THE GREATEST physical medium in the history of modern spiritualism. There was a certain mystery about his parentage. According to his own footnote in Incidents of My Life his father was a natural son of Alexander, the tenth Earl of Home. Through his mother he was descended from a Scottish Highland family in which the traditional gift of second sight had been preserved. He was a sensitive, delicate child of a highly nervous temperament and of such weak health that he was not expected to live. Adopted by Mrs. McNeill Cook, a childless aunt, he passed his infancy at Portobello, Scotland, his youth in America in Greeneville, Corm., and Troy, N.Y. It was noticed that he had keen powers of observation and a prodigious memory. He saw his first vision at the age of 13. His schoolfellow, Edwin, died in Greeneville and appeared to him in a bright cloud at night in Troy, thus keeping a childish promise with which they had bound themselves that he who should die first should appear to the other. The second vision came four years later. It announced the death of his mother to the hour.
From that time onwards his thoughts turned more and more to the life beyond. One night he heard loud, unaccountable blows. Next morning a volley of raps. His aunt, remembering the Rochester rappings that were then two years old, believed him to be possessed of the devil and called in turn for a Congregationalist, a Baptist and a Wesleyan minister for exorcism. This being unsuccessful she turned him out of doors. Thenceforward, though he never asked or received direct payment, Home appears to have been living on the hospitality of friends attracted by his curious gift. The intelligence behind the raps was soon discovered. The first scientist to investigate the phenomena and the communications thus received was Prof. George Bush, a distinguished theologian and Oriental scholar of New York. The celebrated American poet, Bryant and Prof. Wells of the University of Harvard, testified in a written statement to the reality of the phenomena. Prof. Robert Hare and Prof. Mapes, both famous chemists, and Judge Edmonds of the United States Supreme Court owed much of their conversion to spiritualism to the young man of frail health whose fame now began to spread.
The first levitation of Home occurred in the South Manchester house of Ward Cheney, an eminent American manufacturer. Strains of music were heard when no instrument was near. Nobody understood at that time the part which the physical organism plays in the production of the phenomena. The claims made on Home were very heavy, the drain of nervous energy excessive. His intended medical studies had to be broken off owing to illness and a trip to Europe being advised, Home, in April, 1855, landed in Britain.
He first stayed at Cox’s Hotel in Jermyn Street, London, and was later the guest of Mr. J. S. Rymer, an Ealing solicitor. While in America his name was spelt Hume, he was known now as Home. According to Mme. Home’s biography the name was always Home but it was pronounced Hoom. The conversion of many of the later leaders of the spiritualist movement in Britain was due to Home’s phenomena. No sooner had they attracted public attention when Home found himself in the midst of a Press warfare. Among the first who asked Home to attend a séance was Lord Brougham. He came with Sir David Brewster. Home was proud of the deep impression he produced upon these two distinguished men and wrote about it to a friend in America. The letter was published in America and found its way to the London Press whereupon Sir David Brewster at once disclaimed all belief in spiritualism and set down the phenomena to imposture. As this, however, contradicted his statements in private, these statements also found their way into the Press and have, to a considerable degree, discredited his attitude, the more so as Lord Brougham preserved silence and Sir David Brewster did not even attempt to refer to his testimony. More harm was done to Home’s reputation by Robert Browning’s poem, Mr. Sludge, the Medium, which was generally taken to refer to Home, as Browning, together with his wife, who accepted spiritualism, attended séances with Home. Yet he never claimed in public to have caught Home at trickery and in private admitted that imposture was out of the question.
Other famous men of the day, as Lord Lytton and Thackeray, never spoke of their experiences in public. Thackeray was very incredulous. He made Home’s acquaintance in America when he lectured there. Both there and in London he availed himself of every opportunity of control. He admitted to have found a genuine mystery and warmly endorsed Robert Bell’s anonymous article ‘Stranger than Fiction’ published in the Cornhill Magazine which he then edited.
The account of Robert Bell of a séance with Home started with a quotation of Dr. Treviranus to Coleridge:
“I have seen what I would not have believed on your testimony, and what I cannot therefore, expect you to believe upon mine.”
Thackeray was bitterly attacked for the publication of the article and it was said that the Cornhill Magazine lost considerably in circulation as a consequence.
