ARTICLES

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".

General Survey of the [Spiritualist] Movement

 - Frank Podmore -

          THE GROWTH of Spiritualism in this country [Great Britain] was by comparison gradual. We have already seen to what extremes the early devotees in America were led. The course of Spiritualism on the Continent, and more especially in France and Switzerland, though less extravagant than in America, was marked by the same unfettered speculation. In Catholic France Spiritualism naturally found itself under the ban of the Church, and hence its schools appear from the outset to have been non-Christian. Most French, and indeed ultimately, most continental Spiritualists - or "Spiritists," as they preferred to call themselves - followed the doctrine of Allan Kardec. M. Rivail, to give him his true name, had been a writer on educational subjects, and a prominent advocate of phrenology and Animal Magnetism. In 1862, or earlier, he became converted to Spiritualism, and soon received, through various clairvoyants, a full exposition of a new gospel, the leading tenet in which was the doctrine of Reincarnation. In a series of works, Le Livre des Esprits, L'Evangile selon le Spiritisme, etc., based upon these clairvoyant revelations, Allan Kardec taught the new doctrine with such success that his books sold by tens of thousands, and were translated into nearly every European language.

But not all those who believed in the phenomena were disciples of Allan Kardec. Count Agenor de Gasparin, whose experiments we shall have occasion to consider in the next book, writing from a Catholic standpoint, sought to prove that the physical manifestations were to be attributed to magnetism or some kindred force given off from the sitters. His friend Thury, professor in the Academy of Geneva, proposed for the hypothetical new mode of energy the name "ectenic" force. Du Potet, Szapary, and others of the old Animal Magnetists, appear also to have held that the phenomena could be explained on purely physical grounds, though du Potet himself admitted that some of the manifestations required at least the agency of intelligent cosmic forces(1).

(1) Traite Complet the Magnetisme Animal, pp.480 et seq. Paris, 1856.

Amongst German thinkers, neither the doctrines nor the phenomena won so ready acceptance as in France. But so early as 1861 Maximilian Perty, a doctor of philosophy and professor at the University of Berne, published a treatise describing the phenomena, and attributing them to the unconscious exercise of occult powers latent in the medium's own organism. To account for some of the mental manifestations, however, he is forced to assume the existence of planetary spirits (Geodaemon, Heliodaemon, etc.) with whom the spirit of the entranced medium may on occasion enter into communion(2). A similar theory was propounded some years later by a more famous philosopher, Edward von Hartmann. Hartmann explained the physical phenomena as due to some force analogous to electricity or magnetism emanating from the medium's body; but held that the mental manifestations point to a transcendental origin. He suggests, in short, that in thought-transference or clairvoyance the mind of the seer is in connection with the Absolute, and through the Absolute with other individual minds(3). Similar views, with various modifications, were advocated by other continental writers - Hellenbach, du Prel, Aksakof, d'Assier. Speaking generally, the crude views of the early American Spiritualists were transmuted and elaborated by European, and especially by German thinkers, the tendency being to bring the phenomena, as far as might be, into line with known scientific analogies by postulating new forces or new extensions of familiar forces, resident in the human organism, rather than to be content with adopting an explanation which is practically the negation of all explanations - the operations of spirits.

(2) Die Mystischen Erscheinungen der menschlichen Natur., etc. Leipzig, 1861.
(3) Spiritismus, by E. von Hartmann, English translation. London, 1885.


In this country, however, the movement was free alike from the practical extravagances which attended its beginnings in America, and for the first few years, at all events, from the speculative activity which characterised its progress on the Continent. Up till 1860, as already shown, the movement in this country was almost confined to the provinces; the only periodical which succeeded in establishing itself for more than a few months was published at Keighley: there was no prominent centre of interest in London, nor had any publication of importance appeared, in the Metropolis or elsewhere. Towards the end of the decade 1850-60, however, a small group of literary men and others had become interested in the subject, and the Spiritual Magazine, which made its appearance in London in the latter year, continued until the end of 1875 to be the leading organ of English Spiritualism. The editors of the new periodical for the greater part of its career were Thomas Shorter and W. M. Wilkinson, and its chief contributor William Howitt. It was consistently conservative in tone, and held itself, as far as possible, aloof from the various reforming, humanitarian, and freethinking movements with which Spiritualism had been associated in America, and to some extent, at the outset, in this country. Under the scholarly guidance of William Howitt, the new review left Socialism, phrenology, and the marriage laws alone, and confined itself to recording the sayings and doings of mediums and the spread of the new movement in this and other countries. In its earlier years a large space was devoted to accounts of similar visitations in the past, especially in the history of the Christian Church down to the present day.

