Anna (Bonus) Kingsford (1846-1888) is an outstanding figure in the annals of esoteric and mystical thought. She wrote works of deep insight and lasting value in the esoteric field. She lifted the veil of illusion which orthodox Christianity has thrown over the eternal wisdom. Anna helped establish Theosophy in England in the 1880's. She was a woman of exceptional talents in other fields also: a medical practioner, a campaigner for women's rights and for vegetariansim, an ardent opponent of vivisection, and writer.Despite the ill health that plagued her short life, Anna made impressive contributions for the betterment of humans and animalkind.
The main source of information on Anna is the two volume biography by her collaborator Edward Maitland.This was first published in 1896 and a third edition came out in 1913.It is currently out of print and not readily available.It is a massive work, running to 900 pages.Its ponderous prose does not make for easy reading.
Birth and early years
Annie Bonus was born at Maryland Point, Stratford, Essex, England at 5.00pm on 16 September 1846.(She used various first names, most commonly Anna.) John Bonus her father was a rich City merchant and ship owner of Italian descent.Her mother - maiden name Schroder - was of Irish and German descent.At this date Stratford was a rural village, but in a couple of decades it was to be swallowed up by London in the explosive industrial growth taking place.Maryland Point was a desirable area in which to live, containing substantial houses with large gardens for the well-to-do.They were built by a "gentleman" who founded an estate in Maryland, America.In the same area he also built Stratford House, the seat of Lord Henniker. When Anna was still young, the family moved to Blackheath, south of the river Thames near Greenwich. Blackheath was a "sleepy village," and with the coming of the railway in 1849 it became an attractive place to live for an increasing number of people.
In appearance Anna was so like an older sister who died before she was born that her mother thought Anna was the sister reborn. In 1881 a clairvoyant told Anna,"A sister of yours is here, who died young, with pure flaxen or golden hair - such a beautiful angel. She lives a part of her earth-life in and with you, getting her experiences through you."
In 1846 Britain was well on the path of industrialisation and imperialistic expansion.Materialism, which Anna was to fervently oppose, was becoming more entrenched in society. Queen Victoria had been on the throne for nine years.The Corn Law was abolished, resulting in cheaper bread, and the Whigs were in power.The potato famine was devasting the population of Ireland. Britain took the Punjab in the First Anglo-Sikh War in India.U.S. dentist William T. Morton performed the first successful tooth extraction under ether. Just one week after Anna was born the German astronomer Johann Galle discovered the mystic planet Neptune. The British astronomer William Lasell soon followed with the discovery of Triton, one of Neptune's moons. In the world of music, French composer Hector Berlioz completed his dramatic cantata The Damnation of Faust, and Felix Mendelssohn's oratorio Elijah was completed and it premiered in Birmingham.In France the anarchist Pierre-Joseph Proudhon published The Philosophy of Poverty.Europe was on the brink of upheaval, resulting in the revolutions of 1848.
Anna always had a strong imagination.She dressed her many dolls in special costumes and had them act in plays of her own devising.She told her dolls stories, some of which she made up and others she learnt from her reading. Anna would effortlessly pour forth stories about "fairies and princesses, knights and castles and dragons, gods and goddesses." She had the free run of her father's library and devoured the classics, in particular the Metamorphoses of Ovid and other mythologies. When older, Anna realised that all she read was familiar to her and she was recollecting it from memory.
Though highly talented in music, singing, drawing and painting, Anna sensed
her future lay in a different direction.Her instropective nature suited her for
writing, and at an early age she excelled in poetry and prose.Her first book,
Beatrice, a Tale of the Early Christians, was published when she was just
thirteen years of age. It was intended to be a magazine story in the
Churchman's Companion, but Masters, the publisher, thought it worthy to come
out in a separate volume.
" ' And accordingly,' she said, when recounting her early history to me [Maitland] but a week before her death, 'received two guineas, for they knew I was but a child. I afterwards wrote a quantity of poetry for the Churchman's Companion, which I do not consider composed by myself, as it came to me ready-made, and I had but to write it down.' "
"River Reeds" is one of her early poems, and the last stanza reads as follows:
Reeds in the river!Reeds in the river!
O deep in my heart like the reeds in the river,
My thoughts grow in darkness, far down out of my sight,
And over my life passes shadow and light,
Like sunshine and cloud on the breast of the stream;
But I sit by the banks of my river and dream,
For day after day they grow silent and strong,
The reeds of my Syrinx, the reeds of my song.
