ISABEL DE STEIGER (1836-1927). My life-by-dates continues with the two years 1883 and 1884, during which she exhibited more paintings than at any other time; met Mary Ann Atwood (probably – she’s not sure of the year); and joined Anna Bonus Kingsford’s Hermetic Society.
This particular update: December 2022 trying to pin down the date Isabel met Mrs Atwood and sort out some confusing information on paintings Isabel did for Colonel Henry Olcott and Helena Petrovna Blavatsky.
Just re-stating the Golden Dawn connection:
Isabel de Steiger was one of the Hermetic Order of the Golden Dawn’s earliest members, being initiated at its Isis-Urania temple in London in October 1888. She chose the Latin motto ‘Altiora peto’. She took her time over the learning and exams required for the GD’s inner, 2nd Order and was initiated into it in May 1896. She moved out of London in the early 1890s and was a member of the GD’s Horus temple in Bradford for a time; and then (in the late 1890s) of its Amen-Ra temple in Edinburgh.
THE LAYOUT BELOW which I hope isn’t too difficult to read.
What Isabel was doing, tends to be in italics. My comments, and the sources, are typed in my usual Times New Roman.
Lastly, before we start, a quick note on her name: she was baptised with it spelled in the French way - Isabelle - and did return to that spelling from time to time in her life. For most of her life, however, she used ‘Isabel’ and I’ll stick with that.
1883 and 1884
London Lodge became a battle-ground between a group focused around Anna Bonus Kingsford on the one side; and Helena Petrovna Blavatsky on the other, about whether the TS should study western hermeticism as well as eastern philosophy. Isabel herself wanted both eastern and western ideas to be available to TS members; and tried to mediate as the argument grew more strident. Looking back while writing Memorabilia, Isabel 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.
SUNDAY 7 JANUARY 1883
Anna Bonus Kingsford was elected president of the London Lodge of the TS; with Edward Maitland and George Wyld as her vice-presidents.
Source: Light: Journal of Psychical, Occult and Mystical Research published London: Eclectic Publishing Company of 16 Craven Street London: p143 issue of 24 March 1883 quoting the March edition of The Theosophist.
Comment by Sally Davis: though Anna Bonus Kingsford believed that all religions were trying to convey the same Truth, she was known to prefer to focus on the western, Christian esoteric tradition. So her election was a heavier punch than they had mustered so far, by the pro-western group within the TS. Isabel, of course, was a member of London Lodge and I’m sure she would have voted for Dr Kingsford. I don’t think she will have thought Dr Kingsford’s election would lead to quite so much trouble, though.
Isabel showed another work at the Royal Hibernian Academy in Dublin: her oil painting The Valkyrie Maidens, exhibited for the second of five times.
Source for this showing of the Valkyrie painting:
Royal Hibernian Academy of Arts: Index of Exhibitors 1826-1979 compiled by Ann M Stewart. Volume 1: A-G. Dublin: Manton Publishing 1986. On p210 as de Steiger, Mme Isabel. Listing for 1883: Valkyrie Maidens as oil painting, catalogue number 73, price £35.
Alfred Percy Sinnett and his wife Patience returned to England from India. They were both close friends of Helena Petrovna Blavatsky.
Month of their arrival back in England: Autobiography of A P Sinnett published by the Theosophical History Center in 1986 from a Ms held at the Theosophical Society in Adyar: p23. Available as a pdf. See immediately below, Mary Ann Atwood and her father’s library aren’t mentioned in it.
Source for their arrival being keenly anticipated:
Light: Journal of Psychical, Occult and Mystical Research published London: Eclectic Publishing Company of 16 Craven Street London p138 issue of 24 March 1883 had reported their departure from India, and hoped that they would set up home in England. Light considered A P Sinnett’s Esoteric Buddhism such an important publication that reviewer Charles Carleton Massey was given a large part of two issues to do it justice. Over the next few months Light also printed many letters about the book and how it should be interpreted. As you would expect, some of the letter-writers disagreed with some of the others.
Comment on the Sinnetts’ importance to theosophical circles in the 1880s and 1890s, by Sally Davis: the Sinnetts continued the Indian habit of keeping open house when they returned to England. Their homes at 7 Ladbroke Gardens and later in Leinster Gardens Bayswater became a meeting place for people interested in theosophy and spiritualism. Isabel was a regular visitor, even though Alfred Sinnett in particular was an ally of Blavatsky and Isabel seen more as an ally of Kingsford in the west v east dispute that rumbled on. Isabel liked Alfred Sinnett only up to a point: 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 future GD member William Crookes were two of the many people Isabel met at the Sinnett’s house. Isabel doesn’t mention knowing Sir Edwin Arnold but he too was a friend of the Sinnetts so I’m sure she met him. She does say that she read his poetry and his The Light of Asia.
