Miracles And Modern Spiritualism by Alfred Russel Wallace


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London: James Burns, 1875. First edition. 236 pages. Britton Memorial Library pastedown, several Manchester Central Spiritualist Association stamps present, sticker on spine, corners bumped, pages creased, overall good copy of a scarce title.  

'Alfred Wallace was as a British naturalist, who co-developed the theory of natural selection and evolution with Charles Darwin. He made enduring scholarly contributions to subjects as diverse as glaciology, land reform, anthropology, ethnography, epidemiology, and astrobiology. His pioneering work on what would become evolutionary biogeography, the science that seeks to explain the geographical distribution of organisms, led to him becoming recognised as that subject’s ‘father’. 

Beyond this, Wallace is regarded as the pre-eminent collector and field biologist of tropical regions of the 19th century, and his book The Malay Archipelago, which was Joseph Conrad’s favourite bedside reading, is one of the most celebrated travel writings of that century and has never been out of print. He was anti-slavery, anti-eugenics, anti-vivisection, anti-militarism, anti-Imperialism, a conservationist and an advocate of woman's rights. He strongly believed in the rights of the ordinary person, was a socialist, a proponent of land nationalisation. Wallace did not come from a privileged background and was largely self-taught.

This book, a set of essays on the philosophical implications of spiritualism, includes first-hand research of phenomena experienced by the Wallace. His advocacy of spiritualism and his belief in a non-material origin for the higher mental faculties of humans, strained his relationship with some members of the scientific establishment. For Wallace Spiritualism was a matter of science and philosophy rather than religious belief. Therefore, this book is an important artefact of 19th century thought, in representing the views of spiritualism from the perspective of a prodigious, well-respected scientific mind. 

"Life in the higher spheres has beauties and pleasures of which we have no conception. Ideas of beauty and power become realised by the will, and the infinite cosmos becomes a field where the highest developments of intellect may range in the acquisition of boundless knowledge... That soul's continued existence and triumph over death; our own embodied spirit's power of communication with the invisible world around us, and its various occult forces. Clairvoyance, clairaudience, prophecy, trance, vision, psychometry, and magnetic healing; how grand and wonderful appears the soul, invested even in its earthly prison house, with all these gleams of powers so full of glorious promise of what we shall be, when the prison gates of matter open wide and set the spirit free!"- Mrs. Emma Hardinge Britton

"The perfect observer in any department of science will have his eyes, as it were, opened, that they may be struck at once by any occurrence which, according to received theories, ought not to happen, for these are the facts which serve as clues to new discoveries."

On 7 November 2013, the 100th anniversary of Wallace's death, Sir David Attenborough unveiled a statue of Wallace at The Natural History Museums in London.