The Alternative Path: Lodge, Lightning, and Electromagnetic Waves

By Bruce J. Hunt

Early 1888, Oliver Lodge performed a series of experiments on electrical oscillations along wires that led him very close to Heinrich Hertz’s discovery, announced that same year, of electromagnetic waves in free space. Within a few years, Lodge and others began to use such waves for wireless telegraphy, laying the foundations for technologies that are now ubiquitous. On the surface this looks like a classic case of ‘applied science’, in which a laboratory discovery was turned to practical use, and in some ways it was. But on digging more deeply, we find that Lodge’s work was itself rooted in an intensely practical concern: the protection of buildings from lightning. The path from lightning protection to the discovery of electromagnetic waves, and then on to their use in telecommunications, was winding and indirect. Following this path will shed light on some important ways in which technology and science can interact.

Lodge’s work on lightning grew out of an invitation from the Society of Arts in London that he deliver two lectures on the subject as a memorial to Dr. Robert Mann, a former president of the Meteorological Society. Lodge read up on the subject, particularly the authoritative 1882 Report of the Lightning Rod Conference, and also performed experiments of his own, using tea trays to stand in for storm clouds and discharges from large Leyden jars to mimic bolts of lightning.1 This choice of model was the key to almost all that followed, and it turned out to have some flaws—clouds, it seems, are not really much like tea trays. Simply as studies of Leyden jar discharges, however, Lodge’s experiments were valid and valuable; they shed light on several phenomena related to lightning protection, and more importantly, they led him to new discoveries about rapidly oscillating electric currents.

Many of Lodge’s experiments involved what he called ‘the alternative path’: he would arrange various conductors and insulators, connect them to his Leyden jars, charge them with an electrostatic generator, and see which path the resulting discharge followed. In the course of these experiments, he found many cases, particularly of what he called ‘impulsive rush’, that did not behave the way orthodox theories of lightning protection would have predicted. This led Lodge to criticize some of the conclusions of the Lightning Rod Conference and landed him in heated controversies with some of its defenders. Lodge also noticed some new and unexpected phenomena, particularly when he discharged the Leyden jars into pairs of long parallel wires. Not only did sparks sometimes jump between the wires, but the sparks were longest at their ends, as if the current was surging along the wires and producing a ‘recoil kick’ as it reflected off their ends. Lodge knew that Leyden jars discharges could produce oscillating currents and, partly prompted by his junior colleague A. P. Chattock, he now concluded that these were forming actual electromagnetic waves that were moving at the speed of light through the space surrounding the wires. Here, Lodge thought, was the long-sought confirmation of Maxwell’s theory of the electromagnetic field. He appended a section on these waves along wires to a paper on ‘Lightning Conductors’ that he sent off to the Philosophical Magazine in June 1888, and he set off on a hiking holiday in the Tyrolean Alps with fond hopes that his discovery would be the hit of the upcoming meeting of the British Association, set for September in Bath.2 He soon found, however, that Hertz had performed even more striking experiments on electromagnetic waves in Germany, and Lodge presented his own work simply as a confirmation of Hertz’s.

Lodge continued to work on lightning protection, working with Alexander Muirhead to patent and market an arrester for use on telegraph and power lines, and in 1892 publishing a book on Lightning Conductors and Lightning Guards that brought together his previous writings on the subject.3 Eventually he and others recognized the deficiencies in his experimental model of lightning, in particular the fact that storm clouds (unlike tea trays) do not act as connected conductors, and their discharges, though very sudden, are not generally oscillatory. But while Lodge’s work on electrical discharges was rooted in the practical problem of lightning protection, its real value lay elsewhere, in the scientific evidence it provided for the existence of electromagnetic waves, and in the eventual use of those waves for wireless telegraphy. Lodge’s work on wireless telegraphy did not grow out of pure undirected scientific research, nor did it grow out of a deliberate effort to produce a wireless communications system. Instead its development followed an ‘alternative path’, starting in one technological context and ending in a quite different one, passing along the way through realms of scientific experiment and theory.