The Sinnetts in India and London: Autobiography of Alfred Percy Sinnett. Unedited version published Theosophical History Centre 1986 from a Ms at the TS in Adyar. Available as a pdf. On pp16-17: A P Sinnett began to correspond with Helena Petrovna Blavatsky and Colonel Olcott shortly after they arrived in India in December 1879. Blavatsky and Olcott accepted an invitation to stay with the Sinnetts in Allahabad and that’s how they met. On pp24-25: the Sinnetts moved into 7 Ladbroke Grove on 31 January 1884; on p36 the move to Leinster Gardens isn’t dated in the autobiography but Sinnett’s references to it make me think it might have happened around 1890. On p31: the Sinnetts’ at-homes, to which so many theosophists went regularly, were on Tuesday afternoons.
DIFFICULT TO DATE BUT MUST BE AFTER APRIL 1883; probably quite soon after
Isabel was introduced to Mary Ann Atwood (née South) while calling on Patience and Alfred Sinnett. They became acquainted 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 regularly, usually in the summer.
Source for the meeting though without a good date: Memorabilia p188-89, p237. Mrs Atwood recognised Isabel’s name from her letters to Light and in Ann Judith Penny they had a mutual friend. Mrs Atwood did not know the Sinnetts but she had decided to give her father’s library to them, after reading some of Alfred Sinnett’s publications on theosophy. Isabel describes the books Atwood was handing over, as classical and medieval texts in Greek, Latin and English, mostly on alchemy.
Comment from Sally Davis: Isabel says very few of the people she knew at that time took any interest in Thomas South’s books, though later, G R S Mead used them. I think GD founder William Wynn Westcott would have loved to have got his hands on them and would have given them a very good home; but it was the Sinnetts that Mrs Atwood had heard of.
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. However,Mrs Atwood must have kept a few copies of A Suggestive Inquiry back from the fire as, later on, Isabel had one.
In 1859, Mary Ann South had 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 on the relationship, which was not one of equals. I’m not even 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.
Isabel exhibited at the Royal Scottish Academy for the first time. She showed two paintings: Semiramis; and The Fair Slave Enees-el-Jelees which was based on a character from the Arabian Nights.
Source: The Royal Scottish Academy Exhibitors 1826-1990 editor Charles Baile de Laperrière. Calne: Hilmarton Manor Press 1991. There are no indications as to whether the paintings were for sale or not. Volume 4 R-Z p615 Steiger, de; Mme Isabel. Catalogue numbers: 393 for Semiramis; 543 for The Fair Slave...
Just confirming that Isabel was never a member of the RSA: The Royal Scottish Academy 1826-1916 list of members exhibiting; compiled by Frank Rinder. Originally published 1917; British Library’s copy is Kingsmead Reprints 1975: p384 Isabel isn’t listed.
Comment by Sally Davis: this was a second showing of three for Semiramis: it had been shown, as Semiramide, in 1882 at the Royal Albert Hall.
Isabel did a 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.
Here’s some further information on Ginsburg but for his early years see this life-by-dates, the file covering 1836-72:
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.
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.
17 JUNE 1883
The Theosophical Society held a conversazione at the Prince’s Hall Piccadilly, to welcome the Sinnetts to London; 270 people were invited.
Light: Journal of Psychical, Occult and Mystical Research published London: Eclectic Publishing Company of 16 Craven Street London: p335 issue of 28 July 1883 though there was no guest list and the report made it plain that it was Alfred Sinnett, rather than his wife Patience, who was being welcomed.
4 AUGUST 1883
A letter from Isabel was published in Light in which she responded to one from George Wyld which had been very critical of A P Sinnett’s Esoteric Buddhism.
Source: Light: Journal of Psychical, Occult and Mystical Research published London: Eclectic Publishing Company of 16 Craven Street London. For George Wyld’s letter: p324 issue of 21 July 1883. For Isabel’s reply: pp352-54 issue of 4 August 1883. Isabel’s wasn’t the only letter taking Wyld to task: on p344 issue of 28 July 1883 there had been an indignant response from Francesca Arundale.
Comment from Sally Davis: Isabel was a little nervous, taking part in this debate, and perhaps worried too by publically opposing the views of Wyld: she hoped Light’s readers wouldn’t resent comments on Esoteric Buddhism made by her as a “European”. The gist of her letter was that Wyld was looking at Esoteric Buddhism with a mind compromised by his Christian background. As a result he had misunderstood much of it and hadn’t appreciated the depth of its arguments. Isabel felt Wyld did not understand that although esoteric wisdom was freely available, you did have to work at it; and its Truth was revealed according to your capacity to receive it. She ended by criticising some of the phrases Wyld had used - he had referred to Esoteric Buddhism as “an awful cram” and to its author as “mad as a hatter”. Letters to Light, Isabel felt, were not the place to use slang.
