Chambers, Robert (18021871)
British writer and publisher who played no public part in
Spiritualism but whose conversion and anonymous activity, especially
his writing, were known to his contemporaries. For example,
according to William Howitt, he contributed the description
of a haunted house at Cheshunt in Mrs. Crowes
Night-Side of Nature (2 vols., 1848). It was this house that novelist
Charles Dickens wanted to investigate. It was partly pulled
down and altered at the time; he could not find it. Also, an article
in Chambers Journal, May 21, 1853, on the mediumship of
Maria B. Hayden was understood to have been written by Robert
Chambers gave an account of the séances of another American
visitor, a Mrs. Roberts, concluding that it was difficult to
formulate an opinion but that it seemed to him the phenomena
appeared to be natural and the medium the victim of selfdeception.
A few weeks later, however, his opinion underwent
a decided change. He obtained movements of the table and answers
by it in his own family circle on matters known only to
himself. He wrote I am satisfied, as before, that the phenomena
are natural, but to take them in I think we shall have to
widen somewhat our ideas as to the extent and character of
what is natural. His 1859 pamphlet Testimony Its Posture in the
Scientific World examines the scientific idea of evidence with
special relation to psychical phenomena. Chambers had many
experiences with the famous medium D. D. Home, and he
wrote both the anonymous preface to Homes Incidents in My
Life and the appendix, Connection of Mr. Homes Experiences
with those of Former Times.
In 1860, in company with Robert Dale Owen, he sat with the
Fox sisters in America. They suspended a dining table from a
powerful steelyard balance. Under bright gas light and perfect
control the table was made heavier and lighter on request,
showing variation of weight between 60 and 164 pounds. He
had puzzling experiences with Charles Foster, who produced
inscriptions on his skin. Chambers sat with Judge Edmondss
In February 1867 he wrote to Dr. Alfred Russel Wallace, I
have for many years, known that these phenomena are real, as
distinguished from impostures; and it is not of yesterday that
I concluded they were calculated to explain much that has been
doubtful in the past; and, when fully accepted revolutionise the
whole frame of human opinion on many important matters.
Chambers retained his interest in psychic phenomena until
his death in 1871. A record of a séance written by him was published
by Violet Tweedale, his granddaughter, in Mellow
Sheaves. Extracts from further records as preserved by another
granddaughter, Mrs. Edward Fitzgerald, were published by A.
W. Trethewy in Light, January 6, 1933.
Chambers is best remembered today for his many books (on
nonoccult themes), especially the many reference books he
wrote, and his collections of Scottish poetry.
Chambers, Robert. Testimony Its Posture in the Scientific
World. N.p., 1959.
Home, D. D. Incidents in My Life. First series. London Green
Longman, Roberts & Green, 1863. Second series. London
Whittingham & Wilkins, 1872.
Chambers, Robert (18021871)