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The Strange Case of Daniel Dunglas Home

The case of Daniel Dunglas Home is said, in the Dictionary of National Biography, to present a curious and unsolved problem. It really presents, I think, two problems equally unsolved, one scientific, and the other social. How did Mr. Home, the son of a Scottish mother in the lower middle class at highest, educated (as far as he was educated at all) in a village of Connecticut, attain his social position? I do not ask why he was 'taken up' by members of noble English families: 'the caresses of the great' may be lavished on athletes, and actors, and musicians, and Home's remarkable performances were quite enough to make him welcome in country houses. Moreover, he played the piano, the accordion, and other musical instruments. For his mysterious 'gift' he might be invited to puzzle and amuse royal people (not in England), and continental emperors, and kings. But he did much more than what Houdin or Alexis, a conjuror and a clairvoyant, could do. He successively married, with the permission and good will of the Czar, two Russian ladies of noble birth, a feat inexplicable when we think of the rules of the continental noblesse. A duc, or a prince, or a marquis may marry the daughter of an American citizen who has made a fortune in lard. But the daughters of the Russian noblesse do not marry poor American citizens with the good will of the Czar. By his marriages Home far outwent such famous charlatans as Cagliostro, Mesmer, and the mysterious Saint Germain the deathless. Cagliostro and Saint Germain both came on the world with an appearance of great wealth and display. The source of the opulence of Saint Germain is as obscure as was the source of the sudden enrichment of Beau Wilson, whom Law, the financier, killed in a duel. Cagliostro, like Law, may have acquired his diamonds by gambling or swindling. But neither these two men nor Mesmer, though much in the society of princes, could have hoped, openly and with the approval of Louis XV. or Louis XVI., to wed a noble lady. Yet Home did so twice, though he had no wealth at all.

Cagliostro was a low-born Neapolitan ruffian. But he had a presence! In the Memoirs of Madame d'Oberkirch she tells us how much she disliked and distrusted Cagliostro, always avoiding him, and warning Cardinal Rohan against him--in vain. But she admits that the man dominated her, or would have dominated her, by something inexplicable in his eyes, his bearing, and his unaccountable knowledge, as when he publicly announced, on a certain day, the death of the great Empress, Maria Theresa, of which the news did not arrive till five days later. Now Home had none of this dominating personality. He has been described to me, by a lady who knew him in his later years, when he had ceased to work drawing-room miracles in society, as a gentle, kindly, quiet person, with no obvious fault, unless a harmless and childlike vanity be a fault. Thus he struck an observer not of his intimate circle. He liked to give readings and recitations, and he played the piano with a good deal of feeling. He was a fair linguist, he had been a Catholic, he was of the middle order of intelligence, he had no 'mission' except to prove that disembodied spirits exist, if that were a legitimate inference from the marvels which attended him.

Mr. Robert Bell in The Cornhill Magazine, Vol. II., 1860, described Home's miracles in an article called 'Stranger than Fiction.' His account of the man's personality is exactly like what I have already given. Home was 'a very mild specimen of familiar humanity.' His health was bad. 'The expression of his face in repose' (he was only twenty-seven) 'is that of physical suffering.... There is more kindliness and gentleness than vigour in the character of his features.... He is yet so young that the playfulness of boyhood has not passed away, and he never seems so thoroughly at ease with himself and others as when he is enjoying some light and temperate amusement.'

Thus there was nothing in Home to dominate, or even to excite personal curiosity. He and his more intimate friends, not marchionesses but middle-class people, corresponded in a style of rather distasteful effusiveness. He was a pleasant young man in a house, not a Don Juan. I have never heard a whisper about light loves--unless Mr. Hamilton Aïdé, to be quoted later, reports such a whisper--not a word against his private character, except that he allowed a terribly vulgar rich woman to adopt him, and give him a very large sum of money, later withdrawn. We shall see that she probably had mixed motives both for giving and for withdrawing the gift, but it was asserted, though on evidence far from sound, that 'the spirits' had rapped out a command to give Home some thirty thousand pounds. Spirits ought not to do these things, and, certainly, it would have been wiser in Home to refuse the widow's gold even if they did. Beyond this one affair, and an alleged case of imposture at a séance, Home's private character raised no scandals that have survived into our knowledge. It is a very strange thing, as we shall see, that the origin of Home's miracles in broad daylight or artificial light, could never be traced to fraud, or, indeed, to any known cause; while the one case in which imposture is alleged on first-hand evidence occurred under conditions of light so bad as to make detection as difficult as belief in such circumstances, ought to have been impossible. It is not easy to feel sure that we have certainly detected a fraud in a dim light; but it is absurd to believe in a miracle, when the conditions of light are such as to make detection difficult.