Wyld’s letter had caused widespread offence: on p364 issue of 11 August 1883 there was a letter from future GD member William Forsell Kirby, as hon sec of the London Lodge of the TS. Kirby had been asked to write to Light by its president and council, to state that – contrary to what Wyld had suggested – the Lodge’s members were not atheists. The London Lodge, too, had objected to the language Wyld had used in his letter, though on more serious grounds: they felt that he had not observed the decencies of debate. Consequently, Kirby wrote, the Lodge no longer viewed Wyld as a desirable member.
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 pp166-69. Isabel doesn’t say whether this social event had any particular purpose, and I’m wondering if it actually is the welcome party for the Sinnetts, with Isabel remembering the date and the venue wrong.
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?)
PROBABLY END OF AUGUST; DEFINITELY BEFORE 11 SEPTEMBER 1883
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 condescending, 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 fraught 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 exhibited at the Royal Society of Artists Birmingham again. She showed two oil works: Abd-el-Rahman; and Semiramis.
Royal Society of Artists Birmingham Autumn Exhibition Catalogue 1883. List of exihibitors p80. P27 catalogue number 162: Abd-el-Rahman price £10. P32 catalogue number 270 Semiramis available at £25.
Comment by Sally Davis: Semiramis was on its third outing. It had been shown as Semiramide in 1882 at the Royal Albert Hall and as Semiramis earlier in 1883 at the Royal Scottish Academy.
Isabel showed two oil paintings at the Walker Art Gallery in Liverpool: The Enchantress; and The Lorelei Maiden.
13th Liverpool Autumn Exhibition of Modern Pictures 1883. List of exhibitors p135. And in the list of paintings: p16 catalogue number 149 - The Enchantress, price £100; and p80 catalogue number 1416 - The Lorelei Maiden “Sitting on a Rock over the Whirlpool, singing to the Fishermen Below” (Isabel’s quote marks), for sale at £35.
Comment by Sally Davis: both paintings were exhibited once more. Isabel showed The Enchantress in 1885 at the Royal Hibernian Academy. It was a painting that GD member Frederick Leigh Gardner admired (see the entries for November 1897). The Lorelei Maiden was shown again in 1895 at the Royal Scottish Academy, as the property of Isabel’s friends William and Fanny Crosfield who had probably bought it in 1883.
Isabel’s niece Evelyn Margaret Burton – her sister Rosamond’s eldest daughter - married Thomas William Thornton of Kingsthorpe Hall Northamptonshire.
Source for the marriage: www.genesreunited.co.uk 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.
DECEMBER 1883- ?JANUARY 1884
Isabel exhibited at an exhibition of the Institute of Painters in Oil Colours (now the Royal Institute of Oil Painters); the only time she did so. She showed her oil painting The Greek Captive and her Nubian Slave.
At archive.org, Institute of Painters in Oil Colours catalogue of 1st exhibition 1883-84, at the Piccadilly Gallery. Book lists 801 exhibits; there were only a few sculptures though one was by Rodin. On p46 in the list of exhibitors and p35 catalogue number 60.
For the opening date of the exhibition: Times Monday 17 December 1883 p1: announcement that the exhibition was open; and p7 a report on some of the exhibits, though there was no mention of Isabel’s painting. The dates of the exhibition weren’t given so I’m not sure when it closed.
EARLY SPRING 1884
Henry Steel Olcott came to London to try to find a solution to the dispute in London Lodge about whether western or eastern hermeticism should be its focus; Anna Bonus Kingsford heading the pro-western group, Alfred Sinnett the pro-eastern one.
Old Diary Leaves 3rd Series covering 1887-87. Henry Steel Olcott, from his diaries. London: Theosophical Publishing Society. Madras: Office of The Theosophist. 1904: pp90-95, p125, p151. Olcott arrived in London on 5 April 1884 accompanied by Mohini Chatterji. They stayed with the Arundales at 77 Elgin Crescent Notting Hill until July. The effort to sort out the in-fighting in London Lodge was mostly Olcott’s work. Except for a flying visit to attend the meeting of 9 April 1884 (see below) Blavatsky seems to have stayed in Paris until perhaps late June.
DIFFICULT TO DATE - ?APRIL 1884; OR JUNE-JULY 1884
Helena Petrovna Blavatsky visited Isabel in her studio on Holland Park Road. Isabel was working on her painting of St John the Baptist at the time. As a result of a reminder from Blavatsky that John the Baptist was a “Nazar”, Isabel made some corrections to her painting, making the Baptist’s hair much longer.
