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THE spiritualists communicate or think that they communicate with the dead by means of what they call automatic speech and writing. These are obtained by the agency of a medium1 in a state of ecstasy, or rather “trance,” to employ the vocabulary of the new science. This condition is not one of hypnotic sleep, nor does it seem to be an hysterical manifestation; it is often associated, as in the case of the medium Mrs. Piper, with perfect health and complete intellectual and physical balance. It is rather the more or less voluntary emergence of a second or subliminal personality or consciousness of the medium; or, if we admit the spiritualistic hypothesis, his occupation, his “psychic invasion,” as Myers calls it, by forces from another world. In the “entranced” subject, the normal consciousness and personality are entirely done away with; and he replies “automatically,” sometimes by word of mouth, more often in writing, to the questions put to him. It has happened that he speaks and writes simultaneously, his voice being occupied by one spirit and his hand by another, who thus carry on two independent conversations. More rarely, the voice and the two hands are “possessed” at one and the same time; and we receive three different communications. Obviously, manifestations of this sort lend themselves to frauds and impostures of all kinds; and the distrust aroused is at first invincible. But there are some that make their appearance encompassed with such guarantees of good faith and sincerity, so often, so long and so rigorously checked by scientific men of unimpeachable character and authority and of originally inflexible scepticism, that it becomes difficult to maintain a suspicion at the finish.2

Unfortunately, I am not able to enter here into the details of some of these purely scientific sittings, those for instance of Mrs. Piper, the famous medium with whom F. W. H. Myers, Richard Hodgson, Professor Newbold, of the University of Pennsylvania, Sir Oliver Lodge and William James worked during a number of years. On the other hand, it is precisely the accumulation and coincidences of these abnormal details which gradually produce and confirm the conviction that we are in the presence of an entirely new, improbable but genuine phenomenon, which is sometimes difficult of classification among exclusively terrestrial phenomena. I should have to devote to these “communications” a special study which would exceed the limits of this essay; and I will therefore content myself with referring those who care to know more of the subject to Sir Oliver Lodge’s book, The Survival of Man; and, above all, to the twenty-five bulky volumes of the Proceedings of the S.P.R., notably to the report and comments of William James on the Piper-Hodgson sittings in Vol. XXIII. and to Vol. XIII., where Hodgson examines the facts and arguments that may be adduced for or against the agency of the dead; and, lastly, to Myers’ great work, Human Personality and its Survival after Bodily Death.


The “entranced” mediums are invaded or possessed by different familiar spirits to whom the new science gives the somewhat inappropriate and ambiguous name of “controls.” Thus, Mrs. Piper is visited in succession by Phinuit, George Pelham, or “G.P.,” Imperator, Doctor and Rector. Mrs. Thompson, another very celebrated medium, has Nelly for her usual tenant, while graver and more illustrious personages would take possession of Stainton Moses, a clergyman. Each of these spirits retains a sharply defined character, which is consistent throughout and which, moreover, for the most part bears no relation to that of the medium. Amongst these, Phinuit and Nelly are undoubtedly the most attractive, the most original, the most living, the most active and, above all, the most talkative. They centralise the communications after a fashion; they come and go officiously; and, should any one of those present wish to be brought into touch with the soul of a deceased relative or friend, they fly in search of it, find it amid the invisible throng, usher it in, announce its presence, speak in its name, transmit and, so to speak, translate the questions and replies; for it seems that it is very difficult for the dead to communicate with the living and that they need special aptitudes and a concurrence of extraordinary circumstances. We will not yet examine what they have to reveal to us; but to see them thus fluttering to and fro amid the multitude of their discarnate brothers and sisters gives us a first impression of the next world which is none too reassuring; and we say to ourselves that the dead of to-day are strangely like those whom Ulysses conjured up out of the Cimmerian darkness three thousand years ago: pale and empty shades, bewildered, incoherent, puerile and terror-stricken, like unto dreams, more numerous than the leaves that fall in autumn and, like them, trembling in the unknown winds from the vast plains of the other world. They no longer even have enough life to be unhappy; and they seem to drag out, we know not where, a precarious and idle existence, to wander aimlessly, to hover round us, slumbering, or chattering among one another of the minor matters of this world; and, when a gap is made in their darkness, to hasten from all sides, like flocks of famished birds, hungering for light and the sound of a human voice. And, in spite of ourselves, we think of the Odyssey and the sinister words of the shade of Achilles as it issued from Erebus:

“Do not, O illustrious Ulysses, speak to me of death; I would wish, being on earth, to serve for hire with another man of no estate, who had not much livelihood, rather than rule over all the departed dead.”


