Allan Kardec

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In the articles that we published about this work we tried to identify, before anything else, the standpoint of the author, a not so difficult endeavor once we demonstrate that it is based on materialistic ideas quoting his own words. Since the basis is false, at least from the point of view of the large majority of humankind, he arrived at wrong consequences from facts that he classifies as marvelous; hence his conclusions are full of mistakes. That fact did not preclude some of his comrades of the press from praising his merit, the depth and acumen of his work. Not everybody shares that opinion though. We found an article in the La Mode Nouvelle *, a newspaper that is more serious than its title, as remarkable for its style as fair in its analysis. Its extension prevents us from reproducing the whole text. Besides, the author also promises to publish more since he only deals with the first volume here. The readers can appreciate the fragments below.


“This book is unjustifiably pretentious. It was supposed to be considered erudite, touching sciences, showing an apparent abundance of research, but its erudition is superficial, its science incomplete, its research premature and badly coordinated. Mr. Figuier’s specialty was to collect, one by one, thousands of minor events that are daily reported in the academy, like the long rows of mushrooms that sprout overnight on cryptogrammic fernlike layers, followed by the writing of books about them that compete with others like the Bourgeois Kitchen or treatise of Poor Richard’s Almanac. He is very used to these kind of easy compositions – inferior to the compilation carried out by the good father Trublet, wittily mocked by Voltaire – that forcibly gives him pleasure, he said to himself that it would not be more difficult to exploit people’s passion for the marvelous, which excites imaginations now more than never before, than utilizing the almost idle second class conversations of the Institute. He is used to writing scientific Reviews about someone else’s work, containing his summary reports with theses and memories that he discusses; he then compiles the summaries of the summaries and writes his own books. Loyal to his past tradition, he hastily gathers every book about the subject that he can find, break them into pieces and mixes them up as he wishes, then composing a new book in his own style; we have no doubt that he must have exclaimed, like Horace: Exegi monumentum – I also erected a monument that will last longer than bronze.”

“He would be rightly proud of his creation if the quality of the work was measured by quantity. In fact that History of the Marvelous is made up of four volumes and it contains modern history only from 1630 to our present days; those two centuries only give an indication that it would contain more than twice as much volumes of the thickest encyclopedia had he decided to include in the history of the marvelous at all times and from all populations!”

“Thus, when we think that such a vast publication has taken him but a few months’ work we are led to believe that such a grand and hastily delivery is more marvelous than the marvels it contains. However, such amazing productiveness is no longer a prodigy when his process of composition is better scrutinized and one realizes that such process is so common to him that one could not expect anything else from him. Instead of consolidating the facts, summarizing them, leaving aside useless details and concentrating on the facts of the most significant events, and then discussing them in the sequence, he just wrote a feuilleton even more extensive than those which he weekly writes in the La Presse.”

“Scissors in hand he cut from preceding works anything that favored the prejudiced ideas that he wanted to promote, keeping away others that could oppose the prior opinion he had formed about this important subject, particularly anything that could counter the natural explanation that he wanted to provide about the manifestations qualified as wonderful and that the free-thinkers unanimously call public credulity because that is one of the ambitious goals of his book – although this one is not better justified than the others – to provide a new physical or medical solution found by him, a triumphant solution, unimpeachable, from now on immune to any objection raised by anyone, sufficiently simple to believe that God is more powerful than our scholars. He repeats that over again in hundreds of passages of his book so that nobody may ignore it, with the hopes that sooner or later people will believe, although he just repeats what was said before by every physicists and medical doctors, philosophers and chemists who are more horrified by the idea of the wonderful than Pascal was by the vacuum.”

“The result is that this history of the marvelous lacks both authority and proportion. From a dogmatic point of view it does not go beyond the denial of previous denials; it does not add a single new argument to the previous ones and we don’t understand the utility of his echo regarding this point and all others. There is more: tormented by the desire to be better than Calmeil, Esquiros, Montègre, Hecquet and so many others that preceded him and will always be his masters, Mr. Louis Figuier sometimes gets lost in the confusing maze of demonstrations that he borrows from them, pretending to have their ownership and sometimes arguing with Mr. Babinet and his logic. As for the facts he accumulated a large number of them although somewhat by chance, truncating some, discarding others, only interested in those that could offer some attraction to the reading. This demonstrates that his major concern was the easy success rather than fighting the contemporary romance writers and we are even led to question how come he did not convince his editor to include his work to be sold at the booksellers at the train stations, to have direct access to the crowds that only read for distraction rather than instruction.”