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 not Elcum. Isabel’s model for the painting, which was a life-size male head, was an Italian man working in London as an artist’s model.
Comment by Sally Davis: St John the Baptist was a very unusual painting in Isabel’s oeuvre - one of only two paintings she did on Biblical themes and almost certainly the only Christian devotional painting that 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, Ullet Road Liverpool on the day it was consecrated - 21 January 1885 - and stayed in-post until after Isabel had died.
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 he 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 www.stagnes.org. 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 www.toxtethparkcemeteryinscriptions.co.uk.
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.
?APRIL 1884. BEFORE 15 JUNE 1884
Blavatsky commissioned a work from Isabel - though it was understood by both parties that she would not pay for it. Isabel was to paint a portrait of one of Blavatsky’s Mahatmas, the one she called Morya. Blavatsky also commissioned the German artist Hermann Schmiechen to paint both Morya and Koot Hoomi. Colonel Olcott called on Isabel to leave with her a photograph of a drawing Blavatsky had made of Morya, which was to act as the portrait’s basis. Isabel later sent the completed work to the Theosophical Society’s ashram at Adyar, just outside Madras. She never heard anything more about it.
Sources: Memorabilia p156.
Comments by Sally Davis: Isabel doesn’t give a date for the commission, but I’m assuming that it followed Blavatsky’s visit to her studio.
Old Diary Leaves 3rd Series covering 1887-87. Henry Steel Olcott, from his diaries. London: Theosophical Publishing Society. Madras: Office of The Theosophist. 1904: p94.
15 JUNE 1884
Isabel showed to Colonel Olcott what he called a “remarkable portrait of Mahatma M...” that she had done.
Source for Isabel showing her painting of Morya to Colonel Olcott: Colonel Olcott’s diary, mentioned at theosophy.com in an article The Portraits of the Masters Part I, by Daniel Caldwell; uploaded 15 September 2006.
EARLY APRIL 1884
A circular was issued, announcing the formation of a new lodge of the Theosophical Society, specifically for the “study of all Esoteric teaching from an independent standpoint”.
Source: the circular itself. I don’t know of any copies that still exist but the words were quoted by M A Oxon (William Stainton Moses) in an editorial in Light. Light: Journal of Psychical, Occult and Mystical Research published London: Eclectic Publishing Co of 16 Craven Street. Volume IV January-December 1884: issue of 19 April 1884. The editorial listed some of the better known names on the circular: one that was a surprise to me was Leslie Stephen, father of Vanessa Bell and Virginia Woolf. More familiar names – at least to Isabel – were Anna Bonus Kingsford, Edward Maitland, Charles Carleton Massey, and Maria Countess of Caithness. No future members of the GD were in the list of members-to-be printed in Light.
9 APRIL 1884
A meeting of the proposed new TS lodge was held, and a group of officers was elected.
Comments by Sally Davis: a lodge within the TS where western hermeticism could be discussed had been Olcott’s first proposal to end the breach within London Lodge. According to Olcott’s account of the meeting of 9 April 1884, it was well-attended: Blavatsky made a surprise appearance; future GD member William Forsell Kirby was there; with Lady Wilde and her sons Oscar and William; Charles Carleton Massey who was helping Olcott broker the deal; Algernon Kingsford, Anna Bonus Kingsford’s husband; and Francesca Arundale who agreed to become the proposed lodge’s treasurer. Source for who was there is Olcott himself on p94 of Old Diary Leaves Series 3. However, Olcott doesn’t say that Anna Bonus Kingsford was there, nor Edward Maitland, her second-in-command. I think that if they had been there, the meeting would have ended with no agreement: the pro-eastern-philosophy faction within London Lodge produced a new rule, which stated that no one could be a member of more than one TS lodge at any one time. The pro-western-esotericism faction would not accept that rule, which would have forced them to chose between London Lodge and the new one. As well as Dr Kingsford and Maitland, other London Lodge members like Isabel and William Forsell Kirby refused to abide by the new rule, who up until then had been willing to back Olcott’s idea. Olcott was obliged to fall back on a less solution much less welcome to him and Blavatsky: the creation of a society for the study of western hermeticism that was completely independent of the TS.
Just noting that Olcott didn’t list Isabel as being at the meeting of 9 April; perhaps she was too busy painting, with the spring art exhibitions imminent; or maybe she just wanted to stay out of the way!
Source for the meeting:
Old Diary Leaves 3rd Series covering 1887-87. Henry Steel Olcott, from his diaries. London: Theosophical Publishing Society. Madras: Office of The Theosophist. 1904: pp92-94, p97.
