Frederic William Henry Myers.

Human personality : and its survival of bodily death (Volume 2) online

. (page 26 of 89)
Online LibraryFrederic William Henry MyersHuman personality : and its survival of bodily death (Volume 2) → online text (page 26 of 89)
Font size
QR-code for this ebook

Socialists. He was arrested, tried, and condemned to imprisonment at a
distance from St. Petersburg, where he lost his life in an attempt to escape.
" Schura " loved him dearly, and fully sympathised with his political convic-
tions, making no secret of it. After his death, which occurred in September
1884, she was discouraged in her revolutionary aspirations, and ended her
life by poison, at the age of seventeen, on the 1 5th of January 1885, just one week
before the stance above described. Nikolaus, Michael's brother, was then a
student at the Technological Institute.

Mrs. von Wiesler and her daughter were aware of these circumstances, for
they had long been acquainted with " Schura's " parents, and with those of her
cousins, who belong to the best society of St. Petersburg. It will be obvious
that I cannot publish the names of these families. I have also changed those
of the young people. The acquaintanceship was, however, far from being
intimate. They saw each other occasionally, but nothing more. Later I will
give further details. We will now continue our narrative.

Naturally, neither Mrs. von Wiesler nor her daughter knew anything as to
the views or secret conduct of Nikolaus. The communication was just as
unexpected as it was important. It involved a great responsibility. Sophie's
position was a very difficult one. The literal carrying out of " Schura's "
demands was, for a young lady, simply impossible, merely from considerations
of social propriety. What right could she have, on the ground of simple
acquaintanceship, to interfere in family affairs of so delicate a character ?


Besides, it might not be true; or, quite simply and most probably, Nikolaus
might deny it. What position would she then find herself in? Mrs. von
Wiesler knew only too well, from the stances she had taken part in with me,
how little dependence can be placed on Spiritualistic communications. She
counselled her daughter, in the first place, to convince herself of " Schura's "
identity. This advice was followed without any hesitation as one way out of
the difficulty.

On the following Tuesday "Schura " manifested at once, and Sophie asked
for a proof of her identity, to which " Schura " forthwith replied :

" Invite Nikolaus, arrange a seance, and I will come."

It will be seen from this reply that "Schura," who during her life had
learnt to despise the conventionalities of society, as is the custom among the
Socialists, remained true to her character, and again demanded what was an
impossibility. Nikolaus had never been in Mrs. von Wiesler's house. Sophie
then asked for another proof of her identity, without Nikolaus being brought
in at all, and requested that it might be a convincing one.

" I will appear to thee," was the reply.


" Thou wilt see."

A few days later Sophie was returning home from a soire'e ; it was nearly
4 A.M. She was just retiring, and was at the door between her bedroom and
the dining-room, there being no lights in the latter, when she saw on the wall
of the dining-room, in sight of the door at which she stood, a luminous round
spot, with, as it were, shoulders. This lasted for two or three seconds, and dis-
appeared, ascending towards the ceiling. Sophie immediately assured herself
that it was not the reflection of any light coming from the street.

At the stance on the following Tuesday, an explanation of this appearance
being asked for, " Schura " replied :

" It was the outline of a head with shoulders. I cannot appear more dis-
tinctly. I am still weak."

Many other details, which I have passed over, tended to convince Sophie of
the reality of " Schura's " identity, yet she could not bring herself to carry out
that which " Schura " desired her to do. She therefore proposed as a suit-
able compromise that she should acquaint Nikolaus's parents with what had

This proposal aroused "Schura's" strongest displeasure, expressed by
violent movements of the saucer, and by the sentence :

" That will lead to nothing ; " after which disparaging epithets followed,
impossible to repeat here, especially applicable to persons of weak and irreso-
lute character, with whom the energetic and decisive " Schura " had no patience
epithets which are not found in dictionaries, but which were expressions used
by " Schura" in her lifetime, and characteristic of her. This was confirmed in
the sequel.

