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).

Incidents from the English Report

1. Incidents in Experiments of Sir Oliver Lodge | 2. Incidents in Experiments of Walter Leaf | 3. Failures, Errors, and Irrelevant Incidents

 - James Hyslop -

          IN THIS chapter I propose to give a summary of the facts which the experiments with Mrs. Piper produced while she was in England. I shall not select them with any reference to proving any theory or explanation of them, but only with reference to their supernormal character as facts. I mean in this and two or three of the following chapters to maintain an entire indifference to all explanations of the facts to be observed and hence not to assume that I am illustrating either telepathy or spirits in the narrative of the records. All that I shall admit into my purposes is the fact that the phenomena quoted are evidence of the supernormal acquisition of knowledge, and this means that the knowledge has not been normally acquired. Explanations will follow a statement of the facts.

I have to give two types of facts, one of them wholly unevidential of spiritistic agencies and the other relevant to that supposition. There will probably be a mixed class whose character the reader may determine for himself wherever it appears in the narrative. Sometimes instances of this mixed type may appear in one or the other of the main classes, and will be placed there according to the quantity of matter pertaining to one or the other of the kinds of incidents. In the last analysis some general theory must account for this diversity of facts, but at the present stage of inquiry their types must be kept distinct.

1. Incidents in Experiments of Sir Oliver Lodge

(a) Facts unevidential of spirit agency. At the first sitting with Sir Oliver Lodge Mrs. Piper referred to a brother of his and described his character with some accuracy, saying that he was "a sort of happy-go-lucky fellow - taking the world as it is wanting to see a good deal of it. Rather positive; likes to keep his own ideas. Not so deep in mind as you are, but deep in feeling." But the statement that this brother was in Australia was wrong. He was in America. There immediately followed a very definite diagnosis of a difficulty with Dr. Lodge's little boy which was found to be true a few days later, by the family physician.

For a later sitting Mr. Gonner had written to his sister in London, Mrs. Piper being in Liverpool, to ask her mother to do something unusual between the hours of 11 and 12 on Saturday morning, and to observe what the mother did. Mr. Gonner's mother was not to know and did not know that it was to be done at his request. The sitting began a little before 11 in Liverpool. Very soon Phinuit broke out with a reference to Mr. Gonner's mother in response to Prof. Lodge's request to tell what his mother was doing at the time.

"Ha, Ha! I'll tell you why it's important, because he don't know it himself. I read your thoughts then. I can't generally. Your mother is just this minute fixing her hair, putting a thing through her hair (indicating) and putting it through her hair in a room with a cot in it, up high. Did you know she had some trouble with her head? (No.) Long distance between you and your mother. She's in an other place ... She's fixing something to her throat and putting on a wrap here, round here, and now she has lifted up the lid of a box on a stand... I'll go back to your mother.*

* The reader should remark the following explanation of symbols used in the records quoted. Matter in parentheses represents statements or actions of the sitter on the occasion of an experiment with the medium. Matter in brackets represents notes or comments made after the sittings in explanation of their contents or mode of production. Periods or dots in succession represent that something has been omitted by the "communicators." Asterisks mean that something in the automatic writing is undecipherable.

"There's been some news, some correspondence reached the large building where your mother is. She has had a cold. A young lady is with her, and I should think it's a daughter; a very nice girl. She draws somewhat, and needlework and reads a great deal. There's a pretty girl with light hair and bluish eyes. She's speaking to your mother at this minute.

"(Is her hair long or short?) How do you mean? It's fuzzy light hair. She's a little pale, sort of smiling; nice teeth. Your mother is going out ... Your mother didn't want to go, but they wanted her to go, and she made up her mind she would. So she went."

At the next sitting on the same day and in the evening Phinuit added the following at the very beginning of his "communications."

"His mother just as I left was brushing something, and had a little thing looking at it. She had a frame, a little picture, looking at it. She took it up and looked steadily at it and then brushing something. That's how I left her. When I first saw her she was fixing her hair, and had something on the top of it, and was fixing something around her throat, and she took up a pencil and wrote something. But just as I left she was looking at a picture and brushing something."

The report states what actually occurred in London while the experiment was going on simultaneously in Liverpool, the arrangements having been carried out according to the directions of Mr. Gonner through his sister, Miss Gonner. The mother had no trouble with her head, so far as known. The lady who went out with Mrs. Gonner in London was correctly named as Annie and rightly described, according to Mr. Gonner's statements. With this lady Mrs. Gonner decided to take a drive round the park.

