Swan on a Black Sea is Geraldine Cummins final book which was first published in 1965. The book is an account - an afterlife communication, from the British suffragette and philanthropist, Winifred Margaret Coombe Tennant who passed away in 1956 and first communicated with Cummins in 1957. Coombe Tennant communicated through Cummins using automatic writing; the object being to let her sons know she was still very much alive in the spirit world. The communications are made up of 40 scripts which were communicated between 1957-1960.
Throughout her life Coombe Tennant was a talented medium but due to her professional and social standing, she choose to keep her gift a secret from all but a handful of friends, and anonymously she practiced her mediumship under the pseudonym, Mrs. Willet. Her sitters included Sir Oliver Lodge, the renowned British scientist who devoted much of his life to psychical research, and a select number of senior members of the Society for Psychical Research.
Relaying her experiences as a travel writer might, reporting back from a distant land, she describes her ability to travel back and forth in time. It’s as if her physical life is a film and she is able to “go into her film” at any time or place and examine her physical life – a life review or judgment some might conclude.
On October 29, 1958 (script 32) she addressed her skeptical son Henry who was still alive at the time and was finding it difficult to accept that his dead mother was communicating,
‘There is a dream sweetness about my present state or place.
Yet my environment is familiar and totally real. I live in an existence in form both in human etheric forms and surroundings such as in outline nature and man provide. Yet I can be of them and not of them. I am not wedded to them or welded into them. One’s mind can govern and alter conditions in a manner not possible on earth. That is, if one exerts oneself, makes an effort.
‘At present I am at home again in the long ago of Wales. You remember my break in life through your father’s death. You may recall how I went to live in London in a flat. All that period is not my present environment.
‘I am back again in my married life. It is different, though in appearance to my perceptions it is the same outer world of reason, order and sensible arrangements. But it is different, humanly speaking. I am much with Christopher, who is a darling, while your father pairs off with Daff. That is a new experience to me.
‘What is novel also is that I appear to be in a kind of kindergarten and in my working hours I relive in memory what earth time has snatched away from me. So in the study of memory I do not remain at Cadoxton. I enter the film of past events and make excursions into different times in my past earth life so as to assimilate it.
The scripts are essentially an afterlife memoir of Winifred Coombe Tennant; they provide a fascinating insight into her world beyond the grave and are essential reading for anyone interested in psychical research and life after death.
About the author
Geraldine Cummins (January 24, 1890 - August 24, 1969) was an Irish automatic writing medium and author.
Cummins automatic writing was mainly of a spiritual nature and was witnessed by several theologians and scholars who later endorsed and edited her writings. Her first book, The Spirits of Cleophas (1928), claimed to supplement the biblical books of the Acts of the Apostles and the epistles of St. Paul. It was a historic narrative of the early church and the work of the apostles from immediately after the death of Jesus to St. Paul’s departure from Berea for Athens.
Her second book, Paul in Athens (1930) is a continuation of ‘Cleophas ‘The third, The Great Days of Ephesus (1933), followed the same line of thought.
Cummins’s fourth book, The Road to Immortality (1932), a series of communications allegedly from F. W. H. Myers, gives a glorious vision of the progression of the human spirit through eternity. In the Introduction Beatrice Gibbes described the method of communication employed by Cummins.
She would sit at a table, cover her eyes with her left and hand on concentrate on “stillness.” She would then fall into a light trance or dream state. Her hand would then begin to write. Usually, her “control” would make some introductory remarks and announce that another entity was waiting to speak. Because of her semi-trance condition and also because of the speed at which the writing would come, Gibbes would sit beside her and remove each sheet of paper as it was filled. Cummins’ hand was quickly lifted by Gibbes to the top of the new page, and the writing would continue without a break. In one sitting, Gibbes stated, Cummins wrote 2,000 words in 75 minutes, whereas her normal compositions were much slower—perhaps 800 words in seven or eight hours.
Gibbes added that she witnessed the writing of about 50 different personalities, all claiming to be ‘dead,’ and all differing in character and style, coming through Cummins’ hand.
Cummins went on to author The Swan on a Black Sea: A Study in Automatic Writing - the Cummins-Willett Scripts. The book is a detailed study of her automatic scripts received from the deceased “Mrs. Willett” a pseudonym of Winifred Coombe-Tennant, the British suffragette, politician, and philanthropist.
BY PROFESSOR C. D. BROAD
Fellow of Trinity College, Cambridge
As I have agreed, after considerable hesitation, at the request of the Publishers and of others, to write an Introduction to this book, I will begin with a few relevant personal statements. I have never met either the automatist, Miss Geraldine Cummins, or the editor, Signe Toksvig. Miss Cummins is an Irish lady, well known as the producer (in automatic script) of a number of interesting writings, some of which purport to contain detailed information, not available from normal historical sources, about incidents in the early history of Christianity. As a good example of these writings I would mention her well-known book The Scripts of Cleophas (1928). The reader will find a full account of her and her psychic activities in the interesting essay ‘Personal Background’, which she has written for the present volume. Signe Toksvig is a Danish lady whom I first came to know of through reading and reviewing her excellent book Emmanuel Swedenborg, Scientist and Mystic (1948). I have derived much instruction from this, and have expressed my indebtedness to it in some of my published writings. Since then I have found that she and I have mutual friends in Sweden. This has served as a kind of personal introduction to her; and, though we have never met, we have exchanged occasional letters.
The typescript was submitted to me, to some other senior members of the Society for Psychical Research, and to some other persons. Since then I have read the proofs. I found them of great interest, and I believe that these automatic scripts are a very important addition to the vast mass of such material which prima facie suggests rather strongly that certain human beings have survived the death of their physical bodies and have been able to communicate with certain others who are still in the flesh.
I think that these scripts are of special interest for the following reason. They purport to be communications from the surviving spirit of Mrs. Charles Coombe Tennant, who died on Aug. 31, 1956. Now that lady had herself had the gift of automatic writing and speech. Under the pseudonym of ‘Mrs. Willett’ she had been the vehicle for ostensible communications of a most remarkable kind, purporting to come from the surviving spirits of F. W. H. Myers, Edmund Gurney, and others of that distinguished group of friends who were among the founders and the most active early members of the Society for Psychical Research. Her automatic scripts and trance-utterances, together with others which were produced contemporaneously by certain other automatists, and which appear to be significantly inter-connected in their content, have been intensively studied by experts, and they form the subject of a number of extremely important papers in the S.P.R. Proceedings. Moreover, the phenomenology of Mrs. Coombe Tennant’s mediumship was carefully studied by Gerald Balfour (the second Earl of Balfour), who had had innumerable sittings with her and had been intimately acquainted with most of the persons who were ostensibly communicating through her. He contributed in 1935 a highly elaborate and very valuable paper on this topic to the S.P.R. Proceedings (Vol. 43), entitled ‘A Study of the Psychological Aspects of Mrs. Willett’s Mediumship’.
