Anna Blackwell was initiated into the Order of the Golden Dawn in January 1892 at its Isis-Urania temple in London. She took the Latin motto ‘esse quam videri’. She worked hard and quickly to do the required study and was initiated into the GD’s inner Second Order on 27 July 1893.
This can’t be a thorough biography, unfortunately. During a long life, Anna Blackwell lived in the USA; and then in France for 42 years; but in England for only a few years, when a child and then at the end of her life. In order to do her justice I’d have to do research in countries as far-flung as France, South Africa and the USA, and I can’t afford to do that; my French isn’t up to those 42 years either!
Anna Blackwell was the oldest woman, almost the oldest person, to be initiated into the GD in the period I’m looking at - 1888 to 1901. She was born in 1816, daughter of Samuel Blackwell and his wife Hannah. The Blackwells were a Worcestershire family but Samuel Blackwell had moved to Bristol and become a partner in a sugar-refining firm. He had married Hannah Lane, the daughter of a Bristol jeweller and goldsmith. Anna Blackwell was the eldest of their eight children, five girls and three boys. In 1832 a fire destroyed Samuel Blackwell’s business and he opted to take his family to America rather than start again in Bristol. Anna was 16 when the family left England and she always considered England to be her native land. On arriving in the United States, the Blackwells settled in New York, but they all moved to Ohio shortly before Samuel’s death in 1838.
Samuel and Hannah Blackwell held views far in advance of their time and brought up their children accordingly. When living in Bristol they were already involved in the anti-slavery movement. Their involvement in the cause continued when they moved to the United States and through it they met a great many of the social and political radicals of New England. Their children grew up hearing their parents and their friends discuss some of the most advanced - and therefore the most contentious - issues of the day, including abolition, property rights and the position of women in society.
The Blackwells brought up their daughters, as well as their sons, to expect to work and with the skills to do so. Compared to most of her female contemporaries, Anna was very well educated: she was able to read French and German and was happy to tackle difficult metaphysical tomes in both those languages. She wrote for publication in English and in French. She read voraciously throughout her life and (at least by the 1870s) had a grasp of the scientific method - the importance of having testable hypotheses and of getting evidence to prove (or disprove) them.
Samuel Blackwell never made a success of business in the US, so his death left the family short of funds, but Anna and Elizabeth set to and founded a school, to earn money for the family’s keep and to ensure that their brothers (who were still of school-age) could continue in education until they were qualified for a profession. All the Blackwell daughters taught in the early years after their father’s death, but only Ellen focused on teaching as her profession. Elizabeth and Emily were two of the first women to qualify as doctors - Dr Elizabeth Blackwell is the ‘Blackwell’ most people have heard of. Marian combined teaching with looking after Hannah. None of the five married; although Ellen and Elizabeth both adopted children.
It must have been through acquaintances like Oliver Wendell Holmes and the Beecher family that Anna Blackwell discovered the existence of the Brooke Farm community, at West Roxbury, near Boston Massachusetts. The community had been founded in 1841 as an attempt to put into practice the ideas of the French philosopher Charles Fourier that any society should be based on the principles of concern for others; cooperation between members; and equal opportunities for women. All those living at Brooke Farm had to do some hours of manual labour each day - Fourier believed that events in the physical world had a spiritual side to them; and the residents also thought that a healthy mind needed a healthy body. If all this sounds rather high-principled and stoic, the members of the community had fun, too, and many of them looked back on their time at Brooke Farm as one of enjoyment, though they did also feel that the whole concept of it had, perhaps, been rather naïve. For the community lasted only until 1847 - it had never been financially secure and was pushed over the edge when a building burned down that the community had not been able to insure.
Anna Blackwell wasn’t one of the 15 founding members of the Brooke Farm community. She joined it in 1845. Members had to buy a share in the community’s joint stock company, to help its funds, at $500 per share; so Anna may have needed to work for several years to raise the money - which she subsequently will have lost. Leaving the community after the fire in 1847 she may have been feeling the effects of doing all that physical farm labouring work, which I’m sure was not what her parents had meant when they had expected their daughters to earn their own living. She spent some time in 1848 recovering at a ‘water cure’ spa in New York state and then its owner, Mrs Gove Nichols, arranged for her to go and board with a friend of her’s in the country for a few weeks. The friend was Mrs Clemm, mother-in-law of Edgar Allan Poe.
All the sources I found agreed that Anna Blackwell’s acquaintance with Poe was slight. The two did meet - although his wife Virginia had died in 1847, Poe was still living with Mrs Clemm in 1848; but during Anna’s stay in the house, he was away a lot. Nevertheless, Anna felt she knew him sufficiently to write to him for some help, after she had left the household. She had been writing poetry for some time. In 1846 she had had four poems published and one song, for which she had written both words and music. They had appeared in the new New York literary journal The Columbian Magazine. And during 1848 one poem, Legend of the Waterfall, was chosen to appear in an anthology that matched poems with engravings of landscapes by American artists. That was all very encouraging, but what was the next step?
Anna’s letter to Poe doesn’t seem to exist any longer, only his reply. The reply is on the web in full but I couldn’t decide from it exactly what advice it was that Anna had been wanting: was it practical help in getting more of her poems published, this time in book form? Was she asking him to recommend her to a publisher he knew? Or was she wanting something far more difficult to provide? - some lit crit? In his reply Poe announced himself as quite incompetent to act as literary critic of Anna’s work; and chose to concentrate on some honest, but pessimistic, advice - as from an old hand - about the finances of having books of poetry published. The poet Sarah Helen Whitman, a friend of both Poe and Anna in the 1840s, said many years later that Anna had given Poe the brush-off after receiving this reply: the following year (1849), while staying with friends in Providence, Anna was invited to a social function where Poe was to be one of the main guests, but had not shown up. There are other reasons why you might not go to a particular party; but it’s true that Poe and Anna didn’t meet again and that Anna’s friendship with Mrs Whitman didn’t last much longer either.
Anna did get her book of poems published; though I daresay Poe was right in warning her that she’d be expected either to pay all the costs herself, or to wait to be paid until the publishing firm had seen its costs recouped in full. The poems were published in 1853 by the London firm of John Chapman.
I couldn’t discover exactly when Anna left the United States to live in Europe; though a date in the late 1840s seems most likely. Anna herself mentioned in one of her books that she was in England during 1845, but that was just a visit. Anna’s sister Elizabeth moved to England in 1849, to work at St Bartholomew’s Hospital; Anna may have sailed to London with her. A couple of years after Elizabeth Blackwell moved to London, their sister Ellen also arrived, intending to spend time enhancing her teaching by studying art and design. Perhaps Anna came with her. Whenever it was that Anna arrived back in Europe, family contacts and friends of her parents made establishing herself in London very easy. The short biography of Dr Elizabeth Blackwell that I list in my Sources section (below) says that Elizabeth quickly got to know Bessie Rayner Parkes (who was a cousin of the Blackwells anyway), Barbara Leigh Smith and Frances Power Cobbe who all later became well-known as women’s rights campaigners. Through them, Elizabeth met the Herschels, Faraday, Herbert Spencer, Mary Ann Evans (who was not George Eliot yet), Rossetti and others. Anna also knew these people, perhaps better than Elizabeth who was so committed to her career in medicine. When Ellen arrived in Europe, she went first to Paris, and then spent time in London taking lessons with John Ruskin so that Anna met him and his social circle as well. There was one group of London residents that Anna met that Elizabeth and Ellen didn’t, however - the spiritualists.
Spiritualism is generally thought to have begun in 1848 with some larking-about by the Fox sisters of Hydesville New York State. A very bald definition of what its followers thought it consisted of is ‘communication with the dead’. I find it astonishing, how quickly spiritualism became accepted by people in the United States and the UK. One source I looked at suggested that most major radical American families had at least one spiritualist member by the early 1850s. Spiritualism spread into Europe within a few years, too. Writing in the 1870s Anna claimed that it had been an article of hers in the magazine Journal du Magnétisme that had first introduced spiritualism to the French (in 1850).
