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Mrs. Piper & the Society for Psychical Research by Michael Sage

XIII Professor Hyslop and the journalists--The so-called "confession" of Mrs Piper--Precautions taken by Professor Hyslop during his experiments--Impressions of the sittings.

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The last report[77] we possess of the phenomena accompanying Mrs Piper's trance is that of Professor James Hervey Hyslop, of Columbia University, New York. This report appeared in November 1901. The minutes of the sittings, the notes, the remarks of the sitter, the discussion of hypotheses, the account of experiments made at the University in order to throw light on certain points, all together make a report of 650 pages of close reading. It refers, notwithstanding, only to sixteen sittings, of which the first took place on December 23, 1898. But the smallest incidents and the slightest arguments are scrupulously weighed. It is, in short, a work of considerable extent.

Professor Hyslop has an absolutely sincere and very lucid mind. It is a pleasure to follow him through this mass of facts and arguments; everything is scrupulously classified, and the whole is illuminated by a high intelligence. Professor Hyslop occupies with good right an eminent place amongst the thinkers of the United States. Besides his classes, he gives numerous lectures, which are well attended.

The report he has published has been long waited for. As he is a man of mark and has long occupied himself with Psychical Research, the inquisitive journalists on the other side of the Atlantic quickly found out that he had been experimenting with Mrs Piper. He was interviewed; he was prudent, and contented himself with recommending the reporters to study the preceding reports published upon the same case. But reporters are not so easily contented; they have to satisfy an exacting master in the public, which wants to know everything, and which would cease to purchase any paper simple enough to say, "I have done all I could to get information on this point for you, but I have failed." The public will have none of such honesty as that, though if a falsehood is offered, it is not angry; in the first place, because at the moment it does not recognise the falsehood, and in the second, because by the time it finds out it is busy over something else. Consequently, as they must live, journalists find themselves sometimes obliged to invent. So the reporters put into Professor Hyslop's mouth the following sensational words, "In a year I shall be able to demonstrate the immortality of the soul scientifically." These words were reproduced by the greater number of the American papers and by a large number of English ones. Specialist publications in France in their turn commented on them. It will be understood with what eagerness the report was expected after this by all men interested in psychical studies. They have not been disappointed. Professor Hyslop is too modest for such unbounded pretension; he knows that the great problem will not be solved at one stroke, nor by one man. "I do not claim," he says, "to demonstrate anything scientifically, not even the facts I offer." This phrase does not at all resemble the declaration put into his mouth. But if he has not definitively and scientifically proved the immortality of the soul, he has approached the problem very nearly and thrown a vivid light on more than one point. In any case the journalists have advertised him thoroughly, perhaps without intending it.

Speaking of journalists, I must relate another quite recent incident, which is interesting to us, as it concerns Mrs Piper personally. One of the editors of the _New York Herald_ interviewed Mrs Piper and on October 20, 1901, published an article somewhat speciously entitled, "The Confessions of Mrs Leonora Piper." In this article it was stated that Mrs Piper intended to give up the work she had been doing for the S.P.R. in order to devote herself to other and more congenial pursuits, that it was on account of her own desire to understand the phenomena that she first allowed her trances to be investigated and placed herself in the hands of scientific men, with the understanding that she should submit to any tests they chose to apply, and that now, after fourteen years' work, the subject not being yet cleared up, she felt disinclined for further investigation. Her own view of the phenomena was expressed in this article as follows:--"The theory of telepathy strongly appeals to me as the most plausible and genuinely scientific solution of the problem.... I do not believe that spirits of the dead have spoken through me when I have been in the trance state.... It may be that they have, but I do not affirm it.... I never heard of anything being said by myself during a trance which might not have been latent in my own mind or in the mind of the person in charge of the sitting, or in the mind of the person trying to get communication with someone in another state of existence, or of some companion present with such a person, or in the mind of some absent person alive somewhere else in the world."