IT IS impossible to record the many mediums of various shades of power, and
occasionally of honesty, who have demonstrated the effects which outside
intelligences can produce when the material conditions are such as to enable
them to manifest upon this plane. There are a few, however, who have been so
pre-eminent and so involved in public polemics that no history of the movement
can disregard them, even if their careers have not been in all ways above
suspicion. We shall deal in this chapter with the histories of Slade and Monck,
both of whom played a prominent part in their days.
Henry Slade, the celebrated slate-writing medium, had been before the public in
America for fifteen years before he arrived in London on July 13, 1876. Colonel
H. S. Olcott, a former president of the Theosophical Society, states that he and
Madame Blavatsky were responsible for Slade's visit to England. It appears that
the Grand Duke Constantine of Russia, desiring to make a scientific
investigation of Spiritualism, a committee of professors of the Imperial
University of St. Petersburg requested Colonel Olcott and Madame Blavatsky to
select out of the best American mediums one whom they could recommend for tests.
They chose Slade, after submitting him to exacting tests for several weeks
before a committee of sceptics, who in their report certified that "messages
were written inside double slates, sometimes tied and sealed together, while
they either lay upon the table in full view of all, or were laid upon the heads
of members of the committee, or held flat against the under surface of the
table-top, or held in a committeeman's hand without the medium touching it." It
was en route to Russia that Slade came to England.
A representative of the London World, who had a sitting with Slade soon after
his arrival, thus describes him: "A highly-wrought, nervous temperament, a
dreamy, mystical face, regular features, eyes luminous with expression, a rather
sad smile, and a certain melancholy grace of manner, were the impressions
conveyed by the tall, lithe figure introduced to me as Dr. Slade. He is the sort
of man you would pick out of a roomful as an enthusiast." The Seybert Commission
Report says, "he is probably six feet in height, with a figure of unusual
symmetry," and that "his face would attract notice anywhere for its uncommon
beauty," and sums him up as "a noteworthy man in every respect."
Directly after his arrival in London Slade began to give sittings at his
lodgings in 8 Upper Bedford Place, Russell Square, and his success was immediate
and pronounced. Not only was writing obtained of an evidential nature, under
test conditions, with the sitter's own slates, but the levitation of objects and
materialized hands were observed in strong sunlight.
The editor of The Spiritual Magazine, the soberest and most high-class of the
Spiritualist periodicals of the time, wrote: "We have no hesitation in saying
that Dr. Slade is the most remarkable medium of modern times."
Mr. J. Enmore Jones, a well-known psychic researcher of that day, who afterwards
edited The Spiritual Magazine, said that Slade was taking the place vacated by
D. D. Home. His account of his first sitting indicates the business-like method
of procedure: "In Mr. Home's case, he refused to take fees, and as a rule the
sittings were in the evening in the quiet of domestic life; but in Dr. Slade's
case it was any time during the day, in one of the rooms he occupies at a
boarding-house. The fee of twenty shillings is charged, and he prefers that only
one person be present in the large room he uses. No time is lost; as soon as the
visitor sits down the incidents commence, are continued, and in, say, fifteen
minutes are ended." Stainton Moses, who was afterwards the first president of
the London Spiritualist Alliance, conveys the same idea with regard to Slade. He
wrote: "In his presence phenomena occur with a regularity and precision, with an
absence of regard for 'conditions,' and with a facility for observation which
satisfy my desires entirely. It is impossible to conceive circumstances more
favourable to minute investigation than those under which I witnessed the
phenomena which occur in his presence with such startling rapidity... There was
no hesitation, no tentative experiments. All was short, sharp, and decisive. The
invisible operators knew exactly what they were going to do, and did it with
promptitude and precision."(1)
(1) The Spiritualist, Vol. IX, p. 2.
Slade's first séance in England was given on July 15, 1876, to Mr. Charles
Blackburn, a prominent Spiritualist, and Mr. W. H. Harrison, editor of The
Spiritualist. In strong sunlight the medium and the two sitters occupied three
sides of an ordinary table about four feet square. A vacant chair was placed at
the fourth side. Slade put a tiny piece of pencil, about the size of a grain of
wheat, upon a slate, and held the slate by one corner with one hand under the
table flat against the leaf. Writing was heard on the slate, and on examination
a short message was found to have been written. While this was taking place the
four hands of the sitters and Slade's disengaged hand were clasped in the centre
of the table. Mr. Blackburn's chair was moved four or five inches while he was
sitting upon it, and no one but himself was touching it. The unoccupied chair at
the fourth side of the table once jumped in the air, striking its seat against
the under edge of the table. Twice a life-like hand passed in front of Mr.
