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Letter to William James (S712ac: 1942)

Editor Charles H. Smith's Note: This personal letter to William James, written in 1886 while Wallace was visiting the United States (and note that the date reported below, 1 June 1886, is not correct as Wallace did not even reach Boston until October of that year), did not surface until many years later. It was published in the book William James; His Marginalia, Personality and Contribution by A. A. Roback in 1942. Original pagination from this source indicated within double brackets. To link directly to this page connect with: http://people.wku.edu/charles.smith/wallace/S712AC.htm

[[p. 98]] Quincy House, Boston
Thursday, 1 June, 1886

Dear Mr. James:

     I have just returned from seeing Mrs. Ross and have arranged with her for a private séance at her house on Monday afternoon at 3, (or 3.30 if much more convenient to you.) Her terms are $15, the party not to exceed 10 or 12. She tells me she used to go out to private houses a good deal and does still occasionally but she has now quite as much as she can do at home. She is engaged Monday evening. If you do not accept this arrangement please drop a line [[p. 99]] to her at once as she may have other applications. I presume, however, you will accept it, and I make a few suggestions to ensure (or deserve!) success. Do not have violent skeptics of the party or any who would behave otherwise than at a friend's house. Have half ladies if possible, and as many who have some medium power or know something of the subject as you can. If you can get Mr. Brackett to join us it would be an advantage. Pray do not suggest a personal search of Mrs. Ross. It is both valueless and utterly unnecessary. Ladies will not make the search thorough, and I am sure the men present would not believe it was thorough. If anything good happens (a solid figure that can be felt or heard) it is useless, and if only vague shadows appear, it is not worth the risk of spoiling the whole séance by the irritation that it must cause the medium to be personally searched.

     The rooms we may examine thoroughly, and if 10 or 12 men and women cannot satisfy themselves whether there are or are not openings in a papered wall and carpeted floor, they had better retire to lunatic asylums. But even this examination is not necessary if you consider that mediums rent houses, and no tenant can alter doors and break down walls without the [[p. 100]] landlord's knowledge and permission. Mrs. Ross tells me she has only been in this house 4 months, and at the "Banner" office they told me that the medium who owns the house she lives in is Mrs. Fay and she has bought hers quite recently. Enquiry of Mrs. Ross's landlord would determine whether he thinks trap-doors etc could be made. But the thing is absurd as a general explanation, because workmen must be employed, it could not be concealed and has never been found out even after mediums have changed their abode.

     In my opinion the arrangements at the Ross's are the simplest conceivable, just such as I have seen adopted in private houses as the best and simplest.

     Your article on 'Great Men, etc' is very clever and very pleasant reading, but does not seem to me an answer to Spencer and Grant Allen. It is a subject on which clever men may write in opposite senses for ever. I see numerous fallacies in your arguments, most of which I could answer myself, though I have paid no special attention to the subject. You seem to me to link the three questions of (a) the existence of superior men, geniuses in fact, with (b) the special character of their genius and (c) the special effect they produce on their fellows. As to the first I [[p. 101]] have no objection to your argument, as to the (b)--(c), I think Spencer right. As usual there is some truth on both sides but I think (of course) most on that of 'the great modern philosopher'!

Yours very faithfully,

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