The candidates for Louis suggested within Emma’s lifetime were augmented by only one addition in the twentieth century. In the 1970 edition of Modern American Spiritualism, editor E.J. Dingwall proposed the Baron de Palm as the prototype for Louis. Joseph Henry Louis de Palm (1809-1876) is mentioned in Nineteenth Century Miracles as a “distinguished supporter of the movement in Germany.” Chicago journalist Melville Stone included de Palm in his memoirs:
I made the acquaintance of a remarkable character, one Baron de Palm. At first sight one would recognize him as a decayed voluptuary,
of the sort that frequent the Continental watering places of Europe in the season. Habited faultlessly, with hair and beard carefully dressed, washed-out face and eyes, shaky on his legs…He was a Bavarian. He was Baron Johan Heinrich Ludwig de Palm; had descended from a line of German barons running back ten centuries. He was Grand Cross Commander of the Order of the Holy Sepulchre. His father was a prince of the Holy Roman Empire, and his mother a notable Countess of Thunefeldt. Born at Augsburg in 1809, he was educated for a diplomatic career, and served his king with distinction at almost every capital.
(See this earlier blog post for the story of his alleged involvement with Lola Montez.)
After recounting a 1861 human levitation in a Vienna church in Nineteenth Century Miracles, Britten adds “This remarkable occurrence was also testified of by the late Baron de Palm, who was present on the occasion, and himself related it to the author.”
Dingwall comments that some had suggested William Britten as the author of the works attributed to Louis, but concludes “that both Art Magic and Ghost Land may have been the work of Baron Joseph Henry Louis de Palm, a very odd character with pronounced Theosophical and occult interests, whose funeral Mrs. Britten attended in 1876, and over whose body she pronounced an oration calling him `friend and companion..’” Although “Colonel Olcott thought that Baron de Palm was not capable of writing anything serious, and he may well have been right,” Dingwall suggests that “the Baron concealed his gifts with a view of preventing others from knowing what he was compiling under Mrs. Britten’s editorship.”
No one is on record proposing William Britten as the author of Art Magic and Ghost Land, or the basis for Louis as written by Emma, but we note Dingwall’s mention of unnamed adherents of this theory. Unnoticed by Dingwall but important to consider is that Louis is one of the names de Palm used in America (changed from the original Ludwig), making him the only suggested prototype with whom the name can be linked.
In a 2001 monograph, Robert Matthiessen nominated the German-British philologist Ernest de Bunsen as a prototype, which was analyzed by Marc Demarest in his 2011 edition of Art Magic. At the 2011 biennial convention of the Church of Light, Marc gave a presentation about Britten which went into detail about his reasons for nominating the Duke of Pomar, son of the Countess of Caithness, as a more plausible Louis prototype than any of those heretofore suggested. His blog provides this summary of the evidence.
Without criticizing any of the identifications to date, in November and December I will point out two aspects of the plot of Ghost Land that indicate yet more Louis prototypes. Emma had never traveled to India or Russia, but extensive subplots deal with each of those countries. Her acquaintance with two early TS members who did have great familiarity with each of those countries will be the topic of the last two blog posts of 2015.
This month marks the fifth anniversary of the opening of this blog, and December will be my tenth anniversary as a Church of Light member. In light of current developments, History of the Adepts will take an entirely new focus beginning in January 2016. Publication of the first volume of Letters to the Sage: Thomas Moore Johnson Selected Correspondence will provide detailed membership information on the early Hermetic Brotherhood of Luxor in the U.S. Henceforth, for the foreseeable future, the 48 individuals who corresponded with Thomas M. Johnson, and several dozen additional HBofL members named in the correspondence, will provide abundant material for all further investigations and reports.
Immersed for more than two years in hundreds of pages of this 19th century correspondence, I have felt blessed to experience the world of the HBofL members in a much more direct way than through their few published writings or official documents. In my books on Theosophy, letters and documents were important, but subordinate to a primary reliance on publications as historical evidence. With Edgar Cayce and Pell Mellers, publications receded to a more subordinate status, with documents and correspondence assuming a larger role in historical interpretation. But now, with the correspondence of HBofL members, publications are literally mere footnotes to the more immediate and vital encounter with the past found in handwritten letters.
For an online course in historiography, Steven Stowe, Ph.D. writes:
Few historical texts seem as familiar – or as compelling to read – as personal letters and diaries. They are plain-spoken, lively, and full of details. Both letters and diaries seem to emerge directly from the writer, fresh and intimate, bringing us close to who that person was. Both satisfy us by showing how people in the past shared many of our hopes, worries, and common sense. At the same time, both fascinate us by revealing differences between times past and our own time. They make us curious to explore differences in language and expressive styles, in what people felt needed saying and what did not. These differences in turn point to historical changes and continuities in self, social relations, work, and values, which personal letters and diaries capture with special sharpness.