From India to the Planet Mars (10-11)
THE mediumship of Mlle. Smith is full of facts supernormal in appearance, and the question which offers itself for our solution is that of determining to what extent they are supernormal in reality.
The title of this chapter, I must assert, is not to be understood in a partisan sense. The term "appearances" is not used in its unfavorable acceptation, as meaning that they are deceptive, and that there is nothing behind them. It is taken in a frank and impartial sense, to designate simply the exterior and immediate aspect of a thing, without prejudging its real nature, in order, by the very force of this neutrality, to provoke investigation destined to separate the true from the false, the pure gold from the dross. It is precisely this investigation which constitutes my present task.
A rather difficult task, for it is always risky to touch upon a subject which is an apple of discord among psychologists, and which has even been considered the "Dreyfus case of science." The matter is complicated, too, in this particular case, by the absolute faith of Mlle. Smith and her friends in the
supernormal character of her phenomena; a state of mind extremely worthy of respect, but which is not calculated to facilitate research, all desire of ordinary analysis and explanation being resented by them as an unjustifiable suspicion, interpreted as being an indication of invincible skepticism.
I. THE STUDY OF THE SUPERNORMAL
The term "supernormal" has been used for some years by the investigators of the Society for Psychical Research to take the place of the old word "supernatural," which has become impracticable on account of interloping connections, which finally caused its use to be limited to theological and philosophical environments. Mr. Meyers, to whom the credit is due, if I am not mistaken, of coining this as well as many other new terms used to-day in the psychical vocabulary, applies it to every phenomenon or faculty which passes beyond ordinary experience, and reveals either a degree of higher evolution not yet attained by the mass of humanity, or an order of transcendental things superior to the world of sense. In these two cases one finds one's self, indeed, in the presence of facts which are above the normal, but which are by no means to be taken as foreign or contrary to the true laws of human nature (as the word "supernatural" would imply).
It is to be observed that the definition of Mr. Meyers lays stress upon the character of superiority of supernormal phenomena. I shall, however, separate this character from it in the present chapter, and in
spite of the etymology, and for lack of any better term, shall simply use the word "supernormal" to designate facts which come within the actual framework of the science of to-day, and the application of which would necessitate principles not yet admitted—without occupying myself, however, with endeavoring to ascertain whether these facts are messengers of a superior economy or forerunners of a future evolution rather than the survival of a condition of things which has disappeared, or whether they are purely accidental, lusus naturae, denuded of signification.
It goes without saying that in treating of the supernormal we must admit theoretically its possibility, or—which amounts to about the same thing—fail to believe in the infallibility and perfection of present-day science. If I consider it, à priori, absolutely impossible for an individual to know, some time before the arrival of a telegram containing the news, of an accident by which his brother at the antipodes has been killed, or that another can voluntarily move an object at a distance without having a string attached to it, and contrary to the laws of mechanics and physiology, it is clear that I will shrug my shoulders at every mention of telepathy, and I shall not move a step to be present at a seance of Eusapia Paladino. What an excellent means of enlarging one's horizon and of discovering something new, by being satisfied with one's ready-made science and preconceived opinion, quite convinced beforehand that the universe ends at the wall opposite, and that there is nothing to be obtained beyond that which the daily routine has accustomed us to look upon as the limit of the Real! This
philosophy of the ostrich, illustrated formerly by those grotesque monuments of erudition—over whom Galileo did not know whether to laugh or weep—who refused to put their eyes to the glass for fear of seeing something that had no official right to existence; and, again, that of many brains petrified by the unseasonable reading of works of scientific vulgarization, and the unintelligent frequenting of universities—these are the two great intellectual dangers of our time.
If, on the other hand, the philosophical doubt degenerates in the presence of these scientific impossibilities into blind credulity; if it suffices that a thing be unheard of, upsetting, contrary to common-sense and to accepted truths, in order to be immediately admitted, practical existence, without speaking of other considerations, becomes unbearable. The convinced occultist ought never to allow the creaking of a piece of furniture to pass without assuring himself that it is not the desperate call of some great-grandaunt trying to enter into conversation with him; nor to complain to the police when he finds his house upset during his absence—for how is he to know that it is not some "elementals" from the world beyond who have done the deed? It is by the fortunate failure of consequences alone, and a continual forgetting of the doctrine, that one can continue to live in a universe constantly exposed to the capricious incursions of the "invisibles."
These opposite turns of the mind—the invincible fatuity of some and the silly superstition of others—inspire many people with an equal repugnance. The need of a happy medium between these opposed excesses
has been felt for some time. Here are, for example, a few lines, which have lost nothing after the lapse of two centuries:
"What are we to think of magic and witchcraft [to-day we would say 'occultism' and 'spiritism']? Their theory is obscure, their principles vague, uncertain, approaching the visionary; but—they are embarrassing facts, affirmed by grave men, who have seen them, or who have heard of them from persons like themselves; to admit them all, or to deny them all, seems equally embarrassing, and I dare to assert that in this, as in all extraordinary things which depend upon customary rules, there is a happy medium to be found between credulous souls and strong minds."
It is the voice of reason itself that the sagacious author of Les Caractères permits us to hear. We must, however, add that this "happy medium to be found" would not consist in a theory, a doctrine, a ready-made and entire system, from the height of which, as from a tribunal of arbitration, we would judge the "embarrassing cases" which reality places in the path of the seeker; for this system—however perfect it might be—would again be one more infallibility added to all those which already encumber the road to truth. The "happy medium" dreamed of by La Bruyère can be but a "method" always perfectible in its application and prejudging in nothing the results of investigation which go against the grain of the dogmatic points of view, equally authoritative and sterile, which characterize the two extremes of the "credulous souls" and "strong minds."
To develop here this methodology of psychical research which might guide the investigator struggling with the apparent or real supernormal, would take me too far from Mlle. Smith. But I will briefly indicate its essence and general spirit, of which an excellent summary may be found in the following passage of Laplace:
"We are so far from knowing all the agents of nature and their divers modes of action that it would not be philosophical to deny phenomena solely because they are inexplicable in the actual state of our knowledge. But we ought to examine them with an attention all the more scrupulous as it appears more difficult to admit them."
In writing these words Laplace hardly thought of telepathy, of the spirits, or the movements of objects without contact, but only of animal magnetism, which represented the supernormal of his time. This passage remains none the less the rule of conduct to be followed concerning all the possible manifestations of this multiform subject. Two inseparable facts, completing each other, as the faces of a medal, may be distinguished in it; but it is advisable, in order to place them the better in the light, to formulate them separately into two propositions representing the governing principles, the axioms of all investigations of the supernormal. The one, which I shall call "Principle of Hamlet," may be condensed in these words: All is possible. The other, to which it is but just to leave the name of "Principle of Laplace," is susceptible of many forms of expression. I shall express it thus: The weight of the
evidence should be proportioned to the strangeness of the facts.
The forgetfulness of the "Principle of Hamlet" makes the "strong minds," for whom the limits of nature would not exceed those of their system, the simpleton popes of all times and of all kinds, from the burlesque adversaries of Galileo to the poor Auguste Comte, declaring that the physical constitution of the stars would never be known, and to his noble rivals of the learned societies, denying the aërolites or condemning railroads beforehand. In its turn, the ignorance of the "Principle of Laplace" makes the "credulous souls," who have never reflected that, if all is possible to the eyes of the modest seeker, all is, however, not certain, or even equally possible, and that some evidence would yet be necessary in order to suppose that a stone falling on the floor in an occult reunion arrived there through the walls by the aid of a dematerialization, rather than to admit that it came there in the pocket of a joker.
Thanks to these axioms, the investigator will avoid the doubly signalled danger, and will advance without fear into the labyrinth of the supernormal in advance of the monsters of the occult. However fantastic and magical the things may be which will spring up before his eyes or which will fill his ears, he will never be taken unawares, but, expecting all in the name of the "Principle of Hamlet," he will not be astonished at anything, and simply say: "Be it so! Why not? We shall see." On the other hand, he will not allow the wool to be pulled over his eyes, and he will not easily be satisfied in the matter of
evidence; but, firmly intrenched behind the "Principle of Laplace," he will show himself all the more exacting as to the proofs, in proportion to the degree in which the phenomena or the conclusion, which they may wish him to accept, may be extraordinary, and he will oppose a merciless non liquet to every demonstration which still seems suspicious or lame.
I wish to speak a word here of the inevitable rôle which the personal coefficient of the turn of mind and character plays in the concrete application of the "Principle of Laplace." This latter is of a vagueness and a deplorable elasticity which opens the door to all divergences of individual appreciation. If we could express in a precise manner and translate in ciphers, on the one hand, the strangeness of a fact, which makes it improbable; on the other hand, the weight of evidence which tends to make it admissible; and, finally, the demandable proportion between these two contrary factors, so that the second may counterbalance the first and secure assent—that would be perfect, and everybody would soon come to an agreement. Unhappily, the means to accomplish this result is not yet perceived.
We must pass now to the weight of the evidence. We may, up to a certain point, submit it to an objective judgment and to an impartial estimation by following the rules and methods of logic, in the broadest sense of the term. But the strangeness of the facts, or, as Laplace said, the difficulty in admitting them! Who, then, is to be the judge of them, and by what universal standard can we measure them?
We must recognize that we are here in presence of an eminently subjective and emotional factor, changeable from one individual to another.
It is necessary to take some stand. In the matter of the supernormal there are too many interior and personal factors (intellectual idiosyncrasies, aesthetic temperaments, moral and religious sentiments, metaphysical tendencies, etc.) tending to determine the quality and intensity of the characteristic of the strangeness in the facts in litigation, to enable one to flatter himself upon a disinterested, objective, and quasi-scientific verdict upon their degree of probability or improbability. It is only when, after the accumulation of cases and evidences of similar character, a tacit agreement shall finally have been reached by those who have studied the subject, that the problem can be said to be solved, either by the relegation of pretended supernormal phenomena to the domain of vanished illusions and abandoned superstitions, or by the recognition of new laws and forces in nature. The phenomena considered till then as supernatural will cease to be so; they will form a part of established science, they will have nothing more in them that is strange, and will be admitted by everybody. As long as this mile-post is not reached, as long as the supernormal phenomenon is discussed as such, there are but individual opinions on this subject, subjective certitudes or probabilities, verdicts in which reality is only reflected as closely welded to the personality of their authors.
Two suggestions seem to me to spring from this.
[paragraph continues] First, authors who take it upon themselves to give their advice upon the extraordinary facts coming to their knowledge ought always to begin by making their confession, so that the reader may the better distinguish the intimate factors which may have influenced them. It is true that we are not always thoroughly acquainted with ourselves, but it would be something to say frankly what we believe we have discovered in ourselves as to the position involuntarily taken by us, obscure inclinations for or against the hypothesis involved in the phenomena in question. This is what I shall try to do here, by confining myself to the problems raised by the mediumship of Mlle. Smith, and without entering upon the boundless domain of "psychical research." I shall, therefore, begin each of the following paragraphs by giving my personal advice and my subjective sentiment on the point upon which Hélène's supernormal appearances touch.
It seems to me, in the second place, that the only rational position to take, concerning the supernormal, is, if not a complete suspension of judgment, which is not always psychologically possible, at least that of a wise probability, exempt from all dogmatic obstinacy. The fixed beliefs, the unshakable opinions as to the reality and the meaning of life, are certainly subjective conditions, indispensable to all properly moral conduct, to all human existence truly worthy of this name—that is to say, all that which pretends to be above the animal routine of inherited instincts and social slavery. But these firm convictions would be absolutely misplaced
on the objective ground of science, and consequently also that of supernormal facts, which, though still situated outside of the scientific realm, hope shortly to be received within its pale. Practical necessities make us but too often forget that our knowledge of the phenomenal world never attains absolute certitude, and as soon as one passes beyond the brutal facts of the senses, the best-established truths, as well as the most thoroughly refuted propositions, do not rise above a probability which, however great or insignificant we may suppose it to be, never equals infinity or zero. The intellectual attitude which common-sense prescribes in the supernormal consists, for very strong reasons, in never absolutely and irrevocably denying or affirming, but provisionally and by hypothesis, as it were. Even in cases when, after having examined everything scrupulously, one imagines he has finally reached certitude, it must not be forgotten that this word is but a mode of expressing one's self; because, in point of fact, one does not rise above a probable opinion, and the possibility of an unsuspected error, vitiating the most apparently evident experimental demonstration, is never mathematically excluded.
