Thursday, June 16, 2005

Allan Kardec's "The Spirit's Book" - Part 1

Spiritualist Philosophy



IN presenting to her countrymen a work which has long since obtained a wide acceptance on
the Continent, the translator has thought that a brief notice of its author, and of the
circumstances under which it was produced, might not be without interest for English readers.
Léon-Dénizarth-Hippolyte Rivail, better known by his nom de plume of ALLAN KARDEC,
was born at Lyons, on the 4th of October 1804, of an old family of Bourg-en-Bresse, that had
been for many generations honourably distinguished in the magistracy and at the bar. His
father, like his grandfather, was a barrister of good standing and high character; his mother,
remarkably beautiful, accomplished, elegant, and amiable, was the object, on his part, of a
profound and worshipping affection, maintained unchanged throughout the whole of his life.
Educated at the Institution of Pestalozzi, at Yverdun (Canton de Vaud), he acquired at an
early age the habit of investigation and the freedom of thought of which his later life was
destined to furnish so striking an example. Endowed by nature with a passion for teaching, he
devoted himself, from the age of fourteen, to aiding the studies of those of his schoolfellows
who were less advanced than himself; while such was his fondness for botany, that he often
spent an entire day among the mountains, walking twenty or thirty miles, with a wallet on his
back, in search of specimens for his herbarium. Born in a Catholic country, but educated in a
Protestant one, he began, while yet a mere boy, to meditate on the means of bringing about a
unity of belief among the various Christian sects-a project of religious reform at which lie
laboured in silence for many years, but necessarily without success, the elements of the
desired solution not being at that time in his possession.

Having finished his studies at Yverdun, he returned to Lyons in 24, with the intention of
devoting himself to the law; but various acts of religious intolerance to which he unexpectedly found himself subjected led him to renounce the idea of fitting himself for the bar, and to take up his abode in Paris,
where he occupied himself for some time in translating Telemachus and other standard
French books for youth into German. Having at length determined upon his career, he
purchased, in 1828, a large and flourishing educational establishment for boys, and devoted
himself to the work of teaching, for which, by his tastes and acquirements, he was peculiarly
fitted. In 1830 he hired, at his own expense, a large hall in the Rue de Sèvres, and opened
therein courses of gratuitous lectures on Chemistry, Physics, Comparative Anatomy, and
Astronomy. These lectures, continued by him through a period of ten years, were highly
successful, being attended by an auditory of over five hundred persons of every rank of
society, many of whom have since attained to eminence in the scientific world.

Always desirous to render instruction attractive as well as profitable, he invented an
ingenious method of computation, and constructed a mnemotechnic table of French history,
for assisting students to remember the remarkable events and discoveries of each reign.
Of the numerous educational works published by him may be mentioned, A Plan for the'
Improvement of Public Instruction. submitted by him in 1828 to the French Legislative
Chamber, by which body it was highly extolled, though not acted upon; A Course of Practical
and Theoretic Arithmetic, on the Pestalozzian System, for the' use of Teachers and Mothers
(1829); A Classical Grammar of the French Tongue (1831); A Manual for the use of
Candidates for Examination in the Public Schools; with Explanatory Solutions of various
Problems of Arithmetic and Geometry (1848); Normal Dictations for the Examinations of the
Hotel de Ville and the Sorbonne, with Special Dictations on Orthographic Difficulties (1849)
These works, highly esteemed at the time of their publication, are still in use in many French
schools; and their author was bringing out new editions of some of them at the time of his

He was a member of several learned societies; among others, of the Royal Society of Arras,
which, in 1831, awarded to him the Prize of Honour for a remarkable essay on the question,
"What is the System of Study most in Harmony with the Needs of the Epoch?" He was for
several years Secretary to the Phrenological Society of Paris, and took an active part in the labours of the Society of Magnetism, giving much time to the practical investigation of somnambulism, trance,
clairvoyance, and the various other phenomena connected with the mesmeric action. This
brief outline of his labours will suffice to show his mental activity, the variety of his
knowledge, the eminently practical turn of his mind, and his constant endeavour to be useful
to his fellow-men.

When, about 1850, the phenomenon of "table-turning" was exciting the attention of Europe
and ushering in the other phenomena since known as "spiritist", he quickly divined the real
nature of those phenomena, as evidence of the existence of an order of relationships hitherto
suspected rather than known-viz., those which unite the visible and invisible worlds.
Foreseeing the vast importance, to science and to religion, of such an extension of the field of
human observation, he entered at once upon a careful investigation of the new phenomena. A
friend of his had two daughters who had become what are now called "mediums." They were
gay, lively, amiable girls, fond of society, dancing, and amusement, and habitually received,
when "sitting" by themselves or with their young companions, "communications" in harmony
with their worldly and somewhat frivolous disposition. But, to the surprise of all concerned, it
was found that, whenever he was present, the messages transmitted through these young
ladies were of a very grave and serious character; and on his inquiring of the invisible
intelligences as to the cause of this change, he was told that "spirits of a much higher order
than those who habitually communicated through the two young mediums came expressly for
him, and would continue to do so, in order to enable him to fulfil an important religious