Throughout its career less stress was laid upon the physical marvels of mediumship than on the trance utterances and assumed revelations proceeding from similar sources, and on their eschatological implications. But here, again, William Howitt and his friends held different views from those generally favoured abroad, and later in this country also. By the London school the spiritual utterances were regarded as supplementing rather than as supplanting Christianity, the doctrines of Swedenborg serving to mediate between the old revelation and the new, and to unite them into one apocalyptic whole. The following passage from an article by Howitt will give a fair idea of the views held by the conductors of the Spiritual Magazine:

"Spiritualism," he writes, "has taught what the soul is; what becomes of it after death; that there are purgatorial or intermediate states; where these lie; that there is progression in them; that the dead seek for our prayers and sympathies; that the Communion of Saints is real, and far more extensive and precious than was ever before conceived of; that there is no cessation of miracles or prophecy ... it has taught us not to fear death, which is but a momentary passage to life; that God is disciplining the human race for an eventual and universal restoration; that He is beginning to teach laws of matter hitherto unnoticed by the acutest men of gases and crucibles; and that, above all, Spiritualism teaches us the authenticity of the Scriptures now so violently attacked, and their great law of the love of God and of the neighbour; that no Christianity but the primitive Christianity is worth a straw; and that the dry bones of the present death-in-life churches must receive His fresh breath of life if they are ever to live again. Finally, it teaches us to live in all purity of thought and deed, knowing that not only the ever-open eye of God is constantly upon us, but those of an innumerable company of angels and devils, to whom we are as well and as openly known as to our own consciences"(4).

(4) Spiritual Magazine, 1865, p.162. See also 1866, pp.90 and 139; 1873, p.529.

There can be no doubt that the moderate views of this little band of Spiritualists and the culture and literary gifts of their leader did much to further the rapid growth of the new doctrine. But for William Howitt, it is doubtful whether the movement would have secured either so early or so favourable a hearing in this country.

For some years the Spiritual Magazine practically held the field. But the return of Home to this country in 1859 and the invasion of American mediums during the next few years had stimulated public interest in the whole question, and especially in the physical aspect of the phenomena. Moreover, the ferment of new ideas, which had produced such striking results in America, was not without its influence in England on minds less timid or less fastidious than the conductors of the Spiritual Magazine. Provincial Spiritualism, which had until the close of 1859 found expression in the Spiritual Telegraph, remained for some years after that date inarticulate. But the ferment was working in many provincial centres, notably at Keighley and in the Yorkshire manufacturing districts, in Manchester, Nottingham, and Glasgow. In 1865 a Convention of "Progressive Spiritualists" assembled at Darlington, and in the following year at Newcastle. The Secretary of the Convention on the latter occasion was Dr. Macleod of that city. Some of the speakers at these two conventions appear to have displayed marked hostility to Christianity; and, generally, the views expressed are reported to have represented "a pale imitation of the pagan phase of American Spiritualism"(5). In 1867 the Convention met in London, with James Burns as its secretary. In this same year Burns began to issue a new monthly periodical, Human Nature, to serve as a mouthpiece of the popular movement. The character of the new magazine can be inferred from its sub-title, "A Monthly journal of Zoistic Science and Intelligence, embodying Physiology, Phrenology, Psychology, Spiritualism, Philosophy, the Laws of Health, and Sociology." In later years "Popular Anthropology" was added to this comprehensive catalogue. A year or two later, so rapidly did the popular movement grow, Burns brought out a weekly paper, The Medium and Daybreak, absorbing in it the provincial paper, Daybreak, which had appeared in 1868 under the editorship of the Rev. Page Hoops(6). The Medium and Daybreak for years had the largest circulation, chiefly in the provinces, of any English Spiritualist paper, and only came to an end a few months after the death of its publisher and founder in 1895. Lastly, by the irony of fate, during one or two of the latter years of its existence Burns also published the Spiritual Magazine in addition to his other literary ventures.

(5) Ibid., 1866, p.571.
(6) Mr. Page Hopps had been converted a year or two previously. See his pamphlet, Six Mouths' Experience at Home, by "Truthseeker," published in 1867.


The popular movement, as represented by Burns and his publications, was frankly democratic and non-Christian. In the opening number of Human Nature he sneers at the Spiritual Magazine as being "of this world as well as of the next," and as endeavouring to preach Spiritualism "under circumstances with which it would be creditable for the priest and Levite to be connected." And throughout his career Burns fought manfully against conventions and respectabilities. He was in his own person a teetotaller, anti-tobacconist, dietetic reformer, phrenologist, and a sturdy champion with the pen and on the platform of these and many kindred movements. Whilst his enthusiasm for the social reforms which he advocated was genuine and fervent, it was impossible to doubt the sincerity of his belief in Spiritualism; but equally impossible to believe him as ignorant as he professed himself of the manifold wiles and trickeries practised by physical mediums within his doors and under his direct patronage and protection. But if, not once or twice only, his blindness to all evidence of fraud in any medium whom he had befriended may have seemed too deliberate, those who knew him best can believe that it was not altogether the hope of personal advantage or the reluctance of a sensitive egotism too deeply committed for retreat which closed his eyes. It must be admitted, too, that Burns was apt to regard and to denounce his rivals in business as renegades to the faith, and that his belief in the cause seemed inseparable from his belief in himself as its champion. Again, according to the reproach of his enemies, he lived by the altar; but the living was not too luxurious, and the ministry was arduous and unremitting. I have eaten of Burns' salt - as a seasoning to Nichols's "Food of Health," or some other dietetic phantasy - and I cannot think hardly of him. With all his faults he radiated a contagious enthusiasm, and the dark little shop at 15, Southampton Row, dignified by the name of the "Spiritual Institution," remained for many years the chief meeting-place for Spiritualists in the Metropolis, and the centre of a propaganda the more active because it was troubled by no theological scruple or philosophic doubt.

