W. H. Salter

William Henry Salter

1880-1969. Went to Trinity College, Cambridge, with a Classical Scholarship in 1899, took a first class degree in 1901, turned to read Law, and was called to the Barin 1905. Joined the Society for Psychical Research in 1916, to become a member of its Council three years later. From 1920 to 1931, a very difficult financial period, he served as Honorary Treasurer; and from 1924 to 1948 he was Honorary Secretary. He was President from 1947 to 1948. He made many contributions to the SPR Journal and Proceedings, and published two admirable books, Ghosts and Apparitions (1938) and Zoar (1961).

From Zoar, or The Evidence for Psychical Research Concerning Survival
(1961, Sidgwick and Jackson, London).

Chapter 12: Communications Through Mediums
III: Limited Scope of these Causes and Faculties

- W. H. Salter -

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          TO APPRECIATE the present position of the survival problem as affected by ESP it is useful to glance backward several years before the experiments to exclude telepathy mentioned in the preceding chapter had been devised. The emergence of the G.P. Control in the Piper mediumship, and Richard Hodgson's study of it, produced for the first time a mass of material that raised an apparently clear-cut issue between telepathy and communication from the dead. The sudden death in New York in 1892 of Pellew (called George Pelham or G.P. in the records) has been mentioned in Chapter IX. He had been a friend, though not a particularly close friend, of Hodgson and within a few weeks of his death communications claiming to come from him were being received through Mrs. Piper by friends of his about whom Hodgson believed Mrs. Piper to know nothing.

Hodgson was at this time in general charge of the Piper sittings. Intending sitters were introduced by him, he kept records of what passed at the sittings, and he verified the messages given as far as he could obtain the sitters' co-operation, which was not always very freely extended. His natural habit of mind was sceptical, as he showed in his investigation of "physical phenomena" in England, and of the Blavatsky phenomena in India. He must therefore be credited, in the absence of evidence to the contrary, with having taken the obvious precautions to preserve the sitted anonymity, to prevent leakage, and to check up on the possibility that Mrs. Piper had, however innocently, obtained information about them and their friends. That is not of course to claim that his inferences based on the annotated records of the sittings were of necessity infallible.

His report on this stage of the Piper mediumship occupies about three hundred pages (284-582) of Vol. XIII of SPR Proceedings, and includes two sections totalling fifty pages (357-406) on the respective merits of the telepathic and spiritistic hypotheses, in which he argues strongly in favour of the latter. Some parts of his argument no one would probably challenge, as, for instance, his claim that the telepathic hypothesis requires "an extension of telepathy between one living person and another far beyond what we have been able to produce experimentally". That was then, and still is, true even if experiments with "free" material are taken into account along with those of the quantitative kind. The presence in all experiments of a known conscious agent in itself divides them sharply from communications through mediums in many of which some living agent may be assumed, if we so wish, but none can be identified.

After pointing out (l). 328) the extraordinary ability shown by Mrs. Piper during the period of the G.P. Control to distinguish between sitters who had been known to G.P. during his life, and sitters who had, not, from among about one hundred and fifty persons who had had anonymous sittings with her, Hodgson speaks (p. 330) of the exhibition at sittings with old friends of memories

"such as would naturally be associated as part of the G.P. personality, which certainly do not suggest in themselves that they originate otherwise, and which are accompanied by the emotional relations which were connected with such friends in the mind of G.P. living."

Later in the same section he argues that from the successes and failures shown with various types of information conveyed in the communications it is possible to form an opinion as to the source of the information, whether the alleged Communicators or "Mrs. Piper's percipient personality". He sums up this part of his argument thus (pp. 392, 393):

"In general then we may say that there are on the one hand various limitations in the information shown through Mrs. Piper's trance, which are prima facie explicable on the assumption that it comes from the alleged Communicators, and for which we can find no corresponding limitations in the minds of living persons; on the other hand, that there are various selections of information given in connection with particular Communicators, which are intelligible if regarded as made by the alleged Communicators themselves, but for which discrimination there is no satisfactory explanation to be found by referring them to Mrs. Piper's personality."

