Chevalier Louis de B video

Today marked the first of three days of academic presentations in the International Theosophical History Conference. I opened with a live talk about the evidence in this video now uploaded to Youtube and, but in 30 minutes meandered off into several side paths about the authors who commented on the Louis prototypes. This short video is more concise and I hope more relevant to CofL members. Play at low volume.

Here is the text of the video narrative and of some concluding remarks:


  1. I am especially grateful to be invited to return this year as a presenter, because in 2019  I delivered one half of a two part investigation.  That talk, In Search of Zanoni, explained how Thomas Henry Burgoyne was last seen in 1891, Norman Astley was first seen in 1892, and both were young Englishmen in America involved in the founding of the Hermetic Brotherhood of Luxor in the US.  Three identical birth dates and elaborate handwriting analysis by a qualified expert confirms that Burgoyne was born Thomas Henry Dalton and died Norman Astley. This led to the publication, in December 2019, of the Sarah Stanley Grimke Collected Works which now has the Burgoyne/Astley material as an epilogue.  Its prologue is an inquiry into a closely related investigation: Who or what was the Chevalier Louis de B–?  Spoiler alert for anyone who has not read or seen Murder on the Orient Express: Whodunit? They ALL dun it!  But this story has a plot twist at the end that introduces a new suspect at the last minute. A companion volume to Art Magic, Ghost Land was published the same year, 1876, in the form of a memoir. The book’s authorship spans the early period of the Theosophical Society, with its first sketches appearing in 1872 before Blavatsky’s arrival in New York and its final section published in 1892 after her death.   Shortly after Art Magic was published, Britten was accused of being its sole author publicly, although anonymously, by a fellow Founder of the Theosophical Society. Charles Sotheran, in a review calling it “simply a rehash of books readily available…wretched compilation which is full of bad grammar and worse assumptions.”[i] Damning evidence for this conclusion was found in Louis’s parents changing from 1872’s English father and Austrian mother to the Hungarian father and Italian mother of 1876. The language of the manuscript was variously described as being German or a combination of French and English and the Chevalier is named Austria in the 1872 sketches.

2.            The first suggestion of a Louis other than Britten came in the December 7, 1876 review in Spiritual Scientist in which editor Gerry Brown identified him as Felix Nepomuk, Prince Salm-Salm.[ii] The Springfield Republican for December 19, 1876 pointed out a problem: “We suppose the editor, Ms. Emma Hardinge Britten, would object to having the book classed among works of fiction, but it certainly will not be received as a record of fact by the reading world…. Mrs. Britten describes the autobiographer as now living, and her personal friend, yet we have seen the late Prince Salm-Salm named as the original; he was a noted occultist.”[iii] Felix, Prince de Salm-Salm (1828-1870) was a Prussian military officer who studied at a military school in Berlin before serving successively in the Prussian, Austrian, and United States armies. He could not have collaborated in the writing of Ghost Land because he died in 1870.

3.         The second suggested masculine model for Louis came from G.R.S. Mead, prominent Theosophist and secretary to Blavatsky in her London years, who was quoted by A.E. Waite in his 1938 autobiography that Louis was the “inner life” of Edward Bulwer Lytton (1803-1873 About Art Magic, Col. Olcott hinted that “the book does contain passages worthy of Bulwer-Lytton; in fact, one would say they were written by him.”[iv] Britten made many claims about her association with Bulwer Lytton in what she called the Orphic Circle, which figures prominently in Louis’s narratives, including insinuations that she had been his “amanuensis.”