Bruce J. Hunt

1Symons, George James, ed., Lightning Rod Conference (London: E. & FN Spon, 1882). [back]
2Oliver Lodge, ‘On the Theory of Lightning Conductors’, Philosophical Magazine, 26 (1888): 217-230. [back]
3Oliver Lodge, Lightning Conductors and Lightning Guards (London: Whittaker and Co, 1892). [back]

Pure and Applied Science at the University of Birmingham, 1890-1919

By Di Drummond

My paper at the third workshop explored the role that Oliver Lodge had in forming a balance between pure and applied science subjects, and between the Sciences and the Arts and Humanities, and, as a result, in laying the foundations of the University of Birmingham. Birmingham was a new form of higher education, the first civic university in England. This was characterised by the Applied Sciences, but there was a concern on the part of Birmingham’s founders for the pure sciences and, in time, the Arts and Humanities, to be included in the portfolio of subjects.

Birmingham is often seen as a product of the political networks and liberal ethos of the University’s founder, the politician and statesman Joseph Chamberlain. Certainly, his campaign was key in raising the finances the University required from amongst the local industrial and commercial elite. Chamberlain was also instrumental in developing the governing structure of the new institution. In contrast, Lodge’s role as the first Principal of the University from 1900, until his retirement in 1919, has been neglected. This paper attempts to restore Lodge’s importance. As a pure scientist who developed practical outcomes from his research while he was Professor of Physics at Liverpool, Lodge argued for the reliance of applied on pure science from the 1880s. This was key to the nature of the new university. So too was Lodge’s belief in a ‘liberal’/’liberal arts’ university education, this being seen as important in preventing scientists and those in the applied sciences from becoming too narrow and utilitarian in their attitudes. Lodge’s wider political values also proved important in the shaping of the new university. While the history of Chamberlainite municipal liberalism in the city of Birmingham was key in forming the relationship between the University and the Midland region, Lodge’s Fabianism, with its ‘municipal socialism’, had some influence in ensuring that local political and professional interests were represented in the governing system of the University of Birmingham.

Di Drummond

Workshop 4: Scientific Lives: Oliver Lodge and the History of Science in the Digital Age

Registration for our fourth and final workshop is now open.  The workhop addresses some of the methodological difficulties in approaching a life such as Lodge’s, and considers how such a life might be told using the various digital tools and resources we have available today.  If features a lecture by David Amigoni; talks by Berris Charnley, Jamie Elwick, Kris Grint, Rebekah Higgitt, James Mussell, and Cassie Newland; and a keynote lecture by Bernard Lightman.  The day finishes with a public lecture, ‘Why did scientists come to write autobiographies?, by Graeme Gooday. Both workshop and public lecture will be held at Leeds Art Gallery. Further details about both the day and how to register are on the workshop page here.

Lodge and Mathematics: Counting beans, interpreting symbols, and Einstein’s blindfold

By Matthew Stanley

Oliver Lodge was deeply in awe of the achievements of James Clerk Maxwell. He saw all his work as expanding the Maxwellian worldview, but he struggled with one of its most distinctive features: the mathematization of nature. Lodge acknowledged that the sophisticated mathematics involved were beyond his abilities, and developed his own nuanced understanding of the role and significance of mathematics in physics.

Lodge’s early obstacle to following Maxwell’s mathematical example was his exclusion from the Cambridge pedagogical tradition. Maxwell’s Treatise was an exceptionally difficult text, and Cambridge figures such as W.D. Niven had to work extremely hard to make sense of it and pass that that knowledge on to their students. Lodge, however, did not have access to this system and wrote that he ‘always regretted that I didn’t go through the Cambridge grind; for I am somewhat isolated from all those who did’.1 Instead, he learned mathematics from O.M.F.E Henrici at University College London, who taught German-style projective geometry and graphical methods instead of Cambridge analysis. This visual, practical style can be easily seen in Lodge’s famous mechanical models.

