Isabel de Steiger part 2: 1878 to May 1891



?JUNE 1878 ?DECEMBER 1878

Isabel was at the meeting which ended with the founding of London Lodge of the Theosophical Society.

Source: Memorabilia p141

Comment by Sally Davis:

There’s a slight problem with the date of London Lodge’s founding.  Isabel (writing several decades later) associates it with the visit of Helena Petrovna Blavatsky to London, which didn’t take place until the end of 1878.  Information for an earlier date comes from a wiki page on the founding of TS’s London Lodge (though the page doesn’t say what the source of the information is): the London Lodge of the TS was founded in June 1878, by Charles Carleton Massey who became its first president; he and Isabel became good friends.  I presume Isabel means that she became a member of London Lodge; though she doesn’t specifically say so.



Isabel met Helena Petrovna Blavatsky for the first time, at Mrs Hollis-Billing’s house in Sydenham.  Mrs Hollis-Billing’s seances were known for their focus on the participants’ past lives.  Isabel attended at least one of her seances but said of her own past life,“my record was not agreeable!” - Mrs Hollis-Billing told her that she’d been a nun walled up in her own convent for breaking her vows. 

Comment by Sally: other visitors to Mrs Hollis-Billing’s soirée to meet Blavatsky were Charles Carleton Massey of the TS’s London Lodge, who became a friend of Isabel; and Rev William Alexander Ayton and his wife Anne, who later joined the GD.  Charles Massey is mentioned in Memorabilia but the Aytons are not.

Source for the event and for Mrs Hollis-Billing’s account of Isabel’s past life: Memorabilia p141, p152.

Source for the date:

The Theosophical Enlightenment by Joscelyn Godwin.  Published by the State University of New York Press in its Western Esoteric Traditions series 1994.  On p307-08 Col Olcott and Helena Petrovna Blavatsky spent two weeks in England, at some point between December 1878 and February 1879, breaking their trip from the USA to India.  The Aytons met them during that fortnight.  Sources for this are The Spiritualist volume XIV January 1879: 41-42; and later Olcott’s Old Diary Leaves volume 2 pp 4-9.

Information on the part played by Mary J Hollis-Billing:

At there’s a reprint of an article originally published in the journal The Medium and Daybreak issue of 19 December 1879 pp796-97: Madame H P Blavatsky, by Mary J Hollis-Billing. Despite being “in great haste to proceed on her journey to India”, Blavatsky had stayed with Hollis-Billing for several days “at Norwood”.  C C Massey was another visitor to Hollis-Billing during Blavatsky’s stay; no other person’s name was mentioned in the article.  Mary Hollis-Billing doesn’t give any dates for Blavatsky’s time as her house-guest.

Website psychictruthinfo is the web page of the medium Jonathan Koons.  It has a section Mediums of the Past with a page on Mary Hollis, later Mrs Hollis-Billing: well-known American medium who visited the UK in 1874 and 1880.  Koon’s information comes from an article on Mrs H-B published in Spiritual Notes volume 1 p262.

The gives Mary Hollis’ DOB as 1837; in Jeffersonville Indiana.

At there’s a reference to Hollis-Billing playing a part in the formation of the TS’s London Lodge but not being a member herself.  Information from: Reader’s Guide to the Mahatma Letters to A P Sinnett editors George E Linton and Virginia Hanson.  Adyar Chennai India: Theosophical Publishing House 1972 p219.

On a wiki page at wikipedia re TS’s London Lodge: founded June 1878 by Charles Carleton Massey.  Much disrupted by the arguments over Kingsford’s appointment as President of the British TS in 1883; a group of members defected and formed Blavatsky Lodge.


LATE 1870s to EARLY 1880s

Isabel looked back on this period, especially 1881, as the happiest time of her life.  She was living in Mrs Charity’s house at 8 Hornton Street and learning to draw nudes in her studio in the basement.

Source: Memorabilia p208


DURING 1879           

Isabel painted Cleopatra After the Battle of Actium.  This painting, like all her work at that time, was in a style “somewhat perverted by a strong passion for Alma-Tadema’s work”, something she later regretted, saying that it was “not the right technique for me to have imitated”.  Cleopatra After the Battle of Actium was bought by Isabel’s friends William and Fanny Crosfield, after it had been shown at the Walker Art Gallery.

Source: Memorabilia p58, p278

Comment by Sally Davis: I have found very few references to works by Isabel in reviews or even listings of paintings in exhibitions.  However, I did find several mentions in 1879 and 1880 of a painting by Isabel, which all the sources I found just referred to as ‘Cleopatra’.  I presume it is Cleopatra After the Battle of Actium although Cleopatra was a subject that Isabel came back to several times, perhaps because she felt Cleopatra was her property somehow, because she had lived in Alexandria, Cleopatra’s capital city.

Sources for ‘Cleopatra’ being exhibited:

Catalogue of the Exhibition of Works of Modern Artists 1879 at the Royal Albert Hall Academy of Arts and Sciences: Isabel’s Cleopatra p23.

The Academy volume 18 1880 p209 Cleopatra by Mme de Steiger is in a list of paintings, obviously an exhibition list but I saw this information via a google snippet and I couldn’t see which gallery was being referred to. 


Also DURING 1879

Isabel met Mrs Going at the British National Association of Spiritualists.

Source: Memorabilia p144. 

Comment by Sally Davis: Mrs Going was a wealthy widow who (when Isabel met her) was living in Park Street in Mayfair.  Isabel writes about Mrs Going as though she was deceived by her first impressions of the woman: saying that she was not an intellectual, and that her claims of being an accomplished mystic were exaggerated. 


JUNE 1879

Isabel went to dinner at Mrs Going’s house.  That evening she ate her first vegetarian meal, and met Anna Bonus Kingsford.  Isabel and Dr Kingsford became close friends, Isabel thinking of Dr Kingsford with “regard and even love” and admiring her as “a sort of modern incarnation of Pallas Athene”.  Isabel decided that she preferred Kingsford’s focus on western, Christian esotericism to Blavatsky’s increasing emphasis on the occultism of the East.  She and Kingsford also agreed that the existence of Blavatsky’s mahatmas was “possible, but not proven”.  When Dr Kingsford began to hold meetings at her house in Park Street, to discuss and elaborate her view of western hermeticism, Isabel went to them regularly.  Charles Massey went to them; and so also did Dr George Wyld and Francesca Arundale whom Isabel got to know well.  After Dr Kingsford’s death Isabel was very quick to leap to her defence whenever her reputation as a mystic or as a doctor was questioned.

Source: Memorabilia p144, p146, p168.

Source for Anna Bonus Kingsford as Pallas Athene: Occult Review volume 6 number 5 November 1907 pp296-97.  And for both women’s scepticism about Blavatsky’s claims: Occult Review volumer 45 number 2 February 1927 p78.

