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.

Eusapia Palladino

 - William Barrett -

          AFTER the favourable reports by Professor Charles Richet and Sir Oliver Lodge upon their experiments with Eusapia, referred to on page 65, as there stated further seances were held with her at Cambridge in 1895.(1) I was not present, and, indeed, have never had the opportunity nor the desire to experiment with Eusapia, but those present at Cambridge came to the conclusion, on what appeared to them to be an adequate trial, that there was clear evidence of trickery on the part of Eusapia,(2) although Sir Oliver Lodge adhered to his opinion that the phenomena he witnessed in the Ile Roubaud were genuine.(3)

This opinion was corroborated by that of the eminent physiologist, Professor Charles Richet. After the seances at Cambridge he for a time suspended his judgement, but subsequently, both in conversation with myself and on other occasions, has stated that he was absolutely convinced of the supernormal character of some of the manifestations which occur with Eusapia. This also was the opinion of the well-known astronomical writer Camille Flammarion, who in his work, "Ies Porces Naturelles Inconnues"," deals at length with the phenomena occurring with Eusapia, and is convinced of their supernormal character.

(1). See "Journal of the. S.P.R.," Vol. V1, P. 306
(2). ibid., Vol. V11, p. 148.
(3). ibid., p. 135.

But the most remarkable testimony in favour of Eusapia came from some of the leading scientific men of Italy, men specially trained in the investigation of psychological and physiological phenomena. Perhaps the most notable witness was the late Professor Lombroso, who conducted the investigation of Eusapia's powers in his laboratory in the University of Turin, every precaution being taken against fraud. The result was that Lombroso publicly bore witness to the genuineness of these extraordinary physical manifestations. The opinion of so experienced and able a criminologist as Lombroso - whose high scientific status is recognised throughout Europe - necessarily carried great weight. In an article published in 1908 in the "Annals of Psychical Science," Lombroso refers to various phases of these phenomena, including phantasms and apparitions of deceased persons. He points out that sometimes several phenomena occurred simultaneously, and hence were beyond the power of one person to perform, and also that there is evidence of the intrusion of another will, which could not be attributed to the medium or to any person present, but which was in opposition to 'all, and even to the control, "John." He lays stress upon the importance of these facts in relation to the hypothesis that the occurrences are explicable by the "psychic forces" of the medium and circle alone: an hypothesis which at an earlier stage of the inquiry he himself adopted, but which he now regards as inadequate.

Independent testimony came from Dr. Enrico Morselli, Professor of Neurology and Psychiatry (mental therapeutics), in the University of Genoa, who presided over a set of sťances with Eusapia in that city.(1)

The control of the medium was very strict. Her hands and feet were held by Dr. Morselli and Sig. Barzini, editor of the "Corriere della Sera," who states that he was present "with the object of unmasking fraud and trickery," but was in the end convinced of the reality of some of the phenomena. The person of the medium was thoroughly searched before the seance, and the room was also searched; the light was never entirely extinguished.

Under these conditions Dr. Morselli testifies to the occurrence of the following phenomena: movements of the table; raps on the table and sounds on musical instruments without contact; complete levitations of the table; movements of objects at a distance from the medium seen in the light, and, also, the operation of self-registering instruments by the unseen agency; "apports", i.e., objects brought into the room from outside; the sound of human voices not proceeding from any visible person; impressions on plastic substances of hands, feet and faces; the appearance of dark prolongations of the medium's body; of well delineated forms of: faces, heads and busts. Although entirely sceptical at the outset of his experiments he declares himself convinced that most of the phenomena alleged to occur with Eusapia are "real, authentic, and genuine."

(1) A very full report of these is given in the Annals of Psychical Science for February, March, May, and June, 1907.

Dr. Morseilli was disposed to interpret these phenomena by what he terms the hypothesis of special psychic or biodynamic forces; that is to say, he attributes them to some peculiar power emanating from the person of the medium. This is practically the psychic force theory of many earlier English investigators.

Shortly after the sťances held under the direction of Dr. Morselli in the University of Genoa, another series of experiments, in Turin, was conducted by Doctors Herlitzka, C. Foa, and Aggazzotti;(1) Dr. Pio Foa, Professor of Pathological Anatomy, being present at the most remarkable of this set of experiments. These sťances yielded similar positive results to those held by Professors Lombroso and Morselli.

