Researches into the Phenomena of Spiritualism
Sir William Crookes
Psychic Force and Modern Spiritualism
First published in the "Quarterly Journal of Science", January 1874
A Reply to the "Quarterly Review"
The Quarterly Review for October contains an article under the title of "Spiritualism and its Recent Converts," in which my investigations and those of other scientific men are severely handled in the spiteful bad old style which formerly characterised this periodical, and which I thought had happily passed away. It has reverted to the unjustifiable fashion of testing truth by the character of individuals. Had the writer contented himself with fair criticism, however sharply administered, I should have taken no public notice of it, but have submitted with the best grace I could. But with reference to myself he has further mis-stated and distorted the aim and nature of my investigations. And written of me personally as confidently as if he had known me from boyhood and was thoroughly acquainted with every circumstance of my educational and scientific career, so that I feel constrained to protest against his manifest unfairness, prejudice and incapacity to deal with the subject and my connection with it. Although other investigators, including Dr. Huggins, Serjeant Cox, Mr. Varley and Lord Lindsay are included in the indictment and found guilty with extenuating circumstances, for me he can feel no tenderness, which, were it not for my recent sins, lie is good enough to observe he "might have otherwise felt for a man who has in his previous career made creditable use of his very limited opportunities." The other offenders who are attacked can well take care of themselves; let me now vindicate myself.
It was, my good or evil fortune, as the case may be, to have an hour's conversation, if it may be so termed when the talking was all on one side, with the Quarterly Reviewer in question, when I had an opportunity of observing the curiously dogmatic tone of his mind and of estimating his incapacity to deal with any subject conflicting with his prejudices and prepossessions. At the last meeting of the British Association at Edinburgh we were introduced-he as a physiologist who had enquired into the matter fifteen or twenty years ago; I as a scientific investigator of a certain department of the subject. Here is a sketch of our interview, accurate in substance if not identical in language.
"But, Sir," interposed I, "you will allow me to say your are mistaken, if..."
"Pardon me," I interrupted, "but Faraday himself showed..." But it was in vain, and on rolled the stream of unconscious egotism.
"But how," I contrived to ask, "could the indicator have served, seeing that neither Mr. Home nor anyone else touched the..."
At this juncture some good Samaritan turned the torrent of words on to himself; I thankfully escaped with a sigh of relief, and my memory recalled my first interview with Faraday, when we discussed table-turning and his contrivance to detect the part played by involuntary muscular effort in the production of that phenomenon. How different his courteous, kindly, candid demeanour towards me in similar circumstances compared with that of the Quarterly Reviewer!
Now, let me ask, what authority has the reviewer for designating me a recent convert to Spiritualism? Nothing that I have ever written can justify such an unfounded assumption. Indeed, the dissatisfaction with which many. Spiritualists have received my articles clearly proves that they consider me unworthy of joining their fraternity. In my first published article the following sentences occur.
In a subsequent paper, I said that my experiments appeared to establish the existence of a new force connected, in some unknown manner, with the human organisation; but that it would be wrong to hazard the most vague hypothesis respecting the cause of the phenomena, the nature of this force, and the correlation existing between it and the other forces of nature. "Indeed," said I, "it is the duty of the enquirer to abstain altogether from framing theories until he has accumulated a sufficient number of facts to form a substantial basis upon which to reason." New forces must be found, or mankind must remain sadly ignorant of the mysteries of nature. We are unacquainted with a sufficient number of forces to do the work of the universe.
In a third paper, I brought forward many quotations from previous experimentalists, which showed that they did not ascribe the phenomena to Spiritualism. I then said that the name Psychic had been chosen for the subject "because I was most desirous to avoid the foregone conclusions implied in the title under which it has hitherto been claimed as belonging to a province beyond the range of experiment and argument."
Do these quotations look like Spiritualism? Does the train of thought running through them justify the Quarterly Reviewer in saying that "the lesson afforded by the truly scientific method followed by this great master of experimental philosophy (Faraday) ... should not have been lost upon those who profess to be his disciples. But it has been entirely disregarded ... by men from whom better things might have been expected"?
I have devoted my enquiry entirely to those physical phenomena in which, owing to the circumstance of the case, unconscious muscular action, self-deception, or even wilful fraud would be rendered inoperative. I have not attempted to investigate except under such conditions of place, person, light, position and observation that contact was either physically impossible or could take place only tinder circumstances in which the unconscious or wilful movement of the hands could not vitiate the experiment. The experiments being tried in my own house, assumption of pre-arranged mechanical contrivances to assist the "medium" was out of the question.
The most curious thing regarding this article in the Quarterly is that the writer himself is a believer in a new force, and he arrogantly tries to put down any attempt to bring forward another. He refers to various hypothesis - to Sir William Hamilton's "latent thought,'' Dr. Laycock's "reflex action of the brain," and Carpenter's ideo-motor principle." The reviewer adopts without hesitation, Carpenter's hypothesis as the true and universal solvent of the phenomena in question, notwithstanding that this hypothesis is rejected by the physiologists most competent to judge it.
The whole tenor of the article, the numerous references to various "spiritual" phenomena, and the account of some of the reviewer's own experiences, show that he knows little or nothing of any such phenomena as those which I have commenced to investigate. He refers to mesmerism, curative influence, planchette writing, table-tilting, table-turning, and to the messages obtained by these means. When he does not impute fraud, he explains the physical movements by the hypothesis of "unconscious muscular action" and the intelligence which sometimes controls these movements, delivers messages, etc., by "unconscious cerebration" or "ideo-motor action."
Now these explanations are possibly sufficient to account for much that has come under the personal cognisance of the reviewer. I will do him the justice to believe that, as he affirms, he did take every opportunity within his reach of witnessing the higher phenomena of "Spiritualism," and that on various occasions he met with results which were entirely unsatisfactory. The error into which he falls is this: Because he saw nothing that he thought worth following up, therefore it is impossible anyone else can be more fortunate. Because he and his scientific friends were following out the subject for more than a dozen years, therefore my own friends and myself deserve reprobation for pursuing the inquiry for about as many months.
According to this reasoning science would proceed very slowly. How often do we find instances of an abandoned investigation being taken up by another more fortunate in his opportunities, carries it to a successful issue.
The reviewer has no grounds whatever for asserting that:
Now, I am quite familiar with these researches and with the various explanations of them so elaborately set forth by Dr. Carpenter and others. I made no reference to them simply because the phenomena which came under their notice are entirely different from the phenomena I have examined. During my experiments I have seen plenty of instances of planchette writing, table-turning, table-tilting, and have received messages innumerable, but I have not attempted their investigation, mainly for two reasons: first, because I shrank from the enormous difficulty and the consumption of time necessary to carry out an inquiry more physiological than physical; and secondly, because little came under my notice in the way of messages or table-tilts which I could not account for.
My reviewer objects to the accordion being tried in a cage under the table. My object is easily explained. I must use my own methods of experiment. I deemed them good under the circumstances, and if the reviewer had seen the experiment before complaining it would have been more like a scientific man. But the cage is by no means essential, although, in a test experiment, it is an additional safeguard. On several subsequent occasions the accordion has played over the table, and in other parts of my room away from a table the keys moving and the bellows action going on. An accordion was selected because it is absolutely impossible to play tricks with it held in the manner indicated. I flatly deny that, held by the end away from the keys the performance on an accordion "with one hand is a juggling trick often exhibited at country fairs," unless special mechanism exists for the purpose. Did ever the reviewer or anyone else witness this phenomenon at a country fair or elsewhere? The statement is only equalled in absurdity by the argument of a recent writer, who, in order to prove that the accounts of Mr. Home's levitations could not be true, says, "An Indian juggler could sit down in the middle of Trafalgar Square and then slowly and steadily rise in the air to a height of five or six feet, still sitting, and as slowly come down again." Curious logic this, to argue that a certain phenomenon is impossible to Mr. Home because a country bumpkin or an Indian juggler can produce it.
In the experiment with the board and spring balance the reviewer says that "the whole experiment is vitiated by the absence of any determination of the actual downward pressure of Mr. Home's fingers."
I maintain that this determination is as unnecessary as a determination of his "downward pressure" on the chair on which he was sitting, or on his boots when standing. In reference to this point I said:
But as this objection had been made by several persons, I devised certain experiments so as to entirely eliminate mechanical contact, and these experiment were fully described in my last paper.
To show the singular inaccuracy of the reviewer' statements and inferences, I give below, in parallel columns, quotations from the Quarterly Review, to mark the contrast between its unfair statements an my own actual language as printed in the Quarterly Journal of Science.
On page 351 the reviewer insinuates that the early scientific training of myself and fellow-workers has been deficient. Speaking for myself, I may say that my scientific training could not have well commenced earlier than it did. Some time before I was sixteen I had been occupied in experimental work in a private physical laboratory. Then I entered the Royal College of Chemistry, under Dr. Hoffmann, where I stayed six years. My first original research, on a complicated and difficult subject, was published when I was nineteen; and from that time to the present my scientific education has been one continuous lesson in exactness of observation.
The following parallel passages show that my reviewer and myself differ but little in our estimates of the qualities required for scientific investigation
The review is so full of perverse, prejudiced, or unwarranted mis-statements, that it is impossible to take note of them all. Passing over a number I had marked for animadversion, I must restrain myself to exemplifying a few of them.
