MY colleague in the work, the history of which
I am about to render some account, was the late Anna Kingsford, née
Bonus, M.D. of the
There was a link between her husband's family and mine, but we were not personally acquainted until, in the summer of 1873, she was led by reading one of my books (1) to open a correspondence
with me, which disclosed so striking a community
between us of ideas, aims, and methods, that I accepted an invitation to visit
her at her husband’s rectory at Pontesbury, Salop, in
The account I received of her history was in this wise. Born at Stratford, in Essex, on the 16th September, 1846, long after the last of her many brothers and sisters, and endowed with the most fragile of constitutions and liabilities the most distressing of bodily weakness and suffering, and differing widely, moreover, in temperament from all with whom she was associated, her young life had enjoyed but a scanty share of human sympathy, and was largely one of solitude and meditation, and such as to foster the highly artistic, idealistic, and mystic tendencies with which she was born. Singularly energetic of will, and conscious of powers both transcending in degree and differing in kind from any that she recognised in others, she assiduously exercised her faculties in many and various directions in the hope of discovering the special direction in which her mission lay. For, from her earliest childhood she had been conscious of a mission, for the accomplishment of which she had expressly come into
the earth-life. And she claimed even to have distinct recollection of having been strongly dissuaded from coming, on account of the terrible suffering which awaited her in the event of her assuming a body of flesh. Indeed, so little conscious was she of the reality of her human parentage that she was wont to look upon herself as a suppositious child of fairy origin; and on her first visit to the pantomime, when the fairies made their appearance on the stage, she declared that they were her proper people, and cried and struggled to get to them with such vehemence that it was necessary to remove her from the theatre. Among her amusements, her chief delight was in the ample gardens around her homes at Stratford and Blackheath, where she would hold familiar converse with the flowers, putting into their petals tiny notes for her lost relatives, the fairies, who in return would visit her in her dreams and assure her of their continued affection, and counsel her to have patience and courage.
The chief occupation of her girlhood was the writing of poems and tales (1) which were tinged with an exquisite mysticism, and showed a ripeness of soul and maturity of feeling and knowledge wholly unaccountable for by her years, her experiences, or her physical heredity. At school she always obtained the first prizes for composition, and her faculty of improvisation was the delight of her Companions; the subjects of these her earlier romances being lovely princesses, gallant knights,
castles, dragons, and the like, when – as may readily be supposed – her tall and slender frame, long golden hair, delicacy of complexion, deep-set hazel eyes, beauty of feature, the brow and the mouth being especially notable, the brightness of her looks, vivacity of her manner, her musical voice, and the easy eloquence of her diction, – all combined to make her an ideal heroine for her own romances. She could hardly, however, be said to be a persona grata with her pastors and masters. For while her independence of character and strength of will were apt to bring her into conflict with rules and regulations of which she failed to recognise the need, her thirst for knowledge, especially on religious subjects, prompted her to the proposition of questions which were highly embarrassing to her teachers; and nothing that they could say succeeded in convincing her that her duty lay in believing what she was told, and not in understanding it. She very early learnt to resent the disabilities of her sex, and to insist that they were not real but artificial, the result of masculine selfishness and injustice. This hatred of injustice and its correlative cruelty, especially towards animals, attained in her the force and dignity of a passion, her sensitiveness on this score making the chief mental misery of her life.
Of one gift possessed by her she early learnt to repress the manifestation. This was the faculty for seeing apparitions and divining the characters and fortunes of people. For she was a born seer. But the inability of her elders to comprehend the faculty, and their consequent ascription of it to pathological causes, were wont to lead to references to the family doctor with results so eminently
disagreeable and even injurious to her, as soon to suggest the wisdom of keeping silence respecting her experiences.
Her first published compositions were written at the age of thirteen (1), the editors who accepted her contributions to their magazines being under the impression that they came from a grown-up person and not from the mere child that she was. They cost her, she assured me, little labour, especially the poems, but seemed to come to her ready-made, and to flow through her spontaneously. And whatever the country in which their scene lay, the local colouring and descriptions were always faithful and vivid, as if the places and their inhabitants were familiar and even actually visible to her.
It was not, however, to any encouragement of her peculiar gifts that such excellency as she exhibited was due. Rather were they severely repressed, especially in respect of drawing, singing and music, lest she should be tempted to follow them as a profession; a fear which had been excited by the suggestions of her masters that she would be certain of success in any of those lines.
Her innate consciousness of a mission scorned to her to indicate her as destined for some redemptive work, not only for others, but also for herself. For, while the instincts of the Champion and the Saviour were potent in her, she was dimly conscious of its possessing also an expiatory element,
in virtue of which her own salvation would largely depend upon her endeavours to save others. She had as yet no theory whereby to explain this or any other of the problems she was to herself. All that she knew was that she possessed, or rather was possessed of, these feelings and impulses. It was easy to see by her account of herself that she was as one driven of the Spirit long before the Spirit definitely revealed itself to her. The two departments of humanity which she felt especially impelled to succour and save were her own sex and the animals. For she would recognise no hard and fast line between masculine and feminine, human and animal, or even between animal and plant. In her eyes everything that lived was humanity, only in different stages of its unfoldment. Even the flowers were persons for her.
