RECORD: S118.5. Wallace, A. R. 1866. The scientific aspect of the supernatural, V. English Leader 2 (8): 123-125

REVISION HISTORY: Transcribed by Kees Rookmaaker and John van Wyhe. RN1

NOTE: See the further parts here.


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THE SCIENTIFIC ASPECT OF THE SUPERNATURAL.

V.—MODERN SPIRITUALISM: EVIDENCE OF MEN OF SCIENCE.

We have now come to the consideration of what is more especially termed "modern spiritualism," or those phenomena which occur only in the presence, or through the influence, of peculiarly constituted individuals, hence termed "mediums." The evidence is here so abundant, coming from various parts of the world, and from persons differing widely in education, tastes, and religion, that it is difficult to give any notion of its force and bearing by short extracts. I will first adduce that of three men of the highest eminence in their respective departments—Professor De Morgan, Professor Hare, and Judge Edmonds.

AUGUSTUS DE MORGAN, many years Professor of Mathematics, and now also Dean of University College, London, was educated at Cambridge, where he took his degree as 4th wrangler. He studied for the bar, and has been a voluminous writer on mathematics, logic, and biography. He was for eighteen years Secretary to the Royal Astronomical Society, and was a strong advocate for a decimal coinage. In 1863, a work appeared entitled "From Matter to Spirit, the result of ten years' experience in Spirit Manifestations," by C. D., with a preface by A. B. It is very generally known that A. B. is Prof. De Morgan, and C. D. Mrs. De Morgan. The internal evidence of the preface is sufficient to all who know the Professor's style; it has been frequently imputed to him in print without contradiction, and in the Athenæum for 1865, in the "Budget of Paradoxes," he notices the work in such a manner as to show that he accepts the imputation of the authorship and still holds the opinions therein expressed.1 From this preface, which is well worth reading for its vigorous and sarcastic style, I proceed to give a few extracts:—

"I am satisfied from the evidence of my own senses, of some of the facts narrated (in the body of the work), of some others I have evidence as good as testimony can give. I am perfectly convinced that I have both seen and heard, in a manner that should make unbelief impossible, things called spiritual, which cannot be taken by a rational being to be capable of explanation by imposture, coincidence, or mistake. So far I feel the ground firm under me." (p. 1.)

"Ten years ago, Mrs. Hayden, the well-known American medium, came to my house alone. The sitting began immediately after her arrival. Eight or nine persons were present, of all ages and of all degrees of belief and unbelief in the whole thing being imposture. The raps began in the usual way. They were to my ear clear, clean, faint sounds such as would be said to ring had they lasted. I likened them at the time to the noise which the ends of knitting-needles would make if dropped from a small distance upon a marble slab, and instantly checked by a damper of some kind. . . . Mrs. Hayden was seated at some distance from the table, and her feet were watched. . . . On being asked to put a question to the first spirit, I begged that I might be allowed to put my question mentally—that is without speaking it, or writing it, or pointing it out to myself on an alphabet—

1. The work is now advertised as by Professor and Mrs. De Morgan.

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and that Mrs. Hayden might hold both arms extended while the answer was in progress. Both demands were instantly granted by a couple of raps. I put the question and desired the answer might be in one word, which I assigned all mentally. I then took the printed alphabet, put a book upright before it, and bending my eyes upon it proceeded to point to the letters in the usual way. The word chess was given by a rap at each letter. I had now reasonable certainty of the following alternative: either some thought-reading of a character wholly inexplicable, or such superhuman acuteness on the part of Mrs. Hayden that she could detect the letter I wanted by my bearing, though she (seated six feet from the book which hid my alphabet) could see neither my hand nor my eye, nor at what rate I was going through the letters. I was fated to be driven out of the second alternative before the evening was done.

