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Mrs. Piper & the Society for Psychical Research Part 9

At M. Bourget's second sitting,[50] in 1893, a Mrs Pitman appeared, who had lived a long time in France and spoke French well, and who offered to help the artist with whom M. Bourget wished to talk in her efforts to communicate.

In 1888, Mrs Pitman, who was a member of the American Society for Psychical Research, had had two sittings with Mrs Piper. Among other things, Phinuit said to her, "You are going to be very sick; you will go to Paris; you will be very sick: you will have great weakness in the stomach and head. A sandy complexioned gentleman will attend you while you are ill beyond the sea." In consequence of this, Mrs Pitman asked Phinuit what the end of the illness would be. Phinuit made evasive replies. Mrs Pitman asked Dr Hodgson's intervention; he insisted in his turn, and Phinuit got out of it by saying, "After she gets over the sickness she will be all right."

Mrs Pitman replied that there was nothing the matter with her stomach; she contradicted Phinuit on every point, and he appeared much annoyed.

But Mrs Pitman soon fell ill. She was attended by a Dr Herbert, who was very fair; he diagnosed inflammation of the stomach. Then Mrs Pitman began to believe in Phinuit's prediction; but interpreting his last words wrongly, she believed she should recover. Dr Charcott attended her at Paris for a nervous illness. She suffered from weakness in the head, and her mental faculties were impaired. In short, she died.

Again, other communications which do not fit in with the telepathic theory are those from very young children. When they communicate a short time after death, they reproduce their childish gestures, they repeat the few words they had begun to stammer; they ask by gestures for the toys they liked. All these details are evidently to be found in the minds of the parents. But when these children communicate long years after their death, it is as if they had grown in the other world; they only rarely allude to the impressions of their babyhood, even when these impressions remain vivid in the minds of the father and mother. George Pelham was one day acting as intermediary for a child who had been dead many years. The mother naturally spoke of him as a child, and George Pelham remonstrated, "Roland is a gentleman; he is not a little boy."[51]

FOOTNOTES:

[44] _Proc. of S.P.R._, vol. xiii. p. 370.

[45] _Proc. of S.P.R._, vol. xiii. p. 494.

[46] _Ibid._, p. 495.

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

[48] _Proc. of S.P.R._, vol. vi. p. 509.

[49] _Proc. of S.P.R._, vol. xiii. p. 416.

[50] _Proc. of S.P.R._, vol. xiii. p. 496.

[51] _Proc. of S.P.R._, vol. xiii. p. 512.

CHAPTER IX

Further consideration of the difficulties of the problem--George Pelham--Development of the automatic writing.

Phinuit's empire remained uncontested till the month of March 1892. He sometimes yielded his place to other controls, but rarely through a whole sitting. However, in March 1892, a new communicator appeared, who imposed his collaboration on Phinuit, with the latter's consent or without it. This newcomer called himself George Pelham,[52] and asserted that he was the disincarnated spirit of a young man of thirty-two, who had been killed four or five weeks before by a horse accident. However that may be, this new control had more culture, more moral elevation, and a greater love of truth than the so-called French doctor. The latter benefited by the companionship; he tried to be more truthful, and seemed to make fewer appeals to his imagination; in short, all the sittings improved, even those in which Phinuit appeared alone.

The newcomer did everything in his power to establish his identity. His success is still a matter open to discussion, in the view of some persons, and their doubts at least prove that, in order to solve this greatest of all problems, it is not enough that the communicators should give us numerous details which would seem at a first glance to establish their identity, though the few cases in which identity appears to be proved furnish us with a strong presumption in favour of survival after death. If George Pelham is what he says he is, future generations will _owe_ him profound gratitude; he has done all that he could, under circumstances which are, it appears, very unfavourable, although we are not in a position to understand the difficulties.

It is not always easy to prove identity, even between the living.

Imagine a man in England, at the end of a telegraph or telephone wire; imagine that a certain number of his friends at the other end of the wire, in France, refuse to believe him when he says he is So-and-so, and say, "Please prove your identity." The unfortunate man will be in difficulties. He will say, "Do you remember our being together in such a place?" The reply will be, "Nonsense; somebody has told you of that incident, and it does not in the least prove that you are the person you say you are." And so on, and so on. One fact is incontestable, however; there is somebody at the end of the wire. The telepathic theory asserts that, in spite of appearances, there is no one at the end of the wire, or, at least, that no one is there but the medium, temporarily endowed with powers as mysterious as they are extraordinary. But to return to George Pelham.

