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16 November 2010, JellyBean @ 12:56 pm

Daniel Dunglas Home (pronounced ‘Hume’) (March 20, 1833 – June 21, 1886) was a Scottish Spiritualist, famous as a physical medium with the reported ability to levitate to a variety of heights, speak with the dead, and to produce rapping and knocks in houses at will.

I have discovered a contemporary article about D.D. Home’s claims and a book he had recently released. It is a fascinating look at how scientists of the time viewed the claims of spiritualists and all things supernatural.

The Medical Times and Gazette (Volume 1 for 1863):


“And all the courses of my life do show,
I am not in the roll of common men.
I can call spirits from the vasty deep.”

So long as the art of ” spirit rapping” only supplied amusing recreation for the busy, and harmless excitement for the idle, it was no more a subject for our notice than are the performances of Houdin or of the Wizard of the North ; but when showmen and professors insist that the phenomena which they exhibit under the name of ” spirit rapping,” or under the more pretentious title of ” spiritualism,” are in reality communications from the world of spirits, they appeal to some of the most universal and deeply-seated feelings of the human mind;—the thirst after the unknown and the unseen, the ardent desire to peep behind the veil that divides the material from the immaterial world, and the longing after proofs of our own immortality.

Such apparent success has attended the bold promise of the “spiritualists” to satisfy these perennial yearnings of the soul, that “spiritualism” has become a most injurious and dangerous form of excitement; confounding and blurring the boundaries between truth and falsehood, confusing and unsettling the weak, rendering men incapable of separating the domain of reason from the cloud-land of the imagination, and finally landing its unhappy votaries in our lunatic asylums.

Forced thus by the most melancholy proofs to recognise in ” spiritualism” a possible cause of terrible disease, we can no longer pass it by with only a smile and a shrug of the shoulders; we must face it, and examine it, as we would any other of the enemies we especially have to do battle with. We must inquire into its real nature and powers, learn its pretensions, and test the foundations, if any, on which they rest. In this spirit of inquiry we have read the latest, and we suppose we may call it the greatest publication of the “spiritualists,” Mr. Home’s “Incidents in my Life.”

Its object is to show that Mr. Home, like Glendower, ” is not in the roll of common men ; ” that he, too, can call spirits ” from the vasty deep,” or “from their golden day,” and that they “come when he does call for them,” and not only then, but that whether he calls them or not, whether he is willing or unwilling, they come ; and in this respect poor Mr. Home is less happy than was Glendower; he does not command the spirits, but is their servant and slave ; by day and by night, in season, and out of season, they insist upon holding communion with him ; very rarely indeed, if ever, so far as we can learn, for any useful or instructive purpose, but apparently for their own entertainment or amusement; because they are in ” high Spirits,” and disposed for fun ; or because in their disembodied state they suffer from ennui, and they return to their haunts of old in search of some excitement.

We are told that the ” facts” reported in this book ” are certified by an immense number of persons who are here indicated by name or otherwise ; ” that the marvellous ” manifestations” herein recorded have been “seen and investigated by persons of all ranks and classes from statesmen down to those in humble life,” and that Mr. Home has ” for years met, and meets every day with men of the highest attainments in art and science, who have carefully examined all these wonderful phenomena, and who have not rested satisfied with ‘ conjectures’ either as to the table, or as to machinery alleged to be concealed ” about his person.

The testimony thus stated to be adduced in favour of the truth and reality of ” spirit manifestations ” sounds overwhelming both in quantity and quality ; yet, if Mr. Home cherishes any hope that his book will silence or convince the unbelieving, mocking Hotspurs of the every-day world, he will be grievously disappointed, for when this promised mass, of evidence is examined, it melts down into little more than Mr. Home’s own ” averments.”

We do not think that our mind is unusually closed against conviction, and we have carefully read the book, in the expectation of finding something like real proof of the pretensions of the “spiritualists,” but we confess that we have utterly failed.

Mr. Home’s experiences as a ” Medium ” began in the nursery ; his very cradle was kindly rocked by the ” dear spirits ” and in the same region of innocence he seems to have gained his idea of what constitutes evidence. In the nursery history of an apple-pie, all the witnesses as to its fate and the events of its career are letters of the alphabet: ” B bit it,” ” C cut it,” ” D danced for it,” and so on ; and in like manner the vast majority of witnesses to the truth of “spirit manifestations” are letters of the alphabet: Count O., Count B , the Princess O., the Abbe de C, Miss E., the Princess de B., etc.

It is true that nearly all Mr. Home’s ladies and gentlemen of the alphabet bear titles, but we cannot allow that even that greatly increases the value of their evidence. We may be very narrow-minded and prejudiced, but we dare to confess that, though our deark old history of an apple-pie had stated that Baron B. bit itgj Chancellor C. cut it, and Duchess D. danced for it, we should not think that the initials were any the more entitled to be considered as unexceptionable witnesses. All these alphabetical witnesses we must then utterly reject.

