The First Psychic

The First Psychic

You may not have heard of him, but Daniel Dunglas Home was a Victorian who crossed paths with or at least caught the attention of Charles Dickens, William Makepeace Thackeray, George Elliot, Alexandre Dumas, Mark Twain, Elizabeth and Robert Browning, John Ruskin, Charles Darwin and Michael Faraday (amongst others).  Some, such as Dumas (who was his best man at his wedding) loved him. Others, like Robert Browning (who objected to his effeminacy) couldn’t stand him. So why would someone so good at getting themselves noticed by the great minds of his time now be virtually written out of history?

The answer, perhaps, is because he’s rather inconvenient.  Home was a medium, the man for whom the term ‘psychic’ was coined.  Unlike his contemporary table-tappers however, Home’s feats were never shown to be fraudulent in his lifetime.  Even now, they defy easy explanation.  Exactly how, for instance, did he manage to float out one window and through that of the room next door?

Peter Lamont’s biography, The First Psychic entertainingly faces up to the conundrum of documenting an impossible life.  Sometimes the facts seem a bit too awkwardly shoe-horned into the story structure the author is aiming for, with a grand face-off hinted at between Home and his arch-rival, John Henry (the first magician to pull a rabbit out of a hat), only for the latter merely to drunkenly shout at him in public and drop dead a short time later.

Overall, however, it’s a fascinating book that raises interesting questions about how we ‘know’ things and the limitations of the scientific method.

(I’ve been wondering whether Tim Burton knows about Home. He’d be the perfect subject for one of his films, with Johnny Depp, naturally, in the lead.)


One Response to “The First Psychic”

  1. I once employed the services of Mr. Home myself. He gave me a complete reading, but failed to predict that I would not pay him. I was out of the door before he realised, the fool!

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