Isle of Wight Observer - Saturday 12 February 1876
AN EVENING WITH THE "SHAKERS."
During the past week Mrs. Girling (who, at the invitation of Mr. H. Knight, has again visited this town) has been giving services at the Victoria Rooms and an exposition of the views of this really singular community. We have seen that epithet frequently applied to them, but we never conceived that it was so well deserved. There are very few who have cared to visit Mrs. Girling more than once, and one evening has been very similar to another, and if we describe what took place at one meeting that will give a pretty good idea of what took place at all.
We have described Mrs. Girling before, on the occasion of her last visit. A further opportunity of seeing more closely than on the previous occasion only confirms us in our former impression, that she is a woman of more than usual firmness and some intelligence, but with a spice of insanity about her. We should not expect from her face that she was of a particularly benevolent disposition. She is accompanied by exactly the same followers as she was on the previous occasion, including three men, who sat on the platform. The females were dressed exactly the same as they were on the last occasion, in blue dresses with white sashes, and, on the whole, looked tolerably well and healthy, though one or two of the women and all the men bore a singular expression on their faces - rather wild looking, in fact.
The meeting was opened in the usual way by singing and prayer, and shortly after 8 Mrs. Girling began an address. It was rather incoherent, and not particularly clear. It was a hard matter to understand what she was driving at, while her naive simplicity of language and quaint endeavours to illustrate her meaning made a good many laughs. It would be very tiresome and not particularly edifying to give all that Mrs. Girling said. She commenced by taking a portion of the Gospel and comparing it with the Revelations. We could not follow her, however, for what she said was very disjointed. Amongst other things she said she did not approve of preaching about death and hell; Christ never sent out his apostles to preach death and hell, but to preach the kingdom of God. She subsequently declared her belief in the Devil and Satan, who, it seems, she regarded as two separate and distinct beings, and excited a considerable amount of amusement by declaring that she believed there were male and female devils.
She then pointed out the promises of the second coming of the Lord, and intimated that she did not believe half so much time had elapsed since Christ was on earth as was generally supposed, and that the Devil, to suit his own evil purposes, had blinded people's eyes here also. It was true historians said such and such a time had elapsed, but how did we know it was true. She believed we were much nearer than we thought for. All Christians must believe that Christ was coming; it was only a question as to the time when He would come. Speaking of conversion, she said the human body could not have two inhabitants at the same time. There must either be God's spirit within us or the Devil's - there was not room for Christ and the Devil too. Why man and woman could hardly live comfortable together sometimes. (Some one in the gallery: I suppose that's how you found it!) How should we have testimony that we had the right spirit? We must have the testimony of Jesus Christ. And what was that testimony? Why, the spirit of prophesy - the second pouring out of the spirit of our Lord and Saviour. Had not Jesus already taught them how to pray? Had he not taught them to say "Our Father ?" - their father as well as her father. Perhaps they would not like to think that she was their sister (laughter). She liked to ask straight questions. For herself she was delighted to think they were all brethren (laughter). There was something very delightful in the thought that she might meet again some of the beautiful forms she saw around her clothed with the glory of God, and ranging through and traversing the pure regions of everlasting glory, exploring together that beautiful land they heard so much of. It was in obedience to this command of our Lord's that they dwelt together as they (the community) did as brethren and sisters.
She then read that chapter of Revelations in which it is stated that the time is at hand for the coming of Christ. If it was at hand when he wrote, how much nearer must it be now? He might come that night, and for herself, she said, "Come, dear Lord; come quickly!" He was never more wanted than He was now, if they were to take the state of the world at large into account. There were never more murders, robberies and wickedness committed than there was now - and why? Because people could sin, and then put on a black coat and button it up to the neck (laughter). Men could go and commit sins now which were never thought of once, because men had not the knowledge then they had now. This was what made many a minister sad. She knew one clergyman who said, "After eight years' preaching I do not know where there is a conversion." That ought not to be. She then reiterated her belief in the speedy coming of Christ, and that she should see Him. (Here one of the audience rose and said that he considered Mrs. Girling a great humbug, and he would not stay to listen to any more.)
Mrs. Girling took no notice, but continued speaking, and said that the world had never been without light long, but it was like moonlight, which did not warm. What they wanted was the spirit which, like the sun, both warmed and lighted. If they had the spirit they would have the truth both to warm and light them. The Church was now broken up into 500 fragments, but would have to gather herself together again. They would know the true church by the coming of the Holy Spirit. That she said they (her community) had, and it declared the Lord was coming shortly to reveal Himself.
Here ensued a most singular scene: one of the girls on the platform closed her eyes, and leant upon the shoulder of the young woman sitting at her side, who shortly afterwards began to close her eyes also. After sitting like this for some time, the girl jumped up in a sudden ecstatic sort of way, and began dancing, and whirling about the platform with her eyes shut, and her hands raised, and in her mad gyrations got so perilously near the edge of the platform that she would have fallen off, and possibly hurt herself, had not one of the Shaker brethren ran and caught her, and lifted her on the floor, where she continued jumping and dancing away - bouncing against the audience sitting in the front seats, and against the chairs. Her eyes were shut, and she continually ejaculated incoherent sentences which the tittering and laughter which greeted the strange exhibition prevented us from catching. Mrs. Girling stood calmly regarding the eccentric movements of her youhg disciple, and asked those present not to laugh at what they did not understand.
