ARTICLES

Frank Podmore

Well-known psychical investigator and distinguished author. Elected to the Council of the SPR in 1882 and served for an unbroken period of 27 years. For eight or nine years he held, jointly with Frederic Myers, the office of the honorary secretary. He was a collaborator with Myers and Edmund Gurney in "Phantasms of the Living".

Daniel Dunglas Home

 - Frank Podmore -

          WE HAVE seen in the last chapter how a juggler, aided by the mystery which surrounds a medium, and knowing how to take advantage of the infirmities to which human observation and testimony are liable, could mislead even experts into the belief that his tricks were due to powers beyond those of ordinary humanity. Now we have no reason to credit Eglinton with any peculiar aptitude for the profession which he had chosen. Such eminence as he attained seems to have been due as much to good fortune as to any special skill or astuteness of his own. He was, in fact, an impostor of a sufficiently commonplace type. We have now to consider a medium of another kind. Charlatan and adventurer, helpless sport of superhuman forces, or chosen emissary of the spirit-world, commonplace is the last epithet that could justly be applied to Daniel Dunglas Home. Whatever the explanation of the feats ascribed to him - and they are more varied, more striking, and better attested than any others in the history of the marvellous it does not lie on the surface. In Home and in his doings all the problems of Spiritualism are posed in their acutest form; with the marvels wrought by or through him the main defences of Spiritualism must stand or fall.

Daniel Dunglas Home, or Hume, was, by his own account, born near Edinburgh in 1833[1]. Neither in his original auto biography nor in the two biographical accounts written by his second wife is there any express mention of his father, and this omission, coupled with his own statement that he was adopted at an early age by his mother's sister, affords strong confirmation of the rumour that his birth was illegitimate[2].

[1] The materials for an account of Home's life and mediumship are extremely abundant. There are, in the first place, his own writings, of which the chief are the two volumes of Incidents in My Life (First Series, 1863; Second Series, 1872) and the Lights and Shadows of Spiritualism, 1877. There are two works by Madame Home (the second wife), D. D. Home; his Life and Mission, 1888, and The Gift of D. D. Home, 1890.

Of other documents, the most important are Researches in the Phenomena of Spiritualism, by W. Crookes, F.R.S., 1874 (a reprint of various articles which had appeared in the Quarterly Journal of Science), and Notes of Séances with D. D. Home, by the same author, published in the Proc. SPR, vol. vi. pp. 98-127; a privately circulated volume entitled Experiences in Spiritualism, by Viscount Adare (the present Earl of Dunraven), with a preface by the late Earl, containing an account of seventy-eight séances held in the years 1867-8; the evidence included in the Dialectical Society's Report; the affidavits given at the trial Lyon v. Home in 1868; Evenings with Mr. Home and the Spirits, by Dr. J. G. Wilkinson, 1855; Spirit Manifestations, by J. Snaith Rymer, 1857; Spiritualism: a Narrative with a Discussion, by Patrick Proctor Alexander, Edinburgh, 1871; the correspondence in the Morning Advertiser (London) in October and November, 1855; and numerous articles in the Spiritualist Press, especially the Spiritual Telegraph (New York); the Yorkshire Spiritual Telegraph (Keighley), 1855-7; the Spiritual Herald (London), 1856; the Spiritual Magazine, 1860 and onwards; and Human Nature, 1867 and onwards. There are also references to Home in Hare's book on The Spirit Manifestations, New York, 1855; Cox's The Mechanism of Man, London, 1876; in Spicer's Sights and Sounds, 1853; and in many other works on Spiritualism. The Journal of the Society for Psychical Research for July, 1889, and May, 1890, contains some valuable additional evidence collected by the late F. W. H. Myers. Further, Mr. Myers was allowed by Madame Home to inspect the original letters and documents which are quoted in that lady's Life of her husband, and was able to satisfy himself, by his knowledge of the writing in some cases, and by other indications, that the letters are genuine and that they are accurately reproduced in the book.

Some of the facts given in the text as to Home's personal characteristics and manner of life are derived from information supplied to me by persons who had known him. Of these I desire especially to acknowledge my indebtedness to Mr. Ion Perdicaris, who was kind enough to give me orally copious details of his own association with Home, and subsequently to correct and supplement my memoranda of our conversation. No one living is probably better qualified to speak with authority on Home's early life; Mr. Ogden and Professor Bush, who experimented with Home in New York prior to his departure for England in 1855, were friends of Mr. Perdicaris' family. He was also intimately acquainted with Home and with many of Home's circle of friends in this country, and for some years even undertook the expense of educating Home's young son.

[2] In a footnote to the Incidents (Second Series, p. 48), Home states that his father was a natural son of Alexander tenth Earl of Home. No proof is offered of this statement.


When Home was nine years old he appears to have been taken by his aunt to America, and to have lived with her and her husband until the end of 1850. Then the rapping epidemic which had broken out in Hydesville two years previously infected young Home, and he left his aunt's house and went out into the world. For the next five years he stayed in one household or another in New York and elsewhere, giving séances and apparently receiving hospitality and some measure of education in return. It does not appear that at this or any other period he ever accepted any definite payment in money for his services as a medium. Amongst those who attended his séances at this period were the poet Bryant, Ward Cheney, Bishop Clark of Rhode Island, Rufus Elmer, S. B. Brittan (editor of the Shekinah and the New York Spiritual Telegraph), Judge Edmonds, Professor Bush, Mr. Ogden, and Mr. J. W. Carrington. The three gentlemen last named were in 1855 members of a small committee who subscribed a sum of money to send Home over to Europe, partly for the benefit of his health, partly, it would seem, as a missionary of Spiritualism.

Home arrived in England in the spring of 1855 and went to stay at Cox's Hotel in Jermyn Street, having brought introductions to the proprietor, a man of scientific tastes, from his friends in New York. He spent the spring and summer of this year as a guest, now of Mr. Cox, now of Mr. J. S. Rymer, a solicitor, at his house at Ealing, and gave numerous séances Lord Brougham, Sir D. Brewster, Robert Owen, T. A. Trollope, Sir E. Bulwer Lytton, Dr. J. Garth Wilkinson and others being amongst the privileged witnesses.