What have these latterday dead to tell us? To begin with, it is a remarkable thing that they appear to be much more interested in events here below than in those of the world wherein they move. They seem, above all, jealous to establish their identity, to prove that they still exist, that they recognise us, that they know everything; and, to convince us of this, they enter into the most minute and forgotten details with extraordinary precision, perspicacity and prolixity. They are also extremely clever at unravelling the intricate family connections of the person actually questioning them, of any of the sitters, or even of a stranger entering the room. They recall this one’s little infirmities, that one’s maladies, the eccentricities or personal tendencies of a third. They have cognisance of events taking place at a distance: they see, for instance, and describe to their hearers in London an insignificant episode in Canada. In a word, they say and do almost all the disconcerting and inexplicable things that are sometimes obtained from a first-rate medium; perhaps they even go a little further; but there comes from it all no breath, no glimmer of the hereafter, not even the something vaguely promised and vaguely waited for.

We shall be told that the mediums are visited only by inferior spirits, incapable of tearing themselves from earthly cares and soaring towards greater and loftier ideas. It is possible; and no doubt we are wrong to believe that a spirit stripped of its body can suddenly be transformed and reach, in a moment, the level of our imaginings; but could they not at least inform us where they are, what they feel and what they do?


And now it seems that death itself has elected to answer these objections. Frederic Myers, Richard Hodgson and William James, who so often, for long and ardent hours, questioned Mrs. Piper and Mrs. Thompson and obliged the departed to speak by their mouths, are now themselves among the shades, on the other side of the curtain of darkness. They at least knew exactly what to do in order to reach us, what to reveal in order to allay the uneasy curiosity of men. Myers in particular, the most ardent, the most convinced, the most impatient of the veil that parted him from the eternal realities, formally promised those who were continuing his work that he would make every imaginable effort out yonder, in the unknown, to come to their aid in a decisive fashion. He kept his word. A month after his death, when Sir Oliver Lodge was questioning Mrs. Thompson in her trance, Nelly, the medium’s familiar spirit, suddenly declared that she had seen Myers, that he was not yet fully awake, but that he hoped to come, at nine o’clock in the evening, and “communicate” with his old friend of the Psychical Society.

The sitting was suspended and resumed at half past eight; and Myers’ “communication” was at last obtained. He was recognised by the first few words he spoke; it was really he; he had not changed. Faithful to his idiosyncrasy when on earth, he at once insisted on the necessity for taking notes. But he seemed dazed. They spoke to him of the Society for Psychical Research, the sole interest of his life. He had lost all recollection of it. Then memory gradually revived; and there followed a quantity of post-mortem gossip on the subject of the society’s next president, the obituary article in the Times, the letters that should be published and so on. He complained that people would not let him rest, that there was not a place in England where they did not ask for him:

“Call Myers! Bring Myers!”

He ought to be given time to collect himself, to reflect. He also complained of the difficulty of conveying his ideas through the mediums: “they were translating like a schoolboy does his first lines of Virgil.” 3 As for his present condition, “he groped his way as if through passages, before he knew he was dead. He thought he had lost his way in a strange town . . . and, even when he saw people that he knew were dead, he thought they were only visions.”

This, together with more chatter of a no less trivial nature, is about all that we obtained from Myers’ “control” or “impersonation,” of which better things had been expected. The “communication” and many others which, it appears, recall in a striking fashion Myers’ habits, character and ways of thinking and speaking would possess some value if none of those by whom or to whom they were made had been acquainted with him at the time when he was still numbered among the living. As they stand, they are most probably but reminiscences of a secondary personality of the medium or unconscious suggestions of the questioner or the sitters.


