Text: Charles Partridge, “Edgar A. Poe and A. J. Davis,” Spiritual Telegraph (New York, NY), vol. VIII, no. 31, November 26, 1859, pp. 367-368


[page 367, column 2:]


A correspondent, (“W. A.”) writing from Philadelphia, incloses a leaf of an old paper, bearing date of August 3, 1844, containing an account of what he appears to suppose was a real interview between the writer and a clairvoyant, concerning the nature of matter, Spirit, death, immortality, etc. Our correspondent requests us to republish the in cresting narrative of this supposed interview, but in complying with this request we deem it proper to say that, so far as it professes to echo the sayings of a clairvoyant in the mesmeric trance, it is, to our almost certain knowledge, purely imaginary and fictitious — a fact, however, which should not detract from whatever of intrinsic interest the philosophizings may possess. Though the name of the author of this story does not here appear, (being probably torn off from the part of the article our correspondent sends us,) and though we have never before read it, we are quite sure, from the name of the supposed clairvoyant, (“Vankirk,”) and from other circumstance?, that it was written by Edgar A. Poe a short time previous to the date of the paper in which we here find it Being, as I now read the document for the first time, forcibly struck with the resemblance between its philosophy and that which is so conspicuously set forth in the first part or “key” of Mr. Davis’ Nature's Divine Revelations, (and which more or less pervades his subsequent works,) I am induced here to relate a reminiscence, which may not be altogether insignificant at this juncture of psychological and spiritual investigations, when so many persons are seeking to know the precise truth concerning the mundane and spiritual origin of the impressions of trance.

Some time after I became acquainted with Mr. Lovingston, the first magnetizer of Mr. Davis, [which was in the summer of 1844.] Mr. L. related to me the fact of Mr. D., during one of his magnetic trances, being absent from the body for some two hours, resisting every effort to bring him back, and causing considerable alarm. Some time in January, or the early part of February, 1846, after Mr. Davis, as magnetized by Dr. Lyon, had commenced his Nature's Divine Revelations, which I was writing at L's dictation, D. being one time entranced at our rooms, then in Vesey-street, this city, the conversation between him, Dr. Lyon, and one or two friends then present, turned upon, the philosophy of Edgar A. Poe's remarkable narrative of an interview with “Vankirk,” the clairvoyant, which had been published some months previously. Davis confirmed that philosophy, and said that he had been present, in Spirit, at the interview between “Vankirk” and Poe, and said that this was at the time when, while yet with Lovingston, he was so long absent from the body — referring to the case already mentioned. As I knew nothing except by hearsay of Mr. Poe's published narrative, I thought that some interesting results might possibly be developed by procuring an interview between Mr. Poe aud Mr. Davis in the trance, and, with the consent of Dr. Lyon, I called on Mr. Poe, who was then in the city, to invite him to our rooms. I saw Mr. P. at his boarding-house in Amity-street, (I think,) and in my simplicity related to him what bad been said by Davis, not doubting that (here was really such a man as “Vankirk,” and that Mr. P. had really bad the interview with him that had been described to me; but before I got through my story, I observed, by the suppressed smile on Mr. Poe's countenance, that I was in no small degree ministering to his amusement. In a very gentlemanly manner he then told me that the narrative to which I referred, and which my clairvoyant friend had seen as a literal fact, was simply a creation of his own for the purpose of expressing, in an attractive form, certain hypotheses which had come into his mind, and that he never intended nor expected his story of the interview with the supposed clairvoyant to be taken as a literal fact. I saw, of course, that there was a mistake about the matter somewhere, and not doubting that Mr. Davis could give some satisfactory explanation to Mr. P. himself, of that which then evidently must have appeared to him as a ridiculous blunder, if not something worse, I invited him to our rooms; he entered, at my suggestion, without introduction to Mr. D., and, (I think,) while the latter was entranced: he questioned him, but Mr. D. not being in a very lucid state that morning, nothing was elicited in the way of explanation.

