Cornhill Magazine,  8 (1863), 438–48.

A Letter to a Saturday Reviewer

[J Fitzjames Stephen]


Letter, Rejoinder


Spiritualism, Proof, Invention, Telegraphy, Electricity, Boundary Formation, Gravity

People mentioned:

James M Gully , Robert Bell

    Replies to two articles in the Saturday Review concerning the view of spiritualism expressed previously by Stephen in the Cornhill [see CM1/7/6/2]. Defends his sceptical position against the charge that it would 'have discredited every invention of modern times' and that the 'results produced by steam engines, electric telegraphs, the use of chloroform' are 'as great a shock to all antecedent experience as any sensible phenomena which it is possible to imagine'. Taking the example of the telegraph, asks, 'Why do you or I believe that it is possible to transmit messages across thousands of miles in a moment of time?' (442). After all, if 'credible witnesses had asserted that they went into a room in London, and that a man sitting there told them that a number of facts were then happening at Constantinople, of the occurrence of which satisfactory evidence afterwards arrived in the due course of the post, I should not have believed their statement, just as, at present, I do not believe the statements about Mr. Home flying round the room' (442–43). But, unlike spiritualism, the facts of telegraphy accord with 'some general theory which reconciles and explains a great number of familiar facts [...] and the difficulty of believing [is] removed'. In the case of telegraphy, 'I am told on good authority that there is an invisible and imponderable agent in nature which is called electricity and this is illustrated by a number of sufficiently familiar facts and experiments. By degrees I am taught to see that currents of electricity may by appropriate means be transmitted instantaneously to remote places, and so, step by step, I am led up to the electric telegraph, and when the matter is so put before me, I believe it as firmly as any one'. (443)

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