Monthly Archives: June 2014

Hyslop and Patience Worth



There are some critics of the Patience Worth case who like to quote Professor James H. Hyslop, Ph.D.,  L.L.D. who wrote an unfavorable book review of Casper Yost’s book Patience Worth: A Psychic Mystery. By extension, Hyslop’s negative review of Yost’s book supposedly invalidated Patience Worth as a spirit and labeled Pearl Curran as a fraud.  Casper Yost’s book was the first book that brought Pearl Curran and Patience Worth to the attention of the general public.  It was published in February 1916.   Hyslop published his review of the book in the April 1916 Journal of the American Society for Psychical Research (A.S.P.R.).

Prior to his review, Hyslop  had become aware of Patience Worth through an exchange of letters with Emily Grant Hutchings, friend of Pearl Curran and one of the three women who initially contacted Patience Worth in July 1913.  Hutchings, in letters to Hyslop complained about being treated poorly by the Currans to the extent that for several months she would not visit her erstwhile friend Pearl Curran to contact Patience Worth.   Hutchings instead tried to contact Patience Worth herself with the help of another medium, Lola V. Hays.  They reported some success contacting Patience but at the same time and unbeknownst to Pearl Curran, Hutchings and Hyslop continued to communicate about the ‘goings-on’ of Pearl Curran  and those of her inner circle who sat with her at the Ouija Board.

I think to start off, one should understand that Hyslop was a highly intelligent  investigator of psychic phenomena who had spent his later years associating with psychics, mediums and the men who had an interest in and investigated them.  Professor Hyslop had been a professor of logic and ethics at Columbia University but after he resigned from Columbia due to pulmonary illness he became chief investigator for the A.S.P.R. where he untiringly worked to obtain evidence to validate the claims of spiritualistic phenomena.   Evidence meant everything to him and I think, after a time, he regarded himself as the expert and unquestioned authority on spirit communication.  He clearly believed, without a doubt, that spirits existed but required his own brand of evidence before he would commit himself to endorsing a purported spirit contact by someone other than himself.

Hyslop wrote in his book ‘Life After Death: Problems of the Future Life and It’s Nature’ , first published in 1918, that ,

I regard the existence of discarnate spirits as scientifically proved, and I no longer refer to the skeptic as having any right to speak on the subject.  Any man who does not accept the existence of discarnate spirits and the proof of it is either ignorant or a moral coward  I give him short shrift, and do not propose any longer to argue with him on the supposition that he knows anything about the subject.

When Hyslop died the A.S.P.R. issued a statement that “Few men ever succeeded so well in separating the reasoning faculty from the emotional factor, and nothing aroused his contempt as did a professional scientific judgment which took counsel of prejudices and sentimental scruples.”  He was called by Sir Oliver Lodge as the chief representative of psychical research in America. His obituary in the New York Times states that he was “indefatigable in pushing every phase of the work of psychical research.  He exerted himself not only in the experiments themselves, but strove to bring the subject fairly before the public.”

Casper Yost was a newspaper man of strong Christian faith, who appreciated good writing when he found it, as in the case of Patience Worth.  He perhaps felt a calling to share it with the rest of the world; not necessarily as evidence for the existence of spirits but as good literature.  Admittedly, Casper Yost believed that Patience Worth was a real spirit of a woman who had lived during the late 1600s and in fact he travelled to England to walk over the ground that she had described to him as her birthplace.  He was so infatuated with her that he promised to chase her all over heaven when he got there to give her a kiss.

Hyslop had planned cross reference experiments to validate Patience Worth but had not completed those experiments before Yost published his book.  So perhaps Hyslop impetuously jumped the gun, so to speak, critiquing a book and those who produced it before he had a chance to consider the facts of the case from someone other than Emily Hutchings.  As a result, Hyslop wrote a scathing review of Yost’s book, calling it a “fool adventure” and stating in his first paragraph of the review that the book “will not stand a moment’s scientific scrutiny, even tho it be or contain much that is genuine.”  Even though Hyslop admitted that he limited his reading to non-fiction, he thought that “There can be no doubt that the poetry (of Patience Worth) is good, far above the usual product of automatism, and the same is true of the other literary material.  It is all good literature and deserves reading on that account alone.”  Hyslop was upset with the book because it did not provide any “. . . evidence whatever that a scientific man would regard as conclusive regarding the origin of the material.”  That is, Yost did not delve into the early history of Pearl Curran; he did not investigate what she had read or otherwise experienced in her life prior to the appearance of Patience Worth.  For all Hyslop knew, Pearl Curran may have read extensively about the language and history which appeared in the Patience Worth writings.  He said “What intelligent scientific men and psychologists wish to know is the history of Mrs. Curran and her reading.  There is not a word in the volume about this fundamental question.  You have just to take the opinion of the author and the publisher and these are worthless without the facts.”  (Ten years later, Dr. Walter Franklin Prince, in his book, The Case of Patience Worth addressed, all of the omissions enumerated by Hyslop in his review of Yost’s book. )