It is needless to say that the columns of Burns' papers were always open, and his personal help always ready, for the spokesmen of minorities, the smaller the better, from the advocates of divided skirts to the exponents of the newest theologies. The grass-eating atheists of Ham Common, who are fabled to have slept with their toes out of window, would have found in him a sympathetic historian(7). His taste in theology, and presumably the taste of his readers, was, it will be gathered, eclectic. Whereas Howitt and Shorter in their writings had sought for evidence of the workings of Spiritualism in the past, either amongst pagan faiths so ancient as to be respectable, or else in the history of the various Christian Churches and sects(8), contributors to Human Nature and the Medium inquired by preference into the history of kindred movements in modern times outside the pale of the Churches. We find in those pages dissertations on the faiths of the Mormons and the Shakers; long discussions on the new reincarnation doctrine as expounded by Allan Kardec and his English disciple, Miss Anna Blackwell; reviews of the religious teachings of Andrew Jackson Davis; critical essays on serpent worship, oriental mythology and religious symbolism generally; and an a priori demonstration of the existence of God, by Mr. Gillespie, of Torbanehill. Much attention is also devoted to the mysteries of Buddhism. Further, as we have already seen, Burns was the publisher of Hafed, Prince of Persia. He also set about the reissue of the immortal Anacalypsis of Godfrey Higgins - an author who "will take his place in future ages with. Socrates, with Plato, with Proclus"(9). It was Burns, again, who introduced to an astonished world the Book of God, being the Apocalypse of Adam I-Oannes, a work which essayed to trace all the religions of the world to one common fount of inspiration, by demonstrating that the biblical book known as the Book of Revelation was actually the earliest divine message delivered by the man-fish O-an, and the foundation of the primitive world-religion, practised in the beginning by the twenty-four Ancients, or pre-Adamite sultans. The Book of God, which appears to belong to the same class of literature as Madame Blavatsky's Isis Unveiled, was published anonymously, but is understood to have been written by the late Dr. Kenealy.

(7) Some account of this curious sect is given in Light, 1882 pp.191 and 251.
(8) See Howitt's History of the Supernatural (London, 1863), and Shorters. The Two Worlds. London (no date).
(9) Human Nature, 1874, p.49 (Feb.).


With all its extravagances, there was much that was genuinely admirable in the popular movement represented by James Burns and those who gathered round him. It was a democratic religious revival, characterised, as such movements are wont to be, by the vigour of its emotional expression, rather than by the subtlety of its dialectic. This is how a thoughtful onlooker at this time, Mr. St. George Stock, writes of it:

"The religion of the future is in our midst already, working like potent yeast in the minds of the people. It is in our midst to-day, with signs and wonders, uprising like a swollen tide ... To its predecessors [Spiritualism] assumes an attitude not of hostility, but of comprehension. Though new in its form, it purports to have been ever in the world. Christianity it represents, not as a finality, but as one-the greatest, indeed, as yet-of those many waves of spiritual influx which have ever been beating in upon the shores of Time from the dim expanse of the Eternal. Christianity has spent its force, and now another revelation has succeeded it - a revelation suited to the needs of the time"(10).

(10) Attempts at Truth, pp.128, 133. London, 1882.

Again, Mr. Gerald Massey, another of the early converts, has given eloquent expression to the religious effects of the belief in communion with spirits of the dead:

"Spiritualism will make religion infinitely more real, and translate it from the domain of belief to that of life. It has become to me, in common with many others, such a lifting of the mental horizon, and letting in of the heavens - such a transformation of faith into facts - that I can only compare life without it to sailing on board ship with hatches battened down, and being kept a prisoner, cribbed, cabined, and confined, living by the light of a candle, dark to the glory overhead, and blind to a thousand possibilities of being; and then, suddenly, on some splendid starry night allowed to go on deck for the first time, to see the splendid mechanism of the starry heavens all aglow with the glory of God, to feel that vast vision glittering in the eyes, bewilderingly beautiful, and drink in new life with every breath of that wondrous liberty, which makes you dilate almost large enough in soul to fill the immensity that you see around you"(11).