4.         After Bulwer-Lytton, the candidates for Louis suggested within Emma’s lifetime were augmented by only one more 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.” Louis is one of the names de Palm used in America (changed from the original Ludwig), making him one of two suggested prototypes with whom the name can be linked.  NCM in its extensive discussion of EHB’s friendship with Palm is significant for calling him a “Hungarian nobleman who was associated with Mrs. Britten, as a member of the first Council of the Theosophical Society in New York.”[v]

5.            In a monograph published in 2001 by the journal Theosophical History, Robert Mathiessen nominated the German-British philologist Ernest de Bunsen as a prototype, which was analyzed by Marc Demarest in his 2011 edition of Art Magic. “Mathiesen points out correctly that (a) the de Bunsen family was deeply involved in Spiritualist and occult practices; (b) the nationality, ethnicity, and honorary title of de Bunsen fits with what we are told about Louis; and (c) de Bunsen’s scholarly interests were similar to those of the author of Art Magic.”[vi] and concludes that de Bunsen’s command of English and his scholarly style in that language are incompatible with his authorship of Art Magic.  Bunsen is the second nominee with Louis as a middle name.  Mathiesen, Demarest, and I agree that Britten is the sole author of Art Magic and Ghost Land. They have many layers of expertise that I lack, on European languages and history on one hand and British Spiritualism on the other, and on Art Magic I stand on their shoulders and have nothing of my own to contribute. Their work, and Britten’s importance, have been very thoroughly discussed in Wouter Hanegraaff’s opening chapter of the new collection Theosophy across Boundaries, which adds European scholarly expertise in relevant disciplines to the discussion.  Book One of Ghost Land seems explicable by the factors noted by these three authors. But I recognize influences emerging in Book Two and Volume Two that relate closely to my past publications, and appreciate the opportunity to add some new appendices to the story.

6. In the 2011 edition of Art Magic, Demarest nominated the Duc de Pomar, son of the Countess of Caithness, as plausible prototype for the Chevalier Louis portrait published in Olcott’s Old Diary Leaves.  This relies not on any likelihood of the Duc assisting EHB directly, but rather the Countess, a friend of Britten, using her son as a mouthpiece for a variety of Spiritualist projects for which she was his ghostwriter.   The best source on the Louis portrait is a smoking gun letter from Britten to Caithness published by Olcott.

7. Book Two features a Louis who has matured into a world traveling explorer and is set in India. 

I have something that has followed me, or rather infilled my soul, through every changing scene, in every wild mutation of fortune—on the battle-field, in the dungeon, in the cabinet of princes, in the hut of the charcoal-burner, in the deep crypts of Central India, and amidst the awful rites of Oriental mysticism, in the paradises of love, and the shipwreck of every hope—something which has never forsaken or left me alone; something which stands by me now, as I write in my sea-girt island dwelling, on the shores of the blue Mediterranean.[vii]

               Richard Francis Burton (1821-1890) had been deeply involved in occult circles during his time at Oxford in the early 1840s– the same circles in which Emma Floyd was moving at the time, in which the central figure was Edward Bulwer-Lytton. Burton first met Helena Blavatsky in Cairo in 1853 as he was preparing for his great trip to Mecca; this at least is the claim made by Albert Rawson in a colorful memoir written on the occasion of Burton’s death. Burton was a lifelong enthusiast of astrology and occult lore and had provided testimony to the 1869 London Dialectical Society, which also recorded Lady Caithness and Bulwer-Lytton as witnesses on Spiritualism.  The 2011 edition of Art Magic notes an apparent Burton influence in the use of a phrase found only in his and Britten’s works.

8.            Ghost Land shows evidence of familiarity with British occultism and American Spiritualism, both of which could be claimed by EHB. But it also includes settings and characters in India and Russia, countries unknown to EHB by personal experience.  Blavatsky’s family friend Prince Emil Wittgenstein corresponded with Britten during the writing of Ghost Land. A Spiritualist convert in the 1860s, Wittgenstein published many reports of his experiences with the paranormal, which fits one aspect of the Chevalier’s persona. Britten writes about him at length in several passages of Nineteenth Century Miracle.  Wittgenstein, like Burton, was an honorary founding member of the British Spiritualist Association in 1873 and joined the Theosophical Society later in the decade.   Here it is important to note that Blavatsky was acquainted with Bulwer-Lytton, Palm, Burton, Caithness, Pomar, and Wittgenstein– who was accused of being the father of her child by D.D. Home.  Unlike any of these individuals she was in regular personal contact with Britten from 1875 through 1877.