In 1872 Anna wrote that she had believed in what she called the “pre-existence of the soul”, and that the souls of the dead could commicate with the living, since her childhood. Such deeply-held beliefs have a tendency to be reinforced by experience, and on many occasions things happened to Anna that confirmed them. She saw at least one ghost, “the spirit of a man...in broad daylight”, at which she “nearly died of the shock”. She was contacted during a seance by a spirit that she understood to be her own guardian angel, predicted by a clairvoyant she had consulted many years before. She communicated with entities who described her past reincarnations and told her of their current ones. And she endured “spirit tormentings” - by which she seems to have meant spirits which threatened her. Eventually got so difficult to cope with that she kept away from spiritualism for a short time (in the late 1850s/early 1860s) though she soon went back, and the problem never affected her belief in spiritualism which lasted till her death.
Anna seems to have received a lot of invitations to seances - perhaps the mediums hoped she would be sufficiently impressed to publish an article about their medium-ship skills. Spending some time in London during 1853, for example, she went to a seance held by the American Maria Hayden, one of the earliest professional mediums, who was on her first visit to Europe. Another guest at Mrs Hayden’s seances was Edward Bulwer-Lytton, author of Zanoni (published 1842) which first brought the Rosicrucians to the attention of the novel-reading public; though I couldn’t work out from my source for Mrs Hayden, whether he and Anna had actually met.
Sister Elizabeth, though a staunch non-believer in spirit manifestations, turned out to be good at automatic writing - the medium allowing a spirit to communicate by using the medium to write messages down. Anna, however, seems to have thought herself lacking in what was required to be a successful medium. Though she did have some ‘medium-istic’ experiences when on her own in her own house, on the whole she confined herself to going to seances; acting as hostess; and writing on spiritualism, explaining it and defending it. She soon became the most well-known English-speaking proponent of a particular sub-set of spiritualism which had begun in France and became popular in Europe: spiritism. John Ruskin for example, in a letter written in 1866, mentions a seance in Paris held by Anna, Ruskin identifying her to his correspondent specifically as a “disciple” of Kardec. Allan Kardec was the writing name of Léon Hippolyte Denisart Rivail (1804-69), the French teacher, amateur scientist and medium who formulated spiritism.
In 1869 Anna and a variety other spiritualists were interviewed by members of a committee formed by the Dialectical Society to investigate the claims of spiritualism and decide whether what happened at seances was genuine contact with the dead, or just a series of manipulative hoaxes. In 1870, as the Dialectical Society prepared to publish its findings, she wrote a very long, considered piece, expanding what she had told them the previous year. With an approach she continued to use whenever she wrote about spiritism, Anna tried to describe spiritism in terms of a logical argument. She wrote that spiritism argued for a universe created by an intelligence according to a plan, and called the creating intelligence an Engineer (in much the same manner as freemasons call it the great Architect). The Engineer’s universe had in it entities with varying degrees of spiritual awareness from the very basic - animals, perhaps even stones - to Great Souls. Souls made their way to higher levels of spiritual awareness (and also downwards to lower levels, presumably, though I can’t find a work in which Anna says so) via a series of reincarnations. Spiritism believed that when souls reincarnated as human beings, they were in the middle of the process, with quite a number of reincarnations to go until they reached the point where they would be reincarnated as a Great Soul.
Now things get a bit circular because I don’t know in which order these two important events in Anna’s life happened - when exactly she first heard of Allan Kardec; and when she first moved to France. In the middle of the 19th century, no one needed to find any particular justification for going to live in Paris: it was the agreed centre of the cultural and artistic world. I think, though, that Anna moved to France because of her interest in spiritism, intending to finance her life there by her writing.
According to the Scoop! database of 19th-century journalism, when Anna left the US for Europe she already had a great deal of experience of writing for newspapers - she had begun to do so in the 1830s, just after the Blackwell family moved to Ohio. The only certain dates I could find, however, for her career as a newspaper correspondent are:
- she was appointed by the Sydney Morning Herald to be its foreign correspondent, based in Paris, late in 1860
- she continued to work for the SMH until 1890
- she stopped working for a newspaper based in Montreal, Canada, in 1885.
Anna’s newspaper work is one of the parts of her life that I’d have to do a great deal of travel to research thoroughly. None of Anna’s newspaper articles was credited to her by name - that was standard practice at that time but it does make individual writers hard to spot. Two pseudonyms used by Anna for her newspaper writing have been discovered (not by me, I hasten to add - I wouldn’t have known how to go about it): she wrote for the SMH as Fidelitas; and some other newspapers as Stella. Articles signed with just ‘AB’ are also assumed to be by her. If I spent time in Ohio and in Canada I might be able to work out which newspapers she worked for in those two places, and possible dates during which she was employed by them. But she also worked for newspapers in India and South Africa - I’ve no idea which papers or when and it’s just too time and money-consuming for me to attempt to find out.
The Scoop! database states that Anna was living in Paris from as early as the late 1840s. I’ve already mentioned evidence I’ve found that she often spent part of each year in England. Although Anna might have struggled at first to converse in French with French people, as early as 1847 her French had been capable of translating George Sand’s novel Jacques (published in 1833). As she only ever translated one other fiction-work, Jacques must have had a particular resonance for Anna and might even sum up one important reason why she never married. Jacques is about the marriage of mismatched partners who cannot escape and start their lives again because there is no divorce. George Sand shows a teenage bride pushed into the marriage by her family; and puts some arguments into the mouth of the hero Jacques, that all the Blackwells could identify with - about education and independence for women.
You will have noticed that one thing Anna doesn’t seem to have done, was work for a newspaper in Britain. These GD members, they never do the easy thing! But I think there’s a reason why Anna didn’t. To have a woman reporter was very unusual for a 19th-century newspaper. Newspapers - both writers and readers - were a man’s world. Anna Blackwell was not the only GD woman writer to find that British newspapers were particularly resistant to the idea of women on the staff. Newspapers in newer countries were rather more flexible.
Anna was happy to write about anything her editors asked her to cover, from politics to ‘high-life’ gossip; but her relaxed, chatty style was something very new, and caused her Australian employer, John Fairfax, some qualms when he read the first piece she sent him. However, his son’s support for her style won him over, and Anna must also have been professional and reliable about copy deadlines to keep the job for so long.
Anna did write a few articles for journals, but not very many as what time she could spare from her newspaper work was taken up, especially after the mid-1860s, with her efforts to promote spiritism. In 1858 and 1860 she wrote two short biographies for the English Woman’s Journal, which was produced by her friends Barbara Leigh Smith and Bessie Rayner Parkes. The subjects of both Anna’s articles were contemporary French women artists - Rosa Bonheur and Henriette Browne. She did also write one article for Chambers’s Journal of Popular Literature Science and Arts. This piece was written in the 1860s but not published, for some reason, until 1897.
In 1869, Anna’s translation of La Petite Bohémienne was published as The Little Gipsy: it had been written for a child, Edma Fröhlich, by Élie Sauvage (normally a playwright) and illustrated with pictures by Edma’s father, the illustrator Lorenz Fröhlich. The illustrations to the French original were put into Anna’s English version.
The years between 1868 and 1873 were a turbulent time in Anna’s life. This rough period began with the sudden death of Allan Kardec (Hippolyte Rivail) in April 1869. Just three weeks later, a spirit made contact with Anna in a seance Anna was having with her sister Marian, a good medium and like Anna a believer in spiritism. The spirit gave Anna an answer to a question about Kardec which she later found to be correct; from then on she believed that the spirit was the archangel Uriel, come to be the guardian angel she had been awaiting for many years. A couple of months after that, Anna gave her evidence to the Dialectical Society’s investigating committee.