Given this mild young musical man, the problems of how he achieved his social successes, and how he managed to escape exposure, if he did his miracles by conjuring, are almost equally perplexing. The second puzzle is perhaps the less hard of the two, for Home did not make money as a medium (though he took money's worth), and in private society few seized and held the mystic hands that moved about, or when they seized they could not hold them. The hands melted away, so people said.

A sketch of Home's life must now be given.[16] He was born in 1833, at Currie, a village near Edinburgh. In his later years he sent to his second wife a photograph of the street of cottages beside the burn, in one of which he first saw the light. His father had a right to bear the arms of the Earls of Home, with a brisure, being the natural son of Alexander, tenth Earl of Home.[17] The Medium's ancestor had fought, or, according to other accounts, had shirked fighting, at Flodden Field, as is popularly known from the ballad The Sutors of Selkirk. The maiden name of Home's mother was Macneil. He was adopted by an aunt, who, about 1842, carried the wondrous child to America. He had, since he was four years old, given examples of second sight; it was in the family. Home's mother, who died in 1850, was second-sighted, as were her great-uncle, an Urquhart, and her uncle, a Mackenzie. So far there was nothing unusual or alarming in Home's case, at least to any intelligent Highlander. Not till 1850, after his mother's death, did Home begin to hear 'loud blows on the head of my bed, as if struck by a hammer.' The Wesley family, in 1716-17, had been quite familiar with this phenomenon, and with other rappings, and movements of objects untouched. In fact all these things are of world-wide diffusion, and I know no part of the world, savage or civilised, where such events do not happen, according to the evidence.

[Footnote 16: I follow Incidents in My Life, Series i. ii., 1864, 1872. The Gift of Daniel Home, by Madame Douglas Home and other authorities.]

[Footnote 17: Home mentions this fact in a note, correcting an error of Sir David Brewster's, Incidents, ii. 48, Note 1. The Earl of Home about 1856 asked questions on the subject, and Home 'stated what my connection with the family was.' Dunglas is the second title in the family.]

In no instance, as far as I am informed, did anything extraordinary occur in connection with Home which cannot be paralleled in the accounts of Egyptian mediums in Iamblichus.[18]

[Footnote 18: The curious reader may consult my Cock Lane and Common Sense, and The Making of Religion, for examples of savage, mediæval, ancient Egyptian, and European cases.]

In 1850 America was interested in 'The Rochester Knockings,' and the case of the Fox girls, a replica of the old Cock Lane case which amused Dr. Johnson and Horace Walpole. The Fox girls became professional mediums, and, long afterwards, confessed that they were impostors. They were so false that their confession is of no value as evidence, but certainly they were humbugs. The air was full of talk about them, and other people like them, when Home, aged seventeen, was so constantly attended by noises of rappings that his aunt threw a chair at him, summoned three preachers, an Independent, a Baptist, and a Wesleyan (Home was then a Wesleyan), and plunged into conflict with the devil. The furniture now began to move about, untouched by man, and Home's aunt turned him out of the house. Home went to a friend in another little town, people crowded to witness the phenomena, and the press blazoned the matter abroad. Henceforth, Home was a wonder worker; but once, for a whole year--February 1856 to February 1857--'the power' entirely deserted him, and afterwards, for shorter periods.