Another competent witness is Dr. Giuseppe Venzano, stated by Dr. Morselli to be an "excellent observer." He contributed an important article to the " Annals of Psychical Science " (August and September, 1907), containing a detailed record and critical analysis of his experiences with Eusapia, under conditions of strict control, and sometimes in the full light given by an electric lamp of sixteen-candle power. Dr. Venzano, in the course of his experiments with Eusapia, the light in the room being sufficient to enable both the medium and his fellow-sitters to be clearly seen, perceived a woman's form beside him, felt her touch and heard her speak: the form spoke with fullness of detail of certain family affairs not known to anyone present except himself. The whole incident is a most amazing one, and Dr. Venzano states that, in his opinion, any explanation of this experience based on the possibility of fraud or of hallucination is impossible.

(1) Assistants of Professor Mosso, an eminent physiologist.

Professor Philippe Bottazzi, Director of the Physiological Institute at the University of Naples, having read the report of Dr. Morselli's experiments at Genoa, made an attempt to verify the phenomena by means of an elaborate and carefully, arranged set of self-registering instruments, in the hope of obtaining an automatic graphic record of the psychic force exercised by the medium. Such a record would negative the hypotheses of hallucination or mis-description on the part of the observer. These important experiments, carried with the collaboration of several able professors of the same University, were remarkably successful, and Professor Bottazzi's article concludes by stating these experiments have "eliminated the slightest trace of suspicion or uncertainty relative to the genuineness of the phenomena. We obtained the same kind of assurance as that which we have concerning physical, chemical or physiological phenomena. From henceforth sceptics can only deny the facts by accusing us of fraud and charlatanism."(1)

(1). See "Annals of Psychical Science", September, 1907 P. 149

In 1909 three members of the S.P.R., the Hon Everard Feilding, Mr. W. W. Baggally and Mr. Hereward Carrington were commissioned by the Society to carry out another serious investigation with this medium. The selection was specially made with a view to the qualifications of the investigators. Mr. Carrington was a clever amateur conjuror, and for ten years had carried on investigations on these physical phenomena in the United States. His book on this subject shows his familiarity with the methods adopted by fraudulent mediums and his cautious attitude towards all such experiences. Mr. Baggally was also an amateur conjuror with much experience, and had come to negative conclusion as to the possibility of any genuine physical phenomena. Mr. Feilding's attitude was the same, and, moreover, he had had extensive experience in investigating physical phenomena.

October, 1907, p. 260; December, 1907, P. 377; where a full account of these experiments will be found, with illustrations showing the tracings made by the self-registering instruments.

The result of this investigation was that all three of these well-qualified men were convinced of the absolute genuineness of the remarkable supernormal phenomena they witnessed at their hotel in Naples. Since then they have had another series of sťances which yielded quite different results and in which they obtained nothing convincingly supernormal and much that was obviously normal and probably spurious. The same thing was also found in sittings with Eusapia in America.

How can we reconcile these conflicting results? I am not concerned to defend Eusapia, on the contrary I am more, disposed to loathe her, but we must be fair, and give even the devil his due. Like other psychics, especially those who exhibit similar amazing supernormal phenomena, she is most sensitive to "suggestion," even when unexpressed; and, in the trance, when her consciousness and self-control are largely inhibited, she is the easy prey of external influences. In the absence of the steadying, though subconscious, influence of a high moral nature, she unblushingly cheats whenever the conditions are unfavourable for the production of supernormal phenomena. We have no right to assume that she is wholly conscious of so doing, for Professor Hyslop has shown that mediumship is often, accompanied with abnormal bodily as well as mental conditions. We know little or nothing of, what constitutes the peculiar faculty or environment for the necessary production of these physical phenomena.

If they are due, as some have thought, to an externalization of the nerve force of the psychic, it is not improbable that the degree of this externalization will vary with the favourable or unfavourable mental state of those present. We may even conceive that when this psychic force is restricted or not externalised, it may create movements of the limbs of the psychic which will cause her to perform by normal actions (in perhaps a semi-conscious state) what under good psychical conditions would be done supernormally. This would produce the impression of intentional fraud. Every one who had much experience in these perplexing investigations knows that what seems purposeless and stupid fraud often intrudes itself, after the most conclusive evidence of genuine phenomena has been obtained. It is this which renders the whole enquiry wholly unfitted for the hasty and unskilled investigator.

Other articles by William Barrett

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