LIFE OF ANNA KINGSFORD
ANNIE BONUS – to call the subject of this
memoir by her baptismal and paternal names – was born at
former selves. The youngest of twelve children, and born long after her
immediate predecessor, she was without nursery companionship, and her
loneliness was further aggravated by her inability, through ill health, to take
part, save occasionally, in the studies and pastimes of other children. Thus
isolated, her chief delight as a child was to lose herself in the ample gardens
with which her homes, originally at
No less abnormal was her relations with her dolls. Their number was legion, and each was a personage in some drama, historical or imagined, being named and attired to suit the
character assigned it, she herself being the ready spokesman in the parts enacted by them, her faculty of improvisation being such that she was never at a loss. Whether her audience consisted of dolls or of living persons, it was equally her delight to sit and pour out in unbroken succession, and without pause, story after story, either remembered or invented at the moment, about fairies and princesses and knights and castles and dragons, and gods and goddesses, as if all mythology, fable, and romance were at her finger-ends. And to some extent they were so; for, having free run of her father’s library, she had devoured various translations from the classics – notably the Metamorphoses of Ovid – and assimilated the contents of Lemprière and Froissart.
There was, however, this peculiarity about her excursions into literature of this kind, for which only long afterwards was she able to account – all that she read struck her as already familiar to her, so that she seemed to herself to be recovering old recollections rather than acquiring fresh knowledge.
The faculty of seership manifested itself at a very early age. Phantoms of the dead, and the states, physical, moral, and spiritual, of the living, were open to her view, and her previsions of impending death were always verified by the event. But she soon learnt the wisdom of keeping her own counsel in such matters; for not only did she suffer reproach as if accountable for the events she had foreseen, but such exhibitions of abnormal faculty entailed references to the family physician, with results at once disagreeable and injurious to her.
Her aptitudes for music, singing, drawing, and painting were such as to procure from her teachers earnest recommendations to a professional career. But the only result was a discontinuance of her lessons, through a fear lest she should be induced by her consciousness of ability to adopt the suggestion. But though these faculties were neglected, her native exquisiteness of touch and tone never left her, but remained to find manifestation in other directions.
Deprived of these outlets and repelled from association with the generality of folks by her sensitiveness to the incompatibility of their characters and ideals with her own, her great resource was writing. It was in verse chiefly that she at first sought at once relief from uncongenial associations and expression for the
ideas which crowded on her. And the quality of her poems, while still but a child, was such as to win for them admission into various magazines. Her first book was written at the age of thirteen. This was Beatrice: a Tale of the Early Christians. It was intended to be a magazine story in the Churchman’s Companion. But the publisher, Mr. Masters, thought it worthy to make a separate volume, and offered to bring it out in that form, and to give her a present for it, both of which proposals were accepted. “And I accordingly,” she said, when recounting her early history to me but a week before her death, “received two guineas, for they knew I was but a child. (1) I afterwards wrote a quantity of poetry for the Churchman’s Companion, which I do not consider as composed by myself, as it all came to me ready-made, and I had but to write it down.” A small volume of her poems, River-Reeds, also published by Masters, had the same origin. Over and above their intrinsic merit, which is considerable, they are remarkable as unconscious imitations of various styles, especially of that of the “In Memoriam.” The volume bears this touching dedication to the memory of her father, (2) who had been the first to recognise and believe in her, and to whom she was tenderly attached: –
you, our Father in
The following is the last stanza of the poem, which explains the title: –
“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 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.”
The following verses were found by me among her early papers, written in her own hand and bearing her signature. If not actually her own, the fact that they should have so powerfully attracted her as to be copied out by her indicates a consciousness of ideas and experiences altogether abnormal in one so young: –
THE PENITENCE OF LOUISE DE LA VALLIÈRE
Alas! I cannot pray, – my heart within
Burns with mad conflict, love, despair, and sin.
Only escapes a silent cry
From my soul’s depth of agony,
Like a little cloud rising out of the sea,
Out of the restless surging sea, –
“O Lord, remember, remember me!”
Alas! I cannot weep, – I have no tears;
They are all dried up with the woes of years;
And only that one ceaseless cry
Through my heart echoes silently,
Like the evening bell sounding over the lea,
Over the sunless, pathless lea, –
“O Lord, remember, remember me!”
Alas! I cannot sleep, – my restless brain,
In fearful dreams, revives the past again;
And so I wake, and wearied lie
Repeating still that voiceless cry,
Entreating, O God, in the darkness with Thee,
In the darkness alone with Thee, –
“O Lord, remember, remember me!”
And so the morning finds me, and I rise
With heavy, aching heart and burning eyes,
Creep to my work with heavy feet.
And still within my soul repeat, –
Like a bird in a cage that pines to be free,
Sits alone and pines to be free, –
“O Lord, remember, remember me!”
Remember me! I cannot pray nor weep,
Night cannot bring me either rest or sleep,
But evermore with wakeful eyes,
My soul looks up to Thee and cries,
Be merciful, Lord, as Thou usedst to be;
Mercy belongeth unto Thee;
“O Lord, remember, remember me!”
