A NUMBER OF automatists were engaged in tile cross correspondences and their
reactions and methods of producing scripts we're varied. Mrs Wilson 'saw'
pictures and then described them. Others spoke of their interior impressions;
others would both speak and write; others again, Mrs Verrall for instance, would
only write. She generally fell into the more or less dissociated state common to
most automatists, getting very sleepy at times and occasionally for a moment
losing consciousness altogether.
'Whether I write in the light or in the dark,'
she said, 'I do not look at the paper. I perceive a word or two but never
understand whether it makes sense with what goes before... When the script is
finished I often cannot say till I read it what language has been used, as the
recollection of the words passes away with extreme rapidity...'
Her daughter, Miss Verrall, would speak more often than write, and afterwards
she too could remember but little of what she had said. Both their scripts
purported to come from Myers, but Mrs Holland's were sometimes signed Gurney or
Sidgwick. A fifth automatist, Mrs Willett, also got scripts signed Verrall after
Dr Verrall had died.
Mrs Holland said that she was always fully conscious when writing but that the
pencil moved too quickly for her to grasp any meaning. To amuse herself she had
written automatically for ten years before she read Human Personality. In it she
came upon some experiences similar to her own, which she had been unable to
understand, and this encouraged her to write about these to Alice Johnson, the
Secretary of the SPR. Miss Johnson asked for details which Mrs Holland sent. Her
scripts, she said, had always come at great speed; she once wrote fourteen poems
in an hour. On one occasion she had been surprised to find that she had written
a letter beginning with a pet name and signed with another, both of which were
unknown to her.
'It was clearly impressed on me for whom the letter was
intended,' she told Miss Johnson, 'but thinking it due to some unhealthy fancy
of my own, I destroyed it ... I was punished by an agonizing headache and the
letter was repeated, till in self-defence I sent it and the succeeding ones to
The recipient told her that the handwriting resembled that
of someone who had been dead some years and that the letters were signed with
the name of that person and referred to matters known only to them. Beyond that
he did not wish to discuss the matter. On three later occasions Mrs Holland
wrote similar letters and these all came as a surprise both to her and to the
recipients, with whom she was never more than slightly acquainted.
Mrs Holland's share in the cross correspondences began when she was about
thirty-five. She told Miss Johnson that she was not a person with any morbid
desire for wonders and she had no connection with spiritualism.
'It puzzles me a
little,' she wrote, 'that with no desire to consider myself exceptional I do
sometimes see, hear, feel or otherwise become conscious of beings and influences
that are not patent to all. Is this a frame of mind to be checked, or permitted
or encouraged? I should like so much to know. My own people hate what they call
"uncanniness" and I am obliged to hide from them the keen interest I cannot help
feeling in psychic matters.'
In this somewhat lonely situation it seems natural enough that when she learnt
for the first time from Myers' book that intelligent and balanced people did not
consider psi to be necessarily morbid or hysterical, her scripts should claim to
be inspired by Myers, even if they were in fact subjectively produced. On the
other hand, if a discarnate Myers did exist, it is perhaps conceivable that Mrs
Holland's interest in his book might have singled her out for him, turned a
searchlight upon her, in some telepathic fashion to us unknown. It was after
doing some automatic writing in November 1903 that she first sent a 'Myers'
script to Miss Johnson. Her hand had scrawled the letter F, which, although she
did not know it, happened to be a habitual signature of Myers. She remarked:
hand feels very shaky, shall I let it scrawl?' and the script answered: 'Yes;
let it go quite freely, just exactly as it likes!'
F then wrote that he wished
to speak to some old friends, Miss J. and A. W. (Alice Johnson and Dr A. W. Verrall)
'There is so much to say and yet so very little chance of saying it -
communication is so tremendously difficult - the brain of the agent [the
automatist is meant] though indispensable is so hampering.'