As she approached womanhood she found herself looking forward to marriage far less for its own sake than as a means of emancipation from restrictions on her choice of a career. Her father died while she was yet wanting two or three years of her majority, leaving her mistress of an income ample for a single woman. And when at length she became engaged to Algernon Godfrey Kingsford, a cousin to whom she had some time been attached, it was on the understanding that she should remain unfettered in this respect. He held at the time a post in the Civil Service; but soon after their marriage, which took place on the last day of 1867, determined to read for holy orders. This gave her an opportunity for making herself acquainted with Anglican theology, of which – thirsting for knowledge of all kinds – she eagerly availed herself, accompanying him in all his
studies, and greatly facilitating them by her admirable scholarly methods. This proved to be the first great step in her religious and intellectual training for her destined mission.
One of the occupations of her early married life was the editing of a lady's magazine, which she purchased with a view of making it an instrument for the dissemination of her ideas especially in regard to her sex. And she accordingly took an active part in the movement then recently originated for the enfranchisement of women, achieving an extraordinary success as a public speaker. But, becoming convinced that their cause would be best advanced by the practical demonstration of their fitness for the promotion they sought, and also feeling her own need for the discipline of a severe intellectual training to balance the emotional side of her nature, she soon withdrew from active participation in the movement. She moreover recognised as a grave mistake the disposition evinced by her fellow-workers to suppress their womanliness in favour of a factitious masculinity, under the impression that they would thereby exalt their sex; her idea being, that their true policy lay in magnifying rather than in depreciating their womanhood. Meanwhile she had given birth to a daughter, her only child.
Her magazine was given up after a couple of years, the results failing to justify the expenditure of time, labour and money, requisite for its continuance. Not that it lacked adequate support; but the principles on which she insisted on conducting it proved to be incompatible with commercial success. She resolutely refused all advertisements of articles, whether of food or of
clothing, of which she disapproved; and she had adopted the pythagorean regimen and discarded as unhygienic sundry articles of attire ordinarily deemed indispensable by her sex. It was in her magazine that she first struck the note which proved the initiation of the holy warfare since waged against the horrors of the physiological laboratory, a warfare in which she bore a foremost part and developed the malady of which she died.
which, she was told, would in due time be revealed to her – that she join the Roman communion. Well aware that the confession of such experiences, whether to her relations or to a minister of her own Church, would elicit only a smile of pity or contempt, with a recommendation to seek medical advice, and involve other contingencies equally distasteful, she resolved to see how the same confession would be treated by a Catholic priest. The result of the essay was that she was listened to with respect and sympathy, and informed that the Church fully recognised such visitations as coining within the divine order, and as being a token of high spiritual favour and grace; and while it refrained from pronouncing positively on them, considered that they ought not to be lightly disregarded. She was soon afterwards received into the Roman Church, being baptised on September 14, 1870. On June 9, 1872, she was confirmed by Archbishop Manning, who admonished her to utilise her attractions in making converts. And on each occasion she received additional names, in virtue of which she now bore the names of all the five women who were by the Cross and at the Sepulchre.
None the less, however, did she retain her independence of mind and conduct. She accepted no direction, and professed no tenet that she did not understand. And it was soon made clear to her that the Spirit, of whom she was being impelled, did not intend her to regard her adoption of Catholicism as more than a step in her education for the work required of her. For the following year saw her bent on seeking a medical degree, under the impression that such a step was in some
way related to the mission of which she had
received such and so many mysterious intimations. And she had scarcely commenced
her study of medicine when this impression was reinforced by the following
incident, the scene of which was her home in
This was the receipt of a letter from a lady who was a stranger to her, written from a distant part of the country, and saying that she, the writer, had read with profound interest and admiration a story (1) of Mrs. Kingsford which, after appearing in her magazine, had been published as a book, and that after reading it she had received from the Holy Spirit a message for her which was to be delivered in person. After some hesitation as to what reply to make, Mrs. Kingsford – whose account I am following exactly – agreed to receive her; an appointment was made, and the stranger duly presented herself. She was tall, erect, distinguished looking, with hair of iron-grey and strangely brilliant eyes, and was perfectly calm and collected of demeanour. The message was to the effect that Mrs. Kingsford was to remain in retirement for five years, continuing the studies and mode of life on which she had entered, whatever they might be – for that the messenger did not know – and to suffer nothing and no one to draw her aside from them. That when these probationary
five years were past, the Holy Spirit would bring her forth from her seclusion, and a great work would be given her to do. All this was uttered with a rapt and inspired expression, as though she had been a Sibyl pronouncing an oracle. After delivering her message, the messenger kissed her on both cheeks and departed, first asking only whether she thought her mad; a question to which for a moment Mrs. Kingsford found it somewhat difficult to make reply. But only for a moment. For then there rushed on her the conviction that it was all genuine and true, and was but a fresh unfoldment of the mystery of her life and destiny, and in full accordance with her own foreshadowings from the beginning.