Strong of will, independent of judgment, bent on the meanings of things as against their appearances, heedless of persons where principles were concerned, and keenly resenting in justice and oppression, Annie Bonus was scarcely likely to be a persona grata with the authorities of the fashionable school at Brighton to which it was her lot to be sent for what in those days was called “finishing her education.” Bent as they were on effecting the lopping and trimming considered necessary to fit girls for conventional society, they naturally confounded the cravings of a
large and highly vitalised nature for expansion and unfoldment with the wilfulness of a rebel against all the proprieties, and accordingly regarded her as one whose example could not fail to be detrimental to others. Hence it came that, while her talents were recognised, her character was mistaken, with the result of enhancing and confirming that disposition to revolt against conventional limitations with which she seemed to herself to have been born. Her curiosity respecting religious subjects was an especial cause of offence; and some of her severest school-impositions were incurred through her persistence in demanding from the clergyman who superintended that portion of the school curriculum explanations of the rationale of the doctrines inculcated. She could not be made to comprehend why the desire to understand, so laudable in respect of other subjects, should in the case of religion be accounted an impertinence and even a profanity. The first prizes for English composition, however, always fell to her, notwithstanding the presence in them of passages so widely at variance with the ruling standard, as will be seen from the following extract from a school essay on Ambition, which is worthy of reproduction here if only as a curious presage of her life and work: –
“But the earnest, high-seeking man is not satisfied with success, because success only inspires him with renewed ardour, confirms him in the confidence of his own powers, and reveals to him new fields for discovery or invention. He continues to work, not that he may promote his own glory, but that he may use to the glory of God the talents entrusted to his charge. The more such a man knows, the more he desires to know; not that he may be known – because this is Vanity – but to edify himself and to exalt God – for this is Greatness. The farther we climb up a mountain, the more we perceive of it; and that part which, when viewed from its base, appeared lost in clouds and mists, discovers itself clearly when we are half-way up, and we behold beyond it higher peaks still, of which, before, we saw nothing. Within the heart of the truly great is a still, persuasive voice saying continually, ‘Higher! Higher!’
“For to be ambitious is not only to desire and hope for, but to aim at and to purpose. And day after day, year after year, the ambitious soul mounts higher and higher up that vast mountain whose top no mortal in this life has ever yet attained, and of which we shall never know whether there is any top; so huge and great is Wisdom; so unlimited and untried the human intellect. And even while man mounts and toils and struggles, higher and higher yet, there comes to him one day a bright angel, and carries him away to the Highest, Sublimest place of all, where all shall be known and understood – that is, God – and where at last there is peace.”
On quitting school she rejoined her family at St. Leonards, whither they had removed from Blackheath, and devoted herself to writing. The chief products of this period were her Flower-Stories and some others of an historical character, some of which, after passing through various magazines, were in 1875 published by Messrs. Parker under the title of Rosamunda the Princess, others being included in Dreams and Dream-Stories, which was published after her death. Many of them were the products of sleep, even to their minutest details, those especially which were thus originated being characterised by a mysticism at once subtle, exquisite, and tender, and clearly such as to indicate their derivation direct from the soul itself rather than from a faculty merely intellective. Her power of retention in respect of the products of her dreams was already at this early period remarkable; but it was only in after-years that she learnt its true nature, significance, and value. The testimonies received by her of the power of these stories to affect others were many and striking. “Before I knew you” – wrote one lady to her – “I took up your ‘Flower-Stories’ accidentally, and something sobbed in me so bitterly in response that I could not see to read for tears.” Men were no less affected by them. One – the editor of a periodical, who sought permission to reproduce one of them – wrote: “These beautiful things sink into and find the inner life, as with the touch of Love itself.” And the notable kabalist and mystic – whose recognition, friendship, and ripe wisdom proved an invaluable support in the work done in her subsequent collaboration with myself – the venerable Baron Spedalieri – on reading them after her death, thus wrote concerning these products of a girl’s dreams: –
“Words fail to express the feelings I was seized with when I began to peruse these magical writings. It seemed to me that she was speaking to me with her so melodious a voice. What a poetical and prophetic genius! What a mastery of style! What a richness of language! How graphic and grasping! How beautiful and touching! My delight was unbounded and well-nigh unutterable when I tasted – as a glutton does with a dainty – and pondered over the thoughtful and suggestive clusters of flowers – flowers of Wisdom. May her heavenly soul be blessed for the good and comfort she affords to a poor and disenchanted heart!”
She did not regard these writings as representing the whole of her nature, but only its inner and central part, between which
and its outer and circumferential part she recognised not only a great interval as to space, but a great difference, amounting to positive disharmony, as to character; for, while in the former she found herself optimist, poet, and well-nigh prophet, in the latter she found herself pessimist, critic, and well-nigh cynic. She could understand that the very keenness of her perceptions of the ideal might minister to the bitterness of her disappointment with the actual, and dispose her to hold persons responsible for their failure to realise, or even to approach, her conceptions of a possible perfection; and also that her own defect of health and her lack of sympathetic appreciation might in some measure account for this tendency. But she was liable also to a feeling of positive antagonism, and even of resentment, amounting to a sense of being persecuted and hunted, which seemed to be inborn in her, so much was it a part of her nature, her inability to account for which ministered to the pessimistic views of existence which forced themselves on her, leading her to ascribe the disharmony thus manifested to a defect in the nature of existence itself. And the events were not few or far between which served to confirm the impression, either that the world was hopelessly evil or that she was the especial victim of a conspiracy to disgust her with it.
