Mrs. Piper & the Society for Psychical Research Part 10

Some of my readers must have asked themselves what the returning George Pelham can have said to make grave and intelligent men think he has proved his identity. I shall try to give them some idea by relating such incidents as I can report without entering into too slight or complete details. I cannot relate everything, in the first place for want of space, and secondly, because I should be tiresome--a thing to be avoided in a popular work like the present.

When Dr Hodgson wrote the report which appeared in 1898, George Pelham, who, like Phinuit, is always ready to act as intermediary (though employing writing instead of speech) had had occasion to see one hundred and fifty sitters, among whom thirty were old friends of his. He recognised the whole thirty, and never mistook a stranger for a friend.

He not only addressed them all by name but took with each of them the tone he had been accustomed to take.

We do not speak in the same way to all our friends. The tone of our conversation differs according to the character and the age of the person we address, and according to the degree of esteem or affection we have for him. These shades of manner are typical, though instinctive, and therefore are difficult to reproduce artificially.

George Pelham, then, addressed the thirty friends whom he had the opportunity of meeting through the medium in the tone which he was in the habit of taking formerly with each one of them. The incidents I shall quote are only examples; I have said why I cannot recapitulate all that has been published about these sittings.[55] Besides, the sitters, for reasons easy to imagine, have declined to permit the publication of all that was most private, and consequently most convincing, in the sittings.

From the beginning George Pelham asks to see his father. He says that he wishes to talk to him about private affairs, and also that he should like to convince him, if possible, of his existence in a new world. Mr Pelham was at once informed, and though he was very sceptical both by nature and education, he, with his second wife, George Pelham's step-mother, visited Mrs Piper at once. They were introduced under false names. Quite at the beginning of the sitting George Pelham wrote, "Hullo, father and mother, I am George!" The communications which followed were altogether what Mr Pelham, senior, would have expected from his living son.

At one of the earliest sittings he asks after one of his friends, a young writer, and urges that he should edit one of his, George Pelham's, unpublished papers.

While George Pelham was living in Boston he was connected by bonds of strong affection with the Howard family. He lived with them often and for long periods. He and James Howard often discussed serious philosophical problems together. At the first sitting George Pelham insistently asked for the Howards.[56] "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. O good fellow!" He welcomes Mr and Mrs Howard in a characteristic way: "Jim, is that you? Speak to me, quick. I am not dead. Don't think me dead. I'm awfully glad to see you. Can't you see me? Don't you hear me? Give my love to my father, and tell him I want to see him. I am happy here, and more so since I find I can communicate with you. I pity those people who can't speak."

A Mr Vance has a sitting. George Pelham had known him. At first the communicator does not appear to notice him, being occupied in giving messages to Dr Hodgson. But presently George Pelham recognises him, and says, "How is your son? I want to see him some time." "George, where did you know my son?" "In studies in college." "George, where did you stay with us?" "Country, peculiar house, trees around, porch that projects at the front. Vine at the side. Porch at the front, and swing on the other side." All this was correct.[57]

Miss Helen Vance and George Pelham had belonged at the same time to a society formed for mutual aid in the art of writing. She came to a sitting some time after it had begun. Mrs Piper, in her normal state, had never met her. Nevertheless, George Pelham asks her at once, "How is the society getting on?" A little later on, the following dialogue takes place between Miss Vance and George Pelham: "Now, whom do you have to correct your writings?" "We correct one another's." "But do they give satisfaction?" "Yes." "What, in their corrections?" "Yes, but not as much as you; your corrections were better than theirs." "Well, that is what I am trying to get out of you." "In other words, George, you wanted a compliment from me." "Oh, bosh, you know me better than that."

Miss Warner had two sittings with Mrs Piper[58] five years after George Pelham's death. He had known her when she was quite a child, but he had not seen her for three years before he died, and in eight years a child becomes a tall young girl. Consequently, at the first sitting, George Pelham did not recognise Miss Warner at all. At the second sitting he admitted this and said, "I do not think I ever knew you very well."

"Very little. You used to come and see my mother." "I heard of you, I suppose." "I saw you several times. You used to come with Mr Rogers."

"Yes, I remembered about Mr Rogers when I saw you before." "Yes, you spoke of him." "Yes, but I cannot seem to place you. I long to place all my friends, and could do so before I had been gone so long. You see, I am farther away--every day I get further away from you. I do not recall your face; you must have changed." At this moment Dr Hodgson said, "Do you remember Mrs Warner?" "Of course, oh, very well. For pity's sake, are you her little daughter?" "Yes." "By Jove! how you have grown! I thought so much of your mother, a charming woman."

