Mediumship of Willi
and Rudi Schneider
III. BY LORD CHARLES HOPE.
Since the sittings here reported on there has been published Mr Harry Price's An Account of some further Experiments with Rudi Schneider, being a report on twenty-seven sittings held in the National Laboratory of Psychical Research from February to May 1932. Readers of the present report will probably be glad to have some comments on Mr Price's book.
The preface begins, "The Council of the National Laboratory of Psychical Research has pleasure in submitting to its Members . . ." It would appear, however, from a joint manifesto signed by most of the active members of Mr Price's Council, which was published in Light on 7 April 1933, and from a letter written the previous week by H. G. Bois, the acting President, that these members were ignorant of the charge of fraud to be made against Rudi, and therefore the responsibility for the whole report must rest solely upon Mr Price.
It must be clear to anyone reading the report that conflicting opinions are in evidence. On the one hand all the notes made during the sittings, both those where Mr Price was present and those from which he was absent, tend, without exception, to confirm the genuineness of the phenomena witnessed, such notes having all, I think, been dictated by Mr Price, whenever he was present, while the sitting was in progress. On the other hand all the comments, deductions and conclusions by which Mr Price supplements the actual notes are written in such a way as to throw the maximum of doubt on all the phenomena witnessed during this series of sittings. Readers of the report will ask themselves the reason for the divergence between the impressiveness of the phenomena as recorded in the notes, and the sweeping charge of fraud brought forward by Mr Price against the medium.
It is evidently Mr Price's own wish that attention should be concentrated on the particular section of the report in which Rudi is accused of fraud, if one may judge from the statements made by him in the popular press just before the publication of the report. I will therefore go straight to that section.
At the sitting of 28 April 1932 Rudi was controlled by Mr Price, Mrs De Gernon acting as second controller and, though this is not stated, as interpreter, Mr Price knowing little or no German.
The method of controlling Rudi during these sittings was the usual one: the medium and the controller sit facing each other, the controller holding the medium's hands with his own hands and clasping the medium's knees between his own knees. The second controller, whose chief function is to connect the medium with the chain of sitters, and who, like all the other sitters, also faces in the direction opposed to that of the medium, holds the latter's right wrist in his own hand. The medium's right hand is thus held by both controllers, his left one by the chief controller alone.
Frequently, sometimes for many consecutive minutes, the medium puts up his left hand, which continues to be held by the controller, and strokes the arm or leg of one of the controllers to "gather the force." From time to time, usually when a phenomenon is expected, "Olga" (the medium's trance personality) asks the sitters to hold tight. This request, though addressed to the sitters rather than the controller, naturally makes all present "hand-conscious," the controller as well as the sitters. The same reaction, in the case of careful sitters, follows the announcement or actual occurrence of a phenomenon.
In these conditions of control there took place during the sitting of 28 April 1932, the following series of events, which I abridge from p. 147 of Mr Price's report.
"10.41. Rudi squeezing controllers' hand [apparently a misprint for 'controller's hands'] very hard. . . .
10.44. [Various phenomena occurred.]
10.46. Olga tells us to hold tight — right curtain moving. ...
10.49. [Various phenomena occurred.]
10.50. The flashlight has suddenly gone
off — but a second flash has gone off immediately after
— evidently the
10.59. Olga says that the power is getting stronger. . . .
10.0. Olga tells us to hold tight.
11.1. Again we are told to hold tight."
There were, to quote Mr Price (p. 145), "three cameras in position. . . . All these cameras are exposed simultaneously if handkerchief is moved by normal or supernormal means" — that is, the cameras stood with lenses uncovered ready to record whatever the flashlights disclosed as soon as any movement of the handkerchief set off the flashlights. Mr Price reproduces certain photographs (Plates XVIII-XXI) stated by him to have been taken by the flashlight at 10.59. From these it appears that Rudi's left hand, which ought to have been held by Mr Price, was, during one of the two flashes, uncontrolled and behind the medium.
These photographs were, to continue Mr Price's narrative (p. 152), developed by him the following morning (29 April 1932) in Rudi's presence. "When I removed them from the fixing bath I saw immediately what had happened. When I confronted Rudi with the evidence, he did not know what to say.... I formally charged him with having freed his arm and suggested his having moved the handkerchief from the counterpoise himself. He made no reply. This conversation took place in the presence of Miss Beenham, the secretary."
Rudi denies that any charge was made, and in the conflict of evidence between Mr Price and him, Rudi's denial is supported by subsequent letters from Mr Price to him, which I have seen, the tone of these being hardly reconcilable with Mr Price's statement.