I have two and only two qualifications, beside my interest in the subject, for writing this Introduction. In the first place, I have been a member of the S.P.R. ‘establishment’ (if only on its outer fringes) for a great many years. I have met, in my early middle age and their extreme old age, some of the Old Guard, such as Mrs. Sidgwick and Gerald Balfour, with whom Mrs. Coombe Tennant was on terms of personal friendship. I have known well and have co-operated with Mr. and Mrs. W. H. Salter, who were from their youth in the confidence of this group, and who may be said to have carried the torch received from them. And I have been, for most of my adult life, a Fellow of Trinity College, Cambridge, with which nearly all these persons have been intimately connected, in one way or another, at some time in their lives.
Secondly, it so happens that Mrs. Coombe Tennant’s youngest son, Henry, who entered Trinity College as an undergraduate in 1932 and read Moral Sciences (in which he displayed outstanding ability), was my pupil during the whole of his time at Cambridge. We soon became very good friends, and we have kept in touch with each other from that day to this. While he was up at Trinity I met his mother occasionally when she visited him in Cambridge, and I still possess a collection of Emily Bronte’s poems which she gave me. Soon after he went down I met her once or twice at her London home (then in Portland Place), when calling on him. While he was a prisoner of war in Germany I had some correspondence with her about sending books to him. That is the extent of my acquaintance with her.
She struck me (if I may say so) as a somewhat formidable lady, and I admired the way in which Henry, as it seemed to me, combined perfect politeness and respect towards her with complete refusal to be dominated by her.
I had not the slightest idea at the time, or indeed until it was made public after her death, that she had mediumistic gifts and had regularly exercised them. Still less did I suspect that she was the famous ‘Mrs. Willett’, whose mediumship had played so important a part in the history of psychical research in the first quarter of this century. I knew, both from Henry and from Mr. W. H. Salter, that she and her family were close friends of the Gerald Balfours and frequent visitors at the latter’s home, Fisher’s Hill, Woking. I knew also that Mrs. Coombe Tennant’s sister-in-law, Eveleen Tennant, had married F. W. H. Myers and had survived him by many years. So I connected Mrs. Coombe Tennant closely with what I may call the ‘S.P.R. Cambridge Group’, though I had no idea that she was interested in or concerned with their activities as psychical researchers.
Mrs. Coombe Tennant’s mediumship was, in fact, a most carefully guarded secret. She herself had a very great shrinking from any publicity in such matters. Her son Alexander has described her to me as an ‘extremely discreet person’, and he has quoted to me as a favourite saying of hers: ‘Never give unnecessary information!’ She was, moreover, busily engaged for many years in public work of various kinds, and she must have well known that the faintest hint of ‘spookiness’ would excite irrational prejudice and would be used without scruple to hamper her activities and to cast doubt on her judgment. The Countess of Balfour states (‘The “Palm Sunday” Case’. S.P.R. Proceedings, Vol. 52, Part 189, Feb. 1960) that Mr. Coombe Tennant was fully aware of his wife’s psychic activities, and had no apparent objection to them, but that some other members of the family disapproved strongly. The facts were, of course, known to the Balfours, to certain friends and colleagues closely associated with them in psychical research (notably Sir Oliver Lodge, Mr. Piddington, Mrs. Verrall, and Miss Alice Johnson), and to Mr. W. H. Salter and his wife (nee Helen Verrall). All these were by nature or by training eminently reticent. One other person who must have been well informed was Dame Edith Lyttelton, who married the Conservative statesman Alfred Lyttelton after the death of his first wife. Dame Edith was, from 1915 onwards, a close friend of Mrs. Coombe Tennant. She developed the gift of automatic writing after her husband’s death in 1913, and she played a prominent part (under the pseudonym of ‘Mrs. King’) in the ‘cross-correspondence’ phenomena, in which Mrs. Coombe Tennant’s scripts were also involved. She was an active and valued member of the S.P.R. up to her death in 1948. I should be surprised if anyone, outside the small circle of friends and relatives mentioned above, was aware, during Mrs. Coombe Tennant’s lifetime, of the identity of the ‘Mrs. Willett’, whose scripts and whose mediumship had been the subject of so much discussion in the S.P.R. Proceedings.
There is ample material in various publications for an account of the main outlines of the non-mediumistic aspects of Mrs. Coombe Tennant’s life. And there is an immense mass of information in the S.P.R. Proceedings about her mediumistic activities under the pseudonym of ‘Mrs. Willett’. I propose now to treat in turn those two topics.
Winifred Margaret Pearce-Serocold (for that was her maiden name) was born on November 1, 1874. She was the only child of George Edward Pearce-Serocold by his second wife, Mary Richardson, of Derwen Fawr, near Swansea. The double surname originated in the eighteenth century through the marriage of William Pearce (1744-1820) with Anne Serocold. He was a Cornishman, who in 1789 became Master of Jesus College, Cambridge. She was the eldest child of the Rev. Walter Serocold of Cherryhinton, a village now almost swallowed up in the horrible proliferation of Cambridge. Anne was co-heiress with her brother, Walter Serocold, a captain in the Royal Navy, who fell in action at the siege of Calvi in Corsica, and to whose memory there is a tablet in Cherryhinton church. Her son, Edward Serocold Pearce (1786-1849) changed his surname in 1842 to ‘Pearce-Serocold’. He was Mrs. Coombe Tennant’s paternal grandfather. There are numerous monuments and tablets to members of the family in the church at Cherryhinton.
Mrs. Coombe Tennant’s father, George Pearce-Serocold (1828-1912), joined the Royal Navy at the age of thirteen, and saw service in the first China War. At the signing of the Treaty of Nankin (1842) he, as the youngest midshipman in the Fleet, carried the document on a silver salver to be signed. Later on he served on the West Coast of Africa in the suppression of the slave trade. Still later he spent ten years sheep-farming in Australia, where Mount Serocold in Central Queensland is named after him.
On December 12, 1895, Winifred Pearce-Serocold married Charles Coombe Tennant of Cadoxton Lodge, Glamorganshire. He was born on July 31, 1852, and was thus twenty-two years older than she. The Tennants of Cadoxton (who are not to be confused with another famous family of that name, to which Margot Asquith and her sister Laura Lyttelton belonged) are of purely English origin. But they had for some generations been settled at Cadoxton, and occupied a very important position in the Vale of Neath. Charles Coombe Tennant was the only son in the family of four children born to Charles Tennant, M.P., of Cadoxton (1796-1873), and his wife Gertrude Barbara Rich Collier (1819-1918). The latter was a most notable personage in her time. She was a descendant of Oliver Cromwell, through his daughter Frances. She had spent the first twenty-four years of her life in France, and had known Flaubert, Gambetta, Renan, and many other eminent Frenchmen. After her marriage she held a salon at her house at Richmond Terrace in London, which was for long a meeting-place for such eminent Victorians as Gladstone, Ruskin, Tennyson, Thomas Hardy, Herbert Spencer, George Eliot, G. F. Watts, and Burne-Jones. She kept her faculties and her interests almost up to her death in 1918 at the age of ninety-nine.
