Frank Podmore

Well-known psychical investigator and distinguished author. Elected to the Council of the SPR in 1882 and served for an unbroken period of 27 years. For eight or nine years he held, jointly with Frederic Myers, the office of the honorary secretary. He was a collaborator with Myers and Edmund Gurney in "Phantasms of the Living".

Spiritualism in France Before 1848

 - Frank Podmore -

          ONE OF the earliest detailed accounts which we possess of questioning the spirits through the mouth of a somnambule is contained in an extract from some unpublished journals of the Societe Exegetique et Philantropique of Stockholm, which is quoted in the "Annales du Magnetisme Animal" by M. Lausanne, in the course of a history of Animal Magnetism.(1) This society, founded in the birthplace of Swedenborg, apparently for the propagation of his doctrines, had addressed in 1788 to the Societe des amis reunis at Strasbourg a famous "Lettre sur la seul explication satisfaisante des phenomenes du Magnetisme Animal et du somnambulisme deduite des vrais principes fondes dans les connaissances du Createur de l'homme et de la Nature, et confirmee par l'experience." True to the principles of its founder, the Strasbourg Society had retorted by insisting on a naturalistic interpretation. Thereupon M. Halldin, of the Swedish Society, replied by another long exposition of the Swedenborgian view, backed up by extracts from journals of trance experiments for a few days in the month of May, 1787. From these journals it would appear that in the presence of several members of the nobility and other persons the wife of a gardener named Lindquist, a woman of forty years of age, when placed in the trance, was controlled on successive days by two different spirits, her own infant daughter and another young child, a former native of the town. These 'spirits,' in reply to the questions of the bystanders, gave some account of their own lives on earth, described the state of intermediate or probationary existence, le chemin de milieu, through which the spirits of the dead had to pass before finally proceeding to their appointed place, expounded the Christian Scriptures, and even entered upon an abstruse disquisition on the worthlessness in that other world of all man's "natural goodness" - in all this discourse faithfully reproducing the teachings of the Swedish seer. Other somnambules and other "controls" delivered themselves to a like effect. They also prescribed for the diseases of persons present or absent. Asked as to the state of the late King, the spirits replied that he was happy; the late Captain Sparfvenfeldt was reported to be "encore flottant," apparently in the probationary state above described. But the "controls" refused to satisfy a natural curiosity as to the whereabouts of the late Comte de Stenbock, and leave us to the grimmest conjectures.

(1) 1816, No. XXV.

It is to be noted that the ascription of these somnambulic utterances to spirit intelligences was in the circumstances not merely easy but almost inevitable. The entranced person was in a state obviously differing very widely from either normal sleep or normal wakefulness; in the waking state she herself retained no recollection of what happened in the trance; in the trance she habitually spoke of her waking self in the third person, as of someone else; the intelligence which manifested in the trance obviously possessed powers of expression and intellectual resources in some directions far greater than any displayed by the waking subject. Add to this that the trance intelligence habitually reflected the ideas in general and especially the religious orthodoxy of her interlocutors; that on occasion she showed knowledge of their thoughts and intentions which could not apparently have been acquired by normal means; that she was, in particular, extraordinarily skilful in diagnosing, prescribing for, and occasionally foretelling the course of diseases in herself and others - the proof must have seemed to the bystanders complete.

That without impugning the good faith of the "medium" we can now explain these manifestations without the supposition of an extraneous intelligence is no reflection on the common sense of the earlier investigators. Taught by the experience of more than a century in this particular field and with a wider and more intimate knowledge of allied abnormal states, we can now explain the division of memory, the assumption by the somnambule of an alien personality, and the enlargement in certain directions of the psychic powers, as phenomena directly dependent on changes in the physical basis of consciousness, such as accompany and condition the trance. The unshakeable orthodoxy of the medium is seen to be less significant when we find that she is apt equally to reflect the ideas of the magnetist, whether Catholic, Protestant, Rationalist, or, as in the case just cited, Swedenborgian; and, if some of the more marvellous phenomena of the trance are still obscure, they can at least be seen to fall into line with other mundane facts, which do not obviously call for spirit-intervention. But at Stockholm in the eighteenth century such comparisons and inferences were not possible. Even if the members of the Exegetical and Philanthropic Society had started as doubters, they might have been excused for succumbing to the evidence of their senses, as did the young somnambule whose history is preserved for us by Bertrand. The boy was heard in the trance to exclaim - "Mais il n'y a pas de revenans, ce sont des contes. Cependant je les vois, la preuve est entiere."(2) Starting, as they apparently did, with a belief in the spirit communings of their famous fellow-citizen, Emanuel Swedenborg, these Stockholm inquirers could hardly fail to see in these later manifestations corroboration of their faith and an earnest of fuller revelations to come.

