The Russian Investigation
Spiritual Scientist, April 27, 1876
Another Disgrace for Science.—The St. Petersburg Professors Imitate those of Harvard and London.
A. Aksakoff’s Noble Protest.
To the Editor of the Spiritual Scientist:
Dear Sir,—In advices just received from St. Petersburg, I am requested to translate and forward to the Scientist for publication, the protest of the Honorable Alexander Aksakoff, Imperial Counsellor of State, against the course of the professors of the university respecting the spiritualistic investigation. The document appears, in Russian, in the “Vedomostji,” the official journal of St. Petersburg. This generous, high-minded, courageous gentleman has done the possible, and even the impossible, in order to open the spiritual eyes of those incurable moles who fear the daylight of truth as the burglar fears the policeman’s “bull’s eye.”
The heartfelt thanks and gratitude of every Spiritualist ought to be forwarded to this noble defender of the cause, who regretted neither his time, trouble nor money to help the propagation of the truth.
H. P. Blavatsky,
New York, April 19th, 1876.
[Note: here followed H.P.B.’s translation of A. N. Aksakoff’s letter of protest, from which we make the following selections:]
According to my promise to the Commission to help them in extending their invitations to mediums, I have neglected no effort to the accomplishment of the said purpose. Nevertheless but few mediums have shown any desire to come to Russia, and those who did were unsuitable for a preliminary examination, as their mediumistical powers were not of a nature to afford any chance to investigate physical phenomena. Finally, and for reasons previously detailed to the commission, I concluded to bring with me from England the two Petty boys. The mediumistic powers of these boys proved too weak, not only for them to be tested by a committee but even at private séances in my own house. Having obtained no manifestations worthy of any attention at all—as already published by me—at the committee’s investigation, after four séances I declined to waste any more of its time in investigating the Petty boys.
Immediately after that, on the 15th of December last, Professor Mendeleyeff delivered his lecture on Spiritism. The haste exhibited by him on this occasion, the precipitancy with which the failures of the four séances were reviewed, when the Scientific Commission had just adopted a resolution to make not less than forty experimental examinations, did not agree, in my opinion, with the impartial and serious character which we have the right to expect in a truly scientific investigation. This lecture did not appear in print, and it was therefore impossible to either reply to its errors or to point out its one-sidedness. But in what was declared by Mr. Mendeleyeff, the attitude of the commission toward the object of their examination was very clearly defined. Prof. Mendeleyeff—at whose suggestion the commission was organized, and under whose direction it acted—openly avowed himself an enemy of Spiritualism. The commission, acting in unity with Mr. Mendeleyeff, was evidently anxious that the results of its further investigations should prove as fruitless as the results of the first four séances with the Petty boys. The difficulties in the way of obtaining an impartial examination multiplied tenfold; and for my part I felt fully that it would be useless for me to attempt any further assistance to the commission. . . . [etc. etc. etc.] . . .
In conclusion I beg leave to add that so long as the commission hold to the policy of flatly denying the phenomena, and see in them only charlatanry, they will neither attain to the object of their researches which was sketched in the first offer made by Mr. Mendeleyeff, nor will they satisfy those who certify to the existence of such manifestations. The committee forgets that the mediumistic power has its origin, force and support in domestic circles and in their own experiments against which the policy of negation and fraud is powerless. Such questions which have attained a social importance, cannot be solved by negation and an ignorance of them. Let Science and knowledge be on the side of the negators and skeptics, but upon the other side we have the conviction in the reality of facts; which conviction we have obtained by the evidence of our senses and by reason.
St. Petersburg, March 4th, 1876.
[Note: Aksakoff’s letter can be read in full here.]
[Note: at the same time as the above appeared in the Spiritual Scientist, the following appeared in the Banner of Light.]
“Psychophobia” in Russia
Banner of Light, April 29, 1876
To the Editor of the Banner of Light:
Dear Sir,—I have received from St. Petersburg the protests of Professor Butleroff and the Honorable Alexander Aksakoff, with a request from the latter gentleman that I will translate for our spiritual papers their just criticisms upon the action of the University Commission for the investigation of spiritual phenomena. I forward you the Butleroff paper.
The Commission has acted so unfairly at the preliminary séances, that these two gentlemen have declined to have anything more to do with it. Dr. Slade was about to sail for Europe under a contract to place himself at the disposal of the Commission (God help him!) but by the last mail instructions have been received by us to terminate this contract and make a new one. Dr. Slade having consented to the terms, will visit St. Petersburg, but will not have anything to do with the Commission.
I deeply regret that Russian men of science should have shown themselves as narrow-minded and unfair as the Willis persecutors of 1857, and the lofty souls of the Royal Society, who declined the invitation of the Dialectical Society.
The documents appear in Russian, in the official journals of St. Petersburg. The evidence seems to show that the epidemic which, for the lack of another name, I propose to call Psychophobia, has attacked the scientists of my country as soon as the investigation of phenomenal Spiritualism and mediumism threatened to turn successful.
H. P. Blavatsky,
New York, April 21st, 1876.
[Note: here followed H.P.B.’s translation of Butleroff’s paper addressed to the Commission of St. Petersburg University, from which we make the following selections:]
Gentlemen:—Finding it useless for me to continue to take part in the meetings of the Commission it is necessary that, in reporting the fact, I should, state the circumstances which force me to the step I now take.
On the 7th of May, 1875, in a letter, now on file among the papers of the Commission and addressed to one of its members, I pointed out the importance that “the Society of Physical Sciences should not form any preconceived opinions upon the question at issue, so as to anticipate results,” and I further expressed myself thus: “If the Commission would now declare such manifestations to be produced authentically, by means of legerdemain, then the investigation would hardly find any countenance or help, either from the mediums or from Spiritualists.”
The expression of such a fear by me might have seemed an exaggeration . . . Nevertheless, later developments have shown, to my great regret, that my fears were not groundless. . . .
. . . A conspicuous proof of this assertion is the public lecture delivered on the 15th of December, by one of the influential members of the Commission (Prof. Mendeleyeff), after the investigation with the Petty boys, which gave only negative results. On the ground that at certain specified seances “no mediumistic manifestations were obtained,” it was assumed that there never were such manifestations. Those who had seen nothing at all, undertook to contradict the unqualified testimony of not merely a few, but a multitude of persons who had seen much, and who were sure that they had seen well. . . . [etc. etc.] . . .
[Note: Butleroff’s paper can be read in full here.]