In the autumn of this year he went to Italy, and spent the next few years on the Continent, quartered apparently for the whole period on various friends, mostly persons of rank and wealth, and repaying the hospitality which he received by the exercise of his marvellous powers. He was summoned during this period on several occasions to the Tuileries, to hold sittings with the Emperor and Empress; he also performed before the Czar of Russia and many other royal and noble personages. In the autumn of 1859 he returned to this country, bringing with him a young and charming wife, the daughter of a noble Russian family, and possessed of a moderate fortune. An account of his mediumship at this period will be found in the article written by Robert Bell, which appeared in the Cornhill in August, 1860[3]. For the next ten or twelve years Home seems to have resided chiefly in London, with intervals more or less prolonged spent upon the Continent. In 1862 his wife died; and Home, who appears to have been left in somewhat straitened circumstances, was forced to eke out his means by giving public lectures and recitations. In 1866 a new society, the "Spiritual Athenæum," was founded by his numerous friends, mainly in order to give Home, as salaried secretary, a fixed position and a livelihood. In the autumn of the same year he made the acquaintance of a wealthy and childless widow, Mrs. Lyon. Mrs. Lyon professed her desire to adopt Home, and presented him "as a free gift" with a sum of £24,000, following this up with still further benefactions. Home in return took the name of Home-Lyon. In the course of a few months Mrs. Lyon changed her mind, and desired to revoke her gifts. The matter came into court in April, 1868, the case being noteworthy from the Spiritualist standpoint because of the large number of affidavits filed by persons of distinction testifying to the reality of Home's power. No definite charge of fraud or illicit influence was proved against Home: but the court was not satisfied that Mrs. Lyon's gifts were "acts of pure volition uninfluenced," and judgment was given in her favour[4].

[3] See above, pp. 48-50.
[4] See the analysis of the proceedings by Mr. H. Arthur Smith, author of Principles of Equity, in the Journal SPR for July, 1889.


In the years 1870-2 Home gave a long series of sittings to Mr. (now Sir William) Crookes. In the autumn of 1871 he had married for the second time, his wife being again a Russian lady possessed of some fortune. Shortly after this event Home seems to have broken with nearly all his friends in this country, and to have exercised his mediumship more and more rarely. He spent the rest of his life mostly on the Continent, and died after a long and painful illness in June, 1886, the immediate cause of death being pneumonia.

This brief sketch of Home's career, founded as it is, as regards the earlier years, mainly on material written or inspired by Home himself, needs a critical supplement. It seems certain that Home began life in extreme poverty, and probably as an illegitimate child. From the age of seventeen onwards he lived by the exercise of his mediumship, none the less if he never actually received payment in cash down. Throughout his life, first in the Eastern States of America and later in every country of Europe, he found wealthy patrons to welcome him to their homes, and lavish their hospitality on him. Such formal education as he received in his youth was paid for by the New York committee to which I have alluded. When Home was not actually a guest in their houses, his patrons, in one way or other - by taking tickets for his lectures, by commissioning busts from him, by subscribing to pay his debts, by making him presents of costly jewellery -  managed to provide for his wants. Mr. Perdicaris for some years undertook the charge of educating his only son. Home thus lived not merely in comfort, but - a thing which to a man of his temperament was probably not less an object of desire - he lived in what is commonly called the "best" society, the society of persons of rank, wealth, and fashion, and occasionally of intellectual distinction.

It is to be noted that when Home first came to England he changed his name. Prior to that period it had been spelt Hume. Possibly the explanation of the change may be found in the claim already referred to, of kinship with the Earl of Home[5].

[5] Madame Home (Life, p. 31) states that the supposed change of name was a misconception; that Home himself had always spelt the name with an o, and that the spelling Hume was due to the ignorance of American journalists, who were misled by the sound ("Home" was pronounced Hoom). But it is difficult to reconcile this explanation with the fact that the name is spelt Hume in every document printed, whether in America or England, before 1855, and in many belonging to that year, even in the signature of the medium's own letters to newspapers. See e.g. the letter to the Hartford Times, reprinted in the Yorkshire Spiritual Telegraph for October, 1855.

Two other curious features in Home's career should be recorded as having some possible significance in their bearing on his character. Early in February, 1856, according to his own account, after due warning from his spirit guides, Home's mediumistic powers left him. Shortly afterwards he was received into the Church of Rome. He had an audience with the Pope, and was even at one time, as Madame Home tells us, on the point of joining a monastic order. He drew back, however, and in February of the following year, being then at Paris, he resumed his mediumistic performance, on the occasion of an invitation from the Tuileries[6].

[6] Life and Mission, pp. 67-70.

In December, 1855, shortly before the intermission of his powers, Home, returning at night through the streets of Florence, reported himself to have been attacked by a man who struck at him with a dagger, and succeeded only in inflicting a slight flesh wound[7]. Thirteen years later, at the time of the trial Lyon v. Home, the drama was repeated, but on a stage, it must be admitted, less happily chosen. The midnight assassin and the murderous stiletto may pass for topical melodrama in Italy, but they degenerate into farce when the theatre is Jermyn Street. Home, it remains to be said, in London as in Florence, was unaccompanied at the time of the outrage: the wound was on each occasion happily trivial, and the perpetrator was never discovered[8].

[7] Incidents (First Series), p. 92.
[8] Life and Mission, p. 269. In recent times defaulting bank managers, occasional mail-cart drivers, and at least one lady of quality, have reported themselves as victims of outrages curiously similar. Shelley, it will be remembered, appears on one occasion to have had an hallucinatory experience of the kind.


