Frederic William Henry Myers.

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that it is to be supposed that he is more infallible than another. I have one
definite case of distinct error in a diagnosis (Report, p. 547).

Proceeding now on the assumption that I may speak henceforth of Dr.
Phinuit as of a genuine individual intelligence, whether it be a usually latent
portion of Mrs. Piper's intelligence, or whether it be something distinct from
her mind and the education to which it has been subjected, I go on to consider
the hypotheses which still remain unexamined.

And first we have the hypothesis of fishery on the part of Dr. Phinuit, as
distinguished from trickery on the part of Mrs. Piper. I mean a system of
ingenious fishing : the utilisation of trivial indications, of every intimation,
audible, tactile, muscular, and of little shades of manner too indefinable to
name ; all these excited in the sitter by skilful guesses and well-directed shots,
and their nutriment extracted with superhuman cunning.

Now this hypothesis is not one to be lightly regarded, or ever wholly set
aside. I regard it as, to a certain extent, a vera causa. At times Dr. Phinuit
does fish. Occasionally he guesses ; and sometimes he ekes out the scantiness
of his information from the resources of a lively imagination.

Whenever his supply of information is abundant there is no sign of the fish-
ing process.

At other times it is as if he were in a difficult position only able to gain
information from very indistinct or inaudible sources, and yet wishful to convey
as much information as possible. The attitude is then as of one straining after
every clue, and making use of the slightest indication, whether received in
normal or abnormal ways : not indeed obviously distinguishing between in-
formation received from the sitter and information received from other

The fishing process is most marked when Mrs. Piper herself either is not
feeling well or is tired. Dr. Phinuit seems to experience more difficulty then
in obtaining information ; and when he does not fish he simply draws upon his
memory and retails old facts which he has told before, occasionally with addi-
tions of his own which do not improve them. His memory seems to be one of
extraordinary tenacity and exactness, but not of infallibility; and its lapses do
introduce error, both of defect and excess.

He seems to be under some compulsion not to be silent. Possibly the
trance would cease if he did not exert himself. At any rate he chatters on,
and one has to discount a good deal of conversation which is obviously, and
sometimes confessedly, introduced as a stop-gap.

He is rather proud of his skill, and does not like to be told he is wrong;
but when he waxes confidential he admits that he is not infallible : " he does
the best he can," he says, but sometimes "everything seems dark to him," and
then he flounders and gropes, and makes mistakes.

It is not to be supposed that this floundering is always most conspicuous in
presence of a stranger. On the contrary, if he is in good form he will rattle off
a stranger's connections pretty glibly, being indeed sometimes oppressed with
the rush and volume of the information available; while, if he is in bad trim,
he will fish and retail stale news (especially the latter) to quite an old hand,
and one who does not scruple to accuse him of his delinquencies when they
become conspicuous.

This fallibility is unfortunate, but I don't know that we should expect any-
thing else ; anyhow it is not a question of what we expect, but of what we get.



If it were a question of what I for one had expected, the statement of it would
not be worth the writing.

Personally I feel sure that Phinuit can hardly help this fishing process at
times. He does the best he can, but it would be a great improvement if, when
he realises that conditions are unfavourable, he would say so and hold his
peace. I have tried to impress this upon him, with the effect that he is some-
times confidential, and says that he is having a bad time ; but after all he
probably knows his own business best, because it has several times happened
that after half-an-hour of more or less worthless padding, a few minutes of
valuable lucidity have been attained.

1 have laid much stress upon this fishery hypothesis because it is a fact to
be taken into consideration, because it is occasionally an unfortunately con-
spicuous fact, and because of its deterrent effect on a novice to whom that
aspect is first exposed.

But in thus laying stress I feel that I am producing an erroneous and mis-
leading impression of proportion. I have spoken of a few minutes' lucidity to
an intolerable deal of padding as an occasional experience, but in the majority
of the sittings held in my presence the converse proportion better represents
the facts.

