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Record number: WCP3470

Sent by:
Mark Alton Barwise
Sent to:
Alfred Russel Wallace
20 November 1906

Sent by Mark Alton Barwise, Bangor, Maine, USA to Alfred Russel Wallace [none given] on 20 November 1906.

Record created:
30 November 2011 by Mayer, Anna


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LETTER (WCP3470.2957)

A typical letter handwritten by author in English and signed by author.

Held by:
British Library, The
Finding number:
BL Add. 46439 ff. 357-362
Copyright owner:
Not in copyright

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Nov[ember]. 20 1906.

Mr. Alfred Russel Wallace,

My dear Sir,

You will doubtlessly conclude that it requires a large degree of presumption to so trespass on your time and good nature as to thrust this letter upon you. My only excuse for writing is that for a long time you, Darwin2, Huxley3, Tindall4 [sic], Fiske5, and Spencer6 have been my Lares7 and Penates8. Reading along evolutionary lines has continued to occupy a large share of my leisure time. Some years ago when I first read of yours and Mr. Darwin’s independent discovery of Natural Selection, and the delicacy of honor [sic] which you each displayed toward the other in first publishing it to the world9, I thought it one of the most dramatic incidents in the whole history of science.

For some time I only took a passing interest in you, merely [[2]]10 reading a chapter now and then from "The Wonderful Century"11. But when the storm of criticism arose over "Man’s Place in the Universe"12, and the magazines were teeming with acrimonious reviews by superficial writers, I determined to read the book myself, and I was highly delighted with it. It seemed to me to be a masterly presentation of all that the race has learned biologically and astronomically with respect to its relation to the sum total of things. And it likewise has served as a wholesome check upon that tendency which has been rapidly growing of late among popular writers, namely, to regard anything astronomically conceivable as an actual scientific fact.

But aside from your monumental work in biology and astronomic physics my interest has become more marked on quite another line. Last winter I read your autobiography13, [[3]]14 and was especially pleased with those chapters disclosing your study into Spiritualism15. For the current year I am president of the Temple Heights Spiritualist campmeeting [sic], and, also, of the Maine State Association of Spiritualists. My mother and my wife are mediums through whom we receive spiritual manifestations.

It has always seemed to me that loud denunciation of Spiritualism by many men of science was not only discourteous to Mr. Crookes16, yourself, and other scientists with world reputations who have embraced this philosophy and religion, but was unscientific in the extreme. As a matter of logic, it seems to me, we are not compelled to prove that a control17 is actually a spirit, but that it is incumbent on our opponents to prove that it is not what it seems to be. In all the thousands upon thousands of cases on record where mediums [[4]]18 have been controlled there is not one instance, so far as I know, where the control ever claimed to be a "subliminal self", "telepathic impact," secondary mind", etc, etc, but invariably claimed to be the living, thinking, loving personality of some man or woman who has lived and died ion this earth. And then too, if the control claims to be a friend it establishes its identity just as one does over the telephone or telegraph, by references to facts and incidents which both the alleged transmitter and the recipient might be expected to know. In fact in every way the control speaks and acts just as though it were the spirit it purports to be. It seems to me that the principle of logic which Mr. Romanes19 illustrated so beautifully in his little book on the "Scientific Evidences of Organic Evolution"20, has an equal validity in this case. You remember in discussing Sir William Hamilton’s21 law of parsimony22 he points out that planets behave [[5]] just as though they were moved by gravitation, and therefore we are forced to adopt this theory, rather than that of Kepler's guardian angel, as the simpler, more natural and less strained.

In my mind the question of Spiritualism is a parallel case. Here is the great mass of phenomena fall pointing in one direction. The controls claim to be spirits, and seem to be spirits. Physical phenomena denote a controlling intelligence which likewise claims to be a spirit. There is not a scrid of evidence supporting arrival hypothesis or what is still more to the point, not a scrid which militates against the spirit theory. Then does not the law of farsimony compel us to adopt the spirit theory, as an academic proposition, even if we have not personally studied the phenomena in question?

I have discussed this question in my last annual address at Temple Heights, which is expected [[6]]23 to appear in the "Banner of Light"24 when it is issued in its new form. There is some delay incident to its changin[g] from a weekly to a monthly, but when it appears I will send you a copy if you would care for it.

Do not feel that you must answer this. I should be delighted to receive a word from you, but unless you feel inclined to write, do not do so merely on grounds of etiquette.

Begging your pardon for thus thrusting myself upon you, I am, believe me, your warm admirer and devoted reader.

Mark A. Barwise25, [signature]

Bangor, Maine.

U.S. A.

R. F. D. #1.


1. Page numbered 357 in pencil in top RH corner and "Answ[ere]d" is written in ink across top LH corner of page. "Barwise" is written in pencil at the top centre of the page.

