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sometimes write under occult influence, I asked Mademoiselle de P. to fix her
thoughts on some one I did not know, to see whether my hand would write
something true concerning him or her. She did as I requested, and soon my
hand wrote, " His life has been overshadowed by the act of another." She
looked astonished and said that the person she was thinking of had had a
brother to whom he was much attached, who had committed suicide.

She then asked if she could be told where she had met him for the first
time. My hand wrote, " It was at the foot of a marble staircase splendidly
illuminated by a July sun ; as you went up he gazed after you as one gazes on
the track of a dazzling meteor." This was also correct ; she had met him, she
said, for the first time at the foot of the staircase of the Ministere de la
Guerre, in Paris, and her cousin added that he had been much struck with
her. The only inaccuracies were that the staircase was not a marble but a
stone one, and that it was a September sun that shone.

When I write in this way the ideas do not come (consciously at least) from
my mind, and my hand seems to be gently moved by some external influence.

Now I confess that this description of the staircase, and the meteor,
and so forth, suggests to me as its source, not so much a male spirit
disembodied as a female spirit still in the flesh, and the romantic tone of
the communication seems to reflect the mood of the persons present.

856. In the next case the explanation suggested by Professor
Alexander is probably the correct one.

(From the Journal S.P.R., vol. vi. pp. 112-115.) The following
account of some experiments in table- tilting was sent to us by Professor
Alexander, of Rio de Janeiro, in March 1892. He writes :

Rio DE JANEIRO, March zist [1892].

Dr. Barcellos is a gentleman who resides at Botafogo, Rio de Janeiro,
where he not only has a considerable practice, but is also generally esteemed


as an honourable and sensible man. Having studied hypnotism, he was
desirous of witnessing some of the allied facts to be observed in psychical
research. Towards the middle of last year we agreed to hold formal sittings
at his house with the purpose of eliciting, if it were possible, physical
phenomena. We devoted Monday evenings to our investigations, the circle
being composed, with the exception of myself, of members of the doctor's
own family. Donna Maria de Villas B6as Barcellos, a school teacher, who
acted as medium, has, if table-tilting be no proof to the contrary, arrived at
years of mature discretion. She is Dr. Barcellos' sister-in-law, and the mother
of five children. The few sittings held began on the 3ist of August 1891, and
were discontinued about the end of October of the same year. They were sub-
ject to much interruption by children and visitors, and were finally stopped
when Donna Maria was appointed to a school at a distance. With the excep-
tion of some slight crepitations, more felt than heard, the stances, so far as
physical phenomena go, were a failure. The lady, doubtless, moved the table
herself, although she did not seem to be aware of it. As for the messages,
they were nearly always of a trivial character, and occasionally they were false.
There seems, however, to have been a noticeable percentage of verifiable truth
in what came through Donna Maria's automatism. Before our sittings began,
this lady was seated at the meza fallante (speaking-table) with members of
her own family when the presence of her father, then deceased, was announced.
He was asked to give the names of the people present. This he did, including
that of a boy who was not in the room at the time, with the information that he
had just fallen down in the mud. Immediately afterwards the little fellow came
into the room crying and confirmed the statement made through the table.
The sitters, who were only seeking for amusement, became frightened and
abandoned all further experiments. At our own sittings, among much that
was wearisome and unprofitable, a few encouraging incidents occurred. On
one occasion (October 26th, 1891) Dr. Barcellos asked mentally about the state
of a young lady patient who was ill of smallpox. The table replied that she
would die on the following morning at eight o'clock. She did not die, but at
the hour mentioned she became much worse. On another occasion, after I had
retired, details were given about the private life of an individual who lived in
Vassouras, up country, which were by no means flattering to him. A Sefthor
Lozada, the doctor's brother-in-law, who was standing away from the table,
was the only person present who had previously known of these particulars.
He declared that the information thus obtained was exact.

