Mrs. Piper & the Society for Psychical Research Part 4

O. L.--"You have seen my Uncle Jerry, haven't you?"[19]

Mr E.--"Yes, I met him a little while ago--a very clever man--had an interesting talk with him."

O. L.--"What sort of person is this Dr Phinuit?"

Mr E.--"Dr Phinuit is a peculiar type of man. He goes about continually, and is thrown in with everybody. He is eccentric and quaint, but good-hearted. I wouldn't do the things he does for anything. He lowers himself sometimes--it's a great pity. He has very curious ideas about things and people; he receives a great deal about people from themselves (?), and he gets expressions and phrases that one doesn't care for--vulgar phrases he picks up by meeting uncanny people through the medium. These things tickle him, and he goes about repeating them. He has to interview a great number of people, and has no easy berth of it.

A high type of man couldn't do the work he does. But he is a good-hearted old fellow. Good-bye, Lodge! Here's the doctor coming."

O. L.--"Good-bye, E.! Glad to have had a chat with you."

[_Doctors voice reappears._][20]

Phinuit.--"This [ring] belongs to your aunt. Your Uncle Jerry tells me to ask.... By the way, do you know Mr E.'s been here; did you hear him?"

O. L.--"Yes, I've had a long talk with him."

Phinuit.--"Wants you to ask Uncle Bob about his cane. He whittled it out himself. It has a crooked handle with ivory on the top. Bob has it, and has cut initials in it." [There is a stick, but description inaccurate.]

"He has the skin also, and the ring. And he remembers Bob killing the cat and tying its tail to the fence to see him kick before he died. He and Bob and a lot of the fellows all together in Smith's field, I think he said. Bob knew Smith. And the way they played tit-tat-too on the window pane on All Hallows' Eve, and they got caught that night too."

(At Barking, where my uncles lived as children, there is a field called Smith's field, but my Uncle does not remember the cat incident.) "Aunt Anne wants to know about her sealskin cloak. Who was it went to Finland, or Norway?"

O. L.--"Don't know."

Phinuit.--"Do you know Mr Clark--a tall, dark man, in the body?"[21]

O. L.--"I think so."

Phinuit.--"His brother wants to send his love to him. Your Uncle Jerry, do you know, has been talking to Mr E. They have become very friendly.

E. has been explaining things to him. Uncle Jerry says he will tell all the facts, and all about families near, and so on, that he can recall.

He says if you will remember all this and tell his brother, he will know. If he doesn't fully understand he must come and see me himself, and I will tell him. How's Mary?"[22]

O. L.--"Middling; not very well."

Phinuit.--"Glad she's going away." [She was, to the Continent; but Mrs Piper knew it.] "William[23] is glad. His wife used to be very distressed about him. You remember his big chair where he used to sit and think?"

O. L.--"Yes, very well."

Phinuit.--"He often goes and sits there now.[24] Takes it easy, he says.

He used to sit opposite a window sometimes with his head in his hands, and think and think and think." (This was at his office.) "He has grown younger in looks, and much happier. It was Alec that fell through a hole in the boat, Alexander Marshall, her first father."[25] (Correct, as before.) "Where's Thompson? The one that lost the purse?"

O. L.--"Yes, I know."

Phinuit.--"Well, I met his brother, and he sent love to all--to sister Fanny, he told me especially. He tried to say it just as he was going out, but had no time--was too weak."

O. L.--"Oh, yes, we just heard him."

Phinuit.--"Oh, you did? That's all right. She's an angel; he has seen her to-day. Tell Ike I'm very grateful to him. Tell Ike the girls will come out all right. Ted's mother and.... And how's Susie? Give Susie my love."

O. L.--"I couldn't find that Mr Stevenson you gave me a message to.

What's his name?"

Phinuit.--"What! little Minnie Stevenson? Don't you know his name is Henry? Yes, Henry Stevenson. Mother in spirit too, not far away.[26]

Give me that watch." (Trying to open it.) "Here, open it. Take it out of its case. Jerry says he took his knife once and made some little marks with it up here, up here near the handle, near the ring, some little cuts in the watch. Look at it afterwards in a good light and you will see them." (There is a little engraved landscape in the place described, but some of the sky-lines have been cut unnecessarily deep, I think, apparently out of mischief or idleness. Certainly I knew nothing of this, and had never had the watch out of its case before.--O. J. L.)

This example shows the kind of information given. Much of it is true; other assertions are unverifiable, which does not prove that they are untrue; others contain both truth and errors; finally, there are certainly some which are entirely untrue. For this reason these transcendental conversations very much resemble the conversations of incarnated human beings. _Errare humanum est._ And it would appear that the heavy corpse we drag about with us is not alone to blame when we sacrifice to Error.

But, since the hypothesis of fraud and of unconscious muscular movement may not be invoked, where shall we find the source of the mass of exact information Mrs Piper gives us? The simplest hypothesis, after those we have been obliged to set aside, consists in believing that the medium obtains her information from the minds of those present. She must be able to read their souls, as others read in a book; thought-transference must take place between her and them. With these data, she would be supposed to construct marionettes so perfect, so life-like, that a large number of sitters leave the sittings persuaded that they have communicated with their dead relatives. If this were true, the fact alone would be a miracle. No genius, neither the divine Homer, nor the calm Tacitus, nor Shakespeare, would have been a creator of men to compare with Mrs Piper. Even were it thus, science would never have met with a subject more worthy of its attention than this woman. But the greater number of those who have had sittings with Mrs Piper affirm that the information furnished was not in their consciousness. If they themselves furnished it, the medium must have taken it, not from their consciousness, but from their subconsciousness, from the most hidden depths of their souls, from that abyss in which lie buried, far out of our reach, facts which have occupied our minds for a moment even very superficially, and have left therein, it appears, indelible traces.

