Volume 1 Page 204
THE RUSSIAN INVESTIGATION
ANOTHER DISGRACE FOR SCIENCE.—THE ST. PETERSBURG
PROFESSORS IMITATE THOSE OF HARVARD AND LONDON. — A. N. AKSAKOFF’S NOBLE PROTEST.
[Spiritual Scientist, Boston, Vol. IV, April 27, 1876, pp. 85-7]
To the Editor of the Spiritual Scientist:
Dear Sir,—In advices just received from St. Petersburg, I am requested to translate and forward to the Scientist for publication, the protest of the Honorable Alexander Aksakoff, Imperial Counsellor of State, against the course of the professors of the university respecting the spiritualistic investigation. The document appears, in Russian, in the Vedomosty, the official journal of St. Petersburg. This generous, high-minded, courageous gentleman has done the possible, and even the impossible, in order to open the spiritual eyes of those incurable moles who fear the daylight of truth as the burglar fears the policeman’s “bull’s eye.”
The heartfelt thanks and gratitude of every Spiritualist ought to be forwarded to this noble defender of the cause, who regretted neither his time, trouble nor money to help the propagation of the truth.
H. P. BLAVATSKY.
New York, April 19th, 1876.
THE COMMISSION APPOINTED BY THE SOCIETY OF PHYSICAL SCIENCES OF THE ST. PETERSBURG UNIVERSITY, FOR THE INVESTIGATION OF MEDIUMISTIC MANIFESTATIONS.
According to my promise to the Commission to help them in extending their invitations to mediums, I have neglected no effort to the accomplishment of the said purpose. Nevertheless but few mediums have shown any desire to come to Russia, and those who did were unsuitable for a preliminary examination, as their mediumistical powers were not of a nature to afford any chance to investigate physical phenomena. Finally, and for reasons previously detailed to the commission, I concluded to bring with me from England the two Petty boys. The mediumistic powers of these boys proved too weak, not only for them to be tested by a committee but even at private séances in my own house. Having obtained no manifestations worthy of any attention at all—as already published by me—at the committee’s investigation, after four séances I declined to waste any more of its time in investigating the Petty boys.
Immediately after that, on the 15th of December last, Professor Mendeleyeff delivered his lecture on Spiritism. The haste exhibited by him on this occasion, the precipitancy with which the failures of the four séances were reviewed, when the Scientific Commission had just adopted a resolution to make not less than forty experimental examinations, did not agree, in my opinion, with the impartial and serious character which we have the right to expect in a truly scientific investigation. This lecture did not appear in print, and it was therefore impossible to either reply to its errors or to point out its one-sidedness. But in what was declared by Mr. Mendeleyeff, the attitude of the commission toward the object of their examination was very clearly defined. Prof. Mendeleyeff—at whose suggestion the commission was organized, and under whose direction it acted—openly avowed himself an enemy of Spiritualism. The commission, acting in unity with Mr. Mendeleyeff, was evidently anxious that the results of its further investigations should prove as fruitless as the results of the first four séances with the Petty boys. The difficulties in the way of obtaining an impartial examination multiplied tenfold; and for my part I felt fully that it would be useless for me to attempt any further assistance to the commission. But as I had already taken steps to invite here other mediums, and had succeeded in inducing a lady to come—she is possessed of remarkable mediumistic powers, and perfectly answers the requirements of the commission’s investigation—I decided upon proceeding further. I hoped that I might be mistaken as to the predispositions of the commission. Furthermore, I desired to ascertain how it would conduct its investigations when it had to do with a true medium in the full acceptation of this word, and one moreover who was not professional. This lady was totally independent as to her social and financial position, and had
consented to take part in such an unpopular position merely for the sake of promoting the scientific object ostensibly in view.
I had the honor of introducing this medium to the commission in the person of Mrs. C. From the very beginning of the séances, the physical manifestations which characterize this lady’s mediumship—namely, loud raps, movements and levitations of the table—occurred with great strength. Of the experimental séances, we had in this second series of four—on the 11th, 25th, 27th and 29th of January. The séance at which the medium, by reason of sickness, could not attend was, although the commission had been notified twenty-four hours beforehand, counted by its members as one of the forty which it had bound itself to hold.
During the experiments of this second member series, we learned the following:
1. The commission failed to act up to its resolution of May the 9th, 1875, that immediately after each séance a report should be written out and signed by the witnesses on both sides. Instead of that, the reports were filed several days later, and not in the presence of witnesses, but were presented to them for signature when already prepared by the commission, and when they could not be altered in any particular.