The Tennants sprang originally from the neighbourhood of Dent in Yorkshire, and in the early eighteenth century some of them moved to Lancashire. The first of them to settle in Glamorganshire was Charles Coombe Tennant’s paternal grandfather, George, who died in 1832. He was a man of great energy and business ability. He purchased first the Rhydding estate, near Neath, and later the adjoining property of Cadoxton. In the period 1817 to 1824 he constructed the Tennant Canal from Swansea to the Brecon Hills.
Mrs. Coombe Tennant had thus married into a remarkable family. Of her husband’s sisters one, Eveleen, married in 1880 F. W. H. Myers (1843-1901), the author of that posthumously published classic of psychical research Human Personality and its Survival of Bodily Death, and one of the founders and the most active early members of the S.P.R. Another sister, Dorothy, married the explorer, H. M. Stanley.
Cadoxton is named after the sixth-century Welsh saint and martyr Cadoc, who is commemorated in a number of Welsh place-names, e.g., Llangattock. It became the country home of Mrs. Coombe Tennant. She has given a very full description of the house and of its beautiful surroundings in the memoir which she contributed to the book Christopher, compiled by Sir Oliver Lodge with her co-operation, and published by Messrs. Cassell in 1918. This book is a moving biographical tribute to the memory of her eldest child, Christopher, who fell in Flanders on September 3, 1917, shortly before his twentieth birthday. It contains much factual information, and indirectly throws much light on her character, ideals, and beliefs.
Christopher was born at Cadoxton Lodge on October 10, 1897. He was at school at Winchester from 1911 until July, 1916, when he passed into Sandhurst as a prize cadet. He was gazetted to the Welsh Guards and joined that regiment early in May, 1917. He crossed to Flanders with a draft on August 9, 1917, and was killed by a shell in the trenches near Langemark on the morning of September 3 of that year. His letters, his actions, and the many moving tributes paid to him after his death by persons of all ranks of society, show him to have been an extremely fine character, gentle, sensitive, and highly intelligent, yet courageous and spirited, with a deep appreciation of beauty in nature, in human character, in literature, and in art. As with so many of his contemporaries,
Ostendent terris hunc tantum fata, neque ultra esse sinent . . .
The vast majority of the letters in Christopher are between him and his mother. His are generally signed ‘Cruff’. It is plain from them that there was an extremely close link between mother and son. The father is very little in the picture, and one might be inclined to infer from the contents and the emphasis of the book that he played a somewhat minor role in a predominantly matriarchal household. Lodge states, however, that Charles Coombe Tennant had much to do with Christopher when the latter was young, and that their relations remained intimate and almost fraternal up to the end. They used to play chess, billiards, and picquet together; and Christopher, who became a devotee of the classics and had intended to pursue his studies at Trinity College, Cambridge, was initiated into Greek by his father.
Christopher used to call him ‘Deedoge’.
In ‘The “Palm Sunday” Case’ (S.P.R. Proceedings, Vol. 52, Part 189) the Countess of Balfour remarks that ‘Mrs. Willett was a lady who had a very strong predilection for maternity’. The birth of Christopher had been difficult, and he himself states that he was born ‘almost inanimate’ and had to be brought to life by ‘judicious flapping with wet towels’, on the doctor’s orders. Mr. W. H. Salter, in ‘The Rose of Sharon’ (S.P.R. Proceedings, Vol. 54, Part 194), states that Mrs. Coombe Tennant has recorded that early in 1905, i.e. some eight years after Christopher’s birth, she suddenly began, for no discernible reason, to find herself longing for another child. That desire persisted and became a daily thought. She consulted a doctor in August, 1905, and he gave the opinion that there would be no special risk in her having a second child. On January 6 (Epiphany), 1907 she gave birth to her second child and only daughter, Daphne, whose brief life and tragic death were a turning point in Mrs. Coombe Tennant’s spiritual development.
Daphne was born at Cadoxton and christened there. She died in London, after a sudden and short illness, in the early morning of July 21, 1908. During her lifetime she was known in the family as ‘The Darling’. Though she lived only one year and seven months, she had clearly become a considerable personality by the time of her death. Lodge writes of her: ‘From the testimony of those who knew the infant I judge that nothing less than genius will account for the impression she made’. Her mother wrote and privately printed a memoir of the child in August, 1908, and from this Lodge quotes, among other sentences, ‘. . . her one attitude towards outward objects seemed to be love, and her chief desire to express all the love her little heart held . .
The loss of such a child was naturally a shattering blow to her mother, and it had a profound influence on Christopher, who was nearly eleven years old when Daphne died, and had been devoted to her. I shall describe in the appropriate place below its sequel in Mrs. Coombe Tennant’s psychical development.
Here it will suffice to say that she became convinced, on what appeared to her adequate personal evidence, of Daphne’s survival, and in general, to quote her own words, that death is ‘no more than a doorway admitting to a fuller and freer life’. That conviction came to be shared by Christopher, and it led to the following compact between mother and son when he was on leave at Cadoxton shortly before going out to Flanders. They considered together what action should be taken on each of the following alternative possibilities, viz., that he should be wounded, that he should be reported missing, and that he should be killed. Since it was the third of these which was fulfilled, we need consider only what they agreed to do in that event.
As regards Christopher himself, they decided that, if he should find himself suddenly in the next world, he should start with the expectation of meeting Daphne and his uncle by marriage, F. W. H. Myers. If he were not at once to be in touch with them, he was to inquire for them. Thereafter he was to concentrate on getting his bearings in his new and unfamiliar situation. He was to keep constantly in mind that his mother would be all right, that she would know that he was essentially unchanged, and that she would be trying to help him telepathically. As regards Mrs. Coombe Tennant, they agreed that she would try to avoid excessive grief, as a disturbing factor in their relations; that she would hold on to the belief that a period of deeper intimacy between them had now begun; and that she would strive to make Cadoxton ‘a happy hunting-ground for him’.
As a result of this, the news of Christopher’s death, when it came on the evening of September 6, 1917, though naturally grievous, was not shattering. In a letter written by his mother on the following day she remarks: ‘He is to me as if just out of a severe operation—my steady hand in his is what he needs now ... He will soon get his bearings there, and whether he does it happily and easily depends on what telepathic impressions he gets from us—especially from me.
