Mrs. Piper & the Society for Psychical Research Part 14

In short, for thirty-five years at least, Mr Robert

Hyslop was an invalid. His life was by necessity passed indoors, or at least on his farm. This life was necessarily without events calculated to attract a stranger's notice. There was consequently very little possibility that the medium could obtain information about him by normal means. But when an obscure man like Mr Robert Hyslop returns from the Beyond to establish his identity by relating a number of small facts, too slight and unimportant to have been observed outside his intimate circle, such a man furnishes us with a much stronger presumption in favour of a future life than a personage in public life could do. Even if the latter only reported incidents of his private life, it would be easier to suppose that the medium had been able to procure them. During nearly all his life, but principally during the last twenty years, the thoughts of Mr Robert Hyslop turned on a small number of subjects--his solicitude for his family; the administration of his farm, which gave him much care; the fulfilment of his religious duties, in which he never failed; and lastly, political events, which much interested him, because they naturally reacted upon his private affairs. Consequently the greater part of the facts I shall quote belonged to one or other of these four categories of his preoccupations.

But, to begin with, it will be useful to speak of a point which characterises an individual as clearly as his features do--I mean his speech. Each of us has his own language, his familiar expressions; each of us expresses himself in his own way under given circumstances. When Buffon said "the style is the man," he expressed an absolute truth. When somebody talks to us by telephone, without giving his name, we say, without a shade of hesitation, "It is So-and-so. I know him by his style." I repeat that everybody has this individuality of expression; it is, however, less marked in educated people. But men only slightly cultivated use stereotyped expressions, above all when they are growing old; the language of some of them is almost entirely composed of aphorisms and proverbs. If Mr Robert Hyslop did not altogether belong to this class, he yet, his son tells us, used particular expressions, and always the same in analogous cases; some of them indeed were altogether peculiar to him.

Now, when he communicates through Mrs Piper, he uses the same language that he used when alive. Professor Hyslop has incessantly occasion to remark, "This expression is quite like my father; he would have used it when he was alive in such a case." There is even a passage of the communications so characteristic in this way that it is nearly too much so; it would almost suggest fraud. I will reproduce one of these passages.[79] "Keep quiet, don't worry about anything, as I used to say.

It does not pay. You are not the strongest man, you know, and health is important for you. Cheer up now and be quite yourself. Remember it does not pay, and life is too short there for you to spend it in worrying.

What you cannot have, be content without, but do not worry, and not for me. Devoted you were to me always, and I have nothing to complain of except your uneasy temperament, and that I will certainly help."

When a father has repeated the same advice in the same terms hundreds of times in his life, and when, after his death, he repeats it again through an intermediary, it must certainly be difficult to say, "That is not he; it is not my father."

I should much like to give the reader the greatest possible number of these small facts, which convince us almost in spite of ourselves. But it is impossible to do so without surrounding them with commentaries indispensable to bring out all their importance. Thus, Mr Robert had a horse named Tom, an old and faithful servant. It had grown too old to work, but he would not kill it. He pensioned it, so to speak, and left it to die a natural death on the farm. At one sitting he asks, "Where is Tom?" and as James Hyslop did not understand what Tom he was speaking of, the communicator added, "Tom, the horse, what has become of him?"

Mr Robert Hyslop wrote with quill pens, which he trimmed himself; he had often trimmed them for his son James. He recalls this detail about the quill pens at one of the sittings.

He was very bald, and had complained of feeling his head cold during the night. His wife made him a black cap which he wore once. At one of the sittings he spoke of this cap. James Hyslop, who had been away from home a long time, had never heard of any black cap. But he wrote to his step-mother, who corroborated the statement.

At another sitting the communicator, Robert Hyslop, said that there were always two bottles on his desk, one round and one square. Professor Hyslop was ignorant of this detail, as of the preceding. His step-mother, when questioned, had difficulty in remembering this, but his brother recalled it at once; the round bottle held ink and the square one contained gum.