Of the “statesmen” and the “men of the highest attainments in art and science,” before mentioned, not one is named ; and out of all Europe, only a short dozen of personB are brought forward by name as bearing testimony to the “facts” in the book. Of these few, ” faithful among the faithless found,” the majority are, like the Howitts, eager believers in any and every form of the supernatural, from the sweating statue of Hercules down through the Cock-lane ghost to Mesmerism, clairvoyance, spirit-rapping, and table-turning; and others bear a verymeagre and modified testimony, the only evidence, indeed, o>f their belief in “spiritualism ” being the fact of their presence at stances.

Mr. Home considers this quite sufficient; but Mr. Adolphus Trollope has written to one of the journals a letter, which shows how very little such testimony may mean r he informs us that he “never saw anything of what, for brevity, may be termed professedly supernatural (so to speak) substances, such as ‘ hands,’ or the like, but only professedly supernatural movements of natural substances.”

It must be regarded also as, at the least, a very suspicious circumstance, that it is only unquestioning, whole-hog believers who are deemed worthy to participate in the highest mysteries, and to witness the most wonderful ” manifestations.” Mr. Adolphus Trollope says: “I was requested by Mr. Home to absent myself for the future, in consequence of having expressed doubt and incredulity respecting a certain manifestation.”

Mr. Home here again reminds us of the choleric Welshman—

” …. of many men
I do not bear these crossings.”

While even in the presence of only out-and-out disciples tho most wonderful phenomena, as the ” levitation” of Mr. Home, never occur save in dark rooms, so that it is chiefly by the sounds of his voice that it is judged that Mr. Home is floating about in different parts of the room, and at varying heights from the floor.

Altogether, therefore, though with the fear before our eyes that we shall be considered as being as hardened and as truth-rejecting as Sir David Brewster, we must still exclaim, with Hotspur—

” Bnt will they (the spirits) come,
When you do call for them! ”

We do not think it necessary to describe the means by which the spirits manifest themselves ; everybody has read or heard of their rappings; their table-turnings,sofa-liftings,and chair- moving; their bell-ringings and accordion-playings ; their hand-claspings and knee-pressings underneath tables, and so on.

The only remarkable points about them are their pettiness, uselessness, and monotony; the spirits display a most woeful lack of invention—one good seance exhibits nearly all their powers. The utmost that we can allow to be made out in the book is that several people honestly believe that they have witnessed various material phenomena inexplicable by any of the known laws of physics; this truly is not much, as we by no means deny that

” there are more things in heaven and earth than are dreamt of in our philosophy:”

and we do not forget that the skill of the juggler in the West has hitherto fallen far short of that shown by his brethren in the East. But we entirely sympathise with Sir David Brewster when he declares, to Mr. Home’s great anger and contempt, that, though things happen which he cannot at once explain,

” spirit is the last thing he will give into” in connection with rappings and the pitching about of furniture. It will indeed require vastly more evidence, and evidence of a much higher character than Mr. Home’s “Incidents in my Life” contains, to persuade us that the spirits of the departed, of those who have entered into their rest,” occupy themselves in any such way, or that, if they are permitted to watch over, and hold communion with, their loved ones still in the flesh, they adopt any such modes of communication.

We ought perhaps, however, to apologise to our subscribers for our boldness in thus stating our doubts and our disbeliefs, and to warn them that in so doing we are endangering their property, for at one of Mr. Home’s London liances the spirits occupied themselves in worrying and tearing to pieces a number of ” Once a Week,” which contained an article called “Spirit-rapping Made Easy.” Rather a useless proceeding, and rather infra dig. on the part of the ” spirits ” we think; but we have disburdened our consciences by giving this hint of the special danger to which this number may be exposed.

In one light, however, as is suggested in the preface to the book, Sir. Home’s autobiography may be found by us interesting and instructive, viz., as a pathological, or psycho-pathologieal study. He was a frail, sickly, highly sensitive child, and was trained and nurtured in an atmosphere of superstition and credulity; his mother “was a seer throughout her life ;” her great-uncle and uncle were also “seers, and gifted with second sight.”

While a mere lad he left the Scotch Kirk for the Wesleyans, the Wesleyans for the Congregationalists, was prevented only by the “spirits” from joining the Swedenborgians, and finally became a Unman Catholic, or rather a sort of Roman Catholic unattached, for he could not get on with his confessors, as the Boman Catholic Church denounces ” spiritualism;” and he must . hold strange and most unorthodox opinions about purgatory. He grew up a feeble, sentimental, half-educated man, cultivating only, or at least chiefly, the powers of the imagination ; living in perpetual excitement, in that nursery and hotbed of ” sensation,” America—run after, fostered, and flattered as a ” medium” of unusual eminence even in that land, where for a table to float in the air with half-a-dozen adults seated on it ia a not uncommon ” experience.”

How can we wonder then that he should fall into ” trances,” or that he should fancy he could see things we cannot see, and hear voices that we cannot hear ? To what a morbid state of mind a man must have been brought when he could publish to the world that during his wife’s pregnancy he was obliged to forbid her attending his spirit seances, because the child leaped in her womb in exact consonance with the rappings of the ” spirits!”

1 Comment to “Medical journal article on D.D.Home: Spiritualism and levitation claims”

  1. Tweets that mention Medical journal article on D.D.Home: Spiritualism and levitation claims | Level Beyond -- Topsy.com — November 16, 2010 @ 9:39 pm

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