After this came a pretty accurate description of Dr Verrall, whom Mrs Holland
had never seen, and finally:
'It is like entrusting a message on which infinite
importance depends to a sleeping person - get a proof - try for a proof if you
feel this is a waste of time without. Send this to Mrs Verrall, 5 Selwyn
As we have seen, Mrs Holland, being sceptical, did not obey these instructions
but sent the script to Miss Johnson. She wrote in a covering letter:
'... I am
glad to know that you agree with me as to the harmlessness of automatic writing
for a person of average common sense. Its snare for me lies in the direction of
boredom rather than of blind faith. However in September I experimented for one
week ... every morning ... at 11am. That is a good commonplace hour when one is
not likely to be over imaginative ... Will you forgive me for troubling you with
the writing? I do not like to suppress it as it gave me the impression of
someone very anxious to establish communication, but with not much power to do
Two years later a previous 'Myers' script by Mrs Holland was discovered to be a
correct description of Mrs Verrall's dining-room, except that she had described
a filter which stood in a dark corner as a bust. Such trivial incidents provoke
a number of questions. If Mrs Holland drew her information by telepathy from the
obvious source, Mrs Verrall, why did she mistake the filter for a bust? If it
came by direct clairvoyance of the actual room, has clairvoyance limitations in
common with physical vision? For the same mistake had been made by a Cambridge
friend of Mrs Verrall's, and when Mrs Holland's script was read to him he
is a bust in your dining-room.'
Could she have drawn her
information from this total stranger? Or if, as the script claimed, it came from
Myers, when did he make the mistake, in life or after?
Other Holland scripts could well have resulted from direct telepathy with Mrs
Verrall. Two contained good descriptions of her and in one was written 'a new
dress not a black one this time', at a time when Mrs Verrall was being persuaded
to order a new coloured dress instead of a black one as she had intended. Such
cases, however, merge into others when the explanation of simple telepathy
becomes more difficult. And it may always be that to seek such an either/or type
of explanation for any of them is barking up the wrong tree.
In January 1904, when Mrs Holland had been getting scripts from her 'Myers' for
thirteen months, he wrote:
'... It is impossible for me to know how much of what
I send reaches you and how much you are able to set down - feel as if I had
presented my credentials - reiterated the proofs of my identity in a wearisomely
frequent manner - but yet I cannot feel as if I had made any true impression
upon them. Surely you sent them what I strove so to transmit - Your pride, if
you name nervous vanity pride was surely not strong enough to weigh against my
appeals - Even here under present conditions I should know I should thrill
responsive to any real belief on their part - Oh it is a dark toad ...'
Another script, signed Gurney, also showed signs of displeasure.
'... Back again
in the old despondency. Why don't you write daily? You seem to form habits only
to break them...'
Mrs Holland told Miss Johnson that when this script came she had m fact been
steadily resisting any impulse to do automatic writing, for she was very busy
and interruptions jarred on her painfully. One cannot escape a certain sympathy
with the communicators, whatever they were, for this script too joined the
others in Miss Johnson's file, since she had not yet noticed the links between
the Holland and Verrall scripts. Both these scripts also lament another
shortcoming, the fear felt by educated automatists of being led up the garden
'... Do try to forget your abiding fear of being made a fool or a dupe. If
we ever prompt you to fantastic follies you may leave us... It's a form of
restless vanity to fear that your hand is imposing upon yourself as it were...
You should not be discouraged if what is written appears to you futile - Most of
it is not meant for you... I do wish you would not hamper us by trying to
understand every word you write ... '
Mrs Holland's 'Gurney' was quite tough with her.
'... If you don't care enough to try every day for a short time, better drop it
altogether. It's like making appointments and not keeping them. You endanger
your own, powers of sensitiveness and annoy us bitterly - G.'
Her 'Myers', on the other hand, was gentle but sad.
'The nearest simile I can
find to express the difficulties of sending a message is that I appear to be
standing behind a sheet of frosted glass - which blurs sight and deadens sound -
dictating feebly - to a reluctant and somewhat obtuse secretary. A feeling of
terrible impotence burdens me ...'
This sort of lament was repeated again and again.
'Oh, if I could only get to
them - could only leave you the proof positive that I remember - recall - know -
'Yet another attempt to run the blockade - to strive to get a message through -
How can I make your hand docile enough - how can I convince them?... Oh, I am
feeble with eagerness - How can I best be identified? ... Edmund's help is not
here with me just now - I am trying alone amid unspeakable difficulties ...'
At the time Mrs Holland was writing this Mrs Piper's 'Myers' wrote that he was
'trying with all the forces to prove that I am Myers'. All this, whatever its
source, is characteristic enough of the living Myers, who with dedicated
intensity had given his life to an effort to prove survival by the methods of
science. The same intensity is often found in Mrs Willett's scripts. Her
'... the passionate desire to return to drive into incarnate minds the
conviction of one's own identity the partial successes and the blank failures
... I know the burden of it to the uttermost fraction ...' Mrs Willett noted
that in this script there was a terrible sense of struggle - almost of pain.'