The last few words, if they stood by themselves, might suggest that Hodgson had overlooked the point that the dividing line was not between the Communicators and the essential Mrs. Piper so to speak, but between them and, as he more correctly puts it a few lines lower, "the minds of living persons acting upon Mrs. Piper's percipient personality".

Hodgson admits in the same paragraph that there is not sufficient evidence to justify a claim to certainty for his conclusion, and in fact the presence as a factor in the problem of such a variable quantity as "the minds of living persons" detracts heavily from the force of his argument. The "living persons" must be taken as including at the lowest estimate all Mrs. Piper's sitters during the period of the G.P. Control, and these numbered about one hundred and fifty. Experience has shown that some people make much better sitters than others, and that the difference bears little relation, if any, to the closeness of their friendship with the Communicator from whom they seek messages, or the effectiveness of the same Communicator with other sitters.

The strong propensity of the subconscious, illustrated in a previous chapter, to dramatise material coming, or appearing to it to come, from an outside source, makes it natural that mediums should prefer to clothe the messages they are giving in trappings appropriate to the real or supposed Communicator rather than to present them to the sitter as unadorned statements. This holds true whether in fact the substance of the message is a memory latent in the medium's subconscious, or is a telepathic impression from some other living person, or comes, if that possibility be admitted, from the surviving intelligence of a person now dead.

The success of the dramatisation varies immensely from instance to instance. Mrs. Piper's G.P. Control impressed his friends and her Myers Control was also on occasions impressive. Mrs. Willett's Gurney Control seems to have been most lifelike, although she had never met Gurney when alive. G. W. Balfour, who had known him well, was greatly struck by it, in particular by the reproduction of his somewhat boisterous humour and fondness for puns. Again, all who knew A. W. Verrall well, as I was fortunate enough to do, and have read Balfour's report on the Ear of Dionysius case (Proc. XXIX 197-243), have been struck by the amazing fidelity of the communications to Verrall's manner of speech and writing. Mrs. Willett's personal knowledge of him was of the slightest, though doubtless she had heard him described by his wife and some of his friends. Of Gurney too, who had been dead twenty years when her automatism began, she must have learnt something from Balfour and others. But in any case this is not the sort of evidence that can be expected to carry much weight except with the Communicator's friends.

That is true also of what is perhaps an even more remarkable fact. Some mediums are able to give long series of sittings, extending it may be over several years, in which messages are received by sitters from a Communicator well known to them but quite unknown to the medium, much that is typical both in matter and manner being received, and nothing out of character being said at any sitting from beginning to end. One very distinctive thing about most people is their sense of humour, the degree in which they have it, the part it plays in their talk, its manner, and the sort of subjects which provoke it. Several of Mrs. Leonard's regular sitters have commented on the ability of her Communicators to make the right kind of jokes about the right things, while never putting a foot wrong with uncharacteristic jest or inappropriate solemnity. A sceptic might argue that allowance must be made not only for telepathy from the sitter, but for hints as to the Communicator's personality unintentionally dropped at sittings; he might also doubt whether the resemblance was really as close as the sitter thought, citing as a parallel the absurd "recognitions" of fraudulent "extras" in "spirit photography". This argument would carry more weight with me if I had not known how careful and critical many of Mrs. Leonard's sitters were.

A few weeks after Myers's death in January 1901, his friend and neighbour, Mrs. Verrall, began writing automatically. She was at this time no believer in survival, but was greatly impressed by the fervour of his belief and wished to give him an opportunity of communicating, if he were able to do so. By the 5th March she had got past the initial stage of mere scrawls. Her scripts were an odd jumble of words, phrases and quotations in several languages, English, Greek and Latin predominating. Superficially they appeared meaningless, but methodical study of them as they progressed showed that, if one script was compared with another, a meaningful pattern could be found that covered large parts of the scripts, a pattern clear enough in places, but confused in others.