Comment by Sally: after Isabel’s death, the editor of Occult Review described Isabel as a woman who had achieved (especially for her times) “unusual mental independence”.  As she was also “frank and outspoken” and “unsparing” in her criticism when she felt it was merited, she inspired as much dislike and fear as friendliness amongst people she knew.  Dr Kingsford was one of the few women in Isabel’s life that she could meet on an equal footing intellectually; and both women derived great benefit from their talks and appreciated the level of their relationship very much.


EARLY TO MID 1880s to at least the EARLY 1890s

Christian David Ginsburg’s works on the Essenes and on the Kabbala were being read by those people who later became “members of the Hermetic and Rosicrucian Orders” and by members of the Theosophical Society; though they weren’t well known outside those intellectual circles.

Source: Memorabilia p171.

British Library catalogue for the works which interested members of the GD:

Essenes: their History and Doctrines: An Essay, reprinted from the Transactions of the Literary and Philosophical Society of Liverpool.  London: 1864.

The Kabbalah: its Doctrines, Development and Literature.  London and Liverpool: 1865.

Comment by Sally: by “Hermetic and Rosicrucian Orders”, Isabel means the Hermetic Society and the GD.  Just to reiterate: she never mentions the GD by name in Memorabilia.



Anna Bonus Kingsford was preparing her book The Perfect Way, The Finding of Christ, which was based on her own visions.  She asked Isabel to read several chapters of it while they were in preparation.

Source: Occult Review volume 6 number 5 November 1907 pp296-97.



Isabel was elected a member of the Albemarle Club.

Source: Memorabilia p156

Comment by Sally: I haven’t found many references to the Albemarle Club, but a short page in wikipedia says that it was a private members’ club which had women members as well as men.  That makes it virtually unique in London’s contemporary club scene.  It hadn’t been going long when Isabel joined - it was founded in 1874, at 13 Albemarle Street (hence its name).  Oscar Wilde was a member in 1895 and the Albemarle Club was where the sequence of events began which led to Oscar’s conviction for homosexuality.


POSSIBLY AS EARLY AS 1881 though the only evidence I have is from 1913

Isabel began to read the newspaper The Christian Commonwealth regularly.

Source for the newspaper: the British Library catalogue has a full run of issues of it, which was published weekly from 1881 to September 1919.

Comment by Sally Davis: the only mention of The Christian Commonwealth that I’ve found in Isabel’s writings is on p118 of her book Superhumanity (published 1915): she refers to an article in its issue of 1 January 1913, about the decline in religion.  It’s possible that she had always been a regular reader, however - from the contents and adverts in the issues of January 1913, the paper covered just the kind of religious and spiritual issues that interested her.  Its writers and tone were mostly Christian but there were also adverts for books and talks on Buddhism; some coverage of spiritualism and the Society for Psychical Research; and a great deal of coverage of a visit to England by the current leader of the Bahai faith, Abdul Baha. 

Source: The Christian Commonwealth volume 33 issue 1629 Wednesday 1 January 1913.


8 JANUARY 1881

The first issue was published of the spritualist weekly newspaper, Light.  In the 1880s it was closely associated with the British National Association of Spiritualists.  By 1890 the newspaper was being run by the London Spiritualist Alliance; but its content didn’t change a great deal except to emphasis events in London a little more.

Sources: Light: A Journal Devoted to the Highest Interests of Humanity, both Here and Hereafter.  London: Eclectic Publishing Co Ltd of 4 New Bridge Street Ludgate Circus.  Volume 1 January-December 1881, volume 10 1890 and volume 11 1891.

Comment June 2016 by Sally Davis on the early years of the magazine Light: I’ve just been contacted by Leslie Price, archivist at the College of Psychic Studies and founder of the online magazine Psypioneer.  Leslie corrected a mistake I’d made when mentioning Light’s early editors.  They were (and I imagine Isabel knew all of them at least as acquaintances) John Stephen Farmer; Rev Stainton Moses, until his death in September 1892; W Paice MA, although he also died, shortly after being appointed; and then, Edmund Dawson Rogers.


Leslie Price also drew my attention to a recent article on the founding of Light, based on the reminiscences of Edmund Dawson Rogers, who was such an important figure in spiritualism in the 1880s and 1890s: as well as setting up Light, he also had the idea which became the Society for Psychical Research; and was the second president of the London Spiritualist Alliance (founded 1884). See that article at Psypioneer volume 4 number 11, November 2008: pp276-80.  The article includes a reproduction of the original share issue for Light’s owner, The Eclectic Publishing Company Limited.  I imagine Isabel became a subscriber to Light, for 10shillings and 10pence per year, rather than buy it week by week.  I’m not so sure that she would have bought shares in the company, though - as her income was limited, she might have thought it was too much of a risk.  


1881 to ?

Isabel became a regular contributor of articles and letters to Light; and read it regularly even after she had left London and no longer went to many spiritualist social gatherings.  In 1890 when Light was in financial trouble (as occult journals often were) Isabel felt strongly enough to contribute £1 to keep it afloat.

Sources: volumes of Light during the 1880s and 1890s; though I haven’t checked beyond 1900 as yet.  For Isabel’s donation: volume 10 January-December 1890 pi.

Memorabilia p146, p188


APRIL 1881

Isabel’s first appearance as a contributor to Light was a letter on the Ancient Mysteries.

Source: Light: A Journal Devoted to the Highest Interests of Humanity, both Here and Hereafter.  London: Eclectic Publishing Co Ltd of 4 New Bridge Street Ludgate Circus.  Volume 1 January-December 1881 p87 issue of 19 March 1881.



Isabel gave a talk at the BNAS’s fortnightly discussion meeting: Art and the Supernatural.  In it she argued that - contrary to modern assumptions - “earth-bound Spirits” looked just like people and therefore could be painted as easily as people.  Astral light could also be painted - medieval artists had shown it as the ‘nimbus’ or ‘aureole’ of saints.  The idea for the talk had been triggered by an article she had read a few months before, in the Cornhill Magazine.

Source: Light: A Journal Devoted to the Highest Interests of Humanity, both Here and Hereafter.  London: Eclectic Publishing Co Ltd of 4 New Bridge Street Ludgate Circus.  Volume 1 January-December 1881 p100; p122 issue of 23 April 1881.



Isabel was abroad but many of her relations were in England. 


Isabel’s older, unmarried sister Constantia was still living at Christleton Old Hall near Chester, with their nieces Theodosia and Josephine and their nephew Charles, the children of Joshua Verney Lovett Lace and his wife Theodosia, both now dead.  This was a very well-to-do household, employing a governess, a housekeeper, a lady’s maid, two housemaids and a kitchenmaid.


Helena and her husband Rev John Turnbull were still living in Temple Ewell on the outskirts of Dover.  All their children were at home (their youngest hadn’t been born yet): Constance, Peveril, Arthur, John and Verney.  As well as a governess, Helena and John were able to afford to employ a cook, a housemaid and a nurse.


Rosamond and Edmund Charles Burton were living at 29 High Street Daventry, with their children Evelyn, Rosamund, Constance, Blanche and Edmund Gerald.  They had visitors staying with them on census day - author Hermon C Merivale and his wife Elizabeth.  This too was a wealthy household: the Burtons employed a governess, and six other servants, all women though who did what was not specified in the census.