Mrs. Coombe Tennant had two other children after Christopher and Daphne. They were Alexander, born in 1909, and Henry, born in 1913. Her husband died on November 5, 1928, in his seventy-seventh year, shortly after Alexander had entered Trinity College, Cambridge, as a freshman. Henry came up to Trinity four years later. Their mother long survived her husband, dying in her eighty-third year on August 31, 1956 at her home in London. An obituary notice of her appeared in The Times for Saturday, September 1, 1956. This dealt with her public life and activities. In the S.P.R. Journal (vol. 39, No. 694) for December of next year there appeared the Obituary Notice of Mrs. Coombe Tennant, which made public for the first time her identity with ‘Mrs. Willett’.
From these and other published sources one sees something of her public spirit and her energy. She had very early become an enthusiastic supporter of the extension of the suffrage to women, and had worked to that end with Mrs. Fawcett. During the 1914—18 war she was Vice-chairman of the Glamorganshire Women’s Agricultural Committee, and from 1917 was Chairman of the Neath and District War-Pensions Committee. In 1920 she was appointed a Justice of the Peace, and sat on the Glamorganshire County bench, being the first woman to be a magistrate there. From 1920 to 1931 she was one of the Visiting Justices at Swansea prison. She took that duty very seriously, and was instrumental in effecting some highly sensible and practical reforms in the treatment of prisoners. She was a strong Liberal in politics, and an admirer of Lloyd George, and in 1922 she unsuccessfully stood as Liberal candidate for the Forest of Dean constituency. She shared the high hopes, felt by so many fine spirits immediately after the First World War, in the newly formed League of Nations, and she was the first woman to be appointed by the British Government as a delegate to its Assembly.
As we have seen, Mrs. Coombe Tennant was of Welsh descent on the side of her mother, Mary Richardson of Derwen Fawr. She became a very keen Welsh Nationalist. For many years she played an active part in the ‘Gorsedd’ or ‘Circle of Bards’, in the capacity of ‘Mistress of the Robes’, and she had the official title of ‘Mam-o-Nedd’ (‘Mother of Neath’). She was Chairman of the Arts and Crafts Section of the National Eisteddfod in 1918, and, in recognition of her services, the Arch Druid conferred on her the honorary Eisteddfodic degree of ‘Ovate’. She was one of the twenty original members elected in May, 1918 to form an Executive Committee for introducing self-government on federal lines into Wales. For many years she was an active member of the Art Committee of the Swansea Borough Council. Not only was she a discriminating patron of specifically Welsh painting; she had also made for herself a fine collection of modern French pictures.
We may sum up all this side of Mrs. Coombe Tennant’s personality and life by remarking that she was one of the many conspicuous counter-instances to the silly popular belief that a person with mystical or mediumistic gifts must eo ipso be ‘moony’ and incompetent in practical affairs. Other notable counter-instances, within the circle of the S.P.R., were Mrs. Verrall, her daughter Helen (Mrs. W. H. Salter), and Dame Edith Lyttelton. And, if we care to go further afield and to look higher, we might mention St. Birgitta of Sweden, St. Teresa of Spain, and Florence Nightingale, as women conspicuous for energy, business ability, and outstanding practical achievement, who would have made a very poor showing on the currently accepted tests for bodily and mental normality and psychological integration.
Let us now turn to the mediumistic, or ‘Mrs. Willett’, aspect of Mrs. Coombe Tennant’s complex personality. This is abundantly documented in a number of important articles in the S.P.R. Proceedings. At the centre of these is G. W. Balfour’s comprehensive paper: ‘A Study of the Psychological Aspects of Mrs. Willett’s Mediumship, and of the Statements of the Communicators concerning Process’ (Proceedings, Vol. 40, Part 139; 1935). Mrs. Willett was first introduced in the literature of the subject, so far as I know, in two papers in Proceedings, Vol. 25, Part 63 (1911), viz., Sir Oliver Lodge: ‘Evidence of Classical Scholarship and of Cross Correspondence in some new Automatic Writing’, and Mrs. Verrall: ‘Notes on Mrs. Willett’s Scripts’. Then came in fairly quick succession two important papers by Balfour concerning automatic scripts in which Mrs. Willettt had played an essential part, viz., ‘Some recent Scripts affording Evidence of Personal Survival’ (Proceedings, Vol. 27, Part 69; 1914) and ‘The Ear of Dionysius’ (Proceedings, Vol. 29, Part 73; 1917). After Balfour’s paper of 1935, on the psychological aspects of Mrs. Willett’s mediumship and on the statements made by the ostensible communicators as to the processes involved, there is a long interval, extending well beyond the date of Mrs. Coombe Tennant’s death in 1956. Then, in 1960, comes an important paper by Jean Balfour (the Countess of Balfour) entitled ‘The “Palm Sunday” Case’ (Proceedings, Vol. 52, Part 189). This is wholly concerned with certain scripts and trance-utterances of Mrs. Willett, which will be described below. That article was followed in 1963 by W. H. Salter’s paper ‘The Rose of Sharon’ (Proceedings, Vol. 54, Part 194). This is not, indeed, concerned with Mrs. Willett’s own scripts, but with certain scripts by Mrs. Verrall, by her daughter Helen, and by members of a Scottish family, known as ‘The Macs’. But these, as Mr. Salter argues, appear to contain indubitable references, though in cryptic language, to the forthcoming birth and the early death of Daphne Coombe Tennant, at a time when the writers could have had no normal knowledge about those still future events.
Of the papers enumerated above, those up to and including Balfour’s essay of 1935 have become classics in the literature of psychical research, and have been discussed from all angles. It would be out of place to attempt to discuss them in detail here. I think that most competent commentators, who have devoted serious attention to them, would agree that they involve, on the part of Mrs. Willett, knowledge of particular facts and incidents and of highly recondite classical lore, which cannot plausibly be traced to any source normally available to Mrs. Coombe Tennant, and which are often highly characteristic of the interests, the erudition, and the idiosyncrasies of the deceased scholars (e.g., Myers, Verrall, and Butcher) who were ostensibly communicating through her.
In Gerald Balfour’s ‘Study of the Psychological Aspects of Mrs. Willett’s Mediumship’ we learn in great detail what the ostensible communicators (purporting to be the surviving spirits of Myers and of Gurney) told, first to Lodge and later to Balfour, through Mrs. Willett’s automatic script or trance-speech, about the use which they claimed to be deliberately making of her, of the methods which they employed, and of the difficulties which they encountered in attempting various kinds of communication through her. These seem to me to be some of the most interesting and the most intellectually impressive products of trance-mediumship of which we have any record.