In person Home is described as having been slight, fair, and, without being actually handsome, attractive and even distinguished-looking. A portrait of him is prefixed to the Life by Madame Home, and there is a three-quarter-length oil painting in the rooms of the Spiritual Alliance. Here is a pen portrait of him by one of his earliest American friends, a Miss Ely, extracted from a contemporary letter written to her cousin: "He is but seventeen years old, tall for his age, fair complexion, hair neither red, brown, nor auburn, but a complete mixture of the three - like a three-coloured changeable silk - rather inclining to curl: and beautiful hair it is, as you can imagine: a large, broad forehead, well-developed, lively grey eyes, nose not remarkable, and a handsome mouth and teeth; easy manners; very intelligent for his age; perfectly artless and very affectionate."[9] Mr. Perdicaris described him to me as "not good-looking, though his face was as a rule pleasant to look upon; very vain of his personal appearance, with a quite innocent and not unpleasing vanity. Always pleasing manners, very affectionate towards all - men, women, and children alike."

[9] The Gift of D. D. Home, p. 66.

Other testimonies which I have received orally from persons still living, or which are to be found scattered through the literature of Spiritualism, confirm generally this view of his character. There can be no doubt that he produced on most persons the impression of a highly emotional, joyous, childlike nature, full of generous impulses, and lavish of affection to all corners. That he possessed in full measure the defects of his temperament there can be as little doubt; affections so lightly given were liable to be as lightly recalled: vanity seems to have been the permanent element in his character; he basked in admiration; for the rest he showed throughout a disposition to take life easily, and to look out, in the American phrase, for "soft jobs." In short, as Mr. Andrew Lang has somewhere described him, "a Harold Skimpole with the gift of divination." The malignant side of his nature showed but rarely, and then chiefly in his attitude towards rival mediums. But it flashed out when his vanity was injured; and after his second marriage he treated many of his old friends with indifference, and some with marked ingratitude[10].

[10] The most careful and dispassionate account of Home's character which I have seen is contained in a letter from Miss Louise Kennedy - a lady who only knew him in his later years - written in July, 1891, to Mr. Lang, which appeared in the Journal of the SPR, Jan., 1894.

Amongst Home's social accomplishments it must be mentioned that he was a good performer on the piano; and that his recitations, whether in the drawing-room or on the platform, are said by competent judges to have been distinguished by brilliant dramatic faculty and power of emotional expression. Even on those who were brought only into momentary contact with him he produced commonly the impression of frankness and sincerity[11]: in those who stood in more frequent and intimate relations with him the confidence which he inspired seems to have been unlimited. The belief in the honesty of the performer became for them hardly less instinctive than the belief in the trustworthiness of the senses which took note of the performance. The trust upon which other mediums relied was built up mainly by adventitious devices; with Home it was inspired and maintained by the charm of his personality.

[11] See e.g. the testimony of Robert Bell, in the Cornhill article already referred to; Mr. P. P. Alexander (Spiritualism, a narrative with a discussion, p. 2). "The impression he made on me was, on the whole, favourable... His manners were simple and quiet, and very much those of a gentleman." Sub-Committee No. 5 of the Dialectical Society, which included Dr. Edmunds and Mr. C. Bradlaugh, had four sittings with Home. The sittings were fruitless, but the committee reported that "Mr. Home afforded every facility for examination, and appeared to be anxious to further the objects which the committee had in view" (Dialectical Report, p. 49). Mr. Bradlaugh gave independent testimony to the same effect (Ibid., p. 279). On the other hand, Hamilton Aide (Nineteenth Century, April, 1890, article "Was I Hypnotised?") could find "no glamour of esoteric power," nor "subtle fascination" about Home; and thought him "entirely unimpressive in any way."

But there were two other causes which contributed in no small degree to the confidence felt in Home's integrity. Home himself professed a fervent belief in his own mission as a teacher of the truth of immortality[12]; and in his trances habitually delivered discourses on religious themes. The late Lord Dunraven, in the preface to his son's series of letters on Home's mediumship, writes of the "high and pure morality" inculcated at Home's séances, and describes some of the trance utterances as "very touching and beautiful. A pure, lofty, and religious tone more or less pervades them." Other witnesses have written to the same effect[13].

[12] Thus, in speaking of the effect produced on T. A. Trollope by a séance at Ealing, Home writes: "When at length the light did beam upon his soul, and the chords of his spirit vibrated in unison with the celestial harmonies that ushered in the birth of faith through the shadows of his old unbelief, the result was too much for his stoicism, and the tears of holy joy coursed down his manly cheeks... It was an impressive scene, and an occasion of deep interest. There are many such in the life of a spirit medium." (Letter from D. D. Home to the Hartford Times (U.S.A.), quoted in the Yorkshire Spiritual Telegraph, Oct., 1855).
[13] See also Home's own writings, e.g. the article in the Spiritual Magazine for February, 1860, comparing the rise of Spiritualism to that of Christianity; and the chapters on the "Higher Aspects of Spiritualism," in his book Lights and Shadows of Spiritualism.


Again, the impression produced by Home's trance sermons was heightened by the frequent delivery of clairvoyant messages, purporting to proceed from dead friends of one or other of those present, and often showing an intimate knowledge of the past history of the persons addressed. Amongst the English and American witnesses who have testified to receiving messages of this kind which gave details of a private nature, presumably unknown to the medium, are S. B. Brittan, Ward Cheney, Dr. Garth Wilkinson, Dr. Gully, Mr. and Mrs. S. C. Hall, Mrs. Nassau Senior, Mr. P. P. Alexander, Mr. J. S. Rymer, the present Earl of Dunraven, Dr. Hawksley, and others. Mr. Perdicaris has furnished me with two or three additional instances in his own experience of a very remarkable character. I have not space to consider the evidence for this clairvoyance, nor the possibilities of the information having been obtained by normal means. The whole subject of these alleged communications from the dead will be dealt with in a later chapter. The evidence, at any rate, in the case of Home, is far less complete than in the case of the later medium, Mrs. Piper, or than the evidence already considered in the chapter on Cahagnet's somnambules[14]. It is perhaps sufficient, however, to raise a presumption of Home's possession of supernormal powers. But our concern here is primarily not with the authenticity of these communications, but with the undoubted effect produced by them at the time in predisposing those present to accept Home's physical manifestations as genuine[15].