Another time Robert Hyslop asks, "Do you remember the penknife I cut my nails with?" "No, father, not very well." "The little penknife with the brown handle. I had it in my vest and then coat pocket. You certainly must remember it?" "Was this after you went west?" "Yes." Professor Hyslop was unaware of the existence of this penknife. He wrote separately to his step-mother, brother and sister, asking them if their father had possessed a brown-handled penknife with which he cut his nails, without telling them why he wanted this information. All three replied, "Yes, we have it still." But it appears that Mr Robert Hyslop did not keep the knife either in his coat or waistcoat pockets, but in his trousers pocket.

These little facts will suffice as examples. I will go on to more important ones.

Mr Robert Hyslop had a son who had caused him much anxiety all his life.

He had often talked of these anxieties to his favourite son James, and had died carrying them with him into the grave. He speaks of them repeatedly during the sittings exactly as he did in life. "Don't you remember, James, that we often talked of your brother and the trouble he gave us? Don't worry about it any more, all will go well now, and if I know that you do not worry I shall be all right."

He remembers all the members of his family and names them correctly, except for two odd mistakes of which I shall speak later. He alludes to incidents in the lives, and traits in the characters of each of them. He sends them expressions of affection, "Have I forgotten anybody, James, my son? I should not like to forget anybody." He specially asks after his youngest child, Henrietta; he wants to know if she has succeeded in her examinations, and he expresses delight when he hears that, on the whole, life promises well for her.

Mr Robert Hyslop was an orthodox Calvinist; he belonged to the small, very strict sect of Associate Presbyterians and refused to join the United Presbyterian Church in 1858. He was extremely rigid in religious matters. When he caused his son James to be educated, he hoped the latter would become a minister, though he left him free choice. When he saw his son modify his religious beliefs he was very much pained. By degrees, however, he became resigned. It is easy to understand from all this that religious preoccupations were in the foreground in his mind.

He often talked of religion to his family, he read the Bible and numerous commentaries on it, and sometimes, rather than allow his family to go to the church of a less orthodox sect, he himself preached to them at home. Consequently, if he had not alluded to his former religious life during the sittings, the omission might have caused a grave doubt of his identity. But this is not the case; he constantly alludes to his ancient religious ideas.

At one of the first sittings he says, for example, "Do you remember what my feeling was about this life? Well, I was not so far wrong after all.

I felt sure that there would be some knowledge of this life but you were doubtful, remember you had your own ideas, which were only yours, James."

This last phrase, "You have your own ideas," Professor Hyslop remarks, had been often repeated to him by his father in his lifetime. "He meant that I was the only one of his children who was sceptical, and this was true." Robert Hyslop's former religious ideas were the cause of a strange incident. One day Dr Hodgson said to him, "Mr Hyslop, you ought to look for my father and make friends with him. He had religious ideas like yours. I think you would understand each other very well, and I should be pleased." At a following sitting the communicator said to Dr Hodgson, "I have met your father; we talked, and we liked each other very much, but he was not very orthodox when he was alive." Dr Hodgson's father was really a Wesleyan--that is to say, he belonged to a very liberal sect. But in another place Robert Hyslop adds, "Orthodoxy does not matter here; I should have changed my mind about many things if I had known." In another sitting he says to his son, alluding to the telepathic hypothesis, "Let that thought theory alone. I made theories all my life, and what good did it do me? It only filled my mind with doubts." In short, it appears that Robert Hyslop, the rigid Calvinist, has greatly modified his views since he has been disincarnated.

At the last visit Professor Hyslop paid to his father, in January or February 1895, a long conversation took place between them on religious and philosophical subjects. Professor Hyslop spoke of his psychical studies. The possibility of communication between the two worlds was discussed at length, and Swedenborg and his works were mentioned. During the sittings Robert Hyslop constantly returns to this conversation, which had made a profound impression on him; much more profound than would have been expected, considering his religious views. He recalls the points which were discussed by him and his son one after another, and adds, "You remember I promised to come back to you after I had left the body, and I have been trying to find an opportunity ever since."

Now, no such promise had been made explicitly. But James Hyslop had written to his father on his deathbed, "Father, when all is over, you will try to come back to me." Robert Hyslop must from that moment have resolved to return if possible; and he must have believed he had told his son so, which was not the case.

