Home, Daniel Dunglas (1833–1886)
The most notable physical medium in the history of Spiritualism.
There was a certain mystery about Home’s parentage.
According to a footnote in his Incidents in My Life (1863), his father
was a natural son of Alexander, the tenth earl of Home.
Through his mother he was descended from a Highland family
in which the traditional gift of second sight had been preserved.
He was born on March 20, 1833, in Scotland.
Home was a sensitive, delicate child of a highly nervous temperament
and of such weak health that he was not expected to
live. Adopted by Mrs. McNeill Cook, a childless aunt, he passed
his infancy at Portobello, Scotland, and was taken to the United
States at the age of nine, growing up in Greeneville, Connecticut,
and Troy, New York. It was noticed that he had keen powers
of observation and a prodigious memory. He saw his first
vision at age 13. A schoolfellow, Edwin, died in Greeneville and
appeared to him in a bright cloud at night in Troy, thus keeping
a childish promise with which they had bound themselves
that he who died first would appear to the other. Home’s second
vision came four years later. It announced the death of his
mother to the hour.
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From that time on his thoughts turned more and more to
the life beyond. One night he heard loud, unaccountable blows,
the next morning a volley of raps. His aunt, remembering the
Hydesville rappings that had occurred two years before, believed
him to be possessed by the devil and called for a Congregationalist,
a Baptist, and a Methodist minister for exorcism.
This being unsuccessful, she turned him out of doors. Thenceforth,
although he never asked for or received direct payment,
Home appears to have lived on the hospitality of friends attracted
by his curious gift.
The first scientist to investigate Home’s phenomena was
George Bush, a distinguished theologian and Oriental scholar
from New York. The celebrated American poet William Cullen
Bryant and a Professor Wells of Harvard University testified in
a written statement to the reality of the phenomena. Professors
Robert Hare and James Mapes, both famous chemists, and
John Worth Edmonds of the United States Supreme Court
owed much of their conversion to Spiritualism to this young
man of frail health.
Home’s first levitation occurred in the South Manchester
house of Ward Cheney, an eminent American manufacturer.
Strains of music were heard when no instrument was near.
Nobody understood at that time the part the physical organism
plays in the production of the phenomena. The demands
made on Home were very heavy and the drain of nervous energy
excessive. His intended medical studies had to be broken off
because of illness; a trip to Europe being advised, Home went
to England in April 1855. He first stayed at Cox’s Hotel in Jermyn
Street, London, and was later the guest of J. S. Rymer, an
Ealing solicitor.
The conversion of many of the later leaders of the Spiritualist
movement in England was attributed to Home’s phenomena.
When these phenomena attracted public attention Home
found himself in the midst of a press war. Among the first who
asked Home to attend a séance was Lord Brougham, who came
to the sitting with Sir David Brewster. Home was proud of the
impression he made upon these two distinguished men and
wrote about it to a friend in the United States. The letter was
published in the United States and found its way to the London
press, whereupon Brewster at once disclaimed all belief in Spiritualism
and set down the phenomena to imposture. At the
same time his statements in private supported Home, and they
too found their way into the newspapers.
More lasting harm was done to Home’s reputation by Robert
Browning’s poem, ‘‘Mr. Sludge, the Medium,’’ which was
generally taken to refer to Home. Browning and his wife, who
accepted Spiritualism, had attended séances with Home. The
poem was a malignant attack, since Browning had never
claimed in public to have caught Home at trickery and in private
admitted that imposture was out of the question. The reason
for this vicious attack may have been jealousy over his wife’s
enthusiasm for Home’s phenomena.
Other famous men of the day, such as Bulwer Lytton and
William Thackeray, never spoke of their experiences in public.
Thackeray made Home’s acquaintance in the United States
when he lectured there. Both there and in London Thackeray
availed himself of every opportunity of sitting with Home. He
admitted to have found a genuine mystery and warmly endorsed
Robert Bell’s anonymous article ‘‘Stranger than Fiction,’’
published in the Cornhill Magazine, which Thackeray
then edited.
Bell’s account of a séance with Home starts with a quotation
of a Dr. Treviranus to Coleridge ‘‘I have seen what I would not
have believed on your testimony, and what I cannot therefore,
expect you to believe upon mine.’’ Thackeray was bitterly attacked
for the publication of the article and it was said that the
Cornhill Magazine dropped considerably in circulation as a consequence.