[14] Book 1. chap. vi.
[15] Many of these trance communications are quoted at length in Madame Home's biographical notices of the medium. But the more important were published at the time, in the Spiritualist periodicals, especially, in this country, the Spiritual Magazine, and the various works of Alexander, Wilkinson, Rymer, etc., already referred to.


Before we proceed to consider the physical manifestations one preliminary remark needs to be made. Home was never publicly exposed as an impostor; there is no evidence of any weight that he was even privately detected in trickery[16]. On the assumption - an assumption which the whole course of our inquiries up to this point compels us to make - that the alleged physical marvels were fraudulent, this unique immunity from the common lot of mediumship certainly calls for explanation. Mainly, no doubt, it was due to Home's peculiar position as a non-professional medium; to the fact that his sitters were, in a sense, his guests; and that he himself in effect selected those before whom he would consent to perform. Again, we cannot exclude the possibility that there were cases in which imposture was actually detected by persons who refrained, out of consideration for the feelings of their friends, or from the fear of ridicule, from making their discovery public. But whatever deductions are made on this score, Home's immunity is not the least remarkable feature of his career, and may no doubt fairly be considered as weakening to some extent the general assumption referred to.

[16] The late F. W. H. Myers (Journal SPR, July, 1889) has carefully examined this question. Mr. Browning personally explained to Mr. Myers that he had never detected Home cheating, and that the only definite evidence which he could show for his opinion that Home was an impostor was based upon a second-hand rumour that Home was once caught in Italy experimenting with phosphorus. No testimony has ever been adduced which even remotely approached first-hand for the alleged exposure at the Tuileries.

Mr. Myers also prints a letter from a gentleman known to him, written in 1889, in which the writer relates that at a séance held in 1855 he saw plainly that the alleged "spirit hands" were supported by and in obvious connection with Home's arms. The matter was not, however, mentioned at the time, and rests now on the unsupported memory of events which took place thirty-four years before the account was written (Journal SPR, July, 1889, p. 121).


But though more fortunate, or haply more deserving, than his fellows, it is important to note that none of Home's manifestations seem to have been peculiar to himself. At the outset of his career, indeed, he appears to have won no special distinction as a medium. Raps were heard at his séances; tables and chairs were moved about; the room was shaken, bells, accordions, and guitars were played under the table or even at a distance from the circle, with no hand near them; spirit voices would speak through the medium; spirit hands were felt under the tablecloth, and occasionally seen above it; spirit lights made themselves visible; and the medium himself would be levitated. But all these performances were the common property of the guild; the Fox girls, Gordon, Cooley, E. P. Fowler, Abby Warner, and even Willis, the Harvard divinity student, were Home's rivals, and apparently, in the estimation of his contemporaries, at least his equals in all these feats. It is noteworthy that Home appears to have attracted comparatively little attention in the American Press before his journey to England[17].

[17] There are, however, a few notices in the New York papers before 1855, some of which are quoted in the Incidents. See especially the account of a séance from the Shekinah, New York, Vol. i. p. 289, quoted in the Incidents (First Series), p. 24. See also Telegraph Papers, vol. iii. pp. 211, 212; Vol. vii. pp. 182, 261, 287; vol. viii. p. 293. That Home's séances attracted less attention than those of Gordon, the Foxes, or the Koons family was no doubt largely due to the fact that his performances were never given in public or to promiscuous circles. It should be noted, as bearing upon Home's relations to other mediums, that after his second visit to this country (1859-60) he associated himself for some time with another American medium, Squire, and that they even gave joint séances (see Spiritual Magazine, 1860, pp. 75, 88, 232, etc.) See above, pp- 51-2, for some account of Squire's mediumship.

His séances in this country followed for the most part on the lines sketched above. The room was commonly illuminated by one or more candles, a single gas-burner, or a shaded lamp, so that, in comparison with the almost complete darkness insisted on by other mediums, it could honestly be described as well lighted. The manifestations would then usually begin with raps, followed shortly by a quivering movement of the table which is described by one witness as like the vibration in the cabin of a small steamer when the engine begins to work[18]; by another as resembling "a ship in distress, with its timbers straining in a heavy sea"[19]; and in a finer flight of imagination is characterised by another witness as "literally trembling, as if every vein of the wood was a human nerve."[20] The table would then tilt up, move about, or "float" suspended in the air; musical instruments would perform in the convenient obscurity afforded by its shelter; hands would be felt clasping the knees of the sitters and pulling portions of their dress; handkerchiefs, flowers, and other light articles, and even heavy bells, would be handed about the circle, under the table, by the same means. The performance would be interspersed with messages rapped out by the spirits, or delivered through the mouth of the entranced medium.

[18] Spiritual Magazine, 1861, p. 224.
[19] Spiritualism, by P. P. Alexander, p. 37. This imaginary resemblance was, as will be seen from Mr. Alexander's account, afterwards worked up into a striking test of "identity."
[20] Spiritual Magazine, 1861, p. 431.


At this point the sitting would commonly terminate. But if the conditions were judged favourable to the higher manifestations, the lights would be turned out, the fire screened, and the table drawn up to the window, the company sitting round three sides, leaving the side next the window vacant, with Home sitting at one end of the vacant space. Hands would then be seen, outlined against the faint light proceeding from the window, to rise over the vacant edge of the table, move about the papers lying on its surface, or give flowers to the sitters. Afterwards the medium would be levitated. An account of a typical séance of this kind, extracted from the Cornhill article by Robert Bell, will be found above[21].

[21] Pages 48-50. Other instances of séances at which hands appeared under these conditions - conditions, it should be remarked, which appear always to have been punctually observed - are given in Spiritual Magazine, 1860, pp. 233, 266, 338, 370, 524; Evenings with Home, by J. G. Wilkinson; Dialectical Report, p. 139; Spirit Manifestations, by Rymer; The Spiritual Herald, p. 108, account of a séance by "H. W" (Mrs. Helen Clarke), etc., etc.

