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Immortal Longings: F.W.H. Myers and the Victorian Search for Life After Death Hardcover – 1 Jun 2009

4.3 out of 5 stars 3 customer reviews

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Product details

  • Hardcover: 300 pages
  • Publisher: Imprint Academic (1 Jun. 2009)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1845401239
  • ISBN-13: 978-1845401238
  • Product Dimensions: 16.1 x 2.9 x 23.8 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 4.3 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (3 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 2,110,777 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
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Review

"The author has done a very good job in clarifying the complex relations between Myers' private life and his public work. The approach to his work and ideas is balanced and unprejudiced." -- Alan Gauld, Author "The Founders of Psychical Research" "I've always been interested in Myers and was pleased to find out so much more about his life and activities." --Rupert Sheldrake

Review

"The life of F.W.H. Myers – a man of various and remarkable gifts – involved many of the most significant aspects and personalities of the Victorian intellectual scene, yet no full biography of him has hitherto been written. Trevor Hamilton has brought together a good deal of new information about him, and analyses his career and character with sensitivity and insight. He tackles the decades-long commitment to psychical research, for which Myers is now best known, in detail and with admirable balance and lucidity. Altogether a fascinating read!"

(Alan Gauld)

"Frederic Myers was one of the great pioneers in the scientific exploration of consciousness. He was original, brave and prolific. In this well-researched book, Trevor Hamilton sheds new light on his life and shows how Myers' work was embedded in the rich social and intellectual life of late-nineteenth-century Britain. I read it with great interest."

(Rupert Sheldrake)

"Definitely a book for the specialist, but for its insights into the development of Victorian thought and as an examination of one of the lesser-known figures of the age, this is strongly recommended."

(John Van der Kiste Bookbag 2009-05-29)

"Hamilton's labours are to be applauded in giving the reader entry into the life and work of this sensitive and significant scholar."

(Kevin Tingay The Christian Parapsychologist)

"No author before Hamilton has presented such a global and integrative perspective of Myers. Hamilton combines well the personal and intellectual aspects of Myers with his psychical and psychological work. Furthermore, he covers areas of Myers that have previously been neglected, or only briefly discussed. In fact, I would recommend that Hamilton's work must be the first step in obtaining a good panoramic view of Myers."

(Carlos S. Alvarado Journal of the Society of Psychical Research)

"Myers [was] the first to present strong arguments contradicting W.B. Carpenter's notion of automatisms as 'unconscious cerebration’, and they upset the dominant medical view of hallucinations and dissociative phenomena as intrinsically pathological."

(Andreas Sommer, University College London)

"Whatever one's attitude towards the lasting value of Myers’s and his fellow investigators, labours, it must be mixed with a sense of admiration at their productivity and Hamilton has emulated their energy in grappling with Myers’s life... The result is a worthy addition to the small number of works which deal in a critical but fair way with the efforts of Myers and the other SPR pioneers as they sought to probe, not always successfully, but certainly sincerely and despite their personal frailties, the mysteries of the human soul."

(Tom Ruffles)

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Top Customer Reviews

Format: Hardcover
The latter part of the 19th Century was a time of despair and hopelessness for many. "We were all in the first flush of triumphant Darwinism, when terrene evolution had explained so much that men hardly cared to look beyond," wrote Frederic W. H. Myers, a Cambridge classical scholar and poet before becoming a pioneering psychical researcher.

As with so many other educated people, Myers, the son of a minister, had lost his faith, and life had become a march toward an abyss into nothingness. He recognized that there were many who were "willing to let earthly activities and pleasures gradually dissipate and obscure the larger hope" during life's death march, but, perhaps because he was a deep thinker, Myers was unable to effectively use the defense mechanism called repression to overcome his death anxiety and the concomitant fear of extinction.

Subtitled "FWH Myers and the Victorian Search for Life after Death," this book details the efforts of Myers and several of his colleagues to make sense out of various paranormal phenomena which seemed to suggest that the world is not totally mechanistic and that consciousness does survive physical death.

Although Professor William Barrett, a physicist, is recognized as the prime mover in setting up the Society for Psychical Research (SPR) in 1882, he relinquished the leadership roles to Myers and his two Cambridge friends, Edmund Gurney, and Professor Henry Sidgwick. Their objective was to scientifically study the phenomena, including hypnotism, telepathy, multiple personalities, and mediumship, to see if they offered any evidence that mind was not totally dependent on brain and that there is something beyond the five sense. But they had to do it discreetly, cautiously, and indirectly.
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Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
This is an excellent, well researched biography of FWH Myers and treats his psychical investigations with a rare sensitivity. This book describes the complex ties of class and intellectual opportunities available and presents the reader with an erudite portrayal of the man behind the formidable intellect. This immensely readable and detailed analysis of Myers and the time period he lived in is a pleasure to read and is a fascinating biography of a man whose investigations into the possibilities of life after death were profound, and his name deserves to be better known in the 21st century in general.
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Format: Hardcover
Interesting, slightly away from the mainstream biography marred by over intrusive footnotes that hinder readability.
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews on Amazon.com (beta) (May include reviews from Early Reviewer Rewards Program)

Amazon.com: 4.6 out of 5 stars 5 reviews
7 of 7 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A rare gem 1 Oct. 2012
By NateMonroe - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
Based upon letters, articles, public and private records, and the unpublished autobiography of Frederic Myers, one of the founders of the Society For Psychical Research (SPR).

