Patience Worth

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Patience Worth was allegedly a spirit contacted by Pearl Lenore Curran (February 15, 1883 – December 4, 1937). This symbiotic relationship produced several novels, poetry and prose which Pearl Curran claimed was delivered to her through channelling the spirit, Patience Worth.[1]

About Pearl Curran[edit]

Curran was born Pearl Lenore Pollard in Mound City, Illinois. The family moved to Texas when she was eight months old and she started school when she was six. She was an average but uninterested student, eventually dropping out in her first high school year, later stating she had a nervous breakdown due to the strenuous academics. She later returned to classes at St. Ignatius Catholic school.

Curran was a normal girl and was sensitive about her looks, considering herself to be ugly. She admitted to having little imagination and few ambitions, except to be successful as a singer. She had a short attention span and read very little during her formative years.

Her family moved to St. Louis when she was 14. She made a last attempt at attending school but was discouraged when placed in a lower grade based on her academic skills. However, she took music lessons and training in piano and voice and aspired to be a prima donna. About that time the family moved again, to Palmer, Missouri. As Curran's musical talents blossomed, she was sent to Kankakee, Illinois for voice training, before moving to Chicago for tuition from J.C. Cooper. She worked at the McKinley Music Company addressing envelopes for $6 a week, then the Thompson Music Company selling music. From the age of 18 to 24 she worked at assorted jobs in Chicago during winter months, and during the summer she taught music at home in Missouri.

Pearl married John Howard Curran when she was 24. Though by no means wealthy, they lived a lifestyle which gave Pearl free time for moviegoing or playing cards with her husband or neighbors. The Currans had an average education for that time and owned few books; neither of them had traveled extensively. The first seven years of their marriage were uneventful.

The appearance of Patience Worth[edit]

Beginning in July 1912 Pearl Curran and her friend Emily Grant Hutchings were making a call on a neighbor who had a ouija board and during that call there came what purported to be a message from a relative of Mrs. Hutchings. Mrs. Hutchings then bought a ouija board and took it to Mrs. Curran's house with the idea of continuing the communications. Pearl was somewhat indifferent and had to be coaxed to participate at the board. On June 22, 1913 a communication from "Pat-C" began to come through. Then on July 8, 1913 the board seemed to be possessed with unusual strength and supposed communications from Patience Worth began. "Many moons ago I lived. Again I come. Patience Worth my name. Wait, I would speak with thee. If thou shalt live, then so shall I. I make my bread at thy hearth. Good friends, let us be merrie. The time for work is past. Let the tabby drowse and blink her wisdom to the firelog." When asked when she lived, the dates 1649 - 94 were given and that her home was "Across the sea".

Although Worth indicated that she was from England, she never named the town or village in which she lived. She did give some clues which were deduced by Casper Yost and other intimates of the Currans to indicate that Patience Worth had lived in rural Dorsetshire with her father John and mother Anne. Mrs. Curran had a mental picture of the place in which Patience Worth lived indicating that Patience lived in "...green rolling country with gentle slopes, not farmed much, with houses here and there. Two or three miles up this country on this road was a small village ---few houses." Mrs. Curran then visualized Patience leaving for America on a huge, wood three-masted schooner. Patience was described by Mrs. Curran as "...probably about thirty years. Her hair was dark red, mahogany, her eyes brown, and large and deep, her mouth firm and set, as though repressing strong feelings. Her hair had been disarranged by her cap, and was in big, glossy, soft waves." Mrs. Curran also saw Patience "sitting on a horse, holding a bundle tied in sail-cloth, tied with thongs and wearing a coarse cloth cape, brown-gray, with hood like a cowl, peaked. The face is in shadow. She is small and her feet are small---with coarse square-toed shoes and gray woolen stockings." After a long voyage the ship arrives at the jagged coast of America where they could find no landing place for the ship. Several flat boats were launched and Mrs. Curran saw Patience standing in the prow of her boat and one of the first to reach the shore. Patience Worth was later to indicate that she was eventually killed by the Indians.

No authenticated documentation has ever been found to indicate that someone named Patience Worth had lived in Dorsetshire England during the later 17th century nor are there any ship logs from that period with the name Patience Worth. The name Patience Worth does occur in census data of early settlers of the United States but none of them has been linked to the Patience Worth of Pearl Curran.