It is worth pausing again to imagine the problems facing such men, did they
indeed survive death with the same basic consciousness as before. How, lacking a
physical vehicle, could they communicate scientifically acceptable evidence of
their identity to the living, whose attention is normally concentrated on
physical impressions? Myers in life had believed the answer to lie in that
mysterious form of linkage he labelled telepathy, by which the living seem able
to dispense with physical methods of transmission between themselves. But even
between the living, telepathic communications are sporadic, vague, disjointed
and short. Few people can make lengthy contact with their subconscious
'receiving layer' and when they do they bring up very mixed bags culled from
diverse sources which it is hard for the investigator to locate or disentangle.
Moreover, items of genuine outside information are often distorted or overlaid
by the sensitive's own associations which the outside item itself has stirred up
as a falling stone stirs up mud in a pond. A typical example of this occurs in
what is known as the Spirit Angel cross correspondence(1). Mrs Verrall's 'Myers'
(1) Proceedings SPR, Vol. XXII, p. 200 et seq.
'But you keep going round the idea instead of giving three plain words,
"Lost Paradise Regained".'
These words were a direct allusion to the subject of
the cross correspondence. Then followed the irrelevant phrase, 'Of man's first
disobedience...' and then, after a pause, 'No, that is something else...' But such
pauses and comments are exceptional. Only too often the cross correspondence sensitives, like all others, wander along a train of thought of their own which
has been aroused by what may have been a genuine outside stimulus. Hence, even
if the Myers group scripts do originate with their purported authors they are
likely at best to be greatly coloured and modified by the personality of the
automatist. The communicators themselves often complain that the automatists are
very inefficient channels, and they add that on their side too they have their
troubles. To approach the incarnate, they say, is like diving into a black
(2) A hypothetical communicator might also be faced with the problem of what to
talk about. Even when a living person's brain is experimentally or
pathologically modified, he finds the words and concepts of physical life
unsuited to describe his resultant experiences and is driven to analogies and
poetic images. This would presumably apply even more to discarnate conditions.
There are reasons enough, then, why sensitives wander up pointless byways and
get involved with extraneous matter in a fashion exasperating to the clear cut
mind and either/or outlook of the investigator trained in physical science. But
if the scripts do not originate with Myers and his friends, what are the
alternatives? Could chance coincidence account for the thirty years' linkage
between dozens of scripts? To check this it is worth doing a simple test: with
closed eyes place a finger at random on a number of passages in various books
and try to create from them a cross correspondence with a controlling theme. The
results have little in common with the recorded cross correspondences. Are
these, then, due to conscious fraud on the part of all concerned? If so, we have
to believe that men and women of the calibre of Balfour, Lodge, Mrs Sidgwick and
Dr and Mrs Verrall jointly indulged in this fraud for thirty years. Or if the
automatists only were cheating, we must suppose that the austere and upright Mrs
Verrall trained a team of virtuous Edwardian ladies, such as Dame Edith
Lyttelton and Mrs Coombe-Tennant, year after year to palm off spurious scripts
on the ,investigators, scripts too which were often written under their own
eyes. The motive here would be far to seek, for in Cambridge society Mrs
Verrall's automatism was anything but a social asset. Moreover, long term hoaxes
at cross correspondence level would involve a great deal of work. Mr W. H.
Salter, who has been Honorary Secretary of the SPR for thirty years and who saw
the cross correspondences at first hand, as he married Miss Helen Verrall, has
pointed out that this too is easy to test. To construct an elementary cross
correspondence, a topic or quotation from a particular author must be chosen and
further quotations collected from his work which allude to this topic but do not
mention it directly. Puns are allowed. Finally an independent investigator must
find the clue which binds the quotations into a coherent whole. Anyone who tries
to construct a cross correspondence of the quality of those which claimed to
come from the Myers group will sympathize with the remark in Mrs Willett's
script which purported to be made by Dr Verrall shortly after his death:
sort of thing is more difficult to do than it looked.'
