Daniel Dunglas Home – The Victorian Spiritualist

Douglas Home, sometimes spelled Hume, and whose name was lengthened to Daniel Dunglas Home in 1855, was a famous nineteenth-century spiritualist born in 1833. As a youth, he immigrated to America and settled in Massachusetts, and while living there, he claimed he was surrounded by trivial noises. The noises he heard occurred when he was in bed and came from under tables when he was eating. However, perhaps, more surprising was his claims that there was also “animation in inert matter by which he was surrounded.”[1]

Daniel Dunglas Home.

Daniel Dunglas Home. Author’s collection.

Home’s friends dismissed his claims not believing that he saw inert matter move or that he heard unexplained noises. As Home was sickly and nervous, “they assured him that the marvels he heard were the mere effects of his disordered fancy.”[2] This negativity caused Home to begin to wonder if he was indeed deluded, but it did not stop him from entertaining and amazing his friends with dancing chairs, roving tables, and turning chandeliers.

When Daniel Dunglas Home learned that other people had similar experiences — hearing noises and seeing inert matter move — he decided he was not deluded and that he must be a spiritualist or a medium. As a spiritualist, it did not take long before he became one of the most successful in Boston: He first displayed his talent in a séance where the table moved without anyone touching it. Newspapers reported on the amazing feat, which soon resulted in him traveling as a spiritualist to heal the sick and speak to the dead.

As his fame grew, Home acquired many wealthy clients. Although he supposedly never asked for money, his clients began to offer him money, as well as free lodging and gifts. The Pantagraph seemed to support this idea when it wrote an expose on spiritualism in 1924: 

“Home helped to build up his reputation by not charging for his mediumistic services. The claim that he did not accept fees for his sittings may, or may not, be quite true, but the fact remains that the spirits were good to him and provided for his temporal needs abundantly and sumptuously, and he subsisted on the bounty of his spiritualistic friends who seemed to rival one another in entertaining him in their homes for long periods and showering him with gifts, a practice which began in American and was continued in England and on the continent to a extent which made a life of positive luxury possible.

It is strongly intimated that the gifts which Home received were in many cases suggested by the spirits he invoked and his spirit guide seems to have always kept a sharp eye on his nearly for earthly sustenance even to the point of satisfactorily bedecking his person with jewelry. This was always materialized for him when required, and since he, personally, could not be held responsible for what wicked spirits might do, and as they used good judgement in picking victims, nothing was said about it.”[3]

The same article also described Home’s appeal towards people stating of him:

“Outwardly a lovable character, with a magnetic personality and a great fondness for children; suave, captivating to the last degree, a good dresser, fond of displaying jewelry; with an appearance of ill-health which aroused sympathy and with an assumption of piety and devotion to established forms of religious worship, he made his way easily and found favor with many who would have spruned him under other conditions, and this, too strange as it may seem, in spite of persistent rumors of immorality in his private life.”[4]

During Home’s time in Boston, his health continued to worsen, and his physicians decided he needed to travel to Europe to rest and recuperate. He first went to Florence where he attracted the public’s attention and where he gave several “soirees.” With nothing more than Home issuing a command, “credible witnesses assert[ed] … they saw heavy tables move, immense candlesticks dance … bells ring, and inert matter act as though it was possessed of remarkable animation.”[5] In fact, Home even caused a piano to play a sonata without a pianist and removed every women’s pocket handkerchief, despite the women’s attempts to retain them.

In April of 1855 Home’s ended up in London. There he was courted by an enamored believer named William Cox, who owned a large hotel and willing allowed Home’s to stay at his hotel for free. Also staying at the hotel was a well-known Welsh social reformer named Robert Owen. He was intrigued by Homes performances, and, in fact, Owen introduced Home to many well-known people, which included the famous novelist Sir Edward Bulwer-Lytton, the scientist Michael Faraday well-known for his work in the electromagnetic field, and the poet Robert Browning who was married to Elizabeth Barret Browning. One reason for Home’s success was that “while mediums as a class were a lazy lot, Home was an untiring worker as well as an unflinching egotist and his personal qualities went far to disarm suspicion and inspire confidence in the minds of his dupes.”[6] 

Robert Browning, Public Domain

Robert Browning. Public domain.

Unfortunately, for Daniel Dunglas Home, Robert Browning was not impressed with his spiritual skills and in fact became a vocal critic of Home’s supposed spiritual abilities. It seems that Home’s had reputedly materialized a son Browning lost in infancy. During the materialization, Browning maintained that he “had grasped Home’s leg under the table while at work in producing [the] ‘phenomena,”[7] and then wrote a letter to The Times noting that it was all “melancholy stuff” and that “‘the whole display of hands [and] spirit utterances etc., was a cheat and imposture.'”[8] Further, Browning skewered Home’s in a poem titled, “Sludge the Medium,” which was published in 1864.

Daniel Dunglas Home

Daniel Dunglas Home. Author’s collection.