School at Brighton
Anna had a strong will, an independent mind, and was "heedless of persons when principles were concerned." In order to " finish" her education she was sent to a fashionable school at Brighton.Here she always won the first prizes for English composition, but she would get into trouble for persistently demanding explanations for the religious doctrine that was taught.Frances Power Cobbe (1822-1904), a feminist activist on various issues, with whom Anna was to later cross swords, attended a "ladies' school" at Brighton in 1836-38. At this time, "ladies'" or girls' schools in Brighton were the most esteemed, with no less than a hundred operating in the town. School fees were not cheap: Cobbe's fees of 1,000 pounds for two years were not uncommon.Her school had seven teachers plus a "considerable staff of responsible servants" to look after twenty five or six young ladies aged from nine to nineteen.
It was many decades before middle class girls were deemed deserving of a serious education. Isabella M.S. Tod wrote in 1874, "So far as the majority of parents have any standard of results for daughters, it is only that their manners shall be pleasing, that they shall have such command of 'accomplishments' as may please others, and that they shall have so much surface knowledge as may guard against a display of gross ignorance in society." (p.231)
Cobbe gives a vivid account of her schooling, showing the limited education given to girls:
"Profane persons were apt to describe our school as a Convent, and to refer to the back door of our garden, whence we issued on our dismal diurnal walks, as the 'postern.' If we in any degree resembled nuns, however, it was assuredly not those of a contemplative or silent order. The din of our large double schoolrooms was something frightful. Sitting in either of them, four pianos might be heard going at once in rooms above and around us, while at numerous tables scattered about the rooms there were girls reading aloud to the governesses and reciting lessons in English, French, German and Italian.
"This hideous clatter continued the entire day till we went to bed at night, there being no time whatever allowed for recreation, unless the dreary hour of walking with our teachers (when we recited our verbs), could so be described by a fantastic imagination. In the midst of the uproar we were obliged to write our exercises, to compose our themes, and to commit to memory whole pages of prose.
"On Saturday afternoons, instead of play, there was a terrible ordeal generally known as the 'Judgement Day.' The two school-mistresses sat side by side, solemn and stern, at the head of the long table. Behind them sat all the governesses as Assessors. On the table were the books wherein our evil deeds of the week were recorded; and round the room against the wall, seated on stools of penitential discomfort, we sat, five-and-twenty 'damosels,' anything but 'Blessed,' expecting our sentences according to our ill-deserts.
"It must be explained that the fiendish ingenuity of some teacher had invented for our torment a system of imaginary 'cards,' which we were supposed to 'lose' (though we never gained any) whenever we had not finished all our various lessons and practisings every night before bed-time, or whenever we had been given the mark for 'stooping,' or had been impertinent, or had been 'turned' in our lessons, or had been marked 'P' by the music master, or had been convicted of 'disorder,' (e.g. having our long shoe-strings untied), or, lastly, had told lies!
"Any crime in this heterogeneous list entailed the same penalty, namely, the sentence, 'You have lost your card, Miss So-and so, for such and such a thing;' and when Saturday came round, if three cards had been lost in the week, the law wreaked its justice on the unhappy sinner's head! Her confession having been wrung from her at the awful judgement-seat above described, and the books having been consulted, she was solemnly scolded and told to sit in the corner for the rest of the evening!
" 'Anything more ridiculous than the scene which followed can hardly be conceived. I have seen ( after a week in which a sort of feminine barring-out had taken place) no less than nine young ladies obliged to sit for hours in the angles of the three rooms, like naughty babies, with their faces to the wall; half of them being of quite marriageable age, and all dressed, as was de rigueur with us every day, in full evening attire of silk or muslin, with gloves and kid slippers.
" 'Naturally, Saturday evenings, instead of affording some relief to the incessant overstrain of the week, were looked upon with terror as the worst time of all. Those who escaped the fell destiny of the corner were allowed, if they chose, to write to their parents, but our letters were perforce committed at night to the schoolmistress to seal, and were not as may be imagined, exactly the natural outpouring of our sentiments as regarded those ladies and their school." (Cobbe, p.61-3)
On returning to her home in Dublin after her schooling, Cobbe realised her lack of real knowledge.From the age of 16 to 20 she undertook concentrated study in various subjects, and was still learning up to the age of 35.She studied history, Greek, the Greek and English classics, astronomy, architecture, heraldry, Eastern sacred books, gnosticism, and many other subjects.
