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Record number: WCP5289

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Sent by:
Alfred Russel Wallace
Sent to:
William Fletcher Barrett
30 October 1875

Sent by Alfred Russel Wallace, The Dell, Grays, Essex to William Fletcher Barrett [none given] on 30 October 1875.

Record created:
07 May 2013 by Catchpole, Caroline


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LETTER (WCP5289.5833)

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

Held by:
Cambridge University Library
Finding number:
SPR. MS 3/A4/136
Copyright owner:
Copyright of the A. R. Wallace Literary Estate

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Transcription information




The Dell, Grays, Essex

Oct[ober] 30th. 1875

My dear Sir,

Many thanks for your letter & the copy of your article, -- which must do good.

In case, however, you should reprint it in any other form, allow me to call your attention to a few passages which I think require alteration.

1. "The utterances of the mediums never appear to go beyond the information possessed by those present."

This would be so very important a fact if true, and would go so strongly against the spiritual hypothesis, that, in the face of the mass of evidence to the contrary I think it should not be any longer put forward. It has been contradicted from the very [[2]] dawn of modern spiritualism. No one present knew, or believed, or ever had knowledge, that a dead body was to be found in Mr. Fox’s cellar, -- yet that was an utterance through the little girl Kate Fox2, & was found to be true. This one case, were there no other, contradict[s] the statement, -- but other equally conclusive (and many if possible even more so) run through the whole history of spiritualism, -- and it is simply misleading to opine[?] such facts. It is really now on a par with the statements that -- "only tables move" --. that "darkness is essential" -- &c &c.

To quote any cases of D. Mahaus as "corrobborating[sic] the important fact that no extraneous information has ever been given at a séance," -- again [[3]] assumes this is a fact. -- which But the contrary can not be disproved by any number of cases in which no extraneous information was given, -- or even rendered improbable. No number of séances at which nothing happens, are one grains weight as evidence against the fact that of something happening at other séances.

2. Mrs De Morgan’s3 statement that "the language, grammar, &c. are always that of some one[sic] present" -- would not I think be accepted by most Spiritualists. It may be her experience a[nd] her opinion, -- nothing more.

3. You say in a note that -- "the American medium confessed that she had imposed upon Mr Dale Owen4" -- This is not correct. The medium, Mrs Holmes, never confessed anything of the kind, -- but another woman confessed that she had been employed by the Holmes’ to act the [[4]] spirit, & that she did so act. The difference you may say is not very important, -- but it is in the sequel. For this case has been carefully investigated by Col[onel]. Olcott5, & he shows adduces the strongest evidence that this "confession" was an entire falsehood. The woman was a bad character, -- she had lived as a lodger & acquaintance with the Holmes’, -- she was very needy, -- & she was paid well for the "confession". It is proved however, that during the greater part of the séances with Mr Owen this woman was not in the house or even in the same town with the Holmes’ -- that he phenomena went on exactly the same before her arrival & after her departure, -- and the Holmes’ submitted to the most searching examination, in Col[onel]. Olcotts own rooms, and under the most rigid tests. This is a very good example of the kind of "exposure" [[5]]6 of mediums that is relied on -- The falsehood is acceptable and widely spread, -- the refutation is never published by opponents of Spiritualism. This refutation was published by Col[onel]. Olcott in a New York daily paper and since in a volume -- "People from the Other World". --

The materialization phenomena are now[?], so widely spread & have been so frequently tested, that they rest upon better evidence than the simple physical manifestations did a few years ago. In America there are three (at least) distinct mediums through whom these phenomena have been seen and examined, by scores[?] of intelligent men. In Newcastle on Tyne [sic] there are two distinct families of mediums for materialization. The tests there have been subjected [[6]] to surpass those of Miss Cooke7[sic] by Mr. Crookes8. Mr Henry Sidgwick9 of Cambridge & some friends have now been engaged some months in a systematic investigation of one[?] two of these mediums. The others have gone with M. Aksakoff10 [sic] to St. Petersburg, to submit to the examination of a Committee of the University there.

