Many Lives of Mabel Collins
full story of Mabel's life appears in my book Mystical Vampire.
Collins is remembered today, when at all, as the author of the spiritual
work Light on the Path. Few people realise that she was a
prolific author, penning at least forty-six books. She wrote a number
of articles, some of which were to later form the basis for her
books and was also a fashion correspondent for The World,
writing a regular column. Most of Mabel's novels are romantic sensation
fiction. In later years her experiences in the occult and theosophy
were used as a basis for her fiction writing.
name pops up again and again in theosophical histories. Yet no one
knew much about here - in fact I have seen it written that her life
was a complete mystery. Like many of these mysteries the information
is there as soon as you begin to look. Mabel was an instrumental
figure in early theosophy but owing to the disputes she was involved
in she has more or less disappeared from the history books.
was an author, a medium, a theosophist, the lover of Jack the Ripper,
a fashion writer, an anti vivisection campaigner...the list is a
lot longer than that of most people's achievements.
Collins was born Minna Collins on 9th September 1851 at St Peters
Port Guernsey at 8:30 am LMT. She was the daughter of Edward James
Mortimer (known as Mortimer) Collins, a popular poet and journalist
and Susanna Hubbard, the daughter of a Russian Merchant and banker.
father Mortimer was born in 1827, an only child the son of a Plymouth
solicitor. His family weren't wealthy and his father died of consumption
when he was twelve. Soon after, his mother Elizabeth joined the
Plymouth Brethren remaining a member until her death in 1872.
was largely self-educated. The Collings family were often in severe
financial straits. In 1838 he took his first job. His writings were
first published in 1844. He wrote essays and poems originally for
a variety of publications and also occasionally taught.
1847 Mortimer decided to marry. When he arrived to take a new job
he found the headmaster was ill in bed, and his wife received him.
He fell in love and decided that she was the one he would marry.
Three weeks later her husband died from his illness.
When she met Mortimer Susanna Hubbard was forty, nineteen years
older than him and the mother of six children, the oldest of whom
was little younger than Mortimer himself. In 1849 Mortimer proposed
- she refused immediately. Their families were horrified at the
idea and sought to prevent the marriage taking place. On 9th May
1850 the couple were finally married. Though Susanna knew her new
husband was much younger than herself it was not until he signed
the marriage register that she realised how young he really was.
Things were difficult with Mortimer's low income and his recently
acquired large family. Susanna managed to raise some money and they
decided to buy a school. It was a disaster and after three months
they gave up. When a partnership in a Guernsey school turned out
to be another disaster Mortimer landed a head teachers job at another
school. Life was treating the family well when Minna Mabel Collins
was born. Mortimer worshipped her from the first. Calling her Mabel,
or May he wrote endless poems and sonnets for her.
Mortimer was obsessed with his writing and Susanna had to take responsibility
for all practical matters. He lived with his head permanently in
the clouds spent several hours each day writing and several walking
when he had the chance and needed little sleep. Minna's early childhood
was spent in a country which, although British on the surface, was
as different to England as any other continental country.
Money problems meant that in 1856 Mortimer decided to devote himself
totally to his writing and the family returned to England. Mortimer
became fashionable and frequently held court at a local watering
place. With his admirers he frequented a number of coffee rooms
in local hotels and was au fait with all the gossip. Drink was becoming
a larger part of Mortimer's life and he lived far beyond his meagre
became ill and Mortimer spent more time alone. Almost penniless
the family moved from lodging to lodging. Things reached desperation
point and they returned to Plymouth. Mortimer was imprisoned for
debt more than once. As he relied more and more on drink Minna and
her half sister spent hours escorting him from his office and holding
him upright. Much of his free time was spent in London. The next
few years were riddled with visits by bailiffs and attempts to keep
one step ahead of his debtors.
1861 the family moved to London. Money ran out and the cottage where
Susanna had lived in the early days of their romance was taken again.
Mortimer was followed there and again thrown into prison. The pattern
of his life was now set - stay and work in one place for a while,
overspend, run into problems with debts, spend time in prison, run
away and then finally move to a new town where the whole process
could begin again.
By 1866 Mortimer was living a bachelor life in London while the
rest of his family remained at Knowl Hill. Although he visited there
at weekends with Susanna's health failing further he was spending
more and more time alone. He continued to write his poetry and Minna
recalled falling asleep to the sound of his pen scratching the paper.
By the time she was twelve years old Minna had begun to write romances
and verse herself. She had never attended school - what education
she had was from her father, poetry and philosophy formed the main
content of her lessons.
was familiar in the London haunts of journalism. Many hours were
spent in taverns meeting with other writers and journalists. His
way of dealing with a now unhappy marriage was to deny its existence
and so deny his daughter.
from taking responsibility for Minna's education, Mortimer appears
to have had little to do with her. A fictionalised account of his
teaching of Minna appears in the novel Frances. "…her father
delighted to teach her at home. So she knows a lot of things other
girls don't know, and is ignorant of an infinite number of things…She
knows her Shakespeare; she can read Chaucer; she can enjoy the Odyssey
and the odes of Horace…She can play neither croquet nor the guitar."