In 1852 he was examined by the celebrated American poet, Bryant, by a professor of Harvard, and others, who reported the usual physical phenomena, and emphatically declared that 'we know we were not imposed upon or deceived.' 'Spirits' spoke through the voice of the entranced Home, or rapped out messages, usually gushing, and Home floated in the air, at the house of Mr. Ward Cheney, at South Manchester, Connecticut. This phenomenon is constantly reported in the Bible, in the Lives of the Saints by the Bollandists, in the experiences of the early Irvingites, in witch trials, in Iamblichus, and in savage and European folklore. Lord Elcho, who was out with Prince Charles in the Forty-Five, writes in his unpublished Memoirs that, being at Rome about 1767, he went to hear the evidence in the process of canonising a saint, recently dead, and heard witnesses swear that they had seen the saint, while alive, floating about in the air, like Home. St. Theresa was notorious for this accomplishment. Home's first feat of this kind occurred 'in a darkened room,' a very dark room indeed, as the evidence shows. It had been darkened on purpose to try an experiment in seeing 'N rays,' which had been recently investigated by Reichenbach. Science has brought them recently back into notice. The evidence for the fact, in this case, was that people felt Home's feet in mid air. 'I have been lifted in the light of day only once, and that was in America;' also, in the light of four gas lamps 'in a room in Sloane Street.'

After attracting a good deal of notice in New York, Home, on April 9, 1855, turned up at Cox's Hotel, Jermyn Street, where Mr. Cox gave him hospitality as a non-'paying guest.' Now occurred the affair of Sir David Brewster and Lord Brougham. Both were capable of hallucinations. Lord Brougham published an account of a common death-bed wraith, which he saw once while in a bath (the vision coincided with the death of the owner of the wraith), and Sir David's daughter tells how that philosopher saw that of the Rev. Mr. Lyon, in St. Leonard's College, St. Andrews, a wraith whose owner was in perfect health. Sir David sent letters, forming a journal, to his family, and, in June (no day given) 1855, described his visit to Home. He says that he, Lord Brougham, Mr. Cox, and Home sat down 'at a moderately sized table, the structure of which we were invited to examine. In a short time the table shuddered and a tremulous motion ran up our arms.... The table actually rose from the ground, when no hand was upon it. A larger table was produced, and exhibited similar movements. An accordion was held in Lord Brougham's hand, and gave out a single note.... A small hand-bell was then laid with its mouth on the carpet, and after lying for some time, it actually rang when nothing could have touched it. The bell was then placed upon the other side, still upon the carpet, and it came over to me, and placed itself in my hand. It did the same to Lord Brougham. These were the principal experiments: we could give no explanation of them, and could not conjecture how they could be produced by any kind of mechanism.... We do not believe that it was the work of spirits.'

So Sir David wrote in a private letter of June 1855, just after the events. But the affair came to be talked about, and, on September 29, 1855, Sir David wrote to The Morning Advertiser. He had seen, he said, 'several mechanical effects which I was unable to explain.... But I saw enough to convince myself that they could all be produced by human feet and hands,' though he also, in June, 'could not conjecture how they could be produced by any kind of mechanism.' Later, October 9, Sir David again wrote to the newspaper. This time he said that he might have discovered the fraud, had he 'been permitted to take a peep beneath the drapery of the table.' But in June he said that he 'was invited to examine the structure of the table.' He denied that 'a large table was moved about in a most extraordinary way.' In June he had asserted that this occurred. He declared that the bell did not ring. In June he averred that it rang 'when nothing could have touched it.' In October he suggested that machinery attached to 'the lower extremities of Mr. Home's body' could produce the effects: in June 'we could not conjecture how they could be produced by any kind of mechanism.' On Sir David's death, his daughter and biographer, Mrs. Gordon, published (1869) his letter of June 1855. Home then scored rather freely, as the man of science had denied publicly, in October 1855, what he had privately written to his family in June 1855, when the events were fresh in his memory. This was not the only case in which 'a scientist of European reputation did not increase his reputation' for common veracity in his attempts to put down Home.

The adventures of Home in the Courts of Europe, his desertion of the errors of Wesleyan Methodism for those of the Church of Rome, his handsome entertainment by diamond-giving emperors, his expulsion from Rome as a sorcerer, and so forth, cannot be dealt with here for lack of space. We come to the great Home-Browning problem.

