The Evidence of Science
Theosophist, July, 1881
From Professor Hare, the great American chemist, a world-wide celebrity, a quarter of a century ago, down to Professor Zöllner, the Leipzig astronomer in 1878, each and all of the men of Science who, undertaking to expose the so-called Spiritual phenomena in the name of science, went yet to work honestly at their investigation—found themselves baffled and finally completely beaten by facts.
So, in 1853, Professor Hare publicly expressed the following determination:—
“I feel called upon as an act of duty to my fellow creatures, to bring whatever influence I possess to the attempt to stem the tide of popular madness, which, in defiance of reason and science is fast setting in favour of the gross delusion called “Spiritualism.” (History of Spiritualism, p. 115. )
Two years later, and after that man of science had brought his keenest acumen to bear upon the phenomena, and had invented all kinds of machinery through which he hoped to detect tricky mediums, but to no avail, Professor Hare became a Spiritualist. The Harvard professors by whom the learned doctor had been regarded for forty years as an authority upon all scientific subjects, now denounced his “insane adherence to the gigantic humbug.” But the phenomena were found facts and had the best of him as they had of many more of learned professors at various times.
In 1869 the Committee of the Dialectical Society of London, 1 composed of twenty-eight persons of education and good public repute (among whom we find the names of Mr. Grattan Geary, the present editor of the Bombay Gazette, of Mr. H. G. Atkinson, and of Mr. Charles Bradlaugh—see Report of the Committee of the London Dialectical Society, London, 1871), after sittings with mediums for months, and having applied to them the most crucial tests, was compelled to acknowledge: 1st—That the phenomena that they had witnessed were genuine, and impossible to simulate; 2nd—That the most extraordinary manifestations thoroughly upsetting many preconceived theories as to natural laws, did happen, and were undeniable. Some had occurred in their own families.
In 1870 Mr. Crookes, F.R.S., had expressed his opinion in print that he believed “the whole affair was a superstition, or at least an unexplained trick . . . a delusion of the senses.” In 1875, in his letter upon Katie King, the young lady “Spirit” who visited him for three years during seances held in the presence of a number of men of science, we find Mr. Crookes confessing as follows:—
“To imagine that the Katie King of the last three years to be the result of imposture does more violence to one’s reason and commonsense than to believe her to be what she herself affirms. . . .” (a “spirit”). With that man of science, the discoverer of Radiant Matter, that Force he had so derided after a long course of honest and scientific investigations had . . . “become not a matter of opinion but of absolute knowledge.” 2
Mr. Alfred Russel Wallace, the great English naturalist, writes in his preface to “Miracles and Modern Spiritualism”:—
“Up to the time when I first became acquainted with the facts of Spiritualism, I was a confirmed philosophical sceptic. . . . I was so thorough and confirmed a materialist that I could not at that time find a place in my mind for the conception of spiritual existence. . . . Facts, however, are stubborn things. . . . The facts beat me. They compelled me to accept them as facts . . . [and] led me to accept Spiritualism. (p. 7.)
Mr. Nicholas Wagner, Professor of Zoölogy at the St. Petersburg University, writes at the beginning of his investigations:—
“I accepted Professor Butleroff’s invitation to witness the phenomena produced by the medium Home who lived in his house, with the greatest mistrust and even aversion.”
