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Communication By Motor Response

( Originally Published 1918 )

THUS far we have been dealing mostly with so-called "sensory automatisms" of the spontaneous type ; but the experiences of non-professional sensitives are, of course, not con-fined to these. They include all the phenomena, such as automatic writing, and speech or writing in trance, which are observed in the despised race of mediums. But I do not much like the word automatic, for it seems to prejudge the question and to assume that the person is "doing it himself." As regards the physical process, he certainly is, for it is his muscles that are causing movement of pencil or vocal organs; but it is by no means certain that it is entirely his own mind that is determining the action of the muscles. Decision on that point must depend mainly on the character of the product. I append a good case of writing, from a retired Army captain, in which the agency seems to have been external to the writer's mind:

"My father was scientist, priest, and poet, a man who concealed an iron will behind the most gentle and Christ-like of personalities, and he was more than a brother to me. I, who had traced Comparative Religions back through Isis and Osiris, the Medic and Persian, the Hindoo and Chinese, to their apparent sources in Yucatan, had become thoroughly agnostic towards anything Catholic, while retaining a firm belief in a First Cause and Spirit. This was a grief to him, though he was deep and broad and tender enough to appreciate the fact that `there lives more faith in honest doubt' than in all the creeds.

"A week after my father's funeral I was writing a business letter, when something seemed to intervene between my hand and the motor centres of my brain, and the hand wrote at an amazing rate a letter, signed with my father's signature and purporting to come from him. I was upset, and my right side and arm became cold and numb. For a year after this letters came frequently, and always at unexpected times. I never knew what they contained until I examined them with a magnifying glass : they were very microscopic. And they contained a vast amount of matter with which it was impossible for me to be acquainted. Their theology was unorthodox; the place which he inhabited was strangely real; he seemed to be looking in at me in prison: I was in semi-darkness behind prison bars. `You are in the dream. I am in the reality.' `I seem to speak to you in a dream.' `I am a link in the great chain that binds Earth to Heaven. Laus Deo, what more could sinful man desire?' etc.

"Unknown to me, my mother, who was staying some sixty miles away, lost her pet dog, which my father had given her. The same night I had a letter from him condoling with her, and stating that the dog was now with him. `All things which love us and are necessary to our happiness in the world are with us here.' A most sacred secret, known to no one but my father and mother, concerning a matter which occurred years before I was born, was afterwards told me in the script, with the comment: `Tell your mother this, and she will know that it is I, your father, who am writing.' My mother had been unable to accept the possibility up to now, but when I told her this she collapsed and fainted. From that moment the letters became her greatest comfort, for they were lovers during the forty years of their married life, and his death almost broke her heart.

"As for myself, I am as convinced that my father, in his original personality, still exists, as if he were simply in his study with the door shut. He is no more dead than he would be were he living in America.

"I have compared the diction and vocabulary of these letters with those employed in my own writing—I am not unknown as a magazine contributor—and I find no points of similarity between the two.

"My father imagined himself unknown beyond the confines of his country parish, yet I have discovered that he was better known in the large town of B than many of its resident clergy. Men of the world have said to me : `If there ever was a Christ-like man it was your father.' Old ladies, who criticized his `scientific and chemical' sermons, nevertheless adored him; and yet he wrote, `With great difficulty have I attained the privilege' (of writing to me). `Take care that you on your side are not unworthy.'

"I have never come up against any of the astonishing phenomena with which the spiritualists seem so familiar, such as levitation, the appearance in the flesh of the departed, etc., although on a certain Christmas night I saw most vividly my father standing behind my mother's chair. I tried to touch him, but an impenetrable wall of ice seemed to surround him, and my hand was numb and practically frozen for nearly half an hour afterwards."

(Capt.) J. BURTON.

There seems to be more in this phenomenon of coldness—so frequently noticed in many kinds of sittings—than can be accounted for on any theory of mere hallucination. It is experienced by people who are not expecting it and who know nothing of its frequent occurrence. Suggestion, therefore, seems an in-adequate explanation. And there seems no a priori reason to expect such a phenomenon. The facts point to there being something really there—some change in the portion of space out there, or in the matter or ether occupying it. A thermometer ought to settle it, but when these things happen spontaneously and unexpectedly we can forgive the percipient if he does not happen to think of sending for a thermometer until too late. There is a case on record where a young man saw a ghost and said, "Hello, here's an apparition! Let's study it." But he was an exceptional young man, evidently nurtured on the Proceedings of the Society for Psychical Research. Ordinary people will show less presence of mind. But it is much to be desired that thermometric tests should be made when the "cold wind" is felt at experimental sittings.

[Capt. Burton's account continued.]

"Quite early in the history of the script I had a very fragmentary communication, from which I gathered that `the letters which Arthur [my clergyman brother] wants were in my drawer of drawers in the bureau—only you cannot find them . . . under an ornament on my dressing-room mantelpiece. The key will open my escritoire . . . an important document and the letters. . . . You had better go to R _____(nineteen miles away). I put the script in an envelope and sent it to my brother, who was staying there. It turned out that he had been in 0 ____, going through my father's financial concerns, and had come home much worried by his inability to find certain statements of small investments, without the possession of which things were at a standstill. On receiving my letter he proceeded upstairs, found three keys under an ornament on the mantel-piece, and one of them opened the escritoire. With a key found there he opened the bureau, and after a search discovered a concealed drawer, divided into compartments (the `drawer of drawers'), and there lay a parcel tied with red tape. The first envelope was marked `Important document to be opened after my decease,' and beneath this were the letters wanted by my brother.

"Now, we none of us were familiar with my father's study—even my mother was only al-lowed in on sufferance as a special favour. I had never seen his bureau open, and but for this communication it is hardly probable that those letters would have been recovered."

