Talk:Society for Psychical Research

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Controversies section to be removed[edit]

I believe the entire 'controversies' section should be removed. Firstly most of this content (nearly all) is found on the mediumship article, I see no reason why it needs to be in two places. Also the 'Harry Price' section is sourced to a lot of fringe sources that are not entirely reliable, I also fail to see how Price caused such as big 'controversy', it seems over-stated. These are not independent reliable secondary sources so should be removed. I am going to be bold and remove this section. If anyone objects please talk here, thanks. JuliaHunter (talk) 01:24, 26 March 2016 (UTC)

Forgotten history of the SPR?[edit]

It is reported in the majority of books that the SPR was formed in 1882 by Barrett, Gurney, Myers and Sidgwick. However if we dig deeper the idea of the SPR seems to have stemmed from a discussion between Dawson Rogers and Barrett in the autumn of 1881. Rogers was a leading spiritualist who edited the oldest spiritualist journal in Britain known as Light.

Roger Luckhurst for example writes:

""The discussion between Dawson Rogers and Barrett in the autumn of 1881 resulted in a conference in January 1882, convened at the headquarters of the British National Association of Spiritualists in Great Russell Street. A committee to explore the idea of a new formation included Barrett, Dawson Rogers, the medium Stainton Moses, Hensleigh Wedgwood, Slade's legal counsel Charles Massey, Edmund Gurney, and Frederic Myers. Barrett recalled that George Romanes also attended. Six weeks later, after a sequence of meetings at Hensleigh Wedgwood's London home, and just after the death of Charles Darwin in March 1882, the conference reconvened and formally launched the Society for Psychical Research under the presidency of Sidgwick." (Roger Luckhurst, The Invention of Telepathy, 1870-1901, p. 51).

Shane McCorristine writes:

"After discussions with Edmund Dawson Rogers, a journalist and spiritualist, Barrett convened a conference on the matter which was held at the headquarters of the British National Alliance of Spiritualists in London on 6 January 1882, and as a result the Society for Psychical Research was formally established on 20 February." (Shane McCorristine, Spectres of the Self: Thinking about Ghosts and Ghost-Seeing in England, 1750–1920, p. 110).

Another source is Trevor Hamilton:

"It was, in fact, Barrett who with a leading Spiritualist, the journalist Dawson Rogers, was responsible for summoning the two-day conference in January 1882 that led to setting up the Society for Psychical Research (SPR) the following February. This took place in the rooms of the British National Association of Spiritualists in London... The spiritualists, in terms of numbers, were in the majority on the original SPR council... [However] the relationship with the Spiritualists proved to be an uneasy one. The executive leadership of the Society passed quickly into the hands of the Cambridge elite. This was partly because Sidgwick was president, but it was also a product of the intelligence, energy, private incomes, and comparative youthfulness of most of the individuals involved (Edmund Gurney was able to devote himself full time to the cause). And when they began to apply these attributes in a way that distressed the Spiritualists, problems were bound to develop.

There were three main areas where Myers and his colleagues came into conflict with the Spiritualists: the first one was over the proper investigation and interpretation of physical phenomena; the second was the source of automatic writing, speaking, and drawing; and the third was the timing, focusing, and ordering of the Society's investigations...

Myers, who was instinctively more sympathetic to the Spiritualists than his colleagues, warned Sidgwick that a split might be imminent." (Trevor Hamilton. F. W. H. Myers, William James and Spiritualism. In Christopher M. Moreman. The Spiritualist Movement: Speaking with the Dead in America and around the World. pp. 99-100).

Similar statements were made by historian Janet Oppenheim in her book The Other World: Spiritualism and Psychical Research in England, 1850-1914, pp. 136-138. Any help would be appreciated. Only scholarly sources should be cited for the history of the SPR if this information is going to be incorporated into the article. JuliaHunter (talk) 19:13, 26 March 2016 (UTC)

Another source that mentions the dispute between early spiritualists in the SPR is William Hodson Brock:

"In 1882 Barrett called a meeting of those in interested in the investigation of psychical phenomena. In 1882 Barrett called a meeting of those interested in the investigation of psychical phenomena, including members of the Cambridge group, in the rooms of the British National Association of Spiritualists (BNAS). This meeting led to the foundation of the Society for Psychical Research (SPR)... The new society was an uneasy partnership of devout spiritualists and the more Cambridge academics. By the 1900s most avowed spiritualists had left the SPR and gone back to the BNAS (the London Spiritualist Alliance since 1884), having become upset by the sceptical tone of most of the SPR's investigations. Even Barrett was largely sidelined by the Cambridge clique who found him "a vain and querulous colleague... lamentably deficient in critical standards." (William Hodson Brock, William Crookes (1832-1919) and the Commercialization of Science, p. 206).