So much for the general character of our sittings, of which I give an idea,
so that the incident I am about to relate may not have more than its due

On the 2ist September 1891, I was seated at the table with Dr. Barcellos,
his niece Sylvia, and Donna Maria Barcellos, when the words came, " The vase
is broken." We asked what vase. " (The vase) at your house, the vase of
phenic acid." I demanded the hour, and the reply was, " At eight o'clock." Of
this an immediate note was taken at my request by one of the children seated
at another table. I transferred this note to my pocket-book where it reads as
follows :

" i\st of September, 1891. O vaso se quebrou De sua casa O vaso de
acido phenico As 8 horas."

I at once looked at my watch. It wanted some four or five minutes to


eight. I knew, however, that it was not going well at the time, and I forgot to
compare it afterwards with the right time. When this message had been given
Sylvia Barcellos rose from her place, and went into the dining-room, where she
told the others what had happened. Some visitors who were there spoke of
retiring ; but they were urged to stay, as it was only eight o'clock the hour
then marked by the timepiece on the wall. Thus a lucky chance determined
the time of the message, which my carelessness in neglecting to see how much
I was out might have left in doubt.

I did not at first suppose that the above words had any more importance
than other things that came through the table. It was, therefore, an agreeable
surprise when on a subsequent occasion Dr. Barcellos told me that the message
had been confirmed. I wrote down a resume of his statement, which I now
copy from my note-book :

" Donna M. on arriving home was being told of fright, when she interrupted
them, telling them what had come through table. They had just remarked
time (eight o'clock) and went to give food to sick child when noise of break-
age. They exclaimed, ' O vaso de acido phenico se quebrou.' In truth, the
jug had been upset by the dog, and had fallen against the vase of phenic acid,
making the noise."

Neither the vase in question, which was of porcelain, nor the water-jug was
really broken. The cause of the accident was a dog that had got into the
room where the sick child lay. The animal had, no doubt, endeavoured to
drink out of the jug, which was standing on the floor near a chair.

The house where Donna Maria was then living is situated about a kilometre's
distance from Dr. Barcellos' residence, so that the explanation by hyperaesthesia
of the hearing in a person who could hardly be said to be out of her normal
condition seems to me to be absurd. Yet the lady was no clairvoyant, for the
vase was not really broken. Even if her character were not above suspicion,
she could not have arranged the incident beforehand, for a dog does not take
part in a plot. The coincidence in time, and the exact mention of what was
supposed to have occurred, renders mere chance an extremely unlikely element.
We are therefore limited to one hypothesis the emotional impression of the
girls who exclaimed, " O vaso de acido phenico se quebrou," influenced their
mother telepathically, and the table was the means of bringing to the surface
the message which her subconsciousness had received.


The evidence of the other witnesses was given in Portuguese, of which
we print English translations, kindly furnished by Professor Alexander.

It was a little past eight when the visitors who were with me in the dining-
room in the evening of the 2ist of September 1891 spoke of retiring.


March 2ist, 1892.

On the 2ist of September 1891, I witnessed a curious fact in telepathy.
At that date, at eight o'clock in the evening, various persons in a house in the
Rua de Donna Marianna heard a strange noise in the room of a smallpox
patient, and ran into it, crying out that in all probability the vase of phenic
acid had been broken. Donna Maria Barcellos, my sister-in-law, one of her
daughters, Sylvia Barcellos, Sefihor Alfredo Alexander, and I were at that


hour seated at a small round table, when it was announced that in the above-
mentioned house, in the Rua de Donna Marianna, a vase of phenic acid had
been broken. Donna Maria Barcellos was much astonished when they told
her on her going home to the Rua de Donna Marianna that they had had a
great fright at eight o'clock in the evening. She replied that she was already
aware that it was a vase of phenic acid which had been broken. Then they
explained to her that such had been the general supposition in the house, that
when they ran into the room they all exclaimed, " The vase of phenic acid has
broken," and that on entering they discovered that a jug of water standing near
a chair had fallen against the vase of phenic acid.

These facts passed in the presence of Professor Alexander, who was also
at the table with my sister-in-law and Sylvia.


Rio DE JANEIRO, September zznd, 1891.