Among such events the following held a prominent place and long rankled in her recollections. She had offered to a publishing house of high repute a small volume containing the results of some illuminations on religious subjects which had highly delighted herself, and for which she anticipated a corresponding appreciation from others. After being retained for an excessive length of time, the MS. was returned to her, bearing evident marks of having been read and re-read, with a warm expression of admiration for its contents, and also of regret at the inability of the firm in question to undertake its publication consistently with regard to the feelings of its clients, whom it dared not offend. The commendation went far to compensate for any disappointment caused by the rejection. But shortly afterwards a book appeared, issued by the same firm, and bearing the name of a near relative of the firm, largely made up from her MS., as was made clear to a family conclave to whom she read out page after page of identical matter, proving beyond possibility of doubt the treacherous fraud which had been practiced upon her,
and this by persons making high pretension to religion. Unhinged by the shock, she would listen to no proposition for seeking redress, but, in a passion of indignation, put this out of her power by forthwith destroying the MS., that the sight of it might not remind her of the suffering it had caused her. Life for her was always thus on the quick; and the necessity of acting in accordance, at all costs, was paramount.
The death of her father, which took place in 1865, was a profound grief to her; and while it made her her own mistress, so far as money was concerned – for she came at once into possession of an income of some £700, – it concurred with other circumstances to aggravate her pessimistic tendencies, leading her to seek in physical excitements relief from mental distresses. Recounting to me her history at this period, she frankly admitted her attraction by the doctrine which regards existence as an evil in itself, and every moment of pleasure as something gained in spite of it. At some of her doings in this frame of mind she looked back with amazement and even horror. “Why,” she exclaimed, pursuing her confessions, “between my leaving school and being married I was for a time passionately fond of hunting, and, when not disabled by illness, would spend the day in the saddle. I not only loved the wild excitement of the gallop and the chase, but I delighted to be in at the death. I seemed to find a savage joy in seeing the dogs fasten on the fox and tear it to pieces. It was as if the beast of prey in me alone bore sway, and my moral nature was completely in abeyance. But suddenly one day, while riding home after a ‘splendid run and finish,’ as it is called, something in me asked me how I should like to be served so myself, and set me to looking at the matter from the point of view of the hunted creature, making me vividly to realise its wild terror and breathless distress all the time it is being pursued, and the ghastly horror of its capture and death. It was even less, I believe, my sense of pity than of justice that rebuked and changed me. What right have I, I asked myself, thus to ill-treat a creature simply because it has a form which differs from my own? Rather, if I am the superior, do its weakness and helplessness entitle it to my pity and protection than justify me in seeking my own gratification at its expense. And as for its lower position on the ladder of evolution, if there be evolution in one thing there must in another – if in the
physical, then in the moral – so that for a man to act thus is to renounce his moral gains and abdicate his moral superiority. Of course that was the end of my hunting, and thenceforth I and my steed took our gallops by ourselves; for, however much I may like a thing, I never can bring myself to do it while feeling it to be wrong. In fact, such a feeling would prevent my liking it.”
An escapade into which she was led by her eagerness for something that might be called work consisted in an application to a local solicitor for a clerkship in his office. It was not pay that she wanted, she informed him, but occupation; and by what she knew of lawyer’s writing, she thought hers would be suitable. He 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.
attachment which sprang up between her and her cousin, Algernon Godfrey
Kingsford, who held a post in the Civil Service, ultimately proved the solution
of her difficulties. But the engagement was long and troublous, owing to the
parental preference for a wealthy but elderly suitor who also presented
himself. The marriage was consequently deferred until Annie became of age, and
took place on the last day of 1867, the chief event of the interval having been
a visit to
Her first introduction to “spiritualism” took place as told in the following narrative. She recounted the incident to me on
my first visit to her and her husband, but only in brief; but having the good fortune subsequently to make the acquaintance of the lady who enacted the part of medium on the occasion, I sought and obtained from her a copy of the record in her diary. This was Miss F.J. Theobald, a lady well known and highly esteemed in spiritualistic circles. And her narrative is interesting, not only as showing the impression made by Annie Bonus upon others, but also for its correspondence with some of the most remarkable of her own later independent experiences: –
was living at
“It was during this winter that Annie Bonus – for I soon came to call her so, at her own desire – became Mrs. Kingsford; but until the time of her marriage she frequently called upon me. One day she came just as I had received a message from my father, who had recently passed on. I read it to her, and was surprised to see how deeply it interested her. She listened with breathless attention, and
when I had ceased reading, exclaimed, ‘How beautiful! Do you think if you took pencil again you would have a few words for me?’ I most gladly complied, for I saw that her doubts were softened, and that she was in a receptive state of mind. This, of course, gave right conditions; and presently a message came purporting to be from her father. He said how sorry he was to have brought her up in such erroneous ideas, and urged her to investigate spiritualism, as it would bring evidence of the future state, and of his power to come to her and help her. This message came to her with conviction. I believe she at once accepted it as genuine. Her visits to me, which were frequent, were obliged to be sub rosa, because her family were greatly opposed to her coming to see a spiritualist, fearing its effect upon one whose experiences had been so peculiar and even alarming.