Source: 1881 census.

Comment by Sally Davis: Daventry was relatively easy to get to by train from London where Isabel was living at this time.  Ewell was very convenient for those travelling to and from the continent.  However, whether Isabel ever visited Helena and Rosamond and their families, I wouldn’t know.


BETWEEN 1881 and 1893

One of Isabel’s letters published in Light led to a correspondence through its pages with another regular contributor to the journal, Anne Judith Penny, who was particularly interested in the works of Jacob Böhme.

Source for the correspondence: Memorabilia p187-188, p189, p191, p193

Information on Jacob Böhme or Boehme from a good and detailed page on wikipedia:

1575-1624, a German Lutheran mystic and writer, author of (amongst other works) Die Morgenroete im Aufgang, also known as Aurora (1600, 1619).  His argument that the Fall was a necessary stage in the evolution of the Universe was considered heretical by many.


Anne Judith Penny’s dates: Magic and Mysticism: an Introduction to Western Esoteric Traditions by Arthur Versluis 2007: p120: born 1825 died 1893.

Source: British Library catalogue for works by Anne Judith Penny:

Her first work, published anonymously, was Morning Clouds: Consisting of Advice to the Sorrowful.  London: Longmans 1858.  Subsequent works published during her lifetime were also published as ‘by the author of Morning Clouds’.  Her works on Böhme/Boehme were not published until long after her death, though Isabel had seen extracts from the works in progress:

1901 published New York and possibly privately printed as a limited edition: An Introduction to the Study of J Boehme’s Writings.

1912 published London: Watkins: Studies in Jacob Böhme.


It’s not clear from Memorabilia whether Isabel and Anne Judith Penny ever met face-to-face.


BETWEEN 1881 and 1893

Anne Judith Penny brought Isabel’s letters to Light to the attention of Mary Ann Atwood, and Mrs Atwood invited Isabel to stay with her at her home in Yorkshire.  After this first visit, Isabel began going to stay with Mrs Atwood once a year, usually in the summer.  Isabel was grateful for Mrs Atwood’s notice but fretted that when staying with her she felt she couldn’t spend any time sketching. 

Source: Memorabilia p189-93

Information from Wilmhurst’s introduction to Isabel’s 1918 edition of Mary Ann South’s A Suggestive Inquiry into Hermetic Philosophy and Alchemy; and Mary Ann South/Atwood’s wikipedia page:

Mary Ann South (1817-1910) was the daughter of hermeticist Thomas South.  In 1850, she published A Suggestive Inquiry into Hermetic Philosophy and Alchemy but it was withdrawn almost immediately by her and her father.  Thomas South (who hadn’t read the book before publication) felt that it gave away information best left secret.  Between them, Mary Ann and Thomas bought up virtually all the copies, and burned them.  Mrs Atwood must have kept a few copies of A Suggestive Inquiry back from the fire though as, later on, Isabel had one.


In 1859, Mary Ann South married the Rev Alban Thomas Atwood.  She spent the rest of her life living in his parish near Thirsk, Yorkshire.  By the time Isabel met Mrs Atwood, she had achieved almost mythical status in occult circles as a recluse, and as the author of a great esoteric work that almost no one had read.

Comment by Sally: I’m not sure that Isabel actually like Mrs Atwood all that much.  In Memorabilia p119, p193 she described Mrs Atwood as, “more respected than loved”, and as a “miser”.  On p119 she calls her “my old teacher”, not a friend.



Anna Kingsford’s The Perfect Way was published.  In A E Waite’s Preface to Isabel’s Memorabilia, he comments on how important The Perfect Way was to her spiritual journey.  Isabel, however, doesn’t mention any of Kingsford’s works by name in the Memorabilia. 

Sources: Memorabilia Preface pvii; and British Library catalogue: The Perfect Way; or the Finding of Christ was published in London by Field and Tuer; Edward Maitland as co-author.

Comment by Sally: of course, Isabel had heard and read a lot of the content of Kingsford’s books before they were published.  In any case, what Isabel remembered best about Anna Bonus Kingsford is made clear many times in Memorabilia.  Listening to Kingsford’s talks on western mysticism, and even just being in a group with her, all chatting as friends with this common interest - that was what was precious to Isabel.


EARLY 1883

Alfred Percy Sinnett and his wife Patience, returned to England from India.  They were both close friends of Helena Petrovna Blavatsky. 

Information on A P Sinnett from the article The Autobiography of A P Sinnett, published in The Theosophist volume 68 numbers 3 (December 1946) and 4 (January 1947).  Quoted on A P Sinnett’s page on the website as part of its Great Theosophists series.


1883 to 1889

The Sinnetts knew a lot of people, and had the Indian habit of keeping open house.  Their home in Leinster Gardens Bayswater became a meeting place on Sundays for people interested in theosophy and spiritualism.  Isabel was a regular visitor, even though the Sinnetts were allies of Blavatsky and Isabel an ally of Kingsford in a dispute that broke out in 1883-84 about the election of Kingsford as president of the TS: Blavatsky’s followers thought Kingsford focused too much on western esotericism.  I think Isabel didn’t care much for Alfred Sinnett: she thought his wife had “far more intellectual ability” and “a keener critical faculty” and felt that he didn’t question things enough.  It was Patience Sinnett that Isabel came to see; and at some time during the mid-to-late 1880s she painted a full-length portrait of Patience, in pastels.  Isabel didn’t want to be paid for the portrait, but Patience insisted on trading the picture for a silk dress.  Theosophist writer and editor Mabel Collins, and the scientist, psychic researcher and GD member William Crookes were two of the people Isabel met at the Sinnett’s house.  A friend of the Sinnetts that Isabel seems to have missed, was Sir Edwin Arnold; though she did read his The Light of Asia.

Source: Memorabilia p157-159.



Isabel’s portrait of Patience Sinnett was shown in an exhibition at the Grosvenor Galleries, together with three other of Isabel’s works - Phaedra; a portrait of Mabel Collins; and The Spirit of the Crystal.  Immediately after the exhibition, Isabel and a friend left England by P&O and went first to Alexandria before taking the popular boat-trip down the Nile, spending the winter at Aswan.  Isabel describes her friend as “my comrade in spiritual investigations” but she doesn’t name her, because during this long period spent together, the friend’s nit-picking behaviour strained their relationship quite severely.

Source: Memorabilia p159 but without a date.

Comment from Sally: I haven’t yet been able to discover what year the four paintings were exhibited.  I shall do so when I do my work on the GD artists. 


1883 and 1884

Isabel, being a friend of Anna Bonus Kingsford, the Sinnetts and Helena Petrovna Blavatsky, was often called upon to keep the peace as the debate about whether the Theosophical Society should include the study of western hermeticism got more strident.  Looking back while writing Memorabilia she felt that she hadn’t done a particularly good job at reconciling the warring factions - she’d been seen as favouring Kingsford, and pro-Blavatsky members of the TS (like Alfred Sinnett) had grown cool towards her.