Her husband, A. W. Verrall, was not greatly interested in psychical research, but knew that there had been much discussion as to how far ostensible communications from the dead could be accounted for by telepathy from the living. He accordingly resolved to test Mrs. Verrall's scripts for possible telepathy from him. His plan, which he formed in April 1901 - he could not later remember the exact date in that month-was to think of three words from a Greek play having a special association for him but unknown, as he believed, to anyone else. He did not tell Mrs. Verrall of his plan then or before October 1902, but scanned her scripts to note whether they showed any sign of being influenced by these words.

The words, taken from Electra's lament, in Euripides's Orestes (1. 1004), were ***. The second and third words mean "towards the dawn", but the meaning of the first word is debatable. The first half certainly means "one" or "alone", the second might mean "horse", if only that made sense. The context describes the portents that accompanied the feud in the House of Pelops, how the sun and the stars changed their courses. Verrall's personal association with the phrase -was that the passage of which it forms part was set in a Cambridge examination, and that immediately after the examination he and two friends, both dead long before 1901, had discussed its meaning. One of them had jokingly suggested "A one-horse dawn" as a possible translation, and this absurd phrase has stuck to the experiment, which is reported in Proc. XX.

*** Unfortunately, we currently unable to reproduce Greek letters.

The three target words never appeared in Mrs. Verrall's script, but approaches to them, of possible significance, were noted along three lines: (1) the appearance of several other words beginning in ***** on which emphasis seemed to be laid, (2) reference to dawn, (3) references to reversals in the course of Nature similar in a general way to those described by Electra. The convergence of these three lines made an arguable, if not entirely conclusive, case for her script having been telepathically influenced by her husband's plan. Three ideas had c-merged which were all implicit in the target phrase and must therefore have been in Verrall's thoughts while the experiment was in progress. The partial success of the experiment has in fact been used to support the argument that a telepathic impression may be disguised as a communication from the dead, for the scripts purported to be inspired by Myers and his friends.

So the matter stood until after Verrall's death in 19 12 and Mrs. Verrall's in 19 16. But in 19 17 Piddington, who was working over the large mass of scripts of "the S.P.R. group" with an acumen equalled only by his industry, was led to look up a note of Jebbs in his edition of Sophocles' Oedipus Tyrannus, in which Jebb discusses the use and meaning in Greek tragedy of compound adjectives the first element of which is a word implying number. After several examples taken from Sophocles and Euripides, Jebb ends the note, "So I understand Eur. Or. 1004 *** 'Eos who drives her steeds alone' (when the moon and stars have disappeared from the sky)." Jebb takes the first three examples of compound words of this type from Oedipus Coloneus. Piddington analyses twenty scripts written by Mrs. Verrall between the 10th April 1901, by which time, if not earlier, he believes the experiment to have begun, and the 31st May 1902, and argues, correctly in my view, that there are repeated references to Oedipus, the blind wanderer of that play, and in particular references to each of the three passages from it quoted in Jebb's note. He adds,

"I maintain that one of the main objects of the intelligence responsible for the One-Horse Dawn scripts was to refer to Jebb's note and to indicate thereby the words *** (Proc. XXX 175-229 and 296-305)

As Verrall had read, and reviewed, Jebb's edition of the Oedipus Tyrannus when it was published in 1887, it is conceivable that he retained a subconscious memory that Jebb had illustrated the meaning of the first word of the target-phrase from the Orestes by three supposed parallels from the Oedipus Coloneus. If then these twenty scripts are to be brought within the framework of Verrall's experiment, it must be supposed that his subconscious was capable of influencing his wife's scripts in the direction desired by his conscious mind, which however during the eighteen months when it was carefully scanning her scripts as they appeared never gave any sign of recognising what was happening. The process involved, if it is to be called telepathic, means that the simple notion of thought-transference from which the early psychical researchers started, or any that could now be supported by the evidence from quantitative experiment, has been left far behind.

