The Twentieth Plane

Author(s): 
Albert Durrant Watson
Publisher: 
George W Jacobs & Co.
Edition / Year: 
1919

The Twentieth Plane: A Psychic Revelation. Reported by Albert Durrant Watson

In the early part of the last century, when this book was written, Spiritualism was much more popular and generally taken more seriously than it is today. It is tempting to suggest that works such as this, by stretching the reader's credulity to the limit, may in part be responsible for its decline.

Watson, a Fellow of the Royal Astronomical Society of Canada, and a poet who wrote the words to Canada's national hymn, claims his book is an accurate record of visitations from beyond the grave through the mediumship of one Louis Benjamin, whom Watson grandiosely calls “The Instrument”.

Benjamin, described as “a commercial man, thirty-six years of age”, was evidently a distinctly superior Instrument, one very well-connected in afterlife society, as Watson describes how a succession of great names lined up to speak through him - amongst them Samuel Taylor Coleridge, Tennyson, Shelley, Wordsworth, Shakespeare, Plato, and, slightly incongruously, Watson's late mother. The glorious dead were, we are asked to believe, queueing up to manifest themselves at No. 10 Euclid Avenue, Toronto, in order to deliver mimsy homilies about the loveliness of the next world, such as this one from Louis Agassiz:

If your scene was lit by an eternal sky of pink amid which was a clustering of gold and green, if your air was the distilled essence of astral flower perfume, and if your eyes saw more than is in all the physical universe, then you would be only on the fringe of the love-lap of nature in which we bask...

On the Other Side there seems to be a general tendency to speak in a manner reminiscent of Fotherington-Thomas crossed with Madame Blavatsky (“Hello astral trees! Hello eternal sky!”). This extends to William Shakespeare, whose literary genius has dimmed a little:

Behold a temple set in a valley, whose opaline sides, as if with jewels were dissolved, then kissed by Sappho and polished to reflect the gorgeous splendor of exalted nature. Hear the bell in yonder church tower. The walk to this edifice is like pearls. The trees are all swaying in rhythmical harmony of pulsations of ether. The people are all moving with steps of princes newly ordained to a higher throne; and all is lit with the close resemblance of the pale pink of sea-shells.

This same Shakespeare, asked to nominate something of merit in Canadian drama, picks Tecumseh by Charles Mair, an inexplicably forgotten work whose quality you may judge from a short extract to be found online.

In order to move “with steps of princes” - as Shakespeare puts it in the passage quoted above - the dead require sustenance - or at least the ingestion of “chemicals”. (What happens if they go without? Do they die again?) Their ghastly diet is described by Watson's mother in tandem with Coleridge:

Is there any farming on the astral planes?

“No; the chemicals come without our effort. We have other important things to do.”

Do you know what the chemicals are?

“Coleridge will tell you” (Coleridge speaks.)

Coleridge:- “Proteins. The liquid juice of a rice product. A beef extract made of a synthetic meat product. A saccharine - sugar like your own. We have phosphates. Fats too are made here synthetically. All the equivalents of your richest foods. These constitute our dietary.

“The distinction between our food and yours is one of vibration.”

Vibrating synthetic fats? Yum. But there is also the food of love, music, as William Morris tells us:

[Robert Louis] Stevenson, when he left the Islands of Hawaii to come to this plane, brought with him the ukelele. He brought also with him the native song of the isle but improved it, and often we hear him when alone. His tonal pictures pierce us to the quick.

Actually, strange as it may seem, Stevenson was an aficionado of the uke, at least if this page is to be believed. In the absence of any recording of the author of Treasure Island's piercing “tonal pictures”, perhaps this one from 1917 of E K Rose singing “Aloha Oe” will give an idea of what astral music may be like.

