“Paris, August 11th, 1861
It is me again writing to you with your permission to pay another tribute to the truth.
It was only today that I read in the latest issue of your Review your excellent observation about the alleged mediumship of birds and I am fast to thank you for the service that you have done to a cause defended by both of us. Several exhibitions of wonderful birds have taken place over the last few years, and since I knew the principal tricks employed to get the desired results out of those flying creatures I was sad to hear certain spiritualists or spiritists attributing those feats to a mediumistic action, certainly provoking hidden smiles on the lips of the birds owners. There is something, however, that those owners are in no hurry to belie and I come to do so in their place since you give me the occasion; I don’t do so to harm their business, I am not angry, but to prevent a deplorable confusion between the effects that ingenious patience and some skilled hands, produced on these birds versus the intervention produced by the spirits on us.
You are perfectly right when you say: ‘Those birds do things that not even the most intelligent person, not even the most lucid somnambulist could do, from what one must conclude that their intelligence is superior to human’s, something that is contrary to the laws of nature.’ Your consideration should have caught the attention of some very enthusiastic persons who are not afraid of reaching out to mediumship to explain things that they cannot explain at first sight. However, judicious and coldblooded observers are still very rare and among the honest people who follow our studies there are those that cannot always defend themselves against the overexcitement of imagination and the dangers of illusion. Well, do you want me to tell you what I learned about those wonderful birds that we had the occasion of observing together one evening, if you remember?
One of my friends, attracted to any curiosity that shows up, one day showed me a long wooden shelf where there were a large number of small cards, placed side by side. The cards contained words, numbers, images of card games, etc. He told me that he had acquired them from a man that held shows with smart birds which had also sold him their method of utilization. He then showed me that certain cards had the superior and inferior borders constructed differently, some solid and others formed by two sheets, yielding an almost imperceptible slit between the two, invisible at a distance. He then said that the cards should be placed on the shelf sometimes with the slid pointing upwards, sometimes downwards according to the desire to have them removed from the shelf with their beaks or not touched by them at all. The bird was previously taught to pull every card that had a slit showing upwards. It seems that the preliminary lessons were given with tiny grains of corn or any other treat placed inside the slit. The bird ended up by learning that when there was a slit it should be touched, even retrieved, walking backwards.
There you have, Sir, the ingenious trick that my friend taught me. I am led to believe that a similar deception is used by all others who exploit the business of smart birds. All they have to do is to train the birds with a lot of patience and creating hunger on the birds’ side of course. They must also learn to hide their tricks with their accomplices or through skillful conjuring in handling the cards and the accessories that are used in their experiments.
I am sorry to reveal the most important of their secrets. Nonetheless, the public will not enjoy less the smart birds regardless of the impossibility of the things they produce. On the other hand, I could not let people accept the opinion that leads to not less than the desecration of our studies. Given such a sacred interest I believe that my silence would be an exaggerated scruple. In case you agree Sir, please share this letter with your readers.
Yours sincerely, etc.
There is no doubt that we agree with Mr. Mathieu and I am glad for sharing the same ideas about this issue. We thank him for the details that he kindly sent us and whose reading will certainly satisfy our readers. Spiritism is very rich of remarkable and authentic facts, not admitting those that touch the marvelous or impossible. It is only a very serious and deep study of this Science that can put the most doubtful persons on guard because that study gives them the key to the phenomena and shows them the boundaries within which they can be produced.
We said that if the birds operated their prodigies with knowledge and through their own intelligence then they would be doing what the most intelligent person cannot do or the most lucid somnambulist. This reminds us of the renowned Munito that we saw 25 or 30 years ago to beat his card game partner, adding up his totals before we could start the calculation. Without any vanity we have stronger skills in Arithmetic than that dog. They certainly used prepared cards in that game like in the case of the birds. As for the somnambulists, there is no doubt that some are lucid enough to produce effects as remarkable as those of the animals, a fact that does not invalidate our proposition. It is well known that lucid somnambulism, even the most developed, is essentially variable and intermittent by default; that it is subordinated to a number of circumstances, particularly the influence of the environment; that very rarely the somnambulist can see instantaneously; that it is frequently the case when the somnambulist does not see something at a given point in time, just to see it an hour later or even a day later; that what the somnambulist sees with one person is not seen with another. Supposing that the animals may have an analogous faculty, we would be forced to admit that they are not susceptible to be disturbed and that they may always utilize it and even twenty times a day if needed, without any alteration. Here is where we pointed out the fact that they could do things that even the most lucid somnambulist could not and this is what characterizes the maneuvers of conjuring like accuracy, punctuality, timeless, repeatability according to the will, and all that are contrary to the purely psychological phenomena of somnambulism and Spiritism, whose effects must always be patiently waited and may only rarely be provoked.
Even if the effects of what we have just discussed were due to artificial processes, that would not be strong enough to prove that there is no animal mediumship in general. Hence one needs to establish if the animals have the capability of serving as intermediaries between people and the spirits. Well, the impossibility is confirmed in Erastus’ dissertation published in our August issue and another from the same spirit about the role of the mediums in the communications, published in July.