"At a later period of the evening, when another spirit was under examination, I asked him whether he remembered a certain review which was published soon after his death, and whether he could give me the initials of an epithet (which happened to be in five words) therein applied to himself. Consent having been given, I began my way through the alphabet as above; the only difference of circumstances being that a bright table lamp was now between me and the medium. I expected to be brought up, at say, the letter F; and when my pencil passed that letter without any signal, I was surprised, and by the time I came to K, or thereabouts, I paused, intending to announce a failure. But some one called out, 'You have passed it; I heard a rap long ago.' I began again, and distinct raps came first at C. then at D. I was now satisfied that the spirit had failed; but stopping to consider a little more, it flashed into my mind that C. D. were his own initials, and that he had chosen to commence the clause which contained the epithet. I then said nothing but 'I see what you are at; pray go on,' and I then got T (for The), then the E. I wanted—of which not a word had been said—and then the remaining four initials. I was now satisfied that the contents of my mind had been read which could not have been detected by my method of pointing to the alphabet, even supposing that could have been seen. . . . The things which I have set down were the beginning of a long series of experiences, many as remarkable as what I have given." —"From Matter to Spirit," Preface, pp. xli. xlii.

From the body of the same work I give one short extract:—"The most remarkable instance of table moving with a purpose, which ever came under my notice, occurred at the house of a friend, whose family like my own were staying at the seaside. My friend's family consisted of six persons, and a gentleman, now the husband of one of the daughters, joined them, and I was accompanied by a young member of my own family. No paid person was present. A gentleman who had been expressing himself in a very sceptical manner, not only with reference to spirit manifestations, but on the subject of spiritual existence generally, sat on a sofa two or three feet from the dining room table, round which we were placed. After sitting some time we were directed by the rapping to join hands, and stand up round the table without touching it. All did so for a quarter of an hour, wondering whether anything would happen, or whether we were hoaxed by the unseen power. Just as one or two of the party talked of sitting down, the old table, which was large enough for eight or ten persons, moved entirely by itself as we surrounded and followed it with our hands joined, went towards the gentleman out of the circle, and literally pushed him up to the back of the sofa till he called out 'Hold, enough.'" —"From Matter to Spirit," p. 26.

J. W. EDMONDS, commonly called Judge Edmonds, is a man of considerable eminence. He has been elected a member of both branches of the State Legislature of New York, and was for some time President of the Senate. He has been Inspector of Prisons, and made great improvements in the penitentiary system. After passing through various lower offices, he was made a Judge of the Supreme Court of the United States.3 This is the highest judicial office in the country; he held it for six years, and then resigned, solely on account of the outcry against him on its being known that he had become convinced on the subject of spiritualism. Since then he has resumed his practice at the bar, and was elected to the important office of Recorder of New York, which however he declined to accept.

The Judge was first induced by some friends to visit a medium, and being astonished at what he saw, determined to investigate the matter, and discover and expose what he then believed to be a great imposture. The following are some of his experiences given in his work on "Spirit Manifestations":—

"On the 23rd April, 1851, I was one of a party of nine who sat round a centre table, on which a lamp was burning, and another lamp was burning on the mantle-piece. And then, in plain sight of us all, that table was lifted at least a foot from the floor, and shaken backwards and forwards as easy as I could shake a goblet in my hand. Some of the party tried to stop it by the exercise of their strength, but in vain; so we all drew back from the table, and by the light of those two burning lamps we saw the heavy mahogany table suspended in the air."

At the next seance a variety of extraordinary phenomena occurred to him. "As I stood in a corner where no one could reach my pocket, I felt a hand thrust into it, and found afterwards that six knots had been tied in my handkerchief. A bass viol was put into my hand, and rested on my foot, and then played upon. My person was repeatedly touched, and a chair pulled from under me. I felt on one of my arms what seemed to be the grip of an iron hand. I felt distinctly the thumb and fingers, the palm of the hand, and the ball of the thumb, and it held me fast by a power which I struggled to escape from in vain. With my other hand I felt all round where the pressure was, and satisfied myself that it was no earthly hand that was thus holding me fast, nor indeed could it be, for I was as powerless in that grip as a fly would be in the grasp of my hand. It continued with me till I thoroughly felt how powerless I was, and had tried every means to get rid of it." Again, as instances of the intelligence and knowledge of the unseen power, he says that during his journey to Central America, his friends in New York were almost daily informed of his condition. On returning, he compared his own journal with their notes, and found that they had accurately known the day he landed, days on which he was unwell or well, and on one occasion it was said he had a headache, and at the very hour he was confined to his bed by a sick headache 2000 miles away. As another example he says, "My daughter had gone with her little son to visit some relatives 400 miles from New York. During her absence, about four o'clock in the morning, I was told through this spiritual intercourse that the little fellow was very sick. I went after him, and found that at the very hour I received that intelligence, he was very sick, his mother and aunt were sitting up with him and were alarmed for the result." . . . "This will give a general idea of what I was witnessing two or three times a week for more than a year. I was not a believer seeking confirmation of my own notions. I was struggling against conviction. I have not stopped to detail the precautions which I took to guard against deception, self or otherwise. Suffice it to say that in that respect I omitted nothing which my ingenuity could devise. There was no cavil too captious for me to resort to, no scrutiny too rigid or impertinent for me to institute, no inquiry too intrusive for me to make."

