There is a moment in the life of every serious soul, when things which were before unseen and unheard in the world around him become visible and audible. This startling moment comes to some sooner, to others later, but to all, who are not totally given up to the service of self, at some time surely. From that moment, a change passes over such an one, for more and more he hears mysterious voices, and clearer and more clear he sees apparitional forms floating up from the depths above which he kneels. Whence come they, what mean they? He leans over the abyss, and lo! the sounds to which he hearkens are the voices of human weeping and the forms at which he gazes are the apparitions of human woe; they beckon to him, and voices beseech him in multitudinous accent and heart-break, “come over, come down, oh! friend and brother, and help us.” Then he straightway puts away the thoughts and things of the past, and girding himself with the things and the thoughts of the divine OUGHT and the almighty MUST, he goes over and down to the rescue.
Thus opens the second chapter of Archibald Henry Grimke’s 1891 biography of the abolitionist hero William Lloyd Garrison. Reprinted last year by Cambridge University Press in its Cambridge Library Series, Grimke’s first book is an expression of hero-worship that reveals as much about its author as its subject. Preparations for the history preconference of the Church of Light have led into research on the Grimke family, because Archibald’s wife Sarah Stanley Grimke was one of the crucial figures in our history. Abolitionism was intertwined with Spiritualism, and Archibald’s family had been involved with both reform movements. This passage gives a taste of the Spiritualist element in certain abolitionist rhetoric.)