The reviewer says that in my paper of July, 1870, my conclusion was "based on evidence which I admitted to be scientifically incomplete." Now, in that paper I gave no experimental evidence whatever. After testifying emphatically as to the genuineness of two of the phenomena, I gave an outline of certain tests which in my opinion ought to be applied, and, in a foot-note, I said that my preliminary tests in this direction had been satisfactory. Is this admitting that I had not employed such tests? Is it fair to say that my results were "based on evidence which I admitted to be scientifically incomplete"?
On page 346, referring to the results obtained with the board and balance, my reviewer urges that it never seems to have occurred to me "to test whether the same results could not be produced by throwing the board into rhythmical vibration by an intentional exertion of muscular action!" Yet will it be believed that at page 344 he gives in my own words an account of my trying this identical experiment; and if he had taken the trouble to refer to my other paper on page 486 of the Quarterly Journal of Science, he would have seen that I had tested in like manner the special apparatus to which he alludes. Has the reviewer learnt to blow both hot and cold? has his memory faded? or has chagrin at missing the truth in his long investigations spoilt his temper?
The "fact" spoken of on page 347, that myself and friends attributed to psychic force the rippling of the surface of water in a basin, when it was really produced by the tremor of a passing railway train, is, like many other of the reviewer's "facts," utterly baseless; but as he is careful to tell us that in this particular case the "fact" is not one of his own invention, what is to be said of his discretion in believing his "highly intelligent witness"? No such occurrence took place; nor will a passing railway train produce a ripple on the surface of water in the basin in my room. I invite the "highly intelligent witness" to verify the fact.
On page 348, in speaking of Mr. Varley, the reviewer says that his "scientific attainments are so cheaply estimated by those who are best qualified to judge of them, that he has never been admitted to the Royal Society.'' It seems natural it should follow that Mr. Varley is a Fellow of the Royal Society; he was elected in June last. I seem to be safe in saying exactly the opposite of the reviewer.
Not to weary the reader, I will deal only with three more mis-statements, selecting instances where the reviewer conceives that he is perfectly sure of his facts. In these three instances the reviewer commences his attack upon me with the ominous words, "we speak advisedly." If this expression has any meaning, it implies that the writer is more than ordinarily certain of the statement it prefaces - that he speaks with deliberate and careful consideration. Now, I also speak "advisedly" when I affirm, with the proof in my hand, that two if not all of these three charges fulminated against me are either heedless or wilful misrepresentations.
The first charge is as follows:
This spiteful statement is utterly false. I should think there are few persons in this country who have examined more carefully into the literature of the subject, or have read a greater number of books on Spiritualism, demonology, witchcraft, animal magnetism, and medical psychology, in English, French and Latin. In this list I have even included Dr. Carpenter's article on Electro-Biology and Mesmerism in the Quarterly Review for October, 1853.
The second well-considered charge runs as follows:
As to my entire ignorance of the previous history of the subject, that, I think, is pretty well disposed of in the preceding paragraph.
In 1853 I was intimately acquainted with the late Robert Murray, at that time manager at Mr. Newman's, Philosophical Instrument Maker, Regent Street. I was in his shop several times a week, and in May and June of that year Murray and I had many conversations on the subject of table-turning. I well remember his telling me one day that Professor Faraday had given him the design of a test-apparatus by which he expected to prove that the rotation of the table was due to unconscious muscular action. A day or two after, he showed me the instrument which he was just about to send to Professor Faraday. At that time I was not infrequently favoured by the late Rev. J. Barlow, Sec. R.I., with invitations to his house in Berkeley Street, and on one of these occasions on entering the room he thus accosted me: "Mr. Crookes, I am glad you have come, we are doing a little table-turning, and have just been trying Faraday's new instrument. He is here, let me introduce you to him." Professor Faraday, in his kindly genial manner, explained to me fully the action of his instrument, and instead of pooh-poohing the remarks of a mere boy - for I was only 21 - listened to my objection that his instrument was based upon the assumption that the supposed acting force from the hands would pass through the glass rollers, and replied that he had thought of that, and had got over the difficulty by tying the two boards together so as to render them rigid, when it was found that the table rotated as well with the instrument as without it. Since then I have frequently employed this device of a long delicate indicator to magnify minute movements. Perhaps my reviewer is not aware that this device is one of the commonest in physical laboratories, and was in frequent use long before any of the present generation saw the light. I have adopted it from 1853 up to the present time. In my early experiments I availed myself of Professor Faraday's test-instrument, but recently when I have frequently made it a sine qua non that the operator shall not touch the table or any portion of the instrument, as in Experiments III., IV., VI., it would puzzle even the ingenuity of my reviewer to say how Faraday's instrument is to be applied. In such cases I adopt the well-known and superlatively delicate index, a ray of light.
 Quarterly Journal of Science, Oct., 1871, p. 487 et seq.
The Quarterly goes on to magnify Faraday's experiment on table-turning, utterly forgetting that Faraday did not come to a similar conclusion with the reviewer at least, it was much more obscurely put, if put at all. Faraday, so far as I know, never spoke of a latent power within us, of which we are unconscious, working in our muscles and leading them to acts which culminate in a form of speech or writing by movements of a table. Faraday would have held this a sufficiently great novelty if put before him as I endeavour to put it before myself after reading the Quarterly's article. My belief, however, is that Faraday experimented with questionable phenomena only.
The third charge in which the reviewer speaks "advisedly" runs thus:
In January, 1863, whilst the interest attaching to the discovery of the element Thallium was fresh in the minds of scientific men, I was both surprised and gratified at receiving the following note from Professor Williamson:
This kindness being entirely unsought was the more pleasing to me. At the interview, my certificate was partially filled up and left in Professor Williamson's hands for the purpose of obtaining the necessary signatures. After this meeting with Professor Williamson I took no further steps in the matter, and spoke to no one on the subject; but in due time Professor Williamson wrote that my certificate was duly received at the Royal Society and read at the meeting, adding:
Subsequently, the same kind friend wrote:
I was formally elected on the 4th of June, 1863.
That discussion ensued when my name was brought before the Council follows as a matter of course. When fifteen only are to be elected from about fifty candidates, it is to be expected that the claims of each should be rigidly scrutinised; but whatever my anonymous reviewer may say "advisedly" on the subject, the fact remains that I was elected on the first application, an almost unheard-of honour for so young a man. Considering the large majority of eminent candidates whose election is postponed from year to year (sometimes even to ten years), there is no reason why my election should not have been postponed for at least one year had there been truth in the statement that "considerable hesitation" was evinced in conferring this distinction upon me.
The grossness of the imputation that the Royal Society admitted me although my investigations had only a merit purely technical, is astounding when the merits of the members generally are considered. I should consider them nearly all as purely technical workers in science, when they have done any work at all; but the curiosity is great when we find that the inquiry in question is purely technical. Professedly, it is a question of apparatus. In entering upon an enquiry which I have endeavoured to keep within the limits of broad, tangible and easily demonstrable facts, what qualities would common sense ask for in an investigator? Would an investigation be considered trustworthy were it conducted by a chemical dreamer who could spin off theory by the hour, and cover acres of paper with chemical symbols, but who in a laboratory would be unable to perform the simplest analysis or build up a piece of chemical apparatus? Let it not however, be supposed that I am unmindful of the, philosophical and fructifying labours of Hoffmann, Williamson and others in the field of Chemical Philosophy. But with reference to this enquiry, surely it should be conducted by one "who is trustworthy in an enquiry requiring technical knowledge for its successful conduct."
The reviewer assumes that the phenomenon of the suspension of heavy bodies in the air, the up and down movements of a wooden board, and the registration of the varying tension on a spring balance, are psychical not physical; and he lays down a dictum that in such matter-of-fact results which I have obtained, one's own eyes must not be trusted, for in such a case "seeing is anything but believing." To show my unfitness for ascertaining the weight of a piece of wood, he accuses me of being ignorant of the knowledge of Chemical Philosophy! He does, however, from his Olympian height, condescendingly admit that my ability is technical, that I have made creditable use of my very limited opportunities, and intimates that I am trustworthy as to any enquiry which requires technical knowledge for its successful conduct. Now, what does he mean by all this? I always thought that these qualities which are so contemptuously accorded me were just those of the highest value in this country. What has chiefly placed England in the industrial position she now holds but technical science and special researches?