In a letter published in the New York Herald, August 6, 1853, after giving an abstract of his investigations, he says—"I went into the investigation originally thinking it a deception, and intending to make public my exposure of it. Having, from my researches, come to a different conclusion, I feel that the obligation to make known the result is just as strong. Therefore it is, mainly, that I give the result to the world. I say mainly, because there is another consideration which influences me, and that is, the desire to extend to others a knowledge, which I am conscious cannot but make them happier and better."

I would now ask whether it is possible that Judge Edmonds can have been deceived as to these facts and not be insane. Yet he is still in practice at the bar, and is in the highest repute as a lawyer.

ROBERT HARE, M.D., Emeritus Professor of Chemistry in the University of Pennsylvania, was one of the most eminent scientific men of America. He distinguished himself by a number of important discoveries (among which may be mentioned the Oxy-Hydrogen blowpipe) and was the author of more than 150 papers on scientific subjects, besides others on political and moral questions. In 1853 his attention was first directed to table-turning and allied phenomena, and finding that the explanation of Faraday, which he had at first received as sufficient, would not account for the facts, he set himself to work to devise apparatus which should, as he expected, conclusively prove that no force was exerted but that of the persons at the table. The result was not as he expected, for however he varied his experiments he was in every case only able to obtain results which proved that

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there was a power at work not that of any human being present. But in addition to the power there was an intelligence, and he was thus compelled to believe that existences not human did communicate with him. It is often asserted by the disbelievers in these phenomena, that no scientific man has fully investigated them. This is not true. No one who has not himself inquired into the facts has a right even to give an opinion on the subject, till he knows what has been done by others in the investigation; and to know this it will be necessary for him to read carefully, among other works, "Hare's Experimental Investigations of the Spirit Manifestations," which has passed through five editions. It is a volume of 460 closely printed 8vo. pages and contains besides the details of his experiments, numerous discussions on philosophical, moral, and theological questions, which manifest great acuteness and logical power. The experiments he made were all through private mediums, and his apparatus was so contrived that the medium could not possibly, under the test condition, either produce the motions, or direct the communications that ensued. For example, the table by its movement caused an index to revolve over an alphabet on a disc, yet even when the medium could not see the disc the index moved to such letters as to spell out intelligent and accurate communications. And when the medium's hands were placed upon a truly plane metal plate, supported on accurately turned metal balls, so that not the slightest impulse could be communicated by her to the table, yet the table still moved easily and intelligently. In another case a medium's hands were suspended in water so as to have no connection with the board on which the water vessel was placed, and yet, at request, a force of 18 lbs. was exerted on the boards as indicated by a spring balance (see pages 40 to 50.) A considerable space is devoted to communications received through the means of the above-named apparatus, describing the future life of human beings, and as far as my own judgment goes, these descriptions, taken as a whole, give us a far more exalted, and at the same time more rational and connected view of spirit life, than do the doctrines of any other religion or philosophy; while they are certainly more conducive to morality, and inculcate most strongly the importance of cultivating to the uttermost every mental faculty with which we are endowed. Even if it be possible to prove that the supposed superhuman source of these communications is a delusion, I would still maintain, that standing on their own merits they give us the best, the highest, the most rational, and the most acceptable ideas of a future state, and must prove the best incentive to intellectual and moral advancement; and I would call upon every thinker to examine the work on this account alone, before deciding against it.

I shall next adduce, very briefly, the testimony of a number of well-known and intelligent Englishmen, to facts of a similar nature witnessed by themselves.

(To be continued.)


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