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 Second Report

 - James Hyslop -

          DR. HODGSON'S first report of which the previous chapter gives an account was published in 1892. His second report was not published until early in the year of 1898. He had been carefully experimenting during this long period under a change in the conditions affecting the real or apparent nature of the phenomena. It was about the time of publishing his first report that this change was effected. As narrated in the history of the Piper case a friend of Dr. Hodgson's died early in the year 1892, who is called in this second report by the pseudonym of George Pelham. A few weeks after his death, at a sitting held by a personal friend of the deceased, George Pelham purported to communicate. This friend's name had not been mentioned to Mrs. Piper. The man's name, as given in the report was John Hart (pseudonym).

Near the beginning of the sitting a locket was placed in Mrs. Piper's hand, Phinuit's hand, if we wish to speak of Mrs. Piper's trance personality in this way, and in a moment the name George was given and the statement made that the locket contained the hair of his father and mother. This was true, and then a watch was put into the hand and at once Phinuit said, "Yes, George Hart." Then followed the name "Lal ... Albert," and the question, "Is that the way you pronounce it?" Mr. Hart states in a note that "the name of his Uncle George is in the back of the watch, and when he died, my uncle Albert wore it. Lal was a pet name that my (John Hart's) father called my Uncle Albert." Mr. Hart did not remember that "the name was engraved on the inner case of the watch." There was apparently also an attempt at the name of the Howards a little earlier, and a little later came the name Katherine, and the statement: "Tell her, she'll know. I will solve the problems, Katherine." Just before this there was also a reference to the name Jim.

Mr. Hart notes:

"This had no special significance for me at the time, though I was aware that Katherine, the daughter of Jim. Howard, was known to George (Pelham), who used to live with the Howards. On the day following the sitting I gave Mr. Howard a detailed account of the sitting. The words, 'I will solve the problems, Katherine,' impressed him more than anything else, and at the close of my account he related that George, when he had last stayed with them, had talked frequently with Katherine (a girl of fifteen years of age) upon such subjects as Time, Space, God, Eternity, and pointed out how unsatisfactory the commonly accepted solutions were. He added that sometime he would solve the problems, and let her know, using almost the very words of the communication made at the sitting."

Dr. Hodgson states:

"Mr. Hart added that he was entirely unaware of these circumstances. I was myself unaware of them, and was not at that time acquainted with the Howards, and in fact nearly every statement made at the sitting, during which I was the note taker, concerned matters of which I was absolutely ignorant."

Reference was made to the name Meredith and that George Pelham had lent him a book; a statement approximately true. He also referred to "Uncle Will" and said: "I met Uncle William. Ask Mother. She'll know." George Pelham, says a note, had no Uncle William deceased. He had a deceased Great Uncle William, on his mother's side, who was thus the uncle of his mother deceased and his stepmother living, who are sisters." Some further confused references to a Club were made, having been seen by Mr. Hart the last time at the Players Club in New York, and then the statement, in connection with an unrecognised reference to a handkerchief, "Rogers has got a book of mine." Both Mr. Hart and George Pelham knew Rogers, according to a note, who at that time had a certain manuscript book of George Pelham's in his possession. There was a very pretty reference to three Alices, which is too complex to unravel in a summary, and George Pelham's full name was written out.

All this occurred thus at the first sitting, and it was some time before another opportunity came for George Pelham to "communicate." But when it came a Mr. Vance, known to George Pelham in life, was the sitter. The "communicator" asked for Mr. Vance's son, and on being asked where he knew the sitter's son, replied at college. Mr. Vance's son and George Pelham were classmates at college. When asked where he, the "communicator" had stayed with the Vances, the reply was correct and a description of the house was given.

Later George Pelham mentioned a tin box which he had had and wrongly said there were some letters in it, and asked that his father come to a sitting, saying that he saw his mother brush his clothes and put them away, and that he saw her take his sleeve buttons from a small box and give them to his father, and that he sent them to John Hart. The facts were that his clothes had been brushed and put away after his death, but not by his mother, and the "studs," mentioned at the first sitting of John Hart, were given to his friend by the father of George Pelham.

Dr. Hodgson at a sitting made an "arrangement with George Pelham that he should watch his father and see him do something that the Howards could not know about and tell them at their next sitting. At this sitting George Pelham wrote: "I saw father and he took my photograph and took it to an artist's to have it copied for me." The father recognised the truth of the statement, and the mother wrote: "His father did, without my knowledge, take a photograph of him to a photographer to copy, not enlarge."