Much astonished at so unlooked-for an announcement, he at once proceeded to test its
truthfulness by drawing up a series of progressive questions in relation to the various
problems of human life and the universe in which we find ourselves, and submitted them to
his unseen interlocutors, receiving their answers to the same through the instrumentality of
the two young mediums, who willingly consented to devote a couple of evenings every week
to this purpose, and who thus obtained, through table-rapping and planchette-writing, the
replies which have become the basis of the spiritist theory, and which they were as little
capable of appreciating as of inventing.

When these conversations had been going on for nearly two years, he one day remarked to his
wife, in reference to the unfolding of these views, which she had followed with intelligent
sympathy: "It is a most curious thing! My conversations with the invisible intelligences have
completely revolutionised my ideas and convictions. The instructions thus transmitted
constitute an entirely new theory of human life, duty, and destiny, that appears to me to be
perfectly rational and coherent, admirably lucid and consoling, and intensely interesting. I
have a great mind to publish these conversations in a book; for it seems to me that what
interests me so deeply might very likely prove interesting to others." His wife warmly
approving the idea, he next submitted it to his unseen interlocutors, who replied in the usual
way, that it was they who had suggested it to his mind, that their communications had been
made to him, not for himself alone, but for the express purpose of being given to the world as
he proposed to do, and that the time had now come for putting this plan into execution. "To
the book in which you will embody our instructions," continued the communicating
intelligences, "you will give, as being our work rather than yours, the title of Le Livre des
Esprits (THE SPIRITS’ BOOK); and you will publish it, not under your own name, but under
the pseudonym of ALLAN KARDEC.¹ Keep your own name of Rivail for your own books
already published; but take and keep the name we have now given you for the book you are
about to publish by our order, and, in general, for all the work that you will have to do in the
fulfilment of the mission which, as we have already told you, has been confided to you by
Providence, and which will gradually open before you as you proceed in it under our

The book thus produced and published sold with great rapidity, making converts not in
France only, but all over the Continent, and rendering the name of ALLAN KARDEC "a
household word" with the readers who knew him only in connection with it; so that he was
thenceforth called only by that name, excepting by his old personal friends, with whom both
he and his wife always retained their family-name. Soon after its publication, he founded The
Parisian Society of Psychologic Studies, of which he was President until his death, and which
met every Friday evening at his house, for the purpose of obtaining from spirits, through
writing mediums, instructions in elucidation of truth and duty.
¹An old Briton name in his mother's family.

He also founded and edited until he died a monthly magazine, entitled La Revue Spirite,
Journal of Psychologic Studies, devoted to the advocacy of the views set forth in The Spirit's

Similar associations were speedily formed all over the world. Many of these published
periodicals of more or less importance in support of the new doctrine; and all of them
transmitted to the Parisian Society the most remarkable of the spirit-communications received
by them. An enormous mass of spirit-teaching, unique both in quantity and in the variety of
the sources from which it was obtained, thus found its way into the hands of ALLAN
KARDEC by whom it was studied, collated, co-ordinated, with unwearied zeal and devotion,
during a period of fifteen years. From the materials thus furnished to him from every quarter
of the globe he enlarged and completed THE SPIRITS’ BOOK, under the direction of the
spirits by whom it was originally dictated; the "Revised Edition" of which work, brought out
by him in 1857 (vide "Preface to the Revised Edition," p. 19) has become the recognised textbook
of the school of Spiritualist Philosophy so intimately associated with his name. From
the same materials he subsequently compiled four other works, viz., The Mediums' Book (a
practical treatise on Medianimity and Evocations), 1861; The Gospel as Explained by Spirits
(an exposition of morality from the spiritist point of view), 1864; Heaven and Hell (a
vindication of the justice of the divine government of the human race), 1865; and Genesis
(showing the concordance of the spiritist theory with the discoveries of modern science and
with the general tenor of the Mosaic record as explained by spirits), 1867. He also published
two short treatises, entitled What is Spiritism? and Spiritism Reduced to its Simplest

It is to be remarked, in connection with the works just enumerated, that ALLAN KARDEC
was not a "medium," and was consequently obliged to avail himself of the medianimity of
others in obtaining the spirit-communications from which they were evolved. The theory of
life and duty, so immediately connected with his name and labours that it is often erroneously
supposed to have been the product of his single mind or of the spirits in immediate
connection with him, is therefore far less the expression of a personal or individual opinion
than are any other of the spiritualistic theories hitherto propounded; for the basis of religious
philosophy laid down in his works was not, in any way, the production of his own
intelligence, but was as new to him as to any of his readers, having been progressively educed by him from the concurrent statements of a legion of spirits, through many thousands of mediums, unknown to each other, belonging to different countries, and to every variety of social position.

