Frederic W. H. Myers

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For his father, the clergyman and theologian, see Frederic Myers.
F. W. H. Myers

Frederic William Henry Myers (6 February 1843, in Keswick, Cumberland – 17 January 1901, in Rome) was a poet, classicist, philologist, and a founder of the Society for Psychical Research.[1] Myers' work on psychical research and his ideas about a "subliminal self" were influential in his time, but have not been accepted by the scientific community.[2][3]

Early life[edit]

Myers was the son of Revd Frederic Myers (1811–1851)[4] and his second wife Susan Harriet Myers nee Marshall (1811–1896).[5] He was a brother of poet Ernest Myers (1844–1921) and of Dr. Arthur Thomas Myers (1851–1894).[4] His maternal grandfather was the wealthy industrialist John Marshall (1765–1845).[6]

Myers was educated at Cheltenham College and at Trinity College, Cambridge, where he received a B.A. in 1864,[7][8] and university prizes, including the Bell, Craven, Camden and Chancellor's Medal, though he was forced to resign the Camden medal for 1863 after accusations of plagiarism.[6] He was a Fellow of Trinity College from 1865 to 1874 and college lecturer in classics from 1865 to 1869. In 1872 be became an Inspector of schools.[6]

In 1867, Myers published a long poem, St Paul, which became popular. The poem included the words of the hymn Hark what a sound, and too divine for hearing.[9] This was followed in 1882 by The Renewal of Youth and Other Poems. He also wrote books of literary criticism, in particular Wordsworth (1881) and Essays, Classical and Modern (in two volumes, 1883), which included an essay on Virgil.[citation needed]

Personal life[edit]

As a young man, Myers was a homosexual. He was involved in homosexual relationships with Arthur Sidgwick and the poet John Addington Symonds.[10] He later fell in love with the medium Annie Eliza, the wife of his cousin Walter James Marshall and they had an affair.[11] Myer's relationship with his cousin's wife was described as sexual.[12] Annie committed suicide in September 1876 by drowning.[13]

The British occult writer Richard Cavendish wrote "According to his own statement, he [Myers] had very strong sexual inclinations, which he indulged. These would seem to have been mainly homosexual in his youth, but in later life he was wholly heterosexual."[14] In 1880, Myers married Eveleen Tennant (1856–1937), daughter of Charles Tennant and Gertrude Tennant. They had two sons, the elder the novelist Leopold Hamilton Myers (1881–1944), and a daughter.[6] English author Ronald Pearsall wrote that Myers had sexual interests in the young lady mediums that he investigated.[15] The researcher Trevor H. Hall argued that Myers had an affair with the medium Ada Goodrich Freer.[16] However, Trevor Hamilton dismissed this and suggested that Freer was simply using her acquaintance with Myers to gain status in the psychical research movement.[17]

Psychical research[edit]

Myers was interested in psychical research and was one of the founder members of the Society for Psychical Research (SPR) in 1883.[18][19][20] He became the President in 1900.[21] Myers has been described as an "important early depth psychologist" who influenced William James, Pierre Janet, Théodore Flournoy and Carl G. Jung.[22]

In the late 19th century Douglas Blackburn and George Albert Smith were endorsed as genuine psychics by Myers and Edmund Gurney. Smith even became an SPR member himself and the private secretary to the Honorary Secretary Gurney from 1883 to 1888.[23][24] However, Blackburn later confessed to fraud.[25] Blackburn called Gurney and Myers a "couple of credulous spiritualists" and wrote "we resolved that we should be doing the world a service by fooling them to the top of their bent, and then showing how easy a matter it was to 'take in' scientific observers."[26]

Myers' 1884 essay Visible Apparitions with Gurney claimed a "personal experience" by a retired Judge Edmund Hornby involving a visitation from a spirit was true, but Joseph McCabe wrote that the story was a "jumble of inaccuracies" and "Sir E. Hornby was compelled to admit, that the story was entirely untrue."[27][28]

