In transcribing the following essay from The Reader, an interesting, unfortunately short-lived intellectual magazine of the 1860s, I have used the Hathi Digital Library Trust web version of a copy in the Princeton University Library. The full-text version is generally accurate, and the one common OCR error here takes the form of turning the letter “e” as “o.” I corrected the scanning errors. If you come upon any errors I have missed, please do not hesitate to let the editors of this site know. — George P. Landow
THE author of this extraordinary volume will be remembered by the public through the discussions he caused some short time back on tho subject of spirit-rapping, and other manifestations of supernatural power. If what Mr. Home has to say about himself is in the least credible, he is one of the most singularly gifted men ever sent into the world. What he is on the opposite hypothesis need not be stated here. In noticing this work it will be necessary to speak with some freedom of the writer, as Mr. Home is the subject as well as the author of the book, so that whether the style or the matter be considered, he is not to be lost sight of.
It would appear that the honour of his birth belongs to Scotland, from which country, and whilst yet a boy, he emigrated to America, where, as a young man, he became notorious as a dreamer of dreams, a seer of visions, and a powerful mover of tables by aid of the spirits; in fact, one of the best-known "mediums" to be met with even in America, where they appear to be as common as witches were in Europe at the commencement of the seventeenth century. In 1851, being then eighteen years old, he was ordered by his medical advisers to visit Europe, which he did four years afterwards, much against his own inclinations, his "spirit friends" having backed up the doctor's orders in a very positive manner. Whilst in London he performed many wonders, such as moving tables, rapping on them, introducing the luminous hands of male and femalo spirits at seances held in twilight or in the dark, floating through the air, &c., &c. Here, too, it may be observed, some of his performances were tested by Sir David Brewster, whose investigations led him to be more than suspicious of Mr. Home's pretensions. For this he is very angry with Sir David, and treats him with scant forbearance, questioning his moral character as well as his scientific acquirements. “Sir David," he says, "is really not a man over whom victory is any honour; for his whole conduct, subsequent to the sittings, was not only dishonest, but childish, and altogether unworthy of such reputation as he has acquired." Tho anger of Mr. Home, however, may to some extent be excused, when the following, which forms part of a letter written by Sir David to the Morning Advertiser, is borne in mind. "Were Mr. Home to assnme the character of the Wizard of the West, I would enjoy his exhibition as much as that of other conjurors; but when he pretends to possess the power of introducing among the feet of his audience the spirits of the dead, of bringing them into physical communication with their dearest relatives, and of revealing the secrets of the grave, he insults religion and common sense, and tampers with the most sacred feelings of his victims."
In the autumn of 1855, Mr. Home went to Florence, and here men and women flocked to his seances, many of whom became convinced of the reality of his communications with the spiritworld. A prince of one of the royal houses became deeply interested, and the Countess O —————, through the caperings of a grand piano, became converted; rank and fashion being more favourable than science to such a faith as that of which Mr. Home is the leading apostle. After various journeyings back to America as well as throughout Europe, sometimes abused and maligned, sometimes cheered and encouraged, his crowning triumph awaited him at Rome, where he went for the benefit of his health. We shall let him tell it in his own words:— >
I reached Rome in March, and refused nearly all invitations out, wishing to b quiet to regain my healih. A friend mentioned one afternoon, whilst we were walking together to the Pincio, the name of a Russian family of distinction then in Rome, and added that they were anxious to make my acquaintance. I excused myself on the ground of my health. At this moment a carriage was passing us and stopped, and my friend, before I was aware of what he was doing, introduced me to the Countess do Koueheleff, who asked me to come and sup with them that evening, adding that they kept very late hours.
I went about ten in the evening, and found a large party assembled. At twelve, as we entered the supperroom, she introduced to mo a young lady, whom I then observed for the first time, as her sister. 'A strange impression como over me at once, and I know she was to be my wife. When we were seated at table the young lady turned to me and laughingly said: "Mr. Home, you will be married before the year is ended." I asked her why she said so, and she replied, that there was such a superstition in Russia when a person was at table between two sisters. I made no reply. It was true. In twelve days we were partially engaged, and waiting only the consent of her mother. 'The evening of the day of our engagement a small party had assembled, and were dancing. I was seated on a sofa by myfiancee, when she turned to me and abruptly said, “Do tell me all about spirit-rapping, for you know I don't believe in it.” I said to her, “Mademoiselle, I trust you will ever bear in mind that I have a mission entrusted to me. It is a great and a holy one. I cannot speak with you about a thing which you have not seen, and therefore cannot understand. I can only say that it is a great truth." The tears came welling into her eyes, and laying her hand in mine, she said, "If your mission can bring comfort to those less happy than ourselves, or be in any way a consolation to mankind, you will ever find me ready and willing to do all I can to aid you in it.”
This lady, to whom he was soon afterwards married, was the daughter of the General Count de Kroll, of Russia; and with her he visited that country, where he became a great favourite with the Emperor. The lady, who grew to be a confirmed believer, died on the 20th of February, 1802; so that Mr. Home is now, at thirty, in a state of widowhood, somewhere in London, subject as ever, it is to be presumed, to the spirit influences by which he is constantly surrounded.
The career of this gentleman is certainly a very curious one. Commencing life as a journeyman tailor, a circumstance which his modesty does not permit him to boast of, as most self-made men would have done, he succeeds in convincing some few men, and many women of education and position, of the reality of his power as a “medium,” and from an humble position attains to wealth and standing; a more profitable, if not a more miraculous exaltation, than any he boasts of as having taken place at his séances. How this influence was acquired remains to be inquired into. And here it may be said that if one twentieth part of what Mr. Home relates be true, no consideration he has met with can be wondered at. It may be regarded as a pity that he has not turned his great powers to any useful account, but he is young enough yet to make up for lost time; and if he really possesses such powers he may some day make known to his fellow-men something better calculated to do them service than table-rapping, and such other useless displays of spirit power as he describes in his book.
