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 of Identity in the Discarnate

 - William Barrett -

"The Ghost in man, the Ghost that once was man 
But cannot wholly free itself from man, 
Are calling to each other thro' a dawn 
Stranger than earth has ever seen; the veil 
Is rending and the voices of the day 
Are heard across the voices of the dark."
- Tennyson

          THESE WELL-KNOWN lines of our great poet are today receiving ampler confirmation than was thought possible a generation ago. In the present chapter I will cite some remarkable evidence of survival obtained through personal friends of my own.

I have previously given illustrations of the wonderful mediumistic power of the Rev. Stainton Moses and of the high regard in which he was held. No one who knew him could for a moment doubt, as Mr. Myers says, "his sanity or his sincerity, his veracity or his honour," and those who knew him personally, as I did, could understand the esteem and affection which his colleagues at University College School and his intimate friends always felt for him. I will here briefly narrate two remarkable cases in favour of the identity of the soi disant spirit which came through Mr. Moses. These cases are well known to those familiar with the literature of spiritualism, but may not be known to many of my readers.


In August 1874, Mr. Moses was staying with a friend, a medical man, in the Isle of Wight, and at one of the "sittings" which they had together a communication was received with singular impetuosity purporting to be from a spirit who gave the name Abraham Florentine, and stated that he had been engaged in the United States war of 1812, but only lately had entered into the spiritual world, having died at Brooklyn, U.S.A., on August 5th, 1874, at the age of eighty-three years, one month, and seventeen days. None present knew of such a person, but Mr. Moses published the particulars as above stated in a London newspaper, asking at the same time American journals to copy, so that, if possible, the statements made might be verified or disproved.

In course of time an American lawyer, a "claimagent," who had been auditing the claims of soldiers in New York, saw the paragraph, and wrote to an American newspaper to say that he had come across the name A. Florentine, and that a full record of the person who made the claim could be obtained from the U.S. Adjutant-General's office. Accordingly the headquarters of the U.S. Army was applied to, and an official reply was received, stating that a Private named Abraham Florentine had served in the American war in the early part of the century. Ultimately the widow of Abraham Florentine was found to be alive.

Dr. Crowell, a Brooklyn physician, by means of a directory, discovered her address in Brooklyn, and saw and questioned the widow. She stated that her husband had fought in the war of 1812, that he was a rather impetuous man, and had died in Brooklyn on August 5th, 1874, and that his eighty-third birthday was on the previous June 8th. He was therefore eighty-three years, one month, twenty-seven days old when he died, the only discrepancy being seventeen for twenty-seven days, a mistake that might easily have arisen in recording the message made through Mr. Moses when entranced in the Isle of Wight. Full details of this case were published in Vol. XI. of the "Proceedings of the S. P. R."

What are we to say to this evidence? The newspaper files remain to attest the facts, which seem to be absolutely irrefragable. The only surmise that can be made is that Mr. Moses had seen some notice of the man's death and career in an American newspaper, and either had forgotten the fact or had purposely deceived his friends. But then, this could only have been one of many similar cases of forgetfulness or deception, and before we can assume this we have to prove that Mr. Moses did obtain the required information by means of newspapers or other mundane channels of information. This Mrs. Moses is certain he did not, and no one as yet has been able to show that he did, or to find a particle of evidence on behalf of the wearisome and motiveless deception which must, in this event, habitually have characterised a man of spotless integrity and honour. Moreover, it is wholly unlikely an obscure private soldier should have an obituary notice in an American newspaper, or if it were so, that it should have been noted by English readers. In fine, after critically examining this case, Mr. F. W. H. Myers remarks: "I hold that the surviving spirit of Abraham Florentine did really communicate with Mr. Moses."(1)

(1) "Proc. S.P.R.," Vol. XI, P. 407.

It is, however, necessary to submit every case of "spiritualistic" communication to the most rigorous scrutiny before deciding on its probable origin; what to a novice may seem to have an extra-terrene origin may really be a telepathic influence from some living person or the revival of some forgotten impression.

Long experience in the work of psychical research has shown the danger arising from what has been called cryptomnesia, i.e. a hidden memory. This explanation has indeed been suggested by some psychical researchers as possible in the foregoing case (unwarrantably I think), but it cannot apply to the next; which affords another of the remarkable proofs of spirit identity obtained through the automatic writing of Mr. S. Moses.