A lover of the classics, a staunch Tory and conventionally religious,
Mortimer ensured that Minna's education would stand her in good
stead if she were to mix with poets but be of little help in the
In 1867 Susanna died. A year later Mortimer married Frances Cotton
and his life changed irrevocably. This was a love match and the
couple spent barely a minute apart. Frances devoted the rest of
her life to working for Mortimer. They lived at Knowl Hill surrounded
by visitors and Mortimer spent hour upon hour writing. He didn't
encourage his guests to sleep much, although conversation would
go on until the early hours he would be up by 8 am, clamouring for
attention. He also spent hours indulging himself in his other interest,
walking. Their active social life left Minna barely acknowledged.
Mortimer and Frances spent many happy years together, to which Minna
appears to have been almost incidental.
By February of 1871 Minna was engaged to Keningale Robert Cook,
six years older than herself and son of Robert Keningale Cook, the
Church of England Canon of Manchester. Their marriage took place
on 3rd August 1871 at St Peters Church in Knowl Hill.
Five years later Mortimer's happy life with Frances was to come
to an end. After a bout of rheumatic fever he decided to visit Minna
and her husband in Richmond. Even while so ill he didn't want to
stop writing. Finally, his heart gave up the battle and on 28th
July 1876 Mortimer died and was buried the following Tuesday in
Petersham churchyard. Frances lived until 1886 and spent much of
her time compiling her husband's work and letters. Minna had begun
a new life. Away from her family and a new bride the world was to
open its doors to her.
Considering the chaotic state of Minna's early life, she must have
considered the prospect of marriage to someone so seemingly respectable
as Keningale Robert Cook, the chance of a lifetime. He had a degree
in law, and so the chance of a good professional career, wrote poetry
and was approved by Mortimer. He was also an ardent spiritualist.
The son of a clergyman Robert was born 1845 and educated at Rugby.
He attended Trinity College in Dublin from January 1863 where he
obtained his bachelors degree in 1866 and s Masters and Bachelor
in Laws as well as his Doctorate in Laws in 1875. From 1869 he had
been employed by the Post Office dealing with money orders. He held
this job until at least 1873. By 1875 he was a stockbroker in the
City of London.
By the time of his marriage Robert had already completed and published
a book of verse, Purpose and Passion. To say that this didn't
meet with great acclaim is rather understating its negative reception.
Now a published writer he continued to sell his work wherever he
1871 and 1872 he wrote innumerable pieces for Amelia Lewis' magazine
Woman. Minna had written since she was small and this magazine
saw her first published writings. Robert's sister Louisa also wrote
occasionally for the magazine, and Mortimer contributed to the first
issue. Almost every issue contained Minna's or Robert's writings.
They covered a range of subjects but were primarily concerned with
education, the role of women and the arts.
By 1875 Minna's first novel, The Blacksmith and Scholar was
published under the name of Mabel Collins. Although still called
Minna, or Minnie, at home, gradually she was to become known as
Mabel. The publication of her first novel was slightly overshadowed
by Robert gaining his doctorate in law the same year.
In 1876 with her father's death a gap appeared in the world of romantic
fiction that Mabel was more than able to fill. Mabel's novels were
to appear with unremitting regularity. 1877 was a milestone year
in many ways for the Cooks. Robert was to buy the Dublin University
Magazine, Mabel would have her second novel, An Innocent Sinner,
meet with great success, and Frances would publish her biography
of Mortimer. Mabel was totally unimpressed with Frances' biography
of her father. She took advantage of the Dublin University Magazine
to air her disquiet. Robert acted as the kiss of death to the Dublin
University Magazine while Mabel was launching on a roller coaster
Although Robert persisted in his literary efforts, his wife's was
already eclipsing his work. In 1879 Mabel had two more books published,
In This World and Our Bohemia. Many of Mabel's books
were two or three volumes in length, and once she had begun to produce
her novels there was nothing to hold her back. Many were first seen
in serialised form in magazines.
Mabel settled into a marriage offering unremitting boredom. Each
morning, Robert left for work while she tried to fill the hours
until his return. Each day Robert would go to his office like a
machine, each evening come home and complain about it. Although
he enjoyed spending his time writing Robert was no saleable author.
His monotonous life was punctuated by long evenings of study.
Mabel was popular in her circle, a tall, graceful woman with auburn
hair and a delicate colouring. She looked younger than her age throughout
her life. And on embarking into married life she felt her brain
In these circumstances it was not at all difficult for Robert to
persuade her to attend séances. Mabel became a renowned medium herself.
In later years she became violently opposed to spiritualism as her
experiences while working as a medium and in attending the séances
of others led her to believe that the practice was highly dangerous.