As I knew (and do still know), that Davis bad been clairvoyant [column 3:] in numerous other instances, (though sometimes erring,) and as I was at that time deeply absorbed in writing and copying his interesting dictations, I concluded to let this apparent failure pass without farther investigation. I now see it in this light; Davis was then, when magnetized, [as often proved,] capable of forming a rapport with the minds of persons at a distance. At the time he was “absent from the body,” as related by Lovingston, and referred to by himself, [or some other time possibly,] be was actually en rapport with Edgar A. Poe, who was excogitating his “Vankirk” narrative, and Davis was [to use a barbarous term], “psychologized “to see Poe's ideal of a clairvoyant by the name of “Vankirk,” as an actual person, and to hear his imaginary responses to questions as if actually given, and to receive Poe's hypothesis of “unparticled matter,” of “Spirit” as being comprised of such matter, of thought as being such mutter in motion, etc, etc., as an actual truth.

As Mr. Davis, therefore, has unquestionably often read the minds of distant persons, and has borrowed from books which he has never read, (a fact which in itself is certainly wonderful.) I think it most highly probable, in view of all the above facts, that his philosophy of “unparticled matter,” of “Spirit” being constituted of such matter, etc., etc., as so conspicuously set forth, with its natural adjuncts, in his books, as amplified in his recent lectures, and as having so important a bearing upon all his psychic and pneumatic theories — was borrowed from the mind of Edgar. A. Poe probably when D. was “absent from the body” in the above-named instance, and not from the Spirit-world at all, unless Poe first got it from that quarter. Of course, it is not pretended that Mr. D.'s ideas on this or any other subject would be any more true than they now are, even if obtained directly from the Spirit-world or “second sphere;” but in the estimation of some, this source of derivation would give them a certain prestige which a more mundane origin would not confer; and as I have in some sense served as a medium of communication between Mr. Davis and the world, so far as his first, largest, and by far most important book was concerned, I deem it my duty to frankly state here my impressions on a point which I never understood so well before reading, now for the first time, this document of Mr. Poe, as transmitted by our Philadelphia correspondent.

The essential part of Mr. Poe's document here follows, in which will be recognized all the essential principles of Mr. Davis’ materio-spiritual philosophy, which he sets forth in various places and in different forms of expression; but after saying what I have, I must, in justice, add that my faith still remains unshaken that Mr. Davis has, in many instances, received impressions, both true and untrue, from a realm of intelligence beyond this world, and of this I feel qualified to furnish any reasonable amount of proof The extract follows.



A few passes threw Mr. Vankirk into the mesmeric sleep. His breathing became immediately more easy, and he seemed to suffer no physical uneasiness. The following conversation, then ensued — V. in the dialogue representing Mr. Vankirk, and P. myself:

P. Are you asleep?

V. Yes — no; I would rather sleep more soundly.

P. (After a few more passes.) Do you sleep now?

V. Yes.

P. Do you still feel the pain in your heart?

V No.

P. How do you think your present illness will result?

V. (After long hesitation, and speaking as if with effort.) I must die.

P. Does tho idea of death afflict you?

V. (Very quickly) No — no!

P. Are you pleased with the prospect?

V. If I were awake, I should like to die; but now it is no matter. The mesmeric condition is so near death as to content me.

P. I wish you would explain yourself, Mr. Vankirk.

V. I am willing to do so, but it requires more effort than I feel able to make. You do not question we properly.

P. What, then, shall I ask?

V. You must begin at the beginning.

P. The beginning! but where is the beginning?

V. You know that the beginning is God. [This was said in a low, fluctuating tone, and with every sign of the most profound veneration.]

P. What, then, is God?

V. (Hesitating for many minutes.) I can not tell

P. Is not God Spirit?

V. While I was awake I knew what you meant by “Spirit,” but now it seems only a word — such far instance as truth, beauty — a quality, I mean. [page 368:]

V. There is no immateriality — it is a mere word. That which is not matter is not at all, unless qualities are things.

P. Is God, then, material?

V. No. [This reply startled me very much.]

P. What then is he?

V. (After a long pause, and mutteringly.) I see — but it is a thing difficult to tell. [Another long pause.] He is not spirit, for he exists. Nor is he matter, as you understand it. But there are gradations of matter of which man knows nothing; the grosser impelling the finer, the finer pervading the grosser. The atmosphere, for example, impels or modifies the electric principle, while the electric principle permeates the atmosphere. These gradations of matter increase in rarity or fineness, until we arrive at a matter unparticled — without particles — indivisible — one; and here the law of impulsion and permeation is modified. The ultimate, or unparticled matter, not only permeates all things but impels all things — and thus is all things within itself. This matter is God. What men vaguely attempt to embody in the word “thought,” is this matter in motion.

