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On Miracles and Modern Spiritualism: A Defence of Modern Spiritualism:


We now approach a subject which cannot be omitted in any impartial sketch of the evidences of Spiritualism, since it is that which furnishes perhaps the most unassailable demonstration it is possible to obtain, of the objective reality of spiritual forms, and also of the truthful nature of the evidence furnished by seers when they describe figures visible to themselves alone. It has been already indicated—and it is a fact, of which the records of Spiritualism furnish ample proof—that different individuals possess the power of seeing such forms and figures in very variable degrees. Thus, it often happens at a séance, that some will see distinct lights of which they will describe the form, appearance, and position, while others will see nothing at all. If only one or two persons see the lights, the rest will naturally impute it to their imagination; but there are cases in which only one or two of those present are unable to see them. There are also cases in which all see them, but in very different degrees of distinctness; yet that they see the same objects is proved by their all agreeing as to the position and the movement of the lights. Again, what some see as merely luminous clouds, others will see as distinct human forms, either partial or entire. In other cases all present see the form—whether hand, face, or entire figure—with equal distinctness. Again, the objective reality of these appearances is sometimes proved by their being touched, or by their being seen to move objects,—in some cases heard to speak, in others seen to write, by several persons at one and the same time; the figure seen or the writing produced being sometimes unmistakeably recognisable as that of some deceased friend. A volume could easily be filled with records of this class of appearances, authenticated by place, date, and names of witnesses; and a considerable selection is to be found in the works of Mr. Robert Dale Owen. Now, at this point, an inquirer, who had not pre-judged the question, and who did not believe his own knowledge of the universe to be so complete as to justify him in rejecting all evidence for facts which he had hitherto considered to be in the highest degree improbable, might fairly say, "Your evidence for the appearance of visible, tangible, spiritual forms, is very strong; but I should like to have them submitted to a crucial test, which would quite settle the question of the possibility of their being due to a coincident delusion of several senses of several persons at the same time; and, if satisfactory, would demonstrate their objective reality in a way nothing else can do. If they really reflect or emit light which makes them visible to human eyes, they can be photographed. Photograph them, and you will have an unanswerable proof that your human witnesses are trustworthy." Two years ago we could only have replied to this very proper suggestion, that we believed it had been done and could be again done, but that we had no satisfactory evidence to offer. Now, however, we are in a position to state, not only that it has been frequently done, but that the evidence is of such a nature as to satisfy any one who will take the trouble carefully to examine it. This evidence we will now lay before our readers, and we venture to think they will acknowledge it to be most remarkable.

Before doing so it may be as well to clear away a popular misconception. Mr. G. H. Lewes advised the Dialectical Committee to distinguish carefully between "facts and inferences from facts." This is especially necessary in the case of what are called spirit-photographs. The figures which occur in these, when not produced by any human agency, may be of "spiritual" origin, without being figures "of spirits." There is much evidence to show that they are, in some cases, forms produced by invisible intelligences, but distinct from them. In other cases the intelligence appears to clothe itself with matter capable of being perceived by us; but even then it does not follow that the form produced is the actual image of the spiritual form. It may be but a reproduction of the former mortal form with its terrestrial accompaniments, for purposes of recognition.

Most persons have heard of these "ghost-pictures," and how easily they can be made to order by any photographer, and are therefore disposed to think they can be of no use as evidence. But a little consideration will show that the means by which sham ghosts can be manufactured being so well known to all photographers, it becomes easy to apply tests or arrange conditions so as to prevent imposition. The following are some of the more obvious:—

1. If a person with a knowledge of photography takes his own glass plates, examines the camera used and all the accessories, and watches the whole process of taking a picture, then, if any definite form appears on the negative besides the sitter, it is a proof that some object was present capable of reflecting or emitting the actinic rays, although invisible to those present. 2. If an unmistakeable likeness appears of a deceased person totally unknown to the photographer. 3. If figures appear on the negative having a definite relation to the figure of the sitter, who chooses his own position, attitude, and accompaniments, it is a proof that invisible figures were really there. 4. If a figure appears draped in white, and partly behind the dark body of the sitter without in the least showing through, it is a proof that the white figure was there at the same time, because the dark parts of the negative are transparent, and any white picture in any way superposed would show through. 5. Even should none of these tests be applied, yet if a medium, quite independent of the photographer, sees and describes a figure during the sitting, and an exactly corresponding figure appears on the plate, it is a proof that such a figure was there.

