Anna Elizabeth, Comtesse de Brémont was initiated into the Hermetic Order of the Golden Dawn at its Isis-Urania temple in London on 13 November 1888, together with her friend Constance Wilde.   Though most GD members opted for a motto in Latin, Anna chose one in French - Fait bien - les dire - a language that she spoke well.  She began to work through the study necessary to reach the GD’s inner, 2nd Order; and found it interesting and rewarding.  But then William Wynn Westcott, who kept the GD’s records at that time, wrote “Demits by order” against her name in his files.  She had been expelled, though Westcott didn’t give the reason why.  Anna thought she had been carrying the can for the indiscretions of another GD member.



This file is part 1 of 2 of a life-by-dates of Anna; it covers her early life in the USA and ends with an account of her time in the GD.  When I’m doing a life-by-dates, I type what’s going on in the person’s life in Italics; and details of the sources, and any comments I want to make, in my usual Times New Roman.


It’s difficult to write a life-by-dates without dates!  And in Anna de Brémont’s life, attested dates have been hard to come by.  I’ve had other, inter-connected problems as well.  Too many of the events in Anna’s life are written up in one newspaper or magazine report; often long after the event; without those attested dates that I like; and without any explanation of where or who the information came from.  In addition, Anna had a vivid imagination and less social poise than she admitted to in public.  Particularly after she left the USA for Europe, she reinvented her life in America, to give herself a wealthier and more romantic background than she’d actually had.  Hence the French title, comtesse de Brémont, which she used in Europe but almost certainly not before. 



PART ONE: 1852 TO 1888-ish


Anna was born Anna Elizabeth Dunphy.  Her parents were Patrick and Mary Dunphy, Irish-American catholics.  Though Anna also claimed Danish ancestry, she thought of herself as Irish.  She had at least one sister. 


A quick comment by Sally Davis on Anna’s original surname.  All sources agree on the surname Dunphy or Dunphie.  I’ve seen it spelled DunphIE in one or two places but that does seem to be a mistake.


A much longer comment by Sally Davis, on the lack of data for Anna’s life in the USA.  She’s been lucky, historically speaking - registration and census data is virtually non-existent for her.  Even the details that appear on her marriage registration - the only item about her that is in Familysearch’s collection - are called into question by newspaper reports of her from a few years later.  For example, the marriage registration gave her place of birth as Cincinatti Ohio.  Newspaper articles from 1894, however, say her mother only moved there after Patrick Dunphy had died; and one says Anna was born in New York - which I couldn’t prove.  By the 1890s Anna was also knocking a few years off her year of birth, saying she was born in 1856 when the marriage registration gives 1852 - something else I couldn’t prove.


Information from the end of Anna’s life which implies her father was wealthy:

Via // to Hawera and Normanby Star issue of 30 December 1922 p9 item: Countess’ missing Will: inherited two fortunes.  I guess the report has to be taken with a pinch of salt because the information in it was supplied by one of those anonymous “intimate friend” sources - they’re not a modern phenomenon!  The “friend” said that Anna had inherited money from her father, “an Irish-American in a big way of business”; presumably Anna had told him so.  I tried to find evidence of a Patrick Dunphy running a business in Cincinatti in the 1850s.  It was a long shot and I didn’t find anything; but other evidence - see below - suggests he didn’t live in Cincinatti anyway.  I think a wealthy father was one of Anna’s inventions.


Anna mentioned her Danish ancestry in her own writing a couple of times:

Pearls of Poesy London: Elliot Stock 1911: p48 in a very short profile above a sonnet by Anna, who also wrote the Foreword.

Oscar Wilde and His Mother: A Memoir.  London: Everett and Co Ltd of 42 Essex Street Strand 1911: pp40-41 she describes herself as ‘Norse’ because she enjoyed the rather stormy passage across the Atlantic. 


Anna only made one mention, of one sister, in all her writing.  She didn’t even give her name; so I’ve found it impossible to discover anything about her. 

Oscar Wilde and His Mother: A Memoir.  London: Everett and Co Ltd of 42 Essex Street Strand 1911: p 40-41.

That there may have been more than one sister;

Via Anna’s wikipedia page to, the Rome Semi-Weekly Citizen of Tuesday 11 December 1894 p6: Material for a Libretto.  Anna was news amongst the English-speaking visitors to Rome because of the libel suit she was bringing against W S Gilbert.  The report had information on Anna’s background which only one other source gives.  It contradicts other accounts.  It says that Anna was the “oldest sister”; implying that she had more than one sister.  In this account Anna was not born in Cincinatti, her mother moved there after she had been widowed.  Mrs Dunphy had kept a boarding house in Cincinatti; and had made a second marriage, to a Thomas Malloy of Lexington.  No mention was made of Anna inheriting money from her father, and indeed the account gives the opposite impression: wealthy widows don’t keep a boarding house.