When Mariquinhas came home I said to her, "You cannot imagine what
a fright we had to-day," to which she replied, "You need not tell me; I know
all about it. It was the vase of phenic acid that broke." This reply caused us
the greatest surprise, when she added that nobody had told her of it, but
that she heard of it through the intermedium of the tilting table. Our astonish-
ment was still greater when she said that the fact occurred at eight o'clock in
the evening.

Indeed, at that hour, when we were in the back part of the house, we heard
a loud noise like that of the fall of some vessel full (of liquid). The door of the
bedroom where the child sick of smallpox lay was closed ; but we heard her
crying out, and ran to see what was the matter. At the same time the three
girls exclaimed, " The vase of phenic acid has broken ! " It was not, however,
this vase that broke, but a jug of water which had fallen down.
N.B. This fact happened yesterday, September 2ist, 1891.







857. The next case (857 A) is very remote ; and I should not use
it to aid in establishing communication with the dead. But as indicating
a possible source of error, it seems worth quoting in an Appendix, as it
is vouched for by two informants who, although here anonymous, are
distinguished and intelligent men.

858. My next case given in 858 A comes from the late Dr.
Ermacora, whose untimely death has been a serious loss to our studies.
Professor W. James visited Dr. Ermacora at Padua and told me that his
experiments were seriously and carefully conducted. Dr. Ermacora
himself, for reasons stated in his narrative, regarded this message as
probably coming from a disembodied intelligence. But it seems to me
that the statement as to the date of the letter's arrival may have ema-
nated from the mind of the Venetian cousin at the time when she


meant to post her letter in the evening. Dr. Ermacora also sent me
a case (not for publication) where a message written by the same auto-
matist predicted some remarkable points with regard to her own future
health. Such a prediction, however like the frequently recorded pre-
dictions of somnambulists with regard to their own epileptic fits, &c.
seems to me to belong to the province of the subliminal self, which I
conceive as more intimately acquainted with the state of the organism
than the supraliminal self can be.

859. Thus much for the present with regard to communications
from the living, and as to the danger that a message purporting to come
from a deceased person may in reality emanate from the mind of one of
the living persons present, or, indeed, from some living person at a dis-
tance. But this, although a real risk, is by no means the only risk of
deception which such messages involve. The communication may con-
ceivably come from some unembodied spirit indeed, but not from the
spirit who is claimed as its author. Have we any way of guarding against
this deception ; any hints which may even help us to conceive the nature
of a danger which lies so entirely outside our terrene experience ?

The answer to this question cannot be brief, and must for the present
be delayed. I can best, perhaps, introduce the reader to this new range
of problems by quoting at this point (in 859 A) some extracts from a
record of the varied experiences of automatic writing which have been
intermingled with Miss A.'s crystal-visions, &c., already narrated in
Chapter VI. (625 C). Such account as can here be produced is, from
various causes, very incomplete. It contains, however, specimens of several
of the problems of which mention has already been made. I may remind
the reader that this is a case with which I am intimately acquainted,
having carefully watched the progress of the phenomena for some years.
The statements refer largely to facts within my own knowledge, and these
are given without exaggeration.

I should add that the phenomena have continued, whenever invited,
up to the present date (December, 1900), and that they have developed
in the direction of recognised identities. I have myself lately had through
Miss A. what appear to me convincing messages, given by raps, on
private matters from departed friends. That this element exists amid
these confused communications, I feel sure ; but the recognised spirits are
seldom able to explain much beyond their own actual message, nor to
throw light on the strange anonymity in which most of the writings are
shrouded. There is now no case that I have watched longer than Miss
A.'s; none where I have more absolute assurance of the scrupulous
probity of the principal sensitive herself and of the group who share the
experiments ; but none also which leaves me more often baffled as to the
unseen source of the information given. There is a knowledge both of
the past and of the future, which seems capriciously limited, and is
mingled with mistakes, yet on the other hand is of a nature which it is


difficult to refer to any individual human mind, incarnate or discarnate.
We meet here some of the first indications of a possibility of which more
must be said in a later chapter (IX.), that discarnate spirits communi-
cating with us have occasional access to certain sources of knowledge
which even to themselves are inscrutably remote and obscure.