But my greatest crime seems to be that I am a "specialist of specialists!" I a specialist of specialists! This is indeed news to me, that I have confined my attention only to one special subject. Will my reviewer kindly say what that subject is? Is it general chemistry whose chronicler I have been since the commencement of the Chemical News in 1859? Is it Thallium, about which the public have probably heard as much as they care for? Is it Chemical Analysis, in which my recently published "Select Methods" is the result of twelve years' work? Is it Disinfection and the Prevention and Cure of Cattle Plague, my published report on which may be said to have popularised Carbolic Acid? Is it Photography, on the theory and practice of which my papers have been very numerous? Is it the Metallurgy of Gold and Silver, in which my discovery of the value of Sodium in the amalgamation process is now largely used in Australia, California and South America? Is it Physical Optics, in which department I have space only to refer to papers on some Phenomena of Polarised Light, published before I was twenty-one; to my detailed description of the Spectroscope and labours with this instrument, when it was almost unknown in England; to my papers on the Solar and Terrestrial Spectra; to my examination of the Optical Phenomena of Opals and construction of the Spectrum Microscope to my papers on the Measurement of the Luminous Intensity of Light; and my description of my Polarisation Photometer? Or is my speciality Astronomy and Meteorology, inasmuch as I was for twelve months at the Radcliffe Observatory, Oxford, where, in addition to my principal employment of arranging the meteorological department, I divided my leisure time between Homer and mathematics at Magdalen Hall, planethunting and transit taking with Mr. Pogson, now Principal of the Madras Observatory, and celestial photography with the magnificent heliometer attached to the Observatory? My photographs of the Moon, taken in 1855, at Mr. Hartnup's Observatory, Liverpool, were for years the best extant, and I was honoured by a money grant from the Royal Society to carry out further work in connection with them. These facts, together with my trip to Oran last year as one of the Government Eclipse Expedition, and the invitation recently received to visit Ceylon for the same purpose, would almost seem to show that Astronomy was my specialty. In truth, few scientific men are less open to the charge of being "a specialist of specialists."
Whilst the scepticism of this reviewer in respect to the credibility of eminent witnesses, who give their names and detailed statements of definite facts, exceeds all reasonable bounds, his credulity in believing unattested statements of others, or in expecting his readers to give credit to all the absurd stories of his own experience, is refreshing in its simplicity. He gives five separate accounts of certain séances, where he saw something take place, but he condescends to few details; with one exception, no names or tests are given, nor is there a single clue by which the accuracy of his statements can be verified. The only case in which a name and anything like detail is given is an account of a visit to Mr. Foster. Amongst other strange things here recorded, but by no means satisfactorily accounted for, even by our reviewer, is the following:
The accurate answers to the reviewer's questions are supposed to be explained by "unconscious ideo-motor action," which, like "unconscious cerebration," is to explain all phenomena - past, present and to come. Respecting the latter phenomenon, he says: "The trick by which the red letters were produced was discovered by the enquiries of our medical friends." If the reviewer will not believe my plain statement of facts fortified by eminent witnesses, how does he expect his readers to believe these statements on the simple word of an anonymous writer? His "gullibility," to use his own coarse but expressive word, is strongly shown in his implicit belief of an obviously exaggerated account given by the well-known Robert Houdin of the way in which he and his son performed some of their tricks.
It is curious to note how Dr. Carpenter is made to pervade the Quarterly Review article. The reviewer throughout the article unconsciously manifests his implicit conviction that Dr. Carpenter is to be regarded as the paramount authority in reference to the subtle psychological questions involved in the so-called Spiritualistic phenomena. The theories of the profound psychologists of Germany, to say nothing of those of our own countrymen, are made quite subsidiary to the hypotheses of Dr. William Carpenter. An unquestioning and infatuated belief in what Dr. Carpenter says concerning our mental operations has led the reviewer wholly to ignore the facts that these speculations are not accepted by the best minds devoted to psychological inquiries. I mean no disrespect to Dr. Carpenter, who, in certain departments, has done some excellent scientific work, not always, perhaps, in a simple and undogmatic spirit, when I "speak advisedly" that his mind lacks that acute, generalising, philosophic quality which would fit him to unravel the intricate problems which lie hid in the structure of the human brain.
Here I must bring this enforced vindication to a close. The self-reference to which I have been constrained is exceedingly distasteful to me. I forbear to characterise with fitting terms the spirit of this attack upon a scientific worker; it is enough that I have proved that in ten distinct instances the reviewer has deliberately calumniated me. It is a heavy and a true charge to bring against anyone occupying the reviewer's position amongst scientific men.
I cannot refrain from citing from the Birmingham Morning News the following trenchant criticism from the pen of an eminent chemist - himself a disbeliever in "Spiritualism." It will serve as one instance amongst many, to show the feeling of disgust which the article in the Quarterly Review has excited among scientific men, whatever their opinions on this topic may be. After a few Prefatory remarks, the writer goes on to say:
 It is due to Mr. Serjeant Cox to state that, so far from being an old spiritualist, he had seen nothing of Spiritualism until he joined the Investigation Committee of the Dialectical Society, confident that he should thus assist in dissipating a delusion or detecting an imposture; but by that elaborate examination he was satisfied (as he states in his Report) that many of the asserted phenomena we genuine, but that there was no evidence whatever to support the theory of Spiritualism; that he was convinced by what he had seen that the Force was a purely psychical one, and in no way produced by spirits of the dead. He is, in fact, a decided opponent of the theory of the spiritualists, and has just published a book detailing his experiments, entitled "Spiritualism answered by Science". The writer of the article in the Quarterly Review must have been quite aware of this fact, for he actually cites a passage from the letter to me in which letter Mr. Serjeant Cox expressly repudiates the theory of Spiritualism. - William Crookes.
Notes of an Enquiry into the Phenomena called Spiritual during the years 1870-1873
- First published in the Quarterly Journal of Science, January 1874 -
LIKE A traveler exploring some distant country, the wonders of which have hitherto been known only through reports and rumors of a vague or distorted character, so for four years I have been occupied in pushing an enquiry into a territory of natural knowledge which offers almost virgin soil to a scientific man. As the traveler sees in the natural phenomena he may witness the action of forces governed by natural laws, where others see only the capricious intervention of offended gods, so have I endeavoured to trace the operation of natural laws and forces, where others have seen only the agency of supernatural beings, owning no laws, and obeying no force but their own free will. As the traveler in his wanderings is entirely dependent on the good will and friendliness of the chiefs and the medicine men of the tribes amongst whom he sojourns, so have I not only been aided in my enquiry in a marked degree by some of those who possess the peculiar powers I have sought to examine, but have also formed firm and valued friendships amongst many of the recognized leaders of opinion whose hospitalities I have shared. As the traveler sometimes sends home, when opportunity offers, a brief record of progress, which record, being necessarily isolated from all that has led up to it, is often received with disbelief or ridicule, so have I on two occasions selected and published what seemed to be a few striking and definite facts; but having omitted to describe the preliminary stages necessary to lead the public mind up to an appreciation of the phenomena and to show how they fitted into other observed facts, they were also met, not only with incredulity, but with no little abuse. And, lastly, as the traveler, when his exploration is finished and he returns to his old associates, collects together all his scattered notes, tabulates them, and puts them in order ready to be given to the world as a connected narrative, so have I, on reaching this stage of my enquiry, arranged and put together all my disconnected observations, ready to place before the public in the form of a volume.
The phenomena I am prepared to attest are so extraordinary and so directly oppose the most firmly rooted articles of scientific belief - amongst others, the ubiquity and invariable action of the force of gravitation - that, even now, on recalling the details of what I witnessed, there is an antagonism in my mind between reason, which pronounces it to be scientifically impossible, and the consciousness that my senses, both of touch and sight - and these corroborated, as they were, by the senses of all who were present, - are not lying witnesses when they testify against my preconceptions.
But the supposition that there is a sort of mania or delusion which suddenly attacks a whole room full of intelligent persons who are quite sane elsewhere, and that they all concur to the minutest particulars, in the details of the occurrences of which they suppose themselves to be witnesses, seems to my mind more incredible than even the facts they attest.
The subject is far more difficult and extensive than it appears. Four years ago I intended only to devote a leisure month or two to ascertain whether certain marvelous occurrences I had heard about would stand the test of close scrutiny. Having, however, soon arrived at the same conclusion as, I may say, every impartial enquirer, that there was "something in it," I could not, as a student of Nature's laws, refuse to follow the enquiry wheresoever the facts might lead. Thus a few months have grown into a few years, and were my time at my own disposal it would probably extend still longer. But other matters of scientific and practical interest demand my present attention; and, inasmuch as I cannot afford the time requisite to follow the inquiry as it deserves, and as I am fully confident it will be studied by scientific men a few years hence, and as my opportunities are not now as good as they were some time ago, when Mr. D. D. Home was in good health, and Miss Kate Fox (now Mrs. Jencken) was free from domestic and maternal occupations, I feel compelled to suspend further investigation for the present.
To obtain free access to some persons abundantly endowed with the power I am experimenting upon, now involves more favour than a scientific investigator should be expected to make of it. Spiritualism amongst its more devout followers is a religion. The mediums, in many cases young members of the family, are guarded with a seclusion and jealousy which an outsider can penetrate with difficulty. Being earnest and conscientious believers in the truth of certain doctrines which they hold to be substantiated by what appear to them to be miraculous occurrences, they seem to hold the presence of scientific investigation as a profanation of the shrine. As a personal favour I have more than once been allowed to be present at meetings that presented rather the form of a religious ceremony than of a spiritualistic séance. But to be admitted by favour once or twice, as a stranger might be allowed to witness the Eleusinian mysteries, or a Gentile to peep within the Holy of Holies, is not the way to ascertain facts and discover laws. To gratify curiosity is one thing; to carry on systematic research is another. I am seeking the truth continually. On a few occasions, indeed, I have been allowed to apply tests and impose conditions; but only once or twice have I been permitted to carry off the priestess from her shrine, and in my own house, surrounded by my own friends, to enjoy opportunities of testing the phenomena I had witnessed elsewhere under less conclusive conditions(1). My observations on these cases will find their due place in the work I am about to publish.