This reserve is particularly indicated in cases of phenomena like those of Mlle. Smith, which often leave much to be desired concerning accessory information, which would be necessary in order to express one's self categorically on their account. My appreciation of these phenomena, far from pretending to an infallible and definite character, demands, therefore, from the start, the right of modification
under the influence of new facts which may be produced subsequently.
For the sake of clearness I shall set off again in four groups the supernormal appearances with which I shall have to occupy myself in this chapter—viz., so-called physical phenomena, telepathy, lucidity, and spirit messages. The boundaries of these three last categories are but poorly defined and might easily be fused into one. But my division is but a kind of a measure of order, and not a classification.
II. PHYSICAL PHENOMENA
This designation again covers several rather diverse categories of strange facts. I shall only speak of the two kinds of which Mlle. Smith has furnished samples (and which I have never personally witnessed)—that is to say, "apports" and "movements of objects without contact."
1. Apports. *—Besides the unknown causes presiding over their aërial transportation, the arrival of exterior objects in a closed space, often coming from a considerable distance, implies, in order that they may pass through the walls of the room, either the subterfuge of a fourth dimension of space, or the penetration of the matter—that is to say, the passage of the molecules or atoms of the object (its momentary dematerialization) between the molecules or atoms of the wall. All these impediments to our vulgar
conception as to the stability of matter, or, what is worse, to our geometrical intuition, seem to me so hard to digest that I am tempted to apply to them the words of Laplace: "There are things that are so extraordinary that nothing can counterbalance their improbability." This is not to declare as false, à priori, all the stories of this kind, for we know that the true is not always the probable; but assuredly, even in the case of the good Mr. Stainton Moses, the weight of the proof does not, in my opinion, equal the strangeness of the facts.
So far as concerns the apports obtained at the seances of Mlle. Smith, they all took place in 1892-93, in the reunions of the N. group, where the obscurity favored the production of marvellous things in close relation with the visions and typtological messages.
I will cite from memory certain acoustic phenomena mentioned in the reports: The piano sounded several times under the touch of the favorite disincarnate spirits of the group; the same happened to a violin and to a bell; once we also heard metallic sounds that seemed to come from a small musical box, although there was none in the room. As to the apports, always received with delight by the members of the group, who are ever anxiously wishing for them and asking their spirit friends for them, they were frequent and varied enough. In midwinter roses showered upon the table, handfuls of violets, pinks, white lilacs, etc., also green branches; among other things there was an ivy leaf having engraved upon it in letters, as though by a punching-machine, the name of one of the principal disincarnate
spirits at play. Again, at the tropical and Chinese visions sea-shells were obtained that were still shining and covered with sand, Chinese coins, a little vase containing water, in which there was a superb rose, etc. These last objects were brought in a straight line from the extreme East by the spirits, in proof of which they had the honor of a public presentation at a seance of La Société d’Études Psychiques de Genève, and were placed upon the desk of the president, where all, myself included, could satisfy themselves at their leisure as to their reality.
2. Movements of objects without contact.—The displacing, without contact and in the absence of all known mechanical processes, of objects situated at a distance (telekinesis), is very strange. However, it only upsets physiological notions, and does not, as is the case with the apports, go as far as to overthrow our conceptions in regard to the constitution of matter or our spatial intuitions. It only supposes that the living being possesses forces acting at a distance, or the power of putting forth at intervals a species of invisible supernumerary prehensile organs, capable of handling objects, as our hands do (ectenic forces of Thury, ectoplasms of Richet, dynamic members of Ochorowicz, etc.). Such are the ephemeral but visible pseudopodes that the amœba puts forth in all directions.
It may be conceived that, as the atom and the molecule are the centre of a more or less radiating influence of extension, so the organized individual, isolated cell or colony of cells, is originally in possession of a sphere of action, where it concentrates at times
its efforts more especially on one point, and again on others ad libitum. Through repetition, habit, selection, hereditary and other principles loved by biologists, certain more constant lines of force would be differentiated in this homogeneous primordial sphere, and little by little could give birth to motor organs. For example—our four members of flesh and blood, sweeping the space around us, would be but a more economic expedient invented by nature, a machine wrought in the course of better adapted evolution, to obtain at the least expense the same useful effects as this vague primitive spherical power. Thus supplanted or transformed, these powers would thereafter manifest themselves only very exceptionally, in certain states, or with abnormal individuals, as an atavic reapparition of a mode of acting long ago fallen into disuse, because it is really very imperfect and necessitates, without any advantage, an expenditure of vital energy far greater than the ordinary use of arms and limbs. Unless it is the cosmic power itself, the amoral and stupid demiurge, the unconsciousness of M. de Hartman, which comes directly into play upon contact with a deranged nervous system, and realizes its disordered dreams without passing through the regular channels of muscular movements.
But enough of these vapory metaphysical or pseudo-biological speculations to give an account of a phenomenon for which it will be time enough to find precise explanation when its authenticity shall be beyond dispute, if that time shall ever arrive.
Three groups of proofs, of a diverse nature, have
gradually brought me to look upon the reality of these phenomena—in spite of the instinctive difficulty of admitting them—as an infinitely more probable hypothesis than its opposite.
First: I was first unsettled by the reading of the too-much-neglected memoir of Professor Thury, which seems to me to be a model of scientific observations, the weight of which I could only overlook by rejecting, à priori—in the name of their strangeness—the possibility itself of the facts in question, which would have been against the Principle of Hamlet. The conversations which it was my privilege to hold with M. Thury have greatly contributed to arouse in me a presumption in favor of these phenomena, which the book would evidently not have done in the same degree if the author had not been personally known to me.
Secondly: Once created, my idea of the probability of these facts became rather strengthened than weakened by a number of foreign works of more recent date; but I doubt whether any, or all of these combined, would have been sufficient to create it. The displacement of objects without contact being once hypothetically admitted, it seems easier to me to explain Crookes's observations on the modifications of the weight of bodies in the presence of Home by authentic phenomena of this kind (in spite of the well-deserved criticisms that Crookes's publications brought upon him) than to suppose that he was simply Home's dupe. The same is true with the cases of Esprits tapageurs (Poltergeister), published by the Society for Psychical Research, the exclusive
hypothesis of the "naughty little girl," without the addition of any trace of telekinesis, which seems to me a less adequate and more improbable explanation than that of real phenomena, which would have tempted fraud. Naturally all depends on the preconceived opinion one may have as to the general possibility or impossibility of these facts, and my feeling in regard to the matter would certainly be different without the preceding or the following groups of evidence.
Thirdly: The probability of the movement of objects without contact has reached with me a degree practically equivalent to certitude, thanks to M. Richet, to whom I am indebted for my presence at his house last year at several seances of Eusapia Paladino, under conditions of control which gave no room for doubt—at least without challenging the combined witness of the senses of sight, hearing, and touch, as well as the average quantity of critical sense and perspicacity with which every ordinary intelligence flatters itself it is endowed; or, again, of suspecting the walls of M. Richet's study had been tampered with, and he himself, with his attending colleagues, of being impostors, in collusion with the amiable Neapolitan herself—a supposition which the most elementary sense of propriety would absolutely forbid me to entertain. From that moment I believed in telekinesis by constraint of the perception, sensata et oculata certitudine, to borrow the expression of Galileo, who certainly did not mean by that an unreflecting adhesion to the evidences of the senses, like that of the casual onlooker at the tricks of the prestidigitator, but rather the final crowning of
an edifice having for its rational framework the reasoned analysis of the conditions of observation, and of the concrete circumstances surrounding the production of the phenomenon.
In saying that I believe in these facts, I will add that there is no question here of a conviction, in the moral, religious, or philosophical sense of the term. This belief is for me devoid of all vital importance; it does not move any essential fibre of my being, and I would not feel the least inclination to submit to the slightest martyrdom in its defence. Whether the objects move or do not move without contact is absolutely indifferent to me. Should any one some day succeed in unveiling the physical tricks or the fallacious psychological processes which have led into error the best observers of telekinesis, from M. Thury down to M. Richet, with a number of other witnesses, myself included, I would be the first to laugh at the trick that art and nature had played upon me, to applaud the perspicacity of the one who discovered it, to congratulate myself, above all, in seeing supernormal appearances returning to the ordinary course of things.
This is a disproportionally lengthy preamble to facts of which I shall have to speak here, for they are reduced to a few displacements of objects without contact (raising of tables, transporting or projecting of flowers and diverse things placed out of reach), of which Hélène and her mother were witnesses on several occasions at their house. I cannot be accused of stubborn skepticism, since I admit the reality of telekinesis. In the present case, however, all the stories which have been told me leave much to be desired
from an evidential point of view. Without suspecting in any way the perfect good faith of both Mme. and Mlle. Smith, it suffices to recall the possibility of malobservation and errors of memory in the stories of supernormal events in order not to attribute a great evidential value to the absolutely sincere evidence of these ladies.
Incapacitated as I am from pronouncing judgment upon phenomena of which I was not a witness, I shall, however, put forth a fact which might militate in favor of their authenticity (their possibility having been first hypothetically admitted)—namely, that these phenomena have always been produced under exceptional conditions, at a time when Hélène was in an abnormal state and a prey to a deep emotion. On the one side, this circumstance increases the chances of malobservation, while, on the other, the day on which it shall be well established that (as divers observations cause us to think) certain abnormal and emotional states set at liberty in the organism latent forces capable of acting at a distance, it will be permitted us to suppose that perhaps something analogous has taken place in Mlle. Smith's case. Here is, as an example of these perplexing cases, a fact which happened to her during a period of general indisposition. Abridging the story, I reproduce it as Hélène sent it to me the following day:
"Last night I had a visit from M. H. I do not need to give you an analysis of my impressions; you will understand them as well as I do. He came to tell me that he had held a seance with a lady who
was a stranger to me, and that this lady had seen Leopold, who had given her a remedy for the indisposition from which I was suffering. I could not refrain from telling him that Leopold had assured me that he manifested himself only to me, and that it would consequently be difficult for me to admit his alleged utterances to others." But that is not the most interesting part of the story.
"While M. H. spoke to me I felt a sharp pain in my left temple, and, perhaps two minutes afterwards, my eyes, constantly directed towards the piano, on which I had placed two oranges the evening before, were entirely fascinated with I know not what. Then, suddenly, at the moment when we least expected it—we were all three (M. H., my father, and myself) seated at a reasonable distance from the piano—one of the oranges displaced itself and rolled to my feet. My father maintained that it had no doubt been placed too near the edge of the lid, and at a certain moment had fallen in a natural way. M. H. saw immediately in this incident the intervention of some spirit. I myself dared not pass my opinion on it. Finally, I picked up the orange, and we spoke of other things.
"M. H. remained about an hour; he went away exactly at nine. I went to my mother's room to give her a few details of M. H.’s visit. I described to her the fall of the orange, and what was my surprise when, on returning to the drawing-room and stepping up to the piano to take the lamp I had placed on it, I found the famous orange no longer there. There was but one left; the one I had picked
up and replaced by the side of the other had disappeared. I looked for it everywhere, but without success. I went back to my mother, and while I spoke to her we heard something fall in the vestibule. I took the lamp to see what might have fallen. I distinguished at the farthest end (towards the door of the entrance to the apartment) the much-sought-for orange!
"Then I asked myself quite frankly whether I was in presence of some spiritistic manifestation. I tried not to be frightened. I took the orange to show it to my mother. I returned to the piano to take the second orange, so as not to be frightened in a similar way. But it, in its turn, had disappeared! Then I felt a considerable sensation of trembling. I returned to my mother's room, and, while we discussed the matter, we heard again something thrown with violence, and, rushing out to see what had happened, I saw the second orange placed in exactly the same spot where the other had been, and considerably bruised. Imagine how astonished we were! I took both oranges, and, without losing an instant, went to the kitchen and put them in a cupboard, where I found them again the following morning; they had not moved. I did not go to bed without some fear, but fortunately I quickly went to sleep. My mother is sure that it is M. H. who brought some evil spirit into the house, and she is quite uneasy. . . ."