The three events caused Anna to think deeply about what exactly she believed, and to begin work on two major pieces of writing (in English) about the meaning of spiritism - the follow-up to her Dialectical Society evidence which was published as part of the final Report and which I’ve talked about above; and a book called The Philosophy of Existence. The Philosophy of Existence was meant to be in three parts: Soul and Body; The Testimony of the Ages; and Christ and Antichrist. Part two, The Testimony of the Ages, was published, firstly as articles in the magazine Human Nature and then in book form, the printing of which Anna paid for herself. The book version went on sale in June 1871 at London’s Progressive Library at 15 Southampton Row in Bloomsbury. It is, essentially, a defence of reincarnation, Anna quoting an astonishing range of sources from the ancient mystery cults through the Vedas and Confucius to the Edda tales and the Kabbala, to justify her belief in the contintually-reborn soul; though she didn’t go quite as far as to say that the soul was eternal - in a later work she suggested only that it could exist, being reincarnated, for perhaps millions of years.
The other two parts of Anna’sThe Philosophy of Existence never got as far as being published. Further disruption in her life may have thrown her off-course permanently - the Franco-Prussian war broke out. When Napoléon III declared war on Prussia in July 1870, Anna was still in France completing her written evidence for the Dialectical Society. She must have left, though, before the Prussian siege of Paris began on 19 September, or she would have been trapped in the city. The siege was lifted on 28 January 1871 because the French sued for peace, but the citizens of Paris rose up in revolt against the terms France was having to accept, and the Paris Commune began. The only time I caught Anna Blackwell on the UK census was 1871 - the Paris Commune was still hanging on at this point (early April), and Anna was stuck in London, staying with her spiritualist friend María, Condesa de Pomar. The Commune collapsed in May 1871. I haven’t been able to find out when Anna thought it safe to return to Paris, but she was able to give vivid descriptions to her newspapers of what the city looked like, after all the violence and destruction.
Then Anna’s mother died, in 1872. Late that year, Anna was still talking of The Philosophy of Existence as a work in progress, but all the recent upheaval and distress in her life had sapped her momentum, and she abandoned what would have been her great work on spiritism. Instead she began working her way through translations into English of Kardec’s three major works, which provided a kind-of ‘how to’ and ‘what to expect’ manual for mediums. Anna’s translations of The Spirits’ Book, The Mediums’ Book and Heaven and Hell were published in 1875, 1876 and 1878 respectively.
It was inevitable that senior spiritists would worry about what would happen to spiritism after the death of its founder: hence the translations into English of his major works. Anna also took the initiative in September 1872 when the beliefs of spiritists were attacked by other spiritualists. Anna was a member of the Paris Spiritist Society. Ordinarily she would have looked to its president to make a response to the attack, but he was away travelling, so - though on holiday herself (at Wimereux in the Pas de Calais) - Anna undertook to write two long replies to letters by a Monsieur Clavairoz which had appeared in Human Nature magazine. In those replies she defended spiritism as a “broad, rational, coherent theory” and contrasted it with spiritualism in general which she described as a “parcel of incoherent guesses”.
At the end of 1872 - already a difficult year - Anna Blackwell was mentioned by name in one of the Times’ occasional attacks on spiritualism; and her written evidence to the Dialectical Society committee was described as such as to make the reader believe either himself or the author mad. The article also made a silly typographical error, describing Anna’s deity as a “Casual” rather than a ‘causal’ being. Or was it an error? - there are not many typo’s in the Times at this period, so perhaps it was a joke; one that spiritists would not find very funny. Anna was spending Christmas in Paris, at her flat in Avenue d’Eylau, and might have got away with not knowing anything about the Times’ jibes; but a friend in London undertook to send the relevant copy of the Times to her and having read the offending article, she felt she had to respond. She tried to keep her annoyance out of it and make a rational response to the Times’ criticisms of spiritualism. She also asked the pertinent question why Materialists seemed to feel it so important that spiritism should be disproved (she did not say ‘ridiculed’ although she could have). She wrote her reply on 6 January, the day that the Times brought an end to the affair by printing a short piece in response to several other spiritualists who had written in to express their indignation and whose letters they had published. The Times never published Anna’s letter, so she put it together with the two letters replying to Monsieur Clavairoz and had them all printed herself, by H Nisbet of Glasgow, publishing them in 1873 as Spiritualism and Spiritism. I do think it was very unsporting and ungentlemanly of the Times to criticise Anna by name and then refuse to print her response.
Anna’s belief in spiritism fitted with the wish of all members of the Blackwell family to work for a better society. As Anna saw it, spiritism could rid the world of the evils that beset it by enabling humans to communicate with spirits on a higher level of existence and learn from them a better way of organising things. With this in view, she took part in a competition organised by the British National Association of Spiritualists for essays on the subject The Probable Effect of Spiritualism upon the Social, Moral and Religious Condition of Society. Her essay won first prize and was published in 1876.
Despite Anna’s efforts, spiritism never really caught on in England; though I notice from the web that there are spiritist organisations still active in several countries, notably Brasil.
Anna’s kind of long-distance writing work - about six weeks in 1860, for example, between her writing the article and the SMH publishing it - was superceded in the end as cables were laid under the oceans. Communication got speedier and editors began to expect more up-to-date copy; and perhaps shorter articles - the first submission Anna sent to SMH was six pages long! And handwritten, I suppose. My best source for Anna’s newspaper career says that by 1890 the SMH was Anna’s only employer, all her other employers having, gradually, dispensed with her services (including the newspaper in Montreal in 1885). In 1890, Anna was over 70 and may have accepted her redundancy as an enforced retirement.
Anna was never a person to give money much priority in her life. In any case, taking the advice of her brother George Washington Blackwell (who had turned out to have a real talent for buying real estate) she had built up a nice portfolio of investments that added to her income. However, in 1885 put her financial circumstances in jeopardy when she moved out of Paris at least for a few months, to Triel-sur-Seine a few kilometres west of the city, for the most extraordinary, ‘Dan Brown’-like reason: she wanted to dig for James II’s jewellery.
When Britain’s James II was deposed in 1688, he and his family went to live in France at St Germain-en-Laye in a chateau lent them by Louis XIV. James II died there and was buried in the parish church. So far so truthful, but by the middle of the 19th-century a rumour had got about that James had fled England with some of the British crown jewels and his own personal jewellery packed up in crates, and that the crates had been buried in Triel-sur-Seine to await better times. Several investigations by various French authorities have all found that there was no evidence at all that James II ever had such a hoard, let alone buried it under a garden in Triel; but when has that ever stopped anyone? Before Anna arrived on the scene, large sums of money had been spent by a number of people trying to find the supposed crates and grab their contents - steam diggers had been used, long and large (and dangerous) tunnels had been dug. A body had been found and some coins, but nothing like James II’s crates had been seen. In 1886, Anna agreed with Madame Deville (the owner of the land under which the crates were supposed to be) to live with Mme Deville and pay her for board and lodging while she took her turn at trying to find the hoard. And according to the biographical section of the Schlesinger Library’s Blackwell Collection, Anna wasted a lot of her money doing so, and found nothing at all before she gave up, probably when Mme Deville died in January 1886 and the land passed into the ownership of a Monsieur de la Bastie.
Throughout the decades she spent living most of the year in France, Anna had the habit of making regular visits to England to see friends and relations and keep up to date with trends in British thought. In July 1857 Anna, Barbara Leigh Smith and Bessie Rayner Parkes were three of the 15 women present at Lord Brougham’s house at the meeting which founded the National Association for the Promotion of Social Science (NAPSS). In 1864 she was available (so presumably in London) to sign Barbara Bodichon’s first petition to the Houses of Parliament for legislation to allow married women’s their earnings and property - what became the married women’s property acts. In 1869 while she was in London to speak to the Dialectical Society, Anna, María de Pomar and a number of other women friends went to a seance at the home of Samuel Carter Hall and his wife. And in the 1880s she must have gone to meetings of the Theosophical Society in London (there wasn’t a branch of the TS in Paris until the 1890s) because William Forsell Kirby wrote in a theosophical magazine about having a discussion with her at a TS meeting about whether theosophy should include a belief in reincarnation. Anna’s translations of Kardec were known to members of the TS - Isabel de Steiger mentions in her Memoirs that she had read them - but the ideas in them were controversial amongst TS members. William Kirby describes how he and Francesca Arundale were “regarded almost as heretics” by other theosophists for defending the idea of reincarnation as a part of theosophy. The fact that other theosophists rejected the idea is almost certainly why Anna didn’t join the TS officially (though her sister Marian was a member in the mid-1890s). De Steiger and Kirby both later joined the Golden Dawn.