Some four years later, at a time when Mrs. Kingsford was in great straits for want of a suitable home, in London in which to carry on her studies, the same lady was similarly commissioned on her behalf, while totally ignorant both of her whereabouts and her need, and with results entirely satisfactory. On which occasion I had the privilege of making her acquaintance, and the satisfaction of finding her not merely perfectly sane, but a person entitled to the highest consideration, noted for her pious devotion to works of beneficence involving complete self-abnegation; and in short a veritable “Mother in Israel.”
The event above related occurred in the spring of 1873, the summer of which year saw Mrs. Kingsford impelled to do what led to the most crucial of the events upon which her destined mission hinged, namely, to write to me the letter which led to my visit to her home. In the autumn of the same year she passed her matriculation examination at the
Apothecaries' Hall with success so great as to fill her with high hopes of a triumphant passage through the course of her student-life. But immediately afterwards her hopes were dashed, for the English medical authorities saw fit to close their schools to women, and the way to her anticipated career was shut against her.
Such was the position when, in February, 1874, I visited the Shropshire rectory,
and such in brief the history which was gradually unfolded to me as my evident
sympathy and appreciation gained the confidence of the still young couple, whose
senior I was by some twenty years. Both husband and wife were at their wits’
end, the situation being aggravated by a circumstance which was first brought to
my knowledge on my suggestion of the postponement of her design until such time
as the medical authorities should come to their right minds and re-open their
schools to women. The circumstance in question was her terrible liability on the
ground of ill-health, and especially of asthma, to which she was a martyr, life
in the country being impossible to her for the greater part of the year, when it
was only in some large city that she was able to breathe. With the schools
closed against her in
their engagement, to full liberty of action, while the conditions of her health claimed all consideration from him. If, indeed, the Gods had destined her for a mission requiring freedom of action combined with the shelter and support of a husband's name, it seemed to me that in him they had created a man expressly for the office. For some time, however, the difficulty seemed insuperable, and one that would yield to no amount of deliberation, even with the best will of all concerned.
Meanwhile her self-revelations continued, being evidently prompted, at least as much by the desire to obtain some explanation of herself for herself, to whom she was, she avowed, a complete puzzle, as by the desire to elicit answering confidences from me. And they became with each disclosure more and more striking, until I could hardly resist the conviction that she was possessed of some faculty in virtue of which she was able to have direct perception of conclusions to which I had won my way by dint of long and arduous thinking, and in some instances in advance of me. She had read my mental history between the lines of my books, and was fully prepared to learn that I too had a consciousness, analogous to her own, of a mission in life perhaps also analogous to her own.
This, I was able to assure her, was indeed the case, and that all my books had been written in the idea of finding my way to it by dint of free, unfettered thinking. For, brought up in the strictest of evangelical sects, I had even as a lad begun to be revolted by the creed in which I was reared, and had very early come to regard its tenets, especially of total depravity and vicarious
atonement, as a libel nothing short of blasphemous against both God and man, and to feel that no greater boon could be bestowed on the world than its emancipation from the bondage of a belief so degrading and so destructive of any lofty ideal. I had felt strongly that only in such measure as I might be the means of its abolition would my life be a success and a satisfaction to myself. It even seemed to me that my own credit was involved in the matter; and that in disproving such beliefs I should be vindicating my own character. For if God were evil, as those doctrines made Him, I could by no possibility be good, since I must have my derivation from Him. And I knew that, however weak and unwise I might be, I was not evil.
Then, too, my life, like hers, had been one of much isolation and meditation. I had felt myself a stranger even with my closest intimates. For I was always conscious of a difference which separated me from them, and of a side to which they could not have access. I had graduated at Cambridge with the design of taking orders; but only to find that I could not do so conscientiously, and to feel that to commit myself to any conditions incompatible with absolute freedom of thought and expression would be a treachery against both myself and my kind; – for it was for no merely personal end that I wanted to discover the truth. I longed to get away from all my surroundings in order, first, to think myself out of all that I had been taught, and so to make my mind as a clean sheet whereon to receive true impressions and at first hand; and, next, to think myself into a condition and to a level wherein I could see all things – myself, nature, and God – face to face, with
vision undimmed and undistorted by beliefs which, being inherited only and traditional, instead of the result of conviction honestly arrived at, were factitious and unreal; no living outcome of my own growth and observation, but a veritable strait-waistcoat, stifling life and restraining development. And so it had come that – as related in my first novel, The Pilgrim and the Shrine (1), which was essentially autobiographical – I had eagerly fallen in with a proposal to join an expedition to the then newly-discovered placers of California, an enterprise which, besides promising to gratify the love for adventure, physical as well as mental, which was strong in me, would postpone if not solve the difficulty of my position. It possessed, moreover, the high recommendation of taking me to the world of the fresh, unsophisticated West, instead of to that East which had been made almost hateful to me by its association with the tenets by which existence had been poisoned for me.