1878 Mabel described how a procession of priests appeared as her
inspiration and that she wrote the first seven chapters of Idyll
automatically. She saw a face within Cleopatra's Needle while looking
from her window and was aware that it was an Egyptian face. Soon
after long processions of white-robed priests came in at the door
of the house and up the stairs and into her room. This happened
constantly and she grew accustomed to it.
On one occasion while she was working on a novel her sister in law
was present and noticed Mabel change in her my appearance, becoming
rigid, and with her eyes closed Mabel wrote on until she opened
her eyes. Mabel found that she had written the prologue and first
chapter of the Idyll of the White Lotus. The experiences
continued until Mabel had seven chapters completed and this writing
was originally published as part of Cobwebs in 1882. It was
during 1884-5, when Mabel was ill and there was "much trouble" in
her life that the work was finally finished.
The text of Light on the Path was acquired in a similar manner
where Mabel described being taken away from her body to a hall where
the wall was covered in jewels. She found that these were words
and memorised what she could to write down on returning to her body.
The two experiences differed in that the second time Mabel was actively
attempting to attain a different condition of consciousness. She
continued for many years to repeat these experiences, particularly
in 1893, when she stated she was almost constantly out of her body.
Robert hadn't given up his attempts at writing. He had another collection
of verse and two romantic plays published. His final work, The
Fathers of Jesus took over ten years to complete and was published
shortly after his death.
By the time of Robert's death in 1886 the Cooks' marriage had failed
and the couple had separated. He died on 24th June 1886 with his
father by his side. A rather strange obituary appears in Light in
July 1886 where it states that his wife "Miss Mabel Collins, besides
one or two clever novels wrote some very original short stories
wherein Spiritualism, or some facts based on it, were prominent
motives" As Mabel was working on her fourteenth book at this time
she would no doubt have questioned being attributed with "one or
two clever novels".
his will Robert left Mabel a little over £2,651. When the will was
re-sworn two years later the sum rose to a little over £3,279. With
the income Mabel earned from her books she would be able to live
comfortably for a few years. (Equivalent to about £161,596 in 1989).
The Theosophical Society reached England in 1878. Its early meetings
were held at the Great Russell Street home of the British National
Association of Spiritualists, from which many of its early members
were claimed. It's likely that it was through this connection that
Mabel first came into contact with theosophy.
February 1885 Mabel had moved out of the marital home and was living
in Clarendon Road. Mabel had been introduced to theosophy in 1881,
when Robert was lent a copy of Blavatsky's Isis Unveiled
by Isabelle de Steiger, who at that time lived opposite the couple.
Tuesday afternoons the Sinnetts were "at home" to visitors. The
hours were crowded with friends wanting to talk about theosophy.
Mabel was one of many. Although there were numerous people passing
through the doors, there was only a small number of regular visitors,
Mabel amongst them.
described to Sinnett her experiences of the Egyptian priests who
crossed her room as she was working. When Idyll was completed
she sent her work to Banner of Light, a New York spiritualist
magazine, which published it. Gerard Finch, then President of the
Theosophical Society in England arranged for it to be published
as a book. Col. Olcott saw the work at this time.
April of 1884 year Blavatsky came to London just before a meeting
to replace Anna Kingsford as president with Finch at Sinnett's behest
was to take place. She went home with the Sinnetts and floods of
eager visitors followed her to their door. Things were not running
smoothly with the Theosophical Society. Sinnett had numerous rows
with Blavatsky. But Blavatsky had arrived, the light was turned
away from other theosophists and in the midst of all this excitement
Mabel was to produce what was to be as classic theosophical work.
was in every way a foil for Madame. Described as tall and graceful
with auburn hair and a delicate colouring she looked much younger
than her thirty-five years. During the summer of 1884 Archibald
and Bertram Keightley met Blavatsky. They both became very close
to Mabel. Exactly how close that was is open to conjecture. The
relationship between Mabel and both Archie and Bert was described
as intimate - certainly from Bert's point of view. Rumours were
later to fly around that Mabel had become engaged to Bert. It seems
plausible that "engaged" was used as a euphemism.
on the Path was written in 1884. On 8th November 1884, Mabel
met Blavatsky shortly before she returned to India. Blavatsky herself
was late to say that they met on two or three occasions during the
autumn of 1884, always in the presence of others. Theosophists were
thick on the ground in London during that autumn, and great numbers
of them enthusiastically met Blavatsky. It would have been strange
if Mabel hadn't been amongst them.
far as Blavatsky was concerned the Master Hilarion had again appeared
to Mabel Collins in 1884 and had dictated to her the conclusion
of The Idyll of the White Lotus and the whole of Light
on the Path. Mabel called on Blavatsky and showed her a couple
of pages of the working manuscript of Light. Sinnett by now
was totally convinced that Mabel was under the influence of the
now Blavatsky hadn't taken Mabel any more seriously than any of
the other theosophists. But Mabel's work was gaining a lot of attention.
