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 involved in homosexual relationships with Arthur Sidgwick, the poet John Addington Symonds,[10] and possibly Lord Battersea.[11] He later fell in love with the medium Annie Eliza, the wife of his cousin Walter James Marshall and they had an affair.[12] Myer's relationship with his cousin's wife has been questioned by different researchers to be sexual or Platonic.[13] Annie committed suicide in September 1876 by drowning.[14]

The British occult writer Richard Cavendish noted that "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 said to be wholly heterosexual."[15] 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.[16]

The researcher Trevor H. Hall argued that Myers had an affair with the medium Ada Goodrich Freer.[17] However, Trevor Hamilton dismissed this and suggested that Freer was simply using her acquaintance with Myers to gain status in the psychical research movement.[18] John Grant has suggested that Myers was a womanizer who was easily duped and "probably seduced" by Freer."[19]

Biographer Bart Schultz has written that "Myers was suspected of all manner of sexual quirks and it was alleged that he looked upon psychical research as giving him opportunities for voyeurism." He also noted the odd behaviour of Myers, such as insisting to be with Edmund Gurney with his bride on their Honeymoon even against strong protest from the bride.[20]

A relationship between eroticism and Myer's interest in psychical research was examined by Professor of Philosophy Jeffrey J. Kripal.[21]

Biographer Trevor Hamilton has defended Myer's against the allegations of sexual misconduct.[22]

Psychical research[edit]

Myers

Myers was interested in psychical research and was one of the founder members of the Society for Psychical Research (SPR) in 1883.[23][24][25] He became the President in 1900.[26] Myers psychical ideas and theory of a subliminal self did not impress contemporary psychologists.[2] Psychologists who shared an interest in psychical research such as Théodore Flournoy and William James were influenced by Myers. However, according to historian Janet Oppenheim "not even all Myer's colleagues at the SPR accepted his hypotheses."[2]

Some historians have suggested that Myers was strongly biased to believe in the paranormal and held a secret religious agenda. After the publication of Charles Darwin's On the Origin of Species (1859), it was difficult for those with a scientific education to retain a belief in tenets of the Judeo-Christian religion.[27] Early SPR members like Myers and Henry Sidgwick hoped to cling to something spiritual through psychical research. Psychical researcher Eric Dingwall wrote regarding the early formation of the Society for Psychical Research, "Myers, among others... knew that the primary aim of the society was not objective experimentation but the establishment of telepathy."[27][28]

British historian G. R. Searle described Myers as "having lost his Christian faith, sought a new kind of religion that could reassure him that death did not lead to extinction."[29]

Mediums and psychics[edit]

In opposition to Richard Hodgson and Eleanor Mildred Sidgwick who held the view that many physical mediums were fraudulent, Myers believed that although many of these mediums cheated they could also produce genuine physical phenomena.[30] According to Trevor Hamilton "Myers had no direct involvement in the exposure of physical fraud."[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.[31][32] However, Blackburn later confessed to fraud.[33] 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."[34]

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."[35][36]

In July 1895, Eusapia Palladino was invited to England to Myers' house in Cambridge for a series of investigations into her mediumship. According to reports by the investigators such as Richard Hodgson and magician John Nevil Maskelyne all the phenomena observed in the Cambridge sittings were the result of trickery.[37][38] 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] However, despite the exposure of her fraud, Myers was convinced some of her phenomena was genuine.[30]

Myers was impressed by the automatic drawings and paintings of the medium David Duguid.[40] However, in 1878, Frank Podmore attended a séance of Duguid and strongly suspected that he had cheated by using a card that had already been painted.[41]

Clinical neurologist Sebastian Dieguez has commented that Myers "was seriously duped by many people".[42]

Phantasms of the Living[edit]

Myers was the co-author of the two-volume Phantasms of the Living (London: Trübner, 1886) with Gurney and Frank Podmore which documented alleged sightings of apparitions. Myers wrote an introduction and concluding chapter.[43] The two volumes consist of 701 cases of alleged spontaneous apparitional communications. It also explored a telepathic theory to explain such cases.[44] Psychical researcher Thomas Walker Mitchell commented that "the chief aim of [the] book was to produce a cumulative quasi-statistical proof of telepathy."[45]

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.[46] 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.[47] 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.[48] Peirce argued that the stories were "worthless, partly because of the uncertainty and error of the numerical data, and partly because the authors have been astonishingly careless in the admission of cases ruled out by the conditions of the argumentation."[49]

