Mrs. Piper & the Society for Psychical Research Part 8

But again, there are an infinite number of other cases which telepathy does not explain at all, or only insufficiently. I shall try to show this by repeating some of the arguments put forward by Dr Hodgson in his remarkable report in 1898, and in the chapter entitled "Indications that the 'Spirit' Hypothesis is True."[44]

The most important of these arguments is founded upon the communications of persons whose mental faculties had been impaired by illness for a more or less long period before their deaths. A long series of concordant observations inspired Dr Hodgson with this argument. It is as follows:--"If we had to do with telepathy, the communications should be most clear and abundant in the cases where the memories of the dead are most clear and abundant in the minds of the living."

But experience shows that this is not so. When the self-styled communicator has suffered from mental illness before his death, the communications repeat the trouble feature by feature; they are full of confusion and incoherence. This confusion and incoherence is all the graver, as the mental trouble preceding death was graver. It disappears slowly, but sometimes traces of it appear years after. Telepathy does not explain this. If there is madness in the mind of the dead person, there is none in the minds of the living who remember him. On the other hand, if we introduce the spiritualist hypothesis, the fact is quite admissible, either because the mental trouble may only slowly disappear, or because (and the controls assert this) the mere fact of the disincarnated spirits plunging again into the atmosphere of a human organism temporarily reproduces the trouble.

Besides, there is always more or less incoherence in the communications made very shortly after death, even when the communicator has kept his full mental faculties up to his last moments. But if the communicator were really what he says he is, we should expect this, for three reasons--the violent shock of disincarnation must trouble the mind; the arrival in an entirely new environment, where he must at first be unable to distinguish much, should trouble him still more; and lastly, these first attempts at communication may be impeded by his want of skill in using the strange organism; he would require a sort of apprenticeship.

But when no mental trouble has preceded death, the incoherence of the first communications does not last. They soon become as clear as the imperfection of the means which the dead man has to use permits. In the George Pelham case, which we shall examine later on, the first communications were also incoherent. Yet George Pelham was soon to become one of the most clear and lucid, if not the most clear and lucid, of all the dead persons who have claimed to manifest through Mrs Piper's organism. But George Pelham died suddenly by an accident, and his intellectual faculties, which, moreover, were above the average, had never been injured.

This is, I repeat, what experience seems to show. But doubtless many more observations are needed before we can affirm that it is really proved.

However, unless Dr Hodgson and his colleagues are mistaken, these facts are contrary to what we should expect on the telepathic theory. I will quote some examples.

Dr Hodgson tried to obtain communications from one of his friends, designated by the initial A., more than a year after the latter's death.

He spent six sittings over it, but the result was meagre. He obtained some names, and with difficulty some mention of certain incidents of A.'s life. Some of the incidents were even unknown to Dr Hodgson at the time, but all was full of incoherence and confusion. Finally he gave it up on the advice of George Pelham, who said that A.'s spirit would not be clear for some time yet. This A. had suffered from violent headaches and nervous exhaustion for some years before his death, though the troubles had not amounted to insanity. Now, just at the time when A. was incapable of manifesting clearly, other spirits were manifesting with all desirable lucidity in identical circumstances. Another case quoted by Dr Hodgson is that of a Mr B. who had committed suicide in a fit of insanity. He was not personally known to Dr Hodgson. During several years Mr B.'s communications were extremely confused, even about matters with which Dr Hodgson was well acquainted.

A third communicator, an intimate friend of Dr Hodgson's, had also committed suicide. About a year after his death he still seemed to be ignorant of events which he had known well in his lifetime and which were quite clear in the inquirer's mind. More than seven years after his death he wrote through the medium's hand, "My head was not clear, and is not yet, when I speak to you."

On December 7,[45] 1893, M. Paul Bourget, of the _Academie Francaise_, and his wife, had a sitting with Mrs Piper. M. Paul Bourget much wished to communicate with an artist who had committed suicide at Venice by throwing herself out of a gondola. There exists no written report of this sitting, and consequently we do not know exactly what it was worth.

But on December 11[46] M. Bourget had another sitting, and this time Dr Hodgson accompanied him and took notes. The artist seemed to make desperate efforts to communicate and to write herself, but she could only produce two or three French words, amongst which apparently was the exclamation, "Mon Dieu!" Nevertheless her Christian name was given and the place where she had killed herself, Venice, and the syllable _Bou_, the beginning of Bourget, was often repeated. Why were the results so poor? M. and Mme. Bourget knew this person well, and their minds were full of reminiscences on which the medium had only to draw.

However, some people might reason as follows. Objects having been used by the persons with whom it is desired to communicate are nearly always given to Mrs Piper. If the medium obtains her information not only from the minds of the living, but likewise from the "influence," that is, from the vibrations which our thoughts and feelings may have left recorded on these objects, the imperfections of the earlier communications of persons whose minds have been disturbed might be explained by the theory that the "influence" left by an insane person would be neither so clear nor so easy to read as that left by a sane one. But then why should the communicators grow clear with time? Why should they become lucid at the time when they ought to be still more confused, if the telepathic hypothesis is the correct one?

But this interpretation falls to the ground entirely when we take into account the numerous communicators who are unknown, or almost unknown, to the sitters, of whom absolutely nobody is thinking, and who come in the middle of a sitting to send a message to their surviving relatives.

Mrs Piper cannot have produced these communications by means of the "influence" left on objects, unless we suppose that the presence of these objects is not necessary and that any "influence" may strike the medium from any point of the compass at the moment when she least expects it. That would perhaps be stretching the hypothesis beyond allowable limits. And these cases are, I repeat, numerous and very interesting. I quote three for my readers' edification.