George Pelham not only recognises his friends,[59] as we have just seen; he also remembers their opinions, their occupations, their habits. James Howard is an author. He asks him, "Why don't you write on this subject?"

(the future life). Rogers writes also. He asks, "What is Rogers writing now?" "A novel." "I don't mean that. Isn't he writing something about me?" "Yes, he is preparing a memoir of you." "That is kind of him. One is pleased not to be forgotten. He was always very good to me when I was alive."

He remembers the opinions of his father, and the discussions they had upon philosophical questions. "I should like to convince my father," he says; "but it will be hard. My mother will be easier." He says to James Howard, "Do you remember how we used to ask each other for books of certain kinds, about certain books, where they were, and you always knew just where to find them." Formerly, when James Howard and George Pelham were talking together in the evening, the first-named habitually smoked a long pipe. At a sitting held in the library where these conversations used to take place, George Pelham said to Mr Howard, "Get the long pipe and smoke." Katharine is one of James Howard's daughters, who plays the violin. Formerly her practising used to greatly annoy George Pelham, who lived with the Howards. He said to her at a sitting, "Katharine, how is the violin? To hear you playing is horrible, horrible." Mrs Howard replies, "Yes, George, but don't you see she likes her music because it is the best she has." "No, but that is what I used to say."

"Marte" is a pseudonym adopted by Dr Hodgson to designate a well-known American writer. He is a monist, a partisan of Darwinism, convinced that the death of the body is for us the end of all. At a sitting George Pelham said to him, "Evolution is all right in the real life, as Darwin says, but it goes on evoluting in the ideal life, which fact he, of course, knew nothing of until he came here."

George Pelham also recognises objects which have belonged to him, principally those which have some remembered emotional association.

John Hart, at the first sitting at which George Pelham appeared, gave some sleeve-links he was wearing, and asked, "Who gave them to me?"

"That's mine. 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." All this is correct.

At another sitting Mrs Howard gives a photograph. She placed it on the top of the medium's head. "Do you recognise this?" "Yes, it is your summer house; but I have forgotten the name of the town." "Don't you remember D.?" "Oh, the little brick house and the vine, grape-vine some call it. Yes, I remember it all; it comes back as distinctly as the daylight. Where is the little outhouse?" All this is correct. The outhouse which George Pelham was surprised not to see was a henhouse left just out of the photograph. At another sitting Mrs Howard put a book on the medium's head. We must not forget that the medium's eyes are shut, and the ocular globes upturned. "Do you recognise this book?" "Oh, yes, it is my French Lyrics." Needless to add that this was correct.

George Pelham asks for information on the subjects which interested him in life. He asks to have things done for him. At the first sitting he said to the sitter, John Hart, "Go up to my room, where I write. I left things all mixed up. I wish you'd go up and straighten them out for me.

Lots of names, lots of letters. You answer them for me."

Evelyn is another of Mr. Howard's daughters. George Pelham had given her a book, and had written her name in it. He asks her if she remembers it.

He has not forgotten his former speeches either. He was fond of Evelyn, but this did not prevent his constantly teasing her. Thus she is weak in mathematics. At one sitting George Pelham says to her, "I won't tantalise Evelyn now; I used to torment her a great deal, but she will forgive me, I know." Which does not prevent his adding directly after, "Evelyn is a girl that can always tell how much two and two is. You have just learned, haven't you? You are not a great one for mathematics, are you?" But he adds quickly, "Now be good, Evelyn. It doesn't matter so much about your lessons; being good is the most important point of all."

James Howard had asked George Pelham several questions to which the latter had not replied, asserting that he had forgotten. On this account James Howard still doubted George Pelham's identity. One day the former said, "George, tell me something that you and I alone know. I ask you, because several things I have asked you you have failed to get hold of.

We spent a great many summers and winters together and talked on a great many things and had a great many views in common, went through a great many experiences together. Tell me something now that you remember." The hand at once began to write eagerly: the occurrences related were so private that they cannot be published. At a given moment the hand wrote "Private." Dr Hodgson then left the room. On his return James Howard told him that he had obtained all the proof he could desire, and that he was "perfectly satisfied, perfectly."

At the first sitting at which George Pelham appeared, when John Hart was the sitter, George spoke suddenly of Katharine, James Howard's daughter, and he said something which at the time had no meaning for John Hart.

