the circulation of the blood is now.

  In metaphysics, in phrenology, in animal magnetism, in electricity, in chemistry, the tendency is the same, even when conclusions seem most dissonant. The mind presses nearer home to the seat of consciousness the more intimate law and rule of life, and old limits become fluid beneath the fire of thought. We are learning much, and it will be a grand music, that shall be played on this organ of many pipes.

  With regard to Mr. Grimes’s book, in the first place, we do not possess sufficient knowledge of the subject to criticise it thoroughly; and secondly, if we did, it could not be done in narrow limits.—To us his classification is unsatisfactory, his theory inadequate, his point of view uncongenial. We disapprove of the spirit in which he himself criticises other disciples in this science who have, we believe, made some good observations, with many failures, though, like himself, they do not hold themselves lowly as disciples enough to suit us.—For we do not believe there is any man, yet, who is entitled to give himself the air of having taken a degree on this subject. We do not want the tone of qualification or mincing apology. We want no mock modesty, but its reality, which is the almost sure attendant on greatness. What a lesson it would be for this country if a body of men could be at work together in that harmony which would not fail to ensue on a disinterested love of discovering truth, and with that patience and exactness in experiment without which no machine was ever invented worthy a patent. The most superficial, go-ahead, hit-or-miss American knows that no machine was ever perfected without this patience and exactness; and let no one hope to achieve victories in the realm of mind at a cheaper rate than in that of matter!

  In speaking thus of Mr. Grimes’s book, we can still cordially recommend it to the perusal of our readers. Its statements are full and sincere. The writer has abilities which only need to be used with more thoroughness and a higher aim to guide him to valuable attainments. It appears from notices affixed to his book that he has commanded an unusual share of attention, in a field where he has many competitors, and we think his book would win for him the same. It will bestow on those who do not find in it positive instruction, information and suggestion enough to requite a careful perusal. The best criticism on this as on other such works is to associate it as a manual with our own inquiries.

  It will be the best justice to Mr. Grimes after what we have said of our impression as to the tone of his work to publish the following extracts from his own preface:

  “When the doctrines of Phreno-Magnetism and Neurology were announced, and were making converts by thousands, and multitudes of new organs were daily discovered by these means, so that my private science was threatened with an overwhelming inundation, I was forced to take up this subject in earnest. About every friend I met asked my opinion of the new doctrines and new organs, and seemed surprized at my skepticism. This has led me to the determination of publishing this volume, that I may thus at once justify myself, and vindicate what seem to me the true principles of Phrenology. If I am mistaken in any of the propositions which I have assumed, there will be enough to correct me, and I shall acknowledge the correction with gratitude. *  *  *  *  *

  “There has [have?] been so many new doctrines advanced within a short time, both on the subject of Phrenology and Mesmerism, that I must necessarily assume the office of a critic in speaking of the performances of others. I am aware that I shall be liable to the charge of arrogance; but, at the present time, scarcely any two Phrenologians nor Mesmerologists can be found who agree; any one, therefore, who treats upon both these subjects at once, with the design of producing an harmonious system, must seem to assume that he is wiser than all others, and capable of filling the chair of the grand-master of the fraternity. No modesty of expression nor respectfulness of style can shield him from this imputation. Under these circumstances I have deemed it best to ‘speak right straight on’ regardless of the apparent egotism, and to ‘utter my thoughts with entire independence of everything but truth and justice.’”

  Mr. Grimes’s work opens with an introduction which he calls “Synopsis of Etherology,” and whoever reads that will be likely to find his interest so far awakened as to give fair attention to the book.

  In this connection we will relate a passage from personal experience to us powerfully expressive of the nature of this higher agent in the intercourse of minds:

  Some years ago the writer went, unexpectedly, into a house where a blind girl, thought at that time to have attained an extraordinary degree of clairvoyance, lay in a trance of somnambulism.—The writer was not invited there, nor known to the party, but accompanied a gentleman who was.

  The Somnambulist was in a very happy state. On her lips was the satisfied smile, and her features expressed the gentle elevation incident to the state. The writer had never seen any one in it, and had formed no image or opinion on the subject. She was agreeably impressed by the Somnambulist, but on listening to the details of her observations on a distant place, thought she had really no vision, but was merely led or impressed by the mind of the person who held her hand.

  After a while, the writer was beckoned forward, and her hand given to the blind girl. The latter instantly dropped it with an expression of pain, and complained that she should have been brought in contact with a person so sick, and suffering at that moment under violent nervous headach. This really was the case, but no one present could have been aware of it.

  After a while, the Somnambulist seemed penitent and troubled. She asked again for the hand she had rejected, and, while holding it, attempted to magnetize the sufferer. She seemed touched by profound pity, spoke most intelligently of the disorder of health and its causes, and gave advice, which, if followed at that time, the writer has every reason to believe would have remedied the ill.

  Not only no other person present, but the person advised also, had no adequate idea then of the extent to which health was affected, nor saw fully till some time after the justice of what was said by the Somnambulist. There is every reason to believe that neither she, nor the persons who had the care of her, knew even the name of the person whom she so affectionately wished to help.

  Several years after, the writer in visiting an asylum for the blind saw this girl seated there.—She was no longer a somnambulist, though, from a nervous disease, very susceptible to magnetic influences. I went to her among the crowd of strangers and shook hands with her as several others had done. I then asked, “Do you not know me?” She answered “No.” “Do you not remember ever to have met me?” She tried to recollect, but still said “No.” I then addressed a few remarks to her about her situation there, but she seemed preoccupied, and, while I turned to speak with some one else, wrote with a pencil these words which she gave me at parting:

“The ills that Heaven decrees
The brave with courage bear.”

  Others may explain this as they will, to me it was a token that the same affinity that had acted before, gave the same knowledge; for the writer was at the time ill in the same way as before. It also seemed to indicate that the somnambulic trance was only a form of the higher development, the sensibility to more subtle influences, in the terms of Mr. Grimes, a susceptibility to Etherium. The blind girl perhaps never knew who the writer was, but saw my true state more clearly than any other person did, and I have kept those penciled lines written in the stiff round character proper to the blind, as a talisman of “Credenciveness”, as the book before me styles it, credulity as the world at large does, and, to my own mind, as one of the clues granted during this earthly life to the mysteries of future states of being and more rapid and complete modes of intercourse between mind and mind.*

“Etherology; Or The Philosophy . . .” New-York Daily Tribune, 17 February 1845, p. 1.