In the early autumn of 1855 Home went to Florence to visit Mr. and Mrs. Trollope. His name and fame soon spread there, too. Rumours arose among the peasants that he was a necromancer, who administered the sacraments of the Church to toads in order to raise the dead by spells and incantations. This may explain the attempt which was made against his life on December 5, 1855. A man lay in wait for him late at night and struck him three times with a dagger. Home had a narrow escape. The would-be murderer was never arrested but Home was warned the following month by Signor Landucci, Minister of the Interior to the Grand Duke of Tuscany, of his sinister reputation among the populace. About this time he was told by the spirits that his power would leave him for a year. In this state of seclusion from supernormal contact, Catholic influences found an easy inroad into his religious ideas. He became a convert to Catholicism and decided to enter a monastery. He was received by Pius IX and treated with favour. Home, however, soon faltered and left Italy for Paris, where, exactly to a day from the announced suspension, his powers returned. The news reached the French Court and Napoleon III summoned him to the Tuilleries.
The story of the séance was not made public. The curiosity of the Press was aroused, as the first séance was followed by many others. There is an account, however, in Home’s autobiography according to which Napoleon followed every manifestation with keen and sceptical attention and satisfied himself by the closest scrutiny that neither deception nor delusion was possible. His and the Empress’ unspoken thoughts were replied to and the Empress was touched by a materialised hand in which, from a defect in one of the fingers, she recognised that of her late father. The second séance was still more forceful. The room was shaken, heavy tables were lifted and glued down to the floor by an alteration of their weight. At the third séance a phantom hand appeared above the table, lifted a pencil and wrote the single word “Napoleon” in the autograph of Napoleon I. As Prince Murat related later to Home, the Duke de Morny told the Emperor that he felt it a duty to contradict the report that the Emperor believed in spiritualism. The Emperor replied:
“Quite right, but you may add when you speak on the subject again that there is a difference between believing a thing and having proof of it, and that I am certain of what I have seen.”
When, soon after these séances, Home left Paris for America, rumours were rife that his departure was compulsory. The truth was that the Empress had offered to take Home’s sister under her protection and educate her at her expense and Home went to America to bring her over. On his return he was speedily summoned to Fontainebleau where the King of Bavaria was another interested party to the séance. Home was in great power at the time and so much sought after that the Union Club, where the jeunesse doree congregated, offered him 50,000 francs for a single séance. Home refused. A book, privately printed in France, records the strange experiences which high society had at this time with Home’s mediumship.
Earlier, in Italy, Home was introduced to the King of Naples. The German Emperor and the Queen of Holland soon joined the ranks of the curious who were besieging Home with requests for séances.
While enjoying the benevolence of crowned heads and the highest members of the aristocracy Home had to wage a desperate struggle against the scandal-mongers. Fantastic stories began to circulate as soon as he left Paris and while he was regaining his shattered health in Italy it was rumoured that he was in the prison of Mazas. Henri Delange, the author, on receiving a letter from the unsuspecting Home from Rome, was instrumental in laying the calumny in Le Nord.
In Rome, in the Spring of 1858, Home was introduced to Count Koucheleff-Besborodka and his wife. Not many days after he became engaged to Mlle. Alexandrina de Kroll, the Count’s sister-in-law. The wedding took place in St. Petersburg. It was a great society affair. Count Alexis Tolstoy, the poet, and Count Bobrinsky, one of the Chamberlains of the Emperor acted as groomsmen, Alexander Dumas, the guest of Count Koucheleff-Besborodka, was one of the witnesses. Dumas was disappointed when Emperor Alexander II sent a request to Home to present himself at Peterhoff but then consoled himself with the grandiose remark: “There are many crowned heads in Europe but there is only one Alexander Dumas.” Many of Dumas’ fantastic stories about spirits entering into inanimate objects, derive their source from Home’s mediumship. In Russia, as well as in many other countries, queer rumours circulated as regards Home’s mysterious powers. It was said that he had a great number of cats to sleep with him, and by this means his body became so charged with electricity that he could produce raps at pleasure(!) In Paris the favourite story was that he carried a trained monkey in his pocket to twitch dresses and shake hands during the séances(!) From chloroforming and magnetising the sitters, to the magic lantern, and secret police to obtain information for the sittings, every sort of explanation was attempted while none of them could vie in ingenuity with this of an old woman in America: “Lor, sirs, it’s easy enough, he only rubs himself all over with a gold pencil first.”
