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

VII Miss Hannah Wild's letter--The first text given by Phinuit--Mrs Blodgett's sitting--Thought-reading explains the case.

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There is a case of which I shall speak with some detail in this chapter, for three reasons:--(1) The good faith of the experimenters being unquestioned, if the experiment had succeeded we should certainly have had a first step towards proof of a future life. Experiments of this kind must be arranged if the desired end is to be attained. Even if only one out of ten were successful, we should have established a method of procedure, and should certainly in time discover the truth. (2) This example will once again show the reader the character of Phinuit, who hesitates at no invention, and risks being caught in the act of imposture sooner than own to his ignorance or incapacity. (3) The reader will find in it examples of the untrue assertions which are found in all the bad sittings.

This dishonesty of Phinuit certainly complicates the problem singularly. But I wish to present it as it actually is, with its dark and bright sides. Science must endeavour to explain both.[39]

Miss Hannah Wild died on July 28, 1886. She was a strong Baptist, and remained so to her last moments. About a year before her death a Boston spiritualist paper published a message supposed to have come from her dead mother. Miss Hannah Wild was much struck by it.

Her sister advised her to try the following experiment. Miss Hannah Wild should write a letter whose contents she alone knew, and when she died, she should return, if not prevented by circumstances stronger than her will, and communicate the contents of the letter to her sister through some medium. The letter would only be opened when some message bearing all the marks of authenticity should arrive.

This was done. Hannah Wild wrote the letter, sealed it and enclosed it in a tin box. It was understood that no mortal hand was to touch it. When giving it to her sister she said, "If I can come back it will be like ringing the City Hall bell!"

Mrs Blodgett, Hannah Wild's sister, adds, "Hands have never touched that letter; it was in my husband's safe. When I sent it to Professor James I took it out with scissors." Mrs Blodgett having, in the last half of 1886, seen Professor James's name in a journal concerned with Psychical Research wrote to him and told him the above circumstances. In consequence he tried to get the letter read through Mrs Piper. He sent her, not the letter, of course, but a glove which Miss Hannah Wild had worn on the day she wrote the letter, and the lining of her hat.

Mr J. W. Piper, Mrs Piper's father-in-law, acted as sitter. Phinuit took his time, and tried for the contents of the letter during several sittings. The result was a long dramatic elucubration, which reminds us involuntarily of certain of Mlle. Smith's subliminal productions. I will give three paragraphs of it. The remarks between parentheses are Mrs Blodgett's; the reader will appreciate the facts by the light the remarks throw upon them. However, it may not be useless to remark that Phinuit found Miss Hannah Wild's exact name, which had been carefully hidden from him.

1. "Dear Sister,--In the bottom of my trunk in the attic with my clothes I have placed a little money and some jewels, given to me, as you know, by mother, and given to her by grandfather, who has now passed away. Bessie, I now give to you; they are all I have, I wish I could have more. It has grieved me not a little not to have given the Society something, but as you know, sister, I am unable to do so. If it be possible I will give them my presence in spirit." (Sister left no trunk. Never lived in any house with an attic. Mother never gave her any jewels. Mother's father died in 1835. Mother died in 1880, and gave all her jewels to me. These jewels had previously been given to mother by myself. Sister left money, and could have given the Society some had she chosen to do so.)