A Tour Through the Zodiac

A Tour Through the Zodiac: The Collaborator

(conclusion of Esoteric Lessons of Sarah Stanley Grimke, Appendix A, Letters to the Sage, Volume Two)

Some of the most influential authors in 19th century occultist circles were women writing about male adept heroes, for example Emma Hardinge Britten and Helena Petrovna Blavatsky. Often they used male alter egos to express claims that were actually reflections of their own experiences. “The adepts” were described in masculine terms, yet their greatest propagandists were women. In the case of The Light of Egypt, to the extent that she was Thomas H. Burgoyne’s co-author, Grimké joined the ranks of female writers giving authorial credit to male adepts. This primary doctrinal book of the Hermetic Brotherhood of Luxor is as mysterious an example of pseudonyms as any book produced by Theosophists, Rosicrucians, or Spiritualists. Burgoyne, the most prolific author associated with the Hermetic Brotherhood of Luxor, was its secretary for several years after its founding in 1884. Born in Douglas, Isle of Man, in April 1855 as Thomas Henry Dalton, he was living in Bradford, Yorkshire as of the 1881 census which found him married to Betsy Bella Prince and father of two children. His earliest known correspondence with Brotherhood members was from Burnley, Lancashire in early 1886, but by May of that year he had relocated to White County, Georgia, with the family of H.B. of L. co-founder Peter Davidson, having left his own family in England. Establishing an H.B. of L. colony in America was a failed venture, but the Davidson family successfully established themselves in their new community. Burgoyne continued his journey westward and within a year had arrived in California where he began a collaboration with Grimké.

The name T.H. Burgoyne was a pseudonym adopted around the time the H.B. of L. was founded in 1884; within a short time it was revealed that his real name was Thomas Henry Dalton (sometimes d’Alton), and that he had served six months in prison in England in 1883 for advertising fraud. This news was spread broadcast by Theosophists who saw it as a way to discredit a rival organization. The ensuing controversy destroyed the H.B. of L. in England, but not in France where it continued to thrive, nor in America where Dalton arrived as Burgoyne with Peter Davidson and family in 1886.[i]   Burgoyne had been using Zanoni as a pen name ever since the first issue of The Occultist was published in England in 1885.  Zanoni was a Rosicrucian themed 1842 novel by Edward Bulwer-Lytton, in which the adept teacher of the title character was named Mejnour. Peter Davidson, Provincial Grand Master of the North of the original H.B. of L., wrote under the latter pen name. Zanoni’s identity was so well concealed that Emma Hardinge Britten was twice accused by Theosophists of authoring The Light of Egypt. In response, Britten heaped praise on Burgoyne and scorn on his attackers, and later wrote a glowing review of his book.[ii]

Why would former close associates of Emma Hardinge Britten presume her to be the author? The Light of Egypt continues the occult mythos and doctrines of Art Magic and Ghost Land more than do any of Britten’s own later Spiritualist books. It is also more in line with Isis Unveiled than are any of Blavatsky’s later Theosophical books. Burgoyne’s Zanoni positions himself as successor to Ghost Land’s Chevalier Louis, with Britten’s encouragement and support, in a chain of neo-Hermetic adepts. The 289 page edition of 1889 was succeeded by a 1900 edition, which included an additional 174 page Volume II. Returning after many years to add a second volume in a more mature voice is a parallel feature of Burgoyne’s Zanoni and Britten’s Louis.

Burgoyne first traveled to California in 1887, after time in Georgia with Peter Davidson’s family, in Topeka, Kansas with H.B. of L. member W.W. Allen, and in Denver with what was becoming the largest local group of Brotherhood members. (See Volume One for data on the membership of the H.B. of L.) Meanwhile, in early 1887 Sarah sent her daughter Angelina to live in Hyde Park with her father, after which she appears to have spent at least the next year in California. The precise contribution of Grimké to The Light of Egypt was later described by Elbert Benjamine as assisting with The Science of the Stars portion of the 1889 edition.  It seems the work of a more disciplined and better educated writer than the preceding Science of the Soul portions, which echo Burgoyne’s earlier periodical writings, influenced by the examples of Britten’s Art Magic and Ghost Land.

