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

Spiritualism (S530: 1896)

Editor Charles H. Smith's Note: A letter to the Editor concerning the nature of Spiritualism printed on page four of the Echo (London) issue of 12 September 1896. To link directly to this page connect with:

     Sir,--I depart from my rule as to intervention in any newspaper controversy on this subject because your correspondent H. B. Samuels appeals to me to say something; and if I am silent he and others equally ignorant of the facts and literature of Spiritualism may think that his statement has some value. The discussion having been started by a notice of my book, one would have thought that anyone, before taking part in it, would at least have read that book, or some others of recognised authority on the matter. What would be thought of a person who had never witnessed the simplest experiments in electricity, or read any book upon it, venturing to give his opinion in public on its nature and on the theories respecting it? It is only on the question of Spiritualism that ignorance seems to be considered a qualification for discussing a subject.

     Mr. Samuels tells us that, although a strong Materialist, he takes an interest in the question, and that his reading and conversation forces him to the conclusion that Spiritualism is humbug. That is a very common conclusion with those whose reading on or against the subject is limited, but when Materialists extend their inquiry beyond reading and conversation into the phenomena themselves they very often give up their Materialism and become converts to Spiritualism. Robert Dale Owen, Dr. George Sexton, and Annie Besant were certainly three of the most able and intellectual of the teachers of Secularism in this country, yet they were all converted to Spiritualism by facts so clear, so cogent, so often repeated under varied conditions, and so completely inexplicable by any other theory than that of the agency of disembodied intelligences, that to such honest and truth-seeking minds no other conclusion was possible. I myself went through exactly the same process of conviction; while many others, such as Robert Chambers, S. C. Hall, Rev. Stainton Moses, and William Crookes, F.R.S., were converted by equally cogent facts from various forms of orthodox Christianity to that broad and humanising religious belief which results from the best Spiritualistic teaching.

     Now Spiritualists do not ask Mr. Samuels and his fellow-disbelievers to accept the facts and conclusions of these eminent persons on their testimony; on the contrary, they think better of those who disbelieve until they get satisfactory personal evidence. What they do ask is that disbelievers should suspend their judgment, and not accept second or third hand statements to the prejudice of Spiritualism while they reject even first-hand testimony in its favour. There is probably no subject on which so much misrepresentation and positive falsehood have been put before the public as has been used against Spiritualism, and the paragraph quoted by Mr. Samuels as to the Seybert Commission is a comparatively mild example of these. After a very brief investigation, mainly with one medium, Mr. Keeler, they issued a "Preliminary Report," in which they expressed their belief that the phenomena they witnessed were produced by fraud. But in no one case do they claim to have detected fraud, founding their belief solely on the assertion that everything that happened might have been produced by the medium himself. They do not even profess to prove, by any measurements or by independent experiments, that the medium, under the special conditions, could possibly have produced everything that happened, so that their statement that he did so has no value whatever as a scientific investigation, and certainly not as a thorough and impartial one. This "Preliminary Report" was published nearly ten years ago; it was at once answered by General F. J. Lippitt of Washington, who pointed out errors, illogical statements, and concealment of important facts, and from that day to this no explanation has been given and no further report issued, or is apparently likely to be issued.

     In conclusion, I may add, as the result of 30 years' inquiry into the subject, that the phenomena and theories of modern Spiritualism are fully as varied and as complex as those of modern electricity; that to gain any adequate knowledge of them requires long-continued and patient experiment and study, and that secondhand statements as to doubts, difficulties or errors are as utterly valueless and unimportant in the one case as the other.

     To avoid misconception, I must add that I do not allege that there is any true parallel between electricity and Spiritualism as objects of study. The one is a physical, the other a psychical, science. The phenomena in the one case depend only on physical conditions, and can therefore, when those conditions are learnt, be repeated at will; the other depends also on psychical and at present only partially understood conditions, and on the capacities and wills of unembodied intelligences over whom we have no control, but whose powers in producing phenomena are affected both by our physical and mental idiosyncrasies, and also by the meteorological and their physical surroundings. The phenomena themselves are, therefore, not under our control, although under favourable circumstances they are produced with such abundance and under such absolute test conditions as to satisfy every inquirer who witnesses them.

Alfred R. Wallace.

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