At another sitting the same experiment was tried again. George Pelham was asked to go away and watch the Howards and report. Before the sitting ended George Pelham returned and through Phinuit said:

"She's writing, and taken some violets and put them in a book. And it looks as if she's writing that to my mother. Who's Tyson ... Davis. I saw her sitting before a little desk or table. Took little book, opened it, wrote letter he thinks to his mother. Saw her take a little bag and put some things in it belonging to him, placed the photograph beside her on the desk. That's hers. Sent a letter to Tyson. She hunted a little while for her picture, sketching. He's certain that the letter is to his mother. She took one of George's books and turned it over and said: 'George, are you here? Do you see that?' These were the very words. Then she turned and went up a short flight of stairs. Took some things from a drawer, came back, sat down to the desk, and then finished the letter."

Davis was the name of Mrs. Tyson's father.

Of this set of "communications" Dr. Hodgson says: "The statements made as to what Mrs. Howard was doing at the time were not one of them correct as regards the particular time, though they seemed to indicate a knowledge of Mrs. Howard's actions during the previous day and a half, as appears from the following statements," made in a letter to Dr. Hodgson by Mrs. Howard.

"I did none of those things today but all of them yesterday afternoon and the evening before.

"Yesterday Afternoon I wrote a note to Mrs. Tyson declining an invitation to lunch; this I did at a little table. Later I wrote to his mother at a desk, and seeing George's violets by me in their envelope, gave them to my daughter to put in my drawer, not 'into a book.' This is the only inaccuracy of detail. The day before I also' wrote to his mother, putting his photograph before me on the table while I was writing. Did 'hunt for my picture,' my painting of him. What he says about the book is also true, though I can't tell at precisely what time I did it at; I was alone at the time. In all other matters my memory is corroborated by my daughter who took the note to Mrs. T.'s, and saw me put photo before me on the desk.

"While writing to his mother I did 'go and take things from a drawer, came back again, sat down to the desk, and then finished the letter.' This was the letter finished at the desk, not the one written at a table."

The extraordinarily interesting feature of this experiment is the disparity in time between the facts expected and the facts obtained, the past and not the present seeming to have been cognised. The experiment, however, was tried again at a later sitting. Mrs. Pelham was present as the sitter and Dr. Hodgson taking notes.

At this sitting,

"great anxiety was shown by George Pelham to make some arrangements for giving tests by describing at a later sitting what his father and mother were doing at some specified time, and it was decided that he should follow them that afternoon, during which they should do something special having relation to him, which he should recount at the next sitting. The day was Saturday, and the next sitting was held on the following Monday, Mrs. Howard and myself only being present. At this sitting Dr. Hodgson asked what his father did on Saturday afternoon, and the reply was:

"I saw him take some notepaper and write an explanatory letter to Frank about what I said to him when I saw him in or on that day. The flowers which I saw mother put before my photo, she and father will understand. In connection with this I saw them open my book and place therein a picture of X. Y." There was then a long communication the facts of which Mrs. Howard says are all true. Of the incident purporting to represent what the father and mother were doing in reference to the son, Dr. Hodgson says:

"It appeared that two of the acts attributed to Mr. and Mrs. Pelham had been done as described, nor were there any other test incidents, but the third, viz., the writing of a certain explanatory letter to Frank (brother of George Pelham) had not actually been carried out. Mr. Pelham had intended writing such a letter on the Saturday afternoon, and had consulted his wife about the proposed contents, but had not found time to write. This experiment again suggests that the supernormal knowledge shown of our physical world by the communicators through Mrs. Piper is obtained indirectly and telepathically through the mind of living persons, rather than by a direct visual perception such as we enjoy."