Every one of these tests have now been successfully applied in our own country, as the following outline of the-facts will show.

The accounts of spirit-photography in several parts of the United States caused many spiritualists in this country to make experiments, but for a long time without success. Mr. and Mrs. Guppy, who are both amateur photographers, tried at their own house, and failed. In March, 1872, they went one day to Mr. Hudson's, a photographer living near them (not a spiritualist) to get some cartes de visite of Mrs. Guppy. After the sitting the idea suddenly struck Mr. Guppy that he would try for a spirit-photograph. He sat down, told Mrs. G. to go behind the background, and had a picture taken. There came out behind him a large, indefinite, oval, white patch, somewhat resembling the outline of a draped figure. Mrs. Guppy, behind the background, was dressed in black. This is the first spirit-photograph taken in England, and it is perhaps more satisfactory on account of the suddenness of the impulse under which it was taken, and the great white patch which no impostor would have attempted to produce, and which taken by itself, utterly spoils the picture. A few days afterwards, Mr. and Mrs. Guppy and their little boy went without any notice. Mrs. G. sat on the ground holding the boy on a stool. Mr. Guppy stood behind looking on. The picture thus produced is most remarkable. A tall female figure, finely draped in white, gauzy robes, stands directly behind and above the sitters, looking down on them and holding its open hands over their heads, as if giving a benediction. The face is somewhat Eastern, and, with the hands, is beautifully defined. The white robes pass behind the sitters' dark figures without in the least showing through.

A second picture was then taken as soon as a plate could be prepared, and it was fortunate it was so, for it resulted in a most remarkable test. Mrs. G. again knelt with the boy; but this time she did not stoop so much, and her head was higher. The same white figure comes out equally well defined, but it has changed its position in a manner exactly corresponding to the slight change of Mrs. G.'s position. The hands were before on a level; now one is raised considerably higher than the other, so as to keep it about the same distance from Mrs. G.'s head as it was before. The folds of the drapery all correspondingly differ, and the head is slightly turned. Here, then, one of tw,o things are absolutely certain. Either there was a living, intelligent, but invisible being present, or Mr. and Mrs. Guppy, the photographer, and some fourth person, planned a wicked imposture, and have maintained it ever since. Knowing Mr. and Mrs. Guppy so well as I do, I feel an absolute conviction that they are as incapable of an imposture of this kind as any earnest inquirer after truth in the department of natural science. *

* It is an important circumstance that the face of the spirit form is well defined, and as recognisable as the portrait of any living person. Had an imposture been attempted this would hare been carefully avoided, since it would almost certainly lead to the discovery of the person who was dressed up for the occasion. Yet no such person has been found, although, during the discussions that subsequently arose, many were eager to find proofs of imposture.

The report of these pictures soon spread. Spiritualists in great numbers came to try for similar results, with varying degrees of success; till after a time rumour of imposture arose, and it is now firmly believed by many, from suspicious appearances on the pictures and from other circumstances, that a large number of shams have been produced. It is certainly not to be wondered at if it were so. The photographer, remember, was not a spiritualist, and was utterly puzzled at the pictures above described. Scores of persons came to him, and he saw that they were satisfied if they got a second figure with themselves, and dissatisfied if they did not. He may have made arrangements by which to satisfy everybody. One thing is clear; that if there has been imposture, it was at once detected by spiritualists themselves; if not, then spiritualists have been quick in noticing what appeared to indicate it. Those, however, who most strongly assert imposture allow that a large number of genuine pictures have been taken. But, true or not, the cry of imposture did good, since it showed the necessity for tests and for independent confirmation of the facts.