2. Darwin, Charles Robert (1809-1882). English naturalist and writer, originator of the theory of evolution by natural selection and author of On the Origin of Species by Means of Natural Selection.

3. Huxley, Thomas Henry (1825-1895). English biologist (comparative anatomist), philosopher and advocate of Charles Darwin’s theory of evolution by natural selection.

4. Tyndall, John (1820-1893). British physicist, known initially for work on diamagnetism. However, he was a vocal supporter of Darwin's theory of evolution and member of a group which sought to strengthen the separation of religion (faith & spirituality) and science (knowledge & rationality). Others were Thomas Henry Huxley (see Endnote 3) and Herbert Spencer (see Endnote 6).

5. Fiske, John (Edmund Fiske Green) (1842-1901). American philosopher and historian. Study of the nature of human progress led him to philosophical interpretation of Darwin's work in which he was influenced by Herbert Spencer’s views on evolution (see Endnote 6).

6. Spencer, Herbert (1820-1903). English philosopher, biologist, anthropologist, sociologist and political theorist. He conceived evolution as the progressive development of the physical world, biological organisms and the human mind, culture and societies.

7. Guardian deities in ancient Roman religion. They were believed to observe, protect and influence all that happened within their local sphere.

8. Household deities in ancient Roman religion. They were a symbol of the continuing life of the family, invoked most often in domestic rituals.

9. The first publishing in 1858 by the Linnean Society of London of the joint communication made by Charles Darwin and ARW to the Society, "On the Tendency of Species to form Varieties; and on the Perpetuation of Varieties and Species by Natural Means of Selection."

10. Page numbered 358 in pencil in top RH corner and "2." is written in ink at top centre of page.

11. Wallace A. R. (1898) The Wonderful Century; Its Successes and Its Failures. London, Swan Sonnenschein & Co.

12. Wallace, A. R. (1903) Man’s Place in the Universe: A Study of the Results of Scientific Research in Relation to the Unity or Plurality of Worlds 3rd Ed. London, Chapman & Hall Ltd.

13. Wallace, A. R. (1905) My Life; A Record of Events and Opinions Vols. 1 & 2. New York, Dodd Mead & Co.

14. Page numbered 359 in pencil in top RH corner and "3." is written in ink at top centre of page.

15. Wallace, A. R. (1905) My Life; A Record of Events and Opinions Vol. 2. New York, Dodd Mead & Co. Chapter XXXVI Mesmerism to spiritualism: Correspondence with scientific and literary men p.293; Chapter XXXVII Two biological inquiries: An episode in the history of spiritualism, p. 318; Chapter XXXVIII Spiritualistic experiences in England and America, p. 344.

16. Crookes, William (1832-1919). British chemist and physicist. He became interested in spiritualism in the late 1860s, after the untimely death of his younger brother.

17. The control was the medium in the Spiritual World, who would obtain information from the spirit that was communicating, then pass it on through the Earthly medium to the sitter.

18. Page numbered 360 in pencil in top RH corner and "4." is written in ink at top centre of page.

19. Romanes, George John (1848-1894). Canadian-born English evolutionary biologist and physiologist and friend of Charles Darwin. Founder of comparative psychology, which postulated a similarity of cognitive processes between humans and other animals.

20. Romanes, G. J. (1882) The Scientific Evidences of Organic Evolution London, Macmillan & Co.

21. Hamilton, William, 9th Baronet (1788-1856). Scottish metaphysician who formulated the Law of Parsimony (see Endnote 22), based on Occam's razor, the maxim of a 14th century English Franciscan friar. The term razor refers to distinguishing between two hypotheses either by "shaving away" unnecessary assumptions or cutting apart two similar conclusions.

22. The Law of Parsimony states that among competing hypotheses that predict equally well, the one with the fewest assumptions should be selected. Other, more complicated solutions may ultimately prove to provide better predictions, but in the absence of differences in predictive ability, the fewer assumptions that are made, the better.

23. Page numbered 362 in pencil in top RH corner and "6." is written in ink at top centre of page.

24. An American spiritualist weekly newspaper published between 1857 and 1907, the longest lasting and most influential of such journals. It was based in Boston, but covered the movement across the US. The paper included a page that gave messages received by its resident medium, and letters from relatives confirming the authenticity of the messages. It also included articles on spiritualism, book reviews, notices of meetings and letters from readers.

25. Barwise, Mark Alton (1881-1937). American attorney and prominent member of the National Spiritualist Association (N.S.A.). He wrote extensively on spiritualism and represented the church in court cases. Despite his position in a religion outside the American mainstream, he was elected to the Maine House of Representatives and Maine State Senate in the 1920’s.

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