THE chief reason why I founded the National Laboratory was to interest the universities in psychical research. Owing to the great success that attended our work, I found this easy to accomplish - unofficially. In something under ten years my colleagues and I turned psychical research into a living thing and transformed it into a science. By doing so, the status of psychical research was raised all over the world, in proof of which can be cited the work at such seats of learning as Bonn, Utrecht, Leiden, Duke and others. That these universities were stimulated to investigate psychic matters by the success of the British National Laboratory is beyond question. Some universities even sent representatives to examine our installation and study our technique, and in this connection can be mentioned the visits to me of Dr. David Efron on behalf of Buenos Aires University, Madame E. Lebedeff-Pavlovitch, from the University of Belgrade, Dr. Tenhaeff, from Utrecht University; and the universities of Bonn, Göttingen, and Breslau also sent representatives.
It will probably surprise the reader to learn that the entire work of the National Laboratory (administration, search for mediums, séances, lectures, publishing, experiments abroad, etc.) was carried on by me with the help of a staff of one - my secretary. Of course, we received valuable assistance from members, and the council helped us considerably in a consultative capacity. By the autumn of 1930 I thought I would take a long rest from active psychical research, and decided to offer the laboratory equipment, library and 'goodwill' to the University of London if that body would establish a Department for the study of supranormal phenomena (especially abnormal psychology). The history of this offer and a subsequent proposal is related in these pages because, being of considerable historical interest, both academically and from the point of view of psychical research, it is important that a full account of the negotiations should be put on record.
It was considered that the best avenue of approach to the University would be through the Board of Studies in Psychology; and as Professor J. C. Flugel was a member of this Board, and was also a member of the National Laboratory's London research group, I
asked this gentleman to make some tentative inquiries as to the possibility of the University accepting my proposal and gift. Apparently the time was not then ripe for the University to consider the idea, and nothing came of the proposal. It is only fair to add that I did not make a detailed or concrete offer to the University, which was probably the reason why no further steps were taken in the matter. As the reader knows, at the end of 1930 I reorganised the Laboratory and took a lease of larger and more suitable premises at 13 Roland Gardens. These years of active research work were marked by increased interest in psychical research, especially in scientific circles, and in the spring of 1933 the question again arose as to what would be the future of the Laboratory when the Roland Gardens lease expired.
Still in need of that rest which my health demanded, I decided to make another and more serious attempt at turning psychical research into an official science, and mentioned to Dr. C. E. M. Joad that I would again offer my laboratory, research library, and records (together with a certain sum of money) to the University of London if that body would establish a Department of Psychical Research. Like Professor Flugel, Dr. Joad is a member of those Boards of Studies most concerned with abnormal phenomena, and he said he would bring the new offer to the notice of the relevant authority at the University. All those interested in the future of psychical research owe both Professor Flugel and Dr. Joad a debt of gratitude for their untiring efforts in furthering the scheme to transform it into an official science.
In order that Dr. Joad could have a definite proposal to place before the Senate, I wrote to him and stated that I was prepared to offer the University: (a) My research library, complete with bookcases, pamphlet cabinets, card catalogues and printed catalogues, and the records of the organisation; (b) the research equipment, apparatus, and furniture pertaining to the Laboratory; (c) all important new works relating to psychical research, as issued; and all periodical publications to keep existing files up to date; (d) £500 per annum to finance research work, a similar sum to be paid in perpetuity after my death. The value of the proposed gift, including the laboratory equipment, library, etc., and the Endowment Fund necessary to produce an income of £500 per annum for research work, was about £30,000, a sum that was then available from various sources. I stressed the point that I did not seek co-operation with the University, but that I would assist the proposed new Department in any way, if requested to do so.
Dr. Joad submitted the above offer to the Senate of the University,
who considered it and referred the matter to the Faculty of Science. More information was called for, and Dr. Joad prepared a brief account of the history and work of the National Laboratory.