From the marriage a son was born to Home. Shortly after he returned to England. Friends tried to bring about a meeting between him and Faraday, the famous electrician, the proponent of the involuntary muscular action theory to explain table movement whose stubborn attitude to face certain facts was strongly criticised by Alfred Russel Wallace and Prof. De Morgan. Faraday, as the Morning Star reported, was not satisfied with demanding an open and complete examination, but wished Home to acknowledge that the phenomena, however produced, were ridiculous and contemptible. Thereafter, the idea of giving him a sitting was abandoned. More satisfaction was derived by Home from his experiences with Dr. Ashburner, one of the Royal physicians and Dr. John Elliotson, F.R.S., sometime president of the Royal Medical and Chirurgical Society of London, a character-study of whom, as Dr. Goodenough, was drawn by Thackeray in Pendennis and to whom the work was dedicated. When Dr. Ashburner became a believer in spiritualism Dr. Elliotson, who was one of the hardest materialists, became estranged from him and publicly attacked him for his folly. A few years later, however, in Dieppe, Home and Elliotson met, the result was a séance, a strict investigation and the complete conversion of Dr. Elliotson. On his return to London he hastened to seek reconciliation with Dr. Ashburner and publicly declared that he was satisfied of the reality of the phenomena and that they were tending to revolutionise his thoughts and feelings on almost every subject.
Another headstrong dogmatist whose belief was radically changed through Home’s phenomena was Robert Chambers, co-author, with Leitch Ritchie, of the anonymous Vestiges of Creation which startled the public by its outspoken scepticism. He attended the séance of which Robert Bell wrote in the Cornhill Magazine. But he was too afraid of his reputation to make a public statement, though he received startling evidences of continued personal identity from his father and daughter. Nevertheless, he undertook to write anonymously the preface to Home’s autobiography in 1862. Eight years later, during the Lyon-Home trial, he abandoned his attitude of reserve and gave an affidavit in Home’s favour.
For a time during the years of 1859-60 Home gave frequent joint séances with the American medium, J. R. M. Squire, one of the editors of the Boston Banner of Light. Squire was introduced to London society under Home’s auspices and later in the year he was presented at Court.
Home’s wife died in July, 1862. Six months later his book Incidents in My Life was published. It attracted widespread notice in the Press. The Morning Herald remarked:
“We must note also the strangeness of the fact that Mr. Home has never been detected, if indeed he is an impostor.”
The book sold very well. A second edition was published in a very few months. This, however, did not relieve the pecuniary difficulties Home began to feel. Relatives disputed his right of inheritance to the fortune of his wife and looking about for a means of livelihood he decided to develop his keen artistic perceptions. He hoped to become a sculptor and went to Rome to study. The Papal Government, however, did not forgive the breaking of his promise to enter a monastery. In January, 1864, he was summoned before the chief of the Roman police and ordered, on the ground of sorcery, to quit Rome within three days. Home claimed the protection of the English Consul and the order of expulsion was suspended on his promising that, during his stay in Rome, he would have no séance and would avoid, as much as possible, all conversations upon spiritualism. As, however, the manifestations were beyond his control, he was soon ordered to quit the Papal territory. He left for Naples where he was received by Prince Humbert, and returned in April to London to demand diplomatic representations on the subject of his expulsion. There was a debate in the House of Commons, but no representation was resolved upon.
