(New) York Against Lankester
Banner of Light, October 14, 1876
A New War of the Roses—Degeneration of Species—A Theosophist comes to the Defense of a Medium.
To the Editor of the Banner of Light:
Sir—Despite the constant recurrence of new discoveries by modern men of science, an exaggerated respect for authority and an established routine among the educated class retards the progress of true knowledge. Facts, which, if observed, tested, classified and appreciated would be of inestimable importance to science, are summarily cast into the despised limbo of supernaturalism. To these conservatives the experience of the past serves neither as an example nor a warning. The overturning of a thousand cherished theories finds our modern philosopher as unprepared for each new scientific revelation as though his predecessors had been infallible from time immemorial.
The protoplasmist should at least, in modesty, remember that his past is one vast cemetery of dead theories; a desolate Potter’s Field wherein exploded hypotheses lie in ignoble oblivion like so many executed malefactors, whose names cannot be pronounced by the next of kin without a blush.
The nineteenth century is essentially the age of demolition. True, science takes just pride in many revolutionary discoveries, and claims to have immortalized the epoch by forcing from Dame Nature some of her most important secrets. But for every inch she illumines of the narrow and circular path within whose limits she has hitherto trodden, what boundless stretches have been left behind unexplored? Worst is that science has not simply withheld her light from these regions that seem dark (but are not), but her votaries try their best to quench the light of other people under the pretext that they are not authorities, and their friendly beacons are but “will-o’-the-wisps.”
Prejudice and preconceived ideas have entered the public brain, and, cancer-like, are eating it to the core. Spiritualism—or, if some for whom the word has become so unpopular prefer it, the universe of spirit—is left to fight out its battle with the world of matter, and the crisis is at hand.
Half-thinkers, and aping, would-be philosophers, in short, that class which is unable to penetrate events any deeper than their crust, and which measures every day’s occurrence by its present aspect, unmindful of the past and careless of the future, heartily rejoice over the latest rebuff given to phenomenalism in the Lankester-Donkin offensive and defensive alliance, and the pretended exposure of Slade. In this hour of would-be Lancastrian triumph, a change should be made in English heraldic crests. The Lancasters were always given to creating dissensions and provoking strife among peaceable folk. From ancient York the War of Roses is now transferred to Middlesex; and Lankester (whose name is a corruption) instead of uniting himself with the hereditary foe, has joined his idols with those of Donkin (whose name is evidently also a corruption). As the hero of the hour is not a knight, but a zoologist, deeply versed in the science to which he devotes his talents, why not compliment his ally by quartering the red rose of Lancaster with the downy thistle so delicately appreciated by a certain prophetic quadruped who seeks for it by the wayside? Really, Mr. Editor, when Mr. Lankester tells us that all those who believe in Dr. Slade’s phenomena “are lost to reason,” we must accord to biblical animals a decided precedence over modern ones. The ass of Balaam had at least the faculty of perceiving spirits, while some of those who bray in our academies and hospitals show no evidence of its possession. Sad degeneration of species!
Such persons as these bound all spiritual phenomena in nature by the fortunes and mishaps of mediums—each new favorite, they think, must of necessity pull down in his fall an unscientific hypothetical “unseen universe,” as the tumbling red Dragon of the Apocalypse drew with his tail the third part of the stars of heaven. Poor blind moles! They perceive not that by inveighing against the “craze” of such phenomenalists as Wallace, Crookes, Wagner and Thury, they only help the spread of true Spiritualism. We millions of lunatics really ought to address a vote of thanks to the “dishevelled” Beards who make supererogatory efforts to appear as stupid clodpoles to deceive the Eddys and Lankesters simulating “astonishment and intense interest” the better to cheat Dr. Slade. More than any advocates of phenomenalism, they bring its marvels into public notice by their pyrotechnic exposures.