Blavatsky was quick to ensure that credit was given to the Masters
before Mabel could attribute it elsewhere.
It was to immediately become a theosophical classic. Before being
published however, Light was read in draft form to Sinnett's
group. So although Blavatsky's claims that she did not see Light
until some time after it was published bear a ring of truth, the
material contained within Light was available and talked
about some months before its publication. Untangling the story of
how Light was written is rather like trying to knit with
Writing inspirational texts couldn't possibly take up all of Mabel's
time. She was one of the signatories to a letter from the London
Lodge requesting that an inner group be set up for esoteric studies.
Robert's sister, Louisa Cook accompanied her to theosophical meetings.
Though theosophy and theosophical socialising took up much of Mabel's
time, she continued to write her novels.
However well known she was to become on the theosophical scene,
to most of the world Mabel was a romantic novelist. He books were
published in the USA as well as Britain and she was gaining a reputation
of her own, rather than having to try and hold onto her dead father's
Blavatsky was out of England, Mabel had continued her theosophical
involvement. When it became apparent that someone was needed to
host Blavatsky during her next stay in England Mabel was delighted
to have the honour of being able to do this. The Keightleys come
into the picture here as they had joined the Theosophical Society
in 1884, around the same time as Mabel. Bert had spent much of 1884
following Blavatsky around Europe. They were instrumental in bringing
Blavatsky to England and arranged for her to stay at "Maycot", a
little college in Norwood owned by Mabel who was honoured to be
sharing her home with Blavatsky.
In May 1887 Blavatsky arrived at Mabel's home. The day after her
arrival she was at work on The Secret Doctrine at 7 a.m. Maycot,
on Crown Hill in Upper Norwood, was described as small, pretty and
charming. The house lay near the glass nave and twin towers of the
Crystal Palace. Upper Norwood was a fashionable area, gradually
being filled with new housing.
Mabel was waiting and ready to welcome Madame and the dining room
was hastily turned into Blavatsky's room. She would work until called
for her midday meal, which could be asked for any time between twelve
and four, a constant annoyance to Mabel's cook.
After that people would call to see Blavatsky, and she would agree
or not to see them depending on her mood. At 6 30 pm Mabel and the
Keightleys, who were also now staying at Maycot, would join Blavatsky
for dinner with other theosophists. After dinner there were discussions
while Blavatsky played her endless games of patience.
couldn't have predicted just how difficult Blavatsky was to be.
Blavatsky hated Maycot, and didn't trust Mabel. "I am in the enemy's
camp, and this says all…This house is a hole where we are like herrings
in a barrel - so small, so uncomfortable, and when there are three
people in my two rooms we tread uninterruptedly on each others corns.
When there are four we sit on each other's heads. Then there is
no quiet here, for the slightest noise is heard all over the house."
Matters weren't helped by the fact that visitors overwhelmed the
small cottage. Visitors arriving at West Norwood station could hear
Blavatsky yelling abuse at Mabel as they walked up the road. Blavatsky
had taken a strong dislike to everyone in Mabel's household.
Mabel and her housemates needed something to do. Blavatsky set them
with Thomas Harbottle the task of helping her to finish The Secret
Doctrine. Arch, Bret and Mabel read every line of Blavatsky's
writings, screwed up their courage and told her it was "a confused
muddle and jumble". Blavatsky was furious. She asked Mabel if she
agreed with the Keightleys. As soon as she found out that Mabel
did, they were all told to go to hell. Her resentment and bad temper
worsened. Not all visitors were made welcome and there were plenty
Three weeks after Blavatsky's arrival a new Theosophical Lodge was
born. With Sinnett's lodge sleeping, London theosophists wanted
to be part of a more active group that could publicise theosophy.
The story oft quoted is that seven signatures were needed to establish
a new lodge but as Blavatsky said, there were only six of them.
It took Mabel to point out that Blavatsky herself could sign the
application and be the seventh signatory.
was furious. He announced that anyone who wished to be part of the
new lodge was no longer welcome at his. Half of his membership immediately
At its second meeting on 25th May the Blavatsky Lodge decided that
a new magazine was in order. Blavatsky had had problems for a while
getting Olcott to publish her work in the main theosophical magazine,
The Theosophist. After long discussions it was decided to
call it Lucifer. Some vehemently objected to the name, unconvinced
by Blavatsky's arguments that the name Lucifer means light
bringer. They decided to start a publishing house to issue not only
the magazine but also The Secret Doctrine. Mabel was appointed
as co-editor of the new magazine and suggested that the new venture
be called The Theosophical Publishing Company.
Blavatsky was becoming an expensive guest making no contribution
towards her room or board. Mabel covered all Blavatsky's living
expenses. Maycot could no longer bear the number of visitors arriving.
And it was too far out of London to be convenient.
The Keightleys located a house in Notting Hill at 17 Landsdowne
Road for Blavatsky to move into and become the new centre of theosophy.
After three days of packing the household was moved to Notting Hill.
