Frederic William Henry Myers.

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forced divorcement of sacred and secular, of flesh and spirit. Rather I
define holiness as the joy too high as yet for our enjoyment ; the wisdom
just beyond our learning; the rapture of love which we still strive to
attain. Inevitably, as our link with other spirits strengthens, as the life
of the organism pours more fully through the individual cell, we shall feel
love more ardent, wider wisdom, higher joy ; perceiving that this organic
unity of Soul, which forms the inward aspect of the telepathic law, is in
itself the Order of the Cosmos, the Summation of Things. And such
devotion may find its flower in no vain self-martyrdom, no cloistered
resignation, but rather in such pervading ecstasy as already the elect have
known ; the Vision which dissolves for a moment the corporeal prison-
house ; " the flight of the One to the One."

" So let the soul that is not unworthy of that Vision contemplate the
Great Soul ; freed from deceit and every witchery, and collected into
calm. Calmed be the body for her in that hour, and the tumult of the
flesh ; ay, all that is about her, calm ; calm be the earth, the sea, the air,
and let Heaven itself be still. Then let her feel how into that silent
heaven the Great Soul floweth in. . . And so may man's soul be sure of
Vision, when suddenly she is filled with light ; for this light is from Him
and is He ; and then surely shall one know His presence when, like a
god of old time, He entered into the house of one that calleth Him, and
maketh it full of light." "And how," concludes Plotinus, "may this
thing be for us? Let all else go." *

1015. These heights, I confess, are above the stature of my spirit.
Yet for each of us is a fit ingress into the Unseen ; and for some lesser
man the memory of one vanished soul may be beatific as of old for
Plotinus the flooding immensity of Heaven. And albeit no historical
religion can persist as a logical halting-place upon the endless mounting
way that way which leads unbroken from the first germ of love in the
heart to an inconceivable union with the Divine yet many a creed in
turn may well be close inwrought and inwoven with our eternal hope.
What wonder, if in the soul's long battle, some Captain of our Salvation
shall sometimes seem to tower unrivalled and alone? oTos yap cpvcro

1 Enn. v. 2-3. The World-Soul is supra grammaticam ; and Plotinus sometimes
uses a personal, sometimes an impersonal, locution to express what is infinitely beyond
the conception of personality, as it is infinitely beyond any human conception what-

292 CHAPTER X [App. A

"lAiov *EKTO>P. And yet in no single act or passion can that salvation
stand; far hence, beyond Orion and Andromeda, the cosmic process
works and shall work for ever through unbegotten souls. And even as it
was not in truth the great ghost of Hector only, but the whole nascent
race of Rome, which bore from the Trojan altar the hallowing fire, so is it
not one Saviour only, but the whole nascent race of man nay, all the
immeasurable progeny and population of the heavens which issues
continually from behind the veil of Being, and forth from the Sanctuary
of the Universe carries the ever-burning flame : Aeternumque adytis
effert penetralibus ignem.


[The following formed originally a Presidential Address to the Society for
Psychical Research, delivered in May, 1900. Hence the allusion to the per-
sonal position occupied by the author in that Society during that year.

When I heard, in absence from England, that the Council of this
Society had done me the honour of electing me as its President for
the current year, I felt that a certain definite stage in the Society's
evolution had been reached at an earlier date than I should originally
have expected.

My predecessors in this Chair, I need not say, have, without excep-
tion, been men of the highest distinction. The list has included men
whose leadership would confer honour on any body of men whatever ;
on such bodies, for instance, as the British Association or the House of
Commons. We have been grateful to these eminent persons for lending
the sanction of their names to our early beginnings. And we have other
names in reserve of similar distinction ; destined, I hope, some day to
adorn our list of Presidents. Yet for the current year the Council
have preferred to choose a man who has little claim to such a dis-
tinction, beyond the fact that he has worked for the objects which
our Society seeks, from days even before the Society's formation ;
and that he is determined to go on thus working so long as his
faculties may allow. So have our friends chosen; and if a man may
speak thus of his own election, I think that the choice is appropriate
enough. For the time has come when we may fairly indicate to the
world that we believe our Society can stand on its own bottom ; that
it carries on a branch of scientific work which, although novel and
tentative, is legitimate and honourable ; and therefore that we do
not need to put forward in its prominent positions only those names
which have been made independently illustrious by good work of other

App. A] APPENDIX A 293

kinds performed elsewhere. As representing the principle that the
plain, unadorned Psychical Researcher is just as respectable in his own
way as anybody else, I am proud indeed to see my humbler name
inscribed after the names of Henry Sidgwick, Balfour Stewart, Arthur
Balfour, William James, and William Crookes.