Via google to to the Herald Democrat of 7 December 1894 which has the same report, with more or less the same wording, except that it gave Anna’s place of birth as New York City. 



Anna’s father died.  Later, her mother remarried.

Sources: see above.



Her interest in music began - on the assumption that Anna herself is the child Anna is referring to in the source I found.


The World of Music by Anna Comtesse de Brémont.  London: W W Gibbings of 18 Bury Street WC;  1892 edition, in 3 volumes.  In the volume The Virtuosi p9 when talking of violinist Ole Bull 1810-80, she mentions “the Opera House of a great Western city spread along the banks of the Ohio” where “a child sat one night entranced beneath the spell of a musician’s bow”.


??LATE 1850s/EARLY 1860s

Anna was educated at a Convent school, where she had won prizes for her essays and verses.


Anna’s own Oscar Wilde and His Mother: A Memoir.  London: Everett and Co Ltd of 42 Essex Street Strand 1911.  Chapter V p53 with Anna saying she had also written “childish verses that pleased my mother”.


PROBABLY LATE 1860s to EARLY 1870s

Anna was in the Cincinatti Cathedral choir and became a soloist; before moving to a similar but more high-profile job in New York.


Via Anna’s wikipedia page to, the Rome Semi-Weekly Citizen of Tuesday 11 December 1894 p6: Material for a Libretto and same information via google to to the Herald Democrat of 7 December 1894: Material for a Libretto. Both reports clearly have the same origin, but I don’t know what that origin is!


We get onto firmer ground when Anna moves to New York:


For two years Anna was a member of the choir at the Plymouth Church in Brooklyn.


Web pages at are the website of Plymouth Church of the Pilgrims at 75 Hicks Street Brooklyn Heights; which is a congregational church, founded in 1847.  Henry Ward Beecher (1813-87) was its first pastor.  Church is still very active musically.

For her being in the choir:

Extract from Anna’s own memoir Oscar Wilde and His Mother; which I read in Oscar Wilde: Interviews and Recollections.  Editor E H Mikhail, published in 2 volumes, London and Basingstoke: Macmillan Press Ltd 1979.  Volume 1 p102.

Another reference in The Conservatory volume 1 1905 p122.  Magazine published by the Royal Conservatory of Music, Toronto University.

On the importance of Plymouth Church to would-be professional singers:

Annals of the New York Stage volume 9 1870-75 by George C D Odell.  New York: Columbia University Press 1937 pp504.  Odell remarks that Plymouth Church’s pastor, Henry Ward Beecher, drew “many celebrities” to his services and church concerts.  Odell’s books show that being in the Plymouth Church choir led to very successful musical careers as professional singers, for some.



Anna Dunphy was trying to forge a career as a singer.

Comment by Sally Davis: I don’t think she was very successful as a professional singer.  She doesn’t really appear enough times in Annals of the New York Stage to be making a good living from concert appearances; though most of her work may have been done out of town, of course.  As to whether she was living in New York with her parents or a surviving parent, or was an orphan by now; I couldn’t find any evidence one way or another.

Sources: a couple of volumes of the Annals of the New York Stage, a work which covers music and theatre performances for most of the 19th century in astonishing detail; except that it doesn’t mention whether or not people were paid for appearing in the concerts it lists; and doesn’t itemise concerts so that you can tell who sang what. 

A reference by Anna to the difficulties of attempting a career as a professional musician; which might be based on her own experience:

The World of Music by Anna Comtesse de Brémont.  London: W W Gibbings of 18 Bury Street WC, 1892 edition in 3 volumes.  In the volume The Virtuosi p241 Anna describes a musical career as “pursued over a stony road, rough with thorns”.


16 DECEMBER 1873

Anna was a contralto soloist in a testimonial concert at the Plymouth Church in Brooklyn.


Annals of the New York Stage volume 9 1870-75 by George C D Odell.  New York: Columbia University Press 1937 pp504.  Odell doesn’t list what was sung at the December 1873 concert, but as well as a large number of soloists, a male singing quartet also performed - a busy night.



Anna sang in another testimonial concert, this time at the Athenaeum.


Annals of the New York Stage volume 9 1870-75.  George C D Odell.  New York: Columbia University Press 1937: p635.  The concert was for the pianist Augusta Hillman.  Again, there’s no information on what was sung.


11 FEBRUARY 1875

Anna was a soloist in a performance by the Handel and Haydn Society, of Mendelssohn’s oratorio St Paul, at Plymouth Church; conducted by Dr Damrosch.

Annals of the New York Stage volume 9 1870-75.  George C D Odell.  New York: Columbia University Press 1937: p638-39.

See wikipedia for Mendelssohn’s St Paul, his opus 36; first performance May 1836.  It has a part for a mezzo but not a contralto; so Anna’s voice could manage some mezzo-soprano roles.