From the oral explanations of Mile. Smith and her mother, and also from the location of the places, it follows that the oranges had been thrown at a distance
of ten yards from the piano, through the wide-open parlor door leading to the vestibule, against the door of the apartment, as if to follow and strike fictitiously M. H., who a few moments before had left by this door.
One has undoubtedly always the right of discarding at the outset, as presenting too little guarantee of genuineness, the extraordinary stories of a person subject to hallucinations. In the present case, all that I know of Mlle. Smith and her parents keeps me from doing so, and persuades me that her story is thoroughly exact, which, however, does not amount to saying that there is anything of the supernormal about it. One has, in fact, the choice between two interpretations.
First: In the hypothesis of veritable telekinesis, the following is the manner in which the adventure would be summed up: the emotion due to the unexpected and unpleasant visit of M. H. had brought about a division of consciousness. The feeling of irritation, anger, and repulsion against him had condensed themselves into some secondary personality, which, in the general perturbation of the entire psychophysiological organism, had momentarily recovered the use of these primitive forces of action at a distance, entirely removed from the will, and without the participation of the ordinary self, and thus automatically accomplished outwardly the instinctive idea of bombarding this ill-bred visitor. Notice is to be taken of the painful aura at the temple and the fascination of gaze, which, according to Hélène's story, preceded the first signs of the phenomenon,
the orange falling and rolling at her feet.
Secondly: But the most natural supposition is certainly that Mlle. Smith, by the ordinary use of her limbs, had taken and thrown these projectiles in an access of unconscious muscular automatism. It is true that this would not agree with the presence of her father, mother, or M. H., who did not see her make the supposed movements. But an absent-mindedness of even normal witnesses will seem easier to admit than the authentic production of a supernormal phenomenon.
These episodes which have happened to Mlle. Smith and her mother since I have known them are very few, amounting to half a dozen at the most, and I will not dwell longer upon this subject. Hélène is not conscious of possessing any faculty of movement at a distance, and she always attributes these phenomena to spirit intervention. Leopold, on the other hand, has never acknowledged that he is the author of them. He claims that Hélène possesses within herself supernormal powers, and that, in order to succeed, she would only have to set them to work, but that she did not wish to do so. All my suggestions and repeated entreaties with Leopold and Hélène—either awake or in a state of somnambulism—in the hope of obtaining in my presence some physical phenomenon, have been in vain up to the present time.
One may almost say that if telepathy did not exist one would have to invent it. I mean by this that a direct action between living beings, independent of the organs of the senses, is a matter of such conformity to all that we know of nature that it would be hard not to suppose it à priori, even if we had no perceptible indication of it. How is it possible to believe that the foci of chemical phenomena, as complex as the nervous centres, can be in activity without giving forth diverse undulations, x, y, or z rays, traversing the cranium as the sun traverses a pane of glass, and acting at a distance on their homologues in other craniums? It is a simple matter of intensity.
The gallop of a horse or the leap of a flea in Australia causes the terrestrial globe to rebound on its opposite side to an extent proportional to the weight of these animals compared to that of our planet. This is little, even without taking into account the fact that this infinitesimal displacement runs the risk at every moment of being neutralized by the leaps of horses and fleas on the other hemisphere, so that, on the whole, the shocks to our terrestrial globe resulting from all that moves on its surface are too feeble to prevent our sleeping. Perhaps it is the same with the innumerable waves which coming from all other living beings, shock at every moment a given brain: their efforts are counterbalanced, or their resultant too slight to be perceived. But they exist none the
less in reality, and I confess I do not understand those who reproach telepathy with being strange, mystical, occult, supernormal, etc.
As to the knowledge whether this theoretical telepathy offers results open to experimental demonstration—that is to say, whether this chain of intercerebral vibrations into which we are plunged exercises any notable influence on the course of our psychic life; and whether, in certain cases, we happen to feel emotions, impulses, hallucinations, which the psychological state of one or another of our own kind exercises directly upon us, across the ether and without the ordinary intermediary of the channel of our senses—that is a question of fact arising from observation and experience. We know how much this question has actually been discussed, and how difficult it is to solve it in a decisive way, as much on account of all the sources of errors and illusions, to which one is exposed in this domain, as on account of a probably always necessary concurrence of very exceptional circumstances (which we do not as yet know how to accomplish at will), in order that the particular action of a determined agent should sweep away all rival influences, and betray itself in a manner sufficiently marked and distinct in the life of the percipient. Everything considered, I strongly lean towards the affirmative. The reality of telepathic phenomena seems to me difficult to reject in presence of the cluster of very diverse evidences, entirely independent of each other, that militate in its favor. Undoubtedly none of these evidences is absolutely convincing when taken separately; but their striking convergence
towards the same result gives to their entirety a new and considerable weight, which tips the scale, in my opinion, while awaiting an inverse oscillation, which may some day destroy this convergence, or explain it by a common source of error. Besides, I understand very well why those to whom telepathy remains a mystic, and to our scientific conceptions heterogeneous, principle, should obstinately resist it. But, seeing nothing strange in it myself, I do not hesitate to admit it, not as an intangible dogma, but as a provisional hypothesis, corresponding better than any other to the condition of my certainly very incomplete knowledge of this department of psychological research.
Although predisposed in favor of telepathy, I have failed in finding striking proofs of it in Mlle. Smith, and the few experiments I have attempted with her on this subject offered nothing encouraging.
I tried several times to make an impression upon Hélène from a distance and to appear before her during the evening, when I thought she had returned to her home, which is a kilometre distant from mine. I obtained no satisfactory result. My only case of striking success, lost among a number of nonsuccesses, can be explained by mere coincidence as well, and, after taking all the accessory circumstances into consideration, does not deserve a lengthy discussion.
As to spontaneous telepathy, a few indications would make me think that Mlle. Smith sometimes involuntarily submits to my influence. The most curious is a dream (or a vision) that she had one
night at a time when I had suddenly fallen ill during a stay in the country some twenty leagues distant from Geneva. She heard the ringing of a bell at her door, then saw me entering, so emaciated and apparently so tired that she could not refrain from speaking to her mother on the following morning of her uneasiness concerning me. Unfortunately these ladies took no note of the exact date of this incident, and Hélène did not speak of it to M. Lemaître until three weeks later, when he told her about my illness, the beginning of which dated back to the approximate time of the dream. The evidential value of this case is weak. On other occasions Mlle. Smith announced to me that, to judge from her dreams or vague intuition in a waking state, i was to have on a certain day an unexpected vexation, a painful preoccupation, etc. But the cases in which she was right were counterbalanced by those in which she was wrong. It does not appear that Hélène's telepathic relations with other persons are closer than with me, and among the cases known to me there is not one that deserves the trouble of being related. An exception must, however, be made on behalf of a M. Balmès (pseudonym), who was for some time employed in the same business house as Mlle. Smith, and concerning whom she had several really curious phenomena. This M. Balmès was himself "a sensitive medium" of a very nervous and vibrating nature. He was working in the story above that of Hélène, and stopped sometimes to talk concerning spiritism with her. Their relations, which they did not extend beyond
the office, ended there. There never seemed to be any personal sympathy or special affinity between them, and it is not known how to account for the telepathic bond that seemed to exist between them. The following are examples:
1. One morning M. Balmès lent a newspaper to Hélène in which there was an article on spiritism. He himself had received this paper from one of his friends, M. X., a Frenchman who had been in Geneva for some three weeks only and who did not know Hélène even by name. This M. X. had marked the interesting article in red and had added on the margin an annotation in black. During her noon meal at home Hélène read the article rapidly, but for lack of time did not read the annotation marked in black. Having returned to her office she began again to work. However, at a quarter-past three her eyes fell on the annotation of the paper, and as she was taking up her pen to make some calculation in her note-book, "I do not know," she wrote to me, "either how or why I began to draw on this writing-tablet the head of a man entirely unknown to me. At the same time I heard the voice of a man, of a high, clear, and harmonious quality; but unfortunately I could not understand the words. A great desire came over me to run and show this drawing to M. Balmès. He examined it, and seemed astonished, for the head drawn in ink was no other than that of his friend who had lent him the paper marked in pencil. The voice and the French accent were, as it seems, entirely correct also. How was it that at the sight
of an annotation I found myself in communication with a stranger? M. Balmès, in presence of this curious phenomenon, hastened that very evening to his friend and learned that at the time when I drew his portrait there was a very serious discussion in progress concerning him (M. Balmès) between M. X. and other persons."
Strictly speaking, this case may be normally explained by supposing: First, that Mlle. Smith, without consciously noticing or remembering him, had seen M. X. during his short stay in Geneva, walking in the street with M. Balmès, and that the paper, which she knew had been lent to M. Balmès by one of his friends, had, by means of a subconscious induction, awakened the latent memory of the face and voice of the stranger whom she had seen with him. Secondly, that there is but a fortuitous coincidence in the fact that M. X. spoke of M. Balmès at precisely the hour when Hélène traced the face and heard the voice of the aforesaid M. X. in an access of automatism, set free at the sight of his annotation on the paper.
In the telepathic hypothesis, on the contrary, the incident would have been explained somewhat as follows: The conversation of M. X. concerning M. Balmès (which was, as it appears, of an excited nature) had telepathically impressed the latter and awakened in him subliminally the remembrance of M. X. M. Balmès, in his turn, without consciously suspecting it, had transmitted this remembrance to Mlle. Smith, who was already predisposed to suggestion on that day by the loan of the paper, and with whom the
said remembrance broke forth into a graphic, auditive, and impulsive (the desire of showing her drawing to M. Balmès) automatism. The subconscious strata of M. Balmès had thus served as a link between M. X. and Mlle. Smith.
2. "Some eight days after the preceding case, being a few minutes after noon in an open streetcar, I saw before me this same M. Balmès talking to a lady in a room apparently close to the street-car. The picture was not very clear. A kind of mist seemed to extend over the whole, which was, however, not strong enough to hide from me the personages. M. Balmès, especially, was quite recognizable, and his somewhat subdued voice made me overhear these words: 'It is very curious, extraordinary.' Then I felt a sudden, violent commotion, and the picture vanished at the same time. Soon I found myself again riding in the street-car, and, according to the progress which it had made, I understood that the vision had lasted but three minutes at the most. Notice must be taken of the fact that during these few minutes I did not lose for a single moment the consciousness of my situation; I knew and felt that I was riding home, as I was in the habit of doing each day, and I felt entirely like myself, without the slightest mental disturbance.
"Two hours later I went up to M. Balmès. Approaching him frankly—yes, even a little abruptly—I said to him: 'Were you satisfied with the short visit you made a few minutes after twelve, and would it be indiscreet to ask what you found so curious, so extraordinary?' He seemed confused, astonished,
pretended even to be vexed, and looked as if he wished to ask me by what right I permitted myself to control his actions. This movement of indignation passed as quickly as it came, to give way to a sentiment of the greatest curiosity. He made me tell him in detail my vision, and confessed to me that he really had gone at noon to call upon a lady, and that they had discussed the incident about the newspaper. He had really pronounced the words that I had heard: 'It is curious, extraordinary,' and, strange to say, I also learned that at the end of these words a violent ringing of the bell had been heard, and that the conversation between M. Balmès and his friend had suddenly come to an end by the arrival of a visitor. The commotion felt by me was, therefore, nothing more than the violent ringing of the bell, which, putting an end to the conversation, had also put an end to my vision."
3. At the beginning of a seance one Sunday afternoon at a quarter to four, I handed to Hélène a glass ball, of the kind used for developing clairvoyance by means of gazing into a crystal. Shortly afterwards she saw in it M. Balmès and his friend, and above their heads an isolated pistol, but which seemed to have nothing to do with them. She told me then that M. Balmès had received the day before at his office a telegram which very much upset him, and which obliged him to leave Geneva that very evening for S. She seemed to apprehend some misfortune about to befall M. Balmès, but soon fell asleep. By his digital dictations Leopold tells us that he sent her to sleep to save her some painful visions seen
in the crystal, and that she, Hélène, has a mediumistic consciousness in regard to all that is passing at S., and that the pistol is connected with M. Balmès. It was impossible to learn more, and the remainder of the seance was taken up with other matters.
