Wednesday 30 April 2014

A Really Practical Poet

That was the name of an article in Crosthwaite’s Register of Facts and Occurrences for January 1861 describing the career to date of James Torrington Spencer Lidstone: an author with very particular aims and goals.

He wrote an regular (usually annual) work of poetry called The Londoniad. It contained a number of verses regarding famous personalities and establishments in London. The practical aspect of his work is this: he would approach certain businesses or people with the promise of a positive write-up if they bought fifty copies. If they did not, then a more negative, spiteful entry would be included. This landed Mr Lidstone in court for libel on a number of occasions.

In 1861, Crosthwaite's Register describe Lidstone in a faintly amused manner:

“In turning over the pages of the “Londoniad,” we are struck by the originality of the subjects chosen by the “Muse.” There is no nonsense about the moon; no running after skylarks and nightingales, in the style of Shelley and Keats; and no “pottering over” water-lillies and purling brooks. The minstrel sweeps the strings to no love-sick strain, but twangs them in shops and counting-houses to the tune of trade.”

The article goes on to list some of the titles of Lidstone's work, including the “School Furniture Poem,” the “Great Cement Poem,” the “Light Carriage Poem,” and the “Vegetable Leather Poem.”

A good example of Lidstone's work is shown below, written in honour of William Morris, a maker of Wicker chairs, baskets, etc.

A few years later, in March 1865, the London City Press has a short article describing how “two or three actions have recently been brought by a person named Lidstone, against tradesmen in Shoreditch and Hoxton” for non-payment of fees incurred by him including poetry praising their businesses in the Londoniad.

The Shoreditch Observer had more details on the case, including the revelation that, in cross-examination, Lidstone admitted that he was in a similar situation with about 100 other tradesmen.

Then in 1866, Mr R.W. Winfield and Co. took Lidstone to court over a poem published in that year's Londoniad. (NB, the copy for 1867 includes R.W. Winfield in the index, but the page itself has been removed so I can't find a copy of the poem itself.) Initially, the court proceedings were stopped after James Lidstone agreed to publish an apology, which he did so in The Times.

However, a few days later, a letter was published from Lidstone declaring that the apology was a forgery and had never been written by him.

Of course, this meant that the court proceedings begun again. The Times of 3 October 1866 has a report on Lidstone appearance in court, in which he refuses to apologise or write a new apology. By the end, he insists that his signature on the document was “surreptitiously obtained.” At this point, his own lawyer advises him to stop talking. Lidstone lost the case.

Over the years, Lidstone was no stranger to the courts, either as defendant or prosecutor. In January 1871, tried to take the newspaper The Islington Gazette to court, complaining that their reporting of a recent story concerning his appearance in court. However, the grant was not given, under the reasoning that, however much ridicule the previous story had brought Lidstone, he was receive even more were he to continue with this summons.

He had agreed a contract with a Grimwade where Grimwade would buy 100 copies of The Londoniad in return for having a poem about his shop included. This was only if Grimwade was able to approve the poem in advance.

Lidstone sent Grimwade a copy of the poem and a copy of another of his books “The Bostoniad” (a similar work aimed at American businesses). Grimwade rejected the poem and called the Bostoniad “trash” and said he wanted nothing to do with the project. However, the poem was included and the 100 copies sent out so when Grimwade refused to take delivery, Lidstone took him to court. Lidstone lost this case, too, and the London City Press contains an excerpt of the poem in question.

“My heroes' Anti-corrosion Paint 'tis just the kind we need,
And is destined every other sort thro' the world to supersede.
Gentlemen, Farmers, and all engaged in the building line;
Emigrants and Colonists, the highest place assign,
And over the Atlantic we'll take a large cargo,
From the renowned manufacturers, Grimwade, Ridley and Co.”

In October 1872, he was tried in his absence at Clerkenwell County Court in an attempt at retrieving £3 2s from Mr Naden that Lidstone felt he was owed after delivering to him several copies of the Londoniad.

Then, in 1883, a new case appeared in the pages of the Birmingham Daily Mail, where Lidstone was trying to recover £6 5s from Mr W.H. Holdom for 100 copies of the Londoniad. By now he was calling himself the Honorable James Torrington Spencer Lidstone, and claimed to have been decorated by Napoleon III and the King of Italy.

Lidstone further claimed to be the sole representative of the Aboriginal Bank of Manitoba in England and that he'd been commissioned by the Government of Canada.

