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INTRODUCTION F I were asked to recommend a course of reading for
an intelligent agnostic who knew nothing about psychic science, I should be inclined to begin it by choosing the five successive books in which Mr. J. Arthur Hill has exhibited the unfolding of his own mind. Such reading has the advantage that the inquiring agnostic and Mr. Hill start at scratch together. Mr. Hill's unhappy experience of this world had by no means predisposed him towards any desire for a continuance of existence beyond the grave, and his critical tendency of thought had led him to negative rather than positive results. Yet his attention had been arrested by the growing and persistent claims of the survivalists, and he felt an intellectual compulsion to examine the question whatever his own prepossessions might be. The first results are to be seen in “Religion and Modern Psychology," where his active mind reaches out into the vague but fascinating country before it. In another book of the same year, “New Evidence in Psychical Research," you see these exploring tentacles taking their grip on this or that which seemed solid, and tugging at it to see if it would indeed stand a strain. In the third, “Psychical Investigations,” the solid points are numerous and stronger. He can tug as he will and he cannot shake them. His fourth book, “Man in a Spirit,” is indirect, dealing less with his own experiences and more with those of others, but all bearing upon the same thesis. And now in this, the last of the series, he goes over the whole ground, shows the gradual development from small things to greater which marks all true progress, and tells how orthodox science, with a few brilliant exceptions, broke every rule of science when faced with an entirely new proposition, while orthodox religion, with the same reservation, failed to recognise the true root of religion from which it had itself grown in the far-off days when it was green and full of life. This is the subject of Mr. Hill's present book, and no more vital one could possibly engage his pen.
We must admit that the phenomena which first, in modern times, gave rise to this line of thought and investigation, were insignificant in their nature and squalid in their environment. They were trivial, inconsequential, absurd, lending themselves readily to imitative fraud upon one side and to practical joking upon the other, while the credulity of many believers sustained the incredulity of their opponents. But thoughtful men from the beginning saw that there was more behind the movement than could possibly be laughed or explained away. The fact that phenomena were simulated, and rascals were convicted in the
police courts as the impostors that they were, did not really touch the heart of the question. Such incidents might prevent superficial or prejudiced thinkers from going farther, and give them some excuse for their mental inertia; but an investigator who devoted even a little earnest attention to the matter was bound to admit that, making every allowance for fraud, there was a great residuum which could not possibly be explained in such a way. Thus, those who came to scoff remained continually to pray. So it was with Professor Hare, of Philadelphia, in the earliest days. So also with the Dialectical Society of London, who were hostile, or at the best neutral, at the outset, and yet presented a unanimous report endorsing the physical phenomena. So also with Dr. A. Russel Wallace, General Drayson, and many other investigators, who began, as Mr. Arthur Hill did, and, if I may say so, as I myself have done, with a marked bias against the whole idea of survival. In spite of the doubts of the scientific world and the anathema of the creedbound churches, there always remained, however, a considerable body of simple, earnest folk who took things at their face value, were content to admit the existence of fraud if they were convinced that the basis was truth, and continued in this belief in spite of all criticism. Time has justified them. What their own intuitions endorsed has been vindicated by a more enlightened science. Here, as once before, the humble folk were right, and "the wisdom of this world was as foolishness before God”.
All civilised nations have contributed to the sinking of these foundations. It is a pure chance that Hydesville was the seat of the original phenomena which caught the public attention, for very similar ones broke out within a year or two at Cideville in France, and there had been many outbreaks of the same sort in England, the most typical being that in John Wesley's house at Epworth. What marked an epoch in America was when the young Fox girl, clapping her hands, challenged the unseen presence to do the same. Its instant response introduced the idea of intelligence into what had previously been a mere chaos of noises and movements. The American mind is open to new impressions, and probably the cult spread more rapidly there than it could have done elsewhere. But the biggest brain which turned itself upon this new subject and drew others behind it, was not American but French. Allan Kardec, with his spiritualist philosophy, differed in some details from the Americans, but founded his conclusions upon the same phenomena. When the whole story comes to be told, however, there is no doubt that it is to England that the new branch of science owes most, and, indeed, that it is due to Eng
, land that it can be called a science at all. Cambridge University will always be the Mecca of systematic psychic investigation, which is the avenue that nearly always leads eventually to complete acceptance of the spiritual hypothesis. There have seldom, if ever, been a more brilliant set of minds than those which engaged themselves upon this subject. Frederic Myers and Gurney, Oliver Lodge and Hodgson, Sidgwick, Butcher, Roden Noel, the two Verralls, Gerald Balfour, Andrew Lang, William Barrett; these are some of the keen intellects, not all of Cambridge, but all forming a circle round the Cambridge nucleus. From this circle was born the Society for Psychical Research, and from this again such a mass of evidence as has seldom been gathered upon any one subject before. An American Psychical Research Society is doing good work upon the English model; but it is always in the latter and in the great work of Frederic Myers that psychic science will find its firmest root. People call aloud for evi