Blackburn while both Slade's hands were under observation. The medium held an
accordion under the table, and while his other hand was in clear view on the
table "Home, Sweet Home" was played. Mr. Blackburn then held the accordion in
the same way, when the instrument was drawn out strongly and one note sounded.
While this occurred Slade's hands were on the table. Finally, the three present
raised their hands a foot above the table, and it rose until it touched their
hands. At another sitting on the same day a chair rose about four feet, when no
one was touching it, and when Slade rested one hand on the top of Miss
Blackburn's chair, she and the chair were raised about half a yard from the
Mr. Stainton Moses thus describes an early sitting which he had with Slade:
"A midday sun, hot enough to roast one, was pouring into the room; the table was
uncovered; the medium sat with the whole of his body in full view; there was no
human being present save myself and him. What conditions could be better? The
raps were instantaneous and loud, as if made by the clenched fist of a powerful
man. The slate-writing occurred under any suggested condition. It came on a
slate held by Dr. Slade and myself; on one held by myself alone in the corner of
the table farthest from the medium; on a slate which I had myself brought with
me, and which I held myself. The latter writing occupied some time in
production, and the grating noise of the pencil in forming each word was
distinctly audible. A chair opposite to me was raised some eighteen inches from
the floor; my slate was taken out of my hand, and produced at the opposite side
of the table, where neither Dr. Slade nor I could reach it; the accordion played
all round and about me, while the doctor held it by the lower part, and finally,
on a touch from his hand upon the back of my chair, I was levitated, chair and
all, some inches."
Mr. Stainton Moses was himself a powerful medium, and this fact doubtless aided
the conditions. He adds:
"I have seen all these phenomena and many others several times before, but I
never saw them occur rapidly and consecutively in broad daylight. The whole
séance did not extend over more than half an hour, and no cessation of the
phenomena occurred from first to last."(2)
(2) The Spiritualist, Vol. IX, p. 2.
All went well for six weeks, and London was full of curiosity as to the powers
of Slade, when there came an awkward interruption.
Early in September, 1876, Professor Ray Lankester with Dr. Donkin had two
sittings with Slade, and on the second occasion, seizing the slate, he found
writing on it when none was supposed to have taken place. He was entirely
without experience in psychic research, or he would have known that it is
impossible to say at what moment writing occurs in such séances, Occasionally a
whole sheet of writing seems to be precipitated in an instant, while at other
times the author has clearly heard the pencil scratching along from line to
line. To Ray Lankester, however, it seemed a clear case of fraud, and he wrote a
letter to The Times(3) denouncing Slade, and also prosecuted him for
obtaining money under false pretences. Replies to Lankester's letter and
supporting Slade were forthcoming from Dr. Alfred Russel Wallace, Professor
Barrett, and others. Dr. Wallace pointed out that Professor Lankester's account
of what happened was so completely unlike what occurred during his own visit to
the medium, as well as the recorded experience of Serjeant Cox, Dr. Carter
Blake, and many others, that he could only look upon it as a striking example of
Dr. Carpenter's theory of preconceived ideas. He says: "Professor Lankester went
with the firm conviction that all he was going to see would be imposture, and he
believes he saw imposture accordingly." Professor Lankester showed his bias
when, referring to the paper read before the British Association on September 12
by Professor Barrett, in which he dealt with Spiritualistic phenomena, he said,
in his letter to The Times "The discussions of the British Association have been
degraded by the introduction of Spiritualism."
(3) September, 16, 1876.
Professor Barrett wrote that Slade had a ready reply, based on his ignorance of
when the writing did actually occur. He describes a very evidential sitting he
had in which the slate rested on the table with his elbow resting on it. One of
Slade's hands was held by him, and the fingers of the medium's other hand rested
lightly on the surface of the slate. In this way writing occurred on the under
surface of the slate. Professor Barrett further speaks of an eminent scientific
friend who obtained writing on a clean slate when it was held entirely by him,
both of the medium's hands being on the table. Such instances must surely seem
absolutely conclusive to the unbiased reader, and it will be clear that if the
positive is firmly established, occasional allegations of negative have no
bearing upon the general conclusion.
Slade's trial came on at Bow Street Police Court on October 1, 1876, before Mr.