At the end of about twenty seances he closes a narrative full of the most inexplicable phenomena upsetting every scientific hypothesis with the following admission:—
“I have presented a truthful account of facts witnessed by myself. I desire that all those who will not believe me, may prove to me that I am wrong; but in such a case they will have to support their case with facts as positive and as undeniable as those that forced me to my present conviction, that the mediumistic phenomena ARE REAL EXISTING FACTS. (Messenger of Europe, 1876)
Nor has Professor Wagner given up to this day his firm belief in the objective reality of such manifestations; for only a few months ago he closes another article upon phenomena obtained, which are the repetition of Professor Zöllner’s experiments with Dr. Slade only with non-professional mediums (ladies of high society) with these words:—
“Again, these facts convince us of the necessity of widening the domain of recognized science and its methods and means for the exploration of the invisible and unknown world. . . .” 3
Professor Butleroff of St. Petersburg, a chemist of the greatest eminence and a member of the Academy of Sciences—one of the few men of learning who, seeking in Science truth alone, feared not to pass into the minority—has been investigating the phenomena for many years. In the April number of the Rooskoy Vyestnik, an orthodox journal of the greatest respectability, we find him beginning a long and scientific article upon “Empiricism and Dogmatism in the Domain of Mediumship” with an unequivocal confession of faith:—
“Firmly and fully convinced of the objective reality of mediumistic phenomena, I find necessary to point out in print the first attempts made to connect some of these phenomena with scientific hypotheses,”
he writes. And then he proceeds to enumerate several great names of men of science who struck “rock bottom” in Germany, in the shifting sands of phenomena, which had hitherto eluded all scientific grasp. These are Dr. Zöllner, Professor of Physics and Astronomy in the University of Leipzig, who stands in the front ranks of the scientific men of Europe; Dr. Fichte, the son of the celebrated German philosopher, for years Professor of Philosophy at the University of Tübingen, 4 and who was at first the greatest sceptic and opponent of the theory which upheld the reality of the phenomena; Dr. Wilhelm Weber, Professor of Physics—the founder of the doctrine of the Vibration of Forces. “No scientific reputation stands higher in Germany than that of Weber.” (Transcendental Physics, p. 18). Professor Perty of Geneva; Professor Scheibner, of Leipzig University, “a well-known and highly distinguished mathematician”; Dr. Gustav T. Fechner, an eminent natural philosopher, another Professor of Physics at Leipzig, and von Hoffmann; Baron von Hellenbach of Vienna, etc., etc. Many of these, namely, Professors Weber, Scheibner, Fechner and others, have been witnesses to Mr. Zöllner’s scientific experiments with Dr. Slade, the medium, and have taken a part in them. Speaking of the physical phenomena which had taken place in that medium’s presence, Professor Zöllner says as follows:—
“I reserve to later publication in my own treatises the description of further experiments, obtained by me in twelve seances with Mr. Slade, and as I am expressly authorized to mention, in the presence of my friends and colleagues, Professor Fechner, Professor Wilhelm Weber, the celebrated electrician from Göttingen, and Herr Scheibner, Professor of Mathematics . . . who are perfectly convinced of the reality of the observed facts, altogether excluding imposture or prestidigitation.” 5
These descriptions of the experiments in the most extraordinary phenomena may be found in that most interesting volume translated and published by Mr. C. C. Massey from the third volume of Zöllner’s scientific treatises, called “Transcendental Physics”. Space in our journal absolutely precludes the possibility of our mentioning them. But in order to answer beforehand the well-known and trite objection that “any clever prestidigitator can do the same,” we will append extracts from two letters here, from the same volume. These are the published confessions of two jugglers of wide-known fame—Messrs. Maskelyne of London, and Samuel Bellachini, Court conjurer at Berlin—who repeat that which the celebrated Robert-Houdin, the French conjurer, had already stated before; namely, that “levitations without contact as produced in the presence of mediums were feats utterly beyond the power of the professional juggler;” that it was “the work of no human agency, whatever else that agency might be.”
On the 1st July, 1873, Mr. Maskelyne writes in answer to a challenge from a spiritualist who offered him £1000 if he could reproduce certain mediumistic phenomena, as follows:—
“In accepting this challenge, I wish you distinctly to understand that I do not presume to prove that such manifestations as those stated in the Report of the Dialectical Society are produced by trickery—I have never denied that such manifestations are genuine, but I contend that in them there is not one iota of evidence which proves that departed spirits have no better occupation than lifting furniture about. 6 . . . I have never stated that you cannot produce some phenomena in a genuine manner.” . . .
And in a third letter Mr. Maskelyne adds:—
“How genuine phenomena can be produced by trickery I am at a loss to know.”
There we have juggler No. 1, confessing that there is such a thing as genuine phenomena.