“Our first formal séance together was on November 30, 1867. Besides ourselves there were present Mrs. De Morgan (the wife of the professor), who came by appointment, and Captain F. and his daughter, who came in unexpectedly. After a general message of admonition to cultivate communication, the following was written through me, addressed to Miss Bonus: – ‘My child, resist the materialistic teachings you have learned. There is a future, for I – your father – live. Seek earnestly;’ and after an interval it was added, ‘Avoid undevelopment by prayer to God. No other form.’
“I received several very interesting letters from Mrs. Kingsford when she was living her married life at Lichfield, and very much regret having destroyed them; for they told of most interesting visions, and of evident cases of trance-condition; but, unhappily, not being understood by those about her, they were mistaken for fits, and she was placed again and again under the doctor’s hands, and, as before, made to suffer cruelly.
“On January 24, 1869, being on a visit to her mother, Mrs. Kingsford and a friend of hers came and sat with me for writing, and Mrs. Kingsford herself held the pencil. For some time the writing was confused and indistinct, as if of some unaccustomed hand. Then, in answer to the question whether the spirit trying to write was a relative of Mrs. Kingsford’s, it was written distinctly, ‘Yes, long ago. Anne Boleyn.’ At this we laughed, and Mrs. Kingsford told us that they had reason to believe that Anne Boleyn was an ancestor of theirs. On questioning the spirit as to her state, she wrote: ‘God is very good to me, and I am learning.’ She then desired that the room be darkened, writing, as a reason, ‘Because light consumeth atmosphere which contains the necessary influence. For this reason perfect absence of fyre is meetest.’ She then continued: ‘Conceive of me this, – that I died for a customme.’ Asked for explanation, she wrote the following in old French: – ‘Prejugée – c’est à vous que je parle. Prejugée, – mais j’etais coupable. Moi, seulement – comme toutes les femes gallantes. Je vous aime, parceque je vous vois. Comme moi, votre roy est loin de vous à present. Ayez soin, m’amour.’
“Then, after a pause, during which we expressed our dislike of what was written, the spirit continued: – ‘I died by sword. II y en a qui souffre dês choses plus terrible. II y en a qui perrissent par des maux de coeur, plus dur que d’acier. J’aimais trop mon frère. C’est l’homme que est injuste, et non pas ce grand esprit qu’on
appelle Dieu.’ No doubt by ‘sword’ she meant axe, but she was at a loss for English words, and took the first that answered to her idea. On being asked her purpose in coming, she wrote, ‘Pour interêt.’”
The impression made on Mrs. Kingsford’s mind by this experience was that, supposing the writer to be really Anne Boleyn, her object was to warn her in respect of certain characteristics which she recognised herself as possessing in common with the hapless queen, and through yielding to which she had come to grief. As will duly appear, this experience had a remarkable sequel, imparting to it a value beyond what could have been conceived.
Her frankness respecting herself was a very marked characteristic. Full of the ideas which possessed her respecting a work in store, she had made it a special condition of her marriage that it should not fetter her in respect of any career to which she might be prompted. And when, in after-years, she happened, while I was with them, to come upon a packet of the letters which had passed between herself and her future husband, she was so struck with the insistency with which she had written on this point that she exclaimed while reading them, “What a disagreeable person I must have been to have written to A. in this way! They are full of declarations that my chief reason for marrying was to be independent and free. I only wonder that he took me.”
As he had far too high an estimate of her powers and regard to her wishes to wish to restrict her, everything promised favourably for her future so far as their mutual relations were concerned. But it was soon made clear that her marriage was to be a marriage in little more than the name. They went to Brighton for their wedding-trip, only for her to be seized on the following day with an attack of asthma of so violent a nature as to endanger her life, and compel her return, so soon as she could be removed, to her mother’s to be nursed through it. And there she remained, suffering constantly and severely, until the birth of her only child. This was a daughter, to whom – in indulgence of some early English prepossessions – she gave the name of Eadith, adding also her own maiden name, for which she entertained a high regard. During this interval her husband determined, to the great satisfaction of herself and family, to
enter the ministry, graduating for that purpose at
The step proved to be of high importance for her future work; for she accompanied him assiduously in his studies, proving herself an admirable student, laborious, intelligent, exact, and thorough, and, while of invaluable assistance to him, making herself complete master of Anglican theology. But misfortune again overtook her, and she returned once more to her mother’s house to be nursed through a long, painful, and dangerous illness of an internal nature, due, it was believed, to an accident, and involving severe surgical treatment, from the effects of which she never entirely recovered; for from that time, in addition to her constitutional liabilities, she was subject to acute accesses of neuralgia, nervous panics, and sudden losses of consciousness, which were the occasion of several dangerous falls.
