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vol. 3, p. 5
from Adyar archives of the International Theosophical Society
vol. 3 (1875-1878)


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< Dr. Carpenter's Dried Peas (continued from page 3-3) >

Intentional Deception. — Nor will they be prepared to hear with patience that their wives and daughters, sons and husbands, are intentional impostors; that the baby who can’t speak has learned conjuring tricks in its mother’s womb, and is now engaged in a successful attempt to impose on its fond mother’s credulity. To them that will seem very nearly “inherently impossible.” Nor, putting all other considerations out of view for the moment, will they entertain a high notion of the case of an opponent who is reduced to such arguments to bolster it up.

Unconscious muscular action. — This is a very dry pea indeed. Dr. Carpenter has had it in his pocket, any time these forty years. Ideo-motor action is its alias, and it comes out of the same pod as unconscious cerebration. The one explains all physical, the other all mental phenomena. Well, as a matter of fact, they don't explain anything but a very small proportion of cases. The ideo-motor pea does not touch cases of motion without contact, such as the present writer has seen and carefully observed in scores of cases. The other does not touch the best and most trustworthy cases, of which I could narrate a score on the spur of the moment, which have occurred in my own personal experience, where information undoubtedly external to my mind has been communicated from without. And my conclusion is also that of a number of others, who have had the facilities for observation. Indeed, I do not know any man who has had proper means of investigation, and who has used them without “prepossession,” who has not arrived at this same conclusion. Dr. Carpenter does himself injustice in insisting as he does on his prolonged investigation of these occult facts. They can, by their nature, be exhaustively investigated only by those in whose presence they occur, or by those who have constant and regular access to a “sensitive.” They can’t be produced to order, and Dr. Carpenter can’t have them ready for him when he finds time to call and look at them. So he misses them, and he has not seen in his forty years a tithe of what a man who has a sensitive in his house may see in one year, or less.

Statement of half facts. — A dangerous expedient largely resorted to by the lecturer himself. In all this pea-rattling he has only skirted the fringe of the subject. He either does not know or has suppressed allusion to all the more important phenomena of Modern Spiritualism; and even when he is forced into a corner, and obliged to promise that he will investigate facts brought under his notice, he eagerly avails himself of any loophole of escape. This was so in the case brought before him by Dr. Wyld, respecting which that gentleman castigates him in the Daily News of December 19 <1876>. This was so in Slade’s case. Prepossession causes him to be a great offender in this respect of ignoring inconvenient facts, and stating the half-case that makes for his “dominant idea.”

Dominant idea. — Here is another “dried pea.” “What,” says Dr. Carpenter, “you persist in saying that tables move of themselves, when I have shown you that you move them yourself! You persist in regarding clairvoyance as a fact, when I tell you it is a delusion! You persist in your belief in the evidence of your senses? You are a monomaniac — the victim of a dominant idea — the sport of prepossession!” Here is a glorious rattle! What does it mean? Simply this, that we have a prepossession in favour of our facts, and Dr. Carpenter against them. Undoubtedly we have; but, as I have pointed out before, there is this difference between us: ours is the prepossession born of repeated observation, his is the prepossession which rests on prejudice and dislike. We have seen, therefore we believe. He has not seen, and therefore he does not believe. That is all.

And now what does all this pea-rattling amount to? We are deceivers or deceived; we are ignorant, and foolish to believe what we think we see, but what Dr. Carpenter knows we don’t. Above all, we are inaccurate as to our facts.

Quis tulerit Gracchos de seditione querentes?[1] — Who is this that talks of accuracy? On a certain memorable occasion a F.R.S. delivered a lecture, in which he attacked another F.R.S. in his absence, and attempted to demonstrate the falsity of an experiment made by him to prove the existence of a force called Psychic. The history of that controversy may be read in the Researches into the Phenomena of Modern Spiritualism. by W. Crookes, F.R.S. The inaccurate exposer who was so completely exposed was Dr. W. B. Carpenter.

At the late meeting of the British Association, this same accurate man of science quoted from memory an account of the singular phenomena which occurred under such perfect conditions in the house of Dr. Speer. The Doctor had detailed the formation of the cross in a closed room, as a good case of motion without contact. In his reproduction of the record, given to him with the strictest scientific accuracy, as I can testify, he so transformed it that every point was altered, every statement falsified, and then calmly proceeded to adduce it as a proof of Dr. Speer’s incapacity of observation. Dr. Speer exposed the misstatements, but they have no been withdrawn and apologised for. Again, the delinquent is Dr. W. B. Carpenter.

Yet again, in this second London Institution lecture occur statements respecting Mr. A. R. Wallace and Dr. Wyld, which were characterized in the Daily News of December 19th in terms that should make Dr. Carpenter look to his own glass house before he throws stones at other people’s. Mr. Wallace says, “It is hardly too much to say that every one of the more important statements which Dr. Carpenter puts before the public as evidence in his favour may be shown to be equally opposed to the actual facts of the case,” as a statement which Mr. Wyld had just before shown to be utterly untrue. And again, “The most charitable view we can take of Dr. Carpenter’s persistently ignoring or misstating all facts opposed to his own stereotyped theories, is that he is the slave of a dominant idea.”

