James Hyslop

James Hyslop

Professor of Logic and Ethics from 1889-1902 at Columbia University, New York. One of the most distinguished American psychical researchers, a prolific writer and the greatest American propagandist of survival. When Richard Hodgson died in 1905 Hyslop took his place as chief investigator of Mrs Piper and devoted the following year to the organisation of a new American SPR. "I regard the existence of discarnate spirits as scientifically proved", said Hyslop in "Life After Death" (1918).

Dr Hodgson's First Report

 - James Hyslop -

          DR. HODGSON'S first report takes up several questions which were not discussed fully in the English report. He gives a lengthy account of some peculiarities of the trance and of some tests to determine the existence of the trance and of anaesthesia. The history of the Phinuit "control" and the hypothesis of fraud are discussed and the latter dismissed from further consideration in the case. The spiritistic hypothesis is regarded as insufficiently supported by the evidence to assure its acceptance. There remains, then, for this chapter a summary of the facts which sustain the existence of supernormal powers in Mrs. Piper. In giving this summary, however, I shall not distinguish the incidents by the class differences by which they have been marked in the preceding chapter. I shall leave this task to the reader, as it will not have any further importance for this book.

Many of the accounts in this report do not represent verbatim or stenographic statements of what occurred at the sittings, but depend upon the memories of the sitters. They would have been much better for the scientific treatment of the facts, if they had been more perfectly recorded. But many accounts were so reported and the summary of this report must place its stress upon the best accounts, though some of those not fully reported have that kind of confirmation that eliminates a too rigid scepticism based upon the supposition of mal-observation and defective memories. I shall select cases also with reference to the difficulty of supposing fraud to account for them, though I consider it as excluded in fact.

I quote first the records of a Miss W., known to Dr. Hodgson, who was obliged to conceal her identity in his report. She had many sittings with Mrs. Piper and made careful and very critical accounts of them. The most complicated incident was the following, which came in response to a request made that the "communicator" write Miss W. a letter through Phinuit's dictation to another sitter and have it mailed to her by this person. Miss W.'s account is as follows:

"On November 16th, 1886, Dr. Phinuit told me that T. (Miss W.'s deceased friend) was dictating a letter to me. 'How will you address it?' I asked. 'T. knows your address and will give it to the medium.' November 29th, a friend, who had been sitting with Mrs. Piper, brought me word that the promised letter had been mailed to:

Miss Nellie Wilson,
Care David Wilson,
Reading, Mass.

"By applying at the post-office at Reading I was able to obtain the letter. I alter the names, but these points may be noted:

"1. My surname is given correctly.

"2. I have a cousin, David Wilson, of whose relationship and friendship T. was well aware. His home, however, has always been in New York.

"3. Reading was my home during my childhood and youth, but I removed from it thirteen years ago. I knew T. only subsequent to that removal.

"4. While living there I wrote my name with the diminutive, Nellie, but since then have preferred to write my baptismal name Ella, or merely the initial E. T. was wont to use the initials merely.

"At my next sitting, November 30th, I inquired about this mongrel address. 'T. was not strong enough,' said Phinuit, 'to direct where the letter should be sent, but he thought your cousin David would attend to your getting it. Your other friends here helped us on the rest of the address.' ('But they would not tell you to send it to Reading.') 'Yes, they did. It was Mary told us that.' 'Nonsense,' said I, thinking of a sister of that name. 'Not Mary in the body; Mary in the spirit.' ('But I have no such friend.') 'Yes, you have. It was Mary L.- Mary E. - Mary E. Parker told us that.' I then recalled a little playmate of that name, a next door neighbor, who moved away from Reading when I was ten years old, and of whose death I learned a few years later. I had scarcely thought of her for twenty years. The E. in the name I have not verified."

The remarkably complicated character of these incidents is apparently inexplicable on any theory but the most obvious, and illustrates the supernormal very clearly. Miss W. adds another incident of interest.

"T. was a western man, and the localism of using like as a conjunction clung to him, despite my frequent correction, all his life. At my sitting on December 16th, 1886, he remarked, 'If you could see it like I do.' Forgetful for the instant of the changed conditions, I promptly repeated, 'As I do.' 'Ah,' came the response, 'that sounds natural. That sounds like old times.'"

"March 1st, 1888, he requested: 'Throw off this rug,' referring to a loose fur-lined cloak which I wore. I noted the word as a singular designation for such a garment, and weeks after recalled that he had once, while living, spoken of it in the same way as I threw it over him on the lounge."