2. The plan itself of these reports underwent a thorough change. The commission saw fit to accept the private testimony of persons not belonging to the commission, but who may be said to have been present at the séances, since they had been eavesdropping and peeping through the keyholes. Such uncalled-for and personal testimony, based on subjective impressions, either amounts to nothing at a scientific investigation and therefore is inadmissible, or if the contrary, then the commission itself was useless, for it was organized, we must suppose, for the very reason of replacing such personal and subjective evidence with unanimous and impersonal experiment.
3. Having found room for personal evidence of its own choosing, the commission nevertheless rejected my offer to select a lady of their acquaintance for the purpose of examining the feet of the lady medium, under the pretext that personal testimony was not convincing.
4. The reports of the experimental commission were drawn carelessly and inaccurately. It is impossible to gather any definite idea in these reports either of the manifestations which took place or of the condition under which they occurred. Some of the narrative does not coincide with what happened, while some manifestations that transpired are not even mentioned. All this is demonstrated in the individual reports made by myself and other witnesses.
5. As to the reports for publication, the commission resolved neither to allow them to be carried to the private domiciles of the
witnesses for signature, nor to furnish copies, nor to allow such to be taken by the witnesses who were present. Such an order of procedure compelled the witnesses who were appointed to watch the interests of the medium, to present their own private reports, and was as strange as it was embarrassing.
In view of such a state of affairs, in my report of February the 5th, I had the honor to explain to the commission that before we could proceed with the experiments at all, the witnesses for the medium must be permitted to acquaint themselves previously with the general reports, which had not been as vet presented to us for signature, as well as with the private reports of the outside members of the commission.
After that, on the 13th of February, I read in the rooms of the Physical Society the protocol (or report) of the third séance of January the 27th. As to the report of the fourth séance, I learned that it was not yet even filled up. Concerning the private reports, Mr. Mendeleyeff informed me that the committee had neither assigned any particular time nor order for their presentation. Thus, it remained for us witnesses to advance without knowing what lay in wait for us. At the same time the little of which we had assured ourselves was of a nature to make it very difficult for us to proceed. Of all the reports which had appeared, the most prominent were two extended ones by Mr. Mendeleyeff. They embodied a long series of undemonstrated affirmations which tended to convey to every reader the impression that all the manifestations mentioned in the reports were simply tricks consciously performed by the hands and feet of the medium. And in the report of Mr. Bobileff, who, as well as Mr. Mendeleyeff, attended but two séances, we see indicated a full conviction of the spuriousness of the phenomena, and that the medium produced them herself at will by muscular contraction. Moreover, the observations upon which both of these gentlemen try to base their conclusions as to what took place at the séances were not communicated by them to the other witnesses present, thus making it impossible for them to either verify or correct that which was suspicious. I am quite ready to admit that what took place was very far from being surrounded with such conditions as to warrant the commission after only four seances to come to a final conclusion favorable to the genuineness of mediumistic phenomena. If, after the forty séances agreed upon, an unfavorable report had been made upon the basis that the experiments had been unsatisfactory, then the decision might have been respected by every one. But in view of the methods to which the commission has now stooped, all further investigation, at least with the present medium, is impossible. I have no right to leave Mrs. C. in ignorance of what people write about her, and these writings consist of dishonorable attempts to prove that she is an impostor. Under
the circumstances I do not feel myself warranted in any longer subjecting a private person, and especially a lady, to such uncalled-for accusations, which to anyone who feels himself to be innocent of intended fraud are highly insulting.
Thus, this series of investigations, with an undoubtedly good medium, has shown me very clearly, that the conclusion to which I arrived after hearing Mr. Mendeleyeff’s lecture as to the preconceived intentions of our commission was correct.
But, apart from the above reason, there are two more which preclude the possibility of my having anything more to do with the Scientific Commission.
So far back as on the 10th of November last, I reported to the committee that the term fixed by them—namely, May 1876—was too short to enable us to bring mediums to St. Petersburg, and therefore begged to be informed whether I ought to continue corresponding with foreign mediums who might consent to come here after this term. In consequence of this, the committee discussed the matter in my presence, and decided to change the term of investigation into a definite number of séances. I was then notified that the commission had decided upon having not less than forty séances, excluding the months of vacations. Professor Butleroff then left with me the commission, both of us believing that there had been established a clear understanding between the members and ourselves that these forty séances were exclusive of the May term.
