Mrs. Piper & the Society for Psychical Research Part 13

Professor N.--"Was he a true medium?"

G. P.--"True, yes, very true; his 'light' was very true, yet he made a great many mistakes and deceived himself."

Phinuit, sent to find Stainton Moses, ends by bringing him. George Pelham warns the sitter against the confusions and incoherences of Stainton Moses's communications. "When he arrives," says George Pelham, "I will wake him up."

Professor N.--"Is he asleep?"

G. P.--"Oh, Billie, you are stupid, I fear, at times. I do not mean wake him up in a material sense."

Professor N.--"Nor did I."

G. P.--"Well, then, old man, don't be wasting light."

Professor N.--"I'm not wasting light, but I am obliged to find out what you mean."

G. P.--"Well, this is what I wish also."

Professor N.--"Stainton Moses has been nearly three years in the spirit.... Do you mean to say that he is not yet free from confusion?"

These explanatory passages would be of great value if we were sure that we were not dealing with a secondary personality of Mrs Piper.

Later still, George Pelham returns to the probable mental confusion of Stainton Moses, and to the necessity for taking certain precautions in order to obtain clear communications. He was quite right. These sittings, in which Stainton Moses was the self-styled communicator, are exactly those which make the spiritualist hypothesis most difficult to accept. All the exact information given existed already in the minds of those present; all the rest was untrue. Stainton Moses had an excellent chance of proving his identity. We have said that he had written down the real names of his "spirit-guides" or "controls" in one of his note-books. At the time these sittings were taking place in America, Frederic Myers, in England, was studying these note-books in order to publish so much of them as he thought fit. He knew these names, but I believe he was the only person in the world who knew them. Stainton Moses was told, "Give us the names of your spirit-guides; it will be a splendid proof. Mr Myers knows them, but we do not. We will send them to him, and if they are correct we shall no longer be able to have a reasonable doubt of your identity." The self-styled Stainton Moses seemed perfectly to understand what was asked of him; he gave the names, and every one of them was wrong.

In October 1896 Dr Hodgson made George Pelham understand the necessity of obtaining exact information from Stainton Moses, in order that the problem, which seemed to interest George Pelham as much as it did Dr Hodgson, might be solved. Stainton Moses then said that he would ask the help of his former spirit-guides. The latter communicated directly several times, in November and December 1896 and in January 1897. But finally they demanded that the "light" of the medium should be put at their exclusive disposal. Imperator explained that these unconsidered experiments with all sorts of spirits--more or less undeveloped and disturbed--as communicators, had made Mrs Piper as a medium into a machine "worn out," and incapable of being really useful. He, Imperator, and his friends would be able to restore her in time. But they must have the right to keep away such communicators as they should judge likely to injure her again. Dr Hodgson explained the importance of trying this experiment to Mrs Piper in her normal state. Mrs Piper, docile as usual, consented. The last appearance of Phinuit occurred on January 26, 1897.

Phinuit had formerly said, "They find fault with me, they won't understand that I do all I can, but when they do not hear my voice any longer they will regret me." However, he is not regretted. Whoever the controls Imperator, Rector, Doctor and Prudens may be, since they have controlled the communications, these have acquired a coherence, clearness and exactness unknown before; errors are rare, and evident falsehood unknown. Besides, Mrs Piper enters the trance differently.

Formerly there was more or less painful struggle; she had violent convulsions and spasmodic movements; at present she enters the trance quietly, as if she were falling asleep.

If, in truth, Mrs Piper entranced is merely an automaton, a "machine,"

of which use is made to communicate between two worlds, it is perfectly evident that, on this side as well as the other, it is well to have honourable and experienced experimenters. Phinuit was not perhaps wanting in experience, but he was assuredly wanting in honesty; or possibly he did not perceive the extreme importance of veracity in these matters; he did not lie for the pleasure of lying, but he did not hesitate to lie, if needs were, to escape from some difficulty.

The new report of Professor Hyslop, which I am about briefly to analyse, will show us the new phase of Mrs Piper's mediumship. The results are already good. Imperator asserts nevertheless that the "machine" still needs repair, and that he will obtain still more wonderful results by-and-by.