The command to bring '' C. D." a command which, as will be seen,
I myself obeyed was especially remarkable in its apparent futility, yet
it ultimately resulted in developing the phenomena. C. D., indeed, was a
person in whom the soi-disant Chancellor Hardwicke might be expected
to take some interest ; but one is at a loss to imagine what kind of
perception could pick him out as the one man whose own faculty would
best contribute to Miss A.'s, and would be best developed by hers in

The written diagnoses and prognoses given by the so-called " Semirus,"
often without Miss A.'s even seeing the patient or hearing the nature of
his malady, have become more and more remarkable. 1 Miss A. and her
friends do not wish these private matters to be printed, and I cannot
therefore insist upon the phenomena here. Yet hi view of the amount of
telaesthesia which Miss A.'s various automatisms reveal, it should first be
noted that human organisms seem especially pervious to such vue a
distance. "Semirus," " Gelalius," &c., are obvious pseudonyms; and
neither Semirus' prescriptions nor Gelalius' cosmogony contain enough of
indication to enable us to grasp their origin.

860. I pass on to a series of messages which afford an interesting
field for the discussion of the rival hypotheses of " cryptomnesia " and
spirit-control. The automatist, who must here be called Mrs. R., is a
lady well known to me for some years, and to whom I was first introduced
by the late Mr. Hensleigh Wedgwood (the cousin and brother-in-law of
Charles Darwin, and himself a well-known savanf), who reported certain
messages obtained in his presence, and partly through his co-operation.
Mrs. R., and her sister Mrs. V., now deceased, were for many years
among Mr. Wedgwood's most valued friends. There can be no more
question in my mind as to Mrs. R.'s scrupulous good faith than as to that
of Mr. Wedgwood himself in endeavouring to recall the utmost that they
had ever known of the personages who professed to be writing through
the help of the two human hands. The question is one of subliminal
memory; and as to this it may be remarked that Mr. Wedgwood's
reading was wide, but that he never, so far as I know, showed any
automatic gift, nor obtained writing except with one of these two ladies.
On the other hand, Mrs. R.'s reading has not been wide in range ; and
both Mrs. R. and Mrs. V. had many psychical experiences, most of them
of a private nature, 2 in which Mr. Wedgwood was not concerned. The

1 See a recent case furnished by Sir Lawrence Jones, which I print at the end of the

2 See, however, Journal S.P.R., vol. iv. p. 293, for two experiences of Mrs. V.'s.



automatic impulse seems to have come from them ; but it may be that
Mr. Wedgwood's presence modified the character of the messages
obtained. I give first a general account by Mr. Wedgwood of the mode
of experiment.

(From Proceedings S.P.R., vol. ix. p: 92.)

My experience in planchette-writing has been mainly acquired in sitting
with two sisters, whom I will call Mrs. R. and Mrs. V., of whom the younger,
Mrs. V., has far the stronger influence in producing the writing. With her the
board in general begins to move much sooner and in a more vivacious way
than with her elder sister. When the two sit together the board moves rapidly
along, like a person writing as fast as he can drive, while with me and one of
the sisters the action is often feeble and labouring. But neither of the sisters
can obtain anything whatever when they sit by themselves. The board re-
mains absolutely motionless under the hands of the solitary operator.

When trying for writing we sit opposite each other at a small table, I with
my right hand, my partner with her left on the planchette, while the writing
produced is upright to me, and upside down to my partner, from whom, how-
ever, the effective influence seems to proceed. The precise nature of that
influence is not very easy to understand, and is, I think, very commonly mis-
apprehended. Writing by planchette is often called " automatic," and the
pencil is conceived as being worked by the muscular action of the sitters, under
the guidance of a blind impulse, as little understood by them as the finished
result is foreseen by a pair of birds instinctively engaged in the construction of
their first nest. But this is directly opposed to the experience of myself and
my partners. When I am sitting at planchette with one of them, I know that
I am merely following the movement of the board with my hand, and not in
any way guiding it, my only difficulty being to avoid interfering with it. It
seems to me exactly as if my partner, in whom I have perfect confidence, was
purposely moving the board and I allowing my hand to follow her action,
interfering with it as little as possible. And she gives to me an exactly
corresponding account of her own share in the operation. Thus we give to
the outside world our united testimony of a fact which, as far as each of us
is concerned, lies within our own direct knowledge, viz., that the writing traced
out by the pencil is not produced by the muscular exertion of either of us.

