Russel Wallace : Alfred Russell Wallace (sic)
A Chat With Dr. Russel Wallace. (S739: 1898)
I pranced gaily up the stairs with my little pop-gun loaded with glib objections and cauterising arguments and fatal questions, quite ready to meet any or all the Spiritualists in the world and hold my own.
But when the door opened and I was ushered into the Doctor's presence--phew! The inside of my head felt as if it had been stirred up by the tail of a comet, and became like an incandescent floating mass of world material, without form and void.
I realised that I was in the presence of a great man, a man whose scientific attainments have won for him the respect and admiration of the whole civilised world, a man who has carved his name deep in the annals of the nineteenth century, and who, along with Darwin, has created a greater revolution in scientific and philosophic thought than any in the history of the world.
It is hardly needful to tell readers of the Clarion that Dr. Wallace is also a land nationaliser and a militant Socialist. He is one of us. And that was amply shown by the warmth of his greeting and his pleasure at meeting a Clarion man, "even though he was a little one."
The Doctor is tall--he must be six feet high--with a pronounced stoop, due to much poring over books and peering into Nature's hidden places. Though seventy-six years of age, he is quite vigorous and healthy. His head is covered with a fine growth of white hair, and his prominent eyebrows almost hide his light blue eyes from view when he converses, like a drawbridge being let down to let the thoughts troop out from his mental castle.
The Doctor's manner is modesty personified. He puts you at your ease at once. He doesn't feel his importance a bit, and I'm afraid he would not make a good advertisement canvasser.
But--there were other friends of the Doctor's there, and I'm a dreadfully shy person (the only one on the staff), and, somehow, everything I wanted to say vanished.
A friend of the Doctor's introduced the subject of land nationalisation, and asked me why our people didn't go "bald-headed" for that one item, and so bring into our ranks many of the Liberal forwards.
Dr. Wallace saved me from giving a stuttering exhibition by saying that even he, the president of the Land Nationalisation Society, was a backslider on that point. The best thing to do now, and for the next twenty years, was to educate, educate, educate, till those imbecile working men had sense enough to send their own representative to Parliament. Then they could nationalise the land and anything else. We should never get anything from the present Parliament, or the next, or the next. Dr. Wallace has explained his views in the appendix to his new book "The Wonderful Century: its Successes and Failures," which has just been published.
I waited for a favourable opportunity, and then mentioned that I had really wanted to talk to the Doctor about Spiritualism.
"Well, go ahead," said the doctor; "we're all Spiritualists here."
"Well, no, not all," I said.
"Ah, yes," interrupted Mr. Swinton1; "but the Clarion is doing a spiritual work. All Nunquam's2 writings are imbued with the true spirit, though he may not acknowledge the existence of the spirit. He's all right."
"Yes," I said, "but if there is another life beyond this, we should like to know it. If it is possible to prove it, as you say, we are sometimes naturally curious about it."
"I wouldn't advise Blatchford3 to bother about it," said Dr. Wallace. "He has his work cut out, and he might use up valuable time in investigating Spiritualism, and nothing might come of it. It takes years and years for some people to get results."
"Wouldn't you, then, advise anyone to investigate?" I asked.
"No," said the Doctor. "Unless they are impelled to do, and cannot help themselves. A great many in our ranks are recruited from materialists, people who have lived materialistic lives, and who could not be convinced of the necessity for cultivating the higher possibilities of our nature in any other way."
"How did you come to believe in Spiritualism?" I asked the Doctor.
Then did the Doctor show that he had been a regular reader of his Clarion. Many a time and oft have we advised that, instead of wasting breath in heated argument on virgin soil, Socialists should present doubters and opponents with a copy of "Merrie England," or one of the many pamphlets or leaflets suitable to the purpose.
This is what the Doctor now did with me.
"Oh," he said, "that's a long time ago, thirty years. You'll find it all explained in my book, 'Miracles and Modern Spiritualism.'"
No doubt the Doctor, by this time, is tired of answering the same old stock questions about Spiritualism, just as our Editor gets tired of answering the foolish objections to Socialism.
"Have you had any direct communications with spirits yourself?" I asked.
"Only through a medium," replied the Doctor.
"What evidence of identity have you received?"
"I have received messages by means of slate writing from both my parents," said the Doctor. "Some of the slates are in my possession now."
"Did you recognise the handwriting?" I asked.
"No," said the Doctor, "I can't say that I did."
"And was there anything personal in the communications by which you could fix the identity of the spirits? Did the messages contain any definite reference to subjects only known to you and the spirits?"
"No," said the Doctor, "they were only--generalities."
"I had a very convincing experience in America," continued the Doctor. "At a séance there I saw the materialised spirit of a cousin of mine, who appeared in a dress suit. He could not speak, and I did not at first recognise him, as I had not seen him for some years. I took him by the hand and looked at his face closely. When I asked, 'Is it Algernon?' he nodded, and patted me on the shoulder to show his pleasure."
"On another occasion I received a message from a friend of my brother's who had been dead forty years, and who could not possibly have been known to the medium. This spirit sent a message that he was So and so, and had lately seen my brother (also dead), and that my brother was sorry he could not communicate with me at that time, but he would do so later on."
Then the conversation drifted on to Inspiration, Mr. Swinton and the Doctor asserting their belief that a great many literary men and artists received their ideas direct from the spirit world.
Doctor Wallace instanced Dickens, who stated that when he was developing a character it very often took complete possession of him, and compelled him to go in a certain direction. When he was writing "The Old Curiosity Shop," and Little Nell died, he was ill for days.
If this is true of all writers, the spirits have a lot to answer for.
Then Mr. Swinton said it must be so. All our progress came from above. If the sun were to go out, we should cease to live; and if there were no inspiration from the Power above us, we should die spiritually.
This let in another friend of the Doctor's, who asked if, about the new theory concerning the heat of the sun, which is that instead of meandering away in all directions through space, and thus losing its power rapidly, that the heat only goes where there are conductors for it in the same manner that electricity always makes for a conductor. I suppose this will mean that we shall have an extension of a few million years before we meet, thaw, and resolve into a dew, which is a comfort anyhow.
Then the conversation turned on the weather, and the Doctor explained his idea for improving the climate of the Eastern States of America, and giving us nice warm weather in the spring.
He would effect this by blocking up Davis Straits, so preventing the icebergs getting into the Atlantic. He thinks it could be done in five years by dropping granite blocks into the Straits until they were made up.
I suggested that if the House of Commons were sunk there they would do the business effectively at once. But one never knows. Parliamentary language in such straits would melt the coldest iceberg that ever congealed.
After this I took my departure. I didn't achieve my object entirely, but one crowded hour with Dr. Wallace is an achievement itself, and is the kind of siding one could do with being shunted into oftener.