Source: Memorabilia p174-176.



Isabel did her charcoal drawing of Christian David Ginsburg during a series of visits to his house.  She found the process very trying, partly because his head was “very unclassical” but mostly because his face was in “constant movement from incessant talking”.  She shut him up by talking herself on the subject “of most interest to nearly every man, viz, himself”, in particular his The Massorah which she was reading as it was published.

Source: Memorabilia p169.

Comment by Sally Davis: Isabel doesn’t say what she did with the drawing when she considered it was finished.  I imagine the whole point of doing the drawing was to give it as a gift, to Ginsburg.

Further on Ginsburg:

In 1870 Ginsburg had got a job at the Old Testament Revision Company and had moved from Liverpool to Berkshire.  In 1904 he was elected editor of the British and Foreign Bible Society’s New Critical Bible.  Ginsburg had done the work on the Pentateuch, the Prophets and some of the later books by the time he died, in March 1914; the whole thing was published in 1926.

Other publications:

1861                translation and commentary on Ecclesiastes

1867                translation and notes on Jacob ben Chayim’s Introduction to the Rabbinic Bible

?1867              translation and notes on Elias Levita’s Masoret Ha-Masoret

1880-86           The Massorah, in four volumes

1894                a work on the Hebrew bible and The Massorah published by the Trinitarian Bible Society.    

Source: Ginsburg’s entry in Oxford Dictionary of National Biography volume 22 p337-38.  



A conversazione was held at the Royal Institution on Piccadilly.  The great and good of theosophy were all there, including Blavatsky; Isabel and her Jewish convert friend Christian David Ginsburg; and Anna Bonus Kingsford, who gave a speech.  At his request, Isabel introduced Ginsburg to Dr Kingsford; and as a result, Isabel and Anna were invited to dinner with the Ginsburgs.


Memorabilia p166-69 though Isabel doesn’t say who organised it; it could have been the British National Association of Spiritualists but I think it’s more likely it was the Theosophical Society.

Red Cactus: the Life of Anna Kingsford by Alan Pert.  Watsons Bay NSW: Books and Writers Network Pty Ltd 2006: p111.

Source for the conversazione taking place before 23 August 1883: Red Cactus p111 quoting a letter of that date, from Blavatsky to Alfred Sinnett, in which Blavatsky criticised what Dr Kingsford had worn to the event (still the easiest criticism to make about a public woman.  Over a century of feminism has made no difference has it?)



Isabel and Anna Bonus Kingsford went to St Anne’s Heath Egham to spend the evening with the Ginsburgs but the exchange of greetings between Christian David Ginsburg and Dr Kingsford turned the evening into a social disaster.

Source for a date of before 11 September 1883: Red Cactus p113: on 11 September 1883 Dr Kingsford left for a lecture tour of the north of England and Scotland on behalf of the Vegetarian Society.

Source for the evening that went so wrong: Memorabilia pp171-73.

Comment by Sally Davis: writing up the events of this dire evening out, many decades after it took place, Isabel still wasn’t sure whether Ginsburg was being complimentary, or mocking, when he greeted Anna Bonus Kingsford as a prophet greater than Isaiah.  She was sure, though, that Ginsburg was completely taken aback when, in her reply, Dr Kingsford agreed with him: Isabel could see him being unable to decide whether Kingsford was mocking, or indulging in hubris.  Isabel was quite sure that Dr Kingsford had spoken in all sincerity.  An awkward pause ensued which was filled by Ginsburg’s wife Emilie (who was strongly Evangelical) saying that Dr Kingsford couldn’t possibly be a prophet.  Mr and Mrs Ginsburg continued to bate Anna Bonus Kingsford as the evening wore on.  And the Ginsburg daughters played the piano as well brought-up middle-class young women should, though not very well, Isabel thought - the Ginsburg girls were more sporty than musical.  The guests sat quiet - Isabel, Anna, and two young men previously unknown to Isabel.  The time came when it would not be rude to leave; and all the guests did, stumbling after Isabel along the foggy country lanes back to the station.  Dr Kingsford clung to Isabel throughout and looked so unwell that Isabel thought that the Ginsburgs’ behaviour had been tantamount to a psychic attack, which had affected Kingsford physically. 


Whether Isabel carried on any kind of friendship with the Ginsburgs after that dreadful evening is not clear.  He is certainly not mentioned again in Memorabilia.  However, Isabel was still influenced by his views many years later: in Superhumanity p71 (published 1915) she urged people to study commentaries on the Old Testament written by Jewish scholars - a view that must be based on Ginsburg’s arguments.



Isabel’s niece Evelyn Margaret Burton (Rosamond’s eldest daughter) married Thomas William Thornton of Kingsthorpe Hall Northamptonshire.

Source for the marriage: to Northampton Mercury issues of 8 September 1883 and 15 September 1883; though I couldn’t see enough of a guest-list to discover whether Isabel went to the wedding.



Helena Petrovna Blavatsky and Colonel Olcott were in England for seven months during this year.

Information from: Helena Petrovna Blavatsky introduced and edited by Nicholas Goodrick-Clarke.  Berkeley California: North Atlantic Books 2004; p13.



Isabel was one of those TS members who signed a petition prepared by Francesca Arundale asking Blavatsky to agree to allow the forming of a study group within the TS’s London Lodge.  The group would focus on Eastern esotericism.  However, when Isabel found out the terms and conditions of membership, she refused to join the group.

Source for the petition: 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.

Source for Isabel’s change of heart: Memorabilia pp174-176. 

Comment by Sally Davis: Isabel gave two reasons for why she decided not to become a member of this theosophical inner circle.  The first one she mentions is that she feared it would involve giving up her painting.  But the one that weighed more with her, I think, was Blavatsky’s set of rules for the group - she thought them draconian, particularly the one that required obedience to the dictats of Blavatsky’s masters, her Mahatmas.  The rules were put before Isabel by Francesca Arundale when Isabel was spending the evening with Francesca and her mother and their house-guest Mohini Chatterjee.  Isabel’s reaction to them was: “If I had thrown off one set of shackles” (I presume she means those of Christianity, particularly its Evangelical tendencies) “why should I be enslaved with fresh ones?”   The result of her refusal to sign was that Isabel spent less and less time with those who had been happy to do so - including Francesca Arundale, who had been a good friend up until then.  It’s not clear from Memorabilia whether Isabel realised at the time that this would happen; certainly she never regretted her choice to keep her intellectual independence. 

Source for Mohini Chatterjee in London: information at, the Open University’s research project into the contribution of people from Asia in the making of Britain.  Chatterjee was a theosophist taken up by Colonel Olcott and brought by him to Europe in 1884. 



Isabel exhibited her painting The Greek Captive and Her Nubian Slave at the Piccadilly Gallery, in the first exhibition held by the newly-founded Institute of Painters in Oil Colours.  By this time, Isabel was renting a studio in Holland Park Road; she still had it in 1887.