When he was living in Ohio, Mr Robert Hyslop had a neighbour named Samuel Cooper. One day Cooper's dogs killed some sheep belonging to Robert Hyslop. An estrangement followed, which lasted several years. At one of the sittings in which Dr Hodgson represented Professor Hyslop, he asked a question which the latter had sent him in writing. Professor Hyslop hoped the question would turn his father's attention to the incidents of his life in Ohio. The question was, "Do you remember Samuel Cooper, and can you say anything about him?" The communicator replied, "James refers to the old friend I had in the West. I remember the visits we used to make to each other well, and the long talks we had concerning philosophical topics." At another sitting, when Dr Hodgson was again alone, he returned to the same idea. "I had a friend named Cooper who was of a philosophical turn of mind and for whom I had great respect, with whom I had some friendly discussion and correspondence. I had some of his letters ... you will find them." Another time, when Professor Hyslop was present, he said, "I am trying to remember Cooper's school."

The next day he returns to the point, "You asked me, James, what I knew about Cooper. Did you think I was no longer friend of his? I had kept some of his letters; and I think they were with you." In all this there was not a trace of Samuel Cooper, and Professor Hyslop did not know what to think. He therefore put a direct question in order to bring his father back to the point he had in mind. "I wanted to know if you remembered anything about the dogs killing sheep?" "Oh, I should think I did ... but I had forgotten all about it. That was what we had the discussion about.... Yes, very well, James, but just what you asked me this for I could not quite make out as he was no relation of mine ... if I could have recalled what you were getting at I would have tried to tell you. He is here, but I see him seldom." This episode is interesting. All that Robert Hyslop said at first about Cooper has nothing to do with Samuel Cooper, but is entirely true of an old friend of his, Dr Joseph Cooper. Robert Hyslop had really had many philosophical discussions with him, and they had corresponded. Professor Hyslop had perhaps heard his name, but did not know that he was an old friend of his father. It was his step-mother who told him this, in the course of an inquiry he made amongst his relatives to clear up doubtful incidents in the sittings. We see that disincarnated beings are capable of misunderstanding as well as ourselves.

But the following is the most dramatic incident. Professor Hyslop, remembering that his father had thought his last illness catarrh, while he himself believed it to be cancer of the larynx, asked the communicator a question aimed at bringing up the word "catarrh." He asked, "Do you know what the trouble was when you passed out?" The double meaning of the word "trouble" caused a curious misunderstanding, which the telepathic hypothesis will find it difficult to explain.

The communicator replied in distress, "No, I did not realise that we had the least trouble, James, ever. I thought we were always most congenial to each other. I do not remember any trouble--tell me what it was about?

You do not mean with me, do you?" "Father, you misunderstand me. I mean with the sickness." "Oh, yes, I hear--I know now. Yes, my stomach."

"Yes, was there anything else the matter?" "Yes, stomach, liver and head--difficult to breathe. My heart, James, made me suffer. Don't you remember what a trouble I had to breathe? I think it was my heart which made me suffer the most--my heart and my lungs. Tightness of the chest--my heart failed me; but at last I went to sleep." A little further on he says, "Do you know, the last thing I recall is your speaking to me. And you were the last to do so. I remember seeing your face; but I was too weak to answer."

This dialogue at first disconcerted Professor Hyslop. He had tried to make his father tell the name of the malady from which the latter thought he suffered--catarrh. It was only when he read over the notes of the sitting, a little later, that he perceived all at once that his father had been describing the last hours of his life in the terms habitual to him. Professor Hyslop had been mistaken again. The doctor had noticed pain in the stomach at 7 a.m. The heart action began to decline at 9.30; this was shortly followed by terrible difficulty in breathing, and death followed. When his father's eyelids fell, James Hyslop said, "He is gone," and he was the last to speak. This last incident seems to indicate that consciousness in the dying lasts much longer than is believed.

Soon after Professor Hyslop asked his father if he remembered some special medicine he had sent him from New York. The communicator had much trouble in remembering the very strange name of this medicine, but ended by giving it, though incorrectly spelled.