But there was a more curious complication to follow. On the 31st March 1901, that is before Verrall had devised his experiment, Mrs. Verrall wrote a script containing the following words, "praecox olea baccis Sabinis ponetur dis adjuvantibus", which may be translated "the early(1) olive with Sabine berries will be planted with the help of the Gods". The mention of "Sabine berries" shows it to be an allusion to a passage of Juvenal. This is quoted by Jebb in a note on a chorus in Oedipus Coloneus, in praise of the olive, Athena's gift to her city, and this chorus in its turn is quite unmistakably alluded to by scripts of Mrs. Verrall written while the experiment was in progress. Her script therefore of 31st March 1901 looks like the first step in the solution of a test that had not yet been planned.

(1) More exactly "ripe before its time".

It is possible that Verrall's memory was at fault and that he had "devised", or at any rate ruminated on "devising", his experiment earlier than he at a later time supposed, and that in the process he had subconsciously appreciated the appropriateness of the notes of Jebb which have been mentioned. Piddington however mentions another hypothesis which, he says,

"I am not disposed to press, but which should not be entirely ignored. It is that Dr. Verrall was not the real originator of the experiment, but that he carried out an experiment which, though he did not know it, another intelligence had devised and imposed upon him."

He adds that this hypothesis, like the others he discusses, is incapable of proof. It seems to me to have at least one point in its favour, that it gives relevance to the script words "praecox" and "disadjuvantibus", if too exact a translation of them is not pressed. For the present "I am not disposed" to go further than to emphasise that, when ostensible communications from the dead are explained as examples of the paranormal faculties of the living, those faculties have a way of assuming unusual and surprising shapes. (See Proc. XSXIV 159-165.)

As early as the Piper sittings in the nineties it became clear that among possible explanations of true messages received through her mediumship must be reckoned, besides of course chance and inference from facts normally known to her where these seemed relevant, telepathy from the sitter and also from some other person with whom the medium had no direct contact, since facts were correctly stated at sittings which the sitter could not verify from his own knowledge. This was a possibility that required exploring, and led to the development of a technique of proxy sittings by Miss Nea Walker, Lodge's secretary, and the Rev. C. Drayton Thomas. The essence of the technique was that the sitter in charge of the sitting should know very little indeed about the desired Communicator or the friends wishing to get. in touch with him, should record the extent of his knowledge, and should only pass on to the medium or the Control the minimum of information (also of course recorded) sufficient to enable the Control to select the right Communicator from any others with whom the Control might he in touch.

This technique, if it did nothing else, would at least be effective in restricting to the few facts known to the sitter the medium's or Control's power of drawing correct inferences from the sitter's speech, appearance or gestures. Telepathy from the sitter would be restricted in the same way. The choice, it was argued, was therefore narrowed down to chance (an unsatisfactory explanation where the facts were unusual), telepathy from the Communicator's friends, or messages from the Communicator himself. As between these two last, the slenderness of the rapport between the Communicator's friends and the medium or Control, depending as it did solely on the minimal information passed on by the sitter, while theoretically not conclusive against the hypothesis of remote telepathy, seemed to tell strongly against it.

And in my view enough success has been achieved through this technique(1) to render inadequate as an explanation any conception of telepathy based on the results of quantitative experiment, or regarded as a simple one-way transmission of thoughts from a single agent to a single percipient. If the issue really lay between communication from the dead as so far discussed in this book, and telepathy as so conceived, I should give the preference to the former alternative. Enough has already been said for the present in criticism of that view of telepathy. A different view of survival will be presented later, but before that two other modes of extrasensory perception, precognition and clairvoyance, must be examined. Can either of them, as a faculty of living persons, account for what purport to be communications from the dead?

(1) See Miss Walker's book, Through a Stranger's Hands, and the cases reported by Drayton Thomas in SPR Proceedings (e.g., XLIII, 439 and XLV, 257).