"The drive round the park on a wet Saturday morning, though sufficiently incongruous to astonish even the cabman, was unfortunately a passive kind of performance to select; but considering the absence of every kind of information or clue to the reason for doing anything, the wonder is that anything whatever was done. Miss Ledlie (the lady with Mrs. Gonner) reports that after Miss Gonner left the house she and Mrs. Gonner decided what to do, and a vehicle was sent for. Just about 11 she ran up stairs to see if Mrs. Gonner was ready, and saw her come out of her room to a landing cupboard, take a box out of it, put it on a ledge, open it and take out a muff, very much as described by Phinuit half an hour later. She had her cloak and things on then, and the cloak is troublesome to hook, so that there would be a good deal of apparently fixing things round the neck. The taking up and looking at the photograph would almost certainly be done before going out, though it was not actually seen." "On her dressing table there stands a small photograph of my (Mr. Gonner's) father, which she very frequently takes up and looks at intently. There is a wooden half-tester in her room, which might conceivably be called a 'cot.'"

Mrs. Gonner was not seen to take up a pencil and write, nor to brush anything.

Prof. Lodge tried a "clairvoyant" experiment which consisted of a little box with some letters in it, picked at random and without Prof. Lodge's knowledge of what they were. The experiment was a failure, as the two correctly named letters were explicable by chance. Another experiment to tell the contents of a bottle was also a failure. It was said to contain salicylate of soda, but in reality contained sulphate of iron, wrapped up so that it could not be seen and was unknown to the sitter.

There were some curious allusions to Prof. Lodge's Uncle Robert, alleging that he was lying on a couch at the time and describing two or three articles in the house. But while it was the uncle's habit to lie on a couch a great deal he was not doing it at the time and the articles named were not as described.

At another time Phinuit said that the wife of a sitter was at that moment brushing her dress, a fact which turned out to be true, and that his son was ill, also true.

There are many instances of correct diagnosis and hits at physical troubles in various persons not sitters, but they were incidental and made in the midst of other matter which it would be too perplexing to sift. Some idea of these hits can be obtained from those I have narrated, and taken collectively they seem to have some indication of knowledge acquired in some way not normal.

(b) Facts relevant to spirit agency. I do not mean by "relevancy" that the facts prove such an agency as is mentioned, but only that the facts might conceivably be told by discarnate spirits, if they communicated, as they often represented what might naturally be mentioned in proof of identity. Many incidents purporting to have this origin seem unnatural for it, but being associated with such as are appropriate must be narrated in that connection. Whatever the explanation, I shall give them as they are.

In Prof. Lodge's first sitting a curious mistake was made in referring to an "Uncle William," taken to refer to Prof. Lodge's uncle, which was false, but it was later corrected to Mrs. Lodge's father. He was correctly described at this first sitting, and was dead. More striking and correct was the name and relationship of an Aunt Ann with a description of her character. Phinuit said that this aunt was on the mother's side, and that she had cared for Prof. Lodge when a child after his mother's death, and asked if he did not have "a little old-fashioned picture of her, on a small card," referring to the aunt. Prof. Lodge replied that he had, and apparently the aunt "communicated" immediately and referred to her care of her nephew and the little means that she had. She mentioned as caring now for a deceased child of Prof. Lodge, he having lost two very young children, and said it was a boy, after first saying that it was a girl. She then claimed to have had trouble in her chest and stomach and that she died from that illness, mentioning inflammation.

Prof. Lodge remarks that all this is true of the aunt except the immediate cause of her death was an operation for cancer of the breast.

At the next sitting, after two names had been given correctly, Mrs. Lodge asked Phinuit to tell her about her father. Some rambling statements of and unevidential character were made and Phinuit broke out: "He says you have got something of his. He says if you had this it would help him. He has difficulty in coming back. It's a little ornament with his hair in." (Mrs. Lodge here ran up stairs to get the locket referred to.) "He passed out long ago; she was but a little thing." Presently his name, Alexander, was given and the statement that the father had given the locket to Mrs. Lodge's mother and that she gave it to Mrs. Lodge. All this was correct, except that it is not known whose hair is in the locket. Mrs. Lodge was only a fortnight old when her father died. There immediately followed a very striking "message" regarding his death. Phinuit said: He had an illness and passed out with it. He tried to speak to Mary, his wife, and stretched out his hand to her, but couldn't reach and fell and passed away. That's the last thing he remembers in this mortal body." He added a statement about taking some medicine, the last he took, and then that something had happened to his right leg and it was caused by a fall, affecting the leg below the knee. It was also stated that it gave him pain at times.

The facts were that Mrs. Lodge's father had his health broken by tropical travel and yellow fever, and his heart was weak. A severe illness of his wife was a great strain on him. As she was recuperating he entered her room one day, quite faint, half-dressed and holding a handkerchief to his mouth, which was full of blood. "He stretched out his hand to her, removed the handkerchief and tried to speak, but only gasped and fell on the floor. Very soon he died." He had broken his leg below the knee once by falling down the hold, and in certain states of the weather it afterward pained him.

