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vol. 3, p. 1
from Adyar archives of the International Theosophical Society
vol. 3 (1875-1878)


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Materialism's Last Assault

Epes Sargent's Reply to Tyndall on Spiritualism
Reprinted from the New York Sun of Dec. 12, 1875
Men of Science who have Thought it Worthy of Investigation – Spiritualism now able to Take Care of Itself – Materialism Contradicts Itself – Inconvenient Facts – Universal Science Bringing Us Nearer the Higher Life.

Prof. John Tyndall — Sir: I find in the preface to your "Fragments of Science,” in the Popular Science Monthly, for December, 1875, the following remark:

“The world will have religion of some kind, even though it should fly for it to the intellectual whoredom of Spiritualism.”

Seeing that your preface is largely made up of expressions that betray great soreness on your part because of the “hard words” which your “noisy and unreasonable assailants” of the pulpit have launched at you; seeing that you express a wish that the minds which deal with “these high themes” were “the seat of dignity — if possible of chivalry — but certainly not the seat of littleness;” and that you regard as “unmannerly” those persons who have denounced you for “rejecting the notion of a separate soul,” &c. — does it not appear like a disposition to mete out to the unpopular Spiritualists a measure which you sensitively shrink from having meted out to yourself, when, from the calm atmosphere, the “Alpine heights” of scientific meditation, you try to affix a foul, dishonoring name to a subject which many eminent men of science among your contemporaries have thought worthy of their serious investigation?

If you ask to what men I refer, I could mention the names of Alfred Russell Wallace, President of the Anthropological Society of London, and known to science as sharing with Darwin the discovery of the principle of natural selection; Maximilian Perty, Professor of Natural History in the University of Berne; J. H. Fichte, the illustrious son of an illustrious father; the late Robert Hare, one of America's foremost chemists; Nicholas Wagner and Dr. A. Butlerof, both well-known physicists and professors of the University of St. Petersburg; Dr. Franz Hoffman, of Würtzburg University; Camille Flammarion, whose astronomical writings are well known to the readers of the Popular Science Monthly; Dr. J. R. Nichols, chemist, and editor of the Boston Journal of Chemistry; the late Nassau William Senior, celebrated as a political economist; Hermann Goldschmidt, the discoverer of fourteen planets; William Crookes, F. R. S., a well-known chemist, and editor of the London Quarterly Journal of Science; C. F. Varley, F. R. S., electrician; and the late Prof. De Morgan, eminent as a mathematician, and who once remarked of certain physicists like yourself, who “snap up” the investigators of Spiritualism with the cry of unphilosophical, degrading, even as the clergymen of a former generation thought to frighten free thinkers with the cry of infidel — “They want taming, and will get it, for they wear the priest’s cast-off garb, dyed to escape detection."


I could enlarge this list considerably, as you must well know. In this very number of the Popular Science Monthly, containing your “unmannerly” attack, is a paper by Prof. W. D. Gunning on “Progression and Retrogression,” showing that retrogression of types, as well as progression, belongs to the system of evolution, and is illustrated in the natural world. Prof. Gunning has long been a Spiritualist, and has written much and ably in defence of his belief. I might refer you to Prof. William Denton, an experienced geologist, and who has lately succeeded in taking casts of hands which he has reason to believe are projected by spirit power into temporarily material conditions; also, to Dr. J. R. Buchanan of Kentucky, eminent as an anthropologist and cerebral anatomist. Archbishop Whately, the skilled logician, became a confirmed Spiritualist shortly before he died. Lord Lindsay, long devoted to scientific pursuits, testifies to having witnessed the levitation ... medium. The late Lords Lyndhurst and Brougham, though advanced in years when they became interested in Spiritualism, had certainly given no signs of mental degeneracy. In a preface which Lord Brougham wrote, just before his death, for “Napier’s Book of Nature and Book of Man,” he says in conclusion: “But even in the most cloudless skies of skepticism I see a rain cloud, if it be no bigger than a man’s hand; it is Modern Spiritualism.” I might instance the case of the late Dr. Elliotson, the studious physiologist, and editor of the Zoist, who, after advocating up to the age of seventy views as to the “potency of matter” similar to your own, suddenly had the convictions of a lifetime reversed by his recognition of the reality of certain phenomena through Mr. Home, and pathetically expressed a regret that he had not “known these things earlier.”

But there are evidences more recent of the profound impression which the facts of Spiritualism are making upon the cultivated classes in England. In the British Quarterly Review for October, 1875, is a paper on “Modern Necromancy,” the drift of which is that there are evidences of preternatural facts in the phenomena claimed as spiritual; that investigators like Mr. Wallace and Mr. Crookes are not to be condemned for examining into them; but that those facts, being such as were forbidden by the Mosaic law, and the moral conditions for their production being assumed to be objectionable, the moment we have become convinced of their reality we ought to drop them as Satanic. In other words, there is proof of the action of spirits, but as these are perhaps bad spirits, the less we have to do with them the better for our souls’ safety and the good of humanity.

I will not risk giving offence by supposing that you, whose expressions of scorn for the “fanatical, foolish, and more purely sacerdotal portion of Christendom” are so emphatic, share in these nervous apprehensions of diabolical agency. You will doubtless agree with me that if it be right to test the facts, it must be right to draw inferences from them, even if these should lead to the spiritual hypothesis.

The London Spectator, in some apt comments on the article, expresses itself as no longer surprised to find any inquirer accepting — “what indeed so many intelligent persons day by day now become convinced of” — the assumption, namely, “that there is a solid nucleus of preternatural fact in the phenomena called spiritualistic.”


I might also call your attention to a remarkable paper on “Theism” in the last number of the Westminster Review, in which Spiritualism is referred to as “the religion of the future," and of which the writer says:

“It is in our midst to-day, with signs and wonders uprising like a swollen tide, and scorning the barriers of nature’s laws. It comes veiling its destined splendours beneath an exterior that invites contempt. Hidden from the prudent, its truths are revealed to babes. Once more he weak will confound the mighty, the foolish the wise. * * * Spiritualism will reëstablish, on what professes to be ground of positive evidence, the fading belief in a future life-not such a future as is dear to the reigning theology, but a future developed from the present, a continuation under improved conditions of the scheme of things around us.”

I do not concur with this eloquent writer in regarding Spiritualism as a “religion,” or as “scorning the barriers of nature’s laws.” It is neither a religion nor a sect. Reconciling, as it does, to our reason, the theory of superior spirits, and hence a Supreme Spirit, infinite in His attributes, Spiritualism presents the basis for a religion, even as the earth-life presents the basis for a morality; and all the “signs and wonders” are in harmony with universal law.

Were it not that you would say they belong to the “pre-scientific past,” I could quote nearly all the leading Catholic authorities of the day in support of the facts (regarded by them as demoniacal) which you would so confidently ignore. But I have named to you three of the organs of the highest intellect of Protestant England, whose language distinctly intimates a belief that there is in these phenomena a preternatural element. I have given you also the names of many distinguished men of science, your contemporaries, who have no doubt of the facts, and most of whom have explained them by the spiritual hypothesis. I could mention the names of some sixty journals in different parts of the world, all devoted to the discussion of these most interesting thaumaturgic occurrences. And do you think to scare off investigation into <... continues on page 3-2 >

Editor's notes

  1. image by unknown author. ship in the open sea
  2. image by unknown author. Belfry
  3. Materialism's Last Assault by Sargent, Epes. Reprinted from the New York Sun of Dec. 12, 1875