"March 2nd, 1887, I was asked by my mother to inquire the whereabouts of two silver cups, heirlooms, which she had misplaced. Said Dr. Phinuit, 'They are in your house, in a room higher up than your sleeping room, in what looks to me the back part of the house, but very likely I am turned round. You'll find there a large chest filled with clothing, and at the very bottom of the chest are the cups. Annie (my mother's name) placed them there and will remember it.' Returning home I went to a room on the third floor at the front of the house, but remotest from the stairway, found the chest (of which I knew), and the contents (of which I was ignorant) both as described, but no silver. Reporting the message to my mother, I learned that she had at one time kept the cups in that chest, but more recently had removed them."

"February 11th, 1887, my sister L. wished me to ask Phinuit where she should find her missing card plate. To be thoroughly explicit, I took her calling card with me and placed it in Mrs. Piper's hand, inquiring, 'Where is the plate from which this is engraved?' Phinuit replied, 'You will find it in a box with a brush and a bottle. The box is in the house where you live, in a drawer under something that looks like a cupboard or closet or something of that sort. There are soft things cluttered up in the drawer.' L. and I searched together all possible places, and finally concluded that 'the cupboard or closet' might be the stationary washstand in her bedroom which is set into a recess with shelves above and drawers below. The second of these drawers, of whose contents I knew nothing, we found filled with loose pieces of woolen and muslin, and under these pieces a small box. The box contained the specified box and bottle, but instead of L.'s card-plate her stencil-plate. We subsequently wondered that the mention of brush and bottle had not forewarned us of this mistake, but it had not."

In both these instances where the sitter and other living persons did not know the facts they were not correctly given, and what was known seems to have been correctly given. They strongly suggest a large telepathy, when that process is once admitted to explain any facts, conscious or subconscious. Clairvoyance did not answer the question, and if clairvoyance be admitted into the case at all it would have been natural to have supposed that it would have found the articles. It failed just at the point in which living minds were as ignorant of the facts as Phinuit seems to have been.

"March 15th," continues Miss W., "T. observed, 'This medium is good and true. I am glad to say that because I used to think she was a fraud. Do you remember?' 'No, I didn't know you ever said so,' thinking only of communications received through her. 'Why, yes, last summer, when you sent her a lock of hair. Don't you remember?' I then recalled that during T.'s fatal illness in June, 1886, I had won his reluctant consent to send Mrs. Piper a lock of his hair. I first heard of her at that time, and faintly hoped that a clairvoyant might diagnose a malady which physicians had failed to reach. The diagnosis proved worthless, and T. had freely characterised the whole thing as trickery and fraud. I have never mentioned that correspondence to Mrs. Piper, and since I wrote her from a distant city she is not likely to have associated it with me."

Even if the correspondence had been so associated this fact would not account for the mention of his previous belief regarding Mrs. Piper. Her narrative continues:

"The scepticism of one B., with whom he had much in common, had seemed a matter of concern to T. He spoke of it November 26th, 1886. 'I remember how we used to talk about this (spirit control) and how set against it B. was like a wall. He thinks so yet.' December 16th, 1886, he again introduced the matter, saying, 'I notice your father has a letter from B. How strongly he holds his old notions. He's determined not to admit anything, isn't he?' The letter, whose contents were correctly summarised, was received by my father that very morning. I did not know of its arrival until my return, home after this sitting. In July, 1887, B. visited my father and the two had a sitting with Mrs. Piper. At my next visit, August 5th, T. thus spoke of it: 'I have seen B. He seems changed and so inquisitive. I do not remember him so. But he seemed to think me different.' I learned afterward from my father that B.'s conversation had been a bombardment of questions.

"On one occasion my mother went with my father to Mrs. Piper's. On my next visit, August 15th, 1887, T. spoke of it with pleasure, but added: 'This seemed strange. A little while after she was here I heard her say to your father, 'It did not really seem like T.' It was on the piazza that she said it. I verified this on reaching home. Nothing of the sort had been said to me.

"January 5th, 1888, I was told, 'Here is somebody who says he is your grandfather. He is tall, wears glasses, and is smooth-shaven.' ('Which grandfather?') 'He gives his name F.' ('Yes, it must be my grandfather R, if smooth-shaven').

'Well, it is. But do you mean that your grandfather E. wears a beard?' ('Yes.') 'I think you must be mistaken.' ('No, I am sure that he did.') 'I never see him so, and I see him often.' My grandfather E. died before my birth, but I felt sure that he had been described to me as full-bearded, like his son. But my father, when appealed to, disappointed me. 'No you are wrong,' he said. 'I am like him in figure and features, but not in cut of beard. He was always smooth-shaven.'"