Like Ghost Land, Isis Unveiled, and other works of the period, the contested authorship of The Light of Egypt invites the reader to distinguish among authorial voices. Book II of the 1900 edition is explained as Burgoyne’s “posthumous contribution” which was “dictated by the author from the subjective plane of life (to which he ascended several years ago) through the laws of mental transfer, well known to all occultists…”[iii] Burgoyne’s Zanoni is a male echoing a succession of female authors, thus a mirror image of Britten and Blavatsky’s adepts and Masters. One of the most salient echoes of Chevalier Louis is Zanoni’s claim to have made “personal investigations, extending over a series of years in England, France, Germany, Austria, and the United States, with various types and phases of mediums.”[iv] In The Key to Theosophy, Blavatsky the continuity of adepts “used as sledge-hammers to break the theosophical heads with” which “began twelve years ago, with Mrs. Emma Hardinge Britten’s `Louis’ of Art Magic and Ghost-Land, and now ends with the “Adept” and `Author’ of The Light of Egypt.”[v]

The writings of Sarah’s final decade reflect collaboration with Burgoyne, but the place, time, and circumstances of their association are unknown. A possible clue about her travels written during her lifetime is a letter dated 29 December 1890, in which the Reverend W.A. Ayton wrote from Chacombe Vicarage to Francis G. Irwin:

We knew the whole history of Burgoyne, and that he had been a curse to every one who employed him, a thorough deep-dyed scoundrel. We know all about him since he has been in America. He left a wife and family in England, but has married again there. The last I heard was that if he sees 2 or 3 men in the distance approaching his quarters he turns pale and trembles. It is supposed he has been guilty of something which puts him in mortal fear, and that he contemplates going off to Australia.[vi]

Sarah was posthumously revealed to have lived in the Antipodes in the early 1890s, but not in Australia.

More than ten years passed before Archibald and Angelina received any further news of Sarah. Her death in California was reported to them from Hartford, in a letter dated October 1, 1898, written by Emma Austin Tolles to Angelina.

I am very sorry to be the bearer of sad news though Mrs. Stuart may have told you, for she has been informed of your dear mother’s passing on to higher planes…She never ceased to love you as dearly as ever and it was a great trial to her to have you go away from her, how great God alone knows, but it was the only thing to do…She had every thing done that could be done, she wrote me just as long as she could make a mark but finally grew so weak she could not hold a pencil. The nurse says she wanted her watch sent to you and there may be some thing else- they will send it probably to Mrs. Stuart and she will give it to you.[vii]

However, when Tolles praises Sarah as a distinguished author, she refers not to Mrs. Stuart’s teachings but to The Light of Egypt:

Your mother, dear Angelina was one of the most wonderful souls that ever came to this planet.  When you are old enough to understand I will tell you about her wonderful career.  This world has been a scorching fire through which she has passed and now she has gone to a reward that few of us can conceive of—Her book “the Light of Egypt” is the most wonderful book of modern times though she says it will be one hundred years before the world will recognize it—She nearly lost her life in writing it but her soul never flinched from a duty. She had two or three friends who have stood by her from first to last, who have considered it a privilege to do so.[viii]

Just over a month passed before Moses Stanley wrote to Butler Wilson about complications involving Sarah’s estate. The correspondence seems to imply that neither he nor anyone in the family had yet contacted Archibald directly, and that Sarah had sworn them to secrecy in the matter of her whereabouts, known to Tolles, Stuart, and the Wagners and to her Stanley relatives but concealed from her husband and daughter. Stanley addressed Wilson as the attorney for Mr. Grimké, asking him to consult with the bereaved husband on Sarah’s estate, which consisted of $529 in the Hibernian Trust and Loan Society of San Francisco. “When she realized that she must die she sent her Bank Book to Dr. Wagner her publisher & friend, evidently desiring him to pay her debts and forward the balance to Nana, and so also we instructed him.”[ix] Archibald’s response must have been encouraging of further confidences, as on November 16, 1898, Moses replied to him:

Sarah’s action in regard to the money is to me perfectly unaccountable. When she left for New Zealand, she deposited in the British Columbia Bank of San Francisco $1000 sending me the duplicate draft, with orders, if she died, to draw the money and pay it to Nana.  She knew she was liable to sudden death at any moment. On the street, in Auckland N.Z. near the Post Office, she had a heart failure, and fell. The physician brought her to, and she decided to return home; but he told her she would never live to reach America with such a heart – she surely would be buried in the ocean. But she reached home, and was with us a year and a half and went to San Diego to die of poison.