17 MARCH 1875

Anna sang in a concert of music by J S Bach, at the Church of the Holy Trinity Madison Avenue/42nd Street.


Annals of the New York Stage volume 9 1870-75.  George C D Odell.  New York: Columbia University Press 1937: p618.  The evening was actually that season’s 18th Grand Organ concert so it was mostly organ music that was played.  Anna sang some contralto solos and the violinist Leopold Damrosch also played.

An advert for the concert is at // extract from the New York paper the Daily Graphic of Monday 15 March 1875 p11 though it calls Anna “Annie”.


22 APRIL 1875

Anna appeared in another concert at the Plymouth Church.

Annals of the New York Stage volume 9 1870-75.  George C D Odell.  New York: Columbia University Press 1937: p640.



Anna made no public appearances as a singer in New York.


Annals of the New York Stage volumes 10 and 11 which cover 1875-82.  George C D Odell. New York: Columbia University Press.


20 FEBRUARY 1877

Anna Elizabeth Dunphy married Émile Léon, Comte de Brémont, in Jersey City New Jersey.

Source for the marriage and also for Anna’s year and place of birth, and the names of her parents:

New Jersey Marriages 1678-1950, New Jersey EASy source film 494159; seen via Familysearch.  On the marriage registration, Anna’s husband’s title was noted down and his parents’ names were given: Charles Henri le Compte de Brémont and his wife Maria Augustina de Vintinuille.  Born 1833 in France.

Comment by Sally Davis:

The question of whether Anna’s husband was or was not a Comte - ie an aristocrat - and thus whether Anna had a right to style herself a Comtesse, was the basis of a later court case; and there has also been a lot of scepticism about it amongst biographers of two of the men she encountered in England  However, the rules of inheritance of titles in France aren’t necessarily the same as they are in the UK; and I think the title was genuine.  There’s not much doubt that Anna’s husband was a member of the aristocratic de Brémont family, close friends of Empress Eugenie; if he had not been a member of that family he would not have had to flee to the USA.


Léon de Brémont (as he was known in the USA) was born in 1834, the son of an officer in the French artillery.  He’d qualified as a doctor in Paris and served as a surgeon with the French army in the Crimea and the Franco-Prussian War.  He was awarded the Légion d’Honneur.  However, his family had been too close to Napoleon and Eugenie and when they were deposed, many of them opted to go into exile.  Léon went to New York where he worked in the city’s French Hospital and also ran a dispensary for poor people.  His funeral was attended by many of the city’s French ex-pat community.  When he died, his remains were sent to France and interred in the family vault.


Anna never mentioned having any children and the life she led does not suggest that she was ever encumbered with any; so I suppose she and her husband were childless.


Sources for Anna’s husband:

Lettres de la Marquise de Brémont a Eugénie edited François Lacombe, just to indicate the closeness of some of the family to the regime of Napoleon III.

New York Times of 24 May 1882: report of his death and funeral; and a short obituary.

Gilbert: His Life and Strife by Hesketh Pearson, Methuen 1957 p178 says that in 1895 “the Baron de Brémont, then alive in Paris, repudiated her right to the title”.   So there’s someone called a Baron de Brémont out there.  That’s W S Gilbert: see the second part of this life-by-dates; 1895.


Several articles on fashion by a writer calling him/her self the Baron de Brémont; all in English, all from the 1890s, all in US newspapers:

-           St Paul Daily Globe 14 August 1892 p12: Girls and Fashions

-           The Pittsburgh Press 3 November 1895

-           Crawfordsville Star 20 May 1897 p7: Spring Fashions.

Not sure who this person is; a relative, I suppose.  Perhaps he is the Baron de Brémont of the book on W S Gilbert.


Anna’s husband may be the person referred to in this source:

Hearings before the Committee on Immigration and Naturalization Washington DC: Government Printing Office 1927.  It actually covers the case of Augusta Louise de Haven-Alten which was heard January-February 1920.  Papers relevant to the hearing included a letter from Helen Penniman to a Baron de Brémont; written in New York in 1874.  However, following the downfall of Napoleon III and Eugenie there were other de Brémonts on the loose in Europe and the USA; so the recipient may have been one of Anna’s relations-by-marriage - the one of the articles on fashion, for example.


Helen Penniman existed and if the letter is to Anna’s husband, she must have been a friend of Anna: at // there are biographies of all governors of California so far.  The one in post during the San Francisco earthquake was George Pardee 1857-1941, Republican governor 1903-07.  He married Helen Penniman in 1887.  Helen’s dates are 1857-1947.  She was born and grew up in Oakland.  She trained as a teacher but was also a landscape artist and quilter.  Before her marriage she belonged to a rather riotous theatre group.  She was a Free-thinker.