Mrs. Coombe Tennant was undoubtedly a highly intelligent woman, artistically gifted, practically efficient, and of excellent general education which she had never allowed to rust. But she had little interest in, or capacity for, psychological analysis or philosophical speculation. It is no insult to say (what, indeed, she often said herself) that these ostensible communications through her Willett personality were altogether above her head, or, as she once impatiently put it, ‘all so much Greek to me’.
In ‘The “Palm Sunday” Case’ we have something quite different, but almost equally impressive and much easier for the ordinary reader to appreciate. Here Mrs. Willett, in a long series of automatic scripts and trance-utterances, seems to be referring, cryptically but in the aggregate unmistakably, to a very private and personal matter in the early life of Gerald Balfour’s elder brother, the Conservative statesman A. J. Balfour (1848-1930). This was his love for Catherine Mary Lyttelton; her tragic death from typhus on Palm Sunday 1875, before he had declared himself; the very singular action which he took at the time, unknown to the other members of his family, to show his devotion; and certain incidents in his last illness, as a very old man in 1929, which seemed to suggest her continued existence and affection and her active intervention. Mrs. Willett was producing these scripts in sittings which she gave to Gerald Balfour, mostly in 1912, followed by others scattered over the years 1913-18. According to Jean Balfour, it was not until after a sitting held at A. J. Balfour’s London house on June 19, 1916, in his presence, that Gerald Balfour learned, for the first time and from his brother, about the silver box which the latter had had made after 1875 to contain a tress of Mary Lyttelton’s beautiful hair, cut off at her death in that year. It was then found that there had been repeated references to this in Mrs. Willett’s earlier scripts and trance-utterances, long before the first of her few meetings with A. J. Balfour.
I pass now from this outline of Mrs. Coombe Tennant’s main achievements as a medium to a brief account of the development of her mediumship.
It will be remembered that Mrs. Coombe Tennant’s sister-in-law, Eveleen Tennant, had married F. W. H. Myers in 1880. Mrs. Coombe Tennant liked, respected, and admired Myers; but a family quarrel developed with his wife. The latter, indeed, would seem, from all accounts that I have ever heard of her, to have been a singularly egotistic and rather unscrupulous person. In partial mitigation of some of her conduct it is fair to say that even a less possessive woman might have resented the facts that she had been preceded in her husband’s affections by a lady who had died tragically and to whom he remained passionately devoted; that he had tried repeatedly, and, as he believed, successfully, to get in touch with her surviving spirit; and that he was avowedly looking forward with confident longing to rejoining her on the astral plane immediately after his own death. (For the details of this I would refer the reader to Myers’s posthumously published Fragments of Inner Life (S.P.R. Publication, 1961); to Mr. Salter’s article T. W. H. Myers’s Posthumous Message’ (S.P.R. Proceedings, Vol. 52, Part 187; 1958); and to Dr. Alan Gauld’s letter ‘Frederic Myers and “Phyllis” ’ in the S.P.R. Journal, Vol. 42, No. 720; 1964.)
It was probably through her admiration for Myers that Mrs. Coombe Tennant became an Associate Member of the S.P.R. soon after his death in 1901. She had already met Mrs. Verrall casually in 1896, at the Myers’s house in Cambridge, and she had met Mrs. Verrall’s daughter Helen once or twice in 1898. She was, however, not greatly interested in psychic matters at that time, and she resigned her associate membership in 1905. It was the death of her daughter Daphne on July 21, 1908, that revived her interest and was the occasion of the beginning of her own mediumship.
On July 28, 1908, i.e., a week after Daphne’s death, Mrs. Coombe Tennant wrote to Mrs. Verrall, who was then almost a stranger to her personally, as one whom she knew to have had ostensible communications in automatic script, purporting to come from the deceased F. W. H. Myers. She stated that she had lost her child Daphne a week before, and that she had decided to inform Mrs. Verrall at once, lest any allusion to Daphne that might occur in the latter’s script might be overlooked.
In August and September, 1908, Mrs. Coombe Tennant read in the S.P.R. Proceedings a paper by Miss Alice Johnson entitled ‘A Report on Mrs. Holland’s Script’. (The name ‘Mrs. Holland’ was a pseudonym for Mrs. Alice Macdonald Fleming, a sister of Rudyard Kipling, living in India, who was producing automatic writing.) On reading this Report Mrs. Coombe Tennant felt an impulse to try for herself. She described these early attempts in a letter of October 8, 1908, to Mrs. Verrall. The scripts purported to come from Myers. She was not much impressed by them, and she destroyed them.
Early in January, 1909, however, she received, in the course of a script ostensibly emanating from Myers, an order to stop writing, to try to apprehend the ideas that would be put into her head, and to record them in ordinary writing either at once or at the earliest convenient later moment. It was stated in the scripts that Edmund Gurney (who had died in 1888) was also involved in the experiments which were about to be made ‘from the other side’ with Mrs. Coombe Tennant.
The next stage was that the ‘Myers-persona’ and the ‘Gurney-persona’ (to use a strictly non-committal phraseology) expressed a wish, in their ostensible communications through Mrs. Willett, that she should sit in the presence of another person and should dictate to him the impressions which she would receive from them. The first person whom they proposed as a sitter was Sir Oliver Lodge, who had been an active member of the S.P.R. from its early days and had known and collaborated with Gurney during the latter’s lifetime.
Lodge was at that time a complete stranger to Mrs. Coombe Tennant, though he had once met Charles Coombe Tennant, before the latter’s marriage, through an introduction from Myers. After considerable resistance Mrs. Coombe Tennant consented to approach Lodge. He first met her on May 17, 1909, and afterwards had many sittings with her.
Next the Gurney-persona asked that G. W. Balfour should be introduced as a sitter and note-taker. That wish was expressed again and again in ostensible communications purporting to come from Gurney. Balfour had been a close friend of Gurney’s, and they had co-operated in psychical research up to the time of the latter’s death. He was a man of keen philosophic interest and deeply read in philosophy. So it was highly appropriate that the Gurney-persona should say (as he did) that his reason for wanting Balfour to become a sitter with Mrs. Willett was that Balfour would be interested in the processes involved in communication rather than in the products.
Balfour at that time was a complete stranger to Mrs. Coombe Tennant, and he was a distinguished member of a very distinguished family. She therefore hesitated very much to approach him with this strange request. She must, however, have known of Balfour’s sister Norah (Mrs. Henry Sidgwick) through Myers, and she may well have met her occasionally at the Myers’s house in Cambridge. Anyhow, Mrs. Coombe Tennant eventually gave her consent, an introduction was effected, and Balfour had his first sitting with her on June 4, 1911. Thereafter Balfour became almost the only sitter with Mrs. Willett, and hundreds of sittings were held in the next twenty years, sometimes at Cadoxton and sometimes at Balfour’s house, Fisher’s Hill, Woking.
