William Howitt was a proficient British author, spiritual preacher, and avid traveller who penned down on subjects like history, nature, physics, and spiritualism. His most notable work was a two-volume book on religious history and spiritualism called The History of the Supernatural in All Ages and Nations and All Churches, Christian and Pagan, Demonstrating a Universal Faith, which was published in 1863.
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On 18th December 1792, William Howitt was born to Quakers Thomas Howitt and his wife Phoebe Howitt, who were members of the Christian denomination known officially as the Friends Church, with Phoebe being the daughter of a Staffordshire Quaker. William was born at Heanor in Derbyshire, England.
William was an avid reader and an equally passionate learner. By the bright age of thirteen, he had published his first poem. He studied at the Friends public school at Ackworth and later at another Quaker school in Tamworth.
At Tamworth, he extensively studied subjects like chemistry and nature, fostering the strength of his intellect. William wanted to further his studies against his father’s wishes but could not and was forced to devote his time to his father’s farm all the while loitering around the countryside and studying nature, botany, medicines, and chemistry.
William married Mary Botham, who too like William was a Quaker, on 16 April 1821, at the Friend’s Meeting House in Uttoxeter.
Initially setting up their home at Hanley, Staffordshire, where he worked as a part-time druggist, William and Mary moved out and settled at Nottingham in 1822. During the time of his marriage, William travelled the world expansively all the while expanding his vocabulary by learning many foreign languages.
William, an author, and Mary, a poet, started their joint venture as literary partners with the publishing of their first, The Forest Minstrels and other Poems, in 1823.
Traversing through Australia
It was here in Australia that William first learned, while digging for gold, about the eruption and apparent spreading of Spiritualism, when he came down to the Australian state of Victoria in 1852.
Although they did not get a lot of gold from their excavation, however, William did get to pick up on subjects like the colonial rule in Australia, the bushes, the flora, and fauna amongst many others. William later wrote books chronicling his journey – Tallangetta, the Squatter’s Home (1857), and The History of Discovery in Australia, Tasmania, and New Zealand (1865).
During the notable years as an eminent author and a traveller, William Howitt wrote several books, novels, and accounts of his travels.
Tallangetta or the Squatters’ Home, a book about his travels during the Victorian Gold Rush in Australia have hefty accounts of his stern belief in the supernatural and the principles of Spiritualism. Some of his other books include Popular History of Priestcraft in All Ages and Nations (1833), The Man of the People (1860), A Boy’s Adventures in the Wilds of Australia; or, Herbert’s Note-Book (1855) and Homes and Haunts of the Most Eminent British Poets (1847).
Spiritual practices in the Howitt family
After returning from Germany to England in 1843, the Howitt family house quickly became a den for writers and artists alike.
In April 1856, Mary attended a séance with a Mrs. de Morgan and within a short period of time, the otherworldly practices of becoming a medium and clairvoyance quickly became a household practice for the Howitt family.
William’s mother was a prophetess and he himself used to walk in his sleep. William too gained powers by January 1858. It transformed into a familial tendency as his children too acquired similar spiritual powers to involuntarily write and draw.
Champion of Spiritualism
William Howitt as an exceptional author of Spiritualism first came into the spotlight with his written exchanges with the great Charles Dickens who was looking to visit some of the well-known haunted places.
William’s letters to Dickens, where he suggested the Willington Mill and a house at Chestnut as likely candidates for Dickens’ quest for spirits, appeared on The Critic, establishing him as a prodigious writer of spiritualism.
In 1860, after the Spiritual Magazine was started, William became a regular contributor. He contributed many articles on subjects like supernatural beings, religion, and philosophy.
William and Mary’s joint literary venture
Starting with The Forest Minstrels and other Poems, in 1823, William and his poet wife Mary published several books together. A total of one hundred and eighty publications were released by their joint venture. In 1852, they also released a book about the beauty of nature, The Literature and Romance of Northern Europe.
Later years and death
Since 1870, William would spend the rest of his life in Tyrol and Rome, seasonally switching places. Both William and Mary are still known for their enriching and wholesome outlook in their literature. On 3 March 1879, William Howitt died in Rome. He was survived by his wife Mary, and his children.