Sir William Barrett

Sir William Barrett FRS

Professor of Physics at the Royal College of Science for Dublin from 1873-1910 and one of the distinguished early psychical researchers. In fact, it was Barrett who first initiated the founding of both the American and British Society for Psychical Research.

Evidence from Abroad of Survival

Automatic Writing

 - William Barrett -

There is no death, what seems so is transition
This life of mortal breath
Is but a suburb of the life Elysian
Whose portal we call death."
- Longfellow

          IT MUST be borne in mind that competent psychical researchers in other parts of the world besides the United Kingdom have for many years past been at work, and obtained what they deemed to be conclusive evidence of survival. In this chapter I will cite a fragment of the evidence that comes to us from America and Russia.

No investigator of psychical phenomena has given more time to the critical investigation of the evidence on behalf of survival than the late Dr. Hodgson during his residence in the United States. In fact he made this subject practically his sole occupation for many years before his death. He was so far from being credulous that he detected and exposed many spurious phenomena, and in my opinion he carried his scepticism too far as regards other mediums than Mrs. Piper, with whom he had innumerable sittings. At first he attempted to explain away the results he obtained through Mrs. Piper; but ultimately was driven to the spirit hypothesis. His own words are: 

"Having tried the hypothesis of telepathy from the living for several years... I have no hesitation in affirming with the most absolute assurance that the 'spirit' hypothesis is justified by its fruits and the other hypothesis is not."

The conclusion at which Dr. Hodgson arrived, after his prolonged and critical experimental study of Mrs. Piper, he summed up in the following words.

"At the present time I cannot profess to have any doubt but that the chief 'communicators' to whom I have referred in the foregoing pages [of his report] are veritably the personalities that they claim to be, that they have survived the change we call death, and that they have directly communicated with us whom we call living, through Mrs. Piper's entranced organism."(1)

(1) "Proc S.P.R.," Vol. XIII, P. 406

However improbable sceptics may consider this conclusion, we must remember that Dr. Hodgson began his long and arduous investigation with just the same doubt and even disbelief in the "spiritualistic" hypothesis as any of his critics may entertain. Moreover he was not only a remarkably sane and shrewd investigator, but one specially skilled in exposing fraud and illusion. This was shown, as I have remarked, by his exposure of various alleged spiritualistic phenomena which had mystified and baffled some of the ablest enquirers. Hence those who have not had Dr. Hodgson's experience have no right to place mere notions of what is probable and improbable, or possible and impossible, against his deliberate opinion, arrived at after many years of patient and painstaking enquiry.

If it appeared that any other competent investigator, after an equally exhaustive research, had come to an opposite conclusion, sceptics would be justified in their hesitancy to accept the experimental evidence of survival after death. But this is precisely what cannot be adduced. On the contrary, so far as I know, every trained observer, of any nationality, who has devoted years to a similar experimental research, either has arrived at practically the same conclusion as Dr. Hodgson and other able investigators, or has been forced to admit that the phenomena in question are at present wholly inexplicable.

Since Dr. Hodgson's death his work in America has been chiefly carried on by his friend Dr. J. H. Hyslop, formerly Professor at Columbia University. Dr. Hyslop, who now lives in New York, has devoted his life to this work and is pre-eminent as an able, courageous and indefatigable worker at psychical research. Amid his amazingly voluminous contributions to the "Proceedings" and "Journal of the American Society for Psychical Research," there are numerous papers affording striking evidences of survival after death. This evidence has driven him to abandon the agnostic views he formerly held and become a convinced believer in the spirit hypothesis. As Dr. Hyslop is a trained psychologist his opinion is all the more valuable.

During the last six years Dr. Hyslop has had constant sittings with a lady, Mrs. Chenoweth (pseudonym), who has developed strong mediumistic powers. The following is a brief narrative of one of the evidential cases of survival obtained through Mrs. Chenoweth, whose entire trustworthiness and honesty are not disputed. This case illustrates the trivial nature of the incidents given to afford identification.


Dr. Hyslop states that he received a letter from a lady in Germany, of whom he had never heard before, asking him if he could recommend a psychic, as she had recently lost her husband, and in her great distress wanted to find some evidence that would assure her of her husband's continued existence. Dr. Hyslop answered that he knew of no psychic in Germany, but if she would come to America he would arrange for sittings with a psychic in whom he had confidence. The lady replied that this was impossible, but gave the name (different from her own) and address of a sister in Boston, U.S.A., who might take her place.

Accordingly Dr. Hyslop arranged for the sister to meet him, but gave her no information of the psychic's name or address, nor did he give any information to the psychic (Mrs. Chenoweth) of the visitor or the object of the sitting. Before admitting the visitor Dr. Hyslop put Mrs. Chenoweth into a trance state, when the normal faculties are in abeyance; in fact, Dr. Hyslop was satisfied that the medium did not even know whether her visitor was a man or a woman.

