Shepard, Jesse Francis Grierson
Mystic, seer, author, and musical medium who performed
before famous musicians and royal personages. His musical séances
were held both in light and darkness. In darkness his renderings
were marvelous. He did not always actually play the
piano the music sometimes came through the shut keyboard.
He rendered duets and sang simultaneously in bass and soprano.
He also played the organ and sang in cathedrals. He could
give trance addresses in English, French, German, Latin,
Greek, Chaldean, and Arabic on any subject.
His full name was Benjamin Henry Jesse Francis Grierson
Shepard. He was born on September 18, 1848 and was of Scottish-Irish
descent but moved to the United States with his family
in his first year. He spent his boyhood on the Illinois prairie.
At the age of 13 he became a pageboy to General John C. Frémont
and made the acquaintance of both Generals Grant and
When in his twenty-first year, he set out for Paris without any
funds. Within a short time he became one of the most famous
mediums in Europe, demonstrating psychometry, clairvoyance,
prediction, and diagnosis of disease. He also displayed
uncanny musical gifts. Without extensive formal training in
music, he gave performances at the piano and claimed to be
possessed by the spirits of Mozart, Beethoven, Meyerbeer, Rossini,
Sontag, Persiani, Malibran, Lablache, Liszt, Berlioz, and
Chopin. He performed to the rich, the famous, and the royal
in Europe. The audience at one concert in Holland in 1894 included
the duchess of Cumberland, the queen of Hanover, the
reigning duke of Saxe-Altenburg, and the queen of Denmark.
In addition to his piano performances, Shepard sometimes
sang, in every range of voice from bass to soprano. Henry Kiddle,
superintendent of schools in New York, was imprudent
enough to state that he heard Shepard playing a splendid
piano symphony under the control of Mozart, while at the same
time delivering a learned philosophical discourse under the influence
of Aristotle. Kiddle was forced to resign his position.
In Catherine Berry’s Experiences in Spiritualism (1876), historical
fragments relating to Assyrian queen Semirami were
published as recorded after Shepard’s trance statements under
the control of an Egyptian spirit. In 1889 he published two volumes
of which Maurice Maeterlinck declared that he knew
nothing in literature more admirable or profound.
Prince Adam Wisniewski wrote in an account quoted by Light
in 1894
‘‘After having secured the most complete obscurity we
placed ourselves in a circle around the medium, seated before
the piano. Hardly were the first chords struck when we saw
lights appearing at every corner of the room . . . The first piece
played through Shepard was a fantasie of Thalberg’s on the air
from ‘‘Semiramide.’’ This is unpublished, as is all the music
which is played by the spirits through Shepard. The second was
a rhapsody for four hands, played by Liszt and Thalberg with
astounding fire, a sonority truly grand, and a masterly interpretation.
Notwithstanding this extra ordinarily complex technique,
the harmony was admirable, and such as no one present
had ever know paralleled, even by Liszt himself, whom I personally
knew, and in whom passion and delicacy were united.
In the circle were musicians who, like me, had heard the greatest
pianists of Europe; but we can say that we never heard such
truly supernatural execution.’’
Shepard was also occasionally a direct voice medium. During
a séance at The Hague, Holland, in 1907, direct voices were
heard speaking in Dutch. High officials of the Dutch government
who were present also heard voices speaking in Sundanese
and Mandarin Chinese.
In 1907, after his fabulous success in Europe and return visits
to America, Shepard broke with his psychic connections and
mediumship and settled in London, where he ceased his musical
exhibitions and devoted himself to writing. He changed his
name to Francis Grierson and made a reputation through his
essays in both English and French. At the age of fifty, he published
his book Modern Mysticism and Other Essays (1899), followed
by The Celtic Temperament and Other Essays (1901). The latter
work was adopted as a textbook by Japanese universities.
Other publications included The Valley of Shadows Recollections
of the Lincoln Country, 1858–63 (1909), Portraits (1910), La Vie
and Les Hommes (1911), The Humour of the Underman (1911), The
Invisible Alliance (1913), Illusions and Realities of the War (1918),
and Abraham Lincoln The Practical Mystic (1918).
The quality of his literary work secured him a place in the
prestigious Kunitz and Haycraft Twentieth Century Authors
(1942). Many of Shepard’s readers were unaware of his earlier
psychic activities until he published a Spiritualist pamphlet,
Psycho-Phone Messages, in 1921.
In spite of Shepard’s mystical and artistic talents or perhaps
because of his dedication to mystic insight rather than material
things, he died in utter poverty. As an old man of 78, he died
from hunger May 29, 1927, while a case worker from the Los
Angeles Assistance League was knocking on his door. She was
unaware of his glittering past as a musician or his fame as a
writer. He had earlier pawned his last valuable—a watch given
to him by the king of England.
Endore, Guy. King of Paris. New York Pocket Books, 1958.
Grierson, Francis [Jesse Shepard]. Abraham Lincoln The
Practical Mystic. New York John Lane, 1918.
Encyclopedia of Occultism & Parapsychology • 5th Ed. Shepard, Jesse Francis Grierson
———. The Celtic Temperament and Other Essays. London
John Lane, 1913.
———. Modern Mysticism and Other Essays. London G. Allen,
Shepard, Jess F. G. ‘‘How I Became a Musical Medium.’’ Medium
(May 6, 1970).
Tonner, W. ‘‘The Genius of Francis Grierson.’’ Trend
(March 1914).