Myers was the co-author of the two-volume Phantasms of the Living (London: Trübner, 1886) with Gurney and Frank Podmore which listed alleged sightings of apparitions. Myers speculated on the existence of a deep region of the unconscious (collective unconscious) or what he termed the “subliminal self”, which he believed could account for paranormal events. He also proposed the existence of a “metetherial world,” a world of images lying beyond the physical world. He wrote that apparitions are not hallucinations but have a real existence in the metetherial world which he described as a dream-like world.[29] Myers’ belief that apparitions occupied regions of physical space and had an objective existence was in opposition to the views of his co-authors Gurney and Podmore who wrote apparitions were telepathic hallucinations.[30]

The two-volume Phantasms of the Living was criticized by scholars for the lack of written testimony and the time elapsed between the occurrence and the report of it being made.[31] Some of the reports were analyzed by the German hallucination researcher Edmund Parish (1861–1916) who concluded they were evidence for a dream state of consciousness, not the paranormal.[32] Charles Sanders Peirce wrote a long criticism of the book arguing that no scientific conclusion could be reached from anecdotes and stories of unanalyzed phenomena.[33] Alexander Taylor Innes attacked the book due to the stories lacking evidential substantiation in nearly every case. According to Innes the alleged sightings of apparitions were unreliable as they rested upon the memory of the witnesses and no contemporary documents had been produced, even in cases where such documents were alleged to exist.[34] The psychologist C. E. M. Hansel noted that the stories in Phantasms of the Living were not backed up by any corroborating evidence. Hansel concluded "none of the stories investigated has withstood critical examination."[35]

In 1893 Myers wrote a small collection of essays, Science and a Future Life. In 1903, after Myers's death, Human Personality and Its Survival of Bodily Death was compiled and published. This work comprises two large volumes at 1,360 pages in length and presents an overview of Myers's research into the unconscious mind.[20][36][37] Myers believed that a theory of consciousness must be part of a unified model of mind which derives from the full range of human experience, including not only normal psychological phenomena but also a wide variety of abnormal and "supernormal" phenomena.[36][37]

Eusapia Palladino[edit]

Myers with Charles Richet, Oliver Lodge, and Julian Ochorowicz investigated the medium Eusapia Palladino in the summer of 1894 at Richet's house in the Ile Roubaud in the Mediterranean. Myers and Richet claimed furniture moved during the séance and that some of the phenomena was the result of a supernatural agency.[38] However, Richard Hodgson claimed there was inadequate control during the séances and the precautions described did not rule out trickery. Hodgson wrote all the phenomena "described could be accounted for on the assumption that Eusapia could get a hand or foot free." Lodge, Myers and Richet disagreed, but Hodgson was later proven correct in the Cambridge sittings as Palladino was observed to have used tricks exactly the way he had described them.[38]

In July 1895, Palladino was invited to England to Myers' house in Cambridge for a series of investigations into her mediumship. According to reports by Hodgson, Myers and Oliver Lodge, all the phenomena observed in the Cambridge sittings were the result of trickery. Her fraud was so clever, according to Myers, that it "must have needed long practice to bring it to its present level of skill."[39]

In the Cambridge sittings the results proved disastrous for her mediumship. During the séances Palladino was caught cheating in order to free herself from the physical controls of the experiments.[38] Palladino was found liberating her hands by placing the hand of the controller on her left on top of the hand of the controller on her right. Instead of maintaining any contact with her, the observers on either side were found to be holding each other's hands and this made it possible for her to perform tricks.[40] Richard Hodgson had observed Palladino free a hand to move objects and use her feet to kick pieces of furniture in the room. Because of the discovery of fraud, the British SPR investigators such as Henry Sidgwick and Frank Podmore considered Palladino's mediumship to be permanently discredited and because of her fraud she was banned from any further experiments with the SPR in Britain.[40]

In the British Medical Journal on November 9, 1895 an article was published titled Exit Eusapia!. The article questioned the scientific legitimacy of the SPR for investigating Palladino a medium who had a reputation of being a fraud and imposture.[41] Part of the article read "It would be comic if it were not deplorable to picture this sorry Egeria surrounded by men like Professor Sidgwick, Professor Lodge, Mr. F. H. Myers, Dr. Schiaparelli, and Professor Richet, solemnly receiving her pinches and kicks, her finger skiddings, her sleight of hand with various articles of furniture as phenomena calling for serious study."[41] This caused Henry Sidgwick to respond in a published letter to the British Medical Journal, November 16, 1895. According to Sidgwick SPR members had exposed the fraud of Palladino at the Cambridge sittings, Sidgwick wrote "Throughout this period we have continually combated and exposed the frauds of professional mediums, and have never yet published in our Proceedings, any report in favour of the performances of any of them."[42] The response from the Journal questioned why the SPR wastes time investigating phenomena that are the "result of jugglery and imposture" and not urgently concerning the welfare of mankind.[42]