There were three prophecies recorded. One was from a deceased friend giving her name and saying that another friend of Miss W.'s, giving his name, would marry soon. The "communicator" was the deceased wife of the person named, her surviving husband. Miss W. exclaimed that it was preposterous, and would not believe that it was her friend that was communicating. But the prediction was insisted on and Miss W. had finally to admit that the communications were characteristic of her friend, but attached no importance to the prediction. But the prophesied marriage occurred in a few months.

The last prediction is very interesting and should be quoted in full. Miss W. says:

"In the spring of 1888, an acquaintance, S., was suffering torturing disease. There was no hope of relief, and only distant prospect of release. A consultation of physicians predicted continued physical suffering and probably mental decay, continuing perhaps through a series of years. S.'s daughter, worn with anxiety and care, was in danger of breaking in health. 'How can I get her away for a little rest?' I asked Dr. Phinuit, May 24th, 1888. 'She will not leave her father,' was the reply, 'but his suffering is not for long. The doctors are wrong about that. There will be a change soon, and he will pass out of the body before the summer is over.' His death occurred in June, 1888."

There have been many such prophecies at various sittings, some of them much more complicated than these, and whatever theory be adopted to explain them it will not be telepathy.

I shall next recur to some incidents in the sittings of Dr. Hodgson. It should be remembered that he was a native of Australia, graduated at the University of Melbourne, and afterwards came to England, where he had been Lecturer at Cambridge University before he was sent to India to investigate Madame Blavatsky. He had come to this country for the first time about a fortnight before his first sitting with Mrs. Piper. He was introduced, as said above, by Prof. James.

At this first sitting, after two or three correct hits about members of the family, "Phinuit mentioned the name 'Fred.' I said it might be my cousin. 'He says you went to school together. He goes on jumping frogs, and laughs. He says he used to get the better of you. He had convulsive movements before his death struggles. He went off in a sort of spasm. You were not there.'"

Dr. Hodgson states in a note:

"My cousin Fred far excelled any other person that I have seen in the games of leap-frog, fly the garter, etc. He took very long flying jumps, and whenever he played the game was lined by crowds of school-mates to watch him. He injured his spine in a gymnasium in Melbourne, Australia, in 1871, and was carried to the hospital, where he lingered for a fortnight, with occasional spasmodic convulsions, in one of which he died."

Phinuit also described a lady whom he said had died, saying that she had "dark hair, dark eyes, slim figure," referred to two rings, and gave her name not quite correctly. Dr. Hodgson knew nothing of the rings, but the lady died in Australia in 1879. Among a number of names mentioned that of "Charlie" and "Marie" were given and Dr. Hodgson afterward recalled a friend by this name who had died in India in 1885 probably, and a lady by the name of "Marie" who had been engaged to this friend. Phinuit also said that Dr. Hodgson's younger sister was married and had three children and that another, a boy, would be born soon. This was May 4th, and before the end of the month a boy was born to this sister. The number of children mentioned was also correct. 

At the second sitting some months later, Phinuit mentioned the lady indicated in the first sitting and "referred to a black lace collar, with a pin with a head, also a ring with a stone," and said she wanted the pin and the ring to be given to him. He recalls the collar distinctly, and the pin vaguely, but not the 66 ring with a stone." Later in the sitting a reference to the beautiful teeth of this lady was made, which was false, and the statement that "she wanted me to keep the book of poems always with me, the book which I had sent her, and had received back. I should recollect the writing in front of it, which I had written myself." Dr. Hodgson's note states: "I had lent 'Q.' The Princess (Tennyson), which had been returned. It is the only book in my possession, and I think the only book of any kind, which I ever lent her. This book is now (1887) with most of my other books in England. It was my custom at that time to write favorite lines on the fly-leaves of special books. I do not recall with certainty what lines, if any, I had written in this book."

The third sitting was practically a failure and was an attempt at clairvoyance. At the fourth sitting some very interesting matter was obtained. It refers especially to three complex sets of facts, with some minor incidents of considerable evidential importance. The first set refer to the lady called "Q." in his report. I quote it in full:

"Information purporting to have been received from 'Q.' The chief new matter was:

"(a) That I had given her a book, 'Dr. Phinuit thinks of poems, and I had written her name in it. [Correct.]

"(b) ... [Correct. This includes a reference to circumstances under which I had a very special conversation with 'Q.s' I think it impossible that 'Q.' could have spoken of this to any other person. It occurred in Australia in 1875.]

