Mrs. Piper & the Society for Psychical Research Part 5

[19] In accordance with a statement previously made by Phinuit.

[20] These changes in the medium's voice are very surprising. If there is fraud in the case, Mrs Piper must be the most accomplished actress who has hitherto appeared.

[21] _I.e._, still living.

[22] Mrs Lodge.

[23] Mrs Lodge's step-father.

[24] These assertions, that spirits return to the places they have lived in, and unknown to us, do what they were accustomed to do, are very odd.

But the literature of the subject is full of such accounts.

[25] Mrs Lodge's father. Phinuit had alluded to this accident in a previous sitting, but without being able to explain if it had happened to Mrs Lodge's father or her step-father.

[26] In these communications the self-styled spirits always affirm that the dead get farther and farther by degrees from our universe, in accordance with time, and their own progress. The Stevenson episode, referred to above, is described on page 71.

[27] _Proc. of S.P.R._, vol. vi. p. 467.

[28] _Ibid._ p. 503.

[29] _Proc. of S.P.R._, vol. vi. p. 514.

[30] _Ibid._, p. 549.

[31] _Proc. of S.P.R._, p. 627.


Phinuit--His probable origin--His character--What he says of himself--His French--His medical diagnosis--Is he merely a secondary personality of Mrs Piper?

An interesting question arises at the point we have reached--"What is Phinuit? Whence his name? Whence does he come? Should we believe that he is a disincarnated human spirit, as he himself obstinately affirms, or must we think him a secondary personality of Mrs Piper?" If he is a spirit, that spirit is not endowed with a love of truth, as we shall see, and on this point he too much resembles many of ourselves. In any case we may notice in passing the obstinacy of these controls in wishing to pass for disincarnated spirits; the fact is at least worthy of attention. I am willing to allow that this may be a suggestion imposed by the medium on her secondary personalities; but I ask myself why this suggestion can never be annulled. Numerous efforts have been made, above all in the case of Phinuit; they have ended only in provoking jests from the disincarnated doctor, who absolutely insists on remaining a spirit.

However this may be, we will here endeavour to discover the origin of this control.

It will not have been forgotten that Mrs Piper's mediumship blossomed forth, if I may thus express myself, during the sittings she had with the blind medium J. R. Cocke. Now this medium was then, and has, I believe, always since been, controlled by a certain doctor called Albert G. Finnett, a French doctor of the old school which produced Sangrado.

This old barber-surgeon, as his medium calls him, is very modest. He says that he is "nobody particular"; I hope he does not mean to say that he resembles Jules Verne's Captain Nemo. There is a considerable resemblance between this name Finnett and the English pronunciation of Phinuit. Therefore we may well inquire whether the medium Cocke, when developing Mrs Piper's mediumship, may not also have made her a present of his control. Dr Hodgson has questioned Phinuit on this point several times. But Phinuit asserts that he does not know what is meant, and that Mrs Piper's is the first human organism through which he has manifested.

I will not try to settle the question.

If Phinuit has not varied about his own name, he has certainly varied in its orthography. Till 1887, whenever he consented to sign his name, he signed Phinnuit, with two _n_'s. Dr Hodgson accuses himself of being the originator of the orthographic variation. He carelessly took the habit of writing Phinuit with one _n_, and gave this orthography to his friends. Mrs Piper, in the normal state, often had occasion to see the name thus written. And so, in the first half of 1888, Phinuit also began to write his name with one _n_. Dr Hodgson only discovered the mistake later on looking over his notes.

The reader will perhaps be astonished that I speak of the Phinuit personality as if it were already established that the hypothetical doctor were really a spirit; that is to say, a personality as distinct from that of the medium as the reader and I are from one another. I must hold this point in reserve. The investigators of the Piper case, finding as decided a difference between the controls and the subject in a normal state as exists between individuals of flesh and blood, have adopted the language of these controls for convenience' sake, while warning us that, in so doing, they have no intention of prejudging their nature. I do, and shall continue to do, the same. There is no impropriety in this so long as it is well understood.