In 1898, Myers was invited to a series of séances in Paris with Charles Richet. In contrast to the previous séances in which he had observed fraud he claimed to have observed convincing phenomena.[43] Sidgwick reminded Myers of Palladino's trickery in the previous investigations as "overwhelming" but Myers did not change his position. This enraged Richard Hodgson, then editor of SPR publications to ban Myers from publishing anything on his recent sittings with Palladino in the SPR journal. Hodgson was convinced Palladino was a fraud and supported Sidgwick in the "attempt to put that vulgar cheat Eusapia beyond the pale."[43] It wasn't until the 1908 sittings in Naples that the SPR reopened the Palladino file.[44]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ William James. Frederic Myers's Service to Psychology The Popular Science Monthly, August 1901, pp. 380–389.
  2. ^ Janet Oppenheim. (1985). The Other World: Spiritualism and Psychical Research in England, 1850-1914. Cambridge University Press. pp. 254-262. ISBN 978-0521265058
  3. ^ Jenny Hazelgrove. (2000). Spiritualism and British Society Between the Wars. Manchester University Press. pp. 194-195. ISBN 978-0719055591
  4. ^ a b J. H. Lupton; George Herring (2004). "Myers, Frederic (1811–1851)". Oxford Dictionary of National Biography (online ed.). Oxford University Press. doi:10.1093/ref:odnb/19688.  (Subscription or UK public library membership required.)
  5. ^ Kripal, Jeffrey J. (2010). Authors of the Impossible: The Paranormal and the Sacred. Chicago and London: University of Chicago Press. p. 43. ISBN 978-0-226-45386-6. 
  6. ^ a b c d Gauld (2004)
  7. ^ "Myers, Frederic William Henry (MRS860FW)". A Cambridge Alumni Database. University of Cambridge. 
  8. ^ Catherine W. Reilly (2000). Victorian poetry, 1860–1879: an annotated biobibliography Continuum International Publishing Group, p. 332.
  9. ^
  10. ^ H.G. Cocks. (2009). Nameless Offences: Homosexual Desire in the 19th Century. I. B. Tauris. p. 185. ISBN 978-1848850903
  11. ^ Alan Gauld. (1968). Founders of Psychical Research. Schocken Books. pp. 116-124. ISBN 978-0805230765
  12. ^ Janet Oppenheim. (1985). The Other World: Spiritualism and Psychical Research in England, 1850-1914. Cambridge University Press. p. 429. ISBN 978-0521265058
  13. ^ Raymond Buckland. (2005). The Spirit Book: The Encyclopedia of Clairvoyance, Channelling, and Spirit Communication. Visible Ink Press. p. 276. ISBN 978-1578592135
  14. ^ Richard Cavendish. Man, Myth, and Magic: The Illustrated Encyclopedia of Mythology, Religion, and the Unknown. Marshall Cavendish. p. 1800. ISBN 978-1854357311
  15. ^ Ronald Pearsall. (1972). The Table-Rappers. Book Club Associates. p. 50. ISBN 978-0750936842
  16. ^ Trevor H. Hall. (1980). The Strange Story of Ada Goodrich Freer. Duckworth. pp. 35-37. ISBN 978-0715614273
  17. ^ Trevor Hamilton. (2009). Immortal Longings: F.W.H. Myers and the Victorian Search for Life After Death. Imprint Academic. p. 231. ISBN 978-1-84540-248-8
  18. ^ Joseph Cambray; Linda Carter (2004). Analytical psychology: contemporary perspectives in Jungian analysis. Advancing theory in therapy. Psychology Press. p. 224. ISBN 1-58391-998-8. 
  19. ^ Grattan-Guinness, Ivor (1982). Psychical Research: A Guide to Its History, Principles & Practices – in celebration of 100 years of the Society for Psychical Research. Aquarian Press. ISBN 0-85030-316-8. 
