Monthly Archives: May 2013

The Cultured Pearl? – Part 2

Dr.-Walter-Franklin-Prince-I think it is important to give a little background information about Dr. Walter Franklin Prince, Ph.D. who devoted the last two decades of his life to full-time work in psychical research.  He had been a Methodist and Episcopalian minister and his church social work had led him to the study of abnormal psychology and psychic research.

In 1925 he founded the Boston Society for Psychic Research and was Executive Officer and Editor until his death. He was the only American, other than William James, to occupy the position of president of the Society for Psychical Research based in London England.  He was president in 1930 and 1931.

Starting in 1924 He spent many months investigating Pearl Curran and published in 1927 his findings in a book titled The Case of Patience Worth.  When commenting about his investigation of Pearl Curran and Patience Worth he is reported as saying “This is the most important known case of its kind.”   And he is often quoted at the end of his investigation of Pearl Curran as stating that “Either our concept of what we call the subconscious must be radically altered, so as to include potencies of which we hitherto have had no knowledge, or else some cause operating through but not originating in the subconsciousness of Mrs. Curran must be acknowledged.” 

In February, 1926 Dr. Walter Franklin Prince asked Pearl Curran a large number of questions which according to Dr. Prince “she answered on the spot.”  The following are some of Mrs. Curran’s answers as reported in The Case of Patience Worth by Dr. Prince.

When asked about her exposure to literature prior to the appearance of Patience Worth, Pearl said that “As a child I read no poetry except such as was in school readers or given me for declamations.”

. . . I did not read poetry spontaneously. . . .I never had any favorite English poets before 1913. [When Patience Worth was contacted by Mrs. Curran.  Had not read Scott (haven’t yet) or Byron.  I knew some Moore from singing Irish songs.  Don’t know anything about Spenser; can’t name any poem of his.  I’ve heard the name “Faerie Queen.  “Queen Mab” I know is Shakespeare, but never read it.  (Never read any play of Shakespeare—saw two as a child, and suffered during “Comedy of Errors” and went to sleep.  Mother taught me a few bits.)  Probably Omar Khayyam made the deepest impression.

I don’t know Browning’s or Mrs. Browning’s poetry now .  “Childe Harold?”, “Sweet Auburn?”, “Canterbury Tales?”—I don’t know the authors.. . . .”

“I had no favorite American poets—didn’t pay attention to them.  I remember reading of Bryant only “Thanatopsis.”  I once recited a bit of Whittier about angels in a church (I feel ashamed of my ignorance).  Mr. Curran brought Walt Whitman to me.  I read a little and didn’t like it.  Father was mad because it was given me.  I began to like Whitman about four years after I was married, when I heard a poem recited to a musical accompaniment.  I adored that poem—but that was all.  I know some quotations from “Miles Standish”—never read all of it.

When a girl I read “Black Beauty,” and the Louisa Alcott books.  I liked these.  I was fourteen or fifteen when my father began to read to me; I didn’t keep still long enough.  He read some of Dickens; we had two of his novels.  The first real novel I remember reading myself was “uncle Tom’s Cabin,” at about fifteen.  I had read Grimm’s and Anderson’s Fairy Tales.  I had a hard time reading the narrative part of a story.  And I remember reading “Ichabod Crane” in a reader.  I only read—anything—a few minutes in a day; might look at a fairy tale or a new book daddy had given me.. . . . ”

“The House of Seven Gables?”  I don’t remember the author—Dickens” have seen it, never read it.  Author of “Gulliver’s Travels?”  Don’t know, nor of “Don Quixote,” “She Stoops to Conquer, “Salome,” “Rasselas,” or “The Rivals.”  (I remember a picture about “The Rivals.”)  Don Quixote was a poet I think—Spanish?

Later Pearl Curran reported that

“There were no cyclopedias, books on antiquities, ancient customs, histories of literature and the like in father’s house that I remember.  I don’t even remember any dictionary until he gave me the four-volume one when I was about eighteen.  And I hardly looked at that.  After I was married we got the books which had been left with an aunt.