Another significant figure in the Arts and Crafts movement, though one less well-known these days than Morris, was Elbert Hubbard, founder of the Roycrofters. Hubbard went down with the Lusitania in 1915 but seemingly reappeared in Toronto in order to furnish Watson's circle with its “war expert”. In life he was a self-educated man with a folksy way of expressing himself, but his spirit seems to be laying on the idiosyncrasy with a steam-shovel:

Say, my pal of pals, in the silence of this vale of voice, tell me to tell you that non compos mentis is the word to apply to one who with a shrug of the shoulder, a wink of the eye, a snap of the jaw, settles the finalities of all worlds, the problems that are debatable on all planes.

While he was still on this plane, Hubbard once said “Genius may have its limitations, but stupidity is not thus handicapped”, which seems a fitting comment on the case in hand.

Another writer whose shade graces the proceedings is Edgar Allan Poe. Like Shakespeare he has turned into a poor-quality caricature of himself (perhaps dying is not good for one?). To be read after the manner of the great Boris Karloff, I think:

“Now, my friends, I greet you. I am Edgar. Do you love the monster who created weird things of gloomy fancy?”

[... One of the party asks:] Did the raven become a permanent thing?

The raven is forevermore, and oh, the lost Lenore, she is here too. The raven is the imprisoned soul of myself. I am here. See the significance? I relapse often into the valley, see now?

Relapse may be the right word. There always has to be one who overdoes it at a party, doesn't there? If Poe is the embarrassing drunk, then there is One who is The Very Special Guest. (Naturally, He appears fashionably late, at the end of the book.) Perhaps The Instrument felt some pressure to up his game, as after channelling Spinoza, Plato and Socrates, up pops ... Jesus:

“Brothers, lovers, all:- If I were permitted to add a line to the Sermon on the Mount, I should add this: Be calm. That is the lesson of the planes to all the ages.

“The birds are serene. The ocean subsides to solemn stillness as it adores its Maker. The winds cry not. Night comes on all planes and soothes the soul to rest. The stars are noiseless. The greatest force of all space is often not heard even by ears attuned to hear the language of flowers.

But the souls of earth plane mortals rattle to destruction. Your souls alone clatter over the rocks of unfinished character. Alone do those of earth plane spill blood while monster machines tear the air with their roar to an endless chaos.

“Be calm in prayer, in thought, in purpose, in character, and your calmness will be the ship of life that shall reach all ports of experience, and then throw out the anchor; safe home at last.”

In being prepared to improve on the New Testament to a circle of believers one must admire the sheer chutzpah of Mr Benjamin while boggling at the seemingly bottomless gullibility of his audience, one of whom, a Professor Abbott apparently lost his career through taking Benjamin too seriously, and later had a nervous breakdown.

The Twentieth Plane is discussed in Anatomy of a Seance by Stan McMullin (McGill Queens University Press, 2004). McMullin says that Professor James Mavor, an eminent economic historian, was prompted by the public sensation around Watson's work to carry out an investigation of his own, including a test seance with Louis Benjamin at Mavor's home. As a result, Mavor concluded that the proceedings reported by Watson were valueless and that Benjamin was a phony who got his knowledge of the famous dead he impersonated from the Encyclopedia Britannica.

My friend Nancy Beiman, whom I must thank for first telling me about The Twentieth Plane, has also read Watson's follow-up book Birth Through Death, which she says provides evidence that Watson - like his colleague Abbott - became a little unhinged. Perhaps this is not surprising: if I believed in this vision of the afterlife as a roseate Fairyland where everyone degenerates into a bleating ninny, I think I'd go mad as well.

