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Observations placeholder

Robert Bell - Stranger than Fiction – 08 By what art the accordion was made to yield that dying note, let practical musicians determine. Our ears, were visited by "a sound so fine."



Type of Spiritual Experience


A description of the experience

Robert Bell, 'Stranger than Fiction', Cornhill Magazine 2 (1860), 211-24.

It was now suggested that one of the party should hold the hand-bell under the table ; which was no sooner done than it was taken away, and after being rung at different points was finally returned, still under the table, into the hand of another person.

While this was going forward the white sheets were seen moving, and gradually disappeared over the edge of the table. Long afterwards we heard them creasing and crumpling on the floor, and saw them returned again to the table ; but there was no writing upon them. In the same way the flowers which lay near the edge were removed. The semblance of what seemed a hand, with white, long, and delicate fingers, rose up slowly in the darkness, and bending over a flower, suddenly vanished with it. This occurred two or three times ; and although each appearance was not equally palpable to every person, there was no person who did not see some of them.

The flowers were distributed in the manner in which they had been removed ; a hand, of which the lambent gleam was visible, slowly ascending from beneath the cover, and placing the flower in the hand for which it was intended. In the flower-stands in the adjoining window we could hear geranium blossoms snapped off, which were afterwards thrown to different persons.

Still more extraordinary was that which followed, or rather which took place while we were watching this transfer of the flowers. Those who had keen eyes, and who were in the best position for catching the light upon the instrument, declared that they saw the accordion in motion.

I could not. It was as black as pitch to me. But concentrating my attention on the spot where I supposed it to be, I soon perceived a dark mass rise awkwardly above the edge of the table, and then go down, the instrument emitting a single sound produced by its being struck against the table as it went over. It descended to the floor in silence ; and a quarter of an hour afterwards, when we were engaged in observing some fresh phenomena, we heard the accordion beginning to play where it lay on the ground.

Apart from the wonderful consideration of its being played without hands—no less wonderful was the fact of its being played in a narrow space which would not admit of its being drawn out with the requisite freedom to its full extent. We listened with suspended breath. The air was wild, and full of strange transitions ; with a wail of the most pathetic sweetness running through it. The execution was no less remarkable for its delicacy than its power. When the notes swelled in some of the bold passages, the sound rolled through the room with an astounding reverberation ; then, gently subsiding, sank into a strain of divine tenderness.

But it was the close that touched the hearts, and drew the tears of the listeners. Milton dreamt of this wondrous termination when he wrote of "linked sweetness long drawn out." By what art the accordion was made to yield that dying note, let practical musicians determine. Our ears, that heard it, had never before been visited by "a sound so fine." It continued diminishing and diminishing, and stretching far away into distance and darkness, until the attenuated thread of sound became so exquisite that it was impossible at last to fix the moment when it ceased.

That an instrument should be played without hands is a proposition which nobody can be expected to accept. The whole story will be referred to one of the two categories under which the whole of these phenomena are consigned by " common sense." It will be discarded as a delusion, or a fraud. Either we imagined we heard it, and really did not hear it ; or there was some one under the table, or some mechanism was set in motion to produce the result. Having made the statement, I feel that I am bound, as far as I can, to answer these objections, which I admit to be perfectly reasonable. Upon the likelihood of delusion my testimony is obviously worth nothing. With respect to fraud, I may speak more confidently.

It is scarcely necessary to say that in so small a circle, occupied by so many persons, who were inconveniently packed together, there was not room for a child of the size of a doll, or for the smallest piece of machinery to operate. But we need not speculate on what might be done by skilful contrivances in confines so narrow, since the question is removed out of the region of conjecture by the fact that, upon holding up the instrument myself in one hand, in the open room, with the full light upon it, similar strains were emitted, the regular action of the accordion going on without any visible agency. And I should add that, during the loud and vehement passages, it became so difficult to hold, in consequence of the extraordinary power with which it was played from below, that I was obliged to grasp the top with both hands. This experience was not a solitary one.

I witnessed the same result on different occasions, when the instrument was held by others.

The source of the experience

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