I DID not know
Enrico Morselli personally. I do not know why, but my fancy had pictured him
as of imposing stature, thin, with a grey beard, and an ironical smile playing
about his mouth. I found him, however, simple, courteous and calm, quite
different from the popular conception of him. In his eye, though quick and
penetrating, there were kindly glances which encouraged confidence; on his
white, broad forehead high thoughts must play, which he certainly did not
express to me, but which I read, and which seemed to attain to the most exalted
idealism. His study at Genoa - where he received me with every courtesy - is a
pleasing mixture of the doctor's consulting-room and the sanctum of the student.
As soon as I had told him that I had come to ask his opinion on the movement
which was taking place in so-called spiritism, to know whether at the present
juncture he had anything to say on this terrible subject, he carried his hand to
his hair with an unaffected gesture.
"For mercy's sake, Palmarini, what do you want me to
tell you? I have determined to answer nothing more to anybody; it is all so much
time lost! Look here" - and he rose and pulled out of a glass case a great
bundle of papers, which he opened and allowed me to examine - "this is my book
on Spiritism, which I have only to hand to the printer; it is all ready! This
will be my final word on this thorny subject. See, then, whether I have occupied
myself with it or am still doing so!"
 Psicologia e Spiritismo. By E. Morselli.
Publishers, Bocca, Turin.
"Very good, and I hope that I shall soon read your opinions, which will
certainly be of extraordinary importance. But, meanwhile, tell me at least
whether you believe that mediumistic researches have recently passed from the
field of vulgar empiricism and assumed something of a scientific character."
"Scientific? Psychical researches? How and when have
they assumed a scientific character? For the present, I can assert that we are
still in the most absolute, gross, bestial - really bestial - empiricism. If we
think of the manner in which sťances are carried on, the toys, the puerilities
which render possible or otherwise the manifestation of these phenomena, we, who
are accustomed to the severity of scientific research, cannot but be disdainful
of this state of affairs. Mind, I do not deny the existence of the phenomena,
and I believe them to be real, not only because they are reported by persons
worthy of credence, even by scientists, but because I also have experimented."
"Without suspicion of trickery?" I interrupted.
"No; I, at least, think not, and would almost
guarantee that trickery was impossible; but mathematical certainty cannot be
obtained. Certainly, if these phenomena were effected by trickery, it would be a
more extraordinary phenomenon still."
"I said that the phenomena were real, but they are
so capricious, so irreducible, so unequal and so refractory to all experimental
determination, that it is most natural that a scientist like myself should rebel
and distrust them. But that is not all; even admitting a spiritual origin for
these phenomena, it is repugnant, as Gaetano Negri well said, it is repugnant to
our thought to unite this sublime world with the bestially coarse practices of
spiritistic sťances. I, for instance, at one sitting saw a phantasm which
presented itself as my mother. Well, do you wonder that the thought that one so
dear to me should be drawn there by the convulsive exclamations of any medium,
while I, her son, cannot see her for myself, causes me a natural repugnance and
a reasonable distrust?"
"But then, Professor, the dearest person in life to
me, if she wished to come to me on a pathless mountain, would have to avail
herself of the back of a common mule, not being able to make use of the
convenient and aristocratic speed of a motor car or a Wagon-lit."
"Certainly, certainly," replied the illustrious
scientist; "even the soap-bubble that gleams with so many brilliant colours is
formed of water and common soap. But, you understand, everything requires to be
demonstrated; it must be subjected to some method, to scientific determination.
It is no use; all these phenomena, of whatever sort, must be subject to laws! I
do not claim to subject them to one law rather than to another, even if it were
proved that in order to have phenomena we must have mediums, dark cabinets, red
lamps, chains, etc., but we must verify them, we must establish an organised
principle for these practices, we must do away with all indeterminateness."
"But, excuse me: do you not think that if we do not
yet know the nature of these phenomena, we cannot pretend to fix laws for them?