After giving details of the history and work of the National Laboratory (which have been outlined in the last chapter), Dr. Joad's report continued: 'The Laboratory was founded primarily in order that the claims of alleged mediums might be scientifically tested in the hope of making a definite contribution to the knowledge of abnormal or supranormal phenomena. It was thought that an open-minded attitude which, while subscribing to no preconceived hypothesis as to the causation of psychical phenomena, was prepared to investigate them on their merits by whatever method seemed most appropriate, might yield fruitful results in a sphere of inquiry which, in the past, had been chiefly remarkable for the exploitation of uncritical belief by imperfectly concealed charlatanry.
'The results have, on the whole, justified these expectations. During the last ten years nearly every physical and mental medium, who has made any claim to the production of abnormal psychical phenomena, has been tested at the National Laboratory; and, although the majority of tests have yielded negative results, while others have demonstrated the claim to be fraudulent, a sufficient body of evidence has been collected to render further research into the nature of these phenomena, including the exploration of the whole of the ambiguous territory in which they occur, highly desirable in the interests both of psychology and of physical science. The present state of the subject may be briefly described by the statement that the occurrence of phenomena of whose causation we are ignorant has been clearly established. In the circumstances, the further investigation of these phenomena is in the nature of a scientific duty, and, it is submitted, one whose discharge might be not inappropriately regarded as falling within the province of a University Department.
'The suggestion has, accordingly, been made that the University might be willing to consider taking over the library and apparatus which are at present housed at the Laboratory, with a view to assuming responsibility for the continuance of its work. The nature of the arrangements which, if the suggestion were adopted, should be made for carrying on the work and the position which it would occupy in the University system-whether, for example, it would be possible to establish a Department of Psychical Research-would be matters for the University to determine.'
When the Faculty of Science had received the information concerning the history and work of the Laboratory, they reported, in
due course, to the Academic Council. This Council then referred the whole matter to the various Boards of Studies which were most concerned in the proposed new Department. These Boards included Psychology, Physiology, and Medicine. The Board of Studies in Psychology was particularly interested in psychical research and, after considering the matter, appointed a committee to examine my proposal and draw up a report. This they did and prepared the following:
'The Committee is unanimously agreed that, with certain restrictions, the abnormal phenomena, physical, mental and pathological hitherto included under the term "psychical research" form a suitable subject for post-graduate research. The object of such research is, of course, not (as is popularly supposed) to show the existence of supernormal psychic powers, but to ascertain, by exact experimental methods, how far phenomena, apparently abnormal, for which there is already a primâ facie case, can be brought in line with normal phenomena, and how far there is a residuum of well-established fact which may call for a revision of prevailing views. Time after time, in every branch of science-physics, chemistry, medicine, as well as psychology - phenomena which were at first dismissed(1) as incredible and unworthy of serious attention have subsequently been accepted, and have either proved explicable by a slight extension of existing hypotheses, or else led to a revolution in those hypotheses themselves (e.g., the transmutation of metals, the earliest facts of electro-magnetism, aerial flight, wireless communication, phrenology, character-reading, relativity, etc., etc.).
'With methods, such as those adopted at the National Laboratory of Psychical Research, it has seemed possible to detect and eliminate such influences as deliberate or unconscious trickery; but, even if certain of the phenomena are due to fraud, hysterical states, mass-suggestibility, and the like, such conditions are themselves proper subjects for psychological inquiry. It may be added that, under different terms and in what seems to be the appropriate context, the many miscellaneous problems of "psychical research" are already regularly referred to in psychological text-books and lectures; and recently they have been officially accepted for experimental study by certain universities, some of which have founded separate Departments to deal with them (e.g. at Leiden, Utrecht, Duke, Leland Stanford, and elsewhere)(2); while in this country psychologists, physicists, and pathologists of the highest academic standing have devoted their attention to such inquiries.