So, setting my face towards the sunset, I became one of the band of “Forty-niners” in California, and remained abroad in the continents and isles of the Pacific, from America passing to Australia, until the intended year of my absence had grown into nearly ten years, and I had experienced well-nigh every vicissitude and extreme which might serve to heighten the consciousness, toughen the fibre, and try the soul of man. But throughout all, the idea of a mission remained with me, gathering force and consistency, until it was made clear to
me that not destruction merely, but construction, not the exposure of error but the demonstration of truth, was comprised in it. For I saw that it was possible to reduce religion to a series of first principles, necessary truths and self-evident propositions, and that only in such measure as it was thus reduced and discerned, was it really true and really believed; – in short, that faith and knowledge are identical. To accept a religion on the ground that one had been born in it, and apart from its appeal to the mind and moral conscience, and thus to make it dependent upon the accident of birth and parentage, was to resemble the African savage who for the same reason worships Mumbo Jumbo. How, moreover, – I asked myself – could a religion which was not in accord with first principles, represent a God, Who, to be God, must Himself be the first of, and must comprise all principles; must account logically for all the facts of consciousness, be it unfolded as far as it may? Granting that, as the poet says, “an honest man's the noblest work of God,” it was for me no less true that “an honest God's the noblest work of man.” And it was precisely such a being that I longed to elaborate out of, or discover in, my own consciousness, confident that the achievement meant the solution of all problems, the rectification of all difficulties, the satisfaction of all aspirations, intellectual, moral, and spiritual. Following such trains of thought, I arrived at the assurance that I had within my own consciousness both the truth itself and the verification of the truth, and that it remained only to find these.
wrote, whether essay or fiction, represented the endeavour by probing the consciousness to the utmost in every direction to discover a central, radiant, and indefeasible point from which all things could be deduced, and on which, as a pivot they must depend and revolve. I read largely, and went much among people, always in search of aid in my quest; but only with the result of finding that neither from books nor from persons could I even begin to get what I sought, but only from thought.
Meanwhile everything seemed ordered with a view to the end ultimately attained. For, so far from having left behind me for ever the vicissitudes, and struggles, and trials, and ordeals, in which the wildernesses of the western and southern worlds had been so fruitful, I was found of them in the old world to which I had returned; and this in number, kind, and degree, such as to make it appear as if what I had borne before had been inflicted expressly for the purpose of enabling me to bear what was put upon me now. And it was only when I had learnt by experience that the very capacity for thought is enhanced by feeling no less than by thinking, that the “ministry of pain” found its explanation. For the feeling required of me proved to be that of the inner, not merely of the outer man, of the soul, not merely of the body; and the faculty, to be the intuition, and not merely the intellect. Hence I was made to learn by experience, long before the fact was formulated for me in words, that only “by the bruising of the outer, the inner is set free,” and “man is alive only so far as he has felt.”
Everything seemed contrived expressly in order
to force me in this inward direction. Even in my literary work, nothing of the “trade” element was permitted to intrude. I could not write except when writing to or from my own centre. Faculty itself was shut off, if turned to any other purpose. Everything I wrote must minister to and represent a step in my own unfoldment.
I can confidently affirm that the only books which really helped me were, with scarcely an exception, those which I wrote myself. Of the exceptions the chief was Emerson. His essays had been my vade mecum in all my world-wide wanderings. And there were three sentences of his which, to use his own phrase, “found” me as no others had done. They were these: “The talent is the call”; “I the imperfect adore my own perfect”; and, “Beware when God lets loose a thinker on the earth.” Like Emerson himself, I had yet to learn that man's own perfect is God, and self-culture is God-culture, provided the self be the inmost self. The two other books which most helped me were Bailey's Festus, and Carlyle's Hero-Worship. And I owed something to Tucker's Light of Nature. By which it will be seen that my affinity was always for the prophets rather than the priests of literature; for the intuitionalists rather than the externalists.
Gradually two leading ideas took definite form in my mind, which, however, proved to be but two aspects or applications of one and the same idea. And that idea proved to be the keynote of all that I was seeking after. For it finally solved the problems of existence, of religion, of the Bible, of Being itself. Hence the necessity of this reference to it.
This idea was that of a duality subsisting in every unity, such as I had nowhere
read or heard of. I was, of course, aware that the theological doctrine of the
Trinity involved a Duality. But not of a kind to find a response in my mind. And
being unable to assimilate it as it stood, I ignored it; putting it aside until
it should present itself to me in an aspect in which it was intelligible. I
felt, however vaguely, that the Duality I sought was in the Bible, though it had
been missed by the official expositors of that book. And the conviction that it
was in some way connected with my life-work was so strong that I constructed for
the covers of my two first books a monogram symbolical of
Those experiences were in this wise. It had been my privilege to have the friendship of several women of a type so noble that to know them was at once an education and a religion; women whose perfection of character had served more than anything else to make me believe in God, when all other grounds had failed. I could in no wise account for them on the hypothesis of a fortuitous concourse of unintelligent atoms. And not only did I find that the higher the type the more richly they were endowed with precisely the faculty of which I myself was conscious as distinguishing
me from my fellows; I found also that I was unable to recognise any woman as of a high type as woman save in so far as she was possessed of it. I had failed to find any who possessed the knowledge I craved, and who were thereby able to help me in my thought. They helped me nevertheless, but it was by being what they were, rather than by knowing and doing, be they admirable as they might in these respects. I recognised in them that which supplemented and complemented my mental self in such wise as to suggest unbounded possibilities of results to accrue from the intimate association of two minds thus attuned to each other, and duly unfolded by thought and study. It needed, it seemed to me, but the reverberation an intensification of thought, induced by the apposition of two minds thus related, for the production of the divine child Truth in the very highest spheres of thought. So that the result would by no means be restricted to the near sum of the associated capacities of the two minds themselves. And in view of such high possibilities I found myself appropriating and applying the ejaculation which Virgil puts into the mouth of Anna when urging the union of her sister Dido with AEneas –
“Quae surgere regna
and I felt with Tennyson that
“They two together well might move the world.”
