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