“We cannot deny the fact that his book is amusing, if all that is required to deserve such an adjective is to resemble a collection of little picturesque tales, without much compromise of the truth, something that does not preclude him from uselessly and non-stop boasting around others about his impartiality, his truthfulness – one more pretention to be added to the so many others mentioned above, one that he pretends as strongly as he dissimulates when he does not have it. As it is the best comparison we can provide, is with those popular restaurants that carry plenty of very seductive dishes, as far as their appearance goes, but that serve their customers without any real concern for the quality of what their provide. More superficial than profound, anything important is sacrificed before the futile, the principal before the accessory, and the dogma before the eventful.”

“In fact, the blanks are so abundant as the useless things and there is no lack of contradictions, sustaining here what is denied further down, so much so that we are tempted to believe that Mr. Louis Figuier assigned himself with the task of teaching others what he himself did not know, differently from the renowned Giovanni Pico della Mirandola that was capable of writing the De Omni re scibili **.”


“We could stop our analysis of the ‘History of the Marvelous’ here if we were not supposed to justify these tough but fair assessments. For starters, do we have to add that the writer does not believe in the possibility of the supernatural? We doubt it. His supernumerary academic position – a title that is likely to outlive him considering the power that he is conferred as a scientific writer in that periodical – would not allow him to sustain any other thesis without being exposed to an army of skeptics in which he is supposedly enlisted. He is also a non-believer and his denial is beyond suspicion. He belongs to the group of ‘those wise minds, witnesses of the unforeseen boundless growth of the contemporary marvelous, who cannot understand such a mistake right now in the XIX century, enriched by an advanced Philosophy and amidst a magnificent scientific movement that leads everything to the positive and useful’ - We acknowledge that it must be painful to those ‘wise minds’ that the public mind refuses to reject its prejudices thus persisting on beliefs that differ from the philosophical positivism and are nonetheless typically animal. As a matter of fact such disgust dates from other times too. Mr. Louis Figuier spitefully confesses so when he asks using confusing terms how can it be that the marvelous had resisted the XVIII century, ‘the century of Voltaire and the Encyclopedia, when all eyes were opening to enlightenment and rational common sense’.”

“What can one do then? That lively belief in the marvelous has been so much present in all religions, at all times and with all peoples, at all latitudes and in all continents, that the free-thinkers should be glad to see it agitating on its own and they would do great from now on by just abstaining from a proselytism whose success they know is inevitable.”

“Mr. Louis Figuier, however, is not one of those feeble hearts frightened by the uselessness of his own efforts. Full of himself and believing in his strength he boasts about having achieved what Voltaire, Diderot, Lamétrie, Dupuis, Volney, Dulaure, Pigault-Lebrun had not done; or what Dulaurens with his Le Compere Mathieu, the chemists with their alembics, the physicists with their electrical batteries, the astronomers with their compasses, the pantheists with their sophisms or the malevolent mockers with their bad taste were all incapable of achieving.”

“He proposed to triumphantly demonstrate that ‘the marvelous does not exist and had never existed’ and as a consequence that ‘the prodigies of ancient times as well as those of modern times can all be attributed to a natural cause’. A difficult task; so far the most intrepid ones have succumbed before such a task. However, he continues, the ‘conclusion that would necessarily deny any wonderful agent, would be a victory of science over superstition, to the great benefit of human reason and dignity.’ And his ambition was satisfied by such a victory – an easier victory than we might think if Mr. Figuier is not wrong when he says in his introduction that ‘our century is not much interested in matters of theology and religious disputes.’”

“Why then to start a war against a belief that does not exist? Why attacking the opinions of a theology that has no followers? Why giving attention to superstitions that are no longer our concern? – ‘Victory without danger is triumph without glory’ the poet says, and it is not very convenient to sound the fighting trumpet if all that there is to fight is windmills.”

“What else do you want? When writing this Mr. Figuier forgot what he wrote above when he shamefully confessed that our century, deaf to the lessons of the encyclopedia and those of the lay press, had all of a sudden been taken over by the love for the marvelous, and even more than their predecessors, this century now believes in the marvelous, an incomprehensible aberration that he intended to cure. Such contradiction, however, is so small that it might not be worth pointing out. We shall see many others and will be forced to neglect several!”

“Mr. Figuier thus denies that supernatural manifestations do occur in our days and that they might have occurred at any other time. With respect to miracles, they can only be made by Science. God’s power has nothing to do with that. Even when we say that God does not have such power we experience some sort of scruples for the incomplete translation of his thoughts. Does he acknowledge another god besides the god of nature, a god that is as remarkable in his blind intelligence and that unsuspectingly realizes wonders, a dear god to the wise people, complacent enough to allow them to steal a slice of his sovereignty? We prefer to stay away from this issue.”

