Alfred Russel Wallace : Alfred Wallace : A. R. Wallace :
Russel Wallace : Alfred Russell Wallace (sic)

A Spirit Medium (S259: 1876)

Editor Charles H. Smith's Note: A letter to the Editor published on page 4 of the 19 September 1876 issue of The Times. To link directly to this page, connect with:


    Sir,--In The Times of the 16th inst. Professor E. Ray Lankester states that I am personally responsible for the reading of Professor Barrett's paper before the Anthropological Department of the British Association, and that my supposed conduct is "more than questionable." May I be allowed to show that this accusation (for such it amounts to) is wholly without foundation?

    The paper in question was brought before the Committee of Section D by the secretary, before which time I had never seen it. A member proposed that it should be reported on, but after a full discussion this was negatived. The paper then passed to the Departmental Committee, where it was again discussed, and, on division, was left to be read in due course. Professor Lankester is evidently ignorant of the fact that the reading of this paper was decided after a vote taken in two Committees, and he was, therefore, not justified in making the unqualified statement that, "in consequence of the more than questionable action of Mr. Alfred Wallace, the discussions of the British Association have been degraded by the introduction of the subject of spiritualism." As to Professor Lankester's opinion as to what branches of inquiry are to be tabooed as "degrading," we have, on the other side, the practical evidence of such men as Lord Rayleigh, Mr. Crookes, Dr. Carpenter, and Colonel Lane Fox--none of them inferior in scientific eminence to Professor Lankester, yet all taking part in the discussion, and all maintaining that discussion and inquiry were necessary; while the close attention of a late President of the Association and of a crowded audience showed the great interest the subject excited.

    As I have now shown that Professor Lankester commenced his letter with an erroneous statement of fact, and a "more than questionable" statement of opinion, it is not to be wondered at that I find the remainder of his communication equally unsatisfactory. His account of what happened during his visit to Dr. Slade is so completely unlike what happened during my own visit, as well as the recorded experiences of Serjeant Cox, Mr. Carter Blake, and many others, that I can only look upon it as a striking example of Dr. Carpenter's theory of preconceived ideas. Professor Lankester went with the firm conviction that all he was going to see would be imposture, and he believes he saw imposture accordingly. The "fumbling," the "manouvres," the "considerable interval of time" between cleaning the slate and holding it under the table, and the writing occurring on the opposite side of the slate to that on which the piece of pencil was placed, were all absent when I witnessed the experiment; while the fact that legible writing occurred on the clean slate when held entirely in my own hand while Dr. Slade's hands were both upon the table and held by my other hand, such writing being distinctly audible while in progress, and the further fact that Dr. Slade's knees were always in sight, and that the slate was never rested upon them at all, render it quite impossible for me to accept the explanation of Professor Lankester and Dr. Donkin as applicable to any portion of the phenomena witnessed by me.

Yours faithfully,

ALFRED R. WALLACE, Glasgow, Sept. 18.

*                 *                 *                 *                 *

Return to Home