"(c) That she left the body in England, and that I was across the country. [This is incorrect. 'Q.' died in Australia. I was in England.]

This was followed by references again to his cousin Fred. The chief new matter with reference to him was:

(a) That I was not there when he swung on the trapeze and fell and injured his spine, finally dying in a convulsion. [At my first sitting the accident was not described, only the death, at which I was rightly said not to have been present. At this sitting the accident was described, at which also I was rightly said not to have been present.]

"(b) That he wanted to remind me of Harris at school, who was a very able man, etc. [I believe it was also stated that Fred and myself talked about Harris, and that Harris had a high opinion of Fred's ability. This was all true; Harris was a schoolmaster who taught Fred and myself (Melbourne, Australia) about 1868 or 1869. I saw Harris, I think, a short time after my cousin's death (in 1871), and he expressed regrets, etc. I do not recall having seen or heard anything of Harris since.]

"(c) That his father was my mother's brother. [True.]"

At the same sitting Phinuit said that Dr. Hodgson had lost his keys near some mountains and that they were lying near a walk by some leaves, and that "they were on a ring, something different from the holder of the keys in her (Mrs. Piper's) hand. What held the keys was round." A new set of keys had been put into Mrs. Piper's hand. Dr. Hodgson adds the note: I had lost my keys in the Adirondack mountains, and hunted vainly for them. They were found after my departure from camp on a spot answering to 'Phinuit's' description. Before their recovery, however, I had been compelled to obtain duplicates of most of my keys, and had fastened them on a heart-shaped holder. The old keys were fastened on a common key-ring."

At the fifth sitting further striking coincidences occurred. The record was:

"Fred says you came from Australia. [True.] Lady 'Q.' says so, too; says she was there and knew you there, and used to he a great friend of your sister. [True.] You heard about her death by letter from your sister. [True.]

"You went into Germany. Fred went with you in spirit. You went to Germany after father went into spirit. (No.) Got awfully provoked with a lady in Germany. You said she was deceitful, called her a storyteller. [True. While in Germany, in 1882, I charged a lady with falsehood under somewhat peculiar circumstances. My father died in 1885.]"

At the fourth sitting Dr. Hodgson had asked Phinuit to give him a detailed description of "Q.'s" face. The description at the fifth sitting was wrong except in general characteristics. At the sixth sitting the following took place, and is minutely described in the report:

"Phinuit referred to Q. said she spoke of a Loo - something. [Louie was the name of a cousin of 'Q.,' very intimate with 'Q.' and myself in childhood.] Said her full name was 'Q.' A-. Is that right? (No.) Well, she says 'Q.' A. [A- is the surname of other cousins of 'Q.,' who frequently stayed at her house, and were well known to me.]

"Phinuit then proceeded to give a general description of 'Q.,' right so far as it went, and described the eyes as 'dark.' She then began to rub the right eye on the under side, saying, 'There's a spot here. This eye (left) is brown, the other eye has a spot in it of a light color, in the iris. This spot is straggly, of a bluish cast. It is a birthmark. It looks as if it had been thrown on."

Phinuit was asked to describe its shape. His answer was:

"It is like this, running in towards the pupil." He then traced on the little finger nail an acute angled triangle with apex upward, and when he was asked to draw it a representation of the eyes was drawn with the spot in the right relation to the pupil and with the right shape, as indicated by Dr. Hodgson's statement and reproduction of the spot as he remembered it. He says in his note: "'Q.' had a splash of what I should call grey (rather than blue) in the right eye, occupying the position and having very nearly the shape assigned by Phinuit. It was very peculiar; a little jagged in the edges, and sharply and distinctly marked off from the rest of the brown iris. I asked Phinuit how he obtained the information about the eyes. He said that 'Q.' was standing close to him and showing him her right eye so that he could see it clearly, and saying that that was what I wanted. This peculiarity in the eye was what I had in my mind when I asked Phinuit for a detailed description of 'Q.'s' face."

This is an extraordinary set of incidents and certainly exclude chance with an emphasis, and they are not all the incidents having significance. If we consider fraud out of the question we have the supernormal of some kind incontestably evident, and it will be as little questioned that the facts are relevant to the claim of spirit agency.