The following case Mr. Myers considered to be one of extreme interest and value, owing to the fact that only after Mr. Moses' death a series of chances led Mr. Myers to discover additional proofs of its veracity. The spirit purporting to communicate through Mr. Moses was that of a lady known to Mr. Myers, and who will be called Blanche Abercromby. This lady died on a Sunday afternoon at a country house some 200 miles from London. Of her illness and death Mr. Moses knew absolutely nothing, but that same Sunday evening a communication, purporting to come from her, and stating that "she had just quitted the body," was made to Mr. Moses at his secluded lodgings in London.

A few days later Mr. Moses' hand was again controlled by the same spirit and a few lines were written purporting to come from her and asserted by the spirit to be in her own handwriting, as a proof of her identity. There is no reason to suppose Mr. Moses had ever seen her handwriting, for he had only met her once casually at a sťance. The facts communicated to Mr. Moses by the deceased lady were private; accordingly he mentioned the matter to no one, and gummed down the pages of the communication in his notebook and marked it "private matter."

When after the death of Mr. Moses his documents were examined by Mr. Myers, he received permission from the executors to open these sealed pages. To his astonishment he found the communication to be from the lady whom he had known, and on comparing the handwriting of the script with letters from this lady when on earth he found the resemblance was incontestable. He submitted the matter to the lady's son and to an expert in handwriting and both affirmed that the spirit writing and that by the lady when living were from the same person. Numerous peculiarities were found common to the two, and the contents of the automatic script were also characteristic of the deceased lady. The ordinary handwriting of Mr. Moses is quite different from that which usually comes in his automatic script, and that again was wholly unlike the calligraphy in the present case.

Here no hypothesis of telepathy from the living, or forgotten memory, or the subliminal self of Mr. Moses, affords any explanation, and I regard this case as one of the strongest links in the chain of evidence on behalf of survival after death. As a rule the calligraphy of the automatic script is not the same as that of the person who purports to communicate, nor should we expect it to be so, if the communication be effected by telepathy from the deceased person.

Evidence of Handwriting

There are, however, some other cases where the soi-disant spirit occasionally seems able to guide the hand of the medium so perfectly as to produce an accurate reproduction of the deceased's handwriting. A notable instance of this occurred in the case of the late Professor Henry Sidgwick, from whom a characteristic communication came through automatic writing to which his signature was affixed. This signature is identical with that in the many letters I received from Prof. Sidgwick when on earth, and here also there is no reason to believe the medium, a lady I know personally, had ever seen Professor Sidgwick's handwriting.(1)

(1) In "Human Personality", Vol II, p. 168, Mr. Myers refers to this element of handwriting as a proof of identity, and gives a remarkable case in point on P. 466. An able, critical paper by Sir H. Babington Smith, C.B, which discusses this and other evidence given by automatic writing, was published in Vol. V of the Proceedings S.P.R.

Bearing in mind the hypothesis of cryptomnesia, I will now cite some remarkable messages which were sent to us by my venerable friend the late Mr. Hensleigh Wedgwood, the cousin and brother-in-law of Charles Darwin, and himself a well-known savant. Mr. Wedgwood was deeply interested in psychical research and had many sittings for automatic writing (by planchette) with two valued friends of his, "Mrs. R." and her sister "Mrs. V.," both of whom were psychic. In the present case Mrs. R. was the automatist, a lady known for some years to Mr. Fred. Myers, and of whose scrupulous good faith there can be no more question than of that of Mr. Wedgwood himself. Mrs. R. and Mr. Wedgwood sat opposite each other at a small table, the former with her left hand and the latter with his right on the planchette. Mr. Wedgwood states that the writing came upright to him but upside down to his partner, and so far from guiding the planchette his only difficulty was to avoid interfering with its rapid movement. His partner declared the same, and moreover could not have written rapidly, or at all, in this inverted manner. Mrs. R.'s notes, confirmed by Mr. Wedgwood, are as follows:


October 10th, Friday, at , Mr. Wedgwood and I sitting. The board moved after a short pause and one preliminary circling.

"David-David-David-dead 143 years."

The butler at this moment announced lunch, and Mr. Wedgwood said to the soi-disant spirit, "Will you go on for us afterwards, as we must break off now?"