Nevertheless Sophie continued to hesitate, and at each successive stance
" Schura " insisted more and more imperatively that Sophie must act at once.
This is very important to notice, as we shall see later. This want of resolution
on the part of Sophie was ascribed by " Schura " to the influence of Mrs. von
Wiesler. From the beginning " Schura" had seemed to bear a" grudge against
Mrs. von Wiesler. From the first stance she addressed Sophie only. She
never permitted Mrs. von Wiesler to ask a question. Whenever she attempted


to do so, she met her with a " Be silent be silent ! " Whereas in addressing
Sophie she overwhelmed her with the tenderest expressions.

How great was the astonishment and consternation of the ladies, when at
the se'ance on the 26th of February the first words were :

" It is too late. Thou wilt repent it bitterly. The pangs of remorse will
follow thee. Expect his arrest ! "

These were " Schura's " last words. From this time she was silent. A
se'ance was attempted on the following Tuesday, but there was no result. The
stances of Mrs. von Wiesler and her daughter were from that time entirely
given up.

While these stances were being held, Mrs. von Wiesler naturally kept me
informed of what transpired, and consulted with me as to what was to be done
in view of the extraordinary character of "Schura's" requests. Some time
after they had ceased Mrs. von Wiesler, to satisfy her own conscience and to
comfort her daughter, resolved to communicate the whole episode to the parents
of Nikolaus. They paid no attention to it. Nothing was elicited that any fault
could be found with. The family were quite satisfied in regard to Nikolaus's
conduct But it is important to bear in mind the fact that these Spiritualistic
communications were made known to the parents before the final issue. When
during the remainder of the year everything went on happily, Sophie became
fully convinced that all the communications were only lies, and formed a resolu-
tion that she would never again occupy herself with Spiritualistic stances.

Another year passed without any special event. But on the gth of March,
1887, the secret police suddenly searched Nikolaus's rooms. He was arrested
in his own house, and within twenty-four hours was exiled from St Petersburg.
It came out later that his crime was taking part in anarchical assemblies
assemblies which were held in the months of January and February 1885, exactly
corresponding with the time when " Schura " was insisting that steps should
then be taken to dissuade Nikolaus from taking part in such meetings. Only
now were the communications of " Schura" estimated at their true value. The
notes which Mrs. von Wiesler had made were read again and again by the
families both of " Schura" and of Nikolaus. "Schura's " identity in all those
manifestations was recognised as incontestably demonstrated, in the first place,
by the main fact in relation to Nikolaus, by other intimate particulars, and also
by the totality of the features which characterised her personality. This
mournful occurrence fell like a fresh thunderclap on Nikolaus's family, and
they had only to thank God that the errors of the young man were not
followed by more fatal results.

In order to estimate this incident aright, it is of great importance to establish
the relations which existed between the two young ladies. I have requested
Madame and Mdlle. von Wiesler to give me on this, as on the previous points,
a written memorandum in full detail ; and from that memorandum I extract
what follows [somewhat abridged here] :

In December 1880 Madame von Wiesler and her daughter paid a Christ-
mas visit to " Schura's " grandfather, Senator N., where Sophie saw " Schura "
for the first time. Sophie was then about thirteen years old, and " Schura " even
younger. Sophie was astonished to see " Schura's " writing-table covered with
books [and had a talk with her about favourite authors]. The two girls often
saw each other at a distance in the recreation-room of their school during the
winter, but " Schura " was soon transferred to another school. [They met once


at a country-house without exchanging a word, and saw each other once across
a theatre. Sophie, in fact, had had one childish talk with " Schura " ; Madame
von Wiesler had never had any real talk with her.] Hence it is clear that the
relations of these ladies with " Schura " were of the most distant kind, and that
they could not know anything of her political secrets.

876. I now give a case which in one respect stands alone. It
narrates the success of a direct experiment, a test-message planned before
death, and communicated after death, by a man who held that the hope
of an assurance of continued presence was worth at least a resolute effort,
whatever its result might be. His tests, indeed, were two, and both were
successful. One was the revealing of the place where, before death, he
hid a piece of brick marked and broken for special recognition, and the
other was the communication of the contents of a short letter which he
wrote and sealed before death. We may say that the information was
certainly not possessed supraliminally by any living person. I give two
other cases in 876 A and B where information given through automatists
may hypothetically be explicable by telepathy from the living, although,
indeed, in my own view it probably emanated from the deceased as
alleged. In one of these cases the place where a missing will had been
hidden was revealed to the automatist, but it is not clear whether the will
was actually discovered or not before the automatic writing was obtained
(although the automatist was unaware of its discovery), and in any case,
apparently, its whereabouts was known to some living person who had
hidden it, and may not have been known to the deceased before death.