“Marvelously mediocre, the ‘history of the marvelous’ begins by an introduction that Mr. Louis Figuier calls a quick glance at the supernatural in Ancient times and in the Middle Ages that we will not discuss since there is too much to say. His work alters the most important manifestations, under the pretext of summarizing them, and it would understandably require a long time to restitute the true meaning of thousands of events that he only mentioned in-passing.”

“The edifice is worthy of the open colonnade. That history of the marvelous during the last two centuries begins with a report of the subject matter related to Urbain Grandier and the religious ladies of Loudun; then comes the magic divining rod the tremblers of Cevennes, the convulsionary Jansenists, Cagliostro, magnetism and the turning tables. However, not a single word about the possession of Louviers, the Illuminati, the Martinists, the Swedenborgism, the stigmatized of Tirol, the remarkable manifestation of children in Sweden less than fifty years ago. He only says a word about the exorcism of father Gassner and less than an insignificant page is dedicated to the clairvoyant of Prevorst.”

“Mr. Figuier would have done better if he had given the following title to his book: Episodes of the History of the Marvelous in Modern Times. Even the episodes that he chose may give rise to serious objections. Nobody has ever attributed any supernatural meaning to the magic tricks of Cagliostro. He was a skillful sorcerer with curious tricks that he used very well to fascinate those who were exploited by him, and he had several accomplices. If anything, Cagliostro should have a place among the revolutionary precursors rather than amidst the witches.”

“Equally strange, is the placement of animal magnetism together with marvelous events, particularly from the point of view used by Mr. Figuier. Magnetism stands out from the Academy of Medicine and Sciences by whom it was greatly stigmatized; however, it must not be of any interest to the marvelous unless perhaps for certain manifestations neglected by Mr. Figuier, using the opportunity to speak about Mesmer’s life, the experiences of the Marquis de Puységur, and the incident related to the famous report of Mr. Husson. We discussed that important issue two years ago and will not repeat it here. We will also let go of the turning tables that were examined on the same occasion. However, there would be a lot to be said about Mr. Figuier’s pretentious physical and natural explanations about those dancing tables and the manifestations that follow. In any case it is necessary to impose limits to our discussion.”

“We will then let him fight the Spiritualist Magazine and The Spiritist Review, two periodicals published in Paris by followers of spiritist manifestations who accuse him of having written his repository without a previous consultation with witnesses nor key players in the process. One and the other sustain that he had never attended a single spiritualist session and that he clearly stated that his opinion was already formed and that in no circumstance would he change it.”

“Is that so? We don’t know. All we can say is that, after having correctly denied Mr. Babinet’s solution through the unconscious and primitive movements, he ended up by adopting that theory himself given the dimension of the inconsistency of his thoughts and writings. Here is the proof when he writes: ‘During those sessions where individuals were permanently connected for twenty minutes to half an hour, hands open and resting on the table, forming an uninterrupted chain, without the freedom of any distraction during that concentrated operation, the large majority of people do not experience any particular effect. It is a rare case if even at least one person will not fall into a hypnotic state – to Mr. Figuier, hypnotism gives the answer to everything as we will see later – Not more than a second in such a state is necessary so that the expected phenomenon may take place. The link of that human chain, thus fallen into some sort of nervous sleep and no longer aware of his own actions, produces the motion of the object.’ – Why doesn’t Mr. Figuier mock himself here, since he used to mock Mr. Balbinet? That would have been logical, particularly after having announced that he would elucidate the mystery and considering that all he did was to use that ridiculous little light in his lantern, previously used by the wise scholar. But logic and Mr. Louis Figuier are divorced in that history of the marvelous. Ah! The echoes hopelessly pretend to speak but all they can do is to repeat what they hear.”