In 1855, Home met Mr. and Mrs. Browning at the house of a Mr. Rymer, at Ealing, the first of only two meetings.[19] On this occasion, says Home, a wreath of clematis rose from the table and floated towards Mrs. Browning, behind whom her husband went and stood. The wreath settled on the lady's head, not on that of Mr. Browning, who, Home thought, was jealous of the favour. This is manifestly absurd. Soon after, all but Mr. Rymer were invited to leave the room. Two days later, Mr. Browning asked to be allowed to bring a friend for another séance, but the arrangements of the Rymers, with whom Home was staying, made this impossible. Later, Home, with Mrs. Rymer, called on the Brownings in town, and Mr. Browning declined to notice Home; there was a scene, and Mrs. Browning (who was later a three-quarters believer in 'spirits') was distressed. In 1864, after Mrs. Browning's death, Mr. Browning published Mr. Sludge, the Medium, which had the air of a personal attack on Home as a detected and confessing American impostor. Such is Home's account. It was published in 1872, and was open to contradiction. I am not aware that Mr. Browning took any public notice of it.

[Footnote 19: Incidents, ii. 105.]

In July 1889 the late Mr. F.W.H. Myers and Professor W.F. Barrett published, in the Journal of the Society for Psychical Research, p. 102, the following statement: 'We have found no allegations of fraud' (in Home) 'on which we should be justified in laying much stress. Mr. Robert Browning has told to one of us' (Mr. Myers) 'the circumstances which mainly led to that opinion of Home which was expressed in Mr. Sludge, the Medium.' It appears that a lady (since dead) repeated to Mr. Browning a statement made to her by a lady and gentleman (since dead) as to their finding Home in the act of experimenting with phosphorus on the production of 'spirit lights,' 'which (so far as Mr. Browning remembers) were to be rubbed round the walls of the room, near the ceiling, so as to appear when the room was darkened. This piece of evidence powerfully impressed Mr. Browning; but it comes to us at third hand, without written record, and at a distance of nearly forty years.'

Clearly this story is not evidence against Home.

But, several years ago, an eminent writer, whom I need not name, published in a newspaper another version. Mr. Browning had told him, he said, that, sitting with Home and Mrs. Browning (apparently alone, these three) in a darkened room, he saw a white object rise above the table. This Home represented as the phantasm of a child of Mr. and Mrs. Browning, which died in infancy. Mr. Browning seized the phantasm, which was Home's naked foot.

But it must be remembered that (1) Mr. and Mrs. Browning had no child which died in infancy; and (2) Mrs. Browning's belief survived the shock. On December 5, 1902, in the Times Literary Supplement, a letter by Mr. R. Barrett Browning appeared. He says: 'Mr. Hume, who subsequently changed his name to Home' ('Home' is pronounced 'Hume' in Scotland), 'was detected in a "vulgar fraud," for I have heard my father repeatedly describe how he caught hold of his foot under the table.' In the other story the foot was above the table; in the new version no infant phantasm occurs. Moreover, to catch a man's foot under a table in itself proves nothing. What was the foot doing, and why did Mr. Browning not tell this, but quite a different story, to Mr. Myers? We 'get no forrarder.'

On November 28, 1902, Mr. Merrifield, in the Times Literary Supplement, published a letter on August 30 (?), 1855, from Mrs. Browning to Miss De Gaudrion, as to the séance with the Brownings at Ealing. Mrs. Browning enclosed a letter from Mr. Browning, giving his impressions. 'Mine, I must frankly say, were entirely different,' wrote Mrs. Browning; and Home says: 'Mrs. Browning was much moved, and she not only then but ever since expressed her entire belief and pleasure in what occurred.' In her letter, Mrs. Browning adds: 'For my own part, and in my own conscience, I find no reason for considering the medium in question responsible for anything seen or heard on that occasion.' But 'I consider that the seeking for intercourse with any particular spirit would be apt to end either in disappointment or delusion,' and she uses the phrase 'the supposed spirits.'