In the early autumn of 1855 Home went to Florence to visit
Thomas A. Trollope. His name and fame soon spread there,
too. False rumors arose among the peasants that he was a necromancer
and administered the sacraments of the church to
toads in order to raise the dead by spells and incantations. This
rumor may explain an attempt against his life on December 5,
1855, when a man ambushed him late at night and stabbed him
three times with a dagger. Home had a narrow escape. The attacker
was never arrested, but Home was warned the following
month by Signor Lan Ducci, minister of the interior to the
grand duke of Tuscany, of his sinister reputation among the
populace.
About this time he was told by the spirits that his power
would leave him for a year. In Home’s state of seclusion from
supernormal contact, Catholic influences found an easy inroad
into his religious ideas. He converted to Catholicism and decided
to enter a monastery. He was received by Pius IX and treated
with favor. Home changed his mind, however, and left Italy for
Paris, where, to the day from the announced suspension, his
powers returned. The news reached the French court and Napoleon
III summoned him to the Tuilleries.
The story of Home’s séance with Napoleon was not made
public. The curiosity of the press was aroused, however, when
the first séance was followed by many others.
An account of the first séance in Home’s autobiography, Incidents
in My Life, tells how Napoleon followed every manifestation
with keen and skeptical attention and satisfied himself by
the closest scrutiny that neither deception nor delusion was
possible. His and the empress’s unspoken thoughts were replied
to, and the empress was touched by a materialized hand
that, from a defect in one of the fingers, she recognized to be
the hand of her late father.
The second séance was more forceful. The room was shaken;
heavy tables were lifted and then held down to the floor by
an alteration of their weight. At the third séance a phantom
hand appeared above the table, lifted a pencil, and wrote the
single word Napoleon in the handwriting of Napoleon I.
Prince Murat later related to Home that the Duke de Morny
told Napoleon III that he felt it a duty to contradict the report
that the emperor believed in Spiritualism. The emperor replied,
‘‘Quite right, but you may add when you speak on the
subject again that there is a difference between believing a
thing and having proof of it, and that I am certain of what I
have seen.’’
When, soon after these séances, Home left Paris for the
United States, rumors were rife that his departure was compulsory.
On his return to Paris, however, he was speedily summoned
to Fontainebleau, where the king of Bavaria was interested
in a séance. Home was in great power at the time and so
much sought after that the Union Club, where fashionable sophisticates
congregated, offered him 50,000 francs for a single
séance. Home refused. A book, privately printed in France, recorded
the strange experiences of the high society with Home’s
mediumship.
Earlier, in Italy, Home had been introduced to the king of
Naples. The German emperor and the queen of Holland soon
joined the ranks of the curious who were besieging Home with
requests for séances.
While enjoying the benevolence of crowned heads and the
highest members of the aristocracy, Home had to wage a desperate
struggle against the scandalmongers. Fantastic stories
began to circulate as soon as he left Paris, and while he was regaining
his shattered health in Italy it was even rumored that
he was in the prison of Mazas.
In Rome during the spring of 1858 Home was introduced
to Count Koucheleff-Besborodka and his wife. Soon after he
became engaged to Alexandrina de Kroll, the count’s sister-inlaw.
The wedding took place in St. Petersburg. It was a great
society affair. Count Alexis Tolstoy, the poet, and Count Bobrinsky,
a chamberlain to the emperor, acted as groomsmen.
Alexandre Dumas, a guest of Count Koucheleff-Besborodka,
was one of the witnesses.
Many of Dumas’s fantastic stories about spirits entering into
inanimate objects were derived from Home’s mediumship. In
Home, Daniel Dunglas Encyclopedia of Occultism & Parapsychology • 5th Ed.
738
Russia, as well as in many other countries, rumors circulated regarding
Home’s mysterious powers. For instance, it was said
that a great number of cats slept with him and by this means
his body became so charged with electricity that he could produce
raps at pleasure! In Paris the favorite story was that he carried
a trained monkey in his pocket to twitch dresses and shake
hands during the séances. From chloroforming and magnetizing
the sitters, to possessing a magic lantern, to hiring secret
police to obtain information for the sittings—every sort of wild
explanation was attempted. Yet none of them could match the
inspired inanity of one woman who was reported to have said,
‘‘Lor, sirs, it’s easy enough, he only rubs himself all over with
a gold pencil first.’’
From Home’s marriage to Alexandrina de Kroll a son was
born. Shortly after Home returned to England, friends tried to
bring about a meeting between him and Michael Faraday, the
famous scientist and proponent of the involuntary muscular action
theory to explain table movement. As the Morning Star reported,
Faraday was not satisfied with demanding an open and
complete examination, but wished Home to acknowledge that
the phenomena, however produced, were ridiculous and contemptible.
Thereafter, the idea of giving him a sitting was abandoned.