Now as described it must be admitted that many of the phenomena which took place at Home's séances seem inexplicable: more inexplicable than in the case of other mediums. This difference is no doubt largely due, as already indicated, to the fact that Home's manners and appearance, his aloofness from the professional medium, and the atmosphere of smart society which encompassed him, inspired a confidence which encouraged the witnesses of his marvels to "let themselves go." The discerning reader will not need to be told that Robert Bell's mood when he sat in the dark and saw the spirit hands, was not that of dispassionate observation; and that he was, alike at the time and in retrospect, incapable of distinguishing between what he saw, heard, or felt, and what he inferred from those sensations. But Robert Bell was a much better witness than most. He admits that the room was very dark, and that Home's hands were visible only as a "faint white heap"; and he did not, like many of Home's sitters, profess to recognise the spirit hands which clasped his knees, or appeared as a transitory gleam of white at the far edge of the table. Nor would he, it is likely, have regarded as a proof of spirit intervention an incident recorded at this time by Mr. Enmore Jones. At the close of a dark séance, part of a bronze idol, which had been taken to pieces by the spirits and thrown about the room, was missing, and could not, after prolonged search, be discovered. Home came to the rescue and asked the spirits to guide his hands to the hiding-place of the missing article. The request was complied with. Enmore Jones comments on the incident, "It confirmed me in the belief that our spirit friends are more keen-eyed than we, that they hear our words, and can control even our physical organism."[22]

[22] Spiritual Magazine, 1861, p. 480.

Unfortunately, though we have abundant evidence of the intellectual condition of the witnesses, we can rarely find independent accounts given in sufficient detail to enable us to prove such errors of interpolation and transposition, etc., as Dr. Hodgson was able to point out in the accounts of Eglinton's performances. One case may, however, be quoted. The account which appears in the left-hand column below is taken from J. S. Rymer's pamphlet, Spirit Manifestations, published in 1857; it professes to have been based on notes taken at the time, and as it is quoted by Home[23], it may be presumed to have his endorsement. The date of the sitting, it will be seen, is not given. The account of the same sitting given in the right-hand column is by Mr. Thomas Dalling Barlee, of Ealing, and is quoted from a letter dated 23rd October, 1855, which was published in the Yorkshire Spiritual Telegraph[24].

[23] Incidents (First Series), p. 69; see also Gift of D. D. Home, pp. 82, 83.
[24] Vol. iii. pp. 21, 22.

Mr Rymer's Account Mr Barlee's Account
One evening I found seated at my long table my wife, my second son, Mr. Home, and two friends. I was passing through my room to my chamber. I stood for a few moments at the end of the table -my attention was immediately arrested by sounds; it was stated to be my little boy, who had passed away some years ago. I asked if he recollected how pleased he was when on earth to place me a chair on my return home. The chair was immediately moved round the corner of the table, and, by no visible agency, it was placed behind me, and I sat down upon it."

*   *   *   *   *   *   *

(Here follows half a page of argument aimed at proving that the manifestation could not have been due to deception or illusion. The account then continues as given below).

"We were told through the alphabet that my little boy was present in spirit. I had heard of spirit-writing in America. Mr. Wolf, of Athens, co. Ohio, writes: 'Writing is done without human hands; the hand of the spirit is visible while the writing is done.' I asked if the unseen boy could write as on earth; he answered that he would try. I then took from my wife's writing-desk a sheet of notepaper, clean, and without any writing on it of any description. I borrowed a pencil from a lady friend who was at the table - the table had its usual cloth; on the cloth I placed the paper and pencil; both moved as if by a breath of air the brass fastenings of my table were then displaced one by one, and fell to the ground; the table was opened or pulled out, and by no human agency; everyone in the room was seated at the table, and had their hands on its surface. I then asked if I should place the pencil and paper on the table near the opening under the cloth - three sounds (yes); I did so, and immediately the form of a small hand was seen under the cloth; it was felt by some who placed their hands upon it; the paper and pencil were then removed, the form of the hand disappearing at the same time. In a few minutes the same form of hand was again seen replacing the paper and pencil; the alphabet was called for: 'Dear papa, I have really done my very best.' I removed the paper and pencil, and on the paper was written, 'Dear papa, dear mama,' and signed 'Watt.' Watty was the name of my child. No one was aware that I intended to ask for this to be done. It was not prearranged even by myself; it was the thought of the moment."

"At Mr. Rymer's, on the 8th May, Mrs. Barlee and I formed part of a circle of fourteen. Very soon after we had all been seated round a heavy mahogany dining-table, large enough for a party of twenty, many different kinds of raps were distinctly heard, and presently the brass fastenings which held the parts of the table together beginning to make a rattling noise, Mr. Hume exclaimed, 'The spirits are actually trying to take the brass fastenings out, and to move this heavy table,' which was really the case. For soon after, hearing the brass fastenings fall, we looked under the table, and there found two of them which had thus been taken out, and then the table began to move about.

"At the time all this was going on, the hands of Mr. Hume and all present were, as usual, laid upon the table, and I am convinced that if he or any of the party had attempted to deceive us or had tried to take out the brass fastenings, and throw them under the table, the attempt and deception must have been discovered. Soon after the brass fastenings had thus been taken out, and the table had been moved about, without any human handling, many more distinct raps were heard, and as they were known by Mr. Hume and those present to be little Watty (a son of Mr. Rymer's, who died when about thirteen years old), Mr. R. said, 'Dear little Watty knows papa is always delighted to hear his merry little raps, and does Watty think he could write something for papa, who would so like to have some of dear Watty's writing?' - when the raps answered 'yes.'

