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More about Kate Fox, and In Defence of Modern Spiritualism

By:Alfred Russel Wallace
Date: Thu,30 Oct 2014
Submitter:Richard Rowley
Views:28085

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The co-creator of the theory of evolution, Alfred Russel Wallace, was at first a hardened sceptic with regard to the phenomena surrounding the early days of Modern Spiritualism, but like many scientists who followed him, after examining all the evidence, he became convinced of their genuineness, and henceforward became one of Spiritualism's most ardent supporters. His reports were published in the book ''Miracles and Modern Spiritualism'' in 1874, a third revised edition of which appeared in 1895. By that time he had met and examined most of the top mediums of his day.

Here is his account of Kate Fox, the young medium who with her sisters Margaret and Leah, and the spirit of a tinker, were the originating influences in the growth of interest in mediumship and Spiritualism in the mid-Nineteenth Century.

Modern Spiritualism dates from March 1848; it being then that, for the first time, intelligent communications were held with the unknown cause of the mysterious knocking and other sounds similar to those which had disturbed the Mompesson and Wesley families in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries. [ The Drummer of Tedworth, 1661 and Epworth Rectory, 1716.]

This discovery was made by Miss Kate Fox, a girl of nine years old, and the first recognised example of an extensive class now known as mediums. (Miss Fox [later] stated that she was only five years old at this time. Her parents, however appear to have given the age as nine, to several inquirers.) It is worthy of remark that this very first ''modern spiritual manifestation'' was subjected to the test of unlimited examination by all the inhabitants of the village of Hydesville, New York. Though all were utter sceptics, no one could discover any cause for the noises, which continued, though with less violence, when all the children had left the house. Nothing is more common than the remark, that it is absurd and illogical to impute noises, of which we cannot discover the cause, to the agency of spirits. So it undoubtedly is when the noises are merely noises; but is it so illogical when these noises turn out to be signals, and signals which spell out a fact, which fact, though wholly unknown to all present, turns out to be true ? Yet, on this very first occasion, [in March 1848,] the signals declared that a murdered man was buried in the cellar of the house; it indicated the exact spot in he cellar under which the body lay; and upon digging there, at a depth of six or seven feet, considerable portions of a human skeleton were found. Yet more, the name of the murdered man was given, and it was ascertained that such a person had visited that very house and had disappeared five years before, and had never been heard of since. The signals further declared that he, the murdered man, was the signaller; and as all the witnesses had satisfied themselves that the signals were not made by any living person, or by any assignable cause, the logical conclusion from the facts was, that it WAS the spirit of the murdered man; although such a conclusion might be to some in the highest degree improbable, and to others in the highest degree absurd.

The Misses Fox now became involuntary mediums, and the family (which had removed to the city of Rochester) were accused of imposture, and offered to submit the children to examination by a committee of townsmen appointed in public meeting. Three committees were successively appointed [all of which found no kind of trick or deception.] When we consider that the mediums were two children under twelve years of age, and the examiners utterly sceptical American citizens, thoroughly resolved to detect imposture, and urged on by excited public meetings, it may perhaps be considered that even at this early stage the question of imposture or delusion was pretty well settled in the negative.

Kate Fox, the little girl of nine years old, was the first medium in the modern sense of the term, and continued to possess the same power in varying degrees till her death 44 years later in 1892. At the very earliest stages of the movement, sceptic after sceptic, committee after committee, endeavoured to discover ''the trick;'' but if it was a trick, this little girl baffled them all, and the proverbial acuteness of the Yankee was of no avail. In 1860, when Dr. Robert Chambers visited America, he suggested to his friend, Robert Dale Owen, the use of a balance to test the lifting power. They accordingly, without pre-arrangement with the medium, took with them a powerful steelyard, and suspended from it a dining-table weighing 121 pounds. Then, under a bright gaslight, the feet of the two mediums [Kate and Margaret] being both touched by the feet of the gentlemen, and the hands of all present being held over, but not touching the table, it was made lighter or heavier at request, so as to weigh at one time only 60, at another 134 pounds. This experiment, be it remembered, was identical with one proposed by Faraday himself as being conclusive. Mr. Owen had many sittings with Miss Fox for the purpose of tests; and the precautions he took were extraordinary. He sat with her alone; he frequently changed the room without notice; he examined every article of furniture; he locked the doors and fastened them with strips of paper privately sealed; he held both the hands of the medium. Under these conditions various phenomena occurred, the most remarkable being the illumination of a piece of paper (which he had brought himself, cut of a peculiar size, and privately marked), showing a dark hand writing on the floor. The paper afterwards rose up on to the table with legible writing upon it, containing a promise which was subsequently verified.

But Miss Fox's powers were most remarkably shown in the séances at Mr. Livermore's a well-known New York banker and an entire sceptic before commencing these experiments. These sittings were more than three hundred in number, extending over five years. They took place in four different houses (Mr. Livermore's and the medium's being both changed during this period), under tests of the most rigid description. The chief phenomenon was the appearance of a tangible, visible, and audible figure of Mr. Livermore's deceased wife, sometimes accompanied by a male figure, purporting to be Dr. Benjamin Franklin. The former figure was often most distinct and absolutely life-like. It moved various objects in the room. It wrote messages on cards. It was sometimes formed out of a luminous cloud, and again vanished before the eyes of the witnesses. It allowed a portion of its dress to be cut off, which, though at first of strong and apparently material gauzy texture, yet in a short time melted away and became invisible. Flowers which melted away were also given. These phenomena occurred best when Mr. L. and the medium were alone; but two witnesses were occasionally admitted who tested everything and confirmed Mr. L.'s testimony; One of these was Mr. Livermore's physician, the other his brother-in-law; the latter previously a sceptic. The details of these wonderful séances were published in the Spiritual Magazine in 1862 and 1863; and the more remarkable were given in Owen's ''Debateable Land,' from which work a good idea may be formed of the great variety of the phenomena that occurred and the stringent character of the tests employed.

Miss Fox [later] came to England, and here also her powers have been tested by a competent man of science [Sir William Crookes,] and found to be all that has been stated. She married an English barrister, and some of the strange phenomena which so long accompanied her attached themselves to her infant child, even when its mother was away, to the great alarm of the nurse. We have here, therefore, a life-long career of mediumship of the most varied and remarkable character; mediumship which has been scrutinised and tested from the first hour of its manifestation, and with one invariable result - that no imposture of attempt at imposture has ever been discovered, and no cause ever been suggested that will account for the phenomena except that advanced by spiritualists.''
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susie said:

Thank you for a brilliant article,i researched the story many years ago and studied all the evidence ,both here and whilst visiting the u.s.a.,,
Sat,01 Nov 2014,18:23:53 GMT
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