Pelham is not his exact name. The last syllable has been slightly modified, from motives of discretion. He belonged to a good family in the United States, which counts Benjamin Franklin amongst its ancestors. He had studied law, but when his studies were finished he gave himself up exclusively to literature and philosophy. He had published two works, which brought him much praise from competent judges. He had lived for a long time in Boston or its neighbourhood. The last three years of his life were passed in New York. In February 1892 he fell from his horse and was killed on the spot.

He had interested himself in Psychical Research, though very sceptical about the matter. He was a member of the American Society, and later of the American Branch of the Society for Psychical Research. Dr Hodgson knew him very well, and liked to talk to him on account of the soundness of his judgment and the liveliness of his intelligence. But neither time nor circumstances had allowed ties of affection or real friendship to be established between them.

Two years before George Pelham's death, he and Dr Hodgson had a long discussion regarding a future life. George Pelham maintained that it was not only improbable, but also inconceivable. Dr Hodgson maintained that it was at least conceivable. After much exchange of argument, George Pelham ended by allowing so much, and finished the conversation by saying that, if he should die before Dr Hodgson, and should find himself "still existing," he would "make things lively" in the effort to reveal the fact.

George Pelham, more fortunate than many others who, before or after him, have made the same promise, seems to have kept his word. That many others have been unable to do so proves nothing. The means of communication are still definitely rare; Mrs Piper is an almost unique medium of her kind up to the present day. It may be that the great majority of the inhabitants of the other world are in the same position as the great majority in this, and are ignorant of the possibility of communication. Even if those who promise to return know of this possibility, the difficulty of recognising their friends must be great, since they do not seem to perceive matter. Their friends who are still in the body should, it appears, call them by thinking intently of them, by presenting to good mediums articles which belonged to the dead, and to which a strong emotional memory is attached, and by asking the controls of these mediums to look for them.

When these precautions are not taken, the survivors are wrong to blame their friends' failure to keep their word, or to conclude that all is ended with the death of the body.

George Pelham may have been enabled to manifest himself by particularly favourable circumstances. He knew of Mrs Piper's existence, although, most probably, Mrs Piper did not know him. In 1888 the American Society for Psychical Research had nominated a commission for the investigation of mediumistic phenomena; this commission asked Mrs Piper for a series of sittings. I do not know whether George Pelham was a member of the commission, but he was present at one of the sittings. The names of all the sitters were carefully kept private, and nothing happened of a nature to draw the attention of the medium to George Pelham, who in all probability passed unnoticed.

Dr Hodgson thinks he can affirm that Mrs Piper only quite recently learned that George Pelham had been present at one of her sittings. The name of George Pelham must have been revealed to her considerably later on, for, in her normal state, she is quite ignorant of what she has said in her trance state; she learns it, as do all those who are interested in these questions, by reading the _Proceedings of the Society for Psychical Research_ except when Dr Hodgson thinks proper to tell her anything.

With the appearance of George Pelham there arose a new method of communication--the method of automatic writing.

It was only on March 12, 1892,[53] that it was granted to Dr Hodgson to be present for the first time when this writing was produced; although it had occurred on rare occasions before. Phinuit was serving as intermediary for a communicator who called herself Annie D. Towards the end of the sitting Mrs Piper's arm rose slowly till the hand was over the top of her head. The arm remained rigid in this position, but the hand trembled very rapidly. Phinuit exclaimed, "She's taken my hand away," and added, "she wants to write." Dr Hodgson put a pencil between Mrs Piper's fingers and a block-book on her head. "Hold the hand," said Phinuit. Dr Hodgson grasped the wrist and stopped the trembling. Then the hand wrote, "I am Annie D. I am not dead but living," and some other words; then Phinuit murmured, "Give me back my hand." The arm remained contracted and in the same position for a short time, but finally, slowly, and as though with much difficulty, it moved down to the side.

During the following sittings the writing was produced in the same inconvenient position. But on April 29, 1892, Dr Hodgson arranged a table so that Mrs Piper's right arm could rest comfortably on it; then, seizing the arm and commanding with all his power, "You must try to write on the table," he succeeded, by using not a little force, in getting the arm down. Since then the writing has been produced with the arm resting more or less on the table. When a control takes possession of the arm to write, it is seized with violent spasmodic convulsions.

The block-books, writing-books, pencils, and everything on the table are thrown in confusion on to the floor. Sometimes considerable force must be employed to keep the arm still. Then a pencil is placed between the fingers, and the writing begins. Sometimes, but rarely, the writing is interrupted by a spasm; the hand is firmly closed and the wrist bent, but after a few seconds the spasm disappears, and the writing begins again.