It was her wish that Dr. Wagner should draw the money – pay her bills and forward the balance to Nana, but sent no check with the Bank Book.

Dr. Wagner is a Physician, Publisher, and literary man.  He published her book on Oriental Philosophy – a book of some 400 pages, which has been through six Editions and some pamphlets – and with the Bank Book she enclosed an unfinished story.[x]

Stanley asked for the cooperation of Archibald Grimké in resolving the need for an estate administrator in California, as Henry Wagner had “relinquished all idea of having anything to do with the money business when he sent the Bank Book to Mrs. Tolles for Nana.”[xi] The last letter that Archibald received from Moses about his late wife’s demise was written in Detroit on February 18, 1899. The bereaved father wrote “I did not tell you, I could not – of the last sad scene of her earthly life – a scene that forever hallows the waves of San Diego Bay. By her request, her friends, at the setting of the sun, gathered on the shores, and a few went out in a boat, carrying the urn that contained her ashes, and scattered them over the limpid waves. So there is not now a vestige of our dearly beloved one remaining.”[xii] He told Archibald that her letters were usually signed Sarah, sometimes S.E. Stanley, and enclosed one written in Auckland, New Zealand, in which Sarah lamented that “O if I only had Nana with me how much happier I should be.”[xiii]

Angelina’s last communication about her mother’s writings from Emma Austin Tolles came on January 3, 1900, a date that inspired enthusiasm about the new century:

My dear Angelina: How queer it seems to write 1900!  – 1881 closed the Cycle and we entered upon a new one, the most important and momentous of our Race- It will last about 2000- years then the 5th race- will begin to go down… It is only natural that you should write for your mother and Father are both talented in that direction—Do you write on the impulse, spontaneously or by deliberate applied effort?  Do you get impressions as you used to get them?  There was a time when you first came to me that you used to see and hear clairvoyantly and clairaudiently?[xiv]

A trace of the Christian Science origins of the Stuart group can be found in the reservations Tolles expresses about material medicine:

I am glad you like your school and studies- I think it an excellent training—and very beneficial to health.  I do not think much of the Medical Profession—M D’s as a profession studying into matter, body, which is the effect, ignoring mind and Soul where causation lies. The human body is a wonderful beautiful instrument, and it is an instrument, that is just what it was intended for the Soul is or should be the operation which this instrument under complete control.[xv]

One of Angelina’s earliest literary works is a poignant expression of grief at the loss of her mother; Sarah’s death being only the final confirmation of a loss that occurred when Angelina was put on a cross country train by herself at the age of seven.  In the Selected Works of Angelina Weld Grimké, the story “Black is as Black Does: a Dream” is classified as fiction, but to the reader familiar with her family history the “story” does not read as fiction. Published in the Colored American Magazine in August 1900, it seems to reflect the encouragement from Emma Austin Tolles earlier that year for Angelina to engage in writing that was impulsive, spontaneous, and perhaps clairaudient and clairvoyant.  It is her encounter with Sarah on the other side:

It came to me one, dark, rainy, morning. I was half awake and half asleep. The wind was blowing drearily, and I listened to the swish of the rain on the glass, and the dripping from the eaves and as I lay listening, I thought many things and my thoughts grew hazier and hazier until I fell into deep slumber.

Then, methought, a great feeling of peace come upon me, and that all my cares were falling from me and rolling away—away into infinity. So I lay with my eyes closed and this great feeling of peace increased and my heart was glad within me. Then some one touched me lightly on the shoulder and eyes, and my heart gave a great bound, for I was not prepared for the loveliness of the scene, that now burst upon my sight. All around stretched a wide, green, grassy, plain. Each little blade of grass sang in the gentle wind, and here and there massive trees spread their branches, and the leaves sang, and the birds, and a river that passed through the meadow sparkled and sang as it sped on its way. And listening, I heard no discord, for all the voices flowed into each other, and mingled, and swelled and made one, grand, sweet, song.  I longed to sing too, and lifted up my voice, but no song came so that I wondered. And a voice at my side, answered, “Thou art not one of us yet.” And the voice was sweeter than the babbling brook, tenderer than the voice of a mother to her erring child, lower than the beating of the surf upon the short. Then I turned to see whence the voice came, and as I looked I fell weeping on my face.