All the books I have had in my own residence I have now; you may see them.  I never lived in a house that had a well-stocked library.  Never had the dictionary habit; seldom looked into it for any purpose.  No, not even for pronounciation or spelling.  (I don’t spell right half the time.)

I was never interested in the derivation of words before Patience Worth came, and don’t know Anglo-Saxon and Latin roots—never paid such things attention.

There were one or two English folk or peasant songs among those I sang—modern ones.  I sang Moore’s songs.  The music I practiced in Chicago was church solos, Faust, a little of Lucia, some German songs and I was taught one Italian one.



No, I never frequented public libraries, never even had a library card until Mr. Curran’s last illness, (John Curran died in June 1922) when we took cards to bring him novels to read.  We read very little; liked to play cards and go to movies.  We didn’t buy books after marriage.  He read “Thanatopsis”—I can almost tell all we read.  I have all the books he owned.  I don’t think he talked about books after we married.  He wasn’t a student and didn’t talk about history; he didn’t know history.  All the dialect he was interested in was Irish.  Interested in the derivation of words?  How could he be when all he read was newspapers and the like?. . . .



I remember only two attempts, except for some valentine single verses, to write poetry , and these were when I was about fifteen.  They were poor stuff and my father was amused, though kind.. . . . I never wrote anything in prose but little school compositions.


I heard a voice whisper “go out I pray
See how in the garden the fairies did play
So out I went in the fresh summer air
I spied a sweet rose she was passingly fair
But she hung her fair head, and her bright carmean cheek
Could not have been equaled so far as you’de seek.

I lifted her head, in her sad blushing face
Sorrow and sadness, I there seemed to trace
Tis like all the mi tries that seem so deep
Could we at the heart have just one peep
We could tell in a minute why these tears are shed
But go on guessing wee’l have to instead.

I leave it to the reader to decide if the above childhood poem of Pearl Lenore Pollard portends the literary quality to come in the writings of Patience Worth as dictated to Pearl Lenore Curran.



The Cultured Pearl? – Part 1

Dr. Walter Franklin Prince published in his book The Case of Patience Worth, an autobiographical Sketch written by Pearl Curran in October 1926 and he also included in his book Pearl’s answers  to questions he asked her concerning her education and interests, thereby perhaps hoping to find some clue to the vast knowledge  and intellect displayed by Patience Worth.   Since the question of Pearl’s knowledge is crucial when  conjecturing whether or not the writing attributed to Patience Worth was really coming from the subconscious mind of Pearl Curran it was important to try to figure out just how much knowledge Pearl had stored in her subconscious mind.  Although Pearl would never allow herself to be hypnotized, thereby perhaps revealing the content of her subconscious, she did come to trust Dr. Prince enough to be quite candid with him and to cooperate to her fullest extent, participating in his investigation of her and the phenomena surrounding Patience Worth. The following are selected portions of Pearl’s autobiography and, in Part 2, answers to questions from Dr. Prince.

PearlBluePearl described her very early life as an only child, solitary and  somewhat mundane.  She was born in Mound City Illinois on February 15, 1883 but her parents  moved to Fort Worth Texas when she was about eight months old.  When she was about four years old she was sent to St. Louis, Missouri to live with her grandmother and her uncle and aunt (the Cordingleys), her uncle being remembered by Pearl as a “medium”.   Later, she was sent back to Texas to live with her parents

Pearl started taking music lessons before she entered grade school, that is, before she was five years old.  She began elementary school at about six years old.  She said that she did not go to church or to Sunday-School then and that her parents did not attend church either but, as an older child. was “irregularly taken” to a Methodist, Baptist or Episcopal Sunday-School and was later confirmed in the Episcopal church.  As an adult she said that “I was raised to think spiritualistic séances taboo.  Neither my father or mother were of a religious turn…..I am not a Spiritualist, but am in sympathy with the furtherance of psychic facts and believe that the pioneers of today are but groping toward fact.  I am not a “medium” in the common sense.  Am deeply interested in the study of psychic phenomena, using myself as a study.”  And then as an aside to Dr. Prince she wrote “won’t you remove for good from the minds of the public that I am a medium with a gold shingle and trances?  Please, pretty please.  Remember, I’m an Episcopalian!  It’s your duty.” [Dr. Prince had been a Methodist and Episcopalian minister.]