Apart from Mabel - she was left alone at Maycot.
Lucifer beginning to take off, much of Mabel's writing was
directed towards this magazine. The Blossom and the Fruit appeared
there in serial form throughout 1887 and 1888. She still had to
find a way of making a living and however worthy, Lucifer
was not going to help her there. Even in 1889 it was struggling
From July 1887 Mabel was writing for The World, a paper owned
by Frances Yates, who had been a friend of her fathers. Her weekly
column Tea table Talk written under the name of Flower
o'the May considered clothes, cosmetics, recommended a spa for
pet dogs, discussed how often a pair of gloves ought to be worn,
(once only according to Mabel), and described the latest fashions
at great length. She would recommend sun creams, advise on hemlines
and spend many column inches waxing lyrical about hats.
For the next two years Mabel was to remain the co-editor of Lucifer.
And theosophical life continued much as it had at Maycot. Blavatsky
stayed firmly planted at Landsdowne Road, writing throughout the
day, much of her outpouring being edited by Mabel for Lucifer.
As one of her more intimate friends, Mabel would often be there
later into the evening, chatting with the theosophists who lived
in the household, and occasional visitors such as Sinnett.
Theosophy was becoming highly fashionable. Scores of people poured
into the new headquarters to meet the famous Madame. For much of
early 1888 Blavatsky was working on The Secret Doctrine with
the help of the Keightleys and the Blavatsky Lodge continued to
meet on Thursday evenings. Mabel was living at Clarendon Road at
this time, and her garden backed onto that of Lansdowne Road. So
although she was not part of the household the two women developed
the habit of signalling one another across the gardens when they
wanted to talk.
formation of the Esoteric Section was announced by Olcott in the
October and November 1888 issues of Lucifer. The Esoteric
Section of the Theosophical Society was a group solely under Blavatsky's
direction, separate and distinct from the Society proper. Members
of the section were not taught practical occultism or how to perform
psychic phenomena. But as all its activities were carried out under
a strict pledge of secrecy, it wasn't clear to many what was being
taught there. When on February 15th 1889, Mabel's name suddenly
disappeared from Lucifer it was inevitable that everyone
would want to know why.
scandal went like this:- The American Vittoria Cremers had in 1886
come across a copy of Light on the Path, which prompted her
to immediately join the Theosophical Society. In 1888 she went to
Britain and met Blavatsky. As she had been previously involved with
publishing Blavatsky asked her to take over the business side of
moved into the household at Lansdowne Road and after a short time
was introduced to Mabel by the Keightleys. She became firm friends
with Mabel and began to spend time at her home.
was alleged that The Blossom and the Fruit contained an ending
that endorsed black magic. Blavatsky said she had to intervene before
it was published and rewrite the final chapters.
any event Vittoria was called to see Blavatsky one day. She was
told that Mabel was being asked to leave the society because of
her conduct with the Keightleys. Blavatsky related how Mabel had
been engaged to Arch and the two had taken part in Tantric worship
and black magic. The trouble they got themselves into apparently
meant that Blavatsky had to intervene to rescue them.
refused to break her friendship with Mabel and had to leave the
Society herself. Mabel was furious when she heard what was being
said about her.
accusations of tantrism were particularly stinging. There was a
strong association between black magic and tantrism. Mabel had also
begun a friendship with Michael Angelo Lane. Lane was a newspaper
reporter from St. Louis and had come to London after hearing about
the esoteric section and stayed several weeks. As a member of the
esoteric section he went fromlLodge to lodge, revelling in spreading
tales of what was happening in the inner sanctum,
herself had not initially been allowed to join the esoteric section.
After pleading with Blavatsky she was allowed to join as a probationer
but within four days was dismissed for her "treachery and disloyalty".
Part of that treachery was to flirt with Lane. She was also accused
of unseemly conduct with the Keightleys. It was then that Blavatsky
said to her "I cannot permit you more than one." To top it all Vittoria
also claimed an intimate relationship with Mabel. She certainly
played a part in bringing the scandal to everyone's attention.
the facts it appears that Blavatsky had seized an opportunity to
be rid of her. Why? It cannot be a coincidence that in late March
Blavatsky met Annie Besant for the first time. The story of their
meeting has been told many times and has no place here. Annie joined
the Theosophical Society in May 1888. Blavatsky sent Bert over to
America, where he remained until late 1890.
from the first of Blavatsky's accusations Mabel had talked about
taking legal action against her. And this turned to be no idle threat.