Anna was always broad-minded. Just as she went to TS meetings while not really identifying with Eastern philosophy, she also kept abreast of developments in other strands of spiritualism. She was a subscriber to the weekly spiritualist newspaper Light, probably from its first issue in 1881, and continued to read it until her death.
Scoop! database states that Anna lived in France until 1896 but Golden Dawn and census evidence shows that she moved to live permanently in England at the end of 1891. She settled in Hastings, in a house that was a short walk from where Elizabeth Blackwell had been living for some years. Sunnyside, Dudley Road Hastings was the address Anna gave when she was initiated into the Golden Dawn. After Hannah Blackwell’s death (1872), sister Marian had moved to Europe, dividing her time between living with Anna and living with Elizabeth. This had meant a lot of travelling between France and England until Anna’s return, but when Anna rented the house in Hastings, Marian Blackwell moved permanently into another house on Dudley Road; she died in 1897.
Anna might have been in her mid-70s but moving to England was not an indication that she was ready to take life easy. She kept up with many of the interests that had always been important to her.
Anna had felt moved and excited by looking up at the stars and planets all her life, and in the 1890s she was (still?) a member of the Société Astronomique de France. The wonder of the night sky is a recurring theme in Anna’s Poems of 1853, particularly the one entitled A Song of the Stars which has a sub-section called ‘Urania’s song’, rather apt for a future GD member. The stars and planets were an important part of theory of spiritism: spiritism argued that the stars and planets were inhabited by the higher intelligences spiritists sought out through seances. Anna and Marian will have seen some wonderful starscapes from the cliffs at Hastings. Perhaps Anna wondered which of the stars or planets (she wouldn’t have known of galaxies) she might inhabit in a future reincarnation; she had learned in one seance that a father from a previous incarnation of hers was now incarnated on Jupiter.
Anna’s mind in the 1890s was still in full working order and she was able to write one last attempt to get spiritism accepted. In Whence and Whither? she wondered what the outcome would be of the “general throwing of Beliefs into the crucible of analytic examination” that had occurred in her lifetime: it was obvious that society would change as a result of changes in the beliefs that underpinned it, but what sort of society was going to emerge from the changes she had observed? Although as a spiritist she viewed all things as subject to continual change, Anna thought that the changes currently being brought about by the rise of Materialism were likely to end in the destruction of the human race. To prevent that, and to steer society through difficult times, she advocated a concerted effort by Materialists and others to contact entities in higher spheres who could tell mankind how to prevent disaster. She reminded Materialists that even Materialism was a transitory state, and would not last. And though a human life was “but one step of the endless career we have before us”, “the use we make of each phase of our existence decides the character of the next phase of our career” (all Anna’s italics): it was in the individual’s interests to do the right thing in this life, so that the next incarnation would be at a higher level. Anna was right about humankind being in the process of destroying itself; the process continues. But of course, as Anna’s way of saving mankind involved spiritism and an assumption of reincarnation, no one took any notice of her.
Seeking, perhaps, a different way of putting her spiritist point over, Anna looked again at the poems she had written in her 20s and 30s, and re-published the last poem in her Poems book: A Vision. Her views - on work, on people working together, on the possibility of a society based on justice and freedom for all - had not changed, in the years since she had written it. A Vision is a description of a dream/vision in which the poet first looks out over an all-too-real world full of poverty, disease, war, crime and vice; and then is gently taken in hand by an Angel (who is female) and shown what the world could become if humanity were one: enough food for all, physical work as enjoyment not drudgery, all men and women united in faith and Truth, an end to the horrors of violence and starvation. It ends with the poet awaking to a dawn of renewed hope and belief.
Anna was in her mid-70s when she accepted the offer of initiation into the Golden Dawn. I’ve indicated above that Anna had some experience of many of the skills that GD members were expected to learn, even if it was only as a client, not as a practitioner. She had consulted an astrologer in England (in 1845) and the clairvoyant ‘Edmond’ in France (in 1856), so she had seen the use of birth data and cards (tarot cards I presume) as aids to prediction; and she at least knew about the existence of the Kabbala although I don’t think she would have claimed to be an expert in understanding it. I don’t think she knew much about any western occult texts, but her habit of reading metaphysical and philosophical works made her more able than most of the GD’s women members to cope with the study required by the GD of initiates who wanted to make progress. And her lack of skill as a medium was actually a help, rather than a hindrance, in the GD. A good medium was receptive, open to communications that spirits were sending. Good medium-ship was a listening, almost a passive skill - which is why women were so good at it. Magic, on the other hand, required decision and action, even the willingness to take risks - completely different qualities.
Anna used days in London to borrow and return copies of study-items prepared by William Wynne Westcott for his GD students: a description of the lesser pentagram ritual, for example, and a lecture on pillars; signing them out in the GD’s Lending Book in dashing purple ink. It might have been William Wynne Westcott who saw Anna as a likely candidate for initiation into the GD: although Kirby didn’t mention Westcott in the article in which he remembered talking to Anna at a TS meeting, Westcott had also been a member of the TS since the early 1880s and would have known Anna and her writing (though he was never a spiritualist himself).
Anna Blackwell died on 4 January 1900. If she was right about reincarnation, I wonder where - and who - she is now.
ANNA’S PUBLICATIONS (other than the newspaper columns)
The Columbian Magazine volumes 5-6 1846
p6 Night and Morning
p208 To the Artist
p280 The Persian Wife, for which Blackwell wrote both words and music
p286 The Lay of the Lady Alice.
The Columbian Magazine was published in New York by John Inman and Robert A West.
Searching with google I found editions of this magazine from volumes 1-2 (1844) to volume 7 (1847) but nothing any later so I guess volume 7 was the last one issued.
ANNA’S POEM LEGEND OF THE WATERFALL
This poem was published in the painting anthology The American Gallery of Art, edited by J Sartain, published c 1848 Philadelphia: Lindsay and Blakiston. Each poem is illustrated by an engraving by Sartain from an original painting by an American artist. The Legend of the Waterfall was also included in Anna’s volume, Poems, published in 1853.
ARTICLE SAID BY ANNA TO HAVE INTRODUCED SPIRITUALISM TO THE FRENCH
In the Journal du Magnétisme volume issued 1850. Article by Anna: Les Coups Mystérieux. I haven’t seen this journal. I only found out about it because Anna mentioned it, and the article she had written, in Spiritualism and Spiritism (1873).
ANNA’s ARTICLES IN THE ENGLISH WOMAN’S JOURNAL
- June 1858: Rosa Bonheur, An Authorised Biography; and
- April 1860: Henriette Browne.
I must say that I haven’t read either of these, I have just noted down the details from Beyond the Frame: Feminism and Visual Culture in Britain 1850-1900 by Deborah Cherry, who is also the source for Anna’s work being signed sometimes with the initials AB. Cherry discusses Anna’s two articles on pp53-54 - in which she confirms that Anna knew Bonheur personally - and pp91-92.
Wikipedia on the 2 artists:
ROSA BONHEUR full name Marie-Rosalie Bonheur. 1822-99, artist and sculptor particularly of animals. Her best-known work is The Horse Fair (1853).
HENRIETTE BROWNE is the professional name of Sophie de Boutellier (1829-1901), later Mme Jules de Saulx, traveller and artist specialising in oriental subjects. The Tate has some of her works, see www.tate.org/art/artists/henriette-browne.
THE ONLY OTHER ARTICLE BY ANNA THAT I KNOW OF, IN A NON-SPIRITUALIST MAGAZINE
Chambers’s Journal of Popular Literature Science and Arts vol 74 1897 p425 article by Anna Blackwell: The Providence of Book Hunters. It’s about book collecting and there’s a note with it saying that in the 1860s Anna was a friend of Robert Browning’s father and sister (though not, apparently, of the poet himself), and that Mr Browning senior had told her some of the anecdotes related in the article.
