De Morgan, Augustus (1806–1871)
A famous English mathematician, de Morgan was one of the
first English scientists who investigated the phenomena of
Spiritualism and became convinced of its paranormal nature.
He was born in 1806 in Madura, Madras, India. At the age of
seven months, his family moved to England. At an early age he
lost the use of one eye. He attended several schools, eventually
entering Trinity College, Cambridge University, in 1823. It was
there that he displayed his mathematical ability. After earning
his M.A., he began a career in law, but soon abandoned that
and was elected as the first professor of mathematics at the University
of London (later known as University College, London).
De Morgan was a brilliant mathematician and was responsible
for the complete geometrical interpretation of the square
root of minus one. He had a great love of algebra, puzzles,
puns, and paradoxes. Beyond his long career at the university,
he was secretary to the Royal Astronomical Society for 18 years,
an influential member of the Society for the Diffusion of Useful
Knowledge, and the author of such standard works as Formal
Logic, The Differential Calculus (1847) and the An Essay on Probabilities
His first paranormal experience occurred in 1849. Ellen
Dawson, a clairvoyant patient of a London surgeon named
Hands, was sent, in a state of trance, on a clairvoyant journey
after de Morgan. The sitting took place in the house of Mrs. de
Morgan. The clairvoyant gave a description of de Morgan’s acts
and surroundings in a house where he was a guest. The description
corresponded with the facts to the minutest details.
The first continuing series of investigations in which de
Morgan participated took place with the well-known American
medium Maria B. Hayden in de Morgan’s own house. In 1854
Mrs. de Morgan discovered that her young servant Jane was a
medium. She produced raps and movement of the table and
saw visions. Her phenomena lasted for two years.
A report of this and the previous investigation with Hayden
was published anonymously in 1863 under the title From Matter
to Spirit, the Result of Ten Years’ Experience in Spirit Manifestations,
by C. D. (i.e., Mrs. de Morgan), with a preface by A. B. (i.e., de
Morgan). In his preface, de Morgan writes
‘‘I am perfectly convinced that I have both seen and heard,
in a manner which should make unbelief impossible, things
called spiritual which cannot be taken by a rational being to be
capable of explanation by imposture, coincidence or mistake.
So far I feel the ground firm under me. But when it comes to
what is the cause of these phenomena, I find I cannot adopt any
explanation which has yet been suggested.’’
Writing anonymously, he shows some concern for the opinions
of his colleagues ‘‘My state of mind, which refers the
whole either to some unseen intelligence, or something which
man has never had any conception of, proves me to be out of
the pale of the Royal Society.’’ He was more definite and outspoken
in his work Mind, published later the same year. He declared
that he had come to believe that the only satisfactory hypothesis
to explain the facts was that they occurred through
some superhuman intelligence.
He finally gave up his anonymity by allowing the second edition
of From Matter to Spirit to be advertised under his true
name. At the Lyon-Home trial in 1868 (see D. D. Home) extracts
from his preface were read in the court. He died March
18, 1871.
Berger, Arthur S., and Joyce Berger. The Encyclopedia of
Parapsychology and Psychical Research. New York Paragon
House, 1991.
De Morgan, Augustus. A Budget of Paradoxes. La Salle, Ill.
Open Court, 1915. Reprinted as Encyclopedia of Eccentrics. N.p.,
De Morgan, Sophia Elizabeth. Three Score Years and Ten;
Reminiscences of the Late Sophia Elizabeth De Morgan. London R.
Bentley, 1895.
Prince, Walter F. Noted Witnesses for Psychic Occurrences. Boston
Boston Society for Psychical Research, 1928. Reprint, New
Hyde Park, N.Y. University Books, 1963.