But it is possible that the cross correspondences resulted from subconscious
fraud on the part of the living, since subconsciously even the most upright can
be shameless dramatists. If this is the answer the main suspect is obviously Mrs
Verrall, for she knew two of the purported communicators, Sidgwick and Myers,
personally, she was interested in psi and she was a very good classical scholar.
But in all there were seven communicators, three of whom she did not know, and
she did not recognize the many references to them in her scripts. If she were
indeed the designer of the cross correspondences the network of telepathy
implied is still astounding. For years she must subconsciously have taught the
subconscious selves of her scattered pupils their roles in the long term hoax -
which was of course perpetrated on her own surface self as well as on other
people. But she died in 1916 and the interlinked scripts still went on, when
there appeared to be no one left who combined her personal knowledge of the
Myers group with the classical scholarship and deep interest presumably needed
to induce the subconscious to work out such elaborate patterns.
If subconscious deception by the living is still the answer it looks as if,
unknown to himself, some other classical scholar was holding a subconscious
class in deception, or as if the team of automatists were subconsciously pecking
their scholarship from some sources and the personal memories of the Myers group
(2) That this is conceivable is suggested by experiments conducted by Dr S. B. Soal with a Mrs Stewart many years later. These are recorded in Chapter XVI
Although Piddington disliked the idea of survival, as the years went by both he
and the other investigators were more and more driven towards the authorship
claimed by the scripts as their most plausible explanation. But we have already
seen that psychical research is like a treasure hunt in which some invisible
humourist places wonderful clues, and then, when these appear almost conclusive,
throws in just one more which may lead in the opposite direction. This is what
happened in what is known as the Sevens case. Piddington decided to leave a
sealed letter containing information about himself known to nobody else and he
hoped to be able to communicate its contents through g sensitive after his death
before the letter was opened. (This seemed a more watertight proof of survival
then than it does since experimental evidence of clairvoyance through packs of
cards has been obtained.) In the letter he described his habit, which he called
a 'tic', of playing with the number seven. walking m groups of seven steps,
counting objects in sevens, observing sevens 'm literature and so on. Of course
he kept the letter a strict secret, but three years after he wrote it six of the
cross correspondence automatists began to bespatter their scripts with allusions
to seven. Mrs Piper's preference was for 'We are Seven', and she also wrote
about the clock on the stairs going 'tick, tick', - typical twist this of the
kind that results from the medium's own associations. The existence of a cross
correspondence shouted itself aloud to those who read the scripts, and at last
Mr Piddington was driven to confess that the allusions tallied with the content,
of his intended posthumous letter.
What is the answer here? Did Piddington have a leaky mind? Did it leak to so
many automatists because of their common interests? And was it unable to leak
until he had ceased to give the letter much conscious thought? The scripts
themselves proffered another explanation in some quite plausible detail. They
said that Myers had observed Piddington's plan and had caused the leak. It is
true that at the time when Piddington was writing his letter in London, Mrs
Verrall's 'Myers' wrote the cryptic sentence in Surrey:
'Note the hour - in
London half the message has come ... surely Piddington will see that this is
enough and should be acted upon.'
In view of later events this can be
interpreted as suggesting that Myers thought he would produce evidence of his
own survival by broadcasting his knowledge of Piddington's message before the
latter's death. Moreover, when the cross correspondence had been achieved, but
before Mrs Verrall knew that Piddington had written his letter, her 'Myers' also
'Has Piddington found the bits of his sentence scattered among you all?'
He had indeed. It is noteworthy that the Sevens case developed a secondary and
meaningful cross correspondence not implicit in Piddington's letter and for
which therefore it cannot be assumed that he was psychically responsible. This
was a series of references to the meeting with Beatrice in the Earthly Paradise
Cantos of Dante's Purgatorio.
So once more the explorers were left with plausible evidence for communication
between the living and the surviving dead, but once more that evidence had a
leak in it. In the end, however, it did bring conviction to Mr Piddington, who
had spent much of his life on the scripts, and it led even the ultra-cautious
Mrs Sidgwick to commit herself to the statement:
'I myself think that the
evidence is pointing towards the conclusion that our fellow workers are still
working with us.'
And Lord Balfour's personal belief, arrived at, he said, after
much study and reflection, leaned 'strongly in favour of an affirmative answer'.
But they could only say: I believe. They could not say: I know.
"The Sixth Sense"
by Rosalind Heywood (1959, Chatto and