Allan Kardec

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Regarding the article published in the Journal des Débats, by Mr. Deschanel

Mr. Emile Deschanel, whose name was unknown to me, wanted to dedicate twenty four columns of the Journal des Débats to us, in the numbers 15 and 29 of last November. We thank him for that or at least for the intention. In fact after the articles “Bibliographie Catholique” and the “Gazette de Lyon”, which regurgitated strong detestations and sharp insults from the mouth in a manner reminiscent of the fifteenth century, we don’t know anything more malicious, less scientific and particularly long-winded than Mr. Deschanel. Such a violent attack must have led him to believe that Spiritism would be dead and buried forever, since it was wounded by his spear and sword. Now, due to the fact that we did not respond to him; because we have not summoned him or have not initiated any controversy, he might be mistaken about the reasons for our silence: we will now explain our motives.

The first reason is that in our opinion there was nothing urgent to be dealt with and we were very comfortable with the wait in order to assess the effect of such an attack, and then respond accordingly. Now that we are perfectly aware of the issue we will say a few words. The second reason is a direct consequence of the first. In order to refute the whole article it would be necessary to reproduce it in its entirety to show the attack and the defense, and that alone would have taken a full issue of our Review. The refutation would take at least two issues. We would then have used up three issues of The Review to object to what? Reasons? No, just mockeries by Mr. Deschanel. Frankly, it was not worth it and our readers do prefer something else. Those willing to get to know his logic will be satisfied by reading the referred texts. Furthermore, our response would have definitely been a repetition of what we have been saying, responding to the Univers, to Mr. Oscar Comettant, to the Gazette de Lyon, to Mr. Louis Figuier and to the Bibliographie Catholique * since all those attacks are nothing more than variations of the same theme. It would then be necessary to repeat the same thing in different terms to avoid being boring and we do not have time for that. What we would have to say would be useless to the followers and not good enough to convince the disbelievers; so, it will be a waste of time. We prefer to reference our works to those who really want to learn. They then can balance the arguments in favor and against. Their own reason will do the rest. As a matter of fact, why should we respond to Mr. Deschanel? To convince him? But we have no interest absolutely in doing that. Some people might say that it would be one follower more. However, what is the actual importance of Mr. Deschanel as a person? Which weight does he bring to the scale when membership reaches in the thousands, starting from the top of the social echelon? But he is a reporter and if instead of attacks he had praised the Doctrine, wouldn’t it have been much better? This is a more serious issue. Let us then discuss it.

To begin with, is it certain that Mr. Deschanel, supposedly a new convert, would have dedicated twenty four columns of his paper in favor of Spiritism, as he did against it? We don’t believe that for two reasons: first because he would had been afraid of being ridiculed by his comrades; second, because the editor of the newspaper would likely had refused to do so for being afraid of scaring his readers away, who are less worried about the devil than the spirits. We know a good number of scholars and reporters who are this way but are not less sincere and good spiritists because of that. It is a known fact that Mrs. Emile de Girardin, who was considered to be a scholarly person, was not only a devout believer but also a good medium who obtained several communications, always reserved and in an intimate circle of friends who shared her convictions. She did not talk about it to other people. Thus, a reporter who dared to speak against but who would not dare to speak in favor, in case of a conversion, is just a simple individual. When we see a mother devastated by the loss of her dear child finding ineffable consolation in the Doctrine, her adhesion to our principles is worth a hundred times more than the adhesion of any celebrity if that celebrity dares not say anything about the Doctrine. Besides, there are plenty of people of good will. These are so numerous and so many come to us that we can hardly serve them. Hence, we don’t see the point in wasting our time with those who are indifferent, running after those who don’t seek us.

Just one word is enough to reveal if Mr. Deschanel is serious. Here is the beginning of his second article, dated November 29th:

“The Spiritist Doctrine refutes itself. It is enough to expose it. It is not wrong for being called simply spiritist, after all, because it is neither spiritual nor spiritualist. On the contrary, it is based on the grossest materialism, and it would be funny if it were not ridiculous.”

Saying that Spiritism is based on gross materialism when it fights materialism relentlessly; when it would be nothing without the soul, its immortality, the future penalties and rewards, of which it is a clear example of, is a stretch of ignorance about the subject that is being dealt with. If it is not ignorance, it is bad faith and slander.