Softening somewhat, Hyslop went on to cozy-up to Casper Yost by saying that, “Mr. Yost is not to blame for any part of it.  He has done the best he knew how in the situation.  But he lacks perception of the need for proper scientific credentials regarding the origin of the data.  He seems to be entirely ignorant of the resources of subconscious memory in such cases.  Duty rested on him and the publisher to exhaust the possibilities of early reading (by Curran) in 17th century literature which has been forgotten.  Until that was done, the presumption is that such an explanation is possible.  I frankly concede the difficulty of maintaining the theory of subconscious reproduction of early and forgotten reading, but that view will be believed by every scientific man who does not have evidence before him to the contrary.”

Unfortunately, Hyslop was not the most tactful of writers when he went on to demean the character of Mr. and Mrs. Curran as well as the publisher.   He implied that Mrs. Curran was a fraud because of her social standing and intelligence she might be “quite capable of subconscious reproduction of memories of past reading and working them over in a literary manner.”  He mistakenly listened to gossip about John Curran stating that “Mr. Curran looked about to obtain the indorsement of some college professors, Dr. Morton Prince and other authorities in psychology” and that he was only seeking their interest and indorsement for the purpose of advertisement, not for ascertaining the scientific explanation of the phenomena. .  .  .  Notoriety and making a fortune out of the book were the primary influences acting in the parties concerned.”   He insinuated that Mrs. Curran had based her Patience Worth on a character in Mary Johnston’s book To Have and To Hold in which a main character takes the name of Patience Worth, her waiting maid  and even though Hyslop was told by Mrs. Hutchings that Pearl Curran had not seen the book until after her Patience Worth had been dictating for some time, Hyslop didn’t believe it writing that, “We cannot tell, however whether Mrs. Curran may not have seen the book and read it and then forgotten all about it.  This often happens.”

Hyslop then questioned the ‘archaic language’ of the writing saying that, “The style is archaic, but there are so many neologisims; that is, new words of modern times,  . . .  all archaic terms are questionable except as possibly derived from the reading of Mrs. Curran or other sources of normal information.” Implying that Mrs. Curran could use archaic English as she was acquainted with the archaic language of people living in the Ozark Mountains of Missouri, an area close to where Pearl Curran had lived as a child.  He claimed that Mr. Curran had read Chaucer and talked over his style and language with his wife.  As it turned out, none of these insinuations and allegations was true.

Hyslop wrote that: “I have the statement of one man that the manuscript was edited by the publisher, and if that is true the book is made absolutely worthless by this fact.”  “The publisher has edited it to suit his own tastes after Mr. Yost had written it to suit his, and the really interesting things about it are carefully omitted, making it a fraud and a delusion for any person who wishes to treat it seriously.”  I say all this in spite of the fact that Patience Worth may be all that she claims to be, but there is no evidence for it in this volume.  The facts necessary to establish those claims are deliberately omitted from it, in some cases evidently because they could not stand the light of day. ‘  “As it is the book can only be a passing wonder to people who are not intelligent enough to recognize the difficulties in such cases and will only create illusions which scientific work will have to dispel.”  “The publisher has only joined with the original parties to perpetrate a fraud on the community and to hinder scientific research.”

Well, what publisher of any book does not reserve the right to edit it? Here again, Hyslop is not very tactful when he says that the publisher has edited the book “to suit his own tastes” and that, “Mr. Yost had written it to suit his.”  What evidence does Hyslop have that he knows this?  And why should this be denied to any publisher or writer?  Hyslop seems to be suggesting that the publisher and Yost are lying  about the case.

Again, Hyslop states something he doesn’t really know when he states—- probably based on gossip from Emily Hutchings , “.  .  .  that the really interesting things about (the case) are carefully omitted, making it a fraud and a delusion”.  He alleges that facts “are deliberately omitted” and that the publisher and the Currans joined to perpetuate a fraud on the community and to hinder scientific research”  These are strong allegations for which Hyslop does not have any evidence—something which he demands from everybody else.