Brighton in Anna's time
Like many towns of the period, Brighton underwent rapid growth: from 40,600 inhabitants in 1831 to 90,000 in 1871.The coming of the railway in 1841 not only boosted the population, but made this seaside town much more accessible for the pleasure-bent thousands of day-trippers. Typically for the period, Brighton had two sides to its social character. Prince Metternich, the Austrian statesman, lived there in 1848-49 and wrote:
"I know no healthier place than Brighton. The air is pure, the temperature is extraordinarily mild and I know of no spot in the northern latitudes which unites so favourably thoses conditions of existence that one finds in the Midi. You only have to look at the vegetation to be confirmed in this opinion. In a garden a few steps from my house there is a magnificent tree, a magnolia grandiflora, quite as fine as the one that grew in the grounds of my villa on Lake Como in 1838; perhaps even more flourishing. Anywhere where the plants of the Midi do well in the open air is a good place to live. If, on top of that, the country is quiet and peaceful, then all the better!" (Underwood, p.108) Underwood comments, "For most of Victoria's reign this golden, tranquil Brighton persisted for the visitor who had the money and the leisure in which to spend it."
There was also a less salubrious side to Brighton.Nathaniel Paine Blaker, who became house surgeon to the Brighton and Hove Dispenary in 1860 wrote in his Reminiscences (1906):
"...They were mere huts with a few feet of garden in front and were in a most dilapidated condition. The inhabitants, mostly fishermen, were of the lowest type, the families lived all crowded together, and I have seen on Sunday mornings girls of ten or twelve years old, or even a year or two older, walking in front of the houses absolutely naked. In the gardens and paths in front of the houses, heads, skins and intestines of fish were lying about in every state of decomposition. Nothing could be worse than the sanitary conditions and yet there was a remarkable freedom from illness; though Bread Street above and Gardner Street below had their full share." (Underwood, p.108)
There were certain places in Brighton that Anna and other respectable young ladies in all probability would not have seen.An unknown 'Graduate of the University of London' wrote, with an undercurrent of prurience, in Brighton As It Is: Its Pleasures, Practices and Pastimes (1860) as follows:
"There is the Theatre in the New Road, conducted as theatres usually are, and attended with all those evils which experience has proved to be incidental to amusements of this kind. Close by there is a gin-palace with the usual appendages of plate-glass and flaring gas-lights, where prostitutes resort, in order to ply their sinful calling when the Theatre dimisses. The colonnade, after 11o'clock, presents a very animated appearance, being then used principally as a promenade by the 'women of the town,' who are either there for the purpse of entrapping the unwary or of keeping some previous appointment. The women for the most part observe the outward rules of propriety, although, on some occasions, we have witnessed scenes of drunken lewdness."
The author continues, describing Church Street, just around the corner from the theatre:
"Go along there any night, and you will see hideous old women, drunken old men, young men, and sometimes mere boys, hoplessly intoxicated, reeling and staggering in the road. There is also of course the usual amount of cursing and blaspheming, which is sometimes followed by an occasional fight, which terminates in the ordinary manner, with broken heads and black eyes." (Underwood, p.110)
Underwood points out that the well-to-do visitor to Brighton saw only what he wanted to see.The Rev. Edward Bradley, writing as 'Cuthbert Bede' in Mattins and Muttons, or, the Beauty of Brighton, a Love Story (1866) says:
"England can show no other spot where a continuous line of white houses, the greater number of which are of palatial appearance and dimensions, stretches for three miles along the sea-cliffs, and is backed up by a mass of streets and squares forming a town large enough for the habitation of more than 80,000 residents and more than 100,000 visitors. Brighton, in fact, is ten or twenty watering places rolled into one...so much larger, grander and gayer than all the sea-bathing resorts in England as to well deserve the title of their queen." (Underwood, p.110)
After leaving school: St Leonards on Sea
On leaving school Anna returned to her family who now resided at St Leonards on Sea, Sussex, having moved into 52 Warrior Square in 1864.
She devoted herself to writing stories, which often came to her in her dreams.After appearing in various magazines, some were published in 1875 as Rosamunda the Princess, and others were included in Dreams and Dream-Stories which was published after her death. Anna wrote a small work, with which she was greatly pleased, based on her religious illuminations and sent it to a publisher. Much to her distress, the work was published under someone else's name, so she destroyed the manuscript when it was returned to her in order to banish all thought of the painful incident. Maitland observes that "Life for her was always thus on the quick; and the necessity of acting in accordance, at all costs, was paramount." (I, p.9)
On the death of her beloved father in 1865 she inherited a sizeable annual income of 700 pounds (equivalent to 34,000 pounds p.a. in 2000).For comparison, John Rokesmith in Charles Dickens' novel Our Mutual Friend (1865) takes a position at 150 pounds p.a. which the editor describes as " a thoroughly modest sum, the minimum threshold for a gentleman."
