William J Colville was born about 1859 in England.  Little is known about his early life. His mother died when he was a young boy. His father lived only a few years after her death. From a young age Colville “expressed certain traits peculiar to highly sensitive organisms; and though he and others may have been spiritually unconscious of what was working beneath the surface, yet indications of some occult force were at times unmistakable,” according to an article in Medium and Daybreak Vol 9, No 442, Sept 20, 1878.

He was brought up in an orthodox church and first felt his talent was the work of the devil, but he overcame that fear. When he was 17, he attended a lecture by Mrs. Cora L.V. Tappan in 1874. Inspired, he returned home and composed a poem “The Resurrection.” He began to occasionally read his inspirational poetry, received while in a trance state, in private homes.

By the time he was 19, he was able to “deliver discourses with the same fluency as at the present time. The special phase of his mediumship, which is inspirational speaking, is about to undergo a great change.” After that, physical phenomenon, rapping, table oscillations took place. He had 12 guides for public demonstrations, including native American spirits.

In September of 1878, he addressed a select meeting at the Spiritual Institution in London before leaving for the United States. He made his home in Boston for the next decade. He was a popular speaker in the city and at Spiritualist camps. He attended Queen City Park in Burlington, Lookout Mountain in Tennessee and was a regular guest at Lily Dale in New York. At the 1888 Tenth Anniversary of American Spiritualism lectures in Boston, he made his farewell appearance before traveling to California. 

Between lectures, Colville also published several articles, books and edited journals. His books included: The Spiritual Science of Health and Healing (1887), Universal Theosophy: The Science of Health and Healing (1887), Spiritual Therapeutics; or, Divine Science, (1888), A History of Theosophy (1896), and Old and New Psychology (1897).

While in California, Colville lectured, taught classes, and was business manager for George Chainey and Anna Kimballâ’s Gnostic in San Francisco. He then published an edited The Problem of Life (1890-1893) with Alzire A. Chevailler. The publication was, “Devoted to Spiritual Science and Philosophy and all Subjects Pertaining to the Welfare and Progress of Humanity / A Magazine Devoted to Spiritual Science and Philosophy as related to Universal Human Progress.”

In his first issue, he wrote, “ How many are there who enter the ranks as teachers and practitioners of Spiritual, Mental, or Christian Science, who realize anything more than a very small part of the work they are called upon to do, and how many are there who even attempt to begin at what is really the right end of the line, if true progress is to be made? The moral elevation of the race is of primary importance, its intellectual advancement is of secondary value, its physical soundness comes third.”

Colville returned to London in 1914 and gave lectures to the London Spiritualist Alliance and The Buddhist Society of Great Britain and Ireland. During his life he toured the U.S., England and Australia. He died in San Francisco in January of 1917. His obituary stated that “W. J. Colville, one of the foremost British lecturers on theosophical topics, died yesterday at the Wiltshire apartments after a brief illness with pneumonia.” He was 57 years old and “spent many years lecturing and writing.”

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