When we see that accusation and when we see him citing the biblical texts, the prophets, Moses’ law that prohibits to interrogate the dead – a proof that they can be interrogated since one does not forbid something that is just impossible – we could attribute him with a frenzied orthodoxy but by reading the fallacy of the following texts the readers would be embarrassed to discuss his opinion:

“How can the spirits excite your senses? How can they be seen, heard and touched? And how can they write themselves and give us their autograph from the other world? Oh! These spirits are not spirits as you think: spirits, purely spirits. The spirit, you have heard, is not an abstract, undefined being, only conceived in our minds; it is a real, circumscribed being, in certain cases noticeable through sight, hearing and touch.”

“Will these spirits then have a body? Not exactly.”


“The human being has three things:

1st – the body or the material being, analogous to the animals, moved by the same vital principle;

2nd – the soul or the immaterial being, the spirit that is incarnate in the body;

3rd – the link between the soul and the body, the intermediary principle between matter and spirit.”

“Intermediary? What the hell are you talking about? It is either matter or not.”

“That depends.”

“What do you mean by – depends?”

“It is like that: the link or perispirit, that bonds the spirit to the body, is a kind of semi-material covering…”

“Semi… semi…!”

“Death is the destruction of the denser covering; the spirit keeps the second that is like an ethereal body, invisible to us in the normal state, but that can become accidentally visible and even tangible, as that which happens in the phenomena of apparitions.”

“However ethereal you like, a body is always a body. That means two bodies. And matter is matter. You can make it as subtle as you wish that there will never be anything semi there. Electricity itself is nothing more than matter and not semi-matter. And regarding your… how do you call it?”


“Yes, your perispirit… I believe that it explains nothing and it does need an explanation on its own.”

“The perispirit operates as the first covering of the spirit, bonding the soul to the body. That is similar to the perisperm and the skin of a fruit or a germ… the perispirit is taken from the environment, from the universal fluid; it simultaneously takes part in the electricity and the magnetic fluid, and to a certain extent into the inert matter… Do you understand?”

“Not really.”

“One could say that it is the quintessence of matter.”

“You have very well quintessence, you cannot pull it away from the spirit or the semi-spirit. Your perispirit is pure matter.”

“It is the principle of organic life but not the intellectual life.”

“In the end it can be whatever you like. Your perispirit is so many things that I don’t know for sure what it is; it can well be nothing.”

The word perispirit, as it seems, offends you. Had you lived at the time when the term perisperm was created you would perhaps have found it ridiculous too. Why not criticize the words that are created every day to express new ideas? It is not the word that I criticize, you will say, it is the thing itself.

Be that you have never seen the perispirit; do you also deny the soul, considering that you have not seen it either? Do you deny God for the same reason? Well! If the soul or the spirit that are the same thing cannot be seen, the perispirit that is their fluidic envelope can be seen, when free, as one can see the soul’s material covering when incarnate.

Mr. Deschanel strives to demonstrate that the perispirit must be material. But that is what we have said in all our letters. Would that be the reason that led him to say that Spiritism is a materialistic doctrine? But he is betrayed by the very citation that he makes because we say so using our own terms, but without the witty mockery, that the perispirit is only an independent envelope of the spirit. Where has he heard us saying it is the perispirit that thinks? Being that he does not want a perispirit either; but then he has to tell us how he can explain the action of the spirits upon matter without an intermediary.

Let us not talk about the contemporary apparitions in which he certainly doesn’t believe. However, since he is so versed in the Bible, since he so fervently defends it, if it is that he believes in the bible and what it says, can he then explain the apparitions of angels that are mentioned at every instantaneous moment? According to the theological doctrine, the angels are pure spirits; but when they become visible will Mr. Deschanel say that it is the spirit that is made visible? This would be the same as materializing the spirit since only matter can affect our senses. We say that the spirit has an envelope that can make it visible and even tangible at will. It is only the envelope that is material, although very much ethereal, and that does not diminish the actual qualities of the spirit in anyway. We thus explain a fact hitherto inexplicable and we are certainly less materialistic than those who pretend that it is the spirit that transforms into matter in order to act and to be seen.

Those who didn’t believe in the apparition of angels in the Bible may believe now, if they believed in the existence of angels but were reluctant due to previous reasoning; they may for that reason understand the possibility of current manifestations, visible, tangible or otherwise, considering that the soul or the spirit has a fluidic envelope or body, and if indeed they believe in the existence of the soul.