"Mr. Rymer then put a sheet of notepaper and a pencil over the tablecloth, and presently I saw the paper and pencil begin to move without any visible handling, and soon after I saw the shadow of a finger on that part of the paper which was nearest to me, just about the time when an accordion which was on the table began to play. Some who were present saw a whole hand trying to take the pencil and paper up, but as my attention at that moment was turned to the music, I did not see the hand. Mr. Hume then said, 'As the spirits seem inclined to give us some music, let us hear that first, and in the meantime, if the paper and pencil are put under the cloth, I have no doubt little Watty will have written something before the music is finished.' Mr. Rymer then placed the pencil and paper under the tablecloth, and the accordion soon, without any visible handling, played 'Home, sweet Home.' (Here follows a description of the music). After the accordion ceased, Mr. Rymer said, 'Now let us see whether little Watty has written anything for papa,' when instantly five raps came calling for the alphabet, and then there was spelt, 'Dear papa, I have done my very best,' and on Mr. Rymer's taking up the paper he found written on it, 'Dear papa, dear mama, Watt,' and on comparing the handwriting with that contained in one of his last letters before he died, it was found to be exactly resembling the writing there, particularly the capital letters."


It is not necessary to point out all the discrepancies in these two accounts; it will be sufficient to indicate some of the most important. Mr. Rymer has apparently combined the events of two separate séances; this will account for the discrepancy in the number reported to be present[25]. Moreover, Rymer's account of the order of the manifestations differs materially from Barlee's - the incident of the brass fastenings in one account precedes, in the other follows, the request for writing. Rymer omits the whole business of the accordion playing, a device, no doubt, for diverting attention from the writing. Barlee makes no mention of the incident recorded by Rymer, the removal and replacing of the paper and pencil. Again, according to Rymer, he himself suggested that the paper and pencil should be placed under the cloth; but Barlee tells us that the suggestion came from Home. There are, of course, other and by no means unimportant discrepancies.

[25] Home, in quoting Rymer's account in the Incidents, inserts the words, "on another evening."

In view, then, of the mental condition of the sitters and the fallibility of ordinary testimony on these matters demonstrated in the last chapter, it is not difficult to guess how most of Home's manifestations were accomplished. It may be conceded that many of the performances were held in a better light than was commonly the case with his rivals; and that the medium's hands were frequently at rest on the table during the performance, even though the only proof offered of this latter fact may have been the presence of "a faint white heap" where his hands should be. The medium's feet were probably responsible in most cases for the playing of bells and guitar under the table, the spirit touches, spirit hands, peregrination of chairs, floating of tables, and the rest of it. His knees and other parts of his person could give substantial help in the feats where more muscular action was required[26]. The hands seen at the edge of the table after the lowering of the lights and other preparations, call for no special explanation. Similar hands have been exhibited again and again by fraudulent mediums in America and England, and have been exposed to the public gaze in Dr. Monck's portmanteau. It is to be noted that Mr. Crookes, as he then was, appears never to have been favoured with this particular manifestation. At the séances of which he has published notes hands were frequently felt and occasionally seen by one or more sitters, but never so unequivocally, or under such circumstances of elaborate preparation, as at Home's séances in 1860 and 1861 with observers of less scientific acumen.

[26] Dr. Edmunds, who examined Home on the occasion of his sittings with the Sub-Committee No. 5 of the Dialectical Society, reported to the Committee that Mr. Home possessed an extremely muscular and elastic frame (Dialectical Report, p. 47). J. E. Boehm, the sculptor, writes of Home's "delicately formed hands, feet, and limbs in general" (Life of Home, p. 223).

It is to the experiments and observations made by the distinguished physicist that we must now turn our attention. In an article published in the Quarterly Journal of Science for July, 1870, Mr. Crookes, as already mentioned[27], announced that he had been for some time past engaged in investigating the manifestations commonly called spiritualistic. Though by no means prepared to accept the Spiritualist hypothesis, he had seen enough to satisfy him of the occurrence of certain physical phenomena, not explicable "by any physical law at present known." But he pointed out that the precautions hitherto taken against fraud, and the methods adopted for ascertaining the extent and the reality of the effects produced, were alike insufficient. What those methods and precautions should be he indicated in a passage already quoted[28].

[27] See above, p. 152.
[28] Above, p. 183.


A year later he was able to announce that he had succeeded in experimentally demonstrating the existence of a hitherto unknown force, and had measured the effects produced[29]. In justification of his claim he gave a detailed description of one series of experiments conducted in his own laboratory in the presence of four other persons, two of whom, Dr. (later Sir William) Huggins and Serjeant Cox attested the accuracy of his report, based upon notes made at the time. The "medium" of the new force was Daniel Dunglas Home. The apparatus employed in the chief experiment is thus described:

[29] Quarterly Journal of Science, July 1871.

"In another part of the room an apparatus was fitted up for experimenting on the alterations in the weight of a body. It consisted of a mahogany board 36 inches long by 9 ½ inches wide and 1 inch thick. At each end a strip of mahogany 1 ½ inches wide was screwed on, forming feet. One end of the board rested on a firm table, whilst the other end was supported by a spring balance hanging from a substantial tripod stand. The balance was fitted with a self-registering index, in such a manner that it would record the maximum weight indicated by the pointer. The apparatus was adjusted so that the mahogany board was horizontal, its foot resting flat on the support. In this position its weight was 3 Ibs., as marked by the pointer of the balance.

"Before Mr. Home entered the room the apparatus had been arranged in position, and he had not even the object of some parts explained before sitting down."

When, after some preliminary experiments with an accordion, attention was turned to the apparatus, Mr. Home placed his finger lightly upon the extreme end of the mahogany board furthest from the balance, Dr. Huggins and Mr. Crookes sitting one on each side and watching; under these conditions the index of the balance moved several times, the greatest downward pull registered being 6 Ibs.[30] It was particularly noticed, Mr. Crookes tells us, that Home's fingers were not at any time advanced more than 1 ½ inches from the extreme end of the board - that is, not outside the point of support - so that it was physically impossible for any pressure of his fingers to have produced the downward movements of the board shown by the index. Moreover, "his feet as well as his hands were closely guarded by all in the room."

[30] i.e. the index showed a total weight of 9 Ibs.