This book is a rare find, indeed, because of the sheer truth of the matter. The first section of the book develops Mr. Myers personality and events that shaped who he came to be. It follows him briefly though childhood and into college, where he lost a medal in poetry when is was discovered he had borrowed a little to much from other classic poets, and he was forced to forfeit his medal.

Mr. Myers then befriended Annie Marshall, who was to be the greatest love of his life. Annie Marshall was a married woman, and their relationship was platonic. But she had a troubling life, and Mr. Myers emotionally supported her. She was in a terrible marriage and suffered greatly from her husband as he battled mental illness. Mr. Myers was devastated when, after feeling unbearable pressure, Annie Marshall committed suicide.

Events such as these, and his burning passion to find out if we really die, helped Mr. Myers to help form the SPR. Originally founded by William Barrett, the SPR was lead by Mr. Myers, Edmund Gurney, and Mr. and Mrs Sidgwick. The SPR was highly controversial in it's day. The world scientific community and intellectuals scoffed at the SPR, but they felt the research was needed, and continued anyways.

During this time, Mr. Myers married Eveleen Tennant, who was to be a central force in his life and the SPR after his death. The book goes into his feeling for Eveleen, and how, although he loved her, he felt disconnected from life and his family. But the greatest love of his life, Annie Marshall, still influenced him, and Eveleen could never overcome that. Through his travels with the SPR, Mr Myers would attend seances and sitting with mediums, and would communicate with Annie Marshall.

And Eveleen knew it. Eveleen could never relate to the SPR or it's leaders, and carried a jealousy for the mediums Mr. Myers kept contact with for research. And after Mr. Myers death, she destroyed valuable records of evidence he had collected from the mediums on proof of life after death.

Mr. Myers had written an autobiography, and had privately distributed copies to close friends. Eveleen fought to retrieve the books back after Mr. Myers death, and nearly succeeded but for a few copies. Sir Oliver Lodge refused to give his copy back. Eveleen wanted the books destroyed to wipe Annie Marshall from Mr. Myers life. She then released a severely abridged version of his book. She also fought the SPR on releasing any evidence that he had collected that had any reference to Annie Marshall.

But Mr. Myers, after death, began communicating through various mediums....

This book, to me was simply fascinating. It examines the records, and accurately creates the personalities and character of the persons involved. From the sickly Mr. Gurney, to the cool intelligence of the Sidgwicks, to the simplicity of the medium Mrs. Piper, this book provides sources and documentation that supports how these people were really like in life.

The author even examines the inaccuracies of other biographies on Mr. Myers, and provides proof of why they were wrong.

The SPR published thousands of pages of their research, and, although I have read some of the published work, this book matches what I have read so far. In my opinion, this book is as close to the truth as you will get on his life, the time period, and the things that have happened since.

It is my opinion, but Mr. Myers has proven to me, that there is life after death.
2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A brilliant biography with a brilliant ending 21 Jan. 2013
By S. Alexander Hardison - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
Hamilton spares no expense in getting to the root of Myers and his personality. The work was very thorough and one has the distinct impression that, if indeed Myers did survive death, he is pleased with the work Hamilton put into identifying with who he was.

Trevor Hall and numerous other authors made certain assumptions and blatant errors in analyzing this great historical figure and the present author clears these assumptions and speculations up very nicely, citing the sense of "Platonic love" that Myers had for the likes of Annie Marshall (being, in a sense, his "spiritual" fulfillment and ideal). Misconceptions on the relationship between Edmund Gurney and Myers are also cleared up with due justice. The final concluding chapters were the ones I found the most interesting to read, as it goes through Myers's idea of "the subliminal self", his sittings with Rosina Thompson (that convinced him of survival in accordance with his sittings with Piper), the impact and evaluation of the monumental "Human Personality and its Survival of Bodily Death", the elusive and complex 'cross correspondences' and, finally, the concluding poem that Myers himself wrote -one which leaves the reader with a pleasant feeling, much like what follows laying witness to a beautiful sunrise, or the first glance outdoors after a night of quaint, winter-wonder.

All in all, I can't recommend this highly enough for anyone interested in the early history of psychical research or its eccentric pioneers.