The test of clearly recognisable likenesses of deceased friends has often been obtained. Mr. William Howitt, who went without previous notice, obtained likenesses of two sons, many years dead, and of the very existence of one of which even the friend who accompanied Mr. Howitt was ignorant. The likenesses were instantly recognised by Mrs. Howitt; and Mr. H. declares them to be "perfect and unmistakeable." (Spiritual Magazine, Oct., 1872.) Dr. Thomson of Clifton obtained a photograph of himself, accompanied by that of a lady he did not know. He sent it to his uncle in Scotland, simply asking if he recognised a resemblance to any of the family deceased. The reply was that it was the likeness of Dr. Thomson's own mother, who died at his birth; and there being no picture of her in existence, he had no idea what she was like. The uncle very naturally remarked, that he "could not understand how it was done." (Spiritual Magazine, Oct., 1873.) Many other instances of recognition have since occurred, but I will only add my personal testimony. A few weeks back I myself went to the same photographer's for the first time, and obtained a most unmistakeable likeness of a deceased relative. * We will now pass to a better class of evidence, the private experiments of amateurs.

* The particulars of this case are as follows. On March 14th, 1874, I went to Hudson's, by appointment, for the first and only time, accompanied by Mrs. Guppy, as medium. I expected that if I got any spirit picture it would be that of my eldest brother, in whose name messages had frequently been received through Mrs. Guppy. Before going to Hudson's I sat with Mrs. G., and had a communication by raps to the effect that my mother would appear on the plate if she could. I sat three times, always choosing my own position. Each time a second figure appeared in the negative with me. The first was a male figure with a short sword; the second a full length figure, standing apparently a few feet on one side and rather behind me, looking down at me and holding a bunch of flowers. At the third sitting, after placing myself, and after the prepared plate was in the camera, I asked that the figure would come close to me. The third plate exhibited a female figure standing close in front of me, so that the drapery covers the lower part of my body. I saw all the plates developed, and in each case the additional figure started out the moment the developing fluid was poured on, while my portrait did not become visible till, perhaps, twenty seconds later. I recognised none of these figures in the negatives ; but the moment I got the proofs, the first glance showed me that the third plate contained an unmistakeable portrait of my mother, —like her both in features and expression; not such a likeness as a portrait taken during life, but a somewhat pensive, idealised likeness— yet still, to me, an unmistakeable likeness. The second figure is much less distinct; the face is looking down; it has a different expression to the other, so that I at first concluded it was a different person. The male figure I know nothing of. On sending the two female portraits to my sister, she thought that the second was much more like my mother than the third,—was, in fact, a good likeness though indistinct, while the third seemed to her to be like in expression, but with something wrong about the mouth and chin. This was found to be due, in part, to the filling up of spots by the photographer; for when the picture was washed it became thickly covered with whitish spots, but a better likeness of my mother. Still I did not see the likeness in the second picture till a few weeks back I looked at it with a magnifying glass, when I at once saw a remarkable special feature of my mother's natural face, an unusually projecting lower lip and jaw. This was most conspicuous some years ago, as latterly the mouth was somewhat contracted. A photograph taken 22 years ago shows this peculiarity very strongly, and corresponds well with the second picture, in which the mouth is partly open and the lower lip projects greatly. This figure had always given me the impression of a younger person than that in the third picture, and it is remarkable that they correspond respectively with the character of the face as seen in photographs taken at intervals of about twelve years; yet without the least resemblance to these photographs either in attitude or expression. Both figures carry a bunch of flowers exactly in the same way; and it is worthy of notice that, while I was sitting for the second picture, the medium said—"I see some one, and it has flowers"—intimating that she saw the flowers distinctly, the figure only very faintly. Here, then, are two different faces representing the aspect of a deceased person's countenance at two periods of her life; yet both the figures are utterly unlike any photograph ever taken of her during her life. How these two figures, with these special peculiarities of a person totally unknown to Mr. Hudson could appear on his plates, I should be glad to have explained. Even if he had by some means obtained possession of all the photographs ever taken of my mother, they would not have been of the slightest use to him in the manufacture of these pictures. I see no escape from the conclusion that some spiritual being, acquainted with my mother's various aspects during life, produced these recognisable impressions on the plate. That she herself still lives and produced these figures may not be proved; but it is a more simple and natural explanation to think that she did so, than to suppose that we are surrounded by beings who carry out an elaborate series of impostures for no other apparent purpose than to dupe us into a belief in a continued existence after death. While these sheets were passing through the press, I received a letter from my brother in California, to whom I had sent a proof of the third picture. He says—"As soon as I opened the letter, I looked at the photograph attentively, and recognised your face, and remarked that the other one was something like Fanny (my sister). I then handed it across the table to Mrs. W., and she exclaimed at once, 'Why, it's your mother!' We then compared it with a photograph of her we had here, and there could be no doubt of the general resemblance, but it has an appearance of sickness or weariness." Neither my brother nor his wife know anything of Spiritualism, and both are prejudiced against it. We may therefore accept their testimony as to the resemblance to my mother, in confirmation of myself and my sister, as conclusive.

