To the Trustees of The University of Pennsylvania:
'The Seybert Commission for Investigating Modem Spiritualism' respectfully present the following Preliminary Report, and request that the Commission be continued, on the following grounds:
The Commission is composed of men whose days are already filled with duties which cannot be laid aside, and who are able, therefore, to devote but a small portion of their time to these investigations. They are conscious that your honorable body look to them for a due performance of their task, and the only assurance which they can offer of their earnestness and zeal is in thus presenting to you, from time to time, such fragmentary Reports as the following, whereby they trust that successive steps in their progress may be marked. It is no small matter to be able to record any progress in a subject of so wide and deep an interest as the present. It is not too much to say that the farther our investigations extend the more imperative appears the demand for these investigations. The belief in so-called Spiritualism is certainly not decreasing. It has from the first assumed a religious tone, and now claims to be ranked among the denominational Faiths of the day.
From the outset your Commission have been deeply impressed with the seriousness of their undertaking, and have fully recognized that men eminent in intelligence and attainments yield to Spiritualism an entire credence, and who can fail to stand aside in tender reverence when crushed and bleeding hearts are seen to seek it for consolation and for hope? They beg that nothing which they may say may be interpreted as indicating indifference or levity. Wherever fraud in Spiritualism be found, that it is, and not whatever of truth there may be therein, which is denounced, and all Spiritualists who love the truth will join with us in condemnation of it.
The admission of evidence concerning the so-called Spiritual manifestations has been duly weighed. There is apparent force in the argument that our national histories are founded, accepted and trusted on evidence by no means as direct as that by which, it is claimed, the proofs of Spiritual miracles are accompanied. But it must be remembered that the facts of profane history are vouched for by evidence which is in accord with our present experience; they are in harmony with all that is now going on in the light of day (that history repeats itself has grown into a commonplace), and we are justified in accepting them on testimony, however indirect, which is nevertheless at one with the ordinary course of events. But the phenomena of Spiritualism have no such support; they are commonly regarded as in contravention of the ordinary experience of mankind (in that they are abnormal and extraordinary, lies their very attractiveness to many people), and no indirect testimony concerning them can be admitted without the most thorough, the most searching scrutiny. We doubt if any thoughtful Spiritualist could be found to maintain that we should unquestioningly accept all the so-called 'facts' with which their annals teem. To sift
the evidence of merely half a dozen would require incalculable labor. Wherefore we decided that, as we shall be held responsible for our conclusions, we must form those conclusions solely on our own observations; without at all imputing untrustworthiness to the testimony of others, we can really vouch only for facts which we have ourselves observed.
The late Mr. Henry Seybert during his lifetime was known as an enthusiastic believer in Modern Spiritualism, and shortly before his death presented to The University of Pennsylvania a sum of money sufficient to found a chair of Philosophy, and to the gift added a condition that the University should appoint a Commission to investigate 'all systems of Morals, Religion, or Philosophy which assume to represent the Truth, and particularly of Modern Spiritualism.'
A Commission was accordingly appointed, composed as follows: Dr. William Pepper, Dr. Joseph Leidy, Dr. George A. Koenig, Professor Robert Ellis Thompson, Professor George S. Fullerton and Dr. Horace Howard Furness; to whom were afterwards added Mr. Coleman Sellers, Dr. James W. White, Dr. Calvin B. Knerr and Dr. S. Weir Mitchell. Of this Commission Dr. Pepper, as Provost of The University, was, ex-officio, Chairman, Dr. Furness, Acting Chairman, and Professor Fullerton, Secretary.
As a befitting preliminary, at one of our earliest meetings each member in turn expressed his entire freedom from all prejudices against the subject to be investigated, and his readiness to accept any conclusion warranted by facts; one of our number, the Acting Chairman, so far from being unprejudiced confessed to a leaning in favor of the substantial truth of Spiritualism.