"I will try."

During lunch Mr. Wedgwood was reckoning up the date indicated as 1747, and conjecturing that the control was perhaps David Hume, who he thought had died about then. On our beginning again to sit, the following was volunteered:

"I am not Hume. I have come with Theodora's sister. I was attracted to her during her life in America. My work was in that land, and my earthly toil was cut short early, as hers has been. I died at thirty years old. I toiled five years, carrying forward the lamp of God's truth as I knew it."

Mr. Wedgwood remarked that he must have been a missionary.

"Yes, in Susquehannah and other places."

"Can you give any name besides David?"

David Bra-David Bra-David Brain-David Braine-David Brain."

Mr. W.: "Do you mean that your name is Braine?"

"Very nearly right."

Mr. W.: "Try again."

"David Braine. Not quite all the name; right so far as it goes. . . I was born in 1717."

Mr. W.: "Are you in American?"

"America I hold to be my country, as we consider things. I worked at " (sentence ends with a line of D's).

After an interval Mr. Wedgwood said he thought it had come into his head who our control was. He had some recollection that in the 18th century a man named David Brainerd was missionary to the North American Indians. We sat again and the following was written

"I am glad you know me. I had not power to complete name or give more details. I knew that secret of the district. It was guarded by the Indians, and was made known to two independent circles. Neither of them succeeded, but the day will come that will uncover the gold."

It was suggested that this meant Heavenly truth.

"I spoke of earthly gold."

Mr. Wedgwood said the writing was so faint he thought power was failing.

"Yes, nearly gone. I wrote during my five years of work. It kept my heart alive."

Mr. Wedgwood writes:

I could not think at first where I had ever heard of Brainerd, but I learn from my daughter in London that my sister-in-law, who lived with me 40 or 50 years ago, was a great admirer of Brainerd, and seemed to have an account of his life, but I am quite certain that I never opened the book and knew nothing of the dates, which are all correct, as well as his having been a missionary to the Susquehannahs.

My daughter has sent me extracts from his life, stating that he was born in 1718, and not 1717 as planchette wrote. But the Biographical Dictionary says that he died in 1747, aged 30.

Mrs. R. writes that she had no knowledge whatever of David Brainerd before this.

The Biographical Dictionary gives the following:

"Brainerd, David. A celebrated American missionary, who signalised himself by his successful endeavours to convert the Indians on the Susquehannah, Delaware, etc. Died, aged 30, 1747."

It is perhaps noteworthy in connection with the last sentence of the planchette writing that in the life of Brainerd by Jonathan Edwards extracts given from his journal show that he wrote a good deal, e.g., "Feb. 3, 1744. Could not but write as well as meditate," &c. "Feb. 15, 1745. Was engaged in writing almost all the day." He invariably speaks of comfort in connection with writing.

The other case given by Mr. Wedgwood is too lengthy to quote in detail, but a brief summary is given because, like the preceding, it is one of the few cases where the soi-distant spirit asserts he lived on earth very many years ago.


In this case the automatist was also Mr. Wedgwood's friend Mrs. R., a lady of unimpeachable integrity as already stated, and the mode of sitting with planchette was the same as described in the previous case. The sitting took place in June, 1889, and is recorded in the Journal of the S.P.R. for that year. Notes of the sitting were written at the time and the planchette writing copied.

As soon as the sitting began planchette wrote that spirit was present who wanted to draw; forthwith a rough drawing was made of the top of an embattled wall, or mural coronet, from which an arm holding a sword arose. Planchette wrote, "Sorry I can't do better, was meant for a test, J.G." Asked what the drawing represented, the answer came, "Something that was given me." Asked if J.G. was a man or woman, planchette wrote "Man, John G." Mr. Wedgwood said he knew a J. Giffard, was that right? The reply came, "Not Giffard, John Gurwood, no connection of yours." Asked how he died, "I killed myself on Christmas Day, it will be forty-four years ago next Christmas," i.e. in 1845. Asked if he were in the Army, the reply came, "Yes, but it was the pen, not the sword that did for me." Asked if pen was right, and if so, was he an author who failed? the reply was "Yes, pen, I did not fail, the pen was too much for me after the wound." Asked where he was wounded the reply was "In the Peninsular in the head, I was wounded in 1810." Asked if the drawing was a crest and had anything to do with the wound planchette wrote "It came from that and was given me, the drawing was a test; remember my name, power fails to explain, stop now."

