Myers, Frederick William Henry

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Frederick William Henry Myers (1843–1901), psychic researcher, scholar, and psychologist, co-founded the Society for Psychical Research in 1882. Courtesy Fortean Picture Library.

Myers, Frederick William Henry(1843–1901)

(religion, spiritualism, and occult)

Frederick William Henry Myers was born in Keswick, Cumberland, England, on February 6, 1843. His parents were Rev. Frederick Myers and Susan Harriet Marshall. Frederick had two younger brothers. When his father died in 1851, the family moved to Cheltenham and Myers was sent to school at Cheltenham College. There he showed outstanding classical and literary ability and in 1860, he went to Trinity College, Cambridge.

Myers graduated from Trinity College in October, 1864. Early the next year, he traveled in Europe, spending time in Greece and Italy. Later that same year he visited the United States and Canada. He accepted a Fellowship in Classics at Trinity College, and remained there for four years before resigning and turning to the higher education of women. In 1873, he became an inspector of schools in Cambridge, a position he retained for nearly thirty years until his death in 1901.

While a Fellow at Trinity College during the 1870s, Myers became close friends with Henry Sidgwick and Edmund Gurney. Sidgwick became a mentor of Myers’s and Gurney became Myers’s pupil. In 1874, after a sitting with the medium William Stainton Moses, the three formed a loose group to study mediumship. In 1882, at the urging of Sir William Barrett, the three men formed the Society for Psychical Research (SPR), with Sidgwick as President and Gurney as Secretary. In 1888, after Gurney’s unexpected death, Myers became Secretary and in 1900, he became President.

Myers was one of the co-authors, with Gurney and Frank Podmore, of Phantasms of the Living, published by the Society for Psychical Research in 1886. In 1903, Myers’s classic two-volume work Human Personality and Its Survival of Bodily Death was published posthumously. The first volume of this work deals with various phenomena such as dreams and dissociation of the personality, while the second volume examines and reports on the communications of Spiritualist mediums, apparitions of the dead, and other phenomena of the paranormal.

One of the major contributions made by Myers to the field of psychical research was the introduction of cross-correspondences as proof that mediums are not transmitting anything from their own unconscious nor indulging in telepathy (a word coined by Myers) from the sitter. Cross-correspondences are a series of messages that come through a number of different mediums, often spread around the world. Each message is incomplete in itself, but fits together with the others to give a whole. The received messages are sent to a central control—in the early experiments this was the Society for Psychical Research—where they are examined and correlated. The early experiments revolved around obscure classical subjects that made no sense at all to the mediums channeling them, but indicated that they came from the then recently deceased Myers, Sidgwick, and Gurney.

Myers’s personal life was checkered. As a young man, he was homosexual. He later fell in love with Annie Eliza, the wife of his cousin Walter James Marshall. She returned the love, though it was never consummated. Annie committed suicide in September 1876, but both she and Myers believed they would be together in the afterlife. On March 13, 1880, Myers married Eveleen Tennant and they had three children. By 1900, Myers was seriously ill and traveled to Rome for unorthodox medical treatment. He died in Rome on January 17, 1901.

Sources:

Broad, C.D.: Man, Myth & Magic: F.W.H. Myers. London: BPC Publishing, 1970
Myers, F. W. H.: Human Personality and Its Survival After Bodily Death. London: Longmans, 1903