Howitt, William (1792–1879)
Author and pioneer British Spiritualist. Howitt was born on
December 18, 1792, at Heanor, Derbyshire, England, the son
of a Quaker. He published his first poem at age 13. He studied
chemistry and natural philosophy at Tamworth and expanded
his education by reading widely. He married Mary Botham in
1821, and they cowrote a number of works. Howitt traveled
through England and Germany, extending his knowledge of
foreign languages. He wrote several books during his early
adulthood, including Popular History of Priestcraft in All Ages and
Nations (1833) and Homes and Haunts of the Most Eminent British
Poets (1847). He edited Howitt’s Journal of Literature and Popular
Progress (3 vols., 1847–49) and published a translation of J. Ennemoser,
The History of the Supernatural (2 vols., 1854; reissued
in 1970).
In 1852 Howitt went to Australia, and while there first
learned of the outbreak of Spiritualism when digging for gold
in the Australian bush. In his novel Tallangetta or the Squatters’
Home, which he conceived there, he included many incidents
of a Spiritualist or supernatural nature. Before the novel was
published (two and a half years after his return to England) he
had some interesting experiences.
His wife attended a séance in April 1856 in the home of a
Mrs. de Morgan (see Augustus de Morgan), and within a
month mediumship developed in the Howitt family. It started
with automatic writing and automatic drawing and continued
with clairvoyance and spirit vision. There may have been some
inherited tendency, because William Howitt’s mother was a
seeress and he himself was a sleepwalker in early youth. The
phenomena started with his son and daughter. In January 1858
Howitt himself gained the power to write and draw automatically.
It suddenly began after a visit to a Mrs. Wilkinson, who
was a good drawing medium.
William Howitt’s debut as a champion of Spiritualism occurred
with a lively exchange of letters in The Critic regarding
a haunted house and ghosts in general. Charles Dickens desired
to visit some well-known haunted houses and asked for information.
Howitt told him of Willington Mill, which he had
visited, and of a house at Cheshunt, near London, of which he
had read in Catharine Crowe’s Night Side of Nature (2 vols.,
1848). But the house at Cheshnut was partly pulled down, and
Dickens could not find it.
When William Wilkinson’s Spiritual Magazine was started in
1860, Howitt became a regular contributor and in the 13 years
of its existence he wrote more than a hundred articles on the
supernatural in the lives of men and nations, on the religious
and philosophical aspects of the manifestations, and on personal
experiences. In his leisure time he arranged séances with
the famous medium D. D. Home.
His most important work was a book of two volumes, The
History of the Supernatural in All Ages and Nations and in All
Churches, Christian and Pagan, Demonstrating a Universal Faith,
published in 1863. Howitt died in Rome on March 3, 1879.
Ennemoser, Joseph. The History of the Supernatural. Translated
by William Howitt. 2 vols. 1854. Reprint, New Hyde Park,
N.Y. University Books, 1970.
Howitt, William. The History of the Supernatural in All Ages and
Nations and in All Churches, Christian and Pagan, Demonstrating a
Universal Faith. Philadelphia J. B. Lippincott, 1863. Reprinted
as The History of Magic. New Hyde Park, N.Y. University Books,
———. Homes and Haunts of the Most Eminent British Poets.
New York Harper & Brothers, 1847.
Howitt-Watts, Mrs. Pioneers of the Spiritual Reform. London
Psychological Press Association, 1883.