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Record number: WCP5017

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Sent by:
Alfred Russel Wallace
Sent to:
Vaughan Jenkins
31 July 1881

Sent by Alfred Russel Wallace, Nutwood Cottage, Frith Hill, Godalming to Vaughan Jenkins [none given] on 31 July 1881.

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06 February 2013 by Catchpole, Caroline


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Anon. (1888). Correspondence. Nellie Morris. Journal of the Society for Psychical Research, 3(55): 312-318.

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[[1]]1,2 [p. 316]

E. Vaughan Jenkins, Esq.

July 31st, 1881

Dear Sir,-- Mrs. Sidgwick's exposition of her point of view is very interesting, but there seems to me a weakness of fallacy in it as she applies it. If we assume, to begin with, that mediums are all imposters, and that no fact in Spiritualism has been proved, I admit that Mrs. Sidgwick is right. But she puts forth this argument while ignoring the direct evidence for the facts, and it is of this that I complain. While urging the possibility of imposture in General Lippitt's case she ignored Mr. Lyman's direct evidence of phenomena with one of the mediums concerned (Mrs. Beste), which cannot be explained by imposture, and she ignores the whole mass of test evidence in private houses, where confederates and machinery are excluded, and yet where things occur which only confederates or machinery could produce if there is no reality in the phenomena. Now, we have other evidence in General Lippitt's pamphlet of the genuineness of another medium (Keeler). Yet we are asked to believe that these mediums, who are proved to have power to produce genuine phenomena, yet systematically conspire with imposters to produce sham phenomena. This, I urge, is contrary to human nature. The person who possesses exceptional powers of any kind does not enter into elaborate collusion for fraudulent purposes with others who only pretend to have these powers. Their interests are all against it. Why should they risk their reputation, on which their living depends, by entering into elaborate conspiracy with many other mediums, involving constant correspondence and systematic records, on thechance of being able to deceive certain persons? And the chance is very slender, for how could any of these seven mediums (except, perhaps, one or two) tell that General Lippitt would ever visit them, or how could they have the necessary preparations made against his chance visit--the presence, for example, of the two girls who are supposed to have represented his daughter and Nellie Morris? And all this to produce by fraud that which they have power to produce by genuine means! Once demonstrate that genuine mediumship exists in any case, and the whole argument of assuming imposture in every case falls to the ground. Again, skilful imposture carried on for years requires faculties of an exceptional kind and long practice. But, almost without exception, mediums begin as children or young persons; their powers are at a maximum in youth, and usually diminish with mature years. This is directly opposed to the fact as to skill in jugglery--which is a rather rare [[2]] [p. 317] faculty, never seen in perfection in youth. Mediums, on the other hand, are often very ignorant, commonplace and clumsy persons. Their whole lives are often known. They usually begin by exhibiting their powers in other people's houses, where imposture and confederacy would be most difficult, and only when they have thus obtained a reputation find it more profitable to give séances chiefly in their own houses. All these, and many other facts, Mrs. Sidgwick ignores in order to uphold her assumption of the absence of evidence and the extreme probability of imposture. I maintain that the existence of the power of mediumship being proved, there is no more special presumption of imposture here than in regard to other faculties. As I said in my preliminary note, the evidence in the case of "Nellie Morris" will have no weight with those who deny that any mediumship exists or is possible; but if the fact of mediumship is held to be proved in any cases, then the evidence in this case becomes very strong if not conclusive.

I do not think I ever said I was convinced that some of Dr. Lynn's exhibitions (through another performer) were Spiritualistic, but it seemed to myself and others probable that he had engaged the services of a remarkable physical medium. I know a young man who combines thought-reading and conjuring very skilfully.--Yours very truly,

Alfred R. Wallace.


1. Editor Charles H. Smith's Note: Sixth of seven letters exchanged among Wallace, E. Vaughan Jenkins, and Eleanor M. Sidgwick (Mrs. Henry Sidgwick) on the "spirit entity" Nellie Morris. Printed in the October 1888 issue of the Journal of the Society for Psychical Research.

2. Editor’s note on page 312 preceding the printed letters: "(The following correspondence has been placed in my hands by Mr. Vaughan Jenkins (Associate of the S.P.R.), with a view to its being printed here. It relates to the case of Nellie Morris, communicated to the June number of this Journal by Mr. Alfred Russel Wallace. I am unable to find room for the whole correspondence, but I have thought it best to print Mr. Wallace's letters in full,--partly on account of his scientific eminence, partly because I disagree with his arguments and conclusions, and should therefore be afraid of not doing justice to the former, if I attempted to abridge them. Of the other letters only portions are printed.--Ed.)"


This transcript originates from Charles H. Smith’s The Alfred Russel Wallace Page website (http://people.wku.edu/charles.smith/index1.htm): See http://people.wku.edu/charles.smith/wallace/S411.htm

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