None of these things, however, sufficed to impair her mental power, damp her ambition, or weaken either her sense of some great work to be done by her or her resolution to do it whenever it should be shown to her. Nor did they affect her faculty of spiritual receptivity. On the contrary, the character of this faculty seemed to be enhanced by being lifted to a more distinctly religious sphere, wherein glimpses were obtained of interpretations and correspondences hitherto unsuspected by her, one especial effect being to impress her with a keen aversion to the religious system in which she had been reared, for its hardness, coldness, and meagreness, and its utter unrelatedness to her own spiritual needs, intellectual or emotional.
She had already at this time a small circle of Catholic friends, through whom she obtained some knowledge of that communion, and she had learned to appreciate the atmosphere, at once devotional and artistic, that environed them, and its contrast with all that she knew of her own co-religionists. The attractive side of the conventual life had also been presented to her. But the determining cause was of an abnormal kind. It consisted in her receipt of nocturnal visitations, three in number, from an apparition purporting to be that of St. Mary Magdalen, who announced herself as the patron of souls of her order, and bade her join the Roman communion as a step requisite for the work in store for her, the nature of which would in due time be communicated to
her. This led to her seeking priestly counsel, when she was told that her experience, though of rare occurrence, was recognised by the Church as being orderly and regular, and as a mark of special grace and favour, and one not to be disregarded without incurring grave responsibility. Her private intimations were to the same purport, and no obstacle being raised, she at length took the step so strangely prompted, and on September 14, 1870, being the “Feast of the Exaltation of the Holy Cross,” was formally received under the names Mary Magdalen. Two years later, June 9, 1872, being the “Feast of the Sacred Heart,” she was confirmed by Archbishop Manning, receiving the additional names of Maria Johanna. Of these, the former was chosen by the Archbishop, and the latter by herself, her reasons for the choice being her affection for her father and eldest brother, both of whom were named John, and her veneration for Joan of Arc, upon whom she was wont to look almost as a patron saint, as she told me on the occasion of an experience of an extraordinary character, to be related in its place, which occurred in 1877. In this way she came to bear the names of all the women mentioned in the Gospels as being by the Cross and at the Sepulchre. But this is not all that was strange and noteworthy about her names; for the time was to come when even her maiden and married names were to disclose themselves as invested with a profound significance. She described the apparition of the Magdalen as bearing a close resemblance to herself in feature, form, and colouring, so far as she could discern her through a veil which covered her head and shoulders. She had no theory at the time to account for the experience, but subsequent events pointed to conclusions of a very startling nature.
Thus was accomplished the second great step in what proved to be her education for the task which awaited her; for to her knowledge of Anglican theology she now added that of Catholic doctrine, by making of it as careful a study as of the former. It must be stated, however, in view of her subsequent unfoldments, that no question had as yet arisen for her as between the two presentments of Christianity, the ecclesiastical and the mystical. She accepted the Roman as against the Protestant, the Catholic as against the sectarian, the aesthetic and emotional as against the inartistic and formal; not the ecclesiastical and objective as against the spiritual and subjective. For of the
existence of the alternative presentation she had yet to become aware. Meanwhile she retained complete independence, both in mind and act, declining spiritual direction, and only as the impulse took her did she avail herself of the offices of the Church.
husband’s first curacy was that of Atcham, near
her intense feminineness. Never of her was it said that she “unsexed” herself on these occasions; but, on the contrary, she was recognised as a practical demonstration of a woman’s ability to fulfil such functions without the smallest derogation of her womanhood, and that fact supplied the most potent of all arguments for her cause. Even members of Parliament resorted to her, not only for information and arguments, but for speeches, with which she readily supplied them, taking delight in attending the House to hear them delivered, but always regretting her inability to deliver them herself, she would have done it so much better!
The following extracts from An Essay on the Admission of Women to the Parliamentary Franchise, by Ninon Kingsford (Trübners, 1868), will serve to exhibit her position on this subject, and manner of dealing with it. Referring to the allegation that the majority of women themselves are indisposed to the franchise, she says: –
“And if it be so – which I very greatly doubt – why is it so? It is because men have narrowed the minds of women, by employing against them every species of tyranny that the law can be made to sanction or to wink at. If I take a bird out of a wood and cut its wings, what wonder that it cannot fly? And when, after a while, I let it go about the house, and it begins to understand that it cannot fly, what wonder that it ceases to attempt flying, and is content to hop about from room to room and from stair to stair? Well, my friends see the bird, and they say it is tame. It has lost the use of its wings, and so it goes on its legs, and is tolerably content. But one of my friends looking on – perhaps his name may be Mill – says, ‘I think your pet would be happier if it could fly.’