An incident narrated by Prof. James is worth mentioning. Mrs. James and his brother went to a sitting and were told that "Aunt Kate, referred to also as Mrs. Walsh, had died about 2 or 2:30 in the morning." They stopped at the office of the Society on the way home and recorded the fact before any verification of it came, though they were expecting her death. "On reaching home," says Prof. James, "an hour later, I found a telegram as follows: 'Aunt Kate passed away a few minutes after midnight - E. R. Walsh.' The telegram was sent from New York, where the aunt had died. Mrs. James states that during the sitting the "control said when mentioning that Aunt Kate had died, that I would find a 'letter or telegram' when I got home, saying that she had gone." Later, this Kate Walsh purported to control and communicate."

Another very remarkable set of incidents is the following by a gentleman whose name is reserved, but who gave the initials "M. N." His wife corroborates the incidents as told by him.

"About the end of March last year (1888) I made her (Mrs. Piper) a visit (having been in the habit of doing so, since early in February, about once a fortnight). She told me that a death of a near relative of mine would occur in about six weeks, from which I should realise some pecuniary advantages. I naturally thought of my father, who was advanced in years, and whose description Mrs. Piper had given me very accurately some week or two previously. She had not spoken of him as my father, but merely as a pep. son nearly connected with me. I asked her at that sitting whether this person was the one who would die, but she declined to state anything more clearly to me. My wife, to whom I was then engaged, went to see Mrs. Piper a few days afterwards, and she told her (my wife) that my father would die in a few weeks.

"About the middle of May my father died very suddenly in London from heart failure, when he was recovering from a very slight attack of bronchitis, and the very day that his doctor had pronounced him out of danger. Previous to this Mrs. Piper (as Dr. Phinuit) had told me that she would endeavor to influence my father about certain matters connected with his 'will before he died. Two days after I received the cable announcing his death my wife and I went to see Mrs. Piper, and she (Phinuit) spoke of his presence, and his sudden arrival in the spirit-world, and said that he (Dr. Phinuit) had endeavored to persuade him in those matters while my father was sick. Dr. Phinuit told me the state of the will, and described the principal executor, and said that he (the executor) would make a certain disposition in my favor, subject to the consent of the two other executors, when I got to London, England. Three weeks afterwards I arrived in London; found the principal executor to be the man Dr. Phinuit had described. The will went materially as he stated. The disposition was made in my favor, and my sister, who was chiefly at my father's bedside the last three days of his life, told me that he had repeatedly complained of the presence of an old man at the foot of his bed, who annoyed him by discussing his private affairs."

A Mr. and Mrs. T. (full names not given) from Detroit, Michigan, and never seen or known by Mrs. Piper, report a very interesting sitting with incidents of the kind that are relevant to spirit agency. Mr. J. Rogers Rich also reports similar incidents with others of a supernormal type not suggestive of spirit identity. There are many other cases of the same type in this report which it would take too much space to quote. I shall close, however, with one reported by Dr. Minot J. Savage and his brother, Rev. W. H. Savage. I shall greatly abbreviate it.

Mr. W. H. Savage had a sitting with Mrs. Piper and after "several remarkable" incidents she (Phinuit) said: "Ah! Here is somebody from the outside - he says his name is Robert West. He wants to send a message to your brother." Apparently this Robert West took control; for there immediately followed: "I wrote an article against his work in The Advance. I thought he was wrong, but he was right." When asked to describe him he was described in language which Mr. W. H. Savage says "was photographic in its truth." Phinuit said: "He died of hemorrhage of the kidneys." A little more than two weeks later Dr. Minot J. Savage, the brother, had a sitting, and this Robert West purported to communicate with him. He said that he had been buried in Alton, Illinois, and gave the epitaph or text on his tombstone, saying that it was "Fervent in spirit, serving the Lord." On inquiry of an editor of a newspaper in Alton it was found that the Rev. Robert West was buried there and that the text on his tomb. stone was exactly as said. Mr. W. H. Savage had personally known this Robert West in Jacksonville, Illinois, and he had been editor of The Advance in Chicago, and had written a severe criticism of Dr. Minot J. Savage's doctrines and work, Dr. Savage being a Unitarian and Mr. West a Congregationalist. Mr. W. H. Savage had not seen the criticism and Dr. Minot J. Savage did not know that Mr. West was dead. Both Mr. W. H. Savage and Dr. Minot J. Savage did not know the cause of Mr. West's death, and on inquiry of The Advance his death was ascertained, and in the Congregational Year Book it is stated that he died of Bright's disease on October 25th, 1886, a little more than two years before the sitting. At the same sitting of Dr. Minot J. Savage the death of a Rev. C. L. Goodell was correctly announced, but was not known by Dr. Savage until verified afterwards.