(2) "Traite du Somnambulisme", P. 437.

It was in Germany, as will appear in the next chapter, that the Spiritualist interpretation found most favour. There were many philosophers in that country who welcomed the somnambulic revelations as affording support for mystical beliefs antecedently held on less cogent evidence. In the heated debates which preceded the appointment of the second French Commission there were numerous allusions to the Spiritualists; and Germany and the countries of northern Europe were pointed to as the chief offenders against scientific orthodoxy. But they do not seem to have stood alone; the clairvoyant who saw and conversed in a vision with two great prophets, and when asked to identify them, named Rousseau and Voltaire, must surely have been a Parisian.(3)

(3) Foissac, op. cit., p. 58.

In France, however, as we have already seen, not merely by Mesmer and his immediate disciples, but by those who pursued the subject in the next generation, the phenomena of the somnambulic trance were studied as part of the natural sciences. However extravagant the theories which, in some cases, those phenomena were suborned to support, they yet did not pass beyond the limits of the material world. For the great body of investigators the interest in Animal Magnetism lay primarily in its use as a healing power, and secondarily as illustrating the workings of a new physical force. If there were any inquirers who saw in the phenomena indications of something transcending the physical universe, they remained for the most part inarticulate. They published few books, and contributed no articles to the leading periodicals devoted to Animal Magnetism. Echoes of the Spiritualist beliefs are found, however, from time to time in the early literature of the French magnetists. Even so early as 1787 M. Tardy de Montravel indited a series of letters controverting, in the politest language, the view that in the trance the soul of the somnambule became freed from its fleshly bonds, and soared into the world of real existence. Per contra in 1793 Keleph Ben-Nathan, in his "Philosophie Divine", argued that in somnambulism the spirit of man did indeed hold intercourse with other spirits, but of an infernal order; and that the Spiritualist magnetisers were, in fact, practising that sorcery and divination against which the Israelites had been warned in the Jewish Scriptures.

Some years later Deleuze, in the first volume of his "Histoire Critique", found it necessary to devote a chapter to an examination of the views of the mystics and to argue at length that a belief in the phenomena of Animal Magnetism was not logically or necessarily associated with such doctrines. Later, in the "Bibliotheque du Magnetisme Animal", Deleuze defines his own position more precisely.(4) A friend had drawn his attention to the Spiritualist views then widely current in Germany, and asserted his own inclination towards them in preference to the naturalistic explanation adopted generally in France, in deference, as he suggests, to the fashionable philosophy of the day. Deleuze, in his reply, admits that the phenomena of clairvoyance and the like go far to establish the spirituality of the soul and its independence of the material organism, and thereby to destroy the strongest argument that can be adduced against the soul's survival. But he urges various considerations for holding the judgment, so far as relates to anything more than this admission, still in suspense. Spirit-intercourse must, he thinks, at present be regarded as not proven by any manifestation of the somnambulic trance. The phenomena which seem to point in that direction are susceptible of another interpretation.

(4) Vol. iv. (1818), pp. 1-63.

