[Boston—Friday, 1 January 1869]
New Years Day we had a grand snow-storm the first of the season.
Whittier and Kate Field and her mother came to dinner in spite of the elements. We talked of Planchette when Kate said she had learned to write without it whereat I brought paper and pencils to see what “the spirits” would do.
Presently her hand bounced up and down violently and she said if questions were asked she thought her hand would write as she had no longer any control over it. Whittier then asked if spirits had form and abiding place to which general answers somewhat long written with intense violence were given. These generalities proving anything but satisfactory Jamie asked questions of Dickens’s whereabouts and Charles Reade’s stories both of which were evasive or altogether wrong, “The spirit” then wrote somewhat testily that he was finite and not infinite and could not pretend to answer such questions. How then about Thackeray’s, we asked. “He trains in our mess” was the reply. “Has he ever referred to our last night in London?” “No, he has been too deep in finding out what he really is and what spiritual life is and will be to him. He is a happier man for the reason that he has solved the problems that worried him secretly (for the most part) through life, that of immortality” (I copy from the scrawled sheet).
J. asked how he liked his editing the uncollected essays “Pleased, go on and treat them all likewise.”
What does he think of his girls. “He thinks they are good girls and cleverish but not clever.”
In repy to questions about Landor “I think Landor is not quite satisfied with his status. He is such an old pagan that he is rather indignant at being alive.”
Is Shakespeare a friend to him? “What a question to ask! The author of the citations! Of course they are friends for it is Shak(sic)speare who has Landor under his wing.” Nothing of great moment was evolved and yet the manner of the writing could not fail to be impressive. The hand was flung up & down with such fierce vigor and the writing was so unnaturally swift. She seemed impatient often of what was written too & as if surprised often and always expectant instead of evolving. It interested us all as a psychological study. Neither Whittier nor ourselves had previously seen anything of the kind.
Our thoughts were turned in this direction by our talk of the Shakers. It seems they believe entirely in apparitions and Mr Whittier had been describing to us the vivid impression produced upon him by a description given him by a lonely Shaker woman of a ghost which came to her in the moonlight. The transition was easy of course to our own degrees of faith and unfaith. And the whole ended as such things always do with no more light and even greater yearning.