Despite critics, Home’s fame continued to grow, particularly after he levitated off the floor at five or six feet in the air. Such miraculous abilities also resulted in him being summoned to the Tuileries Palace in Paris where he met with Napoleon III and supposedly received an invitation from Empress Eugenie for a private seance. The result of this seance were provided by the Philadelphia Times and follow:

“[Home] was exquisitely dressed — knee breeches, low shoes with jeweled buckles, etc. — as was becoming a grand seigneur on a grand occasion. The Empress surrounded by the most intimate of her friends, among whom was Princess Metternich and Countess Pourtales, received most graciously the renowned master of spiritualism. The Emperor himself attended the seance. Before it began the room was darkened. Home in such illustrious company, excelled himself. He did his celebrated levitation trick better than ever before. By a graceful wave of his hand he produced phosphorescent lights in the darkened room. Invisible hands played on the piano the most inspired compositions of the great masters. Many-hued flowers appeared on the tables and shed their perfume and as quickly disappeared. The awe-struck spectators saw hands and arms floating on the perfume-laden air. Their excitement was worked up to the highest point. At this moment Home proposed he would cite the spirit of the first Napoleon and have him shake his nephew’s hand. The Emperor vainly protested. Amid a deathlike stillness Louis Napoleon felt the frigidly cold hand of his uncle in his own. He was frightened as never before. … There in his hand, for the space of about ten seconds — which to him appeared an eternity of dreadful suspense — lay the hand of the prisoner of St. Helena, clammy and cold and chill. In ghostly dim outlines the Empress and the galaxy of ladies surrounding her perceived the figure of the first Napoleon in the attitude of shaking hands with his nephew. The Empress fainted. Consternation prevailed. The moment was most opportune for Home. He quietly and quickly and unseen by any one slipped on his shoe. He had secretly taken it off before he cited the Dead Emperor from the spirit world. Home wore stockings which extended only to within one-half of his feet, leaving the toes and part of his foot bare. In the prevailing darkness he had, by a dexterous movement lifted his leg and laid his foot into Louis Napoleon’s outstretched hand. Like the feet of most men, his foot was of a sort of clammy, coldness, and as it was an established fact that the hands of the first Napoleon were invariably cold to the touch, the deception was easily accomplished. It was not a difficult trick, after all, but, it frightened the Emperor out of his wits.”[9]

Napoleon III. Courtesy of Wikipedia.

Daniel Dunglas Home also later performed for Queen Sophia of the Netherlands. His fame also resulted in him being “adopted” by a wealthy English widow named Mrs. Jane Lyon who hoped that her association with him would result in an introduction into high society. When that relationship failed, Lyon’s sued Home for the return of her money, which she received but which also resulted in Home’s being ridiculed by the press for being a charlatan. In addition, at another seance at the home of solicitor John Snaith Rymer in Ealing in July 1855, a sitter by the name of Frederick Merrifield claimed that he observed a “spirit-hand” that was in fact a false limb attached on the end of Home’s arm. Merrifield also claimed to have observed Home use his foot in the séance room.

All the talk of fraud and charlatanism prompted one man to test the validity of Home’s claims. The tester was William Crookes, a British chemist and physicist best known for pioneering vacuum tubes. Besides testing the validity of Home’s claims, Crookes also tested two other spiritualists, Florence Cook and Kate Fox. Crookes’ tests occurred between 1870 and 1873, and he issued his final report in 1874. Crookes’ concluded that the phenomena produced by all three spiritualists was valid and genuine. Such a finding, of course, sparked outrage among the scientific community.

One test that Crookes gave Daniel Dunglas Home involved an accordion. In this test one of Home’s hands was placed on the top of the table, and the other inside the cage which held the accordion on the non-key side, as shown in the illustration below. The keyed end then hung downwards so that Home’s could not reach it. Crookes reported that despite these precautions, the accordion played musical sounds. However, the room was dark and there were claims by some people the accordion made no sounds and that the noises heard actually came from some other instrument (such as a music box) that Home concealed.

Daniel Dunglas Home - Accordian test

Home’s accordion test. Author’s collection.

In the end, despite Crookes’ claims that Home was a genuine spiritualist, no amount of spiritualism or hocus pocus on Home’s part could prevent him from dying. He succumbed to tuberculosis on 21 June 1886, the disease that he had suffered with for a majority of his life. A book written by his wife stated:

“Home wished, and had always wished, that his interment should be simply conducted, and should be without show of mourning. ‘I desire my funeral to be as simple as possible,’ he wrote in his will, ‘and that all tokens and signs known as mourning may be entirely discarded.’ In accordance with his injunctions, the vanities of funeral pomp were absent from the interment; and when the service in the Russian church was performed, the priests, instead of being robed in black, wore their festival attire of white and gold. No shadow darkened that mystic and imposing service, the noble chants of which were admirably rendered. The coffin, buried in flowers and raised on a brilliantly-lit dais, had nothing dismal in its aspect; it became a simple token of our loving farewell to the mortal garment of him whom god had called from earth before us.”[10]

Daniel Dunglas Home was buried in the Russian cemetery in St. Germain-en-Laye, in Paris.

Daniel Dunglas Home

Daniel Dunglas Home by Nadar. Courtesy of Wikipedia.

References:

  • [1] “Homes the American Spiritualist in Paris,” Harper’s Weekly, Sept. 12, 1857, p. 588.
  • [2] Ibid.
  • [3] “Spiritualism Exposed,” The Pantagraph, 1 December 1924, p. 4.
  • [4] Ibid.
  • [5] Harper’s Weekly, p. 588.
  • [6] The Pantagraph, p. 4.
  • [7] Dowden, Edward, Robert Browning, 1904, p. 160.
  • [8] Dowden, Edward, p. 159.
  • [9] Superstition, The Philadelphia Times, 17 June 1888, p. 10.
  • [10] Home, Mrs. Daniel Dunglas, D.D. Home, 1888, p. 417.

Google+ Comments

Loading Facebook Comments ...

Leave a Comment