Phinuit made the further statement that he had had trouble with his teeth; that he wore a sort of uniform with "big bright buttons"; that he traveled a good deal, and that he got the locket on one of his journeys. A little later it was intimated that he was a Captain. The facts were that during his married life he had been troubled much with toothache, his position was that of Captain in the merchant service; he traveled a great deal as a consequence, though his travel was mentioned before the statement was made that he was a Captain. The locket was obtained on one of his voyages.

A question in regard to the "Uncle William," the step-father, brought out from Phinuit:

"Never saw a spirit so happy and contented. He was depressed in life - had the blues like old Harry, but he's quite contented now. He had trouble here (prodding himself in lower part of stomach and me over bladder). Trouble there, in bowels or something. Had pain in head, right eye funny. Pain down here, abdomen, stoppage urine. Had an operation and after it was worse, and with it passed out."

At a later sitting his full name, William Tomkinson, was given, and it was stated that he was an old man with white hair and beard, but without mustache, and that he had passed out with trouble with the bladder.

Prof. Lodge says of the incidents:

"The stepfather used to have severe fits of depression, more than ordinary blues. His right eye had a droop in it. He had stone in bladder, great trouble with urine, and was operated on towards the end by Sir Henry Thompson."

On the second day after at a sitting in the evening the incidents of Mrs. Lodge's father were told, some of them a little more definitely, especially the reference to the hurting of his leg by a fall "through a hole in the boat," and his name in full, as Alexander Marshall, which was correct, was given. Then mention was made of "two Florences," with the statement that one paints and that the other does not; that one is married and the other is not, and that the reference was to the "one doesn't paint who is married." It happened that Prof. Lodge had two cousins by the name of Florence, one married and abroad, as indicated in the "communications" and who does not paint, and one who paints and is not married. In connection with the former, Phinuit had said that she had a friend, Whiteman. This was all unintelligible to Prof. Lodge, except the names of his cousins and their relation to painting and marriage, and he inquired of one of them to find that she had a lady friend by the name of Mrs. Whytehead, recently married, and he conjectures that the allusion to something as the matter with her head was a confusion in Phinuit's mind by the termination of the name. Otherwise the allusions were all correct.

This incident was followed by some pertinent "messages" from a Mr. E., well known to Prof. Lodge, and a man well known in Europe. The facts stated were private and said to be intended to prove the "communicator's" identity. They were absolutely unknown to Prof. Lodge and had to be verified through a common friend. The chief interest in them is the recognition of the purpose of "communicating" the facts, since the man was one who appreciated the problem before his death and was a co-worker in psychic research.

The next incident should be told in Prof. Lodge's own language and occurred soon after the sittings began.

"It happened," says Prof. Lodge, "that an uncle of mine in London, now quite an old man, and one of a surviving three out of a very large family, had a twin brother who died some twenty or more years ago. I interested him generally in the subject, and wrote to ask if he would lend me some relic of this brother. By morning post on a certain day I received a curious old gold watch, which this brother had worn and been fond of; and that same morning, no one in the house having seen it or knowing anything about it, I handed it to Mrs. Piper when in a state of trance.

"I was told almost immediately that it had belonged to one of my uncles - one that had been mentioned before as having died from the effects of a fall - one that had been very fond of Uncle Robert, the name of the survivor -that the watch was now in possession of this same Uncle Robert, with whom he was anxious to communicate. After some difficulty, and many wrong attempts, Dr. Phinuit caught the name, Jerry, short for Jeremiah, and said emphatically, as if a third person was speaking, 'This is my watch, and Robert is my brother, and I am here. Uncle Jerry, my watch.' All this at the first sitting on the very morning the watch had arrived by post, no one but myself and a short-hand clerk who happened to have been introduced for the first time at this sitting by me, and whose antecedents are well known to me, being present.

"Having thus got ostensibly into communication through some means or other with what purported to be a deceased relative, whom I had, indeed, known slightly in his later years of blindness, but of whose early life I knew nothing, I pointed out to him that to make Uncle Robert aware of his presence it would be well to recall trivial details of their boyhood, all of which I would faithfully report.

"He quite caught the idea, and proceeded during several successive sittings ostensibly to instruct Dr. Phinuit to mention a number of little things such as would enable his brother to recognise him.

"References to his blindness, illness, and main facts of his life were comparatively useless from my point of view; but these details of boyhood, two-thirds of a century ago, were utterly and entirely out of my ken. My father was one of the younger members of the family, and only knew these brothers as men.