Mr. Thomas Slater, an old established optician in the Euston Road, and an amateur photographer, took with him to Mr. Hudson's a new camera of his own manufacture and his own glasses, saw everything done and obtained a portrait with a second figure on it. He then began experimenting in his own private house, and during last summer obtained some remarkable results. The first of his successes contains two heads by the side of a portrait of his sister. One of these heads is unmistakeably the late Lord Broughham's; the other, much less distinct, is recognised by Mr. Slater as that of Robert Owen, whom he knew intimately up to the time of his death. He has since obtained several excellent pictures of the same class. One in particular, shows a female in black and white flowing robes, standing by the side of Mr. Slater. In another the head and bust appear, leaning over his shoulder. The faces of these two are much alike, and other members of the family recognise them as likenesses of Mr. Slater's mother, who died when be was an infant. In another a pretty child figure, also draped, stands beside Mr. Slater's little boy. Now, whether these figures are correctly identified or not, is not the essential point. The fact that any figures, so clear and unmistakeably human in appearance as these, should appear on plates taken in his own private studio by an experienced optician and amateur photographer, who makes all his apparatus himself, and with no one present but the members of his own family,—is the real marvel. In one case a second figure appeared on a plate with himself, taken by Mr. Slater when he was absolutely alone—by the simple process of occupying the sitter's chair after uncapping the camera. He and his family being themselves mediums, they require no extraneous assistance; and this may, perhaps, be the reason why he has succeeded so well. One of the most extraordinary pictures obtained by Mr. Slater is a full-length portrait of his sister, in which there is no second figure, but the sitter appears covered all over with a kind of transparent lace drapery, which on examination is seen to be wholly made up of shaded circles of different sizes, quite unlike any material fabric I have seen or heard of. Mr. Slater has himself shown me all these pictures and explained the conditions under which they were produced. That they are not impostures is certain; and as the first independent confirmations of what had been previously obtained only through professional photographers, their value is inestimable.

A less successful, but not perhaps on that account less satisfactory confirmation has been obtained by another amateur, who, after eighteen months of experiment, obtained a partial success. Mr. E. Williams, M.A., Ph. D., of Hayward's Heath, succeeded last summer in obtaining three photographs, each with part of a human form besides the sitter, one having the features distinctly marked. Subsequently another was obtained, with a well-formed figure of a man standing at the side of the sitter, but while being developed, this figure faded away entirely. Mr. Williams assures me (in a letter) that in these experiments there was "no room for trick or for the production of these figures by any known means."

The editor of the British Journal of Photography has made experiments at Mr. Hudson's studio, taking his own collodion and new plates, and doing everything himself, yet there were "abnormal appearances" on the pictures although no distinct figures.