During the 46th[47] of the English sittings with Messrs Oliver and Alfred Lodge as sitters, Phinuit suddenly exclaimed,--

"Oh, dear, there is something very bad about this. Here's a little child called Stevenson--two of them--one named Mannie (Minnie?) wants to send her love to her father in the body and the mother in the body--she had sore throat and passed out. He is very bad and has gone away very unhappy. She's clinging to me and begging me to tell you that she's little Mannie Stevenson, and that her father's almost dead with grief, he sits crying, crying dreadful, and he's gone away very unhappy. Tell him she's not dead, but sends her love to him; and tell him not to cry."

Professor Lodge.--"Can she send her name any better?"

Phinuit.--"Oh, they called her Pet, and when she was ill they called her Birdie. And tell mamma too, do."

Professor L.--"Well, I will if I can."

Professor Lodge could not discover the Stevenson family, which was a pity, for two reasons; first, that a message from beyond the tomb might have restored the despairing parents to a little hope and calm; and secondly, because cavillers could not have attributed the incident to the medium's cunning, which they would not fail to do if other incidents of the same nature did not make this interpretation almost inadmissible.

At the 45th English sitting,[48] when Messrs Oliver and Alfred Lodge and Mr and Mrs Thompson were the sitters, Phinuit suddenly said,--

"Do you know Richard Rich, Mr Rich?"

Mrs Thompson.--"Not well; I knew a Dr Rich."

Phinuit.--"That's him; he's passed out. He sends kindest regards to his father." And Phinuit began directly to speak of something else.

At the 83rd sitting, when Mr and Mrs Thompson were again present, Phinuit said all at once,--

"Here's Dr Rich;" upon which Dr Rich proceeds to speak.

Dr Rich.--"It is very kind of this gentleman" (_i.e._, Dr Phinuit) "to let me speak to you. Mr Thompson, I want you to give a message to father."

Mr Thompson.--"I will give it."

Dr R.--"Thank you a thousand times; it is very good of you. You see I passed out rather suddenly. Father was very much troubled about it, and he is troubled yet. He hasn't got over it. Tell him that I am alive--that I send my love to him. Where are my glasses" (the medium passes her hands over her eyes)? "I used to wear glasses" (true). "I think he has them, and some of my books. There was a little black case I had; I think he has that too. I don't want that lost. Sometimes he is bothered about a dizzy feeling in his head--nervous about it--but it is of no consequence."

Mr T.--"What does your father do?"

(The medium took up a card and appeared to write on it, and pretended to put stamp in corner.)

Dr R.--"He attends to this sort of thing. Mr Thompson, if you will give this message I will help you in many ways. I can and I will."

Professor Lodge remarks about this incident, "Mr Rich, senior, is head of Liverpool Post Office. His son, Dr Rich, was almost a stranger to Mr Thompson, and quite a stranger to me. The father was much distressed by his son's death, we find. Mr Thompson has since been to see him and given him the message. He (Mr Rich, senior) considers the episode very extraordinary and inexplicable, except by fraud of some kind. The phrase, 'Thank you a thousand times,' he asserts to be characteristic, and he admits a recent slight dizziness. Mr Rich did not know what his son means by _a black case_. The only person who could give any information about it was at the time in Germany. But it was reported that Dr Rich talked constantly about a black case when he was on his deathbed."

No doubt Mr and Mrs Thompson knew Dr Rich, having met him once. But they were quite ignorant of all the details here given. Whence did the medium take them? Not from the "influence" left on some object, because there was no such object at the sitting.

At a sitting on the 28th November 1892,[49] at the house of Mr Howard, when those present were Mr and Mrs Howard, their daughter Katherine, and Dr Hodgson, Phinuit suddenly asked,--

"Who is Farnan?"

Mr Howard.--"Vernon?"

Phinuit.--"I don't know how you pronounce it. It is F-a-r-n-s-w-o-r-t-h." (Phinuit spelt it.)

Dr Hodgson.--"What about it?"

Phinuit.--"He wants to see you."

Dr H.--"He wants to see me?"

Phinuit.--"Not you, but this lady."

Mrs H.--"Well, what does he want to say to me? Is it a woman or a man?"

Phinuit.--"It is a gentleman; and do you remember your Aunt Ellen?"

Mrs H.--"Yes; which Aunt Ellen?"

Phinuit.--"She has got this gentleman." (_I.e._, this man was in her service.)

Further on, Phinuit adds, "That gentleman wanted to send his love to her, and to be remembered to you--so that you may know he is here, and it is a test. These little things sometimes interrupt me greatly and when I go to explain it to you, you can't understand it. But sometimes when I am talking to you, I am suddenly interrupted by somebody who don't realise what they are doing, and then I give you what they say as near as I can, you understand that, and it is very difficult sometimes for me to discern it and place it in the right place."

Mrs Howard asked her Aunt Ellen if she had known anyone named Farnsworth, without telling her more. Phinuit was right: a gardener named Farnsworth had worked for her uncle and then for her grandfather thirty-five or forty years before. Mrs Howard had never heard of him.

Incidents like those I have just related are evidently difficult to explain on the telepathic theory.

But a more complete refutation of the telepathic hypothesis would be to get a certain number of fulfilled predictions. The medium could not read events which have not yet occurred, either in the minds of the living or in the "influence" left on objects. Phinuit has often tried his hand at predictions; I will quote one.

Chapter end

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