Via to Catalogue of the first exhibition of the Institute of Painters in Oil Colours; published 1884: p35 catalogue number 690.  Separately numbered at the back of the catalogue, the current addresses of the exhibitors: p46.  Edward Sherard Kennedy, husband of GD member Florence Kennedy, also had a work in the exhibition.

Comment by Sally Davis: I don’t think, from the Catalogue, that Isabel was a member of the Institute - the members all seemed to be men.  So her painting must have passed the scrutiny of its ‘standards’ committee.  That must have pleased her!



Isabel was a member of the Hermetic Society, founded by Anna Bonus Kingsford.

Source: Memorabilia p156

Source for the dates of the Hermetic Society: Biography of Anna Bonus Kingsford and her Founding of the Hermetic Society by Samuel Hopgood Hart.  Published separately by Kessinger Legacy Reprints 2013 but originally the introductory essay to a book of Kingsford’s esoteric writings, The Credo of Christendom, published in 1930 and edited by Hopgood Hart.  The biography is based on papers of Kingsford’s.  On p46 the last meeting of the Hermetic Society at which Kingsford was present was on 15 July 1886.  She founded the Society as a venue for theosophists who wanted to study western Christian esotericism. P28-29: its first official meetings were in June 1884 at 43 Rutland Gate on Thursdays at 5pm.  P47 no meetings of the Hermetic Society were held in 1887 because of Kingsford’s decline in health and the Society didn’t survive her death in 1888.

Comment by Sally Davis: this Society will have been very much more to Isabel’s taste than Blavatsky’s study group.  Several men who later joined the GD were members of it: the GD’s two main founders,William Wynn Westcott and Samuel Liddell Mathers; and William Forsell Kirby. 



Isabel knew another of the first women to practice medicine in England: as well as being a friend of Dr Kingsford, through the British National Association of Spiritualists she also knew Arabella Kenealy.  It was Dr Kenealy that diagnosed Kingsford as suffering from TB.

Source for Dr Kenealy’s diagnosis: Memorabilia p168.  Isabel says that Dr Kenealy told her of Kingsford’s illness; and that it would be fatal.  This was, apparently, two years before Dr Kingsford actually died.

Comment by Sally Davis: Isabel would scarcely have needed telling that TB killed you but perhaps Dr Kenealy didn’t know how Isabel’s husband had died.  Being told of the diagnosis by Dr Kenealy of course, was a breach of medical confidentiality but perhaps Dr Kenealy felt that someone should know Dr Kingsford’s condition who might be able to help her when she became seriously ill; and that Dr Kingsford was not likely to tell anyone herself.


Arabella Kenealy LRCP was the daughter of barrister and MP Edward Vaughan Kenealy.  She was quite a lot younger than Isabel, being born in 1859.  She studied medicine at the London School of Medicine for Women and worked in general practice in London and Watford from 1888 to 1894.  In 1894, however, she suffered such a severe attack of diphtheria that she was unable to work in medicine again.  She turned instead to writing, publishing magazine articles and books on medicine; and some novels.  Later in life she listed as one of her recreations the study of race improvement; so she and Isabel shared an interest in eugenics. 

Source: Who Was Who volume 3 p743 although not for the date of birth which I got from freebmd.



The Hermetic Society held its annual series of lectures.  Isabel didn’t give any of the lectures but she probably went to most if not all of the meetings.  Admittance was by visitor’s card.

Source: Light: A Journal of Psychical, Occult and Mystical Research.  Published London: Eclectic Publishing Co Ltd of 2 Duke St Adelphi.  Volume 5 which covers all the talks at the Hermetic Society that spring; although it doesn’t give any guests lists: p224 for the announcement; pp353-54 for Isabel’s letter. 

Comment by Sally: Light volume 5 also covers a dispute between the Hermetic Society and Dr G Wyld, in which Dr Wyld was claiming that the Bible was not an esoteric document.  Isabel wrote in to Light on the side of the Hermetic Society, saying that in her view, Dr Wyld’s argument was “untenable”.


3 JUNE 1885

Isabel’s nephew Charles Verney Lace (son of her dead brother Joshua Verney Lovett Lace) married Cécile Marguérite Forget, daughter of Isabel’s husband’s first employer in Liverpool.

Source: freebmd.

Also via to the Morning Post issues of 19 March 1885 and 6 June 1885: announcement of the engagement and then of the marriage at St Matthew and St James Moscley Hill.

Comment by Sally Davis: surely Isabel went to this wedding.  Just noting here that the Morning Post was a national, not a local newspaper; and it was a very Conservative and conservative paper.


SAID BY ISABEL TO BE 1885 BUT POSSIBLY 1886                    

Isabel spent the summer in Brittany, and then went to Paris, where she saw an exhibition of Impressionist paintings.  She wasn’t impressed: she described the style as an “illness”.

Source: Memorabilia p287, p290.

Comment by Sally: there’s definitely a problem with Isabel’s recollections here:

Website gives accounts of all 8 impressionist exhibitions; and there are discussions on wikipedia pages and elsewhere of some of the paintings exhibited at them.  The 7th impressionist exhibition was held in March 1882; then four years passed before the 8th one, held at 1 rue Lafitte from May-June 1886.  Neither of those dates fits Isabel’s recollection so either she has got the date wrong and means 1886; or she didn’t mean either of those exhibitions, but some other show involving impressionist works.


?1885 to ? LATE 1888

Isabel lived in Bedford Park, Chiswick, for three years, but left because the house didn’t have a studio and as a result she had to pay for one separately.  She was still living at Bedford Park when Anna Bonus Kingsford died in early 1888.

Source: Memorabilia p168, p80

Comment by Sally: the separate studio may have been the one in Holland Park mentioned below in connection with a commission Isabel got from Blavatsky.



Isabel was invited to attend some of Lady Wilde’s famous Saturday afternoons.  She did meet Oscar Wilde there.  However, she didn’t really take to Lady Wilde’s social circle, and in any case fell out with Lady Wilde when she refused Lady Wilde’s request to arrange a seance in her house.  Isabel was living at 8 Hornton Street at the time and giving her own “studio receptions” which included seances. 

Source: Memorabilia p81, p85-86, p107 but Isabel seems to associate it with the 1870s which can’t be right.

Comment by Sally on how Isabel and Lady Wilde met: in Memorabilia Isabel mentions knowing Lady Wilde’s elder son Willie, who was interested in theosophy.  It was most likely Willie who invited her.

Comment by Sally on Isabel and the Wilde family: perhaps Isabel saw Lady Wilde’s Saturdays as a rival to her own receptions.  I’ve been able to tie Isabel and Lady Wilde down to the late 1880s through a work by another GD member, Anna de Brémont.  de Brémont’s Oscar Wilde and His Mother was published in London by Everett and Co Ltd 1911.  On p42: when Anna arrives in London in mid-1886 Lady Wilde is still living in Mayfair.  P57 Lady Wilde moves to Oakley St Chelsea soon after Anna began to write (which was about 1887/88).  Isabel says that when she was going to Lady Wilde’s Saturdays, they were in Chelsea; so she can’t have been invited before 1887. 