ITEMS IN THE BRITISH LIBRARY CATALOGUE
Just noting, firstly, that I did search the catalogue using Anna’s writing names ‘Fidelitas’, ‘Stella’ and ‘AB’. I didn’t see anything that was likely to have been written by Anna though I did get vast numbers of responses on Stella and AB so I might have missed something.
1847 Jacques, translated by Anna from the French novel by George Sand. Published in New York.Wikipedia on George Sand, real name [Amantine Lucile] Aurore Dupin, who married Baron Casimir Dudevant but left him later; 2 children. Series of relationships including the famous one, with Chopin. First novel as George Sand published 1832. Jacques originally published in French 1833.
1853 Poems published London: John Chapman of 142 Strand. On p29, in her poem De Profundis, Anna says, “There is no Death; but only Change” - which sums up her beliefs in a few words.
Apart from the re-publication of A Vision, I couldn’t find any poems by Anna published later than this volume. Via google, I found a review of the book in Westminster Review volume 61 1854 p165 the (anonymous) reviewer feels Anna is imitating Tennyson, probably without being aware of it. I imagine half the poets writing in English were doing that at the time!
1869 The Little Gipsy translated by Anna from the French children’s book by Élie Sauvage. Published London: Griffith and Farran.
French wikipedia on Élie François Victor Sauvage 1814-71. He seems to have lived most of his life in Paris though he wasn’t born there. His earliest work is a play published 1833; he wrote 13 plays in all, some with collaborators, including one on Jeanne d’Arc; he also did a translation of King Lear. Most of his output is plays but he published one book of poetry and two novels. La Petite Bohémmiene is mentioned on this website as having been translated into English; but the translator isn’t named.
Anna’s English translation is available on the web via archive.org. Text by Sauvage, pictures (lots) by Lorenz Frölich. On pi a translation of Sauvage’s dedication, to Edma Frölich, daughter of a friend of the author. On piv there’s a short note by Anna as translator, just saying that the book is very popular in France and is used by some schools.
1871 The Philosophy of Existence: the Testimony of the Ages published London June 1871: sold by J Burns at the Progressive Library, 15 Southampton Row. It is comprised of articles by Anna originally published in the magazine Human Nature. On the last page, p92, The Philosophy of Existence is described as having 3 parts, 2 of which are forthcoming. The magazine Human Nature London was published in London between 1867 and 1878.
1873 Spiritualism and Spiritism. Published privately for Anna by H Nisbet of Glasgow and consisting of 3 letters, written in 1872 and 1873. In the first two letters, Anna talks more about her own beliefs and experiences than in anything else she ever published; perhaps because she was writing them for a spiritualist audience and contributing to debates amongst spiritualists. She also mentioned that her sister Marian was a spiritist, not just a spiritualist.
What provoked Anna to write the third letter in Spiritualism and Spiritism:
Times Thursday 26 December 1872 p5 long article Spiritualism and Science purporting to commemorate the 20th-anniversary of Faraday’s offering of proof that table-turning is/can be done by human muscle movements; and noting how little difference this proof had made to people believing in spiritualism. The writer (who’s anonymous of course) uses the word “epidemic” to describe how widespread belief in spiritualism has become. Half way through this denunciation, the writer gets to the report issued by the Dialectical Society on its investigations into spiritualism. The writer mentions 2 submissions to it in particlar, both by women (though the writer doesn’t comment on that fact) and who are both named: Anna Blackwell and the then Condesa de Pomar who is now Countess of Caithness. The writer mentions Anna’s “fifty pages of close print” expounding Kardec’s belief that the Deity is a “Casual Being” (sic) and ending by saying that Anna’s piece must surely convince any reader that “either he (again sic) or the author is stark and staring mad”. Anna’s work is described as putting “Spiritualistic experience side by side with her philosophic convictions”. The writer describes Anna as one of the group of followers of the school of “spiritist philosophy” founded by the late Allan Kardec. Then the writer goes on to quote Pomar and rubbish her submission at length as well. The Times writer is firm in refusing to believe in a “Psychic Force”. The writer applauds G H Lewes for “Distinguishing between facts and inferences from facts”: when spiritualists talk about tables being lifted by spirits, the Times is not doubting the rising tables, only the spirits.
Following the Spiritualism and Science article, the Times printed several replies between 1 and 6 January 1873. Please note that I didn’t look at any of the contents of the replies, just who had written them, so I don’t know whether they agreed with the Times’ scepticism or not - though I suppose not. The authors of the replies were: Edward W Cox; Henry Dircks FCS; “F.G.S.”; Alfred R Wallace; “An Eight Years’ Spiritualist”; John Algernon Clarke; and Fenton Cameron MD. In response to the replies, the Times printed a final article on Monday 6 January 1873, sticking to the view of its original article and closing the debate. Searching using ‘spiritualism’ I didn’t get a single response from Times for the rest of 1873.
Anna’s translations of Allan Kardec, writing name of Léon Hippolyte Denisart Rivail 1804-69:
1875 Spiritualist Philosophy: The Spirits’ Book
1876 Experimental Spiritism: The Mediums’ Book
1878 Practical Spiritism: Heaven and Hell, Divine Justice Vindicated in the Plurality of Existences
All published London: Trübner and Co.
1898 Whence and Whither? Correlation between Philosophic Convictions and Social Forms Published London: G Redway.
1898 A Vision. Published London: G Redway.
NOT IN THE BRITISH LIBRARY
Via google I was able to look at this work via a copy now in the library at Cornell University:
1876 Probable Effect of Spiritualism upoon the Social, Moral and Religious Condition of Society. Published for the British National Association of Spiritualists by E W Allen.
The volume contains the first and second prize-winning entries in a competition to write on that subject. The first prize in the competition was a gold medal and £20; Anna’s essay won it! The second-prize essay was by a G F Green. In the Preface (unnumbered page): the competition entries had been judged by a committee which included Alfred Russel Wallace. Anna’s essay occupies pp5-40 in the volume; on p5 is a handwritten dedication by Anna sending this copy to Mr and Mrs ?H Stanton, on 20 April 1888 “with the Authoress’s Kind Regards”.
If I’ve read the dedication correctly, the most likely dedicatee is H B Stanton, son of Elizabeth Cady Stanton, a friend of all the Blackwells.
BASIC SOURCES I USED for all Golden Dawn members.
Membership of the Golden Dawn: The Golden Dawn Companion by R A Gilbert. Northampton: The Aquarian Press 1986. Between pages 125 and 175, Gilbert lists the names, initiation dates and addresses of all those people who became members of the Hermetic Order of the Golden Dawn or its many daughter Orders between 1888 and 1914. The list is based on the Golden Dawn’s administrative records and its Members’ Roll - the large piece of parchment on which all new members signed their name at their initiation. All this information had been inherited by Gilbert but it’s now in the Freemasons’ Library at the United Grand Lodge of England building on Great Queen Street Covent Garden. Please note, though, that the records of the Amen-Ra Temple in Edinburgh were destroyed in 1900/01. As far as I know, the records of the Horus Temple at Bradford have not survived either.
Family history: freebmd; ancestry.co.uk (census and probate); findmypast.co.uk; familysearch; Burke’s Peerage and Baronetage; Burke’s Landed Gentry; Armorial Families; thepeerage.com; and a wide variety of family trees on the web.
Famous-people sources: mostly about men, of course, but very useful even for the female members of GD. Oxford Dictionary of National Biography. Who Was Who. Times Digital Archive.
Catalogues: British Library; Freemasons’ Library.
Wikipedia; Google; Google Books - my three best resources for history, biography etc. I also used other web pages, but with some caution, as - from the historian’s point of view - they vary in quality a great deal.
SOURCES FOR ANNA BLACKWELL
ABOUT WHAT ANNA BORROWED FROM THE GOLDEN DAWN’S TEACHING COLLECTION:
Freemasons’ Library Golden Dawn collection GBR GD2/2/8a Receipts for items (usually books) borrowed from William Wynne Westcott during period 1891-1892.