I am familiar with muscle-reading and other simulated "thought-trans-
ference " methods, and prefer to avoid contact whenever it is possible to get
rid of it without too much fuss. Although Mrs. Piper always held somebody's
hand while preparing to go into the trance, she did not always continue to hold
it when speaking as Phinuit. She did usually hold the hand of the person she
was speaking to, but was often satisfied for a time with some other person's,
sometimes talking right across a room to and about a stranger, but preferring
them to come near. On several occasions she let go of everybody, for half-
hours together, especially when fluent and kept well supplied with "relics."

I have now to assert with entire confidence that, pressing the ingenious-
guessing and unconscious-indication hypothesis to its utmost limit, it can only
be held to account for a very few of Dr. Phinuit's statements.

It cannot in all cases be held to account for medical diagnoses, afterwards
confirmed by the regular practitioner.

It cannot account for minute and full details of names, circumstances, and
events, given to a cautious and almost silent sitter, sometimes without contact.
And, to take the strongest case at once, it cannot account for the narration of
facts outside the conscious knowledge of the sitter or of any person present.

Rejecting the fishery hypothesis, then, as insufficient to account for many
of the facts, we are driven to the only remaining known cause in order to
account for them: viz., thought-transference, or the action of mind on mind
independently of the ordinary channels of communication. Whether " thought-
transference " be a correct term to apply to the process I do not pretend to
decide. That is a question for psychologists.

It may be within the reader's knowledge that I regard the fact of genuine
" thought-transference " between persons in immediate proximity (not neces-
sarily in contact) as having been established by direct and simple experiment;
and, except by reason of paucity of instance, I consider it as firmly grounded
as any of the less familiar facts of nature such as one deals with in a laboratory.
(Proceedings S.P.R., vol. ii. p. 189.)

I speak of it therefore as a known cause, i.e., one to which there need be

957 A] TO CHAPTER IX 607

no hesitation in appealing in order to explain facts which without it would be

The Phinuit facts are most of them of this nature, and I do not hesitate to
assert confidently that thought-transference is the most commonplace explana-
tion to which it is possible to appeal.

1 regard it as having been rigorously proved before, and as therefore re-
quiring no fresh bolstering up ; but to the many who have not made experi-
ments on the subject, and are therefore naturally sceptical concerning even
thought-transference, the record of the Phinuit sittings will afford, I think, a
secure basis for faith in this immaterial mode of communication, this appa-
rently direct action of mind on mind.

But, whereas the kind of thought-transference which had been to my own
knowledge experimentally proved was a hazy and difficult recognition by one
person of objects kept as vividly as possible in the consciousness of another
person, the kind of thought-transference necessary to explain these sittings
is of an altogether freer and higher order, a kind which has not yet been
experimentally proved at all. Facts are related which are not in the least
present to the consciousness of the sitter, and they are often detailed glibly
and vividly without delay ; in very different style from the tedious and
hesitating dimness of the percipients in the old thought-transference ex-

But that is natural enough, when we consider that the percipient in those
experiments had to preserve a mind as vacant as possible. For no process of
inducing mental vacancy can be so perfect as that of going into a trance,
whether hypnotic or other.

Moreover, although it was considered desirable to maintain the object
contemptated in the consciousness of the agent, a shrewd suspicion was even
then entertained that the unconscious part of the agent's brain might be
perhaps equally effective.

Hence one is at liberty to apply to these Phinuit records the hypothesis of
thought-transference in its most developed state : absolute vacuity on the part
of the percipient, acted on by an entirely sub-conscious or unconscious portion
of the sitter's brain.

In this form one feels that much can be explained. If Dr. Phinuit tells
one how many children, or brothers, or sisters one has, and their names; the
names of father and mother and grandmother, of cousins and of aunts ; if
he brings appropriate and characteristic messages from well-known relatives
deceased ; all this is explicable on the hypothesis of free and easy thought-
transference from the sub-consciousness of the sitter to the sensitive medium
of the trance personality. 1

So strongly was I impressed with this view, that after some half-dozen
sittings I ceased to feel much interest in being told things, however minute,
obscure, and inaccessible they might be, so long as they were, or had been,
within the knowledge either of myself or of the sitter for the time being.