Lodge greatly enjoyed mathematics and admired those who truly mastered it (including his brother Alfred, a professor of mathematics). However, he never felt that he was among that special class of people who could reason properly using only equations as a guide. This did not dampen his enthusiasm for mathematics. He was impressed with how an equation could bring together and unify scattered facts and observations, and felt that familiarity with mathematics was essential for appreciating science in an aesthetic sense. He believed that the lack of that familiarity was responsible for the dismissal of science by ordinary people. He complained about how the ‘mathematical ignorance of the average educated person has always been complete and shameless’.2

The core problem, however, was less the people than it was the teachers. Lodge objected to the basic Victorian assumptions of how mathematics should be taught. For example, geometry tended to be taught through the process of memorizing Euclid and expecting a student to synthesize all the abstract propositions as one complete system. Rather that this systematic approach, Lodge said, students should be encouraged to experiment with ‘handled things’ like counters or beans and thus discover mathematical laws for themselves. This way, students would be excited by their subjective discoveries and develop an interest in the subject. Their inevitable mistakes in this process would only deepen their appreciation for the correct mathematical laws that they learned later on.

Students would come away from this teaching method with an incomplete knowledge of mathematics. Lodge was confident that this was acceptable, because the student would have developed a sense of the concrete meaning of mathematical symbols and laws (as opposed to solely considering them as abstract entities). He was deeply concerned that scientists have a correct grasp of this issue.

On one hand, a scientist might be too obsessed with the numbers associated with an equation. Lodge mocked the military engineer Sir A.G. Greenhill for demanding that formulae have every number and conversion factor explicitly written out. These sort of ‘practical men’ erred by thinking that ‘symbols express numbers, not things’. Whereas physicists like Lodge knew that ‘symbols may express things and not numbers’.3

On the other hand, someone might be dazzled by the aesthetic beauty of an equation and forget that under the abstraction was a physical concept. Careless mathematicians might hide – intentionally or not – their ignorance under an otherwise beautiful equation. This, Lodge wrote, is where Einstein went wrong. He objected that relativity reduced all the basic categories of physics to pure mathematics, and in doing so ‘leaves us in the dark as to mechanism’.4 That is, it gave us equations but did not explain anything. The equations were so abstract that they gave us no actual information about the world. Physics was supposed to be about modeling the world in the manner of Maxwell and Kelvin. Equations were nice to have, but they could not substitute for concrete physical meaning.

Lodge wanted a ‘full blooded’ universe.5 By this he meant a universe of physical sensations and conceptions based on ordinary experience, rather than solely on ‘complex mathematical machinery’.6 This was where he thought modern physics had failed, and Victorian physics had triumphed. Einstein had blindfolded himself with beautiful mathematics and did not realize that he had gone astray.

Lodge spent his career arguing that physics needed to have the right balance of pure and concrete mathematics. No one should be surprised that Lodge held up Maxwell as the exemplar of the correct mix of physical understanding and symbolic power. Faraday did not have enough pure maths; Einstein had too much. Einstein had been entranced by aesthetic beauty as a mathematical method, rather than as something that was found at the end of a well-established theory. Models were the touchstone that allowed physicists to set up reliable equations while also preventing unchecked mathematical adventuring. Some beings of extraordinary ability could move beyond their models – as when Maxwell developed his more abstract electromagnetic system. But according to Lodge, such people were few and far between – and included neither Einstein nor himself.