Home derived more satisfaction from his experiences with
Dr. Ashburner, a royal physician, and John Elliotson, sometime
president of the Royal Medical and Chirurgical Society of
London, a character study of whom, as ‘‘Dr. Goodenough,’’ was
drawn by Thackeray in Pendennis, and to whom the work was
dedicated. When Ashburner became a believer in Spiritualism,
Elliotson, who was one of the hardest materialists, became estranged
from him and publicly attacked him for his folly. A few
years later, however, Home and Elliotson met in Dieppe. The
result was a séance, a strict investigation, and the conversion of
Elliotson. On his return to London he hastened to seek reconciliation
with Ashburner and publicly declared that he was satisfied
of the reality of the phenomena and that they were tending
to revolutionize his thoughts and feelings.
Home’s phenomena also radically changed Robert Chambers,
coauthor, with Leitch Ritchie, of the anonymous Vestiges
of the Natural History of Creation (1844), which startled the public
by its outspoken skepticism. Chambers attended the séance
Robert Bell wrote about in Cornhill Magazine. He was too afraid
of losing his reputation to make a public statement, although
he allegedly received startling evidence of continued personal
identity from his deceased father and daughter. Nevertheless,
Chambers anonymously wrote the preface to Home’s autobiography
in 1862. Eight years later, during the Lyon-Home trial,
he abandoned his attitude of reserve and gave an affidavit in
Home’s favor.
For a time during 1859 to 1860, Home gave frequent joint
séances with the American medium J. R. M. Squire, an editor
of the Boston Banner of Light. Squire was introduced to London
society under Home’s auspices and later in the year he was
presented at court.
Home’s wife died in July 1862. Six months later his book Incidents
in My Life was published. It attracted widespread notice
in the press. The Morning Herald remarked, ‘‘We must note also
the strangeness of the fact that Mr. Home has never been detected,
if indeed he is an imposter.’’ The book sold very well
and a second edition was published in a few months. This, however,
did not relieve the money problems Home began to experience.
Relatives disputed his right of inheritance to the fortune
of his wife, and, looking about for a means of livelihood,
he decided to develop his keen artistic perception. He hoped
to become a sculptor and went to Rome to study.
The papal government, however, had not forgiven the
breaking of his promise to enter a monastery. In January 1864
he was summoned before the chief of the Roman police and ordered,
on the grounds of ‘‘sorcery,’’ to leave Rome within three
days. Home claimed the protection of the English consul, and
the order of expulsion was suspended on his promise that, during
his stay in Rome, he would have no séance and would
avoid—as much as possible—all conversations about Spiritualism.
Because the manifestations were beyond his control, however,
he was soon ordered to quit the papal territory. He left
for Naples, where he was received by Prince Humbert, and returned
in April to London to demand diplomatic representations
on the subject of his expulsion. There was a debate in the
House of Commons, but no representation was agreed upon.
Soon after, Home made another trip to the United States,
hoping to achieve success as a reader because he had talent as
a stage reciter. His public rendering of Henry Howard Brownell’s
poems was very well received; on returning to Europe he
continued this new career with a lecture on Spiritualism in London.
His health, however, could not stand the strain. Friends
came to the rescue with the post of residential secretary at the
foundation of the Spiritual Athenaeum, a kind of headquarters
for London Spiritualists.
Then came the disastrous proposition of Jane Lyon, a
wealthy widow, that she adopt Home, with the intention of securing
his financial stability. Lyon took a fancy to Home and
proposed to adopt him if he added her name to his own, in
which case she was prepared to give him substantial wealth.
Home assented and changed his name to Home-Lyon. Lyon
transferred £60,000 to Home’s account and drew up a will in
his favor. Later she repented her action and sued him for the
recovery of her money on the basis that she was influenced by
spirit communications coming through Home from her late
husband.
While the suit was in progress, an attempt was made against
Home’s life. He parried the blow of the assassin’s stiletto with
his hand, which was pierced. The fantastic stories that were circulated
around this incident are best illustrated by a reminiscence
in the New York World on the report of his death, in which
the paper stated that Lyon had a false left hand and Home actually
made her believe that by mediumistic power he could
create life in the artificial limb.
Lord Adare, in his privately published Experiences in Spiritualism
with D.D. Home (1869), covers most of Home’s work for
the period 1867 to 1869, including some 80 séances. In 1869
the London Dialectical Society appointed a committee for the
investigation of Spiritualistic phenomena. The committee, before
which Home appeared, had some of the most skeptical
members of the society on its list, including atheist spokesman
Charles Bradlaugh. Four séances were held, but because of
Home’s illness the manifestations did not extend beyond slight
raps and movements of the table. The committee reported that
nothing material had occurred, but added that ‘‘during the inquiry
Mr. Home afforded every facility for examination.’’