Anna's first "job"
Around 1866 Anna had first hand experience regarding the prevailing social attitude towards middle class women who wished to take up employment. She appplied to a local solicitor for a clerkship, not for the pay but for "occupation." The solicitor "listened with mingled interest and amusement, and then, to her great delight, seated her at a desk and gave her some copying to do; but as his next step was to call at her home and report the incident, her hopes in this direction were soon extinguished." (Maitland, p.10) No doubt this personal experience of sex discrimination had a formative influence on her subsequent activities for the promotion of women's rights.
At this time employment opportunities were severely limited. In 1861 thirty percent of women were in employment, the great majority of these in domestic service and textiles.Agriculture was taking a decreasing share of the female labour market. The only occupations deemed suitable for middle class women were those conforming to the feminine ideal of selfless service - nursing, teaching and mission work. Josephine Butler estimated that in the 1860's about 1,000 women in the whole country earned over 100 pounds per year.(Turner, p.153)
Concern for animals
Rufus, a guinea pig, was her favourite pet.She took him with her on her travels, and he died at the age of nine in 1880, causing her considerable grief.She expended much energy in trying to prevent cruelty to animals.She was very active against vivisection and a dedicated vegetarian, going on speaking tours around Great Britain and to the Continent.On one occasion in Pisa she saw a boy mistreating a dog.She rushed over and shook the boy vigorously, causing him to release the dog.When the boy's father appeared on the scene in an aggressive mood, Anna beat a hasty retreat to her hotel.Rejoining Edward Maitland she showed him her broken parasol and said she must get a stout stick.She once wrote to Queen Victoria regarding police who bludgeoned to death a cocker spaniel in London.They mistakenly claimed it was a stray, but it had a good home.Anna was naturally outraged by this callous behaviour.There is no record of a reply from Victoria.
Marriage to Algernon Kingsford
To avoid older wealthy suitors her family pressed upob her, Anna eloped with her distant relation by marriage, Algernon Godfrey Kingsford (7 April 1845- 10 August 1913), a theology student. Anna became engaged to Algernon on the condition that, once married, she would be free to pursue her own interests. He agreed to this stipulation and on the last day of 1867 they were married in St Mary Magdalen, Church of England, St Margaret's Road, St Leonards, just around the corner from where she lived.
Amazingly, Annie Besant (1847-1933), who much later was to become head of the Theosophy Society, was married in this very church ten days before Anna.(Annie Besant was less fortunate than Anna in her choice of husband, marrying a violent clergyman whom she had to leave after five years of marriage.)
Some years later Anna, on coming across a packet of their early letters, said to Edward Maitland,"What a disagreeable person I must have been to have written to Algernon in this way! They are full of declarations that my chief reason for marrying was to be independent and free. I can only wonder that he took me."
On the following day of what Maitland quaintly calls their "wedding-trip" to Brighton, Anna had an asthma attack. Her only child, Eadith Bonus Kingsford, was born, on 24 September 1868 at St Leonards on Sea. "Eadith" is an Old English name, bestowed by Anna due to her love of legend and historical romance.Anna wrote short stories, six chapters of a novel and a long pamphlet on women's suffrage in 1868.
Algernon studied theology in order to join the Anglican clergy at
Lichfield Theological College.
Lichfield, in Staffordshire, is seventeen miles north of Birmingham.It has an impressive Gothic Cathedral which was begun in 1195. Dr Samuel Johnson was born in Lichfield, and in 1776 he took his friend James Boswell there to show him "genuine civilised life in an English provincial town."
Moving to Atcham, Shropshire
In 1870 Algernon became a curate at Atcham, just east of Shrewsbury. The name Atcham is derived from Attingham or Ettingham, meaning the home of the children of St Eata. The church,situated on the banks of the River Severn, is the only one in England dedicated to this saint.St Eata "is remembered as one of the 12 English boys received by St Aidan, as Bede tells us, and he grew up to be the first Abbot of Melrose, the teacher of St Cuthbert, and Bishop of Hexham," where he died in 686. He was finally laid to rest in Durham Cathedral.