9. None of the Louis influences named above is either Hungarian or Austrian, but Odon and Adelma von Vay were Hungarian and Austrian respectively. Adelma is given an entire page in Nineteenth Century Miracles to describe the rise of Spiritualism in Budapest, after which she and her husband are extolled by Britten on the following page for her mediumship and his movement leadership.  

10.           The Light of Egypt was published in 1889 under the pseudonym Zanoni and was endorsed in 1891 by Britten who had been falsely accused of writing it. Calling it “one of the masterpieces, both of writing and instruction, of the age we live in. To the present writer, who has most carefully studied this sublime and truly-inspired treatise (or rather, it should be said, series of treatises), there is nothing comparable to it in the English language.“[viii]   Returning to Louis after a hiatus of two decades, Emma has the Chevalier visiting the Monterey Bay region, where the Light of Egypt had been recently written. Burgoyne had lived with Grimke in Monterey while writing together, and Britten placed Chevalier Louis in Santa Cruz there in her Volume II of Ghost Land. Hence among the surnames beginning with B that can be linked to Louis we have: Chevalier de Britten, Chevalier de Bulwer-Lytton,  Chevalier de Bunsen, Chevalier de Burton, and in Volume Two, Chevalier de Burgoyne.

These concluding remarks were made in person at the conference along with another several minutes of comments:

To summarize my previous presentation in 2019, Zanoni began as a fictional character in 1842 and in 1884 became a pen name for Thomas Henry Dalton working in partnership with Peter Davidson.  In 1887 Zanoni was the pseudonym for Thomas Henry Burgoyne in partnership with Sarah Stanley Grimke.  In 1892 Zanoni was the pseudonym of Norman Astley in partnership with Genevieve Stebbins.  In 1900 Zanoni was the pseudonym of Belle Wagner who claimed to be channeling the spirit of the dead Burgoyne as she published his purloined manuscripts.  But the transformations of Louis are equally circuitous.

The author of Art Magic and Ghost Land is Emma Hardinge Britten.  The fictional narrator begins as Austria in 1872 and becomes Louis in 1876, his parents’ ethnicity changes, but the tales of the Berlin Circle and Orphic Circle appear semi-autobiographical in that Emma’s own memoirs prominently feature the latter.  Louis reappears as Sirius in several articles published by Britten prior to the second volume in which he is once again Louis. The intellectual content of the Louis tomes has been thoroughly analyzed first by Mathiesen and then by Demarest who is now completing the first complete edition of Ghost Land, to be published in late 2021.  My motivation in adding to their labors is to notice elements of the Louis persona that emerge in Book Two that implicate Burton, Wittgenstein, Blavatsky, and in Volume Two, Burgoyne.  I will contribute a second introduction to the new edition and welcome any corrections or suggestions regarding the labyrinth of Louis prototypes. 



[i] Charles Sotheran, “The Kobolds Have Come,” Woodhull and Claflin’s Weekly, April 22, 1876.

[ii] E. Gerry Brown, “Ghost Land,” Spiritual Scientist, December 7, 1876, Vol. %, No. 14, pp. 145, 147.


[iii] Springfield Republican, December 19, 1876, p. 3.


[iv] Henry Steel Olcott, Old Diary Leaves( Adyar: Theosophical Publishing House, 1970), Vol. 1, p. 89.

[v] Emma Hardinge Britten, Nineteenth Century Miracles (New York, Lovell, 1884), p. 190.

16 Emma Hardinge Britten, Art Magic (Forest Grove, Oregon, Typhon Press, 2011), p. xl.

[vii] Emma Hardinge Britten, Ghost Land (Chicago: Progressive Thinker, 1909), p. 234.

19 Emma Hardinge Britten, “The Light of Egypt, or, The Science of the Soul and Stars,” The Two Worlds, May 8, 1891, p.  301.