Thus the mystery grows deeper and deeper. But this is not all. At every moment Mrs Piper gives the sitters details which they maintain that they never could have known. Consequently she must read them instantaneously in the minds of persons, sometimes very far distant, who do know them.

This is the telepathic hypothesis, upon which for the moment we will not insist, for we shall be obliged to study it carefully later on.

Professor Lodge has made a list, necessarily incomplete, of incidents mentioned by the medium in the English sittings which the sitters had entirely forgotten, or which they had every reason to suppose they had never known, or which it was impossible they should ever have known.

This list contains forty-two such incidents. To give my readers some idea of their nature, I will quote four or five of them. I will take these incidents from the history of the Lodge family, in order to avoid introducing new personages unnecessarily.

At the 16th sitting,[27] on November 30, 1889, Phinuit tells Professor Lodge that one of his sons has something wrong in the calf of his leg.

Now at the time the child was merely complaining of pain in his heel when he walked. The doctor consulted had pronounced it rheumatism, and this was vaguely running in Dr Lodge's mind. However, some time after the sitting, in May 1890, the pain localised itself in the calf. Now there could be no auto-suggestion in this case, for Professor Lodge tells us he had said nothing to his son.

At the 44th sitting,[28] Professor Lodge asked his Uncle Jerry, who is supposed to be communicating, "Do you remember anything when you were young?" Phinuit (for him) replies at once, "Yes, I pretty nigh got drowned. Tried to swim the creek, and we fellows all of us got into a little boat. We got tipped over. He will remember it. Ask Bob if he remembers that about swimming the creek; he ought to remember it." Uncle Robert, consulted, remembers the incident perfectly, but gives different details. This sort of confusion about the details of a distant event, the partial memory, occurs often to all of us.

Thus disincarnated beings would seem to resemble incarnate ones on this point also. Apparently it was not the boat which upset, but the two young Lodges, Jerry and Robert, on getting out of it, began some horse-play on the bank, and fell into the stream. They were obliged to swim, fully dressed and against a strong current, which was carrying them under a mill-wheel.

At the 46th sitting,[29] Phinuit reports that the last visit the father of Professor Lodge paid was to this Uncle Robert, and that he didn't feel very well. Professor Lodge knew nothing of this fact, or, if he had once known it, had so completely forgotten it that he was obliged to apply to one of his cousins to know if it was true. The cousin replied in confirmation of the fact.

At the 82nd sitting,[30] Uncle Jerry, speaking of his brother Frank, who is still living, expresses himself thus about an event of their childhood,--

"Yes, certainly! Frank was full of life; he crawled under the thatch once and hid. What a lot of mischief he was capable of doing. He would do anything; go without shirt, swop hats, anything. There was a family near named Rodney. He pounded one of their boys named John. Frank got the best of it, and the boy ran; how he ran! His father threatened Frank, but he escaped; he always escaped. He could crawl through a smaller hole than another. He could shin up a tree quick as a monkey.

What a boy he was! I remember his fishing. I remember that boy wading up to his middle. I thought he'd catch his death of cold; but he never did."

This Uncle Frank was aged about 80, and was living in Cornwall: the general description is characteristic. Professor Lodge wrote to him to ask if the above details were correct. He replied, giving exact details: "I recollect very well my fight with a boy in the corn field. It took place when I was ten years old, and I suppose a bit of a boy-bully."

On the 29th November[31] Professor Henry Sidgwick, of Cambridge, had a sitting with Mrs Piper. It was arranged that Mrs Sidgwick, who stayed at home, should do something specially marked during the sitting. Mrs Piper was to be asked to describe it, to prove her power of seeing at a distance. Phinuit, when questioned, replied, "She is sitting in a large chair, she is talking to another lady, and she is wearing something on her head." These details were perfectly correct. Mrs Sidgwick was sitting in a large chair, talking to Miss Alice Johnson, and she had a blue handkerchief on her head. However, Phinuit was wrong about the description of the room in which this happened.


[12] For detailed report of these sittings see _Proc. of S.P.R._, vol.


[13] At the first sitting in Liverpool there was some talk of a sea captain. Phinuit, who was rather fond of nicknames, jocularly attached the epithet "Captain" to Professor Lodge.

[14] _I.e._, "As I entered the medium's organism."

[15] Here Phinuit is supposed to be reporting in the first person words of Aunt Anne, treated as if present.

[16] Of a future life.

[17] Phinuit seems to have left, and Mr E. takes his place. This Mr E.

was an intimate friend of Professor Lodge; he had appeared at a preceding sitting and had offered proofs of his identity, which were verified later. Professor Lodge recognised his mode of address. Phinuit, we remember, always addressed Professor Lodge as "Captain."

[18] The investigation into psychic matters.

Chapter end

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