(1) In this paper I give no instances and use no arguments drawn from these exceptional cases. Without this explanation it might be thought that the immense number of facts I have accumulated were principally obtained on the few occasions here referred to, and the objection would naturally arise of insufficiency of scrutiny from want of time.
Following the plan adopted on previous occasions, - a plan which, however much it offended the prejudices of some critics, I have good reason to know was acceptable to the readers of the Quarterly Journal of Science - I intended to embody the results of my labour in the form of one or two articles for this journal. However, on going over my notes, I find such a wealth of facts, such a superabundance of evidence, so overwhelming a mass of testimony, all of which will have to be marshalled in order, that I could fill several numbers of the Quarterly. I must therefore be content on this occasion with an outline only of my labours, leaving proof and full details to another occasion.
My principal object will be to place on record a series of actual occurrences which have taken place in my own house, in the presence of trustworthy witnesses, and under as strict test conditions as I could devise. Every fact which I have observed is, moreover, corroborated by the records of independent observers at other times and places. It will be seen that the facts are of the most astounding character, and seem utterly irreconcilable with all known theories of modem science. Having satisfied myself of their truth, it would be moral cowardice to withhold my testimony because my previous publications were ridiculed by critics and others who knew nothing whatever of the subject, and who were too prejudiced to see and judge for themselves whether or not there was truth in the phenomena; I shall state simply what I have seen and proved by repeated experiment and test, and "I have yet to learn that it is irrational to endeavour to discover the causes of unexplained phenomena."
At the commencement, I must correct one or two errors which have taken firm possession of the public mind. One is that darkness is essential to the phenomena. This is by no means the case. Except where darkness has been a necessary condition, as with some of the phenomena of luminous appearances, and a few other instances, everything recorded has taken place in the light. In the few cases where the phenomena noted have occurred in darkness I have been very particular to mention the fact; moreover, some special reason can be shown for the exclusion of light, or the results have been produced under such perfect test conditions that the suppression of one of these senses has not really weakened the evidence.
Another common error is that the occurrences can be witnessed only at certain times and places - in the rooms of the medium, or at hours previously arranged; and arguing from this erroneous supposition, an analogy has been insisted on between the phenomena called spiritual and the feats of legerdemain by professional "conjurers", and "wizards," exhibited on their own platform and surrounded by all the appliances of their art.
To show how far this is from the truth, I need only say that, with very few exceptions, the many hundreds of facts I am prepared to attest - facts which to imitate by known mechanical or physical means would baffle the skill of Houdin, a Bosco, or an Anderson, backed with all the resources of elaborate machinery and the practice of years - have all taken place in my own house, at times appointed by myself, and under circumstances which absolutely precluded the employment of the very simplest instrumental aids.
A third error is that the medium must select his own circle of friends and associates at a séance; that these friends must be thorough believers in the truth of whatever doctrine the medium enunciates; and that conditions are imposed on any person present of an investigating turn of mind, which entirely preclude accurate observation and facilitate trickery and deception. In reply to this I can state that (with the exception of the very few cases: to which I have alluded in a previous paragraph where, whatever might have been the motive for exclusiveness, it certainly was not the veiling of deception) I have chosen my own circle of friends, have introduced any hardheaded unbeliever whom I pleased, and have generally imposed my own terms, which have been carefully chosen to prevent the possibility of fraud. Having generally ascertained some of the conditions which facilitate the occurrence of the phenomena, my modes of conducting these inquiries have generally been attended with equal and, indeed, in most cases with more, success than on other occasions, where, through mistaken. notions of the importance of certain trifling observances, the conditions imposed might render less easy the detection of fraud.
I have said that darkness is not essential. It is however, well-ascertained fact that when the force is weak a bright light exerts an interfering action on some of the phenomena. The power possessed by Mr. Home is sufficiently strong to withstand this antagonistic influence; consequently, he always objects to darkness at his séances. Indeed, except on two occasions, when, for some particular experiments of my own, light was excluded, everything which I have witnessed with him has taken place in the light. I have had many opportunities of testing the action of light of different sources and colours, such as sunlight, diffused daylight, moonlight, gas, lamp, and candle light electric light from a vacuum tube, homogeneous yellow light, etc. The interfering rays appear to be those at the extreme end of the spectrum.
I now proceed to classify some of the phenomena which have come under my notice, proceeding from the simple to the more complex, and briefly giving under each heading an outline of some of the evidence I am prepared to bring forward. My readers will remember that, with the exception of cases specially mentioned, the occurrences have taken place in my own house, in the light, and with only private friends present besides the medium. In the contemplated volume I propose to give in full detail the tests and precautions adopted on each occasion, with names of witnesses. I only briefly allude to them in this article.
The Movement of Heavy Bodies with Contact, but without Mechanical Exertion
This is one of the simplest forms of the phenomena observed. It varies in degree from a quivering or vibration of the room and its contents to the actual rising into the air of a heavy body when the hand is placed on it. The retort is obvious that if people are touching a thing when it moves, they push it, or pull it, or lift it; I have proved experimentally that this is not the case in numerous instances, but as a matter of evidence I attach little importance to this class of phenomena by itself, and only mention them as a preliminary to other movements of the same kind, but without contact.
These movements (and indeed I may say the same of every kind of phenomenon) are generally preceded by a peculiar cold air, sometimes amounting to a decided wind. I have bad sheets of paper blown about by it, and a thermometer lowered several degrees. On some occasions, which I will subsequently give more in detail, I have not detected any actual movement of the air, but the cold has been so intense that I could only compare it to that felt when the hand has been within a few inches of frozen mercury.
The Phenomena of Percussive and Other Allied Sounds
The popular name of "raps" conveys a very erroneous impression of this class of phenomena. At different times, during my experiments, I have heard delicate ticks, as with the point of a pin; a cascade of sharp sounds as from an induction coil in full work; detonations in the air; sharp metallic taps; a crackling like that heard when a fractional machine is at work; sounds like scratching; the twittering of a bird, etc.
These sounds are noticed with almost every medium, each having a special peculiarity; they are more varied with Mr. Home, but for power and certainty I have met with no one who at all approached Miss Kate Fox. For several months I enjoyed almost unlimited opportunity of testing the various phenomena occurring in the presence of this lady, and I especially examined the phenomena of these sounds. With mediums, generally it is necessary to sit for a formal séance before anything is heard; but in the case of Miss Fox it seems only necessary for her to place her hand on any substance for loud thuds to be heard in it, like a triple pulsation, sometimes loud enough to be heard several rooms off. In this manner I have heard them in a living tree - on a sheet of glass - on a stretched iron wire - on a stretched membrane - a tambourine - on the roof of a cab - and on the floor of a theatre. Moreover, actual contact is not always necessary; I have had these sounds proceeding from the floor, walls, etc., when the medium's hands and feet were held - when she was standing on a chair-when she was suspended in a swing from the ceiling- when she was enclosed in a wire cage - and when she had fallen fainting on a sofa. I have heard them on a glass harmonicon - I have felt them on my own shoulder and under my own hands. I have heard them on a sheet of paper, held between the fingers by a piece of thread passed through one corner. With a full knowledge of the numerous theories which have been started, chiefly in America, to explain these sounds, I have tested them in every way that I could devise, until there has been no escape from the conviction that they were true objective occurrences not produced by trickery or mechanical means.
An important question here forces itself upon the attention. Are the movements and sounds governed by intelligence? At a very early stage of the enquiry, it was seen that the power producing the phenomena was not merely a blind force, but was associated with or governed by intelligence: thus the sounds to which I have just alluded will be repeated a definite number of times, they will come loud or faint, and in different places at request and by a pre-arranged code of signals, questions are answered, and messages given with more or less accuracy.
The intelligence governing the phenomena is sometimes manifestly below that of the medium. It is frequently in direct opposition to the wishes of the medium: when a determination has been expressed to do something which might not be considered quite right, I have known urgent messages given to induce a reconsideration. The intelligence is sometimes of such a character as to lead to the belief that it does not emanate from any person present.
Several instances can be given to prove each of these statements, but the subject will be more fully discussed subsequently, when treating of the source of the intelligence.
The Alteration of Weights of Bodies
I have repeated the experiments already described in this Journal, in different forms, and with several mediums. I need not further allude to them here.
Movements of Heavy Substances when at a distance from the Medium
The instances in which heavy bodies, such as tables, chairs, sofas, etc., have been moved, when the medium has not been touching them, are very numerous. I will briefly mention a few of the most striking. My own chair has been twisted partly round, whilst my feet were off the floor. A chair was seen by all present to move slowly up to the table from a far comer, when all were watching it; on another occasion an arm chair moved to where we were sitting, and then moved slowly back again (a distance of about three feet) at my request. On three successive evenings a small table moved slowly across the room, under conditions which I had specially pre-arranged, so as to answer any objection which might be raised to the evidence. I have had several repetitions of the experiment considered by the Committee of the Dialectical Society to be conclusive, viz., the movement of a heavy table, in full fight, the chairs turned with their backs to the table, about a foot off, and each person kneeling on his chair, with hands resting over the backs of the chairs, but not touching the table. On one occasion this took place when I was moving about so as to see how everyone was placed.