The few scientific men who ventured any public criticism on these experiments contented themselves for the most part with pointing out possible defects in the apparatus employed, or some source of error in the actual conduct of the experiments. Some of these criticisms appear to have been founded on a misunderstanding of the facts; some, in themselves perhaps no better founded, Mr. Crookes endeavoured to meet by modifications of the apparatus[31]. But there were a few men who, equally disinclined apparently to believe, on the evidence adduced, in the genuineness of the alleged manifestations, or in the incompetence of the distinguished physicist who conducted the experiments, propounded yet another solution of the difficulty. Professor Balfour Stewart, in reviewing in Nature[32] Mr. Crookes' article, refers to the illusions produced by Mesmerists and electro-biologists, and conjectures that in the present instance the observers may have been hallucinated. Again, Mr. E. B. Tylor, enlarging an idea put forward by Dr. A. R. Wallace, that the were-wolf superstition might have been due to mesmeric influence exercised by certain persons, extended it to spiritualistic marvels in general, and suggested that D. D. Home and Mrs. Guppy might be were-wolves, endowed with the power of acting on the minds of sensitive spectators[33].

[31] See Carpenter's article in the Quarterly already referred to, the letters from Sir C. Wheatstone, Sir G. G. Stokes, and others, and Mr. Crookes' replies, quoted in his Researches; a letter in Nature, August 3rd, 1871, from J. P. Earwaker, etc., etc.
[32] July 27th, 1871.
[33] Nature, 29th Feb., 1872.


There are perhaps amongst the marvels recorded by credible witnesses, including Mr. Crookes himself, cases in which a modified form of this hypothesis would seem to be the only alternative to believing in the manifestation of a new physical force[34]. But such a drastic solution is hardly required to explain the recorded movements of the balance. The experiment as it stands, even without the modifications introduced later by Mr. Crookes in deference to his scientific critics, seems, indeed, conclusive against the possibility of Home's affecting the balance by any pressure on his end of the board. But, tested by the canons laid down by Mr. Crookes himself at the outset of his investigations, we shall find the conditions of the experiment defective in one important particular. Mr. Crookes had shown that it is the province of scientific investigation not merely to ascertain the reality of the alleged movements and measure their extent, but to establish their occurrence under conditions which render fraud impossible. In the passage quoted on page 183 it is implicitly recognised that such conditions are to be secured by eliminating the necessity for continuous observation on the part of the investigator. The proof of the thing done should depend upon something else than the mere observation of the experimenters, however skilled.

[34] See the discussion on this point in the next chapter.

Now in the experiment quoted these conditions were not fulfilled. On the contrary, we are expressly told that all present guarded Home's feet and hands. It is pertinent to point out that a duty for which the whole company were collectively responsible may well at times have been intermitted. Moreover, Dr. Huggins and Mr. Crookes had to watch the balance also, and Mr. Crookes had to take notes. Again, the experiment described was not the first of the kind; it occurred in the middle of a long series. It is indeed stated that Home was not familiar with the apparatus employed. But as similar apparatus had been employed, probably at previous trials by Mr. Crookes himself, certainly by earlier investigators - amongst them Dr. Hare[35] with whose published writings on Spiritualism we cannot assume that Home was unacquainted - the statement carries little weight. Further, a point of capital importance, there had apparently been many previous trials with various modifications of the apparatus and many failures; in Mr. Crookes' own words, "the experiments I have tried have been very numerous, but owing to our imperfect knowledge of the conditions which favour or oppose the manifestations of this force, to the apparently capricious manner in which it is exerted, and to the fact that Mr. Home himself is subject to unaccountable ebbs and flows of the force, it has but seldom happened that a result obtained on one occasion could be subsequently confirmed and tested with apparatus specially contrived for the purpose."[36]

[35] See above, vol. i. p. 234, for some account of Hare's experiments.
[36] Researches, p. 10. Further on he remarks with reference to the various experiments recorded in the article: "Although space will allow only the publication of the details of one trial, it must be clearly understood that for some time past I have been making similar experiments with like results. The meeting on the occasion here described was for the purpose of confirming previous observations by the application of crucial tests, with carefully arranged apparatus, and in the presence of irreproachable witnesses" (op. cit., p. 17).

The real significance of this statement is that Home - a practised conjurer, as we are entitled to assume - was in a position to dictate the conditions of the experiment. By the simple device of doing nothing when the conditions were unfavourable he could ensure that the light (gas in the present instance) was such and so placed, the apparatus so contrived, and the sitters so disposed, as to suit his purpose, and that in the actual experiment the attention of the investigators would necessarily be concentrated on the wrong points. Under such conditions, as ordinary experience shows, and as the experiments described in the last chapter have abundantly demonstrated, five untrained observers are no match for one clever conjurer.

The word "untrained" in this connection may seem to require justification. Of Sir William Crookes' high distinction in many branches of physical science there is no need to speak here. But his previous training did not necessarily render him better qualified to deal with problems differing widely from those presented in the laboratory. To put it bluntly, if Home was a conjurer, Mr. Crookes was probably in no better position for detecting the sleight-of-hand than any other man his equal in intelligence and native acuteness of sense. Possibly even in a worse position; for it may be argued that his previous training would prepare the way for Home's efforts to concentrate attention on the mechanical apparatus, and thus divert it from the seemingly irrelevant movements by which it may be conjectured the conjurer's end was attained.

Moreover, the record of the experiments is obviously incomplete. The date is not given. We only know that it took place before June 8th, 1871, the date of Serjeant Cox's attesting letter. Again, the amount of light is not stated. There is only a brief prefatory statement that the experiment took place in the evening and that the room was lighted by gas. If we turn to the detailed notes of selected experiments undertaken about this time which Mr. Crookes contributed to the Proceedings of the SPR[37], we shall find that this particular experiment indeed is not included, but that at a similar experiment which took place a few weeks later (June 21st) the light, by Home's order, was so diminished that at the first trial "there was scarcely light enough to see the board and the index move."[38] Moreover, as Lehmann has pointed out in his criticism of this experiment[39], it seems probable from reading these fuller notes that the account published in the Quarterly Journal of Science represents only a part of what took place at the séance. Mr. Crookes selected, as he had a perfect right to do, and published only those details (including the temperature of the room) which to the man of science seemed relevant. But, as we have already seen, in investigating the performances of conjurers even the most intelligent witness is apt to reject as irrelevant precisely those details which would give the clue to the trick.