So boundless seemed to me the kingdoms of Truth, Goodness, and Beauty which would spring from such conjunction.
It goes without saying that such relationship was contemplated by me only as the accompaniment
of a happy re-marriage. [For I had married in
impossible the ascription to my destined colleague of mercenary motives for her association with me. In this I came to recognise a delicate providence for which I felt I could not be too thankful. In the meantime, even while smarting severely from this dispensation, and others yet more bitter which were heaped on me for no apparent cause or fault of my own that I could discern, the thought that most of all served to sustain me under what I felt would have utterly broken down in heart or head, or in both of these organs, any other person whatever of whom I had knowledge, – that thought was the surmise or suspicion that all these things, hard to bear as they were, and undeserved as they seemed, might prove to be blessings in disguise, in ministering to the realisation of the controlling ambition of my life by educating me for it; and that according to the manner in which I bore them might be the result.
There is yet one more personal disclosure essential to this part of my relation. It concerns my own mental standpoint at the time at which my narrative has arrived. Bent as I was on penetrating the secret of things at first hand, and by means of a thought absolutely free, I was never for a moment disposed to turn, as my so-called free-thinking contemporaries one and all had turned, a scornful back upon whatever related to or savoured of the current religion. Scripture and dogma were not for me necessarily either false or inscrutable because their official exponents had presented them in an aspect which outraged my reason and revolted my conscience. I felt bound – if only in justice to them and myself – at least to find out what they did mean before finally
discarding them. And in this act of justice I was strangely sustained by a sense of the possibility that the truth, if any, contained in them, was no other than that of which I was in search. This is to say, that in all my investigations I kept before me the idea that, if I could discern the actual nature of existence and the intended sense of the Bible and Christianity, independently of each other, they might prove on comparison to be identical; in which case the latter would really represent a true revelation. Meanwhile, I found myself constrained to believe, as an axiomatic proposition, that the higher and nobler the conception I framed in my imagination of the nature of existence, and the more in accordance with my ideas of what, to be perfect, the constitution of the universe ought to be, the nearer I should come to the actual truth.
Similarly with religion. For a religion to be true, it must, I felt absolutely assured, be ideally perfect after the most perfect ideal that we can frame. This is to say, that not only must it be in itself such as to satisfy both head and heart, mind and moral conscience, spirit and soul; it must also be perfectly simple, obviously reasonable, coherent, self-evident, founded in the nature of things, incapable – when once comprehended – of being conceived of as otherwise, absolutely equitable, eternally true, and recognisable as being all these, invariable in operation, independent of all accidents of time, place, persons and events, and comparable to the demonstration of a mathematical problem in that it needs no testimony or authority beyond those of the mind; and requiring for its efficacious observance, nothing that is extraneous
or inaccessible to the subject-individual, but within his ability to recognise and fulfil, provided only that he so will. It must also be such as to enable him by the observance of it to turn his existence to the highest possible account imaginable by him, be his imagination as developed as it may: and all this as independently of any being other than himself, as if he were the sole personal entity in the universe, and were himself the universe. That is to say, the means of a man's perfectionment must inhere in his own system, and he must be competent of himself effectually to apply them. It is further necessary, because equitable, that he be allowed sufficient time and opportunity for the discovery, understanding and application of such means.
Such are the terms and conditions of an ideally perfect religion, as I conceived of them. It is a definition which excludes well-nigh, if not quite, all the characteristics ordinarily regarded as appertaining to religion, and notably to that of Christendom. For in excluding everything extraneous to the actual subject-individual, and requiring religion to be self-evident and necessarily true, it excludes as superfluous and irrelevant, history, tradition, authority, revelation, as ordinarily conceived of, ecclesiastical ordinance, priestly ministration, mediatorial function, vicarious satisfaction, and even the operation of Deity as subsisting without and apart from the man, all of which are essential elements in the accepted conception of religion. Nevertheless, profound as was my distrust of the faithfulness of the orthodox presentation, I could not reconcile myself to a renunciation of the originals on which that presentation
was founded, until I had satisfied myself that I had fathomed their intended and real meaning.
I had, moreover, very early conceived a personal affection for Jesus as a man, so strong as to serve as a deterrent both from abandoning the faith founded on Him, and from accepting it as it is as worthy of Him.
