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The Theory of the Double (S522: 1896)

Editor Charles H. Smith's Note: A letter to the Editor printed in the 22 February 1896 issue of the spiritualist magazine Light. Original pagination indicated within double brackets. To link directly to this page connect with: http://people.wku.edu/charles.smith/wallace/S522.htm

    [[p. 87]] In 'Borderland' for January Mr. Stead gives an account, with full details and proofs, of the appearance of the double of Mrs. A. at a church in a suburb of London, seven or eight miles distant from her own house, where she was at the time ill in bed. She was seen at the church by Mr. Stead himself and by several of his family, who knew her perfectly, as well as by the clergyman, the deacons, and other persons. She remained there from about 7.5 to 8.30 p.m, was offered a hymn-book, which she held as given to her, but did not otherwise use; and when leaving, a few minutes before the congregation, pushed open the swing door and was not seen again. At her own house she was very ill with spasms, in the afternoon. The doctor came to see her between five and six, and ordered her to go to bed; her servants and a relation saw her in bed asleep between six and seven, and again saw her asleep about nine, when she awoke, and finished writing a letter in bed to Mr. Stead, telling him of her illness. The whole testimony is, as Mr. Stead says, absolutely conclusive that she could not possibly, in any normal way, have gone from her own house to this distant part of London, and returned to her house and bed at the times when she was seen there. Hence he concludes that this is, perhaps, the most perfectly attested case of a 'double' on record.

    Now, if we take these facts as perfectly established, it is interesting to ask what they really prove, and by what theory they may best be explained. Mr. Stead gives no theory, except what is implied by the use of the term 'double,' and by his preliminary statement that it is a problem relating to the 'personality,' and that 'there is no chasm to be bridged in its case between the living and the dead.' He apparently believes, therefore, as do most 'Psychical Researchers,' that the double is really some portion of the 'personality' of the individual whose image appears, and is in some unknown way produced by that individual alone.

    Now the misfortune of holding so fast by this theory, and treating 'doubles' as quite distinct from, and much more easily investigated phenomena than, 'ghosts,' is that the many distinct ways in which the phenomena may have been produced are entirely overlooked, or not thought worthy of careful consideration. In this case of Mrs. A., for example, the appearance may conceivably, and in strict analogy with known facts, have been produced in four distinct ways, which may be thus briefly stated:--

    (1) A true 'double,' or ghost, of Mrs. A. produced by the agency of her own spirit.

    (2) An apparent 'double,' or lifelike image of her, produced by spirits, as in materialisations.

    (3) A real person, who is a medium, transfigured and impressed to act as the double of Mrs. A.

    (4) Mrs. A., herself in trance, conveyed by her guides to and from the church where she appeared, and impressed to act as she did act.

    I myself have not yet met with any sufficient evidence to prove that the first theory is the true one in this or any other case. The second seems to me to be the most frequent and most probable explanation of 'doubles.' The third is a possible method, as there are numerous cases of mediums being so 'transfigured' as to resemble other persons. The fourth may not be very common, but seems to me to accord best with the phenomena that actually occurred in the case of Mrs. A. My reasons for this belief are as follows:--

    (1) It is a most suggestive fact that during the whole period she was in the church--7.5 to 8.30 p.m.--she was seen by no one in her own house, but was believed by all to be asleep in bed from about 6.30 to 9.0. This offered ample time for her trance to be deepened, for dressing herself unconsciously, for her conveyance almost instantaneously (as Mrs. Guppy, Mr. Williams, and Mr. Henderson were conveyed), across a considerable part of London, to and from the church.

    (2) She behaved in the church as if in a trance. She did not see or recognise Mr. Stead, although he looked straight at her as she walked out. She sat still during all the service, taking a hymn-book when offered her, but making no use of it, and not noticing the collection box when held before her.

    (3) She entered the church late, and left it before any of the congregation. This would imply that time was limited, it being necessary that her going and returning should be unnoticed. Such a deep trance as was needed for this journey may have been actually remedial, and have enabled her, when she awoke at nine o'clock, to finish her letter to Mr. Stead, and thus lead to the remarkable body of proof he was able to collect.

    (4) She had been seized, on the previous Sunday, with 'an almost uncontrollable desire' to attend the service in that particular church. She was, however, very ill, and Mr. Stead made her promise not to attempt to go until quite strong. Such an intense desire to go to a particular church by a lady, who, we are told, is very sceptical, was evidently not normal, and may have been induced in her for the purpose of preparing for, and calling attention to, the remarkable test phenomenon that was to be produced on the following Sunday.

    These four considerations seem to me to point to the explanation that it was Mrs. A. herself who appeared at Mr. Stead's church on Sunday evening, October 13th, of last year. If it is objected, as it probably will be by Mr. Stead and the Psychical Researchers, that this explanation is absurdly improbable and incapable of proof, I reply, that it is not antecedently more improbable than any of the other explanations, and that it is in harmony with well-attested facts. The case of the conveyance of Mrs. Guppy from her own house at Holloway to a room in the centre of London where a séance was being held is, I venture to say, quite as well attested as is the appearance of Mrs. A. at church when she could not have been there by normal means. For the information of Mr. Stead and of the younger Spiritualists, I will briefly recapitulate the facts. Mrs. Guppy and her lady companion were together making up the week's accounts, Mrs. Guppy standing before the fire with a pen and paper, putting down items of expenditure which her companion was giving her. Suddenly there was silence, and the lady, looking up, found Mrs. Guppy gone. She was surprised, and after some little time went to look [[p. 88]] for her, but she was not in the house. About an hour later she was brought home by two friends in a cab. They stated that, holding a séance in a dark room, with the doors locked, they heard a slight noise, and, on lighting up, Mrs. Guppy was found standing on the middle of the table, in her slippers, bareheaded, with a pen in one hand and notebook or paper in the other, the ink of the last entry being still wet. The door was locked. Mrs. Guppy was somewhat dazed and frightened. She stated that while engaged as above described she suddenly, without any sense of motion, found herself in darkness and heard strange voices. I knew several of the parties concerned in this strange operation, and had their statements direct. The whole details were at once published in the 'Spiritualist' newspaper, and the correspondence of the time at both ends was such that only a few minutes could have elapsed between Mrs. Guppy's disappearance from Holloway and re-appearance in the locked séance room. Now, as Mr. Stead says with regard to Mrs. A.'s double, the only alternative to a real supernormal phenomenon in this case is that there was an elaborate conspiracy of some dozen people, almost all honest, and even enthusiastic inquirers into Spiritualism, to deceive their fellow workers and the public. The evidence for a supernormal transference was here about as complete as it possibly could be; and in the case of Mr. Henderson it was, if I remember, equally complete. Yet such astounding phenomena were then so new that few, even among Spiritualists, believed in them. But many things have happened since that period (I have no reference at hand to the year), and now I presume all advanced Spiritualists who have read the records accept the phenomenon as a genuine one. At all events, my contention is, that the evidence for it is fully as complete as for the appearance of Mrs. A.'s material, force-exerting supposed double; and, this being so, it affords the best and least-difficult means of explaining that appearance. Everything points to its having been a real person in a trance, impelled to act by some outside power, and conveyed to and from the church by some abnormal agency.

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