Lombroso, Cesare (1836–1909)
Italian psychiatrist, criminal anthropologist, and psychic investigator.
He was born on November 18, 1836, at Verona, and
studied at Padua, Vienna, and Paris. In 1862 he began his professional
career as a professor of psychiatry at Pavia, then
served successively as director of the lunatic asylum at Pesaro,
professor of forensic medicine and psychiatry at Turin, and finally
professor of criminal anthropology.
In 1872 he investigated the disease known as pellagra and
concluded that in Italy it was caused by a poison in diseased
maize eaten by the peasants. He also researched madness and
genius, about which he authored several books, then turned his
attention to psychic research. His later studies in criminal behavior
were conducted concurrently with his psychic investigations.
His involvement in the paranormal resulted from an article
he wrote for the July 1888 Fanfulla della Domenica on the ‘‘Influence
of Civilization and Opportunity of Genius.’’ In it he concluded
‘‘Who knows whether I and my friends who laugh at spiritism
are not in error, since, just like hypnotised persons, thanks
to the dislike of novelties which lurks in all of us, we are unable
to perceive that we are in error, and just like many lunatics,
being in the dark as regards the truth, we laugh at those who
are not in the same condition.’’
After reading this article, Cavaliere Ercole Chiaia of Naples
addressed an open letter to Lombroso and invited him to sittings
with the medium Eusapia Palladino in Naples. In March
1891 Lombroso accepted the invitation. With Professors Tamburini,
Bianchi, and Violi and Drs. Ascenzi, Prenta, Limoncelli,
Gigli, and Ciolfi, Lombroso witnessed the extraordinary medium.
In a subsequent letter to Ciolfi, the reporter of the sittings,
Lombroso openly declared ‘‘I am ashamed and grieved at having
opposed with so much tenacity the possibility of the socalled
spiritistic facts; I say the facts because I am still opposed
to the theory. But the facts exist, and I boast of being a slave
to facts.’’
Lombroso’s admission caused a great sensation in Italy. As
a direct consequence, a memorable series of sittings was held
with the same medium in October 1892 at Dr. Finzi’s house in
Milan. The facts were completely confirmed for Lombroso,
who pursued his research assiduoulsy. He conducted experiments
in thought-transmission and contributed many articles
on the phenomena of mediumship to the 1896 Archivio di
Psichiatria. His investigation of a haunted house in Turin is of
special interest (see poltergeist).
In 1900 Lombroso wrote to M. T. Falcomer ‘‘I am like a little
pebble on the beach. As yet I am uncovered; but I feel that
each tide draws me a little closer to the sea.’’
In 1901 and 1902 Lombroso participated at further sittings
with Palladino in Genoa and in 1907 in Turin. He came progressively
to accept the spirit hypothesis, and, against the protests
of friends who believed he would ruin an honorable reputation,
he published his findings After Death—What (1909).
The book is richly illustrated and presents a very lucid and
sincere account of the phenomena of mediumship. Lombroso’s
chief credit was his fearless confession to the truth of his
strange observations at a period when, despite the courage of
William Crookes, Alfred Russel Wallace and J. C. F. Zöllner,
the physical phenomena of Spiritualism were held in utter disdain.
Following Lombroso’s open declaration, a group of scientists
resolved to put aside prejudice and investigate in a serious
frame of mind.
Lombroso died suddenly at Turin on October 19, 1909.
Berger, Arthur S., and Joyce Berger. The Encyclopedia of
Parapsychology and Psychical Research. New York Paragon
House, 1991.
Lombroso, Cesare. After Death—What Boston Small, Maynard,
———. The Man of Genius. London Scott, 1891.

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