In an official document, Samuel Bellachini, the prestidigitator and Court conjurer to His Majesty the Emperor William I. of Germany, certifies over his signature and those of two witnesses to the following:
. . . . “I must, for the sake of truth, hereby certify that the phenomenal occurrences with Mr. Slade have been thoroughly examined by me with the minutest observation and investigation of his surroundings, including the table, and that I have not in the smallest degree found anything to be produced by means of prestidigitative manifestations, or by mechanical apparatus; and that any explanation of the experiments which took place under the circumstances and conditions then obtaining by any reference to prestidigitation, to be absolutely impossible.
“It must rest with . . . men of Science . . . to search for the explanation of this phenomenal power, and to prove its reality. I declare, moreover, the published opinions of laymen as to the ‘How’ of this subject to be premature, and according to my view and experience, false and one-sided. This, my declaration, is signed and executed before a notary and witnesses.
(Signed) SAMUEL BELLACHINI.”
Berlin, 6th December, 1877.
And that makes juggler No. 2.
These two documents, added to the testimony of the several eminent men of science, ought to settle the “to be, or not to be” of the reality of the phenomena whatever the agency which produces them. If we cannot yet sufficiently prove what it is, there is some consolation to know what it is not: it is neither supernatural, divine nor diabolic. And if it is neither and the evidence in favour of its objective reality rests on such a scientific testimony, then the sooner the public and its âme damnée—the press—cease to sneer at and hiss it, the better for both—in future. Until then, to those who oppose and point the finger of scorn at the Spiritualists and Theosophists we will remark that they are quite welcome to call us names in words and even in print. In the words of a spiritualist—a very dear lady friend of ours—addressed to a sneering sceptic last year, at Simla: There is real comfort in the thought that while you only believe us—we know you to be FOOLS.
1. “At a Meeting of the Council of the London Dialectical Society, held on the 26th January, 1869, on the motion of Dr. Edmunds, a committee was appointed to investigate the phenomena alleged to be spiritual manifestations and to report thereon.” (Copy of the Minutes of the Council.)
2. Researches in the Phenomena of Spiritualism, pp. 7, 112.
3. See Transcendental Physics, p. 148, translation by Charles Carleton Massey, Barrister-at-Law (Vice-President of the British Theosophical Society).
4. In contradistinction to the Hegelian pantheism Fichte established a system of his own which he called—“Concrete Theism.”
5. Transcendental Physics, p. 18.
6. Given in the Appendices of Transcendental Physics, pp. 263, 264, 265.
The Scientific Basis of Spiritualism
Theosophist, July, 1881
Having already (p. 139, Vol. II, Theosophist) borne testimony to the admirable moral qualities and intellectual endowments of our lamented friend, the late Epes Sargent, it would almost suffice for us to announce the appearance of his crowning psychological work, The Scientific Basis of Spiritualism, to give our readers an idea of its merits. From the beginning to the close of Mr. Sargent’s busy literary life, whatever he did was well done. Though a man of strong convictions, he yet showed throughout an earnest determination to state his case fairly and without offensive combativeness—a talent we honestly envy. He became a Spiritualist only under the pressure of hard facts that he could not explain away, and since then has been jotting down for reference instead of merely seeing and forgetting like many others, the proofs that Spiritualism offers to the man of science, that it is worth investigating. The fruits of this methodical industry have, as we stated in our recent notice of his death, been given to the world in the form of three of the most useful books upon the subject. Mr. Sargent had no feeling of antagonism to Theosophy. With many enlightened Spiritualists he expressed his entire readiness to join us when he should be convinced of the Theosophical theory of the mediumistic phenomena by as unanswerable proofs as those which had made him what he was. And, as from the nature of things, these proofs were not available outside the closed circle of Asiatic mystics whom he could not visit, he took up an attitude of friendly yet neutral good will, maintaining correspondence to the last with his Theosophic friends.
In his Scientific Basis, Mr. Sargent makes such an array of both logic and phenomena as to silence, if not convince, the sceptical man of science who would sneer mediumism down as a sort of child’s play for servant girls and schoolboys. It is a book to be thought over as well as read by every real student of Psychology. We commend it most heartily to such, notwithstanding that, from having been more favoured than the lamented author with opportunities to learn the real cause of the mediumistic phenomena, we differ with him as to the necessary agency therein of the spirits of the dead. Messrs. Colby and Rich, the publishers, will accept our thanks for the copy of the work we have received.