As one entrusted by the Russian Committee with the delicate task of selecting a medium for the coming St. Petersburg experiments, and as an officer of the Theosophical Society, which put Dr. Slade’s powers to the test in a long series of séances, I pronounce him not only a genuine medium, but one of the best and least fraudulent mediums ever developed. From personal experience, I can not only testify to the genuineness of his slate-writing, but also to that of the materializations which occur in his presence. A shawl thrown over a chair (which I was invited to place wherever I chose) is all the cabinet he exacts, and his apparitions immediately appear, and that in gas-light.
No one will charge me with a superfluous confidence in the personality of materializing apparitions, or superabundance of love for them; but honor and truth compel me to affirm that those who appeared to me in Slade’s presence were real phantoms, and not “made up” confederates or dolls. They were evanescent and filmy, and the only ones I have seen in America which have reminded me of those which the adepts of India evoke. Like the latter, they formed and dissolved before my eyes, their substance rising mist-like from the floor, and gradually condensing. Their eyes moved and their lips smiled; but as they stood near me their forms were so transparent that I could see through them the objects in the room. These I call genuine spiritual substances, whereas the opaque ones that I have seen elsewhere were nothing but animated forms of matter—whatever they be—with sweating hands and a peculiar odor which I am not called upon to define at this time.
Everyone knows that Dr. Slade is not acquainted with foreign languages, and yet at our first séance, three years ago, on the day after my arrival in New York, where no one knew me, I received upon his slate a long communication in Russian. I had purposely avoided giving either to Dr. Slade, or his partner, Mr. Simmons, any clue to my nationality, and while, from my accent, they would of course have detected that I was not an American they could not possibly have known from what country I came. I fancy that if Dr. Lankester had allowed Slade to write on both knees and both elbows successively or simultaneously, the poor man would not have been able to turn out a Russian message by trick and device.
In reading the accounts in the London papers it has struck me as very remarkable that this “vagrant” medium, after baffling such a host of savants, should have fallen so easy a victim to the zoologico-osteological brace of scientific detectives. Fraud, that neither the “psychic” Serjeant Cox; nor the “unconsciously cerebrating” Carpenter; nor the wise Wallace; nor the experienced M. A. (Oxon.); nor the cautious Lord Rayleigh, who, mistrusting his own acuteness, employed a professional juggler to attend the séance with him; nor Professor Carter-Blake; nor a host of other competent observers could detect, was seen by the eagle eyes of the Lankester-Donkin gemini at a single glance. There has been nothing like it since Beard, of electro-hay-fever and Eddy fame, denounced the faculty of Yale for a set of asses, because they would not accept his divinely inspired revelation of the secret of mind-reading, and pitied the imbecility of that “amiable idiot,” Colonel Olcott, for trusting his own two-months’ observation of the Eddy phenomena in preference to the electric doctor’s single séance of an hour.
I am an American citizen in embryo, Mr. Editor, and I cannot hope that the English magistrates of Bow street will listen to a voice that comes from a city proverbially held in small esteem by British scientists. When Professor Tyndall asks Professor Youmans if the New York carpenters could make him a screen ten feet long for his Cooper Institute lectures, and whether it would be necessary to send to Boston for a cake of ice that he wished to use in the experiments; and when Huxley evinces grateful surprise that a “foreigner could express himself in your (our) language, in such a way as to be so readily intelligible, to all appearance,” by a New York audience, and that those clever chaps—the New York reporters—could report him despite his accent, neither New York witnesses nor New York “spooks” can hope for a standing in a London court, when the defendant is prosecuted by English scientists. But fortunately for Dr. Slade, British tribunals are not inspired by the Jesuits, and so Slade may escape the fate of Leymarie. He certainly will, if he is allowed to summon to the witness stand his Owasso and other devoted “controls,” to write their testimony inside a double slate, furnished and held by the magistrate himself. This is Dr. Slade’s golden hour: he will never have so good a chance to demonstrate the reality of phenomenal manifestations and make Spiritualism triumph over skepticism; and we who know the doctor’s wonderful powers, are confident that he can do it, if he is assisted by those who in the past have accomplished so much through his instrumentality.
H. P. Blavatsky,
Corresponding Secretary of the Theosophical Society.
New York, October 8th, 1876.
[Note: this article was immediately followed by an article by Col. Olcott titled “Justice to Slade.”]