But here one thought must rise must rise for all who knew the
early days of this research, but most of all for me Would that
Edmund Gurney were standing where I stand now ! For us who knew
him best the years since he left us have but served to illustrate his
uniqueness and to deepen his memory ; have made us feel how much
of the humorous adventure, the sympathetic fellowship, the deep delight
of this research of ours has with him passed irrevocably away. On
the lighter side of things, we can never renew the intellectual enjoy-
ment of those years of our small beginnings spent at his side ; watch-
ing how his flashing irony, his fearless dialectic, dealt with the attacks
which then poured in from every quarter ; with the floundering plati-
tudes of obscurantist orthodoxy, or with the smug sneers of popular
science, belittling what it will not try to understand. On the graver
side, we shall hardly see another example of just that attitude of mind
with which Gurney entered on this research, and which made for us
so deep an element in his incomparable charm.

For in that many-chorded nature sympathy was the deepest strain ;
sympathy which flowed forth indeed to those he loved in such penetrat-
ing and intimate tenderness as few mortals have had the happiness to
know, but which expended itself more widely in a profound compas-
sion for the multiform sorrows of men. And thus, as needs must
happen in those responsive minds which hear, in the Apostle's words,
the whole creation groaning and travailing until now, there came to
him the conviction that the question of life after death was the only
test which we could really apply to the existence of a Providence;
nay, that it was no mere articulus stantis aut cadentis Ecclesite, but in
sombre earnest, for all humankind, the articulus stantis aut cadentis
Dei. Strangely enough, it was for others rather than for himself that
Gurney desired this great possibility ; his own mournful and stoic
temper dwelt little on any personal hope. But he felt that if the First
Cause has summoned into life on earth, though it were but one single
man alone, miserable amid all the happy ; one single soul foredoomed to
eternal protest and inescapable woe ; then that First Cause is not a God
to whom a good man can offer love, or a just man worship. Alas ! how
many theologies does this clear moral axiom shrivel as with burning fire !
how many philosophies does it scatter to the winds ! philosophies of
men walking delicately on wordy bridges across the grim abyss of things,
satisfied that the world is well enough, while round them wronged,
degraded lives by millions are perishing in agony and for ever. It was
in response to such easy optimism that Gurney's logic was the most

294 CHAPTER X [App. A

intolerably trenchant, his sombre silence the fullest of sad scorn ;
for in truth this contented blindness of sealed spirits is in itself the
vilest woe of man. He could not avert his eyes, and disport himself
in a fool's Paradise. He could not weave a web of words, and stifle
in a philosopher's dream. Suffer me to apply to my friend for a
moment even those lofty lines in which a great poet has invoked the
greatest :

" Thou that seest universal Nature moved by universal Mind ;
Thou, majestic in thy sadness at the doubtful doom of humankind."

It is well that this noble figure should stand at the entrance of our
research; should show how unselfish may be the impulse which has
prompted to eager labour, eager even beyond the limit which physical
powers allowed. But assuredly the mass of us Psychical Researchers
have no need whatever of heroic virtue. We have enough and to spare
of such motives as appeal to ordinary men. We have the stimulus of
intellectual curiosity, more richly satisfied, I think, in ours than in any
other quest ; and beyond this most of us, I think, have the healthful,
primary desire for the prolongation the endless prolongation of life and
happiness. I know, indeed, that for various reasons some men of strong
and high nature, as well as many men of feebler nature, do fail to feel
this desire ; but on the whole one must regard that form of Welt-Schmerz
as but a passing mood of our race's immaturity, as what physicians
call a neurosis of development ; one must admit that usually when a man
cares little for existence this is because existence cares little for him,
and that it has been doubt as to the value of life and love which has
made the decadence of almost all civilisations. Life is the final aim of
life ; the mission of the highest Teacher was that we might have it
the more abundantly ; and the universe strives best towards its ulti-
mate purpose through the normal, vigorous spirit to whom to live itself
is joy.

