Introduction, Part II

The reasons for the book's withdrawal from publicity having been stated, it is due alike to the memory of the authoress and to its future readers that those for its posthumous re-issue should now be given and justified. Whatever regrets the destruction of her work may have cost the authoress, there is no doubt that for more than thirty years afterwards she was wholly reconciled to it and never wished for its revival, despite representations from her friends that it might be reprinted to public advantage. A note of hers, dated 1881, and characteristically self-deprecatory in its terms, reads as follows:—

It has been proposed to me to republish this book or allow it to be reprinted. The motives, however, which originally induced me to withdraw it as far as possible from circulation persist. The book was written by me during the process of enquiry and is not a mature result thereof as should have been. The advocacy and evidence are alike profuse, precipitate and inexpedient. The correction of the press more over was remiss. I may say further of this, as does Madame Blavatsky of her Isis, that it is as far from being as complete a work as with the materials at hand it might have been made by a better scholar, or even by myself with the devotion of more time and care. It is my abiding wish that so crude an attempt to rehearse the old method of philosophy should not be re-issued but allowed to remain in the oblivion it deserves.—M.A.A.

Another note, in terms very similar to the above, was written by her in 1886, but it contains the following addition, which she seems to have then copied at the end of the earlier note also, by way of supplement:—

And in this I cannot be hurried, but rather than have it open to the peculations and degradation of the many charlatans such as …. I would set about revising the whole with a view to re-printing before the copyright has run out.

This last statement discloses the fact that, though not wishing a re-issue, she contemplated sanctioning one to meet the circumstances she names, whilst the effect of both statements is to make clear the fact that her objection to republication was not now due so much to scruples on the score of moral propriety or the dread of possibly betraying sacred secrets, as to fears of literary piracy or an unauthorised and unrevised reprint of the book by some freebooter,—contingencies which she viewed with much alarm. Her attitude was now clearly {21} this, that if a reprint was inevitable it were better that it should be at least one purged of the minor imperfections present in the original than one which reproduced them or which was in any way abridged or mutilated. Her hesitancy as to the wisdom of publishing the book at all still lingered and its reasons are expressed in another memorandum of hers:—

The objection to a promulgation of the Divine Art is its liability to abuse by sordid and audacious souls that would mergo themselves by a deeper fall into a second and final fall away from all hope of restoration;

whilst to her intimates who advocated the book's re-issue she frequently quoted the following lines from Norton's Ordinall of Alchymie:—

So this science must ever secret be,
The cause whereof is this, as ye may see,
If one evil man had hereof all his will
All Christiim peace he might easily spill,
And with his hands he might pull down
Rightful kings and princes of renown,
Whereof the sentence of peril and jeopardy
Upon the teacher resteth dreadfully.

The force and validity of these objections, probably unapparent or even idle to the general reader, may perhaps appear later when we deal with the practical aspect of the Hermetic science. It suffices for the moment that such objections were always present to, and always weighty with, her who was assuredly the most competent judge of them.

After the death of her husband, whose professional status no longer stood in danger of compromise on his wife's account, Mrs. Atwood was more and more urged by those who best knew her to resume literary activity and place herself and her great knowledge at the disposal of a wider circle of truth-seekers. The invitations however failed to counteract her retiring, procrastinative disposition. But some of the few undestroyed or bought-in copies of her book she had no hesitation in presenting to her friends, a fact still further indicating that her original scruples were moderating. Sometimes a promise was exacted from the recipient that the book should not leave his possession or be re-printed; sometimes no condition at all seems to have been attached. One copy at {22} least I know to have been given by her on the undertaking that the donee would shew it to no one, destroy it in due course or provide for its destruction in case of his death, and take all possible measures to prevent any reprint,—a condition she afterwards relaxed to the extent of permitting myself to have the loan of it and the donee to bequeath it to his son. On the other hand she is to be found giving a copy, in 1886, to the late Anna Kingsford and Edward Maitland,1) whilst still other copies given by her about that time contain words of presentation inscribed by her but no injunction of reserve in regard to the book. One of these recipients, Mr. Walter Moseley, previously mentioned and an able classical student, himself corrected the errors of translation, quotation, and print which he traced in his copy, and the present reprint is made with the benefit of his emendations. And finally Mrs. Atwood herself was persuaded to revise the entire text of the book and the copy containing her revisions is also still extant; its corrections have been collated with those of Mr. Moseley and are likewise incorporated in the present edition. The fact that she did so revise it testifies further that her objections to a re-issue, however strong, had ceased to be insuperable, and that she did at the time of making the revision seriously contemplate the inevitability of one. That any intention she may have harboured of a reprint in her lifetime never passed into effect is due to her temperamental inertia, which advancing years and increasing unconcern with the outside world only accentuated. But if she harboured none at all, it is clear that she made provision for a posthumous reprint and, without authorising one in terms, left the material for it in the event of a re-issue being decided upon by others.