Dr. Wyld convicts him of “three very important mistakes” in one paragraph, and concludes with Mr. Wallace that the Doctor’s prepossessions have made a monomaniac of him by placing him “under subjection to a tyrannically dominant idea.”

Even Mr. Lankester had to call on Dr. W. B. Carpenter for an apology for misstatement, an apology which, by-the-by, he never received. So that on all grounds, and on the witness of his own friends, brothers in that sacred mutual admiration brotherhood, the Royal

Society, Dr. Carpenter should be the last man to charge other people with inaccuracy, especially when that inaccuracy does not exist. It is he who is inaccurate; it is we who are literally exact.

It would be of no moment whatever to note these glaring facts, where it not that there are still a number of people who take their ideas from men who, like Dr. Carpenter, rattle the peas loudly enough: sheep who jump after the bell-wether, persons who cannot, or will not, think for themselves. It may be well to warn such that they must not swallow everything that Dr. Carpenter tells them. He is not a trustworthy guide in all things; and when his prepossessions are stirred, he is less trustworthy than ever. Just now he is especially to be distrusted, for, like his brother F.R.S. Prof. Lankester, he has shouldered his mop and joined that crazy band of enthusiasts of whom Mrs. Partington is the immortal type. — M. A. (Oxon.)

Mrs. Denton Again in the Field

To the Editor of the Banner or Light:

In your paper of June 24th. Dr Buchanan tells us that “lacking in the higher philosophical and imaginative faculties, our modern Horkeys will argue against the existence of the spirit-world, after hundreds of its inhabitants have been among us thoroughly materialized, and their appearances as well attested as our own existence.” And he refers my inability to admit that the “material phenomena of Spiritualism” are any proof of disembodied spirit existence to a deficiency in imagination (though he seems unwilling to call it by that name), which, he claims, “gives breath of spiritual conception.” He doubtless believes his conclusion correct. But he must have forgotten that it is, as claimed by Spiritualists, precisely because these phenomena supply the evidence demanded by those who are thus lacking in the “imaginative faculties,” that those “ruffianly sceptics — the savants of science” — are challenged to the investigation. And it is precisely to this claim that I have objected. I did not, however, expect to find my objection thus sustained by the direct testimony of a man so thoroughly pledged to the support of the theory. Lacking, then, that “breadth of spiritual conception” supplied by a highly cultivated imagination, I find, and others find as well, that the more material phases of the phenomena fail to furnish the supposed evidence, because we see no way by which we can assure ourselves of their supermundane source. But Dr. Buchanan graciously admits that I am honest, and I ask him to tell me, in all honesty, by what possible method I can assure myself that these phenomena are not due to forces pertaining only to the living human being. He must remember I have not denied their occurrence, though, so far as I have been able to discover, the conditions have never yet in my presence justified the conclusion that they are due to other than most material, mundane causes. Still admitting, as is claimed, that we are confronted by the stupendous fact of actual materialization in the spiritualistic sense of that term, I repeat what I have said elsewhere, I can conceive of no possible method by which these forms can prove themselves or be proven to be the production of disembodied spirits, until they can come to us independent of all mediumship and of all human conditions.

So long as their presence among us is confessedly due to unknown human forces, and that, too, to an unknown and therefore unlimited extent, so long it must remain impossible for us to know, without other evidence than any as yet furnished us, that any other than human forces are engaged in their production. The truth is, we have unhesitatingly limited human capabilities, while every day’s experience shows us the folly of such limitation. And we have just as unhesitatingly taken it for granted, as it has been taken for granted for thousands of years, that the genuine occurrence of such phenomena must be considered proof positive of their superhuman or spiritual source. But by what right do we thus decide the question of their origin? Have we any right to be satisfied with such an assumption ? Will not Dr. Buchanan please answer me? And will he not endeavour to show me by what manner of means I can reconcile my reason to the conclusion that Franklin, Washington, and some of the noblest men and women of the past, have lived on only to become so intellectually feeble that they can degrade the very name of Reason by the blundering absurdities and the insufferable stupidities so flippantly attributed to them. If such is the “progress” to which we are doomed, better, a thousand times better, be utterly annihilated! The very contemplation of such an existence is degrading; and the theory which renders such a conclusion necessary should only be accepted when every other possible and impossible explanation of the phenomena has been thoroughly canvassed, and proven wholly inadequate. To do less than this, is to profane the memories of the departed — not to cherish them.

I was much interested in the experiences related by Mrs. Jacob Martin, as I am in those reported by Mrs. Emma Hardinge-Britten, and, finally, as I am in all experiences resulting from the modern recognition of spiritual phenomena. But I have not attempted to supply or to suggest a philosophy for the psychologics phenomena of the ages; and Mrs. Martin must permit me to confess myself one of the many who are unable to answer her inquiries. All I have attempted is to call attention to what I consider the unsound basis of the theory that “spirit existence” <... continues on page 3-6 >

Editor's notes

  1. (French) Who can bear to hear the Gracchi speak against sedition; or more loosely: "People often condemn behaviors in which they themselves engage".
  2. Mrs. Denton Again in the Field by Denton E.M.F., Banner of Light, The, v. 39, No. 21, August 19, 1876, p. 2