Such was my standpoint, intellectual and religious, at the period in question. The time came when it found full justification; our results being such as to verify it in everyone of its manifold aspects. And not this only. The doctrine which had so mysteriously evolved itself out of my consciousness to attain by slow degrees the position of a controlling influence in my life, the doctrine, namely of a Duality subsisting in the Original Unity of Underived Being, and as inhering therefore in every unit of derived being, this doctrine proved to be the key to the mysteries both of Creation and of Redemption, as propounded in the Bible and manifested in the Christ; the key also to the nature of man, disclosing the facts both of his possession of divine potentialities as his birthright, and his endowment with the faculty whereby to discern and to realise them. And while it proved constructive in respect of Divine Truth, it proved destructive in respect of the falsification of that truth which had passed for orthodoxy, by disclosing the source, the motive, the method and the agents of that falsification.
But these things were still in the future. At the time with which we are now concerned, I had commenced a book to represent the standpoint just described, The Keys of the Creeds. The first
and initial draft of that book was written under the sympathetic eye of one of the order of noble women to which reference has been made, and owed much to the enhancement of faculty derived by me from such conjunction of minds. The second and final draft was written under like relationship with another member of the selfsame order, even she who proved to be my destined collaborator in the work of which this book recounts the story. It was published in 1875. It is necessary only to say further of the book thus produced, that notwithstanding certain defects of expression, due chiefly to an insufficient acquaintance with the terminology of metaphysics, it proved an invaluable help to very many, as was amply shown by the letters of grateful appreciation received from them by me. The keynote was that which afterwards found expression in the utterance, –
“There is no enlightenment from without: the secret of things is revealed from within.
“From without cometh no Divine Revelation: but the Spirit within beareth witness.” (1)
For the lesson it contained was the lesson that the phenomenal world cannot disclose its own secret. To find this, man must seek in that substantial world which lies within himself, since all that is real is within the man. From which it followed that if there is no within, or if that within be inaccessible, either there is no reality, or man has no organon of knowledge, and is by constitution agnostic. Meanwhile, the very fact of my
possession of an ideal exempt from the limitations of the apparent, constituted for me a strong presumption in favour of the reality of the ideal.
The moment of contact between my destined colleague and myself, was as critical for one as for the other, only that in my case the crisis was intellectual. I could see to the end of the argument I was then elaborating; and that it landed me close to the dividing barrier between the two worlds of sense and spirit, supposing the latter to have any being. (1) But I neither saw beyond, nor knew how to ascertain whether or not there is a beyond. We were discussing the question of there being an inner sense in Scripture, such as my book suggested; and whether, supposing it to have such a sense, it required for its discernment any faculty more recondite than a subtle imagination; and if it did, is there such a faculty? And what is its nature? By which it will be seen that I was still in ignorance of the nature of the faculty I found in myself and recognised as especially subsisting in women, and which, for me, really made the woman.
The reply rendered by her to these questionings constituted the proof positive that I had at length discovered the mind which my own had so long craved as its sorely needed complement. In response to them she gave me a manuscript in her own writing, asking me to read it and tell her frankly what I thought of it. Having read and re-read it, I
enquired how and where she had got it. She replied by asking what I thought of it. I answered, “If there is such a thing as divine revelation, I know of nothing that comes nearer to my ideal of what it ought to be. It is exactly what the world is perishing for want of – a reasonable faith.” She then told me that it had come to her in her sleep, but whence or how she did not know; nor could she say whether she had seen it or heard it, but only that it came suddenly into her mind, without her having ever heard or thought of such teaching before. It was an exposition of the Story of the Fall, exhibiting it as a parable having a significance purely spiritual, wholly reasonable, and of universal application, physical persons, things, and events described in it disappearing in favour of principles, processes, and states appertaining to the soul; no mere local history, therefore, but an eternal verity. The experience, she went on to tell me, was far from exceptional; she had received many things which had greatly struck and pleased her in the same way, and sometimes while in the waking state in a sort of day-dream. It was subsequently incorporated into our book, The Perfect Way.
Her account of her faculty, of which she related several instances, produced a profound impression on me. It differed altogether from any that I had heard of as claimed by the votaries of “Spiritualism,” a creed to which neither of us had assented; such little experience as we had of it having failed to convince us of the genuineness of its phenomena; though she, on her part, confessed to having been somewhat at a loss to account for some things she had seen. But though not
spiritualists, we were not materialists. Rather were we idealists, who had yet to learn and, as the event proved, were destined shortly to learn, that the Ideal is the Real, and is Spiritual.
The event also proved that in order to learn it and to know it positively by experience, there were two conditions to be fulfilled, on both of which she had already entered, but I had yet to enter. One of these conditions was physical, the other was emotional. The former consisted in the renunciation of flesh-food in favour of a diet derived from the vegetable kingdom. The latter condition consisted in the kindling of our enthusiasm for the ideal into a flame of such ardour and intensity as to make it the dominant passion of our lives, and one in which all others would be swallowed up. It was to be an enthusiasm at once for Humanity, for Perfection, for God.