Pearl felt that she was neglected as a child if she didn’t get her mother’s attention but thought she was spoiled by too much grown-up association.  She said that she was bored with school and “not interested”, preferring, like other children she saw, to play outside instead.  Pearl said “I don’t know why I was promoted to the third grade, and only remember learning how beans sprout in water.”  She thought she learned little else but nevertheless “got shoved into the fourth grade”.  “I never knew my lessons and was not so strong, about ten, thin and gawky.  Mother had added elocution and Delsarte to my studies…”   Pearl said that she didn’t like her teacher even though she thought she was was a “good, kind instructor” but she ” did not like my lack of application. .

My father helped me with home work and I had become quite a “show-off”.  I hated it but mother desired it.  I broke down the last year (at thirteen) of too much piano, elocution, Delsarte, school and entertainments, and was sent to the Catholic St. Ignatius’ Academy for “rest”. . . . Then we moved to St. Louis, and I was in Washington School for a year or so.  I was “put back” and discouraged.”

I was confused in Texas by no plan of education, and no aim.  I absorbed much, and lived out of doors, roaming the prairies and romping with my dog.  I loved the wild flowers, was generally honest, rather vain of clothes, thought I was homely and felt it keenly.  I had been laboring with a congenital eye-trouble also.   I had had measles, mumps and chicken-pox, also a throat trouble for which my tonsils were removed, otherwise had not been ill. . . . I did my lessons at night and added music lessons. . . . I played [the piano] well and started to sing, having gotten over the illness connected with that period of age, and was a fair pupil.

She said that she was inspired by a handsome actor on whom she had a “crush”  to be a “prima-donna and loveress!”

Pearl’s father moved again, this time to Palmer, Missouri. Pearl said that she did not like it there and that she wanted to learn and to know and to see life.  She took music lessons by mail and “practiced hours on Il Trovatore. . . . I wanted life and here was desolation.”  Things got a little better when she received the “courteous attention ” of Mr. William Chauvenette, apparently a gentleman of  education and culture. That attention from Mr. Chauvenette encouraged Pearl to  “aspire to be something—always with music in mind.”

Following the advice of Mrs. Henry H. Rogers [whose husband eventually became Pearl’s second husband] Pearl’s mother decided to send Pearl to Kankakee, Illinois to study voice. She was there for a year until her uncle and aunt insisted that she live with them in Chicago.  In Chicago she started voice lessons with J.C. Cooper for which her father paid and she earned a little money by playing piano at her uncle’s Spiritualist Church in Steinway Hall, for a short time.  “But things I found here and my home surroundings were most unpleasant, and I went back to Palmer [Missouri].

newsphotoThen, at the insistence of Mrs. Rogers, Pearl returned to Chicago under Mrs. Rogers’ supervision.  She worked at the McKinley Music Company addressing envelopes at $6.00 a week to pay for her music lessons but after a month she resigned, telling Mr. McKinley that she had not thought for a month!  She then worked for the Thompson Music Company where she sold music and then worked at Siegel Cooper’s at $6.00 a week, then sold smoker’s supplies at the “Fair” and finally was employed at Marshall Field and Company in Chicago. She said that she worked and studied all winter, and went home each summer to Potosi, Missouri, where her parents had moved, and taught voice there and then at Irondale and Bismarck Missouri where they again had moved.  Each season she earned enough money to return to Chicago in the winter to continue her studies in music.  She did this from age eighteen to twenty-four, when she was married to Mr. Curran of Bismark, Missouri in 1907.

I had made no effort to write —never thought of it, though I could see the possibilities of material in the Ozarks and I appreciated them.  Mr. Curran was bright but not literary; there was no idea of writing anything when the bolt fell. [When Patience Worth appeared in 1913.] . . .There is no episode or era in my life that stands out as creative.

