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

Correspondence. Mr. Massey’s Accusation
Against Mr. Fletcher (S327c: 1880)

Editor Charles H. Smith's Note: A letter to the Editor printed on pages 176-177 of Volume 17 of The Spiritualist (London), in its issue of 8 October 1880. To link directly to this page, connect with: http://people.wku.edu/charles.smith/wallace/S327C.htm

     Sir,--Having now again read over the entire series of letters in last year’s Spiritualist, and having also before me Mr. Massey's latest communication reiterating and enforcing his accusation at considerable length, I am prepared to explain the reasons for my own view, which, that the original accusation against Mr. Fletcher of having alluded to Slade in his remarks to the Whitehall writer is not only unproved, but is also prima facie improbable, and that, consequently, after Mr. Fletcher's positive denial that he did refer to Slade, the repeated statement that he has been "convicted" of "wilful untruth" in this matter is an outrage on justice and a gross perversion of the meaning of words. For surely "convicted" means--"found guilty by some impartial and competent tribunal," whereas here it is the accuser alone who is both judge and jury, and his judgment is, as I shall show, not in accordance with the evidence.

     The above accusation rests entirely on two assumptions made by Mr. Massey,--that "it is simply incredible that Mr. Fletcher had any other American medium in his mind than Slade,--and that it was--"so interpreted by all the world." As to the latter assumption we have not a particle of evidence adduced. So far as the evidence given to the public goes "all the world" means Mr. Massey and the Editor of the Spiritualist; for it must be noted that the anonymous W. C. P. who began the correspondence says--"To whom is Mr. Fletcher supposed to allude? Surely not to Slade, &c.," implying at all events that he did not think it incredible that it could have been someone else. I am further authorised by Mr. Desmond G. Fitzgerald--one of the Vice Presidents of the B.N.A.S.--to state that he never believed the remarks to apply to Slade, and that they were "generally understood" to apply to the Holmeses. Another well-known Spiritualist gives me similar information, and it is therefore certain that this rhetorical expression "all the world" has no foundation in fact.

     There remains therefore the alleged "incredibility" that any one else could have been referred to, and to this question I shall now address myself, asking only for a fair consideration of the facts and arguments I shall adduce, and that it shall be assumed, as a possible hypothesis until the contrary is proved, that Mr. Fletcher may have told the truth when he declared that he did not refer to Slade.

     Now, as this is a question of the necessary meaning of certain words and expressions, it is most important that we should have them exactly before us, and should not lay stress on any one portion of them without considering their relation to the rest. I therefore give the sentence quoted from the Whitehall Review by W. C. P., the general accuracy of which has not been impugned by Mr. Fletcher. Its form shows that it was the conclusion of a discussion or exposition:--"It is the true view. There are men--not necessarily impostors, but charlatans--who have disgraced our creed. For my own part, when I learned that an American had rendered Spiritualism detestable and contemptible in this country, I at once resolved to come over and wipe out the disgrace. I have partly succeeded." Here is first a general statement, evidently pointing to more than one person, (and those not necessarily mediums) who were perhaps impostors, certainly charlatans; and next a reference to an American who had rendered Spiritualism detestable &c., and by Mr. Fletcher's reply it is clear that this American was a medium, and it may be fairly inferred that the medium and the charlatan were either one person or closely connected.

     Now it is clear that the person or persons here referred to as "possible" impostors and "actual" charlatans, were such in the opinion of Spiritualists; for to non-Spiritualists all mediums are impostors and Spiritualism itself is a standing disgrace. There must, therefore, have been as to the genuineness and honesty of the person referred to, even among Spiritualists. Were there any such doubts about Slade either in America or England? Certainly not; and therefore he could not be the person referred to as "not necessarily an impostor!" But is he a charlatan? Charlatan means a quack, a boaster, and implies some amount of trickery, with puffery and efforts at notoriety. Does this apply to Slade? Was he not quiet and gentlemanly in his manners? Did he puff or advertise himself, or in any way put himself prominently before the public? Certainly not; and therefore the word charlatan does not apply to him. Of course it will be said by Mr. Massey that this makes it all the worse, and applying such terms to Slade becomes a slander. Very true, if the words were applied to him by name; but when it is merely inferred that they so apply, in the face of a direct contradiction by the person who used them, the fact that they are really quite inapplicable must be encountered by very strong and direct evidence on the other side. Then again, was Spiritualism rendered "detestable and contemptible" by Slade's trial? Surely not so. The opportunity it offered for such men as Mr. R. H. Hutton (Editor of the Spectator), Mr. Massey and others, to give evidence on oath in favour of the reality of the phenomena--evidence admitted by the magistrate to be "overwhelming"--is generally held to have done far more to advance Spiritualism than the prosecution itself did to injure it; while the fact that nothing whatever was proved against the character and antecedents of Slade, and that his supporters were at least equal in position and attainments to his accusers, would tend to elevate the status of Spiritualism in public opinion. Here again, therefore, the actual words used do not apply to Slade.

     But, says Mr. Massey, who else can they apply to? I believe that even to some of those names Mr. Massey rejects the words used do apply far better than to Slade, and they were actually supposed by many Spiritualists to apply to the Holmeses, but there is another party to whom they apply with such remarkable accuracy that I think every impartial reader will acknowledge that they were probably so meant to apply. I allude to Colonel and Mrs. Fay; and to show their application in this case, we will take the terms used seriatim.