The Rising of Tables and Chairs off the Ground, with out Contact with any Person
A remark is generally made when occurrences of this kind are mentioned: Why is it only tables and chairs which do these things? Why is this property peculiar to furniture? I might reply that I only observe and record facts, and do not profess to enter into the Why and Wherefore; but indeed it will be obvious that if a heavy inanimate body in an ordinary dining-room has to rise off the floor, it cannot very well be anything else but a table or a chair. That this propensity is not specially attached to furniture I have abundant evidence, but like other experimental demonstrators, the intelligence or power, whatever it may be, which produces these phenomena can only work with the materials which are available.
On five separate occasions a heavy dining-table rose between a few inches and 1 1/2 feet off the floor, under special circumstances, which rendered trickery impossible. On another occasion a heavy table rose from the floor in full light, while I was holding the medium's hands and feet. On another occasion the table rose from the floor, not only when no person was touching it, but under conditions which I had prearranged so as to assure unquestionable proof of the fact.
The Levitation of Human Beings
This has occurred in my presence on four occasions in darkness. The test conditions under which they took place were quite satisfactory, so far as the judgment was concerned; but ocular demonstration of such a fact is so necessary to disturb our pre-formed opinions as to "the naturally possible and impossible," that I will here only mention cases in which the deductions of reason were confirmed by the sense of sight.
On one occasion I witnessed a chair, with a lady sitting on it, rise several inches from the ground. On another occasion, to avoid the suspicion of this being in some way performed by herself, the lady knelt on the chair in such a manner that its four feet were visible to us. It then rose about three inches, remained suspended for about ten seconds, and then slowly descended. At another time two children, on separate occasions, rose from the floor with their chairs, in full daylight, under (to me) most satisfactory conditions; for I was kneeling and keeping close watch upon the feet of the chair, and observing that no one might touch them.
The most striking cases of levitation which I have witnessed have been with Mr. Home, On three separate occasions have I seen him raised completely from the floor of the room. Once sitting in an easy chair, once kneeling on his chair, and once standing up. On each occasion I had full opportunity of watching the occurrence as it was taking place.
There are at least a hundred recorded instances of Mr. Home's rising from the ground, in the presence of as many separate persons, and I have heard from the lips of the three witnesses to the most striking occurrence of this kind - the Earl of Dunraven, Lord Lindsay, and Captain C. Wynne - their own most minute accounts of what took place. To reject the recorded evidence on this subject is to reject all human testimony whatever; for no fact in sacred or profane history is supported by a stronger array of proofs.
The accumulated testimony establishing Mr. Homes levitations is overwhelming. It is greatly to be desired that some person, whose evidence would be accepted as conclusive by the scientific world - if indeed there lives a person whose testimony in favour of such phenomena would be taken - would seriously and patiently examine the alleged facts. Most of the eyewitnesses to these levitations are now living, and would, doubtless, be willing to give their evidence. But, in a few years, such direct evidence will be difficult, if not impossible, to be obtained.
Movement of Various Small Articles without Contact with any Person
Under this heading I propose to describe some special phenomena which I have witnessed. I can do little more here than allude to some of the more striking facts, all of which, be it remembered, have occurred under circumstances that render trickery impossible. But it is idle to attribute these results to trickery, for I would again remind my readers that what I relate has not been accomplished at the house of a medium, but in my own house, where preparations have been quite impossible. A medium, walking into my dining room, cannot, while seated in one part of the room with a number of persons keenly watching him, by trickery make an accordion play in my own hand when I hold it keys downwards, or cause the same accordion to float about the room playing all the time. He cannot introduce machinery which will wave window curtains or pull up Venetian blinds eight feet off, tie a knot in a handkerchief and place it in a far comer of the room, sound notes on a distant piano, cause a card-plate to float about the room, raise a water-bottle and tumbler from the table, make a coral necklace rise on end, cause a fan to move about and fan the company, or set in motion a pendulum when enclosed in a glass case firmly cemented to the wall.
These, being rather faint, generally require the room to be darkened. I need scarcely remind my readers again that, under these circumstances, I have taken proper precautions to avoid being imposed upon by phosphorised oil or other means. Moreover, many of these lights are such as I have tried to imitate artificially, but cannot.
Under the strictest test conditions, I have seen a solid self-luminous body, the size and nearly the shape of a turkey's egg, float noiselessly about the room, at one time higher than any one present could reach standing on tiptoe, and then gently descend to the floor. It was visible for more than ten minutes, and before it faded away it struck the table three times with a sound like that of a hard solid body. During this time the medium was lying back, apparently insensible, in an easy chair.
I have seen luminous points of light darting about and settling on the heads of different persons; I have had questions answered by the flashing of a bright light a desired number of times in front of my face. I have seen sparks of light rising from the table to the ceiling, and again falling upon the table, striking it with an audible sound. I have had an alphabetic communication given by luminous flashes occurring before me in the air, whilst my hand was moving about amongst them. I have seen a luminous cloud floating upwards to a picture. Under the strictest test conditions, I have more than once had a solid, self-luminous, crystalline body placed in my hand by a hand which did not belong to any person in the room. In the light, I have seen a luminous cloud hover over a heliotrope on a side table, break a sprig off, and carry the sprig to a lady; and on some occasions I have seen a similar luminous cloud visibly condense to the form of a band and carry small objects about. These, however, more properly belong to the next class of phenomena.
The Appearance of Hands, either Self-Luminous or Visible by Ordinary Light
The forms of bands are frequently felt at dark séances, or under circumstances where they cannot be seen. More rarely I have seen the hands. I will here give no instances in which the phenomenon has occurred in darkness, but will simply select a few of the numerous instances in which I have seen the bands in the light.
A beautifully formed small hand rose up from an opening in a dining-table and gave me a flower; it appeared and then disappeared three times at intervals, affording me ample opportunity of satisfying myself that it was as real in appearance as my own. This occurred in the light in my own room, whilst I was holding the medium's hands and feet.
On another occasion, a small band and arm, like a baby's, appeared playing about a lady who was sitting next to me. It then passed to me and patted my arm and pulled my coat several times.
At another time, a finger and thumb were seen to pick the petals from a flower in Mr. Home's buttonhole, and lay them in front of several persons who were sitting near him.
A hand has been repeatedly seen by myself and others playing the keys of an accordion, both of the medium's hands being visible at the same time, and sometimes being held by those near him.
The hands and fingers do not always appear to me to be solid and life-like. Sometimes, indeed, they present more the appearance of a nebulous cloud partly condensed into the form of a hand. This is not equally visible to all present. For instance, a flower or other small object is seen to move; one person present will see a luminous cloud hovering over it, another will detect a nebulous looking hand, whilst others will see nothing at all but the moving flower. I have more than once seen, first an object move, then a luminous cloud appear to form about it, and, lastly, the cloud condense into a shape and become a perfectly-formed hand. At this stage the hand is visible to all present. It is not always a mere form, but sometimes appears perfectly life-like and graceful, the fingers moving, and the flesh apparently as human as that of any in the room. At the wrist, or arm, it becomes hazy, and fades off into a luminous cloud.
To the touch, the hand sometimes appears icy cold and dead, at other times, warm and life-like, grasping my own with the firm pressure of an old friend.
I have retained one of these hands in my own, firmly resolved not to let it escape. There was no struggle or effort made to get loose, but it gradually seemed to resolve itself into vapour, and faded in that manner from my grasp.
This is the term employed to express writing which is not produced by any person present. I have had words and messages repeatedly written on privately-marked paper, under the most rigid test conditions, and have heard the pencil moving over the paper in the dark. The conditions pre-arranged by myself have been so strict as to be equally convincing to my mind as if I had seen the written characters formed. But as space will not allow me to enter into full particulars, I will merely select two instances in which my eyes as well as ears were witnesses to the operation.
The first instance which I shall give took place, it is true, at a dark séance, but the result was not less satisfactory on that account. I was sitting next to the medium, Miss Fox, the only other persons present being my wife and a lady relative, and I was holding the medium's two hands in one of mine, whilst her feet were resting on my feet. Paper was on the table before us, and my disengaged hand was holding a pencil.
A luminous hand came down from the upper part of the room, and after hovering near me for a few seconds, took the pencil from my hand, rapidly wrote on a sheet of paper, threw the pencil down, and then rose up over our heads, gradually fading into darkness.
My second instance may be considered the record of a failure. "A good failure often teaches more than the most successful experiment." It took place in the light, in my own room, with only a few private friends and Mr. Home present. Several circumstances, to which I need not further allude, had. shown that the power that evening was strong. I therefore expressed a wish to witness the actual production of a written message such as I had heard described a short time before by a friend. Immediately an alphabetic communication was made as follows: "We will try." A pencil and some sheets of paper had been lying on the centre of the table; presently the pencil rose up on its point and after advancing by hesitating jerks to the paper, fell down. It then rose, and again fell. A third time it tried, but with no better result. After three unsuccessful attempts, a small wooden lath, which was lying near upon the table, slid towards the pencil, and rose a few inches from the table; the pencil rose again, and propping itself against the lath, the two together made an effort to mark the paper. It fell, and then a joint effort was again made. After a third trial the lath gave it up, and moved back to its place, the pencil lay as it fell across the paper, and an alphabetic message told us - "We have tried to do as you asked, but our power is exhausted."