When Holdom found out Lidstone was a fraud, he sent the books back by messenger. Lidstone refused to take delivery and poured water over the messenger from an upstairs window. At this point the handle broke and the jug fell on the poor man's head. When Lidstone was unable to provide any proof of his connection to the government of Canada or the Aboriginal Bank of Manitoba, he found in favour of the defendant.

The last I can find of Lidstone in the English press is a note in December of the same year, when the Huddersfield Chronicle mentions that the London Gazette has listed James Torrington Spencer Lidstone, living at Goswell-terrace, Clerkenwell, Middlesex, as having gone bankrupt.

Unfortunately, there is precious little about James Lidstone the man that I can find on the internet. He was born in Canada, and lived in Toronto and Ottawa in his early life. He moved to Buffalo, NY in 1850, and must have moved to England before 1856, which is when the first edition of The Londoniad appeared. While in England, he lived in Toquay, Devon for a time. Since this is (fairly) close to where I live now, I may try and contact a few museums and libraries to see if they know anything about him. It does seem a shame that such an interesting person should vanish so completely from history.


Hollingshead, J. “A Really Practical Poet,” Crosthwaite’s Register of Facts and Occurrences, January 1861, p90
“A Quack Poet,” Shoreditch Observer, 11 March 1865, p 3
“The Londoniad,” London City Press, Saturday 18 March 1865, p 1
Lidstone, J.T.S., “Public Apology,” The Times (London, England), Thursday, Sep 13, 1866, p 1
Lidstone, J.T.S., “To the Editor of the Times,” The Times (London, England), Saturday, Sep 22, 1866, p 10
Fox, “The Apotheosis of Puffery,” The Musical Standard, vol 5, July 1 to December 31 1866, p 228
Lidstone, J.T.S., “W. Morris,” the Fourteenth Londoniad, 1867, p 83
“Law and Police Intelligence,” Islington Gazette, 3 January 1871
“The Londoniad,” London City Press, Saturday 18 February 1871, p 6
“Law and Police Interlligence,” Islington Gazette, 18 October 1872
“Poem Advertisements,” The Birmingham Daily Mail, Saturday 17 February 1883, p 3
“Poem Advertisements,” Worcestershire Chronicle, 3 March 1883, p 3
“Local Authors,” The Buffalo Courier, Tuesday 19 March 1889, p 6

Tuesday 15 April 2014

The Arizona Experiments

About half a year ago I had a discussion about The Arizona Experiments on an internet forum. Since then, the forum has closed but I kept my notes on the topic and I decided it was worth writing about again.

The Arizona Experiments were a series of ten trials designed to test the precognitive dreams of a man called Chris Robinson. They were conducted in Arizona by Dr Gary Schwartz of Arizona University. Over the course of eleven days and ten nights, Chris Robinson would write down his impressions of his dreams. In the following morning, he and Gary Schwartz would get a phone call from a third party who chose a location at random from a possible pool of twenty local destinations.

Gary receives the call in the morning telling him the location of that day's target

The results, as summarized in the published paper, were

“The primary pattern of themes of information per day matched its respective location as well as associated events for the day. The patterns of evidence indicate that selective attention and perceptual priming were insufficient to explain the complete set of findings. The data can be interpreted as consistent with CR‟s hypothesis that the presence of spiritual mediation can sometimes be inferred from the appearance of highly improbable and organized patterns of significant events in real life.” (Schwartz, 2011)

This experiment was originally carried out in August 2001 and submitted for publication in 2003 to the Journal for the Society of Psychical Research, but was rejected due to methodological flaws. This caused a (very) minor fuss on the internet at the time, to the effect that the SPR had been taken over by skeptics. Eventually it found an outlet in the pages of the Journal of Spirituality and Paranormal Studies some ten years after the experiment was carried out.

The majority of the paper describes the ten trials in some detail, as well as the similarities between the notes made overnight and the locations themselves. For example:

“On Day 4, the primary themes were “suns, mirrors, LCDs, telescopes, Mount Olympus (after his 35mm camera), airplanes, hangers, and a pitched propeller).

CR was taken to Kitt Peak National Laboratory (at the top of a huge mountain) to the world‟s largest Solar Telescope.

CR and PE ate lunch at a nearby airport restaurant with hangers that had a large pitched propeller in front. None of the other nine locations had this unique pattern of themes.”


On Day 7, the primary themes included “dust, dust everywhere, including on the floor in a building, a court room, and a train robbery.”