1. See my remarks about the French Academy, p. 305. H. P.
2. And now at Cambridge. H. P.
'The restrictions that the Committee feel to be desirable would be chiefly such as would ensure that the researches should be carried out on strict scientific lines by persons suitably qualified both scientifically and otherwise. With adequate safeguards they feel it would be possible to avoid undesirable forms of publicity, and to remove the subject from that atmosphere of prejudice and sensationalism which has tended to obscure this, and, indeed, almost every branch of science, when its novel advances happen to strike the popular imagination. It is suggested, for example, that in any public announcements made by the University it might be well, so far as possible, to avoid the use of terms which, owing to their past association, might lend themselves to undesirable interpretations, or which might imply any premature hypotheses as to the way in which the phenomena are to be explained.
'In arriving at their decision the Committee recall the fact that in the past certain phenomena, such as those of hypnotism, multiple-personality, and automatic writing, which were at one time thought to be outside the sphere of science, have been progressively brought within its scope, largely owing to the investigations of those engaged in so-called psychical research; and that the result of these inquiries has resulted in a valuable extension of knowledge in the field of abnormal psychology. Accordingly, the Committee are strongly of opinion that it would be a mistake to reject the present opportunity of furthering genuinely scientific research in the directions indicated in the "Proposal."
'With regard to this "Proposal," the Committee desires to submit the following more detailed recommendations:
of any part of the library which upon examination may appear to have little scientific or historical value.
'2. That it accept the offer to keep the library up to date.
'3. That it accept the offer of research equipment and apparatus.
'4. That it accept the offer of an endowment fund of £500 a year, with the proviso that if, after due trial, it should appear that research on the problems indicated is not likely to add to scientific knowledge, the endowment may be used for the furtherance of research in some other subject. The Committee understand that Mr. Price is agreeable to such proviso, and he would, of course, be consulted as to any change in the allocation of the endowment, if proposed in his lifetime.
'5. That the proposed research work, since it impinges on the
The above Report was submitted to the Board of Studies in Psychology at a meeting held on Wednesday, November 29, 1933, and passed with slight alterations. When I was handed the Report,I agreed to each recommendation except Nos. 1 and 4. I could not consent to my library being partly dispersed, and I could not agree to the proposal that if it were found that no useful purpose could be served by continuing the experiments, the Endowment Fund formed by me should be devoted to research in some other subject. I made the suggestion that the University might make a trial of the proposed new Department for, say, five years.
On December 6, 1933, the Report of the Committee appointed
by the Board of Studies in Psychology (together with my amendments) was submitted to a full meeting of all the Boards concerned. The Report was considered and passed unanimously, together with my amendments, except by the Board of Studies in Physiology. After discussion, this Board agreed to submit an independent Report to the Academic Council, together with the original Report. The two Reports had to be returned to the Academic Council by December 14, 1933. The Board of Studies in Physiology had requested further information as to what was meant by 'psychical research,' so Dr. Joad drew up and submitted to the Board a memorandum in which he outlined psychical research, the field, its problems, and its subject-matter. He said:
'With both mental and physical mediums certain physiological changes take place, such as hyperpnoea or rapid breathing (in the case of the Schneider brothers as many as 240 breaths a minute were registered); a rise in body temperature, or a fall in body temperature, and other varied conditions of the trance state. Other physiological or physical changes which have been noted by observers (Professor Winther of Copenhagen, Dr. R. J. Tillyard, F.R.S., Professor Karl Gruber of Munich, Harry Price, etc.) are cool breezes felt during a séance, a feeling of coldness during a séance, and the actual drop in temperature in the immediate vicinity of a medium during trance...'
