"Miss Florence Cook's Mediumship"
Taken from Gilbert Roller's book "Voice From Beyond" 1975 (Popular Library, New York)
This letter from Sir William Crookes appeared in Spiritualistic journals in February 1874.
Sir, It has been my endeavour to keep as clear of controversy as possible, in writing or speaking about so inflammatory a topic as the phenomena called Spiritual. Except in very few cases, where the prominent position of my opponent would have caused my silence to be ascribed to other than real motives, I have made no reply to the attacks and misrepresentations which my connection with this subject has entailed upon me.
The case is otherwise, however, when a few lines from me may perhaps assist in removing an unjust suspicion which is cast upon another. And when this other person is a women - young, sensitive and innocent - it becomes especially a duty for me to give the weight of my testimony in favour of her whom I believe to be unjustly accused.
Among all the arguments brought forward on either side touching the phenomena of Miss Cook's mediumship, I see very few facts stated in such a way as to lead an unprejudiced reader, provided he can trust the judgment and veracity of the narrator, to say, "Here at last is absolute proof." I see plenty of strong assertion, much unintentional exaggeration, endless conjecture and supposition, no little insinuation of fraud, and some amount of vulgar buffoonery; but no one has come forward with a positive assertion, based upon the evidence of his own senses, to the effect that when the form which calls itself "Katie" is visible in the room, the body of Miss Cook is either actually in the cabinet or is not there.
It appears to me that the whole question narrows itself into this small compass. Let either of the above alternatives be proved to be a fact, and all the other collateral questions may be dismissed. But the proof must be absolute, and not based on inferential reasoning, or assumed upon the supposed integrity of seals, knots and sewing; for I have no reason to know that the power at work in these phenomena, like Love, "laughs at locksmiths."
I was in hopes that some of those friends of Miss Cook, who have attended her séances almost from the commencement, and who appear to have been highly favoured in the tests they have received, would, ere this, have borne testimony in her favour. In default, however, of evidence from those who have followed these phenomena from the beginning nearly three years ago, let me, who have only been admitted, as it were, at the eleventh hour, state a circumstance which came under my notice at a séance to which I was invited by the favour of Miss Cook, a few days after the disgraceful occurrence which has given rise to this controversy.
The séance was held at the house of Mr. Luxmore, and the "cabinet" was a back drawing-room, separated from the front room in which the company sat by a curtain. The usual formality of searching the room and examining the fastenings having been gone through, Miss Cook entered the cabinet.
After a little time the form of Katie appeared at the side of the curtain, but soon retreated, saying her medium was not well, and could not be put into a sufficiently deep sleep to make it safe for her to be left.
I was sitting within a few feet of the curtain close behind which Miss Cook was sitting, and I could frequently hear her moan and sob, as if in pain. This uneasiness continued at intervals nearly the whole duration of the séance, and once, when the form of Katie was standing before me in the room, I distinctly heard a sobbing, moaning sound, identical with that which Miss Cook had been making at intervals the whole time of the séance, come from behind the curtain where the young lady was supposed to be sitting.
I admit that the figure was startlingly life-like and real, and, as far as I could see in the somewhat dim light, the features resembled those of Miss Cook; but still the positive evidence of one of my own senses that the moan came from Miss Cook in the cabinet, whilst the figure was outside, is too strong to be upset by a mere inference to the contrary, however well supported.
Your readers, sir, know me, and will, I hope, believe that I will not come hastily to an opinion, or ask them to agree with me on insufficient evidence. It is perhaps expecting too much to think that the little incident I have mentioned will have the same weight with them that it had with me. But this I do beg of them - Let those who are inclined to judge Miss Cook harshly suspend their judgment until I bring forward positive evidence which I think will be sufficient to settle the question.
Miss Cooke is now devoting herself exclusively to a series of private séances with me and one or two friends. The séances will probably extend over some months, and I am promised that every desirable test shall be given to me. These séances have not been going on many weeks, but enough has taken place to thoroughly convince me of the perfect truth and honesty of Miss Cook, and to give me every reason to expect that the promises so freely made to me by Katie will be kept.
All I now ask is that your readers will not hastily assume that everything which is prima facie suspicious necessarily implies deception, and that they will suspend their judgment until they hear from me again on this subject. I am, &c.,
William Crookes 20 Mornington Road, London. February 3, 1874
Related material on this site:
The Researches of Sir William Crookes into Psychic Phenomena - by Michael Scott