M. Balmès, who returned to Geneva on the following Monday, and whom I saw the same evening, was very much struck with Hélène's vision, for, on Sunday afternoon he really took part in a scene which came near being tragic, and in the course of which his friend X. had offered him a pistol which he always carried with him. Mlle. Smith and M. Balmès did not hesitate to see in this coincidence a highly characterized supernormal phenomenon. This case offers, however, some difficulty—viz., that the incident of the pistol at S. did not take place till more than two hours after Hélène's visions, and that M. Balmès, as he affirms, had no premonition of the affair at the time when Hélène had her vision. It follows from this that there was a kind of anticipated telepathy, a premonition experienced by another than the interested principal, and this raises the great question of the supernormal knowledge of future events. I find it easier to admit that, although M. Balmès did not consciously foresee the incident of the pistol, he foresaw subconsciously the event, and that this idea passed telepathically to Hélène. Perhaps this case might be explained without having recourse to the supernormal at all. Mlle. Smith, knowing M. Balmès' character, and up to a certain point his personal circumstances, having been present the evening before when M. Balmès received the
telegram, and foreseeing (as she said at the seance), the gravity of the situation, could easily imagine the intervention of a fire-arm in the affair. Besides, no detail of the vision indicates that the pistol seen in the glass ball corresponds to that of M. X.
How far the delicate sense of probabilities can go, and how often spontaneous inferences, with people of a quick imagination, are correct, one never knows. Undoubtedly we often see a supernormal connection where there is, in reality, only a striking coincidence, due to a happy divination and prevision, which is very natural. I ought to add that this manner of evicting the supernormal and reducing the vision of the pistol to a mere creation of the subliminal fantasy, seems inadmissible to Hélène, who remains absolutely certain that this was a convincing case of telepathy.
The above example, 2, which is the best of all, in my opinion, is still not irreproachable.
All the facts of lucidity (clairvoyance, second-sight, etc.) which are attributed to Mlle. Smith may be explained by telepathic impressions proceeding from living persons. This means that I not only admit from the start the possibility of such phenomena by virtue of the " Principle of Hamlet," but, since telepathy is not, in my opinion, anything very strange, I shall feel no subjective difficulty in accepting the reality of Hélène's supernormal intuitions, provided that they present some serious guarantee of authenticity,
and do not explain themselves still more simply by normal and ordinary processes.
Leopold, who appears in almost all of these veridical messages—whether he recognizes himself as the author or whether he accompanies simply by his presence their manifestation through Hélène—has never deigned to grant me one under entirely satisfactory conditions, and he censures my insistence as vain and puerile curiosity. As to the innumerable phenomena with which others more fortunate than myself have been gratified, they have always offered this singularity: when they appeared to be really of a nature calculated to furnish a decisive and convincing proof as to their supernormal origin, I never succeeded in obtaining a written, precise, and circumstantial account, but only uncertain and incomplete tales, too intimate and too personal to be divulged by those interested in them; and, again, when my friends were quite willing to write out a detailed account and to answer to my demand for exact information, the fact reduced itself to such a small matter that it was beyond my power to see anything of the supernormal in it.
Taking everything into consideration, I am inclined to believe that Mlle. Smith, in truth, possesses real phenomena of clairvoyance, not, however, passing beyond the possible limits of telepathy; only, in order that they may be produced, it is necessary that Leopold—that is to say, the special psychic state of Hélène which is necessary for the reception and externalization of these telepathic impressions—be aided from the outside by the influence of certain
favorable temperaments, more frequently met with among convinced spiritists than among persons who are normal, and that he be not impeded, on the other hand, by the paralyzing presence of hostile temperaments, such as that of a critical observer. It is greatly to be regretted that the naïve believers who inspire and succeed in obtaining magnificent phenomena of lucidity usually care so little for the desiderata of science, and, above all, refuse to submit themselves to an examination which might explain the phenomena in a natural manner; while the investigators in search of " convincing " proofs are not inspiring arid obtain almost nothing.
However it may be, I shall give a few examples of Mlle. Smith's proofs of lucidity, which are not very varied, and can be divided into the three categories of the medical prescriptions and diagnoses, of lost objects found again, and of retrocognitions of events more or less remote.
1. Medical Consultations.—In promising specimens of extraordinary facts of this kind I have gone too far. Many such have been told me—as, for instance, Leopold dictating an unknown and complicated recipe of a hair tonic for a gentleman living abroad, a single bottle of which was sufficient to bring forth a full growth of hair on a head which had become bald before middle age; or, again, Leopold, being consulted about the health of a lady living at a great distance from Geneva, revealing both the veridical nature of her illness, which was unknown till then to her physicians, and its origin, which was due to certain unsuspected but perfectly true incidents
connected with her childhood, and, finally, the treatment, which was crowned with success. But the absence of written testimony and precise information as to the concomitant circumstances of these marvellous cures reduce them to the rank of amusing stories, the value of which cannot positively be estimated. As to better-attested episodes, it is true I have been able to obtain authentic stories, but they are those in which the probability of a supernormal element has been reduced to a minimum—imperceptible to me. I will cite but one case.
M. and Mme. G. having invited Mlle. Smith during the month of August to pass a day with them in the country, a few leagues distant from Geneva, took advantage of the visit to hold a seance in order to consult Leopold on the health of one of their children. I will tell the incident from a written account sent me by Mme. G. soon afterwards:
"Our little girl was suffering from anæmia, and fell frequently into a state of weakness, in spite of intervals of improvement. Dr. d’Espine had been recommended to us for the time of our return to Geneva. The medium [Mlle. Smith] knew nothing of this; we had taken the precaution to keep it from her." The seance begins with a few kind words from Leopold, whom M. G. then asks whether he would do well in consulting Dr. d’Espine. "And I," replied Leopold, "can I do nothing for you? Ungrateful people!" But when he was asked to indicate some treatment, he replied: "Wait till your return to Geneva." Then, upon being asked whether an egg mixed with brandy would be good for the
child, he replied that the egg would be good, but the brandy was not necessary in her case. Then he recommended that the child be taken for an hour's walk in the open air every day. As to the prescription relating to her food, he repeated: "I told you to wait till your return to Geneva."
On their return to Geneva in the middle of September, M. and Mme. G. held a second seance. This time Leopold was more exact; he advised: "Not too much milk, but rather a few glasses of good pure wine at each meal." Then he added: "Treat the anaemia first and you will triumph over the throat trouble, which would finally weaken her too much. Her blood is so weak that the least cold, the slightest emotion, I will go so far as to say that the expectation of a pleasure even, would be sufficient to bring the angina to a crisis. You ought to have foreseen that." " Leopold," M. G. notes here, "has enabled us to put our finger upon such of the details as we did not know how to explain. At each sentence my wife and I looked at each other with stupefaction." Leopold ordered also many green vegetables, warm salt-water douches of three minutes’ duration in the evening, and: "The principal thing now is five drops of iron in half a glass of water twice a day before the meal. Do this and you will see the result in a month." In two weeks’ time the little girl was hardly recognizable.
I have cited this case because it is among those that have most struck M. and Mme. G., and upon which they build their conviction of the independent existence and supernormal knowledge of Leopold, and because it shows how little is needed to kindle the
faith among spiritists. I forgot to say that the G. family was well known by Mlle. Smith, and that during the whole winter and the preceding spring she had held weekly seances at their home. There is but one thing that astonishes me, and that is, that Leopold, at the time of the first improvised consultation, should have been taken unawares up to the point of postponing his orders until later, and adhering to such commonplace things as a walk in the open air and the suppression of brandy. In the second seance one sees the effect of a month's incubation. Leopold has had time to recover in Hélène's memory the remembrance concerning the little girl who was anæmic and subject to sore throat; also the prescription which, in the given case, surely proved most efficacious, but which hardly denotes a supernormal knowledge. One does not even need here telepathy to explain messages which are amply accounted for by the subconscious functions of Mlle. Smith's ordinary faculties.
Examples of this kind, drawn from Mlle. Smith's mediumship, might be almost indefinitely multiplied; but cui bono? Once more, I do not claim that Leopold has never given any medical consultation surpassing Hélène's latent knowledge and implying supernormal powers of clairvoyance. I only say that I have not yet succeeded in finding a single case where the proofs reached the height of that conclusion.
2. Objects Recovered.—I do not know any case in which Mlle. Smith has indicated the situation of an object which had been hidden, and as to the location of which she could have had no information through
natural channels. All her discoveries consist, so far as I have been able to judge, in the return, under a spiritistic and with a dramatic aspect, of memories either simply forgotten or properly subliminal, which depended upon the incidents concerned having first belonged to the ordinary consciousness, or their having always escaped it and having been from their origin registered in the subconsciousness.
These are facts of cryptomnesia pure and simple—i.e., explicable by a normal psychological process very common in its essence, while the picturesque embellishments added by the mediumistic imagination give to these teleological automatisms a certain mysterious and supernormal appearance which in other surroundings would certainly create for Hélène—or rather for Leopold—a place alongside St. Anthony of Padua. I confine myself to two examples. Mlle. Smith being charged with the duty of making ready the merchandise sent out from her department, was handed a telegram one day from a customer who asked that four yards of No. 13,459 be despatched to him immediately. "This brief order," said Hélène, "was not calculated to hasten the forwarding of the goods. How could I readily find this No. 13,459, in the midst of six or seven thousand others in the store? Pondering, telegram in hand, I was wondering how I could find it, when a voice outside of but very near me said to me: 'Not there, but here,' and involuntarily I turned round, without knowing why, and my hand laid itself mechanically on a piece of goods which I drew towards me, and which actually bore the No. 13,459."
It is not necessary to be a medium to know by experience these happy reminiscences or inspirations which sometimes come to free us from embarrassment by shining forth like a light at an opportune moment; but that which in the case of ordinary persons remains in the feeble condition of an idea or internal image, among mediumistic temperaments assumes readily the fixed and vivid form of an hallucination. Instead of simply "suddenly recollecting" in the case of the No. 13,459, as would have happened to any one else, Hélène hears an exterior voice, and perceives her hand moving involuntarily in a given direction. It is noted that this automatism assumed an auditive and motor form which is the pendant of the vocal and visual automatism which I have referred to on pp. 58-59. It is to this same class of facts, well known and almost common to-day, that the following example likewise belongs, although the subliminal imagination had surrounded it with the form of an intervention on the part of Leopold.
One Sunday evening, on returning home, Mlle. Smith noticed that she had lost a small breastpin which had been fastened to her corsage, and which she greatly valued as a souvenir. The following day she returned to look for it where she had been the evening before, but in vain, and a notice which she caused to be inserted in the "lost" columns of a daily newspaper gave no result. Here I leave the narration of the story to her: "Persuaded that my pin was really lost, I did my best to think no more about it, but this was a difficult matter, since one night I was awakened suddenly by three raps struck against
my bed. Somewhat frightened, I looked around, but saw nothing. I tried to go to sleep, but again many raps were struck, this time near my head. I seated myself on my bed (I was agitated), trying to discover what was happening, and hardly had I seated myself when I saw a hand shaking my lost breastpin before my eyes. This vision lasted only a minute, but that was long enough for it to make a deep impression upon me."
The following Tuesday evening (ten days after the loss of the trinket) Hélène held a seance at the house of M. Cuendet, at which two other persons were also present. She told of the loss of her pin and the curious vision above described; then all seated themselves at the table. After a typtological dictation upon an altogether different subject, the following incident occurred, the account of which I have borrowed from notes taken by M. Cuendet (it was in 1894, and I only knew Mlle. Smith by reputation at the time):
"We notice that from the beginning of the seance Mlle. Smith describes to us our familiar spirit [Leopold] as holding a lantern in his hand. Why? The table is shaken anew, about to tell us something. The following is then dictated to us by it: 'Arise. Take a lantern. Extend your walk to the Municipal Building. Take the path which crosses the meadow, and which ends at the Street of the Baths. In the middle of the path, to the left, a few yards distant, a block of white stone will be found. Starting from the block of stone, only one yard away from it, towards the setting sun, the pin so much sought for will be found. Go, I accompany you.'
"I copy verbatim this communication, which was obtained letter by letter. I add nothing, take nothing from it. General stupefaction! We hesitate! Finally, we all four rise, we light a lantern and set out. It was twenty minutes to ten o'clock.