To the comments Mr Price makes and the conclusions he draws from these photographs I will return later. I now continue the narrative so as to gratify the reader's natural curiosity as to whether Mr Price's colleagues in this investigation formed the same opinion as he did from these photographs, when he communicated his discovery to them. The answer is that they formed no opinion, because Mr Price made no communication about the photographs to them, then or for many months later. Not even Mrs De Gernon, the sub-controller, was informed. Yet if the other sitters on 28 April had been shown these photographs soon after they were developed, and questioned as to what exactly they had observed at or about the time of the two flashes, some material fact helping to elucidate the episode might have been brought to light.
Two further sittings of the same series were held. It was obviously important that the persons present at those sittings should be specially warned to be on their guard in case a similar incident recurred; but no hint of any suspicious occurrence at an earlier sitting was given them, nor was any attempt made to take further photographs. Not even Captain Cochrane-Baillie, who had been present on 28 April and was the controller at the sitting of 3 May, was taken into Mr Price's confidence.
No hint was given to those who had financed the series of sittings then closing of any suspicious incident having recently occurred, and later in the summer, when Mr Price again sought financial support from some of us for a proposed further series of sittings to be held in the autumn of 1932, he omitted to mention the photographs in question. Later those of us who subscribed towards the cost of the publication of his report were not informed that in it any accusation of fraud was to be made against Rudi.
Most of the members of Mr Price's Council learnt for the first time of the charges to be brought in the report from a sensational newspaper article appearing ten months after the sitting.
Not that Mr Price was silent as to the result of these sittings. In several newspaper articles written by him between the close of these sittings and the publication of his report he wrote in eulogistic terms of Rudi and his phenomena. In the Empire News for 8 May 1932 he says, "For three years he has been under laboratory tests in England and France and has emerged unscathed from his very strenuous ordeals," and again in Light of 20 May 1932 he writes, "This is the third time he [Rudi] has been in England, and on each occasion he has added to his laurels. For three years Rudi has been subjected to the most stringent laboratory tests in England and France and has passed every one with flying colours." Other statements by Mr Price to the same effect, some written more recently, might be quoted.
In the autumn of 1932 Rudi returned to London for the sittings reported in the earlier part of this paper, sittings held quite independently of Mr Price. Early in 1933 I began putting together the records of those sittings, and towards the end of February Rudi went to Paris for a joint investigation by the Institut Métapsychique and the S.P.R.: in this also Mr Price had, of course, no part. Then and not till then did Mr Price spring his mine. The Sunday Dispatch of 5 March 1933 was his chosen vehicle for informing his colleagues and financial supporters of 1932, and simultaneously the uninformed public, that ten months earlier he had caught Rudi faking phenomena.
Mr Price cannot complain if in the circumstances stated above this belated "exposure" is received with reserve. The lapse of time prevents the recollections of the other sitters on 28 April 1932 being usefully invoked to confirm or refute Mr Price's version of what happened at it. This would be of little importance if Mr Price's case were of the kind which carried in itself instant conviction. It all depends on the photographic control installed by Mr Price, and unfortunately this proved to be defective at the very same moment that Mr Price's manual control was defective. The third camera, too, failed to record the incident. Mr Price informs us (p. 150) that the "plate in the overhead stereoscopic camera was fogged by the light of the flash striking the lenses."
This is unfortunate, as it would perhaps have enabled us to judge more accurately the position of the medium's free arm at the moment of the flash; in the existing photographs this is by no means clear. Instead, therefore, of a clear and unambiguous photographic record, we have, as Mr Price says (p. 150), "two photographs, the one superimposed on the other.' This is certainly true, but he goes on to make an assertion unwarranted by the photographs themselves, or any other evidence. "The first flash caught Rudi's left arm as it was held straight out behind him: the second flash ignited when the medium had got into position again."
It is essential to Mr Price's case that he should establish that things happened in that order. If it was the second flash which showed Rudi's arm free, then the suggestion that he moved the handkerchief with his free hand and arm, and in so doing set off the first flash, falls to the ground. The photographic experts whom I have consulted seem to be agreed that, where a plate has been subjected to double exposure, it is impossible to tell with certainty from the resulting negative which of the two images was taken first. When Rudi is in a trance, he is, it seems, very sensitive to white light and is apt to give a sudden convulsive movement when any such light shines upon him. In this case such a movement might easily have resulted in his tugging away his wrist from the controller's grasp.
Unfortunately, on that occasion, Mr Price, who, to quote his own words (p. 151), "really was not in a fit state to control," was acting as controller and his recollections, in the circumstances, can be of no value.
The internal evidence of the photographs being ambiguous, we must next consider what support Mr Price's view of the incident receives from the notes of the sitting, the material parts of which I have already quoted. It appears from these that at 10.41 Mr Price, as controller, was definitely holding the medium's hands, and that at 10.44, 10.46 and 10.49 he could hardly have helped knowing whether or not he was holding the medium, since at those times there were either phenomena or an injunction to hold tight. Nevertheless we are told that one minute later, at 10.50, the medium had got his hand out of Mr Price's control without Mr Price's knowledge, and had faked at least one phenomenon. By 10.59, or 11.0 at the latest, Mr Price must again have become "hand-conscious."
