We are continually confronted with statements wherein the narrator claims a Spiritual solution as the only possible one of the enigma involved in the phenomena, as he observed them.
To all such statements we have, first, the plain and ready answer, that we do not attempt to pass judgment on manifestations which we ourselves have not observed. All that we can vouch for is the result of our own observation. More cannot be demanded of us.
Secondly, experience has shown us that with every possible desire on the part of Spiritualists to tell the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth, concerning marvelous phenomena, it is extremely difficult to do so. Be it distinctly understood that we do not for an instant impute wilful [sic] perversion of the truth. All that we mean is that, for two reasons, it is likely that the marvels of Spiritualism will be, by believers in them, incorrectly and insufficiently reported.
The first reason is to be found in the mental condition of the observer; if he be excited or deeply moved, his account cannot but be affected, and essential details will surely be distorted.
For a second reason, note how hard it is to give a truthful account of any common, everyday occurrence. The difficulty is increased a hundred-fold, when what we would tell, partakes of the wonderful. Who can truthfully describe a juggler's trick? Who would hesitate to affirm that a watch, which never left the eye-sight for an instant, was broken by the juggler on an anvil; or that a handkerchief was burned before our eyes? We all know the juggler does not break the watch, and does not burn the handkerchief. We watched most closely the juggler's right hand, while the trick was done with his left. The one minute circumstance has been omitted , that would have converted the trick into no-trick. It is likely to be the same in the accounts of most of the wonderful phenomena of Spiritualism.
For these two reasons, we laid down for ourselves at the start that in cases demanding close observation we would endeavor to have as many members as possible of the Commission present at every seance. In dealing with phenomena, where all ordinary methods of investigation are excluded, we perceived clearly, that our best resource lay in having the largest possible number of observers.
In dismissing this subject of Independent Slate Writing, we repeat, what we think Spiritualists will generally grant, that this phenomenon can be performed by legerdemain. The burden of proof that it is not so performed rests with the Mediums. This proof the Mediums will neither offer themselves, nor permit others to obtain. Investigators, therefore, are forced to bring to bear their own powers of close observation, sharpened and educated by experience. Be it remembered that what we have here stated applies solely to the process whereby the communication is written on the slate; with the substance of the communication, whether pertinent answers to questions or dreary platitudes, we are not now dealing. Whether these answers be ascribed to Spirits, or to what is termed clairvoyance, they would be none the less true or false if delivered orally by the Medium; all that we are sure of, is that the writing down of these communications, be their substance what it may, is performed in a manner so closely resembling fraud as to be indistinguishable from it. It would be a mere matter of opinion that all Independent Slate Writing, is fraudulent; what is not a matter of opinion is the conviction, which we have unanimously reached as a Commission, of its non-spiritual character in every instance that has come before us.
An eminent professional juggler performed, in the presence of three of our Commission, some Independent Slate Writing far more remarkable than any which we have witnessed
with Mediums. In broad daylight, a slate perfectly clean on both sides was, with a small fragment of slate pencil, held under a leaf of a small ordinary table around which we were seated; the fingers of the juggler's right hand pressed the slate tight against the underside of the leaf, while the thumb completed the pressure, and remained in full view while clasping the leaf of the table. Our eyes never for a fraction of a second lost sight of that thumb; it never moved; and yet in a few minutes the slate was produced, covered on both sides with writing. Messages were there, and still are there, for we preserved the slate, written in French, Spanish, Dutch, Chinese, Japanese, Gujerati, and ending with 'Ich bin ein Geist, und liebe mein Lagerbier.' We were utterly baffled. For one of our number the juggler subsequently repeated the trick and revealed its every detail.
We request your honorable body to note that this report is preliminary and that we do not consider our investigations in this department as finally closed, but hold ourselves ready to continue them whenever favorable circumstances arise.
To the subject of 'Spirit-rappings' we have devoted some time and attention, but our investigations have not been sufficiently extensive to warrant us at present in offering any positive conclusions. The difficulty attending the investigation of this mode of Spiritualistic manifestation is increased by the fact, familiar to physiologists, that sounds of varying intensity may be produced in almost any portion of the human body by voluntary muscular action. To determine the exact location of this muscular activity is at times a matter of delicacy.
What we can say, thus far, with assurance is that, in the cases which have come under our observation, the
theory of the purely physiological origin of the sounds has been sustained by the fact that the Mediums were invariably, and confessedly, cognizant of the rappings whenever they occurred, and could at once detect any spurious rappings, however exact and indistinguishable to all other ears might be the imitation. For the details of the investigation which guided us to this conclusion we refer to the Appendix.