“But it is not for the actual privilege of voting itself that I would so much plead, but for the benefit that the extension of the franchise to women would bring to the whole sex. It would give women a higher place in society; it would raise them in the estimation of men; it would lift them from the level of goods and chattels to the position they ought to occupy, of citizens and responsible beings. And to those men who cry out so loudly that women’s inferior attainments and acquirements prove them inferior in capacity and intellect, I answer this: Who made them inferior, nature or custom, God or man? Who barred against women the doors of the colleges, the academies, the scientific societies, the associations, the institutions? Who deny to women every means of superior education and nobler training? Who push them back into the nursery and the kitchen, and tell them their ‘duty’ and their ‘sphere’ is there, and there only? Why, these men themselves, who, by and by, seeing that women grow up as they have trained them, stand up on platforms and say, ‘See here: the proof of the pudding is in the eating. Are the women half so clever as we?’
“Ah, my good sirs! They must indeed be clever if they are to know, without being taught, what you take many long years to learn! (...)”
After contrasting the education afforded to the sexes respectively, and showing that, while everything is done to advance the boy, everything is done to repress the girl, she enlarges upon the aimlessness of a woman’s life, her absolute want of anything to look forward to, saving only marriage. And –
“This aim frustrated, her only design crossed, she is thrown on her own resources for her enjoyment; and because these, through defective education, are shallow and superficial, (...) she stands, another Andromeda, bound to the rock on the sea-shore; the ocean lies before her, the heavens are above her head, but she has no power either to float over the deep waters of the one or to rise into the pure bright ether of the other; she stands, shackled by the chains of ignorance, a helpless prey to that terrible monster whose name is ‘Ennui.’ But to the educated man, what heights, what depths, are accessible! Like Perseus, he leaps from the edge of the high cliff into the higher fields of light over his head, or he floats and hovers over the clear, transparent face of the broad sea; for he is provided with the wings of the Immortals, and to him nothing is impossible. But oh! When will the world translate the allegory rightly, and act out its moral and its doctrine? When will Perseus come to deliver the fair Andromeda, to loosen her fetters, and to set her free? When, for her sake, will he slay the terrible monster who would devour her, combat for her against an army of priests and soi-disant lovers, and bear away his bride to be his spouse and queen on the far-off peaks of the Holy Hill?”
The tendency thus to express herself in terms derived from the Greek anthology is one of those characteristics which are worthy to be noted by the way as serving to confirm the solution ultimately afforded of the problem of her life and character; namely, that it was not acquired but innate, being due to unconscious recollection of previous existences. Another undesigned testimony to the same solution is afforded by the variety of the names adopted by her. That of Ninon, which was affixed to this brochure, was used by her for a considerable period, having been given her by her eldest brother on account of a resemblance he found between her and the celebrated Ninon de l’Enclos, and adopted by her in preference both to her own name and the more feminine appellation of “Nina” used by her husband, as better according, by reason of its more masculine termination, with the active and energetic side of her character and career. The
tendency thus to multiply her names was an unconscious expression of her sense of the multiplicity of the personalities she came to recognise as subsisting in herself.
Though sympathising to the last in the movement for the enfranchisement of women, she did not long continue to take an active part in it. The reasons for her withdrawal were manifold. One was her conviction that women would more successfully achieve their desired emancipation by demonstrating their capacity for serious work than by merely clamouring for freedom and power. And another was her strong disapproval of the spirit in which the movement was coming to be worked. This was the spirit which manifested itself not only in hostility to men as men, but to women as the wives and mothers of men. The last thing contemplated by her was an aggravation of the existing divisions and antagonisms between the sexes. And, so far from accepting the doctrine of the superiority of spinsterhood over wifehood, she regarded it as an assertion of the superiority of non-experience over experience as a means of education. But that which most of all she reprobated in this connection was the disposition which led women to despise womanhood itself as an inferior condition, and accordingly to cultivate the masculine at the expense of the feminine side of their nature. Her aim was to exalt, not persons, but principles; not women, but womanhood. It was by magnifying their womanhood, and not by exchanging it for a factitious masculinity, that she would have her sex obtain its proper recognition.