The apparent character of these facts is evident to any one and I need not comment upon them. But there are many in the report which do not clearly support the suggestions indicated by such as I have quoted, and perhaps lead to serious scepticism of the spiritistic interpretation of any of them. I shall quote the most important cases at sufficient length to make them intelligible. I quote Dr. Hodgson's summary:

Dr. Hodgson secured a lock of hair from a lady by the name of Mrs. Holmes and took it to Mrs. Piper for experiment after the usual manner with mediums. The object was to find out what Mrs. Holmes was doing at that time. "According to her annotations, the following statements made by Phinuit were approximately correct as regards her doings close to and during the hour of the experiment, but Phinuit's description did not coincide exactly in time with her actions, but was given about half an hour after. Phinuit stated that she trimmed some flowers and put them in a vase; that she sat down at a desk to write, and that Charles was on the paper in front of her; that she went to the window to speak to a man, that she pulled something down at the window and returned to the desk; that she 'pawed over a box of things.' Phinuit also stated, incorrectly, that she had a parcel like a book in her hand that she had been reading, had thrown a wrap over her head, had on a dark dress with little light spots in it, was doing something to a picture, and, later, was doing something with a brush."

Dr. Hodgson repeated the experiment with Mrs. Holmes, after asking her to take note of her doings at certain specified hours, and the result was that Phinuit was wrong in his account of what she was doing at the times specified, but apparently correct in many incidents of past experience, some of them occurring "as recently as half an hour previously." Dr. Hodgson states a similar conclusion in regard to "the attempts of Phinuit to describe his doings" on a certain occasion when he was far from Boston and Miss Edmunds holding the sitting, though "Phinuit seems to have given more correct information concerning his actual doings than can be accounted for by mere chance," apparently indicating a "supernormal faculty for getting knowledge beyond that of thought transference from the sitter."

Some other experiments of a similar kind, an article or trinket being placed in Mrs. Piper's hand, resulted in similar supernormal information, the facts sometimes not being known, at least in part, by the sitter. "The 'piece of embroidery' tried by Mr. Rich produced the name of the sailor who made it. More important still, Mr. Rich took a box, of the contents of which he knew nothing, and Phinuit described correctly the person, X., who gave Mr. Rich the box, the person Y., who had provided X. with the article for the experiment, and the person Q, who had given the article to Y. The article in the box was described by Phinuit as a 'charm' and 'glittering,' and as having been brought from far off over the sea'; it was a carved 'but not glittering' button brought from Japan, and 'latterly worn as a charm with a gold attachment.' Miss Edmunds was correctly told that her locket brought her grandmother's 'influence,' and that she had had it since she was a little girl," the fact being known, of course, to Miss Edmunds.

"Miss A. took with her to the sitting three articles, of the history of which she knew nothing - a locket, a ring, and a watch. The locket she obtained the evening before through a lady friend whom she met by accident in the street. This friend, at Miss A.'s request for a 'personal article of an individual unknown to her,' called at the office of a gentleman whom Miss A. had never seen (she 'knew only his surname in a casual way') and procured from him the locket. It was wrapped in a paper envelope, and Miss A. did not look at it till the sitting was over. Inter alia, the owner of the locket was correctly described as being physically well, handsome, of light hair and complexion, as having a big head, and as being immensely extravagant, as writing and dictating (letters, etc.) a great deal. Phinuit stumbled round and about the names Joseph and George in his attempts to get the owner's Christian name, mentioning both (and also we must add Judson) without affirming either to be the name. Joseph George were the owner's first names. After the locket was opened, which contained a picture of the owner's mother on one side and some hair of his father and mother on the other, Phinuit correctly got the father's and mother's 'influence' from the hair, and apparently connected the name Elizabeth with the hair and the picture, Elizabeth being the name of the owner's mother. There seemed, indeed, to be some confusion between the 'influences' of the owner and those of the mother; and in connection with the latter, apparently, various names were given, of which the owner knows nothing. He knows, however, very little of the mother's family, and apparently is not interested enough to make the inquiries necessary for corroboration.

"Miss A. knew, but not intimately, the owner of the ring and the watch. Phinuit said that the ring brought a bad influence - that there was an insane lady connected with it who began to lose her mind at an early age, and that another person connected with it died with cancer. Concerning the watch Phinuit said that it came across the water many years ago, had been in Italy; that it had the 'influence' of a gentleman who had died; that the owner had a sister named Annie. The name Elizabeth, Eliza, Lizzie was given in connection with the watch. Phinuit said that he saw the watch in a box with other trinkets kept in cotton. The names John, Joseph, and Jennie, were finally given. All these details proved to be correct, except the name Jennie, the owner's mother being named Jesse (Jessie?).