In his later years, however, Deleuze appears to have been almost converted to the Spiritualistic hypothesis. One Dr. G. P. Billot had been experimenting for many years with various patients of that hysterical type which at that time, as at the present day, appears to have been so common in France. By means of leading questions he readily induced his patients, in the somnambulic trance, to declare that they were possessed by spirits. The spirits in the case of Billot's subjects proclaimed themselves the guardian angels of the somnambules, through whom they communicated, confessed the Catholic verities, and on occasion, in proof of their claims, made the sign of the cross. All these matters and many more Billot reported at great length to Deleuze, in a correspondence which extended over more than four years, from March, 1829, to August, 1833.(5) At the beginning of the correspondence Deleuze adheres to the position above described. In one of his last letters, however, dated 3rd August, 1833, when he was in his eighty-second year, and within a few months of the complete failure of his mental powers, he writes to his correspondent: "I have unlimited confidence in you, and cannot doubt the truth of your observations. You seem to me destined to effect a change in the ideas generally held on Animal Magnetism. I should like to live long enough to see the happy revolution, and to thank Heaven for having been introduced into the world of angels."

(5) "Recherches psychologiques ... ou correspondance sur le magnetisme vital entre un Solitaire et aI. Deleuze." Paris, 1839.

On the strength of this and similar utterances Billot claims Deleuze as a convert to his views. But apart altogether from the effect produced by them on the octogenarian naturalist, Billot's letters are of considerable interest. In the first place, it is clear that the author, though firmly convinced of the truth of his views, was reluctant to publish themin itself strong proof of the rarity of similar views amongst his countrymen - because of the ridicule and opposition which he foresaw that they would encounter. The correspondence was not, in fact, published until six years later. But it is specially interesting to note that Billot's clairvoyants had on some occasions furnished him with physical phenomena. On the 5th March, 1819, three of the somnambules - one man and two women - were sitting in a row. They were in the "theo-magnetic" state, in which they would see visions, and all of them the same vision. The only other persons present were Dr. Billot himself and a blind woman, who was apparently in the habit of consulting his clairvoyants:

"Towards the middle of the sťance, one of the seeresses exclaimed, 'There is the Dove - it is white as snow - it is flying about the room with something in its beak - it is a piece of paper. Let us pray.' A few moments later she added, 'See, it has let the paper drop at the feet of Madame J ' (the blind woman)."

In fact, Dr. Billot saw a paper packet lying at the spot indicated, which, on picking it up, he found to exhale a sweet smell. The contents of the packet consisted of three small pieces of bone glued on to small strips of paper, with the words "St. Maxime," "St. Sabine," and "Many Martyrs" respectively written beneath the fragments. The account is dated September, 1831.(6)

(6) Vol. ii. p. 8.†

On the 27th October in the following year, 1820, he witnessed a somewhat similar occurrence. The same blind woman had come to consult one of his somnambules. In the trance the somnambule said that she saw a maiden holding out a branch covered with flowers. Billot remarked that there were no plants in flower at that season in the country. Suddenly the blind woman cried out that a spray of flowers had just been placed on her apron. On examination the "apport" proved to be a piece of Cretan thyme. Later the visionary maiden, in answer to the doctor's entreaties, gave him also a piece of the same plant.(7)

(7) Vol. ii. p. 6.

These incidents Billot recounted to Deleuze as proofs palpable of spirit-intervention. He cannot, he says, understand - nor is it, indeed, easy of understanding - how the things could have been brought by Animal Magnetism only.

Deleuze in his reply states that he has just received a visit from a distinguished physician, who had had similar experiences. One of this gentleman's somnambules had frequently brought him material objects; but she never professed to have interviews with spirits. Deleuze himself finds it easier to conceive that these "apports" should be conveyed by magnetic power than that spirits should have power to move material objects.

The correspondence is of value as showing that physical phenomena of the kind familiar to modern Spiritualists - the Cretan thyme exactly foreshadows the "apports" of flowers witnessed in Mrs. Guppy's presence - occurred in connection with the trance long before 1848. Two or three similar incidents in connection with German clairvoyants are described in the next chapter.

Whilst, however, it was in Germany, in the early part of the last century, that the idea of intercourse with spirits through the medium of an entranced subject first received its full development, yet France contributed, in the remarkable trance utterances recorded by Alphonse Cahagnet, one of its most striking illustrations. We learn from his writings that Cahagnet was familiar with the teachings of Swedenborg, and it is not unlikely that he may have read the articles in the "Annales" from which the account of the Swedish Spiritualists above quoted is taken. And no doubt to both these sources of inspiration we may add the interest evoked by the German clairvoyants, some reports of whose marvellous revelations must have reached Paris. But it is noteworthy that in the Paris of his day Cahagnet seems to have stood almost alone. He belonged to no school; he persuaded few of his contemporaries to share his views of the somnambulist revelations which he recorded; and but for the advent of Modern Spiritualism from America, he would, it may be hazarded, have found few readers. If in the present chapter, therefore, Cahagnet's work is treated at greater length than its historical importance would seem to justify, it is because these trance utterances are at once amongst the most remarkable and the best-attested documents on which the case for Spiritualism depends.