She declared they all lived pure and holy lives by the power of God; that this was an evidence of His power; and that if the influence was ever disobeyed they suffered - in fact it gave them the whip (derisive laughter). They never suffered if they yielded to it, and it was evidence to them (whether those present believed it or not) of the speedy coining of our Lord Jesus Christ (oh, and loud laughter). Soon after the affection spread, and another girl jumped up with startling suddenness, and began jumping like a "Dancing Dervise," and would have danced herself off the platform had not the same brother lifted her to the floor, where she continued dancing. Shortly afterwards another one jumped up with equal suddenness, and all three were dancing about in a way which caused no slight amusement, but which, when one remembered it was done in the name of religion, was really a very painful thing to witness. One girl kept on violently, and with few intermissions for, we should think, over an hour! They danced wildly about till the face of one was covered with perspiration, but the other appeared to suffer little inconvenieuce.
They continued "bumping" against each other, and against the chairs, and the audience, muttering unintelligible words for some time. One young gentleman in the front row, who was "bumped" rather heavily, made a precipitate retreat into the next row, and was considerately told by Mrs. Girling "not to be frightened." Some of the sentiments they pronounced seemed like Latin phrases repeated over and over again; the other was unintelligible nonsense. This was the "unknown tongue." The other sentences which we caught, and which Mr. Knight and the Shaker brother declared to be the direct inspiration of the "Holy Spirit," were "Christ Himself is very nigh; glory be to God on high." Another girl said, "Oh! yes; Lord God Omnipotent reigneth King over all for evermore," which was not very new. "Glory be to God, who has given us light. Praise Him." "The Lord is our strength; praise His holy name" "Yes, it is life we have received - light from the dead," &c.
After dancing till they must have been very tired, they all knelt down in picturesque attitudes, and after singing and talking in a singular sort of way, one of them returned to the platform. While Mrs. Girling had been speaking, Mr. Knight, sitting in the front row, listened attentively, but when the dancing commenced he went near the platform, and helped to prevent the dancers from dashing against the chairs, &c. As soon as the girls had knelt down, and there was a momentary lull, for up to the present time there had been a great deal of laughter and confusion, some one in the gallery called out, "Now you give us a turn, Knight!" Mrs. Girling, looking in the direction the voice proceeded from, said if those who came there thought they (the Shakers) were deceived, it would be much better to show an example worthy for them to imitate. The young ladies kneeling in such picturesque attitudes elicited other comments from the gallery - "Ladies, do you feel queer?" "Can I do anything for you?" &c. The two girls then began dancing again. One had a peculiar wild look in her eyes, which were turned upwards. Voices of the gallery "Blowed if she hasn't wound them gals up well." "You unwind 'em now, Missus;" "We've had enough;" and general confusion, in the midst of which Mr. Knight said, "I know who it is in the gallery. I know who it is making the noise, and I will take down their names. (Pointing to the dancing, or rather jumping, girls), I know this is nothing more than the outpouring of the Holy Spirit!" ("oh," and hisses.)
The dancing girls still ejaculating unintelligible sentences in the "unknown tongues." The only words in all they now said which were intelligable to us, were, "We are near the end; we won't deny Christ." "Eternity!" "In the last days I wUll pour out My spirit." "I did it all!" These were said while the dancing was in progress. Then one stopped, and said slowly, and with the air of a prophetess, "Oh! yes; will you help to join, will you help to swell, that song, the song of redemption: you may help to swell it ere long. Will you? Will you? Yes!" The girl then stopped, and kneeling on the floor, pretended to write with her finger, muttering something quite unintelligible. The other girl kept on dancing. As the meeting advanced the confusion increased. The poor girl danced till some one in the gallery said it was a "case of cruelty to animals to let her go on so," and we should think, when she left off, she must have had an hour and a half of almost continuous and violent exertion.
Mr. Knight said as there was so much noise he would call out the name of the offender, and gave the name of a young butcher as the disturber of the meeting. He was told to "give us a turn - come on!" Ultimately, after a hymn had been sang, another young woman on the platform sank down and offered up a prayer, as did also Mrs. Girling. Prayer after such remarks and the other things the audience had seen, seemed almost a mockery, and we could not help remembering that there is a time and place for all things. Mrs. Girling told them before she left that she expected to see many of the scoffers dancing some day. Bidding the audience "goodnight" she left the platform, but some of the young women remained, and with these several of the audience got into conversation. One was asked whether she had received any special gift of the spirit that night, and whether what she said was to be taken as prophesying. Pressed on the matter she admitted the dancing was only a devotional exercise, but that she had often received the gift of the spirit though not on this particular occasion. We did not hear this ourselves, but we are informed that she made this admission, which practically reduces all the dancing, writing on the floor, and unknown tongues, to so much mummery. We can hardly think the dancers, however, were quite conscious; they looked very much like those under mesmeric influence. We do not doubt, however, that there was some method in their madness.