Source for the reaction of the pro-western faction:
Light: Journal of Psychical, Occult and Mystical Research published London: Eclectic Publishing Co of 16 Craven Street. Volume IV January-December 1884: p182 issue of 3 May 1884: letter from Edward Maitland; and p186 issue of 10 May 1885 short report by William Forsell Kirby. Maitland’s letter announced the new Society and explained the decision taken at the meeting, not to found it as a new TS lodge.
9 MAY 1884
The new ‘lodge’, independent of the TS – the Hermetic Society - held its first meeting, at 8.30pm at 43 Rutland Gate. 95 people attended it. As hon sec, William Forsell Kirby explained the Society’s aims. As president, Anna Bonus Kingsford explained the importance of its founding day, St George’s Eve. And Edward Maitland talked about the esoteric meaning of some Bible passages.
Source: Light: Journal of Psychical, Occult and Mystical Research published London: Eclectic Publishing Co of 16 Craven Street. Volume IV January-December 1884: p186 issue of 10 May 1885 short report by William Forsell Kirby as the Hermetic Society’s hon sec which gave details of its forthcoming meetings: when, who would speak, on what subject. Kirby also named more of the committee members: Anna Bonus Kingsford was the Society’s president; Francis Lloyd was its treasurer and he had also lent his drawing room at 43 Rutland Gate for its meetings. Kirby tried to defuse two areas of potential argument: he assured Light’s readers that the new society was not setting itself up in opposition to the TS but as a supplement to it; and that although it would investigate knowledge hidden from superficial enquiry, it was not a secret society. The Hermetic Society, Kirby wrote, aimed to rescue mysticism from its reputation for “inculcating a barren and churlish ascetism”. Its name honoured Hermes, the “supreme initiator into the sacred mysteries of existence”. In the next issue of Light: p198 issue of 17 May 1884 there was a short report on the formal founding meeting, on St George’s Eve, which had been carefully chosen with the tale of St George and the Dragon in mind: the Society’s members could think of themselves as slaying the dragon of materialism. There wasn’t a list of those who were at the formal meeting but I expect Isabel was there.
Some information on Hermetic Society treasurer Francis Lloyd, whom I haven’t come across much in occult circles:
At archives.library.wales there is an introduction to the papers of the Lloyd family of Aston (Estyn in Welsh) Hall near Oswestry, which are now in the National Library of Wales. The first Lloyd to live at Aston Hall was a member of Henry VIII’s bodyguard. The family were still living in the house in the 19th century: on the day of the 1881 census the head of the family, Lt-Colonel Richard Thomas Lloyd was at home at Aston Hall; he was Francis Lloyd’s father.
There’s quite a lot on wikipedia about Francis Lloyd 1853-1926 and there is also a biography, The Man Who Ran London During the Great War by Philip Wright, published 2010. Both Francis and his father served in the Grenadier Guards. Francis ended his military career as a Major-General. He went on the Egypt Expedition of 1884-85; on the Nile Expedition of 1898; and served in the 2nd Boer War until badly wounded at Biddulphsberg. His last important posting was as General Officer Commanding the London District from 1913-18; he was in charge of trying to protect London from the new warfare of zeppelin raids.
Just noting here, December 2022: Francis Lloyd and his wife Mary (née Gunnis) were acquaintances of future GD member Albertina Herbert; I’ve suggested in my files on Albertina that she may have been in the Hermetic Society.
Comment by Sally Davis on the difficulty of knowing who else was a member: the Hermetic Society was a private club and did not have to publish a list of members or annual accounts. Light published at least basic coverage of most of its meetings over the next three years; but focused on the talks. The only people named as present at the meetings were the main speaker; and anyone whose comments in the post-talk discussion seemed worthy of mention. Consequently there’s only one meeting that I can be absolutely sure Isabel attended: the one during which she made a comment that was mentioned in Light. I’m sure, though, that she went to most of the meetings. For the next three years she also stopped going to the meetings of the BNAS-that-was, now known as the London Spiritualists’ Alliance.
PROBABLY JUNE 1884
Isabel – described by Henry Olcott as “my respected friend” - was one of five artists Olcott knew who took part in a competition to paint Olcott’s guru from a profile drawing in crayon that he had with him. Olcott later said of Isabel’s contribution that she had captured the “luminous aura that shimmers about his head”.
Comments by Sally Davis on the competition and its sequel: Isabel and one other professional artist, and three talented amateurs, took part in it. None of the other four are named in Olcott’s account but he does say that at this stage the German artist Hermann Schmeichen was not involved. All five chose to paint the guru’s head in profile as per the crayon drawing. Olcott thought that each of the five paintings had some merit; but he wasn’t really satisfied with any of them. Schmeichen offered to do a sixth painting from the crayon drawing; his was the only one that attempted to show the guru full-face. Olcott commissioned two works from Schmeichen. It’s not clear what happened to any of the five original paintings.