Comments

Verrry interesting! As a great grand-daughter of Watson, I have copies of his poetry books, but "The Twentieth Plane" was not a topic of family conversation, and therefore a puzzle. What struck me was how a very bright man of science (medical doctor, amateur astronomer, mathematician) and of literature fell under Benjamin's spell so completely. It must have been in the air of the time - after all, the world was being reinvented (or reinterpretted) by Science, and the old knowledge and wisdom ("old wives' tales!") was falling to pieces, a trend from which we have not yet entirely recovered. I doubt very much that Watson was mad, but I suppose he may have been a little unhinged. Perhaps he was backed into a corner by Benjamin and unable to admit he'd been made a fool. P. Wales
As a matter of fact, A. D. Watson did make a public break from spiritualism and Louis Benjamin. He completely stepped off that path (even though his books sold thousands of copies in Canada and the USA.) Benjamin, on the other hand, went on to do regular public "trance readings", mostly in Toronto.
Greetings P. Wales. I find your great grandfather's works fascinating. Love to hear from you if possible. You can email me at .... wolfspirits@3web.com ... to discuss his writings more.
There is a decendant of Watson's here in Edmonton as well. I'd be happy to put you in touch with her if you'd like! Sincerly, Ehren Ackerman President/Founder of the Edmonton Paranormal Society
I first became aware of The Twentieth Plane while reading an unpublished manuscript of my Great, Great Grandfather John Milne who at the age of 90 in 1928 had written about his 30 years experience with Spiritualism, a very insightful, well written and referenced book. It opened my eyes to this remarkable period from the 1840's onwards when Spiritualism was very much apart of general interest and scientific investigation. His references to Dr Watson's book took me to the U of T library were I found a copy and subsequently photo-copied it. It has become a great point of interest to me with a great deal of reading and research confirming many of the insights offered by my G. G. Grandfathers and Dr Watsons books. I found it interesting that Dr Watson became a member of the Baha'i Faith after publishing his first book and a description of this formative period of his seances has been published in the Book about the life of Laura Davis, one of the very early Baha'is in Canada who had attended his seances. I have had my G.G. Grandfathers manuscript transcribe on word and would be pleased to email it to any one interested. There is no doubt in my mind that much of what was revealed was indeed close to the reality of the life that awaits us all.
John, Yes, I would be very pleased to read the manuscript of your gr.gr. grandfather John Milne. Thank you for your generous proposal to share it. I have a great respect for all these people of the Victorian period who worked hard for leaving testimonies of their time. They were courageous people who have stood strong for their discoveries and for their perception of the Truth. Science of the Nature is an endless domain of discovery... About scepticism, I would like to quote Baron Von Reichenbach (in 1850) whose researches during many years in a new field of science, has also received hostile reception : « It was to be expected that a subject of so unusual and peculiar a kind as the present researches would meet with objections ; and I was aware beforehand that I should have to defend my experiments, and the deductions I had drawn from them, against ill-founded and groundless opposition. The new field of research which was laid open pushes its lines too near the bastions of established formulae, frequently involves, in too many convolutions, all that exists in the present doctrines of natural dynamics, for the necessary space to be freely allowed to it. Yet I thought only of reasonable criticism of my observations, perhaps of unsuccessful repetitions of my experiments, arising here and there from faulty arrangement ; that my conclusion is might be contested, or other views built upon the facts brought forward : but I was not prepared for an attack, which every true friend of science will unite with me in calling unprovoked, such as was made upon my work, and upon myself personally, by a Dr. Dubois-Reymond, in Kärsten's "Fortschritte der Physik im Jahre 1845." This naturalist does not find it at all necessary to go into my experiments, and the conclusions deduced from them, but briefly and superficially designates my book as an "absurd romance", the details of which " it would be fruitless and to him impossible to enter." I believe both of these assertions. Fruitless ; because he has not understood them, and an uncomprehended and incomprehensible criticism is fruitless. Impossible ; because he has not read them in connection ; and to enter into a matter of which one has acquired no knowledge, is impossible. ... « It is fashionable to sneer at isolated facts, and to withhold belief from any which appear extraordinary, and that can be accounted for only by the hypothesis of the existence of unknown or unexamined imponderable agencies… We are apt to be startled by relations of things that are new to us, and the repulsive agency of certain organs in the brain is, in some