"Atcham has two bridges over the Severn, one modern and one 18th century; and facing each other across the open space are the handsome gateway of Attingham Park, with its great house of about 200 years ago, and the fine church partly built of Roman stones from Uriconium, two miles away. Cut in many of them is a dove-tailed hole for the lewis, a Roman device for lifting still practised today.
"The bold tower has a band of ornament, and a Norman doorway with ten white shafts expanding into leaves and supporting a broad red arch like a projecting hood. The porch is dated 1685, and near it are five tombstones carved 600 years ago with crosses. The nave has a Norman window and a 500-year-old roof, and the 13th century chancel has a priest's doorway.
Anna studies medicine
Anna took up medicine to possess authority for her causes such as anti-vivisection and women's rights. Although women were still not allowed to qualify as doctors in England, they could do some of their study there. Anna commenced her medical studies in 1873 in England and went to Paris in 1874 for her main studies.She shuttled back and forwards between Paris and England until she received her M.D. in 1880.
One of Anna's favourite divinities was Pallas Athena, goddess of wisdom ( Minerva to the Romans), with her "shield and helmet of defence, as well as with the spear of offence".Her friend, Lady Caithness, called Anna "the modern Hypatia."Anna once wrote to Lady Caithness:"...nor am I in the least disconcerted by adverse criticism.That others do not see, and cannot understand, proves only how greatly our work is needed in the world, and how far it surpasses all minor labours and teaching."
In his biography, The First Five Lives of Annie Besant, Arthur Nethercat makes these observations:
"Mrs Anna Kingsford, after studying medicine at the University of Paris, had
astonished and upset most professionals and laity by earning her M.D. in this
very year, 1880. It was one of the landmarks in the English feminist movement.
Dr Kingsford, who was a leading vegetarian as well as an anticlerical, did her
best to wean Mrs Besant from her theoretical acceptance of vivisection -
"theoretical" because the latter had to admit that so far the only dissection
she had practised had been on dead animals. Yet only a few years later, under
circumstances which neither lady at this time would have predicted, Mrs Besant
spectacularly adopted Dr Kingsford's anti-flesh platform in both particulars."
Edward Maitland enters Anna's life
Anna's life became intertwined with that of Edward Maitland (27 Oct.1824-2 Oct.1897).His father was curate of St James Chapel, Brighton. Edward was educated at Caius College, Cambridge, gaining his BA in 1847.Edward was destined by his family for a life in the pulpit, but he had doubts as to his faith and vocation.To sort himself out, he went to California in 1849, then to Australia where he was a commissioner for lands (and where his cousin,Charles Fitzroy, was Governor General of New South Wales). This period of his life and his ruminations on religion are described in the autobiographical novel The Pilgrim and the Shrine.
On 3 May 1855 at Darling Point, Sydney, he married Esther Charlotte Bradley (1834-1856), the second daughter of William Bradley of Goulburn Plains, and granddaughter of the famous Australian explorer William Hovell.They had one son, Charles Bradley Maitland who became a military surgeon and went to India. He died 16 February 1901.Edward and his son did not get on with each other and had a prickly relationship.
Anna met Maitland in 1873, possibly at a secular lecture, an event fsvoured by them both at the time.He was bowled over when he saw Anna for the first time. He described her thus:
"Tall, slender and graceful in form, fair and exquisite in complexion, bright and sunny in expression, the hair long and golden, of the 'Mary Magdalen' hue, but the brows and lashes dark, and the eyes deep set and hazel, and by turns dreamy and penetrating; the mouth rich, full, and exquisitely formed; the brow broad, prominent, and sharply cut; the nose delicate, slightly curved, and just sufficiently prominent to give character to the face; and the dress somewhat fantastic, as became her looks.
"Anna Kingsford semed at first more fairy than human, and more child than woman - for though really twenty seven, she appeared scarcely seventeen - and made expressly to be caressed, petted, and indulged, and by no means to be taken seriously; and the last characters to be assigned her were those of wife and mother, sufferer and student, while the bare idea of her studying medicine, or even taking a journey by herself, as she was then doing, shocked one by its incongruity.
"These impressions, however, were considerably modified when she spoke, so musical, rich, sympathetic, and natural were the tones of her voice. And when, as presently was the case - for there was no barrier of strangeness to be overcome, so ready had been the mutual recognition - she warmed to her favourite themes, her whole being radiant with a spiritual light which seemed to flow as from a luminious fountain within, her utterances were in turn those of a savant, a sage, and a child, each part suiting her as well as if it were her one and only character. Never had I seen anyone so completely and intensely alive, or comprising so many diverse and incompatible personalities."
