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Mrs. Piper & the Society for Psychical Research Part 7

Mrs B.--"What Alice?"

H. W.--"The little girl that's a namesake." (Our living sister Alice had a child named Alice Olivia, and Hannah always called her Alice: it was our mother's name. The others called her Ollie. Hannah did not like this, and did all she could to make us know that she did not want the Alice dropped.)

H. W.--"Mother is here. Where's doctor? Where's brother?" (My husband is a doctor; Hannah knew him. We have one brother living named Joseph, who travels most of the time.) Hannah Wild takes a gold chain wrapped in silk. Mrs Blodgett says, "Hannah, tell me whose and what is that?"

H. W.--(Feeling tassel at end of chain) "My mother's chain." (The chain was a long chain of mother's. It was cut in two after she died. Hannah had worn one half. The half which I took to the sitting had not been worn since mother's death, and it had a tassel on the end, different from the half Hannah had worn.)

H. W.--"Who's Sarah?"

Mrs B.--"Sarah Grover?"

H. W.--"No, Sarah Obb--Hodg--" (The medium's hand points to Mr Hodgson, and the voice says it belongs to him.) Then Hannah Wild adds, "Sarah Hodson." (Sarah Hodson was a friend of sister's at Waterbury, Connecticut. I had thought of her the night before when I met Mr Hodgson, as she also came from London, England.)

H. W.--"Where is my big silk handkerchief?"

Mrs B.--"I gave it to Clara. You told me to."

H. W.--"Where is my thimble?"

Mrs B.--"I don't know."

H. W.--"I saw you put it into this bag." (The handkerchief was a large silk one given to sister by a lady who lived with us for years, and it came from England. I did not know I had put Hannah's thimble in the bag, but found on return to the hotel that it was there on the bed, with the rest of the things I had taken out of the bag before starting for the sitting.)

Mrs B.--"Can you tell me, sister, how many brothers you have in spirit life?"

H. W.--"One, two, three." (I asked her how many brothers, because William had only been dead since March 27 in the same year (1888).

"Three" was correct.)

Mrs B.--"Can you tell me where that letter is now that you wrote?"

H. W.--"It is at home, in tin box."

Mrs B.--"Can't you tell me more about it?"

H. W.--"I have told you. It would be like ringing church bells if I could come back." (The letter was in the bag wrapped up in rubber cloth.

Sister did say when we put the letter in tin box, "It would be like ringing the City Hall bell if I can come back.")

H. W.--"Where's William and doctor?"

Mrs B.--"Hannah, you tell me where William is."

H. W.--"He is here. I found him."

Mrs B.--"How long has he been?"

H. W.--"Weeks. You know all about it. He sticks to you all the time every day. William wants to know how you like that lot."

Mrs B.--"What lot?"

H. W.--"You ought to know. You bought it to bury him in. William is better out of the world than in it. He was a strange fellow. He don't like that lot. Do you?"

Mrs B.--"No." (I had bought him a lot in Woodlawn Cemetery, N.Y. His wife wanted him buried there. We wanted to take him to our home and bury him by mother. Brother was very proud, and we thought the lot was not as nice as he would like.)

At the end of the sitting the so-called Hannah Wild said that she must go because it was church time, and she would not miss it. Mrs Blodgett remarks that this is also characteristic of her sister. It was Decoration Day, and the living Hannah Wild would certainly not have missed it. This last incident is odd; but there are many analogous ones in the literature of the subject and in Mrs Piper's sittings. Often the communicator will not allow that he is dead, or has passed into another world; if he is asked what he is doing, he appears surprised, and affirms that he is carrying on his usual occupation; if he is a doctor, he asserts that he continues to visit his patients. Phinuit is often asked to describe the people of whom he speaks. He pictures them as they were on earth, in their customary dress, and he affirms that he so sees them. At the end of one sitting Professor Hyslop's father exclaims, "Give me my hat!" Now this was an order he often gave in his lifetime when he rose painfully from his invalid chair to accompany a visitor to the gate. I repeat, these incidents are odd and embarrassing for the spiritistic hypothesis. It is difficult to admit that the other world, if it exists, should be a servile copy of this. Should we suppose that the bewilderment caused by death is so great in certain individuals that it is some time before they perceive the change in their environment? It is difficult to admit this. Should we suppose these speeches are automatisms of the communicator, rendered half unconscious towards the end of the sitting by the heavy atmosphere of the medium's organism?

But, when the communication is not direct, when an intermediary is speaking through the organism, what should we think? Are these traits thrown in intentionally by the communicator, the better to prove his identity? No doubt these incidents are very embarrassing to the spiritistic hypothesis. On the other hand, if we allow that the self-styled communicators are created by the entranced Mrs Piper from the elements she finds here and there in the minds of living persons, these incidents are quite natural; it would be surprising not to meet with them. I mention the difficulty in passing; it will not fall to my lot to solve it.

However this may be, Mrs Blodgett left the sitting convinced that she had been conversing with her own consciousness externalised, and not with the spirit of her sister. But if it had not been for the previous incident of the letter, which had invited distrust, and if Mrs Blodgett had had less judgment, she would probably have left the sitting convinced that she had been talking to her defunct sister. Many spiritualists must commit like errors every day. This shows what circumspection is needed in such studies as these.

