Podmore, Frank

Podmore, Frank (1856–1910)

(religion, spiritualism, and occult)

Frank Podmore was born on February 5, 1856, in Elstree, Hertfordshire, England. He attended Elstree High School and then Haileybury College. He subsequently obtained a scholarship to Pembroke College, Oxford. Very early as an undergraduate, Podmore took an interest in psychical research and especially in Spiritualism. He even contributed some articles to Spiritualist journals. He was very impressed by what he read of the American medium Henry Slade, who specialized in obtaining slate writing.

Slade visited Britain in July 1876, en route to Russia. He stayed for six weeks, but his visit was brought to an abrupt end. At one of his séances, Professor Lankester snatched the slate from the medium’s hands and found that a message was already written on it. Slade gave an explanation for this but Lankester pressed charges. Slade was tried, found guilty, and sentenced to three months imprisonment with hard labor. The conviction was overturned due to a technicality, and before a fresh summons could be issued the following day, Slade fled the country.

It is not know whether or not Podmore witnessed any of Slade’s sittings, or any of the trial, but the revelation of fraud had an effect on him. He became an aggressive skeptic of all psychical phenomena and of mediumship in particular. He joined the Society for Psychical Research and served on its first council. After Edmund Gurney’s death in 1888, Podmore became joint Secretary with Frederick W. H. Myers.

In 1892, Podmore published Apparitions and Thought Transference. He had previously contributed to Phantasms of the Living, with Gurney and Myers, and was involved in investigating 753 cases of telepathy and crisis apparitions for it. His conclusions in virtually all cases were that telepathy and hallucinations were more likely than contact with the deceased.

Podmore is best known for his two-volume Modern Spiritualism, published in 1902. It was severely critical of nineteenth century mediumship, though of them all he could find little, if anything, negative to say about Leonora Piper. He was also unable to explain Daniel Dunglas Home’s phenomena, other than to state that “to say that because we cannot understand some of the feats, therefore they must have been due to spirits or psychic force, is merely an opiate for the uneasiness of suspended judgement, a refuge from the trouble of thinking.” His other books include Studies in Psychical Research (1897), The Naturalisation of the Supernatural (1908), Mesmerism and Christian Science (1909), Telepathic Hallucination: the New View of Ghosts (1909), and The Newer Spiritualism (1910). Podmore died on August 14, 1910, a suspected suicide (having been found face down in the New Pool at Malvern, Worcester).

Sources:

Fodor, Nandor: Encyclopedia of Psychic Science. London: Arthurs Press, 1933
Guiley, Rosemary Ellen: The Encyclopedia of Ghosts and Spirits. New York: Facts On File, 1992
Podmore, Frank: Modern Spiritualism. London: 1902; reprinted as Mediums of the Nineteenth Century. New York: University Books, 1963
Podmore, Frank: The Newer Spiritualism. London: T. Fisher Unwin, 1910