Directly after Charles Bradlaugh's death we expressed a belief that the Christians would concoct stories about him as soon as it was safe to do so. It took some time to concoct and circulate the pious narratives of the deathbeds of Voltaire and Thomas Paine, and a proper interval is necessary in the case of the great Iconoclast. Already, however, the more superstitious and fanatical Christians are shaking their heads and muttering that "Bradlaugh must have said something when he was dying, only they wouldn't allow believers in his sick room to hear it." By and bye the more cunning and unscrupulous will come to the aid of their weaker brethren, and a circumstantial story will be circulated in Sunday-schools and Christian meetings.
We are well aware that his daughter took every precaution. She has the signed testimony of the nurses, that her father never spoke on the subject of religion during his last illness. But this may not avail, for similar precautions are admitted to have been taken in the cases of Voltaire and Paine, and, in despite of this, the Christian traducers have forged the testimony of imaginary interlopers, whose word cannot be disproved, as they never existed outside the creative fancy of these liars for the glory of God.
It is quite a superstition that truth is always a match for falsehood. George Eliot remarked that the human mind takes absurdity as asses chew thistles. We add that it swallows falsehood as a cat laps milk. It was humorously said the other day by Colonel Ingersoll that "The truth is the weakest thing in the world. It always comes into the arena naked, and there it meets a healthy young lie in complete armor, and the result is that the truth gets licked. One good, solid lie will knock out a hundred truths." It has done so with respect to the death of Voltaire and Paine, and it will do so with respect to the death of Charles Bradlaugh.
Meanwhile the Spiritualists are having an innings. Charles Bradlaugh was buried by his friends at Woking, but his ghost is said to have turned up at Birmingham. It appears from a report in the Medium and Daybreak that Mr. Charles Gray, of 139 Pershore-road, being "sadly sorrow-stricken by the passing away of a son," was "constrained to remain at home" on the evening of May 31. A seance was arranged "with a few friends," and of course a message was received from the dear departed boy. This was conveyed through Mr. Russell, junior, whose age is not stated. Then Mr. Reedman "was controlled to write by C. Bradlaugh." Mr. Reedman wrote "in a perfectly unconscious state, and on the departure of the influence was much surprised on being told of the nature of the communication."
Mr. Reedman's surprise may have been great, but it scarcely equals our own. One would imagine that if Charles Bradlaugh still lived, and were able to communicate with people in this world, he would speak to his beloved daughter, and to the friends who loved him with a deathless affection. Why should he go all the way to Birmingham instead of doing his first business in London? Why should he turn up at the house of Mr. Gray? Why should he control the obscure Mr. Reedman? This behavior is absolutely foreign to the character of Charles Bradlaugh. It was not one of his weaknesses to beat about the bush. He went straight to his mark, and found a way or made one, Death seems to change a man, if we may believe the Spiritualists; but if it has altered Charles Bradlaugh's character, it has effected a still more startling change in his intellect and expression.
Here is a "correct copy" of Charles Bradlaugh's message to mankind, and most of our readers will regard it as a very Brummagen communication:—
"As I am not to speak (so says the 'Warrior Chief'), I am to say in writing, I have found a life beyond the grave that I did not wish for nor believe in; but it is even so. My voice shall yet declare it. I have to undo all, or nearly all, I have done, but I will not complain. My mind is subdued, but I will be a man. It is a most glorious truth that has now more clearly dawned upon my mind, that there is a grand and noble purpose before all men, worth living for! May this be the dawn of a new and glorious era of the spiritual life of your humble friend Charles Bradlaugh!
"There is a God! There is a Divine principle. There is more in life than we wot of, but vastly more in death! Oh! for a thousand tongues to declare the truths which are now fast dawning upon my bewildered mind! Death, the great leveller, need have no more terrors for us, for it has been conquered by the Great Spirit, in giving us a never-ending life in the glorious spheres of immortal bliss. O my friends! may I be permitted to declare, more fully and fervently, the joys which fill my mind. Language fails, no tongue can describe."