Alphonse Cahagnet describes himself as a simple ouvrier. He was, in fact, as we learn from an authoritative account of him in the "Journal du Magnetisme",(8) originally a journeyman cabinet-maker, and subsequently took up the trade of restoring old furniture. His attention appears to have been attracted to the phenomena of somnambulism about 1845, and thereafter he employed much of his leisure in studying and recording the utterances of various entranced subjects.

(8) Vol. xiii. p. 340.

In January, 1848, he published at Paris the first volume of his "Arcanes de la vie future devoiles", in which he gave an account of communications received through eight somnambules, which purported to proceed from thirty-six persons of various stations, who had died at different epochs, some of them more than two centuries previously. This first volume contained "revelations" of the usual post-Swedenborgian kind about the constitution of the spirit spheres, the occupations of the deceased, the bliss of the after-life, and visions of angelic beings clothed in white, walking on beautiful lawns, in the light of a fairer day than ours.

We should probably be justified in assuming that these accounts of heaven and of the occupations of the spirits therein, with which a large part of the first volume is taken up, had no more remote origin than the medium's own mind, whose workings were no doubt directed, now by memories of lessons learnt in childhood, now by hints of the Swedenborgian philosophy and of the revelations of German clairvoyants received from Cahagnet himself. This first volume also included personal messages from deceased friends of those persons whom Cahagnet admitted to witness the manifestations. But there is little or nothing to show that these communications did not emanate exclusively from the imagination of the medium, and we are dependent solely upon Cahagnet's good faith and competence for the accuracy of the reports given. Cahagnet appears, however, to have been a man of quite unusual sincerity and teachableness. The criticisms on his earlier work showed him where the evidence was defective; and in the later seances described in his second volume, which was published in January, 1849, he appears to have done his utmost to establish the authenticity of the alleged spirit communications by procuring, wherever possible, the written attestations of the other persons present. The medium in all these later sittings was Adele Maginot, whom he had known for many years. A natural somnambulist from her childhood, she had, in the first instance, allowed Cahagnet to "magnetise" her, in order that he might put a stop to the spontaneous attacks which were impairing her health. He soon found her an excellent clairvoyant, especially for the diagnosis and cure of diseases. In the later sťances, however, which took place in the spring and summer of 1848, Adele was chiefly consulted by persons who wished for interviews with deceased friends. Cahagnet drew up a statement of the communications made at these sittings, and asked the sitters to sign the statement, indicating how far the particulars given were true or false. These statements, with the signed attestations, are published. In the few cases where the names are not given in full Cahagnet explains that for sufficient reasons the sitters had desired that their names should be withheld from the general public, but that they were at the disposal of any private inquirer who might wish to satisfy himself of the genuineness of the accounts. Of course these reports, which do not profess to be verbatim, do not show what indications the clairvoyant may have received from leading questions or undesigned hints by the sitters.

Cahagnet, indeed, seems to admit a certain amount of editing on his part. His words are:

"Cet ouvrage est loin d'offrir l'interet du roman par son style forcement coupe, accidente. Aussi conviendrait-il mieux aux amateurs de la science qu'aux lecteurs passionnes des descriptions poetiques de nos romans du jour. J'ai cherche a rendre le style le plus clair possible en le depouillant de cet entourage de questions, de scences etrangeres a ce genre de revelations. Je tiens moins a bien ecrire qu'a bien persuader. . . . Je suis reste dans les limites de l'austere verite, du role impartial de l'historien, presentant A la philosophie du jour des faits dans toute leur nudite, mais aussi dans toute leur sincerite."(9)

(9) Vol. ii. p. 233.

