To the Editor of the Banner of Light:
I have just received from the Hon. Alexander Aksakoff, of St. Petersburg, a letter dated February 7th, the substance of which he desires me to make known to the readers of the Banner of Light. This generous and brave gentleman begins with a cry of triumph:
“I hasten to send you,” he says, “most welcome, most consoling news! That unfortunate medium (Slade), our martyr, has finally received a full verdict of acquittal at the University of Leipzig. Three professors have had a whole series of most remarkable séances with him. Their experiments and investigations were crowned with striking success!”
It appears that Prof. Zöllner, the great “astrophysicist”—as he is called in Germany—after numerous experiments to test his theory about what he calls “the fourth dimension of space” (whatever he may mean by that—I have not read his book), came to the conclusion that some of the mediumistic phenomena are possible. As I understand it, he assigns certain beings to each of four divisions of space, and holds that, “such beings, to whom the fourth division is accessible, could, for instance, make knots in an endless rope by a certain natural process and without a break of the continuity.” Mr. Aksakoff says that these conclusions were published by Zöllner in August, 1877. Considering his high scientific rank, Spiritualists and Theosophists ought to feel thankful for even such small favors: the former, because he admits the possibility of any phenomena; the latter because his Vierdimmensionale Wesen—literally translated, “four-dimensional beings”—bear a very strong family resemblance to the now famous Elementaries and Elementals of the Theosophical Society.
What the Professor inferred upon theory in August last, he saw demonstrated in practice on the 17th of December. On a simple rope which he brought to the séance, and the ends of which were tied together and sealed by him, four knots were tied in a few minutes by “beings of some kind, while he, Zöllner, held the rope in his own hand.”
“Thus a fact a priori,” says Mr. Aksakoff, “which rested on a previously unsupported hypothesis, was practically proved and demonstrated. It is useless for me to enter into lengthy arguments,” he adds, “as to the enormous benefit which these Leipzig experiments will assuredly confer upon Spiritualism: it is the first purely scientific hypothesis for the explanation of some of its phenomena, and it will undoubtedly fling wide open for them the portals of science.”
This experiment is fully described, with engraved illustrations, in a volume just issued by Professor Zöllner, Wissenschaftliche Abhandlungen, I, Leipzig, 1878 [see Transcendental Physics]. He had subsequently extremely interesting experiments, which doubtless will be fully illustrated in a second volume. Mr. Aksakoff says that “all this was kept a profound secret from the public, until the appearance of the book . . . but I knew of the success of the experiment some time ago.” The obligation of secrecy, under which our friend Mr. Simmons, as well as Dr. Slade himself, was placed, is now made plain.
Although Slade had been in St. Petersburg but a few days, lengthy reports of his wonderful phenomena had appeared in two of the most skeptical of the daily papers—the Novoye Vremja of January 17th, and the St. Petersburg News of January 20th. Both writers declined to attribute the phenomena they had seen to jugglery. We do not believe in spirits, they say, but we feel incompetent to explain the manifestations, therefore give them merely as facts, occurring in full daylight, at a table chosen at random by ourselves, in the hotel where the Doctor lives, and as facts admitting of no explanation upon any known hypothesis. One of the writers was lifted up perpendicularly, chair and all, until his knees came in contact with the lower edge of the table. Writing was produced under the hand of the investigator; ghostly hands were felt while the hands of everyone were on the table; an old harmonicon, brought by Mr. Aksakoff, was played upon—once without contact—and then, when Dr. Slade’s hands and feet were in full view, it leaped on the knees of a skeptic, or rather was gently laid upon them, with precautions against hurting him. One of the writers was pinched, as he says, “very painfully.”
Of course the Doctor’s Owasso, Brédif’s Jacko, the Chinawoman spirit, and even Katie King, all got a scratch from these editors. They do not like the explanations given them; they would prefer not to hear such “made-up stories” as the biography of Slade, as told by Mr. Simmons and himself—it appears “too artificial.” And yet, both writers confess their amazement, and are at a loss what to think. We may expect a lively time in St. Petersburg. The war between Russia and Turkey being over, there loom up the portents of a great strife between the invisible “four dimensional beings” and the skeptics who inhabit this muddy sphere of the lowest dimension.
The News reports an interesting episode of Slade’s experience at Berlin, which is of quite a political and religious character. “Allie” and “Owasso” were the indirect (or shall we say direct?) means of disturbing Prince Bismarck’s equanimity, and even getting him into trouble. I will give the story as nearly in the language of the paper as the necessity for condensation permits. In Berlin there are more “Spiritists than in St. Petersburg, and no wonder, as the arrival of Slade, who is considered the greatest medium after Home (?), stirred up the liveliest interest.” As usual, parties were formed for and against Slade. The opponents of Spiritism felt indignant, and—again as usual—began exposing him. Hermann, the well-known Berlin juggler, promised through the press to show the public how it was all done.
Another Berlin juggler, Bellachini, still more famous than Hermann, then stepped in and began investigating, with the determination “to expose the fraud.” The inquiry of the latter was quite protracted, after which he published in the daily papers, over his own signature, the fact that the phenomena which take place in Slade’s presence can by no means be included among the tricks of jugglery. The leader may well imagine the scandal which this confession created. Bellachini was abused from every side, and charged with having been “fooled” by a Yankee, who could not even speak German.
The fight raged fiercely, passions were excited, and finally the affair was transplanted into the domain of politics. It must be known that the defenders of Dr. Slade and Spiritualism had found hospitality in the columns of the clerical party, while their opponents bombarded them from within the stronghold of the national liberal press. Prince Bismarck, who was quietly resting at Varzin, and felt quite innocent of having any leaning towards mediumism, was dragged into the fight and had to pay the damages. The clerical party pestered the great Chancellor by reviving a long forgotten story. Thus the matter assumed a political character, and was carried into the Landtag. The clergy had profited by the appearance of the new and incontestably genuine phenomena to claim recognition for their old miracle of the appearance of the Virgin Mary in the Marringen community. It appears that the devout believers in this “miracle” had come in crowds to pray at the spot where the apparition had been seen, and had been badly treated by the local police. The old complaints were now revived. Minister Friedenthal, in the Landtag, defending the police pronounced both the clerical “Miracle” and the mediumistic phenomena dangerous frauds. The clericalist deputy Bohsm demanded the punishment of the police and damages for the insulted community. Windthorst, the well-known orator, of the church party, claimed recognition for both miracle and phenomena, pointing out that even such men as Schopenhauer, Fichte and others, did not deny their possibility. The fight was lively for a time. Bismarck was annoyed and the public scandalized by this clerical impudence which was provoked by Dr. Slade’s spirits.
All this led to Professor Virchow himself coming out with an offer to investigate Slade’s phenomena. But the celebrated medium felt, most probably, if anything, still more annoyed to play a part which, though political, was at best a thankless one. He refused point-blank, remarking that he did not feel justified in trusting a scientist who belonged to that party of progressionists which had so bitterly attacked him. Then it was that the American medium was advised to leave Berlin.
And no wonder! A man who had encountered Science (?) in the persons of a Lankester and his Donkin had good reasons for avoiding any more such intimacies. And now he is reaping laurels in St. Petersburg. If Spiritualism should be the gainer by his present demonstrations of his marvelous powers before Mr. Aksakoff’s committee, its friends will at least have to put this fact to the credit of the Theosophical Society as a counterpoise against the thousand-and-one sins that have been laid at its door, that it knew how to select among American mediums the one best of all fitted to convince the most hard-headed of European skeptics.
H. P. Blavatsky.