THE BLACKWELL FAMILY OF ENGLAND AND USA
At oasis.lib.harvard.edu/oasis/deliver/~sch00050 is a list of the Blackwell collection in the Arthur and Elizabeth Schlesinger Library at the Radcliffe Institute, Harvard University. The collection covers 1832 to 1981 and begins with a biographical section and discussion of the people they knew. Eventually, family members were scattered from Wisconsin to India but they remained a very tight-knit group, exchanging letters constantly. It’s those letters that are the basis of Harvard University’s collection.
The Schlesinger website recommends Those Extraordinary Blackwells by Elinor Rice Hays published 1967, for further information.
THE BRISTOL BOOK ON THE BLACKWELL FAMILY Elizabeth Blackwell of Bristol: The First Woman Doctor by Mary Wright. Pamphlet printed by the Bristol Branch of the Historical Association. No date of publication but the British Library accession date-stamp says 1996.
BROOKE FARM COMMUNITY
There’s plenty on it on the web, largely through its connection with Ralph Waldo Emerson though he never lived there. My information is based on its wikipedia page.
ON EMERSON’S TRANSCENDENTALISM from //transcendentalism.tamu.edu which is the website of the American Transcendentalists - the idea still exists and is seen as an American contribution to the subject, not anything imported from Europe.
AND ON CHARLES FOURIER: see wikipedia he’s François Marie Charles Fourier, 1772-1837 French philosopher and proponent of social and moral views way ahead of his time; generally credited with having invented the word ‘feminism’. Ideas tried out in the 1848 revolution in France, and the Paris Commune were influenced by him.
EDGAR ALLAN POE
On the web, has letters to/from Poe available to read including LTR-270 from Poe to Anna Blackwell, dated 14 June 1848 from Fordham.
Elsewhere at This was helpful about what happened after the exchange of letters. more on this exchange of letters, in an article originally in Poe Studies volume XII number 2 issued December 1979: Poe and Miss Anna Blackwell by John C Miller of Old Dominion University.
Wikipedia on Whitman: she’s Sarah Helen Whitman, friend/correspondent of Poe; her Poe collection is at the University of Virginia now.
ANNA AS A FOREIGN CORRESPONDENT
A general work on women in this job: Battling for Hodder and Stoughton 1994. the Rise of the Woman Reporter by Anne Sebba.
The British Library has a database of 19th and 20th century journalists called Scoop! The database doesn’t give many sources for the information in it. Scoop gives Fidelitas, and Stella, as the writing names Anna used but only has information on what she wrote as Fidelitas. It’s this database that has the information on when Anna began writing for newspapers. It also reckons she moved to Paris as early as the late 1840s; though it says she lived there until 1896 which I have found is wrong. Scoop! is also wrong about the period in which Anna wrote for the Sydney Morning Herald, which makes me a bit worried about some of the other information in the database.
At You needed to subscribe to get into the full database, so I couldn’t get any more information. is the Australian Literature Research site, which knows of 8 works by Anna as Stella; 1 by Anna as Fidelitas; and none at all by her as AB.
At The thesis’ Chapter XI is called Woman Columnists and discusses the situation pre-Clift. On p228 the Sydney Morning Herald had been happy to employ woman journalists right from its foundation. A job as a foreign correspondent was “coveted” by aspiring journalists. Anna wrote as ‘Stella’ for the SMH. She was appointed its foreign correspondent in 1860 and kept the job for over 30 years. Her first column was 6 pages long, written in Paris October 1860 and published by SMH in its edition of 18 December 1860. Tucker describes Anna’s style as “chatty” and says she wrote her columns in the first person. This was so different from what was typical of newspaper writing styles at the time - formal, 3rd-person, unpersonal - that SMH’s owner, John Fairfax, had to be reassured that it wld appeal to the readers by his son James, who supported Anna’s approach when they discussed it. Tucker p229 notes that this kind of column-writing became obsolete with the advent of communication by cable. As a result Anna’s newspaper employer in Montreal “dispensed with” her column in 1885 so that SMH was her only employer. I looked at the footnotes for this chapter but couldn’t figure out where Tucker had seen the information about Anna’s employer in Montreal. is the University of Wollongong’s Research Online Thesis Collection including the full text of G R Tucker’s thesis from 1991: From Novelist to Essayist: the Charmian Clift Phenomenon.
FRANCO-PRUSSIAN WAR AND PARIS COMMUNE
From wikipedia: war was declared July 1870; fighting stopped with an armistice January 1871 and a peace deal was signed May 1871. The war had rather a lot of important consequences including the fall of Napoléon III amidst a general feeling that France was behind Prussia in technology and had been inadequately prepared for war; and the Paris Commune which lasted from January to 28 May 1871.
ANNA AND SPIRITUALISM
Some good modern sources for spiritualism in general:
The Other World: Spiritualism and Psychical Research in England 1850-1914 by Janet Oppenheim. Cambridge University Press 1985.
The Darkened Room: Women, Power and Spiritualism in Late Victorian England by Alex Owen. Chicago and London: University of Chicago Press 2004.
Radical Spirits: Spiritualism and Women’s Rights in 19th Century America. Ann Braude. Boston Mass: Beacon Press 1989. This is a good source for how many of Anna’s siblings and their spouses were spiritualists.
Some contemporary sources for Anna’s involvement in spiritualism:
At In volume 2 number 10 issued October 2006 is a long article p221 about the impact of the first visit to Britain by the Amercan medium Mrs Maria Hayden, in 1853; based on letters sent during her visit by her husband W R Hayden to his friend Samuel Britten. On p224 Anna is mentioned by W R Hayden as someone who went to one of Maria Hayden’s seances; the novelist Edward Bulwer Lytton is also mentioned as having gone to at least one of them. is the electronic newsletter Psypioneer founded by Leslie Price, edited by Paul J Gaunt.
Alex Owen p19 describes Maria Hayden as beginning her career as a public medium in October 1852 and as having introduced spiritualism “to the fashionable world” (in England), the first of a flood of mediums from the US to do a tour in Britain.
Christmas Story: John Ruskin’s Venetian Letters of 1876-77 edited by van Akin Burd. P63 is part of a chapter on Ruskin’s Inquiry into Spiritualism and covers letters written in 1866. “In Paris in August” Ruskin’s friend Cowper went to a séance held by “the English spiritualist Anna Blackwell, a disciple of the French medium Hippolyte Rivail”.
Oppenheim (index) identifies Cowper as later being given a peerage as Lord Mount-Temple. Wikipedia: William Francis Cowper 1811-88, 2nd son of 5th Earl Cowper and wife Emily who later married Lord Palmerston. Liberal MP. When Lord Palmerston was Prime Minister, he gave Cowper several appointments including a spell as First Commissioner of Works. Emily Palmerston died in 1869. Later Cowper inherited estates including Broadlands from Lord Palmerston and added Palmerston’s surname ‘Temple’ to his own. Became a peer as first and only Baron Mount-Temple. Married twice, no children. The 2nd marriage was to Georgiana Tollemache who died 1901.
Via google: The Spiritual Magazine volume 4 1869 p473 has a list of people attesting the contents of an article by S C Hall describing events during a sceance at his house on 18 July [?1869], one of a series of five using a Mrs Everett (sic) as medium. The list is of people who are defending Everett against accusations of fraud; it included Anna Blackwell and María de Pomar.
Oppenheim p34, 35 and Owen p89 both know who the medium was, but spell her name EverItt. Oppenheim p42 says she was the wife of Thomas Everitt, a tailor. Owen p89 describes Mrs Everitt as a talented medium but never a professional one. S C Hall is identified by Oppenheim p34 as Samuel Carter Hall, a journalist and editor of the magazine Art Journal 1839-80. His wife was also a writer - Anna Maria Fielding Hall. The Halls were champions of the famous medium Daniel Hume. Oppenheim thinks them both rather credulous. P35 Ruskin knows both S C Hall and Mrs Cowper.
