WHATEVER THE origin of Mrs Willett's scripts, they were not what would have been
expected from a person of her interests and intellectual attainments. In
consequence, they opened the eyes of contemporary investigators yet further to
the powers of the subconscious self, whether of dramatization, ESP from the
living, or communication with the discarnate. In 1913 more evidence of that
self's remarkable capacities, at least for dramatization, came from across the
Atlantic m the shape of ouija board writing and automatic speech by a Mrs John
H. Curran, an American middle-class housewife who lived m St Louis, Missouri.
Her interests and surroundings and the scripts themselves were exhaustively
studied by an American doctor, Waiter Franklin Prince, who, in view of his skill
as an investigator, was later invited to become President of the SPR in
(1) Walter Franklin Prince The Case of Patience Worth (Boston SPR, 1927).
Mrs Curran's automatisms are of interest to students of psychical research, not
because they contain evidence of ESP obtained m test conditions, but as dramatic
examples of what the subconscious can do on its own. They resembled Mrs
Willett's in being apparently superior to the automatist's surface intellectual
attainments and in seeming to draw upon knowledge beyond that which she normally
possessed. As with Mrs Willett, her normal consciousness was never actually
displaced, although she fell into an abstracted state when producing scripts.
But she did not, like Mrs Piper, go into trance.
Mrs Curran left school at fourteen, and when her automatism began at the age of
thirty-one she had never travelled away from the Middle West. She was not
interested in spiritualism - she said she found mediumship repulsive - and her
literary interests were limited. Her ambition had always been to become a
singer. One day a friend asked her to put her hand on an ouija board. At first
the results were dull and Mrs Curran was bored. Then, suddenly, on July 8th,
1913, an ostensible entity, called Patience Worth, turned up. Who or what
Patience Worth could be was and still is a mystery, but she was certainly a
'character' with a gift of biting repartee and a temperament very unlike Mrs
Curran's. She claimed to have lived on a Dorset farm in England in the sixteen
hundreds and to have gone thence to America, where she had been killed by
Indians. Whoever she was, she had a talent for writing, and she would use
archaic words to which so far as Dr Prince could discover the normal Mrs Curran
had no access. At enormous speed she spelled out poetry, proverbs, prayers and
conversation, and also novels of surprisingly high quality, all of which were
written consistently in different idioms. Several of these have been published,
but a large mass of material written in her later life has never been studied.
One novel, The Sorry Tale, was set in the time of Christ, and another, Hope Trueblood, in the nineteenth century. This, incidentally, was long after
Patience Worth's purported life on earth. A third, Telka, was an idyll of
medieval England. An American philologist analysed the language in this tale and
found that no words were used which came into the language later than the
seventeenth century and that ninety per cent of them were derived from
Anglo-Saxon. Dr Schiller, at one time- President of the SPR, pointed out that
this was a philological miracle, since such a proportion of words of Anglo-Saxon
origin was not found in the language after the beginning of the thirteenth
century. For comparison, the Authorized Version of the Bible contains only
seventy-seven per cent of Anglo-Saxon derivations. Patience Worth also performed
the feat of writing more than one novel at a time, a few hundred words of one
and then of another, and even after a lapse of weeks she never forgot where to
go on. On one occasion a chapter was lost, but two months later she redictated
it, and when the lost pages later came to light she wag found to have repeated
the identical words.
A major puzzle is the knowledge displayed in the scripts of social conditions at
different periods. Mrs Curran did not live in a literary ambience and her
knowledge of history was of the vaguest. She thought, for instance, that Henry
VIII had been beheaded and her apparent knowledge of New Testament times was on
the same level. Yet the author of The Sorry Tale seemed to be casually familiar
with the social customs, clothing, commerce and weapons of those times, of the
political relations between Romans and Jews, the topography and architecture of
Jerusalem, and many other contemporary details. As an author Patience Worth won
approval from a number of critics. The New York Times called The Sorry Tale a
noble book, and The Bookman commented that it had a well constructed plot and
gave an excellent picture of the Roman world when the Empire was at its height.
