The Unfinished Preface by Carleton G. Ferris

Love of Nature, Religion, Philosophy & Psychical Research

In his autobiography father has referred to his intense interest in seeing and hearing the great men and women of his time in their various fields of endeavor and the sacrifices he made in order to indulge his interest. He has also referred to his fondness for the theatre and the dramatic arts.

In the lighter vein it may surprise the reader to know that he was very fond of good perfume, but refrained from its use except in a very mild way and at rare intervals. He was also a diamond lover but his nature so rebelled against ostentatious display that he contented himself with the ownership of a very few modest stones. The wonders of Nature never ceased to hold his interest his early associations on the farm in the comparatively primitive period of his boyhood undoubtedly implanted in him an appreciation of the works of nature which remained with him throughout his busy life. He loved the soil and often expressed the hope that he might return to it. On October 18, 1927, he writes to me as follows:

"I hate business. I was intended for a dirt farmer. One who could wear long whiskers, long hair, drive a pair of steers or stags and raise thirteen or fourteen children. I missed my calling but it is too late to get back to fundamentals now."

Apropos of his close observations of the ways of nature here are a few lines written to me on March 18, 1927:

"The robins are here and I suppose the ground hog has come out of his hole. I long since learned to discount the intelligence of robins, blue-jays and ground hogs. I am not particularly desirous of assuming the attitude of a pessimist."

Father has referred to some extent to his attitude toward religion. While he was entirely free from racial or religious intolerance, he was at times the target for considerable criticism with reference to his association with the Unitarian Church. It did not disturb him particularly, however. He never accepted any doctrine, religious, social, political or economic, lock stock and barrel. His affiliation with the Unitarian Church, therefore, simply meant that to him it comprehended a religious philosophy that he could understand and believe in . . . at least in part. The following extract from one of his letters to me on May 29, 1923, concisely expresses his religious philosophy:

"I know that neither you nor Phelps has ever engaged in much religious thinking. I believe that both of you have missed something worth while. I still believe that if the Christian Church could be converted to Christianity, something worth while could be accomplished. The truth of the matter is, there is no difference between church members and non-church members except by profession. None of them believe in practical Christianity. I believe that the Sermon on the Mount is genuinely practical. I find that the man or woman who is without this philosophy of life is unstable and unable to fight successfully the battles of life. I have always worshiped the courage that conquers. It is not worthwhile to ask whether life is worth living or not. We are compelled to live it. The fundamental virtues exemplified by Christ constitute the only energizing forces in the universe."

Father possessed a type of curiosity that gave him a perpetual thirst for knowledge and sometimes carried him far afield. There was nothing that he would not delve into when his interest was sufficiently aroused. During his entire life he was interested in psychical research. Being intensely practical he was wary of accepting in toto the experiences of others in the field of psychic phenomena. On the other hand, he could not accept in its entirety the theory of self-hypnotism as applied to the experiences of Sir Oliver Lodge, Sir Conan Doyle, Crooks, the English physicist; Flammarion, the French astronomer, and many others. Intensely interested in human nature and free from prejudice he was forever trying to verify by experiment experiences of others in the realm of the unknown. I can recall that at one time he had a standing offer of one thousand dollars to be paid to any person who could produce on slates clamped together, with a slate pencil between, any message from his father. Many tried it but no one was successful. The reason usually given being that my father's presence and skepticism constituted a type of resistance which the medium or control could not overcome.

Some ten years before his death he had a series of experiences immediately following the death of my mother which continued for a period of a year or more that he was unable to explain. At least four members of the family were witnesses to these phenomena. At his request, at the time, I made a typewritten summary of these various phenomena which is still in my possession. I doubt that any series of incidents of this nature that have ever been recorded are any more unusual and inexplicable or better substantiated by unprejudiced witnesses than are the ones to which I refer.

Throughout, father remained cool and calm. While neither he nor any of us could offer a satisfactory explanation, it was his judgment that there might be a logical solution that the study of human nature still is in its infancy and our knowledge of the capacities of the human mind exceedingly limited as yet.