Amongst questions to be investigated, Dr. Joad suggested, were that a preliminary observation should be made on the relation between psychical research and spiritualism; the necessity of establishing the existence of genuine phenomena; the nature of the
1. All these terms are fully explained in Fifty Years of Psychical Research, op. cit.
precautions to be observed in order to guard against fraud; whether a red light is necessary at séances; whether mediums could be 'suggested' or hypnotised into the belief that there is no reason why they should not produce phenomena in ordinary daylight; the best conditions for the occurrence of phenomena; the nature of the condition known as 'mediumship'; how the mediumistic trance can be defined; whether the medium can be regarded 'as one whose unconscious is unusually near the surface of consciousness, or as one in whom the threshold between consciousness and the unconscious is crossed with more than usual ease and frequency'; whether physiology and/or psychology can throw any light upon the phenomena of teleplasm (or ectoplasm); and what light, if any, is thrown on the mind-body problem; what accounts can be given of the movements of pieces of matter at a distance from the medium (telekinesis); what grounds there are for regarding many abnormal psychical phenomena as special cases of that direct action of mind upon matter which, on a dualistic theory, is evidenced in the normal but totally unexplained occurrences of gestation, organic growth, and food assimilation in digestion.
After the Boards had submitted their Reports to the Academic Council, my proposal was considered by the Senate. In an interview on January 3rd, 1934, Dr. Edwin Deller (the late Sir Edwin Deller), the Principal of the University, informed Dr. Joad that my offer had been 'accepted in principle,' but that a number of difficulties had arisen, such as the question of housing the laboratory and library, the secretaryship, etc. On January 5, 1934, Dr. Deller wrote me asking for an appointment and said that 'matters have advanced a little more now.' On the following Monday (January 8) I met Dr. Deller and Mr. S. J. Worsley, the Academic Registrar, and discussed the whole question of the proposal and offer. I was again informed that my offer had been 'accepted in principle,' and that the University was considering ways and means. The chief difficulty appeared to be the question of housing the laboratory and library, and I was informed that the suggestion had been made that the University should carry on research work at the rooms of the National Laboratory in Roland Gardens until accommodation could be found at one of the Colleges belonging to the University. I agreed. The question of the Secretaryship of the proposed new Department (or rather sub-Department of the Board of Studies in Psychology) was mentioned, together with various other matters connected with the offer. Dr. Deller informed me that although the Senate was willing to establish the new Department, the proposal would have to be considered by the Court (the body dealing with
the finances of the University), the authority that had to settle ways and means.
On January 29, 1934, Mr. Worsley informed me by telephone that my proposal had again been considered by the Senate; that the offer had been 'accepted in principle,' but that the question of housing the gift had not been settled. I informed Mr. Worsley that if it would help matters, I would, in addition to my original offer, pay the rent of the Roland Gardens premises for one year, during which period the University might be able to find suitable accommodation for the laboratory and research library in one of its Colleges. Mr. Worsley promised to report this additional offer to the relevant authority.
A fortnight later I received the University's considered opinion as to their ability to accept my offer. I reproduce the letter in extenso:
(1) is reached with regret and I can assure you that your offer and the generous terms with which it was accompanied have been most highly appreciated.
(Signed) ` EDWIN DELLER.'
1. I understand that the motion was lost by only one vote.
Although, as is clear from above letter, the Court was unable to recommend the acceptance of my offer on account of its inability to find the necessary accommodation, it was gratifying to learn that both the Senate and Court were sympathetically inclined towards my proposals, and towards psychical research. In further correspondence, Dr. Deller and I again discussed the possibility of establishing the proposed new Department in our Roland Gardens premises, as it would at least solve the housing problem. But there still remained the question of who was to manage the Department. In his last letter to me (March 16, I934), Dr. Deller thought we had better let the matter rest for a time.
All this occurred eight years ago. I think that, had it not been for the present War, a Department of Parapsychology would have been established at the University by now. Undoubtedly, in 1934, there was little room for such a Department; and although the University buildings are not nearly completed, there is now more space available. Also, since 1934, our laboratory equipment has been transferred to the Psychological Laboratory at University College, and my library has been formally installed within the precincts of the University.