Had we been in any degree instructed in spiritual or occult science, we should have known that the renunciation of flesh-food, though in itself a physical act, has ever been recognised by initiates as the prime essential in the unfoldment of the spiritual faculties; since only when man is purely nourished can he attain clearness and fullness of spiritual perception. As it was, neither of us had ever heard of occult science, or of the necessity of such a regimen to the perfectionment of faculty. She had adopted it on grounds physiological, chemical, hygienic, aesthetic, and moral; not on grounds mental or spiritual. I now undertook to adopt it partly on the same grounds which had influenced her, and partly with a view to enhance and consolidate the sympathy subsisting
between us. The mental and spiritual advantages of the regimen made themselves known to us by experience.
The other condition found Its fulfilment through the knowledge I derived from her of the methods of the physiologists. That savages, sorcerers, brigands, religious fanatics, and corrupt priesthoods had always been wont to make torture their gain or their pastime, I was well aware, and believed that evolution would sweep them and their practices away in its course. But the discovery now first made to me that identical barbarities are systematically perpetrated by the leaders of modern science on the pretext of benefiting humanity, in an age which claims to represent the summit of such evolution as has yet been accomplished; and that after all its boasts, the best that science can do for the world is to convert it into a hell and its population into fiends, by the deliberate renunciation of the distinctive sentiments of humanity, – this was a discovery which filled me with unspeakable horror and amazement, at once raising to a white heat the enthusiasm of love for the ideal already kindled within me, and adding to it a like enthusiasm of detestation for its opposite. From which it came that I found myself under the impulsion simultaneously of two mighty influences, the one attracting, the other repelling, but both operating in the same direction. For while by the former I was drawn upwards by the beauty of an ideal indefinitely enhanced by its contrast with the foul actual below, by the latter I was impelled upwards by the hideousness of that actual. The sight of the moral abyss disclosed to me in
Vivisection, as I perused volume after volume of the annals of the practice written by the perpetrators themselves, and now first made accessible to me, effectually purged out of my system any particle of dilettantism that might have still lurked in it, compelling me to regard as of the utmost urgency all and more than all that I had hitherto contemplated doing deliberately.
This was the construction of a system of thought which by force of its appeal to both those two indispensable constituents of humanity, the head and the heart, shall compel acceptance from all persons really human, and in presence of which the whole system of which Vivisection was the typical outcome and symbol should vanish from off the earth. This system was Materialism, of which only now did I discern the full significance. The systematic organisation of wholesale, protracted, uncompensatable torture, for ends purely selfish, was – I saw with absolute distinctness – not an accidental and avoidable outcome of Materialism, but its logical and inevitable outcome. And it was to the eradication of Materialism that, from that moment, I dedicated myself. It was a rescue work for both man and beast, seeing that humanity itself was menaced with extinction. For the materialist, of course, that which makes the man is the form. For me it was the character, and it was this, the character of mankind present and to come, that was at stake. For man demonised is no longer man. In the overthrow of Materialism, I saw absolutely, was salvation alone to be found, whether for man or beast. The consideration that only as an abstainer from flesh-food I could with entire consistency contend against vivisection, was
a potent factor in determining my change of diet. True, the distinction between death and torture was a broad one. But the statistics I now for the first time perused, of the slaughter-house and the cattle-traffic, showed beyond question, that torture, and this prolonged and severe, is involved in the use of animals for food as well as for science. And over and above this was the instinctive perception of the probability that neither would they who had them killed, whether for food, for sport, or for clothing, be allowed the privilege of rescuing them from the hands of the physiologist; nor would the animals be allowed to accept their deliverance at the hands of those who thus used them. They who would save others, we felt, must first make sacrifice in themselves. And in the presence of the joy of working to effect such salvation, sacrifice would cease to be sacrifice.
This, too, we noted, and with no small satisfaction – that to make the rescue of
the animals an immediate and urgent motive, was in no way to abandon the
original motive of hatred to the tenet of vicarious atonement. For we recognised
vivisection itself as but the extension to the domain of science, of the very
principle by which we had been inexpressibly revolted in the domain of religion;
– the principle of seeking one's own salvation by the sacrifice of another, and
that the innocent. And so we learnt that “New
Scientist is but Old Priest writ differently,” – to vary
the secrets of the world's sacrificial system.” It expressed with absolute conciseness and exactitude all that we had in our minds, far better than we could have expressed it.
The importance of this question of vivisection in vitalising us for the work before us, will be seen by the following fact. The time came when we knew that the work committed to us was that revelation anew of the Christ which was to constitute His Second Advent, inasmuch as it was the interpretation of the truth of which He was the manifestation. It was to be a spiritual coming; in the “clouds of heaven,” the heaven of the “kingdom within” of man's restored understanding. And, as at His first advent so at His second, He was to have His birth among the animals.
And so it verily was. For – as I have elsewhere stated (1) –
“Their terrible wrongs, culminating at the hands of their scientific tormentors, were the last drops which filled to overflowing with anguish, indignation and wrath, hearts already brimming with the sense of the world's degradation and misery, wringing from them the cry which rent the heavens for His descent, and in direct and immediate response to which He came.