I don't have time to dig up any more sources on this. So I will go ahead and add what I have found. JuliaHunter (talk) 19:47, 26 March 2016 (UTC)

The original council of the SPR were mostly spiritualists[edit]

A full list [1] of the first SPR council was published by Emma Hardinge Britten in her book (Nineteenth Century Miracles (1884).

This was also covered by Frazer Nichol's 1972 paper The Founders of the S.P.R. Proceedings of the Society for Psychical Research 55: 341-367. But I cannot seem to get access to that paper online.

More recently, Shane McCorristine (in a footnote on p. 110 of his book) lists the names of the original council of the SPR:

William F. Barrett, Edward T. Bennett, Walter Browne, Alexander Calder, Walter H. Coffin, Desmond G. Fitzgerald, Edmund Gurney, Charles Massey, Stainton Moses, Frederic W. H. Myers, Francis W. Percival, Frank Podmore, C. Lockhart Robertson, Edmund Rogers, Balfour Stewart, Morell Theobold, Hensleigh Wedgwood and George Wyld. Henry Sidgwick was the first president.

  • For some reason McCorristine does not mention the spiritualist Mary Everest Boole (Mrs. Boole), but Britten and Nichol do. According to Nichol, 1972 (quoted by Renée Haynes) "There was also one woman, Mary Boole, widow of the mathematician. After six months however the minutes record that 'finding she remains the only lady on the Council' (into which the Committee had developed) 'Mrs Boole expressed the wish to resign. Under the circumstances the Council concludes to accept her resignation with regret.' No other woman was appointed to the Council. No other woman was appointed to the Council for close on twenty years-—Mrs Sidgwick in 1901." Renée Haynes in her book The Society for Psychical Research, 1882-1982: A History, 1982, p. 5 comments "What could 'the circumstances' have been? Were they simply the result of some embarrassing female modesty?"

The majority of these were spiritualists from the British National Association of Spiritualists (BNAS). I believe some of these may have resigned from the SPR (obviously not Gurney, Podmore or Myers) but the others. The medium Stainton Moses did, looking for coverage of the others. The above names are listed by McCorristine, Roger Luckhurst, Archie Roy, and to a lesser extent Trevor Hamilton and Janet Oppenheim. Virtually no other books in existence cover these early members of the Society in detail.

Janet Oppenheim (p. 138) after discussing the spiritualist members Stainton Moses and Edmund Rogers, comments:

"A number of other confirmed spiritualists joined them, both as officers and members. The elderly Hensleigh Wedgwood, Darwin's cousin, became a vice-president after participating actively in the preliminary planning of the Society... he also became absorbed in spiritualism and joined the BNAS. C. C. Massey and E. D. Rogers were on the Society's council in the company of other BNAS veterans, like Dr. George Wyld, F. W. Percival, Alexander Calder and Morell Theobald, a London accountant who manifested credulity is exhibited on every page of his Spirit Workers in the Home Circle: An Autobiographic Narrative of Psychic Phenomena in Family Daily Life. Other familiar spiritualist names, such as Lady Mount-Temple, Dr. Stanhope Templeman Speer, St. George Stock, Alaric Alred Watts, and the Hon. Percy Wynham, MP, appear on early membership lists."

Here is information on the spiritualist members of the original SPR council that I have managed to find:

  • Alexander Calder, spiritualist, President of the British National Association of Spiritualists. He is mentioned by Arthur Conan Doyle briefly in the History of Spiritualism.
  • Information on the barrister Charles Massey (1838-1905) can be found in the scholarly book By Jeffrey D. Lavoie, Search for Meaning in Victorian Religion: The Spiritual Journey and Esoteric Teachings of Charles Carleton Massey, 2014. He was a spiritualist and theosophist. Member of the London Spiritualist Alliance.
  • Information on the accountant Morrell Theobald can be found in (Trevor Hamilton's biography of Frederic Myers, Immortal Longings, 2009) he was described as a credulous spiritualist and fell out with other members of the SPR after Frank Podmore and Mrs. Sidgwick criticized some alleged mediumship phenomena in his own home with his family. Member of the London Spiritualist Alliance.
  • Edward T. Bennett (hotel keeper) was the Assistant Secretary to the Society, 1882-1902, he was also a spiritualist and authored a number of books on psychical research.
  • Walter H. Coffin an electrician and Desmond G. Fitzgerald (1834-1905) was also an electrician. Some information on Fitzgerald can be found here [2]. Both were spiritualists and members of the London Spiritualist Alliance.
  • Francis W. Percival a scholar who was a spiritualist, but little information exists about his life. I managed to find his name in an article for The Spiritual Magazine (1860-1877), an old spiritualist magazine that he probably contributed to. Member of the London Spiritualist Alliance.
  • Mary Everest Boole (1832-1916), self-taught mathematician, also a spiritualist according to (Nichol, 1972).
  • Roden Noel (1834-1894) was a poet, spiritualist and vice-president of the SPR, (cited by Britten and briefly mentioned by Roger Luckhurst).