However, it was thought expedient to keep in touch with the authorities, and to this end those who had taken an active part in the negotiations (or who were personally interested) decided to form themselves into a council in order to continue the research work of the old National Laboratory - hoping that the time was not too far distant when the proposed new Department would be a fait accompli. We met one evening at a West End restaurant and over dinner discussed the proposal. We thought it good. And that is how the University of London Council for Psychical Investigation came into being. We met more formally on June 6, 1934, and elected a number of distinguished savants and others to represent us abroad. The original members of the University Council included Dr. C. E. M. Joad (Chairman), the late Dr. E. D. Macnamara, the late Professor F. A. P. Aveling, Professor Cyril Burt, Professor J. C. Flugel, Professor J. MacMurray, Professor C. A. Pannett, the Rev. Professor E. S. Waterhouse, Dr. G. Burniston Brown, Dr. C. A. Mace, and Mr. S.G. Soal. Mr. James S. Jones was appointed Honorary Solicitor; Miss Ethel Beenham, my former secretary, filled a similar post in the new organisation; and I became Honorary Secretary and Editor. The new Council was representative of the various fields of science, though the psychologists and philosophers predominated. Everyone connected with the Council was keenly interested in psychical research.
Some interesting work has been done by the University Council. It started an inquiry into dowsing or water divining, and in December, 1934, it held an exhibition of 500 rare books from mylibrary of magical literature. (1) It has also examined a number of mediums. But I think that the most valuable work that has been done under the aegis of the University Council was the solving of the fire-walk mystery. With the two professional fire-walkers, Kuda Bux and Ahmed Hussain, I arranged a whole series of experiments which were as spectacular as they were valuable. We completely elucidated the mystery and proved that a normal person with the requisite confidence could walk on a fire of 800° Centigrade, and not get burnt. I will give some particulars in a later chapter.
The publications issued by the Council include the catalogue(2) of the rare book exhibition, a Supplement (3) to the Short-Title Catalogue of my library, the reports (4) of our experiments with the fire-walkers, and a monograph (5) on 'Marion,' the hyperæsthete and vaudeville 'telepathist.'
A function of special interest to me personally was the presentation of an illuminated address that was given to me at a dinner in my honour held at the Hotel Splendide, Piccadilly, on January 22, 1937. At this dinner,(6) arranged by the University Council, were many distinguished scientists and others, Dr. C. E. M. Joad presiding. The address, enclosed within a panel of coloured vignettes (representing our fire-walking experiments, my testing for the Listener and the B.B.C. of a version of the Indian Rope Trick, pictures of our séance-room and laboratory, names of those mediums we had investigated, etc.) read: 'Presented to Harry Price, Esq., by the University of London Council for Psychical Investigation, as a mark of its appreciation of his services to Psychical Research, and especially of the work which he has done during the past thirteen years at the Laboratory which he founded in 1923 for the scientific investigation of alleged abnormal phenomena under the title of the National Laboratory of Psychical Research. The Laboratory passed under the direction of the Council on June 6th, 1934, the Library and Records being transferred by gift to the University of London in November, 1936.'
The point of special interest I want to mention is the letter that I received from Professor Cyril Burt and which the Chairman read
