Hare, Robert (1781–1858)
Nineteenth-century professor of chemistry at the University
of Pennsylvania and early advocate of Spiritualism. Among his
scientific discoveries was the oxy-hydrogen blowpipe. He wrote
more than 150 scientific papers as well as additional papers on
various political and moral questions.
Hare was born in Philadelphia January 17, 1781, and studied
at the University of Philadelphia, where he filled the chair
of chemistry from 1818 to 1847. As a high-ranking scientist of
the day, he was one of the first scientific authorities to denounce
early American Spiritualism in the press. In 1853 he
wrote that he considered it ‘‘an act of duty to his fellow creatures
to bring whatever influence he possessed to the attempt
to stem the tide of popular madness which, in defiance of reason
and science, was fast setting in favour of the gross delusion
called spiritualism.’’ So at age 72 he began his investigations
and devised a number of instruments that, contrary to his expectations,
conclusively proved, he believed, that a power and
intelligence other than that of those present was at work.
His first apparatus was a wooden board about four feet long,
supported on a fulcrum about a foot from one end, and at the
other end attached by a hook to a spring balance. A glass vessel
filled with water was placed on the board near the fulcrum; a
wire gauze cage attached to an independent support, not
touching the glass at any point, was placed in the water. The
medium would affect the balance by simply placing his hand
into the wire cage. The medium Hare tested was Henry Gordon.
The balance showed variations of weight amounting to 18
pounds. This apparatus had similarities to that used later by Sir
William Crookes to test the medium D. D. Home.
A second apparatus consisted of a revolving disk attached to
a table in such a manner that the movements of the table actuated
the pointer, which ran around the letters of the alphabet
printed on the circumference of the disk and spelled out messages.
The disk was arranged so that the medium could not see
the letters. Hare’s book Experimental Investigation of the Spirit
Manifestation, published in 1855, sums up the results
‘‘The evidence may be contemplated under various phases;
first, those in which rappings or other noises have been made
which could not be traced to any mortal agency; secondly, those
in which sounds were so made as to indicate letters forming
grammatical, well-spelt sentences, affording proof that they
were under the guidance of some rational being; thirdly, those
in which the nature of the communication has been such as to
prove that the being causing them must, agreeably to accompanying
allegations, be some known acquaintance, friend, or relative
of the inquiry.
‘‘Again, cases in which movements have been made of ponderable
bodies of a nature to produce intellectual communications
resembling those obtained, as above-mentioned, by
‘‘Although the apparatus by which these various proofs were
attained with the greatest possible precaution and precision,
modified them as to the manner, essentially all the evidence
which I have obtained tending to the conclusions above mentioned,
has likewise been substantially obtained by a great number
of observers. Many who never sought any spiritual communications
and have not been induced to enrol themselves as
Hardy, Sir Alister Clavering Encyclopedia of Occultism & Parapsychology • 5th Ed.
Spiritualists, will nevertheless not only affirm the existence of
the sounds and movements, but also admit their inscrutability.’’
The book, the second part of which describes the afterlife as
depicted by the communicators, passed through five editions.
Reaction was quick to set in against its influence. The professors
of Harvard University passed a resolution denouncing
Hare and his ‘‘insane adherence to a gigantic humbug.’’ He was
howled down by the American Association for the Advancement
of Science when, in Washington in 1854, he tried to address
members on the subject of Spiritualism. He finally paid
for his convictions by resigning from his chair.
A. D. Ruggles, a professional medium who often wrote in
languages unknown to him, was one of the subjects with whom
Hare experimented. Later Hare himself evidently became a
medium, as deduced from a letter he wrote to John Worth Edmonds,
which contains this paragraph ‘‘Having latterly acquired
the powers of a medium in sufficient degree to interchange
ideas with my spirit friends, I am no longer under the
necessity of defending media from the charge of falsehood and
deception. It is now my own character only that can be in question.’’
The revelations Hare believed he received from the otherworld
he took at face value. There was no careful sifting or
criticism, and the belief that they apparently came from spirits
appears to have attested their credibility for Hare. This simplistic
acceptance of Spiritualism diminished Hare’s reputation,
especially among his former colleagues, in his later years. He
died in Philadelphia May 15, 1858.
Hare, Robert. Experimental Investigation of the Spirit Manifestations.
New York Partridge & Britten, 1855. Reprint, Elk
Grove, Wis. Sycamorte Press, 1963.

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