"Tell her, she'll know. I will solve the problems, Katharine." When John Hart reported these words to the Howards they were more struck than by anything else. During George Pelham's last stay with them he had talked frequently with Katharine upon deep philosophical questions, such as Time, Space, Eternity, and had pointed out to her how unsatisfactory the commonly-accepted solutions were. Then he had added the words of the communication almost textually, "I will solve those problems some day, Katharine." Remark that at this time the Howards had never yet seen Mrs Piper, that John Hart knew absolutely nothing of these conversations, and that Dr Hodgson, who took notes at the sitting, did not at the time know the Howards or of the conversations.

George Pelham had received a good classical education. He was a Humanist. Consequently a rather large number of Latin expressions are found in his language; usual, no doubt, with people of his education, but with which Mrs Piper is not acquainted in her normal state. Phinuit, who cannot have been a good Latinist, does not employ them either.

Observation of this fact inspired Professor Newbold[60] with the idea of asking George Pelham to translate a short fragment of Greek, and he proposed the first words which occurred to him; the beginning of the Paternoster: [Greek: Pater hemon ho en tois ouranois]. George Pelham made some attempts, and finally translated "Our Father is in heaven."

Professor Newbold then proposed a longer phrase, which he composed himself on the spot for the occasion: [Greek: Ouk esti thanatos; hai gar ton thneton psychai zoen zosin athanaton, aidion, makarion]. This means, "There is no death; the souls of mortals really live an immortal eternal happy life." George Pelham called to his aid Stainton Moses, who in his lifetime passed for a good Hellenist. Both together only succeeded in understanding the first proposition, "There is no death." These experiments, at all events, prove that Mrs Piper in the trance state can understand a little Greek, though in her normal state she does not even know the letters. Again, George Pelham and Stainton Moses may have known Greek tolerably well and have forgotten it: it is an accident which has happened to many of us.

With regard to this translation of Greek, we might form another hypothesis. We might suppose that the spirits of George Pelham and Stainton Moses--if there are spirits--perceiving thought directly, and not its material expression, have partly understood what Professor Newbold wanted to say, without knowing in what language it was expressed. If they did not understand wholly and completely, it would be because a thought expressed in a foreign language has in our minds a certain vagueness. We might go further; we might suppose that Mrs Piper's subconsciousness perceives the thought directly, independently of the form in which it is expressed. Mrs Piper has often pronounced words and short sentences in foreign languages. Phinuit likes to say, "Bonjour, comment vous portez vous? Au revoir!" and to count in French.

Mme. Elisa, an Italian, the dead sister of Mrs Howard, succeeded in writing or pronouncing some short sentences in more or less odd Italian.

I find also at a sitting where the communicator was supposed to be a young Hawaian three or four words of Hawaian very appropriate to the circumstances. Mrs Piper is ignorant of all this in her normal state. I have just said that spirits--if there are spirits--perceive thought directly. They themselves tell us this. On the other hand, they do not perceive matter, which is non-existent to them. This brings me to a new feature of the sittings, principally of those with George Pelham. If this feature does not increase the proofs of identity, it is at least an evidence of the abnormal powers of the medium.[61] George Pelham is asked to go and see what a certain person is doing at a given time and to come back and relate it. He goes, and partially succeeds. This is what appears to happen: if the act is strongly conceived in the mind of the person he is watching, he perceives it clearly; if it is nearly automatic, he perceives it vaguely; if it is wholly automatic, he does not perceive it at all. He often says that actions have occurred which have only been planned and not executed, at other times he reports past actions as present. This is because spirits have not, it appears, a clear notion of time. I have unfortunately neither time nor space to give examples of this.

Can we say that the communicator George Pelham has never made a partially or wholly erroneous assertion? No. But the number of such assertions is very small, which was not the case when Phinuit reigned alone. Here is one such assertion, at which there has been much cavilling; people have insisted on seeing in it the stamp of Mrs Piper and her social environment, and not at all the stamp of the aristocratic George Pelham. George Pelham is asked, "Could you not tell us something which your mother has done?" He replies,[62] "I saw her brush my clothes and put them away. I was by her side as she did it. I saw her take my sleeve buttons from a small box and give them to my father. I saw her put some papers in a tin box." When Mrs Pelham is questioned by letter, she replies, "George's clothes were brushed and put away, not by me, but by the man who had valeted him." And the hasty conclusion is, Mrs Piper on this occasion thought herself among her own class. She forgot that Mrs Pelham did not brush and put away clothes herself. This is perhaps a too hasty triumph. The most highly-bred women may occasionally brush and put away clothing. Now suppose that what I have said above about the way in which spirits perceive our actions should be true. George Pelham may have seen the project of the action in his step-mother's mind, and not its execution by the valet. It may be objected that he ought to have supposed she would not do it herself.

