William Salter

William Salter (1880-1969) was a lawyer and psychical researcher, a one-time president of the Society for Psychical Research, with a particular interest in mental mediumship and the cross-correspondences.

Life and Career

William Henry Salter was born on March 19 1880 in London, where he attended St Paul’s School. He read classics at Trinity College, Cambridge in 1899, acquired a law degree there in 1902 and was called to the bar in 1905. He served with the munitions ministry during World War I and in 1918 was awarded the MBE.

He married Helen de G Verrall in 1915.

Psychical Research

Salter joined the Society for Psychical Research in 1916, being co-opted to its governing council in 1919 and appointed treasurer the following year. He was honorary secretary from 1924 until 1958, and president from 1947 to 1948.

Salter published two books connected with psychical research. Ghosts and Apparitions (1938), and a general overview Zoar (1961). Zoar  focused particularly on mental mediumship and related non-physical phenomena, for which alone he considered there was really good evidence.1

Salter contributed to articles devoted to the pioneers of the SPR and wrote other reports on a wide range of subjects. He took a particular interest in Borley Rectory, a putative haunting case investigated by Harry Price that became the subject of national publicity, visiting the site and interviewing some of the principal figures.2

Salter and his wife also participated in telepathy experiments with Gilbert Murray in 1931.3

Cross-correspondences

Salter was particularly interested in the cross-correspondences, a body of material produced in the early twentieth century mainly by automatic writing (a type of mental mediumship) and purporting to be communicated by deceased individuals associated with the SPR. These appeared to be trying to give evidence of having survived death by creating deliberate links between the productions of different automatic writers, largely in the form of allusions to classical literature, in which they happened to be well-versed.  One of the principal automatists was Margaret Verrall, a Cambridge classics lecturer and mother of his wife Helen Verrall, who herself produced material received automatically.  Besides being personally acquainted with key automatists, Salter corresponded extensively with SPR colleagues who investigated them, notably Gerald Balfour and John Piddington.

Salter deposited two collections of papers relating to the cross-correspondences at the SPR’s archive in Trinity College, Cambridge in 1963. He also deposited thirty-two privately printed volumes of automatic scripts written by himself and other investigators.

Experiment

It has sometimes been argued that the web of allusions apparently contained in the cross-correspondences material might have occurred naturally and by pure chance, and been given undue significance by investigators looking for suggestive patterns.

To test this, Salter carried out an experiment with ‘pseudo-scripts’.4 He recruited fourteen people who did not claim mediumistic ability, gave them a list of phrases (including lines from works of literature), and asked them to write down words, phrases and sentences that these allusions suggested to them. The aim was to see whether correspondences would appear in these pseudo-scripts similar to those found in the material produced by automatists.

Salter expected that more chance correspondences would be found than in a similar earlier experiment, in which the writers were given no starting point to work from. But the incidence of correspondences proved to be negligible here also. Salter concluded that, while the absence of correspondences in the pseudo-scripts did not mean those found in genuine scripts could not be the results of common association of ideas and/or telepathy, it argued against such ideas being ‘rashly invoked as obvious, complete, satisfactory explanations of the phenomena of the real scripts’.5

Works

Books

Ghosts and Apparitions (1938). London: G. Bell & Sons.

Zoar, or the Evidence of Psychical Research Concerning Survival (1961). London: Sidgwick and Jackson.

Pamphlet

Trance mediumship: An introductory study of Mrs Piper and Mrs Leonard (1950). London: SPR.

Articles

Elucidation of two points in the ‘One-Horse Dawn Experiment’: The herb moly (1924). Proceedings of the Society for Psychical Research 34, 153-59.

An experiment in pseudo-scripts (1927). Proceedings of the Society for Psychical Research 36, 525-54.

Some automatic scripts purporting to be inspired by Margaret Veley, poet and novelist, 1843-87 (1928-29). Proceedings of the Society for Psychical Research 38, 281-330.

The relation between parapsychical and paraphysical phenomena (1932). Journal of the Society for Psychical Research 27, 268-74.

Introductory notes to ‘Notes on ‘Walter’ thumbprints of the ‘Margery’ séances (1935). Proceedings of the Society for Psychical Research 43, 15-18.

Statistical and other technicalities in psychical research (1937). Journal of the Society for Psychical Research 30, 34-36.

The position of psychical research (1939). Journal of the Society for Psychical Research 31, 106-11.

Case: Missing papers located by an apparently paranormal process (1939). Journal of the Society for Psychical Research 31, 123-24.

Correspondence (1940). Journal of the Society for Psychical Research 31, 183-86.

Sittings with a Glasgow medium (1941-42). Journal of the Society for Psychical Research 32, 109-13.

Dr Gardner Murphy on survival (1946). Journal of the Society for Psychical Research 33, 256-63.