Many of the facts which are most important evidence of supernormal knowledge and which strongly support the suggestion of spirit agency cannot be quoted because it would take too much space to explain their setting. It is the same with many facts which a critic might wish to use as evidence of some other theory. Hence all who wish to be critical must go to the original report for data. But I may allude to the type of incidents, with an illustration or two, which represent important evidence. The reader will recall that in an earlier chapter mention was made of the fact that George Pelham not believing in a future life had, when living, promised that he would try to communicate with Dr. Hodgson if he died first and if he survived in a conscious life. In the conversation on the subject while living the discussion at one point turned upon the philosophy of Plato. At the sittings here after his death he alluded to his promise to make himself known and at one sitting said: "Plato was a philosopher and a good one. You know, Hodgson, that was our argument, our discussion." There were perhaps hundreds of such little references that suggested the personality of George Pelham, as he seemed to be a clearer communicator than usual, and it would take too much time to quote and discuss them in this summary.

A most interesting incident occurred in connection with another "communicator." A lady whom Dr. Hodgson calls Madame Eliza, a deceased acquaintance of Dr. Hodgson, stated through Mrs. Piper that she had been present at the deathbed of a certain gentleman as he was dying, had spoken to him, and indicated that he had recognised her. She repeated what she had said to him from the "other side" as he was dying, and it was an unusual form of expression. That this had actually occurred at the deathbed of the person mentioned was confirmed by two near and surviving relatives who were present at the deathbed. The gentleman as he was dying had recognised the apparition of the deceased person and uttered the words as coming from her which were afterwards communicated through Mrs. Piper in the same form.

In connection with this same "communicator" the incidents may be summarised as follows, in the language of Dr. Hodgson:

"She was known to George Pelham, and her first appearance was to her sister, Madame Frederica, on May 17th, 1892, (about four months after the death of George Pelham). She (Madame Elisa Mannors) had died the previous summer. The cause of her death was designated by Phinuit, who also described correctly, purporting to repeat what she was telling him, some incidents which had occurred at her deathbed. The sitter inquired about a watch which had belonged to Madame Elisa, but the statements made at this sitting, and to myself at subsequent sittings, did not lead to its recovery. Some Italian was written by request, the lady being as familiar with Italian as with English, but only two or three common words were decipherable. The first names of sitter and communicator were given, and the last name was both written and afterward given by George Pelham to Phinuit. Some of the writing was of a personal character, and some about the watch, and George Pelham stated correctly, inter alia, that the sitter's mother was present (in 'spirit') with the communicator, and that he himself did not know her. The real names are very uncommon. The Italian for 'It is well. Patience,' was whispered at the end of the sitting as though by direct control of the voice by Madame Elisa."

It must be remembered that Mrs. Piper does not know Italian, and Dr. Hodgson has shown in his report why the communication in a language foreign to Mrs. Piper is difficult and in some cases impossible. But in connection with this incident it may be well to remark some facts accompanying a sitting by a Mr. Briggs. The communication purported to come from a Honolulu boy named Kalua who had lived with Mr. Briggs both in Honolulu and in Boston. "Kalua tried to write Hawaiian, but the only 'ordinary' words deciphered were 'lei' (meaning wreaths, which he made daily for Mr. Briggs) which was written clearly and frequently, and an attempt at 'aloha' - greeting. Phinuit tried to get the answer to the question where Kalua's father was, but could only succeed in getting 'Hiram.' But the writing gave 'Hawaiian Islands.' In reply to the question which one, the answer in writing was Kawai, but Phinuit said Tawai. The word is spelt Kawai, but is pronounced Tawai by the natives of the island itself and in the island where Kalua was born. The natives of the other island called it Kawai." Mrs. Piper does not know the languages of the Sandwich Islands.

In connection with this, too, may be briefly mentioned the experiment of Prof. Newbold, of the University of Pennsylvania, at a sitting with Mrs. Piper, published in a later report than Dr. Hodgson's. George Pelham was the "communicator." He had known Greek while living, and Mrs. Piper does not. Prof. Newbold spelled out to him through Mrs. Piper's organism a part of the Lord's prayer, and under much difficulty it was translated with approximate correctness.

In the sittings of another person are a number of interesting complex incidents deserving quotation, as throwing light upon the complications of any theory but the most apparent one. The lady is called in the report Mrs. M. She had made the appointment for her first sitting from a town in Georgia by a letter through Dr. Hodgson, so that Mrs. Piper, as in all other cases here quoted, did not know the sitter. At the first sitting the name Richard was given and the statement made that he was a brother of the sitter, and when the sitter asked if it was B-, using a pet name of the supposed person, there was much excitement in Mrs. Piper's hand, and the "communicator" asked the question, "Where is James?" In a moment Mrs. Piper's hand began feeling Mrs. M.'s jacket and seemed to be trying to reach something inside. Mrs. M. gave it, a small locket and chain which she wore around her neck under her dress. In some confused message of an unevidential sort came the names Tom and Pauline.