Phantom Forms and Faces
These are the rarest of the phenomena I have witnessed. The conditions requisite for their appearance appear to be so delicate, and such trifles interfere with their production, that only on very few occasions have I witnessed them under satisfactory test conditions. I will mention two of these cases.
In the dusk of the evening, during a séance with Mr. Rome at my house, the curtains of a window about eight feet from Mr. Home were seen to move. A dark, shadowy, semitransparent form, like that of a man, was then seen by all present standing near the window, waving the curtain with his hand. As we looked, the form faded away, and the curtains ceased to move.
The following is a still more striking instance. As in the former case, Mr. Home was the medium. A phantom form came from a comer of the room, took an accordion in its hand, and then glided about the room playing the instrument. The form was visible to all present for many minutes, Mr. Home also being seen at the same time. Coming rather close to a lady who was sitting apart from the rest of the company, she gave a slight cry, upon which it vanished.
Special Instances Which Seem to Point to the Agency of an Exterior Intelligence
It has already been shown that the phenomena are governed by an intelligence. It becomes a question of importance as to the source of that intelligence. Is it the intelligence of the medium, of any of the other persons in the room, or is it an exterior intelligence? Without wishing at present to speak positively on this point, I may say that whilst I have observed many circumstances which appear to show that the will and intelligence of the medium have much to do with the phenomena(2), I have observed some circumstances which seem conclusively to point to the agency of an outside intelligence, not belonging to any human being in the room.
Space does not allow me to give here all the arguments which can be adduced to prove these points, but I will briefly mention one or two circumstances out of many.
(2) I do not wish my meaning to he misunderstood. What I mean is, not that the medium's will and intelligence are actively employed in any conscious or dishonest way in the production of the phenomena, but that they sometimes appear to act in an unconscious manner.
I have been present when several phenomena were going on at the same time, some being unknown to the medium. I have been with Miss Fox when she has been writing a message automatically to one person present, whilst a message to another person on another subject was being given alphabetically by means of "raps," and the whole time she was conversing freely with a third person on a subject totally different from either. Perhaps a more striking instance is the following:
During a séance with Mr. Home, a small lath, which. I have before mentioned, moved across the table to me, in the light, and delivered a message to me by tapping my hand; I repeating the alphabet, and the lath tapping me at the right letters. The other end of the lath was resting on the table, some distance from Mr. Home's hands.
The taps were so sharp and clear, and the lath was evidently so well under control of the invisible power which was governing its movements, that I said, "Can the intelligence governing the motion of this lath change the character of the movements, and give me a telegraphic message through the Morse alphabet by taps on my hand?" (I have every reason to believe that the Morse code was quite unknown to any other person present, and it was only imperfectly known to me.) Immediately I said this, the character of the taps changed, and the message was continued in the way I had requested. The letters were given too rapidly for me to do more than catch a word here and there, and consequently I lost the message; but I heard sufficient to convince me that there was a good Morse operator at the other end of the line, wherever that might be.
Another instance. A lady was writing automatically by means of the planchette. I was trying to devise a means of proving that what she wrote was not due to "unconscious cerebration." The planchette, as it always does, insisted that, although it was moved by the hand and arm of the lady, the intelligence was that of an invisible being who was playing on her brain as on a musical instrument, and thus moving her muscles. I therefore said to this intelligence, "Can you see the contents of this room?" "Yes," wrote the planchette. "Can you see to read this newspaper?" said I, putting my finger on a copy of the Times, which was on a table behind me, but without looking at it. "Yes," was the reply of the planchette. "Well," I said, "if you can see that, write the word which is now covered by my finger, and I will believe you." The planchette commenced to move. Slowly and with great difficulty the word "however" was written. I turned round and saw the the word "however" was covered by the tip of my finger.
I had purposely avoided looking at the newspaper when I tried this experiment, and it was impossible for the lady, had she tried, to have seen any of the printed words, for she was sitting at one table, and the paper was on another table behind, my body intervening.
Miscellaneous Occurrences of a Complex Character
Under this heading I propose to give several occurrences which cannot be otherwise classified owing to their complex character. Out of more than a dozen cases, I will select two. The first occurred in the presence of Miss Kate Fox. To render it intelligible I must enter into some details.
Miss Fox had promised to give me a séance at my house one evening in the spring of last year. Whilst waiting for her, a lady relative, with my two eldest sons, aged fourteen and eleven, were sitting in the dining-room where theséances were always held, and I was sitting by myself, writing in the library. Hearing a cab drive up and the bell ring, I opened the door to Miss Fox, and took her directly into the dining-room. She said she would not go upstairs, as she could not stay very long, but laid her bonnet and shawl on a chair in the room. I then went to the dining-room door, and telling the two boys to go into the library and proceed with their lessons, I closed the door behind them, locked it, and (according to my usual custom at séances) put the key in my pocket.
We sat down, Miss Fox being on my right hand and the other lady on my left. An alphabetic message was soon given to turn the gas out, and we thereupon sat in total darkness, I holding Miss Fox's two hands in one of mine the whole time. Very soon a message was given in the following words: "We are going to bring something to show our power"; and almost immediately afterwards we all heard the tinkling of a bell, not stationary, but moving about in all parts of the room: at one time by the wall, at another in a further comer of the room, now touching me on the head, and now tapping against the floor. After ringing about the room in this manner for fully five minutes, it fell upon the table close to my hands.
During the time this was going on no one moved, and Miss Fox's hands were perfectly quiet. I remarked that it could not be my little hand-bell which was ringing, for I left that in the library. (Shortly before Miss Fox came I had occasion to refer to a book which was lying on a corner of a book-shelf. The bell was on the book, and I put it on one side to get the book. That little incident had impressed on my mind the fact of the bell being in the library.) The gas was burning brightly in the hall outside the dining-room door so that this could not be opened without letting light into the room, even had there been an accomplice in the house with a duplicate key, which there certainly was not.
I struck a light. There, sure enough, was my own bell lying on the table before me. I went straight into the library. A glance showed that the bell was not where it ought to have been. I said to my eldest boy, "Do you know where my little bell is?" "Yes, papa," he replied, "there it is," pointing to where I had left it. He looked up as he said this, and then continued, "No - it's not there, but it was there a little time ago." "How do you mean? - has anyone come in and taken it?"
"No," said he, "no one has been in; but I am sure it was there, because when you sent us in here out of the dining-room, J. (the youngest boy) began ringing it so that I could not go on with my lessons, and I told him to stop." J. corroborated this, and said that, after ringing it, he put the bell down where he had found it.
The second circumstance which I will relate occurred in the light, one Sunday evening, only Mr. Home and members of my family being present. My wife and I had been spending the day in the country, and had brought home a few flowers we had gathered. On reaching home, we gave them to a servant to put them in water. Mr. Home came soon after, and we at once proceeded to the dining-room. As we were sitting down, a servant brought in the flowers which she had arranged in a vase. I placed it in the centre of the dining-table, which was without a cloth. This was the first time Mr. Home had seen these flowers.
After several phenomena had occurred, the conversation turned upon some circumstances which seemed only explicable on the assumption that matter had actually passed through a solid substance. Thereupon a message was given by means of the alphabet: "It is impossible for matter to pass through matter, but we will show you what we can do." We waited in silence. Presently a luminous appearance was seen hovering over the bouquet of flowers, and then, in full view of all present, a piece of China-grass 15 inches long, which formed the centre ornament of the bouquet, slowly rose from the other flowers, and then descended to the table in front of the vase between it and Mr. Home. It did not stop on reaching the table, but went straight through it, and we all watched it until it had entirely passed through. Immediately on the disappearance of the grass, my wife, who was sitting near Mr. Home, saw a hand come up from under the table between them, holding the piece of grass. It tapped her on the shoulder two or three times with a sound audible to all, then laid the grass on the floor, and disappeared. Only two persons saw the hand, but all in the room saw the piece of grass moving about as I have described. During the time this was taking place, Mr. Home's hands were seen by all to be quietly resting on the table in front of him. The place where the grass disappeared was 18 inches from his hands. The table was a telescope dining table, opening with a screw; there was no leaf in it, and the junction of the two sides formed a narrow crack down the middle. The grass had passed through this chink, which I measured, and found to be barely 1/8 inch wide. The stem of the piece of grass was far too thick to enable me to force it through this crack without injuring it, yet we had all seen it pass through quietly and smoothly; and on examination, it did not show the slightest sips of pressure or abrasion.
Theories to Account for the Phenomena Observed
First Theory: The phenomena are all the results of tricks, clever mechanical arrangements, or legerdemain; the mediums are imposters, and the rest of the company fools.