The spirit forms have appeared with the mediums, in full light. Children, young girls, grown women, & tall men, all appearing successively from a small closet in a private house, to which the medium never had access before!

The evidence in fact, of the reality of these beings and of [[7]] their production & disappearance, -- often before the eyes of numerous witnesses. -- is now overwhelming, -- and a theory which, like Dr. Mahaus’, rejects this as all importune, may just as well -- for anything it is worth -- reject the whole of the phenomena & say that no theory is required for there is nothing to explain.

Mr. Crookes very wisely refrains from openly expressing his beliefs on the matter, -- but in private he is a thorough-going spiritualist, as are all, who have seen as much of the phenomena as he has, and who could contentedly rest without some hypothetical explanation of them, which does really explain something. [[8]]

As to Swedenborg11, most Spiritualists admire him as a great medium and a great spiritual teacher, -- but he was too dogmatic, -- and his followers place themselves out of the pale of modern thought by declaring him all-sufficing & infallible. We want knowledge of the facts of actual modern Spiritualism, as well as of that of the past, and the subject is too vast for us to devote time to the study of such ponderous and miscellaneous volumes as those of Swedenborg.

You do not mention Sp[iritualist]. Photographs. I consider these as the best of tests, when carefully applied, & especially valuable as showing that these spiritual figures are just as real, when invisible as when visible.

I hope you will pursue the subject

and I remain | yours vey faithfully | Alfred R. Wallace [signature]

Prof[essor]. W.F. Barrett12

P.S. I strongly suspect the authors of the "Unseen Universe"13, are Spiritualists. Their views are not only consistent with but even seem to me often suggested by the doctrines of modern Spiritualism.14


1. There are a number of inscriptions and catalogue/reference numbers written on the first page of the letter. In the top-left corner the term "On Spiritualism" has been written. In the top right-hand corner "WALLACE" has been written in capitals. Below this, and on separate lines are the numbers "1" and "132". Between the date of the letter and text there is a file or catalogue reference: "SPR.MS 3/A4/136". Finally, midway down the page and in the left hand margin, there is the stamp of the Society for Psychical Research.

2. Kate Fox (1837-1892). The younger sister of Leah (1814-1890) and Margaret Fox (1833-1892). The Fox sisters were from New York and played an important role in the establishment and promotion of spiritualism.

3. Sophia Elizabeth de Morgan (nee Frend) (1809-1892). English social reformer, and wife of Augustus de Morgan (1806-1871), English mathematician and logician. From Matter to Spirit: The Result of Ten Years’ Experience in Spirit Manifestations was published in 1863.

4. Robert Dale Owen (1837-1892). Scottish-born American politician and son of Robert Owen (1771-1858). Owen was a strong believer in Spiritualism and wrote two books on the subject: Footfalls on the Boundary of Another World (1859) and The Debateable Land Between this World and the Next (1872).

5. Colonel Henry Steel Olcott (1832-1907). American military officer, journalist, lawyer and co-founder and first President of the Theosophical Society. Author of People from the Other World, American Publishing Co., Hartford, 1875.

6. The stamp of the Society for Psychical Research is in the left-hand margin, mid-way down the page.

7. Florence Cook (c.1856-1904), a young medium whose abilities were endorsed by Sir William Crookes.

8. Sir William Crookes (1832-1919). British chemist and science journalist. Following the death of a brother in 1867, he became a supporter of psychic phenomena and mediumship.

9. Henry Sidgwick (1838-1900). English philosopher and economist. A founder and first president of the Society for Psychical Research.

10. Alexandr Aksakov (1832-1903). Russian author, translator, journalist, editor and psychic researcher.

11. Emanuel Swedenborg (1688-1772). Swedish scientist, philosopher, theologian and revelator.

12. The addressee’s name is written at the bottom of the page. Sir William Fletcher Barrett (1844-1925) was a pysicist and psychical researcher, and founder of the Society for Psychical Research.

13. The Unseen Universe: or, Physical Speculations of a Future State, Balfour Stewart and Peter Guthrie Tait, (Macmillan, 1875)

14. Wallace’s post-script is written vertically, in the left-hand margin of the page.

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