The Russian Scientists
Banner of Light, June 24, 1876
Excitement in St. Petersburg.—A Protest by the Highest Nobility of the Empire.—The Severest Rebuke a Scientific Body Ever Had.
[Note: for some background, see “The Russian Investigation & “Psychophobia” in Russia”]
Special Correspondence of the Banner of Light.
New York, June 15th, 1876.
Dear Sir,—By the last Russian mail I received the highly important document which I enclose. It is the sharpest rebuke that a scientific body ever had within my remembrance. The Commission for the investigation of the spiritual phenomena was composed of our most eminent scientists, and when they agreed to devote forty séances to the investigation of what they term “mediumistic manifestations,” every one expected them to make good their promise. The country was as sure that the bottom of the thing would be reached as they would have been if Wagner had undertaken to report on zoology, Butleroff on chemistry, Mendeleyeff himself on physics. But when, after four miserable sittings, Mendeleyeff prostituted his great reputation to pander to ignorant prejudice, the whole influential class of the Empire rose in indignation. The best papers in the country—which had not a shade of sympathy with or knowledge of Spiritualism—agreed as to the insufficiency of his arguments and the injustice of his conclusions upon the facts stated. One of them declares that Mohammed did not have half as good a basis for Mohammedanism as the Spiritists for Spiritualism, and that the matter must be investigated thoroughly and impartially. A universal laugh was raised at the Commission’s assertion that all the mediumistic phenomena can be explained by mechanical contrivances hid beneath the medium’s petticoats!
The names attached to this protest represent the best blood of Russia. It is the most influentially signed document, probably, that ever appeared in an official journal of my country. It represents a large part of our wealth, intellect and family influence. Some of the names will be recognized by your readers as historical, and as having shed lustre upon the Russian name the wide world over. Its effect upon the scientists, as I learn from private letters, has been amusing and wholesome. Mendeleyeff has been forced into a corner, like a fugitive rat, and is now preparing his defense in the shape of a book, we are told! Professor Wagner’s favorable review of Colonel Olcott’s People from the Other World has contributed largely toward creating the excitement in the ranks of our enemies.
The Russians are waiting eagerly to see Dr. Slade’s phenomena. A contract has been signed today, which binds him to report in St. Petersburg on the 1st of November next, and remain there three months. The Theosophical Society, as you are aware, has made a very careful and patient investigation. Two out of three skeptics on the Committee were converted beyond backsliding, and the manifestations were found genuine. A copy of the official report was duly forwarded to St. Petersburg, as a sedative for the Russian psychophobists.
H. P. Blavatsky.
The following document was sent to the office of the St. Petersburg Vedomostji, accompanied by this letter:
Mr. Editor—On the 25th of March last, the Scientific Commission organized for the investigation of the mediumistic phenomena published its report; and a month later, namely, on the 24th and 25th of April, Professor Mendeleyeff delivered two lectures about Spiritualism. In the absence of popular appreciation of the Commission, Mr. Mendeleyeff undertook the trouble of himself pronouncing a panegyric upon its activity! At his last lecture, he expressed the idea that in the reports of the Commission, Truth asserted itself with resistless force, and society, suddenly dazzled by its light, involuntarily bowed its head before the verdict of science. The following protest, signed by over one hundred and thirty persons, testifies to the fact that in our society, notwithstanding the opinion of Mr. Mendeleyeff, there are persons who can distinguish a difference between Science and his Commission.
The insufficiency of the verbal reports of the latter has become evident even to our public papers. What follows is a new evidence of this fact.
In its April number, the “Otechestvenoy Zapesky,” with a bearing of quite an Olympic pride toward Spiritism (very amusing, by the way), confesses, nevertheless, that the Commission of the Physical Society, which had undertaken to expose and crush out of existence spiritual phenomena, did not at all attain its object. According to a very just remark of the said Review, the Commission vainly endeavors to conceal its true character of a police-detective agency, and surrounds itself with a scientific lustre. Its evident object was to condemn “a heresy,” and not to make a scientific investigation: that it plainly never had in view. Therefore, the Otechestvenoy Zapesky calls the members of the Commission “the modern fathers of orthodox science,” who, zealous for the welfare of true science, determined to convene an Ecumenical Council of orthodox scientists, to sit in judgment on the “heretical doctrine,” with the full assurance that no one will dare to dispute the infallibility of its predetermined and oral verdict.
We believe that the above opinion, which issues from the very stronghold of the avowed enemies of Spiritism, reflects in a manner which cannot be improved, the general opinion respecting the pretended “investigations” of the Commission.
[Note: here followed a letter of “Protest against the conclusions of the Commission for Investigating Mediumism,” which was signed by over 100 prominent Russians. The full letter can be read here.]