The Thought Reader Craze

Victorian Science at the Enchanted Boundary


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About the Book

Beginning in 1870, the hunger for scientific discovery in Great Britain drove prominent scientists, philosophers and others to promote the legitimacy of telepathy. At the same time, mind-reading as a form of entertainment gained increasing popularity as persuasive performers like John Randall Brown, W.I. Bishop, and Stuart C. Cumberland convinced reporters that they truly could read the thoughts of others.

The widely publicized, sometimes bizarre, interactions between scientists and these charlatans ushered in the Thought Reader Craze, a period that lasted through about 1910 and saw entertainers make and lose fortunes and scientists make and lose reputations. This volume explores this unusual cultural phenomenon, showing how it was aided through the years by public scientific pronouncements, astonishing performances by the thought readers, and the rapidly changing industrial society.

About the Author(s)

Retired high-tech executive Barry H. Wiley is the author of numerous books on the history of thought reading and spiritualism. He is an associate of the Inner Magic Circle, London, and a member of the Order of Merlin of the International Brotherhood of Magicians. He lives in Oregon.

Bibliographic Details

Barry H. Wiley
Format: softcover (6 x 9)
Pages: 238
Bibliographic Info: 31 photos, appendices, notes, bibliography, index
Copyright Date: 2012
pISBN: 978-0-7864-6470-8
eISBN: 978-0-7864-9063-9
Imprint: McFarland

Table of Contents

Acknowledgments      ix

Prologue      1

1. Introduction … and Mrs. Hayden      9

2. The Borderland      17

3. Crookes and D.D. Home      24

4. The First Thought Reader      38

5. The Crookes Galvanometer Tests      47

6. Muscle Reading?      58

7. W. I. Bishop and W.F. Barrett      63

8. The Greatest Rascal      75

9. Proof! The Creery Sisters      82

10. Truth! Barrett and Bishop      85

11. J.R. Brown and His Telegraph Test      92

12. Stuart C. Cumberland, Thought Reader      98

13. Thought Reading Extraordinary: Blackburn and Smith      110

14. W. I. Bishop and “THE SECRET”      122

15. The Thought Reader Craze      131

16. “The Willingness to Deceive”      139

17. The Conjuror and the Physicist (Devant and Lodge)      144

18. The Blackburn Revelations      152

19. Truth … or Hunger      165

Epilogue      167

An Afterthought      168


A. Impossible or Supernormal?      171

B. Origins of Second Sight      173

C. The Date of the Coin Is…?      177

D. Coding of a Random Drawing      180

E. Techniques of Thought Reading (Contact Mindreading)      182

F. A Thought Reader’s Novel      185

G. The Crookes- Fay Galvanometer Test, February 19, 1875      187

H. SPR Leaflet by Alice Johnson      200

Notes      203

Bibliography      217

Index      227

Book Reviews & Awards

  • “Valuable”—Psypioneer Journal
  • “Rigorously researched”—Journal of the Society for Psychical Research
  • “Fascinating accounts…the author’s fluent style makes for enjoyable reading, the book is well illustrated, thoroughly referenced”—The Magic Circle
  • “Fascinating reading. Wiley has combined exhaustive archival research with keen insight to bring this story to light”—Magic
  • “A remarkable job…highly recommended”—The Linking Ring
  • “Barry Wiley is a first rate researcher…thorough piece of work…required reading”—Genii, The Conjurors’ Magazine