[74] For an account of the mediumship of W. Stainton Moses the reader is referred to Mr F. W. H. Myers's articles in the _Proc. of S.P.R._, vol.

ix. p. 245, and vol. xi. p. 24.

[75] _Proc. of S.P.R._, vol. xiv. p. 36.

[76] Another communicator.


Professor Hyslop and the journalists--The so-called "confession" of Mrs Piper--Precautions taken by Professor Hyslop during his experiments--Impressions of the sittings.

The last report[77] we possess of the phenomena accompanying Mrs Piper's trance is that of Professor James Hervey Hyslop, of Columbia University, New York. This report appeared in November 1901. The minutes of the sittings, the notes, the remarks of the sitter, the discussion of hypotheses, the account of experiments made at the University in order to throw light on certain points, all together make a report of 650 pages of close reading. It refers, notwithstanding, only to sixteen sittings, of which the first took place on December 23, 1898. But the smallest incidents and the slightest arguments are scrupulously weighed.

It is, in short, a work of considerable extent.

Professor Hyslop has an absolutely sincere and very lucid mind. It is a pleasure to follow him through this mass of facts and arguments; everything is scrupulously classified, and the whole is illuminated by a high intelligence. Professor Hyslop occupies with good right an eminent place amongst the thinkers of the United States. Besides his classes, he gives numerous lectures, which are well attended.

The report he has published has been long waited for. As he is a man of mark and has long occupied himself with Psychical Research, the inquisitive journalists on the other side of the Atlantic quickly found out that he had been experimenting with Mrs Piper. He was interviewed; he was prudent, and contented himself with recommending the reporters to study the preceding reports published upon the same case. But reporters are not so easily contented; they have to satisfy an exacting master in the public, which wants to know everything, and which would cease to purchase any paper simple enough to say, "I have done all I could to get information on this point for you, but I have failed." The public will have none of such honesty as that, though if a falsehood is offered, it is not angry; in the first place, because at the moment it does not recognise the falsehood, and in the second, because by the time it finds out it is busy over something else. Consequently, as they must live, journalists find themselves sometimes obliged to invent. So the reporters put into Professor Hyslop's mouth the following sensational words, "In a year I shall be able to demonstrate the immortality of the soul scientifically." These words were reproduced by the greater number of the American papers and by a large number of English ones. Specialist publications in France in their turn commented on them. It will be understood with what eagerness the report was expected after this by all men interested in psychical studies. They have not been disappointed. Professor Hyslop is too modest for such unbounded pretension; he knows that the great problem will not be solved at one stroke, nor by one man. "I do not claim," he says, "to demonstrate anything scientifically, not even the facts I offer." This phrase does not at all resemble the declaration put into his mouth. But if he has not definitively and scientifically proved the immortality of the soul, he has approached the problem very nearly and thrown a vivid light on more than one point. In any case the journalists have advertised him thoroughly, perhaps without intending it.

Speaking of journalists, I must relate another quite recent incident, which is interesting to us, as it concerns Mrs Piper personally. One of the editors of the _New York Herald_ interviewed Mrs Piper and on October 20, 1901, published an article somewhat speciously entitled, "The Confessions of Mrs Leonora Piper." In this article it was stated that Mrs Piper intended to give up the work she had been doing for the S.P.R. in order to devote herself to other and more congenial pursuits, that it was on account of her own desire to understand the phenomena that she first allowed her trances to be investigated and placed herself in the hands of scientific men, with the understanding that she should submit to any tests they chose to apply, and that now, after fourteen years' work, the subject not being yet cleared up, she felt disinclined for further investigation. Her own view of the phenomena was expressed in this article as follows:--"The theory of telepathy strongly appeals to me as the most plausible and genuinely scientific solution of the problem.... I do not believe that spirits of the dead have spoken through me when I have been in the trance state.... It may be that they have, but I do not affirm it.... I never heard of anything being said by myself during a trance which might not have been latent in my own mind or in the mind of the person in charge of the sitting, or in the mind of the person trying to get communication with someone in another state of existence, or of some companion present with such a person, or in the mind of some absent person alive somewhere else in the world."