To return to Phinuit's character. This doctor in the Beyond is not a bad fellow; on the contrary, he is very obliging, and his chief desire is to please everybody. He repeats all he is asked to repeat, makes all the gestures suggested to him by the communicators in order that they may be recognised; even those of a little child. In his rather deep voice he sings to a weeping mother the nursery song or the lullaby which she sang to her sick child, if the song will serve as a proof of identity. I find at least one such case in Dr Hodgson's report. The couplet sung was probably well-known to Mrs Piper; it is a common one. But as this song had often been sung during her last illness by the child who was communicating, and as it was the last she sang upon earth, the coincidence is at least surprising. Probably Mrs Piper took the air and the words from the source whence she takes so many other details--a source unknown to us.

However, if Dr Phinuit is good-hearted, he is also occasionally deplorably trivial. His language is rarely elevated, and his expressions are almost always vulgar. On occasion he does not dislike a joke or a touch of humour. Thus we have seen that he mischievously persisted in addressing Professor Lodge as "Captain." On another occasion he is a long time in finding a person's name--Theodora. Then he adds, mockingly, "Hum! it is a fine name once one has got hold of it." This does not prevent Phinuit from altering Theodora into Theosophy, and calling the person in question Theosophy! I could easily give other examples of Phinuit's wit. But on this point I must remark that the word "Theosophy"

astonishes me in Phinuit's mouth, even when he is making a joking use of it. Evidently Mrs Piper knows the name and the thing well. But at the time when Dr Phinuit attended his contemporaries in flesh and blood, there was, I believe, no question of Theosophy, nor of its foundress, Madame Blavatsky. There was indeed a sect of Theosophists at the end of the eighteenth century, but it was very obscure.

Dr Phinuit is, besides, very proud of his exploits. He likes to make people believe that he knows and sees everything. Indeed, perhaps it is because he likes to seem not to be ignorant of anything that he sometimes asserts so many controverted facts. And this is to be deplored; for how much more useful service he would render if his facts were not doubtful! Unluckily, this is far from being the case. Phinuit occasionally seems to tell falsehoods deliberately. This has been made evident when he has been asked to prove his identity by giving details of his terrestrial life.

In December 1889,[32] he replies to Professor Alfred Lodge, the brother of Professor Oliver Lodge,--

"I have been from thirty to thirty-five years in spirit, I think. I died when I was seventy, of leprosy; very disagreeable. I had been to Australia and Switzerland. My wife's name was Mary Latimer. I had a sister Josephine. John was my father's name. I studied medicine at Metz, where I took my degree at thirty years old, married at thirty-five. Look up the town of ----, also the Hotel Dieu in Paris. I was born at Marseilles, am a Southern French gentleman. Find out a woman named Carey. Irish. Mother Irish; father French. I had compassion on her in the hospital. My name is John Phinuit Schlevelle (or Clavelle), but I was always called Dr Phinuit. Do you know Dr Clinton Perry? Find him at Dupuytren, and this woman at the Hotel Dieu. There's a street named Dupuytren, a great street for doctors.... This is my business now, to communicate with those in the body, and make them believe our existence."

I think a bad choice was made of Dr Phinuit to fill this part. The information he here gives us about himself does not bear marks of absolute sincerity. We might say he was an Englishman or American trying to pass himself off for a Frenchman to his fellow-countrymen, and having a very small acquaintance with France and French affairs. And if he had even stopped there! But no. He has often contradicted himself. He tells Dr Hodgson[33] that his name is Jean Phinuit Scliville. He could not tell the date of his birth or death. But, on comparing the facts he gives, we might conclude that he was born in 1790, and that he died in 1860. He tells Dr Hodgson that he studied medicine in Paris, at a college called _Merciana_ or _Meerschaum_, he does not know exactly which. He adds that he also studied medicine at "Metz in Germany." It is no longer he who had a sister named Josephine; it is his wife.

"Josephine," he says, "was a sweetheart of mine at first, but I went back on her, and married Marie after all." This Marie Latimer is supposed to have been thirty when she married Dr Phinuit, and to have died at fifty. He asks Dr Hodgson, "Do you know where the Hospital of God is (Hospital de Dieu)?" "Yes, it is at Paris." "Do you remember old Dyruputia (Dupuytren)?" "He was the head of the hospital, and there is a street named for him." Phinuit asserts that he went to London, and from London to Belgium, and travelled a great deal, when his health broke down.