A more important communication and a more perplexing, because of the names connected with it, is that which is known as “Mrs. Piper’s Hodgson-Control.” Professor William James devotes an account of over a hundred and twenty pages to it in Vol. XXIII. of the Proceedings. Dr. Hodgson, in his lifetime, was secretary of the American branch of the S.P.R., of which William James was vice-president. For many years, he devoted himself to Mrs. Piper the medium, working with her twice a week and thus accumulating an enormous mass of documents on the subject of posthumous manifestations, a mass whose wealth has not yet been exhausted. Like Myers, he had promised to come back after his death; and, in his jovial way, he had more than once declared to Mrs. Piper that, when he came to visit her in his turn, as he had more experience than the other spirits, the sittings would take a more decisive shape and that “he would make it hot for them.” He did come back, a week after his death, and manifested himself by automatic writing (which, with Mrs. Piper as medium, was the most usual method of communication) during several sittings at which William James was present. I should like to give an idea of these manifestations. But, as the celebrated Harvard professor very truly observes, the shorthand report of a sitting of this kind at once alters its aspect from start to finish. We seek in vain for the emotion experienced on thus finding yourself in the presence of an invisible but living being, who not only answers your questions, but anticipates your thoughts, understands before you have finished speaking, grasps an allusion and caps it with another allusion, grave or smiling. The life of the dead man, which, during a strange hour, had, so to speak, surrounded and penetrated you, seems to be extinguished for the second time. Stenography, which is devoid of all emotion, no doubt supplies the best elements for arriving at a logical conclusion; but it is not certain that here, as in many other cases where the unknown predominates, logic is the only road that leads to the truth.

“When I first undertook,” says William James, “to collate this series of sittings and make the present report, I supposed that my verdict would be determined by pure logic. Certain minute incidents, I thought, ought to make for spirit-return or against it in a ‘crucial’ way. But watching my mind work as it goes over the data, convinces me that exact logic plays only a preparatory part in shaping our conclusions here; and that the decisive vote, if there be one, has to be cast by what I may call one’s general sense of dramatic probability, which sense ebbs and flows from one hypothesis to another — it does so in the present writer at least —  in a rather illogical manner. If one sticks to the detail, one may draw an anti-spiritist conclusion; if one thinks more of what the whole mass may signify, one may well incline to spiritist interpretations.” 4

And, at the end of his article, he sums up in the following words:

I myself feel as if an external will to communicate were probably there, that is, I find myself doubting, in consequence of my whole acquaintance with that sphere of phenomena, that Mrs. Piper’s dream-life, even equipped with ‘telepathic’ powers, accounts for all the results found. But if asked whether the will to communicate be Hodgson’s, or be some mere spirit-counterfeit of Hodgson, I remain uncertain and await more facts, facts which may not point clearly to a conclusion for fifty or a hundred years.” 5

As we see, William James is inclined to waver; and at certain points in his account he appears to waver still more and indeed to say deliberately that the spirits “have a finger in the pie.” These hesitations on the part of a man who has revolutionised our psychological ideas and who possessed a brain as wonderfully organised and well-balanced as that or our own Taine, for instance, are very significant. As a doctor of medicine and a professor of philosophy, sceptical by nature and scrupulously faithful to experimental methods, he was thrice qualified to conduct investigations of this kind to a successful conclusion. It is not a question of allowing ourselves, in our turn, to be unduly influenced by those hesitations; but, in any case, they show that the problem is a serious one, the gravest, perhaps, if the facts were beyond dispute, which we have had to solve since the coming of Christ; and that we must not expect to dismiss it with a shrug or a laugh.


