London Dialectical Society
A British professional association that in the late 1800s investigated
the phenomena of Spiritualism. Established in
1867, the London Dialectical Society was a highly regarded association
of professional individuals. With the appearance and
popularity of Spiritualism in England, the society resolved on
January 26, 1869, to investigate the phenomena alleged to be
Spiritual Manifestations, and to report thereon. A committee
was convened on which 33 members were appointed H. G. Atkinson,
G. Wheatley Bennett, J. S. Bergheim, Charles Bradlaugh
(later a famous atheist leader), G. Fenton Cameron,
George Cary, E. W. Cox, Rev. C. Maurice Davies, D. H. Dyte,
Mrs. D. H. Dyte, James Edmunds, Mrs. James Edmunds, James
Gannon, Grattan Geary, William B. Gower, Robert Hannah,
Jenner Gale Hillier, Mrs. J. G. Hillier, Henry Jeffery, H. D.
Jencken, Albert Kisch, J. H. Levy, Joseph Maurice, Isaac L.
Meyers, B. M. Moss, Robert Quelch, Thomas Reed, G. Russel
Roberts, W. H. Sweepstone, William Volckman, Alfred Russel
Wallace (later a famous psychic researcher), Josiah Webber,
and Horace S. Yeomans. Thomas H. Huxley and George
Henry Lewes were both invited but refused, Huxley stating that
even supposing the phenomena to be genuine, they do not interest
The report with evidence was presented to the council of the
London Dialectical Society on July 20, 1870. It was accepted,
but since it appeared to favor Spiritualist phenomena, the society
did not publish it. However, the committee felt that it was
in the public interest to be published, so it privately printed the
report in 1871.
Loka Encyclopedia of Occultism & Parapsychology 5th Ed.
The principal work was done in six subcommittees. The
general committee conducted 15 meetings to receive oral evidence
of personal spiritual (i.e., psychic) experience from 33
written statements from 31 persons. The general committee
stated that the report of the subcommittees
substantially corroborate each other, and would appear to
establish the following propositions
1. That sounds of a very varied character, apparently proceeding
from articles of furniture, the floor and wall of the
roomthe vibrations accompanying which sound are often distinctly
perceptible to the touchoccur without being produced
by muscular action or mechanical contrivance.
2. That movements of heavy bodies take place without mechanical
contrivance of any kind or adequate exertion of muscular
force by the persons present, and frequently without contact
or connection with any person.
3. That these sounds and movements often occur at the
times and in the manner asked for by persons present, and by
means of a simple code of signals, answer questions and spell
out coherent communications.
4. That the answers and communications thus obtained
are, for the most part, of a commonplace character; but the
facts are sometimes correctly given which are only known to
one of the persons present.
5. That the circumstances under which the phenomena
occur are variable, the most prominent fact being that the presence
of certain persons seems necessary to their occurrence
and that of others generally adverse; but this difference does
not appear to depend upon any belief or disbelief concerning
6. That, nevertheless, the occurrence of the phenomena is
not insured by the presence or absence of such persons respectively.
The evidence was summarized in the report as follows
1. Thirteen witnesses state that they have seen heavy bodiesin
some instances menrise slowly in the air and remain
there for some time without visible or tangible support.
2. Fourteen witnesses testify to having seen hands or figures,
not appertaining to any human being, but life-like in appearance
and mobility, which they have sometimes touched or
even grasped, and which they are therefore convinced were not
the result of imposture or illusion.
3. Five witnesses state that they have been touched, by
some invisible agency, on various parts of the body, and often
where requested, when the hands of all present were visible.
4. Thirteen witnesses declare that they have heard musical
pieces well played upon instruments not manipulated by an ascertainable
5. Five witnesses state that they have seen red-hot coals applied
to the hands or heads of several persons without producing
pain or scorching; and three witnesses state that they have
had the same experiment made upon themselves with the like
6. Eight witnesses state that they have received precise information
through rappings, writings, and in other ways, the
accuracy of which was unknown at the time to themselves or to
any persons present, and which, on subsequent inquiry was
found to be correct.
7. One witness declares that he has received a precise and
detailed statement which, nevertheless, proved to be entirely
8. Three witnesses state that they have been present when
drawings, both in pencil and colours, were produced in so short
a time, and under such conditions as to render human agency
9. Six witnesses declare that they have received information
of future events and that in some cases the hour and minute
of their occurrence have been accurately foretold, days and
even weeks before.