An action for libel was lodged in July 1889, although it didn't
reach court until July 1890. The case was very short lived. Blavatsky
asked that a letter written by Mabel be produced. This letter was
shown to counsel who went into court and asked the judge to take
the case off the list. The action was halted immediately although
the contents of that letter have never been disclosed.
stress of the scandal could not fail to get to Mabel. She developed
eczema and started to suffer from incessant headaches. She could
only bear to be in subdued lighting, stopped eating and sank into
a deep depression. Finally, she had a complete nervous breakdown
and spent four months being cared for by her sister, Ellen Hopkins,
incapable of the simplest of tasks.
far as people in general were concerned, whatever had been going
on behind the scenes was destined to stay there for a while. While
Mabel was seething with resentment a whole new theosophical crisis
took wing. On 11th May 1889, there appeared a letter in the Religio-Philosophical
Journal from Elliott Coues, including a letter to him from Mabel
Collins. Coues had already argued with Blavatsky and was marked
as a traitor to the cause. In what appears to be a fit of pique
with Blavatsky, Coues hit on the idea of joining forces with other
dissatisfied theosophists. It had become common knowledge that Mabel
was embroiled in a major row with Blavatsky, and she was unceremoniously
ousted from the Society in April.
in 1885, Coues wrote to Mabel praising Light on the Path and
asking about its real source. This was because it was supposedly
dictated by one of the theosophical Masters. Mabel promptly replied
to his letter saying that Light "was inspired or dictated
from the source above indicated". In other words she agreed with
the view that the work was inspired by one of the Masters, specifically
the Master Hilarion.
At the beginning of May 1889 he received a letter from Mabel dated
April 18th 1889, immediately after she had been ejected from the
Theosophical Society. She claimed that the original letter had been
written under Blavatksy's dictation but in reality was inspired
by no one and she had seen the text in her vision. Mabel was saying
that Blavatsky had persuaded her to lie about the source of her
work for the benefit of the Theosophical Society.
Coues had made in his writing were pointed out again and again.
His calling her "Mrs Collins", her penname, instead of Cook, her
legal name, was taken to be a sign that he was lying. Coues knew
that he had a bomb in his hand and wrote in the Religio-Philosophical
Journal in glee. In England the spiritualist journal Light
repeated the material published in America. On the 12th of June,
Mabel's sister, Ellen Hopkins, wrote a letter to Light a letter
published in June 1889 saying that Mabel was too ill to respond.
As no comment was ever received Light refused to discuss
and Bert were dragged into the furore to make statements. They had
little choice; to ally themselves with Mabel at this stage would
have risked their own status, certainly their involvement in theosophy.
Coues was expelled from the Society. Mabel's illness was called
into question. If she was so ill what was she doing cabling Coues
about his mistakes with dates?
that Mabel had no close contact with Blavatsky until September of
1887 conveniently ignored the few months Blavatsky had spent at
story of the Coues attack and Mabel's role in it has gone into theosophical
history. Endless letters were written and published and every small
error pounced on and analysed. The culmination of the whole affair
was a full page expose of Blavatsky in the New York Sun on
July 20th 1890. This prompted Blavatsky to take legal action against
Coues and the Sun. Blavatsky's death in 1891 terminated the suit
but on September 26, 1892, The Sun published a biographical
sketch of her by Judge with their apologies.
episode has passed into theosophical history, termed the Coues-Collins
affair. Mabel is given credit, along with Coues, for attempting
to bring down Blavatsky's downfall.
legend Mabel withdrew from the public eye, perhaps in shame for
what she had done. It wasn't until 1910 that she would talk about
the breakdown she had suffered.
theosophists everywhere were arguing between themselves of the rights
and wrongs of Coues actions and pouring torrents of indignation
into the press, Mabel was visiting WH Edwards for magnetic healing.
At the time Mabel was reputedly instrumental in attempting to bring
about the downfall of Blavatsky she was suffering from depression
and spending time with her healer.
interests had always been a little wider than theosophy alone. She
had been part of the esoteric section of the Theosophical Society
and was rumoured to have been a member of the Golden Dawn.
In 1888, when Mabel was still active at theosophical headquarters,
the discussions of Jack the Ripper and his activities were grabbing
as much attention there as anywhere else.
Ripper was never found, and to this day there is no certainty about
who he was, although numerous theories abound. I'm not going to
even attempt to try and unravel this riddle here. What matters is
that Mabel was soon to believe that she was sharing her home with
the Ripper himself.
In 1888 an article in the Pall Mall Gazette appeared, suggesting
that the Ripper was a black magician. In January 1889, two articles
appeared in the Pall Mall Gazette about Rider Hagar's incredibly
popular novel She. Numerous readers had written in requesting
more. "RD" obliged by happily launching into an account of devil
worship, horror, blasphemy and obscenity and signed himself Roslyn
had been at the London Hospital in 1888 and admitted again in 1889,
suffering from "chloralism", brought on by the use of chloral hydrate.
It was during his second stay that he received a letter from Mabel.
After a few weeks she received a reply - Dr Roslyn D'Onston wrote
to say that he was ill in hospital but as soon as he recovered he
would arrange to meet Mabel. He did so and Mabel began her association
with a man she believed to be a great magician.
