Howitt, William (1792-1879)
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, 1970.
——. 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.