One day, during breakfast, Sir William Barret announced that he wanted to test his mediumistic gifts. Henry Sidgwick asked him what was he based on to suppose that he possessed such gifts. He replied that when he was ten years old, he once dreamed of his father and when he woke up he found his father in the family room sitting in his favorite chair reading “The Times”. Then, he suddenly lowered the newspaper and, pointing to his son with his finger, asked “Have you read the Bible?”. This story had a strong emotional impact on the members of the SPR, until Barret clarified that at that time his father still lived and resided in the old house in Sussex with the rest of the family. Still, Barret was so insistent that Sidgwick ended up agreeing to the whim of his friend and organized a séance for that same evening. In the early afternoon, a wagon stopped in front of the entrance to the SPR headquarters and two large wooden boxes were moved to the living room where the séance was to be held. When asked about the contents of the boxes, Barret replied that it was his mediumistic tools, which made Sidgwick suspect and order to open the boxes. These were full of the usual magic tricks that illusionists use in their shows. Sidgwick chided Barret and reminded him that a séance was not a magic show but a serious attempt to communicate with the dead. Upon hearing this Barret turned pale and was about to faint.
At the scheduled time, the SPR members sat around the living room table, which had been adequately lit with candles. With a trembling voice, Barret invoked the spirit of some deceased person who will pass by, and asked him to manifest. They waited and waited and waited … until, late at night, they heard a creak of wood which Barret rushed to interpret as a signal from the deceased, who wished them good night and gave them permission to retire to sleep.
Barrett was never again allowed to test his alleged mediumistic gifts.