Flowers, the magistrate. Mr. George Lewis prosecuted and Mr. Munton appeared for
the defence. Evidence in favour of the genuineness of Slade's mediumship was
given by Dr. Alfred Russel Wallace, Serjeant Cox, Dr. George WyId, and one
other, only four witnesses being allowed. The magistrate described the testimony
as "overwhelming" as to the evidence for the phenomena, but in giving judgment
he excluded everything but the evidence of Lankester and his friend Dr. Donkin,
saying that he must base his decision on "inferences to be drawn from the known
course of nature." A statement made by Mr. Maskelyne, the well-known conjurer,
that the table used by Slade was a trick-table was disproved by the evidence of
the workman who made it. This table can now be seen at the offices of the London
Spiritualist Alliance, and one marvels at the audacity of a witness who could
imperil another man's liberty by so false a statement, which must have
powerfully affected the course of the trial. Indeed, in the face of the evidence
of Ray Lankester, Donkin, and Maskelyne, it is hard to see how Mr. Flowers could
fail to convict, for he would say with truth and reason, "What is before the
Court is not what has happened upon other occasions - however convincing these
eminent witnesses may be - but what occurred upon this particular occasion, and
here we have two witnesses on one side and only the prisoner on the other." The
"trick-table" probably settled the matter.
Slade was sentenced, under the Vagrancy Act, to three months' imprisonment with
hard labour. An appeal was lodged and he was released on bail. When the appeal
came to be heard, the conviction was quashed on a technical point. It may be
pointed out that though he escaped on a technical point, namely, that the words
"by palmistry or otherwise" which appeared in the statute had been omitted, it
must not be assumed that had the technical point failed he might not have
escaped on the merits of his case. Slade, whose health had been seriously
affected by the strain of the trial, left England for the Continent a day or two
later. From the Hague, after a rest of a few months, Slade wrote to Professor
Lankester offering to return to London and to give him exhaustive private tests
on condition that he could come without molestation. He received no answer to
his suggestion, which surely is not that of a guilty man.
An illuminated testimonial to Slade from London Spiritualists in 1877 sets out:
"In view of the deplorable termination of Henry Slade's visit to this country, we
the undersigned desire to place on record our high opinion of his mediumship,
and our reprobation of the treatment he has undergone.
"We regard Henry Slade as one of the most valuable Test Mediums now living. The
phenomena which occur in his presence are evolved with a rapidity and regularity
"He leaves us not only untarnished in reputation by the late proceedings in our
Law Courts, but with a mass of testimony in his favour which could probably have
been elicited in no other way."
This is signed by Mr. Alexander Calder (President of the British National
Association of Spiritualists) and a number of representative Spiritualists.
Unhappily, however, it is the Noes, not the Ayes, which have the car of the
Press, and even now, fifty years later, it would be hard to find a paper
enlightened enough to do the man justice.
Spiritualists, however, showed great energy in supporting Slade. Before the
trial a Defence Fund was raised, and Spiritualists in America drew up a memorial
to the American Minister in London. Between the Bow Street conviction and the
hearing of the appeal, a memorial was sent to the Home Secretary protesting
against the action of the Government in conducting the prosecution on appeal.
Copies of this were sent to all the members of the Legislature, to all the
Middlesex magistrates, to various members of the Royal Society, and of other
public bodies. Miss Kislingbury, the secretary to the National Association of
Spiritualists, forwarded a copy to the Queen.
After giving successful séances at the Hague, Slade went to Berlin in November,
1877, where he created the keenest interest. He was said to know no German, yet
messages in German appeared on the slates, and were written in the characters of
the fifteenth century. The Berliner Fremdenblatt of November 10, 1877, wrote:
"Since the arrival of Mr. Slade at the Kronprinz Hotel the greater portion of
the educated world of Berlin has been suffering from an epidemic which we may
term a Spiritualistic fever." Describing his experiences in Berlin, Slade said
that he began by fully converting the landlord of the hotel, using the latter's
slates and tables in his own house. The landlord invited the Chief of Police and
many prominent citizens of Berlin to witness the manifestations, and they
expressed themselves as satisfied. Slade writes: "Samuel Bellachini, Court
Conjurer to the Emperor of Germany, had a week's experience with me free of
charge. I gave him from two to three séances a day and one of them at his own
house. After his full and complete investigation, he went to a public notary and
made oath that the phenomena were genuine and not trickery."
Bellachini's declaration on oath, which has been published, bears out this
statement. He says that after the minutest investigation he considers any
explanation by conjuring to be "absolutely impossible." The conduct of conjurers
seems to have been usually determined by a sort of trade union jealousy, as if
the results of the medium were some sort of breach of a monopoly, but this
enlightened German, together with Houdin, Kellar, and a few more, have shown a
more open mind.