"'Uncle Jerry' recalled episodes such as swimming the creek when they were boys together, and running some risk of getting drowned; killing a cat in Smith's field; the possession of a small rifle, and of a long peculiar skin, like a snake-skin, which he thought was now in the possession of Uncle Robert.

"All these facts have been more or less completely verified. But the interesting thing is that this twin brother, from whom I got the watch, and with whom I was thus in a sort of communication, could not remember them all. He recollected something about swimming the creek, though he himself had merely looked on. He had a distinct recollection of having had the snake-skin, and of the box in which it was kept, though he does not know where it is now. But he altogether denied killing the cat, and could not recall Smith's field.

"His memory, however, is decidedly failing him, and he was good enough to write to another brother, Frank, now living in Cornwall, an old sea captain, and ask if he had any better remembrance of certain facts - of course not giving any inexplicable reasons for asking. The result of this inquiry was triumphantly to vindicate the existence of Smith's field as a place near their home; where they used to play, in Barking, Essex; and the killing of the cat by another brother was also recollected; while of the swimming of the creek, near a mill-race, full details were given, Frank and Jerry being the heroes of that foolhardy episode.

"Some of the other facts given I have not been able to get verified. Perhaps there are as many unverified as verified. And some things appear, so far as I can make out, to be false. One little thing I could verify myself, and it is good, inasmuch as no one is likely to have had any recollection, even if they had any knowledge, of it. Phinuit told me to take the watch out of its case (it was the old-fashioned turnip variety) and examine it in a good light afterwards, and I should see some nicks near the handle which Jerry said he had cut into it with his knife.

"Some faint nicks are there. I had never had the watch out of its case before; being, indeed, careful neither to finger it myself nor to let anyone else finger it.

"I never let Mrs. Piper in her waking state see the watch till quite towards the end of the time, when I purposely left it lying on my desk while she came out of the trance. Before long she noticed it, with natural curiosity, evidently becoming conscious of its existence then for the first time." Prof. Lodge received a number of specific incidents well calculated in their nature to prove supernormal knowledge and purporting to come from the father of a personal friend by the name of Wilson. Some of the facts Prof. Lodge knew and some he did not. To test the telepathic hypothesis, which, he thought, ought to be correct in what he knew and might be false in what he did not know, he wrote to Africa to make inquiries. The reply showed that the facts which he did not know were not true of Mr. Wilson's father, whose name was given by Phinuit as James, when it should have been George. In a footnote, however, Prof. Lodge says that "James" was the name of Mr. Wilson's grandfather, and that the facts "would have had a truer ring if they had purported to come from the grandfather."

At a sitting held under the supervision of Prof. Lodge a gentleman friend by the name of Mr. G. H. Rendall was introduced as Roberts, and during the course of the experiment Mr. Rendall placed in Mrs. Piper's hand a locket containing "a miniature head, faced by ring of hair, of a first (step) cousin, named Agnes, who had died of consumption in 1869. The locket remained closed from first to last." Immediately Mrs. Piper (Phinuit) said that it was connected with an old friend and gave the name Alice, pronouncing it "Aleese," in Phinuit's French. When told that the name was not quite right Phinuit said, "it is the cough she remembers -she passed out with a cough," and gave the name "Annese." Mr. Rendall at once said, as if trying a suggestion, "Agnes. Can't you say Agnes?" Phinuit replied: "That is it. Anyese - Anyese," throughout the remainder of the talk kept at and the French pronunciation, and said that he could "not say it quite right." Phinuit continued with much unevidential talk and said in the midst of it that "she's got greyish eyes, and brown hair," that "she passed out with a cough," that "when she passed out she lost her flesh - but she looks better now - looks more like the picture you have in here - rather fleshier," that "there was a book when she was in the body connected with you and her - a little book and some verses in it," that "she's got a mother in the body," that "she has a sister in the body," and that "that's her hair in there." Every one of these incidents were correct in regard to the person named. The only thing that was false was the statement that she had owned the locket. Mr. Rendall had "her Roundell Palmer's Book of Praise, as a keepsake." The conversation continued for some time with frequent correct incidents mentioned by the "communicator," and among them was the statement that her sister had been ill of late, and that the sister had married since her own death. Mr. Rendall tried a test for telepathy, asking if the "communicator" could tell what little memento he had of her. There was another reference to the book in reply and then Mr. Rendall definitely indicated what was in his mind by asking if she remembered any little thing at table d' hote. She could not remember and he then said what it was, a little blue vase, but it was not remembered, and the "communicator" went on through Phinuit to say that she sent her "love to Lu," the name of a friend of Mr. Rendall's cousin and whom he had not seen and hardly heard of since his cousin's death, in 1869. Amid much confusion and error some other true incidents occurred, but not complicated enough to quote.

In a sitting the same evening a number of names and incidents were correctly given, but without the complexity that makes them especially interesting or useful as evidence, except as unlikely due to chance.