Under this impression l proceeded with my arrangements with mediums, and succeeded in engaging the services of one of the greatest and most famous American mediums, Dr. H. Slade, who agreed to reach here towards the fall.
To my amazement I learned that on the 15th of January the commission had met again, to discuss the subject of the term, and had decided that the forty séances must be confined to the month of May, 1876.
Upon what grounds the committee came to such a conclusion, clearly contrary to the interest of the investigation itself, is more than I can tell; but the fact is that we have no mediums in readiness for them. Mrs. C. only promised to remain until the 1st of March. Moreover, neither myself nor anyone else could have guaranteed to the commission for May, the forty séances to which they had consented to sacrifice themselves.
The second reason is, that after the séance with Mrs. C., the commission, at the meeting of January the 15th, had resolved that “with a view to save time with mediums, they would experiment only with apparatus prepared by themselves.” And after séance No. 3, the commission categorically demanded that they should immediately proceed to crucial tests, with the appliance of their own various apparatuses. Such a resolution and demand on their part upset everything. Every investigation in the domain of Nature must be divided into two
definite periods: the preliminary period of the authentication of every manifestation by means of observation, and the final period of investigation. It is an easy matter to note a fact; it is very difficult to investigate and verify it. Thousands of people testify that the mediumistic phenomena exist; it is the duty of the commission, if they once undertook such a social question, to stoop to the level of the crowd, and first see that which the crowd sees, and in the same manner as it sees it; and only when familiar with the superficial aspect of the question to apply the apparatus which the case seems to suggest. No one prevented the committee—even had they followed the method of the crowd—from arriving at an unfavorable conclusion. But the demand—after holding but three séances, and when the manifestations had hardly begun—for crucial tests with apparatuses, when the members of the commission themselves could not be aware what set of complete apparatus might be required—was something which it was impossible not to regard as diametrically opposed to the idea of a regular course of determined experiments.
In the present most deplorable state of affairs, a negative result of the investigation, obtained through the apparatus furnished by the commission, would not stand as a proof of the uselessness of the said apparatus itself, but be taken as a demonstration of the non-existence of the mediumistic force. Therefore, every step which might be conceded by those who defend the reality of the mediumistic manifestations would only compromise our affair.
It is unwarranted on the part of Professor Mendeleyeff to reproach us, witnesses, that “in our writings we lay a great stress on the value of scientific experiments, and when they are offered to us, we obstinately refuse them and demand an adherence to the valueless testimony of the school of the crowd.” To clear away, once for all, every misunderstanding, I deem it a duty to say that we do not in the least reject the scientific, that is, experimental and instrumental methods of investigation for the manifestations. We only assert that such a method is liable to bring to no great result until after a sufficient acquaintance with the phenomena, by way of ordinary observation. I am fully authorized to believe, that if the committee had continued their ordinary séances with Mrs. C., accepting such conditions as are generally adopted by the “crowd” for the prevention of fraud, the several kinds of phenomena, such as raps, movements and levitation of the table, might have been displayed to such a satisfactory degree as to force the commission to see in them “manifestations worthy of investigation.” The happiest issue of the promised forty séances could not have been greater than this; but this alone might have forced the commission to undertake further experiments.
In consideration of all the foregoing facts, any further interference on my part becomes, as I have said, impossible. But as it is more than evident that the investigation undertaken by the commission did not primarily depend on my personal help, therefore I may be left to
hope that it will find means to select the help of other persons in order to bring their experiments to a fuller and more satisfactory result. My personal trouble I certainly do not regret, for I considered it my duty to comply with the invitation of the Society of Physical Sciences. So far as I could, and my knowledge went, I have fulfilled my promise; and at the same time a very important object—at least for myself—has been obtained: the attitude of our commission towards the subject, and the object of their investigation has been made clear.
In conclusion I beg leave to add that so long as the commission hold to the policy of flatly denying the phenomena, and see in them only charlatanry, they will neither attain to the object of their researches which was sketched in the first offer made by Mr. Mendeleyeff, nor will they satisfy those who certify to the existence of such manifestations. The committee forgets that the mediumistic power has its origin, force and support in domestic circles and in their own experiments against which the policy of negation and fraud is powerless. Such questions which have attained a social importance, cannot be solved by negation and an ignorance of them. Let Science and knowledge be on the side of the negators and skeptics, but upon the other side we have the conviction in the reality of facts; which conviction we have obtained by the evidence of our senses and by reason.
St. Petersburg, March 4th, 1876.
Translated and prepared with the notes and explanations, for the Spiritual Scientist, by “BUDDHA.”