persons, called into operation. In standing on the defensive, it is sometimes a property of our structures that we should become offensive ; and in refusing belief to things thought to be unusual, our self-esteem, and love of opposition, and cunning, and jealousy, and envy, derived from love of possession, the true gluttony of selfishness, — our cultivated obstinate vanity, assuring us that in piggish scepticism resides the philosophy which really buds only from the highest and most delicate organization, not allowing us to perceive how frequently we become illogical, teaches us to reject truths presented to us by our fellows in the best faith of their sincere feelings. I could mention the names of men, having high reputations in the world, who either have forgotten that love of justice which belongs to conscientiousness, and that love of truth that belongs to high moral natures, or who have laboured under such obliquity of intellect as to have been unaware that, in some cases, the arriving hastily at disgusting conclusions is the characteristic of the narrow intellect of low-bred blackguards, and not of polite gentlemen. But the charity that springs from a conviction of man being the creature of his organization, and the circumstances which impel him to his actions, covers such beings with the pity that falls to their share. Why should the relation of an extraordinary fact like that stated by Mr. Henderson not be believed ? It could not have resulted from fancy, … » .
John, Thank you for your generous proposal. Yes, I would like to receive the manuscript of your gr.gr.grandfather John Milne. I have a great respect for all these people of the victorian period who worked hard to leave the testimonies of their time. They were courageous and have stood strong for their discoveries and for sharing their perception of the Truth. Science of the Nature and its discoveries are endless… Nobody will never achieve the totallity of the knowledge of the Nature. About scepticism, I would like to quote Baron Von Reichenbach (in 1850) whose researches during many years in a new field of science, has also received hostile reception : « It was to be expected that a subject of so unusual and peculiar a kind as the present researches would meet with objections ; and I was aware beforehand that I should have to defend my experiments, and the deductions I had drawn from them, against ill-founded and groundless opposition. The new field of research which was laid open pushes its lines too near the bastions of established formulae, frequently involves, in too many convolutions, all that exists in the present doctrines of natural dynamics, for the necessary space to be freely allowed to it. Yet I thought only of reasonable criticism of my observations, perhaps of unsuccessful repetitions of my experiments, arising here and there from faulty arrangement ; that my conclusion is might be contested, or other views built upon the facts brought forward : but I was not prepared for an attack, which every true friend of science will unite with me in calling unprovoked, such as was made upon my work, and upon myself personally, by a Dr. Dubois-Reymond, in Kärsten's "Fortschritte der Physik im Jahre 1845." This naturalist does not find it at all necessary to go into my experiments, and the conclusions deduced from them, but briefly and superficially designates my book as an "absurd romance", the details of which " it would be fruitless and to him impossible to enter." I believe both of these assertions. Fruitless ; because he has not understood them, and an uncomprehended and incomprehensible criticism is fruitless. Impossible ; because he has not read them in connection ; and to enter into a matter of which one has acquired no knowledge, is impossible. … My works will be as little free from defects as those of much more exalted men than I ever could be, least of all in the natural sciences. No one can have felt this more strongly than myself. Every criticism expressed in a good spirit I shall receive with thanks, and try to improve my work accordingly. But imperious abuse, from one who is profoundly ignorant of the work he reviews, must be repelled, and the reviewer must be taught to know the limits of decency. It is the interest, not only of myself, but of all who work and write, that weeds of this kind should not be left to flourish, but be raked out and cleared away. … Natural science, and all its branches, have originally run through a period of obscurity and error : physics were preceded by magic; chemistry, by alchemy ; medicine, by the philosopher's stone ; astronomy, by astrology, etc. ; philosophy, theology, and jurisprudence, have passed through their phases of extravagance. Our first conceptions are always unclear, confused ; hence adapted to the wonderful, the mysterious, and so on to superstition and misuse. But it does not follow from this, that the enigmatic shell conceals no solid kernel. It is quite in character with the matter, and anything but unexpected, that the subject of sensitiveness, and the peculiar force on which it depends, should have to go through such a period of infancy in our notions ; and the more so in proportion as it shows itself, on the one hand, the less capable of limitation, and on the other, to have a deeper hold on the hidden sphere of the