2. Incidents in Experiments of Walter Leaf

I mean to group under this head the sittings and experiments that were supervised by Mr. Walter Leaf, Litt. D., just as I have treated the previous account as under the care of Sir Oliver Lodge. Mr. Leaf's introduction to his report calls attention to a number of precautions which have to be taken against the misinterpretation of real or apparent coincidences in the sittings, and I have no space to dwell upon them. The reader must go to the original data for evidence of the cautiousness with which he approached the case and adopted conclusions favorable to some supernormal process of acquiring information.

(a) Facts unevidential of spirit agency. The first two sittings in this series were for a Mr. Clarke, one of them held in America and the other in England. He very carefully analysed the "communications" and the amount of error makes the successes pale so that the whole result is dubious. Even the facts in many cases that were treated as possibly significant may be extremely doubtful.

At the next experiment three sitters were present whose names were reserved from publication. The first incident in the "communications" has its significance in the mistake, along with successes, that represents what was false in fact, but what the sitter thought was true. Phinuit almost at once said:

"You have three sisters and two brothers in the body; an elderly gentleman in the spirit, your father. (Right.)

"One of your brothers has a funny arm, the right arm paralysed; very funny (points to place a little above the elbow on inside of arm). That is sore, it is lame. He can't use his arm, it aches. The lump keeps growing."

The sitter stated that this was a correct description of her eldest brother, who suffers from writer's cramp, which seriously hinders him in his profession. There is a lump on the arm which gives him pain; but it is significant that it is in fact below the elbow, not above it, and the sitter believed it to be above the elbow at the time.

A second brother was described with equal correctness and his name, James, given. He was said to be funny and hard to get at, stubborn and self-willed, but manageable by quiet influence.

At a sitting by Mrs. Verrall Phinuit referred to a living sister and advised care regarding her, as she had been ill, and made a half successful attempt at the name of her physician, and then said: "I don't like his treatment; he gives her quinine. Her system is full of it." Both Mrs. Verrall and her sister denied that she, the sister, had taken quinine, but it was subsequently ascertained that she had taken quinine without knowing it. After some further reference to friends and relatives with names given and statements making the incidents mixed ones, Phinuit made a clear set of statements in reference to a child of Mrs. Verrall's.

"There is a child in the body; a little stiffness - a boy - no, a girl. That leg too. This leg is the worst (indicating the left knee). The muscles are strained, not lubricated properly. A drawing of the muscles; they are too tight."

"It is a fact that Mrs. Verrall's baby, a girl, suffered from want of power in the lower limbs, and that the left knee was the worst. But it is not correct to say that there was straining or want of lubrication of the muscles of the knee, though the tendons of the heels were somewhat contracted."

This was followed up by another singular coincidence, in which Phinuit said that Mrs. Verrall had another child quite bright, and that he would be very musical. Mrs. Verrall asked if it was a boy or girl, and Phinuit said: "A boy. You have had that child's hair fixed peculiarly, but after all it's a girl; a girl sure enough, but she looks like a fury." The child was a girl, and its hair was badly cut at the time, and she looked like a boy.

(b) Facts, relevant to spirit agency. None of the incidents in this series of sittings are so impressive as those of Prof. Lodge. There are traces of ordinary mediumistic talk all through, but now and then a complex incident occurs that cannot easily be referred to chance, coincidence or guessing. The first sitting of the series was, as indicated above, for a Mr. Clarke. Until he and Mr. Leaf went out of the room and left the "communications" with Mrs. Clarke, nothing of a suggestive character occurred. But as soon as they had gone out Phinuit mentioned an uncle and said he was "in spirit," which was correct, and remarked that some one was with him, giving the name and relationship to Mrs. Clarke as her cousin. He then went on to say:

"There was something the matter with his heart, and with his head. He says it was an accident. He wants me to tell you it was an accident. He wants you to tell his sisters. There's M. and E.; they are sisters of E. And there is their mother. She suffers here (pointing to abdomen). E. told me. His mother has been very unhappy about his death. He begs you, for God's sake, to tell them that it was an accident - that it was his head; that he was hurt there (makes motion of stabbing heart); that he had inherited it from his father. His father was off his mind - you know what I mean - crazy. But the others are all right and will be He and his father are just trying to take comfort in each other. They are a little apart; they are not with the others in the spirit." He then sent his love to "Walter, his friend, not this Walter," alluding evidently to Mr. Walter Leaf in the distinction. But no such friend of the "communicator" was known. But Mrs. Clarke says in a note:

"A striking account of my uncle's family in Germany. The names and facts are all correct. The father was disturbed in his mind for the last three years in his life, in consequence of a fall from his horse. The son committed suicide in a fit of melancholia by stabbing his heart, as described. The sister referred to as lame was bedridden for 10 years. One of the sisters (mentioned by Phinuit previous to what has been quoted as "one who paints") is a painter by profession. Some few of the facts she gave me were unknown to any one out of Germany, even to my husband. The more important events - my uncle's and aunt's death and my cousin's suicide, which happened respectively 28, 15 and 12 years ago - were known to only two persons in England besides my husband."

