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vol. 1, p. 28
from Adyar archives of the International Theosophical Society
vol. 1 (1874-1876)


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April 12. 1875

Deserved Compliments

The whirligig of time has brought about few more startling changes, than the favorable notice of a work on Spiritualism by one of the most conservative of our magazines which we append to these paragraphs. The "American Bibliopolist" is a prominent organ of the book-buyers and book-students of this country, and praise from its erudite and cautious editors is seldom given without stint. Their appreciative view of Col. Olcott's great work entitles the Bibliopolist to the respect of the whole body of educated Spiritualists, and places it in most favorable contrast with its contemporary magazines, which, as a rule act the very dishonorable part of misleading the public by wilful misrepresentation of fact.

The notice of the Bibliopolist will first apprize many Spiritualists of the fact that Col. Olcott is well known in other branches of literature than ours. As early as 1857, when a young man of 25, he received the thanks of the Imperial Acclimation Society of France for a work of his upon the sugarcane and two medals and a silver vase were awarded to him by various societies for other agricultural works. Besides these, he is the author of two large volumes on Insurance, which leading insurance journals pronounce encyclopedias of information about their specialty. In all that he has written he has displayed the same candor throughout.

The American Bibliopolist says:

2. People from the other World. By Henry S. Olcott. Profusely illustrated by Alfred Kappes and T. W. Williams. 8 vo, pp. xvi., 492. (Hartford, 1875.)

In every way equal in authorship to the volume above noticed is the remarkable work, also by Col. Olcott, entitled "People from the Other World," and which most undoubtedly realizes the old adage, "Truth is stranger than fiction." The assemblage of facts presented by the author are of so extraordinary a character that the ordinary mind cannot but feel aghast at the astonishing revelations made by a gentleman of high-tone and literary abilities, and whose position places him above all suspicion of collusion and the ordinary stigma laid on Modern Spiritualism in this materialistic age, that this so-called Science is all moonshine, humbug and quackery, and that these "manifestations" never occur except under pecuniary considerations, and then are manipulated for dupes by clever and unscrupulous imposters.

For some time previous to the publication of Col. Olcott's work the public were made acquainted with the occurrences which took place at the Eddy homestead and elsewhere, by means of the communications in the principal New York journals, contributed by Col. Olcott, in which he gave a clear and faithful account of his investigations, and the impartial yet strict manner under which they were conducted. After a careful perusal of "People from the Other World" we cannot but concur with a leading journal that it is "as marvellous a story as any to be found in history, and one which we consider it our duty to say to our readers, should be carefully studied by every thinking person interested in man's here and hereafter." The arguments founded on existing facts urged by the author, are more convincing on the question of immortality than the Phoedo of Plato or any other work—here we have brought together for our wonderment, Spirits materialized, Spirits of every size and shape, and in the unhesitating proofs arrayed, we realize how it comes that discoverers, men of science and intellect like Professors Crookes and Hare, Alfred R. Wallace, Judge Edmonds, Serjeant Cox, and we could name many others, have by a gradual process of evolution been transferred, like Col. Olcott, from hostile antagonists to firm believers in Spiritualism. Although not a believer, we would again ask, as we have elsewhere,—How is it that Dialectical Societies and the like "are confounded and obliged to confess an utter incapacity to solve the problems by aid of the knowledge they have of the wondrous ramifications of nature and science?" We cannot but coincide with the Scientific American in observing that—

"If true, it will become the one grand event of the world's history, it will give an imperishable lustre to the nineteenth century. Its discoverer will have no rival in renown, and his name will be written high above any other . . . . . If the pretensions of Spiritualism have a rational foundation, no more important work has been offered to men of Science than their verification;" and we would add further, that if these remarkable developments are substantiated, Spiritualism "would be one of the greatest blessings to the human race, would effectually rid us of Atheism and its attendant gloominess, and would satisfactorily dispose of Materialistic objections to the Immortality of the soul."

In conclusion, we again urge our readers, one and all, not to fail to obtain an insight into Col. Olcott's work, by far the most astonishing the nineteenth century has yet produced.

A Metaphysical Convict

To the Editor of the “Religio-Philosophical Journal” (Chicago, April 10th).

Sir—Since my name became more or less prominent in connection with the investigation of Spiritualism, I have received many queer letters, but the one herewith enclosed is the strangest of all It comes from a man confined in the Connecticut State Prison, for a murder committed over twenty years ago. He was educated for the Episcopal ministry, and is a person of very fine intellectual capacities, if one may judge not merely by his conversation, but also by his phrenological and physiognomical developments. I met him for the first and only time, a few days ago, while passing through the prison in company with several ladies; and, being introduced by the courteous warden, Mr. Hewes, we chopped logic for a quarter of an hour. Ha had read sundry notices of my forthcoming book, People from the Other World, and this fact caused our talk to take the turn it did. . . .

Henry S. Olcott.

Hartford, March 19th, 1875.

Dear Sir,—I was not at all prepared for the little encounter of logic with you this afternoon, and since I could not present my views in very precise form in conversation, I will try what I can do with a pen. I think the discussion may be of interest to the “general reader.”

The point of philosophy I wanted to advance is that all real truth, and all that we can really know, is of the negative order, like the axioms of mathematics; while all that we can say of things of a positive nature and order—even of the existence of an external world, which is the nearest thing to positive reality—is that it appears to be real or true. Hence many things are apparently and practically true which we know can not be true. We can never cease to feel and act precisely like free agents,—we actually believe in freedom—though we know that whatever is to be, will be, and that there is no power in all the universe to produce events that are not. Bear in mind that there is never a question of what a thing is “in itself,” for the very farthest we can go is to ask how it appears to us. We may say that a thing appears real, but cannot say, using terms with philosophical accuracy, that anything is real.

Hence the only question with regard to Spiritualism, is simply whether it is an apparent and practical truth; for we may know with absolute certainty, if we have enough of the faculty of reason to be able to know anything, that no doctrine of a positive nature can be really true. Utility is a very important element in determining what really seems true. We are not to suppose that men are endowed with any new sense faculties in these latter days, but may suppose that old delusions are ever taking new forms. There is an old form of the doctrine of Spiritualism that is essential to morality, as the assumption of its truth underlies all our notions of right and wrong. Materialism can furnish no valid basis for such notions. It finds their basis in a Spiritualism latent in our own nature. Yet to suppose the doctrine an absolute truth, because it underlies our moral notions, is just as destructive of genuine morality as materialism can be. Materialism, though but a negation, can furnish us with a semblance of morality, and any positive truth that is held as absolute, can do no more. If we would have a genuine morality, we must take both kinds of truth at their own worth and value, neither mistaking the apparent and practical truth for real and absolute, nor the negative and real truth for the practical.

To make the modern form of Spiritualism of any practical value, so that we may concede so much of it as to say that it appears to be true, you must give us something more than marvels that appeal only to our wonder, aid communications from the departed that add nothing to out stock of useful knowledge. All this, if we take the sensible view of it, but makes it appear a senseless and debating superstition. The attempt to make things appear beautiful and true that are not merely useless, but positively harmful, is a mark of a low order of wisdom. To the young lady who spoke about “disordered stomach,” I would say:— <... continues on page 1-31 >

(continued on p. 25)

Editor's notes

  1. Deserved Compliments by unknown author
  2. A Metaphysical Convict by Clark, William, Spiritualist, The, April 23, 1875. Reprinted from “Religio-Philosophical Journal” (Chicago, April 10th). The answer on H. S. Olcott letter.