H. F. Saltmarsh

1881-1943. A lifelong and revered contributor to the Society for Psychical Research. A businessman involved in international shipping before his early retirement because of ill health, he was student of Theosophy, a highly regarded writer on precognition and survival, and an astute investigator of mediumistic sittings. Served for many years as a financial officer of the SPR and contributed numerous articles to its journal.

The Plan Behind the Cross-Correspondences

- H. F. Saltmarsh -

          THE UNIQUE and peculiarly interesting feature of this series is that they purported to be experiments invented and arranged on 'the other side.'

On January 17th, 1901, Frederic Myers died. He had, during his life, played a leading part in scientific psychical research and had an intense desire to discover objective evidence of survival such as would establish high logical probability, in fact, what would be considered as proof in any science of observation. He, himself, fully believed in survival, although he knew that the evidence available was not sufficient to compel general belief. In the communications which purport to come from him through automatic writing we can see again and again the passionate longing to prove his continued existence, and to convince his friends on earth of his identity. For example, in Mrs. Holland's script of January 12th, 1904, Myers, purporting to communicate, writes:

If it were possible for the soul to die back into earth life again I should die from sheer yearning to reach you to tell you that all that we imagined is not half wonderful enough for the truth,[1]

and through Mrs. Piper,

I am trying with all the forces ... together to prove that I am Myers,[2] and again through Mrs. Holland, Oh, I am feeble with eagerness - how can I best be identified.[3]

[1] Proc, SPR, Vol. XXI, p 233.
[2] Proc, SPR, Vol. XXII, p 105.
[3] Proc, SPR, Vol. XXI, p 234.

Now Myers, as an experienced psychical researcher, was fully aware of the difficulty of eliminating the possibility of explaining away evidential messages by telepathy or clairvoyance. The matter stands thus. The very large bulk of those cases wherein evidence of a supernormal kind is put forward as proving personal survival, consists of communications of knowledge which is not in the possession of any living person concerned, but was, or could have been, possessed by the individual from whose surviving spirit the messages purport to come.

Now, it is clear that for such communications to be of any value as evidence, the information conveyed must be capable of verification, and this implies that some living person must know the facts or else that some record exists or some circumstances from which the facts may be inferred.

But if this be so, it is always possible to hold that the information was conveyed telepathically to the mind of the medium from the living person who knew the facts, or else that the medium clairvoyantly became aware of the record or circumstances in which it is embodied. We have to bear in mind that it is not only the ordinary supraliminal knowledge of living persons which is available, but also the subliminal; further that a telepathic impression may be received and lie dormant in subliminal mind of the percipient, emerging into ordinary consciousness only after a lapse of time, sometimes of quite considerable length.

In these circumstances it is hard to imagine any possible evidence which could bring unequivocal proof of survival. Now Myers, as I have said, was fully aware of all this, and what makes these experiments so peculiarly interesting is that, if we take the statements of the communicators at their face value, it looks as though his surviving spirit had invented a means of getting over the difficulty and had endeavoured to carry it out.

I must, however, lay stress on the words 'at their face value.' Whether this represents a true picture of what actually occurred and whether the spirit of Fred Myers survived his bodily death and carried over into his new mode of existence his memories, affections and interest in psychical research, must be decided on the evidence itself.

When reading the reports of the cases and the scripts of the various automatists, one can hardly help feeling that it was indeed Myers, Gurney, Sidgwick and the rest, who once had lived on earth and worked enthusiastically for psychical research, continuing their labours from the other side, and making strenuous endeavours to prove their identity.

But feelings are not enough, in fact, they should be sternly put aside by those who seek scientific knowledge. I shall have to speak of the dramatic personation later and try to assess its evidential value, but until it has been subjected to severe criticism its persuasive influence must be discounted.

Briefly, the plan which purports to have been devised by Myers and his associates on the other side is as follows.

Suppose a message in cryptic terms be transmitted through one automatist, and another message, equally incomprehensible, through a second at about the same time, and suppose that each automatist was ignorant of what the other was writing, we have then two meaningless messages entirely disconnected with each other.

Now, if a third automatist were to produce a script which, while meaningless taken by itself, acts as a clue to the other two, so that the whole set could be brought together into one whole, and then show a single purpose and meaning, we should have good evidence that they all originated from a single source.

It may be looked at like this. Two people are each given one piece of a jigsaw puzzle, taken separately each piece is meaningless, nor will they fit each other. A third person is then given a third piece, and when the pieces are all brought together, it is found that they not only fit each other, but that when fitted they exhibit a coherent picture showing evidence of design and purpose.

It is quite obvious that telepathy between the automatists, in so far as their supraliminal knowledge is concerned, would not explain these facts, for none of them is able to understand the meaning of their own particular fragment, and so could not possibly convey to the other automatists the knowledge required to supply the missing portions. In most cases the puzzle - for the very essence of the whole thing is that they are puzzles - has been solved by an independent investigator, in fact, frequently the automatists themselves have remained in ignorance of any scripts but their own.