The evidence for precognition as a faculty of living minds is slight, if one leaves out of account the very curious phenomenon of forward displacement in card-guessing experiments, that is, the correct guessing not of the contemporary target, but of the next, or next but one, succeeding target. A considerable amount of evidence can now be quoted in support of this odd sort of occurrence but it has little apparent affinity with what we all mean by prediction.

The question of the scope to be allowed to normally acquired knowledge and inference is even more troublesome in this connection than in cases of apparent spontaneous telepathy. Predictions moreover, from the days of Delphi on, have been notorious for seldom saying a plain thing in a plain way, or specifying the time within which fulfilment is to be expected. This is true whether or not the predictions claim to be inspired by discarnate intelligences.

A sceptic who criticised on these lines the forecasts of public events found in the scripts of the SPR group of automatists by some of the interpreters (see Piddington's paper in Proc. XXXIII) could make out a fairly strong case. It is true that at least one of the most notable incidents of the First World War, the sinking of the Lusitania, is referred to by one of the automatists in a script written before the war began, but several of the passages Piddington quotes, though war-like in phrasing, were taken in a metaphorical sense by the writers, whose view of them may after all have been the true one. For other forecasts of a more agreeable kind no date of fulfilment was suggested, and they still remain no more than a pious hope. As examples therefore of precognition, they cannot bear much weight. These scripts are however of great interest in another way, as instances of the persistence over a long period of a train of thought in the subconscious minds of a group of persons who, in their conscious minds, differed considerably amongst themselves in opinion and temperament. Piddington's introduction to his paper is a very valuable exposition of the technique for interpreting a mass of highly complex, highly allusive material.

There are indeed a few interesting spontaneous cases of apparent foreknowledge-the pig, whom the bishop's wife dreamt she would find standing by the sideboard in the breakfast room, and there he was, has deservedly attained popular fame-but in general, the evidence for prediction, whether as a faculty of the living, or as purporting to originate with discarnate intelligences, is so slight that a discussion as to whether the second can be distinguished from the first is less profitable in the existing state of our knowledge, than a dispute would at present (October 1960) he as to whether Yetis are or are not members of the human species, since there are sufficient authentic human beings to serve as standards of comparison.

For clairvoyance, as defined in Chapter XI, there is enough experimental evidence to make it worth while to consider the possible bearing of this faculty as possessed by living people on the problem of survival. The Polish medium, Ossowiecki, was able to read the contents of sealed envelopes under conditions which critical experimenters considered fraud-proof. Thus in 1923 he correctly described a design drawn by Dr. Dingwall and enclosed by him in the innermost of three opaque envelopes. The packet was presented to Ossowiecki at a sitting at which Dingwall was not present, and when Dingwall received it back afterwards he was satisfied that it had not been tampered with. A critic who was sceptical as to clairvoyance but prepared to give a very wide scope to telepathy, could no doubt explain such an incident as an instance of the latter faculty.

Such a critic would however be hard put to it to explain the Martin-Stribic experiments in America, in which in over 90,000 trials during three years a subject consistently obtained high scores in correctly guessing the order of cards in packs shuffled and cut by one of the investigators and placed downwards on a table out of the subject's sight. The packs were the ordinary packs of 25 Zener cards with five simple geometrical diagrams, so that chance would be expected to give five hits a pack. The subject's average was nearly seven, the odds against chance in an experiment of this magnitude justifying the description of "astronomical". Though there has been some criticism of the experiments, they are, I think, generally accepted.

Results so mathematically amazing are not to be expected in communications from discarnate minds, but astonishing results have come from experiments of another kind, from the book-tests, for instance, obtained through Mrs. Leonard's mediumship. Mrs. Sidgwick in the most important published discussion of them Proc. XXXI, 241-400) describes them as

"attempts by Mrs. Leonard's Control Feda to indicate the contents of a particular page of a particular book which Mrs. Leonard has not seen with her bodily eyes, and which is not, at the time of the sitting, known to the sitter."

