Thursday, November 12, 2009
Book Fictionally Attributed to Hatch Is Hailed
By ROGER M. GRACE
Just as Davy Crockett and Wyatt Earp are best known for things they never did, David P. Hatch became known, world-wide, for words he never wrote.
The onetime Santa Barbara Superior Court judge, who died in 1912, supposedly delivered messages, by psychic means, to novelist Elsa Barker. The messages were published in three books, “Letters From a Living Dead Man” (1914), “War Letters From the Living Dead Man” (1915), and “Last Letters From the Living Dead Man” (1919).
Initial publication of the first book was in England, where interest in psychic phenomena was particularly keen. Popularity of it prompted publication here and in other nations.
This review appears in the March 20, 1914 issue of the London Times:
“Various works have appeared from time to time during recent years purporting to be communications from the other world. The present volume, while bearing an ostensible resemblance to previous books of the kind, stands in reality in a category by itself. The alleged communicant occupied in life a high position in the legal profession, and his attitude towards all questions in relation to the other world was of the broadest kind. He enters it in the spirit of an explorer, seeking new fields of knowledge, and his report of his experiences is as refreshingly broad-minded as it is original and free from bias.
“With regard to the authenticity of the document[,] the author, a novelist already known on either side of the Atlantic, attests her personal belief in the genuiness of the communications, and observes that the effect of the letters has been to remove entirely any fear of death which she may have had.”
An article in the Atlanta Constitution notes on Jan. 2, 1916, on the heels of publication of the “War Letters,” that the supposed psychic communications to Barker “have achieved a distinction of success remarkable, not unique, in the annals of occult philosophy.”
The article says the new book “seems to be a success,” pointing out:
“[I]n addition to large editions In England and America, it has already been translated into Dutch. Swedish. Italian and German, and a French translation [is] in preparation.”
The book did draw some negative reviews. A line from the book, quoted in advertisements, is:
“When I come back and tell you the story of this war as seen from ‘the other side’ you will know more than all the chancelleries of the nations.”
A Feb. 6, 1916 review in the San Francisco Chronicle scoffs:
“[S]ave on the assumption that the chancelleries of the nations are profoundly ignorant of the oldest moral maxims and platitudes, the promise is not fulfilled. There are no definite prophesies, and there is nothing but what might equally well have been written by one still in the flesh and sufficiently familiar with a certain class of mystic literature.”
A Dec. 19, 1916 critique in the Galveston (Texas) Daily News echoes:
“[A] careful reading of the book fails to reveal any of the war secrets past, present or future, but only tiresome reiterations of moral platitudes, punctuated with occult and theosophical passages concerning the effect the war is having on the spirit world.”
Did Barker actually believe that in writing the books, her hand was directed by a ghost...or did she knowingly perpetrate a hoax? The latter is suggested by virtue of her having had a purported visitation once too often. Not only was she a ghost writer for Hatch—or, more accurately, a ghost’s writer—she also wrote for an angel.
“Songs of a Vagrom Angel” is comprised of free verse. Barker contends in her introduction that it was dictated to her by an “angel, deva or sylph who acted as [Hatch’s] courier in the invisible worlds.” She says:
“The Vagrom [vagrant] Angel came at eight o’clock one March morning and stayed with me until six the next morning—twenty-two hours, during which the whole of this book was written down, save three of the songs which were given later and in the same way.”
The Galveston newspaper, in its Nov. 4, 1928 issue, in the course of telling of Barker’s first novel-length mystery, recites:
“Elsa Barker, author of ‘The Cobra Candlestick,’ has been a trial reporter, journalist and lecturer. She has written many short stories, including the famous ‘Dexter Drake’ detective stories. She is also the author of many books of fiction, poetry, and non-fiction. Her book, ‘Letters From a Living Dead Man,’ started the wave of psychic books which swept the world a few years ago.”
She died Aug. 31, 1954…and has failed to author a single book since then.
Copyright 2009, Metropolitan News Company