And what if these laws do not exist, at least in the determinate form which we
"It is not so. The experimental method is too
categorical and at the same time too free to allow any kind of phenomena to
escape it. Given a cause, we do not say that it must produce a certain given
effect, but that it must produce a constant effect; now, if cause A produces
effect B, I ought to be able to find that cause A always produces effect B. It
is a fact that there is a series of phenomena which take place; if they take
place they must obey laws; I do not ask whether they are moral or material,
spiritual or psychical laws, I only say that if these facts occur, I, as a
scientist, ought to find out the nature of their occurrence, after having
assured myself as to their truth and import."
"So that you are indifferent as to their origin,
spiritual or physical; you would not consider an extra-human explanation
"Not in the least. I am and always shall be an
unprejudiced positivist. If my experiments led me to conclude that these
phenomena were really produced by beings who have survived death, I should make
no difficulty about publishing my conclusions and equally so if I arrived at the
"You have experimented with
"Yes, and not once only; I have been present at
extraordinary occurrences, but - do we know what forces come into play in these
sťances? The rigorous control that would be necessary to put all doubts out of
the question is not possible. The only man who has commenced a series of
experiments of a scientific character is
Crookes, but that is now an old
"And those of
"Richet believes too much, and is too prejudiced.
Now, to conduct strict experiments one must rid one's self of all tendency,
either in favour or against. The least dangerous is, to believe little."
"What do you think of the hypothesis which explains
the phenomena by collective hallucinations?"
"I cannot altogether accept it, not only because
hallucinatory states are accompanied by other pathological conditions, which I
have not found either in myself or in others who were present at the sittings,
but also on account of a fact sufficiently evidential. We saw a luminous
half-phantom, and those who were in front had a front view of it, those at the
side saw it in profile. Now, it might be said that the hallucination was such
that it could create that difference in perspective, but you will agree that
this would be a phenomenon still more strange."
Then I related a series of researches made by me at
some sťances held by our Society for Psychical Studies at Florence to decide
this precise point of the likelihood of this hypothesis of hallucination,
researches carried on upon the senses of sight, smell, touch and hearing, and
which were absolutely negative in result, and the illustrious professor
acknowledged that these were in part conclusive.
"So that, in conclusion, Professor, according to you we are still completely in
"In my opinion, yes, absolutely so. Until it shall
be possible to have powerful mediums, constant and docile, with whom we can
carry on a definite series of experiments in the cabinet, with all those
instruments of physiological and psychological science which have been invented
with so much pains and ingenuity, we shall never be able to speak of scientific
researches on spiritism. Perhaps from that farrago, of empiric facts in which,
for all we know, a few great truths are mingled with a multitude of
superstitions, deceptions and imbecilities, there will issue a new science, as
astronomy came from astrology, and chemistry from alchemy; but at present, it
seems to me, we are not yet even at the state of alchemy, but rather at the
"Do you believe that there is a psychical
correlation between the hypnotic and mediumistic states?"
"I have not experimented on the subject, and,
therefore, cannot answer; but I believe that there must certainly be a relation,
and it would be important to institute experiments on the subject."
"At any rate, Professor, without claiming a
categoric reply, and taking all your reservations into account, I wish to know
this: Given the objectivity of the phenomena, which you do not deny, do you hold
to the anthropodynamic explanation rather than to any other of supreme
"Yes; with all reserves as to the nature and, the
genuineness of the facts, I incline to the anthropodynamic explanation: there
are forces which proceed from us - at least until the contrary be proved."
The illustrious scientist, who had said that he
could not speak to me for more than half an hour, became aware that our
conversation had lasted an hour and a half. I rose, thanking him very gratefully
for his courtesy; and Morselli, pointing out some beautiful engravings elegantly
framed and hanging on the wall, said, with a jocular air:
"They say that I do not believe in spiritism; yet
look at that beautiful photograph of a spirit hand; that other, as you know, is
Katie King, the phantom personage of
His noble and expressive countenance bore at that
moment an air - I might even say an aura - of high poetic feeling, and I said
with a smile, as I took my leave:
"Ah, Professor, you may call yourself a positivist, but at the bottom, like all
men of high mentality, you are an idealist."
The Annals of Psychical Science, Vol. VII, No. 46, October, 1908.