Our own impression is that Professor Huxley was justified in saying that Spiritualism adds a new terror to death. Fancy the awful depth of flaccid imbecility into which Charles Bradlaugh must have fallen, to indulge in "ohs," and gasp out "glorious," "glorious," and talk of his "subdued" and "bewildered" mind, and bid himself be "a man." It was not thus that he spoke in the flesh. His language was manly, firm, and restrained; his attitude was bold and self-reliant. After four months in the "spirit world" he is positively trembling and drivelling! It is enough to make the rugged Iconoclast turn in his grave. Messrs. Gray and Reedman may rely upon it that Charles Bradlaugh is not able to enter No. 139 Pershore-road, Birmingham; if he were, he would descend in swift wrath upon his silly traducers, who have put their own inanity into his mouth, making the great, virile Atheist talk like a little, flabby Spiritualist after an orgie of ginger-beer.
Anyone may see at a glance that the style of this message, from beginning to end, is not Charles Bradlaugh's. Whose style it is we cannot say. We do not pretend to fathom the arcana of Spiritualism. It may be Mr. Reedmam's, it may be another's. If it be Mr. Reedman's, he must have been guilty of fraud or the victim of deception. Three distinct hypotheses are possible. Either someone else produced or concocted the message while he was in a foolish trance, or he wrote it himself consciously, or he had been thinking of Charles Bradlaugh before falling into the foolish trance and the message was due to unconscious cerebration.
We forbear to analyse this wretched stuff, though we might show its intrinsic absurdity and self-contradiction. One monstrous piece of folly bestrides the rest like a colossus—"Your humble friend Charles Bradlaugh." Shade of Uriah Heep! Charles Bradlaugh the "humble friend" of the illustrious Gray and Reedman! Think of it, Lord Halsbury; think of it, Lord Randolph Churchill. The giant who fought you, and beat you, in the law courts and in Parliament; the man whose face was a challenge; the man who had the pride, without the malignity, of Lucifer; this very man crawls into a Birmingham house, uninvited and unexpected, and announces himself as the "humble friend" of some pudding-headed people, engaged in a fatuous occupation that makes one blush for one's species.
Surely if Charles Bradlaugh's ghost is knocking about this planet, having a mission to undo the work of his lifetime in the flesh, it should begin the task in London. It was at the Hall of Science that Charles Bradlaugh achieved his greatest triumphs as a public teacher, and it is there that he should first attempt to undo his work, to unteach his teaching, to disabuse the minds of his dupes. Of course we shall be told that he must communicate through "mediums," and that the medium must be "controlled" by Charles Bradlaugh's spirit; but to this we reply that Charles Bradlaugh controlled men easily while he was "in the flesh," and it is inconceivable that he has lost that old power if he still survives.
On the whole, we think the Spiritist trick is worse than the malignity of orthodox Christians. A lie about a man's death-bed ends there, and consigning him to hell for his infidelity is only a pious wish that cannot affect his fate. But getting hold of a man's ghost ("spirit" they call it) after his death; making it turn up at public and private sittings of obscure fools; setting it jabbering all the flatulent nonsense of its manipulators; and using it in this manner until it has to be dismissed for a newer, more fashionable, and more profitable shadow; all this is so hideous and revolting that the ordinary Christian lies about infidels seem almost a compliment in comparison.
This Gray-Reedman story is probably the beginning of a long and wretched business. The Philistines are upon thee, Charles Bradlaugh! They will harness thee in their mill, and make thee grind their grist; and fools that were not worth a moment of thy time while thou livedst will command thee by the hour; and Sludge the Medium will use thy great name to puff his obscene vanity and swell his obscener gains. This is the worst of all thy trials, for thou canst not defend thyself; and, in thy helplessness, fools and pigmies cut capers over thy grave.