Besides, Mr. Deschanel forgot something: to give his own theory of the soul or spirit. As a judicious man he should have said: You are wrong for this or that reason; things are not as you say; here is how they are. It would only be then that we would have something to discuss. However, it is noticeable that this is not done by any contradictor of Spiritism. They deny, mock and slander. We don’t know any other logic from them and that does not disturb us or cause much worry. We remain absolutely firm since they propose nothing or seem to have nothing better to offer. It is only the openly materialistic person that has an established system: the void after death. We wish them a lot of happiness if that satisfies them. Unfortunately those who admit the existence of the soul are incapable of solving the most vital questions only according to their theory and hence have no other option but to turn to a blind faith, not a very conclusive reasoning for those who like reason, and these count in large numbers in this period of intellectual enlightenment. Well, since the spiritualists explain nothing in a satisfactory way to the thinkers, they conclude that there is nothing and that the materialists may be right. That is what leads so many people to disbelief whereas those same difficulties are a simple and natural solution in the spiritist theory.

Materialism says: There is nothing beyond matter. Spiritualism says: There is something, but provides no proof. Spiritism says: There is something and demonstrates it, and supported by its foundation it explains what was so far was inexplicable. That is what is makes Spiritism bring so many disbelievers back to spiritualism. There is only one thing that we would like to ask Mr. Deschanel: that he may provide his theory and clearly respond to the several questions that we addressed to Mr. Figuier.

To summarize, Mr. Deschanel’s objections are trivial. If he were a serious man; had he criticized with knowledge of the facts; had he not exposed himself by making the huge mistake of defining Spiritism as a materialistic doctrine, he would have tried to study it in-depth; he would have come to meet us, as many others have done, to seek clarifications that we would have gladly provided. However, he preferred to speak according to his own ideas, and that he certainly considers to be the supreme regulator, like the metric unit to measure human reason.

Well, since his personal opinion is irrelevant to us, we have no intention to make him change. We did not move a single step in the direction of doing so; we did not invite him to any meeting, to any demonstration. If he wanted to know he would have come to us. Considering that he did not come it is because he did not want to and we are not more interested than he is.

This is another point to discuss: Can such a vicious and lengthy criticism, founded or not founded, in such an important vehicle like the Débats, can it harm the propagation of new ideas? Let us see.

To begin with it is necessary to observe that one cannot treat a philosophical doctrine as a commodity. If a newspaper claimed, based on evidence, that merchant sells damaged or tainted food then nobody would feel like trying it to see if that was true. However, every metaphysical theory is an opinion that even if coming from God would find contradictors. Haven’t we seen the best things, the most incontestable truths today, ridiculed in their origin, by the most respectable men? Has it prevented them from being true and spreading? Everybody knows this; that’s why the opinion of a reporter on such issues is always only a personal opinion. That makes us think that if so many wise people were mistaken about objective things, Mr. Deschanel can well be mistaken about something abstract. However little he may know about Spiritism, even a vague idea, his accusation that it is materialistic was his rightful condemnation. This results in people preferring to see and judge for themselves and that is all we ask. Mr. Deschanel has unwillingly done a great service to our cause with that respect; and we thank him since that spares us from the cost of publicity, since we do not have enough money to pay for advertising in a publication of 24 columns. However widespread it may be, Spiritism has not yet penetrated everywhere. There are still many who have not heard about it. An article of this size attracts attention. It penetrates even into the enemy’s camps where it provokes desertions, because nobody would so strongly attack something that is unworthy. In fact, we should not amuse ourselves by raising formidable regiments towards a battlefield that may be taken by rifles. The resistance is judged by the deployment of the attacking forces strength, and this is what calls the attention to things which might have otherwise gone unnoticed.

All of that is only reasoning. Let us see if the facts come to contradict him. The credibility of a newspaper is assessed by the sympathies found within public opinion, by the number of readers. The same must apply to Spiritism, represented by a few special books; we only speak about ours because we know the exact numbers. Well! The Spirits’ Book which has become the most complete presentation of Spiritism was initially published in 1857; the second edition in April 1860; the third edition in August 1860, that is four months later, and in February 1861 the fourth edition was out. Hence, three editions in less than a year demonstrate that not everybody is like Mr. Deschanel. Our new book, The Mediums’ Book, was issued on January 15th, 1861 and we are already thinking about the second edition. We have requests from Russia, Germany, Italy, England, Spain, USA, Mexico, Brazil, etc.