Two novels Anna published in 1899 are both dedicated to her husband; nearly two decades after his death:

In The Gentleman Digger she described him as a “hero of the Crimea” and “a friend of suffering humanity”; and in A Son of Africa: A Romance she referred to him as “an explorer of the Great Sahara Desert”.

Comment by Sally Davis: one source says that she actually proposed marriage to someone else, once (see the last entry in this Part 1).  After that relationship, Anna seems to have developed a tendency to think of her dead husband as her ideal man; and to compare other men unfavourably to him.  She never married again.


MAY 1882

Dr Léon de Brémont died from a cold he had caught from a patient.  He had been in poor health for some time.

Source: New York Times of 24 May 1882: report of his death and funeral.

Comment by Sally Davis: most sources seem to agree that Léon de Brémont left his wife very well off - presumably printing information Anna or people who knew her had given them.  For example: Via // to Hawera and Normanby Star 30 December 1922 p9 item: Countess’ missing Will: inherited two fortunes - an initial one from her father; and a second from her husband.


However, one report at least says she spent her inheritance from her husband within a very few years, beginning a pattern of acquiring wealth and then losing it, that was repeated several times in her life:

Via Anna’s wikipedia page to, the Rome Semi-Weekly Citizen of Tuesday 11 December 1894 p6: Material for a Libretto.  Via google to to the Herald Democrat of 7 December 1894: article also called Material for Libretto and clearly from the same original report.  It says that Anna had run through her husband’s money by the mid-1880s.  Her need for an income was the reason for her attempt to resurrect her career as a professional singer (see below), and her decision to become a professional writer.



Anna met Oscar Wilde at a dinner party in New York; probably one of the first social engagements that she attended after her husband’s death.

Comments by Sally Davis: the dinner party was given by a friend of Anna and her husband, who had known the Wilde family in Ireland.  Also invited to meet Oscar Wilde that evening were Oliver Wendell Holmes, General Ulysses S Grant, Louisa M Alcott, Henry Wadsworth Longfellow and Henry Ward Beecher: a formidable bunch!  


Anna is best known these days for her relationship with Oscar Wilde.  Several years after his death, she wrote a Memoir of him which has been much quoted by his biographers; but also much despised.  Anna did a lot of being wise after the event in her Memoir.  She also suggested that the two of them had a special relationship - that she saw, immediately, through the façade to the real man behind it.  I don’t think that was true, and her claiming it was has infuriated some of Wilde’s biographers, who really don’t like her saying that Oscar Wilde had “a feminine soul” and that in a single glance she had “read his secret”.


I don’t think Anna liked Oscar Wilde very much; nor he her.  She preferred a manly man.  They were not friends, and they did not meet very often.  However, Anna did seize the opportunity to make money out of having known him.



Anna’s own writings on the relationship; not having seen a copy of the first of them, I’m not quite sure whether they are the same book with different titles; or two separate accounts.

Oscar Wilde: A Memoir published Everett and Co 1910.

Oscar Wilde and His Mother: A Memoir.  English Biography Series Number 31.  London: Everett and Co; Torquay: William J McKenzie 1911.  You can also read long extracts from this book in Oscar Wilde: Interviews and Recollections in 2 volumes, both edited by E H Mikhail, both published London and Basingstoke: Macmillan Press Ltd 1979.  Volume 1 p102 et seq; including pp102-03 for the dinner party and p103 for the quotes.

For the biographies of Oscar Wilde that use Anna’s Memoirs of him: see 1911 in the 2nd part of this life-by-dates.

A biography of Oscar Wilde’s mother that uses Anna’s reminiscences while describing her as a “questionable authority”:

Speranza: A Biography of Lady Wilde by Horace Wyndham.  1951.  London and New York: T V Boardman and Co Ltd: p179.



Anna went to the New York première of Oscar Wilde’s play Vera, or The Nihilists; at the Union Square Theatre.

Comment by Sally Davis: Anna thought the cast and the acting were good; but neither the critics nor the New York audiences liked the play, so it flopped.

Source: Oscar Wilde and His Mother: A Memoir.  English Biography Series Number 31.  London: Everett and Co; Torquay: William J McKenzie 1911: pp38-40.


5 MAY 1885

Anna was a soloist at a concert at the Metropolitan Opera House. 

Comment by Sally Davis: this concert was Anna’s only appearance in Annals of the New York Stage between 1882 and 1885.  Anna was the first listed of the soloists so perhaps her part in the concert was greater than the others.  Odell doesn’t give details of what the programme that day was, but from the details of those who took part, the music was songs, with piano accompaniment.


Annals of the New York Stage volume 12 1882-85 by George C D Odell.  New York: Columbia University Press: p551, p556.



Anna was a member of an opera company put together by the singer Alfa Norman, to revive Balfe’s opera The Enchantress.  The production was performed in Chicago, Cincinatti, Philadelphia, Boston and New York.