In person, ALLAN KARDEC was somewhat under middle height. Strongly built, with a
large, round, massive head, well-marked features, and clear grey eyes, he looked more like a
German than a Frenchman. Energetic and persevering, but of a temperament that was calm,
cautious, and unimaginative almost to coldness, incredulous by nature and by education, a
close, logical reasoner, and eminently practical in thought and deed, he was equally free from
mysticism and from enthusiasm. Devoid of ambition, indifferent to luxury and display, the
modest income he had acquired from teaching and from the sale of his educational works
sufficed for the simple style of living he had adopted, and allowed him to devote the whole of
the profits arising from the sale of his spiritist books and from the Revue Spirite to the
propagation of the movement initiated by him. His excellent wife relieved him of all domestic
and worldly cares, and thus enabled him to consecrate himself entirely to the work to which
he believed himself to have been called, and which he prosecuted with unswerving devotion,
to the exclusion of all extraneous occupations, interests, and companionships, from the time
when he first entered upon it until he died. He made no visits beyond a small circle of
intimate friends, and very rarely absented himself from Paris, passing his winters in the heart
of the town, in the rooms where be published his Revue, and his summers at the Villa Ségur,
a little semi-rural retreat which he had built and planted, as the home of his old age and that
of his wife, in the suburban region behind the Champ de Mars, now crossed in every direction
by broad avenues and being rapidly built over, but which at that time was a sort of waste land
that might still pass for "the country."

Grave, slow of speech, unassuming in manner, yet not without a certain quiet dignity
resulting from the earnestness and single-mindedness which were the distinguishing traits of
his character, neither courting nor avoiding discussion, but never volunteering any remark
upon the subject to which he had devoted his life, he received with affability the innumerable
visitors from every part of the world who came to converse with him in regard to the views of
which he was the recognised exponent, answering questions and objections, explaining
difficulties, and giving information to all serious inquirers, with whom he talked with freedom and animation, his face occasionally lighting up with a genial and pleasant smile, though such was his habitual
sobriety of demeanour that he was never known to laugh.

Among the thousands by whom he was thus visited were many of high rank in the social,
literary, artistic, and scientific worlds. The Emperor Napoleon III., the fact of whose interest
in spiritist-phenomena was no mystery, sent for him several times, and held long
conversations with him at the Tuileries upon the doctrines of THE SPIRITS’ BOOK.
Having suffered for many years from heart-disease, ALLAN KARDEC drew up, in 1869, the
plan of a new spiritist organisation, that should carry on the work of propagandism after his
death. In order to assure its existence, by giving to it a legal and commercial status, he
determined to make it a regularly constituted joint-stock limited liability publishing and
bookselling company, to be constituted for a period of ninety-nine years, with power to buy
and sell, to issue stock, to receive donations and bequests, etc. To this society, which was to
be called "The Joint Stock Company for the Continuation of the Works of ALLAN
KARDEC," he intended to bequeath the copyright of his spiritist writings and of the Revue

But ALLAN KARDEC was not destined to witness the realisation of the project in which he
took so deep an interest, and which has since been carried out with entire exactitude by his

On the 31st of March 1869, having just finished drawing up the constitution and rules of the
society that was to take the place from which he foresaw that he would soon be removed, he
was seated in his usual chair at his study-table, in his rooms in the Rue Sainte Anne, in the act
of tying up a bundle of papers, when his busy life was suddenly brought to an end by the
rupture of the aneurysm from which he had so long suffered. His passage from the earth to
the spirit-world, with which he had so closely identified himself, was instantaneous, painless,
without a sigh or a tremor; a most peaceful falling asleep and reawaking-fit ending of such a

His remains were interred in the cemetery of Montmartre, in presence of a great concourse of
friends, many hundreds of whom assemble there every year, on the anniversary of his
decease, when a few commemorative words are spoken, and fresh flowers and wreaths, as is usual in Continental graveyards, are laid upon his tomb.

It is impossible to ascertain with any exactness the number of those who have adopted the
views set forth by ALLAN KARDEC; estimated by themselves at many millions, they are
incontestably very numerous. The periodicals devoted to the advocacy of these views in
various countries already number over forty, and new ones are constantly appearing. The
death of ALLAN KARDEC has not slackened the acceptance of the views set forth by him,
and which are believed by those who hold them to be the basis, but the basis only, of the new
development of religious truth predicted by Christ; the beginning of the promised revelation
of "many things" that have been "kept hidden since the foundation of the world," and for the
knowledge of which the human race was "not ready" at the time of that prediction.
In executing, with scrupulous fidelity, the task confided to her by ALLAN KARDEC, the
translator has followed, in all quotations from the New Testament, the version by Le Maistre
de Sacy, the one always used by ALLAN KARDEC.


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