Mrs. M. adds in her note explanatory of the pertinence in the names:

"Richard is the name of a younger brother of mine who died early in 1891, and James is the name of my elder brother, and he was with me when I was taking care of Richard during his last illness. The locket contained some hair and a small picture of my husband, who died in 1892. Tom is the name of a person who was well known to my husband and who, for reasons known only to myself, was very much in my thoughts at that time. Pauline is the name of my eldest sister."

At the second sitting which was held the next morning, as soon as the trance came on Phinuit remarked:

"After I went out I found your brother and another gentleman with him. The gentleman is everything to you. He will come ... I get the name Brown. I get it from your gentleman. Richard says Susy."

When the writing began the "message" was:

"Do you know who I am?" Then the names Brown and Parker were written, followed by the words: "Oh, don't you know me? Don't you know me? I am Roland and I love you always."

Mrs. M. remarks in her note:

"In my first sitting the name Susy had occurred a number of times, but it had no special meaning for me in connection, and I was constantly thinking of Ruth, the name of a young girl to whom my brother had been engaged to be married, but on my way home it flashed over me that Susy was the name of a sister two years older than my brother Richard. She died before he was born, so when Phinuit said 'Richard says Susy' I asked: 'Did be mean Susy, when I suggested Ruth to him yesterday?' 'Yes, it is Susy. He told you forty times the last time, but you wouldn't understand: he said, 'If that's my sister she must know who Susy is." 'She's here with him; she was his sister, she passed out many years ago; it was sad for her mother, the most sad of any trouble she ever had. She was very bright. She would have been very musical.'

Mrs. M. adds the note:

"The baby Susy died at seven months old, was 1 very bright' - and my mother often told me how fond of music she was, and that the sound of the piano would quiet her when she was in pain. Her death was a great sorrow to my mother. The names Brown and Parker were those of the doctor and nurse who cared for my husband during his last illness, and Roland was the name by which he, my husband, was usually called."

Mrs. M. one day was alone at her husband's grave and planted some violets there, and said: "Roland, if you can see me I wish you would go and tell Dr. Hodgson so." A few days afterward, without any one knowing what she had done when alone by the grave, the message came apparently from this husband: "She told me to tell you, sir, that she put some flowers on the tomb, and asked me if I saw her do it."

Dr. A. Blair Thaw and Mrs. Thaw had a large number of sittings which were exceedingly rich in evidential matter. I cannot quote them at length as they would occupy more space than can be spared. A few incidents of a very important character will suffice to illustrate their value.

"At their first sitting a very intimate friend of theirs, who had been dead about a year and a half, and whom they have called Dr. H. in the records, gave (through Phinuit) a nickname by which he had been called. This name was not known to the sitters. On inquiry his widow said it was the name used by his mother and sisters, all dead, but not used by any one living. At a later sitting a test question which was sent for the purpose by the widow of Dr. H., and the answer to which was unknown to the sitters, was correctly answered at the same sitting.

"At the sitting which Mr. G. Perkins had on March 18th, 1892, he presented a chain which he knew had been worn by his mother, deceased. Phinuit said that both his mother and sister recognized the chain, and that both had worn it. This was true, although Mr. Perkins did not know that his sister had also worn it. She died when he was a small child. Again the nurse of Mrs. Thaw's children presented a parcel which she supposed contained her mother's hair. Phinuit speaking of the sitter's mother said, thrusting his finger down the neck of the sitter, 'Put it in there and wear it, just as she told you.' The sitter insisted that Phinuit was wrong, but he tore open the paper and showed that it contained an Agnus Dei, which as a matter of fact the sitter's mother had told her to wear."

The reader may recall that it was a man, here called John Hart, who was at the first sitting when George Pelham appeared to communicate. Three years later he died suddenly in Paris. Dr. Hodgson beard the fact the next day from a cablegram to a friend and arranged through his assistant for a sitting with Mrs. Piper the following day. Soon after the sitting began and after some confusion and difficulty the name John Hart was given, and in a moment the statement came: "I brought Ge- (George) here first," evidently referring to the first communication of George Pelham to him three years before. "There were confused references to the Howards. He referred to two other friends in Europe," and expressed the hope that they would bring his body to America, saying: "They are now talking about it." It was learned later that the desirability of so doing was discussed.