The analysis of these attempts was complicated by the difficulty in many cases of being certain as to which page of which book Feda was trying to indicate, and by doubts as to whether Feda's description of the supposed contents really fitted. The length of Mrs. Sidgwick's report is largely due to her detailed discussion of these uncertainties. In the three instances 1 am about to summarise I have for the sake of brevity omitted all this part of her discussion, leaving it to the reader who may have any doubts an these points to satisfy them by consulting her report.

There can be no reasonable doubt that in none of these three cases Mrs. Leonard had or ever had had any normal knowledge of the contents of the particular page of the book indicated by Feda. In the first case the existence of the book was unknown to her; in the other two, if the existence was known the position was not. If therefore Feda's description of the contents of a particular page was correct, the success was due either to chance, or to knowledge paranormally acquired from some other mind, or to her own clairvoyant powers. In none of these three cases does the result seem to me capable of being attributed with any plausibility to chance.

They conform in this respect to the general run of Leonard book-tests, since in a control experiment with fictitious book-tests (Proc. XXXIII) the proportion of complete and partial successes was less than a sixth of those in Mrs. Sidgwick's report. In all comparisons of qualitative results, however carefully analysed, subjective judgments rule out mathematical precision, but the case against chance as an adequate explanation of the successful Leonard book-tests is overwhelming.

In the first case (Proc. XXXI, 253) an anonymous sitter (Mrs. Talbot) received through Feda a message from her husband asking her to look on page twelve or thirteen of a book she described for something written that would be so interesting after their conversation at the sitting. Feda described the book as not being printed, but having writing in it, as being dark in colour, and as having a table of languages, Indo-European, Aryan, Semitic, Arabian being specified, with a diagram of lines going out from a centre. She also indicated the size as being about 8 to 10 inches by 4 or 5. Mrs. Talbot could not think of any book of the kind, and on her return home spoke of the medium talking a lot of rubbish about a book. She was however persuaded to make a search and at the back of a top shelf found a shabby black leather note-book of her husband's, of about the size specified by Feda. There was a long folded piece of paper pasted in it which had on one side the words "Table of Semitic or Syro-Arabian Languages", and on the other a diagram as described and the words "General Table of the Aryan and Indo-European Languages". On page 13 was an extract from a book, Post Mortem, in which a man describes his sensations immediately before and after death.

Although Mrs. Talbot was positive that she had never seen the book before, and although her sight of the contents, the diagram in particular, did not revive any memories of having seen it, the possibility of latent memory on her part, and telepathy from her subconscious cannot be disregarded. Nor can direct clairvoyance by the medium, in view of the results of the Ossowiecki and Martin-Stribic experiments. In those cases, however, the things to be read were shown to the subject, though not in a way that would enable him to read them, while in the Talbot case the book was tucked away in a house not known to the medium.

Direct clairvoyance, even of the Ossowiecki type, is so odd as to provoke much incredulity, and the Talbot case, if an example of it, imposes a still greater strain on our powers of belief, but even so it is quite inadequate by itself to account for other of the Leonard book-tests. For example, several Greek books were lent by my wife (H.V.) to Lady Troubridge and Miss Radclyffe-Hall, and placed by them on a shelf in an order known only to them. Greek is a language unknown to either of them, or to Mrs. Leonard, or to the Communicator, A.V.B., who is, however, stated to be helped sometimes by other Communicators, including A. W. Verrall.

At the sitting of the 30th October 1918, described in Proc. XXXI pp. 301-309, one of the Greek books was indicated, the first volume of the Oxford text of Thucydides. Pages 2 and 4 were mentioned and it was said that on page 2 there was an allusion to Asia, and that the book took the Communicator back far more than 2,000 years: Feda spoke three times of imitation, and said she got head-dresses of some peculiar kind, and also some rather extraordinary manner of dressing the hair, or not dressing it. The first few pages of Thucydides' text in this edition (in which the pages are not numbered) deal with the early history of Greece, the second page mentioning the Trojan War. On the fourth page it is said that the leading men in the wealthy class at Athens had until shortly before his day tied up their hair in top-knots fastened with golden cicadas, and that the leading Ionians had adopted the same style. There are thus four points of correspondence between the communication and the pages specified; Asia, a period far more than 2,000 years ago, an extraordinary manner of dressing the hair, and imitation.

