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vol. 1, p. 194
from Adyar archives of the International Theosophical Society
vol. 1 (1874-1876)


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Spiritualism on Trial – The Necessity of Reform

by M. A. Oxon

Dear Sir,—Since I last wrote to you respecting the Slade trial, the preliminary investigation has been concluded, with adverse result to our cause. An appeal is lodged, and will be prosecuted with all the energy in our power; but, for the present, the defendant stands sentenced to three months’ imprisonment with hard labor. The prosecution has been conducted with a malignity worthy of the gentleman who thinks it decent to call those who differ with him in belief in the manifestations of spirit on the plane of matter, “elusive wild beasts.” Failing in substantiating the more serious charge of conspiracy, the second one under the Vagrant Act was pressed against Slade alone. The Act In question was framed for the protection of ignorant rustics from designing gypsies and fortune-tellers. In order, therefore, to make it applicable it was necessary that Slade should be put in the place of the gypsy, while Lankester assumed the star part of the confiding rustic, who had been taken in and defrauded. To such straits was the prosecution reduced.

Unfortunately the Magistrate felt himself unable to decide so heavy a case or. its merits, and inflicted his sentence, well knowing that ad appeal would be entered. The appeal can- not be heard until the third week in January, and we have lime to look round us, and consider what is best to be done. It would be rash to say that there is great hope that an appeal will be successful. That would postulate straightforwardness, knowledge, candor and certain other qualities on the part of our opponents, which exist in hardly appreciable degree, or are entirely absent in them when they deal with Spiritualism. We shall be met with Ignorant credulity, with gibes and sneers, with prejudice and bigotry, no doubt. But it would be cowardly in a high degree to leave one stone unturned to defeat the evil machinations which have been successfully put la action against Slade. He must not be left to go to prison if we can avoid it by any means in our power. Moreover, it is not be alone who is aimed at. It is the whole belief in a soul, all that cuts at the root of that dreary negation, of which Lankester is a prominent exponent. To these materialists. Spiritualism Is a very uncomfortable fact. If it be true, then they are hi the wrong; so they regard it as a natural enemy to be quashed aa soon as may be. Its very presence in the world annoys them, and causes them vague alarm. It la a sign of the times which are all around, shoving traces of a return to that earlier and nobler faith in spirit and things spiritual, which these nihilists call superstition. If they can crush Spiritualism, they may, perchance, strike a blow at the supernatural altogether. Hinc illae lachrymae. Spiritualism, selected astutely enough, as the point of attack affords, it must be so now fully conceded, many weak points. That particular work of which you have made a specialty, viz., the exposure of fraud, does sadly want doing. I am not prepared to offer any opinion about particular cases, but in the map no man who knows the inner working, none who baa penetrated below the surface in Spiritualism can doubt that there la abundant need of a dean broom vigorously used to clear out the rubbish. Whether deception comes from this or from the other, whether its restive spring be the vagaries of an elementary spirit, or the bodily wants of a starring medium, it must go forth that we will haw none of it. If the medium cheats, then we must impress on that medium that honesty is the best policy. If spirits cheat thro’ the medium, we must find means of stopping their pranks, and substituting for them a higher class with more moral consciousness. We cannot afford to be weighted with dishonesty. It makes the very name of Spiritualism to stink in the nostrils of decent people who know it only by the vulgar side that is presented to the world when some fresh imposture is recorded, or some more than ordinary folly is perpetrated. It makes the task of defenders of the faith indefinitely more difficult, and causes one to blush for the work one would otherwise glory in performing, and worse than all, it gives a handle to materialists for describing in colors that have some pretence of truthfulness, that which they are only too glad to paint as altogether damnable and accursed.

This must be slopped at any cost Here on this side of the Atlantic, I fear we have too much need of stern censorship. On your side I must believe from what I hear and read that there is more need stiff. Before me ties a letter from one of your most prominent Spiritualists whose name (where I to mention it) would command universal respect, and in it is this weighty judgment “I have had an extended experience with mediums of all grades, and it is my deliberate opinion that three-fourths of all the public mediums in this country are impostors.” Allowing a large margin for over statement that is a very serious allegation, and one that we must not allow to remain possible in the future. We must put our house in order.

But, admitting all this, we are not the less justly irritated when we find ourselves assailed by men who know nothing whatever of our subject, nor of the difficulties with which its study is beset, with rusty weapons furnished up from the armory of mediaeval bigotry, wed on the principle that any stick is good enough to beat a dug with. We will resist to the death such treatment, more especially when the victim selected is an innocent man, and it is proposed to include us all in the same category of knavery and folly, and to crush investigation altogether. For this, sir is what it comes to. At a time when Scientists were beginning (save the mark) to condescend to take some interest in the questions whether perchance they have a soul, and whether it will survive bodily dissolution, we have Messrs. Lankester & Co. stepping in with this old musty vagrant act to tell us that we shall be debarred from investigation altogether, that the “elusive wild beasts” shall be banished to the dens and caves of the earth, while decent people, who have no souls, bask in the sunlight of scientific knowledge. This is to be the end of it—Inquisitional Persecution—the gauntlet is thrown down.

Well, we will accept the challenge. We Spiritualists, claiming freedom on thought and act, and careful only that freedom does not become license, will fight for what is dearer than life itself. The fight must be begun over Slade's defence, but it will not end there. It will be prolonged till there remains no man so ignorant as to deny the existence of spirit: so bigoted as to refuse those who differ from him the right to seek for troth where I know they will, and so foolish as to think he can stem with a summons of a police court the tide of belief that is now flooding the world.

We appeal to yon for help, moral and material, we want both, and we hope that representative men among you will form a committee which may cooperate with us fighting the battle which has been forced upon us.

London, Nov. 5, 1876.

Bogus Materializations

The Boston Herald of Sunday contains a statement of Mrs. Bennett, the exposed importer, who by meant of trapdoors managed to run a materialization show for many months. The article is in the form of an interview. We extract a few questions and answers on points of general interest.

Question—Your assistants must have had quite an extensive wardrobe to tor enabled So personate so many characters, eh?

Mrs. Bennett—Wardrobes, indeed! No; a very few garments sufficed, the Imagination of these looking on aiding to to supply the variety needed. They did nearly all the recognition for themselves. I never helped them. Indeed, there

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Editor's notes

  1. Spiritualism on Trial – The Necessity of Reform by Moses, W. S. (signed as M. A. (Oxon)), Spiritual Scientist, v. 5, No. 13, November 30, 1876, p. 139
  2. Bogus Materializations by unknown author, Spiritual Scientist, v. 5, No. 7, October 19, 1876, p. 73