We now come to the valuable and conclusive experiments of Mr. John Beattie of Clifton, a retired photographer of twenty years' experience, and of whom the above-mentioned editor says:—" Everyone who knows Mr. Beattie will give him credit for being a thoughtful, skilful, and intelligent photographer, one of the last men in the world to be deceived, at least in matters relating to photography, and one quite incapable of deceiving others."

Mr. Beattie has been assisted in his researches by Dr. Thomson, an Edinburgh M.D., who has practised photography, as an amateur, for twenty-five years. They experimented at the studio of a friend, who was not a spiritualist (but who became a medium during the experiments), and had the services of a tradesman with whom they were well acquainted, as a medium. The whole of the photographic work was done by Messrs. Beattie and Thomson, the other two sitting at a small table. The pictures were taken in series of three, within a few seconds of each other, and several of these series were taken at each sitting. The figures produced are for the most part not human, but white shaded patches, variously formed, and which in successive pictures are seen to change, and develop as it were into a more perfect or complete type. Thus, one set of five begins with two white somewhat angular patches over the middle sitter, and ends with a rude but unmistakeable white female figure, covering the larger part of the plate. The other three show intermediate states, indicating a continuous change of form from the first figure to the last. Another set (of four pictures) begins with a white vertical cylinder over the body of the medium, and a shorter one on his head. These change their form in the second and third, and in the last become laterally spread out into luminous masses resembling nebulae. Another set of three is very curious. The first has an oblique flowing luminous patch from the table to the ground; in the second this has changed to a white serpentine column, ending in a point above the medium's head ; in the third the column has become broader and somewhat double, with the curve in an opposite direction, and with a head-like termination. The change of the curvature may have some connection with a change in the position of the sitters, which is seen to have taken place between the second and the third of this set. There are two others, taken, like all the preceding, in 1872, but which the medium described during the exposure. The first, he said, was a thick white fog; and the picture came out all shaded white, with not a trace of any of the sitters. The other was described as a fog with a figure standing in it; and here a white human figure is alone seen in the almost uniform foggy surface. During the experiments made in 1873, the medium, in every case, minutely and correctly described the appearances which afterwards came out on the plate. In one there is a luminous rayed star of large size, with a human face faintly visible in the centre. This is the last of three in which the star developed, and the whole were accurately described by the medium. In another set of three, the medium first described,—"a light behind him, coming from the floor." The next,—"a light rising over another person's arms, coming from his own boot." The third,—"there is the same light, but now a column comes up through the table, and it is hot to my hands." Then he suddenly exclaimed,:—"What a bright light up there! Can you not see it?" pointing to it with his hand. All this most accurately describes the three pictures, and in the last, the medium's hand is seen pointing to a white patch which appears overhead. There are other curious developments, the nature of which is already sufficiently indicated; but one very startling single picture must be mentioned. During the exposure one medium said he saw on the background a black figure, the other medium saw a light figure by the side of the black one. In the picture both these figures appear, the light one very faintly, the black one much more distinctly, of a gigantic size, with a massive coarse-featured face and long hair.

Mr Beattie has been so good as to send me for examination a complete set of these most extraordinary photographs, thirty-two in number, and has furnished me with any particulars I desired. I have described them as correctly as I am able; and Dr. Thomson has authorised me to use his name as confirming Mr. Beattie's account of the conditions under which they appeared. These experiments were not made without labour and perseverance. Sometimes twenty consecutive pictures produced absolutely nothing unusual Hundreds have been taken, and more than half have been complete failures. But the successes have been well worth the labour. They demonstrate the fact that what a medium or sensitive sees (even where no one else sees anything) may often have an objective existence. They teach us that perhaps the bookseller, Nicolai of Berlin—whose case has been quoted ad nauseam as the type of a "spectral illusion"—saw real beings after all; and that, had photography been then discovered and properly applied, we might now have the portraits of the invisible men and women who crowded his room.*