For there stood before me a figure clad in white, and as she moved she seemed like a snowy cloud, that sails over the sky in the summer-time, and a soft light shone above, around, behind, illuminating her, but it was not for this that I fell weeping. I had looked upon the face, and the truth that shone forth from the mild eyes, the sweetness that smiled around the mouth, and all the pity, the mercy, the kindness expressed in that divine countenance revealed to me how wicked I was and had been. But she took me by the hand, bidding me arise, and kissing me on the brow.  And between my sobs I asked, “Where am I?” and the low voice answered, “This is heaven,” and I said, “Who art thou?” and she answered “One of the lovers of God.” And as she she spoke that name, the heavens brightened, the grass sang sweeter, and the leaves and the birds and the silvery river, and looking up I saw that she was no longer by my side, but was moving over the plain, and turning she beckoned to me. And I followed.[xvi]

As Angelina’s experiences of the afterlife continue, she reveals herself as her father’s daughter and introduces the theme of racial injustice that will dominate her drama, fiction, and nonfiction in the new century.  She witnesses a black murder victim being made whole and sent heavenwards, after which his white murderer is condemned to hell. “I saw that his skin was white but his soul was black. For it makes a difference in Heaven whether a man’s soul be black or white!”[xvii] This suggests that her visionary encounter with Sarah reveals the literary legacy of both parents; the introspective style of her poetry and fiction shows traces of Sarah, but the political subject matter of her nonfiction and drama is invariably a continuation of the Grimké-Weld family heritage on both sides of the color line. In her 2016 study Aphrodite’s Daughters, poetry scholar Maureen Honey comments that the effect of her mother’s abandonment was apparent in the way Angelina “not only obsessively returns to moments of longing, regret, and sadness in her poetry” but that “her speakers also commune directly with the dead through transcendental mergers with the natural world.”[xviii] This recurring theme appears in her earliest childhood verses, prompting Honey to comment that “For a young girl to meditate on death in such a lyrical, even romantic, way suggests deep wells of grief and loss soothed by the imagined embrace of lost dear ones in an unseen celestial sphere free of pain.”[xix] She concludes, “These efforts to maintain a loving relationship with her daughter clearly meant something to the seven-year-old Nana, for she kept these letters the rest of her life and they repeatedly express the idea that separated loved ones could fashion an enduring bond in a spiritual realm.”[xx]


[i] Ship passenger list, S.S. Manitoba, May 5, 1886.

[ii] The Two Worlds, May 8, 1891, 301, unsigned review by editor Emma Hardinge Britten.

[iii] The Light of Egypt (Whitefish, Montana: Kessinger, 2003), Vol II, xi

[iv] Ibid., Vol. I, 82.

[v] H.P. Blavatsky, The Key to Theosophy (London: Theosophical Publishing House, 1889), 302.

[vi] The Hermetic Brotherhood of Luxor, Christian Chanel, John Patrick Deveney, and Joscelyn Godwin, eds. (York Beach, Me.: Samuel Weiser, 1995), 354.

[vii] Angelina Weld Grimké papers, Series A, Box 38-2, Folder 19.

[viii] Ibid.

[ix] Archibald H. Grimké papers, Series A, Box 39-1, Folder 6, Manuscript Division, Moorland-Spingarn Research Center, Howard University.

[x] Archibald H. Grimké papers, Series C, Box 39-3, Folder 74, Manuscript Division, Moorland-Spingarn Research Center, Howard University.

[xi] Ibid.

[xii] Ibid.

[xiii] Ibid.

[xiv] Angelina Weld Grimké papers, Series A, Box 38-2, Folder 19.

[xv] Ibid.

[xvi] Angelina Weld Grimké, Selected Works, 213-214.

[xvii] Ibid., 217.

[xviii] Maureen Honey, Aphrodite’s Daughters (New Brunswick: Rutgers University Press, 2016), 62.

[xix] Ibid., 72.

[xx] Ibid., 77.