Further important "communications" of a coincidental sort, immediately followed what I have quoted. Phinuit said: "Did you know your mother had dreadful headaches? That's the reason she is so nervous. E. told me that about his aunt." Mrs. Clarke adds in a note that her "mother formerly suffered from severe headaches." Then followed a most interesting set of episodes, in which Phinuit seemed at his best.

"Here's M. - not the M. who hurt her ankle, but another. She is your aunt. (Is she in the body?) No, she is in the spirit. (Did you see her?) Yes, she is here, and wants to speak to you. (What does she say about her husband?) She says he has changed his life since. She does not like it that he married again. (Does she like the one whom he married?) Oh, she loves her dearly. But she does not like him to have married again so soon. He married her sister. Two brothers married sisters. Her husband has children now. There are two boys. And there are Max and Richard, or Dick, as they call him; they are with your uncle's children.

"Now what do you think of this? Don't you think I can tell you many things? You just ask about anybody you like and I'll tell you. (Tell me about my childhood.) Shall I tell you how you ran away (chuckling) with that man - that boy, I mean. You were a little devil to do that. It worried your mother almost to death."

Mrs. Clarke says in her notes:

"This is an accurate description of the family of another uncle. His wife died childless, and he soon afterward married her sister, by whom he has children. His brother had previously married a third sister.

"When five years old I rambled off with two boys, staying hours away from home, an event which in my family is jestingly referred to as my running away. I had no thought of it when I asked her about my childhood."

When Mr. Clarke and Mr. Leaf returned into the room Phinuit repeated the incidents just quoted with remarkable accuracy and brevity in a running talk that is most interesting and suggestive on any theory.

The next sitting was for Mrs. A., full name reserved from publication. Mr. Frederic W. H. Myers was present taking notes. Immediately following the incident quoted of the brother with a "funny arm" (p. 150) came a reference to a "spirit Joseph" which was not recognised, and then:

"Timothy is the nearest spirit you have got to you; some call him Tim; he is your father. Timothy was your grandfather also. Your father tells me about S. W. - stay, I can't get that, I must wait. Your mother had trouble in the stomach; she is in the spirit world. Your father had trouble in heart and head. Myers' father passed away from disease of the heart."

The notes say:

"Except the allusion to 'S. W.,' which is not recognisable, the above is all true, if the 'trouble in heart and head' be taken to refer to Mr. Myers' father, as seems to be intended."

Then with the reference to a living brother, James, not mentioned before, Mr. Myers asked what the father, Timothy, was interested in and what he did in his "earth life." The reply was:

"He is interested in the Bible - a clergyman. He used to preach. He has a Bible with him, he goes on reading and advancing. He is living with your mother just the same as on earth. He has been in the spirit-world longer than she has. Your mother is a little nervous. I can't get her to come near. Your father has a graceful, solemn manner, as he had on earth. He had trouble with his throat - irritation (points to bronchial tubes). The boys used to call him Tim at college."

The note states that these statements are all correct, so far as they can be verified. With a reference to an unrecognised name and in connection with matter on which no notes are given the question was asked by Phinuit: "Do you like that picture of your father in the hall?" There was some confusion as to whether it was oil or crayon, but it was said apparently not to be a photograph. His dress was described to fit more or less the ecclesiastical garb which he wore in the oil picture of him which hung in Mrs. A's sister's house. Some further coincidental matter was given, but was buried up in much that it would not pay to quote.

Mrs. Verrall's sittings were full of pertinent matter, but of a type in many cases that requires the study of the detailed records. But a few incidents are especially interesting and suggest the supernormal very clearly. Near the first of the second experiment came:

"Carrie was sick in the chest when she passed away - consumption. She says she is happy, so is her mother. Well, Carrie and her mother were not congenial in the body, but they understand one another now. Carrie had a little sister who passed out as an infant."

Mrs. Verrall remarks of the incidents:

"The only friend of the name Carrie who is dead, the wife of a cousin, died of inflammation of the lungs. Her mother died at her birth and her stepmother was by her believed to be her own mother, and as a child she used to reproach herself for not loving her as a child ought to love its mother. There was an infant sister, the child of the step-mother, which died at two months old. This I have never known, at least this is my impression. The husband of Carrie did not know it, but found the event recorded in the family Bible. I knew Carrie very well, and it is, of course, possible that she, may have mentioned the baby sister to me, but I had so little knowledge of the fact that I thought the medium's statement a mistake, and neither my mother, who was very intimate with Carrie, nor my sister knew of the 'infant sister.'"