Automatic writing by Mrs. Chenoweth's hand began and the unseen communicator indicated that a gentleman was present who was anxious to make his existence known to his wife, that he was a philosopher and a friend of the late Professor William James of Harvard, that his mother was dead, and to indicate his identity pointed to a cavity in his mouth where a tooth had been extracted. Of course none of these facts were known to Dr. Hyslop, but in the hope they might apply to the husband of the lady who wrote to him, he communicated them to the widow in Germany and found they were all correct; her husband had been a lecturer on philosophy, was a friend of Prof. W. James and had lost a tooth, though the cavity was not visible. Then the unseen communicator stated the gentleman just before his decease, had great pain in his head, with confusion of ideas and longed for home, adding that he was not away from home where he died, but it was not like his home. All this turned out to be true, he died in his old home in Germany and not in his home in America.

Then some striking evidence of identity came, the communicator stated the deceased wished to prove that he was not a fool to believe in spirit, and that he was greatly interested in some records which had been lent to him "by his friend James." In response to Dr. Hyslop's enquiries the widow wrote that before her husband's death Prof. James had lent him some records to read which had impressed him. All present at the sitting were of course wholly ignorant of this and of the other incidents. The unseen communicator went on to say that he was fond of fixing things and putting clocks to right; that he used to annotate his books and apparently attempted to sign his name, for the letters T. h. came. In reply to enquiries the widow wrote to Dr. Hyslop that her husband did fuss a great deal about clocks, that he annotated his books and always read with a pencil in his hand. Now the name of the deceased was Tausch, the first and last letters of which were given.

Later on the communicator made great efforts to give his name, by automatic writing through the entranced Mrs. Chenoweth, and without any help from Dr. Hyslop (who of course knew the name but no other particulars) there came "Taussh, Tauch and Taush," phonetically correct. Dr. Hyslop then addressed the communicator in German and got replies in German, among them that the visitor was his "Geschwister," which was correct, though Mrs. Chenoweth (through whom of course the automatic writing came) only knew four words of German, not included in these replies. Other points of interest establishing identity also came, such as that the deceased used to carry a small bag containing his manuscripts and reading glass, and that he had taken a long railway journey shortly before his death. In reply to enquiry Mrs. Tausch wrote that her husband always used to carry a small bag in which he put his manuscripts and eyeglasses, and that he had taken a long rail journey shortly before his death.

Dr. Hyslop says, all the incidents described were unknown to him and required confirmation by correspondence with Mrs. Tausch in Germany, the only living person who knew their truth. Nor in all his years of sittings with Mrs. Chenoweth has Dr. Hyslop ever had any communications containing similar incidents to those above described. The name might have been filched by telepathy from Dr. Hyslop's mind, but there is no evidence that Mrs. Chenoweth has the slightest telepathic percipience. Even if Mrs. Chenoweth had known the name and address of Mrs. Tausch in Germany (which of course she did not), she could not have communicated with her, as only 36 hours elapsed from the first to the last sitting. There was no one in America who could have given her the information.

I agree with Dr. Hyslop that no adequate explanation of this case by telepathy or subliminal knowledge or collusion on the part of the medium can be given, and that the simplest and most reasonable solution is that the information was derived from the mind of the deceased person.

But I must draw to a close my imperfect selection from the mass of first-hand evidence that is being accumulated in proof of spirit identity.

The following case is chosen because it comes from wholly independent and able investigators in Russia. Here too any explanation based on collusion, telepathy, or the knowledge of those present, is out of the question. Unfortunately the evidence is somewhat lengthy, but as it combines the manifestation of physical phenomena with evidence of the identity of the communicating intelligence, it forms an important link between the two classes of phenomena. No paid or professional mediums were present, and the bona fides of all taking part appears to be unquestionable.

This case is quoted from Vol. VI. of the "Proceedings" of the S.P.R., where the reader will find other similar evidential cases in a valuable paper by Mr. F. W. H. Myers.


A sitting was held in the house of M. A. Nartzeff, at Tambof, Russia, on Nov. 18th, 1887. M. Nartzeff belongs to the Russian nobility and is a landed proprietor; his aunt, housekeeper and the official physician to the municipality of Tambof were the only other persons present.

The sitting began at 10 p.m. at a table placed in the middle of the room, by the light of a night-light placed on the mantelpiece. All doors were closed. The left hand of each sitter was placed on the right hand of his neighbour, and each foot touched the neighbour's foot, so that during the whole of the sitting all hands and feet were under control. Sharp raps were heard in the floor, and afterwards in the wall and the ceiling, after which the blows sounded immediately in the middle of the table, as if someone had struck it from above with his fist; and with such violence, and so often, that the table trembled the whole time.

M. Nartzeff asked, "Can you answer rationally, giving three raps for yes, one for no?" "Yes." "Do you wish to answer by using the alphabet?" "Yes." "Spell your name." The alphabet was repeated, and the letters indicated by three raps - "Anastasie Pereliguine." "I beg you to say now why you have come and what you desire." "I am a wretched woman. Fray for me. Yesterday, during the day, I died at the hospital. The day before yesterday I poisoned myself with matches." "Give us some details about yourself. How old were you? Give a rap for each year." Seventeen raps. "Who were you?" "I was housemaid. I poisoned myself with matches." "Why did you poison yourself?" "I will not say. I will say nothing more."