Helena Petrovna Blavatsky settled permanently in London.

Information from: Helena Petrovna Blavatsky introduced and edited by Nicholas Goodrick-Clarke.  Berkeley California: North Atlantic Books 2004; p14.

A more specific date found at which says she arrived in England from Europe on 1 May 1887, having been invited by members of Blavatsky Lodge.



Isabel did a painting which in 2001 was tentatively entitled ‘Portrait of Madame Blavatska’ by a French art auction house.

Comment by Sally Davis: there’s no doubt that the painting in question was done by Isabel in 1887: the 2001 catalogue details noted that her signature and the year were in the bottom right hand corner.  However, the painting has no title and its subject the bears no resemblance whatever to the well-known photographs of Blavatksy in later life; hence the caution about the title.  In Memorabilia Isabel doesn’t mention having painted Blavatsky’s portrait; but hardly any of her paintings are mentioned in it.  This is a long-shot but perhaps the painting is of Blavatsky’s mahatma Morya - see immediately below for more on that one, commissioned by Blavatsky in 1887.


Sources for this mysterious painting which is possibly not even a portrait:

It can be seen, though not well, at; and on Pinterest.  There are more details of it at which describes isabel as a “peintre orientaliste”; and at where Isabel is described as German.  According to both these websites, the painting was in an auction at Beaussant-Lefèvre Paris.  However, the French website gives the date of the sale as 2001 while auctionclub says it was 2002.  The painting could have been for sale twice in quick succession but that does seem a bit odd.



Isabel was working on her painting of St John the Baptist when Helena Petrovna Blavatsky visited her at her studio in Holland Park.  As a result, Blavatsky commissioned a work from Isabel - though she never intended to pay for it.  Isabel was to paint a portrait of one of Blavatsky’s Mahatmas, the one she called Morya.  The completed work was later sent to the Theosophical Society’s ashram at Adyar, just outside Madras.  Blavatsky also commissioned a companion-portrait of Koot Hoomi from the German artist Schmiechen.


Isabel later gave her picture of St John the Baptist to Rev C C Elcum of St Agnes and St Pancras church, Ullet Road Liverpool.

Source: Memorabilia p176-80 although the vicar’s surname isn’t spelled correctly; possibly as the result of a typesetting error, he’s spelled as ElcRum.

Comment by Sally Davis: St John the Baptist was a very unusual painting in Isabel’s oeuvre - the only Christian devotional painting that she mentions in Memorabilia, probably the only one she did.  The man she gave it to was Rev Charles Cunningham Elcum (1848-1930) who took up his appointment at St Agnes and St Pancras on the day it was consecrated - 21 January 1885 - and stayed in-post until after Isabel had died.  Isabel doesn’t mention when she gave St John the Baptist to Rev Elcum but the most likely window of opportunity was between 1887/88 when Isabel moved back to Liverpool, and 1900 when most of her paintings were destroyed in a fire.


Where is the painting now?  There is a tour of St Agnes and St Pancras (now Grade 1 listed) on its web pages, but I couldn’t see anything on the walls that looked like Isabel’s St John the Baptist.  It may have been put in a cupboard somewhere.  But I think that both Isabel and Rev Elcum understood the painting to be a gift to him personally - perhaps the Baptist was a saint the Reverend particularly identified with - so that he took it with him when he retired.  Rev Elcum died in 1930; he doesn’t seem to have married so had no direct heirs to leave it to.  There was no sign of it on the web when I looked; which means that it hasn’t been sold at a public auction in recent years; and isn’t in a public collection - at least, not identified as Isabel’s work.  I wonder what happened to it.

Sources for Rev Charles Cunningham Elcum:

Web pages of St Agnes and St Pancras at  Consecration date from The History of the County Palatine and Duchy of Lancaster volume 5 by Edward Baines, William Robert Whatton and Brooke Herford.  Published 1893 by J Heywood: p156.

London Gazette 23 July 1909 p3627 for Rev Elcum as a chaplain to the Territorial Force.

He’s buried - like so many friends of Isabel - in Toxteth Park Cemetery.  Look for him at

Some publications:

Pitcairn: the Island, the People and the Pastor.... originally by Thomas Boyles Murray (1798-1860); revised and updated by Rev C C Elcum for the London Society for Promoting Christian Knowledge.  New York: E and J B Young and Co 1885 and later editions.  There’s no suggestion that Rev Elcum ever went to Pitcairn Island!

Supplemental Hymns for Use at St Agnes Church Liverpool by Rev C C Elcum.  Liverpool: Hemmin 1885.  It wasn’t clear from the book’s entry in the British Library catalogue whether he had composed the hymns or merely selected them.  Perhaps he did compose them:

A Laye of Old Londonne.  A Song Written and Composed by Rev C C Elcum.  Liverpool: J Smith and Son 1892. 


1887 or 1888

Isabel went to live in Liverpool.  She joined the Liverpool Spiritualist Circle, and the local lodge of the Theosophical Society but was horrified to find it full of Socialists. Isabel was particularly put off by the women socialists she met, moving in these circles, calling them “rabid”, “ill-informed” and too much influenced by the men in their lives.

Source: Memorabilia p187 states 1887 specifically.  However, on Memorabilia p168 she relates an incident from February 1888 and states that she was still living Bedford Park when it took place. 

Isabel described herself as “By nature...a Conservative.  Somehow I distrusted Liberal politicians, their politics and their selves did not seem to match”.  She thought Liberals too inclined to try to please the masses.  She also described herself, in a wider context, as “a pessimist” with “a vague fear of the unknown”.

Source: Memorabilia pxxi-xxii.

Socialism and its likely affect on the British Empire were in the 1890s a great unknown.

Comment by Sally: several times in Memorabilia Isabel mentions how many times she moved house and town during the 1890s.  Between the mid-1890s and 1917 she lived in Liverpool, Edinburgh, Birmingham, Bournemouth, Llangollen and Rock Ferry just outside Birkenhead; then at some point in the early 1920s she moved back more or less to where she had started, to Liverpool.  I can’t find any evidence for her living in Birmingham so I suppose this was a very short-lived stay, perhaps of a year or less. 


22 FEBRUARY 1888

Isabel received a telegram at her house in Bedford Park, summoning her to go to the aid of Rev Kingsford (Dr Kingsford’s husband, now her widower) and Edward Maitland (her partner in esotericism) as Dr Kingsford had died during the night.  Isabel went at once, shocked, as she hadn’t realised Dr Kingsford was so ill.

Source for the incident though not the date: Memorabilia p168-169.

Source for the date: Biography of Anna Bonus Kingsford and her Founding of the Hermetic Society by Samuel Hopgood Hart.  I bought a Kessinger Legacy Reprints in 2013 but originally the Biography was only the introductory essay to Hopgood Hart’s edition of Kingsford’s writings, The Credo of Christendom published 1930; p52.

Anna Bonus Kingsford died of TB.