Matthew Stanley

1Oliver Lodge, Past Years (New York: Scribner’s Sons, 1932), p.88. [back]
2Oliver Lodge, Easy Mathematics, Chiefly Arithmetic; Being a Collection of Hints to Teachers, Parents, Self-Taught Students and Adults, and Containing Most Things in Elementary Mathematics Useful to be Known (London: Macmillan and Co., 1906), p.viii. [back]
3Oliver Lodge, ‘The meaning of symbols in applied algebra’, Nature, 55 (1897), 246-7 (p.247). [back]
4Oliver Lodge, ‘The new theory of gravity’, Nineteenth Century, 86 (1919), 1189-1201 (pp.1200-1). [back]
5Oliver Lodge, ‘Einstein’s real achievement’, Fortnightly Review, 110 (1921), 353-372 (p.372). [back]
6Lodge, ‘Einstein’s real achievement’, p.370. [back]

Workshop 3: Science, Pure and Applied: Oliver Lodge, Physics, and Engineering, University of Liverpool, 31 October 2014

Registration for our third workshop – Science, Pure and Applied: Oliver Lodge, Physics, and Engineering – is now open. To register for the workshop please email us at giving us your name, institutional affiliation (if any) and letting us know of any dietary requirements you might have. Registration is free and will close on 17 October 2014.

This workshop examines the distinction between pure and applied science in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. Today, Lodge is most celebrated for his role in the development of wireless telegraphy; at the same time, however, he is remembered for his stubborn defence of the ether in the face of relativity and the new physics. His position in the university meant that he acted as spokesperson for pure research carried out by salaried academics while also representing the self-made engineer, able to turn theory into profit. This workshop will consider Lodge’s contribution to science and engineering; his attitudes to intellectual property and priority (including Lodge’s disputes with his rivals); and the trajectory of his career.

The workshop will take place in the Leggate Theatre of the University of Liverpool’s Victoria Gallery and Museum, the opening of which Lodge attended in 1892. There will be an opportunity to visit the exhibition ‘A World A Particle’; a screening of a film featuring Lodge speaking; and an opportunity to view the University of Liverpool’s Lodge material in the archives. Further details, including the full programme, are available on the workshop page.

Deadline extended! Science, Pure and Applied: Oliver Lodge, Physics, and Engineering, University of Liverpool, 31 October 2014

Last chance to participate! This workshop examines the distinction between pure and applied science in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. Today, Oliver Lodge is most celebrated for his role in the development of wireless telegraphy; at the same time, however, he is remembered for his stubborn defence of the ether in the face of relativity and the new physics. His position in the university meant that he acted as spokesperson for pure research carried out by salaried academics while also representing the self-made engineer, able to turn theory into profit. This workshop will consider Lodge’s contribution to science and engineering; his attitudes to intellectual property and priority (including Lodge’s disputes with his rivals); and the trajectory of his career. Confirmed speakers include Di Drummond, Bruce Hunt, Peter Rowlands, and Matthew Stanley.

We welcome proposals for short papers (20 mins) on any aspect of physics and engineering in the late nineteenth and early twentieth-centuries for a panel to be held in the afternoon.

We’ve extended the deadline for proposals to 8 September 2014. Send proposals (no more than 300 words) to Further details on the workshop page.

CFP: Science, Pure and Applied: Oliver Lodge, Physics and Engineering

We invite proposals for the third Lodge workshop, ‘Science, Pure and Applied: Oliver Lodge, Physics and Engineering’, to be held at the University of Liverpool on the 31 October 2014.

Oliver Lodge was a defender of pure science, particularly in the modern university, yet he took a keen interest in how science might be applied throughout his career, taking out patents and setting up businesses. This workshop, which will take place in the University of Liverpool’s Victoria Building, the opening of which Lodge attended in 1892, examines the distinction between pure and applied science in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. Speakers already confirmed include Di Drummond (Leeds Trinity), Bruce Hunt (University of Texas), Peter Rowlands (Liverpool), and Matthew Stanley (New York University).

We invite proposals for short papers (20 minutes) for a panel session at this one-day workshop. Please send proposals (no more than 300 words) to by the 1 September 2014.

This CFP is available for download here.