A visit to Denmark followed, and in December began the historic séances with
Professor Zöllner, at Leipzig. A full account of these will be found in
Zöllner's Transcendental Physics, which has been translated by Mr. C. C.
Massey. Zöllner was Professor of Physics and Astronomy in the University of
Leipzig, and associated with him in the experiments with Slade were other
scientific men, including William Edward Weber, Professor of Physics; Professor
Scheibner, a distinguished mathematician; Gustave Theodore Fechner, Professor of
Physics and an eminent natural philosopher, who were all, says Professor Zöllner,
"perfectly convinced of the reality of the observed facts, altogether excluding
imposture or prestidigitation." The phenomena in question included, among other
things, "the production of true knots in an endless string, the rending of
Professor Zöllner's bed-screen, the disappearance of a small table and its
subsequent descent from the ceiling in full light, in a private house and under
the observed conditions, of which the most noticeable is the apparent passivity
of Dr. Slade during all these occurrences."
Certain critics have tried to indicate what they consider insufficient
precautions observed in these experiments. Dr. J. Maxwell, the acute French
critic, makes an excellent reply to such objections. He points out(4) that
because skilled and conscientious psychic investigators have omitted to indicate
explicitly in their reports that every hypothesis of fraud has been studied and
dismissed, in the belief that "their implicit affirmation of the reality of the
fact appeared sufficient to them," and in order to prevent their reports from
being too unwieldy, yet captious critics do not hesitate to condemn them and to
suggest possibilities of fraud which are quite inadmissible under the observed
(4) Metapsychical Phenomena (Translation,
1905), p. 405.
Zöllner gave a dignified reply to the supposition that he was tricked in these
cord-tying experiments: "If, nevertheless, the foundation of this fact, deduced
by me on the ground of an enlarged conception of space, should be denied, only
one other kind of explanation would remain, arising from a moral code of
consideration that at present, it is true, is quite customary. This explanation
would consist in the presumption that I myself and the honourable men and
citizens of Leipzig, in whose presence several of these cords were sealed, were
either common impostors, or were not in possession of our sound senses
sufficient to perceive if Mr. Slade himself, before the cords were scaled, had
tied them in knots. The discussion, however, of such a hypothesis would no
longer belong to the dominion of science, but would fall under the category of
(5) Massey's Zöllner, pp. 20-21.
As a sample of the reckless statements of opponents of Spiritualism, it may be
mentioned that Mr. Joseph McCabe, who is second only to the American Houdini for
wild inaccuracies, speaks(6) of Zöllner as "an elderly and purblind professor,"
whereas he died in 1882, in his forty-eighth year, and his experiments with
Slade were carried out in 1877-78, when this distinguished scientist was in the
vigour of his intellectual life.
(6) Spiritualism. A Popular History from
1847, p. 161.
So far have opponents pushed their enmity that it has even been stated that
Zöllner was deranged, and that his death which occurred some years later was
accompanied with cerebral weakness. An inquiry from Dr. Funk set this matter at
rest, though it is unfortunately easy to get libels of this sort into
circulation and very difficult to get the contradictions. Here is the
(7) The Widow's Mite, p. 276.
"Your letter addressed to the Rector of the University, October 20, 1903,
received. The Rector of this University was installed here after the death of
Zöllner, and had no personal acquaintance with him but information received from
Zöllner's colleagues states that during his entire studies at the University
here, until his death, he was of sound mind; moreover, in the best of health.
The cause of his death was a haemorrhage of the brain on the morning of April
25th, 1882, while he was at breakfast with his mother, and from which he died
shortly after. It is true that Professor Zöllner was an ardent believer in
Spiritualism, and as such was in close relations with Slade.