     "Not necessarily impostors." Mrs. Fay was exhibited in London by Colonel Fay in an equivocal character as neither conjuror nor medium. Dr. Carpenter says:--"The 'Colonel' candidly informed his audience that he purposely abstained from saying anything about the nature of the manifestations; he did not claim for them a 'Spiritualistic' character; on the other hand, he did not present them as conjuring tricks." The Fay performance was a set one, got up to look like conjuring; and notwithstanding the remarkable tests to which the lady was afterwards subjected by Mr. Crookes, many Spiritualists believed, and probably still believe, that she was a skilful sleight-of-hand performer as well as a powerful medium. The phrase "not necessarily an impostor" is therefore strictly applicable to her.

     "But charlatans." This term exactly describes the Fay performance. It was puffed and advertised. It was sensational in its get-up; and it was in every way [[p. 177]] conducted in a manner the direct opposite of that adopted by the quiet unpretentious Slade.

     "An American had rendered Spiritualism detestable and contemptible in this country." These words may be too strong as applied to any one medium, but they are certainly more applicable to Eva Fay than to Slade. First we have the exhibition as a conjuror to the public, and as a medium to Spiritualists; then the offer of her business agent to Mr. Maskelyne that--"for an adequate sum of money the medium should expose the whole affair, scientific tests and all." (Carpenter, in Fraser's Magazine, 1877, p. 553); then her exposure by Mr. Bishop, who was supported by many eminent men in America (including Oliver Wendell Holmes); and all this made public in England by Dr. Carpenter in so widely read a periodical as Fraser's Magazine, must surely have had to a considerable extent the effect described. In this case we have no mitigating circumstances or countervailing benefits. The main facts cannot be denied, and the evidence that Mrs. Fay was really a powerful medium only adds to the injury the whole affair did to the cause.

     It is true that Dr. Carpenter's article was not published till after Mr. Fletcher's arrival in England, but Mrs. Fay's performances in London were in 1875, and her exposure in America extended over a large part of the year 1876, and this exposure was made widely known by the American Graphic and other newspapers, and through them to the English public. Besides, as Mr. Fletcher's words were spoken at a later date, they might very well have been influenced in their tone by the effects of Dr. Carpenter's attack.

     I have now shown that the words used by Mr. Fletcher are, in their entirety, totally inapplicable to Slade, while they are strictly applicable to Eva Fay; and when to this we add that Mr. Fletcher not only denies that they were meant for Slade, but goes further and says--"I have never had any but the highest opinion of Dr. Slade and his great gifts."--it seems to me a strange obliquity of judgment to maintain that Mr. Fletcher must tell a double falsehood because it is "incredible" to Mr. Massey that the words apply to any one else!

     As to the inference attempted to be drawn from Mr. Fletcher's somewhat evasive answers at first, not the slightest weight can be attached to what is a mere matter of temper and judgment. An innocent man often behaves as if he were guilty, while on the other hand a guilty person often exhibits all the prompt indignation and loud denial of conscious innocence. Many persons think that a false accusation which seems to them almost absurd in its inappropriateness, had better be treated with contempt, and the manner in which this accusation was first made fully justified, in my opinion, such treatment of it. For, as I have now shown, the words used by Mr. Fletcher were all of them totally inapplicable to the admitted character of Slade, to his manner and his proceedings, while they were strictly applicable to the Fays, and in a less degree to several other American mediums. Yet from the first Mr. Massey used language which implied a certainty that Slade and no other was meant, and which even, to any one reading his first letters by themselves, implied that Slade had been referred to by name. He speaks in his very first letter of "a scandalous aspersion on Slade;" then that Fletcher had told the interviewer "that Slade was a charlatan," and that he "vilified Slade for his own glorification;" and the only justification of this language is that "all the world" understood it to be Slade and that it was "simply incredible" that any other person could have been meant! Both these pleas I have now shown to have had not the slightest foundation in fact. People as well acquainted with Spiritualism and its history as Mr. Massey never so applied it, and many others will now be satisfied that the "incredibility" is quite the other way. To make such positive assertions on so slender a foundation, and to accuse a man of wilful falsehood on an untenable interpretation of his words which he himself denies, is to my mind far more reprehensible than any errors of judgment or of taste which have been charged against Mr. Fletcher in this matter.

     In conclusion, I would point out, that my condemnation of the reckless accusation of untruth made against Mr. Fletcher does not in the least depend on his having consciously referred to Eva Fay. We often draw our conclusions from a combination of circumstances, and Mr. Fletcher may have had several American mediums in his mind and referred to their combined effect though speaking partly in the singular. But, as the accusation rests entirely on the alleged impossibility of any other than Slade having been referred to, it is completely answered by showing that there is another person to whom all that was said may be applied at least as well as to Slade; whereas, I have gone further, and have shown that while the actual words used do not apply to him, they do most strictly and accurately apply to the Fays.

     I have brought forward these facts and remarks in the cause of simple justice, and I now submit them to the careful consideration of English Spiritualists.

Alfred R. Wallace.

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