Another set of very interesting statements was made by Phinuit a little later in the experiment, and after some isolated hits of significance. What I wish to quote is very complicated and gets its importance from that fact:

"Who was the teacher? There was a grandfather lame, very lame, rheumatism; the father's father, lame, crutches. You know Henry, he sends his love. There are two Henrys, one the father's side, one on the mother's. The two Henrys came to another gentleman by mistake. One belongs to the lame grandfather, his son; the other to the mother; not her son nor brother - father, perhaps, or grandfather. Your grandfather had a sister Susan. The other Henry - there is an old-fashioned picture with a collar turned down, hair old-fashioned way - a painting done by one of the family, not you. Kenyon, what's her name? Your grandmother's sister, no, grandmother was a Wilson, no. Williams. KeIon, Keley; that's it. What relation is she?" Mrs. Verrall, replied: "My uncle married a Mrs. Keeley." Phinuit continued: "Oh, what a mixture - double marriages! Your aunt married your uncle; I mean, she was your aunt after she married him. Mrs. Keeley was the second wife and had a first husband. George, that's the brother of the uncle's first wife. I like the teacher. (Who?) Music teacher; your aunt, father's sister. She is a lady; she is living." Mrs. Verrall confirms the incidents in the following manner: "Grandfather lame; this is true of my father's father. But he never had rheumatism; his lameness was due to an accident. 'Henry;' I had an Uncle Henry whom I never knew, a son of the lame grandfather. There is a portrait of him by his mother, which she valued very much. It shows him as a young man, a grown-up looking boy. The other Henry was an uncle of my mother's. I have written to ask if my grandfather had a sister Susan." Subsequently Mrs. Verrall writes: "I hear that my grandfather had a sister Susan. She was born in 1791, and after her marriage went out to Canada and lived near Hamilton, Ontario. But a son remained in England. Members of my grandfather's family have kept up communication with some of my relations, though not with our branch, notably with the uncle who married a Mrs. Keeley. The uncle, Henry, whose portrait was described to me went out to Canada to join the Susan branch. It is certainly very astonishing that Dr. Phinuit should know a fact of which I certainly never knew. My grandfather had entirely broken with all his family except a sister, Mary, and never mentioned them to me. This information is derived from papers in my grandmother's handwriting. My father knew nothing of this Susan.

"George was the name of the brother of my uncle's first wife. I find that he is still alive, but is now called Jasper, his other name. I have lately heard a great deal about Jasper, but had no idea he was the George of whom I used to hear from my cousin, John Merrifield, when we were both children. My father's sister taught music, certainly; possibly painting, too."

The extraordinary character of the incidents in this case, I think, will strike every reader, and it may perhaps be too strong a verdict to say, as intimated above, that there were none in this series of experiments equal to some of Prof. Lodge's. This set of incidents certainly runs in very close rivalry to the significance of his.

In a long sitting at which Mrs. Herbert Leaf was present, introduced as "Miss Thompson," a large number of incidents were correct, but they did not have so much psychological complexity of detail as those I have just quoted, though of that pertinent character which makes them strongly evidential of the supernormal and relevant to spirit agency. It would take too much space to indicate their importance by quoting them. A similar experiment by a Mr. Pye exhibits the same type of result. The record then shows two sittings which were failures and left a bad impression upon the sitters.

The general summary of both series of sittings from which the quotations have been taken contains abbreviated accounts of experiments whose full details were not published, and there are many important incidents for both types of phenomena, the unevidential of spirit agency and the relevant. One by Mr. Oscar Browning contains incidents of a striking character and explicable by either hypothesis. One also by Miss X. (Goodrich-Freer), author of Essays in Psychical Research, is especially rich in evidence of the supernormal, some of it relevant and some of it unevidential of spirit agency. It is so interesting that I shall quote the whole record:

"Miss X. was introduced, veiled, to the medium in the trance state, immediately after her arrival at Mr. Myers' house. She was at once recognized and named. 'You are a medium; you write when you don't want to. You have got Mr. E.'s influence about you. This is Miss X. that I told you about,' She was subsequently addressed by her Christian name, one of similar sound being first used, but corrected immediately."

"A large part of the statements made at this and the following sittings were correct, but in nearly all cases of so private and personal a nature that it is impossible to publish them. Only fragments, therefore, can be given, with proper names omitted. But these sittings were perhaps the most successful and convincing of the whole series.

"You know that military-looking gentleman with the big coat on and the funny buttons on the pads here, on the collar. It is some one very near you in the spirit." This is a correct description, so far as it goes, of a near relation.