  20. ^ a b Gail Marshall (2007). The Cambridge companion to the fin de siècle. Cambridge University Press. p. 27. ISBN 0-521-85063-0. 
  21. ^ Society for Psychical Research:Past Presidents
  22. ^ Book review:Irreducible Mind, The Journal of Mind and Behavior, Vol.29, No 4, Autumn 2008.
  23. ^ Trevor Hall. (1964). The Strange Case of Edmund Gurney. London: Gerald Duckworth & Co.
  24. ^ Gray, Frank. "Smith, G.A. (1864-1959)". BFI Screenonlinee. Retrieved 2011-04-24. 
  25. ^ Andrew Neher. (2011). Paranormal and Transcendental Experience: A Psychological Examination. Dover Publications. p. 220. ISBN 0486261670
  26. ^ Barry Wiley. (2012). The Thought Reader Craze: Victorian Science at the Enchanted Boundary. McFarland. p. 213. ISBN 978-0786464708
  27. ^ Roger Luckhurst. (2002). The Invention of Telepathy, 1870-1901. Oxford University Press. p. 149
  28. ^ Joseph McCabe. (1920). Is Spiritualism based on Fraud?: The Evidence Given by Sir A.C. Doyle and Others Drastically Examined. London: Watts & Co. p. 98
  29. ^ Myers, F. H. W. (1903). Human Personality and its Survival of Death. London: Longmans.
  30. ^ Gurney, E., Myers, F. W. H., & Podmore, F. (1886). Phantasms of the Living. Vol I and II London: Trubner.
  31. ^ Alfred Douglas. (1982). Extra-Sensory Powers: A Century of Psychical Research. Overlook Press. p. 76. "Phantasms of the Living was criticized by a number of scholars when it appeared, one ground for the attack being the lack of written testimony regarding the apparitions composed shortly after they had been seen. In many instances several years had elapsed between the occurrence and a report of it being made to the investigators from the SPR."
  32. ^ Edmund Parish. (1897). Hallucinations and Illusions. A Study of the Fallacies of Perception. London: Walter Scott. p. 104
  33. ^ Charles Sanders Peirce. (1958). Collected Papers of Charles Sanders Peirce, Volume 4. Harvard University Press. p. 360
  34. ^ Alexander Taylor Innes. (1887). Where Are the Letters? A Cross-Examination of Certain Phantasms. Nineteenth Century 22: 174-194.
  35. ^ C. E. M. Hansel. (1989). The Search for Psychic Power. Prometheus Books. pp. 220-224. ISBN 0-87975-516-4
  36. ^ a b Emily W. Kelly and Carlos S. Alvarado. Images in Psychiatry: Frederic William Henry Myers, 1843–1901 American Journal of Psychiatry, 162:34, January 2005.
  37. ^ a b W. McDougall. Review: Human Personality and Its Survival of Bodily Death Mind, Vol. 12, No. 48 (Oct., 1903), pp. 513–526.
  38. ^ a b c Walter Mann. (1919). The Follies and Frauds of Spiritualism. Rationalist Association. London: Watts & Co. pp. 115-130
  39. ^ Joseph McCabe. (1920). Is Spiritualism Based on Fraud?: The Evidence Given by Sir A.C. Doyle and Others. London, Watts & Co. p. 14
  40. ^ a b M. Brady Brower. (2010). Unruly Spirits: The Science of Psychic Phenomena in Modern France. University of Illinois Press. p. 62. ISBN 978-0252077517
  41. ^ a b The British Medical Journal. (Nov. 9, 1895). Exit Eusapia!. Volume. 2, No. 1819. p. 1182.
  42. ^ a b The British Medical Journal. (Nov. 16, 1895). Exit Eusapia. Volume 2, No. 1820. pp. 1263-1264.
  43. ^ a b Janet Oppenheim. (1985). The Other World: Spiritualism and Psychical Research in England, 1850-1914. Cambridge University Press. pp. 150-151. ISBN 978-0521265058
  44. ^ Massimo Polidoro. (2003). Secrets of the Psychics: Investigating Paranormal Claims. Prometheus Books. p. 61. ISBN 978-1591020868


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