This lady who wrote thus at the time cannot conceivably have been looking for the ghost of a child that never was born, and been deceived by Home's white foot, which Mr. Browning then caught hold of--an incident which Mrs. Browning could not have forgotten by August 30, 1855, if it occurred in July of that year. Yet Mr. ---- has published the statement that Mr. Browning told him that story of Home's foot, dead child, and all, and Mr. ---- is a man of undoubted honour, and of the acutest intelligence.

Mr. Browning (August 30, 1855) assured Miss De Gaudrion that he held 'the whole display of hands,' 'spirit utterances,' &c., to be 'a cheat and imposture.' He acquitted the Rymers (at whose house the séance was held) of collusion, and spoke very highly of their moral character. But he gave no reason for his disbelief, and said nothing about catching hold of Home's foot either under or above the table. He simply states his opinion; the whole affair was 'melancholy stuff.' How can we account for the story of Mr. Browning and Home's foot? Can poets possess an imagination too exuberant, or a memory not wholly accurate?

But Mr. Merrifield had written, on August 18, 1855, a record of an Ealing séance of July 1855. About fourteen people sat round a table, in a room of which two windows opened on the lawn. The nature of the light is not stated. There was 'heaving up of the table, tapping, playing an accordion under the table, and so on.' No details are given; but there were no visible hands. Later, by such light as exists when the moon has set on a July night, Home gave another séance. 'The outlines of the windows we could well see, and the form of any large object intervening before them, though not with accuracy of outline.' In these circumstances, in a light sufficient, he thinks, Mr. Merrifield detected 'an object resembling a child's hand with a long white sleeve attached to it' and also attached to Home's shoulder and arm, and moving as Home moved. A lady, who later became Mrs. Merrifield, corroborated.[20]

[Footnote 20: Journal S.P.R., May 1903, pp. 77, 78.]

This is the one known alleged case of detection of fraud, on Home's part, given on first-hand evidence, and written only a few weeks after the events. One other case I was told by the observer, very many years after the event, and in this case fraud was not necessarily implied. It is only fair to remark that Mr. F.W.H. Myers thought these 'phantasmal arms instructive in more than one respect,' as supplying 'a missing link between mere phantasms and ectoplastic phenomena.'[21]

[Footnote 21: Human Personality, ii. 546, 547. By 'Ectoplastic' Mr. Myers appears to have meant small 'materialisations' exterior to the 'medium.']

Now this is the extraordinary feature in the puzzle. There are many attested accounts of hands seen, in Home's presence, in a good light, with no attachment; and no fraud is known ever to have been detected in such instances. The strange fact is that if we have one record of a detection of Home in a puerile fraud in a faint light, we have none of a detection in his most notable phenomena in a good light. To take one example. In The Nineteenth Century for April 1896 Mr. Hamilton Aïdé published the following statement, of which he had made the record in his Diary, 'more than twenty years ago.' Mr. Aïdé also told me the story in conversation. He was 'prejudiced' against Home, whom he met at Nice, 'in the house of a Russian lady of distinction.' 'His very physical manifestations, I was told, had caused his expulsion from more than one private house.' Of these aberrations one has not heard elsewhere. Mr. Aïdé was asked to meet M. Alphonse Karr, 'one of the hardest-headed, the wittiest, and most sceptical men in France' (a well-merited description), at a séance with Home. Mr. Aïdé's prejudice, M. Karr's hard-headed scepticism, prove them witnesses not biassed in favour of hocus-pocus.

The two arrived first at the villa, and were shown into a very large, uncarpeted, and brilliantly lighted salon. The furniture was very heavy, the tables were 'mostly of marble, and none of them had any cloths upon them.' There were about twenty candles in sconces, all lit, and a moderator lamp in the centre of 'the ponderous round rosewood table at which we were to sit.' Mr. Aïdé 'examined the room carefully,' and observed that wires could not possibly be attached to the heavy furniture ranged along the walls, and on the polished floor wires could not escape notice. The number present, including Home, was nine when all had arrived. All hands were on the table, but M. Alphonse Karr insisted on being allowed to break the circle, go under the table, or make any other sort of search whenever he pleased. 'This Home made no objection to.' Raps 'went round under the table, fluttering hither and thither in a way difficult to account for by the dislocation of the medium's toe' (or knee), 'the common explanation.' (I may remark that this kind of rapping is now so rare that I think Mr. Frederick Myers, with all his experience, never heard it.) Mr. Aïdé was observant enough to notice that a lady had casually dropped her bracelet, though she vowed that it 'was snatched from her by a spirit.' 'It was certainly removed from her lap, and danced about under the table....'