"(Dr.) Karl Bucher, Professor of Statistics and National Economy at the
The tremendous power which occasionally manifests itself when the conditions are
favourable was shown once in the presence of Zöllner, Weber, and Scheibner, all
three professors of the University. There was a strong wooden screen on one side
of the room:
"A violent crack was suddenly heard as in the discharging of a large battery of
Leyden jars. On turning with some alarm in the direction of the sound, the
before-mentioned screen fell apart in two pieces. The strong wooden screws, half
an inch thick, were torn from above and below, without any visible contact of
Slade with the screen. The parts broken were at least five feet removed from
Slade, who had his back to the screen; but even if he had intended to tear it
down by a cleverly devised sideward motion, it would have been necessary to
fasten it on the opposite side. As it was, the screen stood quite unattached,
and the grain of the wood being parallel to the axis of the cylindrical wooden
fastenings, the wrenching asunder could only be accomplished by a force acting
longitudinally to the part in question. We were all astonished at this
unexpected and violent manifestation of mechanical force, and asked Slade what
it all meant; but he only shrugged his shoulders, saying that such phenomena
occasionally, though somewhat rarely, occurred in his presence. As he spoke, he
placed, while still standing, a piece of slate-pencil on the polished surface of
the table, laid over it a slate, purchased and just cleaned by myself, and
pressed the five spread fingers of his right hand on the upper surface of the
slate, while his left hand rested on the centre of the table. Writing began on
the inner surface of the slate, and when Slade turned it up, the following
sentence was written in English; "It was not our intention to do harm. Forgive
what has happened." We were the more surprised at the production of the writing
under these circumstances, for we particularly observed that both Slade's hands
remained quite motionless while the writing was going on".(8)
(8) Transcendental Physics, pp. 34, 35.
In his desperate attempt to explain this incident, Mr. McCabe says that no doubt
the screen was broken before and fastened together afterwards with thread. There
is, truly no limit to the credulity of the incredulous.
After a very successful series of séances in St. Petersburg, Slade returned to
London for a few days in 1878, and then proceeded to Australia. An interesting
account of his work there is to be found in Mr. James Curtis's book, "Rustlings
in the Golden City." Then he returned to America. In 1885 he appeared before the
Seybert Commission in Philadelphia, and in 1887 again visited England under the
name of "Dr. Wilson," though it was well known who he was. Presumably his alias
was due to a fear that the old proceedings would be renewed.
At most of his séances, Slade exhibited clairvoyant powers, and materialized
hands were a familiar occurrence. In Australia, where psychic conditions are
good, he had materialization& Mr. Curtis says that the medium objected to
sitting for this form of manifestation, because it left him weak for a time, and
because he preferred to give séance in the light. He consented, however, to try
with Mr. Curtis, who thus describes what took place at Ballarat, in Victoria:
"Our first test of spirit appearance in the form took place at Lester's Hotel. I
placed the table about four or five feet from the west wall of the room. Mr.
Slade sat at the end of the table furthest from the wall, whilst I took my
position on the north side. The gaslight was toned down, not so much but that
any object in the room could be clearly seen. Our hands were placed over one
another in a single pile. We sat very still about ten minutes, when I observed
something like a little misty cloud between myself and the wall. When my
attention was first drawn towards this phenomenon, it was about the size and
colour of a gentleman's high-crowned, whitish-grey felt hat. This cloudlike
appearance rapidly grew and became transformed, when we saw before us a woman -
a lady. The being thus fashioned, and all but perfected, rose from the floor on
to the top of the table, where I could most distinctly observe the
configuration. The arms and hands were elegantly shaped; the forehead, mouth,
nose, cheeks, and beautiful brown hair showed harmoniously, each part in concord
with the whole. Only the eyes were veiled because they could not be completely
materialized. The feet were encased in white satin shoes. The dress glowed in
light, and was the most beautiful I ever beheld, the colour being bright, sheeny
silvery grey, or greyish shining white. The whole figure was graceful, and the
drapery perfect. The materialized spirit glided and walked about, causing the
table to shake, vibrate, jerk and tilt considerably. I could hear, too, the
rustling of the dress as the celestial visitant transiently wended from one
position or place to another. The spirit form, within two feet of our unmoved
hands, still piled up together in a heap, then dissolved, and gradually faded
from our vision."
The conditions at this beautiful séance - with the medium's hands held
throughout, and with enough light for visibility - seem satisfactory, provided we
grant the honesty of the witness. As the preface contains the supporting
testimony of a responsible Australian Government official, who also speaks of
Mr. Curtis's initial extremely sceptical state of mind, we may well do so. At
the same séance a quarter of an hour later the figure again appeared:
"The apparition then floated in the air and alighted on the table, rapidly glided
about, and thrice bent her beautiful figure with graceful bows, each bending
deliberate and low, the head coming within six inches of my face. The dress
rustled (as silk rustles) with every movement. The face was partially veiled as
before. The visibility then became invisible, slowly disappearing like the
Other similar séance’s are described.