[37] Vol. vi. p. 98, etc.
[38] op. cit., p. 110
[39] Aberglaube und Zauberei, pp. 27 1-3. Stuttgart, 1898.


For us, I am inclined to think, that clue may be found in a very early manifestation of Home's, which he seems to have been chary of repeating in his later years, and which Mr. Crookes - I infer from his published writings on the subject - had never seen. In the accounts of the early physical phenomena in America I have quoted a description of a séance with Home, during which the table was tilted at a precarious angle, without the displacement of various small objects which rested on its polished surface[40]. Lord Adare (the present Earl of Dunraven*) was favoured with one - and only one - unequivocal example of this manifestation[41]. But I can remember no other detailed account of a similar feat in all the records of Home's séances in this country[42]. This extremely effective exhibition was, I take it, dropped from Home's repertory for prudential reasons. The articles were probably, it may be suggested, held in position when the table was tilted by means of hairs or fine threads attached to Home's dress. If the illumination and background are properly arranged, a dark thread is practically invisible in such a case, even to eyes that know what to look for. Mr. Davey used to employ a hair or thread to move bits of coloured chalk under a glass tumbler, when the eyes of all present were concentrated upon the spot; and would even by similar means cause a tumbler to glide across the table. I have described below a similar trick, for which I have known human hair to be employed. The risk of using threads to keep small objects in place on the inclined table is obvious; a suspicious or too curious sitter might at any moment discover the trick. Or, if several objects were attached, the threads might become entangled, or the performance miscarry in other ways. But if a single loop is used the risks are considerably lessened; and if the experimenters are not too close to the point of attachment a movement on the part of any of them could generally be foreseen, and the medium would have time to let go one end of the thread, which would then fall to the ground and could be drawn in at leisure.

[40] Vol. i. pp. 242-3.
* ISS note: This article was written in 1902.
[41] Experiences in Spiritualism, pp. 1, 2. A similar manifestation is briefly described by Madame Home as having taken place in Paris (Life, p. 92).
[42] In the Yorkshire Spiritual Telegraph, vol. iii. p. 22, Mr. Barlee briefly refers to a similar manifestation.


It is by the use of such a thread, I venture to suggest, that the watchful observation of Mr. Crookes and his colleagues was evaded. Given a subdued light, and opportunity to move about the room - and from the detailed notes of later séances it seems probable that Home could do as he liked in both respects - the loop could be attached without much risk of detection to some part of the apparatus, preferably the hook from which the distal end of the board was suspended, the ends being fastened to some part of Home's dress, e.g., the knees of his trousers, if his feet and hands were under effectual observation.

There are some other rather puzzling movements of small objects recorded in Mr. Crookes' detailed notes which may yield their secret to the same clue; in particular, the floating of a small lath. Thus, towards the end of the séance on June 21st, 1871, after having got up to inspect the balance and registering apparatus, and to move it away from the table, the sitters resumed their seats, and a message shortly came, "Hands off the table and all joined." After this the record proceeds:

"Just in front of Mr. Home and on the table was a thin wooden lath 23 ¼ inches long, 1 ½ inches wide, and 1 inch thick, covered with white paper. It was plainly visible to us all[42], and was one foot from the edge of the table. Presently the end of the lath, pointing towards Mr. Walter Crookes, rose up in the air to the height of about ten inches. The other end then rose up to a height of about five inches, and the lath then floated about for more than a minute in this position suspended in the air, with no visible means of support. It moved sideways and waved gently up and down, just like a piece of wood on the top of small waves of the sea. The lower end then gently sank till it touched the table and the other end followed.

[42] The amount of light is not stated. It had been, as already mentioned, so faint at the beginning of this sitting that the index could be read with difficulty. Later the gas was turned up; but from the fact that Mr. Crookes thought it necessary to state that a white object two feet long was plainly visible, it may, I think, fairly be inferred that the illumination was sufficiently subdued to allow of the feat being worked in the manner suggested in the text.

"Whilst we were speaking about this wonderful exhibition of force, the lath began to move again, and rising up as it did at first, it waved about in a somewhat similar manner. The startling novelty of the movement having now worn off, we were all enabled to follow its motions with more accuracy. Mr. Home was sitting away from the table at least three feet from the lath all this time; he was apparently quite motionless, and his hands were tightly grasped, his right by Mrs. Walter Crookes and his left by Mrs. William Crookes. Any movement by his feet was impossible, as, owing to the large cage[43] being under the table, his legs were not able to be put beneath, but were visible to those on each side of him. All the others had hold of hands."[44]

[43] An upright cylinder of about two feet in diameter used in these experiments to isolate the accordion.
[44] Proc. SPR, vol. vi. p. 111.


The sittings were held in Mr. Crookes' dining-room, and the assistants sat round the dining-room table. The occupation of the sitters with the balance apparatus immediately before the manifestation would have afforded Home an opportunity for adjusting the loops of thread over the gaselier, whilst the injunction to join hands secured him from any serious risk of interruption.

It seems possible, therefore, to explain the great bulk of the marvels recorded of Home by a combination of trickery on the one side and unconscious misinterpretation on the other. But it is not easy to see how the investigators of a generation ago could have been deceived, and repeatedly deceived, by any device of the kind suggested; and if we find ourselves unable to accept Mr. Crookes' testimony, we are guided to an adverse decision less perhaps by any defects which have been demonstrated in the particular evidence here presented than by that general presumption against the operation of the supposed new physical energy which, as already shown, inevitably follows from an analysis of all the cognate evidence accumulated down to the present day[45]. Even so there remain a few manifestations which the hypothesis of simple trickery does not seem to fit. Some of these marvels - the levitations, the elongations, and the fire-ordeal - will be dealt with in the next chapter.

[45] See above, p. 185.

Source: Modern Spiritualism: A History and a Criticism by Frank Podmore (2 vols) (London: Methuen, 1902.)

 

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