Wallace Letters Online

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Record number: WCP4764

Sent by:
Alfred Russel Wallace
Sent to:
Henry Benjamin Samuels
5 October 1896

Sent by Alfred Russel Wallace, Corfe View, Parkstone, Dorset to Henry Benjamin Samuels, [29 Gresby Road, London, N.W.] on 5 October 1896.

Record created:
09 October 2012 by Catchpole, Caroline


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LETTER (WCP4764.5132)

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

Held by:
Mark Samuels
Copyright owner:
ŠA. R. Wallace Literary Estate

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Parkstone, Dorset.

Oct[obe]r. 5th. 1896

Dear Mr. Samuels1

To answer all your questions would take a long time and do no good. With more experience they get answered. I will therefore only reply on matters of fact. (1) I have not a copy of the Seybert Report2. I read it in some of the [word illeg] papers when it came out. (2) Gen[eral]. Lippitt3 -- who is a lawyer as well as an Officer -- followed the scientific method of writing only on what he knew from long personal observation. Keeler4 he knew thoroughly. If you show that a body of witnesses are all untrustworthy on several important matters, the rest of the evidence is [[2]] legally worthless.

As to the phenomena, I cannot understand them, after 30 years[’] experience & arguing, any more than you can. I only know they are facts. It seems to me that if I could understand them they would not be spiritual or supernatural. (3) The light in all Keeler’s seances which I attended was sufficient to read pencil writing easily, & see the features of anyone across the room.

(4) The arm I saw was bare. I also saw a walking stick pushed through the curtain, & then pulled through by myself leaving no hole. I examined the curtain carefully at the end of the seance. I do not expect you to believe these things, but they happened .


There was probably no body behind the arm. I have seen a hand ending above the wrist.5

I cannot understand the growth of a plant from a minute seed, which seems more and more a miracle the more you think of it.6

[[3]] (5) When Keeler’s vest came off his coat was buttoned up. When these things happen, the things simply disappear and reappear. I have seen the same thing done in a slightly different way with the Davenport Brothers7.

Please clearly understand that I do not expect you or wish you to believe these things. They cannot be believed on other persons’ testimony unless you have some experiences leading up to them. I only lent you the "Reply", because you took Mr. S. Laing’s8 statement as to the Seybert Commission as being the whole truth -- Mr. Laing himself being totally ignorant of the whole subject, prejudiced against it, and entirely unfitted [[4]] to offer an opinion, -- just like most writers in the "Echo".

Should you really wish to know more on the subject you might call on Mr. Burns, 56 Great Queen Street, W.C. a Spiritualist bookseller who has I believe a lending library of Spiritualist Literature & knows a good deal about mediums & the subject generally. But, so far as I am concerned, I feel more interest in your Socialistic Work, and do not in any way urge or even recommend your taking up Spiritualism. Only, I wished to point out that if you do wish to give any time to the serious study of the subject, it is not scientific to offer a public opinion on it.

[[5]] 5/9 Thanks for your pamphlet on "Communism". It is excellently written, and I have read it with much pleasure. You put the case for absolute Communism and the total abolition of Government, very forcibly, and I agree with much of it. But I feel that it is such a "counsel of perfection" -- so ideal a state of society to be reached only after many centuries of slow evolution -- that to put it forward now, is rather to excite prejudice against any and all forms of Socialism [[6]] as being utterly impracticable. Morris’10 "News From Nowhere" though excessively charming is likely to have the same effect. I have some thoughts of approaching the subject from exactly the opposite point of view, that is, to show how small an amount of change might yet result in practical Socialism, in which everyone would work according [[7]] to his ability, and be paid wages also in some proportion to his ability or skill, so as to result in moderate differences of condition, but no idleness and no poverty.

It would merely be the organization of all labour in the interest of the whole Community, leaving some of the stimulus to special industry that now exists, & that the majority of the world insist is necessary for all profitable production. [[8]] This would form a transition to other forms of more Complete Socialism. Culminating in such Communism as you describe whenever the people had been educated up to it.

Believe me | Yours very truly | Alfred R. Wallace [signature]

H. B. Samuels Esq.

P.S. My friend Fleürschein was an absolute sceptic 4 years ago, but was convinced by phenomena he saw again & again in America.



1. H.B.Samuels. Socialist and sometime acting editor of the Commonweal. Established in 1885, the journal promoted the ideas of the newly formed Socialist League.

2. The Seybert Commission was based at the University of Pennsylvania. In examining a number of respected spiritualist mediums during 1884-1887, they uncovered fraud or suspected fraud in every case they investigated.

3. Francis J. Lippitt (1812 - 1902). American lawyer and soldier. He became interested in spiritualism and wrote "Physical Proofs of Another Life" (1888).

4. Pierre Louie Ormand Augustus Keeler. During January and February 1998, ARW attended three seances presided by Mr Keeler in Washington D.C.

5. These two sentences were written at the bottom of the second page in the form of a footnote.

6. This line was written vertically in the left-hand margin of the page.

7. Ira Erastus (1839 - 1911) and William Henry Davenport (1841 - 1877). American magicians who maintained their illusions were spiritual.

8. Samuel Laing (1812 - 1897). British railway administrator, politician and influential writer on science and religion.

9. ARW has numbered the page at the top, centre.

10. William Morris (1834 - 1896). English textile designer, artist, writer and libertarian socialist. His book, "News From Nowhere," was published in 1890.

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