In view of the many elaborate and stringent tests through which he passed
successfully, the story of Slade's "exposure" in America in 1886 is not
convincing, but we refer to it for historical reasons, and to show that such
incidents are not excluded from our review of the subject. The Boston Herald,
February 2, 1886, heads its account, "The celebrated Dr. Slade comes to grief in
Weston, W. Na., writes upon slates which lie upon his knees under the table, and
moves tables and chairs with his toes." Observers in an adjoining room, looking
through the crevice under the door saw these feats of agility being performed by
the medium, though those present in the room with him were unaware of them.
There seems, however, to have been in this as in other cases, occurrences which
bore the appearance of fraud, and Spiritualists were among those who denounced
him. At a subsequent public performance for "Direct Spirit Writing" in the
justice Hall, Weston, Mr. E. S. Barrett, described as a "Spiritualist," came
forward and explained how Slade's imposture had been detected. Slade, who was
asked to speak, appeared dumbfounded, and could only say, according to the
report, that if his accusers had been deceived he had been equally so, for if
the deceit had been done by him, it had been without his consciousness.
Mr. J. Simmons, Slade's business manager, made a frank statement which seems to
point to the operation of ectoplasmic limbs, as years later was proved to be the
case with the famous Italian medium, Eusapia Palladino. He says: "I do not doubt
that these gentlemen saw what they assert they did; but I am convinced at the
same time that Slade is as innocent of what he is accused of as you (the editor)
yourself would have been under similar circumstances. But I know that my
explanation would have no weight in a court of justice. I myself saw a hand,
which I could have sworn to be that of Slade, if it had been possible for his
hand to be in that position. While one of his hands lay upon the table and the
other held the slate under the corner of the table, a third hand appeared with a
clothes-brush (which a moment previously had brushed against me from the knee
upwards) in the middle of the opposite edge of the table, which was forty-two
inches long." Slade and his manager were arrested and released on bail, but no
further proceedings seem to have been taken against them. Truesdell, also, in
his book, "Spiritualism, Bottom Facts," states that he saw Slade effecting the
movement of objects with his foot, and he asks his readers to believe that the
medium made to him a full confession of how all his manifestations were
produced. If Slade ever really did this, it may probably be accounted for by a
burst of ill-timed levity on his part in seeking to fool a certain type of
investigator by giving him exactly what he was seeking for. To such instances we
may apply the judgment of Professor Zöllner on the Lankester incident: "The
physical facts observed by us in so astonishing a variety in his presence
negatived on every reasonable ground the supposition that he in one solitary
case had taken refuge in wilful imposture." He adds, what was certainly the case
in that particular instance, that Slade was the victim of his accuser's and his
judge's limited knowledge.
At the same time there is ample evidence that Slade degenerated in general
character towards the latter part of his life. Promiscuous sittings with a
mercenary object, the subsequent exhaustions, and the alcoholic stimulus which
affords a temporary relief, all acting upon a most sensitive organization, had a
deleterious effect. This weakening of character, with a corresponding loss of
health, may have led to a diminution of his psychic powers, and increase the
temptation to resort to trickery. Making every allowance for the difficulty of
distinguishing what is fraud and what is of crude psychic origin, an unpleasant
impression is left upon the mind by the evidence given in the Seybert Commission
and by the fact that Spiritualists upon the spot should have condemned his
action. Human frailty, however, is one thing and psychic power is another. Those
who seek evidence for the latter will find ample in those years when the man and
his powers were both at their zenith.
Slade died in 1905 at a Michigan sanatorium to which he had been sent by the
American Spiritualists, and the announcement was followed by the customary sort
of comment in the London Press. The Star, which has an evil tradition in psychic
matters, printed a sensational article headed "Spook Swindles," giving a garbled
account of the Lankester prosecution at Bow Street. Referring to this, Light
(9) 1886, p. 433.
"Of course, this whole thing is a hash of ignorance, unfairness and prejudice. We
do not care to discuss it or to controvert it. It would be useless to do so for
the sake of the unfair, the ignorant, and the prejudiced, and it is not
necessary for those who know. Suffice it to say that the Star only supplies one
more instance of the difficulty of getting all the facts before the public; but
the prejudiced newspapers have themselves to blame for their ignorance or
It is the story of the Davenport Brothers and Maskelyne over again.
If Slade's career is difficult to appraise, and if one is forced to admit that
while there was an overpowering preponderance of psychic results, there was also
a residuum which left the unpleasant impression that the medium might supplement
truth with fraud, the same admission must be made in the case of the medium
Monck, who played a considerable part for some years in the seventies. Of all
mediums none is more difficult to appraise, for on the one hand many of his
results are beyond all dispute, while in a few there seems to be an absolute
certainty of dishonesty. In his case, as in Slade's, there were physical causes
which would account for a degeneration of the moral and psychic powers.
