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

 
 
Letter [concerning Eusapia Palladino] (S518a: 1895)

 
Editor Charles H. Smith's Note: A letter to the Editor of the Daily Chronicle printed on page six of its 1 November 1895 issue, discussing the illusionist Maskelyne's condemnation of the Italian medium Eusapia Palladino. To link directly to this page connect with: http://people.wku.edu/charles.smith/wallace/S518A.htm


     Sir,--Will you kindly allow me space for a few critical remarks on Mr. Maskelyne's communication in your paper of Tuesday? Mr. M. declares that Eusapia is a clever trickster, and he tells your readers how, in his opinion, everything that he witnessed during the séance he attended at Cambridge might have been done. He does not, however, give any proof that things were so done, and it is to show that, in one case at least, this proof might have been and therefore ought to have been given; and also to point out what seem to me to be insuperable difficulties in his explanation of this one most striking and critical phenomenon, that I now ask the attention of your readers. I allude to the lifting of the small wicker table from the floor on to the table in front of the medium while both the medium's hands (as well as her feet) were securely controlled.

     It is this fact--that both hands of the medium were secured--which renders this one phenomenon far more important than any others reported as having occurred during the Cambridge sittings, since Mr. Maskelyne, Dr. Hodgson, and Mr. Myers agree in their belief that all the rest of the phenomena were mere tricks effected by the aid of one of the medium's hands which she managed to get free in the way they have explained. But in the case of the wicker table, we have Mr. Maskelyne's own admission that her hands were securely held by himself and Professor Lodge, adding emphatically, "There was no mistake about it." He asks therefore--"How then did she lift the table?" and he thus answers his own question: "The simple fact is that she leant away from me, seemingly as far as she could, and threw her head back. Then with her teeth she seized the wicker table, and at the cost of some exertion, extending her legs as a counterpoise, she lifted it up and dropped it on the table in front of her. Naturally, in its progress it described a semi-revolution, and came down bottom upwards." That, according to Mr. Maskelyne, is "how it was done," simply and naturally!

     Now, taking the conditions exactly as stated by Mr. Maskelyne himself, I venture to think that it could not possibly have been done as he describes, and that the attempt to do it would have been instantly detected. He tells us that the small wicker table was placed "on the right" of the medium's chair, not behind her; and this is shown to have been so by his statement that she leant away from him as far as she could, and therefore towards the wicker table, and also towards Professor Lodge, who was holding her right hand. But if a person leans on one side and brings her head down to the level of a table her mouth will be more or less vertical, and in order to seize the edge of a table with her teeth she must turn her head either upward or downward, it being in either case extremely difficult if not impossible for her to grasp the thick edge of a wicker table between her teeth. Admitting, however, the possibility of her thus grasping it, her hold could not be square to the edge of the table but more or less oblique, and when the table was lifted up the table-legs would necessarily project horizontally sideways, and as Professor Lodge is a large man they would almost inevitably have struck against his head, body, or arm.

     Mr. Maskelyne's simple explanation of this alleged trick seems, then, to be a mere verbal explanation not corresponding to the actual conditions under which the phenomenon occurred. He had, however, a really simple means of testing the accuracy of his explanation which, as he says nothing about it, he appears to have overlooked. However light such a table may be (and neither its size nor weight are given), the strain on the jaws when lifting by one edge only must be very great, and the grip needed proportionally powerful. Such a grip would necessarily leave permanent tooth-marks on the soft wicker-work of the table, and the presence or absence of such marks would be an absolute test of the truth or falsehood of Mr. Maskelyne's theory. Yet no examination of the table for such marks appears to have been made.

     I hope that Professor Lodge will inform your readers whether, in his opinion, the table could have been lifted by the medium over his arm and close to his head in the way Mr. Maskelyne describes; and also that Mr. Myers will kindly state whether his wicker table bears the marks of Eusapia's teeth on its edge. We shall then be in a better position to estimate the value of Mr. Maskelyne's very confident explanations, which the public, of course, accept as actual demonstrations.

     It appears to me that accusations of wilful fraud, even against a medium, should be supported by all available facts, and by fair inference from them; and that this is not less incumbent on us when the accuser is a professional conjuror and exposer of mediums, and the accused is only an ignorant foreigner, and a woman.

Alfred R. Wallace.
Parkstone, Dorset, Oct. 30.


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