On most occasions, since the automatic writing has become easy, two controls have manifested simultaneously--one by means of the voice, the other by writing; Phinuit continuing to use the voice, according to his former custom. George Pelham, although he also uses the voice occasionally, prefers writing. On the 24th February 1894 a control wrote, "There is no reason why various spiritual minds cannot express their thoughts at the same time, through the same organism." This is really what happens. The voice may keep up a conversation with a sitter while the hand keeps up another in writing with someone else on a wholly different subject. If the sitter who is talking with the hand allows his attention to be distracted by what the voice says, the hand recalls his attention by its movements. When anyone is speaking to the hand control, it is necessary to speak to the hand, and close to the hand, or there is a risk of not being understood. In short, one must behave as if the hand were a complete and independent being.

Observation of this phenomenon suggested to Dr Hodgson that by using the left hand he could perhaps obtain three communications on three different subjects. He tried and succeeded, although imperfectly; no doubt because, in the normal state, the left hand is not used to writing.

Formerly Phinuit used to protest when the hand was seized, and asked at once that it should be returned to him, as we have seen above. Since the automatic writing has been developed the hand may be used by one control without the fact being perceived by the control who is using the voice.

One day Phinuit was talking with a sitter about his relations, when the hand suddenly, and so to say surreptitiously, wrote for Dr Hodgson a communication supposed to come from an intimate friend, and treating of a subject altogether different from those of which the voice was speaking. Dr Hodgson adds that it was "precisely as if a caller should enter a room where two strangers to him were conversing, but a friend of his also present, and whisper a special message into the ear of the friend without disturbing the conversation."[54]

Phinuit seems to prefer not to notice what the hand is doing. He talks as long as he has an interlocutor, but, when the messages given through the hand distract the attention of this interlocutor, Phinuit often says, "I'll help him." What does he mean by this? It is a mystery. But if it is wished to continue the conversation with him, the ear must be addressed directly he is ready to resume. All this does not interrupt the writing; the head and the hand do not interfere with one another.

The observers of these strange phenomena, especially Dr Hodgson, maintain that the controls write without consciousness that they are writing, as, no doubt, they speak without consciousness that they are speaking. According to what they say, these controls perceive in the body of the medium two principal masses of the mysterious fluid, the unknown energy which appears like light to them, and which they call the "light." One of these masses is in the head, the other in the hand. The controls think "in" this light, and their thoughts are transmitted to us automatically through the organism.

The automatic writing differs according to the controls. They do not always succeed in reproducing the characteristics of their handwriting when alive. George Pelham has tried to do so at least once, and did not succeed. But this should not surprise us; we do not work as well with other people's tools as with our own. In any case this difference in the handwriting is a presumption the more in favour of the difference of individuality.

The writing often looks like that on a lithographic stone, and can only be read when reflected in a glass; this writing, which is called mirror-writing, is produced as rapidly as ordinary writing, though Mrs Piper, in her normal state, would be unable to write in this way. This mirror-writing has been often observed in subjects who write automatically; the cause for it is still to be found.

On other occasions words are written backwards. Thus for _hospital_, _latipsoh_ will be obtained. With certain mediums not only words but whole sentences are thus written. To read them, they must be begun at the last letter and read backwards to the first. Syllables are also often misplaced in Mrs Piper's automatic writing; thus _hospital_ may be written _hostipal_. I remind the reader that I am referring to facts well attested by competent men, about which there can be no question of fraud.

There exist detailed minutes of many of the sittings, copied from stenographic notes. An attempt was made to introduce a phonograph.

Phinuit jokingly felt the mouth with his hands and asked, "What is this thing with a tube?" The attempt to explain its use to him was unsuccessful. However, the phonograph recorded the sitting fairly well, but the experiment was not repeated--why, I do not know, for the intonations of the controls would have been an interesting study.

I have often used expressions of affirmation in this chapter, and the reader might therefore conclude that the existence of spirits is no longer a hypothesis in my eyes, but a reality. I have already warned him, and warn him again, that I speak thus only for convenience' sake, and that the existence of spirits is still as hypothetical to me as to anyone else.

FOOTNOTES:

[52] Not the real name. _See_ p. 78, _Trans._

[53] _Proc. of S.P.R._, vol. xiii. p. 291.

[54] _Proc. of S.P.R._, vol. xiii. p. 294.

CHAPTER X

How George Pelham has proved his identity--He recognises his friends and alludes to their opinions--He recognises objects which have belonged to him--Asks that certain things should be done for him--Very rarely makes an erroneous statement.

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