"Howells speaks; he tells me he knows the Martins, your friends; they know one of my books." These names were not recognized.

"You see flowers sometimes? (What is my favorite flower? There is a spirit who would know.) Pansies. No, delicate pink roses. You have them about you, spiritually as well as physically." Miss X. has on a certain day every month a present of delicate pink roses. She frequently has hallucinatory visions of flowers.

"There is an old lady in the spirit wearing a cap who is fond of you - your grandmother. She is the mother of the clergyman's wife's mother. (Not correct.) She wears a lace collar and a big brooch, bluish-grey eyes, dark hair turned greyish, with a black ribbon running through it; rather prominent nose and peaked chin; named Anne." This is a correct description of a friend of Miss X., whom she was in the habit of calling Granny.

"Dr. Phinuit described an entertainment at which Miss X. had been present, her position in the room, the appearance of her companion, including a marked personal peculiarity, and its cause, giving the Christian name of the same friend, and the subject of their conversation, and the circumstance of Miss X.'s return home - all with absolute correctness, except as to time, which was said to have been 'last evening,' whereas it was the evening before."

At the next sitting:

"Prof. Charles Richet and Mr. Walter Leaf were also present; the latter only a few minutes at the beginning."

"Miss X. was told that her mother's sister was named Sarah. It was said that she was in the body, but this was corrected to 'in the spirit' after a question. Her brothers' names were given as G-, A-, W-, A-, B-, correctly, all but B-, being very common; but in the case of A-, and B- only at the second attempt, John and Walter having been first given instead. W- was the name of a brother who died in infancy, and whom Miss X. had never known. Miss X. at first denied that the name was correct, having usually heard of him as H-, but afterward remembered that W- was correct. She was further told rightly that A- was an artist, and B- the handsomest of the family. A medallion which she showed was stated to be given by a friend whose very rare Christian and surname were rightly obtained, the one after hesitation, but with no false shots, the other at the second attempt."

No record of the third sitting is given.

A curious fact is connected with the reference to "Mr. E." and the statement that Miss X. had been mentioned before. This Mr. E., well known in life to both Prof. James and Dr. Hodgson, had purported to communicate in sittings in America and had said there that he had communicated through Miss X., giving the name correctly with the exception of one letter. On November 29th, in a sitting with Mr. Myers, the same statement that had been made in America was made to Mr. Myers and the same mistake in the name committed. It was on December 7th following that Miss X. had her sitting. The incident, which might be interpreted as a "communication" through Miss X. from Mr. E., is unpublished.

3. Failures, Errors, and Irrelevant Incidents

I shall not summarise details of failures and errors, because errors are not opposed to any theory when the correct facts are not explicable by chance or guessing. All that I need do in this section will be to recognise that the true incidents were often given in such a mass of error as to make it necessary to discount their value. Some sittings were entire failures and have all the appearance of the ordinary medium's talk and associational reproductions. Names were often given in a manner to suggest guessing and "fishing," and even though they were strikingly right their significance had to be sceptically received or wholly rejected. The incidents that were wholly false in many instances, as related to the sitter, were often as detailed and as probable inherently as any that were true, and if the contrast between them and those that were quite true had been less, the problem of their import would have been more suggestive. As it is, this is interesting enough. But they do not, in fact, affect the inexplicability of the complex true facts by any ordinary hypotheses.

As illustration of dubious matter on a large scale, the sittings with Mr. Wilson seem to have been full of error, very little comparatively being true, though what was true seems to have been significant. Mr. Clarke's sittings also were associated with much that was false or irrelevant, especially in relation to himself. Mrs. Clarke's incidents, as we have seen above were better. Professor Macalister's sitting was one of the worst and he spoke of the failure in strong and uncomplimentary language. He thought it a case of hystero-epilepsy and that Mrs. Piper was wide enough awake to profit by suggestions. He mentions several instances of Phinuit's statements that support such an interpretation. He thought Mrs. Piper was not anaesthetic in the trance, a conclusion that is contradicted by the general opinion of others and by the severe tests to which Mrs. Piper has been subjected for determining this very matter. The anaesthesia is not necessary for excluding suggestions and guessing, but these may he favored by its presence. The sitting also of Mr. Barkworth was practically a failure. He thought the case not more than one "of the ordinary thought reading kind," putting aside the experiments of others and treating seriously such coincidences as he found in his one sitting. Miss Alice Johnson's sitting, though associated with much success, was thought to be "open to the suspicion of systematic guessing." Those of Prof. and Mrs. Sidgwick were not so strikingly successful as some others, though there were decided coincidences in them suggesting a telepathic explanation, and only a telepathic explanation.


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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