Altogether phenomena were reported as occurring on at least twenty occasions that evening, and Mr Price suggests they may all have been faked as, he alleges, that occurring at 10.50 was faked. What was Mr Price doing with his right hand while all this was happening? It must be remembered that the usual method of evading hand-control was not possible here, for there was nobody on Mr Price's right, and hence nobody whose hand could be mistaken for Rudi's. Are we to believe that twenty times during that evening alone Rudi freed his left hand from Mr Price's right hand without Mr Price knowing it, and that twenty times he succeeded in getting it back into Mr Price's hand, also without Mr Price's knowing it? Or that Mr Price for minutes together, even hours, was holding nothing in his right hand and making no effort to find Rudi's left wrist? I find either of these suppositions incredible in a man of anything like Mr Price's experience.
Again, are the distances such as to make Mr Price's accusation plausible? The chair of the medium (A) and the position of the table (B) on which was the handkerchief were as shown on this sketch: (To be added)
The distance between the table and the nearest point of the medium's chair is given on p. 192 of the report as 2 ft. 5 ins. The position of the medium's chair was in no way fixed, but from a subsequent examination of the room I am convinced that usually the distance was at least 2 ft. 10 ins.
In any case, however, two inches must be added for the distance the handkerchief was from the edge of the table. Rudi's legs and knees were at the time of the movement of the handkerchief in their normal position between the controller's legs: this is clear from the photographs. Only the upper part of his body, therefore, was capable of any appreciable movement. Rudi is rather below the average height. Could he, while his legs were immobilised, twist sufficiently round to enable his left hand to move an object at least 2 ft. 7f ins. from the right side of his chair? And all this is supposed to have been done without exciting the suspicions of either the principal or second controller!
It must be remembered, too, that some of the phenomena recorded as happening, both at the sitting of 28 April and at other sittings, must have occurred considerably further from the medium's chair than the handkerchief phenomenon could have been.
The suggestion made (p. 153) that at the sitting of 28 April the medium was not "in an abnormal state" (meaning, presumedly, a state of trance) need not be taken seriously, since Mr Price was evidently in an unusual state himself, being (p. 151) "thoroughly ill that evening and in agony with an abscess," and his powers of perception must have been at a low ebb. Moreover nothing unusual as regards the medium's state was recorded in the notes.
When (p. 155) Mr Price implies that Rudi could have faked the results obtained at the Institut Métapsychique in Paris, by freeing an arm, he can hardly expect to be taken seriously. The foolishness of such a suggestion will be obvious to anybody who reads Dr Osty's report Les Pouvoirs inconnus de l'Esprit sur la Matière, or even Mr Besterman's summary of it in Proceedings S.P.R., xl. 433 ff. To mention only one objection out of many, Mr Price does not even allude to the clamped gauze screen, 5 ft. 6 ins. in height, which separated the medium from the infra-red apparatus at many successful sittings.
My own experience of Rudi's phenomena is entirely in favour of their genuineness, but I realise that anyone whose experience may be of a contrary kind is entitled to say so, provided he states his case fairly and bases it on evidence that will bear scrutiny. Before, however, Mr Price brought his accusation, no serious or detailed charge of fraud had been brought against Rudi personally. He has never been one of these mediums who are only willing to sit for particular patrons of their own selection, and his readiness to accept any condition and submit to any experiment ought to make his sitters particularly careful as to the evidence on which they base a charge of fraud and to the manner in which they present their case. I submit that neither the evidence Mr Price adduces nor his method of presentation is such as to make his charges count for anything against a medium with Rudi's record.
What does emerge damaged from Mr Price's report is his own reputation as controller, conductor of investigations and critic. Mr Price asks us to consider how much of Rudi's phenomena, produced in different series of sittings, can, after this "exposure," still be considered genuine. I am quite prepared to face that problem, but what exercises me, and perhaps other readers of the report, still more, is what weight is now to be attached to any report, whether positive or negative in its conclusions, or any phenomena, produced under Mr Price's direction or control or recorded by him?
ADDENDUM BY THEODORE BESTERMAN.
As I may not have any other opportunity of expressing my views in public, I desire here to say in the clearest terms that I cordially agree with the criticisms of Mr Price's "exposure" of Rudi Schneider made above by Lord Charles Hope, in the Revue Métapsychique (March-April 1933, pp. 110 if.) by Dr Osty, and in Bulletin XX of the Boston S.P.R. (pp. 86 ff). by Dr Prince. Quite apart from other and important considerations, Mr Price's report appears to me to be in itself quite worthless as an exposure. It can have no effect on Rudi Schneider's standing.
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