Mrs. Coombe Tennant soon became a close friend of Gerald Balfour and his family. She and her children, and sometimes one or another of the children without her, would often stay at Fisher’s Hill. The boys knew Lady Betty Balfour (nee Lady Elizabeth Lytton) as ‘Aunt Betty’. Christopher spent some of his last days in England there in July, 1917, with ‘the beloved “Aunt Betty” ‘, as he calls her in a letter to his mother of July 16.
The community at Fisher’s Hill, with which Mrs. Coombe Tennant thus became intimate, was a most remarkable one in the annals of psychical research. Beside Gerald Balfour and his wife and children, there was living there from 1916 onwards his sister Mrs. Sidgwick. She was the widow of Professor Henry Sidgwick, one of the ‘founding fathers’ of the S.P.R.; was one of the ablest women of her own or of any other time; and herself played a great part in the organization of the S.P.R. and contributed papers of outstanding importance to its Proceedings. Another resident there was Balfour’s old friend, Mr. J. G. Piddington (ne Smith), who was living at Fisher’s Hill from 1919 to 1940. Piddington had been a businessman, and in that capacity he rendered valuable service to the S.P.R. in the conduct of its finances. But he was also, like Balfour, a fine scholar, with immense patience and pertinacity in tracing obscure allusions and unravelling literary puzzles. The two of them together devoted all their skill and learning, and most of the energies of their later years, to a minute study of the immense mass of script material, written by various automatists (including Mrs. Willett.), which seems prima facie to suggest the survival and the deliberate post mortem collaboration of the group of Cambridge friends and contemporaries, Myers, Gurney, Sidgwick, Verrall, and Butcher.
Gerald Balfour died in 1944, at the age of ninety. He had been preceded by his brother Arthur in 1930 at the age of eighty-two, and by his sister Eleanor (Mrs. Sidgwick) in 1936 in her 91st year. He was followed by his friend Piddington in 1952 at the age of eighty-three. With them ended the ‘old guard’ of the S.P.R. Of the next generation, their spiritual heirs, Dame Edith Lyttelton died in 1948, and Mrs. Coombe Tennant (as we have seen) in 1956 at the age of eighty-two. Mrs. Verrall’s daughter Helen (Mrs. W. H. Salter) died in her sleep, felix opportunitate mortis, while still in good bodily health and full mental vigour, in 1959 at the age of seventy-six. And, lastly, it should be recorded that Myers’s son Leopold, who became a distinguished novelist, died ‘by his own hand’ (to quote the Dictionary of National Biography) on April 8, 1944, at the age of sixty-three. Of all these, and of all that has been narrated above about their doings and sufferings, we may fairly say, confining ourselves to this life:
Hi motus animorum, atque haec certamina tanta,
pulveris exigui iactu compressa quiescunt.
I think it will be useful, at this point, for the reader to have before him, for reference, the following chronological table, which summarizes the main relevant biographical and bibliographical facts up to and including Mrs. Coombe Tennant’s death:
The reader is now in possession of a fairly adequate account of the content of the Scripts, of the dramatic form in which it was presented by the automatist, and of the kind of relevant information which might have been available to her from normal sources at the time when each script was written. He must make his own reflexions and draw his own conclusions. I will end this Introduction with a few of mine.
The scripts are in the form of ostensible communications from the surviving personality of a certain deceased person. Any such material must in the first place be considered under the following two heads, viz., (1) the factual information conveyed in it, and (2) the dramatic form in which it is presented.
Under the first heading the following questions arise: (i) What proportion of the factual statements are verifiable or refutable, either with certainty or with high probability? (ii) Of these, what proportion are specially relevant to the known relationships experiences, interests, knowledge, and beliefs of the ostensible communicator? (iii) Of the testable statements which have this special personal relevance, what proportion are certainly or very probably correct? Under the second heading come the following questions: (i) Does the form in which the ostensible communications are couched suggest a single, self-consistent, outstanding personality? (ii) If so, does that personality seem, to those who were well acquainted with the deceased, to bear a striking resemblance to hers?
As regards the questions under heading (1), the following remarks may be made. Statements by the ostensible communicator about her experiences at the point of death or in the afterlife cannot be tested. Nor can some of her statements about the emotions which she felt towards certain persons and in certain situations in her earthly life. But, when all these are set aside, there remains a large mass of statements which can be tested. And, in marked contrast to the contents of many mediumistic utterances, they are not in the least vague, general, allusive, or oracular. They abound in extremely concrete detail about named persons and places, and about definite events in which these were concerned. Moreover, of the large mass of concrete testable statements, very nearly all are true. And, when a mistake in detail is made (as in Script 5, where the name ‘Mrs. Wills’ is given instead of ‘Mrs. Willett’, or in Script 17, where it is stated that George C. T. was at school at Eton), it is nearly always corrected in a later script. As regards the first question under heading (2), I should think that no reader could fail to get the impression of an extremely definite personality, with a rather unusual combination of characteristics. In one aspect, she is a typical Victorian grande dame, who treats even her ‘unseen guests’ as she was wont to treat ordinary mortals in her capacity of hostess; who likes to play her part in public life, and does so very efficiently; and whose political interests are rather surprisingly radical for a woman of her period and social position. In another aspect, she has very strong likes and dislikes towards certain individuals; and, in particular, she has an intense maternal instinct, and an uneasy feeling that this has not always been fortunate in its effects on her relationships with her children. In yet another aspect, she is a mystic, possessed of psychic gifts which she has for long been concerned to conceal, living in two worlds. As regards the second question under the present heading, it is for those who knew Mrs. Coombe Tennant intimately, and, in particular, for her surviving sons, to decide whether the very marked personality which emerges in the scripts is that of the individual who is ostensibly communicating through G.C. All that I can usefully say is that it seems to me, as a largely but not wholly ignorant external observer, to fit like a glove.
Granted that the scripts contain much correct information of a highly detailed kind concerning Mrs. Coombe Tennant and her family and associates and activities, and that they give a strong impression of emanating from a highly personal source, and assuming (for the sake of argument) that those who knew Mrs. Coombe Tennant intimately find them redolent of her personality, the next question that arises is this: What is the least implausible way of accounting for the production of such scripts by a person whose normal sources of information were those available to Miss Geraldine Cummins at the times when her hand automatically wrote them?
We may classify conceivable explanations of such cases as follows: (1) Those which presuppose nothing but normal sources of information and nothing but normal and generally recognized powers of cognition, selection, and dramatization in the automatist. (Those normal powers may be supposed to be present to an abnormal degree, as, e.g., in the case of a calculating prodigy, a literary or dramatic genius, and so on. And they may be supposed to exhibit themselves only when the automatist is in the peculiar dissociated state in which she produces her automatic utterances, and not at all in her everyday life.)