After this a heavy table which was near the wall, outside the chain of hands, came up rapidly three times towards the table round which the chain was made, and each time it was pushed backwards, no one knew by what means. Seven raps (the signal agreed upon for the close of the sitting) were now heard in the wall; and at 11.20 p.m. the sťance came to an end.

(Here follow the signatures of all those present, with their attestation).

Those who were present also signed the following attestation:

"The undersigned having been Present at the sťance of November 18th. 1887, at the house of M. A. N. Nartzeff, hereby certify that they had no previous knowledge of the existence or the death of Anastasie Pereliguine, and that they heard her name for the first time at the above mentioned sťance."

Enquiries were then made as to the truth of the message purporting to have come from an unknown suicide. Dr. Touloucheff, the official Physician who was present at the sitting, and who signed the above documents, states that at first he did not believe there was any truth in the message. For he writes:

"In my capacity as physician of the municipality I am at once informed by the police of all cases of suicide. But as Pereliguine had added that her death had taken place at the hospital, and since at Tambof we have only one hospital, that of the Institutions de Bienfaisance, which is not within my official survey, and whose authorities, in such cases as this, themselves send for the police, or the Magistrate: I sent a letter to my colleague, Dr. Sundblatt, the head physician of this hospital, and without explaining my reason simply asked him to inform me whether there had been any recent case of suicide at the hospital, and, if so, to give me the name and particulars. The following is a copy of his reply, certified by Dr. Sundblatt's own signature. (Signed) "N. TOULOUCHEFF."

"November 19th, 1887

My dear Colleague, - On the 16th of this month I was on duty; and on that day two patients were admitted to the Hospital, who had poisoned themselves with phosphorus. The first, Vera Kosovitch, aged 38, wife of a clerk in the public service ... was taken in at 8 p.m; the second, a servant named Anastasie Pereliguine, aged 17, was taken in at 10 p.m. This second patient had swallowed, besides an infusion of boxes of matches, a glass of kerosene, and at the time of her admission was already very ill. She died at 1 p.m. on the 17th, and the post-mortem examination has been made today. Kosovitch died yesterday, and the post-mortem is fixed for tomorrow. Kosovitch said that she had taken the phosphorus in an access of melancholy, but Pereliguine did not state her reason for poisoning herself. (Signed) "TH. SUNDBLATT."

When M. Nartzeff was asked if the housekeeper, who was at the sitting, could possibly have heard of the suicide, he replied as follows:

"In answer to your letter I inform you that my aunt's housekeeper is not a housekeeper strictly speaking, but rather a friend of the family, having been nearly fifteen years with us, and possessing our entire confidence. She could not have already learnt the fact of the suicide, as she had no relations or friends in Tambof, and never leaves the house.

"The hospital in question is situated at the other end of the town, about 5 versts from my house. Dr. Sundblatt informs me, on the authority of the procesverbal of the inquest, that Pereliguine was able to read and write. (This was in answer to the inquiry whether the deceased could have understood alphabetic communication)."

There are few cases which in my opinion afford so simple and striking a demonstration of the identity of the discarnate personality as the foregoing. There was no professional medium; all the witnesses concerned give their full names; they are persons of repute, and after the facts were published their testimony was never impugned.

Identity of the Discarnate

Those who remain in doubt as to the value of the evidence adduced in the foregoing chapters should remember that it is, and probably always will be, impossible to obtain such conclusive logical demonstration of survival after death as will satisfy every agnostic. But "formal logical sequence" as Cardinal Newman said in his "Grammar of Assent," is not, in fact, the method by which we are enabled to become certain of what is concrete... The real and necessary method ... is the accumulation of probabilities, independent of each other, arising out of the nature and circumstances of the particular case which is under review," and so the truth of the spirit hypothesis, and of spirit-identity, like the truth of all disputed matters, is to be judged in this way, - that is, by the whole evidence taken together.(1)

In concluding this chapter I wish to draw attention to a valuable and brightly written work in two volumes, strangely entitled "On the Cosmic Relations," by Mr. Henry Holt, the widely esteemed American publisher. In this work Mr. Holt gives a mass of evidence obtained by himself, as well as by Dr. Hodgson and others, that has convinced him of the existence of super-normal phenomena, and the impossibility of explaining away by telepathy or otherwise the evidence on behalf of survival after bodily death.

(1) Kant knew nothing of telepathy or psychical research, but even his critical mind admitted that "in regard to ghost stories, while I doubt any one of them, still I have a certain faith in the whole of them taken together." - "Dreams of a Spirit Seer", p. 88.


The article above was taken from Barrett's "On the Threshold of the Unseen." Published by Kegan Paul in 1918.

Other articles by William Barrett

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