(11) Concerning Spiritualism (1874?), pp.77, 78.

As regards its tenets, what has been already said(12) of the beliefs of American Spiritualists will apply to the Spiritualist creed as represented in the Medium and Daybreak. The popular movement held the primitive faith in spirits of dead men and women as the agency behind the phenomena. The doctrines of Allan Kardec never obtained any real footing in England. His only prominent disciple appears to have been Miss Anna Blackwell(13). Again, the belief in diabolism, so prominent in the early days of Spiritualism in this country, found later very few supporters(14).

(12) Vol. i pp.299-303.
(13) See the essay by her contributed to the Dialectical Society's Report, and various articles in Human Nature.
(14) For an exposition of the diabolic view see, in addition to the works quoted in chapter I of the present book, Spiritualism, the work of Demons, by the Rev. John Jones (Liverpool, 1870; Spirit-Rapping, by a member of the Catholic Apostolic Church (London 1855?); Popular Ideas of Immortality, Rev. William Ker (London, 1865); Spiritualism fairly tried, Rev. E. Nangle (1861). These works are merely pamphlets, and none of them possesses any intrinsic importance. See also Dialectical Report, pp.218, 220, and 223, evidence of Chevalier and Hain Friswell. It is noteworthy that T. L. Harris, in some of his writings, Modern Spiritualism, its truths and its errors (London, 1860) and the Arcana of Christianity (1867), taught that the spirits who communicated were vampires and devils, and their teachings "emanations from the hells."


Another aspect of the movement found expression in the Spiritualist, a newspaper which appeared towards the end of 1869, under the editorship of W. H. Harrison, a journalist and a man of some scientific acquirements. The Spiritualist was avowedly intended to represent the scientific element. It essayed primarily to record the phenomena, to analyse the evidence, and discuss the explanations, and proposed to defer theological and Socialist speculations until a more convenient season. This paper, which was conducted with fairness and ability for some years, did in effect adopt a more critical standpoint than any of its predecessors or contemporaries, and did contrive to keep clear of theological controversy and irrelevant humanitarian enthusiasms. As we have already seen (chapter viii.) the editor took a prominent part in exposing the trickery practised in so-called spirit photography. The Spiritualist and its readers were associated with the two chief organisations formed in the decade 1870-80 by the more educated section - the "British National Association of Spiritualists" and the "Psychological Society of Great Britain."

The British National Association held its first public meeting on April 16th, 1874, under the chairmanship of Mr. S. C. Hall. Its aims are defined in its original prospectus as the uniting of Spiritualists of all shades of opinion for mutual aid and benefit, and the promotion of systematic research in pneumatology and psychology. Whilst "cordially sympathising with the religion of Jesus Christ," the Association proposed to hold itself entirely aloof from all dogmatism, religious or philosophical. Its list of vice-presidents and council included most of the best-known names in contemporary Spiritualism, such as the Countess of Caithness, Benjamin Coleman, Thomas Everitt (husband of the medium of that name), Dr. Gully, Dr. Stanhope Speer, Mrs. Ross Church (Florence Marryat), Mrs. Makdougall Gregory (widow of the Professor), Dr. Maurice Davies, Sir C. Isham, Messrs. Jencken, Newton Crosland, Desmond Fitzgerald, George Sexton, the Secularist converted to Spiritualism and Christianity(15), together with a list of distinguished foreigners. But there were a few prominent Spiritualists who held aloof, such as William Howitt, Acworth, and J. Enmore Jones, primarily on account of the non-Christian character of the Society. Howitt voiced his dissent in an eloquent letter in which he recounted the marvellous progress of Spiritualism, and claimed that it had conquered the world under patently divine guidance: "Spiritualism is a theocracy. By theocratic power and government it has hitherto prevailed"; and in seeking now a temporal organisation, Spiritualists were repeating the sin of the Jews when they asked for a king to reign over them(16).

(15) See his God and Immortality Viewed in the Light of Modern Spiritualism (London, 1874), and the series of tracts called "Seed Corn," published by him
in 1872, etc. 
(16) Spiritual Magazine, 1873, p.529, etc.


James Burns' expression of dissent was more complex in character. He descried a spirit of time-serving in some of the advertisements issued by the new organisation, which avoided the word Spiritualism; "worldlyism" in the fact that a leading supporter of the Society dated his letters from the Reform Club; and, generally, hostility to himself and the Spiritual Institution in the mere proposal to found any other organisation in this country(17).

(17) See the editorials in the Medium for 30th Jan., 27th Feb., 6th March, July, etc., 1874.