The testimony of the lady—Madame de Steiger—whose intimacy, longer and closer than any of the authoress's friendships, continued till the latter's death, is that increasing acquaintance with Mrs. Atwood's {23} genius and teaching prompted her for many years to take up and express to the latter lady an attitude of firm dissent from the desire for suppression. Madame de Steiger was never put upon any such pledge or condition as had been imposed upon other recipients of the book. She remonstrated with Mrs. Atwood that to inhibit the re-issue was to hide a talent in a napkin and to rob the world of the sole contribution to its stock of useful knowledge the authoress had been able to make. She urged that far from betraying sacred secrets, the book had dignified a subject too often misunderstood and misrepresented by its incompetent critics and had raised it to the lofty level from which alone it can rightly be viewed, whilst suppression of the book was less liable to desecrate truth by exposing it to the unworthy than to defraud worthy truth-seekers of that light and help which in our common interdependence there is a moral incumbency to impart. These often-urged arguments availed nothing, however, against the older lady's intractable conservatism, her abnormally restricted interest in the general intellectual life of the community, and that dislike of anything involving active or immediate measures which perhaps more than anything paralysed her will. When for the last time, a year before her death, the matter was discussed, it was said to Mrs. Atwood, “Dear friend, do not regret having written your book, for, had you not, you would have done nothing with your life.” She sighed and made no objection, and there the matter rested. The fact that she unconditionally bequeathed to Madame de Steiger all her books and papers, including her revised copies of the Suggestive Inquiry, must be taken, it is submitted, as signifying full confidence in her friend's ultimate use of them.

Regarding now the propriety or otherwise of dealing with the Hermetic doctrine in public as an abstract question and quite independently of Mrs. Atwood' personal scruples, it would seem that to charge herself, as her sensitive nature prompted her to do, as a betrayer of sacred secrets, involves a reflection upon every one of the numerous Hermetic authors of the past. If she betrayed, so also did they who wrote—not perhaps always for—publication, though many undoubtedly did—accounts {24} of their experiments and treatises upon the doctrine. The extent of her offence, which it is difficult to treat as such, was but to collate and focus, in a comprehensive survey of the subject, the evidence of a cloud of witnesses testifying to an age-old doctrine and to a uniform theory and praxis. And if, as is the case, no disclosure of vital moment is to be found in the deliberately crypticised records of the latter, who wrote less for public information than to perpetuate the tradition for the use of such perspicacious ones as might come to tread the same path-and give them the benefit of their forerunners' experience, then the codifier of these numerous testimonies cannot be said to have exceeded their example. The closest perusal of the present volume will discover no clue (such as the authoress herself undoubtedly possessed) enabling an uninformed or unsuitable person to exploit this science to his own or another's vital prejudice. As the book's title implies, its purpose was to suggest rather than to reveal, to set serious earnest minds upon a path of reflection, haply to their great profit, rather than to provide a demonstration of something which, after all, no merely literary exposition can demonstrate. The deeper secrets and laws of our being are self-protected; to learn them requires an adaptation of character and purpose, and a humility of mind and spirit, inconsistent with those displayed by the perverse or merely curious enquirer. To understand, let alone practically to explore, the Hermetic Mystery is not for every one—at least, at his present state of evolutional unfolding. Si te fata vocantis Virgil's word upon it, aliter non viribus ullis vincere poteris, and only to those whose spiritual destiny has already equipped them with a certain high measure of moral and intellectual fitness will even a rough notional apprehension of it be practicable.

Upon these various grounds, then, it is believed that the authoress of this volume will be absolved by competent judges of all blame for having written it, and the acquittal will carry with it, as its corollary, a like immunity to those who have taken steps towards its present re-issue. In no spirit of flouting or wilfully contradicting its writer's wishes is its republication undertaken, but rather in the cause of truth and of the science to which {25} it testifies, to the glory of God and the service of God-aspiring men, and lastly, as a monument to the memory of the enlightened woman who compiled it.

As has been indicated above, the text of this edition is precisely that of the first issue, altered only by such emendations as the authoress herself had made or approved in her lifetime. In an Appendix there has been added a series of Mrs. Atwood's private memoranda and reflections bearing upon the Hermetic subject and now for the first time made available. These, written at intervals some years after the volume itself, are the fruit of her maturer thought and will be found elucidative of the doctrine of which the book treats.

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See two letters from Mrs. Atwood in “Life of Anna Kingsford,” by E. Maitland, 3rd Ed. Vol. II., pp. 265-6, where she discusses the Hermetic doctrine, commending A.K.'s and E.M.'s understanding of and lectures upon it, “of the which I am naturally jealous . . . . but you have wisely avoided touching on the experimental methods of dealing with the Universal Subject.”