Then suddenly 'a heavy armchair, placed against the wall at the further end of the salotto, ran violently out into the middle of the room towards us.' Other chairs rushed about 'with still greater velocity.' The heavy table then tilted up, and the moderator lamp, with some pencils, slid to the lower edge of the table, but did not fall off. Mr. Aïdé looked under the table: Home's legs were inactive. Home said that he thought the table would 'ascend,' and Alphonse Karr dived under it, and walked about on all fours, examining everybody's feet--the others were standing up. The table rose 'three or four feet,' at highest, and remained in air 'from two to three minutes.' It rose so high that 'all could see Karr, and see also that no one's legs moved.' M. Karr was not a little annoyed; but, as 'Sandow could not have lifted the table evenly,' even if allowed to put his hands beneath it, and as Home, at one side, had his hands above it, clearly Home did not lift it.

All alike beheld this phenomenon, and Mr. Aïdé asks 'was I hypnotised?' Were all hypnotised? People have tried to hypnotise Mr. Aïdé, never with success, and certainly no form of hypnotism known to science was here concerned. No process of that sort had been gone through, and, except when Home said that he thought the table would ascend, there had been no 'verbal suggestion;' nobody was told what to look out for. In hypnotic experiment it is found that A. (if told to see anything not present) will succeed, B. will fail, C. will see something, and so on, though these subjects have been duly hypnotised, which Mr. Aïdé and the rest had not. That an unhypnotised company (or a company wholly unaware that any hypnotic process had been performed on them) should all be subjected by any one to the same hallucination, by an unuttered command, is a thing unknown to science, and most men of science would deny that even one single person could be hallucinated by a special suggestion not indicated by outward word, gesture, or otherwise. We read of such feats in tales of 'glamour,' like that of the Goblin Page in The Lay of the Last Minstrel, but to psychological science, I repeat, they are absolutely unknown. The explanation is not what is technically styled a vera causa. Mr. Aïdé's story is absolutely unexplained, and it is one of scores, attested in letters to Home from people of undoubted sense and good position. Mr. Myers examined and authenticated the letters by post marks, handwriting, and other tests.[22]

[Footnote 22: Journal S.P.R., July 1889, p. 101.]

In one case the theory of hallucination induced by Home, so that people saw what did not occur, was asserted by Dr. Carpenter, F.R.S.[23] Dr. Carpenter, who was a wondrously superior person, wrote: 'The most diverse accounts of a séance will be given by a believer and a sceptic. One will declare that a table rose in the air, while another (who had been watching its feet) is confident that it never left the ground.' Mr. Aïdé's statement proves that this explanation does not fit his case. Dr. Carpenter went on to say what was not true: 'A whole party of believers will affirm that they saw Mr. Home float in at one window and out at another, whilst a single honest sceptic declares that Mr. Home was sitting in his chair all the time.'[24] This was false. Dr. Carpenter referred to the published statement of Lord Adare (Dunraven) and Lord Lindsay (the Earl of Crawford), that they saw Home float into a window of the room where they were sitting, out of the next room, where Home was, and float back again, at Ashley Place, S.W., December 16, 1868. No 'honest sceptic' was present and denied the facts. The other person present, Captain Wynne, wrote to Home, in a letter printed (with excisions of some contemptuous phrases) by Madame Home, and read in the original MS. by Mr. Myers. He said: 'I wrote to the Medium to say I was present as a witness. I don't think that any one who knows me would for one moment say that I was a victim to hallucination or any humbug of that kind.' Dr. Carpenter, in 1871, writing in the Quarterly Review (Vol. 131, pp. 336, 337), had criticised Lord Lindsay's account of what occurred on December 16, 1868. He took exception to a point in Lord Lindsay's grammar, he asked why Lord Lindsay did not cite the two other observers, and he said (what I doubt) that the observations were made by moonlight. So Lord Lindsay had said; but the curious may consult the almanack. Even in a fog, however, people in a room can see a man come in by the window, and go out again, 'head first, with the body rigid,' at a great height above the ground.