A strong attack on the book was made by physiologist William Thierry Preyer.[50] Mathematician Simon Newcomb noted that there were many possible natural explanations for the stories including "unconscious exaggeration; the faculty of remembering what is striking and forgetting what is not; illusions of sense, mistakes of memory; the impressions left by dreams; and, finally, deceit and trickery, whether intentional or unconscious." Because of all these possible factors that were not ruled out, he concluded "there is therefore no proof of telepathy in any of the wonders narrated in these volumes."[51]

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.[52] Edmund Gurney replied to the criticism, but "could only point to three cases that met Innes's requirements, one of which later turned out to be fraud".[53][54]

Another major criticism of the book was that it endorsed the tests of the Creery Sisters as genuine evidence for telepathy. However, in 1887 two of the sisters had been detected in fraud, utilizing a code of signals and the third sister confessed to using the signals in the experiments.[55] 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."[56]

Shane McCorristine in his book Spectres of the Self (2010), explores the criticisms of Phantasms of the Living in depth.[57]

Human Personality and Its Survival of Bodily Death[edit]

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.[25][58][59] 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.[58][59] In the book, Myers believed he had provided evidence for the existence of the soul and survival of personality after death. The book cites cases of automatic writing, hypnotism, mediumship, possession, psychokinesis, and telepathy.[60]

In Human Personality and Its Survival of Bodily Death, 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. 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.[61]

It was well received by parapsychologists and spiritualists, being described as "the Bible of British psychical researchers".[62] Théodore Flournoy and William James both positively reviewed the book.[63] It was negatively reviewed by psychologist George Stout who described the concept of the subliminal self as "baseless, futile, and incoherent."[64] Andrew Lang and Gerald Balfour were unconvinced about some of Myers ideas.[2] William McDougall in a detailed review for Mind also criticized the book.[59] French psychologist Henri Delacroix commented that Myers "experimental metaphysics" was a failure.[65]

Strong praise for the book and a revival of interest in Myers' ideas appeared in the 2007 Irreducible Mind by Emily Williams Kelly, Alan Gauld and Bruce Greyson.[66]

Publications[edit]

See also[edit]

References[edit]

