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Home, Daniel Dunglaslocked

(1833–1886)
  • Alan Gauld

Daniel Dunglas Home (1833–1886)

by Maull & Co.

Mary Evans / Society for Psychical Research

Home, Daniel Dunglas (1833–1886), medium, was born at Currie, near Edinburgh, on 20 March 1833, the third son of William Home (c.1810–1882), a labourer, and his wife, Elizabeth, née McNeil (c.1810–1850), and was raised as a Presbyterian. He seems to have added his middle name later because of his belief that his father was the illegitimate son of the tenth earl of Home. Hostile biographers have alleged that he invented this story; but there is documentary evidence that the earl paid for William Home's apprenticeship and upkeep. Daniel Home was adopted in infancy by his mother's sister, Mrs Mary Cook, and with this lady and her husband emigrated about 1842 to the United States, settling in Greeneville, now part of Norwich, Connecticut. Here he attended school, receiving a sound basic education. His own family shortly settled in nearby Waterford, Connecticut.

Home was a studious, dreamy, and sensitive boy, often ill. A vision in 1850 of the unexpected death of his mother awoke in him religious interests that led to friction with his aunt. That lady, a strict Presbyterian, was further shocked early the following year when poltergeist phenomena, in the form of inexplicable raps and object movements, broke out around him. This was the period of the Fox sisters and the rapid spread of ‘spirit-rapping’ in the eastern United States. Daniel's rappings soon began to take the form of ostensible communications from the dead, and the terrified Mrs Cook threw out her nephew, still not quite eighteen, to fend for himself. The strange phenomena went with him.

In this way Home was precipitated into a mode of life that he pursued for many years. He did not become a professional medium, but almost a professional guest, moving from one hospitable family to another, mostly of spiritualists. At first they were solid middle-class folk, but after his return to Europe he moved increasingly among the cosmopolitan upper classes. Usually there was a tacit understanding that he would, if ‘in power’, hold séances for his hosts and their friends. He would never sit for money, though he did receive indirect benefits over and above hospitality—for instance travelling expenses and gifts, especially of jewellery (which he retained rather than sold).

During Home's residence in the United States most of his characteristic phenomena were already in evidence. The company generally sat with their hands on a table, often a large and heavy one. Raps would come from it, spelling out messages from the ‘spirits’, who sometimes produced information which the medium could hardly have known. Commonly the table would move about, rock, and rise clear of the floor, sometimes to a considerable height. Or it might tilt steeply while objects on it remained as if glued in position. Surrounding items of furniture might be moved, or small objects carried through the air. These phenomena would often occur in good light, and sitters were at liberty to search beneath levitated tables. Dimmer, though usually passable, light was required for the playing of musical instruments by unseen hands, and for the visible or tangible manifestation of the hands themselves. Near, though not total, darkness was needed for the relatively frequent phenomenon of ‘spirit lights’ and the much rarer one of levitation of the medium's body. Later developments included the unscathed handling of red-hot coals, the supposed elongation of his body, once by as much as 11 inches, and the materialization of dim or misty phantom figures. During all these happenings (which were by no means confined to séance situations) Home might be awake, or sleepy, or ostensibly in a trance state. When in trance he might clairvoyantly ‘see’ spirits and deliver messages from them (some of which profoundly impressed the recipients) or be ‘taken over’ and speak as if controlled by them.

Meanwhile friends at Newburgh, New York, had been urging him to resume his education. Early in 1853 he went as a boarder to the Newburgh Theological Institute, and began the private study of French and German. That autumn he commenced medical studies in New York, but after a few months his health broke down. A second attempt the following autumn had the same result. In January 1855 pulmonary consumption was diagnosed and a voyage to Europe recommended. On 31 March he sailed for England, probably subsidized and furnished with introductions by prosperous American spiritualists.

In the spring and summer Home stayed for extended periods with two spiritualist sympathizers, Mr William Cox of Cox's Hotel, Jermyn Street, London, and Mr J. S. Rymer, a solicitor of Ealing. Invitations to his sittings were eagerly sought. Among notables who attended and were impressed were Sir Edward Bulwer Lytton, Robert Owen, Lord Brougham, Sir David Brewster (who later denied that he had seen anything remarkable), J. J. Garth Wilkinson (a well-known Swedenborgian), T. Adolphus Trollope and his mother, and Elizabeth Barrett Browning. However Elizabeth's husband, Robert, conceived a violent loathing of Home and later lampooned him viciously in 'Mr Sludge the Medium' (1864).