We have, then, in planchette-writing, if our account is to be believed, the
manifestation of an agency invisible to us, yet capable of moving the bodily
pencil either in mere scribbling or in such a way as to fix an intelligent message
on the paper.

861. The first case which I shall give is in the words of Mr. Wedg-
wood, in the/<?r0/S.P.R. for December, 1889 (vol. iv. p. 174).

Whenever I have an opportunity, perhaps once or twice a year, I sit at
planchette-writing with my friend, whom I will call Mrs. R., a most observant
witness in whom I have entire confidence. We sit opposite each other at a
small table, each resting the fingers of one hand lightly upon the board, and
when the board begins to move, allow our hand to follow the movement freely
without interfering with it in any way.

The following account of our last sitting, on June a6th, is from the journal
of Mrs. R., written the same evening, transcribing the part of planchette from


the actual writing, and filling in our share of the investigation from immediate

Extract from journal of Wednesday, June 26th, 1889, and copy of planchette-
writing with Mr. Wedgwood :

" A spirit is here to-day who we think will be able to write through the
medium. Hold very steady, and he will try first to draw."

We turned the page and a sketch was made, rudely enough of course, but
with much apparent care

" Very sorry can't do better. Was meant for test. Must write for you
instead. J. G."

We do not fully understand the first drawing, taking it for two arms and
hands clasped, one coming down from above. Mr. Wedgwood asked the spirit
of J. G. to try again, which he did.

Below the drawing he wrote : " Now look." We did, and this time com-
prehended the arm and sword.

" Now I will write for you if you like."

Mr. W. : " What did the drawing represent? "

" Something that was given me."

I said : " Are you a man or a woman ? "

" Man. John G."

Mr. W. : " How was it given to you ? "

" On paper and other things. . . . My head is bad from the old wound I
got there when I try to write through mediums."

Mr. W. : " We don't know J. G. Have you anything to do with us ? "

" No connection."

Mr. W. said he knew a J. Giffard, and wondered if that was the name,

" Not Giffard. Gurwood."

Mr. W. suggested that he had been killed in storming some fort.

" I killed myself on Christmas Day, years ago. I wish I had died fighting."

" Were you a soldier ? "

" I was in the army."

" Can you say what rank ? "

" No. ... It was the pen did for me, and not the sword."

The word pen was imperfectly written, and I thought it was meant iorfall.
I asked if this was right ?

' No."

Mr. W. : " Is the word/*r ? "

" Yes ; pen did for me."

We suggested that he was an author who had failed, or had been

" I did not fail. I was not slandered. Too much for me after . . . pen
was too much for me after the wound."

" Where were you wounded, and when did you die ? "

" Peninsula to first question."

We were not sure about the word Peninsula, and asked him to repeat.

" I was wounded in the head in Peninsula. It will be forty-four years
next Christmas Day since I killed myself. Oh, my head. ... I killed myself.
John Gurwood."

" Where did you die? "

" I had my wound in 1810. I cannot tell you more about myself. The
drawing was a test."


We asked if the device was intended for his crest.

" I had it seal."

" Had it anything to do with your wound ? " (I cannot remember the exact
form of this question.)

" It came from that and was given me. Power fails to explain. Remember
my name. Stop now."

The only person besides ourselves present at the sitting was Miss H., an
aunt of Mrs. R.'s, and none of us knew anything of Colonel Gurwood beyond
the fact of his having edited the despatches -of the Duke of Wellington, not
even that his name was John. It is possible that I might have heard of his
suicide at the time that it occurred, without its making any impression on me,
but I am sure I did not read such an obituary notice as would be published in the
Times, and when my attention was directed to his editorial work eighteen or

Online LibraryFrederic William Henry MyersHuman personality : and its survival of bodily death (Volume 2) → online text (page 23 of 89)