Mr. Wedgwood then recalled that a Colonel Gurwood edited the despatches of the Duke of Wellington, but he had never read any history of the Peninsular war and knew no details of Gurwood's life or of his crest: Mrs. R. was wholly ignorant of the matter. After the sitting Mr. Wedgwood looked up the matter and found that Colonel Gurwood led the forlorn hope at the storming of Ciudad Rodrigo in 1812,(1) and the Annual Register states that he then "received a wound in the skull which affected him for the remainder of his life." In recognition of his bravery he received a grant of arms in 1812, which are specified in the Book of Family Crests, - and symbolised in the crest, - as follows, "Out of a mural coronet, a ruined castle in centre, and therefrom an arm, holding a scimitar." The drawing given as a test is practically this crest, though the ruined castle was doubtless too difficult to be drawn by planchette. Furthermore, the Annual Register for 1845 states that Colonel Gurwood committed suicide on Christmas Day that year, in a fit of despondency, and remarks that it was probably owing to the overstrain caused by his laborious work in editing the despatches; this explains the automatic writing, "Pen was too much for me after the wound." None of these facts were known to Mr. Wedgwood or Mrs. R. before the automatic writing came.

(1) Planchette wrote 1810, if the figures were correctly read.

In subsequent sittings Colonel Gurwood again controlled planchette and gave some further details of his life, the storming of the fort and names of persons, all of which were found to be correct so far as they could be verified. But the evidential value of these later sittings must be discounted, owing to the fact that Mr. Wedgwood had meanwhile looked up Napier's Peninsular War and might have gained some of the information from its pages.

Evidence of Identity

Many other striking illustrations of survival after death might be given, but the reader who is interested must go to the original papers to which I have referred earlier. Sir Oliver Lodge has had some remarkable cases of "spirit identity" through other automatists, and especially through Mrs. Piper, with whom be has had numerous sittings. These cases he has critically investigated: many of them relate to himself and his family, revealing facts entirely unknown to the medium and at the time unknown to Sir Oliver, which subsequently have been found to be correct. The conviction to which Sir Oliver has been driven, from his own personal and long continued experience, and which he has publicly avowed, is that there is undeniably evidence of survival after death.

One of the most recent cases corroborative of this conclusion relates to messages purporting to come from his gallant and beloved son Lieut. Raymond Lodge, who lost his life in the war. Particulars of this case were read before the Society for Psychical Research, and I made an abstract of that paper, - kindly revised by Sir O. Lodge, - for insertion in this place. But since then Sir Oliver has published his work "Raymond," where additional evidence is given, and as this book has been so widely read and noticed in the press it seems needless to refer to the matter further. Moreover, nearly all the evidence I have cited has come through private and unpaid mediums, and this was not the case in all the Raymond messages.

The Ear of Dionysius

The Right Hon. Gerald Balfour has recently (Dec. 1916) read a paper before the S.P.R., which in the opinion of some competent judges affords the most striking evidence of survival yet obtained. For it apparently demonstrates the continued and vigorous mental activity of the late Professor A. W. Verrall and the late Professor Butcher, both eminent classical scholars. The evidence exhibits a range of knowledge, and constructive ability in framing a classical puzzle, such as could not be accounted for by telepathy, or the subliminal self of the automatist. The automatic script came through a lady who is well known to Mr. Balfour, and to whom reference has already been made under her pseudonym of "Mrs. Willett."

Mr. Balfour affirms with confidence that Mrs. Willett is as little familiar with classical subjects as the average of educated women. Nevertheless recondite classical allusions connected with the "Ear of Dionysius" (which forms the title of the paper) and other obscure topics were given in the script, the whole forming a literary puzzle which remained insoluble, until later on the script furnished the key. Mr. Balfour says it is difficult to suppose that the materials employed in the construction of this puzzle could have been drawn from the mind of any living person; he believes they must be ascribed to some disembodied intelligence or intelligences, and there are cogent reasons for believing that the real authors were, - as they profess to be - the late Professors Verrall and Butcher. The paper has now been published in the "Proceedings" of the S.P.R. Vol. XXIX.

ISS Note: 

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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