1 For instance, in the course of my interviews, all my six brothers (adult and scat-
tered) and one sister living were correctly named (two with some help), and the existence
of the one deceased was mentioned. My father and his father were likewise named,
with several uncles and aunts. My wife's father and stepfather were named in full, both
Christian and surname, with full identifying detail. I only quote these as examples ; U
is quite unnecessary as well as unwise to attach any evidential weight to statements of
this sort made during a sojourn in one's house.


At the same time it ought to be constantly borne in mind that this kind of
thought-transference without consciously active agency has never been experi-
mentally proved. Certain facts not otherwise apparently explicable, such as
those chronicled in Phantasms of the Living, have suggested it, but it is really
only a possible hypothesis to which appeal has been made whenever any other
explanation seems out of the question. But until it is actually established by
experiment in the same way that conscious mind action has been established,
it cannot be regarded as either safe or satisfactory ; and in pursuing it we may
be turning our backs on some truer but as yet perhaps unsuggested clue. I
feel as if this caution were necessary for myself as well as for other members
of the Society.

On reading the record it will be apparent that while " Phinuit " frequently
speaks in his own person, relating things which he himself discovers by what I
suppose we must call ostensible clairvoyance, sometimes he represents himself
as in communication not always quite easy and distinct communication,
especially at first, but in communication with one's relatives and friends who
have departed this life.

The messages and communications from these persons are usually given
through Phinuit as a reporter. And he reports sometimes in the third person,
sometimes in the first. Occasionally, but very seldom, Phinuit seems to give
up his place altogether to the other personality, friend or relative, who then
communicates with something of his old manner and individuality ; becoming
often impressive and realistic.

This last, I say, is rare, but with one or two personages it occurs, subject to
reservations to be mentioned directly; and when it does, Phinuit does not
appear to know what has been said. It is quite as if he in his turn eva-
cuated the body, just as Mrs. Piper had done, while a third personality
utilises it for a time. The voice and mode of address are once more changed,
and more or less recall the voice and manner of the person represented as

The communications thus obtained, though they show traces of the indi-
viduality of the person represented as speaking, are frequently vulgarised ; and
the speeches are more commonplace, and so to say cheaper, than what one
would suppose likely from the person himself. It can, of course, be suggested
that the necessity of working through the brain of a person not highly educated
may easily be supposed capable of dulling the edge of refinement, and of
rendering messages on abstruse subjects impossible.

See also the report by Dr. Walter Leaf in Proceedings S.P.R., vol. vi.
PP- 559-^8 ; and the report by Dr. Hodgson in Proceedings S.P.R., vol. viii.
pp. 46-58.

959 A. [The following account is quoted from the beginning of the
" History of the G. P. Communications," given by Dr. Hodgson in
Proceedings S.P.R., -vol. xiii. pp. 295-335.]

G. P. met his death accidentally, and probably instantaneously, by a fall
in New York in February 1892, at the age of thirty-two years. He was
a lawyer by training, but had devoted himself chiefly to literature and
philosophy, and had published two books which received the highest
praise from competent authorities. He had resided for many years in



Boston or its vicinity, but for three years preceding his death had been
living in New York in bachelor apartments. He was an Associate of
our Society, his interest in which was explicable rather by an intellectual
openness and fearlessness characteristic of him than by any tendency
to believe in supernormal phenomena. He was in a sense well known
to me personally, but chiefly on this intellectual side ; the bond between
us was not that of an old, intimate, and if I may so speak, emotional
friendship. We had several long talks together on philosophic subjects,
and one very long discussion, probably at least two years before his
death, on the possibility of a " future life." In this he maintained that
in accordance with a fundamental philosophic theory which we both
accepted, a " future life " was not only incredible, but inconceivable ; and
I maintained that it was at least conceivable. At the conclusion of the
discussion he admitted that a future life was conceivable, but he did not
accept its credibility, and vowed that if he should die before I did, and
found himself " still existing," he would " make things lively " in the
effort to reveal the fact of his continued existence.