Further details about the workshop are available here.

Completing Modern Physics: Oliver Lodge’s Imperial Science of the Ether

By Richard Noakes

My paper at the second workshop attempted to deepen current understanding of the role of the ether of space in Oliver Lodge’s long-term project to explore the connections between physics and psychical research. It suggests that by the 1890s the nagging problems that physicists faced trying to understand the nature of the ether were seen by Lodge as possible ways of exploring psychical phenomena – phenomena that he believed occupied a ‘borderland of physics and psychology’, of mind and matter, and of science and religion.1 By this time, it was increasingly clear that the ether could no longer be understood in the way it had for decades – as form of ordinary, ponderable matter. The need for the ether to be an electrical and magnetic, as well as a luminiferous, medium required it to be altogether more complex in nature and structure. Experiments by Michelson and Morley in the 1880s and by Lodge in the 1890s gave contradictory results as to the relationship between ether and ponderable matter, and compounded the ether mystery. Yet the ether’s necessarily extraordinary nature excited Lodge. Like so many physicists at the turn of the twentieth century, he recognised the severe limits of Newtonian dynamics and suggested that an electrical or ethereal dynamics was an altogether more satisfactory way of understanding the physical cosmos. But Lodge also thought this constituted the most promising step to date towards physics embracing life and mind – those questions typically eschewed by physicists.

Lodge’s increasing interest in investigating the wider, vital, mental and psychic functions of the ether sprang from at least four concerns. First, the establishment of long-distance wireless telegraphy (including Lodge’s own system of syntonic wireless telegraphy) was perceived as an additional argument for the reality of an ethereal medium that could be indirectly manipulated. Second, after many sittings with spiritualist mediums, Lodge needed an ethereal medium to furnish a possible physical ‘vehicle’ by which the personalities of the dead could commune with the living, a belief in which he first publicly declared conviction in 1902. Third, he needed an ether to explain the apparent capacity of the body to exert intelligent or directed forces beyond its material limits. In 1894-5 he had attended seances with the spiritualist medium Eusapia Palladino and was convinced that she displayed genuine ‘telekinetic’ powers, despite later agreeing that she often resorted to fraud. Fourth and finally, Lodge’s close friendship with Frederic W. H. Myers, the classicist, poet and psychical researcher, encouraged an altogether more creative approach to physical and psychical analogies (especially those of ethereal and psychological/spiritual ‘spaces’) and a greater boldness in using physics to intervene in wider debates about the implications of the sciences for Christian belief.

Lodge’s ambitions for exploring the ether, and in particular its psychic functions, were frustrated by the heavy administrative duties he had to fulfill after 1900, when he became first Principal of Birmingham University. This position left him little time for any original scientific research, let alone the potentially time-consuming and expensive experimental investigations into the ether. However, he was able to explore the ether question using the literary skills that were already helping his reputation and income. From the 1900s onward he had a much more ambitious view of the domain of his scientific authority and addressed his interpretations of physical and psychical researches to audiences of theologians, philosophers, spiritualists, statesmen, educationalists, and wireless operators, as well as the physicists, electrical engineers and psychical researchers who constituted his main audiences in the late nineteenth century. While the ether was being increasingly marginalised in specialist physics publications, it enjoyed a remarkable ‘post-relativistic’ afterlife in precisely these wider scientific, technical, philosophical and religious circles. Not surprisingly, it was in a 1919 number of the Hibbert Journal, a leading forum of theological and philosophical debate, that Lodge first detailed his most elaborate exploration of the ether’s psychic function: the concept of the ‘ethereal body’.2 This was the idea that since all matter is held together by ether, then all matter has an ethereal counterpart. Since animate matter had an obvious psychic significance, then its ethereal counterpart was at least as likely to have one since it wasn’t materially constrained. Moreover since the ether didn’t suffer from friction, radioactive decay or other ‘temporal disabilities’ then it was possible that the ethereal body and its associated psychic function survived bodily death and thereafter enjoyed a ‘livelier existence’ (258). In a plethora of books, articles and broadcasts in the 1920s and ‘30s Lodge made the ethereal body a major aspect of his speculation on the way physics could lend credence to psychical research’s evidence for post-mortem survival and to the Christian idea of the spiritual body.