He criticized use of the Ouiija board as a “very naive illusion .  .  .   as if it had virtues necessary for producing the result.  Such a conception is worthy only of children and savages.”

When questioned about the Ouija Board, Mrs. Curran described it as a ‘piece of dead wood’, nothing more.  “It is I who moves the board in response to the subconscious or conscious impulse.  There is no mystery in the movement; the mystery, if any, is in the source of the impulse.” 

It is interesting to note that in 1918 Hyslop wrote in the Journal of the A.S.P.R. an article titled ‘The Return of Mark Twain’  which was about his efforts to conduct cross reference experiments related to the spirit authorship of ‘Jap Herron’, a book published by Emily Hutchings purportedly dictated by Mark Twain.  Hyslop indicated that ‘Jap Herron’ was also done with the Ouija Board but that the circumstances were such that Mrs. Hutchings was a necessary part of the phenomena.  “Both ladies had to hold a hand on the index or planchette part of the instrument.  It would not move under other conditions.  If Mrs. Hays alone held her hand on it the index would not move. If Mrs. Hutchings alone held her hand on it the index would not move.  But if each held a hand on it the motion was very rapid and taxed the patience and skill of Mr. Hutchings to take down the spelling of the messages, so very rapid was it.” Nowhere in his report about Emily Hutching’s work did Hyslop suggest that the Ouija Board was a “naïve illusion” or “worthy only of children and savages” as he had stated about Mrs. Curran’s work with Patience Worth.

Hyslop had planned to conduct a cross reference experiment to see if he could get Patience Worth himself that is, to validate and provide ‘evidence of fact’ that Patience Worth was a real spirit but that experiment had to be sidelined when Hyslop learned of the work, ‘Jap Herron’, purportedly from Mark Twain that Hutchings and Hays had been writing and was about to publish . The two ladies, Mrs. Hutchings and Mrs. Hays traveled to Boston to meet with Hyslop and his medium Mrs. Chenoweth. They eventually channelled Mark Twain during ten sittings which were attended by Professor Hyslop.  Information provided through Mrs. Chenoweth apparently satisfied Hyslop and provided ‘evidence’ for him that the spirit of Mark Twain had dictated the novel Jap Herron. As a result of this ‘cross reference’ validation coming through Mrs. Chenoweth, Hyslop publicly praised the work of Hutchings and Hays.  (In letters to Hyslop, Emily Hutchings offered to make her book available to the A.S.P.R. and that Mark Twain wanted 25% of the profits from the book to be given for psychical research, presumably to the A.S.P.R. and Hyslop.).

Irving Litvag in his book Singer in The Shadows discusses the impact of Hyslop’s book review on the Currans and their circle of friends and supporters.  He notes that in the 1938 Journal of the A.S. P. R. a point-by point rebuttal of all of Hyslop’s accusations was offered.  This was the same Journal in which Hyslop wrote his criticisms of Yost’s book, 22 years earlier.

Marion Reedy editor of the St. Louis ‘Mirror’ analyzed the Hyslop article and challenged it at length.  He stated that ‘most of Hyslop’s arguments, were not well sustained by the evidence.  In a reply, Hyslop said that he had a good deal of evidence on hand to sustain his position but did not care to print it at the time. (He did not provide it in his reply to Reedy.)

Casper Yost also replied to Hyslop, writing that Hyslop’s critique was ‘neither fair nor truthful.  .  .  . It makes charges without investigation and presents allegations that are disproved by the book itself.  It is from beginning to end a tirade of abuse unworthy of a scientist, unworthy of the cause which he represents.”

Walter Franklin Prince in his book The Case of Patience Worth wrote several pages about Dr. Hyslop’s criticisms of Yost’s book.  Dr. Prince had known Hyslop as a friend and they both were psychic investigators for the A.S.P.R., Dr. Prince succeeding Dr. Hyslop as Chief Investigator of the A.S.P.R. after Hyslop died in 1920.

