Gurney, Edmund (18471888)
Distinguished English psychical researcher whose work was
one of the mainstays of the early period of the Society for Psychical
Research. Gurney was born March 23, 1847, at Hersham,
Surrey, England. He was a classical scholar, a musician,
and a student of medicine, but he did not definitely adopt any
profession. Between 1874 and 1878 he attended a great number
of Spiritualist séances. He never discussed what he had seen
and learned, but when the Society for Psychical Research (SPR)
was founded in 1882 he readily assumed the post of honorary
It was the discovery of thought-transference that aroused
his enduring interest in psychical research, and hypnotism the
primary tool. According to F. W. H. Myers, he was the first
Englishman who studied with any kind of adequate skill the
psychological side of hypnotism in England. Between 1885
and 1888 Gurney devised a large number of experiments by
which he sought to prove that there is sometimes, in the induction
of hypnotic phenomena, an agency at work that is neither
ordinary nervous stimulation nor suggestion conveyed by any
ordinary channel to the subjects mind.
He next attacked the problem of the relation of the memory
in one hypnotic state to the memory in another hypnotic state
and of both to the normal or waking memory. His research
along this line preceded Pierre Janets similar explorations in
Gurney then proceeded to consider hallucinations. His
treatise on the telepathic induction of hallucination in Phantasms
of the Living (1886) was the first serious discussion of the
problem. His investigations were done in consultation with
Myers and Frank Podmore. The actual writing of Phantasms of
the Living (1886) was done by Gurney, and during the three
years of sifting evidence and hearing witnesses he performed
an immense amount of work. He was also editor of the SPRs
Proceedings, to which he contributed many important papers.
He died June 23, 1888.
His work did not, it seems, end with his death. Shortly afterward,
communications were received by a lady through automatic
writing that purported to come from him. The following
year William James obtained similar messages in a sitting with
Other messages again pointed to the trance intelligence of
the medium. Margaret Verrall also received occasional messages
from Gurney, while Mrs. Forbes was entirely under a
Gurney influence. The Gurney control of Mrs. Holland
(pseudonym of Alice Kipling Fleming) appeared to be a different
type. Edmund Gurney, while alive, knew both Verrall and
Forbes, but not Fleming.
Gurney, Edmund. Account of Some Experiments in Mesmerism.
Proceedings of the Society for Psychical Research 2,
no. 6 (1884).
. Hallucinations. Proceedings of the Society for Psychical
Research 3, no. 8 (1885).
. Hypnotism and Telepathy. Proceedings of the Society
for Psychical Research 5, no. 12 (188889).
. Peculiarities of Certain Post-Hypnotic States. Proceedings
of the Society for Psychical Research 4, no. 11
. The Power of Sound. 1880. Reprint, New York Basic
. The Problems of Hypnotism. Proceedings of the
Society for Psychical Research 2, no. 7 (1884).
. Recent Experiments in Hypnotism. Proceedings of
the Society for Psychical Research 5, no. 12 (188889).
. Some Higher Aspects of Mesmerism. Proceedings
of the Society for Psychical Research 3, no. 10 (1885).
. Stages of Hypnotic Memory. Proceedings of the Society
for Psychical Research 4, no. 11 (188687).
Encyclopedia of Occultism & Parapsychology 5th Ed. Gurney, Edmund
. The Stages of Hypnotism. Proceedings of the Society
for Psychical Research 2 (1884).
. Tertium Quid Chapters on Various Disputed Questions.
London K. Paul, Trench & Co., 1887.
Gurney, Edmund, F. W. H. Myers, and Frank Podmore.
Phantasms of the Living. London Trubner, 1886.
Hall, Trevor H. The Strange Case of Edmund Gurney. London
Gurney, Edmund (18471888)