Source for the competition and Olcott’s views on the results:
Old Diary Leaves 3rd Series covering 1887-87. Henry Steel Olcott, based on his diaries. London: Theosophical Publishing Society. Madras: Office of The Theosophist. 1904: p155, p156 for his quote about Isabel.
The two paintings commissioned from Schmiechen:
Reader’s Guide to the Mahatma letters to A P Sinnett editors George E Linton and Virginia Hanson. Published Adyar Chennai India: Theosophical Publishing House 1972: 243-44: confirming the date of the commissions from Hermann Schmiechen; that there were two; when he painted them; and what had happened to the finished paintings.
And comments from Sally Davis on ‘my respected friend’:
As part of his efforts to end the arguments within London Lodge, Olcott had paid a call on Anna Bonus Kingsford, meeting her for the first time. Though in Old Diary Leaves he doesn’t say so in so many words, it’s obvious he didn’t get anything he wanted from the encounter, and (probably as a result) didn’t like Kingsford at all. He described her as “too masterful for British notions”, “learned, clever, self-confident...ambitious and eccentric”. ‘Masterful’ ‘learned’, ‘self-confident’ and ‘ambitious’ are words that would be very positive if applied to a man. Olcott made clear that in this case they were not to be taken as compliments, by following them with some gossip that he had heard about Kingsford - that she seemed unable to feel any emotional attachment to humans, even her own daughter, preferring animals.
While chewing over Olcott’s account of Dr Kingsford, I’ve been also wondering about the reference he made to Isabel – the only one in the volume - as a ‘respected’ friend, rather than, say, a ‘good’ one or a ‘valued’ one. That description of Isabel, and his summing-up of Kingsford, suggest two things: that Olcott’s views of how a woman should behave were typical of his time; and only one exception was allowed to his expectations of Woman in general. The “notions” that Kingsford was “too masterful for”, were Olcott’s own; though I daresay he was right that the British – particularly the British male – wouldn’t have liked them either. They did not meet with a woman better educated than themselves, and determined not to back down in the face of male argument, very often; and didn’t want to. And as for a woman who was unable to feel mother-love – in Olcott’s view, that put Dr Kingsford beyond the pale and he thought his readers would agree, otherwise he wouldn’t have put in the book the whispers he’d heard about her. Olcott wasn’t prepared to go quite as far in Isabel’s case, but he did see her as too much an opponent of what Blavatsky now wanted, and too independent-minded, to be a friend. She, too, was an unwomanly woman. Helena Petrovna Blavatsky was allowed to be different, for some reason Olcott probably never went into too deeply.
Source for Olcott’s meeting with Kingsford:
Old Diary Leaves 3rd Series covering 1887-87. Henry Steel Olcott, based on his diaries. London: Theosophical Publishing Society. Madras: Office of The Theosophist. 1904 – that is to say, after Kingsford was safely dead and couldn’t sue: pp92-93, p156 for his quote about Isabel.
THURSDAY 12 JUNE 1884
Anna Bonus Kingsford was the speaker at a meeting of the Hermetic Society. She was giving the first in a series of talks on the Roman Catholic Creed in which she discussed, line by line, its esoteric derivation and meaning.
Source: Light: Journal of Psychical, Occult and Mystical Research published London: Eclectic Publishing Co of 16 Craven Street. Volume IV January-December 1884: p254 issue of 21 June 1884. This is the one meeting there’s proof that Isabel attended: her name was mentioned in Light’s coverage of the post-talk discussion. Though it didn’t say what she said! For exactly what Anna Bonus Kingsford was covering in the series: pp333-34 issue of 9 August 1884.
Anna Bonus Kingsford gave the next talk in her series on the Roman Catholic Creed; at the Hermetic Soci.ety.
Source: Light: Journal of Psychical, Occult and Mystical Research published London: Eclectic Publishing Co of 16 Craven Street. Volume IV January-December 1884; p265 issue of 28 June 1884 though it’s vague about the date of the meeting. No one was named as taking part in the post-talk discussion though Light said that a lot of people had contributed to it, mostly on whether the Gospels could be considered to be historically accurate, and the importance (or otherwise) of historically-attested people in the Bible.
