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Stedman and Hutchinson, comps. A Library of American Literature:
An Anthology in Eleven Volumes. 1891.
Vols. IX–XI: Literature of the Republic, Part IV., 1861–1889


By Minot Judson Savage (1841–1918)

[Born in Norridgewock, Me., 1841. Died in Boston, Mass., 1918. Unity Pulpit. 1889.]

IT seems to me that a great many people are intellectually confused as to the choice they must make between the two great theories of life. There are people who put aside any claims to proof in this direction or that as bearing upon the spiritual nature of man, and yet cling to their own belief in his spiritual nature illogically and without any proof whatever. We are presented with two theories, and we cannot choose a little of one and a little of the other. One or the other is certainly true. One theory is the materialistic. In accordance with that, human life, any intelligent life, is merely a passing, transitory stage, of no more permanent existence than these blossoms that now surround me. Humanity itself, its brain, its heart, its life, its hope, its Jesus, its Shakespeare, its Buddha, all the great names of the world, are only curious and strange manifestations of this material world, blossoming as the plants blossom, fading as the plants fade. On that theory,—think a moment what it means,—the world, all the past of the world, is a desert, darkness, a black abyss, just behind us—nothing. All who have ever lived have been blotted out, and all that great array of figures are only fancies of a dream. And before us what? Night and the dark again. We live, we think, we feel for a little while, and that is the end. Here is this world of ours, with just a few generations that are now peopling it, sailing through space, and this is all; and when one drops out he drops into everlasting nothingness. That is one theory. It does not commend itself to me, either to my intellect or to my heart.

The other theory is what? It is that spirit and life are first, supreme; that spirit shaped and controls form, that form only expresses spirit. Why, I have had a dozen bodies since I was born into this life. There is nothing that I know of in any science to make it unreasonable to believe that after the fact which we call death I may still go on clothed with a body as real as is this. This theory teaches us that the universe is all alive. Young, the great scientist who discovered what has been the universally accepted theory of light, who lived just a little after Sir Isaac Newton’s time, recognized as one of the most acute and profound thinkers of the world, put it forth as a speculation merely,—he did not claim anything more,—that for anything science knew to the contrary—we now see hints that look that way—there might be no end of living, pulsing, throbbing worlds all around us, a spiritual system of which we are the material counterpart.

At any rate, we must choose between the theory of materialism and a spiritualistic theory. If the spiritualistic theory be true, then death is not the end. I may hope to find my friends once more; and it is quite natural that the spiritual natures of certain susceptible ones of the race should become developed so that they are capable of receiving communications from the other side from those who attempt to come into communication with them. Does that not seem to you perfectly natural? If there be such a thing as a spiritual world, if my father is alive, if your brother, sister, husband, wife, is alive, and if they are not very far away, would it not be the most natural thing in the world for them to try, at any rate, to reach you?

I propose now to hint to you a few words as to the proof of these claims which Spiritualists offer. One thing is significant, and is immensely to the credit of this higher Spiritualism. It does not ask anybody to believe with his eyes shut. It does not ask anybody to take the statement of the most truthful person on the face of the earth. It offers, or claims to offer, no end of facts as proved; and it asks you to investigate, and believe or reject on the basis of these claims. I say it is immensely to the credit of this higher Spiritualism that it should put itself on this purely scientific basis as being perfectly in accord with the tendencies and movement of the modern world.

You are familiar in a general way with the kind of facts that are offered as proof. They are spoken of lightly, sometimes sneered at. It has been said, Even suppose a physical body is lifted up or moved by a force that has apparently no connection with the muscular power of any people present,—I have heard this spoken of and sneered at a thousand times,—suppose it is, what of it? One of the most learned men of this country has given this hint as to what of it. I repeat it from him. He makes this point. Everything in this world, so far as we know, if let alone, tends downward under the force of universal gravity. There is no power known in heaven or earth that is capable of lifting even a pin against this force of gravity except the power of intelligent will. If, therefore, it should happen, if it should be demonstrated, that there is any such force that is capable of doing this, here would be the Rubicon, the very dividing line between materialism and spiritualism, absolute demonstration that here is intelligent will at work. I give you this as quotation, not verbally, but the idea, as expressing the opinion of one of the most learned men in this country as to the significance of such a fact, supposing it ever occurred. And I say to you frankly, in passing, that I am convinced that such facts have occurred and do occur.

I cannot, at this time, even hint at the many proofs that the Spiritualists offer. You can find them for yourselves. You may, however, be interested if I give you one or two brief hints of things which have come under my own observation and which have filled me with most restless and eager questioning.

There has been in the modern world a manifestation in these last few years of certain strange powers on the part of mind as already embodied, such as was not recognized or given any place in science until the last half-century. A French scientific commission investigated hypnotism and pronounced it all humbug. To-day there is not a competent scientific man who does not recognize its truth. There used to be once great incredulity as to the existence of clairvoyance and clairaudience. To-day, I venture to say there is no person of competent intelligence, who has investigated the matter, who does not believe that these powers exist. It was once believed that there could be no such thing as communication on the part of one mind with another, except through recognized physical media. The idea would have been scorned and flouted a few years ago. I venture here again to say that there is probably not a man of competent intelligence, who has given it careful and earnest investigation, who does not believe in telepathy, or mind-reading,—the possibility of minds communicating with each other without much regard to space, providing the conditions and circumstances are favorable.

These do not prove Spiritualism at all, but note this one thing. It proves that there has been a tremendous increase and widening of the recognition of the powers of the human mind. They prove what appears to be, at least, a semi-independence of the recognized physical faculties of communication. What kind of mind is this that can manifest itself to another a thousand miles away? Something different from the old idea of mind that used to be generally entertained. Phenomena like these have become so familiar to me that they are no more wonderful now than the telegraph and the telephone. I cannot explain the telegraph and the telephone, but I know they are true. I cannot explain these things, but I know they are true….

The one thing, the only thing that any sane man can desire, is the truth. It seems to me the most foolhardy of all things for any man to object to a fact. If it is a fact, then it is only folly to object; for if indeed it be a fact it will remain a fact after you have objected your life long. The only sane search in the world, then, is for truth. I am so anxious to find the truth that I cannot afford to make up my mind too readily. I must pause, I must wait. I must not only think certain things probable, but I must know they are true.

But this much I will say. It seems to me due to the claims of this higher Spiritualism to say that, if I should ever come to accept the central claim of Spiritualism, I cannot see wherein it would change my belief, scientific, philosophic, ethical, practical, one whit. What would it do? It would simply place under my feet a rock, demonstrated to be a rock, instead of a hope, a trust, a great and glorious belief.

If this higher faith of Spiritualism should ever be universally accepted, what would follow? It would abolish death. It would make you know that the loved are not lost, though they have gone before you. It would make any human life here, whatever its poverty, disease or sorrow, worth while, because of the grand possibility of the outlook. It would give victory over sorrow, over heart-break, over tears. It would make one master not only of death, but of life.