Robert Donston Stephenson was the son of a Yorkshire seed mill owner
who had studied chemistry in Munich and medicine in Paris. He fought
for Garibaldi in the 1860's, working as a battlefield medic, and
studied the occult under Bulwer Lytton. Married in 1876 he was separated
from his wife - it is unknown what happened to her. He was a heavy
drinker and reputed to use other drugs. By the time Mabel was to
make contact with him, Stephenson had already begun to build a mythology
had a nervous breakdown and after going to Brighton for a cure was
transferred to the London Hospital in July of 1888, diagnosed with
neurasthenia. He was a patient there again in 1888 and became convinced
that Dr Morgan Davies was the Ripper, after he saw what he believed
to be a re enactment.
was in fact a patient in the London Hospital for 134 days from July
1888 through December 1888 covering the whole time span of the murders.
had sold his about Davies story to an unemployed ironmongery assistant
called George March, and the two of them passed themselves off as
private detectives, investigating Dr Davies. On Christmas Eve 1888
March went to Scotland Yard and told them about Stephenson. Stephenson
was investigated by the police.
Vittoria Cremers arrived back in England and almost immediately
called at Mabel's home to be told that Mabel was away in Southsea.
The next day Vittoria took a train to visit her.
She found Mabel lodging in a shabby, dingy house. Here she met Stephenson
and heard from Mabel what a great magician he was. Mabel explained
that she was caring for him and planned to return to London where
the three of them would be able to set up in business. Two weeks
later Mabel and Stephenson joined Vittoria in London. Vittoria arranged
for Stephenson to take lodgings where she was staying.
followed up on her suggestion that the three of them should go in
business together and they began discussing the project. Together
they set up the Pompadour Cosmetique Company and took premises in
Baker Street on the site where Baker Street tube station now stands.
Vittoria and Stephenson lived on the premises.
and Mabel commissioned for Lucifer an article from Stephenson
that appeared in November 1890, African Magic by Tau-Triadelta,
which was attributed to Blavatsky.
doesn't appear to have thought highly of Stephenson but it is difficult
to ascertain whether that was due to jealousy of his relationship
with Mabel. Vittoria said that Mabel would talk of little else but
Stephenson and that he was a regular visitor to her flat that was
only a few minutes walk away. Vittoria initially found Stephenson
inoffensive. They worked closely together and in retrospect she
said that she became more and more uncomfortable in his company.
On one occasion Vittoria saw Stephenson drawing an upside down triangle
on his door. He told her that he'd done so to keep out an evil presence.
Stephenson delighted in telling Vittoria numerous colourful stories.
was happy to care for Stephenson; she had provided him with a home
and supplied him with money. Mabel and Vittoria's attentions were
diverted for some time by the outcome of the libel case Mabel had
brought against Blavatsky. Any credibility Mabel may have retained
amongst theosophists was finally ended.
a month after the case was thrown out of court, Mabel entered the
office in Baker Street looking nervous and questioned Vittoria as
to the whereabouts of Stephenson. Once she found he wasn't there
Mabel told Vittoria that something Stephenson had shown her convinced
her that he was Jack the Ripper. It was clear that Mabel was afraid.
Vittoria, who had shown little interest in the murders, was rather
taken aback at this sudden declaration.
She refused to say why she had come to the conclusion that he was
the Ripper. Mabel had become more and more frightened of Stephenson
but was afraid to leave him. She credited him with great powers
and was clearly worried that they would be tuned against her. More
than anything she wanted to be free of him.
Mabel visited Vittoria at her flat. She had been weeping and told
Vittoria that she was so afraid that was going to stay in Scarborough
for a few months. She hadn't told anyone where she was going to
be and swore Vittoria to secrecy. Mabel left and sent the occasional
letter to Vittoria. Stephenson seemed to be remarkably unbothered
by her departure. The Pompadour Cosmetique Company was floundering.
Vittoria decided that it would be a good idea to wind the business
up. She told Stephenson of her plans and he launched into an account
of the intimate details of the relationship between Vittoria and
Mabel as told to him by Mabel. Vittoria immediately wrote to Mabel
demanding an explanation and threatening to cease their relationship
if that wasn't satisfactory. Mabel simply said that she understood.
now despised Stephenson and one day when he had gone out let herself
into his room to see what she could find. She found a number of
bloodstained ties. Stephenson claimed to Vittoria that he knew the
Ripper, she thought his knowledge of the case meant he was the Ripper.
Vittoria and Mabel were to meet for the last time in the summer
of 1891. Mabel needed a favour from Vittoria. Stephenson held a
collection of letters from her, which were explicit enough for her
to be worried about the possibility of blackmail. Vittoria retrieved
them and Mabel wrote to Stephenson ordering him out of his room.
returned to London and Stephenson took out a summons against Mabel
asking for the return of the letters. When it came to the crunch
Stephenson was unable to substantiate his allegations.
Mabel was simultaneously the lover of Vittoria and Stephenson is
also open to question. But she certainly had an intimate relationship
with both of them. And the theory goes a long way towards explaining
Vittoria's antagonism towards Stephenson.
the truth of the matter Mabel had felt it wise to retreat. After
investing her money in supporting a doomed business venture and
Stephenson she had no choice but to declare bankruptcy in 1892.
