Gigadibs is silenced, and, as it proves, impressed; but the Bishop is too clever to be very proud of his victory; for he knows it has been a personal, much more than a real one. His strength has lain chiefly in the assumption (which only the entire monologue can justify or even convey) that his opponent would change places with him if he could; and he knows that in arguing from this point of view he has been only half sincere. His reasonings have been good enough for the occasion. That is the best he can say for them.
“Sludge, the Medium,” is intended to show that even so ignoble a person as a sham medium may have something to say in his own defence; and so far as argument goes, Sludge defends himself successfully on two separate lines. But in the one case he excuses his imposture: in the other, he in great measure disproves it. And this second part of the monologue has been construed by some readers into a genuine plea for the theory and practice of “spiritualism.” Nothing, however, could be more opposed to the general tenour of Mr. Browning’s work. He is simply showing us what such a man might say in his own behalf, supposing that the credulity of others had tempted him into a cheat, or that his own credulity had made him a self-deceiver; or, what was equally possible, in even the present case, that both processes had gone on at the same time. The amount of abstract truth which the monologue is intended to convey is in itself small, and more diluted with exaggeration and falsehood than in any other poem of this group.
Sludge has been found cheating in the house of his principal patron and dupe. The raps indicating the presence of a departed mother have been distinctly traced to the medium’s toes. There is no lying himself out of it this time, so he offers to confess, on condition that the means of leaving the country are secured to him. There is a little bargaining on this subject, and he then begins:—
“He never meant to cheat. It is the gentlefolk who have teased him into doing it; they would be taken in. If a poor boy like him tells a lie about money, or anything else in which they are ‘up,’ they are ready enough to thrash it out of him; but when it is something out of their way, like saying: he has had a vision—he has seen a ghost—it’s ’Oh, how curious! Tell us all about it. Sit down, my boy. Don’t be frightened, &c. &c.;’ and so they lead him on. Presently he is obliged to invent. They have found out he is a medium. A medium he has got to be. ’Couldn’t you hear this? Didn’t you see that? Try again. Other mediums have done it, perhaps you may.’ And, of course, the next night he sees and hears what is expected of him.”