In the book by Jeffrey D. Lavoie (p. 22) he notes that "In the early SPR, there was a unique dichotomy between Spiritualism and skepticism among its membership. It has recently been calculated that 68 percent of the first SPR council were Spiritualists (i.e., thirteen Spiritualists and six Non-Spiritualists)." This figure originally comes from Frazer Nichol's SPR paper.

Archie Roy in his book The Eager Dead (pp. 79-80) also cites the 68 percent figure and lists the spiritualists and non-spiritualists. The minority of non-spiritualists were Walter R. Browne (engineer), Edmund Gurney, Frederic W. H. Myers, Frank Podmore, J. Lockhart Robertson (This must refer to C. Lockhart Robertson) and Henry Sidgwick.

Other early spiritualist members:

Other vice presidents (non-spiritualist?):

Early resignations from council members[edit]

Looking for references that discuss the early resignations of spiritualist members from the SPR so this can be mentioned on the article. This was because of the William Eglinton exposure from Richard Hodgson and Eleanor Mildred Sidgwick.

Janet Oppenheim (p. 140) reported that "Perhaps to Mrs. Sidwick's disappointment, however, there was no mass exodus of spiritualists from the SPR in protest against the harsh treatment of Eglinton. What did occur was the departure of Stainton Moses with a handful of loyalists, like Dr. Speer and A. A. Watts." JuliaHunter (talk) 23:06, 26 March 2016 (UTC)

(Note: The spiritualist Alfred Alaric Watts (A. A. Watts) was a founder with Stainton Moses in the revival of the The Ghost Club.)

Arthur Conan Doyle in his book The History of Spiritualism, Volume 2 has written "The Council included such representative Spiritualists as Mr. Edmund Dawson Rogers, Mr. Hensleigh Wedgwood, Dr. George Wyld, Mr. Alexander Calder, and Mr. Morrell Theobald. We shall see in the course of our review of its history how the Society for Psychical Research gradually alienated the sympathies of these members and caused many of them to resign."

Frazer Nichol in his 1972 paper, The Founders of the S.P.R has written that the "Control of the Society passed slowly but surely from Spiritualists to the non-Spiritualists. By 1887, quite a number of disappointed Spiritualist Founders of the Society had resigned from the Council".

I have managed to locate the names of the spiritualist members who resigned over the William Eglinton affair, they are:

  • Stainton Moses
  • Stanhope Templeman Speer (1823–1889) (Dr. Stanhope Speer)
  • G. D. Haughton
  • H. A. Kersey
  • Mrs E. Cannon
  • Mrs Brietzcke (This is most likely Helen Brietzcke, she is mentioned in passing by Trevor Hamilton's Immortal Longings, 2009).

This list of names is reproduced in Nichol, 1972, who also comments "I need only mention of the 51 S.P.R. members who are known to have had sittings with Eglinton only six resigned."

Unfortunately the above 6 names are only found in Nichol, 1972 (SPR journal) and this is not a reliable source to be citing on the article itself, so until we have independent secondary sources that cover this, this information cannot be cited on the article. Dam shame. But I can cover the majority of the other stuff found in academic books that I have listed. JuliaHunter (talk) 22:43, 27 March 2016 (UTC)

Later resignations[edit]

It is alleged in various books that Arthur Conan Doyle lead a massive resignation of 84 members from the Society for Psychical Research. On investigation this information actually turns out to be false. The error originally came from Nandor Fodor, a review which highlights this in the SPR journal is here [3], only 6 members resigned. "The Council are glad to say that this attack on the Society failed almost completely, only six Members and one Associate, none of whom had ever taken an active part in the Society's work."

Doyle's resignation was because of the sceptical SPR member Theodore Besterman's negative review of a spiritualist book. Yet one other reference says it was because of the exposure of the fraudulent spirit photographer William Hope. It is actually because of Besterman's review that he resigned. I will clarify this with reliable sources. JuliaHunter (talk) 23:25, 26 March 2016 (UTC)


"A 2004 psychological study involving 174 members of the Society for Psychical Research was interpreted as indicating"

That was interpreted by? By the authors of the study! You are censoring scientific research. That edit cannot stay that way. You removed the results of the study and replaced them by a weak parody disguised as an opinion. I will revert that part of today's edit. --Hob Gadling (talk) 20:11, 29 December 2016 (UTC)