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

 
 
Mr. Crookes and Eva Fay (S281: 1877)

 
Editor Charles H. Smith's Note: A letter to the Editor printed on page 101 of the 6 December 1877 issue of Nature. Wallace's comments here are directed against Dr. William Carpenter, a prominent physiologist and critic of spiritualism who sparred frequently with Wallace on the subject in the late 1870s. "Mr. Crookes" is the famous physicist and chemist William Crookes, discoverer of the element thallium, later-to-be President of the Royal Society (1913-1915)--and also an early investigator of spiritualistic phenomena. To link directly to this page, connect with: http://people.wku.edu/charles.smith/wallace/S281.htm


    In Dr. Carpenter's eagerness to show that his statements about Mr. Crookes and Eva Fay had some basis of fact, he seems entirely to have forgotten the real issue which he has himself raised, and which is of great importance to all engaged in the study of these tabooed subjects. The question simply is, whether any investigation of the alleged abnormal powers of individuals, however painstaking and complete it may be, and however decisive its results, is to be branded opprobrious epithets, without any proof of error or fallacy, but merely on the dicta of newspaper writers and alleged "exposers."

    In the case before us Mr. Crookes made certain experiments in his own laboratory, in which the greatest refinements of modern electrical science were employed; and of these he published a detailed account. That is the sum total of his acts and deeds in regard to Eva Fay. Yet because these experiments have been referred to in America as indorsing Eva Fay's remarkable powers, and because some persons charge her with being an impostor, and go through an alleged imitation of her performances, Dr. Carpenter accuses Mr. Crookes of encouraging "disgraceful frauds" and indorsing a "notorious impostor." Now it is clear that, to support this accusation, Dr. Carpenter must prove that Eva Fay was an impostor in respect to what happened in Mr. Crookes's house, and that, to use Dr. Carpenter's own words, she evaded his "scientific tests" by a "simple dodge." He must prove that Mr. Crookes exhibited culpable carelessness or incapacity in accepting, as conclusive, tests which were really fallacious; for, otherwise, how can Mr. Crookes be held responsible for anything which happened afterwards in America? Dr. Carpenter has promised to do this in the forthcoming new edition of his lectures; but as the accusation against Mr. Crookes has been made in the pages of Nature, and the question is a purely scientific one--that of the absolute completeness of the test of "electrical resistance"--I call upon Dr. Carpenter to explain fully to the readers of Nature the exact particulars of that "simple dodge" which is to destroy Mr. Crookes's reputation as a physical experimenter, and to sustain the reputation of his accuser. Unless the explanation is so clear and conclusive as to satisfy all the witnesses of the experiments that Eva Fay did evade the scientific tests, and that what they saw was simple conjuring, then Dr. Carpenter is bound to find a conjuror who will submit to the same tests as Eva Fay did, and produce the same phenomena before the eyes of the witnesses, so as to show "how it is done." Mr. Maskelyne, who professes to have exposed Eva Fay, will of course be ready to do this for an adequate remuneration, which I feel sure will be forthcoming if Dr. Carpenter is proved to be right and Eva Fay's "simple dodge" is clearly explained.

    I have already shown (in this month's Fraser) that the supposed exposure of Eva Fay in America was no exposure at all, but a clumsy imitation, as will be manifest when it is stated that the exposer, Mr. Bishop, performed all his tricks by stretching the cord with which his hands were secured to the iron ring behind his back! There is hardly a greater exhibition of credulity on record than Dr. Carpenter's believing that such a performer proved Eva Fay to be an impostor and Mr. Crookes's experiments valueless. But what can we expect when we find a Daily Telegraph report quoted as an authority in a matter of scientific inquiry?

    I venture to think that, whatever may be their opinions as to the amount of fact in the phenomena called "spiritualistic" (by Dr. Carpenter, but never by Mr. Crookes), all men of science will agree with me that Dr. Carpenter is bound to prove by direct experiment that Mr. Crookes and his coadjutors were the victims of imposture on the particular occasion referred to; or if he fails to do this, that he should in common fairness publicly withdraw the injurious accusations he has made against Mr. Crookes and all who are engaged in similar investigations. If this is not done it is equivalent to deciding that no possible proof of such phenomena is admissible--a position which is not that of Dr. Carpenter, or, as far as I am aware, of the scientific world generally.

    I beg to take this opportunity of apologising for my involuntary appearance under false colours in this month's Fraser. The letters "F.R.S." were added to my name after the corrected proofs left my hands and wholly without my knowledge. I have desired the editor to make a statement to this effect in his next issue, but in the meantime wish to set myself right with the readers of Nature.


*                 *                 *                 *                 *

Return to Home