[Footnote 23: Contemporary Review, January 1876.]

[Footnote 24: Contemporary Review, vol. xxvii. p. 286.]

Mr. Podmore has suggested that Home thrust his head and shoulders out of the window, and that the three excited friends fancied the rest; but they first saw him in the air outside of the window of their room.[25] Nothing is explained, in this case, by Dr. Carpenter's explanation. Dr. Carpenter (1871) discredited the experiments made on Home by Sir William Crookes and attested by Sir William Huggins, because the latter was only 'an amateur in a branch of research which tasks the keenest powers of observation,' not of experiment; while, in the chemical experiments of Sir William Crookes, 'the ability he displayed was purely technical.' Neither gentleman could dream 'that there are moral sources of error.'[26]

[Footnote 25: Cf. Making of Religion, p. 362, 1898.]

[Footnote 26: Quarterly Review, 1871, pp. 342, 343.]

Alas, Dr. Carpenter, when he boldly published (in 1876) the thing that was not, proved that a 'scientist' may be misled by 'moral sources of error'!

In 1890, in Proceedings of the S.P.R., Sir William Crookes published full contemporary accounts, noted by himself, of his experiments on Home in 1871, with elaborate mechanical tests as to alteration of weights; and recorded Home's feats in handling red-hot coals, and communicating the power of doing so to others, and to a fine cambric handkerchief on which a piece of red-hot charcoal lay some time. Beyond a hole of half an inch in diameter, to which Home drew attention, the cambric was unharmed. Sir William tested it: it had undergone no chemical preparation.

Into the details of the mechanical tests as to alterations of weights I cannot go. Mr. Angelo Lewis (Professor Hoffman), an expert in conjuring, says that, accepting Sir William's veracity, and that he was not hallucinated, the phenomena 'seem to me distinctly to be outside the range of trick, and therefore to be good evidence, so far as we can trust personal evidence at all, of Home's power of producing motion, without contact, in inanimate bodies.' Sir William himself writes (1890): 'I have discovered no flaw in the experiments, or in the reasoning I based upon them.'[27] The notes of the performances were written while they were actually in course of proceeding. Thus 'the table rose completely off the ground several times, whilst the gentlemen present took a candle, and, kneeling down, deliberately examined the position of Mr. Home's knees and feet, and saw the three feet of the table quite off the ground.' Every observer in turn satisfied himself of the facts; they could not all be hallucinated.

[Footnote 27: Proceedings S.P.R. vi. 98.]

I have not entered on the 'spiritual' part of the puzzle, the communications from 'spirits' of matters not consciously known to persons present, but found to be correct. That is too large a subject. Nor have I entered into the case of Mrs. Lyon's gift to Home, for the evidence only proved, as the judge held, that the gift was prompted, at least to some extent, by what Home declared to be spiritual rappings. But the only actual witness to the fact, Mrs. Lyon herself, was the reverse of a trustworthy witness, being a foolish capricious underbred woman. Hume's [Transcriber's Note: so in original] mystery, as far as the best of the drawing-room miracles are concerned, is solved by no theory or combination of theories, neither by the hypothesis of conjuring, nor of collective hallucination, nor of a blend of both. The cases of Sir David Brewster and of Dr. Carpenter prove how far some 'scientists' will go, rather than appear in an attitude of agnosticism, of not having a sound explanation.[28]

[Footnote 28: Mr. Merrifield has reiterated his opinion that the conditions of light were adequate for his view of the object described on p. 184, supra. Journal S.P.R. October 1904.]

NOTE.--Since this paper was written, I have been obliged by several interesting communications from a person very intimate with Home. Nothing in these threw fresh light on the mystery of his career, still less tended to confirm any theory of dishonesty on his part. His legal adviser, a man of honour, saw no harm in his accepting Mrs. Lyon's proffered gift, though he tried, in vain, to prevent her from increasing her original present.


Andrew Lang