Immortal Longings: FWH Myers and the Victorian Search for Life After Death by Trevor Hamilton

May 31st, 2009 Posted in Parapsychology Organizations/Research


I came across so many interesting people while researching my book, more people than I could possibly research myself. Among them was Frederic W. H. Myers, from the Society of Psychical Research.  It always bothered me that I couldn’t spend more time looking into Myers, mostly because of his book with the tantalizing title, Human Personality and Its Survival of Bodily Death, which was published in 1903.

Like the 700 boxes of Parapsychology Lab archives at Duke University, I was sure investigating Myers and his work would be like getting to go through buried treasure. All that largely forgotten history, from someone who believed he found evidence of life after death—just what did he come up with?  

I know from my experience researching the Parapsychology Lab that just because most of us have never heard about his results doesn’t mean he didn’t come up with anything worth looking at, even if there are other ways of interpreting his findings today.

So I was excited to see this new biography by historian Trevor Hamilton.  Hamilton has done all the work, and now I can finally learn what Myers discovered.  I’ll also to be curious to see what Hamilton makes of it.  Did Myers’ insights leave clues that might be worth revisiting today?  The book can be purchased here.  (I skipped ahead to a couple of sections and what I read showed honesty, intelligence and compassion.)

(The picture of Myers was taken by his wife Eveleen.  I found it at the National Portrait Gallery, where the author is going to give a talk on June 18th.)

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  1. 5 Responses to “Immortal Longings: FWH Myers and the Victorian Search for Life After Death by Trevor Hamilton”

  2. By Greg on May 31, 2009

    Hi Stacy, I only have a minute, but I wanted to mention that there is an abridged version of The Survival of Personality After Bodily Death. (That’s what I have.)

    Aldous Huxley says in the introduction that Myers’s work with the “subliminal mind” is a better model than Freud’s.

    Interestingly, Myers ostensibly is supposed to have written posthumously. I have a copy of The Road to Immortality by the medium Geraldine Cummins with a foreword by Oliver Lodge. As you know Geraldine Cummins was a medium that the Society of Psychical Research a great deal and thought very highly of.

    So this is a case where we presumably may have the reflections of a brilliant Cambridge don for thirty years about parapsychological matters. And then a continuation of these reflections after he left the mortal coil. I find this all to be very provocative.

    I’m very glad a new book has come out about Myers. This is long overdue. And by the way, I just ordered your book today, and I am looking forward to receiving it.

    You know, I’m very pleased that you have written Unbelievable, because in my way of thinking the subject beginning with the Society of Psychical Research all the way through Ryan and beyond into areas like the near-death experience and the work being done in the psychology department at the University of Arizona gives us a hundred years of real research about the survival of death and the various psychic constituents of man that are not taken seriously by our institutions.

  3. By Greg on Jun 1, 2009

    My apologies to J. B. Rhine for misspelling his name and for my intoxicated sentence structure. This goes to prove that one should not try to dash off a post while simultaneously trying to run out the door.

    In William James’s On Psychical Research, compiled and edited by Gardner Murphy and Robert Ballou, there is some correspondence between Myers and James. (James took over the New York Society for Psychical Research upon the invitation of Myers.)

    And I found this quote that explains a little, I think, of why Myers got into psychical research as a classics scholar.
    “… Frederic W. H. Myers, devoted lover of Greek and Latin literature, who picked up a casual living as an inspector of schools, but actually gave his mature life to psychical research. As a yound man, overwhelmed, as many a sensitive soul was, by the scepticism engengered by the new world of impersonal science and of evolutionary biology, Myers struggled in long, earnest discussions with friends to find philosophical escape from a deadpan, meaningless universe, in which human personality was a momentary event devoid of all general significance. We need to know, said Myers, the answer to the central question: “is the universe friendly?””

    And in a letter from Myers to William James I think he confirmed your idea, Stacy, that the way they looked at it at that time was considerably different. Myers closed with this paragraph:

    “Mrs. Piper (a famous medium of the time) is all right — and the universe is all right — and people will soon pay up more money to the S. R. R. — and an eternity of happiness and glory awaits you — and I am sure Mrs. James would agree to much in this letter — and the dear spirits are hovering around us in the Summer Land. Yours always, W. F. H. Myers.”

    Incidentally, this book I’m quoting from, William James on Psychical Research, gives James’s view of such topics as clairvoyance, levitation, and the astral body. It’s a pretty good book as well.

  4. By Nancy Zingrone on Jun 10, 2009

    Great comment, Stacy. I haven’t read Hamilton’s book yet but have it on my list. The best “place”, though, to get a handle on how relevant Myers is for psychology and neuroscience today is Kelly et al’s Irreducible Mind from Rowman & Littlefield. It’s a tour de force that critiques modern psychology (and parapsychology) and uses Myers’ theory to illustrate a more productive way forward. I did the page production on contract for the authors on the hardback, and just finished doing the corrections for the paperback edition due out later this year. It’s big! 832 pages in total! It’s one of those books you have to read over and over to get all the good out of it! I’m still wandering through it. I’m really looking forward to Trevor’s book too! And wasn’t Eveleen Myers an amazing photographer, too!

  5. By Richard Tennant on Aug 23, 2009

    Thank you for pointing to Trevor Hamilton’s book about Myers. I’ve often tried to research Myers. However, there seems only a delicious tidbit of information here and there, but never a complete meal. The information Myers held, teleported into the conscious portions of my own reality via a paranormal process. My wife and I submitted written work to the SPR for review a number of years back which examined a few extraordinary synchronous Myers/Tennant(Eveleens maiden name. Also a familial relation of Myers and an instrument of Myer’s other worldly cross correspondence was Ms. Tennant/Ms. Willet). Myers works should be reintroduced and analyzed. The SPR and it’s American counterpart should publish everything available and bring Myers information into public domain.

  6. By Tom Ruffles on Oct 16, 2009

    Sorry for coming to this thread late, but I thought it worth mentioning, to add to Nancy’s mention of Irreducible Mind, that it contains a CD of Myers’ ‘Human Personality’. The unabridged text is also available as part of the Society for Psychical Research’s online library, along with other of the SPR’s publications going back to 1882. Details can be found on its website, http://www.spr.ac.uk.

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