In the above-quoted passage, Phinuit asserts that he had set himself to prove the existence of spirits. If he had set himself the contrary task he would have been more likely to succeed, when he gives us such information as the above. If we went no further, we should need to ask ourselves how serious men can have concerned themselves during so long a period with such idle stories. Happily, as we shall see later, others have succeeded in establishing their identity better than Phinuit has done. Phinuit himself, even if he tells the most foolish stories when he speaks of himself, reveals profoundly intimate and hidden secrets when he speaks of others. Truly, it is correctly said that these phenomena are disconcerting. But they are none the less interesting to science when their authenticity and the sincerity of the medium are beyond discussion, as in the present case. I will therefore go on examining the Phinuit personality; it will be the reverse side of the medal.

An American doctor, whom Dr Hodgson designates by the initials C. F. W., has a sitting with Mrs Piper on May 17, 1889. Here is a fragment of the dialogue between him and Phinuit.[34]

C. F. W.--"What medical men were prominent in Paris in your time?"

Phinuit.--"Bouvier and Dupuytren, who was at Hotel Dieu."

C. F. W.--"Was Dupuytren alive when you passed out?"

Phinuit.--"No; he passed out before me; I passed out twenty or thirty years ago."

C. F. W.--"What influence has my mind on what you tell me?"

Phinuit.--"I get nothing from your mind; I can't read your mind any more than I can see through a stone wall." (Phinuit added that he saw the people of whom he spoke objectively, and that it was they who gave him his information.)

C. F. W.--"Have you any relatives living in Marseilles?"

Phinuit.--"I had a brother who died there two or three years ago."

A little later on, at the same sitting, Phinuit says,

"Many people think I am the medium; that is all bosh."

Well, so much the better. But if Phinuit is not Mrs Piper, neither does he appear to be a Frenchman. A further proof of this is that he is incapable of keeping up a conversation in French. He speaks English with a pronounced _cafe-concert_ French accent, it is true, but that is not a proof. He likes to count in French, and sometimes he pronounces two or three consecutive words more or less correctly. But who would venture to maintain that Mrs Piper's sub-consciousness has not received them in some way; it would be all the more likely, because at one time our medium had a governess for her children who spoke French fluently.

However, Dr C. F. W., quoted above, says that Phinuit understood all that he said to him in French, which Mrs Piper in her normal state could not have done. On the other hand, Professor William James says that Phinuit does not understand his French. Whom shall we believe? One thing is certain, French or not, Phinuit does not speak French. Dr Hodgson asked him why this was. Phinuit, who is never at a loss, explained as follows:--"He had been a long time in practice at Metz, and as there are a great many English there he had ended by forgetting his French." This is just such a piece of childishness as the secondary personalities invent.[35] Dr Hodgson pointed out the absurdity of the explanation to Phinuit, and added, "As you are obliged to express your thoughts through the organism of the medium, and as she does not know French, it would be more plausible if you said that it would be impossible to express your thoughts in French by means of Mrs Piper."

Phinuit found the explanation magnificent, and some days after served it up whole to another inquisitive person who questioned him.

As Dr Hodgson continued to tease him about his name, he ended by admitting, or believing, that his name was not Phinuit at all.

"It was the medium Cocke who insisted that my name was Phinuit one day at a sitting. I said, 'All right, call me Phinuit if you like, one name is as good to me as another.' But you see, Hodgson, my name is Scliville, I am Dr John Scliville. But, when I think about it, I had another name between John and Scliville."

Phinuit did think about it, and at another sitting he said he had remembered. His name now was Jean Alaen Scliville. Alaen, as we see, is unmistakably French. In short, these are wretched inventions, quite as wretched and much less poetic than the Martian romance, due to the subconsciousness of Mlle. Smith.

Does Phinuit better justify the title of doctor which he assumes? On this point opinions are less divided. His diagnosis is often surprisingly exact, even in cases where the patient does not himself know what his illness is. As long ago as 1890, Professor Oliver Lodge expresses himself as follows with regard to Phinuit's medical knowledge.

The opinion of a man of science like Professor Lodge is of great weight, though he is a physicist and not a doctor.

"Admitting, however, that 'Dr Phinuit' is probably a mere name for Mrs Piper's secondary consciousness, one cannot help being struck by the singular correctness of his medical diagnosis. In fact, the medical statements, coinciding as they do with truth just as well as those of a regular physician, but given without any ordinary examination, and sometimes without even seeing the patient, must be held as part of the evidence establishing a strong _prima facie_ case for the existence of _some_ abnormal means of acquiring information."[36]

Chapter end

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