(2) Those which presuppose in the automatist certain paranormal powers of cognition and selection, not generally admitted by contemporary scientists, applied only to existing records and to persons still alive in the flesh. Examples would be: (i) the alleged power of becoming telepathically aware of facts known, of beliefs held, and of emotions felt by other persons, and not conveyed from them by spoken or written utterances, by gestures, by changes of facial expression and so on. (ii) The alleged power of becoming clairvoyantly aware of physical things, events, and state of affairs (and, in particular, of written records) without the use of sense-perception, and without telepathic awareness of the normal knowledge of those objects possessed by someone still alive in the flesh. (3) Those which (without necessarily excluding the acquirement of information by paranormal means from persons still in the flesh and/or from existing records) presuppose the intervention of some person or persons not at present alive on earth. This would, in theory, cover the two alternatives of intervention (i) by some human being who has survived bodily death, and (ii) by some non-human person. I will now consider very briefly, in turn, these three conceivable alternatives as applied to the present case.
We may begin with the following platitude. Corresponding to any statement that can be verified at a given moment, there must then exist on earth either some relevant accessible record or some living person who has a relevant recollection. What has to be explained is the occurrence, in a particular script produced under specified circumstances, of a certain set of highly specific and closely interconnected items, corresponding to a certain very small selection from all this immense mass of mainly irrelevant documentary or mnemonic material.
Now, suppose we accept, as I have not the slightest hesitation in doing from long personal acquaintance, the bona fides and the discretion of Mr. W. H. Salter and of Henry Coombe Tennant. And suppose that, without any positive evidence whatever, we were to ascribe to G.C. immense powers of cryptomnesia, or (to make no bones about it) deliberate, active, and dishonest rummaging in and collating published records. I do not see how we can explain, without postulating something paranormal, the amount and kind of detailed and correct information, highly relevant to Mrs. Coombe Tennant, that had already emerged by the end of the sixth script.
If that be granted, I would next maintain that access, whether by normal or by paranormal means, to printed records, does not suffice. A good deal of relevant factual information does exist in print. Burke’s Landed Gentry, e.g., contains fairly full accounts of the history and genealogy of the Tennants and the Pearce-Serocolds. Still more of relevant material is contained in Lodge’s long out-of-print memoir Christopher. But no printed source existing at the time contained anything about Mrs. Coombe Tennant’s sister-in-law Eveleen’s peculiarities; about F. W. H. Myers’s matrimonial difficulties with her; and about her putting their son Leopold, with tragic results, against his father. Yet all this is explicitly referred to in Script 6, and it is a frequently recurring theme in later scripts. Nor, e.g., can the communicator’s very personal reflexions about her relationships with her several children, or about the quarrel with ‘Mrs. R.’, or about ‘the Lobs’, have come from anything in print at the time. But some or all of them might conceivably have come to the automatist, either by the normal way of indiscreet chatter or in a paranormal telepathic way, from one or another of the very few persons then in the flesh who had the relevant knowledge or beliefs. In view of the fact that G.C. did not meet Henry until late in 1959 or Alexander until early in 1960, and that neither of them would be in the least inclined to chatter about intimate personal or family affairs, I think it quite inconceivable that this part of the content of the scripts can have come in a normal way from either of them.
It may be worthwhile to add a word at this point about the book Christopher. G.C. states that she was unaware of its existence until Henry informed her of it in November, 1959. It seems to me that there are two facts which make against the possibility that it was an important source of the contents even of those parts of the scripts to which it is relevant. One is the fact that Mrs. Coombe Tennant’s eldest son is referred to throughout the book as ‘Christopher’ or ‘Cruff’, and never as ‘George’; whilst, in the scripts, where he is unmistakably referred to from the very first, he is always called ‘George’, and not ‘Christopher’. (This seems to me an extremely odd circumstance, on any view of the case.) The other relevant fact is that the life and death of Daphne are a very prominent feature in the book Christopher; whilst Daphne is not mentioned in the scripts until Script 10, though it is true that she plays a fairly important part later, e.g., in Script 19.
It seems to me, then, that we shall need to postulate telepathy with persons still in the flesh, and not merely clairvoyance of existing records, if we are to attempt to explain the facts of the case in accordance with the second of the three alternatives distinguished above. It remains to consider whether any explanation is adequate which does not go beyond this.
So far as concerns the factual content of the scripts, it seems to me that most, though not perhaps all of it would have been within the knowledge or belief of either Mr. Salter or Henry. Part of this might have been confined to the former, and another part to the latter, whilst part would be common to both. Now it was Henry who initiated, and Mr. Salter who carried through, the process of consulting G.C. on behalf of the to her unknown ‘Major Tennant’. The two had discussed the matter together; and the thought of Mrs. Coombe Tennant, and of the question of her survival and of the possibility of obtaining evidence for it through G.C., must have been exercising their minds and focussing their attention. We might suppose that this would serve to establish some kind of telepathic ‘rapport’ between a certain sub-conscious layer of G.C.‘s mind, on the one hand, and the memory-traces of W.H.S. and/or of Henry concerning Mrs. Coombe Tennant, on the other. And we might suppose that this telepathic ‘rapport’ was activated, and that actual telepathic ‘leakage’ of relevant data took place, on each occasion when G.C. held a sitting with the thought of W.H.S. and his client ‘Major Tennant’ explicitly before her mind. In this connexion it is worth noting that both Mrs. and Mr. Salter had been devoting a great deal of thought and discussion to the question of the possible publication of the Willett scripts concerned with A.J.B.‘s love-affair with Mary Lyttelton, for a long time before the appearance in February, 1960 of Jean Balfour’s paper ‘The “Palm Sunday” Case’, which first revealed the whole story to readers of the S.P.R. Proceedings.
If we are prepared to swallow the possibility of clairvoyance, in addition to telepathy, we might suppose further, that the telepathic ‘rapport’ between G.C., on the one hand, and W.H.S. and Henry, on the other, in some way focussed G.C.‘s clairvoyant attention on certain printed records containing details relevant to Mrs. Coombe Tennant which were outside their own range of knowledge or belief.
I think it is true to say that there is very little independent evidence for telepathy between persons still in the flesh on anything like the scale that would be required to explain the present case. And I am quite sure that there is practically no independent evidence for clairvoyant access to the contents of printed records by persons still in the flesh. But, even if we could safely take such telepathy and such clairvoyance as independently established possibilities, we should not be at the end of our difficulties.
