Shepard, Jesse Francis Grierson(1848-1927)
Shepard, Jesse Francis Grierson(1848-1927)
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 Sherman.
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.
——. The Celtic Temperament and Other Essays. London: John Lane, 1913.
——. Modern Mysticism and Other Essays. London: G. Allen, 1899.
Shepard, Jess F. G. "How I Became a Musical Medium." Medium (May 6, 1970).
Tonner, W. "The Genius of Francis Grierson." Trend (March 1914).