Why? I do not see it. Perhaps he knew that his step-mother was capable, occasionally, of putting away clothes herself.

George Pelham is often asked questions which he cannot answer. But he does not at all pretend to have forgotten nothing. If there is another world, spirits do not go there to ruminate on what has happened in our incomplete life. They go there to be carried away in the vortex of a higher and greater activity. If, therefore, they sometimes forget, it is not astonishing. Nevertheless, they seem to forget less than we do.


[55] Those readers who are interested in this question are recommended to read Dr Hodgson's Report, _Proc. of S.P.R._, vol. xiii., _Trans._

[56] _Proc. of S.P.R._, vol. xiii. p. 300.

[57] _Ibid._, p. 458.

[58] _Proc. of S.P.R._, p. 324.

[59] For reports of these sittings see _Proc. of S.P.R._, vol. viii. pp.


[60] _Proc. of S.P.R._, vol. xiv. p. 46.

[61] _Proc. of S.P.R._, vol. xiii. p. 329.

[62] _Proc. of S.P.R._, vol. xiii. p. 303.


George Pelham's philosophy--The nature of the soul--The first moments after death--Life in the next world--George Pelham contradicts Stainton Moses--Space and time in the next world--How spirits see us--Means of communication.

The communicator, George Pelham, did not confine himself to obtaining recognition from his friends; he talked a great deal of philosophy with them, especially with Dr Hodgson. Indeed, if he had not done so, the omission might have created a doubt as to his identity, for in his lifetime he was fond of such discussions. But for the present Dr Hodgson has kept back these speculations from the other side of the grave, thinking quite rightly that no value would attach to them until unmistakable evidence had been produced for the existence of "another world." Still there are to be found among the reports of the sittings some fragments of these philosophic theories, and they form an interesting subject of study.

The philosophy may be only that of Mrs Piper. But it may on the other hand be the philosophy of the discarnate George Pelham, and for that reason it is not unworthy of examination. Supposing, however, that the assertions made are actually those of an inhabitant of the other world who in this world was intelligent, honest and cultivated, the question still arises whether we must regard them as expressing Absolute Truth.

Surely not; if another world exists beyond this one, its inhabitants have mounted one step--but one step only--above us on the infinite ladder of existence. They do not see the Eternal face to face. It is quite possible that they may be able to see clearly truths of which we have no glimpse, but we are not bound to believe more than we like of what they tell us.

If the existence of the discarnate George Pelham is established, a new light is undoubtedly thrown on the old problem as to the nature of the soul, a problem as old as the world itself. The disciples of Plato's Socrates tried to interpret it by the charming analogy of the lyre and its harmony; asking whether man may not be compared to a lyre and his soul to its harmony, a harmony which ceases to exist when the instrument is broken. Using more modern terms, we may ask whether the soul is the resultant of the forces of the bodily organism, or whether it is the indestructible and mysterious motor which produces the action of that organism.

George Pelham declares that the soul is in truth the motor, and that the body is merely a machine used temporarily by the soul to act upon the obscure world of matter. He speaks to this effect: Thought exists outside matter and is in no way dependent upon matter. The destruction of the body does not have as its consequence the destruction of thought.

After the dissolution of the body the Ego continues its existence, but it then perceives thought directly, is much more free, and can express itself much more clearly than when it was stifled by matter. The soul and thought are one; thought is the inseparable attribute of the Ego or individual soul. On its arrival in this world the soul is ready to register innumerable new thoughts; it is a _tabula rasa_ upon which nothing has been inscribed.

This is a noble thought, if true, and one that wonderfully widens our narrow outlook. But, as I have said, I reserve my right of critical examination. Elsewhere George Pelham says, "We have an astral facsimile--the words are his--of our physical body, a facsimile which persists after the dissolution of the physical body." This would seem to be the astral body of the Theosophists. But the term "facsimile" is perplexing, as I have always believed that the particular form which Humanity actually has was entirely determined by the laws of our physical universe, that it was an adaptation to its surroundings, and that if a modification, however slight, were made in, for instance, the laws of gravity, the human shape would undergo a corresponding variation. Sir William Crookes has lately made some interesting observations on this subject. But to this question I will return again.

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