During the first fifteen sittings Professor Hyslop had asked as few questions as possible, and when he was obliged to do so, he had so expressed them that they should not contain the answer. But at the 16th sitting he abandoned this reserve intentionally. He wished to see what the result would be if he took the same tone with the communicator as is taken with a friend in flesh and blood. Professor Hyslop says, "The result was that I talked with my disincarnated father with as much ease as if I were talking with him living, through the telephone. We understood each other at a hint, as in an ordinary conversation." They spoke of everything--of a fence which Robert Hyslop was thinking of repairing when he died; of the taxes he had left unpaid; of the cares two of his children had caused him, one of whom had never given him much satisfaction, while the other was an invalid; of the election of President M'Kinley and of many other things.

Can it be said that there were no inexact statements made by the communicator during all these sittings? There are some, but very few. I shall speak of them in the following chapter. In any case, there is no trace of a single intentional untruth in the whole sixteen sittings.


[78] _Proc. of S.P.R._, vol. xvi. In what follows here there is no attempt to give the actual words of Professor Hyslop's communicators.


[79] _Proc. of S.P.R._, vol. xvi. p. 40.


The "influence" again--Other incidents--Statistics.

At this point I must return to a fact which is surprising on any hypothesis we may prefer: the utility of presenting to the medium objects which have belonged to the person from whom we wish to obtain the supposed communications. Phinuit used to say that he found the "influence" of the dead persons on these objects, and the "influence"

was all the stronger if the object had been worn or carried long, and if it had passed through few hands; different successive "influences" seem to weaken one another. I have said that we are totally ignorant of the nature of this "influence," but I have also said that it might not improbably be supposed to consist of vibrations left by our thoughts and feelings upon material objects. However this may be, Phinuit seemed to read this "influence," and draw from it the greater part of the information he gave. Generally, in spite of his affirmations to the contrary, he did not appear to be in direct relation with the communicators at all. Since the disappearance of the Phinuit _regime_ and the appearance of that of Imperator, the presentation of small objects is still of use; but it must be remarked that it has never been indispensable, and that communicators often appear without having been attracted by any "influence." But under the present system the information received appears to be much less read from the "influence"; there is much more sense of the real presence of the communicators. Of what use, then, are the small objects given to the medium? Neither the controls nor the communicators have explained, which is a pity. Under the new system managed by Imperator and his helpers such small articles seem chiefly useful for "holding" the communicator, for preventing his going away, and for maintaining a certain cohesion in his thoughts.

Rector constantly repeats, "Give me something to keep him and clear up his ideas." The communicator would apparently need a _point de repere_ in order to remain at the desired place, and this _point de repere_ would be furnished him by some object he has often used, the "influence"

left on which he seems to perceive more clearly than anything else.

According to George Pelham, we may also suppose that the communicator somehow perceives the mind of the sitter, but this mind is imprisoned in matter, and greatly clouded by it; the communicator only recognises the mind of the sitter when it is functioning actively, if I may thus express it; when the sitter is thinking, and, above all, thinking of the communicator. This is why, when the communicator perceives that his ideas are becoming confused, he constantly says reproachfully to the sitter, "Oh! why don't you speak? Say something to me, help me. You want me to work for you, but you will not do anything for me." The dead cousin of Professor Hyslop, Robert MacClellan, says to him, for example, "Speak to me, for Heaven's sake. Help me to reach you." Analogous passages are very numerous.

I return to Professor Hyslop's report. The most important communicator after his father during the sittings was his uncle Carruthers, whose name, however, was always mangled by Rector, and given as _Clarke_ or _Charles_. This uncle had died only twenty days before the first sitting.[80] At his first communication he inquires anxiously about his wife Eliza, Robert Hyslop's sister, whom his death had left desolate.

"It is I, James," he says to the inquirer. "Give my love to Eliza; tell her not to get discouraged, she will be better soon. I see her often in despair." Professor Hyslop asks, "Do you know why she grieves?" "Yes, because I left her; but I did not really leave her. I wish I could tell you all I would like ... you would not think I had left entirely. Will you comfort her? She ought not to be left lonely." "Yes, I will comfort her." "I am so glad!" At that time Professor Hyslop did not guess that his aunt was so completely alone and in such deep despair. He only found this out on inquiry.