The articles of the Journal des Débats was published last November. If they had exerted the minimal influence upon public opinion it would have been felt by The Spiritist Review that is published monthly. Well, on the date of renewal of subscriptions on January 1st, 1861 there was an increase of thirty three percent with respect to the same period of last year, and The Review receives daily requests for new subscriptions with the remarkable request for the full collections of previous years, a fact that has forced us to reprint them.

This shows that The Review does not seem so ridiculous to them. From all sides, in Paris, in the countryside, abroad, there are spiritist gatherings. We know of more than a hundred of them in different regions, and we are far from knowing all of them and not to mention those individuals who study at home in groups or alone. What would Mr. Deschanel, Mr. Figuier and others of the same kind say about it? That the number of deranged people increases? Yes, it increases at such a rate that soon the number of mad people will surpass the sensible ones.

But what those gentlemen so much full of solicitude must deplore is the fact that everything that they have done to stop this movement has actually produced an opposite result. Do they want to know the cause? It is very simple. They pretend to speak in the name of reason and offer nothing better; some give the void as perspective; others the eternal flames; two alternatives that don’t please many people. Between the two choose the one that is more reassuring. After that, does it come as a surprise the fact that people throw themselves into the arms of Spiritism? Those gentlemen believed to have killed it, and we had to demonstrate to them that the little man is still alive, and will still live for a long time.

Since experience demonstrated that Mr. Deschanel’s article, far from harming the cause of Spiritism has served it, exciting the desire to get to know it in those who had not heard about it yet, we then find it useless to discuss his assertions one by one. All weapons have been used against this doctrine: it has been attacked in the name of religion, religion that Spiritism serves instead of causing harm; in the name of science, in the name of materialism. Attacks, threats, slanders have multiplied against the doctrine that resisted them all, even ridicule. Under the cloud of darts thrown against it, the doctrine peacefully traveled around the world and creates roots everywhere, before the eyes of its most bloodthirsty enemies. Isn’t that a subject for serious thought and isn’t that proof that it resonates in human’s heart, at the same time that it is safeguarded by a force against which all human efforts prove useless? It is remarkable that when the articles appeared in the Journal des Débats, spontaneous communications were given in several places, in Paris and other regions. They all expressed the same thought. The following was given at the Society on November 30th last:

“Don’t be disturbed by what the world may write against Spiritism. It is not you that the disbelievers attack but God Himself. However, God is more powerful. This is a new era, you must understand that well, a new era that opens up before you and those who try to oppose the designs of Providence will be knocked down soon. As it was correctly said, instead of harming Spiritism, skepticism hurts its own hands and it will kill itself. Let skepticism speak while the world wishes to make death omnipotent by the nothingness; only oppose indifference to their bitter pretentiousness. For you death will no longer be that terrible goddess dreamt by the poets. Death shall become Homer’s dawn of rosy fingers. **”

André Chénier

St. Louis had already said this about the same issue:

“Similar articles don’t cause harm but to those who write them; they don’t do any harm to Spiritism, but help its propagation, even among its enemies.”

Another spirit responded to a doctor from Nimes, who asked his opinion about the subject:

“You must be happy with that. If your enemies dedicate so much time to you it is for recognizing that you have some value and for fear of you. Then, let them do as they wish. The more they speak the more they will make you known. The time is not far when they shall be forced to silence. Their rage proves their weakness. Only the true force knows how to control itself, for it is patient and has confidence. The weakness tries to stun by making a lot of noise.”

Do you now want an example of how certain wise people employ science for the benefit of humanity?

One of our colleagues from the Parisian Society of Spiritist Studies, Mr. Indermuhle from Berne, writes the following:

“Mr. Schiff, professor of Anatomy (I don’t know if this is the same that so ingeniously discovered the cracking muscle that Mr. Jobert de Lamballe took on as the chief editor) *** gave a public course here about digestion. The course was certainly interesting. However, after having spoken at length about culinary and Chemistry he demonstrated that no matter can be annihilated; that it can be divided and transformed but that it is found in the composition of air, water, organic tissues, arriving at the following conclusion: thus, he says, the soul as vulgarly understood, is exactly in this sense that which we call the soul dissolves as a material body after death; it decomposes to become part of the matter in the air or in other bodies. That is the only way that the word immortality can be justified. Otherwise it cannot.” That is how in 1861 the scholars assigned with the task of instructing and clarifying humankind gave them stone instead of bread.