But it is evident from the accounts given that many of the sitters, at any rate, were sceptical, and on their guard against deception. And in some cases it seems clear that no hints received from the sitters could have furnished information. Another possible evidential defect is that though Cahagnet tells us that he has recorded all the somnambule's mistakes as well as all her correct statements,(10) he does not expressly say that he has published the records of every sťance. As, however, we have numbered records of forty-six sťances in the interval between going to press with the first volume in the autumn of 1874 and the end of August, 1848, twenty-eight of which sittings took place between the 6th of March and the latter date, it may fairly be assumed that the sittings here recorded represent at least a substantial proportion of those which actually took place. Lastly, to complete the enumeration of the more prominent evidential defects, very few dates are given. In this respect also, however, the second volume shows a marked improvement over the first. The ninety-six sťances there recorded contain hardly a single date. But of the later sťances several are dated, and the rest, from internal evidence, appear to be printed in chronological order. In short, in the whole literature of Spiritualism I know of no records of the kind which reach a higher evidential standard, nor any in which the writer's good faith and intelligence are alike so conspicuous.

(10) Vol. ii. p. 126.

The following are a few representative records. In the seances first quoted the sitter, Dejean de la Bastie, Delegate to the Government from the Isle of Bourbon, had come a few days previously and received a personal description of his father, which he acknowledged to be exact with a few trifling exceptions, together with much excellent paternal advice.

No. 141 - M. Dejean de la Bastie, already quoted in Sťance 138, desires another apparition. He asks for M. Marie-Joseph-Theodore de Guigne. Adele sees a man about forty years of age, rather tall, with brown hair. M. Dejean interrupts Adele by saying that this is not the portrait of the person for whom he asks. We see that this gentleman wishes for perfectly accurate information. At the words "rather tall, with brown hair," he says, "He was tall and not brown haired." Adele answers that the person whose appearance she is describing must have the same name and belong to his family, that she is conscious that it is so; but he again asks for this gentleman, and a second person appears. The first remains. "The new-comer," she says, "is thirty years of age and over; he is tall and thin, has dark, flaxen hair, a pale face, with rather sweet, dark blue eyes; a long nose, a mouth that is large rather than small, a long chin. I see he wears a sort of great coat, such as is no longer worn. It is not at all becoming; it resembles a dressing-gown, but is not one; it is dark blue or black. This garb proclaims him to be a man in orders - a priest, or something of the kind. He looks stern. He must have had chest complaint. I see that his lungs are distended with blood. He has been ailing a long time. He is very weak. I think that privations have caused this, and made his chest so delicate. I do not see, however, that he has the germs of any fatal disease, and this makes me believe that his death was violent, accidental, unexpected. His hand is large and thin. I see a medal on his breast, the size of the palm of a hand. He wears low-cut shoes, such are not worn now. He will not speak to me, so I conclude that he did not speak French."

The following remarks precede the signature of M. Dejean: "This person had more of gentleness and kindness than severity in his disposition. He died of a malignant fever, accompanied by delirium lasting several days, and attributed by the doctor to the needs of a vigorous constitution thwarted by absolute continence."

The details acknowledged to be accurate.

18, Rue Neuve de Luxembourg."(11)

This 25th August, 1848.

(11) Arcanes, vol. ii. pp. 219-220.

The introduction in the first instance of a figure which is not recognised by the sitter is a not uncommon feature at these sťances. Adele generally persisted, as in the present case, that the figure belonged to the same family; and not infrequently the sitter was ultimately induced to recognise it. In one case Cahagnet describes,(12) under the title "Quadruple Apparition," a case in which three figures appeared before one was recognised. In this case the sitter appears ultimately to have given a grudging recognition to all four. But the unprejudiced inquirer will probably not share Cahagnet's view, that the introduction of three tardily recognised figures adds strength to the evidence. Cahagnet himself was satisfied that the somnambule actually held converse with spirits, and most of his sitters seem to have shared his conviction. But there were a few who ascribed the results to thought-transference; and the sitting next to be quoted certainly lends support to this view.