Soon after, Home made another trip to America and there became filled with hope that he might achieve success as a reader. He had undoubted talents as a stage reciter. His public rendering of Henry Howard Brownell’s poems was very well received, and on returning to Europe he started on this new career with a lecture on spiritualism in London. His health, however, would not stand the strain. Friends came to the rescue with the post of residential secretary at the foundation of the Spiritual Athenaeum, a kind of headquarters for London spiritualists. With the advent of Mrs. Lyon’s adoption proposal Home resigned and soon afterwards the institution expired. Mrs. Lyon was a wealthy widow. She took a fancy to Home and proposed to adopt him if he added her name to his own, in which case she was prepared to settle a handsome fortune upon him. Home assented and changed his name to Home-Lyon. Mrs. Lyon transferred £60,000 to Home’s account and drew up a will in his favour. Later she repented her action and sued him for the recovery of her money on the basis that she was influenced by spirit communications coming through Home from her late husband. Home, when on the point of leaving for Germany, was arrested. He was liberated the following day on depositing in the Court of Chancery the deeds of gift relating to the £60,000. In spite of weighty testimony against Mrs. Lyon’s credibility, the court put the onus of proof on the defendant and refused to accept it, denouncing the belief in spiritualism as “mischievous nonsense, well calculated on the one hand to delude the vain, the weak, the foolish, and the superstitious, and on the other to assist the projects of the needy and of the adventurer.” Though in the judgment Vice-Chancellor Gifford branded the plaintiff’s “misstatements so perversely untrue that they have embarrassed the Court to a great degree” Home did not appeal, as public sentiment and the Press were against him when, in May 1868, the judgment was delivered. While the suit was in progress an attempt was made against his life. He parried the blow of the assassin’s stiletto with his hand which was pierced. The fantastic stories that were then and later on circulated are best illustrated by a reminiscence in the New York World on the report of his death, that Mrs. Lyon had a false left hand and Home actually made her believe that by mediumistic power he could create life in the artificial limb.
Of the years 1867-69 we have important records of Home’s phenomena in Lord Adare’s Experiences with D. D. Home in Spiritualism. The book was printed for private circulation and contains the account of eighty séances. In 1869 an important event took place. The Dialectical Society appointed a committee for the investigation of spiritualistic phenomena. The committee before which Home appeared had some of the most incredulous members of the society on its list, among others Mr. Bradlaugh and Dr. Edmunds. Four séances were held, but owing to Home’s illness the manifestations did not extend beyond slight raps and movements of the table. The committee reported that nothing material had occurred, but added that “during the inquiry Mr. Home afforded every facility for examination.”
The most important phase in the history of D. D. Home’s mediumship began when Sir William Crookes entered the arena. His investigations commenced in May, 1871, and were highly acclaimed by the Press. His verdict as regards the occurrence of the phenomena was in the affirmative.
Previous to this investigation other important events had taken place in the life of D. D. Home. He gained the lawsuit for his deceased wife’s fortune, became engaged to an aristocratic lady of wealth and gave several séances in the Winter Palace in St. Petersburg. During a lecture on spiritualism he referred to some particulars of a séance held in the presence of a distinguished professor of the University of St. Petersburg. At the end of the lecture Prof. Boutlerof rose from his place and announced that he was the investigator to whom Home had referred. This dramatic scene was followed by an investigation of a committee of five from the University. The result was negative, as Home’s powers were then, owing to recurring illness, at an ebb.
In 1872 Home published the second series of his Incidents in My Life, including the principal affidavits in the Lyon law-suit, and in 1873 he brought out his Lights and Shadows of Spiritualism. His opinions on fraudulent mediumship and his protest against holding séances in the dark were bitterly resented by other mediums. They said, with some justification, that he had little experience of the powers of others, Mrs. Jencken, the former Miss Kate Fox, was the only medium with whom he was friendly. On a few occasions he sat jointly with William Stainton Moses. After the first such sitting on December 22, 1872, Moses wrote in his notebook:
“Mr. D. D. Home is a striking-looking man. His head is a good one. He shaves his face with the exception of a moustache, and his hair is bushy and curly. He gives me the impression of an honest, good person whose intellect is not of high order. I had some talk with him, and the impression that I have formed of his intellectual ability is not high. He resolutely refuses to believe in anything that he has not seen for himself. For instance, he refuses to believe in the passage of matter through matter, and when pressed concludes the argument by saying ‘I have never seen it.’ He has seen the ring test, but oddly enough, does not see how it bears on the question. He accepts the theory of the return in rare instances of the departed, but believes with me that most of the manifestations proceed from a low order of spirits who hover near the earth sphere. He does not believe in Mrs. Guppy’s passage through matter, nor in her honesty. He thinks that regular manifestations are not possible. Consequently he disbelieves in public mediums generally. He said he was thankful to know that his mantle had fallen on me, and urged me to prosecute the inquiry and defend the faith. He is a thoroughly good, honest, weak and very vain man, with little intellect, and no ability to argue, or defend his faith.”