Her "voice was rich, musical and sympathetic."Her "whole being became radiant when she warmed to her favourite themes."It wasn't very long before Edward felt a spiritual affinity with her, and they formed a unique team in the annals of mysticism.
In 1876 Edward said he had acquired "spiritual sensitiveness" - he could see the spiritual condition of people and recall his past lives.Edward was a man of varied interests. He wrote song lyrics that were set to music by the English composer Virginia Gabriel ( 1825-1877). He wrote novels, religious works, and a two volume life of Anna published in 1896.Physically he was a "giant" of a man.He was fond of archery, ice skating and swimming.In 1878 he won "the champion's medal" for archery.Edward relates that during an especially freezing Winter and Spring in 1880 he went ice skating every day in Paris, pushing Anna in a chair over the ice.
Anna's dream of the Doomed Train
When in London in November 1976 Anna had a prophetic dream about a runaway train.On the morning of its occurrence she exclaimed to Edward,"Oh, I have had such a terrific dream! It has quite shattered me. And I have brought it for you to try and find its meaning, if it has one. I wrote it down the moment I was able."
Briefly, the dream was as follows.It was a dark and starless night when Anna and Edward were on a train full of passengers.A low voice from out of the air told Anna that all the passengers were under sentence of death and the train, which had no driver, was heading for a giant precipice over a fathomless sea. Anna got onto a footboard and wanted to jump off, but Edward said no, we should stop the train.They made their way past the passengers, all oblivious of their imminent doom, and uncoupled the engine, which sped away into the night.
Edward interpreted the runaway train as being the forces of unfettered materialism, rushing humanity to their doom.No one is in control of the train, and "nothing can save blind force from dashing itself over the precipice and perishing in the void of its negations."(Life of A.K.,v.1, p.113)The only way to save the situation is to be detached from the engine which is hurtling all to oblivion.Edward and Anna saw that it was their mission to save humanity from the blind forces of materialism.There is no doubt that if Anna and Edward were alive today they would be saddened but not surprised at the extent gross materialism has engulfed humankind.
Edward goes on to observe, "Meanwhile our feeling was that we were living in 'Bible times,' which in reality had never ceased, nor ever do cease, except for those who are devoid of the spiritual consciousness, and for these those times never begin and have no existence. The revelation is perpetual, and the power to receive it is natural to man, requiring no miracle.. That he fails to receive it is through defect, not of constitution, but of condition, being self-induced by his habits of life and thought."
The Perfect Way
Anna was often in contact with the spirit world during her sleep, and collaborated with Edward in writing down what they called her "illuminations."The teachings she received in this manner were verified by their subsequent study of ancient philosophy.In 1881 she gave a number of lectures based on her illuminations to a select audience in London.In the following year these lectures were published as The Perfect Way; or, the Finding of Christ.It is their major work, and a fourth edition of this book was published in 1909.The editor, Samuel H. Hart, described the book as follows:
"The Perfect Way represents and is the product of a Divine Revelation: a Revelation in the direction of Mysticism: a Revelation which has restored to the world that famous system of cosmogony which - known to initiates as the Hermetic Gnosis - has from the remotest antiquity been venerated as the one true divine revelation concerning the nature of man and the universe; and which constituted the core and substance of all sacred scriptures, mysteries, and religion - Brahminism, and Buddhism, Zoroasterism, Osirisism, Mithraism, Hellenism, Judaism and Christianity, being in turn designed as vehicles for and expressions of it; but in each of which its true meaning became perverted, obscured, and finally lost to view behind the forms in which it was presented, and the religion degraded into an idolatry through the substitution, as the objects of worship, of its material symbols for its spiritual realities."(ibid.p.iii)
Theosophy and the Hermetic Society
In the early 1880's Anna and Edward would often go together to the British Museum and study topics such as Platonism, Neoplatonism, Gnosticism and Hermeticism. Anna found that these studies reinforced the teachings she was receiving in her illuminations.At this time there was occurring a rediscovery of ancient wisdom teachings. Madame Blavatsky and Henry Olcott founded the Theosophy Society in New York in 1875.In 1878 the British Theosophical Society was founded in London.