The foregoing narrative seems to be specially evidential of the agency of a mind no longer incarnate, for apparently no "living" person knew the facts. The latent-telepathy hypothesis, according to which such things are received subconsciously during the lifetime of the person who knew the facts, and reproduced after his death as "messages" from him, is a reasonably possible explanation in some cases,' and is not impossible in this case; but, for my own part, I incline to a spiritistic theory.

The next experience described by Captain Burton is interesting as confirming the feeling of extraordinary wellness which seems to follow the sloughing of the body at death. In character it belongs with the narratives in an earlier chapter, but, on the whole, it seemed best to give the complete narrative without any splitting up.

"I may say that two years before my father's death I had post-influenzal heart-failure, and on one memorable night I found myself standing at the foot of my bed, looking at myself and the doctor, and feeling very well and bright, though extremely puzzled at the situation. Then suddenly I felt myself dragged violently over the bed-rail, where I floated above myself; following which came a tremendous crash, then the doctor's voice saying, `I believe he is coming round.' Afterwards the doctor told me he never expected me to become conscious again, and he considered me indeed absolutely dead for some time."

All this was before the present war, so it must not be hastily surmised that Captain Burton had been wounded and was suffering from hallucinations. Moreover, his account is confirmed by friends and relatives. Of the present struggle he remarks :

"In the early stages of the war I took up the sword I had placed on my wall many years ago, and had an opportunity of learning some-thing of the splendid material of which the new armies are composed. I think, too, that my own psychic experiences proved a comfort and support to the splendid boys of my regiment, most of whom are now, alas, on the `other side.' "

After this ease of "amateur" supernormal writing the following case of an amateur trance —so to speak—may be a suitable sequel.

"My father had a boon companion in his younger days named Henry Powell. They were in the Civil War together, and both returned to their home in at its close. My father's name was William M. Farrar (he was a noted physician and surgeon here), but Powell always called him Archie as a nickname, for some reason or other. They discussed the future state often, and each promised that, if it were possible to return, the one that passed first would certainly do so.

"I have a large picture of Powell in uniform, showing a very heavy drooping moustache. My father spoke occasionally of Powell in after years, and alluded to his peculiar manner of stroking his moustache : instead of using the index finger and a thumb he would form a letter `V' of the first two fingers, place them to his lips, and spread them out. My father was not a believer in psychic things, but became so in his last few years.

"Powell died suddenly on the day of my birth in 1866. Thirty-one years passed without a sign of his continued existence, when one day a lady patient was with my father in his office (a woman under thirty, from another State), and she sank into a trance condition which my father could not understand. Then she looked up, spread her fingers across her lips, smiled, and said, `Hello, Archie!' That was all. My father discussed it with me and I gave my views, and he was interested.

"No further news of Powell came until 1913. I was at a sitting for the direct voice, when one, purporting to be Powell's, said, `Give my love to Archie.' I asked, `Did you give him a test some years ago?' `Yes; but I could only say, "Hello, Archie!"' I said, `And the stroke of the moustache?' `Yes; but that was for effect. I have no moustache, you know." l didn't know that,' I said. `Ask Archie; he will tell you. We are getting ready for him, and he will join us soon.'

"I asked my father about Powell's moustache, and he said he had shaved it off two days before his death, and he (my father) well re-membered the unusualness of his appearance in his coffin, with the white upper lip. That was nearly fifty years before the date of my sitting; and no one present at the sitting had known Powell or had any knowledge of him except myself ; and I had no recollection of his having shaved his upper lip, even if I had ever known it.

"My father died six months later."


I am the more able to accept the above as at least a possible occurrence in consequence of my own acquaintance with a series of similar cases. I know a young lady who is subject to short trances in which she often writes—or occasion-ally speaks—evidential matter claiming to come from certain deceased persons whom she never knew in life. She is not a Spiritualist, has never been to a Spiritualist meeting, has never seen a medium, and has little or no acquaintance with the literature of the subject. She does not give "sittings" or receive any fee, but rather fights the influence, being somewhat unwilling to give up control. It usually comes on in the presence of a Mrs. Firth—also well known to me—whose father purports to be the usual control.

I cannot give details, because they are private; but I know them, and I admit that to me they are conclusive. The conditions have been rather specially good, for Miss Nairne (the sensitive) did not become acquainted with Mrs. Firth until two years ago, and the latter's relatives are at a distance and mostly even now unknown to Miss Nairne. Yet Mrs. Firth's father gives messages not only concerning matters known to Mrs. Firth, but also concerning matters affecting his widow and his other children which Mrs. Firth and Miss Nairne know nothing of; e.g., informing her of his widow's illness, and desiring Mrs. Firth to go to her at once—instructions which were con-firmed by a telegram from her old home soon afterwards.

If Miss Nairne gives way to the influence when it comes, a short but deep trance ensues, and her hand "writes it off"—i.e., the pressure or tension is relieved—and she awakes feeling well and happy. If, on the other hand, she resists, she feels ill, and sometimes has ultimately to succumb to a longer trance which leaves her exhausted. This happened rather alarmingly on one occasion, and Mrs. Firth remonstrated with the controls, who, however, said they were not responsible. They say that Miss Nairne has "a floating spirit," readily detachable ; and that they often find her on their plane when no one has called her or tried to communicate through her body. And indeed she seems to spend most of her nights over there, for she can bring back the recollection of where and with whom she has been, and these are often evidential. Mrs. Firth's father and brother are Miss Nairne's closest friends on the other side—though she never knew them on this—and they often give messages to her for Mrs. Firth, which are handed on next day and found to be appropriate.

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