The danger, then, for our research will lie not in lack but in excess of
motive ; our minds may be biassed in their judgment of evidence by a
deep instinctive desire. For my own part, I certainly cannot claim such
impartiality as indifference might bring. From my earliest childhood
from my very first recollections the desire for eternal life has immeasur-
ably eclipsed for me every other wish or hope. Yet desire is not neces-
sarily bias ; and my personal history has convinced myself though I
cannot claim that it shall convince others also that my wishes do not
strongly warp my judgment, nay, that sometimes the very keenness of
personal anxiety may make one afraid to believe, as readily as other men,
that which one most longs for.

For when, after deriving much happiness from Christian faith, I felt
myself forced by growing knowledge to recognise that the evidence for
that culminant instance of spirit return was not adequate, as standing

App. A] A P P E N D I X A 295

alone, to justify conviction, I did honestly surrender that great joy ; although
its loss was more grievous to me than anything else which has happened
to me in life.

Then with little hope nay, almost with reluctant scorn but with the
feeling that no last and least chance of the great discovery should be
thrown aside, I turned to such poor efforts at psychical research as were
at that time possible ; and now it is only after thirty years of such study
as I have been able to give that I say to myself at last, Habes tota quod
mcnte petisti "Thou hast what thine whole heart desired;" that I re-
cognise that for me this fresh evidence, while raising that great historic
incident of the Resurrection into new credibility, has also filled me with
a sense of insight and of thankfulness such as even my first ardent
Christianity did not bestow.

Yet if I thus find the happiness which sprang from far-reaching
Tradition and Intuition surpassed by the happiness which springs from
a narrower, but a more stable range of demonstrated fact, I nevertheless
speak in no spirit of reaction or of ingratitude towards traditions and
intuitions which must yet, for many a century, be potent for the salvation
of men. I by no means take for granted that any scientific inquiry, any
induction from empirical facts, can afford to man his only or his deepest
insight into the meaning of the Universe. I have no controversy with
those who say that contemplation, revelation, ecstasy, may carry deep
into certain hearts an even profounder truth. I recognise also that our
Science is a conventional structure ; that it rests on assumptions which
we cannot fully prove ; or which even indicate, by their apparent incon-
sistency, that they can be at best but narrow aspects of some underlying
law imperfectly discerned. All this we may all admit ; just as we admit
the inadequacy, the conventionality, of human speech itself. Speech
cannot match the meaning which looks in an hour of emotion from the
eyes of a friend. But what we learn from that gaze is indefinable and in-
communicable. Our race needed the spoken and written word, with all its
baldness, if they were to understand each other and to grow to be men.
So with Science as opposed to Intuition. Science forms a language
common to all mankind ; she can explain herself when she is misunder-
stood and right herself when she goes wrong ; nor has humanity yet
found, at any rate, since that great wedding between Reason and Experi-
ence, which immortalises the name of Galileo, that the methods of
Science, intelligently and honestly followed, have led us in the end

It is only in the region of inquiry into a spiritual world I mean a
world of immaterial and yet individual realities that these truisms are
still in danger of being taken for paradoxes. At once the intimate
interest and the extreme obscurity of that investigation have long pre-
vented it from being kept fully and fairly in that scientific field where
man's attempts at all other knowledge are now collected and appraised.

296 CHAPTERX [App. A

In their rude beginnings, no doubt, Religion and Science were indistin-
guishable. The savage observed such scanty facts as he could get at,
and tried to shape both his practical and his spiritual life upon that obser-
vation. But his need of a theory of the unseen world (to put his vague
hopes and terrors into our own phraseology) went far beyond what his
scraps of experience could teach him. " What must I do to be saved ? "
was a question to which he could not find, yet would not wait for an
answer. He fell into grotesque fancies, which his experience did not
really support ; and the divorce of Religion from Science at once began.

