Edited, with an introduction by Brian McAllister
“There is but one philosophy, one science, one religion, one truth in existence; and all who have thus become completely Man, have attained it and found it the same. And all who have done this, have been set upon by those who were still in their outer and material sphere, and have been assailed as fools, impostors, or madmen – simply because they had attained their due maturity in advance of the others, becoming Man wholly, while the rest represented limitations of humanity.”
Extract from letter 81, p. 227(dated 1879)
For those who are interested in the development of esoteric thought in the English speaking world during the latter part of the 19thcentury then Edward Maitland should be of particular interest. He had a significant role in shaping the esoteric landscape of the Victorian world. Yet, to date we have seen little of him apart from his collaboration with the celebrated, albeit short-lived Anna Bonus Kingsford.
These letters, never before published, open a door onto his private life and provide an insight to a remarkable, spiritually motivated, yet very human gentleman of his time.
Edward Maitland (1824-97), public servant and novelist, was born on 27 October 1824 at Ipswich, England, son of Charles David Maitland, Evangelical curate of St James’s Chapel, Brighton. Through descent from the Berties (Dukes of Ancaster) he was socially well connected with links to many distinguished scholars and politicians. His clergymen brothers, Charles and Brownlow, were prominent writers.
Edward, intended also for the church, graduated from Caius College, Cambridge in 1847, but, reacting against his father’s uncompromising Calvinism took a year’s leave to reflect upon his vocation. He travelled to Mexico, and then to the Californian goldfields in 1849. Extending his ‘time out’ indefinitely, he moved to Australia, where he was appointed Commissioner of Crown Lands and Police Magistrate at Wellington in 1854.
While in Australia he met and married Esther Bradley. Unfortunately, Esther died a little while after giving birth to their son, Charles, in 1856. Returning to England in 1858 Maitland devoted his time to writing, through which he established a firm, though stormy, friendship with Eliza Smith the hostess of a literary salon in Brighton. Many of his letters to Eliza Smith survive and it is these which form the central core of this volume.
His literary works following his return to England were his novels, The Pilgrim and the Shrineand Higher Law: A Romance, both of which drew extensively on his own background and experiences of travelling abroad. His next novel, By and By: An Historical Romance of the Future, brought him into contact with the mystic and seer Anna Kingsford, the wife of a Shropshire parson. Their first meeting in 1874 led to a lifelong collaboration between them. Mrs Kingsford, herself a writer and, formerly, the owner and editor of the Lady’s Own Paperin London, was an early advocate of vegetarianism and opponent of vivisection. She succeeded in persuading Maitland to join her in fighting these causes.
In collaboration with Anna Kingsford, Maitland published TheKeys of the Creeds (1875), followed by The Perfect Way: or the Finding of Christ(1882), and in 1884 founded the Hermetic Society, a society that was to become the role model for the Hermetic Order of the Golden Dawn and the myriad of copy-cat orders which followed that remarkable order. After Kingsford’s death Maitland established the Esoteric Christian Union in 1891, and wrote her biography (1896).
The central purpose of their collaboration was the spiritual life, and was specifically directed to the mystical interpretation of the Christian scriptures. This was greatly facilitated by Kingsford’s natural possession of spiritual gifts which, combined with Maitland’s scholarly talents, and his newly awakened intuitive faculties, made for a formidable duo. The crowning achievement of their spiritual collaboration eventually appeared in 1882 in the form of a ground-breaking book on esoteric Christianity, entitled The Perfect Way; or, The Finding of Christ, for which it could be said that the world was not then ready.
Prior to this, Maitland, drawing on his new-found gift for writing under direct spiritual influence, published England and Islam: or, The Counsel of Caiaphas. This book, together with its sequel, The Soul, and How it Found Me, signalled the end of Maitland’s promising literary career as far as conventional society was concerned.
The publishing of The Perfect Way in 1882 led to Kingsford and Maitland being invited to join the British Theosophical Society. Thus, in 1883 Kingsford was elected President, and Maitland Vice-President, of the London Lodge of the Theosophical Society. However, their membership was brief, as the majority of Lodge members did not approve of the emphasis they placed on Christian teachings, preferring Eastern ones instead.
In 1884 Kingsford and Maitland established the Hermetic Society, the object of which was to promote the study of the philosophical and religious systems of both the East and the West, but focussing on the Greek Mysteries and the Hermetic Gnosis. The workload that Kingsford undertook over the next few years, promoting the Hermetic Society, as well as undertaking lecture tours to promote vegetarianism and the anti-vivisection cause, plus literary and medical work, took a severe toll on Kingsford’s fragile health, leaving her in a state of exhaustion. During a trip to Paris in 1886 she suffered a severe bout of pneumonia, from which she never really recovered. Kingsford died in London in 1888 at the age of 41 and was buried at Atcham in Shropshire.
Following her death, Maitland published Kingsford’s illuminations in a book, entitled “Clothed with the Sun”. In 1891 Maitland established the Esoteric Christian Union to promote his and Kingsford’s central message. He went on to write an account of their combined work under the title The Story of the New Gospel of Interpretation, which he followed up with the definitive biography of his colleague, Anna Kingsford: Her Life, Letters, Diary and Work.
In 1896 Maitland suffered a stroke. He died the following year at the home of friends in Tonbridge, Kent. He is buried in Tonbridge Cemetery.
Like many of his contemporaries Edward Maitland was a prolific letter-writer. Alas, little of his private correspondence is known to have survived. The greater part of the little that has survived is now for the first time made available in this book. The majority of these fascinating letters are directed to two influential ladies, prominent in the social and literary worlds during the second half of 19th century England and the United States. Amongst other things they give us an insight into Maitland’s thinking and philosophy, and provide us with intimate glimpses of his life in those worlds – as well as revealing something of the essence of the man himself.
BRIAN G. McALLISTER, the editor of these letters, is a retired civil servant who lives in Gloucestershire. Born and educated in Ulster, he moved after graduation to England where he has spent the greater part of his life. For many years he has been a student of the esoteric Christian writings of Anna Kingsford and Edward Maitland. His rich understanding and familiarity with them is clearly manifest in the well-informed and sensitive handling of these extraordinary letters.
Title: Lost Letters of Edward Maitland Author: Brian McAllister
Publish date: 1 February 2014, Binding: Paperback, Pages: 364pp
Illustrations 8 x b/w drawings BY Neil Murison RWA + 1 x photo of editor
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