In the other case the whereabouts of a missing note of hand was
revealed to the automatists, and even if this could be regarded as
absolutely unknown supraliminally to any living person, it is not by any
means certain that the fact was known before death to the deceased
person from whom the message purported to come.

These cases, therefore, are not such strong evidence for personal
identity as the one to which I have referred above, and which I now give,
as recording what purports to be the successful accomplishment of an
experiment which every one may make ; which every one ought to make ;
for, small as may be the chances of success, a few score of distinct
successes would establish a presumption of man's survival which the
common sense of mankind would refuse to explain away. If accepted,
the incident shows a continued perception on the part of the deceased of
the efforts made by friends to communicate with him.

(From Proceedings S.P.R., vol. viii. pp. 248-51.) l

1 An account of this case appeared in an article by Herman Snow in the Rcligio-
Philosophical Journal for January 3 ist, 1891, and Mr. Snow also sent us an earlier
article on the subject which he had written in 1881, and of which his second account
was a mere repetition. The facts were related to him by the Unitarian minister of the
place where Mrs. Finney lived ; and this third-hand account recorded by Mr. Snow
fifteen years after the event closely coincides with Mrs. Finney's first-hand one,
recorded twenty-five years after the event.


The following letters were received from the principal witness, Mrs.
Finney :

ROCKLAND, MASs.,^/>r<7 \yth, 1891.

MR. HODGSON, DEAR SIR, Some weeks ago I received from you a few
lines asking me to give you an account of the communication received from
Cousin Benja in spirit-life, some twenty-five years ago.

For weeks and months before my brother left the form we conversed freely
on the subject of spirit communion and such matters, and one morning he
requested me to bring him a small piece of brick, also pen and ink ; he then
made two marks on one side, and one on the other with the ink, then breaking
the brick in two, gave me one piece, telling me at the time to take care of it,
and some day he would hide the other piece away where no one but himself
would know, and after leaving the form, if possible, would return in some way
and tell me where it was. I could then compare them together, and it would
be a test that he could return and communicate, and my mind could not have
any influence over it, as I did not know where he put it.

After he left the form our anxiety was very great to hear and learn all we
could of communicating with spirits, and for months we got nothing satis-

We then commenced sitting at the table at home (mother and myself),
which we did for some little time ; at last it commenced tipping, and by calling
the alphabet spelled out where we could find the piece of brick that he put
away, that was the way we got the test. To us that was truth that spirits can
and do communicate with us, and nothing but the influence and power of Benja
could tell us that test. Truly yours, MRS. WM. A. FINNEY.

ROCKLAND, May yd, 1891.

MR. R. HODGSON, DEAR SIR, Yours of April 2ist received, and I will
add a few more lines as to statement of brother Benja's communication.

By calling the alphabet we spelled out :

" You will find that piece of brick in the cabinet under the tomahawk.

I went to that room and took the key, unlocked the cabinet, which had not
been touched by any one after he locked it and put away the key. There I
found that piece of brick just as it had spelled out, and it corresponded with the
piece I had retained, fitting on exactly where he broke it off the piece I had.
It was wrapped in a bit of paper and tucked into a shell, and placed in the
bottom of the cabinet exactly under the tomahawk, as was spelled out by the

This is truth, and no power but Benja's could tell that.

Mother is not living; I am the only one of the family that is living.
Yours respectfully, MRS. WM. A. FINNEY.

ROCKLAND, May nth, 1891.