In May 1871 Sir William Crookes began an investigation of
Home and reached a very favorable opinion of what he saw. Before
this investigation other important events took place in
Home’s life. He won the lawsuit for his deceased wife’s fortune,
became engaged to an aristocratic lady of wealth, and gave several
séances in the Winter Palace in St. Petersburg. During a
lecture on Spiritualism he referred to some particulars of a séance
held in the presence of a distinguished professor at the
University of St. Petersburg. At the end of the lecture a Professor
Boutlerof rose from his place and announced that he was
the investigator to whom Home had referred. This dramatic
scene was followed by an investigation by a committee from the
university. The results were negative, since Home’s powers
were allegedly at an ebb because of recurring illness.
In 1872 Home published the second series of his Incidents
in My Life, including the principal affidavits in the Lyon lawsuit,
and in 1873 he published his Lights and Shadows of Spiritualism.
His opinions on fraudulent mediumship and his protest
against holding séances in the dark were bitterly resented by
other mediums. They said that he had little experience of the
powers of others.
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Kate Fox Jencken, of the Fox sisters, was the only medium
with whom he was friendly. On a few occasions he sat jointly
with William Stainton Moses. After the first such sitting, on
December 22, 1872, Moses wrote in his notebook
‘‘Mr. D. D. Home is a striking-looking man. His head is a
good one. He shaves his face with the exception of a moustache,
and his hair is bushy and curly. He gives me the impression
of an honest, good person whose intellect is not of high
order. I had some talk with him, and the impression that I have
formed of his intellectual ability is not high. He resolutely refuses
to believe in anything that he has not seen for himself. For
instance, he refuses to believe in the passage of matter through
matter, and when pressed concludes the argument by saying ‘I
have never seen it.’ He has seen the ring test, but oddly enough,
does not see how it bears on the question. He accepts the theory
of the return in rare instances of the departed, but believes with
me that most of the manifestations proceed from a low order
of spirits who hover near the earth sphere. He does not believe
in Mrs. Guppy’s passage through matter, nor in her honesty.
He thinks that regular manifestations are not possible. Consequently
he disbelieves in public mediums generally. He said he
was thankful to know that his mantle had fallen on me, and
urged me to prosecute the inquiry and defend the faith. He is
a thoroughly good, honest, weak and very vain man, with little
intellect, and no ability to argue, or defend his faith.’’
Home slowly broke with nearly all of his friends and spent
most of his time on the Continent. In 1876 his death was falsely
reported in the French press. He lived in declining health for
ten more years and died on June 21, 1886. His grave is at St.
Germain, Paris, and his tombstone is inscribed ‘‘To another
discerning of Spirits.’’ In the Canongate of Edinburgh there is
a fountain erected to his memory. It is not known who erected
it nor why it was placed opposite the Canongate Parish Church.
Evaluating Home’s Work
Home demonstrated every known physical phenomenon of
Spiritualism except apports and direct voice. He even possessed
a latent faculty of direct voice. Faint whisperings were
sometimes heard in his séances, but only of single words. He
was mostly in a normal state during the phenomena but went
into trance during the fire test, elongations, and occasionally
during levitations.
The spirit teachings delivered through Home’s mouth by
his control were sometimes absurd. The control, criticizing the
knowledge of scientists, said that the sun was covered with
beautiful vegetation and was full of organic life. When Lord
Adare asked, ‘‘Is not the sun hot’’ the control answered ‘‘No,
the sun is cold; the heat is produced and transmitted to the
earth by the rays of light passing through various atmospheres.’’
Lord Adare, then earl of Dunraven, describes Home’s character
in the 1924 edition of Experiences in Spiritualism with D. D.
Home
‘‘He had the defects of an emotional character, with vanity
highly developed (perhaps wisely to enable him to hold his own
against the ridicule and obloquy that was then poured out upon
spiritualism and everyone connected with it). He was liable to
fits of great depression and to nervous crisis difficult at first to
understand; but he was withal of a simple, kindly, humorous,
lovable disposition that appealed to me. . . . He never took
money for séances, and séances failed as often as not. He was
proud of his gift but not happy in it. He could not control it and
it placed him sometimes in very unpleasant positions. I think
he would have been pleased to have been relieved of it, but I
believe he was subject to these manifestations as long as he
lived.’’
Sir William Crookes summed up his opinion as follows
‘‘During the whole of my knowledge of D. D. Home, extending
for several years, I never once saw the slightest occurrence
that would make me suspicious that he was attempting to play
tricks. He was scrupulously sensitive on this point, and never
felt hurt at anyone taking precautions against deception. . . .