CR was taken to Old Tucson, a western theme park that is also used as a movie set. There is dust “everywhere” at Old Tucson, including a room purposely designed with a completely dusty floor.
A large train has been used in more than 100 movies involving train robberies.

Old Tucson includes a courtroom. None of the other nine locations contained this precise pattern of themes.” (Schwartz, 2011)

I found some of Chris Robinson’s videos that he made of the actual visits to a few of the sites. Watching them gives a little more idea about how Gary and Chris went about matching Chris’ notes to the locations.

For example, at the Old Tucson studio (day seven), the fundamental theme is “dust”, so they go around looking for dusty things, even going so far as to ask people if they’ve seen any dusty rooms. This is why they find unique examples of Chris' descriptors during the day: because they are highly motivated and actively looking for them. So when the paper says they didn't find that particular combination of descriptors on any other day, is that really because they weren't there or because they weren't looking?

About the Kitt Peak Observatory (on day four), Chris says he didn't dream on that particular night, so he relied on the notes he made in London. In the video there are two full ring binders of notes beside Chris in his room, which I assume are his notes. So the amount of data not represented in the paper is pretty substantial. Also, Chris has plenty of ways he can interpret these images and Gary Schwartz, too, is not immune to similar leaps of logic.

For example, one of the primary themes listed in Chris' notes for this day is "Pitch". This is mentioned in the footage in Chris' room, it is mentioned again in the car and finally Gary links the clue of "pitch" to the angle of the telescope. In the published paper, "pitch" does not appear. Instead it is now "pitched propeller". Also "dish" is missing from the paper and "LCD" has been added.

A number of descriptors not reported in the published paper

Also, in the video there's a close up of the page of Chris' notes that reads “Olympus – Greek – Mountain Screens – Screen Pictures” etc, and you can just about see the writing on the other side of the page. At the top of the page, it's possible to read “4th August”. But the Kitt Peak trial was carried out on the 5th of August. They are using notes that were actually meant for a different day.

This shot from a TV documentary shows a page from Day 4, which was held on August 5th.
But the words "4 August" can be seen written at the top of the previous page. 
In other words, these notes were supposed to relate to a different day.

And looking at the video, other notes for the Kitt Peak Observatory were “Ring – Diamond – Screens – TV – Projector – Not 4 Sale” and “Cake – cream.” These are all absent from the paper.

In Chris Robinson's hour-long video of the events of this day Gary asks Chris what the key words are, not in the hotel before he found out the target for that day, but in the car as they're driving along the road, after he knows the target location. Chris, too, may not be completely blind to the target by now since he was next to Gary when he got the call to find out the location, and also Gary Schwartz had already looked for the correct route on a map while sitting beside Chris. According to the long video they key words are "pitch, sun, mirror, Mount Olympus, screens, dish."

Day four is the only day when we have enough footage and knowledge of the actual prediction to make a meaningful comparison to what was written up for publication and what actually occurred. Given the disparity between the two accounts of that day, I suspect that other days have had a similar amount of interpretation. Far from being evidence of psychic functioning, I prefer the theory that, given two large sets of data (Chris’ notes and that day’s target) correspondences are bound to be found.


Schwartz, G. (2011) “Exploratory Blinded Field Experiment Evaluating Purported Precognitive Dreams in a Highly Skilled Subject: Possible Spiritual Mediation?” Journal of Spirituality and Paranormal Studies, Vol 34, Number 1, pgs 3-20.

Roll, M. (2003) "More Censorship: Gary Schwartz's Experiments with Dream Detective Chris Robinson," 21 December 2003

Chris Robinson's footage of the Arizona Experiment, day four

Chris Robinson's footage of the Arizona Experiment, day seven

Thursday 3 April 2014

The doubt over Stanley and Livingstone

Dr Livingstone was an English explorer who, in the late 1860s, went missing in Africa. He was presumed still alive and still doing his work as an explorer by people back in Britain, but with no direct work from the doctor, and with nothing but rumour and speculation to go on, no one could be sure.

On 10 November 1871 Henry Stanley, after years of searching, finally found Dr Livingstone, who’d been lost in Africa without any communication for years. Stanley had been sent to find the English explorer by the newspaper he worked for, the New York Herald and, after two years of searching, he'd finally found his man.