"We walk slowly; we arrive at the Municipal Building, and take the path which leads from it to the Street of the Baths. In the middle, to the left, some yards distant, we, in fact, find the block of stone indicated. We search for a moment without result, and begin to fear we shall find nothing. Finally, towards the setting sun, a yard from the block of stone, I find buried in the grass, covered with sand, and consequently badly soiled, the pin indicated.
"Some one had evidently stepped on it, as it was slightly bent. Mlle. Smith uttered an exclamation of surprise, and we all four returned to the house, to recover from our very natural emotion."
This case has remained in the eyes of Mlle. Smith and her spiritistic friends as one of the most striking and irrefragable proofs of the objective and independent reality of Leopold. For the psychologist it constitutes a very beautiful and interesting example of cryptomnesia, well worthy to figure among the very instructive cases collected by Mr. Myers, in which the memory of a subliminal perception (i.e., registered immediately without striking the normal personality) appears as a revelation in a dream of ordinary sleep, or under some other equivalent form of automatism. Here is "Leopold"—the subconsciousness of Hélène—who, having felt the pin fall
and noticed where it rolled, first manifested himself in a passing nocturnal vision, and then took advantage of the next spiritistic gathering to restore completely her latent memories. It is not necessary to see anything intentional in this restitution, the simple play of association of ideas sufficing to explain that the memory of the situation of the pin stored up in a subliminal stratum and stimulated by a desire to recover the lost object might have mechanically reappeared at the moment of the seance, thanks to mediumistic autohypnotization, and gushed forth under the dramatic form, naturally appropriate to the environment, of an apparently supernormal piece of information furnished by Leopold.
3. Retrocognitions.—The apparently supernormal revelations in regard to the past, furnished at the seances of Mlle. Smith, can be divided into two groups—namely, whether they concern universal history, or deal with private interests relative to the families of the sitters.
First: The messages of the first group abound, under the form of visions accompanied by typtological explanations, in Hélène's seances of 1894, but have almost wholly come to an end since I made her acquaintance, and I have never been witness of any. According to the reports which I have seen, all these retrocognitions have reference to the history of Protestantism, or that of the French Revolution—i.e., to two classes of facts which are among the best known in France to-day.
It goes without saying that the firmly convinced spiritistic group in which these messages were received
have never had a doubt that the apparitions which Hélène perceived were the veritable personages they asserted themselves to be, habited as they were in the costume of the period to which they belonged, communicating by means of the table, and speaking in the first person (except when Leopold acted as showman and dictated in his own name the explanations asked for).
But as the content of these messages is always the verbatim reproduction or almost exact equivalent of information which is to be found in historical and biographical dictionaries, I cannot avoid being inclined to the impression that we here are concerned with common facts of cryptomnesia.
If the intervention of the supernormal be absolutely insisted upon in this case, it can only be manifested under the form of a telepathic transmission from the sitters to the medium. In favor of that supposition two facts may be urged: first, that Mlle. Smith passed in that group as devoid of all historical knowledge, and was very much surprised at these revelations of facts totally unknown to her; secondly, that there were regularly in attendance at these seances one or more members of the teaching body, who by their general education possessed, without any doubt whatever, either consciously or in a latent manner, all the historical knowledge, which, after all, was not very great, displayed by Leopold.
But these arguments are not of much weight in my opinion. To begin with the second: as the sitters had their hands on the table at the same time with the medium, according to the spiritistic custom, they could
themselves, without any telepathy, properly speaking, and simply by their slight, unconscious muscular contractions, have directed, unknown to themselves, the movements of that piece of furniture, Mlle. Smith only augmenting these shocks proceeding from her neighbors.
As to the supposed ignorance of Mlle. Smith, it is not at all so great as has been imagined, and the historical revelations obtained at her seances do not in any degree surpass the level of that which she could have absorbed, consciously or unconsciously, at school and in her surroundings.
Moreover, the hypothesis which appears to me the most probable, and on which I rest, is that the messages come essentially from Hélène herself—I ought rather to say from her subliminal memory; that, however, does not exclude a certain amount of cooperation on the part of the sitters, whose conversation, on the one hand, and their unconscious muscular action upon the table, on the other, have often maintained and directed the course of the subconscious ideas of the medium and the automatic unfolding of her latent memories.
Secondly: Retrocognition of family events, which are exhibited in Mlle. Smith's seances, have generally the savor of the unknown for the sitters, from the fact that they concern incidents of the past which have never been printed save in the memories of certain aged persons or of a few lovers of local anecdotes.
I do not hesitate to see in these stories of other days, gushing forth in visions and in dictations by the table in course of Hélène's hemisomnambulisms, narratives
heard in her childhood and long since forgotten by her ordinary personality, but which reappear by the aid of mediumistic autohypnotization, bringing the deepest strata to the surface; the simple play of association, in an entirely natural manner, then causes the memories relative to the families of the persons present at the seance to be poured forth. There is nothing whatever of the supernormal in all this, in spite of the dramatic form, the piquant and unexpected art, the amusing embellishments, of which the subliminal imagination bethinks itself—or I should rather say Leopold, in his rôle of historiographer and scene-shifter of the past.
The judgment which I have pronounced is the result of a course of inductive reasoning based on the retro-cognitions of Mlle. Smith concerning my own family. I trust it may be allowable for me to enter upon some details designed to justify my opinion.
I note first that all these retrocognitions with which Leopold honored me took place in the first six seances which I had with Hélène, after which there has not been a single one in the whole five years which have since elapsed. This argues in favor of a limited group of latent memories, which my introduction to the seances set free, a sort of subliminal sac or pocket which was emptied once for all on the first occasions of my presence.
In the second place, this knowledge only concerns outside details, susceptible of striking the attention of the gallery and of being carried from mouth to mouth. Since family histories have no great interest for the ordinary reader, I will confine myself to citing,
by way of example, the vision which so astonished me at my first meeting with Hélène (p. 2), and which has already been published by M. Lemaître. I reproduce his narrative, giving real names:
"The medium [Mlle. Smith] perceives a long trail of smoke, which envelopes M. Flournoy. 'A woman!' cries the medium, and, a moment after, 'Two women . . . quite pretty, brunettes . . . both are in bridal toilet! . . . This concerns you, M. Flournoy!' [The table approves by a rap.] They remain motionless; they have white flowers in their hair and resemble each other a little; their eyes, like their hair, are black, or, at all events, very dark. The one in the corner appears under two different aspects; under both forms she is young—perhaps twenty-five years old; on the one hand she remains with the appearance already described (bridal toilet), and on the other she appears very luminous in a great space, a little more slender of visage, and surrounded by a number of pretty children, in the midst of whom she appears very happy; her happiness manifests itself by her expression, but still more in her surroundings. Both women seem ready to be married. The medium then hears a name, which at first escapes her, then returns little by little. 'An! . . . An! . . Dan . . . Ran . . . Dandi . . . Dandiran!'
"'To which of these two women does this name belong?' demands M. Flournoy—'to the one you see under two aspects, or to the other?' Answer: 'To the one who is presented under two forms.' The medium does not see the other woman as distinctly as
the first, but all at once distinguishes a tall man by her side, who only passes by, when the table dictates: 'I am his sister; we will return!' after which the scene changes and we pass to another subject."
This vision revolves altogether around the facts that my mother and her sister were married on the same day; that they were brunettes, quite pretty, and looked alike; that my father was tall; that my aunt married M. Dandiran and died while still young, without children; all matters which should have been of public notoriety in a small city like Geneva. But the same is true of all the other retrocognitions of Mlle. Smith; their content is always veridical, but at the same time is also such as could not fail to be known to a host of people. This causes me to doubt whether there is at the base of these phenomena a really supernormal faculty of retrocognition.
A third striking feature is, that all Hélène's retro-cognitions concerning me are relative to the family of my mother, and are connected with two quite precise and brief periods, the first of which is many years previous to Mlle. Smith's birth. This limitation as to times and persons seems to me significant.
To clear up the matter, if possible, I addressed myself to the last representative of the present generation of my family, Professor Dandiran, of Lausanne, and laid the case before him. He did not immediately remember whether my grandparents Claparède had any communication, nearly half a century before, with the Smith family, but on the following day he
wrote me that he distinctly recalled a young woman of that name in whom his mother and aunt had been greatly interested, and who had been employed by them as a dressmaker previous to her marriage to a Hungarian.
One understands that I had a reason for not addressing myself first to Mme. Smith herself; but I must do her the justice to state that when I questioned her in turn, she very obligingly gave me all the information I desired, and which was in perfect accord with the statements of M. Dandiran.
Without entering into details wearisome to the reader, it will be sufficient for me to state that all the retrocognitions in which I was involved were connected with two periods in which Mme. Smith had relations with my mother's family, periods separated by an interval during which these relations were suspended by the fact' of M. and Mme. Smith making a sojourn of several years in a foreign country. It would have been possible for Hélène to know directly the facts of the second period, at which time she was about five or six years of age. As to the first period, which was many years prior to her birth (the time of the double marriage of my mother and her sister in 1853), it is evident that Mme. Smith has had many opportunities at a later date to narrate these facts to her daughter; and it would have been altogether natural for her to have done so.
Ab uno disce omnes. Although I am less familiar with the retrocognitions of Mlle. Smith concerning other families, everything contributes to prove to me that they are explicable in the same manner. In
two cases, at least, proof has been obtained that the mother of Mlle. Smith was found to have been in direct and personal communication with the families concerned, exactly as was the case with my grandparents, and this circumstance is sufficient to account for the knowledge, very astonishing at first sight, contained in the revelations of Leopold.
To sum up—pure cryptomnesia seems to me to furnish a sufficient and adequate explanation for Hélène's retrocognitions, both as to family events as well as historic facts.
And no more in this domain of knowledge of the past than in those of recovered objects and medical consultations have I thus far succeeded in discovering in her the least serious indication of supernormal faculties.
V. INCARNATIONS AND SPIRIT MESSAGES
The time having arrived to speak of spiritism, I feel ill at ease and embarrassed by my surroundings, for divers reasons, some of which I will set forth, without, however, endeavoring to explain them at length, since my aim is simply, as has been seen above (p. 373), to indicate my subjective ideas as to the standing of that doctrine, in order that the reader may share, if he pleases, in my appreciation of the phenomena of this class presented by Mlle. Smith. I confess, in the first place, that spiritism is a subject which has the faculty of arousing my mirth, and develops a spirit of playfulness. I really do not know why this should be the case, since that which
concerns the dead and the great beyond ought not to be a matter for joking. Perhaps the cause is to be found in the nature of the intermediaries, and the character of the messages with which the spirits are accustomed to favor us. However it may be, I have ordinarily much difficulty in preserving a serious countenance in the presence of manifestations of "disincarnates."
But I reproach myself bitterly with this facetious humor when I reflect that it is indulged in at the expense of conceptions and beliefs which supported the first steps of our race on its painful ascent, the survival or atavic reapparition of which is yet, even today, a source of moral strength, of happy certitude, of supreme consolation for a host of my contemporaries, many of whom I have learned to know, and who, moreover, inspire me with respect as well as admiration by their uprightness of life, their nobility of character, the purity and elevation of their sentiments.
In the second place, I have often had the deceptive experience that, when it comes to a discussion of it, spiritism possesses a great advantage for its defenders, but which is most inconvenient for those who would investigate it closely—of being fugitive and incapable of being grasped on account of the fact of its double nature—a science and religion at the same time—which never permits it to be wholly and entirely the one or the other.
When we come to analyze and criticise, according to strict scientific methods, the positive facts upon which it pretends to base its fundamental argument
[paragraph continues] —the reality of communication with the spirits of the departed, through the intervention of mediums—as soon as the adepts begin to unpack for you their stock of theories (I was about to say their stock theories!) they are astonished at the lack of ideal on the part of these terrible materialist-scientists, who are intent upon searching for the "hidden rat" in the demonstrations of spiritism, instead of falling on their knees before the splendor of its revelations.
A third cause of my uneasiness whenever obliged to approach this subject is the fear of being misunderstood or misinterpreted, thanks to the naïve and simple classification which prevails in the environments which the "disincarnates" frequent.
Spiritism or materialism—these are the brutal alternatives to which one finds himself driven in spite of himself. If you do not admit that the spirits of the dead reveal themselves by raps on the table or visions of the mediums, you are, therefore, a materialist! If you do not believe that the destiny of the human personality is terminated at the grave, you are a spiritist! This mode of nomenclature and labelling is surely puerile. Moreover, no one willingly consents to be thrust into the company of those with whom, no matter how honorable they may be, he is not in sympathy.