* The efforts men of science have to make in order to avoid recognising: the possibility of such forms being actual beings, visible only during the peculiar state induced by disease or insanity, is well shown by the following curious passage from the recent work of Mr. G. H. Lewes' "Problems-of Life and Mind" (Vol. I. p. 255):—" In the course of my observations in English and German asylums I have been forcibly impressed with the fact, abundantly illustrated in the records of insanity, that patients belonging to very different classes of society, and to different nations, have precisely similar hallucinations, which they express in terms so closely alike, that the one might have been a free translation of the other. The pauper lunatic in England will often have the same illusion as the insane German merchant; and the insane soldier in Bohemia will seem to be repeating the absurdities of the insane farmer in Sussex. Not only does-the fact of cerebral congestion determine hallucination in the Englishman as in the German, but determines the precise form which that hallucination will take. Twenty different patients, of both sexes, and of different age, country, and states, will be found having similar morbid sensations ; and will all form a similar hypothesis to explain what they feel. Not only will they agree in attributing their distressing sensations to the malevolent action of invisible enemies ; but will also agree in describing how these enemies molest them ; even when such imaginary explanations take peculiar shapes—for example, that the enemy blows poisonous vapours through the keyhole, or chinks in the wall, strikes them with galvanic batteries hidden under the table, roars and threatens them from underground cellars, &c. To hear in Germany a narrative which one has already heard in England, gravely particularising the same preposterous details, almost as if the thoughts of the one were the echo of the thoughts of the other, has a startling effect. I do not refer simply to the well-known general types of hallucination, in which patients fancy themselves emperors, Christs, great actors, or great statesmen, or fancy themselves doomed to perdition, made of glass and liable to break in pieces if they move,—I refer to the singular resemblance noticeable in the expression of these forms, so that one patient has the same irrational conceptions as another. This identity of conception rests on identity of congestion. Remove the congestion and the hallucination vanishes." Now this explanation is so untenable and so contrary to the laws of physiological pyschology, that we venture to say Mr. Lewes' friend, Herbert Spencer, will not endorse it. For it asserts that the product of two factors can be constantly identical with the product of two other factors, one of which is widely different from the corresponding one. It asserts that race, nation, education, life-long habits and associations and ideas, being all different in two individuals, a similar or identical cerebral disease will produce an identical mental result, and that the radical" differences in the most important of the two factors go absolutely for nothing! There could hardly be a more striking proof of the theory that so-called spectral illusions are often actual objective forms than the facts adduced by Mr. Lewes ; and if his explanation is satisfactory to himself, we can hardly have a stronger case of the blinding influence of preconceived ideas, even on the most powerful intellects.

They give us hints of a process by which the figures seen at séances may have to be gradually formed or developed, and enable us better to understand the statements repeatedly made by the communicating intelligences—that it is very difficult to produce definite, visible, and tangible forms, and that it can only be done under a rare combination of favourable conditions. We find, then, that three amateur photographers, working independently in different parts of England, separately confirm the fact of spirit-photography—already demonstrated to the satisfaction of many who had tested it through professional photographers. The experiments of Mr. Beattie and Dr. Thomson are alone absolutely conclusive; and, taken in connection with those of Mr. Slater and Dr. Williams, and the test photographs, like those of Mrs. Guppy, establish as a scientific fact the objective existence of invisible human forms, and definite invisible actinic images. Before leaving the photographic phenomena we have to notice two curious points in connection with them. The actinic action of the spirit-forms is peculiar, and much more rapid than that of the light reflected from ordinary material forms; for the figures start out the moment the developing fluid touches them, while the figure of the sitter appears much later. Mr. Beattie noticed this throughout his experiments, and I was myself much struck with it when watching the development of three pictures recently, taken at Mr. Hudson's. The second figure, though by no-means bright, always came out long before any other part of the picture. The other singular thing is, the copious drapery in which these forms are almost always enveloped, so as to show only just what is necessary for recognition of the face and figure. The explanation given of this is, that the human form is more difficult to materialise than drapery. The conventional "white-sheeted ghost" was not then all fancy, but had a foundation in fact—a fact, too, of deep significance, dependent on the laws of a yet unknown chemistry.

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