On March yth, 1888, he had a sitting with Mrs. Piper, one of a series
arranged by the Committee on Mediumistic Phenomena connected with
the American S.P.R. (See Proceedings S.P.R., vol. viii. p. 2.) The names
of the sitters in this series were very carefully guarded by the Committee,
and I may add my own opinion that Mrs. Piper never knew until re-
cently that she had ever seen G. P. At the sitting which G. P. attended,
the Rev. Minot J. Savage acted as the supervising member of the Com-
mittee, and G. P. was a stranger to him. (See vol. xiii. p. 326.)

G. P.'s conclusion was, briefly, that the results of this sitting did not
establish any more than hyperaesthesia on the part of the medium.

I knew of G. P.'s death within a day or two of its occurrence, and was
present at several sittings with Mrs. Piper in the course of the following
few weeks, but no allusion was made to G. P. On March 22nd, 1892,
between four and five weeks after G. P.'s death, I accompanied Mr. John
Hart [not the real name], who had been an old intimate friend of his, to
a sitting. 1 I understood from Mr. Hart that he had some articles with
him to be used as tests, but he gave me no further information than this,
though I surmised that the articles might have belonged to G. P. The

1 I must mention here that towards the end of 1887, at a time when Mrs. Piper's
sittings were given in a very much more haphazard way than at present, I had taken
Mr. Hart to Mrs. Piper on the chance of getting a sitting. Mrs. Piper was just about
to give a sitting to a lady, so that our visit was futile. In my own opinion this circum-
stance is irrelevant, but as Mrs. Piper saw Mr. Hart at that time for a few minutes,
although his name was not mentioned, it might be regarded by some persons as im-
portant. Further, Mrs. Piper was staying in New York with one of our members, Dr.
Anna Lukens (who knew nothing of G. P.), at the time when G P. met his death. She
went to New York February 8th, 1892, and returned to Boston February zoth, 1892, as
I learned from Dr. Lukens, staying with Dr. Lukens all the time, and giving a series of
sittings. Mrs. Piper independently gave me a concordant account.

VOL. II. 3 Q


appointment for the sitting was made by myself, and of course Mr. Hart's
real name was not mentioned to Mrs. Piper. I abridge from the notes
of the sitting made by myself at the time, and substitute, in part, other
names for those actually used. 1

The sitting began by some remarks of Phinuit concerning the sitter,
followed by an incorrect statement about a cousin said to have died
some years before with some heart trouble. Mr. Hart presented a pencil?

Phinuit : Cousin. Heart, through here [clutches throat and about breast
and lower] something like pneumonia. Do you know that's a brother ?
(Sometimes he used to call me brother.) He's very close to you. (He isn't
my brother, though we used to say it of each other.) [The pencil had been
worn by an uncle of mine who died of inflammation of the bladder. J. H.]
[Phinuit here calls out a name that suggests an attempt at Howards. See
later. R. H.] (I don't know any one of that name.)

[Sitter gives locket, saying, " He also wore this."]

Phinuit [fingering locket hard]: It has hair in it. It is the hair of his
father . . . George . . . and of another, his mother, too. (Yes, that's right.)
The influences are confusing. (I have something else here) [giving watch].
Yes. George. Ha . . . Har . . . Hart. [All correct. The name of my
uncle George is in the back of the watch. When he died, my uncle Albert
wore it. I did not remember that the name was engraved on the inner case of
the watch. J. H.]

Lai ... lal ... Albert ... is that the way you pronounce it? He
is very fond of you. He says he is not ded ... dead. He will see you
again. He is glad to see you. He is very fond of you. [Lal was a pet name
my father sometimes called my uncle Albert. J. H.]

Who is James . . . Jim? (Yes, I know, but he is not dead.) There is

1 Owing to the personal character of many of the incidents referred to in the G. P.
communications, I have in nearly all cases substituted other names for the real ones.
It has been suggested that the important witnesses in connection with the G. P.
evidence may have been in collusion with Mrs. Piper. The absurdity of this suggestion
would be at once apparent if their real names were given, but since the only real full
names given of actual sitters with G. P. are those of Professors C. Eliot Norton and James
M. Peirce, of Harvard University, who are referred to chiefly as cases of being recog-
nised by the communicating G. P. as personally known to him, I state concerning the
others that I know personally all but two of the G. P. sitters, and most of them
intimately, that they belong to the most cultivated and responsible class in the United
States, and that it would be as absurd to suppose any collusion between them and Mrs.
Piper as to suppose that the members of the Council of the S.P.R. were in collusion
with her. Many of them are also known personally to Mr. Myers, who adds the
following statement. R. H.

