Materialism v. Spiritism: A Further Rejoinder and Our Reply

Dear Comrade,
If my mentality be, according to J. Fitzgerald, “peculiar,” his must surely be unique, at any rate in a civilised community, since he considers that to describe the Marxian Theory of Value as an ideal of social ethics, a moral ideal, is abuse of Marx ! And one need not be a ” capitalist ” to see the inconsistency of professing a belief in scientific materialism, and then sacrificing oneself for the benefit of posterity. Men can only be said to believe a thing when they act as if it were true.

I can see that no amount of evidence will make your reviewer believe what he does not want to believe; but I must repeat that the four founders of the S.P.R. were not Spiritists at the time they founded the society, but were converted by their researches. William James, no mean judge of character, says of Myers and his great work : ” Heart and head alike were wholly satisfied by his occupation. His character also grew stronger in every particular for his devotion to these inquiries. He became learned in science, circumspect, democratic in sympathy, endlessly patient, and, above all, happy.” A sufficient answer to the insinuation that dabbling in such phenomena disintegrates the critical faculties.
Yours fraternally,
9, Maybury Mansions, W.I June 11th, 1927.

P. S.—Since writing the above I have seen the further letters on this subject in the June S.S. J. Fitzgerald has apparently forgotten what he has written. He said that certain evidence that was good enough for Sir O. Lodge “would not impose upon a school-child.”

The straits to which our critic is put is shown by his dragging in the conjurers. They have been challenged time and again to produce the physical phenomena of spiritualism under the same conditions as the mediums, and they have never done it. Their opinions on the subject are therefore worthless. It is not the objective but the subjective phenomena that have convinced such men as Lodge and Barratt and Myers, the evidence, that is, of the survival of memory and personality. Why is a conjurer better fitted to judge of that?


When in the October, 1926, issue of the SOCIALIST STANDARD, we reviewed Isabel Kingsley’s pamphlet on ” Materialism,” we stated :—

Throughout the pamphlet there are numerous totally unsupported assertions and claims of the authoress that would take a volume to refute in detail.

while further on in the article we pointed out that she :—

Pours out shoals of baseless assumptions, of unsupported assertions, besides indulging in deliberate misrepresentation,

and gave chapter and verse from the pamphlet to prove our case.

The above is the fourth letter we have received from Isabel Kingsley, but in no single instance has she attempted to meet our exposure of her false assertions and deliberate misrepresentations. Nay, more. We have refuted many of her assertions and claims by quotations from the very sources she refers her reader to for evidence, particularly the volumes of Proceedings of the Society for Psychical Research. An important point emerges from these facts. Either Isabel Kingsley has read these volumes, and is guilty of deliberate falsification, or she has not read them and is guilty of brazen bounce.

Her first paragraph is empty nonsense. The statement in her second paragraph : — ” I can see that no amount of evidence will make your reviewer believe what he does not want to believe,” coming from one who has failed to produce a single atom of evidence throughout the discussion, is just a sample of her brazen bounce.

Her remarks on the founders of the S.P.R. are interesting. We said in the March (1927) S.S. that the S.P.R. was founded by Spiritists. Isabel Kingsley, without giving any evidence for her statement, replied that the society was NOT so founded. We proved the falsity of this statement by giving the names of the founders in the May S.S. With all the boldness of ignorance she now repeats her lie in a slightly different form and says these four men ” were not Spiritists at the time they founded the society.” And her evidence? Absolutely none. Here again the falsity of her assertion can be proved from her beloved Proceedings of the S.P.R.

At the first conference of that society, the President—Mr. H. Sidgwick—stated in his address : —

I say it is a scandal that the dispute as to the reality of these phenomena should still be going on. . . . and yet that the educated world as a body should still be simply in the attitude of incredulity (Vol. I., page 8).

Here we have not merely an admission of belief in Spiritism by the founders, but a protest, to the extent of calling it a ” scandal,” that any dispute should exist as to the reality of the phenomena. But the President went further. He admitted quite plainly why the society was formed when he said :—

I think that even educated and scientific spiritualists were not quite prepared for the amount of fraud which has recently come to light, nor for the obstinacy with which mediums against whom fraud has been proved have been afterwards defended, and have in fact been able to go on with what I may, without offence, cal! their trade, after exposure no less than before (Ibid, p. 11).