In 1883 Anna became President, and Edward Vice-President, of the London Lodge of the Theosophical Society. In 1882 a disagreement between Anna and Edward and the Theosophist Alfred P. Sinnett arose over his review of The Perfect Way and the Theosophical "masters." Sinnett praised some parts of the book but damned other sections.His Esoteric Buddhism came out in 1883 and Anna and Edward found little of value in it, claiming that it was neither esoteric nor Buddhist.
In March 1884 the founders of Theosophy, Madame Blavatsky and Colonel Olcott, arrived in England with the aim of smoothing the ruffled feathers. In her typical fashion Madame Blavatsky made a dramatic entry into the Lodge meeting. She tried to stare down Anna and Edward with her "great eyes," but, in Edward's words, "Of course neither of us was in the smallest degree affected by her sorcery." A compromise was worked out, with Anna and Maitland stepping down from their official positions, but remaining in the Lodge for the rest of the year.They never severed their connection to the parent Society.
Anna and Maitland then formed the Hermetic Society as a separate body so that Theosophists could join. The new Society recognised the underlying unity of all religions, but was grounded in Western esoteric traditions, being the direction Anna and Maitland wanted to take. Audiences at their meetings would vary from a sizeable thirty to fifty people. Maitland proudly wrote that occassionally actors and professional reciters would attend just to hear the perfect elocution of Anna.
Some of Anna's dreams were published by Maitland as Dreams and Dream Stories in 1888.He collected together some of Anna's illuminations and published them as Clothed in the Sun in 1889.In 1891 Maitland formed the Christian Esoteric Union, but it petered out after he died due to a lack of funds and poor organisation.Maitland's final work was a two volume biography of Anna, published in 1896.A "second edition"(really a reprint) was published in the same year.
Withdrawal from the earth plane
On 17 November 1887 in Paris Anna spent hours in the rain in an abortive attempt to see the operations of the Pasteur Institute ( it was closed at that hour of the day), and caught pneumonia which developed into pulmonary consumption.For the next fifteen months Anna was in very poor health.She went to the Riviera and Italy without benefit then returned to London.She died at noon on 22 Feb. 1888. Originally she had wanted to be cremated, but to avoid trouble for Algernon she was buried at Atcham.
Tributes to Anna
Many people made tribute to her. Madame Blavatsky praised for Anna in her obituary in Lucifer of March 1888:
"We have this month to record, with the deepest regret, the passing away from this physical world of one, who more than any other, has been instrumental in demonstrating to her fellow-creatures the great fact of the conscious existence - hence of the immortality - of the inner Ego....
"Mrs Kingsford's field of activity, however, was not limited to the purely physical, mundane plane of life. She was a Theosophist, and a true one at heart; a leader of spiritual and philosophical thought, gifted with most exceptional psychic attributes. In connection with Mr Edward Maitland, her truest friend - one whose incessant watchful care has undeniably prolonged her delicate, ever-threatened life for several years, and who received her last breath - she wrote several books dealing with metaphysical and mystical subjects.
"...She was one the aspirations of whose whole life were ever turned towards the eternal and the true. A mystic by nature - the most ardent one to those who knew her well - she was still a very remarkable woman even in the opinion of the materialists and the unbelievers....The world in general has lost in Mrs Kingsford one who can be very ill spared in this era of materialism.The whole of her adult life was passed in working unselfishly for others, for the elevation of the spiritual side of humanity."
Anna's friend Lady Mount-Temple wrote to Maitland as follows:
"What a blow!I thought she would be restored to us.What will you do?Can you live without her? Where is she? Is she near you? I have told Broadlands to send a wreath. Will you lay it over her beautiful body, with love in every leaf? I long to pour it out warm and living from my heart over her, noble, lovely creature, the friend of God, woman, and the lowest creatures! What a dreadful loss to poor Earth! Dear Mr Maitland, tell me sometime that you are not in despair.Tell me if I can do anything for you. Count me your friend to the end of the chapter, and beyond, I hope. Yours ever, and hers."
A vegetarian magazine printed a memorial poem, the last verse reading as follows:
Thy works shall live,thy words shall burn,
Thy star shall ever shine;
Death cannot chill thy loving heart,
Nor quench the light divine.
Chronology of the life of Anna Kingsford
1846- born : Annie Bonus 5pm Sept.16,1846 at Stratford, Essex, England.
1859- wrote first book, Beatrice: a Tale of the Early Christians; writes poetry.
1865- death of father.
1867- marries Algernon Godfrey Kingsford.
