Podmore, Frank (1856-1910)
Podmore, Frank (1856-1910)
British opponent of Spiritualism, well-known psychical investigator, and author. He was born February 5, 1856, at Elstree, Hertfordshire. In 1874, he received a classical scholarship to Pembroke College, Oxford University, England. In 1879, he became a higher division clerk in the secretary's department of the post office.
His personal experiences in paranormal matters date from his academic studies at Oxford University. He believed in the survival and communication with the dead. In 1875, he became a contributor to Human Nature on Spiritualist subjects. His early belief in Spiritualism arose from his experiences with the medium Henry Slade (later discovered to be a fraud ) in 1876. By 1880, in his address to the British National Association of Spiritualists, his belief was wavering.
He gradually developed into a skeptical critic and acted as a brake in the early years of the Society for Psychical Research, London. He was elected to the council of the Society for Psychical Research in 1882 and served for 27 years. F. W. H. Myers jointly held the office of honorary secretary for eighty years. He collaborated with Myers and Edmund Gurney in the producing Phantasms of the Living.
He admitted he was profoundly impressed by Slade and puzzled by David Duguid until, many years later, he considered the possibility of fraud. He did not believe the materialization demonstration of Miss C. E. Wood and proved he had reason to reject manifestations in the Morell Theobald case.
Podmore's Beliefs Challenged
Podmore believed all physical phenomena were due to fraud. Ernesto Bozzano in the Annals of Psychical Science (February 1905) claimed Podmore selected as proof those single incidents or episodes fitting his proposed theories and ignoring any contradictions to his theories. Nevertheless, Bozzano held that "we cannot refuse Mr. Podmore the extenuating circumstances of comparative good faith."
Podmore concluded: "Whether the belief in the intercourse with spirits is well-founded or not, it is certain that no critic has yet succeeded in demonstrating the inadequacy of the evidence upon which the spiritualists rely." In his book The Newer Spiritualism, published posthumously in 1910, Podmore stated his research had left him of the opinion:
"So far as the evidence at present goes, clairvoyance and precognition are mere chimeras, and telepathy may be no more than a vestigial faculty, to remind us, like the prehensile powers of the newly-born infant, of a time when man was in the making."
Although, in regard to trances, he stated:
"I should, perhaps, state at the outset, as emphatically as possible that it seems to me incredible that fraud should be the sole explanation of the revelations made in trance and automatic writing. No one … will believe that any imaginable exercise of fraudulent ingenuity, supplemented by whatever opportuneness of coincidence and laxness on the part of the investigators, could conceivably explain the whole of these communications."
Podmore resigned his position as a post office civil servant in 1906 after 25 years to devote himself fully to literary activities. His death on August 14, 1910, was an accidental drowning in the Malvern Hills.
Berger, Arthur S., F. E. Gurney, and F. W. H. Myers. Phantasms of the Living. 2 vols. London: Trubner, 1986.
Berger, Arthur S., and Joyce Berger. The Encyclopedia of Parapsychology and Psychical Research. New York: Paragon House, 1991.
Pleasants, Helene, ed. Biographical Dictionary of Parapsychology. New York: Helix Press, 1964.
Podmore, Frank. Apparitions and Thought Transference: an Examination of the Evidence for Telepathy. London: Walter Scott Publishing, 1896.
——. Biography of Robert Owen. London: Hutchinson, 1906.
——. Mesmerism and Christian Science. Philadelphia: G. W. Jacobs, 1909.
——. Modern Spiritualism. 2 vols. London: Methuen, 1902. Reprinted as Mediums of the Nineteen Century. New Hyde Park, N.Y.: University Books, 1963.
——. The Naturalisation of the Supernatural. New York; London: G. P. Putnam's Sons, 1908.
——. The Newer Spiritualism. New York: Arno Press, 1975.
——. Studies in Psychical Research. London: Kegan Paul, Trench, Tubner, 1897.
——. Telepathic Hallucination; the New View of Ghosts. Halifax, Milner, & Co., 1909.