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MESSAGES FROM BEYOND THE GRAVE
SIR OLIVER LODGE is one of the most distinguished men of learning in our day. He is also one of the oldest, most active and most prominent members of that well-known Society for Psychical Research which, founded in 1882, has ever since striven to study with irreproachable scientific precision all the wonderful, inexplicable, occult and supernatural phenomena which have always baffled and still elude the comprehension of mankind. In addition to his purely scientific works, of which, not being qualified to judge, I do not speak, he is the author of some extremely remarkable books, such as Man and the Universe, The Ether of Space and The Survival of Man, in which the loftiest and most daring metaphysical speculations are constantly controlled by the most prudent, wise and steadfast common sense. Sir Oliver Lodge, therefore, is at the same time a philosopher and a practical, working scientist, accustomed to scientific methods which do not readily allow him to go astray; he has, in a word, one of the best-balanced brains that we could hope to meet; and he is convinced that the dead do not die and that they are able to communicate with us. He has tried to make us share his conviction in The Survival of Man. I am not sure that he has quite succeeded. True, he gives us a certain number of extraordinary facts, but they are facts which, in the last resort, can be explained by the unconscious intervention of intelligences other than those of the dead. He does not bring us the irrefutable proof, such as we should consider, for instance, the revelation of an incident, a detail, a piece of information so absolutely unknown to any living creature that it could come only from a spirit no longer of this world. We must admit, however, that such a proof is, as he says, as difficult to conceive as to provide.
Sir Oliver's youngest son, Raymond, was born in 1889, became an engineer and enlisted for the duration of the war in September, 1914. He was sent out to Flanders early in the spring of 1915; and, on the 14th of September of the same year, before Ypres, while the company under his command was leaving the frontline trench, he was hit in the left side by a splinter of a shell; and he died a few hours later.
He was, as a photograph shows us, one of those admirable young British soldiers who are the perfect type of a robust, fresh, joyous humanity, clean and bright, and whose death seems the more cruel and the more incredible as it annihilates a greater aggregate of strength, hope and beauty.
His father has dedicated to his memory a volume entitled, Raymond, or Life and Death; and we are at first somewhat bewildered at seeing that it is not, as one might expect, a book of lamentation, regrets and tears, but the accurate, deliberately impassive and at times almost cheerful report of a man of learning who thrusts aside his sorrow so that he may see clearly before him, wrestles with the thought of death and beholds the rising dawn of an immense and very strange hope.
I will not linger over the first part of the volume, which aims at making us acquainted with Raymond Lodge. It contains some forty letters written in the trenches, the testimony of his brother-officers' devotion to him, details of his death and so on. The letters, I may say in passing, are charmingly vivid and marked by a delicate and delightful humour whose only object is to reassure those who are not themselves in danger. I have not time to dwell upon them; and they are not what most interests us here.
But the second part, which Sir Oliver Lodge calls Supernormal Portion, passes from the life that exists on the surface of our earth and introduces us into a very different world.
In the very first lines, the author reminds us that he has "made no secret of his conviction, not merely that personality persists, but that its continued existence is more entwined with the life of every day than has been generally imagined; that there is no real breach of continuity between the dead and the living; and that methods of intercommunion across what has seemed to be a gulf can be set going in response to the urgent demand of affection; that in fact, as Diotima told Socrates (Symposium, 202 and 203), 'Love bridges the Chasm.' "
Sir Oliver Lodge, then, is persuaded that his son, though dead, has not ceased to exist and that he has not gone far from those who love him. Raymond, in fact, seeks to communicate with his father as early as eleven days after his death. We know that these communications or so-called communications from beyond the grave -- let us not prejudge the issue for the moment -- are made through the agency of a medium who is or believes himself to be inspired or possessed by the deceased or by a familiar spirit speaking in his name and repeating what the latter reveals to him. The medium conveys his information either orally or by automatic writing, or again, although this is very rare in the present instance, by table-turning. But I will pass over these preliminaries, which would carry us too far, and come straight to the communication which is, I think, the most astonishing of all and perhaps the only one that cannot be explained, or at least is exceedingly difficult to explain, by the intervention of the living.
About the end of August, 1915, that is to say, not many days before his death, Raymond, who, as we have seen, was near Ypres, had been photographed with the officers of his battalion by a travelling photographer. On the 27th of September following, in the course of a sitting with the medium Peters, the spirit speaking by Peters' mouth said, suddenly:
"You have several portraits of this boy. Before he went away you had a good portrait of him -- two, no, three. Two where he is alone and one where he is in a group of other men. He is particular that I should tell you of this. In one you see his walking-stick."
Now at that time the members of Sir Oliver Lodge's family did not know of the existence of this group. They attached no great importance, however, to the revelations but in subsequent sittings, notably on the 3rd of December, before the photographs had arrived, before they were seen, more detailed information was received. According to the spirit's statements, the photograph was of a dozen officers or more, taken out of doors, in front of a sort of shelter (the medium kept drawing vertical lines in the air). Some were sitting down and some were standing up at the back. Raymond was sitting; somebody was leaning on him. There were several photographs taken.