1. See The Times, Dec.6 and 8, 1934.
2. Issued in December, 1934.
3. Bulletin I, 1935.
4. Bulletin II, 1936, and Bulletin IV, 1938.
5. Bulletin III, 1937.
6. For an account of which, see The Times, January 23, 1937.
at the dinner. Dr. Burt was unable to be present in person, but he wished it to be known that certain students at London University were taking more than an academic interest in psychical research. Here is Dr. Burt's letter:
As the year 1936 drew to its close, the question arose as to what we should do with the library and laboratory equipment when the lease of our Roland Gardens premises terminated in the following March. I had again been in communication with Sir Edwin Deller, but his tragic death on November 30, 1936, cut short the negotiations. However, I decided to approach the University from a different angle and, to this end, suggested to Mr. Reginald A. Rye, Goldsmiths' Librarian of the University of London`, that the University
might like to house my library in order that it could be made available to students. Mr. Rye (to whom I am grateful for his assistance in this matter) was deeply interested in the proposal, and at once placed my offer before the Library Committee, which, in due course, reported to the Senate. Both the Senate and Court were unanimously in favour of accepting the library and this was transferred to the University at the end of 1936. A formal letter of thanks was sent to me by Lord Macmillan, Chairman of the Court, on behalf of the University. The library then consisted of some 15,000 volumes and pamphlets on psychical research and the occult generally, and covers nearly five centuries. In addition to the books, etc., the collection included most of the bookcases, about 100 framed engravings and posters, the card catalogues, the printed catalogues, some library furniture, pamphlet cabinets, and our archives (including lantern slides, negatives, photographs, cine films, etc.). The collection is housed in the University under the title of the 'Harry Price Library of Magical Literature,' and a brief account of it is given in the University Library guide.(1)
Having satisfactorily arranged for the housing of my library, there still remained the question of what we were going to do with the séance-room and laboratory equipment. However, through the good offices of Professor Burt, Mr. S. J. Worsley, then Acting Principal, and Sir Allen Mawer, most of the apparatus and instruments were transferred, as I have stated, to University College, where they are now available. So, what was a major problem in 1933-1934 (as to where our library and equipment could be housed), was solved quite satisfactorily in 1937, in which year the University Council opened offices at 19 Berkeley Street, Mayfair, W.I, for administrative purposes.
The formal and official letter of thanks that I received when I transferred my library, etc., to the University was followed by a much less formal invitation to be the guest of the University of London at a dinner to be given in my honour at the Athenæum. This was held on Monday, July 5, 1937, and proved to be one of the jolliest - and most informal - functions I have ever attended. There were present: Lord Macmillan, Chairman of the Court, who presided; Sir Robert H. Pickard, F.R.S., Vice-Chancellor; Dr. Herbert L. Eason, Principal; Sir Allen Mawer, Provost of University College; Mr. A. Clow Ford, External Registrar; Mr. S. J. Worsley, Academic Registrar; Professor Dr. C. A. Pannett, St. Mary's Hospital; Dr. C. E.. M. Joad, and myself.
1. A Reader's Guide to the University Library, University of London, 1937. Printed catalogues of the collection are available.
I have been entertained royally on many occasions (notably in Denmark and Norway, where a dinner at which I was the principal guest lasted nearly five hours) but seldom have I had a better dinner than the one I enjoyed at the Athenæum. From the cantaloup to the café, and from the Forster 1929 to the Grande Fine 1865, it was superb. Lord Macmillan again thanked me for what I had done for the University, and in his speech related a most remarkable story of how a valued ring he had lost on a mountain in the Highlands was found by an old Scots woman (who occupied the cottage where Lord and Lady Macmillan were staying) who dreamt exactly where it was and recovered it for him, although previous to her dream she had never been to the place in her life. I hope he publishes a full account of his story some day. Lord Macmillan's tale of the ring led easily to a general conversation on psychic subjects and again the question of a Chair of Psychical Research was discussed informally. I left the Athenæum that evening with the impression - almost the conviction - that the realisation of my cherished ambition had been brought appreciably nearer. And that is how the matter rests at this book goes to press. But while I am waiting for some action to be taken, foreign universities are clamouring for my goodwill and interest in helping them to form official departments of psychical research, and in the next chapter I relate the history of my negotiations with the German Reich.
In the meantime, by the terms of my will the University is offered all my records, equipment, etc., in order that, after my death, research work can be continued either by an organised Department or by individual workers. A copy of the will has been deposited with the Court of the University.
But while London University is at present hesitating about an official Chair or Department of Psychical Research, other universities are suffering from no such qualms. For example, in 1940, Trinity College, Cambridge, established a Studentship in Psychical Research. This was made possible by a bequest left to the College by Mr. Frank Duerdin Perrott as a memorial to F.W.H. Myers. The value of the Studentship is £300 per annum.
Mr. Myers's daughter, Mrs. Silvia Blennerhassett, has also formed a Trust for the promotion of psychical research. This Trust has been accepted (1941) by New College, Oxford, subject to certain contingencies. My twenty-five years' fight for academic recognition is thus bearing fruit.
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