(12) Vol. iii. pp. 101-8

M. du Potet, a well-known writer on Animal Magnetism, and editor at that time of the "Journal du Magnetisme" in Paris, came to see Cahagnet's subject, and brought with him the Prince de Kourakine, who is described as Secretary to the Russian Ambassador. The Prince had asked for his sister-in-law, and a striking personal description had been given by Adele, which was acknowledged by the Prince, in the hearing of M. du Potet and two other witnesses, to be accurate. Unfortunately, the Prince's signed attestation was not procured on the spot; he had promised to come again, but - as Cahagnet delicately put it - "les evenements survenus en France l'ont force de partir," and the promised testimony was never obtained. After the apparition of the Russian Princess, however, the record continues:

No. 117.(13) - M. du Potet wishes in his turn to call up M. Dubois, a doctor, a friend of his who had been dead about fifteen months.

(13) Vol. ii. pp. 118-20.

Adele said: "I see a grey-headed man, he has very little hair on the front of his head; his forehead is bare and prominent at the temples, making his head appear square. He may be about sixty years of age. He has two wrinkles on either side of his cheeks, a crease under his chin, making it look double; he is short-necked and stumpy; has small eyes, a thick nose, rather a large mouth, a flat chin, and small thin hands. He does not look to me quite so tall as M. du Potet; if he is not stouter he is more broad-shouldered. He wears a brown frock-coat with side-pockets. I see him draw a snuff-box out of one of them and take a pinch. He has a very funny walk, he does not carry himself well, and has weak legs; he must have suffered from them. He has rather short trousers. Ah! he does not clean his shoes every day, for they are covered with mud. Taking it all together, he is not well dressed. He has asthma, for he breathes with difficulty. I see, too, that he has a swelling in the abdomen, he has something to support it. I have told him that it is M. du Potet who asked for him. He talks to me of magnetism with incredible volubility; he talks of everything at once; he mixes everything up; I cannot understand any of it; it makes him sputter saliva."

M. du Potet asks that the apparition may be asked why he has not appeared to him before, as he had promised. He answers: "Wait till I find out my whereabouts; I have only just arrived, I am studying everything I see. I want to tell you all about it when I appear, and I shall have many things to tell you."

"Which day did you promise me you would do so?" "On a Wednesday." Adele adds: "This man must be forgetful; I am sure that he was very absent-minded." M. du Potet asks further: "When will you appear to me?" "I cannot fix the time; I shall try to do so in six weeks." "Ask him if he was fond of the Jesuits?" At this name he gave such a leap in the air, stretching out his arms and crying, "The Jesuits," that Adele draws back quickly, and is so startled that she does not venture to speak to him again.

M. du Potet declares that all these details are very accurate, that he cannot alter a syllable. He says that this man's powers of conversation were inexhaustible; he mixed up all the sciences to which he was devoted, and spoke with such volubility that, as the clairvoyant says, he sputtered in consequence. He took little pains with his appearance; he was so absent-minded that he sometimes forgot to cat. When anyone mentioned the Jesuits to him he jumped as Adele has described. He was always covered with mud like a spaniel. It is not surprising that the clairvoyant should see him with muddy shoes. He had, in fact, promised M. du Potet that he would appear to him on a Wednesday or a Saturday. M. du Potet has acknowledged the accuracy of this apparition in No. 75 of the "Journal du Magnetisme".

In effect, in the "Journal" of August 10th of the same year, in reviewing the first volume of Cahagnet's work, du Potet gives handsome testimony to the striking nature of the impersonation, "si bien que je croyais le voir moi-meme, tant le tableau en etait saisissant. Bientot cette ombre s'est enfuie en effrayant la somnambule; un seul mot avait cause cette disparition subite, et mon etonnement en fut porte A son comble, car ce meme mot le mettait toujours en fureur." But du Potet, for all that, is inclined to attribute the phenomenon to transmission of thought from his own mind,(14) and a few months later(15) in reviewing Cahagnet's second volume, he takes occasion to give the result of his further inquiries on this sťance. Generally, the minute description of the personal appearance and other particulars which were prominent in du Potet's own mind at the time were correct; and other details were correctly given which du Potet might have heard, but had certainly not remembered at the time. He had ascertained, however, from the widow and children that Dr. Dubois took no tobacco; never had a redingote of the colour described; had no hernia, and consequently wore no bandage. Moreover, the apparition predicted never came off. Du Potet, however, adds expressly that Dr. Dubois was unknown in life to Cahagnet and his somnambule.