However, communicating out of deepest Africa was exceedingly difficult at that time. Quite apart from the lack of technology, a war was raging that complicated things. In fact, in December 1871 newspapers were reporting on messages from Stanley that he’d sent in September, and in May 1872, newspaper relayed news of a dispatch from Dr Kirk in Zanzibar that was sent in October the previous year.

The news that Livingstone had been found was reported in the New York Herald on 2 July 1872. Americans took a certain amount of pride that they had found Livingstone, while England’s own underfunded search expedition had failed, and some journalists reacted with hurt pride that the efforts of Americans were not universally appreciated.

On 23 July, The New York Evening Telegram wrote

“There is only one phase of British character more striking than British patriotism, and that is British stupidity and snobbery in high places.”

And it continued

“Instead of joining in the general jubilee at the glad tidings of the great explorer's safety […] they sit complacently down like so many carrion crows on a carcass to pick it to pieces. President Rawlinson from his chair at the last general meeting of the Royal Geographical Society announced that instead of Stanley having found and reinforced Livingstone it was much more probable that the latter had found and assisted Stanley. Could prejudice and petty malice go further?”

However, at least Rawlinson's version of events had Livingstone and Stanley meeting. Before long, questions were being asked whether Stanley really had met Dr Livingstone at all.

On 2 August, the New York Times ran a story reporting that the French paper Les Temps had quoted a German geographer Kiepert who thought the geographical mistakes in Livingstone’s letter (brought back by Stanley) clearly indicated the narrative was invented by Mr Stanley.

These questions grew and spread until, on 20 August, the paper that had sent Stanley, the New York Herald, addressed these claims, saying that the confirmation by the Foreign Office that the letters were from Livingstone had not been reported in the German papers.

Then, on 28 August, the New York Sun reprinted one of Livingstone's letters next to a letter from Stanley to a Mr Noe on the front page until the headline “Is Stanley Anything But A Fraud?”

“If this conclusion shall be confirmed by subsequent proofs and be adopted universally, there will be no dispute that Stanley is the author of the most gigantic hoax ever attempted upon the credulity of mankind.”

Their theory was based on the testimony of Mr Noe, who knew Mr Stanley. On 29 August, the New York Sun printed an interview with Mr Noe and, after a long conversation about Stanley’s youth and roguish character, the reporter asks “What reason have you to suppose, as you have stated in your letter, that Stanley has not found Dr. Livingston?”

“Nothing,” said Noe, “except that he told me that he meant to go to Africa as the correspondent of the Herald, to get up a big story and make a sensation.”

Along with this interview, the Sun also printed more criticisms of Livingstone's geography of Africa from Colonel Grant, and more handwriting analysis. All of this was followed up on 30 August with more notes on the similarity of Livingstone's and Stanley's handwriting as well as other articles from other newspapers.

Then on Sept 2nd, the New York Sun swiftly changed their story regarding Stanley. Two reporters, one from the Sun and one from the Herald, went to interview Dr Livingstone’s brother in Canada, and heard that the brother was convinced the letters came from Dr Livingstone himself, since they referred to things that Stanley couldn’t possibly have known.

The New York Herald also published this same interview on the same day, and also took the opportunity to print a few letters and articles supporting their man, just as a final statement on the debate. After this, the two newspapers seemed to consider that the matter was settled and it was not brought up again. At least, not that I can find.

It’s a curious episode. It's interesting to see a controversy that became such a talking point and was so convincing to those who supported it, but which vanished so completely once it had been decided.


“Livingstone not dead”, Leeds Mercury, Saturday 06 May 1871
“Mr Livingstone”, North Wales Chronicle, Saturday 02 December 1871
“Dr Livingstone”, Falkirk Herald, Thursday 11 January 1872
“Expected News”, Manchester Evening News, Wednesday 28 February 1872
“Livingstone”, Huddersfield Chronicle, Saturday 06 July 1872
“The Finding of Dr Livingstone”, New York Evening Telegram, July 23 1872
“Livingstone letter”, New York Herald, reprinted in Stanley Berwickshire News and General Advertiser, Tuesday 30 July 1872
“Is Stanley Anything But A Fraud?, New York Sun, 28 August 1872
“Henry Stanley’s Exploit”, New York Sun, 29 August 1872
“Livingstone or Stanley”, New York Herald, 29 August 1872
“Livingstone or Stanley?”, New York Sun 30 August 1872
“New View of Livingstone”, New York Sun, 2 Sept 1872
“Livingstone in Canada: Interview with the Brother of the Great Explorer”, New York Herald, 2 Sept 1872