In the _Boston Advertiser_ of October 25, 1901, there appeared a statement dictated by Mrs Piper to a representative of the paper, saying that she had made no such statement as that published in _the New York Herald_ to the effect that "spirits of the departed do not control" her, and later in the _Boston Journal_ for October 29, 1901, there appeared an account of interviews with Dr Hodgson and Mrs Piper, in which Mrs Piper stated that though she had said "something to the effect that" she "would never hold another sitting with Mr Hodgson," and that she "would die first" to a _New York Herald_ reporter the summer before, when she gave the original interview, she now intended, regardless of whatever may have been said, to go on with the present arrangement with Dr Hodgson and the Society as formerly. She still held and expressed the view that the manifestations are not spiritualistic, and felt that the telepathic theory is more probable than the spiritualistic hypothesis.

It will be seen that in none of these reports is there any justification for the somewhat sensational use of the word "Confessions" in the original article. Mrs Piper made no statements, as the use of that word suggests, concerning the source of her knowledge; she expressed her preference for one of two hypothetical explanations of the origin of that knowledge. No question was raised in the original article as to Mrs Piper's honesty or as to the genuineness of her trance phenomena; on the contrary she is represented by the reporter of the _New York Herald_ as holding a view of those phenomena which asserts that they are not fraudulent. She expresses her personal preference for the telepathic hypothesis rather than the spiritualist hypothesis as an explanation of them; on this point it should be remembered that the medium is not in a more favourable position for forming an opinion than those who sit with her, since she does not remember what passes while she is in trance, and is therefore dependent for her knowledge on the reports of the sitters.

The allegation of the _New York Herald_ as to her intention to discontinue the sittings was unfounded; after a suspension of some months owing to the state of her health, she gave a sitting to Dr Hodgson on October 21, the day after the article in the _Herald_ appeared, and it was then arranged to resume the sittings after a further interval of three months. This has been done, and Mrs Piper gave sittings to Dr Hodgson all through the spring of last year, and is still doing so through the winter of 1902-1903.

The reader will excuse this digression on a subject which made some stir at the time, and is interesting as throwing light on the medium's own attitude towards her trance phenomena.

To return to Professor Hyslop's report.

Professor Hyslop told only his wife and Dr Hodgson of his intention to have sittings with Mrs Piper. The days were fixed, not with Mrs Piper in the normal state, but with Imperator, the chief of the present controls, while she was in trance. Now we must never forget that Mrs Piper has no recollection of what happens during the trance. Professor Hyslop's name was not given to Imperator; Dr Hodgson called him the "four times friend," because Professor Hyslop had at first asked for four sittings.

I should not call this a transparent pseudonym.

Professor Hyslop had once been present at one of Mrs Piper's sittings, and his name had been pronounced. Although there seemed to be small chance of her recognising him, as the sitting had taken place six years before, and Professor Hyslop did not then wear a beard as he now does, he put on a mask while he was in a closed carriage at some distance from Mrs Piper's house. He kept on his mask during the first two sittings, and then the precaution became useless, because his father's name was pronounced by Mrs Piper at the end of the second. Dr Hodgson presented him as Mr Smith, which name is given to all new sitters. Professor Hyslop never spoke before Mrs Piper in her normal state, except twice to utter short sentences, and he took pains to change his voice as much as possible. He avoided all contact with the medium throughout all the sitting. Most of the facts were obtained from the communicators without previous questioning. When Professor Hyslop was obliged to ask a question, he did so in such a way that it did not contain a suggestion of the answer. To prevent Mrs Piper's seeing him during the sitting, he kept always behind her right shoulder, the easiest position too for reading the writing.

But when we recollect that Mrs Piper's head is always buried in pillows during the trance, we shall think this a superfluous precaution.

As I have said in the preceding chapter, Phinuit no longer manifests.

