Because The spirit rapper is a novel that makes reference to many autobiographical elements, and so could not be properly understood without some knowledge of the author's biography, we shall proceed in our discussion by introducing a concise summary of Brownson's life and achievements.
Although Brownson called The spirit rapper in the subtitle An autobiography (1854), we are dealing here with a semi-autobiographical novel, a romanticized fantastic narrative, organized as a roman a clef, of the life of a man who attempts to find a balance between religion and science, who experiments with mesmerism, spiritualism, pneumatism / pneumatology, and is aware of the fact that these constitute satanic influences and practices.
the "spirit rapper," whose name is never disclosed, poses, among others, the question whether the chthonic / nocturnal forces at work in human society might not in fact be elemental forces of nature, physiological phenomena or the like, all the while bearing in mind the fact that Catholicism (as the last religious system embraced by Brownson) entirely acknowledged the existence of Satan, and most especially the latter's "power over the natural man, and even [over] material objects" (Brownson 1854: 155; 1884ix: 93; chap.
Thus, the French Revolution is here regarded as being a "mesmerisation" (a steeping into illusion) of France and of Europe: it was triggered and governed precisely by what Christianity called evil or Satan, or what mesmerism called a "primitive and elemental force" (The spirit rapper, chap.
The spirit rapper is consequently a religious novel-treatise important by the vigor of the ideas advanced and by the obvious parallel with the evolution of the author's own thought.
The hero (the spirit rapper) is born in a little town in Western New York, in a family of agriculturists from Connecticut, descendants of the early colonists who had the reputation of being rigid Puritans (the Hartford colony).
Morals and the intellectual sciences appear to the spirit rapper "vague, uncertain and unprofitable" (The spirit rapper; Brownson 1854: 2; 1884ix: 3), while science promised to remove the veil of mysteries that nature drew over "her laboratory" (The spirit rapper, chap.
Cotton, "it can never be in conflict with theology." (The spirit rapper, chap.
Perhaps even the diablerie of modern German romance, of Hoffman, Baron de Fouque, and others, has more of reality than most readers suspect." (The spirit rapper, chap.
Moreover, for the spirit rapper faith is the way of access towards the profoundest mysteries of reality, even towards the essence of the godhead that an artist like Brancusi strove to bring to light through the medium of sculpture.
(In the interest of full disclosure, I need to confess that I wrote a volume for their series.) Unsupported by our customary footnotes, we authors had to wonder: Would other scholars think we got our ideas from the ether, like so many academic spirit rappers
? Or would they try to devalue and defame the works by saying that they were derivative and dependent on unacknowledged predecessors, as some critics of Christian Science or the Nation of Islam were wont to do when these movements first emerged?