MR. R. HODGSON, DEAR SIR, Yours of 6th received. I will continue
to say, in answer to your questions, that the piece of brick was entirely con-
cealed in the shell, so that it could not be seen from outside of cabinet. It
was wrapped in a piece of paper stuck together with mucilage and tucked into
the end of the shell, then a piece of paper gummed over that, so that nothing
was visible from the shell. The shell was on the lower shelf of the cabinet, and
only the top of the shell was visible outside the cabinet


One more little incident I will mention, for to me it is as valuable as the
other. He wrote me a letter (about the time he gave me the piece of brick)
and sealed it, saying at the time it was not to be answered, but the contents of
the letter to be told. I got that in the same way I did the other, by calling the
alphabet and the table tipping. It was these words :

"Julia ! do right and be happy. BENJA."

That was correct. Just the contents of my letter. I have no particular
objection as to giving my name, for I have stated nothing but the truth.

At my home in Kingston I have that little shell with the piece of brick, and
if you would like them I will send them to you. Will place the brick into the
shell as it was when I found it. Of course, the paper that was around it then is
worn out years ago. The cabinet is disposed of. JULIA A. FINNEY.

Mrs. Finney further writes :

ROCKLAND, June 26th, 1891.

I send you by express a box containing the letter and shell with the piece
of brick. I have placed one piece in the shell just as it was when I found it,
so you can see how nicely it was concealed in the shell. The papers that were
around it then are worn out. You can retain them if you like, as I do not care
for them now.

To me it is a positive truth that he did communicate to us, and our minds
could have nothing to do with it. J. A. FINNEY.

ROCKLAND, July igtA, 1891.

. . . The shell was placed on the same shelf with the tomahawk, and
no other shells on that shelf. It was placed with the open side down, and the
tomahawk stood directly over it. I cannot say why he did not tell us to look
inside of the shell. We started to look as soon as he told us. It was in the
cabinet under the tomahawk. We did not wait for any more to be said.

I am not intimately acquainted with many public people. As to my
integrity, will refer you to Rev. C. Y. de Normandie, of Kingston.


Dr. Hodgson writes :

The shell is a large Triton, about ten inches long. The piece of brick was
wrapped in folds of soft paper and tucked deeply into the recess. Another
piece of paper was then gummed around the sides of the shell in the interior,
so as absolutely to prevent the piece of brick from falling out. When I
received the shell from Mrs. Finney and looked into the interior and shook the
shell violently, there was nothing to indicate that the shell contained anything
but the piece of gummed paper.

The piece of brick in the shell weighs one and a half ounces, and the piece
of brick retained by Mrs. Finney weighs about two and a quarter ounces. The
shell with the piece of brick and paper wrapping weighs about eleven and a
half ounces.

Mrs. Finney also forwarded me the letter written by her brother. The
shell and the pieces of brick and the letter are now all in my possession.


We have a letter (in original) from the Rev. C. Y. de Normandie, of
Kingston, Canada, to Mrs. Finney. " I expressed then," he says, speaking of
a former note to Dr. Hodgson, which accidentally went astray, " that to the best


knowledge I had of you and to my firm belief your word could be implicitly
relied on. I felt confident that you would state a matter as you understood it,
as you regarded it, without reference to the consequences ; and that you would
not be any more likely to be misled and deceived about a matter of that kind
than others similarly situated."

877. The experiment which was in this case successful is one (I
repeat) which might be tried by everybody (see 877 A). And I may add
the remark that it is to experiment with automatic writing, crystal-vision,
&c., rather than to spontaneous apparitions, that we must look for any
real information as to the degree in which departed spirits retain their
knowledge of the things of earth.

Once more I must express my astonishment and regret that amongst
some tens perhaps hundreds of thousands of persons, scattered over
many countries, who already believe that the road of communication
between the two worlds is open, there should be so very few who can or
will make" any serious effort to obtain fresh evidence of so important a
fact. But, quite apart from the Spiritist camp, there are now many
inquirers who know that automatic writing is a real fact in nature, and
who are willing to discuss with an open mind the origin of any message
which may thus be given. Let these set themselves to the task, and the
result of organised and intelligent effort will soon, as I believe, be made

For aught that we can tell, there may be I believe that there are
collaborators elsewhere who only await our appeal. Why should not
every death-bed be made the starting-point of a long experiment? And
why should not every friend who sails forth KIOVWV virep 'HpoxAeos into
the unknown sea endeavour to send us news from that bourne from
which few travellers, perhaps, have as yet made any adequate or systematic
preparation to return?

