Josiah Warren, “The Soul of Things” (1869)

I first touched on the question of Josiah Warren’s interest in spiritualism back in 2011, adding his pseudonymous article on “the rappings” to the archive. Since then, I’ve encountered more confirmation of that interest, but, to be honest, searching through the spiritualist press has seemed like a lot of work for minimal returns, even though I know that there are plenty of anarchist contributions out there in periodicals I have never even thought to examine. The growth of the searchable IAPSOP archive has made it simpler to do the rough initial searches in recent years and my research on a number of figures has benefited.

Last night, the task was making sure a rough search in a different archive had not missed any articles by Dyer D. Lum in a spiritualist publication with its share of anarchist contributors. That led to a so far fruitless search for any contributions by Lum elsewhere under the pseudonym of “Silex” — and that led, by winding paths, to IAPSOP, the Banner of Light and this contribution by Josiah Warren, which is in an issue that also contains part of Lum’s serial essay, “The Natural History of Religion.”

Along the way, I encountered a number of interesting items relating to efforts to establish associations for social scientific study in the 1860s — originating in the spiritualist press and involving Warren. I’ll share them when I can provide a bit more context.

“The Soul of Things.’’

William DentonMy Dear Sir: When one has labored so long and so faithfully as you have for a great and beneficent purpose, he naturally desires to know how far his efforts have been successful. :

On reading your very extraordinary work (“The Soul of Things”), I am struck with the great care exhibited in giving the exact truth—in guarding against every possible chance of self­-deception, as well as at its astounding disclosures. I am surprised, and delighted too, to see that the understanding of the reader is prepared by his own experience to anticipate some of your conclusions even before his eye overtakes them. For instance, before I arrived at your treatment of dreams, I said to myself, “Perhaps this strange power is going to account for the otherwise unaccountable incongruity, the confusion, the absurdi­ty of our dreams, that may get their cue from the walls of the room, the curtains, or the bed we sleep on, or the clothes that cover us.” A little further on I find this to be your own idea and language, at page 293. Page 278.—Nothing of this kind is more common with my wife than while looking out of the window, to suppose that she sees certain persons passing; but in a minute or two she sees the same persons passing in the same direction, showing that the first impression is probably what you describe it to be; and now she is so accustomed to tills that I think she would hesitate to take an oath in a court assert­ing the “real presence” of any one at any place at a particular time, depending on her sight alone.

I have myself experienced that picture of my whole past life which you speak of on page 305. I had taken a dose of spirits of turpentine as a medicine. Its action was very violent; whether it brought me near to the portals of the other life or not, I cannot toll, but I saw, as it were, the whole of my past life, as we see at a glance all the different parts of a picture, just as you describe it, and I have had the same accounts from different persons who have been nearly drowned.

I will give you one more confirmation of what you say at page 278. In 1839 I was busy in my “sanctum,” about a hundred rods from home—my hands very busy, while my mind was rather pas­sive, the words “knave or a fool” occurred to me, but not particularly connected with anything to which they could be applied. Thinking the words over, I said to myself, “One of those words is useless; because one is a fool to be a knave—one implies the other.” Two hours afterwards, while at dinner, my wife said to me, “I had a very odd thought come into my mind this forenoon.” “What was it?” I asked. “Why,” said she, “it was the phrase so common, ‘a knave or a fool,’ and I thought the inventor of that phrase showed his own folly, because there is no difference—one is a fool to be a knave.”

I could add confirmations of your statements almost without end, but neither you nor your readers will need them, astounding as these reve­lations are; they only need to be carefully studied and compared with common experience. If read­ers should fear (which they reasonably may) that they might be led into wild and extravagant fan­cies, and mistake them for profound discoveries, only let them give sufficient attention to your own and Mrs. Denton’s timely cautions, in con­nection with the experiments, and I think they
will be preserved from that error.

With profound regard for your personal worth, and with gratitude as one of the human race for your invaluable contributions toward a higher civilization, I am your sincere friend,

Josiah Warren.

Cliftondale, Mass., July 18, 1869.

Josiah Warren, “The Soul of Things,” Banner of Light 25 no. 23 (August 21, 1869): 3.

About Shawn P. Wilbur 2703 Articles
Independent scholar, translator and archivist.