New York Times 13 December 1885 Theatre World column: announcement of the tour, which was being backed by Charles Frohman, previously impresario at the Madison Square theatre.  Gustave Kerker would conduct the opera; Alfa Norman would take the leading role; and other roles would be sung by Henry Peakes, Rowland Buckstone, Anna, Annie Kellogg and Henry Hallam.  The report remarked in passing that Norman’s voice had improved a great deal since her New York debut; and a similarly dim view of Alfa Norman’s talent was expressed in the UK theatre magazine The Theatre volume 1 1886 p345.

Alfa Norman is in Famous Stars of Light Opera by Lewis C Strang 1995.  She seems to have done more work in the USA than in Europe.

Information on The Enchantress:

A search of google showed several early editions, for example: The Enchantress: An Opera in Three Acts.  Published New York: Samuel French of 121 Nassau Street in 1854, after performances by the Pyne and Harrison Troupe at the Broadway Theatre with Louisa Pyne as Stella, the title role.  Music was by Michael William Balfe, setting words were by Jules-Henri Vernoy St Georges and Alfred Bunn - which I think means that they were Bunn’s translation of a work originally in French. 


What was probably the first edition was published in 1852.  This edition said that the opera’s first performance had been in 1845 at the Theatre Royal Drury Lane.

Wikipedia on Michael William Balfe: 1808-70 born Dublin, long career in Europer and then England.  The song I Dreamt I Dwelt in Marble Halls comes from his 1843 opera The Bohemian Girl.  The wikipedia page doesn’t mention The Enchantress, probably because it was not his original work.

Comment by Sally Davis: if this was an attempt to resurrect a career as a professional musician, it failed; and Anna doesn’t seem to have done more than sing at the occasional charity do from then on; though she did still move in musical social circles, in the US and in Europe.


BY 1886

Anna’s sister was living in London.  Anna decided to pay her a visit.


Comment by Sally Davis: Anna describes the visit to her sister as an attempt to seek solace in travel - she was still finding it hard to come to terms with her husband’s death.  However, some newspaper reports say that in a very few years, Anna spent all the money she inherited from her husband; so it’s perfectly possibly she left the USA to escape her creditors.  She might have started out intending to be away for a short time only, but Anna never lived permanently in the US again.

Oscar Wilde and His Mother: A Memoir.  London: Everett and Co Ltd of 42 Essex Street Strand 1911: p 40-41.

For Anna’s having spent her inheritance from her husband:

Via Anna’s wikipedia page to, the Rome Semi-Weekly Citizen of Tuesday 11 December 1894 p6: Material for a Libretto and same information via google to to the Herald Democrat of 7 December 1894: Material for a Libretto. Both reports clearly have the same origin, but I don’t know what that origin is!


13 MARCH 1886

Anna left New York for Europe.  She had a rough Atlantic crossing but enjoyed it.  She took with her letters of introduction to people in London, amongst whom was Lady Wilde, Oscar Wilde’s mother.


Oscar Wilde and His Mother: A Memoir.  London: Everett and Co Ltd of 42 Essex Street Strand 1911.  I’ll just note here that the book is dedicated to Speranza - Lady Wilde’s writing name - “in Remembrance of her beautiful friendship for the author”.  Pp40-41.



A month after arriving in England, Anna made use of her letter of introduction and went to one of Lady Wilde’s famous Saturday afternoon ‘at homes’. 


Oscar Wilde and His Mother: A Memoir.  London: Everett and Co Ltd of 42 Essex Street Strand 1911: p42-45.

Comment by Sally Davis: Jane Francesca, Lady Wilde, was still living in Park Street Mayfair in 1886, so that’s where Anna will have gone.  Anna later saw that afternoon as a key moment in her life; and the close friendship that developed between her and Lady Wilde as one that enabled the new start she made in her life around 1890. 

A source for Lady Wilde: Speranza: A Biography of Lady Wilde by Horace Wyndham.  1951.  London and New York: T V Boardman and Co Ltd.  Though as I’ve said above, it isn’t very charitable towards Anna.

More comment by Sally Davis:

Lady Wilde’s at homes are well-known now because so many people wrote about them, and partly because of the number of people who attended them regularly who either were, or later became, famous.  A few guests became GD members: Oscar Wilde’s wife Constance; W B Yeats; Isabel de Steiger; Anna; and I’m sure there were others but I haven’t found actual evidence for them - I’m pretty sure, for example, that John Todhunter was a regular guest, but I can’t prove it.  Anna may not have met Isabel at Lady Wilde’s at homes because Isabel and Lady Wilde fell out; but she did meet W B Yeats at one, and possibly Constance Wilde; and she met Oscar Wilde again.