In autumn 1855 Home travelled to Florence at the invitation of the Trollopes. There 'the manifestations were very strong', and hostesses were eager to secure him. But he became the subject of obscurely unfavourable gossip, and on 10 February 1856 the spirits informed him that his power would depart for a year. Shortly afterwards he visited Naples and Rome with friends, and while at Rome was received into the Catholic church. In June 1856 he went to Paris and remained there through the winter, despite serious lung ailments. On 10 February 1857 his powers duly returned. The emperor, Louis Napoleon, immediately summoned him, and for much of the next year he was frequently at court, where his virtuoso displays caused amazement and his supposed influence over the emperor and empress dark rumours. Towards the end of March he returned briefly to America to fetch his sister, Christine, whose education the empress had offered to arrange; in August and September he visited Baden Baden, and there gave three sittings to Friedrich Wilhelm, the crown prince of Prussia (later emperor of Germany). In February 1858 he was taken to Holland for sittings with a rationalist group, De Dageraad, and also gave sittings to the queen of Holland. On his return to Paris he received medical advice to seek a warmer climate, and in March went to Rome. There he met, and after a swift courtship became engaged to, Alexandrina (Sacha) de Kroll, a diminutive, vivacious, and charming Russian girl of seventeen, the daughter of Count de Kroll, and a goddaughter of the tsar. They were married at St Petersburg on 1 August 1858.

For almost a year they remained in Russia, where Home gave sittings to many in high society, including the tsar. On 8 May 1859 the Homes had a son, Gregoire (Gricha). In the autumn they made their way to England, staying there for the best part of the next two years. Home was now famous, and much in demand by fashionable hostesses. Persons of greater intellectual consequence also showed some interest, especially following publication of Robert Bell's article 'Stranger than fiction' in the Cornhill Magazine for August 1860. Sacha Home, by now a total convert to spiritualism, frequently attended her husband's sittings, but she was consumptive, and her health was failing. Visits to health resorts in England and abroad did not halt the disease, and she died in France on 3 July 1862.

On returning to London, Home found himself in financial difficulties. Sacha's modest estate had been seized by relatives. To raise funds he produced, with the help of two recent converts, W. M. Wilkinson, a solicitor, and Robert Chambers, his autobiographical Incidents in my Life (1863). He also embarked on a disastrous attempt to train as a sculptor in Rome. He arrived there in November 1863, but early in January was summarily expelled as a practitioner of the black arts. In England again, he decided to earn his living by giving public readings, and in the summer of 1864 successfully toured America. On his return in May 1865 he set out for Russia, where his phenomena were very powerful and he became the guest of the tsar and of Count Aleksey Tolstoy. Back in England later in the year his health deteriorated, and he spent several periods at the Malvern hydropathic establishment of another convert, Dr James Manby Gully. In the summer of 1866 Gully joined Mr and Mrs S. C. Hall and other well-wishers in establishing a spiritualist centre, the Spiritual Athenaeum, at 22 Sloane Street, London, of which Home became resident secretary without any obligation to hold sittings.

This comfortable arrangement was upset after a few months by the intrusion into Home's life of a dominating and emotionally disturbed elderly widow, Mrs Jane Lyon, who pressed upon him £60,000 by deeds of gift on condition that he added her surname to his own. Home foolishly agreed. In the summer of 1867 Mrs Lyon changed her mind, accused Home of swindling her, and instituted a chancery suit. At the hearing in April 1868 she was detected in numerous lies and contradictions, but the vice-chancellor, although refusing to award her costs, found against Home on the curious but legally correct grounds that the onus was on the defendant to prove that he had not exercised undue influence.

Home was befriended during this difficult period by Lord Adare (later fourth earl of Dunraven) and the master of Lindsay. He spent much time in the company of Adare, whose accounts (and his father's) of seventy-eight sittings from November 1867 to July 1869 (Experiences in Spiritualism with D. D. Home) constitute the most extensive, and the most controversial, record of the phenomena Home produced both within and between séances.

The Lyon lawsuit left Home heavily in debt, and in 1869 and 1870 he toured England and Scotland giving highly successful public readings. On the outbreak of the Franco-Prussian War in July 1870 he travelled to France as war correspondent for the San Francisco Chronicle. In February 1871 he accepted an invitation to recuperate in Russia. There he was investigated by a number of savants, including A. Butlerov, professor of chemistry at St Petersburg. He also met Butlerov's sister-in-law, Miss Julie De Gloumeline, a keen spiritualist, and almost immediately became engaged to her.

Before the marriage, however, Home returned to England to fulfil a promise to William Crookes, the eminent chemist. Between April and July 1871 Crookes conducted the only attempts ever made to record Home's phenomena on self-registering instruments. In the most remarkable of these experiments Home, watched and held in sufficient light, was several times able to depress, without contact, a pivoted board and a parchment drum.