English reviewers did not realize that Hope Trueblood was written by an
American, and The Athenĉum, unaware that it was praising a 'psychic'
production, called it 'a novel of decided promise ... definite and clear-cut
characterization, good dialogue and arresting runs of expression, deep but
restrained feeling ...'
The identity of Patience Worth is anybody's guess. Contemporary psychologists
would tend to look at her as a secondary personality of Mrs Curran's. Two cases
of such dual personality are well known, for one, Sally Beauchamp, was
exhaustively studied by Dr Morton Prince (not to be confused with Franklin
Prince) and the other, Doris Fischer, by Franklin Prince himself(2). But
Patience Worth differed from the Beauchamp and Fischer cases in that she did not
replace Mrs Curran's normal consciousness, she was co-conscious with it. An
American psychologist, Professor Charles E. Long, studied her mentality for two
years m the hope of discovering what degree of rationality could be attained by
a subconscious centre(3). He came to the conclusion that her mentality was of a
very high order, original and creative, and he was also surprised and impressed
by her high moral and spiritual standards. 'Here is a subconscious self,' he
said, 'far outstripping in power and range the primary consciousness.'
(2) Morton Prince, The Dissociation of a Personality (Longmans, 1906). W.
Franklin Prince and Dr Hyslop, Multiple Personality. Articles in Proceedings ASPR, Vols. lX, X and Xl.
(3) Charles E. Long, article in The Psychological Review, September 1919. Since
this book was written a new case has been discussed by C. H. Thigpen and H. M. Cleckley in
The Three Faces of Eve (Secker and Warburg, 1957).
We are not today in a position to make this comparison, but of the actual
swiftness of Patience Worth's intelligence there is written evidence in the
hundreds of snap definitions and short poems she wrote instantly on being given
a subject. Define 'flapper'. she was asked in the days when this word was
current slang for too-progressive maidens. 'They dare what the past hoped for,'
was the immediate reply. As a subject for a poem she was once given 'The Finite
and the Infinite'. and she wrote without hesitation:
Behold Him! The pith of chaos,
That certain God, who, with a sure
Creates the universes, swings sum and moons,
And lets the stars drip from his
Behold Him, the hunger urge within the breast of every man,
Seeking, seeking, seeking back to the certain spot. Behold this INFINITE love,
The honey of which holds the atoms of the day together The honey of which holds
the universes suspended
In a beauteous harmony held fast;
The honey of which is God
Man and matter, finite, are but thirst vessels -
Man for knowledge and for wisdom, matter for quickening.
This may not be great poetry but it appears pretty certain that Mrs Curran's
surface personality could not have achieved it at once to order.
The verdict that she far outstripped the surface Mrs Curran in intelligence was
one in which Patience herself entirely concurred, for she treated both Mrs
Curran and her friends very much de haut en bas. Mrs Curran looked up to her
with profound respect and there can be no doubt that she greatly increased the
scope and drama of her otherwise not varied fife, since, as time went on, Mrs
Curran felt herself to be directly aware of the scenes narrated by Patience.
'When the stories come,' she said, 'the scenes become panoramic, the characters
moving and acting their parts... If two people are seen talking on the corner of
the street, I see, not only them, but the neighbouring part of the street, with
the buildings, stones, dogs, people and all, just as they would be in a real
scene. If people talk a foreign language... I hear the talk, but over and above
is the voice of Patience either interpreting or giving me the part she wishes to
use as story.'
And Mrs Curran felt she could do more than observe. 'This tiny figure of
myself,' she said, 'would boldly take part in the play ... walking up to the
bin-side of a market and taking up the fruit and tasting it, or smelling the
flower within a garden or feeling the cloth... And the experience was ... as
real to me as any personal experience, becoming physically mine, recorded by my
sight, taste and smell as other experiences. Thus I have become familiar with
many flowers of strange places which I never saw, but know when I see them again
in pictures... It is like travelling in new and unknown regions ...'
Here again, as with Mrs Willett, Mrs Curran's automatisms appear to have brought
new and stimulating experiences into her life, without reducing her efficiency
in ordinary affairs.
"The Sixth Sense"
by Rosalind Heywood (1959, Chatto and