Prince Emil Wittgenstein and Ghost Land

Among the settings of Ghost Land, India and Russia stand out as places of which Britten had no personal, and little general, knowledge. Mme. Blavatsky must figure among the influences on the depiction of both countries, since she was in very regular contact with Britten during the simultaneous writing of Ghost Land and her Isis Unveiled. Blavatsky appears in Part Two of Volume One of Ghost Land disguised however not as Louis but as Madame Helene Laval, an evil sorceress and seductress. A Russian subplot involving Professor von Marx and John Cavendish Dudley suggests another influence that led Britten to include this digression. While Blavatsky was the only Russian in personal contact with Britten during the writing of Ghost Land, an eminent German/Russian Spiritualist was in regular correspondence with both during this period. The jovial family man and ardent Spiritualist John Cavendish Dudley, who accounts for the Russian content of Ghost Land, might reflect Britten’s correspondence with Prince Emil Wittgenstein.

The prince is described by Britten as “Prince Emil Sayn Wittgenstein (late aide de camp, and trusted friend to the Emperor Alexander II)” who in “a private letter to Mrs. Hardinge Britten, dated 1876,” wrote: “The Emperor and most of his household…. are not only Spiritualists in belief, but they would be partisans of the faith, did circumstances permit…although Spiritualism is known and believed in, alike by peer and peasant, it must be believed in against authority, — and be assured, my friend, it has a warm place in the hearts of thousands who dare not openly avow their convictions.” She continues, “from similar friendly communications from Prince Emil Wittgenstein, the author learned that the late Emperor of Russia possessed the most complete library of Spiritual works that the literature of many nations could supply. This noble gentleman was one of the earliest subscribers to a work translated and edited by the author, entitled `Art Magic,’ and in an autograph letter addressed to the writer of that work, he declared, “that he esteemed it as his most sacred authority, and carried it everywhere with him.”

Born in Darmstadt, Wittenstein had served Prince Alexander of Hesse in the Caucasus from 1845 through 1847 and then fought in Denmark, but returned to the Caucasus in service to Russia as aide-de-camp to Prince Vorontzov, Viceroy. There he remained until 1862 when he became Attache to Grand Duke Konstantin in Warsaw. Wittgenstein was part of the Emperor’s suite during the 1877-78 war with Turkey. Another passage from Nineteenth Century Miracles gives a fuller account of her communications with Wittgenstein, and claims to have predicted his demise and that of the Emperor:

This noble gentleman not only held high rank in the Russian army and served as aide-de-camp to the Emperor during the unhappy war with Turkey, but few of those who approached His Imperial Majesty’s person, enjoyed the royal confidence in the same degree. In a correspondence maintained during some years with the author of this volume, Prince Emil asked for and obtained a number of volumes of the best American literature for the Emperor’s library. Previous to the fatal war with Turkey the Emperor and Prince Wittgenstein both received assurances through Mrs. Britten’s Mediumship that their lives would be spared during the conflict, but be sacrificed—the one to the insurrectionary spirit at home, the other to the feverish effects of the deadly campaign, into which he was about the plunge. Both these gentlemen placed implicit faith in these prophecies…

This direct testimony of personal involvement with a source exceeds Britten’s remarks about any other possible models for Louis or Dudley. A correspondence lasting several years with a Spiritualist member of the nobility could be as important an influence on the Russian content of Ghost Land as the author’s acquaintance with Blavatsky. Britten’s emphatic name dropping in Nineteenth Century Miracles continues with the last passage about the prince the most striking of all:“Prince Emil Wittgenstein, who was one of the Russian Emperor’s lieutenant generals in the late unhappy Turkish war, wrote to Mrs. Britten that he regarded that book [Art Magic– ed.] as his `bible,’ carried it with him wherever he went, and had “often derived consolation and harmony of spirit from its noble teachings in moments embittered by the fever of war, and the cares of State.”