Another guest at Lady Wilde’s:

Bernard Shaw: The Diaries 1885-1897 in two volumes, annotated and edited by Stanley Weintraub.  University Park Pennsylvania: Pennsylvania State University Press 1986: p31, which covers November 1879.  GBS recorded that he had met the novelist Eliza Lynn Lynton at Lady Wilde’s  Anna doesn’t say she met GBS at any of the afternoons she herself attended, so perhaps he had stopped going to them by 1886.  GBS knew a lot of GD members though he was never one himself.

And another:

Oscar Wilde and His Mother: A Memoir.  London: Everett and Co Ltd of 42 Essex Street Strand 1911: on p49 Anna mentions that Robert Browning was often a guest at Lady Wilde’s at homes; though she doesn’t specifically say that she ever met him.

And another American visitor:

Speranza: A Biography of Lady Wilde by Horace Wyndham.   London and NY: T V Boardman and Co Ltd. 1951: p 182.  The future novelist Gertrude Atherton was taken to one of Lady Wilde’s at homes when she first arrived in London.



Anna went to the musical soirées given by Mary Frances Ronalds at her home in Belgravia.

Source, though without a date, and Anna identifies her hostess only as “Mrs R”.

Oscar Wilde and His Mother: A Memoir.  London: Everett and Co Ltd of 42 Essex Street Strand 1911: pp59-60.

Comment by Sally Davis: Anna actually preferred Mary Ronalds’ evening concerts to Lady Wilde’s afternoons: they were more exclusive, and Mrs Ronalds could afford to pay for more servants to distribute the food and drink.  Anna may have known Mary Ronalds in New York; but a friendship with her had definitely developed by 1892.

Source for the identity of “Mrs R”:

The World of Music by Anna comtesse de Brémont.  London: W W Gibbings of 18 Bury Street WC 1892.  Volume The Great Composers.  On the inside cover of the British Library copy is the calling card of Mrs Ronalds and her daughter, with printed address 7 Cadogan Place.

Mary Frances Ronalds (1839-1916) amateur singer and hostess, is important enough to have her own wikipedia page.  When she was giving her evening concerts in Mayfair she was separated from her French husband.  She had two long relationships - with Leonard Jerome, father of Jennie Jerome who married Lord Randolph Churchill; and then with the composer Arthur Sullivan, whose The Lost Chord became her signature song though he didn’t actually write it for her.

New York Times 31 July 1916 p5 short obituary of Mary Frances Ronalds, describing her as someone who in London in the 1880s could “make or mar a musician”.


?JULY 1886

Anna was invited to an ‘at home’ given by Lady Wilde’s daughter-in-law Constance, wife of Oscar Wilde.  She was delighted to receive an invitation, but found the informality of the occasion very nerve-racking. 

Comment by Sally Davis: Anna doesn’t mention going regularly to Constance’s at homes; though she continued to go to Lady Wilde’s.  From then on she regularly came across Constance and Oscar at other social events; but they weren’t close friends.


Oscar Wilde and His Mother: A Memoir.  London: Everett and Co Ltd of 42 Essex Street Strand 1911: pp86-88.  Anna describes Constance’s at home as a “crush of fashionable folk”.


1886 AND 1887

Anna and Lady Wilde became very close.  Lady Wilde encouraged Anna to make a career as a writer.  Oscar Wilde got Anna her first writing commission and gave her advice on how to manage the hard work of writing - advice she was very grateful for.


Oscar Wilde and His Mother: A Memoir.  London: Everett and Co Ltd of 42 Essex Street Strand 1911 p51, pp71-72.  According to this account, Anna’s first commissioned article was a piece on Christmas.  As she didn’t say where it was published, I haven’t tried to look for it.


MAY 1887

The earliest pieces of writing by Anna that I have been able to trace were published in The Theatre magazine: an article on American actresses and a better-known one Beecher’s Histrionic Power; and a poem.

Comment by Sally Davis: Henry Ward Beecher died on 8 March 1887 - see his wikipedia page.


The Theatre magazine, published London:  Casson and Comerford of Strand; editor is Clement Scott, who founded the magazine and is considered the father of modern drama criticism - see his wikipedia page.  New Series volume IX January-June 1887: April pp324-26: American Actresses; May p248: Beecher’s Histrionic Power; and July p27-28 this poem which I think is her earliest published one.  I reproduce it here, to give a flavour of her writing style.  Anna’s poetry was considered a bit too hot to handle by many during her lifetime - something that was used against her in a court case.  It’s too florid and overblown for my liking, and I find the language rather antiquated; but I’m no judge of poetry.


A Fantasy

            In my low and narrow bed,

            Every dream for ever fled;

            Cold earth pillowing my head,

            Shall I sleep when I am dead?


            Oh! that sweet unceasing rest,

            While the world above my breast,

            Struggling with its cares oppressed,

            Wakes no echo in my nest.


            Then: o’er me slowly stealing,

            As I sleep, unheeding feeling,

            Past regret and vain appealing

            Creeps decay, its spell revealing.