But notwithstanding some opposition, the new Association grew and flourished, and remained for some years the representative body in English Spiritualism. It established periodical lectures, discussions, and conferences; promoted sťances for inquirers; and did its utmost, by means of its Research Committee, to advance the knowledge of the subject. In the last field of its labours it cannot be said to have met with conspicuous success, for it unfortunately appeared that the more stringent the tests the less striking the phenomena, until a point was reached at which, the precautions being complete, the phenomena ceased altogether(18).

(18) See e.g. Spiritualist, 1876. pp.248, 249; 1877, p.182.

In April, 1875, was held the first meeting of the Psychological Society, with Serjeant Cox as its President and Mr. F. K. Munton as Hon. Secretary. Other prominent members were Mr. C. C. Massey, Mr. Stainton Moses ("M.A., Oxon."), Mr. Hensleigh Wedgwood, Mr. George Harris, F.S.A., and Mr. W. H. Coffin.

The aim of the Society, as set forth in the president's inaugural address, was the scientific investigation of "psychology," which term Serjeant Cox violently appropriated to designate what has since, for want of a better name, been termed psychical research. The Society, it was proposed, should proceed "first, by the collection of facts, and secondly, by discussion upon their causes and consequences"(19). It did not, in effect, proceed far in either direction. Its founder and president was a man without any real knowledge either of psychology, as commonly understood, or the physical sciences. The Proceedings(20) of the Society, a thin volume with reports of the papers and discussions, contain little of permanent interest, and Cox's own book, as will be seen later, derives its chief value from its reflecting with tolerable fidelity the metaphysics of the man in the street. The Psychological Society came to an end with the death of its president in November, 1879.

(19) The Province of Psychology, the inaugural address by Serjeant Cox. London, 1875.
(20) London, 1878.


The real significance of the Psychological Society consists in its representing a reaction against the slovenly acquiescence of the great body of English Spiritualists in the belief in spirits of the dead as the sufficient and exclusive agencies in the production of the phenomena. That reaction had indeed begun some years before the inception of the Psychological Society; just as in the American movement there had been from the outset a small body of men who, whilst accepting the facts in general, were disposed to refer them to exclusively mundane causes. Many of the older Mesmerists took the view that the raps, the movements of furniture, and even the more elaborate manifestations of physical mediumship could be attributed to a neuro-vital or odylic force radiating from the sensitive, and directed by his unconscious will. We have seen the germ of this theory in the attempts made by Sandby and Townshend to explain the table-rapping performances in 1853(21). And fifteen or twenty years later we find similar views expressed by others who had been prominent in the mesmeric movement of 1840-50, notably J. W. Jackson, author of Ecstatics of Genius(22), and H. G. Atkinson, the co-author with Harriet: Martineau of Letters on Man's Nature and Development(23). Similar views were held by some adherents of the rather shallow necessitarianism which prevailed in this country in the middle decades of the century. One of the earliest exponents of the agnostic doctrine was Mr. Samuel Guppy, a gentleman who has been already referred to as having had the singular good fortune to marry in succession two remarkable physical mediums. In 1863 Mr. Guppy published Mary Jane; or, Spiritualism chemically explained. The greater part of the book consists of a discursive and humorous exposition of the author's views on things in general, written from a crudely materialistic standpoint. When, as he tells us, the book was almost ready for the press, he became converted, through the mediumship of his first wife, to a belief in the phenomena of Spiritualism. Reluctant to admit the existence of discarnate spirits, but forced to recognise intelligence in the manifestations presented, he whimsically named the unknown entity - which answered questions, moved tables, and drew pictures at his bidding - "Mary Jane." He conceived that "Mary Jane" was but a temporary aggregate of odylic vapours emanating from the sensitive - a person whose organism probably contained an excess of phosphorus; that this mass of odylic vapours could think, feel, and perceive, rap and move tables and chairs; that its powers of perception transcend those possessed by the human organism from which it proceeds, because the odylic entity possesses "electrical" powers, which enable it to see through brick walls and closed boxes; and that the high thought, philosophy, and profound knowledge revealed in the odylic responses point to the connection of the odylic fluid with "a general thought-atmosphere, as all-pervading as electricity, which possibly is in itself, or is in connection with, the principle of causation of the whole universe"(24).

(21) See above, p.11.
(22) See his lecture before the Glasgow Association of Spiritualists, delivered on 11th May, 1868, reported in Human Nature and the Spiritual Magazine for that year.
(23) See his evidence before the Dialectical Committee (Report, p.106) and his controversy with Jackson and others in Human Nature for 1868. Others were inclined to explain the apparent physical marvels as hallucinations produced by magnetic influence (see Spiritualism and Animal Magnetism, by G. G. Zerffi, Ph.D. London, 1871).
(24) Op. cit., p.354.