Neither in the acquisition nor in the conduct of her magazine was she influenced by commercial ends. Her principles were everything, and her adherence to them proved fatal to the enterprise. It was not that those essentials of journalistic success, advertisements, were wanting. On the contrary, the supply was ample for such purpose. But, as proprietor, she insisted on editing her advertising as well as her literary columns, and rigidly excluded notices of any wares which failed to meet her approval. Preparations of meats, unhygienic articles of apparel, deleterious cosmetics – in fact, whatever involved death in the procuring or ministered to death in the using was banned and barred, regardless of monetary results. Her manager, alarmed at the prospect which he too surely foresaw, remonstrated earnestly but vainly. She was inflexible. And so it came that, after
a two years’ trial and a loss of several hundred pounds, the incompatibility of the standard of journalistic morality which she proposed to herself with commercial success became too obvious to be disregarded, and the enterprise was abandoned. The experience gained, however, was regarded by her as more than compensating the outlay. It was another step in her education for whatever was before her. And her magazine had served at least one notable end, for in its columns had been sounded the first note of the crusade which has since been waged against the atrocities of the physiological laboratory. It was in the exercise of her functions as editor of The Lady’s Own Paper that she became aware of the existence of vivisection. A paragraph on the subject elicited a sympathetic response from Miss Frances Power Cobbe; and from that time forth the suppression of this “modern Inquisition” became the foremost aim of her life, as also of Miss Cobbe’s. When she renounced her magazine she had already come to the determination to devote herself to the study of medicine, with a direct view to qualify herself for accomplishing the abolition of that which she regarded with a passionate horror as the foulest of practices, whether as regarded its nature or its principles. This and the question of diet were the two immediately impelling motives which determined her choice of a profession. Under her brother’s tuition she had adopted the Pythagorean regimen of abstinence from flesh food, with such manifest advantage to herself, physically and mentally, as to lead her to see in it the only effectual means to the world’s redemption, whether as regarded men themselves or the animals. Man, carnivorous and sustaining himself by slaughter and torture, was not for her man at all in any true sense of the term. Neither intellectually nor physically could he be at his best while thus nourished. These, then, were the four points of the charter for the establishment of which she now determined to obtain medical knowledge: purity of diet, compassion for the animals, the exaltation of womanhood, and mental and moral unfoldment through the purification of the organism.
There was one feature in her magazine which calls for more particular notice, partly as an illustration of her faculty of psychic insight and reflectiveness, and partly for its relation to her subsequent history. This was a story called In my Lady’s Chamber, and purporting to be a “speculative romance touching a few
questions of the day.” It was afterwards (1) published separately as by “Colossa,” a signature chosen in token of her own unusual stature, but singularly inappropriate in view of her total lack of the other characteristic – massiveness – implied by the term.
In my Lady’s Chamber represented a striking contrast between two opposite kinds of life, that of her own high poetic and prophetic aspirations, and that of which she caught glimpses and suggestions from the Bohemian element in the world artistic and journalistic with which she came into unavoidable contact. The impartiality with which she vividly drew both of these opposite pictures was such as to leave it an open question which of the two, the saintly or the prodigal, engaged her own sympathies. And it was not until I had become familiarised with her peculiar gift in virtue of which she could take on, as it were, and make her own, and reflect exactly persons, scenes, and conditions of which she had no experience, that I was able to comprehend her power of describing what was so widely removed from her own personal knowledge or cherished ideals. But, as I came to learn by manifold experiences, it was enough that there be some contact or link, however slight, with persons, circumstances, and conditions, for them to become transferred in their entirety to her imagination, and there impressed with such vividness as to enable her to reproduce them in full detail, as if experiences of her own, as faithfully and almost as mechanically as a mirror reflects the objects presented to it.
The following is the incident to which the story in question gave rise. It was the spring of 1873. She had commenced to study medicine, and was living at her new home, near Pontesbury, in Shropshire, of which parish her husband had lately become one of the three rectors, when she received a letter, signed “Anna Wilkes,” from a lady at a distance, a stranger to her, saying that she – the writer – had read with profound interest and admiration the story above mentioned, and, after reading it, had received from the Holy Spirit a message for her which was to be delivered in person. Would Mrs. Kingsford receive her, and when? After a little hesitation the permission desired was accorded, and an appointment made. The rest shall be told in Mrs. Kingsford’s own words: –
“At the hour named I met her on the way while she was driving from the station, and was at once struck by her manner and appearance, and subsequently by her conversation, as much as I had been by her previous communication. She was tall, erect, distinguished-looking, with hair of iron-grey and strangely brilliant eyes. She told me that she had received a distinct message from the Holy Spirit, and had been so strongly impressed to come and deliver it to me in person that she could not refrain. Her message was to the effect that for five years to come I was to remain in retirement, continuing the studies in which I was engaged, whatever they might be, and the mode of life on which I had entered, suffering nothing and no one to draw me aside from them. And when these probationary and preparatory five years were passed, the Holy Spirit would drive me forth from my seclusion to teach and to preach, and that a great work would be given me to do. All this she uttered with a rapt and inspired expression, as though she had been some sibyl delivering an oracle. And when she had ended, seeing, no doubt, my look of surprise, she asked me if I thought her mad – a question to which I was at some loss to reply; for I had encountered nothing of the kind before, and was disposed to share the impression which all ordinary and worldly folk have always had concerning those who profess to be prophets. Having delivered her message, my prophetess kissed me on both cheeks and departed. And on subsequently reflecting upon my own experiences in receiving communications in dream and vision, and beholding apparitions, and also upon the singular accordance between the purport of the message and my own impression from childhood upwards, my sense of its strangeness became greatly diminished.”
As will duly be recounted, this was not the only occasion on which this lady was employed as the bearer of a message to Mrs. Kingsford from unseen sources, all the circumstances of the second occasion being within my own cognisance.
The story contained the following ballad, which is not only a good example of her facility for compositions of this kind, but prophetic of her own future work. She entitled it, “The Light that never was on Sea or Land.” Here it may better be called –
“Prick fast, fair knight; the west is gray,
The east is dark and eerie;
No hope for him who rides this way,
If heart or spur be weary!”