ANNA’S EVIDENCE TO THE DIALECTICAL SOCIETY 1869
Report on Spiritualism of the Committee of the London Dialectical Society, Together with the Evidence.... London: Longmans, Green, Reader and Dyer. 1871.
Preface pvi: the Society agreed to carry out the investigation at a meeting held on Wednesday 6 January 1869; the members of the investigating committee were appointed at the meeting of 26 January 1869; they included Charles Bradlaugh and Alfred Russel Wallace. T H Huxley and George Henry Lewes were asked to help the committee but were not official members of it. The committee heard evidence from 33 people including 9 women. In the Report, the evidence heard was published as a summing-up of what had been said, not verbatim.
P217-222 Anna Blackwell and María de Pomar both gave evidence to the committee during the afternoon of Tuesday 20 July 1869. Anna was asked about whether spirits would manifest themselves in the presence of people who didn’t believe in spiritualism; whether bad spirits as well as good ones (whatever that might mean) could manifest themselves during seances; and if and how people at a seance could distinguish between a good spirit and a bad one. In her evidence, Anna used the example of her sister (Anna didn’t give her name but I think it’s Elizabeth) as someone who could communicate as “a writing medium” despite being a firm non-believer in spirit manifestations. Anna had experienced manifestations of bad spirits herself during seances - one spirit had hit her, but she and her sister had continued to let it communicate in the hope of improving its behaviour. Dr Edmunds, who was chairing that afternoon’s session, asked Anna if she thought this violent spirit was a devil; and in her reply Anna began to expound the spiritist argument that she wrote up the following year at much greater length. She said, “I do not believe in a special devil but the imperfect spirits are all in a manner devils”. Dr Edmunds followed this up by asking Anna whether she believed spirits could go back and forth between animals and people. Anna said no, but that she did think that there was a general progression of spirits “from gases to crystals, from animals to man” although “there was a reason why one thing is a cress and another a flower”. Dr Edmunds wasn’t satisfied with this reply - which does seem to contradict itself - he asked Anna if she thought that “the spirit which animates a man” might once have animated a horse. Again Anna gave a rather contradictory set of answers, by saying no but adding that in spiritism a spirit could progress and “become purified...so as to reach a higher stage”.
As this is a biography of a member of the Golden Dawn, I thought I’d note it down that (p224) another person giving evidence that afternoon spoke of using what must have been a kind of banishing ceremony, at the end of a seance. And (p222) Anna said that she and her sister “never begin [a seance] without a prayer”.
It seems from Anna’s published work of 1870 that after giving evidence formally to the committee, she was asked to return the following day. What was said at that second session is unknown, unless the details made their way into Anna’s written submission to the Committee, because that second session was an informal session and not included in the committee’s Report.
Anna’s evidence confirms what I’ve said in the main biography, about Anna never seeing herself as a good medium - I daresay that by this time she had tried and failed.
Light: A Journal of Psychical, Occult and Mystical Research. Published London: Eclectic Publishing Co Ltd of 2 Duke St Adelphi; first issue 1881. In its early years Light was published by the British National Association of Spiritualists. By 1890, however, it had been taken over by the London Spiritualist Alliance of 2 Duke St Adelphi. In Volume 22 January-December 1900: p14; number 992 issue of Saturday 13 January 1900, a one paragraph obituary of long-time reader Anna Blackwell.
SPIRITISM and ALLAN KARDEC, Léon Hippolyte Denisart Rivail 1804-69.
Virtually all Anna’s appearances via google are as translator of Kardec’s works into English. Editions of Anna’s translations are still in print - on the web I saw one of Heaven and Hell published in 2003. While I was searching google for spiritism I noticed that it’s still fairly active in Roman Catholic countries especially Brasil: eg at there’s the entire text of Heaven and Hell in a pdf file.
At the spiritist website reflight.blogspot.com/2007/07/carrying-on-spiritist-tradition, Anna’s translation of The Spirits’ Book is described as a “decent introduction” to spiritism.
Encyclopedia of Occultism and Parapsychology part 2, Lewis Spence 2003 seen via google p865 short entry for spiritists describes them as the group within spiritualism who believed in reincarnation. Spence describes Anna as spiritism’s only proponent in Britain; he sees her as having tried “without success” to establish spiritism in Britain.
ANNA AND THEOSOPHY
Biography of Anna Bonus Kingsford and her founding of the Hermetic Society by Samuel Hopgood Hart. My copy was printed in 2013 by Kessinger Publishing but originally it was the Biographical Preface to a much longer work, Hart’s Credo of Christendom and other Addresses and Essays on Esoteric Christianity. Via the web it looks like the full book was published in 1930. On p5 Hart is discussing reincarnation. He specifically states that as Helena Petrovna Blavatsky had not mentioned it in her (1877) Isis Unveiled regarded by all TS members as the TS’s “chief text-book”, reincarnation was not a doctrine put forward by the TS. Further down the page, Hart mentions some criticisms of Kardec’s works made by Kingsford who was president of the TS during the early 1880s; Kingsford called them “unscientific and erroneous” and based on “ordinary mediumship...no true spiritual vision but only the ideas of living persons, whom they reflected.”
Confirmation that Blavatsky had tried and rejected Kardec’s ideas in the early 1870s: H.P. Blavatsky: Collected Writings volume VI covering 1883-85. Compiled and with notes by Boris de Zirkoff. Published Los Angeles California: Blavatsky Writings Publication Fund 1954: p308-12.
Lucifer: A Theosophical Magazine Volume XI covering September 1892 to February 1893. Published London: Theosophical Pubishing Society of 7 Duke Street Adelphi. Volume XI number 66 issued 15 February 1893 p515 news item on Chiswick Lodge which met at the house of Golden Dawn member Frederick Leigh Gardner: in January  W F Kirby had lectured on French Spiritism in Relation to Theosophy.
Lucifer: A Theosophical Magazine Volume XII covers March-August 1893. Volume VII number 69 issued 15 May 1893. Kirby’s lecture on French spiritism was printed, beginning on p193. Kirby described modern spiritualism as following 3 main lines of enquiry:
1 in England: attempting to interpret spirit manifestations in a manner as close to orthodox Christian teaching as possible;
2 mainly in United States: interpretation with a “more general and Pantheistic character”;
3 a particularly French line of enquiry advocated by Allan Kardec, J B Roustaing and Anna Blackwell.
The rest of Kirby’s lecture focused on the French interpretation: he saw it as the nearest of the three variants to theosophy, because it assumed reincarnation. Although he wondered whether it was, “too orthodox and too dogmatic” he still viewed spiritism as “one of the most satisfying systems of Western Philosophy with which I am acquainted”. He thought spiritism was particularly suited to people who had been educated in the western tradition and were interested in theosophy, but who found theosophy’s basis in eastern philosophy rather hard to accept.
The publication of Kirby’s lecture provoked a number of responses from readers. In Lucifer: A Theosophical Magazine volume XII number 71 issued 15 July 1893, p514 in the letters section, he replied to them, and to a note posted at the end of his lecture by Lucifer’s editor (Annie Besant). Kirby reminded readers that reincarnation had not always been a tenet of theosophy: “I have been in touch with the movement ever since its commencement”, he said, and as a result he was able to be very sure that, “before Mr Sinnett’s arrival in London very little was heard of Reïncarnation”. In the days before Sinnett, he and Francesca Arundale had been almost the only theosophists in London to think that theosophy must contain reincarnation; they were p515 “regarded almost as heretics in consequence”. During the pre-Sinnett period, Kirby had discussed the omission of reincarnation from theosophy with Anna Blackwell. He still felt that those theosophists who wouldn’t countenance reincarnation were giving “exaggerated importance” to “personal identity”.
