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Denton, Professor William and Elizabeth

Category: Explorer or adventurer

Professor William Denton (1823-1883) of Wellesley, Massachusetts, was a naturalist, explorer and geologist.  His wife was Elizabeth M. Foote Denton and he had four sons and a daughter.  William himself was born in West Yorkshire, England. 

The Dentons as a family were great collectors and lovers of butterflies [see also Vladimir Nabokov].  Professor William Denton inspired his children with curiosity about the world and its creatures, and his sons, when young men, accompanied their father on various expeditions.  The Denton collection of butterflies still exists and is kept in the St. Louis Science Center. It was at one time a much larger collection. The insects, mostly butterflies, were mounted and placed in boxes by the Denton Brothers Company, for the 1904 St. Louis World's Fair. The collection, consisting of 182 lepidoptera and two beetles in six silver frames, is displayed on the south wall of the upper floor of the Biology Library, (Life Sciences Building, 3rd floor.) The exotic and beautiful butterflies are from all over the world, with the majority being from South America, India and the New England states.

What however is more important is that William Denton was an advocate of spiritualism. In 1865 he and Elizabeth self published  Poems for Reformer which was later republished with additional poems as Radical Rhymes, in 1881.  These poems, published when Denton  and his wife were living in Dayton, Ohio, “demonstrate his early disregard for organized religion and his championing of the rights of the common man”.

When William and Elizabeth Denton moved from Ohio to Massachusetts, they were closely involved with many radical thinkers in the Boston area. The “Denton Family Papers” is still available in the Labadie Collection and consists of a number of letters written to the family from noted people of the time, as well as other documents, photographs, and an autograph album related to the Ezra Heywood family. Heywood championed many radical causes, among them anti-slavery societies, women’s rights, free love, and economic reform. When he was convicted on charges of distributing obscene material, some 6,000 people attended a meeting in support of his early release and he had a great deal of help from Denton.

Elizabeth Denton became fascinated by the whole subject of imprinted perceptions on objects [called in those days psychometry].  In 1849, Elizabeth read one of Joseph Buchanan’s articles in his publication ‘The Journal of Man’.  Buchanan was later to author the book Manual of psychometry: the dawn of a new civilization. (1889 or1885).  She and her husband William suddenly realised that the experiences that had been common to her all her life had a name and that furthermore she was not alone.

She was also overjoyed to find out that a scientist and a physician was giving serious scientific consideration to what she had supposed to be some peculiarity in her psyche  - an abnormality and thus by implication not to be mentioned.

Professor Denton was fascinated by the possibilities of exploring his wife’s gifts and it was he who undertook the experiments on her, eventually documenting them in the book The soul of things; or, Psychometric researches and discoveries. By William and Elizabeth M. F. Denton. (Wellesley, Mass., Denton publishing company, 1888)

The book is available online via this LINK.

I have used an observation from a summary of the findings made by Dr Karagulla as the full work stretches to 3 volumes!  Once Professor Denton started to investigate further he was able to find other people able to do the same as his wife, including his sister Annie Denton Cridge.

Elizabeth’s talents appeared to be inherited she could see objects as well in total darkness as in daylight and had had experiences from very early childhood.

I have no idea when Elizabeth died and there are conflicting accounts of how William died.  One account said that he died of jungle fever exploring the wilds of New Guinea with two of his sons. Another account said that “William Denton was among the more than 36,000 people killed by the Krakatau volcanic eruption (Indonesia) in the summer of 1883. He had been traveling in Asia and the Pacific for some two years.”  

Observations

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