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

 
 
Extract from Js-E de Mirville's "Des Esprits et de
Leurs Manifestations Fluidiques."
Introductory Note by Alfred R. Wallace. (S568: 1897)

 
Editor Charles H. Smith's Note: A note from Wallace introducing a translation of a portion of the book. Printed in Supplement 5 to Part XXXV of the Proceedings of the Society for Psychical Research, in 1899. Original pagination indicated within double brackets. To link directly to this page connect with: http://people.wku.edu/charles.smith/wallace/S568.htm


     [[p. 373]] In the last Part of the Proceedings (December, 1898) Mr. Podmore, in the preliminary remarks to his "Discussion of Trance-Phenomena of Mrs. Piper," devotes more than five pages to an examination of the evidence for clairvoyance in the case of Alexis Didier, which evidence he depreciates throughout, and arrives at the conclusion that Alexis might have been, and probably was, a clever impostor. He urges that "bandaging the eyes," as described, was not "satisfactory;" that many indications showed "that the power exercised by Alexis was perfectly normal"; that the reading a book several pages in advance of any page opened at random was "the most strongly suggestive of trickery"; and that the most probable explanation of his card-playing performances "is that of deliberate fraud." He urges that his manager, Marcillet, might have been a confederate, and that the reports "are mostly at second-hand or insufficiently detailed." He quotes lengthy reports of some of the special instances of clairvoyance which were of such a nature as to be explained by thought-reading, but says nothing of those in which facts were correctly given which were not known to any one present; and, finally, he omits all reference to the most remarkable and convincing evidence of Robert Houdin, whose testimony has been quoted by Dr. Lee, by myself, and by many other well-known writers, while a detailed report of it is to be found in the great work of the Marquis de Mirville to be seen in the Society's library.

     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]]


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