I also wish to state that I absolutely repudiate the above alternative. There is greater variety of choice in the cabinet of human thought. In the last century, for example, outside the spiritism of Swedenborg and the materialism of Baron d’Holbach, there was yet the criticism of one named
[paragraph continues] Kant, who made some noise in the world and whose vogue is even now not absolutely extinct. I should not fear to range myself among his followers. And in our own times, if it was necessary for me to choose between Büchner and Allan Kardec, as the spiritist seems sometimes to believe, I would not hesitate to choose—in favor of M. Renouvier, or my deceased compatriot Charles Secrétan.
I hold to no other philosophy, and it suffices me, in order to repulse the whole of materialism and spiritism, to be the disciple—unworthy, but convinced—of the Nazarene, who replied to the materialists of his time, not by spiritistic evocations, but by the simple words, "God is not the God of the dead but of the living, for all live unto Him." I am not sure whether this argument convinced the Sadducees, but it pleases me by its simplicity, and I have no desire for any other.
If God exists—I should say, if the supreme reality is not the unconscious and blind force-substance of conventional monism, but that sovereign personality (or supra personality) which in the clear consciousness of Christ made its paternal presence to be continually felt—if God exists, it is not, apparently, in order to play the rôle of a perpetual undertaker of funereal pomp that he consents to exist, or to allow to fall forever into nothingness the poor creatures who wait upon Him.
They may disappear from before our eyes, but they do not disappear from before His; for they are dead to us, but for Him, and, consequently, in actual reality, they are living. Otherwise He would not be God.
[paragraph continues] This is all I need. I see nothing clearly, it is true, as to the concrete conditions of that other existence, of which the manner even, if it were revealed to me, would probably remain a sealed book to my intelligence, hampered by the bonds of space and time. But of what importance is it? That which I am ignorant of, God knows; and while waiting for Him to call me to rejoin those who have preceded me, He is great enough for me to leave to Him the mysterious fate of our personalities. "Since all live unto Him," I ask no more than that, and as for the pretended demonstrations of spiritism, true or false, I do not care a farthing.
Or I would prefer them to be false. And if they are true, if it is actually a law of nature that during long years to come, after this terrestrial existence, we must drag ourselves miserably from table to table and medium to medium, the best of us (not to speak of the others) displaying without shame the proofs of our mental decrepitude in pitiable nonsense and wretched verses—oh, so much the worse!
It is one misery and shame the more added to all those of which this satanic world is made up, a new calamity coming to crown the physical and moral ills of a world against which the Christian continually protests as he repeats "Thy kingdom come," an additional scandal condemned to disappear when " His kingdom shall have come."
There is nothing in common between the empirical, spatial, and temporal survivals which spiritism pretends to establish and that "eternal life" proclaimed by the Prophet of Nazareth. These things, said Pascal,
are not of the same order. That is why I am not a spiritist.
Here rises a last point, which worries me when I ought to speak my mind in regard to spiritism in the presence of spiritists. "You do not personally hold," it has been often objected to me, "to these communications of the living with those who have gone before us into the great unknown, and you cry out against spiritistic demonstrations. It is all very well for you, who are a mystic, and to whom the existence of God in Jesus Christ seems a sufficient guarantee of the destinies of human personality and its ultimate palingenesis. But every one has not the same temperament, and does not take so blithely his ignorance of the kind of life which awaits him beyond the tomb. To believe in God, and to abandon to Him with closed eyes the fate of those who leave us, carrying away with them the best portions of our being, is all very well, but it is very difficult. The times of the psalmist who could say 'Though He slay me, yet will I trust Him' are no more; and as for Christ, He was certainly a very remarkable medium, but His simple affirmation would scarcely be taken to-day for gospel words. The solid and the palpable are necessary to the 'fools' of our epoch. They are not capable of admitting a higher world than that of sense, unless they are enabled to touch it with their finger by means of messages and the return of the dead themselves. Whence it results that every attack, every hostile attitude towards spiritism tends directly to break down the only rampart which might henceforth be efficacious against materialism and its disastrous consequences
[paragraph continues] —infidelity, egotism, vice, despair, suicide, and, finally, the destruction and annihilation of the entire social organism. On the other hand, when science at length shall recognize and consecrate spiritism officially, thereupon, simultaneously with the tangible certainty of another life, courage and strength will return to the hearts of individuals, devotion and all virtues will begin to flourish once again, and an elevated humanity will soon see heaven descend upon the earth, thanks to the connection established and daily practised between the living and the spirits of the dead."
My embarrassment is easily seen. On the one hand, I do not in any way admit the foregoing objection. I do not think that the gospel has had its day or is above the reach of "fools," since it was for them that its author designed it. I believe, on the contrary, that the Christian faith, the faith of Christ or faith in Christ, is, in its inmost essence, a psychological reality, a personal experience accessible to the most humble, a fact of consciousness which will survive when all theological systems shall have been forgotten and all the clergy shall have been abolished. That vital and regenerating power will save our civilization (if anything can save it) by means of the individuals whom it shall have regenerated, without owing anything to spiritistic theories or practices. Inversely, I do not share the optimism of those who would make of spiritism a social panacea, and who imagine that when the moral consciousness on the one side and the religious consciousness on the other have ceased to make themselves heard, the messages of the "disincarnates" will have better
success. ("If they hear not Moses and the prophets, neither will they be persuaded though one rose from the dead.")
But, on the other hand, there are individual cases which are interesting and which certainly merit consideration. And for millions, and by a hundred different titles—religious belief, moral consolation, solemn and mysterious rites, old habit, etc.—spiritism is to-day the pivot around which existence turns, and also its only support; would not the destruction of it, then, be productive of more harm than good, and would it not be better to let matters take their course? Why prevent man from delighting in dreams, if he so pleases?
All things are possible, and was it not of the revenants that Hamlet was thinking in his celebrated apostrophe, from which I have taken this principle?
These are the things which perplex me: while waiting to find a way out of them, and by way of summing up, it seems to me indispensable to separate distinctly spiritism-religion, which is an assemblage of beliefs and practices dear to many, from spiritism-science, a simple hypothesis designed to explain certain phenomena arising from observation. The first tells me nothing, or rather it amuses me or repels me according to circumstances; but the more elevated sentiments, and those worthy of all respect, which it inspires in its adepts, impose upon me the duty of passing it by and ignoring it here. The second, on the contrary, does not fail to interest me, as it does all who are curious in regard to natural phenomena.
For the question, Do human or animal individualities continue to intervene in an effective manner in the physical, physiological, or psychological phenomena of this universe after the loss of their corporeal and visible organism? is not an ordinary one. If there are facts which peremptorily establish an affirmative answer, what problems will arise, what an unexpected field of investigation will it not open up to our experimental sciences! And even if the hypothesis is false, how captivating the study of the singular phenomena which have been able to give it birth, which simulate the return of the dead to our observable world! It is understood, therefore, that, even despoiled of all the emotional accessories in which it so easily wraps itself in the heart and imagination of men, the empirical question of immortality and spiritistic interventions, apparent or real, preserves its scientific importance, and merits being discussed with the calm serenity, independence, and strictness of analysis which belong to the experimental method.
It goes without saying that, à priori, the hypothesis of spirits to explain the phenomena of mediums has in it nothing of the impossible or the absurd. It does not even necessarily contradict, as is sometimes imagined, the directing principle of physiological psychology—the psychological parallelism—which demands that every mental phenomenon shall have a physical correlative. For, in spite of our habit of considering the molecular or atomic phenomena of the brain, the katabolism of the nerves, as the true concomitant of conscious processes, it
may well be—it is even very probable—that these molecular movements do not constitute the ultimate physical term immediately paralleling the mental world, but that the real physical correlatives (spatial) of the (non-spatial) psychological phenomena should be sought for in the vibrations of imponderable matter, the ether, in which the ponderable atoms and molecules are plunged somewhat like grains of dust in the atmosphere, in order to make a sensible though somewhat inaccurate comparison.
The ethereal body, perispiritistic, astral, fluid, etc., of the occultists, and of many thinkers who are not believers in occultism, is only a notion scientifically absurd when it is made to be an equivocal and cloudy intermediary between the soul and the body, an un-assignable tertium quid, a plastic mediator of which nothing is known as to its being material or spiritual or something else. But conceived as a system of movements of the ether, it contains nothing absolutely anti- or extra-scientific in its nature; the connection between the subjective facts of consciousness and the objective, material facts, remains essentially the same whether one considers the material world under the imponderable form of ether or under the ponderable form of chemical atoms, of physical molecules, and of anatomical elements. Nothing, then, would be radically opposed, from the point of view of the natural sciences, to the existence of disincarnate spirits wandering through space.
The foregoing will doubtless please my spiritistic friends. Here are two facts which will please them less. First: I separate myself from them when they
pass prematurely from mere abstract possibilities to the affirmation of actualities. Perhaps the outcome will prove them right some day; perhaps in the near future, but we have not yet reached that point. I freely admit that never have circumstances been so favorable for the spiritistic doctrines as at present. The authentic return of George Pelham and other deceased persons, through Mrs. Piper entranced, as intermediary, seems to be admitted by so many acute observers, the phenomena observed for fifteen years past in the case of this incomparable medium are at times so marvellous and surrounded with such solid scientific guarantees—the case is, in a word, so unheard of and astounding in all respects, that those who are only acquainted with it from a distance, by printed reports and oral narratives of immediate witnesses, feel themselves in a poor position for formulating their doubts and reservations upon this subject.
I fear, in the second place, for mediums and practical spiritists, that when their hypothesis shall have been scientifically demonstrated the result may be very different from that which they now imagine it will be.
It might well happen that the cult of the table, mechanical writing, seances, and all other mediumistic exercises, may receive their death-blow from the official recognition of spirits by science. Suppose, in fact, that contemporaneous researches should at last have proved clearly that messages actually come from the disincarnate; it has already followed from the same researches that in the most favorable cases
the veritable messages are very difficult to distinguish from those which are not authentic. When people come to understand that this sorting of messages is almost always beyond their power, they will, perhaps, be put out of conceit with experiments in which they have ninety-nine chances against one of being dupes of themselves or others, and in which—a still more vexatious matter—if they should even be so fortunate as to light upon the hundredth chance, they would have no certain means of knowing it.
This subject, decidedly, is fatal to me. I lose myself in digressions when discussing it—very useless they are, too, since the verdict which the future will pronounce upon the theory of spirits, with or without an ethereal body, matters little as far as the actual examination of the messages furnished by Mlle. Smith is concerned. Even having become scientifically verified, spiritism will never absolve us from bringing to the analysis of the pretended communications less care and rigor than while it was only an undemonstrated hypothesis; each particular case will always demand to be scrutinized by itself, in order to make the distinction between that which in all probability only arises from many non-spiritistic causes, and the residue eventually proceeding from the disincarnate.
I ought to state at the outset that, as far as Hélène's mediumistic phenomena are concerned, their careful analysis has not revealed to me in them any evident vestige of the other world, not even of traces of a telepathic transmission on the part of the living. I have only succeeded in perceiving in them very beautiful and instructive examples of the well-known
tendency of the subliminal imagination to reconstruct the deceased and to feign their presence, especially when the favorable suggestions of the surrounding environment incites them to do so. Not being infallible, and bearing in mind Hamlet's principle, I will guard myself well from affirming that these subliminal imitations and simulacra are absolutely free from any spirit collaboration; I content myself with repeating that I have not discovered any, and that it seems to me in the highest degree improbable, and with leaving it to others to demonstrate its reality, if they think they are able to do so. Some examples taken from the principal incarnations of Mlle. Smith will enable me to show after a more concrete fashion my manner of regarding them.
1. Case of Mlle. Vignier.—This case has no evidential value whatever, since (as has been seen, p. 411), there were formerly relations between the Vignier family and Mme. Smith which suffice to explain the veridical knowledge manifested by Hélène in this incarnation.
I give an abridged recital of it, nevertheless, for the sake of certain points of psychological interest. None of the spectators had any suspicion of these relations at the time of this scene, which was absolutely enigmatical to all of them.