From his cradlo Mr. Home has been an extraordinary person:—
“I cannot remember,” he says, “when I first became subject to the curious phenomena which have now for so long attended me, but my aunt and others have told me that when I was a baby my cradle was frequently rocked as if some kind guardian spirit was tending me in my slumbers. My aunt has also told me that when 1 was about four years old, I had a vision of the circumstances attending the passing from earth of a little cousin, I being at Portobello near Edinburgh, and she at Linlithgow.”
When he was seventeen, and residing at Norwich, Connecticut, he visited his mother, who was residing twelve miles from him, and asked her what she had to say to him, when she informed him that she should die in four months, as her little daughter Mary had visited her in a vision "holding four lilies in her hand, and allowing them to slip through her fingers, till the last one had fallen, when she said, “And then you will come to me;” and as these four lilies meant fourinonths, as a matter of course Mrs. Home died. On the evening of her death her remarkable son, being alone in his room, heard a voice near the head of his bed, which he did not recognise, saying to him solemnly, “Dan, twelvo o'clock.” He turned his head, and saw between the window and his bed what appeared to be the bust of his mother. He saw her lips move, and again heard the words, “Dan, twelve o'clock.” Whereupon he rang the bell, and said to his aunt who came at his summons, “Aunty, mother died to-day at twelve o'clock, because I have seen her, and she has told me.” His poor aunt was not, it may be said, at all a believer in the goodness of the spirits which attended on her nephew, as on one occasion in her anger she threw a chair at him. Many visions were seen by Mr. Home in America, and many wonders worked, such as telling people the names of relatives who had died, and the words spoken by them to and of each other; making tables move about or lift themselves in the air, and even dance to particular tunes. After this, higher manifestations began to show themselves; he was lifted into the air himself, and floated about without wings; luminous hands began to appear and slap people on various parts of their persons, and press their hands and foreheads. In England the wonderful powers of Mr. Home were, he tells us, turned to good account—
Whilst I to at Ealing, a distinguished novelist, accompanied by his son, attended a séance, at which some very remarkable manifestations occurred, and which were chiefly directed to him. The rapping on tho table suddenly becamo unusually firm and loud. He asked, "What spirit is present?" The alphabet was called over, and the response was given— I am the spirit who influenced you to write Z——————." "Indeed," said he. "I wish you would give me some tangible proof of your presence." "What proof? Will you lake my hand?" "Yes." And putting his hand beneath the surface of the table, it was immediately seized by a powerful grasp, which made him start to his feet in evident trepidation, exhibiting a momentary suspicion that a trick had been played upon him. Seeing, however, that all the persona around were sitting with their hands quietly reposing on the table, he recovered his composure, and offering an apology for the uncontrollable excitement caused by such an unexpected demonstration, resumed his seat? The following words were then spelt out, — “We wish you to believe in the,” and then stopped. It was asked of the spirit! "In what am I to believe? In the medium?" "No." "In the manifestations?" "No." At that moment ho was gently tapped upon the knee, and putting his hand down, a cross was placed there by the spirit, which thus significantly finished the sentence.
It is true the cross was made of card-board, but it was effectual, and so we are satisfied as to the spiritual improvement wrought in the author of "Zanoni."
Those who want to read more about Mr. Homo and his doings, can go to the book itself. There are many repetitions in it and much questionable English, but there is amusement for those who are not disposed to be saddened by the superstitions and follies of their fellow-men. It is not pleasant to read the cool assumptions of a Divine apostleship set up by Mr. Home, but knaves and hypocrites have for a long time been in the habit of making such claims. Thereader will be puzzled to know why the spirits, who at first spoke words with a tolerably clear meaning, should have given up so convenient a practice for the clumsy plan of knocking out words and sentences by the letters of the alphabet. Those who are very inquisitive, too, may be disposed to ask why the spirit of Mr. Home's mother, which, when it used words, called him simply "Dan," should have stretched out his name into "Daniel," when it stopped speaking and took to the slower process of knocking. Others may be desirous to know why such extraordinary powers as those possessed by Mr. Home should be employed for such ordinary and trivial purposes, or may ask why twilight, and darkness under a table, are preferred to daylight and the regular abovehoard practices of honest people. These, and many other questions, will suggest themselves; possibly, however, Mr. Home, by aid of "his friends," the spirits, may be able to answer them satisfactorily. His book is a vindication of his strange proceedings, and is meant to convince sceptical and doubting spirits of his good faith and thorough honesty. The attempt, however, can hardly be regarded as successful; the facts and circumstances stated are so like frauds, and the spirit in which they aro described so unctuous and self-laudatory, that few people, we trust, will rise from a perusal of this volume with any other convictions than the very opposite ones to those with which its author seeks to inspire them.
- Spiritualism: an Introduction
- Victorian Spiritualism — Proponents and Opponents
- Sir Arthur Conan Doyle and Victorian Spiritualism
- Punch on spiritualism:
- “Spiritualism” — a hostile review of Howitt's History of the Supernatural (1863)
- Punch on spiritualism:
A Review of D. D.Home’s Incidents in My Life. (14 March 1863): 266-67. London: “Published at 112, Fleet Street,” 1863. Hathi Digital Library Trust web version of a copy in the Princeton University Library. 17 July 2016.
Home, D. D. Incidents in My Life. London: Longman’s, 1863.
Last modified 17 July 2016