My paper concluded with some reflections on Lodge’s reputation in the 1920s and ‘30s. In this period his publications stimulated a good deal of debate about the ether, psychical research and the relationship between the sciences and Christianity. Many welcomed his argument that the ether gave unity and physical intelligibility to the cosmos but others failed to see how this outmoded concept could lend credibility to the dubious results of psychical research or how something so ‘material’ could help explain the soul. Historians have often seen Lodge as somebody who never really relinquished the nineteenth century materialism, mechanistic thinking and determinism on which he had been raised. It’s certainly true that Lodge often saw himself as a ‘conservative’ physicist out of step with the approaches and theories of Dirac, Heisenberg and other younger colleagues.3 But Lodge’s conservatism was more complex than this label suggests. It certainly doesn’t mean he was a closet materialist given how strongly he attacked this position and tried to represent the ultimate ethereal reality of the cosmos as something utterly unlike ponderable matter. It’s rather better at capturing his views on mechanism and determinism, but even here caution is necessary. The ethereal and other ‘mechanisms’ that he supposed would eventually explain how life and mind interact with matter were not mechanisms in the Newtonian or ‘classical’ sense, and Lodge often humbly admitted that ‘mechanical’ terms such as inertia and density were only used analogically and ‘apologetically’ where knowledge was so limited.4

Lodge was equally subtle about his ‘determinism’. He agreed with his old scientific mentors John Tyndall, W. K. Clifford and T. H. Huxley that the cosmos was ultimately law-bound and that there was no place in it for caprice and uncertainty. However, he disagreed with their view that the only knowledge that humans could have of the ‘totality of things’ was of matter in motion.5 He agreed that humans could never apprehend this ‘totality’ but insisted that ether physics and psychical research had got them closer to it than a simplistic and restricted ‘materialistic’ determinism. Lodge’s determinism was altogether more comprehensive than this and saw mind and spirit, as well as matter and motion, as parts of the universal chain of causation. For Lodge this was entirely consistent with his underlying belief in an intelligible, continuous and Divinely-guided cosmos and it’s not surprising that he objected so severely to the view, widely associated with the popular writings of Arthur Stanley Eddington, that the indeterministic physics of the quantum made religion possible for the ‘reasonable scientific man’.6 For Lodge, religion been eminently reasonable decades earlier with a superdeterministic cosmos suggested by ether physics and psychical research.

Richard Noakes

1Oliver Lodge, ‘Address’, Report of the Sixty-First Meeting of the British Association of the Advancement of Science Held at Cardiff in 1891 (London: John Murray, 1892), pp. 547-557, p. 553. [back]
2 Oliver Lodge, ‘Ether, Matter and the Soul’, Hibbert Journal 17 (1919), 252-260 [back]
3 Oliver Lodge, Beyond Physics: The Idealisation of Mechanism (London: G. Allen and Unwin, 1930), p. 94. [back]
4 Oliver Lodge, My Philosophy: Representing My Views on the Many Functions of the Ether of Space (London: Ernest Benn, 1933), p. 190. [back]
5 Oliver Lodge, Modern Problems (London: Methuen, 1912), p. 4. [back]
6 Arthur Eddington, Nature of the Physical World (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1928), 350. [back]

The Case of Fletcher: Shell Shock, Spiritualism, and Lodge’s Raymond (1916)

By Christine Ferguson

portrait of Raymond

Portait of Raymond Lodge, from Raymond; or Life and Death (London: Methuen, 1916), n.p.

