Russel Wallace : Alfred Russell Wallace (sic)
On Monday, November 14th, the first of a series of weekly soirées was held at the Beethoven Rooms, Harley-street, Cavendish-square, under the presidency of Mr. Benjamin Coleman. Many well-known friends of the Spiritual movement were present.
Mr. Coleman said that it was just five years ago since he commenced a movement of that character in these rooms. Just as he began, Mrs. Emma Hardinge arrived in England, and her addresses so delighted the listeners, that she occupied the platform evening after evening. By a strange coincidence, just as he began the present series of meetings, Mrs. Hardinge had arrived in England again from America. Several papers of interest would be read at the forthcoming meetings, and he hoped that the step would place Spiritualism on a higher platform than it has yet occupied in this country.
Mr. A. R. Wallace, F.L.S., President of the Entomological Society, then read a long paper entitled, "An Answer to the Arguments of Hume, Lecky, and others, against Miracles," which paper is printed in full in the last number of The Spiritualist. He did not discuss the question whether miracles be true or false, or whether Spiritualism be a fact or a delusion; but he demonstrated that the arguments brought against them by those who refuse to observe the facts are fallacious.
The President then invited a discussion upon the paper. For some time nobody rose, and it was evident that there was no opposition.
Mr. T. Shorter then rose, and said that it would clear the ground, and do away with much confusion, if definitions were given of the meaning of the terms "law" and "nature." He thought that the general meaning of the term "law" was, "certain sequences which always follow each other in regular order;" and perhaps the best definition of "nature" was, "the material universe, its properties, phenomena, and sequences." If this latter definition be accepted, then the word "supernatural" is a right one to use, as it means something above nature. With reference to one point in the paper, where evidence is given how certain men have been raised in the air at different times throughout all history. Mr. Wallace might not be aware that, in the Spanish Royal Library at Salamanca, there is a book, written by a monk, on the levitation of the human body, which phenomenon was so common, about three centuries ago, in Spain, as to be looked upon as a disease. (Laughter.) The monk points out how the complaint may be avoided and cured. In learning the truth about these phenomena, it is best to put aside the question whether they be divine or diabolical, in order to first make sure of the facts. He thought that the scriptural miracles came under the definition given by Mr. Wallace, and that a careful study of the Bible would show this to be the case. A miracle means simply a "sign" of something outside nature, something which cannot be attributed to purely physical causes. Miracles may be Divine or diabolical. The Egyptian magicians, as well as Moses, worked miracles, so miracles do not prove or disprove any doctrine: the mere exhibition of power does not prove any truth; the turning of water into wine, for instance, does not prove the doctrine of predestination to be true. If we admit the reality of the supernatural world at all, it is but reasonable to suppose that its phenomena should be extraordinary.
The President then proposed that a vote of thanks be given to Mr. Wallace, who, he said, was a man of high character and intelligence, well received in the scientific world, and a proclaimed Spiritualist. At the very first meeting held in that room in connection with Spiritualism, Mr. Wallace was present as a strong disbeliever; since then he had investigated the subject, and ascertained for himself that Spiritualism is true.
Mr. Wallace said that an objection had been made to his paper, in a note put upon one of the proofs by the printer's devil, who asked him to explain how the whole world bore testimony, for thousands of years, that the earth went round the sun, and not the sun round the earth. His answer was, that the observations they made were true, but the conclusion they jumped to was not true. A scientific friend had pointed out to him that three centuries ago, a man came forward and testified that he had seen the barnacle-goose come from a barnacle, according to the popular superstition; but this was the isolated testimony of one man, not of numbers of men who testified to facts they had seen over and over again, during a long period of time. He should like to know of one single case where such a large amount of disinterested honest testimony has existed for a fallacy.
A Lady--There is the case of the sea-serpent. (Laughter.)
Mr. Wallace--That is not proved to be a delusion.
Mr. Debenham--How about Joanna Southcote? A great many believed that she worked miracles.
Mr. Shorter--I think there was no allegation that she worked miracles; she prophecied certain small things, some of which came true and some did not.
Mr. Debenham--And how about Joseph Smith's miracles?
Mr. Wallace--I said that no miracles had grown around Joseph Smith, which should have been the case had Mr. Lecky's theory been a true one. His followers believed on "faith;" their belief was not founded on evidence, for these two kinds of belief are altogether different things. In my paper I have spoken only of the testimony of people who have been convinced against their will by facts which they saw and tested for themselves, in the presence of other witnesses.
The proceedings then closed, and the visitors adjourned to another room for refreshments and friendly conversation.