Comment by Sally: I think Isabel is being dramatic here: who knew better than she, that people with TB die slowly?  It had been known for two years or so that Dr Kingsford had the disease.  She might, I suppose, have undergone a sudden decline in her last few weeks.  However it happened, Dr Kingsford’s death and the loss of her friendship, was a defining moment in Isabel’s life, for all the wrong reasons.  It’s likely that Dr Kingsford’s death confirmed Isabel in her decision to leave London, and at least in her Memorabilia she doesn’t mention any other woman to whom she was so close - her relationship with Mary Ann Atwood was not the same at all.



Isabel was living at 32 Fern Grove Sefton Park Liverpool.  However, she was still spending a lot of time in London.

Source: Theosophical Society Membership Registers



Isabel was initiated into the Hermetic Order of the Golden Dawn, apparently at the Isis-Urania temple which was in London.          

Source for the initiation: R A G The Golden Dawn Companion.

Source for Isabel as a GD member: Memorabilia p117, p135.

Some comments on Isabel in the GD by Sally Davis: the GD’s founders, William Wynn Westcott and Samuel Liddell Mathers, had started to move towards setting up the GD in the first few months of 1888.  Isabel knew both of them through the Hermetic Society.  Dr Kingsford’s death, and Blavatsky’s increasing hostility towards western esotericism being studied by Theosophical Society members, had left all the Hermetic Society’s members with nowhere to go to pursue their interest.  I wonder if the GD would have been founded at all if Dr Kingsford hadn’t died and her Hermetic Society hadn’t folded as a result. 


Isabel mentioned the GD several times in Memorabilia.  She thought of it as a Rosicrucian order and referred to it as such.  She saw being initiated into the GD as part of a sea-change in her life, as she moved from spiritualism, through theosophy, to being “a Rosicrucian”; and then on again to anthroposophy.  While she was an active member of the GD she took the duties of initiates very seriously: “my studies were restricted to the manuscripts of the Order”. When I was beginning to investigate Isabel’s life I saw several messages on the web saying that she never mentioned the GD in Memorabilia.  This is true, in the sense that the words ‘Golden Dawn’ are never used by Isabel in Memorabilia.  But I think the message-posters forgot to allow for the occult habit of always referring to things obliquely, not directly, and never by name; and also for the oaths of secrecy that members took at their initiation.  At least in its early days, the GD was a Rosicrucian organisation.  Members of the Societas Rosicruciana in Anglia (of which Westcott was a very senior member) were asked to advise on ritual and texts for initiates to study.  It only began to move in new and exciting directions - Egyptian magic, Celtic myth - later in the 1890s. 


5 MARCH 1889                     

Isabel went to a meeting of the London Spiritualist Alliance, held in headquarters at 2 Duke Street Adelphi.  Mr E Dawson Rogers, the founder of the LSA’s magazine Light, gave a talk: Some Personal Experiences with a Sensitive.


Light: A Journal of Psychical Occult and Mystical Research volume IX January-December 1889.  London: Eclectic Publishing Co Ltd of 2 Duke St Adelphi: p130.


2 APRIL 1889

Isabel was at the London Spiritualist Alliance’s offices again, this time to listen to Edward Maitland on The Probable Course of Development and Ultimate Issue of the Present Spiritual Movement. 

Source: Light: A Journal of Psychical Occult and Mystical Research volume IX January-December 1889.  London: Eclectic Pubg Co Ltd of 2 Duke St Adelphi.  Issue number 432 Saturday 13 April 1889 pp179-182.  On a list of the more prominent spiritualists in the audience was a “Miss Bates” who might be the GD member and vigorous proponent of spiritualism Emily Katharine Bates.


9 APRIL 1889

Isabel was the speaker at a meeting of the London Spiritualist Alliance at 2 Duke Street Adelphi.  Her talk was on Spiritualists and Public Worship.

Source: Light: A Journal of Psychical Occult and Mystical Research volume IX January-December 1889.  London: Eclectic Publishing Co Ltd of 2 Duke St Adelphi.  Issue number 433 Saturday 20 April 1889 p191-193.

Comment by Sally Davis:

Isabel’s talk was her contribution to an ongoing debate in spiritualist circles, about whether there should be a building where spiritualists could worship, in public, as a group.  In her talk, Isabel described her own spiritual views, which encompassed both the Pantheism mentioned by Maitland in his talk the previous week, and a conviction that students of spiritual science should follow “the law of Christ” (quoting Isabel on p193).  As to whether spiritualists should gather together in public to offer public acknowledgement and thanks to “the gracious Father of the universe” (quoting Isabel on p191), she didn’t think the time had yet come for such a move.  She also thought that students of spiritual science such as herself each needed to follow their own path, in private.  Coming together to worship as a group might suit some, but not all.  Edward Maitland was at this talk and he led the discussion that took place afterwards.


19 OCTOBER 1889

Isabel went to a talk by T L Henly.  The talk was an introduction to Spiritualism and he gave it at the Bedford Park Society, at their invitation.

Source: Light: A Journal of Psychical Occult and Mystical Research volume IX January-December 1889.  London: Eclectic Publishing Co Ltd of 2 Duke St Adelphi.  Issue number 463 Saturday 16 November 1889 pp554-555, a letter from Isabel in response to one from T L Henly about the way he was treated that evening.

Comment by Sally Davis: editions of Light at around this time have a lot in them by T L Henly - he was a very keen proselytiser on spiritualism’s behalf.  But he was the type to take umbrage very easily.  He was so upset and annoyed by how the audience had behaved both during his talk and in the question-and-answer session afterwards, that he wrote a long, irritable letter to Light about it, which was published in the issue of 2 November 1889.  Isabel wrote in response, trying to tell Henly, in the gentlest manner possible, that she at least thought he hadn’t tailored his talk to fit his rather unusual audience.  His talk, she thought, had placed too much emphasis on spiritualism as a release from the fear of death: such an argument was not likely to weigh as much with a group of bohemian intellectuals as with the audiences Henly was more used to.  Isabel’s letter was her last word on the subject.  Henly didn’t like her criticisms and wrote to Light to say so; provoking one or two other people to write in, arguing on one side or the other.


It’s really interesting to discover that Isabel knew people in the Bedford Park Society in 1889.  I haven’t ever found a list of its members but many people who later joined the GD were living in Bedford Park at the time and were likely to have been members, if not founders, of the Society.  In fact, the sequence of letters in response to Henly’s complaints was closed, in Light’s last issue of 1889, by a short, rather brusque one from W B Yeats saying that Henly should have been prepared for robust debate, lecturing on such a controversial subject.  Yeats’ letter doesn’t say so specifically but I think he must have been at Henly’s lecture himself; perhaps he was on the Society’s committee.  Other GD members who lived nearby and may have been present were: Florence Farr; Henrietta Paget and her husband Henry Marriott Paget; John William Brodie-Innes and his wife Frances; John Todhunter; and Dorothea Butler.  Yeats’ letter was in Light number 469 Saturday 28 December 1889 p619.


26 NOVEMBER 1889

Isabel went once again to a meeting of the London Spiritualist Alliance at 2 Duke Street.  This time the speaker was Morell Theobald, a very active member of the LSA.  His talk, Gleanings   Abroad, was an account of his recent round-the-world trip.

