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 materializaEncyclopedia
of Occultism & Parapsychology • 5th Ed. Podmore, Frank
1223
tion 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.
Sources:
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.

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