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Alfred Russel Wallace : Alfred Wallace : A. R. Wallace :
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Dr. Carpenter on Spiritualism (S264: 1876)

Editor Charles H. Smith's Note: A letter to the Editor printed on page three of The Daily News (London) issue of 19 December 1876. To link directly to this page, connect with: http://people.wku.edu/charles.smith/wallace/S264.htm

     Mr. Alfred R. Wallace writes to us:--"I am very sorry to find that in his second lecture, reported in your columns on Saturday, Dr. Carpenter has made statements which, as a matter of fact, are untrue, and which (as I shall show) he had the means of knowing to be untrue. Leaving it to Mr. Crookes and to the friends of the 'two American girls' to reply to the allegations made about them, I beg to be allowed to point out an important misstatement which concerns myself. Dr. Carpenter is reported to have said that 'a friend who believed' once told him of a small table rising up bodily when the medium and two or three other persons placed their hands on the top, and that it was suggested that a cylindrical cage of paper and hoops should be placed round the table to prevent the possibility of its being raised by the medium's toe under cover of her dress. His friend asked--'If it is done without disturbing the paper, what will you say?' 'I will say, then,' replied Dr. Carpenter, 'it is a thing deserving further investigation.' The paper cage was put round the feet of the table and Dr. Carpenter assured his audience that he never after heard of the table dancing up and down, and that 'that test was sufficient to his mind to dispose of that particular case.' Now, I should like to ask Dr. Carpenter whether he would be surprised to hear that I myself was the 'believing friend' who told him about the small table and the paper cage, and further that I told him that it had been tried and had perfectly succeeded? And even if he had quite forgotten this--which I admit he may have done--the experiment is fully described, along with another even more conclusive test, in the notes of personal evidence given in my little book on 'Miracles and Modern Spiritualism' (pp. 133, 134), which I may assume one who comes forward to enlighten the public has taken the trouble to read. In the same book (p. 128) he will find an account of another table rising, while a sceptical friend who accompanied me was looking on and could see the whole lower part of the table with the feet freely suspended above the floor. It is hardly too much to say that every one of the more important statements which Dr. Carpenter puts before the public as evidence in his favour may be shown to be equally opposed to the actual facts of the case; but I will continue myself to one of these. Dr. Carpenter asserts that the two French clairvoyants, Alexis and Adolphe, were broken down by a test case as related by Sir J. Forbes, and he describes their method of procedure as 'guessing the number of letters in a word.' If they said 'six,' some one was sure to say 'very near,' and so they gathered indications, and they also knew what sort of words were likely to be given. And this is actually set before the public as an adequate account of the clairvoyance of these remarkable young men. As regards Adolphe, I can from personal observation declare that it bears not the most remote relation to what he did; and Dr. Edwin Lee, a well-known physician, in his book on 'Animal Magnetism,' has given, from personal observation, a minute account of the clairvoyance of Alexis at Brighton, which occupies twenty-five pages. Among a great variety of most remarkable tests, he frequently read passages in books brought at random a number of pages in advance of the page opened, but at the level of a line indicated. Numbers of these tests are recorded, the words read always being found at the level indicated, but not always at the exact number of pages in advance asked for. The evidence for this as well as for many other forms of clairvoyance is overwhelming, and the tests applied of the most varied and stringent character. It has lately been asserted that professed conjurors are the proper persons to test the alleged powers of mediums and clairvoyants. Now, if there is one thing more than another which conjurors know all about, it is tricks with cards; and Robert Houdin is acknowledged to have been one of the greatest of modern professors of the art of legerdemain. Yet when he took his own new cards and dealt them himself on the table Alexis named every card before it was turned up, and in subsequent games he told Houdin every card he held, and even what would be trumps before it was turned up. At the end of two sittings, which are found recorded in Dr. Lee's book (pp. 231-233), Houdin wrote to his friend M. de Mirville: 'I came away from this seance as astonished as any one can be, and fully convinced that it would be quite impossible for any one to produce such surprising effects by mere skill.' Dr. Carpenter quotes Robert Houdin for his own purpose; why did he not tell his audience of the great conjuror's testimony as to the possession by Alexis of some power other than 'mere skill'? But besides this remarkable testimony of an expert of the highest rank, we have the evidence of many physicians of eminence to the reality of clairvoyance. In the 'Dictionnaire de Médecine,' article 'Magnetisme,' the Parisian Professor of Medicine, Dr. Rostan, says, 'There are few facts better demonstrated than clairvoyance. I placed my watch at a distance of three or four inches from the occiput of the somnambulist, and asked her if she saw anything. "Certainly," she replied, "it is a watch, ten minutes to eight." M. Ferrus repeated the experiment with the same successful result. He turned the hands of his watch several times, and we presented it to her without looking at it; she was not once mistaken. Dr. Herbert Mayo, a physiologist who, in his lifetime, had a scientific reputation as high as that of Dr. Carpenter himself, testified to the reality of clairvoyance; and Dr. Lee quotes the testimony of other physicians, demonstrating that Dr. Carpenter's views set forth in the Quarterly Review article to which he so often refers are entirely opposed to facts. But as such evidence is systematically ignored, apparently because it cannot be answered, and would render the opinions of 25 years ago as untenable as from the advance of knowledge of this subject we might expect them to be. The most charitable view we can take of Dr. Carpenter's persistently ignoring or misstating all facts opposed to his own stereotyped theories is, that he is the slave of a 'dominant idea'--the idea that all such facts as we have adduced (and they could be multiplied a hundred-fold), whether witnessed by conjurors, physicians, or men of science, and however carefully investigated, are to be got rid of by the cry of 'delusion or imposture.' Dr. Carpenter himself assures us, however, that 'the subjection to a tyrannically dominant idea is monomania or insanity.'"

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