A correspondence course
The prime minister and Society for Psychical Research member believed his dead lover and other early members were sending him messages
Arthur Balfour’s Ghosts Trevor Hamilton Imprint Academic 2017 336pp. £14.95 ISBN ISBN ISBN
Arthur Balfour’s Ghosts is the most significant book on the evidential aspects of mediumistic communications in several years. Trevor Hamilton examines the cross-correspondence mediumship generated by a small group of mediums in the early decades of the 20th century. These voluminous communications were considered of outstanding importance by an earlier generation of psychical researchers but have been neglected in the last 70 years. Sceptics have almost wholly ignored them, if they are aware of them at all.
In recommending this book to anyone interested in survival after death, I must emphasise it is not one for casual readers: it is aimed at academics and dedicated researchers. The reader coming fresh to the cross-correspondences should have some familiarity with many of the classics and foundation texts of Western literature, and the works of Romantic poets.
Despite its title, this book has little to do with ghosts as popularly conceived, but is an analysis of 3,000 plus texts and scripts generated over many years by widely separated mediums. They include Margaret Verrall, Mrs Coombe-Tenant, Alice Fleming, the sister of Rudyard Kipling, and the American medium Mrs Piper.
Rather than the simplistic messages of popular platform mediumship, material was produced by automatic writing in English, French, Latin and classical Greek, and is packed with literary references and allusions. Individually, the messages often lacked the coherence of typical trance outpourings. However, when portions were combined, they appeared to reveal a complex set of coded meaningful communications suggestive of discarnate personalities contacting the living.
Prime minister Arthur Balfour’s involvement came through his membership of the Society for Psychical Research and the belief that some of the messages came from his deceased lover May Lyttleton, and from founding members of the SPR such as Frederic Myers and Edmund Gurney.
Hamilton’s book is an informative guide to many aspects of the crosscorrespondences opening up the scripts to what many consider the best evidence accumulated for proving the survival of consciousness after bodily death. Crucially, he went back to the source material and applied the computer analysis and comparison techniques to their contents that an earlier generation of scholars were unable to. Assessment is difficult since it is a primarily a qualitive exercise, involving examining their literary rather than their statistical aspects.
In considering the question of similarities between the widely separated scripts, he looks at alternatives such as coincidence, ordinary sensory transmission, psychological selfdeception or the possibility of ‘group-think’ by an Edwardian elite.
These may have played a part, but cannot account for all the correspondences. The evidence is consistent with the hypothesis that “a scriptic intelligence and memory” is monitoring the situation and could exist in the same narrative space as the automatists’ and interpreters’ work. Some of the material was also prophetic and suggestive of paranormal cognition of events which subsequently occurred.
As Hamilton admits there are drawbacks and limitations to both his examination and to any objective analysis; to fully examine and apprehend the cross-correspondences is beyond the time and resources that even the most industrious lone scholar can reasonably be expected to apply.
Hamilton recognises that a proper analysis would require interdisciplinary teams. Of course, any analysis whether from a scientific or humanities background would also be subject to cultural and personal assumptions; he recognises that the scripts have the potential to “irritate and unsettle those for whom objective analysis in terms of clear outcomes calculated against chance is crucial’.
In providing such an outline of the contents of the scripts and their meanings, Arthur
Balfour’s Ghosts demonstrates that the importance of the crosscorrespondences goes beyond psychical research and social history, but is also material that potentially has profound implications for theories in other fields including philosophy, consciousness studies, linguistics, cultural discourse and literary criticism.
As this book demonstrates, the cross-correspondences provide a case to answer on the issue of survival of consciousness after bodily death.
The practical question is whether scholars from other disciplines have the courage to take up the challenge.