Abroad with Mark Twain and Eugene Field/Telepathy or Suggestion


In the nineties Mark had asked me to translate his yarn on telepathy for the "Berlin Boersen Courier." The story had caught on, and the editor kept bothering for more of that sort. Mark had promised again and again, but nothing came of it. When I asked him for the tenth or fifteenth time, he said, "Pshaw, telepathy is out of date. I saw some mental suggestion done at Professor Glossen's in Zurich that knocked spots out of telepathy." He asked the rest of the company to listen, and continued:

"That there be no room for deception of any kind, the professor asked me to go to any drug store in town and buy a bottle of distilled water. We scraped the label off, swathed the bottle in linen, and then buried it carefully in a box—a sort of fireless cooker arrangement. This was done before the students began to arrive. When the lecture room was good and full, the Professor addressed the boys to the effect that he was on the track of a new chemical, but that his discovery was still far from complete. The chemical, he continued, had a peculiar odor, heretofore not classified, and this morning he was anxious to study the rapidity with which that odor would diffuse itself through the air. Hence he asked the students to give the utmost attention to what he was doing. Each student was to raise his hand the moment he perceived the strange odor.

"The Professor unburied and opened the bottle, turning his head away so as not to be overcome by the odor, while I watched the proceedings by a stop-watch. The boys were all ears—nose, I mean. After fifteen seconds, most of the students in the first row were holding up a hand. In 40 seconds the odor, which did not exist, had traveled to the rear benches, and when we counted noses, seventy-five per cent of the students acknowledged perception of the odor and some even went so far as to be nauseated by it."