I am obliged, for lack of space, to refer those who wish to form an opinion of their own on the “Piper-Hodgson” case to the text of the Proceedings. The case, at the same time, is far from being one of the most striking; it should rather be classed, were it not for the importance of the sitters concerned, among the minor successes of the Piper series. Hodgson, according to the invariable custom of the spirits, is, first of all, bent on making himself recognised; and the inevitable, tedious string of trifling reminiscences begins twenty times over again and fills page after page. As usual in such instances, the recollections common to both the questioner and the spirit who is supposed to be replying are brought out in their most circumstantial, their most insignificant and also their most private details with astonishing eagerness, precision and vivacity. And observe that, for all these details, which he discloses with such extraordinary facility, the dead man answering seeks by preference, one would say, the most hidden and forgotten treasures of the living listener’s memory. He spares him nothing; he harps on everything with childish satisfaction and apprehensive solicitude, not so much to persuade others as to prove to himself that he still exists. And the obstinacy of this poor invisible being, in striving to manifest himself through the hitherto uncrannied doors that separate us from our eternal destinies, is at once ridiculous and tragic:

“Do you remember, William, when we were in the country at So-and-so’s, that game we played with the children; do you remember my saying such-and-such a thing when I was in that room where there was such-and-such a chair or table?”

“Why, yes, Hodgson, I do remember now.”

“A good test, that?”

“First-rate, Hodgson!”

And so on, indefinitely. Sometimes, there is a more significant incident that seems to surpass the mere transmission of subliminal thought. They are talking, for instance, of a frustrated marriage which was always surrounded with great mystery, even to Hodgson’s most intimate friends:

“Do you remember a lady-doctor in New York, a member of our society?”

“No, but what about her?”

“Her husband’s name was Blair . . . I think.”

“Do you mean Dr. Blair Thaw?”

“Oh, yes. Ask Mrs. Thaw if I did not at a dinner-party mention something about the lady. I may have done so.”

James writes to Mrs. Thaw, who declares that, as a matter of fact, fifteen years before, Hodgson had said to her that he had just proposed to a girl and been refused. Mrs. Thaw and Dr. Newbold were the only people in the world who knew the particulars.

But to come to the further sittings. Among other points discussed is the financial position of the American branch of the S.P.R., a position which, at the death of the secretary, or rather factotum, Hodgson, was anything but brilliant. And behold the somewhat strange spectacle of different members of the society debating its affairs with their defunct secretary. Shall they dissolve? Shall they amalgamate? Shall they send the materials collected, most of which are Hodgson’s, to England? They consult the dead man; he replies, gives good advice, seems fully aware of all the complications, all the difficulties. One day, in Hodgson’s lifetime, when the society was found to be short of funds, an anonymous donor had sent the sum necessary to relieve it from embarrassment. Hodgson alive did not know who the donor was; Hodgson dead picks him out among those present, addresses him by name and thanks him publicly. On another occasion, Hodgson, like all the spirits, complains of the extreme difficulty which he finds in conveying his thought through the alien organism of the medium:

“I find now difficulties such as a blind man would experience in trying to find his hat,” he says.

But, when, after so much idle chatter, William James at last puts the essential questions that burn our lips — “Hodgson, what have you to tell us about the other life?” — the dead man becomes shifty and does nothing but seek evasions:

“It is not a vague fantasy but a reality,” he replies.

“But,” Mrs. William James insists, “do you live as we do, as men do?”

“What does she say?” asks the spirit, pretending not to understand.

“Do you live as men do?” repeats William James.

“Do you wear clothing and live in houses?” adds his wife.

“Oh yes, houses, but not clothing. No, that is absurd. Just wait a moment, I am going to get out.”

“You will come back again?”


“He has got to go out and get his breath,” remarks another spirit, named Rector, suddenly intervening.

It has not been waste of time, perhaps, to reproduce the general features of one of these sittings which may be regarded as typical. I will add, in order to give an idea of the farthest point which it is possible to attain, the following instance of an experiment made by Sir Oliver Lodge and related by him. He handed Mrs. Piper, in her “trance,” a gold watch which had just been sent him by one of his uncles and which belonged to that uncle’s twin brother, who had died twenty years before. When the watch was in her possession, Mrs. Piper, or rather Phinuit, one of her familiar spirits, began to relate a host of details concerning the childhood of this twin brother, facts dating back for more than sixty-six years and of course unknown to Sir Oliver Lodge. Soon after, the surviving uncle, who lived in another town, wrote and confirmed the accuracy of most of these details, which he had quite forgotten and of which he was only now reminded by the medium’s revelations; while those which he could not recollect at all were subsequently declared to be in accordance with fact by a third uncle, an old sea-captain, who lived in Cornwall and who had not the least notion why such strange questions were put to him.