26 JUNE 1884 - ?AFTERNOON ?EARLY EVENING
The speaker at the Hermetic Society meeting had to be changed at the last minute. Anna Bonus Kingsford had been due to continue her discussion of the Roman Catholic Creed but was not well enough to do so. Edward Maitland stepped in with a talk on Mystics and Materialists
Source: Light: Journal of Psychical, Occult and Mystical Research published London: Eclectic Publishing Co of 16 Craven Street. Volume IV January-December 1884: p272 issue of 5 July 1884: full text, mention that there had been post-talk discussion but no names.
ALSO 26 JUNE 1884 ?LATER IN THE DAY
Isabel held a reception, to which many of her theosophist friends were invited.
Information from: an account of the life of Elliott F Coues (1842-99) at theosophywiki. The wiki says that Coues first met Colonel Olcott at this reception. Coues became a member of the TS but later turned against theosophy.
Comment by Sally Davis: see the entries below for 1886/87 - Isabel was trying to establish herself as a hostess on the aesthetic/spiritualist/theosophist social circuit at around this time; this evening party was part of her attempts to do so.
Isabel showed her Valkyrie painting for the second of five times. For this showing, at the Royal Scottish Academy, Isabel gave it a longer title: The Valkyrie Maidens Proclaiming the Death of the Sun God Balder the Beautiful.
The Royal Scottish Academy Exhibitors 1826-1990 ed Charles Baile de Laperrière. Calne: Hilmarton Manor Press 1991. There are no indications as to whether the paintings were for sale or not. Volume 4 R-Z p615 entry for Steiger, de; Mme Isabel.
See the entries for its last showing, in autumn 1886, for more on this painting’s subject-matter.
DURING JULY 1884
The Arundales held a reception for Helena Petrovna Blavatsky.
Old Diary Leaves 3rd Series covering 1887-87. Henry Steel Olcott, based on his diaries. London: Theosophical Publishing Society. Madras: Office of The Theosophist. 1904: p125 for the venue and hosts; p158 for the event though without a date. No guest list is given but Isabel would at least have been invited. As Olcott had done, while Blavatsky was in London (?June to mid-August 1884) she stayed with the Arundales at 77 Elgin Crescent Notting Hill.
3 JULY 1884
Arthur Lillie was the speaker at the Hermetic Society meeting: on Indian Yoga.
Source: Light: Journal of Psychical, Occult and Mystical Research published London: Eclectic Publishing Co of 16 Craven Street. Volume IV January-December 1884: p282 issue of 12 July 1884.
8 JULY 1884
The London Lodge held a reception for Colonel Olcott and Helena Petrovna Blavatsky at the Prince’s Hall in Piccadilly.
Comments by Sally Davis: again, Olcott doesn’t give any names of the guests though all London Lodge members ought to have been invited as well as the rest of the great and good of theosophy. Olcott left England to visit friends in Germany on 23 July 1884 and went on to India, arriving there in November 1884. Blavatsky, travelling with the Arundales, left London in mid-August. Olcott doesn’t mention Isabel having gone with Blavatsky to Europe and I’m sure she didn’t accompany her – see below, she will have been preparing several paintings for autumn exhibitions. In September the first rumours of a betrayal of Blavatsky by people who worked for her in Adyar reached Europe.
Old Diary Leaves 3rd Series covering 1887-87. Henry Steel Olcott, based on his diaries. London: Theosophical Publishing Society. Madras: Office of The Theosophist. 1904: p162 for the reception, this time with a date; p163 and pp178-179 for the departures of Olcott and Blavatsky from England; p179 for the plot and p183 for Olcott’s arrival in India.
10 JULY 1884, 17 JULY 1884 , 24 JULY 1884 and 31 JULY 1884
Anna Bonus Kingsford continued her series on the Roman Catholic Creed, at the Hermetic Society.
Source: Light: Journal of Psychical, Occult and Mystical Research published London: Eclectic Publishing Co of 16 Craven Street. Volume IV January-December 1884: pp294-95 issue of 19 July 1884, with full text of the one on 10 July; pp302-03 issue of 19 July 1884 as forthcoming and pp313-14 issue of 2 August 1884 with full text of the one on 24 July; pp333-34 issue of 9 August 1884 with full text of talk on 31 July. The meeting of 31 July was the last one that year; because of her illness, Dr Kingsford hadn’t finished the series; but she didn’t continue with it in 1885.
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 changed her mind about being in 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. You can see the piece of paper at Katinka Hesselink’s website: www.katinkahesselink.net/blavatsky/articles/v6/y1884_042.htm; Isabel’s signature is on the petition. See also at that website Hesselink’s argument for a date of between 29 June 1884 and 16 August 1884 for the preparation and signing of the petition.
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, requiring obedience to the dictats of Blavatsky’s masters, her Mahatmas; and forbidding any discussion of western hermeticism at meetings of the group.