Haunting the peripheries of Oliver Lodge’s classic spiritualist work Raymond, or Life and Death (1916) is the figure of Lieutenant Eric Fletcher, close wartime companion of the book’s eponymous spirit protagonist and early recipient of the then nascent diagnosis of shellshock.1 “He went off for a rest cure yesterday morning,” records Raymond Lodge in a letter from the front sent in late May, 1915. “He is my greatest friend in the Battalion, so I miss him very much and hope he won’t be long away. He will probably go back to England, however, as his nerves are all wrong. He is going the same way as Laws did and needs a complete rest” (39). Although Fletcher remained a regular presence in the young Lodge’s correspondence until the latter’s death later that year, he leaves little  trace in the afterlife communications allegedly channeled by the spirit Raymond to his grieving father through the London mediums Mrs Gladys Leonard and Mr A. Vout Peters in the autumn of 1916. In my talk at the second Lodge workshop, I argued that the phenomena of shell shock nonetheless remains central to Raymond and Oliver Lodge’s spiritualist philosophy during the inter-war years, coming to serve as perfect analogue for the disembodied spirit as it struggled to communicate from, and adjust to, its newly disembodied state.

Raymond by no means represented Lodge’s first spiritualist publication — indeed, the wireless pioneer had been active in the continental psychical research scene since the eighteen-eighties — but when it appeared, it was immediately recognized as belonging to a different category than his earlier forays into the field such as The Proofs of Life After Death (1902) and The Survival of Man (1909).2 More personal than these, it struck a chord with the thousands of parents in Britain and around the world who had lost their own sons to the war effort, and quickly became one of the best-selling spiritualist books of all time. It also became the most recognizable example of a new sub-genre of spiritualist writing, namely, the spirit soldier biography, one that narrated the continuing adventures and sometimes sustained battle engagement of combatants on the other side. Including such works as War Letters from a Living Dead Man (1915), J.S.M. Ward’s Gone West (1917), and Wellesley Tudor-Pole’s Private Dowding (1917), the genre aimed to reconcile the unprecedented violence and devastation of modern technological warfare with spiritualism’s hopeful promise of universal human progress both on earth and in the afterlife.3 It also, to varying degrees, had to contend with the unruly and sometimes nonsensical nature of the séance messages it compiled as evidence, transforming what seemed like error or even gibberish on the part of the alleged communicants into logical and consistent evidence of post-life survival.

Raymond’s solution to the latter problem posed a significant threat to the meliorist spiritualist philosophy the book took as foundation. Lodge had clearly been reading medical and bio-evolutionary accounts of the conflict as he prepared the manuscript, and was particularly struck by leading British psychiatrist Sir Frederick Mott’s recent theories on shell shock.4 Sufferers of this seemingly new syndrome exhibited a strange set of often allied symptoms without apparent organic cause; they experienced unexplained amnesia, struggled to eat or sleep, had nightmares, headaches, and chronic panic, developed speech defects or lost the ability to speak altogether. An early pioneer of its treatment, Mott traced the condition to barely detectable nerve damage caused by proximity to high explosives or exposure to carbon monoxide and argued that it could be cured through rest and cheerfulness (Mott 70). In Raymond, Lodge quoted at length from what he viewed as the most electrifying, and spiritualistically relevant, passage of Mott’s recently published Lettsomian lectures on subject:

Why should those men, whose silent thoughts are perfect, be unable to speak? They comprehend all that is said to them unless they are deaf; but it is quite clear that in these cases their internal language is unaffected, for they are able to express their thoughts and judgments perfectly well by writing, even if they are deaf. The mutism is therefore not due to intellectual defect, nor is it due to volitional inhibition of language in silent thought. Hearing, the primary incitation to vocalization and speech, is usually unaffected, yet they are unable to speak; they cannot even whisper, cough, whistle, or laugh aloud. Many who are unable to speak voluntarily yet call out in their dreams expressions they have used in trench warfare and battle. (330)