One must say praising humanity that the majority of the attendees were not very impressed or happy with such a conclusion made so suddenly and many were outraged. As for myself I felt sorry for this man. Had he criticized the government, he would have been stopped and punished. How can one tolerate the public teaching of materialism, which dissolves society? We would add to the sound thoughts of our colleague that a materialistic society that certain people strive to transform our current society into today, is more dangerous in any kind of government since there is no moral restraint. Materialism has perhaps never been professed with such cynicism, and those who refrain by having some modesty indemnify themselves by dragging in the mud whatever can be destroyed. However, do as they will, these are the convulsions of their agony. Whatever Mr. Deschanel may say it is Spiritism that will give him the final blow. We just sent Mr. Deschanel the following letter:


You published two articles in the Journal des Débats last November 15th and 29th, in which you appreciate Spiritism from your point of view. The ridicule that you cast upon this doctrine and consequently upon me in turn and all those who profess it, gives me the right of response that I would then ask of you to publish as well. I had not done so yet because regardless of the extension of my answer, it would still be insufficient to those unfamiliar to this science and useless to those who know it. Belief can only be acquired after serious studies, carried out without prevention, without preconceived ideas, and through a large number of observations, done with patience and perseverance by someone who is really willing to know and learn. I would need to give a real course to your readers and that would surpass the limits of a single article. However, since I believe you are a man of honor I am sure you would not attack without giving the opportunity of defense, thus limiting myself to this simple letter that I request you kindly to have published in your paper, containing the same words that your readers will find in The Spirits’ Book and in The Mediums’ Book that I have just published through Mr. Didier & Co., an answer that is sufficient in my opinion. I will allow your readers to make a parallel between your arguments and mine. Those who would like to form a prior and low cost concise idea may read the little book entitled “What is Spiritism?” that costs only 60 cents, as well as the Letter of a Catholic about Spiritism, from Mr. Grand, former Vice-Council of France. They will also find some thoughts about your article that we published in this March issue of The Spiritist Review. Nevertheless, there is one point that I cannot let go quietly: it is the passage in your article where you say that Spiritism is founded on the grossest materialism. I set aside your offenses and uncivil expressions, things to which I usually don’t give importance, and stick to the point that contains a mistake that I would not call gross because such term would be discourteous but is of capital importance and that needs to be pointed out for the benefit of the reader. In fact, the essential foundation of Spiritism and without which there would be no reason for its occurrence, is the belief in God, in the existence and immortality of the soul, in the future penalties and rewards. Well, these points are the most absolute negation of materialism that admits none of them. The Spiritist Doctrine is not satisfied with their affirmation; it does not admit them as a preconceived idea, but is a clear demonstration. That is why Spiritism has already brought back a large number of disbelievers who had rejected any religious sentiments. It may not be spiritual but there is no doubt that it is essentially spiritualist, that is, contrary to materialism since one would not be able to understand a doctrine of the immortal soul founded on the inexistence of the soul. This leads so many people to an absolute disbelief in the way by which the soul and its future are presented to them. Daily I see people who say to me: “If since my childhood I had been taught these things as you teach them, I would never have become a non-believer, because now I understand what I did not before.” Thus, on a daily basis I am presented with sufficient proof that it is enough to expose this doctrine that has won over numerous supporters.

Yours sincerely, etc.”

* To Univers, May and July 1859; to Mr. Comettant, December 1859; to the Gazette of Lyon, October 1860; to Mr. Figuier, September and December 1860; to Bibliographie Catholique, January 1861
** Reference to Homer’s Odissey, ‘l’Aurore aux doigts de rose’ translated into French, word by word. Fenelon did not hesitate to use it: …tomorrow when the dawn with its rosy fingers open the golden doors to the East… Aristotle wanting to demonstrate that all metaphors are based on the most beautiful and pleasant things to our senses cites this as a reference but says: it would have been much better if someone had said: the dawn of purple fingers.
***See The Spiritist Review, June 1859

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