nerves. That these days of rudeness should have endured for seventy years, is really rather long in these enlightened times, but in great part owing to the almost criminal narrow-minded opposition of the gentlemen of the "exact sciences", who have turned to it, not only deaf ears, but even a kind of foolish hostility. … The reason why this has been so long delayed, why the groping round about has come to no end, lies moreover in the fact that people so often begin to build the pyramid at the point ; they would wish to do first what they should do last — undertake to cure diseases ! Before striving for the slightest knowledge of the inner nature of the hidden force, they made a trade of the matter ! Then somnambulists and clairvoyants were met with, everywhere manifestations of force at its maximum, and in complication with inexplicable exalted conditions of disease. While struck with the phenomena on a large scale, and feeling unable to find an explanation of them, people neglected to inquire after the small beginnings, on which alone the basis of a scientific structure could be raised. Not from the lightning and the thunder have we gathered the theories of electricity and of sound ; not from the eruption of volcanoes have we drawn our knowledge of the expansive force of steam ; but just as our forefathers fabled about these natural phenomena, because they did not understand them, even so have the modem savans of the category to which M. Dubois belongs, talked nonsense about the so-called animal magnetism, because they did not know it. I will not speak of medical men, but it is no better with the physicists and physiologists ; the majority of the former have rejected all cognizance of it, because they cannot understand the connection of cause and effect ; and of the latter because they will not. However, this is not the path of the investigation of Nature, and the offence against enlightenment is really greater in the latter than the former. It does not redound to the honour of our contemporaries to stand obstinately firm in that primitive condition of blind ignorance, and to refuse to see at all how monstrously they lay themselves open on this side. …. All that gossip about lies and deceit is in reality quite misplaced ; when we examine more closely, it lies essentially not in the sensitive (the medium), but, on the contrary, in the subjectiveness of the pre-occupied, or not unfrequently incompetent inquirer. One must understand how to investigate, one must know how to question nature, if one would obtain a clear and instructive answer ; but it is not every one who can do this, so far as we know. … When, however, the inquirer does not know how to put the questions, from want of skill how to manipulate with the apparatus, from ignorance of the conditions how to arrange the experiments, from want of tact to comprehend the answers, and from want of acuteness of understanding how to discover the relations of the observations to each other : then confusion and perplexity begin, misinterpreted results contradict each other ; and rather than look in the face his own weakness, and confess it to himself and others, he, a thousand times sooner, takes the dishonest subterfuge of accusing the observed person of deceit. But the betrayer of nature and science is no other than the man who, from incapacity, has the rashness and foolishness to desire to stamp the truth with the mark of a lie. … It is fashionable to sneer at isolated facts, and to withhold belief from any which appear extraordinary, and that can be accounted for only by the hypothesis of the existence of unknown or unexamined imponderable agencies… We are apt to be startled by relations of things that are new to us, and the repulsive agency of certain organs in the brain is, in some persons, called into operation. In standing on the defensive, it is sometimes a property of our structures that we should become offensive ; and in refusing belief to things thought to be unusual, our self-esteem, and love of opposition, and cunning, and jealousy, and envy, derived from love of possession, the true gluttony of selfishness, — our cultivated obstinate vanity, assuring us that in piggish scepticism resides the philosophy which really buds only from the highest and most delicate organization, not allowing us to perceive how frequently we become illogical, teaches us to reject truths presented to us by our fellows in the best faith of their sincere feelings. I could mention the names of men, having high reputations in the world, who either have forgotten that love of justice which belongs to conscientiousness, and that love of truth that belongs to high moral natures, or who have laboured under such obliquity of intellect as to have been unaware that, in some cases, the arriving hastily at disgusting conclusions is the characteristic of the narrow intellect of low-bred blackguards, and not of polite gentlemen. But the charity that springs from a conviction of man being the creature of his organization, and the circumstances which impel him to his actions, covers such beings with the pity that falls to their share. Why should the relation of an extraordinary fact like that stated by Mr. Henderson not be believed ? It could not have resulted from fancy, … » Maryse

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