In 1916, in a book with a foreword written by Casper Yost, editor of the St. Louis Globe-Democrat, Henry Holt and Company publicized Curran's claims that she had contacted the long dead Patience Worth. Curran claimed she began to anticipate what the Ouija board was going to spell and by 1919 the pointer would just move aimlessly about the board. Curran described pictorial visions which accompany the coming of the words from Patience. She said "I am like a child with a magic picture book. Once I look upon it, all I have to do is to watch its pages open before me, and revel in their beauty and variety and novelty....When the poems come, there also appear before my eyes images of each successive symbol, as the words are given me....When the stories come, the scenes become panoramic, with the characters moving and acting their parts, even speaking in converse. The picture is not confined to the point narrated, but takes in everything else within the circle of vision at the time....If the people talk a foreign language, as in The Sorry Tale, I hear the talk, but over and above is the voice of Patience, either interpreting or giving me the part she wishes to use as story." Pearl Curran went on to describe her association with Patience Worth as "one of the most beautiful that can be the privilege of a human being to experience." Pearl and Patience together wrote several novels including Telka, The Sorry Tale, Hope Trueblood, The Pot upon the Wheel, Samuel Wheaton, An Elizebethan Mask as well as several short stories and many poems.[2]

The Patience Worth writings coincided with a revival of Spiritualism in the U.S. and Britain, possibly facilitating interest in the matter. Skeptics derided certain aspects of the supposed communication, noting particularly that Patience was able to write a novel about the Victorian age, an era some 200 years after the one in which she claimed to have lived. Still, the literature produced was considered to be of a high quality by some; the literary critic William Marion Reedy considered The Sorry Tale to be a new classic of world literature. Patience Worth was also listed as one of the outstanding authors of 1918 by The Joint Committee of Literary Arts of New York. She was also cited by William Stanley Braithwaite in the 1918 edition of the Anthology of Magazine Verse and Year Book of American Poetry by printing the complete text of five of her poems, along with other leading poets of the day including William Rose Benet, Amy Lowell, and Edgar Lee Masters. Braithwaite's index of magazine verse for 1918 listed the titles of eighty-eight poems by Patience Worth that appeared in magazines during the twelve-month period, only two of which were considered by Braithwaite to be lacking in any distinction. The same index listed ten poems by Amy Lowell and five by Edna St. Vincent Millay.

After the death of her husband John Curran on June 1, 1922 who kept meticulous records of the Patience Worth sessions, the record of the Patience Worth sessions became episodic and fragmentary, with long gaps of time unaccounted for. Pearl was pregnant with her first child which was born six months after her husband's death. Pearl now had a family of four to support by herself and her financial situation was bleak, so much so that Herman Behr, a devoted friend sent money to Mrs. Curran and announced that he would continue to do so as long as she needed it. Mr. Behr provided Mrs. Curran with an income of $400 a month for a number of years. Mrs Curran then entered the lecture circuit to make some money to support her family. A few months later her mother Mrs. Mary Pollard died. The sessions with Patience Worth still continued regularly at Mrs. Curran's home. Mrs. Curran's financial situation continued to be bleak. She married two more times but both marriages were short-lived. In the summer of 1930 Mrs. Curran left St. Louis for good and moved to California to live with an old friend Mrs. Alexander Bailey (Dotsie) Smith in the Los Angeles area. Patience was kept busy at the sessions, as always, by requests for her comments on major topics of the day and other issues. She continued to communicate through Pearl through November 25, 1937 when she gave her final communication. Pearl apparently had received a prior communication from Patience that she (Pearl) was going to die as Pearl told Dotsie Smith "Oh Dotsie, Patience has just shown me the end of the road and you will have to carry on as best you can." Even though Pearl had not been in ill health, she developed pneumonia late in November and died on December 3, 1937.[3]

Evaluation[edit]

Paranormal belief[edit]

In 1916, Casper Yost published Patience Worth: A Psychic Mystery, in the book he did not come to any definite conclusion but considered the case of Patience Worth to be unexplainable by any naturalistic theory, he was open to the spiritualist hypothesis.[4] A thorough investigation of the case was conducted by the psychical researcher Walter Franklin Prince who published in 1927 his book The Case of Patience Worth which was a voluminous report of 509 pages covering the Patience Worth case from its inception in 1913 to about 1927 published by the Boston Society for Psychical Research. It provided an autobiographical sketch of Pearl Curran, eye-witness reports, opinions and reviews, poetry of Patience and Mrs. Curran and much other information related to the case. Prince concluded his investigation by stating, "Either our concept of what we call the subconscious must be radically altered, so as to include potencies of which we hitherto have had no knowledge, or else some cause operating through but not originating in the subconsciousness of Mrs. Curran must be acknowledged."[5]

Scientific skepticism[edit]

Psychologists and skeptics who have studied Curran's writings are in agreement that Patience was a fictitious creation of Curran.[6][7][8][9][10][11]

In 1894 Charles E. Cory Professor of Philosophy at Washington University in St. Louis published a paper titled Patience Worth in the Psychological Review which came to the conclusion Patience Worth was a subconscious personality of Curran.[12] In 1914 Curran travelled to Boston to be tested by the psychologist Morton Prince. Curran used the Ouija board at his home on two occasions but refused to be put under hypnosis because she believed that it would destroy her contact with Patience Worth. Morton told reporters "nothing of scientific importance" occurred and "I consider the results inconsequential and of no scientific value".[13]