Mr. Guppy was not a professed metaphysician, but merely a garrulous and entertaining old gentleman. Any want of scientific precision, however, which the reader may find in the foregoing statement of the theory was fully remedied in the more elaborate exposition some years later of similar views by Mr. Charles Bray, author of the Philosophy of Necessity and other works(25). Mr. Bray begins by premising the indestructibility of all force, and its convertibility. Heat, electricity, nervous force, and "thought or mind," are all modes of energy, and are therefore indestructible in quantity, and reciprocally convertible. But our bodies are continually giving off thought rays, just as they give off heat rays. These thought emanations, it must be inferred, are not lost to the universe; and, indeed, "many facts now point to an atmosphere or reservoir of thought, the result of cerebration, into which the thought and feeling generated by the brain are continually passing"(26). With this general thought-reservoir the persons called spirit mediums may be presumed to be in communication. Through the interchange of those abundant odylic emanations, which are the special characteristic of such persons, they receive specific impressions from other minds and become clairvoyant; or, again, they take cognizance of the general ideas floating about in the thought-atmosphere, and become "inspired." It is to be noted, says the author, in proof of this suggested source, that in clairvoyant revelations, whether of Andrew Jackson Davis or of Swedenborg, the knowledge displayed "in no case exceeds the combined intellectual power of the whole human mind"(27) - a proposition which there need be no hesitation in accepting. The same theory obviously affords a sufficient explanation of the physical phenomena of Spiritualism, which Mr. Bray is inclined to accept as genuine in the main. For the thought rays, which probably began as heat or electric waves, can without difficulty, through the mediation of the sensitive's unconscious cerebration, be converted back again into such grosser modes of energy, and so discharge in "raps" or produce any other required physical effect, even to the levitation of the human body. 'Twere pity such an admirable machinery should be left without oats to grind!

(25) See his book, On Force, its mental and moral correlates,... with speculations an Spiritualism. London, 1866,
(26) Op. cit., p.79.
(27) Op. cit., p.89.

But the most ambitious statement of the "animistic" view is to be found in Serjeant Cox's book, The Mechanism of Man(28). Cox, like many other educated Spiritualists at this date, whilst convinced that the phenomena exhibited, whether physical or mental, transcended the normal faculties of the medium, refused to regard them as testifying to the action of spirits of the dead. His own theory on the matter may be briefly stated as follows: The universe consists of matter and non-matter, there being nowhere any void. Matter, as we know it, is made up of molecules. Molecules are themselves aggregations of still smaller particles known as atoms; but atoms, as such, make no impression on our senses. If molecular matter were disintegrated into its constituent atoms, it would be, as far as our physical perceptions are concerned, annihilated. It seems probable that the whole of the universe, outside this little island of molecular matter, is made up of free atoms-or of atoms combined in some other form than the molecular. But what is not matter is spirit; therefore spirit is atomic, or non-molecular substance, and matter can be changed into spirit, or vice versa, by a simple process of transcendental chemistry.

(28) London, 1876. The full title runs: The Mechanism of Man: an answer to the question, What am I? a popular introduction to Mental Physiology and Psychology. An earlier edition of the same work had been published under the title What am I? but the account given in the text of Cox's peculiar doctrines is based exclusively on the later and more fully considered work.

Now the mechanism of man is actuated by three forces or principles-Life, Mind, and Soul. Life he shares with the vegetable kingdom. Mind - which is to be strictly distinguished from Soul - is the expression of the activity of the brain. "Intelligence is not a visible and tangible entity: it is not a structure, it is only a function. Precisely as digestion is a function of the stomach, intelligence is a function of the brain(29). But at this point Serjeant Cox claims to join issue with the materialists. They will admit nothing beyond Life and Mind. Cox is convinced of the existence of a third principle, the Soul, whose substance "is vastly more refined than the thinnest gas," more refined even than the vapour of a comet's tail. It is the presence in man of this exquisitely rarefied substance which confounds the materialist, and lifts the human race above the brutes which perish. It would be tedious to recite Cox's proof of the existence of this cometary soul; one incidental item of evidence is found in the persistence of the feeling of a limb after the limb itself has been amputated(30). From this and other considerations it is inferred that the soul is of the same shape as the body, and permeates every part of it. It is the virtue emanating from the soul-for which virtue Cox proposes the name Psychic Force - which is the effective agent in all so-called Spiritualist manifestations. In clairvoyance the soul takes direct cognizance of the world without and the thoughts of other minds. Sometimes, again, the soul-force will radiate from the finger-tips, and thus endow the organism with extra-corporeal perceptions. It can move objects at a distance, or neutralise the force of gravitation, and permit the psychic to float in the air. Or, again, it will surround the material body with an invisible envelope which will enable the psychic to handle in safety red-hot coals. And when released from the body this cometary soul can traverse all space with the rapidity of thought, and pass through solid walls as water flows through a sponge.