The spiritual need which thus acted on the savage continues to act on
the civilised man. He too is impelled to build his faith on grounds out-
side his sphere of observation, to enlarge the safe, general, and permanent
formula for religion in various more or less unsafe, specialised, and tran-
sitory ways. For it is as already said a safe, general, and permanent
formula for religion if we regard it as man's normal subjective response to
the sum of known cosmic phenomena taken as an intelligible whole.
Under the title of Natural Religion this forms at least an element in all
the higher forms of faith. Nevertheless it is felt to be inadequate ; because
the observable phenomena of the Universe, so far at least as they have yet
been observed, have not been such as to evoke (save in some few minds)
the full hope, the full devotion which our developed nature yearns to feel.
To live by Natural Religion alone has been like living on turnips in the
field. Most men demand their spiritual nutriment in a more assimilable
form. The philosophical or the poetical contemplation of Nature has not
satisfied them in the past ; nor can they hope that the scientific contempla-
tion of Nature will satisfy them any better now. They turn aside from
the ambiguous pageant, the circumspect scrutiny ; they specialise the
name of Religion upon some clear, swift, extra-scientific knowledge as to
the dealings of unseen Powers with mankind.

On such knowledge, or supposed knowledge, the peoples of East and
West have stayed in many fashions their soul's desire ; but, nevertheless,
we all know too well that even yet there is no spiritual food attainable in
the precise condition in which it will meet all healthy needs. We are all
forced to feel that in the present divided and unstable condition of beliefs
there is plausibility in the Agnostic's appeal to us to halt and mark time ;
in his insistence that we have not really evidence, up to modern standards,
which can support any definite creed in matters remote from ordinary
methods of proof. Some men, indeed, have ventured explicitly to reply
that Christian Faith need not be founded on the same kind of demonstra-
tion as Science ; that Tradition and Intuition can well supply her outward
form and her inward glow. Urged among those who have much of con-
secrated tradition, of noble intuition in common, this high claim may seem
convincing as the gaze of a friend. But it has the inevitable weakness
already indicated. Introduce other persons of different race but equally
sincere, the Buddhist, the Parsee, the Jew nay, the saint of science, like

App. A] APPENDIX A 297

Darwin and you can meet these men no longer on the ground of
Christian Tradition or Intuition you can meet them on the ground of
Science alone. Thus even among spiritually-minded men we seem forced
back into the view that Science can be the only world-philosophy or
world-religion ; the only synthesis of the Universe which, however im-
perfect, is believed in semper, ubigue, et ab omnibus, by all who can under-
stand it.

This conclusion, however, as already implied, at present satisfies
nobody. The Christian says that it is mere mockery to pretend that
Science can be the base of Religion ; for it tells us nothing of the spiritual
world. " Naturally," replies the Agnostic, hardening into Materialism ;
" since there is no spiritual world of which to tell." " The Universe,"
cried Clifford triumphantly, " is made of ether and atoms, and there is
no room for ghosts."

So soon, however, as the man of science takes this tone so soon as
he passes, so to say, from Huxley to Clifford he loses his strong position,
the Agnostic's raison d'etre. Clifford had not really turned over his atoms
thoroughly enough to make sure that no ghost was hidden among them.
As indisputably as any worshipper of Mumbo-Jumbo had that eager truth-
lover framed an emotional synthesis which outran his Science.

Is, then, the passivity of pure Agnosticism the attitude with which we
ought to be content? Ignoramus et ignorabimus should this be the
single clause of our creed ? Surely that were too tame a surrender to the
Sphinx and her riddle ; which, in the old story, turned out after all to be
rather easy to guess. Why should we not simply try to find out new facts
here, as we have found out new facts everywhere else where we have
looked for them ? Just here we have not looked for them yet, because
neither the priests of our religions nor their critics have till now been dis-
posed for the quest. The priests have thought it safest to defend their
own traditions, their own intuitions, without going afield in search of
independent evidence of a spiritual world. Their assailants have kept
their powder and shot for the orthodox ramparts, ignoring any isolated
strongholds which formed no part of the main line of defence.