In addition to the above[,] evidence has been given of
trance speaking, of healing, of automatic writing, of the introduction
of flowers and fruits into closed rooms, of voices in the
air, of visions in crystals and glasses, and of the elongation of
the human body.
In presenting their report your Committee, taking into
consideration the high character and great intelligence of
many of the witnesses to the more extraordinary facts, the extent
to which their testimony is supported by the reports of the
sub-committees, and the absence of any proof of imposture or
delusion as regards a large portion of the phenomena; and further,
having regard to the exceptional character of the phenomena,
the large number of persons in every grade of society
and over the whole civilised world who are more or less influenced
by a belief in their super-natural origin, and to the fact
that no philosophical explanation of them has yet been arrived
at, deem it incumbent upon them to state their conviction that
the subject is worthy of more serious attention and careful investigation
than it has hitherto received.
Two of the subcommittees reported failure to obtain phenomena,
one investigated the medium D. D. Home with very
feeble results, and three witnessed strong physical manifestations
without contact and intelligence behind the operations.
Dissenting opinion to the report was registered by general
committee chair Dr. James Edmunds and by three other members
Henry Jeffrey, Grattan Geary, and H. G. Atkinson.
Alfred Russel Wallace stated in On Miracles and Modern Spiritualism
(1875) that, of the 33 acting members of the committee,
only 8 believed in the phenomena from the outset, while not
more than 4 accepted the spiritual theory. During the inquiry,
at least 12 of the complete skeptics became convinced of the reality
of many of the physical phenomena through attending the
experimental subcommittees, almost entirely by means of the
mediumship of members of the committee. At least 3 of the
previous skeptics later became thorough Spiritualists. The degree
of conviction was approximately proportionate to the
amount of time and care given the investigation.
Among those who gave evidence or read papers before the
committee were Wallace, Emma Hardinge Britte, H. D.
Jencken, Benjamin Coleman (later a member of the British
National Association of Spiritualists), Cromwell F. Varley, D.
D. Home, and the Master of Lindsay. Correspondence was received
from Bulwar Lytton, Dr. Robert Chambers, Dr. Garth
Wilkinson, William Howitt, and Camille Flammarion.
Very little opposing evidence was brought in. Lord Lytton
believed in material influences of whose nature we are ignorant,
Dr. Carpenter in unconscious cerebration, and Dr. Kidd
in the devil. Coverage of the report in the press, however, was
largely hostile. The London Times pronounced it as nothing
more than a farrago of impotent conclusions, garnished by a
mass of the most monstrous rubbish it has ever been our misfortune
to sit in judgment upon. The Morning Post considered
it entirely worthless. The Saturday Review was disappointed that
it did not discredit a little further one of the most unequivocally
degrading superstitions that has ever found currency among
reasonable beings. The Standard took a more open-minded
view. The Daily News stated that it may be regarded as an important
contribution to a subject which someday or other, by
the very number of its followers will demand more extended investigation.
The Spectator agreed with the reports conclusion
that the phenomena justified further cautious investigation.
Although the report considered only the phenomenal aspect
of Spiritualism and not the question of survival, it highly
influenced qualified investigators to look into the subject. Even
arch skeptic Frank Podmore admitted so much in his book
Modern Spiritualism (2 vols., 1902)
The work done by the Dialectical Society was, no doubt, of
value, since it has brought together and preserved for us a large
number of records of personal experiences by representative
Spiritualists. For those who wish to ascertain what Spiritualists
believed at this time, and what phenomena were alleged to
occur, the book may be of service. But, except in the Minority
Report by Dr. Edmunds, there is no trace of any critical hanEncyclopedia
of Occultism & Parapsychology 5th Ed. London Dialectical Society
dling of the materials, and the conclusions of the committee
can carry little weight.
Berger, Arthur S., and Joyce Berger. The Encyclopedia of
Parapsychology and Psychical Research. New York Paragon
London Dialectical Society. Report. London Longmans,
Green, Reader & Dyer, 1871. Reprint, London J. Burns, 1873.
Reprint, London Arno Press, 1976.
London Dialectical Society