878. Here, then, let us pause and consider to what point the
evidence contained in this chapter has gradually led us. We shall per-
ceive that the motor phenomena have confirmed, and have also greatly
extended, the results to which the cognate sensory phenomena had
already pointed. We have already noted, in each of the two states of
sleep and of waking, the variously expanding capacities of the subliminal
self. We have watched a hyperaesthetic intensification of ordinary faculty,
leading up to telaesthesia, and to telepathy from the living and from the
departed. Along with these powers, which, on the hypothesis of the
soul's independent existence, are at least within our range of analogical
conception, we have noted also a precognitive capacity of a type which no
fact as yet known to science will help us to explain.

Proceeding to the study of motor automatisms, we have found a third
group of cases which independently confirm in each of these lines in turn
the results of our analysis of sensory automatisms both in sleep and
in waking. Evidence thus convergent will already need no ordinary


boldness of negative assumption if it is to be set aside. But motor auto-
matisms have taught us much more than this. At once more energetic and
more persistent than the sensory, they oblige us to face certain problems
which the lightness and fugitiveness of sensory impressions allowed us in
some measure to evade. Thus when we discussed the mechanism (so to
call it) of visual and auditory phantasms, two competing conceptions
presented themselves for our choice, the conception of telepathic impact,
and the conception of psychical invasion. Either (we said) there was an
influence exerted by the agent on the percipient's mind, which so stimu-
lated the sensory tracts of his brain that he externalised that impression
as a quasi-percept, or else the agent in some way modified an actual
portion of space where (say) an apparition was discerned, perhaps by
several percipients at once.

Phrased in this manner, the telepathic impact seemed the less startling,
the less extreme hypothesis of the two, mainly, perhaps, because the
picture which it called up was left so vague and obscure. But now
instead of a fleeting hallucination we have to deal with a strong and
lasting impulse such, for instance, as the girl's impulse to write, in
Dr. Liebeault's case (866) : an impulse which seems to come from
the depths of the being, and which (like a post-hypnotic suggestion) may
over-ride even strong disinclination, and keep the automatist uncomfort-
able until it has worked itself out. We may still call this a telepathic
impact, if we will, but we shall find it hard to distinguish that term from a
psychical invasion. This strong, yet apparently alien, motor innervation
corresponds in fact as closely as possible to our idea of an invasion an
invasion no longer of the room only in which the percipient is sitting,
but of his own body and his own powers. It is an invasion which, if
sufficiently prolonged, would become a possession ; and it both unites and
intensifies those two earlier conjectures ; of telepathic impact on the per-
cipient's mind, and of " phantasmogenetic presence " in the percipient's
surroundings. What seemed at first a mere impact is tending to become
a persistent control ; what seemed an incursion merely into the percipient's
environment has become an incursion into his organism itself.

879. As has been usual in this inquiry, this slight forward step
from vagueness to comparative clearness of conception introduces us at
once to a whole series of novel problems. Yet, as we have also learnt to
expect, some of our earlier phenomena may have to be called in with
advantage to illustrate phenomena more advanced.

In cases of split personality, to begin with, we have seen just the same
phenomena occurring where certainly no personality was concerned save *
the percipient's own. We have seen a section of the subliminal self
partially or temporarily dominating the organism ; perhaps (as in Anna
Winsor's case, 237 A) controlling permanently one arm alone ; or perhaps
controlling intermittently the whole nervous system; and all this with
varying degrees of displacement of the primary personality.


Similarly with post-hypnotic suggestion. We have seen the subliminal
self ordered to write (say) " It has left off raining " and thereupon writing
the words without the conscious will of the automatist and again with
varying degrees of displacement of the waking self. The step hence to
such a case as Mrs. Newnham's (849 A) is thus not a very long one.
Mrs. Newnham's subliminal self, exercising supernormal faculty, and by

Online LibraryFrederic William Henry MyersHuman personality : and its survival of bodily death (Volume 2) → online text (page 26 of 89)