P. The metaphysicians maintain that all action is reducible to motion and thinking, and that the latter is the origin of the former.

V. Yes; and I now see the confusion of idea. Motion is the action of mind — not of thinking. The unparticled matter, or God, in quiescence, is (as nearly as we can conceive it) what men call mind. And the power of self-movement (equivalent in effect to human volition) is, in the unparticled matter, the result of its unity and omniprevalence; how, I know not, and now clearly see that I shall never know. But the unparticled matter, set in motion by a law, or quality, existing within itself, is thinking.

P. Can you give me no more precise idea of what you term the unparticled matter?

V. The matters of which man is cognizant escape the senses in gradation. We have, for example, a metal, a piece of wood, a drop of water, the atmosphere, a gas, caloric, light, electricity, the luminiferous ether. Now we call all these things matter, and embrace all matter in one general definition; but in spite of this, there can be no two ideas more essentially distinct than that which we attach to a metal, and that which we attach to the luminiferous ether. When we reach the latter, we feel an almost irresistible inclination to class it with spirit, or with nihility. The only consideration which restrains us is our conception of its atomic constitution; and here, even, we have to seek aid from our notion of an atom, possessing in infinite minuteness, solidity, palpability, weight. Destroy the idea of the atomic constitution and we should no longer be able to regard the ether as an entity, or at least as matter. For want of a better word we might term it spirit. Take, now, a step beyond the luminiferous ether — conceive a matter as much more rare than the ether as this ether is more rare than the metal, and we arrive at once (in spite of all the school dogmas) at a unique mass — at unparticled matter. For, although we may admit infinite littleness in the atoms themselves, the infinitude of littleness in the spaces between them is an absurdity. There will be a point — there will be a degree of rarity, at which, if the atoms are sufficiently numerous, the interspaces must vanish, and the mass absolutely coalesce. But the consideration of the atomic construction being now taken away, the nature of the mass inevitably glides into what we conceive of spirit. It is clear, however, that it is as fully matter as before. The truth is, it is impossible to conceive spirit, since it is impossible to imagine what is not. When we flatter ourselves that we have formed its conception, we have merely deceived our understanding by the consideration of infinitely rarified matter.

P. But, in all this, is there nothing of irreverence? [I was forced to repeat this question before the sleep-waker fully comprehended my meaning.]

V. Can you say why matter should be less reverenced than mind? But you forget that the matter of which I speak is, in all respects, the very “mind” or “spirit” of the schools, so far as regards its high capacities, and is, moreover, the “matter” of these schools at the same time. God, with all the powers attributed to spirit, is but the perfection of matter.

P. You assert, then, that the unparticled matter, in motion, is thought?

V. In general, this motion is the universal thought of the universal mind. This thought creates. All created things are but the thoughts of God.

P. You say “in general.”

V. Yes. The universal mind is God. For new individualities, matter is necessary.

P. But you now speak of “mind” and “matter” as do the metaphysicians.

V. Yes — to avoid confusion. When I say “mind,” I mean the unparticled or ultimate matter; by “matter,” I intend all else.

P. You were saying that “for new individualities matter is necessary.”

V. Yes; for mind, existing unincorporate, is merely God. To create individual, thinking beings, it was necessary to incarnate portions of the divine mind. Thus man is individualized. [column 2:] Divested of corporate investiture, he were God. Now, the particular motion of the incarnated portions of the unparticled matter is the thought of man; as the motion of the whole is that of God.

P. You say that divested of the body man will be God?

V. (After much hesitation.) I could not have said this; it is an absurdity.

P. (Referring to my notes.) You did say that “divested of corporate investiture man were God.”

V. And this is true. Man thus divested would be God — would be unindividualized. But he can never be thus divested — at least never will be — else we must imagine an action of God returning upon itself — a purposeless and futile action. Man is a creature. Creatures are thoughts of God. It is the nature of thought to be irrevocable.