We should still have to explain how the information, obtained telepathically from those still in the flesh or clairvoyantly from existing records, issues in a dramatic form so characteristic of a certain deceased person, whom the automatist has never met. For that purpose it would be necessary to ascribe to some subconscious level of the automatist the literary gifts of a novelist or a playwright. But that would not be sufficient. It would be necessary also to ascribe to some subconscious level of one or more persons still in the flesh, who had known the ostensible communicator, the power of telepathically influencing the automatist’s subconscious creative gift so as to imitate the style of the particular deceased person in question. There is, undoubtedly, some independent evidence for the existence, in some few persons, of remarkable creative and dramatizing powers, which reveal themselves only when their possessor is in a dissociated state. (Cf. e.g., the achievements of ‘Miss Helène Smith’, described in Professor Flournoy’s famous book: Des Indes au planète Mars.) But, so far as I am aware, there is little or no independent evidence for the existence, in ordinary persons alive in the flesh, of the power of subconsciously and telepathically directing the exercise of those gifts of creation and dramatization.
We may pass, then, to the third of the alternative possible types of explanation enumerated above, viz., that an essential factor in the case is the intervention of some person or persons not at present alive in the flesh. Obviously much the simplest and most plausible hypothesis prima facie is that Mrs. Coombe Tennant, or some part or some aspect of her, survived the death of her body on August 31, 1956; that she was still actively in existence at least as late as March 6, 1960 and that during that period she from time to time controlled, directly or indirectly, the pen of the automatist G.C. On the other hand, it seems to most contemporary Westerners antecedently improbable, to the point of practical inconceivability, that a person should continue to exist and to function after the death and disintegration of his earthly body, with its brain and nervous system. It is only because of this that so many of the few who are aware of the kind of facts of which the present case is such a striking instance, and who are prepared honestly to face them, have recourse to the fantastic hypothesis, involving telepathy and clairvoyance on the part of those still in the flesh, which I have described in discussing the second alternative type of explanation.
I have discussed elsewhere, to the best of my ability, this very real dilemma, and I can only refer any reader who may be interested in my views to the relevant sections of my book Lectures on Psychical Research.
Suppose that one is willing to contemplate seriously the possibility that Mrs. Coombe Tennant may have survived bodily death, and that the scripts may in fact emanate from her. On that hypothesis, they come from someone who might reasonably be expected, in view of her experiences on earth as ‘Mrs. Willett’, to ‘know the ropes’ very much better than the average surviving spirit, in regard to communicating through a medium. On the same hypothesis, we can regard the untestable parts of the content of the scripts as ‘travellers’ tales’. I will conclude with a few remarks about them, viewed tentatively in that light. I will consider in turn: (1) Statements about a person’s experiences at the point of death and immediately afterwards; and (2) Statements about conditions in the afterlife.
(1) Since we shall all die, and since some at least of us may possibly survive bodily death, it is of some interest to have what purports to be first-hand information about what to expect on that occasion. We have accounts in the scripts of two very different kinds of death, viz., that of Mrs. Coombe Tennant herself in very old age and after a long period of bodily weakness, and that of Helen Salter, who died suddenly in her sleep when still active and vigorous in body and mind.
In the very special circumstances of the latter, it is claimed that the spirits of Helen S.‘s parents actively and deliberately intervened. The communicator W. describes the scene, which she claims to have witnessed, and an ostensibly independent account is given by an ‘intruding’ communicator, who claims to have been one of the two main actors in it, and who is described in a way which obviously and strikingly fits Helen S.‘s father, A.W.V., when alive in the flesh.
In both cases it is claimed that death is followed by a longish dream-like period of rest and recuperation, under the supervision of near relatives of the deceased. An essential feature of this is alleged to be a vivid hallucinatory re-living of the whole course of one’s earthly life. It may be remarked that this agrees, so far as it goes, with statements made by Swedenborg, on the alleged basis of his own personal observation as a ‘visitor’ to the next world. But it should be added that Swedenborg insists on the largely delusive character of the ostensible reunions with relatives and friends, which play so important a part at this early stage.
(2) As to statements contained in the scripts about conditions in the afterlife, I will make only the following comments:
(i) I find W.‘s statements in Script 19, about her devastatingly disappointing meeting with Daphne, very moving and very true to what might reasonably be expected to happen if people survive bodily death. Daphne’s earthly life had lasted only a little more than eighteen months. On the hypothesis which we are now making, she had been in the afterlife for some forty-eight years of our time when her mother passed over to it. Those eighteen months, and their tragic ending, had been an outstanding and almost obsessive emotional experience in the life of the mother. But the daughter must presumably have gone through some process analogous to ‘growing-up’, and must have acquired her own interests and formed her own affections. In all this her memories of her eighteen months of infancy on earth, and of her relationship to her mother, might be expected to play a negligibly small part. The unreasonable expectations of the mother, the chilly reactions of the daughter, and the consequent feeling of emotional frustration, are, it seems to me, precisely what an impartial observer might have foreseen.
(ii) If there be an after-world, the scripts must present an extremely narrow and peculiar corner of it. All the persons whom we meet in them are particularly cultured and intelligent members of the English upper or upper-middle classes, whose earthly lives were lived in a certain brief period of English history. It is platitudinous, but not superfluous, to point out that most human beings are not Victorian English ladies and gentlemen, and that a good many of them are savages. Even if we quite arbitrarily confine our attention to our contemporary fellow-countrymen, we must remember that a certain proportion of them are actual or potential criminals; that a much larger proportion are feeble-minded or neurotic or downright crazy; and that the vast majority of the rest are more or less amiable nit-wits, with no intellectual or cultural interests whatever. If all or most human beings survive the death of their bodies, there must presumably be, among the many mansions of their Father’s house, places prepared for such as these. And they must be very unlike those gentlemanly and academic English apartments to which alone the scripts introduce us.
(iii) Closely connected with this is the fact that so little pain and unhappiness, and so little passive selfishness, active cruelty, and sheer incompatibility of temperament, are depicted in the scripts. These play a very large part in our earthly life, and it seems to me quite incredible that the mere incident of dying and surviving bodily death should automatically cure them. Indeed, survival might be expected often to re-open emotional wounds which had been temporarily healed by the death of one or more of the parties concerned. It is fair to say that there is, in Script 6, a glimpse of these less cheerful aspects of life, in the account of the sufferings which Leo Myers has brought on himself, of his hostile and reproachful reception of his mother Eveleen, of the latter’s sorrowful realization of the evils which her possessiveness has wrought on one whom she loved, and of her resolute attempts to make amends. So far, so bad; but I should suspect that even if there should be no predominantly evil non-human inhabitants of the astral world, enough of those human beings who have made hells on earth would be likely, if they survive, to make new hells in the afterlife. In all this, it seems to me, Swedenborg’s account is much more plausible than the somewhat rose-tinted picture painted in the scripts.
With these comments I invite readers to study carefully for themselves the scripts and the notes on them, and to draw their own conclusions as to what is, rather literally, a ‘question of life or death.’
Publisher: White Crow Books
Published May 2013
Size: 229 x 152 mm