The skeptical investigator Joe Nickell who said he spent five hours studying Curran's writings at the Missouri Historical Society in St. Louis has written:

The weight of the evidence—the lack of historical record for “Patience Worth,” the fantasy proneness of Cur­ran (consistent with producing an imaginary “other self”), the writings’ questionable language, and the evidence of the editing and revision process—indicates that Patience was merely a persona of Curran’s.[14]

The psychologist Richard Wiseman has written:

Unfortunately for Spiritualism, Curran’s writings failed to provide convincing evidence of life after death. Try as they might, researchers were unable to find any evidence that Patience Worth actually existed, and linguistic analysis of the texts revealed that the language was not consistent with other works from the period. The case for authenticity was not helped by Patience writing a novel set in the Victorian times, some 200 years after her own death. Eventually even the most ardent believer was forced to conclude that Pearl Curran’s remarkable outpourings were more likely to have a natural, not supernatural, explanation.[15]

Allegations of fraud[edit]

In 1916 the psychical researcher James Hyslop wrote the whole case for Curran's mediumship was based on fraud. Hyslop in the Journal for the American Society for Psychical Research claimed Curran had known people from the Ozarks who spoke a dialect reminiscent of Patience Worth and Curran's husband had studied Chaucer and educated her on the subject.[13] According to Hyslop the case of Patience Worth was "a fraud and delusion for any person who wishes to treat it seriously." Hyslop also accused Casper Yost and the publisher of his book Henry Holt of knowing about the fraud but covering it up to increase sale's of the book. In the Mirror articles appeared by Emily Hutchings and Yost defending Curran against allegations of fraud. In response, Hyslop wrote a letter to the Mirror which claimed he had been told of Curran's knowledge of Chaucer by a "scientific man" who had heard it from Mr Curran himself.[13] In 1938 the ASPR journal published an anonymous article which refuted all of Hyslop's accusations. According to the article the Ozark dialect did not resemble the language of Patience Worth and knowledge of Chaucer would not have given Curran the vocabulary to compose the Patience Worth literature.[13]

Daniel Shea, a professor emeritus of English at Washington University studied the case and wrote there might have been fraud involved by Curran's reading books and other material in the hours before the Patience Worth sessions. If true, Pearl may have felt guilt, which might have been expiated by her writing "Rosa Alvaro, Entrante."[16][17]

References[edit]

  1. ^ Rodger Anderson. (2006). Psychics, Sensitives and Somnambules. McFarland & Company. p. 38
  2. ^ Lewis Spence. (2003). Encyclopedia of Occultism and Parapsychology. Kessinger Publishing. p. 695
  3. ^ Lorin Cuoco, William H. Gass. (2000). Literary St. Louis: A Guide. Missouri History Museum Press. p. 137
  4. ^ Casper Yost. (1916). Patience Worth: A Psychic Mystery. Henry Holt and Company.
  5. ^ Walter Franklin Prince. (1927). The Case of Patience Worth. Boston Society for Psychic Research.
  6. ^ Joseph Jastrow. (1935). Patience Worth: An Alter Ego in Wish and Wisdom: Episodes in the Vagaries of Belief. D. Appleton-Century Company. pp. 78-92
  7. ^ Lyon Sprague de Camp. (1966). Spirits, Stars, and Spells. New York: Canaveral. p. 247
  8. ^ Robert Goldenson. (1973). Mysteries of the Mind: The Drama of Human Behavior. Doubleday. pp. 44-53
  9. ^ Milbourne Christopher. (1970). ESP, Seers and Psychics. New York: Crowell. pp. 128-129
  10. ^ Patience Worth by Robert Todd Carroll
  11. ^ Andrew Neher. (2011). Paranormal and Transcendental Experience: A Psychological Examination. Dover Publications. p. 218
  12. ^ Charles Cory. (1919). Patience Worth. Psychological Review. pp. 397-407.
  13. ^ a b c d Alfred Douglas. (1982). Extra-Sensory Powers: A Century of Psychical Research. Overlook Press. pp. 170-171
  14. ^ Ghost Author? The Channeling of ‘Patience Worth’ by Joe Nickell
  15. ^ Richard Wiseman. (2011). Paranormality: Why we see what isn't there. London, UK: Pan Macmillan.
  16. ^ Daniel Shea. (2012). The Patience of Pearl: Spiritualism and Authorship in the Writings of Pearl Curran. University of Missouri.
  17. ^ Patience Worth by Gioia Diliberto

Further reading[edit]

External links[edit]