In a seance at my house (on March 3, 1895, after a Hindoo vision, described p. 280), Mlle. Smith saw an unknown lady appear, of whom she gave the following description: "A nose bent and hooked like the beak of an eagle; small gray eyes, very close together; a mouth with three teeth only; a wicked smile, mocking
expression; simple dress; a collar not of the fashion of to-day; she draws near to this portrait, * and gazes at it not ill-naturedly."
The name of this person is asked, and the table (Leopold) commences to spell: "Mademoiselle"—but refuses to go further, while Hélène sees the apparition laughing, "with a sly air"; as the name is insisted on, the table dictates: "That does not concern you," then she begins to jump and skip as though glad of an opportunity to mock us.
Presently Hélène falls asleep and enters into somnambulism; she leaves the table and moves towards the portrait in question, before which she remains fixed, completely incarnating the unknown lady of her vision. I take down the portrait and place it in its frame upon an easy-chair; immediately she kneels before it and contemplates it with affection; then, taking the frame in her right hand, while the left, very much agitated, plays with the cord, she ends, after many vain attempts, by. saying with a great stammering, "J—j—je l’aimais b—b—beaucoup: je n’aime pas l’autre—j—j—je ne l’ai jamais aimée l’autre—j’amais bien mon neveu—adieu!—je le vois." ("I liked it very much: I do not like the other one: I never liked the other one. I was very fond of my nephew. Adieu! I see him.)
It was impossible to obtain any explanation of this incomprehensible scene, until, having slipped a pencil and a writing-tablet into Hélène's hand, she scribbled feverishly, in a hand not her own, these
two words "Mademoiselle Vignier"; then she fell into a cataleptic phase, from which she awakened without memory at the end of half an hour.
This name of Vignier evoked in me far-off memories and vaguely recalled to my mind the fact that Professor Dandiran (who had married, as we have seen, my mother's sister) had an ancestress of that name; was it she who returned to express to me by means of Mlle. Smith her affection for my mother, whose portrait she had so attentively regarded, and her regrets, perhaps, that her nephew had not been preferred to my aunt?
On the other hand, M. Cuendet recollected a Mlle. Vignier who had been a friend of his family, but who did not correspond at all with the description of Hélène's visions; he promised to obtain information, and, in fact, wrote me on the following day: "Dear Sir,—Here is some information on the subject of our seance of yesterday. This morning I asked my mother: Did you ever know another Mlle. Vignier than the one who was your friend?' After an instant of reflection: 'Yes,' replied she; 'I did know another. She was M. Dandiran's aunt, of Lausanne, his mother's sister. She stammered, and was not always very good-natured; she had three large teeth which projected, and a hooked nose.' It is useless to state to you that this was the first time I had heard her spoken of."
This information, coinciding with my remembrances and Hélène's vision, was later confirmed by M. Dandiran, who gave me the following information: "Your aunt, Mlle. Vignier, who died about
thirty-five or forty years ago, loved her nephew very much; but she was made very angry by his marriage, and the sentence uttered before my mother's portrait could not have referred to a difference of sentiment in regard to the two sisters, for whom she always had an equal affection. This sentence, on the contrary, is wonderfully well explained by the following facts: My mother and her sister having become betrothed at the same time, oil-paintings of both, of natural size, were made by the same painter. These portraits were not of equal merit, and Mlle. Vignier, who was herself something of an artist, always considered that of my mother excellent, while the other, that of my aunt, she did not like at all. Mlle. Vignier was very lively, and M. Dandiran finds that the epithet 'sly' and the table dictating 'That does not concern you,' very well express her character; she was, however, not at all malicious or mocking at heart, but it is true that persons who knew her slightly could easily have gained that impression of her. She had three or four prominent teeth and stammered badly. In her photograph she wears a white collar, has a nose long and arched, but the eyes are rather large and wide apart. She always wore gold eye-glasses, of which the medium did not speak."
If the reader has had patience to read these details, he will have remarked that the distinctive traits of Mlle. Vignier in the vision and her incarnation by Hélène (the stammering, the teeth, the shape of the nose, the ill-natured air) coincide with those spontaneously indicated by M. Cuendet, who had known
her slightly; and that while M. Dandiran, better posted as to his aunt's character, finds the note of maliciousness or want of good-nature false, he acknowledges that people outside of her family could have been deceived concerning it. That is to say, has not the imagination of Mlle. Smith produced the exterior memory, the description according to public notoriety, as it were, which Mlle. Vignier left behind her? And if it be recalled that at the period at which the two fiancées were painted, Mme. Smith was in communication with my maternal grandparents through the only sister of Mlle. Vignier, there would be a probability amounting almost to a certainty that these are contemporary remembrances, narrated some time or other to Hélène by her mother, and which furnished the material for this somnambulic personification.
In this example, to which I might add several analogous ones, the apparent spirit control is reduced to latent memories of recitals formerly heard by Hélène.
In other cases, in which, for lack of information, it has hitherto been impossible to discover this wholly natural filiation of facts, simple analysis of the circumstances and of the content of the communications indicates that, in all probability, they proceed from reminiscences and impressions appertaining to living individuals much rather than from disincarnates. In other words, these messages and personifications too evidently reflect the point of view of the medium or other living persons for it to be permissible to regard them as due to the intervention of deceased persons,
whose attitude towards them would, in all probability, be wholly different.
2. Case of Jean the Quarryman.—We have here to deal with a very curious spirit message concerning Mme. Mirbel, in which I cannot fail to see actual memories of the latter—transmitted I know not how (but not necessarily in a supernormal manner) to Mlle. Smith—rather than an authentic communication from a pretended disincarnate.
In a seance at which Mme. Mirbel was not present, Hélène had the hallucination of a very strong odor of sulphur; then the vision of a quarryman from the foot of Salève, in which she perceived and described in detail an unknown man, who, by the dictations of the table, was declared to be Jean the Quarryman, and charged the sitters with an affectionate message for Mme. Mirbel. The latter, interrogated on the following day, recognized in the very circumstantial description of this man, and under all the features of Hélène's vision, perfectly correct facts connected with her childhood, and which had passed away from the habitual circle of her ideas for more than twenty years. It concerned a workman employed in her father's quarries, and who, when she was a little girl, had always evinced a special affection for her.
Let us suppose—in the absence of all proof that Mlle. Smith had ever heard these remembrances of Mme. Mirbel's childhood mentioned—that recourse must be had to the supernormal in order to explain the case. It still would not amount to an intervention of the deceased quarryman; and M. Lemaître was perfectly right, in my opinion, in clinging to telepathy
and in hazarding the idea of an etheric influence, to which Hélène was subjected by Mme. Mirbel, who at the hour of this seance happened to be half a kilometre distant from the place of the seance. Without going out of the domain of telepathy, I still would prefer the hypothesis of a previous transmission in the course of one of the seances at which Mme. Mirbel was present to that of telepathy at a great distance at the time of the seance. It is, in fact, not contrary to that which is believed to be known of mental suggestion, to admit that Hélène's subliminal, in the state of Esenale, for example, could in some way draw from Mme. Mirbel's subliminal the latent memories which there lay buried for some time before being ready to reappear at a seance at which she had some reason to think Mme. Mirbel would again be present.
Whatever the mode of its transmission may have been, the content of this vision seems to me to indicate clearly that it has its origin in the personal memories of Mme. Mirbel rather than in the posthumous memory of Jean the Quarryman. All the presumptions in this case are, to my mind, in favor of a memory of Mme. Mirbel, and not of a veritable communication from the other world. The personal aspect of the messages supposed to be dictated by the quarryman do not constitute an obstacle to my interpretation or a guarantee of spiritistic authenticity, this aspect being the form that the automatisms habitually assume among mediums.
3. Case of the Syndic Chaumontet and of the Curé Burnier.—The following case is the last. It is a
very recent one, in which the spiritistic and the cryptomnesiac hypotheses exist face to face, apropos of signatures written by Mlle. Smith in somnambulism which do not lack similarity to the authentic signatures of the deceased persons to whom they are supposed to belong.
In a seance at my house (February 12, 1899), Mlle. Smith has a vision of a village on a height covered with vines; by a rocky road, she sees descending from it a little old man, who has the air of a quasi gentleman; he wears shoes with buckles, a large felt hat, the collar of his shirt is unstarched, and has points reaching up to his cheeks, etc. A peasant in a blouse, whom he meets, makes reverences to him, as to an important personage; they speak a patois which Hélène-does not understand She has the impression of being familiar with the village, but vainly searches her memory to discover where she has seen it. Presently the landscape fades away, and the little old man, now clothed in white and in a luminous space (i.e., in his actual reality of a disincarnate), appears to draw near to her. At this moment, as she leans her right arm upon the table, Leopold dictates by the index-finger: "Kiss her arm." I execute the order; Hélène's arm at first resists strenuously, then yields suddenly. She seizes a pencil, and in the midst of the customary struggle relative to the manner of holding it (see p. 100), "You are holding my hand too tightly," says she to the imaginary little old man, who, according to Leopold, wishes to make use of it in order to write. "You hurt me very badly; do not hold it so firmly. . . . What difference does it make whether
it is a pencil or a pen?" At these words she throws away the pencil and takes up a pen, and, holding it between the thumb and index-finger, slowly traces in an unknown hand: "Chaumontet, syndic" (see Fig. 44).
Then the vision of the village returns; at our desire to know the name of it she ultimately perceives a sign-post on which she spells "Chessenaz," a name which is unknown to us. Then, having by my advice asked the little old man, whom she still sees, at what period he was syndic, she hears him answer, "1839."
It is impossible to learn more; the vision vanishes and gives way to a total incarnation of Leopold, who, in his deep Italian voice, speaks to us at length of various matters. I take advantage of it in order to question him upon the incident of the unknown village and syndic; his replies, interrupted by long digressions, may be summed up about as follows: "I am searching. . . . I traverse in thought the ascent of this great mountain pierced through at its foot by something, the name of which I do not know; I see the name of Chessenaz, a village on a height, and a road which ascends to it. Search in this village; you will certainly find the name (Chaumontet); seek to examine his signature; this proof you will find there; you will find that the handwriting was that of this man.
To my question whether he sees this in Hélène's memories and whether she has ever been at Chessenaz, he replies in the negative as to the first point and evasively as to the second: "Ask her; she has a
good memory for everything. I have not followed her in all her wanderings."
Awakened, Hélène could not furnish us any information. But the following day I found on the map a little village called Chessenaz, in the Department of Haute-Savoie, twenty-six kilometres, in a straight line, from Geneva, and not far from the Crédo. As the Chaumontets are not rare in Savoy, there was nothing unlikely in the fact of a person of that name having been syndic there in 1839.
Two weeks 'later I made a visit to Mme. and Mlle. Smith—there was no seance held—when Hélène suddenly assumed the voice and accent of Leopold, without being aware of the change, and believing me to be joking when I sought to cause her to notice it. Presently the hemisomnambulism becomes accentuated; Hélène sees the vision of the other day, the village and then the little old man (the syndic) reappear, but the latter is accompanied this time by a curé with whom he seemed on good terms and whom he called (which she repeats to me all the while with Leopold's Italian accent), "My dear friend Burnier." As I ask whether this curé could not write his name with Hélène's hand, Leopold promised me by a digital dictation that I should have that satisfaction at the next seance; then he begins to talk to me of something else by Hélène's mouth, she being now entirely entranced.
At the following seance at my house (the 19th of March), I remind Leopold of his promise. He answers at first by the finger: "Do you very much desire that signature?" and it is only upon my insisting
that he consents. Hélène then is not long in again seeing the village and the curé, who after divers incidents takes hold of her hand as the syndic had done, and traces very slowly with the pen these words, "Burnier greets you" (Fig. 44); then she passes into other somnambulisms. The moment had arrived to clear up the matter. I wrote at hazard to the mayor's office at Chessenaz. The mayor, M. Saussier, had the kindness to answer without delay: "During the years 1838-39," stated he to me, "the syndic of Chessenaz was a Chaumontet, Jean, whose signature I find attached to divers documents of that period. We also had as curé M. Burnier, André, from November, 1824, up to February, 1841; during this period all the certificates of births, marriages, and deaths bear his signature. . . . But I have discovered in our archives a document bearing both signatures, that of the syndic Chaumontet and that of the curé Burnier. It is an order for the payment of money. I take pleasure in transmitting it to you." I have caused to be reproduced in the middle of Fig. 44 the fragment of this original document (dated July 29, 1838), bearing the names of these two personages; the reader can thus judge for himself in regard to the quite remarkable similarity which there exists between these authentic signatures and those automatically traced by the hand of Mlle. Smith.