I quote this instance not because it has any exceptional or decisive value, but simply, I repeat, by way of an example; for, like the case connected with Mrs. Thaw, mentioned above, it marks pretty accurately the extreme points to which people have up to now, thanks to spirit agency, penetrated the mysteries of the unknown. It is well to add that cases in which the supposed limits of the most far- reaching telepathy are so manifestly exceeded are fairly uncommon.


Now what are we to think of all this? Must we, with Myers, Newbold, Hyslop, Hodgson and many others, who studied this problem at length, conclude in favour of the incontestable agency of forces and intelligences returning from the farther bank of the great river which it was deemed that none might cross. Must we acknowledge with them that there are cases ever more numerous which make it impossible for us to hesitate any longer between the telepathic theory and the spiritualistic theory? I do not think so. I have no prejudices — what were the use of having any, in these mysteries? — no reluctance to admit the survival and the intervention of the dead; but it is wise and necessary, before leaving the terrestrial plane, to exhaust all the suppositions, all the explanations there to be discovered. We have to make our choice between two manifestations of the unknown, two miracles, if you prefer, whereof one is situated in the world which we inhabit and the other in a region which, rightly or wrongly, we believe to be separated from us by nameless spaces which no human being, alive or dead, has crossed to this day. It is natural, therefore, that we should stay in our own world, as long as it gives us a foothold, as long as we are not pitilessly expelled from it by a series of irresistible and irrefutable facts issuing from the adjoining abyss. The survival of a spirit is no more improbable than the prodigious faculties which we are obliged to attribute to the mediums if we deny them to the dead; but the existence of the medium, contrary to that of the spirit, is unquestionable; and therefore it is for the spirit, or for those who make use of its name, first to prove that it exists.

Do the extraordinary phenomena of which we know — transmission of thought from one subconscious mind to another, perception of events at a distance, subliminal clairvoyance — occur when the dead are not in evidence, when the experiments are being made exclusively between living persons? This cannot be honestly contested. Certainly no one has ever obtained among living people any series of communications or revelations similar to those of the great spiritualistic mediums, Mrs. Piper, Mrs. Thompson and Stainton Moses, nor anything that can compare with them for continuity or lucidity. But, though the quality of the phenomena will not bear comparison, it cannot be denied that their inner nature is identical. Our logical inference is that the real cause lies not in the source of inspiration, but in the personal value, the sensitiveness, the power of the medium. For the rest, Mr. J. G. Piddington, who devoted an exceedingly detailed study to Mrs. Thompson, plainly perceived in her, when she was not “entranced” and when there were no spirits whatever in question, manifestations inferior, it is true, but absolutely analogous to those involving the dead. 6 These mediums are pleased, in all good faith and probably unconsciously, to give to their subliminal faculties, to their secondary personalities, or to accept, on their behalf, names which were borne by beings who have crossed to the farther side of the mystery: this is a matter of vocabulary or nomenclature which neither lessens nor increases the intrinsic significance of the facts. Well, in examining these facts, however strange and really unparalleled some of them may be, I never find one which proceeds frankly from this world or which comes indisputably from the other. They are, if you wish, phenomenal border incidents; but it cannot be said that the border has been violated. In the story of Sir Oliver Lodge’s watch, for instance, which is one of the most characteristic and one which carries us farther than most, we must attribute to the medium faculties that have ceased to be human. She must have put herself in touch, whether by perception of events at a distance, or by transmission of thought from one subconscious mind to another, or again by subliminal clairvoyance, with the two surviving brothers of the deceased owner of the watch; and, in the past subconsciousness of those two brothers, distant from each other, she had to rediscover a host of circumstances which they themselves had forgotten and which lay hidden beneath the heaped-up dust and darkness of six-and-sixty years. It is certain that a phenomenon of this kind passes the bounds of the imagination and that we should refuse to credit it if, first of all, the experiment had not been controlled and certified by a man of the standing of Sir Oliver Lodge and if, moreover, it did not form one of a group of equally significant facts which clearly show that we are not here concerned with an absolutely unique miracle or with an unhoped-for and unprecedented concourse of coincidences. It is simply a matter of distant perception, subliminal clairvoyance and telepathy raised to the highest power; and these three manifestations of the unexplored depths of man are to-day recognised and classified by science, which is not saying that they are explained: that is another question. When, in connection with electricity, we use such terms as positive, negative, induction, potential and resistance, we are also applying conventional words to facts and phenomena of whose inward essence we are utterly ignorant; and we must needs be content with these, pending any better. There is, I insist, between these extraordinary manifestations and those given to us by a medium who is not speaking in the name of the dead, but a difference of the greater and the lesser, a difference of extent or degree and in no wise a difference in kind.