Mrs Blodgett asked Dr Hodgson to have some sittings for her, to try again to obtain the text of the famous letter.[42] At the sitting of August 1, 1888, Dr Hodgson gave Phinuit a lock of Hannah Wild's hair.

Phinuit began by saying it was not her hair; he then recognised his mistake, but said that someone else must have touched it. Then he gave a new version of the letter. "This letter is concerned with an incident in Hannah's former life," he affirmed. Then he dictated, "It's something about Hannah's early history, that letter is. At one time I met a person whom I loved. A circumstance in our affection changed my whole life. Had it not been for this one thing I should have been married and happy.

Consequently I went into religious work, and did all the good I could.

Whoever reads this letter after I am gone will know why I remained Hannah Wild...." Mrs Blodgett's comment on this text is very interesting. She says, "This is not what my sister wrote on her deathbed, but it is perfectly true. It was the great grief of sister's life."

How could Phinuit guess this by simply touching a lock of hair? Can it be that our feelings, our sorrows and joys, leave a persistent vibration on the objects we touch, which sensitives can perceive after even a long interval? Numerous and well-observed facts would almost compel us to believe so. It would seem as if the vibrations of the soul imprinted themselves on matter as sound waves are recorded on the cylinder of a phonograph. Certain subjects, in an abnormal state, would be able to recover them. There is, after all, nothing in this repugnant to science.

This abnormal state, which allows sensitives to apprehend past vibrations, is perhaps only a partial abandonment of the body by the spirit. In that case it would be easier to understand that those who, like Phinuit, have entirely quitted their bodies, those who are in another world, can read these vibrations as easily as we can read a book. But if this is so, why does not Phinuit own it? It would be marvel enough to satisfy his vanity. It would not, in any event, prevent his obtaining information directly from disincarnated beings. But he ought to state precisely in each case from what source he derives his knowledge. He does nothing of the kind, and thus renders it almost impossible for us to believe in his individuality.

At this same sitting Phinuit asserted that he would give the letter word for word if he had a longer lock of hair. So Mrs Blodgett sent a longer lock, which was given to him on October 3, 1888. The text he gave was as incorrect as the preceding ones. A last effort was made in 1889, again without result. Miss Hannah Wild has not come back from the other world to tell us what she wrote on her death-bed.

I will end with another example which demonstrates Phinuit's cleverness in reading people's minds even at a distance. On June 3, 1891,[43] Mrs Blodgett wrote a letter to Phinuit. Dr Hodgson read it to him at a sitting on the 15th of the same month. This drew from Phinuit the following statement, which had nothing to do with the contents of the letter: "She's been reading a funny book--a life of somebody. She called on an old friend of Hannah's--somebody I told her to go and see. Mrs Blodgett has a friend named Severance." Mrs Blodgett writes on June 17, "Really Phinuit is doing wonderfully well as far as thought-transference goes. Saturday night, June 13, I gave a talk to the Young Women's Rooms about Helen Gardener's new book, _Is this your Son, my Lord?_" (On the) "14th I did not go to see the friend in body, but I know my mind went, and I wrote him the letter to ask him what Phinuit told me to do when there." Mrs Blodgett adds:--"I had a friend named Severance, but sister Hannah had never heard of him."

FOOTNOTES:

[39] _Proc. of S.P.R._, vol. viii. p. 69.

[40] _Proc. of S.P.R._, vol. viii. p. 75.

[41] Phinuit is speaking, but as he is supposed to be repeating Miss Hannah Wild's words literally, it is easier to speak as if she were speaking directly.

[42] _Proc. of S.P.R._, vol. viii. p. 78.

[43] _Proc. of S.P.R._, vol. viii. p. 83.

CHAPTER VIII

Communications from persons having suffered in their mental faculties--Unexpected communications from unknown persons--The respect due to the communicators--Predictions--Communications from children.

The Blodgett-Hannah Wild case is, I repeat, of a kind to throw discredit on the spiritualist hypothesis. If it and analogous cases alone were considered, it would be needful to ask why earnest men, after long hesitation, have finally given the preference to this hypothesis. But psychic phenomena, and mediumistic phenomena in particular, are infinitely various; they present a multitude of aspects, and it would not be wise to consider them separately.

In this Hannah Wild case everything seems to support the telepathic hypothesis. By this must be understood, not only the reading of thoughts in the consciousness, and even in the subconsciousness, of the persons present, but also in that of absent persons, however far off they may be. And what Phinuit calls "the influence" must be added. This mysterious "influence" might be the traces of vibrations left on objects by our thoughts and feelings. Evidently this hypothesis plunges us into mystery, at least as much as does the spiritualist hypothesis.

Nevertheless, we should be obliged to give it the preference, if it were sufficiently supported, because it is, after all, more in touch with our present conceptions than its rival.

Even the incident of the medium who, designating Mrs Blodgett amidst a numerous audience, said to her, "There is a lady here who wants to speak to you; she will soon give you the contents of the paper," can easily be explained by telepathy. Mrs Blodgett was in the presence of a medium.

Now some medium was to reveal to her the mysterious text of her sister's letter. That was enough to bring the recollection of the letter into the foreground of her consciousness, where the medium may have read it telepathically.

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