The cat is out of the bag. Faced with the torrent of exposure of the fraud perpetrated by mediums, which torrent threatened to sweep away the remains of the Spiritist movement, these prominent Spiritists tried to save the situation by instituting a show of ” investigation ” and ” research ” into the claims made. They had to warn ” even educated and scientific Spiritualists ” against defending frauds who had been exposed over and over again, though this warning has not saved Conan Doyle and others from still following that course.

The postscript follows the now familiar lines. I have “apparently forgotten what I had written.” Then why did not Isabel Kingsley enlighten us on the point?

Her remarks on the conjurers is not only a sample of her usual audacity • it is also an illustration of her massive ignorance. Where are these courageous mediums who have so gallantly issued these challenges? And echo—as Isabel Kingsley fails—answers ” Where? ” As every student of Spiritism knows, it is just the contrary that is true. It is the mediums who have been challenged and failed to appear. Scores of instances could be given, but a few well-known cases must suffice.

Years ago Maskelyne and Cooke reproduced at the Egyptian Hall the “phenomena” of the “Davenport Brothers” with ropes and cabinet. Readers of Reynolds Newspaper will remember that for many years the then editor, Mr. W. M. Thompson, in conjunction with Mr. Maskelyne, had a standing- challenge to reproduce the phenomena of any ” medium,” but the challenge was never taken up. Mr. Labouchere, editor of Truth, placed a £1,000 note inside an envelope, sealed it, and offered the contents to any medium or clairvoyant who could read the number on the note. No one ever read it. Some of our readers will remember a notorious case in 1901, one of the filthiest that ever disgusted a judge and jury, where one of the leading defendants was known in her ” Theocratic ” circle as “The Swami.” This angelic creature, who received seven years’ penal servitude for ” aiding and abetting the commission of rape,” had previously been a Spiritist medium in America, where she had been convicted of attempting to defraud a Mr. Marsh out of certain property by means of messages from the ” Spirits.” Mr. Marsh believed in it, but some of his relatives—no doubt ” gross materialists “—brought Ann Diss Debar (as she was then known) into court. She was not the only one they brought. They created a sensation by suddenly bringing into court the celebrated conjurer, the late Carl Hertz, who, in broad daylight and not two feet away from Mr. Marsh, produced messages just as the medium had done. Miss Debar, when she saw what was coming, snatched the tablet away from Hertz in the middle of the performance, but, to her amazement, Hertz got the message through in spite of her trick. Then he showed the court ” how it was done.” The full details will be found in Houdini’s interesting volume, A Magician Among the Spirits (pages 74-75, etc.).

A wealthy Spiritist named Leybert left a sum of money to Pennsylvania University for the purpose, among other things, of investigating the claims of mediums. The notorious Slade, who had previously been exposed in London by Sir E. Ray Lankester and Sir Bryan Donkin, gave a séance of spirit writing on slates. Mr. Kellars, the conjurer, duplicated every trick of Slade’s, and then showed how it was done.

In London in 1919 a séance was held under the auspices of the Sunday Express, where a “Masked Lady” gave a performance that Conan Doyle described as “most successful and convincing,” and as a “clear proof of clairvoyance.” Yet the whole thing was a conjuring trick, as was admitted almost immediately after by the man who arranged the show, Mr. Selbit. Mr. Stuart Cumberland, who was present, has given a full description in Chapter VII. of his Spiritualism. The Inside Truth.

But what in many ways is perhaps the most interesting case of all is to be found where Isabel Kingsley never looks—the Proceedings of the Society for Psychical Research. The “great” medium Eglinton had been giving spirit messages on slates similar to Slade. Dr. Hodgson arranged with a young conjurer named S. J. Davey to give a set of séances duplicating Eglinton’s “phenomena.” Certain Spiritists who had seen Eglinton were invited to attend and give a written record of what they saw. They all agreed that the séances were duplicates of Eglinton’s, and all genuine. When the trick was announced the Spiritists claimed that Davey was really a medium who would not admit the fact !

Isabel Kingsley’s last remark on Oliver Lodge being convinced by “subjective” phenomena, while, as usual, contrary to the facts, shows the danger people run who use terms they do not understand. Used in this connection her statement is idiotic nonsense.

In view of Miss Isabel Kingsley’s failure to give evidence and authority for her assertions and claims, we do not feel that any useful purpose would be served by allowing more space for the repetition of these assertions.—ED.

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