Source: Light: A Journal of Psychical Occult and Mystical Research volume IX January-December 1889.  London: Eclectic Publishing Co Ltd of 2 Duke St Adelphi.  Issue number 466 Saturday 7 December 1889 p587.

Comment by Sally Davis: Morell Theobald’s brother Robert Masters Theobald, a doctor and homaeopath, was a member of the GD.  He gave one or two talks at the LSA on medical matters but probably wasn’t a spiritualist as he didn’t go to many other LSA meetings.



There was another lecture at the Bedford Park Society, this time on theosophy, given by Colonel Henry Olcott.  Isabel may have gone to this too - though she knew the subject well and I haven’t found anything specifically saying that she was in the audience that evening.

Source: Source: Light: A Journal of Psychical Occult and Mystical Research volume IX January-December 1889.  London: Eclectic Publishing Co Ltd of 2 Duke St Adelphi.  Issue number 467 Saturday 14 December 1889 p603 and number 468 Saturday 21 December 1889.

Comment by Sally Davis: T L Henly might have been slightly cheered to find from subsequent issues of Light that the Bedford Park Society gave Colonel Olcott quite as hard a time as they had given him.


10 DECEMBER 1889

Isabel gave her second talk of the year at the London Spiritualist Alliance: Spiritualism Amongst the Poets - The Epic of Hades. 

Source: Light: A Journal of Psychical Occult and Mystical Research volume IX January-December 1889.  London: Eclectic Publishing Co Ltd of 2 Duke St Adelphi.  Issue number 468 Saturday 21 December 1889 p610-612.

Comment by Sally Davis.  Because poetry is something that I have never got the hang of, I had never heard of the author of The Epic of Hades, Lewis Morris.  Although I think he is not read much now, Morris was very well-known in his lifetime and has his own wikipedia page.  Isabel’s argument during her talk was that Lewis Morris was a spiritualist poet and the The Epic of Hades a spiritualist work.  Amongst a number of characters mentioned in the poem as spending time in Tartarus learning from mistakes they made in their lifetimes was Phaedra.  Isabel described the Phaedra of the poem as still wanting revenge; and she may have been inspired to start her own painting of Phaedra by Morris’ work.  The discussion which followed Isabel’s talk was led by Alaric A Watts; and by Professor George Chainey of Boston Massachusetts who was in London on a lecture tour.  While she was preparing her talk Isabel had been lent the 30 November 1889 edition of The Agnostic Journal (I wonder who by, perhaps a member of the Bedford Park Society) which had in it an article by George Chainey on Dreamers of Dreams.


In Memorabilia Isabel mentions that her painting of Phaedra was exhibited; but she doesn’t say when or where and I haven’t tracked down any other references to the work as yet.


Lewis Morris’ The Epic of Hades was first published anonymously in London by Henry S King and Co in 1877.  In 1878 Kegan Paul took it up, and published it with Morris named as its author.  Kegan Paul’s publication was into its fourth edition by the end of 1879; but I don’t quite understand why Isabel had chosen it as a subject for a talk over a decade later.


For further on George Chainey, a convert to spiritualism who had been a Christian minister:

New Religions and the Theological Imagination in America by Mary Farrell Bednarowski.  Bloomington: Indiana University Press 1989: In the Notes Section p141 note 4.

Whitman and the Irish by Joann P Krieg.  Iowa City: Univ of Iowa Press 2000 p148, which covers Chainey’s decisive intervention when the Boston city authorities were trying to censor Walt Whitman’s Leaves of Grass on grounds of obscenity.  He read out Whitman’s poem To A Common Prostitute in one of his sermons to force a decision on the matter - and the obscenity case was dropped.



Isabel was in London and went to the London Spiritualist Alliance’s soirée at St James’s Hall.  Also on the guest-list was a “Miss Bates” who might be the GD member Emily Katharine Bates, the traveller and author.

Source: Light: A Journal of Psychical, Occult and Mystical Research.  Published London: Eclectic Publishing Co Ltd of 2 Duke St Adelphi.  Volume 10 January-December 1890 Issue number 479 published Saturday 25 January 1890 p43.


28 JULY 1890

Isabel’s niece Rosamund Westbrooke Burton (daughter of Isabel’s sister Rosamund) married William Rhodes of Flore Fields near Daventry.

Source: via to Northampton Mercury issues of 25 July 1890 and 1 August 1890.

At just to give a flavour of the kind of circles Isabel’s sister Rosamund was moving in: Thomas William Rhodes of Flore Fields, father of her son-in-law William Rhodes, served as high sheriff of Northamptonshire in 1876-77; and Rosamund’s son-in-law Thomas William Thornton was high sheriff in 1886-87.

Via to Baily’s Magazine of Sports and Pastimes volume 29 1877 p12 activities of the Rhodes family as members of the Pytchley and other hunts.


APRIL 1891   

On the day of the 1891 census Isabel was back living in London, at 58 Blomfield Road Paddington.  Her’s was a modest household, with only one general servant employed.  Her eldest sister Constantia Lace, was still at Christleton Old Hall north-east of Chester, looking after her nieces Theodosia and Josephine Lace.  Constantia had scaled down her household somewhat, probably after her nephew’s marriage in 1885: she now employed only a cook, a housemaid and a kitchen maid.  Isabel and Constantia’s nephew Charles Verney Lace and his wife Cécile were living on the west side of Chester at Sealand House; in a household with a cook, two housemaids and a groom.  Isabel’s sister Rosamond Burton and her husband had moved into the Burton family’s main residence, The Lodge in Daventry, and were there with their unmarried daughter Blanche; as it was still term-time their son Edmund Gerald was away at Westminster School.  Their lavish household included a ladies’ maid (an expensive luxury) as well as a cook, two housemaids and a kitchen maid.  Rev John and Helena Turnbull were still at the vicarage at Temple Ewell.  Four of their children were at home: Constance; Peveril, currently at Cambridge University but home for the holidays; John, who was working in the offices of a land agent; and Christine,who was nine.  The Turnbulls had also reduced the number of their servants; they now employed only a cook and a housemaid.  However, they also employed a governess for Christine, a woman called Louise Sapolin.

Source: 1891 census.

Comment by Sally Davis: although Louise Sapolin had left the Turnbulls’ employment by 1901 and gone home to her brother’s house in south London, the connection with the Turnbulls remained: Verney Turnbull, beginning a career in publishing, was lodging with them.

8 MAY 1891

Helena Petrovna Blavatsky died from influenza.

Comment by Sally Davis: there was an epidemic at the time.

Information on the date from: wikipedia page on Blavatsky.  Several other TS sources all confirm the date but none give the source, probably an official announcement by the TS.  There is a death registration on freebmd for Helena P Blavatsky, April-June quarter 1891, registered Marylebone.  She was 59.


END OF ISABEL DE STEIGER PART 2.  One more part to go! Covering the rest of 1891 to her death in 1927



5 January 2016


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