It is true that this independent source might possibly be the subliminal mind of one of the automatists, or that of some living person. We can only form a tentative decision on this point when we have studied the actual cases as we have to rely entirely on internal evidence, i.e., the nature and characteristics of the messages.

A case such as this where three automatists are concerned would be the ideal type of Cross Correspondence, as they are called, and it must be admitted that up to the present no perfect example has been found.

A less convincing form of cross correspondence would be where two automatists independently produce scripts which, taken separately, are meaningless, but when put together are found to be complementary and mutually explanatory. Of this type we have several good examples.

Besides these cross correspondences there are a large number of instances where the script of two or more automatists has references to the same subject at about the same time. In such cases the complementariness is reduced to simple reference to a single topic, and, in the absence of other evidence, we should have no hesitation in explaining them, provisionally at least - for all explanations are provisional at the present stage of our knowledge - as being due to telepathy between the automatists.

That telepathy does occur I have little doubt, but the cases seem to form a series of ascending complexity until we reach a point at which the hypothesis of simple telepathy fails. Where the line should be drawn it is impossible to say.

This, then, is the scheme or plan which, by their own account, was invented by the communicators on the other side, and we have passages in the scripts to bear this out. For example, the automatist is sometimes exhorted 'to weave together' and told that singly they can do little. In Mrs. Verrall's script we find:

Record the bits and when fitted they will make the whole;[4]


I will give the words between you neither alone can read but together they will give the clue he wants.[5]

[4] Proc, SPR, Vol. XXI, p. 385.
[5] Ibid., p. 382.

Moreover, there occurs in several instances instructions to the automatist to send her script, either to one of the other automatists, or else to one of the investigators, in fact, it was on account of such instructions that in one or two cases the automatists were first brought together.

I will conclude these preliminary explanations by quoting a few passages from a paper by Miss Alice Johnson, Proceedings, Vol. XXI, June, 1908, wherein the theory of Cross Correspondences is fully discussed for the first time. On page 375, she says:

'The characteristic of these cases - or at least of some of them - is that we do not get in the writing of one automatist anything like a mechanical verbatim reproduction of phrases in the other; we do not even get the same idea expressed in different ways - as well might result from direct telepathy between them. What we get is a fragmentary utterance in one script, which seems to have no particular point or meaning, and another fragmentary utterance in the other, of an equally pointless character; but when we put the two together, we see that they supplement one another, and that there is apparently one coherent idea underlying both, but only partially expressed in each.'

On page 377, she writes:

'Now, granted the possibility of communication, it may be supposed that within the last few years a certain group of persons have been trying to communicate with us, who are sufficiently well instructed to know all the objections that reasonable sceptics have urged against the previous evidence, and sufficiently intelligent to realize to the full all the force of these objections. It may be supposed that these persons have invented a new plan - the plan of cross-correspondences - to meet the sceptic's objections...

'We have reason to believe ... that the idea of making a statement in one script complementary of a statement in another had not occurred to Mr. Myers in his lifetime, for there is no reference to it in any of his written utterances on the subject that I have been able to discover... Neither did those who have been investigating automatic script since his death invent this plan, if plan it be. It was not the automatists that detected it, but a student of the scripts; it has every appearance of being an element imported from outside; it suggests an independent invention, an active intelligence constantly at work in the present, not a mere echo or remnant of individualities of the past.'

And on page 389,

'Assuming that the controls are actually trying to communicate some definite idea by means of two different automatists, whom at the same time they were trying to prevent from communicating telepathically with one another, what the controls have to do is to express the factors of the idea in so veiled a form that each writer indites her own share without understanding it. Yet the expression must be so definite that, when once the clue is found, no room is left for doubt as to the proper interpretation.

'It will be seen that, ex hypothesi, the idea must be prevented from reaching the subliminal consciousness of the automatists; yet we cannot be certain in any case that it has been so prevented, as we can only interrogate their supraliminal consciousnesses. It is conceivable, however, that the controls are more capable than living persons of manipulating their own telepathic faculties. Just as we in ordinary conversation can say what we like and abstain from saying what we wish not to say; so it is possible that the controls can telepathically convey certain things to the automatists, stopping short at whatever point they choose, and thus excluding subliminal comprehension of the underlying ideas.'


H. F. Saltmarsh's "Evidence of Personal Survival from Cross-Correspondences" (London: G. Bell, 1938).

Related Articles

Summary and Discussion of the Cross-Correspondences by H. F. Saltmarsh
Three Simple Cross-correspondence Experiments by H. F. Saltmarsh
Cross-correspondences (1) by Rosalind Heywood
Cross-correspondences (2) by Rosalind Heywood
Introduction to the study of Cross-Correspondence by Oliver Lodge
Cross-Correspondences by W. H. Salter
Cross-Correspondences: New Evidence by W. H. Salter

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