On the 7th of December, the photographs arrived at Mariemont, Sir Oliver's house near Edgbaston. There were three copies, all differing slightly, of the same group of twenty-one officers, those in the back row standing up, the others seated. The group was taken outside a sort of temporary wooden structure, such as might be a hospital shed, with six conspicuous nearly vertical lines on the roof. Raymond was one of those sitting on the ground in front; his walking-stick, mentioned in the first revelation, was lying across his feet. And a striking piece of evidence is that his is the only instance where one man is leaning or resting his hand on the shoulder of another, in two of the photographs, or, in the third, his leg.
This manifestation is one of the most remarkable that have hitherto been obtained, because it eliminates almost entirely any telepathic interference, that is to say, any subconscious intercommunication between the persons present at the sitting, all of whom were absolutely unaware of the existence of the photographs. If we 'refuse to admit the intervention of the deceased -- which should, I agree, be admitted only in the last resort -- we must, in order to explain the revelation, suppose that the subconsciousness of the medium or of one of those present entered into communication, through the vast mazes and deserts of space and amid millions of strange souls, with the subconsciousness of one of the officers or of one of the people who had seen these photographs whose existence there was no reason for suspecting. This is possible; but it is so fortuitous, so prodigious that the survival and intervention of the deceased would, in the circumstances, seem almost less supernatural and more probable.
I will not enter into the details of the numerous sittings which preceded or followed this one; nor will I even undertake to summarize them. To share the emotion aroused, we must read the reports which faithfully reproduce these strange dialogues between the living and the dead. We receive the impression that the departed son comes daily closer and closer to life and converses more and more easily, more and more familiarly with all those who loved him before he was overtaken by the shadows of the grave. He recalls to each of them a thousand little forgotten incidents. He remains among his own kindred as though he had never left them. He is always present and prepared to answer. He mingles so completely in their whole life that no one any longer thinks of mourning his loss. They question him about his present state, ask him where he is, what he is, what he is doing. He needs no pressing; he at once declares himself astonished at the incredible reality of that new world. He is very happy there, reforming himself, condensing himself, so to speak, and gradually finding himself again.
The existence of the intelligence and of the will, disencumbered of the body, is freer, lighter, of greater range and diffusion, but continues very like what it was in the flesh. The environment is no longer physical but spiritual; and there is a translation to another plane rather than the break, the complete overthrow, the extraordinary transitions which we are pleased to imagine. After all, is it not fairly plausible? And are we not wrong in believing that death changes everything, from one day to the next, and that there is a sudden and inconceivable abyss between the hour which precedes decease and that which follows it? Is it in conformity with the habits of nature? Is the life-force which we carry within ourselves and which doubtless cannot be extinguished, is that force to so great a degree crippled and cramped by our body that, when it leaves this body, it becomes, then and there, entirely different and unrecognizable?
But I must set a limit to speculation and, lest I exceed the limits of this essay, I must pass by two or three revelations less striking than that of the photograph, but pretty strange notwithstanding. Obviously, it is not the first time that such manifestations have occurred; but these are really of a higher quality than those which crowd several volumes of the Proceedings. Do they furnish the proof for which we ask? I do not think so; but will any one ever be able to supply us with that compelling proof? What can the discarnate spirit do when trying to establish that it continues to exist? If it speak to us of the most secret, the most private incidents of a common past, we reply that it is we who are reviving those memories within ourselves. If it aim at convincing us by its description of the world beyond the grave, not all the most glorious and unexpected pictures of that world which it might trace are worth anything as evidence, for they cannot be controlled. If we seek a proof by asking it to foretell the future, it confesses that it does not know the future much better than we do, which is likely enough, seeing that any knowledge of this kind implies a sort of omniscience and consequently omnipotence which can hardly be acquired in a moment. All that remains to it, therefore, is such little snatches of evidence and uncertain attempts at proof as we find here. It is not enough, I admit; for psychometry, that is to say, a similar manifestation of clairvoyance between one living subconsciousness and another, gives almost equally astonishing results. But here as there these results show at least that we have around us wandering intelligences, already enfranchised from the narrow and burdensome laws of space and matter, that sometimes know things which we do not know or no longer know. Do they emanate from ourselves, are they only manifestations of faculties as yet unknown, or are they external, objective and independent of ourselves? Are they merely alive in the sense in which we speak of our bodies, or do they belong to bodies which have ceased to exist? That is what we cannot yet decide; but it must be acknowledged that, once we admit their existence, which at this date is hardly contestable, it becomes much less difficult to agree that they belong to the dead.
This at least may be said:
if experiments such as these do not demonstrate positively that the dead are
able directly, manifestly and almost materially to mingle with our existence
and to remain in touch with us, they prove that they continue to live in us
much more ardently, profoundly, personally and passionately than had hitherto
been believed; and that in itself is more than we dared hope.