“Fair Elle-maid, mine are spurs of steel;
My heart no peril jars,
If only on my face I feel
The holy light of stars;
If but athwart the gloom shall steal
The steadfast light of stars!”
“Ah, valiant sir! Round yonder heights
The windy thunders revel;
Lies black along the level.”
“No mountain storms, pale elf, I fear,
Nor lights upon the lea,
If only breaks upon my ear
The murmur of the sea;
If but across the wild I hear
To dare the fearsome waste he flies
Ere scarce the words are spoken;
Secure beneath his corselet lies
His chosen lady’s token.
The mystic forest o’er him throws
The black colossal bars,
But high above them slowly grows
The glory of the stars;
He greets their silver smile and knows
It is the light of stars.
Wild voices cry, strange faces glance
From tufted glen and hollow;
Before him ghostly meteors dance,
Behind him shadows follow!
The boughs are live that touch his cheeks,
The grass that sweeps his knee,
The goblin bird of midnight shrieks
From every gnarlèd tree;
But evermore sonorous speaks
Weird spectres round him wheel and dart,
But he nor turns nor tarries,
For still upon that knightly heart
His lady’s gift he carries;
No phantom bred of reedy mires
His eastward journey bars;
He trusts alone the holier fires
Of Heaven’s eternal stars;
A sacred light his soul inspires
From yonder burning stars!
“I mind thee not, dim Wood,” he sings,
“Thou World of Lights pretended;
False fires, and tongues of vapid things
That die like lamps expended!
Vague babble of uncertain creeds,
Vain faiths that flit and flee;
My heart one nobler warning heeds
From yonder sounding sea;
No wandering voice my path impedes
To that eternal sea!
“Evöe! Through the darkness burns
A Light of Love supernal;
Die, feeble tongues! My spirit yearns
For harmonies eternal!
Evöe! From yon purple space,
The storm no longer bars
That glory from my lifted face
That is the Light of Stars;
So mighty is my Lady’s grace,
So true the holy Stars!”
The tale was prefaced and followed by some verses which, taken together with those already given, afford a striking token of her power of intense expression equally in the direction of melancholy, of tenderness, and of passion. For which reason, as well as for their intrinsic merit as poetry, they deserve a place in a biography designed especially to exhibit all the phases of a soul of rare capacity: –
A SONNET OF DEDICATION
This book is thine, my friend, and this thy song,
My service follows aye where rests my heart;
Since heart and service then to thee belong,
Take also this, which of myself is part.
A sorry gift, beneath thy lightest thought –
Thy meanest thanks, – yet, worthless though it be,
One value hath it still, that it was wrought,
As is all else of mine, beloved, for thee!
My life hath no good thing that doth not take
Its brightness from the love which is my sun;
For thee I sing or laugh, and for thy sake
From day to day whate’er I do is done!
Yet, though this be, and still like morning’s glow
That one sweet thought turn all my grey to gold,
Thou dost not know my heart, nor canst thou know
As others do, to whom that heart is cold!
I am a dullard in thy presence, sweet,
I have no power to think when thou art near,
And from my trembling lips the words retreat,
Abashed and coy, when thou art by to hear!
Would I be witty to deserve thy grace?
Would I be wise to win some praise from thee?
‘Tis all in vain – I look but in thy face,
And straightway love alone possesseth me!
Since, then, thy face my sight doth ever fill,
Thy fault it is this book is writ so ill!
A SONG OF LEAVE-TAKING
It is ended; the rapture is broken,
The moon of my passion is set;
I knew the farewell must be spoken,
I knew we must learn to forget.
No more shall the darkness deceive us,
With dreams that are tender and fleet; –
Alas that a waking so grievous
Should follow a slumber so sweet!
Must this be the end of our passion?
Ah, love! Hold me once to your heart!
Kiss me once in the old tender fashion,
Mine now – and with sunrise we part.
We part; ah! The sweets that are ended,
Ah! The joys that are faded and fled,
With the fume of the lamplight expended,
And the breath of the rose that is dead!
Yet, sweet, though our ways lie asunder,
WE HAVE LOVED, and your soul has been mine;
Day may waken with tempest and thunder,
But the night that is past was divine.
Past! Past! . . . Oh, my darling l stoop nearer,
Read the light of old times in mine eyes;
Never then were you fairer or dearer
Than now, in this moment of sighs!
Press close, let me see the love glitter
Once more in the face that was mine;
For the gold has grown ashen, and bitter
The cup that was sweeter than wine!
Past, past! So they languish and leave us
These passions that once were our breath,
And the perfumes of garlands is grievous,
And song dies, – and life is as death!
(1:1) In a copy of The Life of Anna Kingsford which belonged to Edward Maitland, and which came into the possession of the late Rev. J.G. Ouseley, the letters “P.M.” were altered in ink to “A.M.” It was supposed that the alteration had been made by Edward Maitland. – S.H.H.
(4:1) Beatrice was published in 1863. – S.H.H.
(4:2) River-Reeds was published in 1866, her father having died in 1865. – S.H.H.
(21:1) In 1874.