Immortal Longings: F.W.H. Myers and the Victorian Search for Life After Death by Trevor Hamilton
|Immortal Longings: F.W.H. Myers and the Victorian Search for Life After Death by Trevor Hamilton|
|Reviewer: John Van der Kiste|
|Summary: A biography of Frederic Myers, leading figure in the Society for Psychical Research, heavily involved during the Victorian era in the scientific study of ghosts, mediums and life after death.|
|Buy? Maybe||Borrow? Yes|
|Pages: 300||Date: May 2009|
|Publisher: Imprint Academic|
Born in 1843, Frederic Myers began his career as a classical lecturer at Cambridge University, but disliked teaching and soon gave it up in favour of writing poetry and essays in literature. Although his social circle included men such as Gladstone, Ruskin, Tennyson, Browning and Prince Leopold, the most intellectual of Queen Victoria's sons, his books (which are not so well remembered today) might have been his sole claim to fame, had it not been for his passionate curiosity about the meaning of human life. If it had a purpose, he was convinced, it could only be discovered through the study of human experiences.
This led to him and several of his Cambridge colleagues founding the Society for Psychical Research in 1882. His overriding question was whether human beings survived bodily death, leading him to twenty years of intensive investigation which were published in his Human Personality and its Survival of Bodily Death in 1903. Sadly he did not live to see its publication. His last years were overshadowed by ill-health and he spent more and more time abroad, dying in Rome in 1901.
Much of this biography is inevitably a study of his philosophy and scientific researches, as well as those of his associates, and his often changing attitude to Christianity. Hamilton examines these facets and his personality in penetrating and scholarly detail, and it is quite a demanding read. Sometimes it is a relief to turn to the more purely biographical content, particularly with regard to his early years at Cambridge, his travels in Greece and the Aegean, his friendships and family relationships.
One of the most fascinating episodes in his life was when, at the age of 22, he went to the United States, visited Niagara and decided to swim under the falls. He was a very strong swimmer, but even so he was in an unsettled frame of mind at the time, and afterwards he wrote that while standing on a rock as he chose his place from which to dive in, he asked himself, What if I die?
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.
Our thanks to Imprint-Academic for sending a copy to Bookbag.
For another title on spirituality in a different age, why not also try Searching for a Better God by Wade Bradshaw
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