Whether it was owing to failing health, or the influence of his aristocratic wife, he slowly broke with nearly all of his friends and spent most of his time on the Continent. In 1876 his death was falsely reported in the French Press. In declining health he lived for ten more years and died on June 21, 1886. His grave is at St. Germain, Paris, and his tombstone is inscribed “To another discerning of Spirits.” In the Canongate of Edinburgh there is a fountain erected to his memory. It is not known who erected it nor why it was placed opposite the Canongate Parish Church.
Excepting apports and direct voice, Home produced every known physical phenomenon. In an undeveloped state he possessed the latter power, too. Faint whisperings were sometimes heard in his séances, but of single words only. He was mostly in a normal state during the phenomena but went into trance during the fire test, elongations, and occasionally during levitations.
In the spirit teachings delivered through Home’s mouth by his control we find manifest absurdities. The control, criticising the slight knowledge of scientists says that the sun is covered with a beautiful vegetation and full of organic life. When Lord Adare asks: “Is not the sun hot?” he answers “No, the sun is cold; the heat is produced and transmitted to the earth by the rays of light passing through various atmospheres.”
Lord Adare, as Earl of Dunraven, gives Home, in the 1925 edition of Experiences in Spiritualism with D. D. Home, the following character:
“He had the defects of an emotional character, with vanity highly developed (perhaps wisely to enable him to hold his own against the ridicule and obloquy that was then poured out upon spiritualism and everyone connected with it). He was liable to fits of great depression and to nervous crises difficult at first to understand; but he was withal of a simple, kindly, humorous, lovable disposition that appealed to me. He never took money for séances failed as often as not. He was proud of his gift but not happy in it. He could not control it and it placed him sometimes in very unpleasant positions. I think he would have been pleased to have been relieved of it, but I believe he was subject to these manifestations as long as he lived.”
Sir William Crookes summed up his opinion as follows:
“During the whole of my knowledge of D. D. Home, extending for several years, I never once saw the slightest occurrence that would make me suspicious that he was attempting to play tricks. He was scrupulously sensitive on this point, and never felt hurt at anyone taking precautions against deception. To those who knew him Home was one of the most lovable of men and his perfect genuineness and uprightness were beyond suspicion.”
Frank Podmore, a most sceptical psychical researcher, says of Home in his Modern Spiritualism:
“A remarkable testimony to Home’s ability whether as medium or simply as conjurer, is the position which he succeeded in maintaining in society at this time (1861) and indeed throughout his later life, and the respectful treatment accorded to him by many leading organs of the Press. No money was ever taken by him as the price of a sitting; and he seemed to have had the entree to some of the most aristocratic circles in Europe. He was welcomed in the houses of our own and of foreign nobility, was a frequent guest at the Tuilleries, and had been received by the King of Prussia and the Czar. So strong, indeed, was his position that he was able to compel an ample apology from a gentleman who had publicly expressed doubts of his mediumistic performance (Capt. Noble in the Sussex Advertiser of March 23, 1864) and to publish a violent and spiteful attack upon Browning on the occasion of the publication of Sludge (Spiritual Magazine, 1864, p. 315). His expulsion from Rome in 1864 on the charge of sorcery gave to Home for the time an international importance.”
He further stated:
“Home was never publicly exposed as an impostor there is no evidence of any weight that he was even privately detected in trickery.”
Between the publication of his Modern Spiritualism and The Newer Spiritualism in 1910 he nevertheless succeeded in unearthing a single piece of “evidence” of imposture in a letter from Mr. Merrifield, dated August, 1855, and printed in the Journal SPR 1903 in which the writer claims to have noticed that the medium’s body or shoulder sank or rose in concordance with the movements of a spirit hand and to have seen afterwards “the whole connection between the medium’s shoulder and arm and the spirit hand dressed out on the end of his own.” This slender and remote clue was sufficient for Podmore to talk of Home as a practised conjurer who dictated his own conditions in the experiments and produced his feats by trickery. The only admission Podmore makes is this final conclusion:
“We don’t quite see how some of the things were done and we leave the subject with an almost painful sense of bewilderment.”
Source: An Encyclopaedia of Psychic Science by Nandor Fodor (1934).
Incidents in My Life is by Daniel Dunglas Home is available from Amazon and other stores.
D. D. Home: His life, His Mission by Madam home
Experiences in Spiritualism With D. D. Home by Viscount Adare