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A DEFENCE OF MODERN SPIRITUALISM.* (REPRINTED WITH NOTES AND ADDITIONS FROM THE “ FORTNIGHTLY
It is with great diffidence, but under an imperative sense of duty, that the present writer accepts the opportunity afforded him of submitting to the readers of the Fortnightly Review some general account of a wide-spread movement, which, though for the most part treated with ridicule or contempt, he believes to embody truths of the most vital importance to human progress. The subject to be treated is of such vast extent; the evidence concerning it is so varied and so extraordinary; the prejudices that surround it are so inveterate, that it is not possible to do it justice without entering into considerable detail. The reader who ventures on the perusal of the succeeding pages may, therefore, have his patience tried ; but if he is able to throw aside his preconceived ideas of what is possible and what is impossible, and in the acceptance or rejection of what is submitted to him will carefully weigh
* The following are the more important works which have been used in the preparation of this article :-Judge Edmond's “Spiritual Tracts," New York, 1858-1860. Robert Dale Owen's “Footfalls on the Boundary of Another World,” Trübner and Co., 1861. E. Hardinge's “Modern American Spiritualism," New York, 1870. Robert Dale Owen's “Debateable Land between this World and the Next," Trübner, and Co., 1871. “Report on Spiritualism of the Committee of the London Dialectical Society,” Longmans and Co., 1871. “Year Book of Spiritualism,” Boston and London, 1871. Hudson Tuttle's “ Arcana of Spiritualism," Boston 1871. The Spiritual Magazine, 1861–1874. The Spiritualist Newspaper, 1872—1874. The Medium and Daybreak, 1869— 1874
and be solely guided by the nature of the concurrent testimony,'the writer ventures to believe that he will not find his time and patience ill-bestowed.
Few men, in this busy age, have leisure to read massive volumes devoted to special subjects. They gain much of their general knowledge, outside the limits of their profession or of any peculiar study, by means of periodical literature; and, as a rule, they are supplied with copious and accurate, though general information. Some of our best thinkers and workers make known the results of their researches to the readers of magazines and reviews; and it is seldom that a writer whose information is meagre or obtained at second-hand, is permitted to come before the public in their pages as an authoritative teacher. regards the subject we are now about to consider, this rule has not hitherto been followed. Those who have devoted many years to an examination of its phenomena have been, in most cases, refused a hearing; while men who have bestowed on it no adequate attention, and are almost wholly ignorant of the researches of others, have alone supplied the information to which a large proportion of the public have had access. In support of this statement it is necessary to refer, with brief comments, to some of the more prominent articles in which the phenomena and pretensions of Spiritualism have been recently discussed.
At the beginning of the present year the readers of the Fortnightly Review were treated to “Experiences of Spiritualism,” by a noble lord of no mean ability, and of thoroughly advanced views. He assures his readers that he "conscientiously endeavoured to qualify himself for speaking on this subject” by attending five séances, the details of several of which he narrates; and he comes to the conclusion that mediums are by no means ingenious deceivers, but “jugglers of the most vulgar order;" that the
spiritualistic mind falls a victim to the most patent frauds,” and greedily “accepts jugglery as manifestations of spirits;" and, lastly, that the mediums are as credulous as their dupes, and fall straightway into any trap that is laid for them. Now, on the evidence before him, and on the assumption that no more or better evidence would have been forthcoming had he devoted fifty instead of five evenings to the inquiry, the conclusions of Lord Amberley are perfectly logical; but, so far from what he witnessed being a “specimen of the kind of manifestations by which spiritualists are convinced," a very little acquaintance with the literature of the subject would have shown him that no spiritualist of any mark was ever convinced by any quantity of such evidence. In an article published since Lord Amberley's—in London Society for February—the author, a barrister and well-known literary man, says:
“It was difficult for me to give in to the idea that solid objects could be conveyed, invisibly, through closed doors, or that heavy furniture could be moved without the interposition of hands. Philosophers will say these things are absolutely impossible; nevertheless, it is absolutely certain that they do occur. I have met in the houses of private friends, as witnesses of these phenomena, persons whose testimony would go for a good deal in a court of justice. They have included peers, members of parliament, diplomatists of the highest rank, judges, barristers, physicians, clergymen, members of learned societies, chemists, engineers, journalists, and thinkers of all sorts and degrees. They have suggested and carried into effect tests of the most rigid and satisfactory character. The media (all nonprofessional) have been searched before and after séances. The precaution has even been taken of providing them unexpectedly with other apparel. They have been tied; they have been sealed ; they have been secured in every cunning and dexterous manner that ingenuity could devise, but no deception has been discovered and no imposture brought to light. Neither was there any motive for imposture. No fee or reward of any kind depended upon the success or non-success of the manifestations."
Now here we have a nice question of probabilities. We
must either believe that Lord Amberley is almost infinitely more acute than Mr. Dunphy and his host of eminent friends,-so that after five séances (most of them failures) he has got to the bottom of a mystery in which they, notwithstanding their utmost endeavours, still hopelesly flounder-or, that the noble lord's acuteness does not surpass the combined acuteness of all these persons; in which case their much larger experience, and their having witnessed many things Lord Amberley has not witnessed, must be held to have the greater weight, and to show at all events, that all mediums are not "jugglers of the most vulgar order."
In October, 1873, the New Quarterly Magazine, in its opening number, had an article entitled, “ A Spiritualistic Séance;" but which proved to be an account of certain ingenious contrivances by which some of the phenomena usual at séances were imitated, and both spiritualists and sceptics deceived and confounded. This appears at first sight to be an exposure of Spiritualism, but it is really very favourable to its pretensions ; for it goes on the assumption that the marvellous phenomena witnessed do really occur, but are produced by various mechanical contrivances. In this case the rooms above, below, and at the side of that in which the séance was held had to be prepared with specially constructed machinery, with assistants to work it. The apparatus, as described, would cost at least £100, and would then only serve to produce a few fixed phenomena, such as happen frequently in private houses and at the lodgings of mediums who have not exclusive possession of any of the adjoining rooms, or the means of obtaining expensive machinery and hired assistants. The article bears internal evidence of being altogether a fictitious narrative; but it helps to demonstrate, if any demonstration is required, that the phenomena which