Enchanted New York by Kevin Dann

Kevin Dann’s Enchanted New York (NYU Press, 2020) is a historical walking tour through Manhattan focused on famous occultists who lived or visited there.  Of the 63 sites featured in seven chapters, five are related to Letters to the Sage correspondents: Emma Hardinge Britten, Henry Steel Olcott, Helena Blavatsky, William Quan Judge, and Thomas H. Burgoyne.  Paschal Beverly Randolph and Andrew Jackson Davis also are honored with sites. The entire book is well researched and entertaining and should fascinate readers of this blog. Highly recommended despite a discussion of Burgoyne that inspires me to comment (as his posthumous publisher) in his defense regarding The Light of Egypt in relation to the rest of his body of work.

“Zanoni” was the author of record, and we can now see that he was made up of Grimke and Burgoyne using material or ideas from Britten, Randolph, Chintamon, Davidson, Theon, Bulwer-Lytton, and others. The notion that the anti-TS polemicism of The Light of Egypt originated with Burgoyne is misguided.  The first attribution of blame for the book was Judge accusing Britten of being the author, echoed soon thereafter by Blavatsky herself. When Emma denied it they relented and said they knew that Zanoni was a young man. But within a year Blavatsky reiterated that Zanoni and Emma’s Chevalier Louis were closely related enemies of the TS, if not the same person. Burgoyne had never been a TS member, whereas Britten, Chintamon, and Davidson were all embittered formerly prominent Theosophists who did attack Blavatsky.  Burgoyne and Grimke may reflect intra-Theosophical turmoil of the 1880s but they certainly did not originate any of it.  (PS to CofL readers is that Elbert has to tiptoe around all this mess without calling out the villains, and I think he did a great job of it.)

Anyone wanting to hear the more authentic voice of the writer published as Zanoni will find it in Celestial Dynamics, The Language of the Stars, and The Quest of the Spirit, all published under pseudonyms after his legal name was Norman Astley. I would hope he can be judged on that basis, and on his letters to Thomas Moore Johnson in Letters to the Sage, more than The Light of Egypt and especially the corrupted two volume 1900 edition of the latter, due to confusion about the authorship thereof. An important fact about Burgoyne’s writings brought out by Patrick Bowen’s introduction to Letters to the Sage needs to be mentioned. He describes to Johnson getting a manuscript from his wife in England that had taken him a year to write, which consisted of 160 pages of astrological material. Some of this ended up as elements in The Light of Egypt in 1889, combined with work by Grimke, but most became Language of the Stars in 1892 and Celestial Dynamics in 1896. These “later” works in publication dates were earlier in terms of writing, so I would recommend reading them both before delving into The Light of Egypt to best understand him, and The Quest of the Spirit for his later thought. Links to free online versions of all three are found in the Recommended Reading page of this site.