It is obvious that this theory can only account for a very small proportion of the facts observed. I am willing to admit that some so-called mediums of whom the public have heard much are arrant imposters who have taken advantage of the public demand for spiritualistic excitement to fill their purses with easily-earned guineas; whilst others who have no pecuniary motive for imposture are tempted to cheat, it would seem, solely by a desire for notoriety. I have met with several cases of imposture, some very ingenious, others so palpable that no person who has witnessed the genuine phenomena could be taken in by them. An enquirer into the subject finding one of these cases at his first initiation is disgusted with what he detects at once to be an imposture; and he not unnaturally gives vent to his feelings, privately or in print, by a sweeping denunciation of the whole genus "medium." Again, with a thoroughly genuine medium, the first phenomena which are observed are generally slight movements of the table, and faint taps under the medium's hands or feet. These, of course, are quite easy to be imitated by the medium, or anyone at the table. If, as sometimes occurs, nothing else takes place, the skeptical observer goes away with the firm impression that his superior acuteness detected cheating on the part of the medium, who was consequently afraid to proceed with any more tricks in his presence. He, too, writes to the newspapers exposing the whole imposture, and probably indulges in moral sentiments about the sad spectacle of persons, apparently intelligent, being taken in by imposture which he detected at once.
There is a wide difference between the tricks of a professional conjurer, surrounded by his apparatus, and aided by any number of concealed assistants and confederates, deceiving the senses by clever sleight of hand on his own platform, and the phenomena occurring in the presence of Mr. Home, which take place in the light, in a private room that almost up to the commencement of the séance has been occupied as a living room, and surrounded by private friends of my own, who not only will not countenance the slightest deception, but who are watching narrowly everything that takes place. Moreover, Mr. Home has frequently been searched before and after séances and healways offers to allow it. During the most remarkable occurrences I have occasionally held both his hands, and placed my feet on his feet. On no single occasion have I proposed a modification of arrangements for the purpose of rendering trickery less possible which he has not at once assented to, and frequently he has himself drawn attention to tests which might be tried.
I speak chiefly of Mr. Home, as he is so much more powerful than most of the mediums I have experimented with. But with all I have taken such precautions as place trickery out of the list of possible explanations.
Be it remembered that an explanation to be of any value must satisfy all the conditions of the problem. It is not enough for a person, who has perhaps seen only a few of the inferior phenomena, to say, "I suspect it was all cheating," or "I saw how some of the tricks could be done."
Second Theory: The persons at a séance are the victims of a sort of mania or delusion, and imagine phenomena to occur which have no real objective existence.
Third Theory: The whole is the result of conscious or unconscious cerebral action.
Fourth Theory: The result of the spirit of the medium, perhaps in association with the spirits of some or all of the people present.
These two theories are evidently incapable of embracing more than a small portion of the phenomena, and they are improbable explanations for even those. They may be dismissed very briefly.
I now approach the "Spiritual" theories. It must be remembered that the word "spirits" is used in a very vague sense by the generality of people.
Fifth Theory: The actions of evil spirits or devils, personifying who or what they please, in order to undermine Christianity and ruin men's souls.
Sixth Theory: The actions of a separate order of beings, living on this earth, but invisible and immaterial to us. Able, however, occasionally to manifest their presence. Known in almost all countries and ages as demons (not necessarily bad), gnomes, fairies, kobolds, elves, goblins, Puck, etc.
Seventh Theory: The actions of departed human beings - the spiritual theory par excellence.
Eighth Theory: (The Psychic Force Theory). This is a necessary adjunct to the 4th, 5th, 6th, and 7th theories, rather than a theory by itself.
According to this theory the "medium," or the circle of people associated together as a whole, is supposed to possess a force, power, influence, virtue, or gift, by means of which intelligent beings are enabled to produce the phenomena observed. What these intelligent beings are is a subject for other theories.
It is obvious that a "medium" possesses a something which is not possessed by an ordinary being. Give this something a name. Call it 'x' if you like. Mr. Serjeant Cox calls it Psychic Force. There has been so much misunderstanding on this subject that I think it best to give the following explanation in Mr. Serjeant Cox's own words:
Miss Florence Cook's Mediumship
- Letter to "The Spiritualist" February 6th 1874 -
SIR, It has been my endeavour to keep as clear of controversy as possible, in writing or speaking about so inflammatory a topic as the phenomena called Spiritual. Except in very few cases, where the prominent position my opponent would have caused my silence to be ascribed to other than the real motives, I have made no reply to the attacks and misrepresentations which my connection with this subject has entailed upon me.
The case is otherwise, however, when a few lines from me may perhaps assist in removing an unjust suspicion which is cast upon another. And when this other person is a woman - young, sensitive, and innocent - it becomes especially a duty for me to give the weight of my testimony in favour of her whom I believe to be unjustly accused.
Among all the arguments brought forward on either side touching the phenomena of Miss Cook's mediumship, I see very few facts stated in such a way as to lead an unprejudiced reader, provided he can trust the judgment and veracity of the narrator, to say, "Here at last is absolute proof." I see plenty of strong assertion, much unintentional exaggeration, endless conjecture and supposition, no little insinuation of fraud, and some amount of vulgar buffoonery; but no one has come forward with a positive assertion, based upon the evidence of his own senses, to the effect that when the form which calls itself "Katie" is visible in the room, the body of Miss Cook is either actually in the cabinet or is not there.
It appears to me that the whole question narrows itself into this small compass. Let either of the above alternatives be proved to be a fact, and all the other collateral questions may be dismissed. But the proof must be absolute, and not based upon inferential reasoning, or assumed upon the supposed integrity of seals, knots, and sewing; for I have reason to know that the power at work in these phenomena, like Love, "laughs at locksmiths."
I was in hopes that some of those friends of Miss Cook, who have attended her séances almost from the commencement, and who appear to have been highly favoured in the tests they have received, would, ere this, have borne testimony in her favour. In default, however, of evidence from those who have followed these phenomena from their beginning nearly three years ago, let me, who have only been admitted, as it were, at the eleventh hour, state a circumstance which came under my notice at a séance to which I was invited by the favour of Miss Cook, a few days after the disgraceful occurrence which has given rise to this controversy.
The séance was held at the house of Mr. Luxmore, and the "cabinet" was a back drawing room, separated from the front room in which the company sat by a curtain.
The usual formality of searching the room and examining the fastenings having been gone through, Miss Cook entered the cabinet.
After a little time the form of Katie appeared at the side of the curtain, but soon retreated, saying her medium was not well, and could not be put into a sufficiently deep sleep to make it safe for her to be left.
I was sitting within a few feet of the curtain close behind which Miss Cook was sitting, and I could frequently hear her moan and sob, as if in pain. This uneasiness continued at intervals nearly the whole duration of the séance, and once, when the form of Katie was standing before me in the room, I distinctly heard a sobbing, moaning sound, identical with that which Miss Cook had been making at intervals the whole time of the séance, come from behind the curtain where the young lady was supposed to be sitting.
I admit that the figure was startlingly life-like and real, and, as far as I could see in the somewhat dim light, the features resembled those of Miss Cook; but still the positive evidence of one of my own senses that the moan came from Miss Cook in the cabinet, whilst the figure was outside, is too strong to be upset by a mere inference to the contrary, however well supported.
Your readers, sir, know me, and will, I hope, believe that I will not come hastily to an opinion, or ask them to agree with me on insufficient evidence. It is perhaps expecting too much to think that the little incident I have mentioned will have the same weight with them that it had with me. But this I do beg of them - Let those who are inclined to judge Miss Cook harshly suspend their judgment until I bring forward positive evidence which I think will be sufficient to settle the question.
Miss Cook is now devoting herself exclusively to a series of private séances with me and one or two friends. The séances will probably extend over some months, and I am promised that every desirable test shall be given to me. These séances have not been going on many weeks, but enough has taken place to thoroughly convince me of the perfect truth and honesty of Miss Cook, and to give me every reason to expect that the promises so freely made to me by Katie will be kept.
All I now ask is that your readers will not hastily assume that everything which is prima facie suspicious necessarily implies deception, and that they will suspend their judgment until they hear from me again on this subject.
Independent Testimony as to the Mediumship of Florence Cook
- Sir Arthur Conan Doyle -
THE MOST connected account of the mediumship of Miss Florence Cook, apart from that of Professor Crookes, is to be found in Miss Florence Marryat's "There is No Death," a most interesting book of practical experiences, which is now published in a very cheap edition (Rider & Co.). From it I make the following extracts. Miss Marryat, it should be added, was an excellent witness, all of whose statements have stood the test of time. At the time when Miss Marryat (Mrs. Ross-Church) met the medium, the latter had become Mrs. Elgie Corner.
One point which will strike the critic in this account is the remark that sometimes the spirit form would exactly resemble the medium, while at other times it would be totally different. Every experienced investigator has had the same result. Working with Miss Bessinet, I have frequently seen faces which were identical with her own, and afterwards those which could not possibly have been hers - two appearing sometimes at the same moment. The natural explanation would be that it actually is the medium's face, and if she be in a trance state it is possible that such an explanation would be innocent as well as true, the forces which controlled her using her as best they could when the conditions did not admit of materialisation. Sometimes the medium's own form may be used with ectoplasmic additions. Thus the great German authority, Dr. Schrenck-Notzing, says, in talking of one of the photographs of "Eva," taken with ectoplasmic drapery around her(2):
(2) "The Phenomena of Materialisation" (English translation), page 97.