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 Chatterji. Isabel’s second thoughts about joining the group were: “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?” One sad result of her change of heart was that Isabel spent less and less time with those who didn’t mind Blavatsky’s rules - 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.
More on Mohini Chatterji in London:
For why he was there: Autobiography of Alfred Percy Sinnett. Unedited version published Theosophical History Centre 1986 and now available online. On p40 Sinnett says that Mohini Chatterji had been taken up by Blavatsky as “a probationary chela”.
See also: www.open.ac.uk, the Open University’s research project into the contribution of people from Asia to the making of Britain.
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. At this point she was still renting the studio in Holland Park Road.
Via archive.org 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 an all-male ‘standards’ committee. That must have pleased her!
BY AUTUMN 1884
Isabel had given up the studio in Holland Park and moved to one at The Studios, 8 Avonmore Road Kensington.
Source: Corporation of Manchester Art Gallery, Royal Institution 2nd Autumn Exhibition 1884. Manchester: Blacklock and Co. List of exhibitors p79.
Comment by Sally Davis: Avonmore Road is near Olympia; most of it backs onto the railway. I think Isabel continued to rent this studio until 1889.
Isabel exhibited her oil painting Eureka! Eureka! at the Manchester Royal Institution Art Gallery.
Corporation of Manchester Art Gallery, Royal Institution 1st Autumn Exhibition 1883. Manchester: Blacklock and Co. Isabel didn’t show anything at this exhibition.
Corporation of Manchester Art Gallery, Royal Institution 2nd Autumn Exhibition 1884. Manchester: Blacklock and Co. List of exhibitors p79; and p14 catalogue number 128, for sale at £35. Information taken from the 1886 exhibition but applicable to all the early ones says that each artist would be allowed a maximum of three works, with works of “moderate size” being preferred to outsize canvases. The Fine Art Society of 148 New Bond Street was the Corporation’s representative in London.
Comments by Sally Davis: firstly just explaining that the original Royal Manchester Institution had presented its building and its art collection to Manchester Corporation in 1882, the corporation also taking over the organisation of the Institution’s art exhibitions. After this one work, Isabel didn’t show any works at the corporation’s Manchester exhibitions until the early 1890s.
Isabel exhibited three paintings at the autumn exhibition of the Royal Society of Artists Birmingham: The Veiling of Isis; The Valkyrie Maidens, shown for the third time; and Fireside Harmony.
Royal Society of Artists Birmingham Autumn Exhibition Catalogue 1884. List of exhibitors p70. P41: The Veiling of Isis, catalogue number 440 price £20. P52 The Valkyrie Maidens, catalogue number 645, price £45. P59 Fireside Harmony catalogue number 799 for sale at £6/6. The first two paintings were in oils. Fireside Harmony was a watercolour drawing.
Comments by Sally Davis: when The Valkyrie Maidens had been shown in Scotland earlier in the year, it had had a much longer title. Though the full title might have been on the frame, it had been curtailed for this exhibition’s catalogue. Fireside Harmony might have been a preparatory sketch for part of a bigger work; but it might also have been an attempt at a domestic ‘genre’ subject. For more information on ‘genre’ paintings - very popular with the newly-wealthy middle-classes all over Europe - see
Popular 19th Century Painting: A Dictionary of European Genre Painters. By Philip Hook and Mark Poltimore. Antique Collectors’ Club 1986. Isabel isn’t listed at all in it, despite doing works in several of the genres covered by it.
Isabel exhibited two more paintings in Liverpool at the Walker Art Gallery: A Dream of Hermes; and Nature and Art.
14th Liverpool Autumn Exhibition of Modern Pictures 1884. P7 just to check whether P H Rathbone was still on the exhibition’s hanging committee (he was). List of exhibitors p179. And list of exhibits: p20 catalogue number 266 - A Dream of Hermes, price £25; and p74 catalogue number 1213 - Nature and Art, for sale at £15. Both were oil paintings.
AROUND 20 SEPTEMBER 1884
What must have been a new edition of The Perfect Way was issued, by the Psychological Press Association of 4 Ave Maria Lane.
Source: Light: Journal of Psychical, Occult and Mystical Research published London: Eclectic Publishing Co of 16 Craven Street. Volume IV January-December 1884: small ads on pi of issue of Sat 20 September 1884 with quotes from some reviews. See January 1883 for the original publication by Field and Tuer in London, and other publishers in Hamilton Ontario and New York.
Isabel contributed 1 guinea to a fund that had been set up to keep the magazine Light solvent.
Source: Light: Journal of Psychical, Occult and Mystical Research published London: Eclectic Publishing Co of 16 Craven Street. Volume IV January-December 1884: p480 issue of 15 November 1884.
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20 December 2022
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