This search for new facts is precisely what our Society undertakes.
Starting from various standpoints, we endeavour to carry the newer, the
intellectual virtues into regions where dispassionate tranquillity has
seldom yet been known. As compared with the claims of Theologians,
we set before ourselves a humbler, yet a difficult task. We do not seek to
shape the clauses of the great Act of Faith, but merely to prove its pre-
amble. To prove the preamble of all religions; to be able to say to
theologian or to philosopher : " Thus and thus we demonstrate that a
spiritual world exists a world of independent and abiding realities, not
a mere ' epiphenomenon ' or transitory effect of the material world a
world of things, concrete and living, not a mere system of abstract ideas ;
now, therefore, reason on that world or feel towards it as you will." This

298 CHAPTER X [App. A

would indeed, in my view, be the weightiest service which any research
could render to the deep disquiet of our time ; nay, to the desiderium
orbis catholici, the world-old and world-wide desire.

First, then, we adopt the ancient belief implied in all monotheistic
religion, and conspicuously confirmed by the progress of modern science
that the world as a whole, spiritual and material together, has in some
way a systematic unity; and on ,this we base the novel presumption
that there should be a unity of method in the investigation of all fact.
We hold therefore that the attitude, the habits of mind, the methods, by
aid of which physical science has grown deep and wide, should be applied
also to the spiritual world. We endeavour to approach the problems of
that world by careful collection, scrutiny, testing, of particular facts ; and
we account no unexplained fact too trivial for our attention. Seeking
knowledge before edification, we aim not at what we should most like to
learn, but at what we have the best chance of learning ; we dabble among
beggarly elements ; we begin at the beginning.

Into this frame of mind the long habit of our race in matters religious
has made it difficult fully to enter. I have found it helpful to imagine
what would be the procedure of some extraneous inquirer into the nature
and fate of men some inquirer exempt from their hopes, their fears, their

Let us suppose, then, that " a spectator of all time and all existence,"
a kind of minor Cosmotheorus, as Plato might call him, were speculating
from the standpoint of this planet, as to what was likely to be the true
position of the human race in the scheme of the Universe. Such an
observer would be compelled to start from the facts before him. He
would begin his investigation, therefore, not with God but with man. He
would analyse the faculties of which he found man possessed, and would
infer in what environment they were designed to operate ; of what system,
that is to say, of cosmic laws, expressing a special modification of the
ultimate energy, the energy contained in the human race formed an
integral element. His first discovery would be that the obvious material
environment, which is all that most men know, does not exhaust the
faculties nor cover the phenomena of human life. Most of man's senses,
indeed, he could explain as concerned solely with matter. Sight he could
not thus explain ; and the study of light would lead him to discover the
etherial environment, a system of laws, that is to say, which, while
fundamentally continuous with the laws of matter, (Iocs yet supply a new
conception of the Cosmos, at once more generalised and more profound.
But still the central problem of man's being would remain unsolved. Life
and thought could not be referred to the working either of aggregated
molecules or of etherial undulations. To explain Life by these two
environments would be as impossible as it had been to explain Light by
the material environment alone. Might there not be yet another environ-
ment, metetherial, spiritual, what you will? Was there any way of

App. A] APPENDIX A 299

reducing this vast and vague problem of Life to manageable definiteness ?
Were there measurable traces of human faculty working in apparent inde-
pendence of material or etherial law? Such traces, if he sought long
enough, I maintain that he would assuredly find. He would find (as we
have found) instances of telaesthesia, or perception beyond the sensory
range ; instances of telepathy, or direct communication from mind to
mind; nay, telepathic messages from the so-called dead; signs and
apparitions by which minds discarnate impressed themselves upon minds
still robed in flesh. How far the ether, in some of its unknown properties,
may be concerned in these operations, our Cosmotheorus might be better
able to guess than we. To him, perhaps, no environment would seem
discontinuous with any other environment. But, at any rate, here would

Online LibraryFrederic William Henry MyersHuman personality : and its survival of bodily death (Volume 2) → online text (page 40 of 89)