Mrs. Katherine Paine Sutton, who "had many remarkable psychical experiences, especially in seeing 'figures' of deceased persons, in 1887 published a little book giving an account of these. It was called Light on the Hidden Way, with an introduction by James Freeman Clarke. At one of her sittings James Freeman Clarke purported to send a message to his own daughter and at a later sitting he appeared to ask if the message was delivered, when Mrs. Sutton saw an apparition of him while the message was being written. Mrs. Sutton also saw an apparition of her little daughter at a sitting in the act of reaching for a spool of tangled red knitting silk, while Phinuit was indicating in the "communication" that this was what she wanted. Her few sittings were remarkably rich in evidential matter.

M. Paul Bourget, the French writer, had two good sittings, though he apparently refused to give Prof. James any account of one of them. A sitting by Prof. J. Estlin Carpenter, of Oxford, was very good, and one by Prof. Herbert Nichols had a very fine test in it. It was the naming of the first word of a proverb engraved in a ring which his mother had given him years before and which he had lost, though he was thinking of the word engraved in her ring left him at her death.

Many more pages of this kind of matter could be quoted, but it will hardly be necessary, as it would only multiply types of incidents already mentioned to a tedious length. But I have been obliged to quote largely in order to give the general reader some conception of the mass of material pointing to the existence of something supernormal and which would justify the consideration of some theory adequate to the scope of the facts themselves, when the discussion of a large theory on the illustration of a few facts would not impress the scientific mind as legitimate. The facts in Dr. Hodgson's second report are much better than in his first, at least in many instances, especially in connection with the George Pelham personality, as they afford the opportunity to discuss certain questions which earlier trances had not answered completely. I can hardly more than indicate some of these points. One of them is the increased tendency, especially in the case of George Pelham, to recognise living friends and not to recognise those who were not personal friends while living, or better to recognise that certain persons were not acquaintances. It seems that George Pelham never failed to recognise his living friends at sittings, and knew well enough when sitters were not acquaintances. Then again there is the dramatic play of personality in which there is the definite appearance of conversation between the discarnate spirits themselves, slipping through to the sitter as automatisms or unconsciously delivered messages that it was intended to send. The reader will have to go to the detailed reports for a clear conception of this and the extent of its occurrence. He will also have to do the same for an adequate appreciation of very many incidents which would exhaust the patience of all but the critical scientist to consider here.

Some of the sitters, like a few in the English series of experiments, were either not favorably impressed with their results or suspended judgment on the ground that their personal sittings were too few to justify conclusions. Prof. Pierce had no striking success in his sitting, and discredited the supposition that there was anything supernormal in it. Dr. Weir Mitchell, writing to Prof. James, after a sitting at which the latter took notes, said:

"If I had never seen you and heard your statements in regard to Mrs. Piper, my afternoon sitting with her would have led me to the conclusion that the whole thing was a fraud and a very stupid one. Of course I do not think this, because I am bound to consider all the statements made, not merely the time spent with me. As to this point I want to make myself clear, because I should like on another occasion to repeat my sitting."

Prof. Charles Eliot Norton, of Harvard University, had two sittings. He could not report anything indubitably supernormal. But he said that "there was no question as to Mrs. Piper's good faith," while he thought her trance condition resembled the dreaming of an ill person. Prof. John Trowbridge of Harvard University, sitting to judge from, thought that the trance was not simulated, and that Mrs. Piper was "in some abnormal condition," but his experience was without result in the supernormal of any kind. Prof. James Mark Baldwin, of Princeton University, with a single sitting, did not feel sure that the trance was genuine though he "came fully expecting to be convinced on that point." There were a few incidents sufficiently striking in his sitting to suggest the need of explanation.

The sittings of some others were practical failures in many respects, and led to occasional suspicion of the whole thing. But the majority of the sitters had sufficient success to be impressed with the indubitable evidence for something supernormal, and many of them felt convinced that they were in reality communicating with their departed friends. It was Dr. Hodgson's opinion that this interpretation of the phenomena was correct, although in adopting it he had to surrender the sceptical attitude which his first report maintained. For the grounds on which he based this change of position the reader will have to read his report.


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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