To those who knew him Home was one of the most lovable of
men and his perfect genuineness and uprightness were beyond
suspicion. . . .’’
Frank Podmore, a most skeptical psychical researcher, said
of Home
‘‘A remarkable testimony to Home’s ability whether as medium
or simply as conjurer, is the position which he succeeded
in maintaining in society at this time [1861] and indeed
throughout his later life, and the respectful treatment accorded
to him by many leading organs of the Press. No money was ever
taken by him as the price of a sitting; and he seemed to have
had the entree to some of the most aristocratic circles in Europe.
He was welcomed in the houses of our own and of foreign
nobility, was a frequent guest at the Tuilleries, and had been
received by the King of Prussia and the Czar. So strong, indeed,
was his position that he was able to compel an ample apology
from a gentleman who had publicly expressed doubts of his
mediumistic performance (Capt. Noble in the Sussex Advertiser
of March 23, 1864) and to publish a violent and spiteful attack
upon Browning on the occasion of the publication of Sludge
(Spiritual Magazine, 1864, p. 315). His expulsion from Rome in
1864 on the charge of sorcery gave to Home for the time an international
importance.’’
Podmore added ‘‘Home was never publicly exposed as an
imposter; there is no evidence of any weight that he was even
privately detected in trickery.’’
Between the publication of his Modern Spiritualism in 1902
and The Newer Spiritualism in 1910, Podmore nevertheless succeeded
in unearthing a single piece of so-called evidence of imposture
in a letter from a Mr. Merrifield, dated August 1855
and printed in the Journal of the Society for Psychical Research
(1903), in which the writer claims to have noticed that the medium’s
body or shoulder sank or rose in concordance with the
movements of a spirit hand and to have seen afterward ‘‘the
whole connection between the medium’s shoulder and arm and
the spirit hand dressed out on the end of his own.’’ This highly
speculative statement was sufficient for Podmore to proceed to
talk of Home as a practiced conjurer who dictated his own conditions
in the experiments and produced his feats by trickery.
The only admission Podmore made was that ‘‘we don’t quite
see how some of the things were done and we leave the subject
with an almost painful sense of bewilderment.’’
Long after Home’s death various writers speculated on how
Home’s feats might have been achieved by trickery, imputing
that there must have been trickery. It is generally conceded
that Home was never detected in trickery.
Attempts were also made to discredit Home’s unfortunate
association with Jane Lyon and to suggest that Home tried to
take advantage of a wealthy widow. But the evidence suggests
that Home was pressured by a foolish and unstable woman. Her
claim that Home used undue influence ‘‘from the spirit world’’
is refuted by her transferring allegiance to a Miss Nicholls, another
medium, at the time she reneged on her commitment to
Home. It was also claimed that Lyon wanted Home to be
‘‘something nearer than an adopted son,’’ and her change of
heart stemmed from his repulsing her advances.
As far as Browning’s spiteful attack in ‘‘Mr. Sludge, the Medium’’
is concerned, the veteran psychical researcher E. J.
Dingwall suggests in his book Some Human Oddities (1947) that
Home might have given the impression of latent homosexual
tendencies, which might have incensed Browning.
Home remains an enigma. He was never caught in fraud but
accomplished things far beyond that which even contemporary
scientific opinion admits are possible. He operated at a time
when numerous others where doing similar things and were
caught in fraud, often after successfully deceiving many learned
and seemingly competent observers. There are two possibilities
he was either a very unusual person, capable of doing the
phenomenal things reported of him, or he was one of the most
Home, Daniel Dunglas Encyclopedia of Occultism & Parapsychology • 5th Ed.
740
clever frauds in the history of humanity. We may never know
which one he was.
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U.K. Privately printed, 1869. Reprint, London Society for
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Browning, Elizabeth Barrett. Letters to her Sister, 1846–1859.
Edited by Laura Huxley. London John Murray, 1929. Reprint,
New York E. P. Dutton, 1930.
Burton, Jean. Heyday of a Wizard Daniel Home the Medium.
London George G. Harrap, 1948.
Chevalier, J. C. Experiments in Spiritualism; or, The Adjuration
of Spirits, by a late member of Mr. Home’s Spiritual Athenaeum. London,
1867.
Cox, Edward W. Spiritualism Answered by Science. London,
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Home, D. D. Incidents in My Life. London Longman, Green,
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Hyde Park, N.Y. University Books, 1972.
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the Browning Circle. Lawrence University of Kansas Press, 1958.
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Verax [J. J. Garth Wilkinson]. Evenings with Mr. Hume and the
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