My first idea was, as may be supposed, that Mlle. Smith must some time or other have seen some certificates or documents signed by the syndic or by the curé of Chessenaz, and that it was these forgotten
visual flashes, reappearing in somnambulism, which had served her as inner models when her entranced hand retraced these signatures. One may likewise imagine how angry such a supposition would make Hélène, who has no recollection whatever of having ever heard the name of Chessenaz nor of any of its inhabitants, past or present. I only half regret my imprudent supposition, since it has availed to furnish us a new and more explicit manifestation of the curé, who, again taking hold of Mlle. Smith's arm at a later seance (May 21st, at M. Lemaître's) comes to certify to us as to his identity by the attestation, in due and proper form, of Fig. 43. As is there seen, he makes it twice; being deceived as to the signature, he incontinently, with disgust, crosses out that which he had so carefully written, and recommences on another sheet; this second draft, in which he has omitted the word "soussigné" ("undersigned") of the first, took him seven minutes to trace, but leaves nothing to be desired as to precision and legibility. This painstaking calligraphy is very like that of a country curé of sixty years ago, and in default of another specimen for comparison, it presents an undeniable analogy of hand with the authentic receipt of the order for payment of money of Fig. 44.
Neither Mlle. Smith nor her mother had the least notion in regard to the curé or the syndic of Chessenaz. They nevertheless informed me that their family formerly had some relatives and connections in that part of Savoy, and that they are still in communication with a cousin who lives at Frangy, an
Fig. 43. Certificates written (May 21, 1899) by Mlle. Smith while in a trance. The one above was feverishly crossed out in finishing the faulty signature. The one below was afterwards written in seven minutes. Natural size. [From the collection of M. Lemaître.]
important town nearest the little village of Chessenaz. Hélène herself made only a short excursion in that region, some dozen years ago; and if, in following the road from Seyssel to Frangy, she traversed some parts of the country corresponding well to certain details of her vision of the 12th of February (which she had the feeling of recognizing, as we have seen, p. 432), she has not, on the other hand, any idea of having been at Chessenaz itself, nor of having heard it mentioned. "Moreover," says she, "for those who can suppose that I could have been at Chessenaz without remembering it, I would affirm that even had I gone there I would not have been apt to consult the archives in order to learn that a syndic Chaumontet and a curé Burnier had existed there at a period more or less remote. I have a good memory, and I positively affirm that no one of the persons around me during those few days while I was away from my family ever showed me any certificate, paper—anything, in a word—which could have stored away in my brain any such memory. My mother, at the age of fourteen or fifteen, made a trip into Savoy, but nothing in her remembrances recalls her ever having heard these two names uttered."
The facts are now presented, and I leave to the reader the privilege of drawing such conclusion from them as shall please him.
This case seemed to me worthy to crown my rapid examination of the supernormal appearances which embellish the mediumship of Mlle. Smith, because it sums up and puts excellently in relief the irreconcilable
Fig. 44. Comparison of the signatures of the syndic Chaumontet and of the curate Burnier, with their pretended signatures as disincarnates given by Mlle. Smith in somnambulism. In the middle of the figure, reproduction of a fragment of an order for payment of money of 1838. Above and below, the signatures furnished by the hand of Hélène. Natural size.
and hostile respective positions of the spiritistic circles and mediums on the one side, perfectly sincere but too easily satisfied—and investigators somewhat psychological on the other, always pursued by the sacrosanct terror of taking dross for gold. To the first class, the least curious phenomenon—an unexpected vision of the past, some dictation of the table or the finger, an access of somnambulism, a resemblance of handwriting—suffices to give the sensation of contact with the unknown and
to prove the actual presence of the disincarnate world. They never ask themselves what proportion there could well be between these premises, however striking they may be, and that formidable conclusion. Why and how, for example, should the dead, returning at the end of a half-century to sign by the hand of another person in flesh and blood, have the same hand-writing as when alive?
The same people who find this altogether natural, although they have never seen any absolutely certain cases of it, fall from the clouds when the possibility of latent memories is invoked before them, of which the present life furnishes them, moreover, daily examples—which they have not, it is true, ever taken the trouble to observe.
The psychologists, on the contrary, have the evil one in them in going to look behind the scenes of the memory and the imagination, and when the obscurity prevents them from seeing anything, they have the folly to imagine that they will end by finding that which they are seeking—if only a light could be had.
Between these two classes of temperaments so unlike, it will, I fear, be very difficult ever to arrive at any satisfactory and lasting understanding.
375:* By this is meant the bringing or conveying of material objects into a closed space—the passage of one solid body through another.
426:* A small oil-portrait of my mother.
THIS volume reminds me of the mountain which gave birth to a mouse. Its length would be excusable if only it marked a step in advance in the field of psychology or physiology, or as to the question of the supernormal. As such is not the case, it is unpardonable, and nothing more is left me to do except to make clear its deficiencies in this triple aspect.
First: From the physiological point of view, it is apparent that Mlle. Smith, as is doubtless true of all mediums, presents during her visions and somnambulisms a plenitude of disturbances of motility and sensibility, from which she seems entirely free in her normal state.
But these trifling observations do not suffice to solve the neuropathological problem of mediumship, and the question still remains open as to whether that term corresponds to a special category of manifestations and to a distinct syndrome, or whether it merely constitutes a happy euphemism for various scientific denominations already in use.
To endeavor to fix the connections of mediumship with other functional affections of the nervous system,
it would first be necessary to possess exact intelligence on a number of important points still enveloped in obscurity. In regard to some of these, such as the phenomena of periodicity, of meteorological and seasonal influences, of impulses, and of fatigue, etc., we have only very vague and incomplete hints. And we know almost nothing of other still more essential questions, such as the relations of equivalence and substitution between the various modalities of automatism (nocturnal visions, crepuscular states, complete trances, etc.), the effect of spiritistic exercises, and especially of that of the seances upon nutrition or denutrition (variations of temperature, of urotoxicity, etc.), which would permit the comparison of spontaneous seizures and those excited by mediumship with those of the more serious nervous affections, the phenomena of heredity, similar or reversed, etc.
Let us hope that a near future will establish some good mediums and their observers in practical conditions favorable to the elucidation of these various problems, and that the day will come when the true place of mediumship in the framework of nosology will be discovered.
Secondly: Front the psychological point of view, the case of Mlle. Smith, although too complex to be reduced to a single formula, is explicable grosso modo by some recognized principle, the successive or concurrent action of which has engendered her multiple phenomena. There is, in the first place, the influence, so often verified, of emotional shocks and of certain psychic traumatisms upon mental dissociation. By
means of these the birth of hypnoid states may become the germ either of secondary personalities more or less strongly marked (we have seen that the first manifestations of Leopold in the childhood of Hélène are attributable to this cause) or of somnambulistic romances, which hold the same relation towards the normal state as does that exaggeration of stories and indulgence in reveries to which so many are addicted—perhaps all of us.
We must also take into consideration the enormous suggestibility and auto-suggestibility of mediums, which render them so sensitive to all the influences of spiritistic reunions, and are so favorable to the play of those brilliant subliminal creations in which, occasionally, the doctrinal ideas of the surrounding environment are reflected together with the latent emotional tendencies of the medium herself. The development of the personality of Leopold-Cagliostro, starting from the moment at which Mlle. Smith began her seances, is easily explained in this manner, as well as the Martian dream and the previous existences of the Hindoo princess and the queen of France.
And, finally, we must note the phenomena of cryptomnesia, the awakening and setting to work of forgotten memories, which easily account for the elements of truth contained in the great preceding constructions and in the incarnations or casual visions of Mlle. Smith in the course of her seances.
But besides this general explanation how many points of detail there are which remain obscure! For example, the precise origin of Hélène's Sanscrit, and many of her retrocognitions, for want of information
concerning the thousand facts of her daily life whence the ideas which nourish her somnambulism may have been drawn! And how difficult it is to gain a correct idea of her case as a whole, on account of the crudity of our actual notions as to the constitution and organization of the human being, of our almost total ignorance of psychological ontogeny!
Without mentioning Hélène's ephemeral incarnations (in which I have shown there is no reason far seeing anything beyond the imitations due to autosuggestion), the divers more stable personalities which manifest themselves in her hypnoid life—Leopold, Esenale, and the actors of the Martian romance, Simandini, Marie Antoinette, etc.—are only, in my opinion, as I have hinted on many occasions, the varied psychological states of Mlle. Smith herself—allotropic modifications, as it were, or phenomena of polymorphism of her personality. For no one of these personalities corresponds sufficiently with her ordinary personality by intellectual faculties, the moral character, separation of memories, to justify the hypothesis of a foreign possession.
But the theory of psychic polymorphism is still very imperfect, and inadequate to explain the embryological shades which shine forth in Hélène's subliminal products—the retrograde perspective which they open as to the different stages or periods of her evolution. The Martian cycle, with its unknown language, evidently betrays an eminently puerile origin and the display of an hereditary linguistic aptitude, buried under Hélène's ordinary self; whereas the Hindoo romance denotes a more
advanced age, and that of Marie Antoinette seems to have sprung from still more recent strata, contemporaneous with the actual normal personality of Mlle. Smith. The primitive nature and different ages of the various hypnoid lucubrations of Mlle. Smith seem to me to constitute the most interesting psychological fact of her mediumship. It tends to show that the secondary personalities are probably, in their origin, as the idea has been sometimes suggested, phenomena of reversion of the ordinary actual personality, or of momentary returns of inferior phases, long since passed, and which normally should have been absorbed in the development of the individuality, instead of breaking forth again in strange proliferations.
Thirdly: As to the supernormal, I believe I have actually found a little telekinesis and telepathy. As to lucidity and spiritistic messages, I have only encountered some brilliant reconstructions, which the hypnoid imagination, aided by latent memory, excels in fabricating in the case of mediums. I do not complain of this, since for psychology, which is not specially enamoured of the marvellous, these admirably successful imitations are also interesting and instructive on account of the light which they throw upon the inward workings of our faculties.
Of course Mlle. Smith and her friends see things in a very different light. With Hélène everything, or almost everything, is supernormal, from the reminiscences of her lives as Marie Antoinette and Simandini, to the Martian and the incarnations of Cagliostro, of Mlle. Vignier, or of the curé of Chessenaz.
And now let us admit, hypothetically, that I have not been able to see the supernormal, which was plainly before my eyes, and that it is this blindness of mine alone which has prevented me from recognizing the real presence of Joseph Balsamo, my own mother, the Hindoo princess, etc.—or, at all events, the presence of real, disincarnate, independent spirits. It is, of course, to be regretted, but then it is I alone who will be in disgrace on the day when the truth shall be made manifest.
For, as to progress in our knowledge of things, everything is to be feared from easy credulity and obstinate dogmatism, but that progress will not be arrested or seriously retarded by possible errors, committed in good faith, through an exaggerated severity of application and a too strict observance of the principles themselves of all experimental investigation: while, on the contrary, the obstacles and the difficulties which the necessities of the method multiply along its path have always been a strong stimulant, producing new movements forward and more durable conquests based on better demonstrations.
It is better, then, to follow my advice—in the well-understood interest of and for the advancement of science, in a domain where superstition is always ready to give itself free play—it is better to err through excess of caution and strictness of method than to run the risk of being sometimes deceived; it is better to allow some interesting fact to escape for the moment, rather than to open the door to the follies of the imagination by a relaxation of necessary caution.
As to Mlle. Hélène Smith, supposing that I have failed to recognize in her phenomena which are really supernormal (which, in that case, will some day be better set forth by other observers), she will, nevertheless, accomplish more in the way of discovering the real truth, whatever it may be, in submitting herself disinterestedly to my free criticisms, than by doing as so many useless mediums have done, who, afraid of the light, in their foolish eagerness for the triumph of a cause very dear to their hearts, have shunned close investigation, and would have us rely upon their word alone.
They forget the saying of Bacon, which is ever being confirmed: "Truth is the daughter of time, not of authority."