Monck was a Nonconformist clergyman, a favourite pupil of the famous Spurgeon.
According to his own account, he had been subject from childhood to psychic
influences, which increased with his growth. In 1873 he announced his adhesion
to Spiritualism and gave an address in the Cavendish Rooms. Shortly afterwards
he began to give demonstrations, which appear to have been unpaid and were given
in light. In 1875 he made a tour through England and Scotland, his performances
exciting much attention and debate, and in 1876 he visited Ireland, where his
powers were directed towards healing. Hence he was usually known as "Dr." Monck,
a fact which naturally aroused some protest from the medical profession.
Dr. Alfred Russel Wallace, a most competent and honest observer, has given an
account of a materialization séance with Monck which appears to be as
critic-proof as such a thing could be. No subsequent suspicion or conviction can
ever eliminate such an incontrovertible instance of psychic power. It is to be
noted how far the effects were in agreement with the subsequent demonstrations
of ectoplasmic outflow in the case of Eva and other modern mediums. Dr.
Wallace's companions upon this occasion were Mr. Stainton Moses and Mr.
Hensleigh Wedgwood. Dr. Wallace writes:
"It was a bright summer afternoon, and everything happened in the full light of
day. After a little conversation, Monck, who was dressed in the usual clerical
black, appeared to go into a trance; then stood up a few feet in front of us,
and after a little while pointed to his side, saying, "Look."
"We saw there a faint white patch on his coat on the left side. This grew
brighter, then seemed to flicker and extend both upwards and downwards, till
very gradually it formed a cloudy pillar extending from his shoulder to his feet
and close to his body."
Dr. Wallace goes on to describe how the cloudy figure finally assumed the form
of a thickly draped woman, who, after a brief space, appeared to be absorbed
into the body of the medium.
He adds: "The whole process of the formation of a shrouded figure was seen in
Mr. Wedgwood assured him that he had had even more remarkable manifestations of
this kind with Monck, when the medium was in a deep trance, and in full view.
It is quite impossible after such evidence to doubt the powers of the medium at
that time. Archdeacon Colley, who had seen similar exhibitions, offered a prize
of a thousand pounds to Mr. J. N. Maskelyne the famous conjurer, if he could
duplicate the performance. This challenge was accepted by Mr. Maskelyne, but the
evidence showed that the imitation bore no relation to the original. He
attempted to gain a decision in the courts, but the verdict was against him.
It is interesting to compare the account given by Russel Wallace and the
experience later of a well known American, judge Dailey. This gentleman
(10) Banner of Light, Dec. 15, 1881.
"Glancing at Dr. Monck's side we observed what looked like an opalescent mass of
compact steam emerging from just below his heart on the left side. It increased
in volume, rising up and extending downward, the upper portions taking the form
of a child's head, the face being distinguished as that of a little child I had
lost some twenty years previously. It only remained in this form for a moment,
and then suddenly disappeared, seeming to be instantly absorbed into the
Doctor's side. This remarkable phenomenon was repeated four or five times, in
each instance the materialization being more distinct than the preceding one.
This was witnessed by all in the room, with gas burning sufficiently bright for
every object in the room to be plainly visible.
"It was a phenomenon seldom to be seen, and has enabled all who saw it to vouch
for, not only the remarkable power possessed by Dr. Monck as a materializing
medium, but as to the wonderful manner in which a spirit draws out this position
our hands were never moved till I untied the slates to ascertain the result."
Surely it is vain after such testimony to deny that Monck had, indeed, great
Apart from materializations Dr. Monck was a remarkable slate-writing medium. Dr.
Russel Wallace in a letter to the Spectator(11) says that with Monck at a
private house in Richmond he cleaned two slates, and after placing a fragment of
pencil between them, tied them together tightly with a strong cord, lengthways
and crosswise, in a manner that prevented any movement.
(11) Oct. 7, 1877.
"I then laid them flat on the table without losing sight of them for an instant.
Dr. Monck placed the fingers of both hands on them, while I and a lady sitting
opposite placed our hands on the corners of the slates. From this position our
hands were never moved till I untied the slates to ascertain the result."