“As for the long chapters dedicated to the magic divining rod and in particular to Jacques Aymar, our first observation to him is that he is mistaken if he thinks that the problem was sufficiently studied by Mr. Chevreul. It is an illusion, that he can attribute it to that wise man. However, outside the Academy of Sciences he will find nobody who will admit that the theory of the exploring pendulum will respond to every one of his objections. The statement attributed to Galileo ‘…Nevertheless, it (Earth) turns!’ has also some application to the magic divining rod. It turned and continues to turn, in spite of the skeptics that deny the movement because they don’t want to see it. The thousands of examples that we can refer to – mentioned by Mr. Figuier himself – attest the reality of the phenomenon. Does it turn following a diabolic or spiritual impulse, as people say today, or it does so under the influence of some unknown fluid? In good faith we reject any marvelous influence, although it may be admitted in certain cases. The inexistence of unknown fluids does not seem to have been demonstrated to us. Among others, the magnetic fluid counts on many followers whose declarations deserve as much authority as the denials of the adversaries. At any rate, the magic divining rod has made marvels that may prove not to be supernatural but that science is still incapable of explaining, science that still explains so little of the many wonders that we see around us, as for example the life of the tiniest leaf. It would do him good to acquire some modesty, a virtue that he lacks so much.”

“Among so many marvels, those carried out by Jacques Aymar already mentioned so many times deserved a detailed report. One day he was called to Lyon, following a horrific crime committed in that town. With his divining rod he explored the basement where the crime was staged, declaring that there were three murderers; he then began to follow their trails, leading to a gardener whose house was located at the Rhône river bank, stating that the three had returned to that house and had a bottle of wine there. The gardener denied this but his young sons confessed after being questioned that three men had come to their place and in the absence of their father they sold wine to the men. Aymar then continues to follow the trail, always guided by the rod. He discovers where they boarded a boat at the Rhône; he takes a canoe and navigates to every place where they had been and goes to the fields of Sablon, between Vienne and Saint Vallier, indicating that they had stopped there for a few days. He continues his chase from point to point and arrives at Beaucaire, at the time when there was a town fair; he walks around the busy streets and stops at the town jail; he goes inside and points towards a little hunchback man, saying that he was one of the murderers. His indications were that the two other assassins had fled towards Nimes but the law enforcement did not want to follow his leads. The hunchback was taken to Lyon where he confessed the crime and was sentenced to death. That was Jacques Aymar’s prowess and there are many other cases like that in his life. Mr. Figuier admits that in the details. As a matter of fact, he could not say otherwise since these are attested by hundreds of trustworthy witnesses – ‘from three reports and so many agreeing letters, written by eyewitnesses and by equally honored judges, impossible to expect in our days any foul play among them.’”

“Mr. Figuier transforms Jacques Aymar into a police detective, of a much greater perspicacity than Mr. Sartines, regardless of his celebrity. Compared to him our police authorities from Sûreté would be like schoolchildren. He then supposes that the divining rod handler, after spending three or four hours in Lyon had time enough to learn more about the event than local law enforcement. So, he drove the investigation to the gardener’s house because it was evident that the murderer(s) had boarded a boat at the Rhône to get away more swiftly; he guessed about the wine drinking at the gardener’s house since they must had been thirsty; they stopped at the various places along the river as confirmed later because those well-known ports had to be familiar to them; they went to the fields of Sablon because they evidently wanted to see the spectacle of the assembly of the troops; later he went to Beaucaire due to the obvious and incontrollable desire that the murderers would have there; he then stopped at the local jail because one of the murders was unlucky enough to have been arrested already. ‘That is why your daughter is deaf!’ Says Sganarelle; and Mr. Louis Figuier does not do better, or different. He believes that he is right particularly for the fact that when Jacques Aymar was called to Paris, given the rumors of his celebrity, he saw his perspicacity facing real failures there together with some real triumphs. However, due to those mistakes that resulted in some bitterness against Jacques Aymar, Mr. Figuier, of all others, couldn’t criticize him; he couldn’t have used this to declare Jacques Aymar an imposter, and he knows that better than everybody else; he knows, regarding magnetism, that certain types of experiments are more unpredictable than others, yielding good results one day, failing the other. He adds a less forgiving inconsequence to that one. Not satisfied by accusing Jacques Aymar of charlatanism he generalizes the same accusation against every divining rod handler, stating: ‘Among the practical followers only a small number was formed by ill-faith people; but even those did not always act in bad faith; the great majority of them acted in good faith. The divining rod positively turned in their hands, independent from any artifice and the phenomenon and the facts were actually real.’ Well then, there we have the truth. But how and why did it turn? It is impossible to avoid that question, responded by Mr. Figuier: ‘The motion of the divining rod happened following their unconscious mind control, completely oblivious to their own will.’ – Always that unconsciousness that is more marvelous than the marvelous that they deny. Believe it or not.”


* Office at Rue Sainte-Anne, 63 – February 22nd, 1861 Edition – price 1 franc
** About every knowable thing, by the Italian Renaissance Philosopher, Pico della Mirandola, 1643 - 1495

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