“I Am a Child With a Magic Picture Book”

PearlCurranPrince2Pearl Curran in her article “A Nut For Psychologists”  described her mental experience when she takes dictation from Patience Worth.    She described “pictorial visions which accompany the coming of the words” from Patience Worth.  She wrote that those visions “acted as a sort of primer, and gradually developed within me a height of appreciation by persistently tempting my curiosity with representations of incidents and symbols.  I am like a child with a magic picture book.  Once I look upon it, all I have to do is to watch its pages open before me, and revel in their beauty and variety and novelty.”


“Probably this is the most persistent phase of the phenomena, this series of panoramic and symbolic pictures which never fail to show with each expression of Patience where there is any possibility of giving an ocular illustration of an expression.”

When the poems come, there also appear before my eyes images of each successive symbol, as the words are given me.  If the stars are mentioned, I see them in the sky.  If heights or deeps or wide spaces are mentioned, I get positively frightening sweeps of space.  So it is with the smaller things of Nature, the fields, the flowers and trees, with the field animals, whether they are mentioned in the poem or not.

When the stories come, the scenes become panoramic, with the characters moving and acting their parts, even speaking in converse.  The picture is not confined to the point narrated, but takes in everything else within the circle of vision at the time.  For instance, if two people are seen talking on the street, I see not only them, but the neighboring part of the street, with the buildings, stones, dogs, people and all, just as they would be in a real scene.  (Or are these scenes actual reproductions?)  If the people talk a foreign language, as in The Sorry Tale, I hear the talk, but over and above is the voice of Patience, either interpreting or giving me the part she wishes to use as story. What a wonderful privilege this is can only be imagined by one who cannot see the actuality…. [W]hile we were writing The Sorry Tale, many a queer scene was described; the dogs in the streets, certain odd carts with wheels made of crossed reeds and cut in a circle, the peculiar harness of the oxen, the quarreling of the long-bearded market men, and the wailing of the women as they bartered for edibles, the dress of the priests, the holy of holies, and the ark as it was at that time, restored, the scenes at Bethlehem and Nazareth in which the Saviour walked among me.  This was also true of England during the transcription of Hope Trueblood, though the scenes were more familiar and therefore of less interest, but just as vivid.

One very odd and interesting phase of the phenomena is the fact that during the time of transcribing the matter and watching the tiny panorama unfold before me, I have often seen myself, small as one of the characters, standing as an onlooker, or walking among the people in the play.  When I became curious to ascertain, for instance, what sort of fruit a market man was selling, or the smell of some flower, or the feel of some texture which was foreign to my experience, this tiny figure of myself would boldly take part in the play, quite naturally, perhaps walking to the bin-side of a market man and taking up the fruit and tasting it, or smelling the flower within a garden, or feeling the cloth, or in any natural way attending to the problem in hand.  And the experience was immediately my property, as though it had been an actual experience; for it was as real to me as any personal experience, becoming physically mine, recorded by my sight, taste and smell as other experiences.  Thus I have become familiar with many flowers of strange places which I never saw, but know when I see them again in pictures.  I have shuddered at obnoxious odors, or have been quite exalted by the beauty of some object, or filled with joy at beholding some flower which I had never seen before. It is like traveling in new and unknown regions, and I am filled with an impulse to let myself go, that I may follow out the intricate pattern of the story, and gain new knowledge.  I find that I possess an uncanny familiarity with things I have never known—with the kind of jugs and lamps used in far countries in the long ago, and the various methods of cooking, or certain odd and strange customs or dress or jewelry.  I know many manners and customs of early England, or old Jerusalem, and of Spain and France.

One most peculiar thing about this work is that while I am writing there seems to be no definite place where my consciousness ceases, and that of Patience comes in.  Very early I began to notice that even while I was carefully spelling a poem, I was keenly conscious, even with an added keenness, of everything about me and of anything regarding my person at the same time.  I could feel my nose itch and scratch it, note an air of criticism on the face of one of the company, and the worshipful expression of another, think what I was going to have for midnight lunch after they had gone, and write right along on the poem, understanding it as it came, and wondering at its beauty and strength, calling the letters, then the words, pausing to let Mr. Curran catch up with the writing.

