Hyslop, James Hervey (1854–1920) Philosopher and psychical researcher, author of many books, monographs and articles on psychic phenomena. James H. Hyslop was particularly interested in Mediumship. Although respected as a careful worker by some, he was considered by others to be too ready to believe in survival after death. From 1906 until his own death in 1920, he was secretary-treasurer of the American Society for Psychical Research (ASPR).
Hyslop was born August 18, 1854 to devout Presbyterians who lived on a farm near Xenia, Ohio. A twin sister died soon after birth and an older sister a few years later. When Hyslop was 10, a younger brother and sister died of scarlet fever, and for the next two years, he wrote in his autobiography, he became preoccupied with death. He was so affected by this experience, in fact, that it remained with him for the rest of his life.
As a youth Hyslop intended to enter the ministry as his parents expected, but while at the College of Wooster, from which he graduated with a bachelor of arts degree in 1877, he suffered a crisis of faith that over the next five years led him to reject the divinity of Christ and embrace a materialist philosophy instead. The climax came during a trip to Europe, and he went to study philosophy at the University of Leipzig under Wilhelm Wundt, founder of the first formal psychology laboratory in 1879. He received a Ph.D. in psychology from Johns Hopkins University in 1887, taught briefly at Bucknell University, then joined the faculty at Columbia, teaching logic and ethics. In 1891 he married Mary Fry Hall, an American woman he had met while in Germany.
He knew nothing about the psychic until 1886, when his attention was caught by an article on telepathy in Nation. The article concerned a young boy who reportedly saw an apparition of his father and a team of horses going over a bank into a stream some 25 miles away. Hyslop suspected the story was “some illusion of memory or error in judgment as to the facts.” He wrote to the author of the article and received answers to his questions that convinced him the phenomenon might be genuine.
Hyslop became involved in Psychical Research after hearing Richard Hodgson lecture in 1889. He immediately joined the British Society for Psychical Research (SPR) and the Boston-based ASPR. He helped to organize a New York chapter of the latter and soon was assisting Hodgson in the investigation of cases. Hyslop was very aware of the implications of psychical phenomena for philosophy, although his materialism left no room for life after death. The study of Leonora Piper and other mediums, however, converted him to a belief in survival. His sitting with her began in 1888. Initially skeptical, he was astonished when Piper began relaying personal messages from his dead father and various relatives. By his 12th sitting, he was convinced he had communicated with the spirits of his family.
Hyslop’s wife died suddenly in 1900, leaving him a widower with three small children. The following year he suffered a nervous breakdown, and in 1902, on the advice of a physician, he resigned his position at Columbia. Friends thought he would never regain his former strength, but he proved them wrong. Within a year, he was back in full swing, now able to devote all his time to psychical research.
Hyslop’s first book on psychical research, Science and a Future Life, was published in 1905. It was to be followed by several others; but he is best remembered today for his leadership of the ASPR and his contributions to its publications.
The ASPR had been founded in 1885 as an independent society, but in 1887 had been forced for fi nancial reasons to affi liate with the SPR as the latter’s American branch. Hyslop dreamed of returning the ASPR to American control, and when Hodgson died unexpectedly in 1905, he had a plan well under way. This called for the establishment of an American Institute for Scientific Research, modeled after the Carnegie Institute, with a board of directors. The ASPR was to be one section, with another section devoted to abnormal psychology.
Hyslop succeeded in getting the funding to set up his Institute and the ASPR; the section devoted to abnormal psychology, however, was never established. The ASPR was back in operation in 1906, and in 1907 began the publication of a Journal that has continued without interruption to this day. An annual series of Proceedings was also begun. Hyslop served as president of the ASPR from 1906 until his death in 1920.
Hyslop’s output between 1907 and 1920 was prodigious. In addition to fund-raising and administrative duties, he investigated many cases and wrote lengthy reports for ASPR publications. For most of this time he was unassisted except by a secretary; from 1917 he was joined by Walter Franklin Prince. He suffered a stroke at the end of 1919, and died June 17, 1920.
At least part of the difficulty Hyslop experienced in getting a hearing for psychical research in the Scientific community, and in getting help at the ASPR, was due to his irascible personality. He irritated and angered many people, including William James, who had been a central figure in the ASPR’s early years, and he is said to have run the ASPR like a dictator. However, no one disputes that his loss was a blow to psychical research in America.
His other books include Borderland of Psychical Research (1906), Enigmas of Psychical Research (1906), Psychical Research and the Resurrection (1908), Life After Death: Problems of a Future Life and Its Nature (1918) and Contact with the Other World (1919).
Beginning in 1907, he worked with a number of Mediums— principally Minnie Meserve Soule—to investigate spirit possession and obsession. His most famous cases are the THOMPSON-GIFFORD CASE and the Doris Fisher Case. He also investigated the story of S. Henry, a coachman in New Jersey who was tormented by the death of his wife and by his increasingly frightening psychical experiences. Henry described feelings of a strange fluid in his stomach which forced him to breathe in a certain way, then rose to his brain and drove him crazy. He also felt he could leave his body through an opening in the back of his head.