“For the New Gospel of Interpretation was vouchsafed in express recognition of the determined endeavour, by means of a thought absolutely fearless and free, to scale the topmost heights, fathom the lowest depths, and penetrate to the inmost recesses of Consciousness, in search of the solution of the problem of Existence, under the assured conviction that, when found, it would
prove to be one that would make above all things Vivisection impossible, if only by demonstrating the constitution of things to be such that, terrible as is the lot of the victims of the practice here, they are not without compensation hereafter, while the lot of their tormentors will be unspeakably worse than even that of their victims here. And so it proved, with absolute certainty to be the case, to the full vindication at the same time of the Divine Justice and the Divine Love.”
No experience being withheld which would qualify us to bear positive testimony thereto. For, although at the outset we were, as I have said, in no wise believers in the possibility of such experiences, the time came, and came quickly, when the veil was withdrawn, and the secrets of the Beyond were disclosed to us in plenitude, in its every sphere, from the abyss of hell to the heights of heaven. And we learnt that this had become possible through the passionate energy with which, in our search for the highest truth, for the highest ends, and in purest love to redeem, we had directed our thought inwards and upwards, living at the same time the life requisite to qualify us for such perceptions. Thus did we obtain practical realisation of the promise that they who do the divine will, by living the divine life, shall know of the divine doctrine. Our whole mental attitude had been one of prayer in its essential sense; which is not that of saying prayers, but as it came to be defined for us – “the intense direction of the will and desire towards the Highest; an unchanging intent to know nothing but the Highest.” Because “to think inwardly, to pray intensely, and to imagine centrally, is to hold converse with God.” And we
had done this without knowing it was prayer, or calling it by that name. For, knowing only the conventional conception of prayer, we had recoiled from it as from other conventional conceptions of things religious.
Now, however, we found that we had done instinctively and spontaneously precisely what was necessary to bring us into relations at once with our spiritual selves and with the world of those who consist only of the spiritual self. For, by thus becoming vitalised and sensitive in that part of man's system which endures and passes on, we had come into open conditions with the world of those who have thus endured and passed on, and are no longer of the terrestrial, but of the celestial, having surmounted all lower and intermediate planes. All this came to us without anticipation on our part, or any conscious seeking for it; but yet without causing dismay or surprise when it came. For it came so gradually as to seem to be but the natural and orderly result of the unfoldment of our own spiritual consciousness, and excited only feelings of joy and thankfulness at finding our method and aspirations crowned with so high a success. Thus was it made absolutely clear to us that, so far from divine revelation involving miracle, or requiring for its instruments persons other in kind than the ordinary, it is a prerogative of man, belonging to him as man; and requiring for its reception only that he be fully man, alive and sensitive in his own innermost and highest, in his centre as in his circumference. Thus living on the quick and finding no others who did so, it seemed to us as if we alone were the quick, and all others were dead.
We noted yet another way in which we supplemented
and complemented each other. It was in this wise. As I was bent on the construction of a system of thought which should be at once a science, a philosophy, a morality, and a religion, and recognisable by the understanding as indubitably true; she was bent on the construction of a rule of life equally obvious and binding, and recognisable by the sentiments as alone according with them, its basis being that sense of perfect justice winch springs from perfect sympathy.
By which it will be seen that while it was her aim to establish a perfect practice, which might or might not consist with a perfect doctrine, it was my aim to establish a perfect doctrine which would inevitably issue in a perfect practice, by at once defining it and supplying an all-compelling motive for its observance.
These, as we at once recognised, were the two indispensable halves of one perfect whole. But we had yet to learn the nature and source of the compelling motive for its enforcement.
The deficiency was made good by the discovery of the fact of man's permanence as an individual. The revelation of this truth was the demonstration to us of the inanity – not to use a stronger term – of the system called “Positivism.” In ignoring the soul, that system lacks the motive and repudiates the source of the sentiments on which it insists, and to the experiences of which those sentiments are due.
(1:1) The book was “By and By: An Historical Romance of the Future,” its object being to
show a state of society in which the intuition is supreme, and individuals
follow their own ideals. It represents a step in E.M.’s unfoldment, but not his
final conclusions. In
(2:1) This was not the first time that E.M.
met A.K. He had met her once before, in January,
(3:1) Her “very first published production” was a poem in a religious magazine, when she was “but nine years old.” (Life A.K. Vol. I. p. 29.)
(5:1) Beatrice: A Tale of the Early Christians, was written by A.K. in 1859, for the Churchman's Companion, “but the publisher 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,” which offer was accepted. (Life A.K. Vol. I. p. 4.)
(10:1) The Story was “In my Lady's Chamber,” and purported to be a “speculative romance touching a few questions of the day.” It was afterwards published separately as by “Colossa.” (Life A.K. Vol. I. pp. 21, 22.)
(15:3) The first edition of The Pilgrim and the Shrine was published in 1867.
(21:1) E.M. did not marry again. He had one child, Charles Bradley Maitland, and he died on the 16th February, 1901.
(26:1) See p. 100.
(27:1) E.M. says that The Keys of the Creeds brought his thought up to the extreme limits of a thought merely intellectual, to transcend which it would be necessary to penetrate the barrier between the worlds of sense and of spirit. (Life A.K. Vol. I. p. 54.)
(33:1) Statement E.C.U. p. 80.