At the same sitting the sitters were told to turn to a specified page near the end of the book, and that at the very bottom of that page there was just a word, "I think it's only one word," that the Communicator particularly wished them "Just now, just lately". On the last line of the page in question (Book IV, Section 123) is the Greek word for armistice. At the date of the sitting, the end of the fighting in the First World War was already expected, the armistice being signed eleven days later.

Direct clairvoyance from Mrs. Leonard is of no help here. She neither knew where the book was nor could have read it if it had lain open before her. The sitters knew where the book was, but could not read Greek. My wife, who knew Greek, did not know where the book was, nor could she reasonably he supposed to have known on what page, and what line of that page, mention of an armistice occurs. Some form of paranormal activity must be postulated other than direct clairvoyance by itself, or direct telepathy whether between medium and sitter or between medium and my wife who lent the book.

In 1919 my wife had a sitting with Mrs. Leonard described in Proc. XXXI 286-289. In preparation for the next book-test that might be given I had some weeks previously placed on a shelf in an unused room in our house a row of books, some taken from other shelves in the house, and some newly bought by me in London and not seen by my wife before the sitting. She did not enter the room after I had put the books there and did not know what books were there or in what order they stood. With a precision that she did not always attain Feda indicated unmistakably not only the particular book, Henry James's Daisy Miller (Nelson edition) but the page (15) and the exact place on the page (1/4 inch above halfway down). There, it was said, would be found "a word or words which will form a cross-correspondence" - "a long pole - he (i.e. the Communicator, A. W. Verrall) is pretending to show me a long, long pole in his hand".

In the middle of page 15 and beginning just above the middle occur these words:

"I should like to know where you got that pole," she said.
"I bought it!" responded Randolph.

The "pole" in question was an alpenstock, described on another page as "a long alpenstock". The words did not form part of any cross-correspondence, but the passage had an association with cross-correspondences appropriate to my wife. She had a few years previously begun experiments in telepathy with Mrs. Stuart Wilson, and these had produced cross-correspondences. Mrs. Wilson had jokingly given the name Randolph to the intelligence responsible for her share in them (or her nominal share, for she felt her conscious mind was not responsible), after the tiresome small boy in Daisy Miller, whose family could not live up to him. This fact was known to my wife and me, but not to Mrs. Leonard. I was the only person with normal knowledge of what books stood on the shelf. If Feda's success was due to her having telepathically tapped my mind, it must be assumed that I not only remembered, subconsciously, that Daisy Miller occupied a particular place on the shelf, which does not seem to me absolutely incredible, but that I retained a subconscious memory of the page on which, and the part of the page where Randolph and his "pole" were mentioned. This I find hard to believe, as I had not read the book for a long time. Here is another case where, whatever explanation will suffice, plain, straightforward clairvoyance from the medium will not. Nor, for that matter, would plain, straightforward clairvoyance from a Communicator who had survived bodily death. But one has no right to assume that a paranormal faculty capable of being exercised by persons in the body, whether telepathy, or clairvoyance or any other, would, if exercisable by discarnate intelligences, only operate in just the same way and without any modification.

Many people have left behind them scaled envelopes with messages inside, and with directions that the envelope should only he opened if, in the opinion of the person with whom the envelope has been deposited, a trustworthy medium has revealed the contents. If the depositor is at all well known, there are likely to be a number of claims to have received communications from him as to what the contents are. Once the envelope is opened, the test becomes of no value, except possibly as a test of telepathy from the opener, whose embarrassment as to when he ought to open it is therefore great.

I do not know of any instance in which a claim to know the contents has been made with complete success, but if such an instance should occur, it would not be a decisive proof of survival. There might be a normal explanation, chance, for example, or a correct inference based on knowledge of the Communicator's habit of mind and his interests. Or his intention to leave that message might have been telepathically grasped during his life by one of his friends and have remained latent in the friend's subconscious memory. And since in the present generation experimental evidence has increased for clairvoyance, as a power which some living persons can exercise, allowance must be made for that faculty also.