"The name of a relative, Henry, was given as having been connected with some 'printing' establishment, and also the name Davis. It was further stated that a Henry gave the watch to Elizabeth. I presume that these details were incorrect, though the report is not quite clear upon this point. The present owner was wrongly called a man.

"The ring and watch, it appears, were kept in the same box. John, a 'bad character,' had given the ring to the present owner, who suspected him of having stolen it. John's father had repudiated a debt to the owner's mother; he died of cancer in the stomach. The owner's sister, named Elizabeth, and called Eliza and Lizzie, suffered a great fright at the age of three years, from being left alone in a burning house, and 'gradually became entirely idiotic.' She was for many years under the sole charge of the owner of the ring, and as the watch amused her, it was frequently given to her by the present owner's mother, to whom it came at the death of the Uncle Joseph. The watch, Geneva make, had been bought abroad by Joseph, who lived for some time in Italy. Several additional correct statements which were made in connection with the articles, but not mentioned in the report, were regarded as too private for publication.

"Miss A.'s own view appears to be a form of that suggested by several previous reports, and particularly in connection with Mrs. Blodgett's experiments, that the information given by Phinuit was obtained in some way from the objects themselves, to the exclusion, that is, of individual minds either of the living or the dead. Miss A. stated, in reply to my inquiry, that Phinuit did not profess to obtain his information (concerning the objects) from 'spirits.' 'He gave no intimation that he was getting his facts from any one, 'in' or 'out of the body'; the impression conveyed was rather that he was ferreting about for himself in some obscure way for the information asked.' It is probable, however, that if Phinuit had been questioned on this point he would have claimed that his information was derived from the deceased.

"Thus (March 21st, 1888), Phinuit: 'Who's Margaret in your family?' (R. H. 'Can't you tell me that?') Phinuit: 'It's your mother.' [Correct.] (R. H.: 'Who told you that?') Phinuit: 'Your father.'

"Again, I placed in Phinuit's hands a pencil case with the initials J. B. upon it, saying that I had received it from a friend who wanted to be told who gave it to him. The name of John B- was given correctly, but he has a middle name which was not given at all. (That he had a middle name was known to me at the time, though I cannot recall that I had ever heard what it was, beyond the initial letter.) Then:

"'George gave it to him. I get the influence of Ellinor and Palline, and a young man. No, it wasn't George; cross that out. It was Harry or Henry, and Harry's sister's influence was connected with it before he gave it to him. That is all I can tell you. (How did you get to know this?) J- B-'s wife in spirit told me. She's gone away now.'

"Pauline is the name of Mr. B.'s eldest daughter, and Eleanor is the name of one of her most intimate friends. But Miss B. and two other members of Mr. B.'s family (not himself) had previously had a sitting each with Mrs. Piper, and the names Eleanor and Pauline had been given at Miss B.'s sitting, at which her mother, deceased, was also referred to. All that was correct was in my mind, consciously or subconsciously, but what I desire specially to emphasise here is that while Phinuit's language - about 'getting influence,' etc. - did not suggest the 'spirit' hypothesis, but rather the contrary, he claimed, on being questioned, that he received his information from a 'spirit.' Further, he has recently expressly disclaimed any power of obtaining information from objects themselves independently of specific personalities."

I have myself in several instances found that cases, superficially, presented no claims to spiritistic origin, but when careful inquiries were made, whether about the "medium" or directly of the alleged "communicator" the invariable answer has been some personality not living. I cannot say that the cases are evidential, but they exhibit the form of the phenomenon with which we often have to deal when it has no external claims to a spiritistic source.

But the most interesting of all the cases in Dr. Hodgson's report which I am summarising is probably that which I shall call the Hannah Wild incident or incidents. I shall abbreviate it for its essential points.

Miss Hannah Wild and her sister, Mrs. Blodgett, had frequently talked over the possibility of spirit return, and the former promised to write a letter, whose contents she would reveal after death, if any such thing as communication from the dead were possible. It was sometime, however, before she was persuaded to write the letter. "One day, about a week before she died, she said: 'Bring me pen and paper. If spirit return is true, the world should know. I will write the letter.'" She wrote the letter and enclosed it in a tin box, and when she handed it to her sister, she said: "If I can come back, it will be like ringing the City Hall bell." "She spoke about the letter often." Miss Hannah Wild died July 28th, 1886. Toward the latter part of the same year Mrs. Blodgett saw in a paper a notice of the Society for Psychical Research in which the name of Prof. James was mentioned, and it led to correspondence and her telling him what she had for a test. Prof. James proposed trying Mrs. Piper, and the letter was sent to him properly sealed. Some articles that had been worn by Miss Wild were sent to Prof. James and by him to Mr. J. M. Piper, where Mrs. Piper was living at the time, and the nature of the test explained without giving any names. The letter remained in the possession of Prof. James.