Obituary: Mr W. Whately Carington (1946-49). Proceedings of the Society for Psychical Research 48, 197-212.

Presidential Address (1948). Proceedings of the Society for Psychical Research 48, 239-52.

A commentary on ‘The investigation of spontaneous cases’ (1946-49). Proceedings of the Society for Psychical Research 48, 301-5.

‘An Adventure’. A note on the evidence (1950). Journal of the Society for Psychical Research 35, 178-87.

Qualitative material and theories of psi phenomena (1952). Journal of the Society for Psychical Research 36, 630-33.

Three score years and ten: The SPR 1882-1952 (1952). Journal of the Society for Psychical Research 36, 639-45.

J.G. Piddington and his work on the cross-correspondences scripts (1952). Journal of the Society for Psychical Research 36, 708-16.

G.N.M. Tyrrell and his contribution to psychical research (1953). Journal of the Society for Psychical Research 37, 63-65.

The SPR and the Myers sealed packet (1955). Journal of the Society for Psychical Research 38, 18-20.

Obituary: Edward Osborn (1957). Journal of the Society for Psychical Research 39, 107.

F.W.H. Myers’ posthumous message (1958). Proceedings of the Society for Psychical Research 52, 1-32.

Our pioneers II. Frederic W.H. Myers (1958). Journal of the Society for Psychical Research 39, 261-66.

Our pioneers V. Edmund Gurney (1959). Journal of the Society for Psychical Research 40, 47-52.

Obituary: Mrs Lydia Allison (1959). Journal of the Society for Psychical Research 40, 98-100.

Historical background to 1959 report on enquiry into spontaneous cases (1960). Proceedings of the Society for Psychical Research 53, 83-93.

The Palm Sunday Case – A note on interpreting automatic writings (1960). Journal of the Society for Psychical Research 40, 275-85.

Our pioneers VIII. Richard Hodgson (1960). Journal of the Society for Psychical Research 40, 329-34.

Obituary: Rudolf Tischner (1961). Journal of the Society for Psychical Research 41, 168-69.

Obituary: G.A. Smith (1961). Journal of the Society for Psychical Research 41, 219-21.

Obituary: Lord Charles Hope (1962). Journal of the Society for Psychical Research 41, 394-95.

The Rose of Sharon (1963). Proceedings of the Society for Psychical Research 54, 1-22.

Correspondence (1964). Journal of the Society for Psychical Research 42, 323-24.

Book Reviews

The Story of Psychic Science by H. Carrington, Hereward (1930). Journal of the Society for Psychical Research 26, 141-42.

On the Edge of the Etheric by A. Findlay (1932). Journal of the Society for Psychical Research 27, 244.

The Truth about Spiritualism by C.E. Bechhofer Roberts (1932). Journal of the Society for Psychical Research 27, 329-31.

Science and Psychical Phenomena by G.N.M. Tyrrell (1938-39). Proceedings of the Society for Psychical Research 45, 127-30.

Adventures in Psychical Research by C.E.M. Joad (1938-39).

Proceedings of the Society for Psychical Research 45, 217-22.

Intuition and Survival by G.T. Hamilton (1943). Journal of the Society for Psychical Research 33, 15.

An Adventure by C.A.E. Moberly and E.F. Jourdain (1955). Journal of the Society for Psychical Research 38, 92-93.

Challenge of Psychical Research. A Primer of Parapsychology by Gardner Murphy (1961). Journal of the Society for Psychical Research 41, 73-76.

The Spiritualists: The Story of Florence Cook and William Crookes by T. Hall (1962). Journal of the Society for Psychical Research 41, 372-77.

Arthur James Balfour: The Happy Life of the Politician, Prime Minister, Statesman and Philosopher by K. Young (1963). Journal of the Society for Psychical Research 42, 68-71.

Melvyn Willin

Literature

Broad, C.D. (1970). Obituary: W.H. Salter. Journal of the Society for Psychical Research 45, 203-7.

Dingwall, E.J., Goldney, K.K. and Hall, T.H. (1956). The Haunting of Borley Rectory. Proceedings of the Society for Psychical Research 51, 1-181.

Haynes, R. The Society for Psychical Research 1882-1982. A History (1982). London: MacDonald & Co.

Salter, H. de G. Experiments in telepathy with Dr Gilbert Murray (1941). Journal of the Society for Psychical Research 32, 29-38.

Salter, W.H. An experiment in pseudo-scripts (1927). Proceedings of the Society for Psychical Research 36, 525-54.

References

  • 1. Broad (1970), 206.
  • 2. Dingwall, Goldney and Hall (1956).
  • 3. Salter (1941), 29-38.
  • 4. Salter (1927), 525-54.
  • 5. Salter (1927), 546.