  1. ^ William James. Frederic Myers's Service to Psychology The Popular Science Monthly, August 1901, pp. 380–389.
  2. ^ a b c d Oppenheim, Janet. (1985). The Other World: Spiritualism and Psychical Research in England, 1850-1914. Cambridge University Press. pp. 254-262. ISBN 978-0521265058
  3. ^ Hazelgrove, Jenny. (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. ^ http://www.hymntime.com/tch/htm/h/a/w/hawhatas.htm
  10. ^ H.G. Cocks. (2009). Nameless Offences: Homosexual Desire in the 19th Century. I. B. Tauris. p. 185. ISBN 978-1848850903
  11. ^ Hamilton, Trevor Immortal Longings: FWH Myers and the Victorian Search for Life After Death, Imprint Academic, 2009, p181,184
  12. ^ Alan Gauld. (1968). Founders of Psychical Research. Schocken Books. pp. 116-124. ISBN 978-0805230765
  13. ^ Janet Oppenheim. (1985). The Other World: Spiritualism and Psychical Research in England, 1850-1914. Cambridge University Press. p. 429. ISBN 978-0521265058
  14. ^ Raymond Buckland. (2005). The Spirit Book: The Encyclopedia of Clairvoyance, Channelling, and Spirit Communication. Visible Ink Press. p. 276. ISBN 978-1578592135
  15. ^ Richard Cavendish. Man, Myth, and Magic: The Illustrated Encyclopedia of Mythology, Religion, and the Unknown. Marshall Cavendish. p. 1800. ISBN 978-1854357311
  16. ^ Ronald Pearsall. (1972). The Table-Rappers. Book Club Associates. p. 50. ISBN 978-0750936842
  17. ^ Trevor H. Hall. (1980). The Strange Story of Ada Goodrich Freer. Duckworth. pp. 35-37. ISBN 978-0715614273
  18. ^ Hamilton, Trevor. (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
  19. ^ Grant, John. (2015). Spooky Science: Debunking the Pseudoscience of the Afterlife. Sterling Publishing. pp. 46-49. ISBN 978-1-4549-1654-3
  20. ^ Schultz, Bart. (2004). Henry Sidgwick - Eye of the Universe: An Intellectual Biography. Cambridge University Press. pp. 93-94. ISBN 0-521-82967-4
  21. ^ Kripnal, Jeffrey J.. (2010). Authors of the Impossible: The Paranormal and the Sacred. University of Chicago Press. pp. 81-91. ISBN 978-0-226-45386-6
  22. ^ a b Hamilton, Trevor. (2009). Immortal Longings: F.W.H. Myers and the Victorian Search for Life After Death. Imprint Academic. ISBN 978-1-84540-248-8
  23. ^ 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. 
  24. ^ 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. 
  25. ^ a b Gail Marshall (2007). The Cambridge companion to the fin de siècle. Cambridge University Press. p. 27. ISBN 0-521-85063-0. 
  26. ^ Society for Psychical Research:Past Presidents
  27. ^ a b Grant, John. (2015). Spooky Science: Debunking the Pseudoscience of the Afterlife. Sterling Publishing. pp. 23-24. ISBN 978-1-4549-1654-3
  28. ^ Dingwall, Eric. (1985). The Need for Responsibility in Parapsychology: My Sixty Years in Psychical Research. In Paul Kurtz. A Skeptic's Handbook of Parapsychology. Prometheus Books. pp. 161-174. ISBN 0-87975-300-5 "When the British SPR was founded, the public was led to believe that at least a scientific survey was to be made, and I have no doubt that even some of those closely associated with the early days thought so too. But Myers, among others, had no such intention and cherished no such illusion. He knew that the primary aim of the Society was not objective experimentation but the establishment of telepathy. To understand why this was so it is necessary to realize the position in which so many educated and intelligent people found themselves during the 1870s and later in Victorian England. With the emergence of new scientific concepts touching the origin of man and his place in the universe, the very foundations of their religious beliefs began to give way."
  29. ^ Searle, Geoffrey Russell. (2004). A New England?: Peace and War, 1886-1918. Oxford University Press. p. 640. ISBN 0-19-820714-X
  30. ^ a b Moreman, Christopher M. (2013). The Spiritualist Movement: Speaking with the Dead in America and around the World. Praeger. pp. 98-103. ISBN 978-0-313-39947-3
  31. ^ Trevor Hall. (1964). The Strange Case of Edmund Gurney. London: Gerald Duckworth & Co.
  32. ^ Gray, Frank. "Smith, G.A. (1864-1959)". BFI Screenonlinee. Retrieved 2011-04-24. 
  33. ^ Andrew Neher. (2011). Paranormal and Transcendental Experience: A Psychological Examination. Dover Publications. p. 220. ISBN 0486261670
  34. ^ Barry Wiley. (2012). The Thought Reader Craze: Victorian Science at the Enchanted Boundary. McFarland. p. 213. ISBN 978-0786464708
  35. ^ Luckhurst, Roger. (2002). The Invention of Telepathy, 1870-1901. Oxford University Press. p. 149
  36. ^ McCabe, Joseph. (1920). Is Spiritualism based on Fraud?: The Evidence Given by Sir A.C. Doyle and Others Drastically Examined. London: Watts & Co. p. 98
  37. ^ Brandon, Ruth. (1983). The Spiritualists: The Passion for the Occult in the Nineteenth and Twentieth Centuries. Weidenfeld and Nicolson. p. 138. ISBN 0-297-78249-5