Another episode over, Mabel had little time to lick her wounds before
the next stage in her life was to begin.
new stage had also begun for the Theosophical Society in 1891 with
Blavatsky's death. Although Olcott was to remain President to 1907
Annie Besant then stepped into the presidential role.
became quiet in Mabel's life. She spent much of her time writing
but had severe financial difficulties and was forced to declare
bankruptcy in 1892; much of her time had been spent in Ostend in
this period. This year Morial the Mahatma was published. This was
a fictionalised account of activities in and around the Theosophical
Society and created a small scandal.
did not emerge again in public life until 1899 when there was record
of her living in Hartlepool and working as secretary of the Northern
England Branch British Union for the Abolition of Vivisection.
was on a number of committees with a variety of political and aristocratic
figures fighting the anti vivisection cause. She wrote an abolitionist
pamphlet and letters were published occasionally in the press promoting
the cause. She also campaigned against vaccinations after the scandal
of troops during the Boer War being vaccinated compulsorily.
the late 1890's Mabel was still spending time in London at her lodgings
in Wandsworth. It was while she was there that she came across the
Brown laboratory. Scandalised by the treatment of the animals there
Mabel published a pamphlet and distributed 1000 copies locally with
the help of friends. She sought the help of the suffragette and
activist Charlotte Despard in her campaigning and established a
friendship that was to lead Mabel to write a book with Despard about
her experiences in Holloway in 1908. Mabel fictionalised this part
of her life in her novel The Star Sapphire. The campaign was huge
and went on for years. Mabel's petition travelled the country as
she spoke passionately and was to gain 50,000 signatures against
One of the more successful campaigns run by the BUAV was that of
taking over shops on a short lease and stocking it with leaflets,
pamphlets and posters to elicit support from passers by. This idea
of Mabel's was highly successful and she travelled around the country
overseeing similar schemes in many major cities and ran the first
of these shops in Wrexham, Bangor and Bournemouth. Mabel became
an extremely well known anti vivisectionist and was interviewed
in the press on a number of occasions.
Mabel's involvement continued for many years, and in 1909 she was
parliamentary secretary to they BUAV and a major figure at their
congress. Newer blood had arrived in the movement however, and Mabel
was no longer as powerful as she had been.
By 1912 Mabel had begun to write regularly for the Occult Review.
And in 1913 she was to experience on of the greatest disasters of
her life. The Charing Cross Bank in which her savings were invested
went into liquidation. By this time Mabel had moved south again
and was living in Southall. As she was no longer writing she was
desperately short of money. She wrote to her American publishers
and explained how difficult things were for her. Royalties were
not being paid on her theosophical texts and she had already had
to apply to the Royal Literary Fund for financial help. She was
clearly involved in theosophy again as one of her letters recalls
a meeting with Annie Besant and arranging for the TS to fund turning
her novel Idyll of the White Lotus into a play. Friends in
America tried to raise funds for her and she was obliged to apply
again to the Literary fund for help.
letters continued in the Occult Review throughout 1913. She
came out in support of WH Edwards, who had helped her in dealing
with her previous nervous breakdown. Catherine Metcalfe and Mabel
were clearly close friends by this time as they wrote in support
of one another's letters. Catherine was a committed vegetarian and
in responding in the letters column Mabel pointed out that she too
was a vegetarian. In fact she also refused to wear leather, would
not use an eiderdown and preferred to avoid eating eggs. She pointed
out that she had been following such a lifestyle for thirty years
at this time, since about 1883/4 and her initial involvement with
The onset of the First World War saw Mabel deeply depressed as she
wrote in her book The Crucible. Although many believed it
would be over in a matter of weeks, Mabel was unconvinced.
Mabel had been attracted to Steiner's work for some time but with
the onset of the war the British TS sought to dissociate itself
from all things German. In previous arguments about Steiner's conduct
within theosophy Mabel had taken his side. She was now forced to
follow Annie Besant's line.
the war years Mabel visited soldiers and took an interest in military
displays. Throughout 1913/4 she spent more and more time with Catherine
Metcalfe. In 1915 she went to stay with Catherine Metcalfe and wrote
Our Glorious Future at Metcalfe's home. Catherine Metcalfe
had contacted Mabel after returning to England from Vancouver. They
were to spend the last twelve years of Mabel's life together. Mabel
never talked of her early life and experiences. She was approached
write a history of the rise of The TS but refused. She warned Catherine
that if she ever attempted a biography she would appear in wrath.
She lived and worked under the guidance of the master and often
joined him and watched the world masters weaving the karmic threads
on her deathbed. Hilarion told her she must not think she was coming
to rest, as she would have to join him in the Workshop.
died of angina on 31st March 1927 at the age of seventy-six. In
her will she left a little over £100.