At this first experiment, Mrs. Blodgett not being present and her name not being known, "Phinuit obtained the name of Hannah Wild, and perhaps some perception of her connection with the Woman's Journal, in which she was interested and to whose pages she had contributed, also the name of her sister, Bessie (Mrs. Blodgett), to whom she was to give the test, and some impression concerning the then recent marriage of this sister. Beyond these facts practically nothing correct was obtained. Mr. Piper had numerous sittings for the purpose of receiving the details of what Phinuit gave as the death-bed letter, and was confident that he had been conversing with the spirit of Hannah Wild; yet the description of her personal appearance was almost entirely wrong. Phinuit's letter contained no hint of the substance of the real letter, which Mrs. Blodgett forwarded to Prof. James for comparison with Phinuit's statements, and the numerous circumstances referred to in Phinuit's letter had scarcely any relation to the life of Hannah Wild. They were chiefly a tissue of incorrect statements. The result so far suggested that however Phinuit succeeded in obtaining the names and other impressions which proved to be more or less correct, he at least did not get them from the' spirit' of Hannah Wild."

The next experiment was made with Mrs. Blodgett and Dr. Hodgson present, Dr. Hodgson taking notes. The sitting had been arranged before and no names were mentioned, so that Mrs. Piper apparently had no normal knowledge of the relation of the sitter to the letter, whose contents it was desirable to obtain. At the first shot came the following:

"You have a sister here, and did you ever find out about that letter? Anna Hannah. Hannah Wild. She calls you Bessie Blodgett. You was in an audience and a message was thrown to you. She'll tell you all about that. How's the Society - the women you know. Moses. He's in the body. I want to tell you about that letter."

The pertinence of some of the incidents here will be apparent without comment. The name Moses seems not to have been recognisable by Mrs. Blodgett. She had been at Lake Pleasant, where a "medium," John Slater, had said, pointing to Mrs. Blodgett in a large audience: "Lady here who wants to have you know she is here. Henry, the lame man, is with her. She wants to know about the big silk handkerchief. Says she will tell you what is in that paper soon." The name Henry was also alluded to at this sitting with Mrs. Piper, and Mrs. Blodgett says: "This Henry was my mother's only male cousin, and she had lived with him all her life until she was married. He was lame."

A little later in this sitting with Mrs. Piper came the question, purporting to be from Hannah Wild: "Do you remember I told you it would be like ringing church bells?" With the substitution of "church bell" for "City Hall bell," the reader will recall that this was the statement made by Hannah Wild, living, when she handed the letter in the box to her sister, but when asked just after this allusion to tell the contents of the letter the reply was irrelevant. Five attempts to obtain the contents of the letter were entire failures, though in the process of the experiments a large number of true incidents were given through Mrs. Piper, such as those here indicated. But most of them at least were known to Mrs. Blodgett and little was given that she did not know, other living persons knew what was unknown to her. The reader will note that at the crucial point where the spiritistic hypothesis might most naturally be expected to be confirmed was not met, and telepathy from living minds might appear to be adequate to explain the successes, especially when we observe the remarkably interesting fact that the statement made when the box containing the letter was given to Mrs. Blodgett was substantially reproduced, being known of course, to Mrs. Blodgett, but without any of the contents of the letter. If any explanation of this failure be possible it is a matter to be taken up later. At present I am only concerned with the narration of the facts and the recognition of the claims that the anti-spiritist may make for his hypothesis of telepathy.

There were a number of other experiments with articles, and the summary of the facts would only duplicate such as I have quoted. The reader who is interested must go to the detailed report for them. Some of them are very complicated and suggestive and represent clear knowledge of names and incidents not known to the sitters. But in his conclusions Dr. Hodgson was not prepared to claim that the spiritistic hypothesis was proved. His judgment remained in suspense, There were difficulties that made it imperative to preserve an attitude of scientific scepticism and reserve in regard to a spiritistic view of the phenomena.


The article above was taken from James Hyslop's "Science and a Future Life" (1906, Putnam's Sons, London).

More articles by James Hyslop

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