Memorabilia: Reminiscences of a Woman Artist and Writer by Isabelle de Steiger. London: Rider and Co; no publication date but the British library accession-date stamp says “27 May 27". On p153-54 de Steiger is talking about her acquaintances in the 1880s when she was living in London. She had read works by Kardec and she notes that some of them had been translated into English by Anna Blackwell. de Steiger and Anna had a mutual friend in Emily Kislingbury, secretary of the British National Association of Spiritualists. However, from the way de Steiger writes this passage, it’s not clear to me whether she actually knew Anna personally, or just knew of her. On p246 in a passage on the Hermetic Society (the GD’s immediate predecessor from the mid-1880s), de Steiger makes one more brief mention of Kardec, saying that Anna Kingsford taught Kardec’s “new doctrine of reincarnation”. De Steiger doesn’t mention it, but it’s possible that Anna Blackwell knew Anna Bonus Kingsford, founder of the Hermetic Society.
THOUGH IT’S MARIAN NOT ANNA WHO’S A MEMBER OF THE THEOSOPHICAL SOCIETY:
Theosophical Society Membership Register June 1893 to March 1895 p133 entry for Miss Marian Blackwell, who paid membership subscriptions to the TS from 1894 to 1898. The address she gave was South View, Dudley Road, Clive Vale Hastings. The sponsor of her application to be a member was TS General Secretary G R S Mead. While I was researching the (strong) connections between the TS and the GD I went through all the TS Membership Registers for the period 1888 to 1901; I couldn’t see any evidence that either Anna or Elizabeth Blackwell were members of the TS during that time.
ANNA AND JAMES II’S JEWELLERY
She didn’t invent the idea! - the first rumours are from a lot earlier in the 19th-century. There’s quite a lot about this on the web.
Wikipedia short article on St Germain-en-Laye, in the Île de France about 11m/19km west of Paris. Louis XIV was born at the royal chateau there. On the arrival of James II and his family in France in 1688, Louis XIV gave them the chateau to live in. James II’s last child was born there; and he died there in September 1701 and is buried in the parish church in the town.
However, everybody’s looking for James II’s jewellery in Triel-sur-Seine not in St Germain-en-Laye and I’m not quite sure why. At there’s an account of the various treasure-hunters which I’m prepared to trust: posted 20 September 2002 by Daniel Biget as co-author of Triel, son histoire, ses légendes. Please note that as the account is in French, and my French is not good, I’m not sure how many of the details I got. But it’s pretty clear that people have been searching one particular place in the town for a bit of the British Crown Jewels, and jewels owned personally - some sources say there were three crates-full - supposedly brought into exile by James II. Though right at the end of this article the author reminds us that at no time did James II ever mention bringing into exile anything of the sort - not to his son, and not even when making his final confession on his death bed.
It wasn’t clear to me from the article exactly when the first rumours about the jewellery and/or the three crates got about, but as early as 1800s Lord Palmerston was nosing about in French archives trying to find evidence of the jewellery being in France; and as the 19th and 20th century progressed there were several official French investigations into its supposed existence. People began actually digging, on the site of a particular group of houses and a garden in Triel-sur-Seine (all one property and owned by one person at a time) opposite the parish church of Triel-sur-Seine, as early as 1845. A particular thread I noticed through in this account and elsewhere on the web, was how much of the digging was financed by women of unknown ancestry using wealth from unknown sources. Anna Blackwell comes into the process in 1885, when the land had been owned for many years by a Madame Deville who is definitely one of the dubious women. In 1885 Mme Deville was 78 and had nearly bankrupted herself trying to find this jewellery hoard without any more success than anyone else. Anna is described in the article as “curieuse femme à la personalité ambigue”. Anna and Mme Deville came to an agreement the exact details of which my French isn’t up to understanding - I got stuck on how you translate the verb ‘louer’. But the results of the deal were clear enough: Anna lodged with Mme Deville and her daughter in one of the houses on the property; and Anna would be allowed to have a part of whatever treasure was found by the digging funded by Anna. That’s the only mention of Anna in the article so I take it she dug and found nothing. (The biographical sketch of Anna in the Schlesinger collection suggests she lost a lot of money through her involvement with Mme Deville.) Whatever Anna did, it didn’t help Mme Deville’s financil situation and in May 1885 Mme Deville sold the property to a Monsieur de la Bastie with the proviso that she was able to cont to live on it for the next three years. In fact she died on 29 January 1886 and Monsieur de la Bastie took full possession of it (and carried on the digging I presume - I didn’t follow the rest of the tale in detail).
I think that Daniel Biget doesn’t believe there’s anything of James II’s to find in Triel-sur-Seine; though via trove.nla.gov.au (the Trove Digitised Newspapers) I found an article in the Launceston Examiner of Monday 30 December 1895 p3 which said that by 1892 a burial had been found on the site, of a woman, with coins thought to be 15th or 16th century. The plot of land was now owned by “an Amercan lady; she is over eighty, and is confident of finding the treasure”. She wasn’t named and I don’t think she can be Anna as Anna had moved to England by then.
ANNA INTERESTED IN ASTRONOMY at least later in life.
Bulletin de la Société Astronomique de France volume 9 1895 p41 probably a list of members though I couldn’t see the top of the list on google’s snippet: Anna Blackwell, of Sunnyside, Dudley Road Hastings.
ANNA AND FEMINISM
Science, Reform and Politics in Victorian Britain by Lawrence Goldman. Cambridge University Press 2002. Anna Blackwell is mentioned on pp29-32 which cover the meeting which founded the National Association for the Promotion of Social Science. It took place on 29 July 1857 at Lord Brougham’s house in Grafton Street. P30: 43 people were there, and Goldman argues that the interests and concerns of those who were present set the agenda for what the new association would do - what subjects it would discuss. Therefore it’s relevant to Goldman’s argument that (p30) 15 of those present were women including (p31) Barbara Bodichon, Bessie Rayner Parkes and Anna Blackwell. On p32 Goldman says that six of the 15 women would sign the first petition demanding a married women’s property act and the whole 15 represented the beginnings of an organised feminist movement in the UK.
The Jurist volume 12 March 1864 p134 contains the petition to the Houses of Parliament organised by Barbara Leigh Smith and her circle as part of the campaign for married women’s property rights. By virtue of having a surname beginning with B, Anna Blackwell heads the list of signatories as laid out in The Jurist. The list also includes Amelia Edwards, Elizabeth Gaskell, Elizabeth Barrett Browning, Anna Jameson, Bessie Rayner Parkes and Barbara Leigh Smith. There’s plenty of information on all those women on the web, if you don’t already know who they are.
Frances Power Cobbe: Victorian Feminist, Journalist, Reformer. Sally Mitchell. Charlottesville and London: University of Virginia Press 2004. P3 on Cobbe’s 80th birthday in 1902 a testimonial with 400 signatures was presented to her. Elizabeth Blackwell was one of the 400; of course Anna had died by then but it does indicate a link between the Blackwell sisters and Cobbe.
ANNA’S SISTER DR ELIZABETH BLACKWELL. There isn’t much mention of Anna in books on Elizabeth.
Sex and Suffrage in Britain 1860-1914 by Susan Kingsley Kent. Princeton New Jersey: Princeton University Press 1987.
The Women’s Suffrage Movement in Britain and Ireland by Elizabeth Crawford. Routledge: 2006. Reforming Women’s Fashion 1850-1920: Politics, Health and Art. Patricia A Cunningham 2003. Kent State University Press. This book also talks about Elizabeth Blackwell as the dress reform movement saw women’s fashion as a health issue.
Journal of the Society for Psychical Research volume 4 1889-90, published by the Society for members only: on p201 issue of February 1890: Elizabeth Blackwell had asked to change her membership from full member to associate member. On p203 it says that even associate members had to be elected.
Proceedings of the Society for Psychical Research volume XI 1895 p 606 Elizabeth Blackwell is still an associate member, at Rock House Hastings.
I went through the Journal from the 1880s to 1900: at no time was Anna Blackwell a member of the Society for Psychical Research. The Society was founded by a group of academics at Cambridge University to do scientific research into the phenomena of spiritualism.
Copyright SALLY DAVIS
9 August 2015
Find the web pages of Roger Wright and Sally Davis, including my list of people initiated into the Order of the Golden Dawn between 1888 and 1901, at: