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CIRCULAR OF A SOCIETY, INSTITUTED BY MEMBERS OF THE UNIVERSITY OF CAMBRIDGE, ENGLAND, FOR THE PURPOSE OF INVESTIGATING PHENOMENA POPULARLY
The interest and importance of a serious and earnest inquiry into the nature of the phenomena which are vaguely called “supernatural” will scarcely be questioned. Many persons believe that all such apparently mysterious occurrences are due either to purely natural causes, or to delusions of the mind or senses, or to willful deception. But there are many others who believe it possible that the beings of the unseen world may manifest themselves to us in extraordinary ways, and also are unable otherwise to explain many facts, the evidence for which cannot be impeached. Both parties have obviously a common interest in wishing cases of supposed “supernatural” agency to be thoroughly sifted. If the belief of the latter class should be ultimately confirmed, the limits which human knowledge respecting the spirit-world has hitherto reached might be ascertained with some degree of accuracy. But in any case, even if it should appear that morbid or irregular workings of the mind or senses will satisfactorily account for every such marvel, still, some progress would be made toward ascertaining the laws which regulate our being, and thus adding to our scanty knowledge of an obscure but important province 2 H
of science. The main impediment to investigations of this kind is the difficulty of obtaining a sufficient number of clear and well-attested
Many of the stories current in tradition, or scattered up and down in books, may be exactly true; others must be purely fictitious; others, again,-probably the greater number,-consist of a mixture of truth and falsehood. But it is idle to examine the significance of an alleged fact of this nature until the trustworthiness, and also the extent, of the evidence for it are ascertained. Impressed with this conviction, some members of the University of Cambridge are anxious, if possible, to form an extensive collection of authenticated cases of supposed "supernatural” agency. When the inquiry is once commenced, it will evidently be needful to seek for information beyond the limits of their own immediate circle. From all those, then, who may be inclined to aid them, they request written communications, with full details of persons, times, and places; but it will not be required that names should be inserted without special permission, unless they have already become public property: it is, however indispensable that the person making any communication should be acquainted with the names, and should pledge himself for the truth of the narrative from his own knowledge or conviction.
The first object, then, will be the accumulation of an available body of facts: the use to be made of them must be a subject for future consideration; but, in any case, the mere collection of trustworthy information will be of value. And it is manifest that great help in the inquiry may be derived from accounts of circumstances which have been at any time considered “supernatural,” and afterward proved to be due to delusions of the mind or senses, or to natural causes; (such, for instance, as the operation of those strange and subtle forces which have been discovered and imperfectly investigated in recent times ;) and, in fact, generally, from any particulars which may throw light indirectly, by analogy or otherwise, on the subjects with which the present investigation is more expressly concerned.
The following temporary classification of the phenomena about which information is sought may serve to show the extent and character of the inquiry proposed.
I. Appearances of angels.
II. Spectral appearances of
(1.) The beholder himself, (e.g. “Fetches” or “Doubles.")
(a.) To one person.
(6.) To several persons.
(a.) To one person.
1. In the same place.
1. Good deeds.
2. Evil deeds. (6.) Particular times, (e.g. on the anniversary of
any event, or at fixed seasons.) (c.) Particular events, (e.g. before calamity or death.) (d.) Particular persons, (e.g. haunted murderers.)
III. “Shapes” falling under neither of the former classes. (1.) Recurrent. In connection with
(i.) Particular families, (e.g. the “ Banshee.”)
(ii.) Particular places, (e.g. the “ Mawth Dog.") (2.) Occasional.
(i.) Visions signifying events, past, present, or future.
(a.) By actual representation, (e.g.“Second-Sight.”)
(6.) By symbol.
IV. Dreams remarkable for coincidences
(i.) To the same person several times.
(2.) With facts
(a.) Previously unknown.
(6.) Formerly known, but forgotten.
V. Feelings. A definite consciousness of a fact
(1.) Past,--an impression that an event has happened.
VI. Physical effects. (1.) Sounds,
(i.) With the use of ordinary means, (e.g. ringing of bells.)
(ii.) Without the use of any apparent means, (e.g. voices.) (2.) Impressions of touch, (e.g. breathings on the person.)
Every narrative of "supernatural” agency which may be communicated will be rendered far more instructive if accompanied by any particulars as to the observer's natural temperament, (e.g. sanguine, nervous, &c.,) constitution, (e.g. subject to fever, somnambulism, &c.,/ and state at the time, (e.g. excited in mind or body, &c.)
Communications may be addressed to
Rev. B. F. WESTCOTT, Harrow, Middlesex, or to
VIEW TAKEN OF IT BY TWO OPPOSING SCHOOLS.
SINCE the foregoing pages were in type, I have received, and perused with much pleasure, a pamphlet, just published in London and Edinburgh, entitled “Testimony: its Posture in the Scientific World,” by ROBERT CHAMBERS, F.R.S.E., F.A.S., &c., being the first of a series of “Edinburgh papers,” to be issued by that vigorous thinker,—a man who has contributed as much, perhaps, as any other now living, to the dissemination of useful information among the masses throughout the civilized world. Not the least valuable contribution is this very pamphlet.
Mr. Chambers reviews the posture of two schools of philosophy in regard to the force of testimony: the physicists, of whom Mr. Faraday is the type; and the mental and moral philosophers, represented by Abercrombie and Chalmers.
The first, he reminds us, taking into view “the extreme fallaciousness of the human senses,” will admit no evidence of any extraordinary natural fact which is not “absolutely incapable of being explained away.” If the physicist can presume any error in the statement, he is bound to reject it. “Practically," (Chambers adds,) "all such facts are rejected; for there is, of course, no extraordinary fact resting upon testimony alone, of which it is not possible to presume some error in the observation or reporting, if we set about finding one.” (p. 2.)
Thus, Mr. Faraday, “ defending the skepticism of his class,” argues that “there is no trusting our senses, unless the judgment has been largely cultivated for their guidance." He speaks as if there were a bare possibility that a man not regularly trained to scientific observation should see facts truly at all.