Home (now received into the Greek Orthodox church) and Miss De Gloumeline were married in Paris on 16 October 1871. She was a person of considerable worldly competence and took total charge of their affairs. She came from a well-to-do and well-connected family, and Home had by this time obtained the residuum of his first wife's estate. They travelled a good deal around Europe, visiting friends and health resorts. Their only child, a daughter Marie, born in April 1872, died a few months later. Though Home's health problems, pulmonary and arthritic, grew steadily worse, he still gave occasional sittings. He kept up a large correspondence, and published two more books, a second series of Incidents in my Life (1872) and Lights and Shadows of Spiritualism (1877), which shocked spiritualists by its attacks on mediumistic fraud. He died at Auteuil in France on 21 June 1886, survived by his second wife, and was buried at St Germain-en-Laye.

Home was about 5 feet 10 inches in height, slim, blue-eyed and red-haired, often tired or ill, but always fastidious in dress. There are many photographs of him. He had no immediately obvious faults of character, unless one counts a somewhat marked vanity, an occasional prickliness, a delight in wearing jewellery, and a willingness to be cossetted by the ladies; he was often accused of effeminacy. He was a pleasant guest, musically talented, a fair linguist, kind, humorous, sociable, and happy to participate in parlour games and amateur dramatics. Scandalous rumours about him sometimes circulated, but are difficult to trace to any satisfactory source.

Of the strange happenings that surrounded Home many contemporary reports remain which, though varying in value, raise considerable problems. If the phenomena were as described, the framework of conventional science cannot accommodate them. But explaining them away presents its own difficulties. That (as sometimes suggested) Home hypnotized his sitters could be maintained only by someone who knew nothing of hypnosis. That he was a clever conjuror there is little evidence. The few allegations that he was detected in fraud were second- or third-hand, or were related long after the event, or both, and are of unclear significance. The conjuring hypothesis is almost pure speculation and generally involves passing over many of Home's performances, and supposing that others were radically different from the reports of them. He remains a puzzle.

Sources

  • G. Zorab, D. D. Home il medium (1976)
  • E. Jenkins, The shadow and the light: a defence of Daniel Dunglas Home the medium (1982)
  • J. Burton, Heyday of a wizard: Daniel Home the medium (1948)
  • J. Home, D. D. Home, his life and mission (1888)
  • J. Home, The gift of D. D. Home (1890)
  • D. D. Home, Incidents in my life, 2 vols. (1863–72)
  • F. W. H. Myers and W. F. Barrett, ‘D. D. Home, his life and mission’, Journal of the Society for Psychical Research, 4 (1889–90), 101–36
  • E. J. Dingwall, Some human oddities: studies in the queer, the uncanny and the fanatical (1947), 91–128, 187–93
  • F. Podmore, Modern spiritualism: a history and a criticism (1902), 2, 223–43
  • Crookes and the spirit world, ed. M. R. Barrington and others (1972)
  • Viscount Adare [W. T. Wyndham-Quin], Experiences in spiritualism with D. D. Home (1870)
  • F. W. H. Myers, ‘The character of Mr D. D. Home’, Journal of the Society for Psychical Research, 6 (1893–4), 176–9
  • Report on spiritualism of the committee of the London Dialectical Society (1871), 187–94, 206–16, 213–17, 359–71
  • W. Crookes, Researches in the phenomena of spiritualism (1874)
  • W. Crookes, ‘Notes of séances with D. D. Home’, Proceedings of the Society for Psychical Research, 6 (1889–90), 98–127
  • J. S. Rymer, Spirit manifestations (1857)
  • P. P. Alexander, Spiritualism: a narrative with a discussion (1871)
  • F. Podmore, The newer spiritualism (1910), 31–86
  • A. Lang, Historical mysteries (1904), 170–92
  • J. Oppenheim, The other world: spiritualism and psychical research in England, 1850–1914 (1985), 10–16, 34–5
  • G. Stein, The sorcerer of kings (1993)
  • T. H. Hall, The enigma of Daniel Home: medium or fraud? (1984)

Archives

  • CUL, Society for Psychical Research archives, corresp.
  • NA Scot., earl of Home MSS

Likenesses

  • J. Durham?, bronze bust, 1860, Society for Psychical Research, London
  • H. W. Pickersgill, oils, 1866, College of Psychic Studies, London
  • Maull & Co., photograph, London Library [see illus.]
  • photographs, CUL, SPR Archives
  • photographs, Mary Evans Picture Library, London
  • prints, NPG

Wealth at Death

£40: probate, 30 Aug 1886, CGPLA Eng. & Wales