From Mr. Punch’s History of England [Click on image to enlarge it.]

Punch on Spiritualists

The chief exploiters of credulity . . . were to be found in the ranks of spiritualists, mediums, clairvoyantes and professional somnambulists. Men of science still held aloof from this traffic with the unseen, and its terminology was crude, but the methods and results were strangely familiar. Spirit drawings, forerunners of spirit photographs, are mentioned as early as 1857. Under the heading of "Diviners and Dupes" Punch deals harshly with the advertisements of the clair- voyantes and diviners, and once more returns to his familiar complaint against the harrying of humble fortune-tellers while fashionable impostors escaped: —

The gipsies are hardly dealt with in being convicted as rogues and vagabonds for telling fortunes by the cards or the palm of the hand, whilst practitioners in Clairvoyance get their hands crossed with silver, or with postage-stamps, with perfect impunity. There is clearly one law for the Romany, and another for Somnambulists.

David Dunglas Home, born near Edinburgh, of Scottish parents, and descended on his mother's side from a family supposed to be gifted with second sight, returned in 1856 from America where he had spent his youth and early manhood, and in i860, when he was at the zenith of his fame, ehcited a scoffing tribute from Punch under the heading, “Home, Great Home." The first stanza of this poem, which is accompanied by a picture representing a spirit hand placing a wreath on the head of a lady with a goose's head, refers to Home's famous feats of “levitation " or rising in the air as if impelled by some unknown force. Punch was stubbornly sceptical of the whole business. But if any medium ever deserved the title of "great" it was Home. Did he not inspire Browning to write his famous "Sludge, the Medium " — though Mrs. Browning is said to have been a believer? Anyhow, the list of his converts is too remarkable to justify Punch's contemptuous disparage- ment. It included Dr. Robert Chambers, Dr. Lockhart Robertson, the editor of the Journal of Mental Science, John Elliotson, a distinguished physiologist, S. C. Hall, the Earl of Crawford and Balcarres, F.R.S., the Earl of Dunraven, and the late Sir William Crookes, F.R.S. Home was received into the Church of Rome and had an audience of the Pope in 1856, and eight years later was expelled from Rome as a sorcerer — a tremendous testimony to his powers. He married twice into the Russian noblesse, his first wife being a god-daughter of the Tsar Nicholas, and he gave repeated seances before his son Alexander II. The infatuation of the Russian Court for wonder-workers and miracle-mongers was hereditary, and of late years became tragically notorious, but Home was received with equal favour by the King of Prussia, the Emperor and Empress of the French, and the Queen of Holland. The "Spiritual Athenaeum" (no connexion, need one say, with the august institution at the corner of Pall Mall) which he founded in 1866 had but a short life, and the gift of £60,000, which he received from a rich widow, was revoked as the result of a Chancery suit, the lady alleging he had obtained it by spiritual influence. But we have it on the authority of the D.N.B. that he "was not a professional medium, and scrupulously abstained from taking money for his stances," which answers Punch's sneer at his lucrative traffic with spirits. The writer of the notice concludes with the words, “his history presents a curious and unsolved problem.” Taken all round, he was by far the most remarkable personality in spiritualistic circles in the nineteenth century, and “imagination's widest stretch” fails to shadow forth the influence he might have exerted had he flourished sixty years later. Let us be thankful that he lived when he did, and freely own that, if an impostor, he was an impostor of genius and emphatically not a Rasputin. [203-205]

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Graves, Charles L. Mr. Punch’s History of Modern England. vol. 2. London: 1921-22. Internet Archive version of a copy in the Prelinger Library. Web. 3 February 2018.

Last modified 3 February 2018