Russel Wallace : Alfred Russell Wallace (sic)
Leurs Manifestations Fluidiques."
Introductory Note by Alfred R. Wallace. (S568: 1897)
When preparing my reply to Mr. Podmore (which appeared in the Journal of February) I borrowed De Mirville's work, and for the first time read his detailed account of Houdin's experiences certified as correct by Houdin himself. This account seemed to me to be so important, as well as so intrinsically interesting, that I suggested the printing of a translation of it in our Proceedings. To this the Editor has assented, and the following very close translation has been kindly made by Mr. J. G. Smith. So far as I am aware, it now appears for the first time in English, although it has been known [[p. 374]] to a few students for nearly half a century; and, if it is admitted that the question is one of evidence, it must be held to prove the reality of the clairvoyance of Alexis, both that kind due to thought-reading and that termed "true clairvoyance" in which the object described is not known to any one present or, as in the case of the cards dealt by Houdin and the book brought and opened by himself, to any living person.
In his rejoinder (in the March Journal) Mr. Podmore admits that "Houdin's testimony is, no doubt, very striking"; but he urges that it is not conclusive as against the theory that subjects in trance may possess "preternormal acuteness of vision." To this I would reply that any such preternatural acuteness of vision as is here required has never been proved to exist, but has been suggested as the only means of explaining phenomena deemed too incredible for acceptance on any testimony; and, further, that if trance patients can see through cards, and tables, and eight pages of a printed book, to admit such "acuteness of vision" is only to admit "clairvoyance" under another name.
I would here earnestly call the attention of our members to a very important elementary principle of sound reasoning too often neglected in discussions of these questions--that, as tersely stated by J. S. Mill, "an argument is not answered till it is answered at its best," and that no amount of negative or indirect evidence is of any weight as against good, positive, and direct evidence on the other side. I ask them to compare carefully this evidence of De Mirville and Houdin with that adduced by Mr. Podmore, and they will find that while the former consists of the very best direct evidence of facts, the latter is wholly negative, consisting of doubts, suspicions, and possibilities, every one of which is excluded in the direct evidence here given.
This fundamental defect applies, in my opinion, to all Mr. Podmore's writings on this subject.
[[followed by the translation on pages 374-381]]