“A Nut For Psychologists”

Pearl Lenore Curran was born in Mound City, Illinois, February 15, 1883.  Her father was George. G. Pollard of English and Welsh descent and her mother was Mary E. Cordingley, Irish and English; both born in the United States.

In the spring of 1920, after 7 years of writing for Patience Worth, Pearl Curran wrote a detailed personal statement concerning her relationship with Patience.  The article was titled “A Nut for Psychologists” and appeared in the March-April issue of The Unpartizan Review, published by Henry Holt.



Let any man announce himself a psychic if he would feel the firm ground of his respectability slip from beneath his feet.   He may have attained through rigorous living an enviable reputation, but if he once admits himself an instrument differing in any manner from the masses, he will find himself a suspected character.  Science with side glances will talk secretly of dire and devious matters, connecting with his name such doubtful associates as dis-associations, obsessions, secret deviltries of all manner and kind.  They humor the subject and listen tolerantly to his effort to prove himself sane, while they cast wise eyes and smile.

He will find that the mere act of honestly trying to give the world the truth, has opened the door of his soul to ridicule and abuse.  It is my honest belief that the humiliation the world has offered to the psychic has kept many splendid examples of God’s mysteries hidden and that there are many true and wonderful phenomena that are not disclosed or announced, for this reason only.  Because one produces a superusual phenomenon, is he to be immediately classified as a monstrosity, and mentally and physically placed upon the dissecting table?  Is there no gentle means by which we may have the confidence of the “subject” and get the full result from him, without cramping him or putting him upon the defensive?

In my own case, at my first encounter with science, I developed a sensitiveness which caused, on both sides, a deep distrust, and it has only been through frequent meeting with broad men of that cloth that I have at last become enough interested in their attitude to try to present whatever I may have that may interest them.

When I let my modest name be coupled with that of a Puritan spinster of some hundreds of years ago, I never for one instant realized that Patience Worth and I would be cast out upon the stormy sea of distrust.  There is no come-back for the psychic.  Being suspected, his word is worth less than his goods.  Science labors to disprove them without even looking at them.  So in presenting certain interesting facts regarding my own “case” I do it with no desire to offer proof or to try to convince anyone of anything whatever, but merely to jot down some of the incidents which might be interesting to the interested.

I was never ill in all my life from any disease other complaint, and never spent a continuous week in bed.  I never have been robust, have weighed from 110 to 120 pounds, and am five feet six inches high.  I sleep normally, have no queer obsession or wakefulness, or urge to write; have no queer appetites, either mentally or physically.  I do my own housework with the aid of one maid, and cook for six people most of the time.  Patience Worth never obsesses me, and I feel as normally about her as I do about any other friend who has gone into the great beyond.

Whatever may be the association which I describe as the presence of Patience Worth, it is one of the most beautiful that it can be the privilege of a human being to experience.  Through this contact I have been educated to a deeper spiritual understanding and appreciation than I might have acquired in any study I can conceive of.  Six years ago I could not have understood the literature of Patience Worth, had it been shown to me.  And I doubt if it would have attracted me sufficiently to give me the desire to study it.

It would seem that the memory of Patience Worth is perfect.  We have asked her to recall certain things, such as the lines of a poem she had written months before for a scientist by request, but which he and all of us had forgotten so completely that we knew not even what it was about.  She gave the first four lines just to show she could.

Once a record was lost.  It was the record which came when The Sorry Tale was first begun.  Twenty months afterwards, when Mr. Yost prepared to write his preface to the book, we were still unable to locate the record, and in despair asked Patience if she could recall it. and she proceeded to give it to us verbatim.  Each time the coming was witnessed by the same five people who could not give it themselves, but recognized it when it was repeated by Patience.  It was only about 150 words.

Often there comes to me the realization that Patience not only knows what is going on now, but knows the literature of all times and places.  When she began her beautiful French story that she is now working on, she mentioned in its pages Villon, the great poet, of whom we then knew nothing.  She went farther and gave a hint of the character of his work.  But at the same time came a reference to another poet of the same land, one Basselin, and told of the nature of his writings.  I cannot even admit the possibility that I had ever heard the name, though of course he must have slipped into my subconsciousness whole, while I was not looking!  Sly dog!