I will quote another incident of "Uncle Carruthers'" communications, because on account of its stamp of vivid realism it is one of those which the telepathic hypothesis does not explain satisfactorily. Mr Carruthers suddenly perceives the presence of Dr Hodgson and says, "You are not Robert Hyslop's son, are you? You are not George."[81] Dr Hodgson replies, "No, I am not George." "No, James, I know you very well, but this one" (speaking again to Dr Hodgson), "Did you know the boys? Did you know me?"

I shall only quote one more incident of these interesting sittings. The communicator this time is Professor Hyslop's brother Charles, who died in 1864 aged four and a half. Robert Hyslop's last child had been born long after Charles's death. "James, I am your brother Charles. I am happy. Give my love to my new sister Henrietta. Tell her I shall know her some day. Our father often talks of her." A little further comes this curious phrase, "Our father would much like you to have his pictures, _if you are still in the body, James_."

I have said there were some inexact statements, but they are very few. I will quote two concerning proper names.

The family name of "Uncle Carruthers" could never be given properly. He was always called Uncle Charles or Clarke. The error is probably attributable to Rector, to whom the name Carruthers was not familiar.

The other mistake is odder still, though it may also be attributed to Rector. Robert Hyslop's second wife was named Margaret, familiarly called Maggie. Now, although it was impossible to misunderstand when Robert Hyslop was talking of his wife, this name Maggie never came correctly. Professor Hyslop waited a long time without rectifying the mistake; he waited for the communicator to perceive it and correct it himself, but this spontaneous correction was not made. At last he wanted the matter cleared up, and Dr Hodgson explained that the name of Professor Hyslop's step-mother had not been given. Rector, failing to understand, gave up his place to George Pelham, who began by administering a tolerably sharp scolding to the sitters. "Well, why do you not come out and say, Give me my step-mother's name, and not confuse him about anything except what you really want? By Jove! I remember how you confused me, and I don't want any more of it. I am going to find out, and if your step-mother has a name you shall have it." George Pelham went out of the "machine" and returned shortly, saying, "I do not see any reason for anxiety about _Margaret_." Margaret was really the name asked for, but one would have expected to obtain it in its more habitual form, Maggie. However, it is easy to understand that Robert Hyslop should not have given the familiar name of his wife to a stranger like George Pelham.

While Professor Hyslop was preparing his report, a number of his friends who knew of his researches asked him what proportion of truth and error he had met with in these manifestations. This frequently-repeated question suggested to him the idea of making tables in which this proportion should be made clear at a glance. This kind of statistics would be important for the class of persons who think themselves stronger-minded than the rest, and who tell you, "I only believe in the eloquence of figures." Such people do not realise that battalions of figures are like battalions of men, not always so strong as is supposed.

However, Professor Hyslop took all the "incidents" or statements made by the communicators and classed them according to the amount of truth or error they contained. He then divided the incidents into factors. I will give an example which will help me to define later on what Professor Hyslop means by _incident_ and _factor_[82]: "My Aunt Susan visited my brother." This is an incident, or statement of a complete fact. This incident is composed of four factors which are not necessarily connected with one another. The first is _my aunt_, the second the name _Susan_, the third the _visit_, the fourth _my brother_.

Therefore an incident may be defined as a name, a conception or a combination of conceptions forming an independent fact; it may be again a combination of possibly independent facts forming a single whole in the mind of the communicator. The factors would be the facts, names, actions, or events which do not necessarily suggest each other, or which are not necessarily suggested by a given name or fact.

Naturally, in tables constructed on these lines, the facts cannot be classified according to their importance as _proofs_; they can only be reckoned as true or false. Thus incidents which have only a restricted value as proofs are on a level with others which are in themselves very valuable as proofs. This is really the weak point of these statistics.

The proofs need to be examined one by one, and not as a whole.

However, the tables have one advantage; the greatest sceptic, after a glance at them, can no longer invoke chance, the great _Deus ex machina_ of the ignorant and indolent.

Chapter end

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