This is what now appears to take place on the "other side." Rector places himself in the "machine," and it is he who produces the automatic writing. This Rector seems to have had much experience of these phenomena. The communicator comes close to Rector and speaks to him, in whatever manner spirits may speak. Imperator remains outside the "machine," and prevents the approach of all those likely to injure it, or who have nothing to do with the sitter. Besides, before he allows a communicator to enter the "machine," he gives him advice as to what he should do, and helps him to arrange and clear up his ideas. Imperator's two other helpers, Doctor and Prudens, appear but rarely. George Pelham appears sometimes, when his services are needed.

The communicators were few in number during Professor Hyslop's sixteen sittings. They were, his father, Robert Hyslop, who gave much the most important communications; his uncle, Carruthers; his cousin, Robert Harvey MacClellan; his brother Charles, who died in 1864, aged four years and a half; his sister Annie, who also died in 1864, aged three years; his uncle, James MacClellan; and lastly, another MacClellan named John.

Professor Hyslop's father, Robert Hyslop, is the communicator who takes up the greater part of the sittings. But he cannot remain long in the "machine," he complains of having his ideas confused, of suffocating or getting weak; for example, he says, "I am getting weak, James, I am going away for a moment; wait for me." During these absences Imperator sends another member of the family in his place "so that the light may not be wasted." It would thus seem that the "weakness" which the spirits complain of is only a feeling they have when they have been in contact with the "machine" for a certain time; Imperator says that then they are like a sick and delirious man. This explains the words of George Pelham, "You must not ask of us just what we have not got--strength." But it is indispensable to say that the former communicators did not explain enough about this weakness; and they were not sufficiently well inspired to go out when they felt it coming on. Dr Hodgson at last, having often remarked this semi-delirium of the communicators towards the end of a sitting, when the light was failing, succeeded in suggesting to them to go away when they felt themselves getting weak. The possibility of this suggestion is interesting to those who prefer the hypothesis of telepathy.


[77] Professor Hyslop's report is contained in _Proc. of S.P.R._, vol.



The communications of Mr Robert Hyslop--Peculiar expressions--Incidents.

After we have read the report of Professor Hyslop, weighed the slightest facts with him, discussed the arguments for and against with him, we cannot be surprised at his having ended by adhering to the spiritualist hypothesis; in other words, we cannot be surprised that, in spite of his previous prejudice, he should have ended by exclaiming, "I have been talking with my father, my brother, my uncles. Whatever supernormal powers we may be pleased to attribute to Mrs Piper's secondary personalities, it would be difficult to make me believe that these secondary personalities could have thus completely reconstituted the mental personality of my dead relatives. To admit this would involve me in too many improbabilities. I prefer to believe that I have been talking to my dead relatives in person; it is simpler." This is the conclusion at which Professor Hyslop has arrived, and he takes the reader with him, in spite of himself. As may be imagined, I do not pretend to do the same in a hurried sketch like the present. Here, as was the case with George Pelham, the incidents quoted are only examples selected from a great number; some important detail of the said incidents may even be accidentally omitted. If the forgotten detail lays the incident open to some great objection, the reader must blame me only for it, and turn to Professor Hyslop's book for himself.[78]

Professor Hyslop's father, Mr Robert Hyslop, was a private person in the strictest sense of the word; he never did anything to attract public attention to him; he did not write in the papers, and never, or hardly ever, lived in towns. He was born in 1821, and lived on his farm in Ohio till 1889, when he went into a neighbouring State. He returned to his old home in August 1896, ill with a sort of cancer of the larynx. The old home then belonged to his brother-in-law, James Carruthers, and he died there on the 29th of the same month. In 1860 he had contracted a spinal affection, the result of over-exertion, and this had degenerated, some years later, into locomotor ataxy; he lost by degrees the use of one of his legs and used a crutch; there was afterwards an improvement, but he could never walk without a stick. In 1876 he had a slight attack of apoplexy, which affected his hearing, one ear being quite deaf. Three years before his death he further had the misfortune to lose his voice, probably from paralysis of the larynx. A year before his death a fresh affliction was added to all the others; he thought it was catarrh, but it was probably cancer of the larynx; and it was accompanied by frequent spasms which threatened his life.

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