  38. ^ Brower, M. Brady. (2010). Unruly Spirits: The Science of Psychic Phenomena in Modern France. University of Illinois Press. pp. 62-63. ISBN 978-0-252-03564-7
  39. ^ McCabe, Joseph. (1920). Is Spiritualism Based On Fraud? The Evidence Given By Sir A. C. Doyle and Others Drastically Examined. London, Watts & Co. p. 14
  40. ^ Bennett, Edward T. (1908). The Direct Phenomena of Spiritualism: Speaking, Writing, Drawing, Music, & Painting: A Study. William Rider & Son. pp. 12-13
  41. ^ Podmore, Frank. (1902). Modern Spiritualism: A History and a Criticism. London: Methuen. pp. 130-133. ISBN 978-1108072571
  42. ^ Dieguez, Sebastian. (2008). The Soul of the Gaps. (Review of Irreducible Mind: Toward a Psychology for the 21st Century by Edward F. Kelly, Emily Williams Kelly, Adam Crabtree, Alan Gauld, Michael Grosso, and Bruce Greyson). Skeptic 15: 75-77.
  43. ^ Morgan, C. Lloyd. (1887). Supernormal Psychology. Nature 35: 290-292.
  44. ^ Wiley, Barry. (2012). The Thought Reader Craze: Victorian Science at the Enchanted Boundary. McFarland. pp. 139-140. ISBN 978-0786464708
  45. ^ Mitchell, Thomas Walker. (1923). Phantasms of the Living. Nature 111: 211-212.
  46. ^ Douglas, Alfred. (1982). Extra-Sensory Powers: A Century of Psychical Research. Overlook Press. p. 76. ISBN 978-0879511609 "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."
  47. ^ Parish, Edmund. (1897). Hallucinations and Illusions. A Study of the Fallacies of Perception. London: Walter Scott. p. 104
  48. ^ Peirce, Charles Sanders. (1958). Collected Papers of Charles Sanders Peirce, Volume 4. Harvard University Press. p. 360
  49. ^ Peirce, Charles Sanders. (2000). Writings of Charles S. Peirce: 1857-1866. Peirce Edition Project. pp. 61-62. ISBN 0-253-37201-1
  50. ^ Preyer, William Thierry. (1886). Telepathie und Geisterseherei in England." Deutsche Rundschau. pp. 30-51
  51. ^ Newcomb, Simon. (1985). Modern Occultism. In Paul Kurtz. A Skeptic's Handbook of Parapsychology. Prometheus Books. pp. 147-160. ISBN 0-87975-300-5
  52. ^ Innes, Alexander Taylor. (1887). Where Are the Letters? A Cross-Examination of Certain Phantasms. Nineteenth Century 22: 174-194.
  53. ^ Gurney, Edmund. (1887). Letters on Phantasms: A Reply. Nineteenth Century 22: 522-533.
  54. ^ Peirce, Charles Sanders. (2000). Writings of Charles S. Peirce: 1857-1866. Peirce Edition Project. p. 426. ISBN 0-253-37201-1 "Innes Attack proved the most devastating. In many of his cases Gurney had referred to corroborating evidence from contemporary documents, such as postmarked letters. Innes notes that there was no indication in the book that such letters were received and examined by Gurney and his assistants. In his reply to Innes, Gurney could only point to three cases that met Innes's requirements, one of which later turned out to be a fraud."
  55. ^ McCorristine, Shane. (2010). Spectres of the Self: Thinking about Ghosts and Ghost-Seeing in England, 1750–1920. Cambridge University Press. p. 171. ISBN 978-0-521-76798-9
  56. ^ Hansel, C. E. M. (1989). The Search for Psychic Power. Prometheus Books. pp. 220-224. ISBN 0-87975-516-4
  57. ^ McCorristine, Shane. (2010). Spectres of the Self: Thinking about Ghosts and Ghost-Seeing in England, 1750-1920. Cambridge University Press. pp. 162-171. ISBN 978-0-521-76798-9
  58. ^ a b Kelly, Emily W; Alvarado, Carlos S. (2005). Images in Psychiatry: Frederic William Henry Myers, 1843–1901. American Journal of Psychiatry, 162: 34.
  59. ^ a b c McDougall, William. (1903). Review: Human Personality and Its Survival of Bodily Death Mind. Vol. 12, No. 48. pp. 513-526.
  60. ^ McCorristine, Shane. (2010). Spectres of the Self: Thinking about Ghosts and Ghost-Seeing in England, 1750–1920. Cambridge University Press. pp. 183-186. ISBN 978-0-521-76798-9
  61. ^ Stokes, Douglas M. (2007). The Conscious Mind and the Material World. McFarland. p. 100. ISBN 978-0-7864-3004-8
  62. ^ McCorristine, Shane. (2010). Spectres of the Self: Thinking about Ghosts and Ghost-Seeing in England, 1750–1920. Cambridge University Press. p. 183. ISBN 978-0-521-76798-9
  63. ^ Richardson, Robert D. (2007). William James: In the Maelstrom of American Modernism: A Biography. p. 441.
  64. ^ Stout, G. F. (1903). Mr. F. W. H. Myers on Human Personality and Its Survival of Bodily Death. The Hibbert Journal 2: 45-56.
  65. ^ Delacroix, Henri. (1905). Myers: La théorie du subliminal. Revue de métaphysique et de morale 13: 257-282.
  66. ^ Ash, Mitchell G; Gundlach, Horst; Sturm, Thomas. (2010). Reviewed Work: Irreducible Mind: Toward a Psychology for the 21st Century. By Edward F. Kelly, Emily Williams Kelly, Adam Crabtree, Alan Gauld, Michael Grosso, Bruce Greyson. American Journal of Psychology. Vol. 123, No. 2. pp. 246-250.

Further reading[edit]

External links[edit]