(14) "Journal du Magnetisme", vol. vii. p. 89.†
(15) Ibid., vol. viii. p. 24.

But, in fact, Cahagnet's own records furnish us with the most convincing refutation of his theory that these communications were authentic messages from the spirits of the dead. For there are two or three accounts which, while they point to the action of telepathy, are extremely difficult to reconcile with the theory of spirit-intercourse. On two occasions, recorded in the second volume, Adele was asked to search for a long-lost relative of the sitter. On each occasion she found the man alive, and conversed with his spirit.

M. Lucas came to inquire after the fate of his brother-in-law, who had disappeared after a quarrel some twelve years previously. Adele, in the trance, found the man at once, said that he was alive, and that she saw him in a "foreign country," where there were trees like those in America, and that he was busy gathering seeds from small shrubs about three feet high. He would not answer her questions, and she asked to be awoke, as she was afraid of wild beasts.(16) M. Lucas returned a few days afterwards, bringing with him the mother of the missing man.

(16) Arcanes, vol ii. pp. 32, 33.

No. 99.(17) - Adele, as soon as she was asleep, said: "I see him." Where do you see him?" "Here." "Give us a description of him again, and also of the place where he is." "He is a fair man, tanned by the heat of the sun; he is very stout, his features are fairly regular; brown eyes, large mouth; he appears gloomy and meditative. He is dressed as a workman, in a sort of short blouse. He is occupied at present, as he was last time, in gathering seed, which resembles peppercorns, but I do not think it is pepper; it is larger. This seed grows on small shrubs about one metre high. There is a little negro with him occupied in the same way." "Try to obtain some answer to-day. Get him to tell you the name of the country where you see him." "He will not answer." "Tell him that his good mother, for whom he had a great affection, is with you, and asks for news of him." "Oh! at the mention of his mother he turned round and said to me, 'My mother! I shall not die without seeing her again. Comfort her, and tell her that I always think of her. I am not dead!" "Why does he not write to her?" "He has written to her, but the vessel has no doubt been wrecked - at least he supposes this to be so, since he has received no answer. He tells me that he is in Mexico. He has followed the emperor, Don Pedro; he has been imprisoned for five years; he has suffered a great deal, and will use every effort to return to France. they will see him again." "Can he name the place in which he is living?" "No; it is very far inland. These countries have no names." "Is he living with a European?" "No, with a coloured man." "Why does he not write to his mother?" "Because no vessels come to the place where he is. He does not know to whom to turn. Besides, he only knew how to write a very little, and has almost forgotten. There is no one with him who can render him this service; no one speaks his language; he makes himself understood with great difficulty. Besides that, he has never been of a communicative disposition or a talker. He seems to be rather a surly fellow. It is very difficult to get these few words out of him. One would think he were dumb." "In short, how can one manage to write to him or hear news of him?" "He knows nothing about it. He can only say these three things: I am in Mexico, I am not dead, they will see me again." "Why did he leave his parents in this manner, without saying anything to them, as he was happy at home?" "This man was very reserved; he hardly ever spoke. He loved his mother very much, but he had not the same affection for his father, who was a passionate, surly man, and often treated him brutally. The cup had long since been full. It was not the trifling dispute that he had had with his father the day before his departure that made him decide to go away; it had been his fixed determination for some time past. He told no one of it. He went away on the sly. Having kissed them all the evening before, he made good his escape next day, without another word. Do not be uneasy, madam; you will see him again!" This good woman burst into tears, because she recognised the truth of every detail given her by Adele. She did not find anything at fault in the description. The disposition, the education, and the departure of her son were as Adele said; but a greater semblance of probability is given to the clairvoyant's account by the fact that his relations had an idea that he had enlisted in Don Pedro's army, and at one time took some steps to ascertain the truth of it. M. Lucas told me of this detail on a journey which he afterwards made to Paris. No information was, however, obtainable.

(17) Ibid., vol. ii. pp. 34-37.