Hyslop did not recognize Henry’s symptoms as those of kundalini (in yoga, an intense spiritual energy) or Out-of-Body Experience (OBE). By 1908, almost two years after Hyslop had first met him, Henry was suffering from delusions and had gone insane. Hyslop took Henry to New York to the ASPR, where he hypnotized him and tried to encourage him to forget his troubles. The simple treatment worked. Never having confronted out-of-body experiences before, Hyslop attributed Henry’s problems to spirit Possession.
In 1909, Hyslop met Etta De Camp, a medium then living in New York City who had been psychic since her childhood in Ohio. She was an editor and proofreader for Broadway magazine, but had never written anything other than letters until 1908. After reading about spirit communications received by W.T. Stead through AUTOMATIC WRITING, De Camp decided to try. She reported a tingling in her arm, like electric shock, and after two or three days began writing copiously.
De Camp experienced terrible headaches and earaches at this time, usually if she tried to resist the writing. She found some relief while in trance, but she refused to lose conscious control. The scripts made little sense to her, and she complained to the spirits that if they could not write well, they should bring someone to her that could. From that point on, the scripts became more coherent. Her first communicator was an Indian brave, who reported that she would hear from a man, a writer who wanted someone to finish the stories he had left when he died.
Very soon her pencil wrote that the spirit of Frank R. Stockton had arrived and wished to communicate. She felt intense pain, but once Stockton took control of her the pain subsided. De Camp began writing short stories in Stockton’s style, and she showed them to her employer, George Duysters, who introduced her to Hyslop.
Stockton had been popular in the late 19th century, writing whimsical stories for children. His most famous, “The Lady or the Tiger,” is still popular. He had a distinctive style, full of humor, cynicism and bizarre situations. Duysters showed some of the De Camp transcriptions to the late author’s editor at Harper’s, who found them quite real. De Camp also began hearing from her dead father.
De Camp continued to write in Stockton’s style, although Hyslop lost contact with her from 1910 to 1912 while he investigated other matters. In 1912, De Camp was close to a complete breakdown, and Hyslop agreed to participate in sittings which would finally reveal Stockton’s presence. Through a series of Séances with Soule, both Stockton and the recently deceased Duysters revealed themselves, proving again to Hyslop the reality of spirit possession and survival. De Camp wrote of her experiences in The Return of Frank R. Stockton in 1913, including all of the transcribed Stockton stories. After initial publicity, De Camp later married and settled down to a private life, hearing no more from Stockton.
A third case involved a woman identified as Ida Ritchie, really Ida Marie Rogers. Rogers claimed to be receiving communications from the great opera singer Emma Abbot, who had died in 1891. Rogers was a budding singer herself, and had made remarkable progress for a person with little formal training. When she contacted Hyslop, Rogers said that Emma Abbott, Rogers’ mother, and the late William James were all talking to her through automatic writing. Again through sittings with Soule, Hyslop contacted Abbott and Rogers’s mother. Their communications indicated great efforts on the part of the spirits to help Rogers’s singing career, but she never became a great star.
- Anderson, Roger I. “The Life and Work of James H. Hyslop.” The Journal of the American Society for Psychical Research (SPR)79 (April 1985): 167–204.
- ———. “Autobiographical Fragment of James Hervey Hyslop.” The Journal of Religion and Psychical Research 9 (April 1986): 81–92.
- ———. “Autobiographical Fragment of James Hervey Hyslop Part III.” The Journal of Religion and Psychical Research 9 (July 1986): 145–60.
- Berger, A. S. Lives and Letters in American Parapsychology: A Biographical History, 1850–1987. Jefferson, N.C.: Scarecrow Press, 1988.
- Rogo, D. Scott. The Infinite Boundary. New York: Dodd, Mead & Co., 1987.
The Encyclopedia of Ghosts and Spirits– Written by Rosemary Ellen Guiley – September 1, 2007
- The Elements of Logic: Theoretical and Practical (1892)
- Hume’s Treatise of Morals: And Selections from the Treatise of the Passions (1893)
- Anomalies in Logic (1894)
- Freedom, Responsibility and Punishment (1894)
- The Elements of Ethics (1895)
- Elements of Psychology (1895)
- Logic and Argument (1899)
- Democracy: A Study of Government (1888)
- Syllabus of Psychology (1889)
- The Wants of Psychical Research (1900)
- A Further Record of Observations of Certain Trance Phenomena (1901)
- The Ethics of the Greek Philosophers: Socrates, Plato and Aristotle (1903)
- Problems of Philosophy: Or, Principles of Epistemology and Metaphysics (1905)
- Science and A Future Life (1905)
- The Mental State of The Dead: A Limitation to Psychical Research (1905)
- Enigmas of Psychical Research (1906)
- Borderland of Psychical Research (1906)
- Psychical Research and the Resurrection (1908)
- A Record and Discussion of Mediumistic Experiments (1910)
- Psychical Research and Survival (1913)
- The Thompson Case (1913)
- The Doris Case of Multiple Personality (1915–1917) (with Walter Franklin Prince)
- The Smead Case (1918)
- Poems, Original and Translations (1915)
- Life After Death: Problems of the Future Life and Its Nature (1918)
- Contact with the Other World: The Latest Evidence as to Communication with the Dead (1919)