The case of the alleged exposure of Mrs. Corner seemed to have been exactly as Dr. Schrenck-Notzing describes, and such incidents bringing undeserved reproach upon the medium will always occur if the sitters do not take the precaution of securely fastening him or her. Experienced mediums are aware of this, and take precautions accordingly. The writer can well remember having a sitting with the famous medium, Evan Powell, in the privacy of his own bedroom. Powell insisted upon being tied up, and on the writer remarking that such a precaution was unnecessary, since long experiment had quite convinced him of his honesty, he answered: "I must insist upon it as a protection for myself. How can I answer for what I may do when I am unconscious in a trance? I might unconsciously wander round the room, and you, finding me doing so, would lose confidence in me for ever." This saying throws a strong light upon such cases as the alleged exposure of Mrs. Corner by Major Sitwell and others. In that case all present testified to the appearance of white garments, while the medium, when seized, had nothing of the sort.
- Letter to "The Spiritualist" April 3rd 1874 -
IN A letter which I wrote to this journal early in February last, speaking of the phenomena of spirit-forms which have appeared through Miss Cook's mediumship, I said, "Let those who are inclined to judge Miss Cook harshly suspend their judgment until I bring forward positive evidence which I think will be sufficient to settle the question. Miss Cook is now devoting herself exclusively to a series of private séances with me and one or two friends... Enough has taken place to thoroughly convince me of the perfect truth and honesty of Miss Cook, and to give me every reason to expect that the promises so freely made to me by Katie will be kept."
In that letter I described an incident which, to my mind, went very far towards convincing me that Katie and Miss Cook were two separate material beings. When Katie was outside the cabinet, standing before me, I heard a moaning noise from Miss Cook in the cabinet. I am happy to say that I have at last obtained the "absolute proof" to which I referred in the above quoted letter.
I will, for the present, pass over most of the tests which Katie has given me on the many occasions when Miss Cook has favoured me with séances at this house, and will only describe one or two which I have recently had. I have for some time past been experimenting with a phosphorous lamp, consisting of a 6-oz. or 8-oz. bottle, containing a little phosphorised oil, and tightly corked. I have had reason to hope that by the light of this lamp some of the mysterious phenomena of the cabinet might be rendered visible, and Katie has also expressed herself hopefully as to the same result.
On March 12th, during a séance here, after Katie had been walking amongst us and talking for some time, she retreated behind the curtain which separated my laboratory, where the company was sitting, from my library which did temporary duty as a cabinet. In a minute she came to the curtain and called me to her, saying, "Come into the room and lift my medium's head up, she has slipped down." Katie was then standing before me clothed in her usual white robes and turban head-dress. I immediately walked into the library up to Miss Cook, Katie stepping aside to allow me to pass. I found Miss Cook had slipped partially off the sofa, and her head was hanging in a very awkward position. I lifted her on to the sofa, and in so doing had satisfactory evidence, in spite of the darkness, that Miss Cook was not attired in the "Katie" costume, but had on her ordinary black velvet dress, and was in a deep trance. Not more than three seconds elapsed between my seeing the white-robed Katie standing before me and my raising Miss Cook on to the sofa from the position into which she bad fallen.
On returning to my post of observation by the curtain, Katie again appeared, and said she thought she would be able to show herself and her medium to me at the same time. The gas was then turned out and she asked for my phosphorus lamp. After exhibiting herself by it for some seconds, she handed it back to me, saying, "Now come in and see my medium." I closely followed her into the library, and by the light of my lamp saw Miss Cook lying on the sofa just as I had left her. I looked round for Katie, but she had disappeared. I called her, but there was no answer.
On resuming my place, Katie soon reappeared, and told me that she had been standing close to Miss Cook all the time. She then asked if she might try an experiment herself, and taking the phosphorus lamp from me she passed behind the curtain, asking me not to look in for the present. In a few minutes she handed the lamp back to me, saying she could not succeed, as she had used up all the power, but would try again another time. My eldest son, a lad of fourteen, who was sitting opposite me, in such a position that he could see behind the curtain, tells me he distinctly saw the phosphorus lamp apparently floating about in space over Miss Cook, illuminating her as she lay motionless on the sofa, but he could not see anyone holding the lamp.
I pass on to a séance held last night at Hackney. Katie never appeared to greater perfection, and for nearly two hours she walked about the room, conversing familiarly with those present. On several occasions she took my arm when walking, and the impression conveyed to my mind that it was a living woman by my side, instead of a visitor from the other world, was so strong that the temptation to repeat a recent celebrated experiment became almost irresistible. Feeling, however, that if I had not a spirit, I had at all events a lady close to me, I asked her permission to clasp her in my arms, so as to be able to verify the interesting observations which a bold experimentalist has recently somewhat verbosely recorded. Permission was graciously given, and I accordingly did - well, as any gentleman would do under the circumstances. Mr. Volckman will be pleased to know that I can corroborate his statement that the "ghost" (not "struggling" however) was as material a being as Miss Cook herself. But the sequel shows how wrong it is for an experimentalist, however accurate his observations may be, to venture to draw an important conclusion from an insufficient amount of evidence.
(On December 9, 1873, Florence Cook held a séance at the home of Mr. Luxmore for the Earl and Countess of Caithness. Among the guests present was a Mr. W. Volckman. As the materialized Katie King moved among the guests, Mr. Volckman became suspicious and grabbed her by the wrist, exclaiming it was the medium. A struggle ensued, of which there are two versions. Volckman claimed that she was forcibly freed; Henry Dumphry, another guest, and a well-known lawyer, stated that she dissolved from VoIckman's grasp and glided away leaving no trace. The gossamer cloth to which Volckman clung during the struggle also seemed to disappear from his grasp. At any rate, the incontestable fact to which all agreed, including Volckman, remains that moments later to settle the matter, the cabinet was opened and Miss Cook was found moaning and unconscious, as she had been placed, in herblack dress and boots, with tape tightly wound about her waist and the chair, the knot sealed in wax bearing the mark made with the signet ring of the Earl of Caithness. She was searched, but no trace of the voluminous white drapery could be found. Miss Cook, upon awakening, became seriously ill from the ordeal.
Crookes always regarded this type of seizure as a treacherous and unscientific procedure. Crookes, on request, was permitted to handle and examine the apparition, even take the heartbeat. Dr. G. H. Tapp, who assisted him at the séances, attempted on one occasion to take the pulse of the phantom, but his fingers met through the nebulous wrist.
Varley held Katie King by the hand as she materialized from the head to the waist only. (It might be said that for proof, half a phantom is better than a whole phantom.) In all cases, Crookes required that any intention to touch the apparition first be announced, and that the medium, if conscious, or the phantom acquiesce. He felt that this assurance to the medium helped generate more powerful manifestations. Miss Cook was always willing to submit to any controls that the investigators chose to impose, but she pleaded strongly against unpredictable violence.)
Katie now said she thought she would be able this time to show herself and Miss Cook together. I was to turn the gas out, and then come with my phosphorus lamp into the room now used as a cabinet. This I did, having previously asked a friend who was skilful in shorthand to take down any statement I might make when in the cabinet, knowing the importance attaching to first impressions, and not wishing to leave more to memory than necessary. His notes are now before me.
I went cautiously into the room, it being dark, and felt about for Miss Cook. I found her crouching on the floor. Kneeling down, I let air enter the lamp, and by its light I saw the young lady dressed in black velvet, as she had been in the early part of the evening, and to appearance perfectly senseless; she did not move when I took her hand and held the light quite close to her face, but continued quietly breathing. Raising the lamp, I looked around and saw Katie standing close behind Miss Cook. She was robed in flowing white drapery as we had seen her previously during the séance. Holding one of Miss Cook's hands in mine, and still kneeling, I passed the lamp up and down so as to illuminate Katie's whole figure, and satisfy myself thoroughly that I was really looking at the veritable Katie whom I had clasped in my arms a few minutes before, and not at the phantasm of a disordered brain. She did not speak, but moved her head and smiled in recognition. Three separate times did I carefully examine Miss Cook crouching before me, to be sure that the hand I held was that of a living woman, and three separate times did I turn the lamp to Katie and examine her with steadfast scrutiny, until I had no doubt whatever of her objective reality. At last Miss Cook moved slightly, and Katie instantly motioned me to go away. I went to another part of the cabinet, and then ceased to see Katie, but did not leave the room till Miss Cook woke up, and two of the visitors came in with a light.
Before concluding this article I wish to give some of the points of difference, which I have observed between Miss Cook and Katie. Katie's height varies; in my house I have seen her six inches taller than Miss Cook. Last night, with bare feet, and not "tiptoeing," she was four-and-a-half inches taller than Miss Cook. Katie's neck was bare last night; the skin was perfectly smooth both to touch and sight, whilst on Miss Cook's neck is a large blister, which under similar circumstances is distinctly visible and rough to the touch. Katie's ears are unpierced, whilst Miss Cook habitually wears earrings. Katie's complexion is very fair, while that of Miss Cook is very dark, Katie's fingers are much longer than Miss Cook's, and her face is also larger. In manners and ways of expression there are also many decided differences.
Miss Cook's health is not good enough to allow of her giving more of these test séances for the next few weeks, and we have, therefore, strongly advised her to take an entire rest before recommencing the experimental campaign which I have sketched out for her, and the results of which I hope to be able to record at some future day.