            In the shimmer of my hair,

            It shall weave its grayness there,

            Touch my cheek, so found and fair,

            With a blemish past repair.


            And my eyes shall droop and melt,

            And my lips, where kisses dwelt,

            Wither ‘neath the cruel stealth

            Of that long last kiss unfelt.


            And each curve and supple grace

            Of my form shall it efface,

            And Death’s hideousness replace

            All resemblance to my race.


            Then the Earth’s mysterious power

            With new birth shall me endow’r

            And I’ll wake some sunny hour

            On her breast - a beauteous flow’r!


            And the sun’s caresses sweet,

            Stir my petall’d heart to beat;

            ‘Till my perfumed soul shall fleet,

            Swift my lost love’s kiss to meet.


            And our mingl’d souls shall soar,

            Far away the wide world o’er,

            On through Heaven’s golden door,

            Into bliss for ever more!


The poem later appeared in Anna’s Sonnets and Love Poems collection.


LATE 1880s

Anna was living in a flat in Cavendish Mansions, Portland Place.


Collected Letters of W B Yeats Volume II 1896-1900: p583 footnote 2 but the editors 1) spelled her surname as DunphIE and gave her the wrong father; 2) got her DOB wrong; and 3) couldn’t trace her husband and seemed to be suspicious that she might be making him up.  However, I daresay the address is right.



Lady Wilde moved from Mayfair to Oakley Street in Chelsea; her at homes continued at the new address.


The Parents of Oscar Wilde: Sir William and Lady Wilde by Terence de Vere White.  Hodder and Stoughton 1967: p245.


17 MAY 1888

Anna made her only public appearance as an actress, playing Rosalind in the forest scenes from As You Like It at a matinée at the Globe Theatre.

Source: via to The Theatre magazine, New Series volume XI January-June 1888; editor Clement Scott.  Published London: Strand Publishing Co: issue of 1 June 1888 p319, p330.  The scenes were part of a varied programme and none of the rest of AYLI was done.  Lewis Waller played Orlando to Anna’s Rosalind; Bassett Roe played Jacques and the Count.  The anonymous reviewer said that Anna’s Rosalind had been “sprightly and intelligent”, but that Anna had shown clear signs of her lack of experience, in her “nervousness and want of repose”.  As part of the performance, Julia Neilson had sung a “new and rather pretty song” with lyrics by Anna: Have You Forgotten?

?MAY 1888

Anna’s lyrics for Have You Forgotten? were published; music by Alfred Benjamin Allen.


British Library has the score, published London: Boosey and Co.


3 JULY 1888

Anna sang at a concert in aid of the Gordon Boys’ Home; held at the Prince’s Hall.

Source: Times Saturday 30 June 1888 p1e: an advert for it.  Madame Liebhardt would also sing; and Herr von Czeke would conduct them.  The concert would also include the first public recital of Bishop Trench’s poem Haroun al-Rashid.



IN THE GD, and just to save you going to the top of this file to look it up: Anna de Brémont and Constance Wilde were initiated into the GD on 13 November 1888 - only a few months after the GD came into existence.  The date of Anna’s expulsion isn’t clear. 


Who recommended Anna and Constance as suitable members of the GD?  In some ways the most obvious candidate is W B Yeats; but he wasn’t initiated himself until March 1890. I’m going to leave the question open, except to say that it was likely to have been someone who knew both women through Lady Wilde’s at homes. 


Many years after the event, Anna wrote of the few accounts of how the Order operated by any GD member; though true to the oaths she had sworn at her initiation, she didn’t name it or give any details of its rituals.  She described its formation as part of a “wave of occultism” that was passing through London at the time; defining occultism as “the profound instinct of the unknown and the invisible”.  I’m sure that becoming a member of such a secret society appealed to a desire Anna often displayed in her life: to investigate the ‘new’ and relay the details of it to those who weren’t so quick off the mark - the qualities of a journalist.  She didn’t name the person she understood to be the GD’s leader, but said of him that he was a “clever disciple of Egyptian lore” who had researched “biblical mysticism” and had written a book “on the occult science of King Solomon” - meaning Samuel Liddell Mathers.  She was unaware of the contribution of William Wynn Westcott.


Despite her curiousity, Anna considered the offer of initiation quite carefully before accepting it.  She thought the initiation ritual “would have been amusing had it not been taken so seriously”.  Although Anna was by no means as self-assured as she wished to appear in social situations in England, she refused to be over-awed by the ritual, remaining “composed” throughout; but she could feel how nervous Constance was.  Although she had later been thrown out of the Order, she was glad that she had been a member, because she had done “very serious study in Oriental and scientific subjects” and developed “a habit of concentrated thought” that had been an asset in her writing career.  Anna also thought that membership of the Order had also resulted in a closer relationship with Constance Wilde.  The closeness can’t have lasted long - firstly Anna went abroad; and then there was Dorian Gray and the portrait in the attic.