(the numerous pictures in the book were also appropriate and memorable)
1 of 2 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars A Very Dry Book 16 Feb. 2013
By Nanette - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
I was drawn to this book because I am interested in Spiritualism and the image of this very handsome man on the front caught my eye. However, my brain hurt while reading this book because I almost got the feeling that the author would like so much to convince the skeptic reader that there exhists life after death and is no laughing matter. I found it to be full of very interesting facts, but, it was too dry and difficult for me to absorb all the different characters in it, due to the fact that it seemed to skip from idea to idea. I could not finish the book. Too bad, I think it could have been much better had the author made the content more colorful and not dry as a bone.
2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A Panoramic View of F.W.H. Myers 3 May 2013
By Amos Oliver Doyle - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Paperback
Well, Immortal Longings is a biography of Frederic William Henry Myers written by an English historian Trevor Hamilton, and although Mr. Hamilton apparently may have some interest or belief in survival of the human spirit after death I did not think that that bias was evident in the book. My greatest praise for the book is that it presents a voluminous amount of information about a group of men and women engaged in spiritualistic investigations during the later part of the 19th century from a seemingly purely historical viewpoint. Not only is much detailed documentation given about Frederic Myers but there is a large amount of well-referenced information about Myers' relationships with other people including psychic investigators Edmund Gurney, Henry Sidgwick, Eleanor Sidgwick, William James, Oliver Lodge, Richard Hodgson and others. My overall impression was that a large amount of facts were presented about Myers, his family and peers.

I did not find the book dry or bland in any way. For my tastes, I think it would make a great movie or BBC mini-series. It is relatively easy to read and well formatted with an extensive bibliography and index. I suggest that anyone interested in the paranormal, mediums, ESP, Super-Psi as well as life after death should read this very well written, and well documented book. I think it provides a basic understanding, a structure if you will, upon which to build one's own opinion about the validity of paranormal activities.

I agree that the first section of the book about Myers' early history does jump around a lot but that is a minor inconvenience. It is difficult to follow a time line but that eventually becomes unimportant in the second half of the book. And, there are some very minor proofing oversights throughout the book. At least one error in the paperback printing I read, regarding the date of publication of the abridged edition of Myers' two-volume Human Personality and Its Survival of Bodily Death by his son Leo. Hamilton states (page 279) that the "...abridged edition appeared after the First World War" but the abridged addition I have has the imprimatur of Longmans, Green and Co. with a 1907 publishing date, 11 years before the end of the war in 1918. I am hoping that that was the only error of any significance in the book.
17 of 18 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A Long Overdue Biography 13 Jun. 2009
By Michael E. Tymn - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Hardcover
The latter part of the 19th Century was a time of despair and hopelessness for many. "We were all in the first flush of triumphant Darwinism, when terrene evolution had explained so much that men hardly cared to look beyond," wrote Frederic W. H. Myers, a Cambridge classical scholar and poet before becoming a pioneering psychical researcher.

As with so many other educated people, Myers, the son of a minister, had lost his faith, and life had become a march toward an abyss into nothingness. He recognized that there were many who were "willing to let earthly activities and pleasures gradually dissipate and obscure the larger hope" during life's death march, but, perhaps because he was a deep thinker, Myers was unable to effectively use the defense mechanism called repression to overcome his death anxiety and the concomitant fear of extinction.

Subtitled "FWH Myers and the Victorian Search for Life after Death," this book details the efforts of Myers and several of his colleagues to make sense out of various paranormal phenomena which seemed to suggest that the world is not totally mechanistic and that consciousness does survive physical death.

Although Professor William Barrett, a physicist, is recognized as the prime mover in setting up the Society for Psychical Research (SPR) in 1882, he relinquished the leadership roles to Myers and his two Cambridge friends, Edmund Gurney, and Professor Henry Sidgwick. Their objective was to scientifically study the phenomena, including hypnotism, telepathy, multiple personalities, and mediumship, to see if they offered any evidence that mind was not totally dependent on brain and that there is something beyond the five sense. But they had to do it discreetly, cautiously, and indirectly. "To admit the literal reality of the ghost was to move back to the dark ages," author Trevor Hamilton explains their dilemma. There were simply too many "newly enlightened" people in the upper echelons of society who could not make a distinction between matters of the spirit and the superstitions of the church they had left behind and now scoffed at.

"It is too simple to represent Victorian England as a pious, fundamentalist land shaken by the advances of a materialistic and iconoclastic science," Hamilton states, pointing out that the census of 1851 revealed that well over five million people did not attend church on Sunday, March 30, 1851. However, it was clear, Hamilton adds, that the educated middle classes and upper-middle classes were emancipating themselves from their evangelical roots as a result of the scientific and scholarly advances. Darwinism might have been the crowning blow, but this emancipation had begun well before Darwin, during the "Age of Reason."

Drawing from Myers' diary, short autobiography written only for his friends, and other references, Hamilton explores Myers' early life and the influences which shaped his beliefs and disbeliefs. He acquaints us with his days at Cambridge, when he was called, "Myers the superb," and then discusses his conflicting love interests as well as other trials and tribulations. He tells how Myers hooked up with Gurney and Sidgwick and how the three intellectuals complemented each other in various ways - Myers often brash and assertive, Sidgwick reserved and cautious, Gurney meticulous and somewhere in between Myers and Sidgwick in his enthusiasm for their mission.

The SPR exposed many fraudulent mediums, although there is controversy over some of the exposures, including that of Madame Blavatsky. The mediumship of Eusapia Palladino was also very controversial, some members of the SPR convinced that she was a charlatan and other that she was a genuine medium, whereas the truth seems to be that she was a "mixed" medium - producing genuine phenomena at times and faking some at those times were her powers failed her. Theosophists, in the case of Blavatsky, and Spiritualists, in the case of various other mediums, argued that the researchers simply didn't understand the phenomena and were applying terrestrial science to celestial matters which they didn't understand.

As Hamilton sees it, Myers was caught in a Victorian dilemma. "One set of desires, the yearning for the immortal, spiritual universe, was opposed by another set, which was the wish for privacy and the hiding of any evidence that breached the unimpeachable façade of familial and moral behaviour," he writes. "His need to prove and even preach survival was counterbalanced by his reticence over intimate evidence."

That "intimate evidence" involved a number of evidential messages coming to him through different mediums from Annie Marshall, his great love of the early 1870s (although apparently a platonic affair because of her marriage to Myers' cousin). When Annie killed herself because of her many frustrations, Myers grieved deeply. When he later married the beautiful and wealth Eveleen Tennant, their marriage was troubled somewhat because of Annie's communications with Myers from beyond the veil - communications which Myers kept private and were destroyed by his wife after his death in 1901.

Although not educated as a psychologist, Myers has been credited with developing a systematic conception of the subliminal self as well as a theory holding that telepathy is one of the basic laws of life. In fact, it was Myers who coined the word "telepathy," previously called "thought transference." As Hamilton points out, Myers seems to have been ahead of Freud in exploring the subconscious (which Myers preferred to call the subliminal), although their theories bore little resemblance to each other. When Freud joined the SPR in 1911, he wrote an article making it clear that Myers' "subliminal" was not the same as his "unconscious." Hamilton quotes Aldous Huxley as saying that Myers' "unconscious" was superior to Freud's in that it was more comprehensive and truer to the data of experience. How much Myers influenced Freud is not clear, but there is little doubt that Myers' ideas significantly influenced pioneering psychiatrist William James. And yet, because Myers dared see a soul hidden in the physical shell, he is hardly remembered in psychology circles today as the prevailing paradigm remains the Wundtian approach, which holds that the only things that make sense are those which can be scientifically measured and quantified.

Myers died in 1901, a victim of Bright's disease. William James wrote that "his serenity, in fact, his eagerness to go, and his extraordinary intellectual vitality up to the very time the death agony began, and even in the midst of it, were a superb spectacle and deeply impressed the doctors, as well as ourselves."

After Myers death in 1901, various mediums began receiving messages purportedly coming from him. Some of these messages were very fragmented and made no sense until they were collected and pieced together to make complete ideas. "The whole process seemed at times like a giant Victorian word game (anagrams, cryptic puzzles, strange puns and rhymes), of which, in fact, Myers and his colleagues...were inordinately fond," Hamilton explains These so-called "cross-correspondences" were interpreted by other researchers as attempts by Myers, as well as by Gurney and Sidgwick, both of whom preceded him in death, to overcome some of the objections to mediumship, including fraud and telepathy. "[They suggested] a high level of collective design and purpose, implying character, intention and personality," Hamilton states.

One message for Sidgwick's widow, Eleanor, who had been very active in the SPR, read, "Now, dear Mrs. Sidgwick, in future have no doubt or fear of so called death, as there is none."

Hamilton concludes the book by asking if Myers' quest had been successful. "In personal terms it was," he opines. ""He became convinced, on the basis of the intimate sittings he had with both Mrs. Piper and Mrs. Thompson, that he had communicated with human beings (however different their nature and post-mortem existence) who had survived bodily death. This belief was underpinned by his wide ranging reading and research in paranormal and abnormal activity across Europe and in the United States. It led to him bearing the onset of death with a kind of joyous resilience, almost even insouciance..."

On the other hand, Myers obviously failed in his wider hope of establishing immortality for the spiritually-challenged masses. While the search for immortality continues today, more than a hundred years later, the foundation established by Myers and his colleagues seems to be slowly but increasingly appreciated.

Hamilton offers us a very interesting, intriguing, informative, in-depth, and even inspirational look at one of history's most overlooked and unappreciated contributors.
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