In Mott’s shell shock victim, temporarily but not permanently impeded from communicating in a normative way, Lodge found an ideal and medically legitimate explanatory model for the messy and incomplete nature of séance speech. The dead soldier, like the shell shock victim, was disoriented by his new state of being and required the support of an adept practitioner who could provide fleshy, material support for his unvoiceable experience. “[I]t is through physical phenomena that normally we apprehend, here and now; and it is by aid of physical phenomena that we convey to others our wishes, our impression, our ideas, and our memories,” Lodge surmised. “Dislocate the physical from the psychical, and communication ceases. Restore the connection, in however imperfect a form, and once more incipient communication may become possible” (330).

Yet Raymond’s appropriation of trauma, and of war neuroses in particular, as explanatory device sat directly at odds with both the spiritualist movement’s optimistic cosmological schema and its insistence on the retention of personal identity, echoing, in fact, the challenge to patriotic and triumphalist approaches to the Great War posed by shell-shocked veterans in the secular sphere more broadly. The spirit solider biography insisted that the living-dead were still fit for service; the stuttering and often inaccurate messages sent from the Great Beyond suggested, on the contrary, that they were not. Similarly, the version of Raymond Lodge channeled by Mrs Leonard and Mr Peters is both eager to serve and yet doubtful of his ability to do so: “I almost wonder,” he reports through the spirit guide Feda, “shall I be fit and able to do [work]” (98). The spirit Raymond also appeared unable to recognize the ongoing effects of the fatal physical wounds on his new subtle body, ones that his medium could sense even if he could not. In her first sitting with Oliver Lodge, Mrs Leonard claimed that her spirit guide Feda could sense “ a string around her head; a tight feeling in the head, and also an empty sort of feeling in the chest, empty, as if sort of something gone . . . also a bursting sensation in the head . . . [Raymond] does not know he is giving this. . . [b]ut Feda gets it from him.” (127).

If the devastating injuries acquired during combat continued to effect identity after death and persisted in thwarting the attempts of dead soldiers to speak clearly to their bereaved loved ones, how could readers have faith in the progressive nature of afterlife existence? How, furthermore, could the public be sure that they would remain their identifiable, ‘true’ selves forever in light of the new evidence from the front lines, where established personality was being completely blown apart by the sustained effects of combat? Should returnees from the trenches, or indeed the afterlife, no longer be capable of recognising themselves or their families in a convincing way, or of using language coherently, it was almost impossible to argue, as the spiritualists did, that humans retained their personal identities after death. Lodge’s awareness of this conundrum perhaps explains his removal of the shell shock comparison from the subsequent shorter version of the text, Raymond Revised, he published in 1922. Nonetheless, Lodge’s preliminary attempt to authorize theories of spirit identity by synchronizing them with the latest findings from the new field of military psychiatry reveals him to have been as committed to experimentation and modernization in his spiritualist investigations as in his wireless experimentation.

For a fuller discussion of shell shock in Raymond, see my article in Viewpoint Magazine.

Christine Ferguson

1 Oliver Lodge, Raymond; or Life and Death, With Examples of the Evidence for
Survival of Memory and Affection After Death
(London: Methuen & Co., 1916). [back]
2 Oliver Lodge, The Proofs of Life after Death (Boston: Small, Maynard and Co., 1902) and The Survival of Man: A Study in Unrecognized Human Faculty (London: Methuen, 1909). [back]
3 Elsa Barker, War Letters from the Living Dead Man (London; William Rider & Son, 1915); J.S.M. Ward, Gone West: Three Narratives of After-Death Experiences (London: William Rider & Son, 1917); Wellesley Tudor-Pole, Private Dowding: A Plain Record of the After Death Experiences of a Soldier Killed in Battle (London: John M. Watkins, 1917). [back]
4 Frederick Mott, The Effects of High Explosives Upon the Central Nervous System (London: Harrison and Sons, 1916). [back]