Anna must have been in South Africa when The Picture of Dorian Gray was being written.  The story burst upon the reading public in July 1890 when its serialisation began, in Lippincott’s Monthly Magazine.  The main prop of the plot is a portrait that ages by unexplained means while its sitter continues to look unchanged by the passage of time and a dissolute life; a picture that is somehow imbued with elements of its sitter’s character that he wishes to hide from the public and from himself.  Anna was not the only GD member who later believed that Constance had repeated to her husband information on the GD that he should not have been allowed to know as a non-member; and that some of what she had told him had found its way into Dorian Gray.  Anna said that some even GD members thought that what happened to Oscar Wilde and Constance was vengeance exacted through the forces of magic; though she thought that attitude was “absurd” herself.


Looking back in 1911, Anna now thought that Constance had never really been all that interested in occultism, and had joined the GD with the intention of telling her husband what was going on in it.  And yet it was Anna who was ejected from the Order; while the note on Constance’s GD records merely says that her membership was “in abeyance with the sympathy of the chiefs”.  My point is, I think, one that Anna made herself: that Constance was a very feminine, unthreatening woman who could easily be seen as a woman over-dutiful to her husband; while Anna was financially independent and assertive.  Anna was easier to blame.



For the initiation date, and notes on the GD records of Constance and Anna: R A Gilbert’s The Golden Dawn Companion p142; see the main ‘sources’ section below for further details.

Anna’s Oscar Wilde and His Mother: A Memoir.  London: Everett and Co Ltd of 42 Essex Street Strand 1911 Book II Chapter II is on Occultism in London: pp95-97; p98-99.

Even Aleister Crowley found the GD initiation ritual alarming.  Writing about it much later in his life, he remembered asking GD member Julian Baker if people often died during it.  Source for that: Ellic Howe (see the main Sources section for full details) p193 quoting Crowley’s Confessions p176.

On Anna’s self-confidence:

Oscar Wilde and His Mother: A Memoir.  English Biography Series Number 31.  London: Everett and Co; Torquay: William J McKenzie 1911: p66 at her first Lady Wilde ‘at home’; on p77 making a horrible social blunder - bringing a guest who proceeded to insult her hostess; and pp87-88 feeling that she didn’t understand the rules of the game, at one of Constance’s ‘at homes’. 



Anna was living in South Africa.

See Part Two of this life-by-dates.


?LATE 1880s or possibly EARLY 1890s

W B Yeats was a regular visitor to Anna in her new flat.  They got very friendly and she proposed marriage to him.  He turned the proposal down; and never visited her again.

Source, though without naming the woman in question or giving specific dates: WB Yeats by letter to Lady Gregory; thence to Lady Gregory’s diary: Lady Gregory’s Diaries 1892-1902 edited and with an introduction by James Pethica.  Gerrard’s Cross: Colin Smythe 1996: p151; and p151 footnote 134 in which the editor identifies the anonymous marriage-proposer as Anna.  The gist of the story as Lady Gregory noted it down was that Anna told W B Yeats that her rather dubious reputation wouldn’t necessarily be a handicap to him if they married.  She reminded him that T P O’Connor had (to quote Lady Gregory) “married a woman of no character” who had been a great help to him in his political career.

Comment by Sally Davis on dating this intriguing but not-well-documented relationship: I’ve been turning over in my mind Anna’s assessment of her own reputation; and how Lady Gregory envisaged her, who had only heard of her through W B Yeats.  If it was true that Anna thought of herself as a woman of rather risqué reputation, it might have been because of the poem I’ve reproduced above; and because she’d taken on the ‘breeches’ role of Rosalind.  So I’ve put Anna’s proposal and its rejection, later than those two events. 


END OF PART ONE.  PART TWO covers the late 1880s to Anna’s death.  Return to the main GD web page to reach it.



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.  I have recently (July 2014) discovered that some records of the Horus Temple at Bradford have survived, though most have not; however those that have survived are not yet accessible to the public.


For the history of the GD during the 1890s I usually use Ellic Howe’s The Magicians of the Golden Dawn: A Documentary History of a Magical Order 1887-1923.  Published Routledge and Kegan Paul 1972.  Foreword by Gerald Yorke.  Howe is a historian of printing rather than of magic; he also makes no claims to be a magician himself, or even an occultist.  He has no axe to grind.


Family history: freebmd; (census and probate);; familysearch; Burke’s Peerage and Baronetage; Burke’s Landed Gentry; Armorial Families;; 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.


Useful source for business and legal information: London Gazette and its Scottish counterpart Edinburgh Gazette.  Now easy to find (with the right search information) on the web.


Catalogues: British Library; Freemasons’ Library.


Wikipedia; Google; Google Books - my three best resources.  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.





27 March 2016


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