Shortly after this incident M. Mirande, the head of the printing-office in which the first volume of the "Arcanes" had been printed, came to Cahagnet and asked for a sitting. He was much impressed with what he saw and heard, and finally begged Adele to ask for the apparition of his brother, who, he believed, had died in the Russian campaign. Adele did not see him in the spirit world, and said that he was not dead, that she saw him on earth. She then gave a description of his personal appearance, uniform, and disposition, which, with certain qualifications and corrections, appears to have tallied fairly well with M. Mirande's recollections and surmises. She also gave a plausible account, alleged to be derived from actual conversation with the absent brother, of his whereabouts, and an explanation of his long silence.(18)

(18) "Arcanes", vol. ii. pp. 60-3.

We have, unfortunately, no corroboration of the truth of the statements made about these two persons. A third volume of the "Arcanes" was published a year or two later, and it is perhaps fair to assume that, if news had come that either of the missing persons was still alive, and had passed through the experiences described by Adele, Cahagnet would not have missed the opportunity of making public such a striking testimony to his subject's clairvoyance. It follows, then, that in these two sťances all that we are entitled to say is that Adele was able to divine with, it may be admitted, considerable accuracy the ideas present in the minds of her interlocutors. It seems to have been a good example of telepathy; but we have no kind of proof that it was anything more, and from internal evidence it seems very unlikely that it was anything more. In our total ignorance of all conditions and limitations, it would, perhaps, be unreasonable to regard the implicit assumption that the spirits of the dead are ready to attend at any moment the summons of the living as in itself constituting an additional obstacle to accepting the accounts of Adele's sťances in general as evidence of spirit-intercourse. But it is quite another matter when we have to deal, as in the two cases now in question, with the spirits of men still living. How did Adele manage to discover the whereabouts of those two persons? And, still more, how did she contrive that they should speak with her, and that at a time when one of them, at least, was wide awake and engaged in earning his living by the work of his hands? And was Adele's power of communicating with the spirits of the living restricted to persons who had gone away to distant climes in order to escape from their relatives? If Adele, or any other of Cahagnet's clairvoyants, really had possessed the power of conversing with the living at a distance, I cannot doubt that Cahagnet, in the course of his many years' experiments, would have been able to present us with some evidence of such a power that was not purely hypothetical. Nothing would be so easy to prove. The fact that no such evidence is forthcoming affords a strong presumption that Adele did not possess the power, and that the conversations here detailed were purely imaginary, the authentic or plausible details which they contained being filched, it may be, telepathically from the minds of those present. The curious similarity of the two accounts also points in the same direction. Both men profess to have written home, but the letters must have miscarried. Neither can write now, because they are, far from the sea, in the interior. Both have suffered much; both have been prisoners; both protest that their relatives will see them before they die; neither, however, is in a hurry to come back; and neither is willing to discover the name of his present place of abiding.

To suppose, as the recorder supposes, that these narratives are authentic revelations obtained from actual conversations with the spirits of men living in unnamed and-as Cahagnet explains at length - probably nameless localities in the interior of Mexico or Asiatic Russia, is to strain credulity to the breaking-point. But if these two narratives are not what they seem to be, what are we to say of the other narratives in the book, which are cast in the same dramatic form, and contain similar details harmonising with the expectations or memories of the interlocutors? If those are not authentic messages from the distant living, we require some further warrant for the assumption that these are authentic messages from the spirits of the dead. Considered in conjunction with the visions of heaven and dead playmates which characterised the earlier trances, these later utterances certainly point to an exclusively mundane origin.(19)

(19) It is fair to say that, in his third volume, Cahagnet records another case in which a missing person was found by Adele and news of him conveyed to his anxious mother, and that in this case the details communicated - which were beyond the mother's knowledge or conjecture - were stated by her subsequently to have proved correct. There is, however, no very striking correspondence in the details which she actually quotes; and as the only account of the sitting is contained in a letter written by the mother "some months" later, and some months, also, after the unexpected receipt of the confirmatory letter from her absent son, which came a few weeks after the sitting, the record cannot be held to have much value (Vol. iii. pp. 141-9).

Source: Modern Spiritualism: A History and a Criticism by Frank Podmore (2 vols) (London: Methuen, 1902.)

Other articles by Frank Podmore...

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