For the proof to be more decisive, it would be necessary that no one, neither the medium nor the witnesses, should ever have known of the existence of him whose past is revealed by the dead man, in other words, that every living link should be eliminated. I do not believe that this has actually occurred up to the present, nor even that it is possible; in any case, it would be very difficult to control such an experiment. Be this as it may, Dr. Hodgson, who devoted part of his life to the quest of specific phenomena wherein the boundaries of mediumistic power should be plainly overstepped, believes that he found them in certain cases, of which — as the others were of very much the same nature — I will merely mention one of the most striking. 7 In the course of excellent sittings with Mrs. Piper the medium, he communicated with various dead friends who reminded him of a large number of common memories. The medium, the spirits and he himself seemed in a wonderfully accommodating mood; and the revelations were plentiful, exact and easy. In this extremely favourable atmosphere, he was placed in communication with the soul of one of his best friends, who had died a year before and whom he simply calls “A.” This A, whom he had known more intimately than most of the spirits with whom he had communicated previously, behaved quite differently and, while establishing his identity beyond dispute, vouchsafed only incoherent replies. Now A “had been troubled much, for years before his death, by headaches and occasional mental exhaustion, though not amounting to positive mental disturbance.”

The same phenomenon appears to recur whenever similar troubles have come before death, as in cases of suicide.

“If the telepathic explanation is held to be the only one,” says Dr. Hodgson (I give the gist of his observations) , “if it is claimed that all the communications of these discarnate minds are only suggestions from my subconscious self, it is unintelligible that, after having obtained satisfactory results from others whom I had known far less intimately than A and with whom I had consequently far fewer recollections in common, I should get from him, in the same sittings, nothing but incoherencies. I am thus driven to believe that my subliminal self is not the only thing in evidence, that it is in the presence of a real, living personality, whose mental state is the same as it was at the hour of death, a personality which remains independent of my subliminal consciousness and absolutely unaffected by it, which is deaf to its suggestions and draws from its own resources the revelations which it makes.”

The argument is not without value, but its full force would be obtained only if it were certain that none of those present knew of A’s madness; otherwise it can be contended that, the notion of madness having penetrated the subconscious intelligence of one of them, it worked upon it and gave to the replies induced a form in keeping with the state of mind presupposed in the dead man.


Of a truth, by extending the possibilities of the medium to these extremes, we furnish ourselves with explanations which forestall nearly everything, bar every road and all but deny to the spirits any power of manifesting themselves in the manner which they appear to have chosen. But why do they choose that manner? Why do they thus restrict themselves? Why do they jealously hug the narrow strip of territory which memory occupies on the confines of both worlds and from which none but indecisive or questionable evidence can reach us? Are there then no other outlets, no other horizons? Why do they tarry around us, stagnant in their little pasts, when, in their freedom from the flesh, they ought to be able to wander at ease over the virgin stretches of space and time? Do they not yet know that the sign which will prove to us that they survive is to be found not with us, but with them, on the other side of the grave? Why do they come back with empty hands and empty words? Is that what one finds when one is steeped in infinity? Beyond our last hour is it all bare and shapeless and dim? If it be so, let them tell us; and the evidence of the darkness will at least possess a grandeur that is all too absent from these cross-examining methods. Of what use is it to die, if all life’s trivialities continue? Is it really worth while to have passed through the terrifying gorges which open on the eternal fields, in order to remember that we had a great-uncle called Peter and that our Cousin Paul was afflicted with varicose veins and a gastric complaint? At that rate, I should choose for those whom I love the august and frozen solitudes of the everlasting nothing. Though it be difficult for them, as they complain, to make themselves understood through a strange and sleep- bound organism, they tell us enough categorical details about the past to show that they could disclose similar details, if not about the future, which they perhaps do not yet know, at least about the lesser mysteries which surround us on every side and which our body alone prevents us from approaching. There are a thousand things, large or small, alike unknown to us, which we must perceive when feeble eyes no longer arrest our vision. It is in those regions from which a shadow separates us and not in foolish title-tattle of the past that they would at last find the clear and genuine proof which they seem to seek with such enthusiasm. Without demanding a great miracle, one would nevertheless think that we had the right to expect from a mind which nothing now enthrals some other discourse than that which it avoided when it was still subject to matter.