1 am well acquainted with fourteen of the principal persons cited in the sittings
recorded in connection with " George Pelham." Several of these, indeed, are among
my most valued friends. Not only would the idea of their deliberate collusion with
Mrs. Piper be absurd, but I also regard them as very unlikely, from their previous
opinions and their character, to supply the unconscious collusion if I may so term it
of prepossessed credulity. FREDERIC W. H. MYERS.

2 In the accounts of sittings, the sitter's remarks are throughout given in round
brackets, and explanatory notes in square brackets.


another George who wants to speak to you. How many Georges are there
about you any way ?

The rest of the sitting, until almost the close, was occupied by state-
ments from G. P., Phinuit acting as intermediary. George Pelham's real
name was given in full, also the names, both Christian and surname, of
several of his most intimate friends, including the name of the sitter.

Moreover, incidents were referred to which were unknown to the sitter
or myself.

One of the pair of studs which J. H. was wearing was given to Phinuit
..." (Who gave them to me?) That's mine. I gave you that part of
it. I sent that to you. (When?) Before I came here. That's mine.
Mother gave you that. (No.) Well, father then, father and mother
together. You got those after I passed out. Mother took them. Gave
them to father, and father gave them to you. I want you to keep them.
I will them to you." Mr. Hart notes : " The studs were sent to me by
Mr. Pelham as a remembrance of his son. I knew at the time that they
had been taken from G.'s body, and afterwards ascertained that his step-
mother had taken them from the body and suggested that they would do
to send to me, I having previously written to ask that some little memento
be sent to me."

James and Mary [Mr. and Mrs.] Howard were mentioned with strongly
personal specific references, and in connection with Mrs. Howard came
the name Katharine. " Tell her, she'll know. I will solve the problems,
Katharine." Mr. Hart notes : " This had no special significance for me
at the time, though I was aware that Katharine, the daughter of Jim
Howard, was known to George, who used to live with the Howards. On
the day following the sitting I gave Mr. Howard a detailed account of the
sitting. These words, ' I will solve the problems, Katharine,' impressed
him more than anything else, and at the close of my account he related
that George, when he had last stayed with them, had talked frequently
with Katharine (a girl of fifteen years of age) upon such subjects as
Time, Space, God, Eternity, and pointed out to her how unsatisfactory
the commonly accepted solutions were. He added that some time he
would solve the problems, and let her know, using almost the very words
of the communication made at the sitting." Mr. Hart added that he was
entirely unaware of these circumstances. I was myself unaware of them,
and was not at that time acquainted with the Howards, and in fact nearly
every statement made at the sitting, during which I was the note-taker,
concerned matters of which I was absolutely ignorant.

Meredith, an intimate friend of Mr. Hart and G. P., was mentioned.
"Lent a book to Meredith. Tell him to keep it for me. Go to ray room
where my desk is." In reply to inquiries (April 1892), Meredith stated
that the last time he saw Pelham was in Pelham's own room several months
before the latter's death. They had spent the greater part of the day
together, and Pelham had pressed Meredith to take away some of his


manuscripts and books. Thus far the reference to Meredith seems to have
been correct. But Meredith was unable to remember definitely that he
took any manuscript or book away.

The only references coming from G. P. that were apparently confused
or without special significance were the remarks towards the end of the
sitting : " Give me a powder ; my tongue is wet " which had no meaning
for the sitter (but which the Howards thought might have reference to a
time when G. P. was ill in their house) and the statements below about
the handkerchief and perhaps the " Uncle Will." He did leave his papers,
letters, &c., " mixed up."

John, if that is you, speak to me. Tell Jim I want to see him. He will
hardly believe me, believe that I am here. I want him to know where I am.

Online LibraryFrederic William Henry MyersHuman personality : and its survival of bodily death (Volume 2) → online text (page 81 of 89)