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FREDERIC WILLIAM HENRY MYERS (1843-1901)

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Originally appearing in Volume V19, Page 112 of the 1911 Encyclopedia Britannica.
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FREDERIC WILLIAM HENRY MYERS (1843-1901), English poet and essayist, son of Frederic Myers of Keswick—author of Lectures on Great Men (1856) and Catholic Thoughts (first collected 1873), a book marked by a most admirable prose style—was born at Keswick, Cumberland, on the 6th of February 1843, and educated at Cheltenham and Trinity College, Cambridge, where he won a long list of honours and in 1865 was appointed classical lecturer. He had no love for teaching, which he soon discontinued, but he took up his permanent abode at Cambridge . in 1872, when he became a school inspector under the Education Department. Meanwhile he published, in 1867, an unsuccessful essay for the Seatonian prize, a poem entitled St Paul, which met at the hands of the general public with a success that would be difficult to explain, for it lacks sincerity and represents views which the writer rapidly outgrew. It was followed by small volumes of collected verses in 1870 and 1882: both are marked by a flow of rhetorical ardour which culminates in a poem of real beauty, " The Renewal of Youth," in the 1882 collection. His best verse is in heroic couplets. Myers is more likely to be remembered by his two volumes of Essays, Classical and Modern (1883). The essay on Virgil, by far the best thing he ever wrote, represents the matured enthusiasm of a student and a disciple to whom the exquisite artificiality and refined culture of Virgil's method were profoundly congenial. Next to this in value is the carefully wrought essay on Ancient Greek Oracles (this had first appeared in Hellenica). Scarcely less delicate in phrasing and perception, if less penetrating in insight, is the monograph on Wordsworth (1881) for the " English Men of Letters " series. In 1882, after several years of inquiry and discussion, Myers took the lead among a small band of explorers (including Henry Sidgwick and Richard Hodgson, Edmund Gurney and F. Podmore), who founded the society for Psychical Research. He continued for many years to be the mouthpiece of the society, a position for which his perfervidum. ingenium, still more his abnormal fluency and alertness, admirably fitted him. He contributed greatly to the coherence of the society by steering a mid-course between extremes (the extreme sceptics on the one hand, and the enthusiastic spiritualists on the other), and by helping to sift and revise the cumbrous mass of Proceedings, the chief concrete results being the two volumes of Phantasms of the Living (r886), to which he contributed the introduction. Like many theorists, he had. a faculty for ignoring hard facts, and in his anxiety to generalize plausibly upon the alleged data, and to hammer out striking formulae, his insight into the real character of the evidence may have left something to be desired. His long series of papers on subliminal consciousness, the results of which were embodied in a posthumous work called Human Personality and its Survival of Bodily Death (2 vols. 1903), constitute his own chief contribution to psychical theory. This, as he himself would have been the first to admit, was little more than provisional; but Professor William James has pointed out that the series of papers on subliminal consciousness is " the first attempt to consider the phenomena of hallucination, hypnotism, automatism, double personality and mediumship, as connected parts of one whole subject." The last work published in his lifetime was a small collection of essays, Science and a Future Life (1893). He died at Rome on the 17th of January 19o1, but was buried in his native soil at Keswick.
End of Article: FREDERIC WILLIAM HENRY MYERS (1843-1901)
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