Dr. Prince in a gentle, kind and tactful way, reflecting his friendship with Dr. Hyslop  wrote that:

“Dr. Hyslop would have been the first man to insist that, no matter what he said, if any facts should be brought to light which derive his observations of weight, they should be made known.   .  .  .  The fact is that Dr. Hyslop never condemned the phenomena of Patience Worth, never declared them spurious.  He did criticize the mode of their presentation to the public, he said that nothing supernormal had yet been established, and he repeated certain statements which had been made to him by others and which made him suspicious.  .  .  .  Dr. Hyslop, when in a position personally to study a case, was an exceedingly careful and critical observer and experimenter.  No student of trance mediumship had ever taken such minute precautions. .  .  .  But Dr. Hyslop was filled with contempt for everything that savored of scientific cowardice or neglect of psychical problems, and for every sort of unscientific handling of those problems.  If ever he was betrayed by emotion, if ever he was unjust, it was in such relations.  And sometimes, when disgusted by an exhibition of evasion and pseudo logic in dealing with the subjects in his special field, he gave utterance to expressions not so carefully verified as were his conclusions on the basis of experimentation.  And sometimes, in a case of this sort, even if it were only that he was not able to induce a person to agree to his particular methods of examination, he a little too readily listened to the unverified assertions of other and inimical persons. “

When discussing Mrs. Curran’s reasons for not wanting to visit Hyslop in Boston,  Prince said that “She was smarting under what she and all her friends considered unjust attacks, and in her ignorance of Dr. Hyslop’s methods it may have seemed to her that she was invited to another unpleasantness of unknown character.  At any rate, it was very inconvenient to go, and her husband, in courteous letters which I have read, very reasonably explained why.  This unpleasantly impressed Dr. Hyslop, and at the same time he was receiving intimations from two persons.  One was the psychologist (Morton Prince) who had wanted to hypnotize Mrs. Curran, an eminent man but contemptuous, so far as appears, of every type of alleged supernormal phenomena.”

Dr. Prince was aware of Hyslop’s written communications with Emily Hutchings and without naming her—although her certainly could have— added that,  “The other was a lady who, while she believed that the Patience Worth material was supernormally produced, had a personal grievance against Mrs. Curran and certain others, and occasionally gave in her letters vague hints regarding the handling of the material, alleged mercenary motives, etc. intimations which a careful examination of the correspondence shows quite unsupported by proof.”

“I am very certain that had Dr. Hyslop lived and had the time and opportunity to go into the case as I have done, or even to become cognizant of the fruits of my labors, he would have become greatly interested, and would have agreed with me that when all its factors are taken together we have what hitherto it has not been thought that the subconscious, including whatever submerged secondary personalities we my evoke, was capable of, —what at the least requires an extension of our theory as to the possibilities of the subconscious, which theory may quite possibly not be complete without positing some influence not due to normal experience, whether of a disembodied intelligence, or to the Cosmic Mind, or what you like.”

A somewhat revealing comment by Hyslop written in 1905 in the preface to his book Enigmas of Psychical Research gives insight on his stance regarding the investigation of supernormal  phenomena. Perhaps what he said continues to be true more than 100 years later.

In that preface Hyslop notes the need for an endowment fund to support investigation of psychic phenomena.  He said that there needed to be a fund  that will enable qualified men to examine the credentials of recent phenomena and give them proper consideration.   He continues,

“Men cannot expect us to give scientific character to newspaper stories.   Very thorough investigation is necessary to make experiences of this kind worthy of any but a humorous interest, and the sooner that the public learns the need of endowment in this field equal to that for polar expeditions and deep-sea dredging, the sooner it will have some intelligent knowledge of the subject.  It is certainly as deserving as football and yacht races.  The matter has been left too long to the private resources of a few individuals, and expectations which are entertained of these are a satire on human judgment.  It is no light task to collect a census of coincidental experiences having scientific value for proving the supernormal, and it should have the financial support commensurate with its importance on any theory whatsoever of the facts.  The great religious forces of the past civilization are dissolving into polite forms and rituals, and the passionate interest of men is turning either to science or to illusion and folly for guidance.  Science has obtained the mantle and heritage of religion for the education and direction of human belief, and the sooner it takes up its duties in that field the more important its message to man.

Dr. Hyslop was a deep thinker and a prolific writer who  published many books on various topics. including among others,  philosophy, psychology, ethics, logic, morals, Greek philosophers, psychical research, life after death, metaphysics, democracy, government, the resurrection and the Martian alphabet.   I believe that his contribution to knowledge about the paranormal or as he would say—the supernormal, has been grossly underrated and I would rank him high above those early recognized  investigators of the supernormal including Frederic Myers, Richard Hodgson, Edmund Gurney, Oliver Lodge, William James,  Eleanor Sidgwick,  and many others.  Many of his books are available  as reprints from various online bookstores and I highly recommend them.