Monck asked Wallace to name a word to be written on the slate. He chose the word
"God" and in answer to a request decided that it should be lengthways on the
slate. The sound of writing was heard, and when the medium's hands were
withdrawn, Dr. Wallace opened the slates and found on the lower one the word he
had asked for and written in the manner requested.
Dr. Wallace says:
"The essential features of this experiment are that I myself cleaned and tied up
the slates; that I kept my hands on them all the time; that they never went out
of my sight for a moment; and that I named the word to be written, and the
manner of writing it after they were thus secured and held by me."
Mr. Edward T. Bennett, assistant secretary to the Society for Psychical
Research, adds to this account:
"I was present on this occasion, and certify that Mr. Wallace's account of what
happened is correct."
Another good test is described by Mr. W. P. Adshead, of Belper, a well-known
investigator, who says of a séance held in Derby on September 18, 1876:
"There were eight persons present, three ladies and five gentlemen. A lady whom
Dr. Monck had never before seen had a slate passed to her by a sitter, which she
examined and found clean. The slate pencil which was on the table a few minutes
before we sat down could not be found. An investigator suggested that it would
be a good test if a lead pencil were used.
"Accordingly a lead pencil was put on the slate, and the lady held both under
the table. The sound of writing was instantly heard, and in a few seconds a
communication had been written filling one side of the slate. The writing was
done in lead, and was very small and neat, and alluded to a strictly private
"Here were three tests at once. 1. Writing was obtained without the medium (or
any other person but the lady), touching the slate from first to last. 2. It was
written with lead pencil at the spontaneous suggestion of another stranger. 3.
It gave an important test communication regarding a matter that was strictly
private. Dr. Monck did not so much as touch the slate from first to last."
Mr. Adshead also speaks of physical phenomena occurring freely with this medium
when his hands were closely confined in an apparatus called the "stocks," which
did not permit movement of even an inch in any direction.
In the year 1876 the Slade trial was going on in London, as already described,
and exposures were in the air. In considering the following rather puzzling and
certainly suspicious case, one has to remember that when a man who is a public
performer, a conjurer or a mesmerist, can pose as having exposed a medium, he
wins a valuable public advertisement and attracts to himself all that very
numerous section of the community who desire to see such an exposure. It is only
fair to bear this in mind in endeavouring to hold the scales fair where there is
a conflict of evidence.
In this case the conjurer and mesmerist was one Lodge, and the occasion was a
séance held at Huddersfield on November 3, 1876. Mr. Lodge suddenly demanded
that the medium be searched. Monck, whether dreading assault or to save himself
exposure, ran upstairs and locked himself in his room. He then let himself down
from his window and made for the police office, where he lodged a complaint as
to his treatment. The door of his bedroom had been forced and his effects
searched, with the result that a pair of stuffed gloves was found. Monck
asserted that these gloves had been made for a lecture in which he had exposed
the difference between conjuring and mediumship. Still, as a Spiritualist paper
remarked at the time:
"The phenomena of his mediumship do not rest on his probity at all. If he were
the greatest rogue and the most accomplished conjurer rolled into one, it would
not account for the manifestations which have been reported of him."
Monck was sentenced to three months' imprisonment, and is alleged to have made a
confession to Mr. Lodge.
After his release from prison Monck held a number of test sittings with Stainton
Moses, at which remarkable phenomena occurred.
"Those whose names we have mentioned as testifying to the genuineness of Dr.
Monck's mediumship are well known to the older Spiritualists as keen and
scrupulously cautious experimenters, and Mr. Hensleigh Wedgwood's name carried
much weight, as he was known as a man of science and was brother-in-law of
There is an element of doubt about the Huddersfield case, as the accuser was by
no means an impartial person, but Sir William Barrett's testimony makes it clear
that Monck did sometimes descend to deliberate and cold-blooded trickery. Sir
"I caught the "Dr." in a gross bit of fraud, a piece of white muslin on a wire
frame with a black thread attached, being used by the medium to simulate a
partially materialized spirit.(12)
(12) S.P.R. Proceedings, Vol. IV, P. 38
Such an exposure, coming from so sure a source, arouses a feeling of disgust
which urges one to throw the whole evidence concerning the man into the
wastepaper basket. One must, however, be patient and reasonable in such matters.
Monck's earlier séances, as has been clearly shown, were in good light, and any
such clumsy mechanism was out of the question. We must not argue that because a
man once forges, therefore he has never signed an honest cheque in his life. But
we must clearly admit that Monck was capable of fraud, that he would take the
easier way when things were difficult, and that each of his manifestations
should be carefully checked.