- A Few Mesmeric Revelations
In the introductory comments to “Mesmeric Revelation” (The Collected Writings of Edgar Allan Poe, 1978, 3:1026), Thomas Ollive Mabbott describes a letter from John S. Clackner, mentioning contemporary reprints of Poe’s story that appeared in two other periodicals. Listing the texts of the story, Mabbott states that “the reprints cited by John S. Clackner . . . as appearing in the Regenerator and in the Western Luminary have not been located” (3:1029). Although Mabbott was able to find the original printing of Clackner’s letter in the Regenerator (in the issue for September 1, 1845), he quotes only a small portion of it, primarily to document Clackner’s statement about the reprints in the Regenerator and the Western Luminary. As a record of how Poe’s story was viewed at the time of its publication, it is perhaps useful to give the full text of Clackner’s letter, of which previously only a few excerpts have been given. The letter is addressed to “Friend Murray,” indicating the editor, Orson Smith Murray (1806–1885). (Many of the letters in the Regenerator refer to others as “Friend” or “Brother,” and they are routinely written in a manner that suggests a very self-conscious attempt to be seen as polite and intellectual.) Clackner was a spiritualist who lived in Rochester, New York, in 1845, although by 1849 he had moved to Ravenna, Ohio. (See Eliab Wilkinson Capron and Henry Danforth Barron, Singular Revelations: Explanation and History of the Mysterious Communion of Spirits . . . in Western New York, Auburn, 1850, p. 81, where Clackner is listed among those who have “heard more or less of these manifestations.” See also Eliab Wilkinson Capron, Modern Spiritualism: Its Facts and Fanaticisms, Boston: Bela Marsh, 1855, pp. 80–82.)
For the Regenerator
Friend Murray:—Feeling a desire, if possible, to set aright the human mind, and appreciating your intelligence as a man of sense, with whom I like to confer, I feel inclined to make a few remarks upon the subject of Mesmerism—or rather on a piece entitled, “A Mesmeric Revelation,” which I saw in the “Western Luminary,” May 31st, ’45, also in the Regenerator, May 14th, do., by “Edgar A. Poe.”—Your conclusions upon that subject, I presume to conjecture, from the intelligence usually manifested in your editorials. Since the publication of this would-be “Mesmeric Revelation,” I learn it has had a tendency to disturb the equilibrium of some of our [End Page 208] materialist brethren, who formerly disbelieved in the existence of souls, spirits, angels, demons, &c. &c. With me, however, it had a contrary effect, after duly scrutinizing and analyzing the publication; therefore, as I said before, in order to set aright the mind, I wish to drop a few remarks through the Regenerator, upon the subject.
First, then, it would seem Vankirk, the mesmerised prophet, or rather clairvoyant, was a profound thinker and reasoner, especially upon the immortality of the soul; and fancying that the subject or truth might be deciphered through the medium of mesmerism—or in other words believing that were he mesmerised and questioned upon that subject while in the mesmerised state, the truth would be developed to the world—he said to Edgar A. Poe, his mesmeriser, on his arrival, “I sent for you to night, no so much to administer to my bodily ailments, as to satisfy me concerning certain psychical impressions which of late have occasioned me much anxiety and surprise—I need not tell you how sceptical I have hitherto been on the topic of the soul’s immortality”—then he relates the fact of having been advised to study certain authors upon that subject, in order to regulate and satisfy his mind on that “topic,” and which eventually resulted in leaving him “more sceptical than before.” The inference is plain, as I hinted before, that Vankirk was a profound thinker on that “topic;” hence the result of the mesmeric experiment, which it seems was entered into with faith and alacrity probably by both parties. I am not yet so great a novice, or so credulous, as to believe that Deity condescended to reveal such astounding mysteries to...