(29) Op. cit., vol. i. p.217. Serjeant Cox, however, elsewhere describes intelligence as the characteristic attribute of the soul, and of that alone (see e.g. vol. i. p. 52 vol. ii. pp.309-11).
(30) Op. cit., vol. i. p.448. The argument is borrowed from a book, The Seal of the Soul Discovered, by one James Gillingham, a surgical mechanician.
London and Chard, 1870. 


As a contribution to philosophy Serjeant Cox's work would scarcely be worth discussion. The real importance of the book, as already indicated, lies in its doubly representative character. On the one hand, though the author does not share their views, he gives articulate expression to the metaphysical conceptions current amongst Spiritualists generally, from the days of Andrew Jackson Davis onwards. What these conceptions were we have already seen in discussing early American Spiritualism(31). To Ashburner's definition of a train of thought as "a current of globules of highly refined matter" we may now add Cox's dictum, "if the Soul is a refined Body, and it must be that or nothing," Cromwell Varley's hypothesis that thought is "solid,"(32) and Hockley's view that things seen in a crystal have a separate existence and are spiritual counterparts of the real objects(33).

(31)Vol. i. pp.301-2.
(32) Dialectical Report, p.172. 
(33) Ibid., p.187.


But Serjeant Cox also represented the reaction of the more intelligent Spiritualists - the name, singularly inappropriate in this connection, is the only one which the English language supplies - against the crude belief in spirits of the dead as the prime agents in the phenomena. Partly because of the unsatisfactory nature of the evidence offered for materialisation, partly through the failure of all so-called tests of identity, or, again, because of the limited nature of the intelligence shown in most so-called spirit communications, and their obviously subjective character, the more critical minds had begun to question whether the spirit of the psychic himself, aided, it may be, on occasion, by nonhuman intelligences of various kinds, would not furnish a more probable explanation of the matter.

This scepticism was no doubt reinforced by a revolt against the narrowness of the Spiritualist horizon. The revelations of Andrew Jackson Davis and the rhetoric of Mrs. Tappan had made heaven as familiar as Yarmouth beach, and about as alluring.

This reaction was further exemplified by the foundation from 1876 onwards of various schools of mystics, either originating directly in Spiritualism, or drawing the bulk of their adherents from that source. It may be inferred, from the numerous studies of contemporary religious movements, and, in particular, of Oriental mythology and the extant beliefs of India, contained in the earlier volumes of Human Nature, that Spiritualists in general were dissatisfied with the singularly uninspiring creed set before them by the majority of their teachers. So that when in 1876 Colonel Olcott and Madame Blavatsky inaugurated in New York the Theosophical Society, they found many in this country ready to hear them. The new gospel professed to expound the esoteric tradition of Buddhism. Whether its claims in this respect could be substantiated or not is, from the present standpoint, immaterial. At any rate, it opened more spacious horizons. Its main tenet was the doctrine of reincarnation; but in the pages of the chief exponent of Neo-Buddhism in this country, Mr. A. P. Sinnett(36), the cycle of death and life appears on a much vaster scale, and is described with much greater pretensions to scientific precision than in the Livre des Esprits. For the continual death and re-birth which make up the little life of man - "a watch or a vision, between a sleep and a sleep" - are, according to the Theosophist, but the representations in miniature of vaster cosmic pulsations, the systole and diastole of the universe. These are the days and nights of Brahm, when the whole creation slumbers and wakes again to renewed activity. And through the long-drawn chain of suns and circling planets, through all the stupendous cycle of the ages, throughout the waxing and waning of all things from life to nothingness, and back again to larger life, the human soul, a spark of the Central Fire, retains its identity, and bears with it in all re-births the inevitable burden of Karma, the fate which each man by his own acts and thoughts has ordained for himself. Quisque suos patimur manes. The man is the thing which he has made: he reaps now a crop of which the seed was sown in another age and a distant planet, and yet sown by himself.

(36) See his Esoteric Buddhism. London, 1883.

This is not the place to give an account of the Theosophical movement, with its counterfeit miracles and chaotic apocalypses. The curious in such matters are referred to the report by Dr. Hodgson presented to the Society for Psychical Research(37). In the period between 1876 and 1885 many Spiritualists were carried away by the glamour of Madame Blavatsky's singular personality, and the attraction of the Asiatic mysteries. Moreover, other societies, teaching somewhat similar doctrines, were founded in England about this time. There was a British Theosophical Society, under the presidency of Dr. George WyId(38), which united Theosophy with Christianity. There was the Hermetic Society, whose founders were the late Dr. Anna Kingsford and Mr. Edward Maitland. The Hermetic Society was chiefly concerned with Kabbalistic, Neo-Platonic, and Alexandrine mysticism(39). There was also, and, I believe, still is, a Christo-Theosophical Society in London.

