41. Theory of the cracking-muscle. If the theory of illusion is inapplicable in
regard to the evidence of sight, when several persons see the same thing, it is equally
inapplicable in regard to that of hearing, when the same sounds are heard by a whole
assembly; for, under such circumstances, it is evidently impossible to attribute them to
a deception of the senses. All idea of illusion must therefore be regarded as exploded ;
while, on the other hand, observation has proved that these. occurrences are not due to
any fortuitous or physical cause.
It is true that a learned surgeon * has declared that the "spirit-rap" is produced by
voluntary or involuntary contractions of the short tendon of the muscle of the instep. He
enters into elaborate anatomical details, to show the way in which the mechanism of
this tendon is made to produce those raps, to imitate the beating of a drum, and even to
reproduce the rhythm of well-known tunes; from all of which he deduces the
conclusion that people who believe they hear raps in a table are dupes, either of a
mystification or of a delusion. Unfortunately for the author of this pretended discovery,
his theory is far from being able to explain all the facts of the case. It is to be remarked,
in the first place, that the persons who rejoice in the singular faculty of cracking at
pleasure the short muscle of their
instep, or any other muscle, and of playing tunes by this means, are exceedingly rare;
while the faculty of obtaining raps in a table is a very common one, and those who
possess it do not usually possess the muscular gift in question. In the second place, the
learned surgeon has forgotten to explain how this muscle can be made to crack by a
person who does not move. and how muscle-cracking, by one who is isolated from the
table, can produce in it vibrations that are as sensible to the touch as to the ear; how the
sounds thus produced can be repeated at the will of the company, on different parts of
the table, on the other furniture, against the walls, the ceiling, etc. ; how, in fine, the
action of that muscle can be extended to a table that is not touched, and make it move.
But this pretended explanation, even if it explained the phenomena of the rappings,
could not explain any of the other modes of communication. We therefore conclude
that the learned gentleman has proclaimed a verdict without having examined the
matter in dispute, and must be allowed to regret that scientific men should be in a hurry
to give, in regard to what they do not understand, explanations disproved by the facts of
the Case; whereas they, of all men, should be the most circumspect in laying down the
law in regard to new subjects, because their knowledge has pushed back, for them, the
barriers which separate the known and the unknown.
* M. Jobert (de Lamballe). In strict justice it should be said that this discovery is due to M.
Schiff; but to the great surgeon belongs the honour of bringing it, with its consequences, before the
Academy of Medicine, for the purpose of felling all "spirit-rappers" with this terrible cudgel. Vide, for
details of the onslaught alluded to, the Revue Spirite, for June 1859.