P. I do not comprehend. You say that man will never put off the body?

V. I say that he will never be bodiless.

P. Explain.

V. There are two bodies — the rudimental and the complete; corresponding with the two conditions of the worm and the butterfly. What we call “death,” is but the painful metamorphosis. Our present incarnation is progressive, preparatory, temporary. Our future is perfected, ultimate, immortal. The ultimate life is the full design.

P. But of the worm's metamorphosis we are palpably cognizant.

V. We, certainly — but not the worm. The matter of which our rudimental body is composed, is within the ken of the organs of that body; or more distinctly our rudimental organs are adapted to the matter of which is formed the rudimental body; but not to that of which the ultimate is composed. The ultimate body thus escapes our rudimental senses, and we perceive only the shell which falls in decaying from the inner form; not that inner form itself; but this inner form, as well as the shell, is appreciable by those who have already acquired the ultimate life.

P. You have often said that the mesmeric state very nearly resembles death. How is this?

V. When I say that it resembles death, I mean that it resembles the ultimate life; for the senses of my rudimental life are in abeyance, and I perceive external things directly, without organs, through a medium which I shall employ in the ultimate, unorganized life.

P. Unorganized?

V. Yes; organs are contrivances by which the individual is brought into sensible relation with particular classes and forms of matter, to the exclusion of other classes and forms. The organs of man are adapted to his rudimental condition, and to that only; his ultimate condition, being unorganized, is of unlimited comprehension in all points but one — the nature of the volition, or motion, of the unparticled matter. You will have a distinct idea of the ultimate body by conceiving it to be entire brain. This it is not; but a conception of this nature will bring you near a comprehension of what it is. A luminous body imparts vibration to the luminiferous ether. The vibrations generate similar ones within the retina, which again communicate similar ones to the optic nerve. The nerve conveys similar ones to the brain; the brain, also, similar ones to the unparticled matter which permeates it. The motion of this latter is thought, of which perception is the first undulation. This is the mode by which the mind of the rudimental life communicates with the external world; and this external world is limited, through the idiosyncrasy of the organs. But in the ultimate, unorganized life, the external world reaches the whole body, (which is of a substance having affinity to brain, as I have said,) with no other intervention than that of an infinitely rarer ether than even the luminiferous; and to this ether — in unison with it — the whole body vibrates, setting in motion the unparticled matter which permeates it. It is to the absence of idiosyncratic organs, therefore, that we must attribute the nearly unlimited perception of the ultimate life. To rudimental beings, organs are the cages necessary to confine them until fledged.

P. You speak of rudimental “beings.” Are there other rudimental thinking beings than man?

V. The multitudinous conglomeration of rare matter into nebulæ, planets, suns and other bodies which are neither nebulæ, suns, nor planets, is for the sole purpose of supplying pabulum for the idiosyncrasy of the organs of an infinity of rudimental beings. But for the necessity of the rudimental, prior to the ultimate life, there would have been no bodies such as these. Each of these is tenanted by a distinct variety of organic, rudimental, thinking creatures. In all, the organs vary with the features of the place tenanted. At death, or metamorphosis, these creatures, enjoying the ultimate life, and cognizant of all secrets but the one, pervade at pleasure the weird dominions of the infinite.

As the sleep-waker pronounced these latter words, in a feeble tone, I observed upon his countenance a singular expression, which somewhat alarmed me, and induced me to awake him at once. No sooner had I done this, than, with a bright smile irradiating all his features, he fell back upon his pillow and expired. I noticed that in less than a minute afterward his corpse had all the stern rigidity of stone.



Charles Partridge (1812-1885) was the editor and publisher of the Spiritual Telegraph. He and his wife are both buried in Green-Wood Cemetery in Brooklyn, New York.

Poe's story was “Mesmeric Revelation,” first published in the Columbian Magazine for August 1844, and reprinted in the New World in the issue for August 3, 1844, which is presumably the source of the portion extracted.

Andrew Jackson Davis (1826-1910) was an adherent to Swedenborigan philosophy, a major figure in spiritualism, and a proponent of animal magnetism/Mesmerism.


[S:0 - ST, 1859] - Edgar Allan Poe Society of Baltimore - Bookshelf - Edgar A. Poe and A. J. Davis (C. Partridge, 1859)