(37) Proceedings, vol. iii., 1885; see also A Modern Priestess of Isis, by V. S. Solovyoff, translated by Dr. Walter Leaf (London, 1895), and my own Studies in Psychical Research, chap. vi.
(38) See his Theosophy and the Higher Life; or, Spiritual Dynamics. London, 1880.
(39) For an exposition of the doctrine see The Perfect Way; or, the Finding of Christ (London, 1882), a series of lectures delivered by Dr. Anna Kingsford in London in 1881; see also Edward Maitland's The Soul, and how it found me. London, 1877.

In January, 1882, Professor W. F. Barrett summoned a conference of persons who, without necessarily endorsing the Spiritualist conclusions, were satisfied that there was a prima facie case for the investigation of the physical phenomena of Spiritualism, and such apparently kindred matters as ghosts, thought-transference, clairvoyance, and the manifestations of mediumship generally. At that conference, which met in the rooms of the British National Association of Spiritualists, it was resolved to form an association for systematic inquiry into these phenomena, and the new Society was named the "Society for Psychical Research." It began its career under the presidency of the late Professor Henry Sidgwick, and its first council included, on the one hand, men like Edmund Gurney, Professor Barrett, Professor Balfour Stewart, Mr. F. W. H. Myers, Mr. Richard Hutton, who had not identified themselves with the Spiritualist movement; and, on the other, Messrs. Stainton Moses, Dawson Rogers, Morell Theobald, E. T. Bennett, Dr. George WyId, and others who were at the same time members of the Council of the British National Association. The work of the Society from 1882 to the present time will be considered in some of its aspects in the next book. It is enough to say here that the avowed Spiritualists who joined its Council in the first instance have all since dropped off, and that, generally, the two bodies have moved on lines sufficiently distinct for the most part to prevent even the semblance of rivalry. The SPR has consistently maintained its original attitude towards the subject; it has throughout endeavoured to work by scientific methods for scientific ends.

Of the public history of Spiritualism in later years there is not much which need for our purposes be recorded. As little as any other has it escaped the usual fate of small sects, internal dissension, and the clash of rival egotisms. After the storms which waited on its embarkation, indeed, the B.N.A.S. for a little time voyaged in smooth waters. The excitement of the new venture and the pressure of external events, such as the Slade prosecution and various exposures of public mediums, no doubt held the Society together. But four or five years later dissensions arose. The editor of the Spiritualist, W. H. Harrison, had, or fancied he had, occasion for quarrel with Stainton Moses, then and for many years the leading figure on the B.N.A.S. Council. In the middle of 1879 the quarrel became irremediable, and the advertisements of the Association with the reports of its public proceedings were transferred to a new paper, Spiritual Notes, which had been established in the previous year. Spiritual Notes, which was issued monthly, ran until the end of 1881 concurrently with the Spiritualist. In the same year, 1881, a new weekly, Light, also under the favouring auspices of the Association, was founded, and under the pressure of this competition Harrison's organ was driven from the field. Light has continued down to the present time the chief representative, and for some portion of this period, the only London organ of Spiritualism. It has been conducted throughout with fairness and moderation. If in these latter days its pages furnish rather dull reading, the fault lies less with the conductors of the paper than with the uneventful career of the movement itself. There has of late years been little to record. The trance communications which interested and attracted the earlier Spiritualists have not indeed ceased, but they are no longer held of the same account. During the time of the incubation of the Theosophical and Hermetic Societies the columns of Light were filled with controversy and philosophical speculation. But that source of copy has also dried up. Most serious of all, there are now few phenomena, and especially very few physical phenomena to record. The Theosophical Society and the Society for Psychical Research led away many who were actually Spiritualists, or might, under other circumstances, have become so. The retirement and the subsequent death of Stainton Moses robbed the movement of one who had been its leading figure for many years. Others of the old champions have been carried off by death, and no new ones have risen to take their place. Ten years ago it seemed as if the Spiritualist movement was about to die out from sheer lack of leaders, of followers, and - most serious defect of all - of new evidence for its claims. Add to this that much of the old evidence had been seriously shattered by the investigations carried on by Mrs. H. Sidgwick, Dr. Hodgson, and other members of the SPR.

But within the last decade the whole aspect of the problem has changed: the Spiritualist movement has gained fresh energy, and the belief which it represents, if not more firmly established, can at any rate boast that its claims are better founded than at any previous period of its history. This result is mainly due to the prolonged and laborious investigation of Mrs. Piper's trance utterances conducted by Dr. Hodgson, the result of whose labours seems to him and others to render the hypothesis of spirit communication in this case highly probable. But a contributory cause is no doubt to be found in the sťances of Eusapia Paladino, whose performances have been endorsed as genuine by several continental savants, including Charles Richet, Ochorowicz, Schiaparelli, and de Rochas, and are regarded favourably by more than one prominent man of science in this country. The consideration of this new evidence, of the best-known foreign experiments, and of some English items necessarily omitted from this brief historical sketch, will be the main theme of the next book.

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

 

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