1 Those who take up the study of these supernormal manifestations usually ask themselves:

“Why mediums? Why make use of these often questionable and always inadequate intermediaries?”

The reason is that, hitherto, no way has been discovered of doing without them. If we admit the spiritualistic theory, the discarnate spirits which surround us on every side and which are separated from us by the impenetrable and mysterious wall of death seek, in order to communicate with us, the line of least resistance between the two worlds and find it in the medium, without our knowing why, even as we do not know why an electric current passes along copper wire and is stopped by glass or porcelain. If, on the other hand, we admit the telepathic hypothesis, which is the more probable, we observe that the thoughts, intentions or suggestions transmitted are, in the majority of cases, not conveyed from one subconscious intelligence to another. There is need of an organism that is, at the same time, a receiver and a transmitter; and this organism is found in the medium. Why? Once more, we know absolutely nothing about it, even as we do not know why one body or combination of bodies is sensitive to concentric waves in wireless telegraphy, while another is not affected by it. We are here groping, as indeed we grope almost everywhere, in the obscure domain of undisputed but inexplicable facts. Those who care to possess more precise notions on the theory of mediumism will do well to read the admirable address delivered by Sir William Crookes, as president of the S.P.R., on the 9th of January 1897.

2 The questions of fraud and imposture are naturally the first that suggest themselves when we begin to study these phenomena. But the slightest acquaintance with the life, habits and proceedings of the three or four leading mediums is enough to remove even the faintest shadow of suspicion. Of all the explanations conceivable, that one which attributes everything to imposture and trickery is unquestionably the most extraordinary and the least probable. Moreover, by reading Richard Hodgson’s report entitled, Observations of certain Phenomena of Trance (Proceedings, Vols. VIII. and XIII.) and also J. H. Hyslop’s report (Proceedings, Vol. XVI.), we can observe the precautions taken, even to the extent of employing special detectives, to make certain that Mrs. Piper, for instance, was unable, normally and humanly speaking, to have any knowledge of the facts which she revealed. I repeat, from the moment that one enters upon this study, all suspicions are dispelled without leaving a trace behind them; and we are soon convinced that the key to the riddle must not be sought in imposture. All the manifestations of the dumb, mysterious and oppressed personality that lies concealed in every one of us have to undergo the same ordeal in their turn; and those which relate to the divining-rod, to name no others, are at this moment passing through the same crisis of incredulity. Less than fifty years ago, most of the hypnotic phenomena which are now scientifically classified were likewise looked upon as fraudulent. It seems that man is loth to admit that there lie within him many more things than he imagined.

3 In this and other “communications,” I have quoted the actual English words employed, whenever I have been able to discover them. — Translator

4 Proceedings, Vol. XXIII., p. 33.

5 lbid, p. 120.

6 For a discussion of these cases, which would take us too far from our subject, see Mr. J. G. Piddington’s paper, Phenomena in Mrs. Thompson’s Trance (Proceedings, Vol. XVIII., pp. 180 et seq.); also Professor A. C. Pigou’s article in Vol. XXIII. (Proceedings, pp. 286 et seq.). 

7 Proceedings, Vol. XIII., pp. 349-350 and 375.

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