1868- daughter Eadith born 24 Sept.; writes stories for the Penny Post until 1872.
1872 owns and edits The Lady's Own Paper
1873- begins her study of medicine in London.
1874- first meeting with Maitland and beginning of their collaboration in esoteric studies; begins medical studies in Paris, and continues same in London.
1875- ten year period of "dream-visions" begins;
1880- gains her Doctorate of Medicine in Paris.
1881- studies the esoteric with Maitland in the British Museum; gives lectures in London.
1882- lectures published as The Perfect Way, or the Finding of Christ.
1883- becomes President of the London Lodge of the Theosophical Society; campaigns against vivisection in Switzerland and Scotland; disagreement with A.P.Sinnett.
1884- meets Blavatsky; forms the Hermetic Society.
1885- "all manner of lectures, at homes, calls and engagements, literary and medical work"
1886- goes to Europe for health, but to no avail.
1887- goes to the Riviera and Italy for health; July returns to London; health very poor.
1888- soul leaves the body 22 Feb. Age 41 yrs. 5 months.Mother dies in March.
Works of Anna (Bonus) Kingsford
Beatrice: a Tale of the Early Christians.1863
Rosamunda the Princess.1875
The Perfect Way in Diet.1881 (based on doctoral thesis)
The Perfect Way, or the Finding of Christ.1882 (In collaboration with Edward Maitland)
The Virgin of the World.1885 (translation and prefatory essay on Hermeticism by Anna)
Astrology Theologized by Valentine Weigelius. 1886 (translation, and prefatory essay on Hermeticism by Anna)
Health, Beauty and the Toilet.1886
Dreams and Dream Stories.1888. Edited by Edward Maitland
'Clothed With the Sun':Being the Illuminations of Anna (Bonus) Kingsford.1889.Ed. E.Maitland
The Credo of Christendom and other Addresses and Essays on Esoteric Christianity.1916
Burfield, Diana. "Theosophy and Feminism: Some Explorations in
In Pat Holden ed. Women's Religious Experience. London: Croom Helm, 1983.pp.27-55.
Cobbe, Frances Power. Life of Frances Power Cobbe by Herself. London: Richard Bentley, 1894.
Dingwall, Eric J. Some Human Oddities: Studies in the Queer, the Uncanny and the Fanatical.
London: Howes & Van Thal, 1947.
Ehrenreich, Barbara & Deirdre English. Witches, Widwives, and Nurses: a History of Women
Healers. Old Westbury, N.Y.: Feminist Press, 1972.
Evans-Wentz, W.Y. The Fairy-Faith in Celtic Countries. London: Oxford University Press, 1911
Godwin, Joscelyn. The Theosophical Enlightenment. Albany: State University of New York Press, 1994.
Goldfarb, Russell M. & Clare R. Spiritualism and Nineteenth-century Letters.Cranbury.NJ: Associated University Press, 1978.
Harvie, Christopher & H.C.G.Matthew. Nineteenth-Century Britain.Oxford University Press, 2000.
.Hutch, Richard A. "Helena Blavatsky Unveiled," Journal of Religious History 1980 (2): 320-341
Jalland, Pat. Women, Marriage and Politics 1860-1914. Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1986.
Kingsford, Anna. The Virgin of the World.1885.Reprint.Wizards Book Shelf: Minneapolis, 1977.
Levine, Philippa. Feminist Lives in Victorian England: Private Roles and Public Commitment.
Oxford: Basil Blackwell, 1990.
Maitland, Edward Anna Kingsford Her Life, Letters, Diary and Work.3rd.ed.Edited by Samuel H.Hart
London: John M.Watkins, 1913 (not in print)
----The Story of Anna Kingsford and Edward Maitland and the New Gospel of Interpretation 3rd ed. Birmingham : Ruskin Press, 1905.(not in print) Forerunner of the biography.
Manton, Jo. Elizabeth Garrett Anderson. New York: E.P.Dutton, 1965
Sjoo, Monica & Barbara Mor. The Great Cosmic Mother: Rediscovering the Religion of the
Earth.San Francisco: Harper, 1991.
Studies in the History of Alternative Medicine. Edited by Roger Cooter.Oxford: Macmillan Press,1988.
Turner, Barry. Equality for Some: the Story of Girl's Education. London: Ward Lock Educational, 1974.
Underwood, Eric. Brighton. London: B.T.Batsford, 1978.
NOTE: The above is now vastly expanded by my Red Cactus: the Life of Anna Kingsford