"Posthumous" messages of the simpler kind have therefore fallen out of favour, and more complicated schemes have been devised to eliminate these doubts. At various times between 1930 and 1933 Oliver Lodge deposited with the SPR and the London Spiritualist Alliance (as it was then called) several envelopes, each containing one or more other envelopes with instructions, not too easy to follow, of the order and the circumstances in which each envelope was to be opened. The intention was that each letter when opened should give a clue that would be a stimulus to assist a medium to get the next clue right and so by progressing from clue to clue to arrive at the final message. Lodge died in 1940 and war conditions made it impossible to begin applying the test for several years. This delay may have contributed, along with the great complexity of the test itself, to the very small, not to say doubtful, success attained as reported in SPR Journal 38, 121-134.

Perhaps a happy mean between the simplicity of the old-fashioned posthumous test and the excessive complexity of Lodge's scheme is to be found in Dr. Thouless's proposal to leave a short message enciphered and then re-enciphered on the Playfair system. Two key-words would be required and without knowledge of them both the message should, in his view, defy deciphering. If both key-words were given in a communication through a medium, decipherment would be easy, and there would be no doubt as to the message deciphered being that left by the Communicator. There are however obvious weaknesses. The Communicator might survive his bodily death, but have forgotten both the key-words, or one of them, while some friend of his, who had obtained subconscious knowledge of them telepathically, might remember them both.

But something of value would be gained by this scheme, if the communication made the posthumous message intelligible. It might remain doubtful how the key was obtained, but there would be no doubt that it fitted the lock. It is this doubt which has made it impossible to claim more than a partial success for the posthumous test arranged by Myers, and has even led to its being for some time regarded as a complete failure. Several years before his death Myers left with Lodge a sealed envelope containing a message in which he named the "Valley", Hallsteads, Cumberland, as the place that he would wish to revisit after death, if he could. He died in 1901 and, as already mentioned, within a few weeks Mrs. Verrall began writing automatically, so as to provide a channel through which he might communicate, if able to do so.

It was some time before her script made a definite claim to knowledge of the contents of the sealed packet, but in a script written on the 13th July 1904, which was quite unambiguous, she declared that the envelope would contain certain words of Diotima, whose discourse in the Symposium of Plato is quoted at some length in Myers's Human Personality (Vol. I pp. 114- 115). That book had been published in 1903, and Mrs. Verrall, who had read it, was aware that the whole of that part of the dialogue had had a deep meaning for Myers during his life.

In December 1904 the packet was opened, and the contents read out. The name of the place, Hallsteads, meant nothing to Mrs. Verrall. The words of Diotima were not quoted, and there was no mention of the Symposium or of Plato. The experiment seemed therefore to her and to nearly all the other persons present, a complete failure. Enquiry however showed that in documents unpublished at the time of Mrs. Verrall's script and until then unseen by her Myers had not only described the Valley, Hallsteads, but also his associations with it in Platonic language of the same general tenour as the Diotima passage, and also that in Mrs. Verrall's early scripts were Latin phrases appropriate to Myers's description of the place. These two discoveries when put together suggested that though the experiment was in form a failure, it was more like a "near miss". For a fuller account of this complicated experiment, see my paper in Proceedings, Vol. 52.

In my view a paranormal hypothesis of some kind is required, and this is yet another instance which cannot be explained by plain, direct clairvoyance, as might conceivably have been claimed if the "posthumous" message had shown a verbal correspondence with the script.

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Contents | Chapter 1 | Chapter 2 | Chapter 3 | Chapter 4 | Chapter 5 | Chapter 6 | Chapter 7 | Chapter 8 | Chapter 9 | Chapter 10 | Chapter 11 | Chapter 12 | Chapter 13 | Chapter 14 | Chapter 15 | Chapter 16

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