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The Many Lives of Mabel Collins

The full story of Mabel's life appears in my book Mystical Vampire.

Mabel 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.

Mabel's 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.

Mabel 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.

Mabel 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.

Minna's 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.

Mortimer 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.

By 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 means.

Susanna 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.

In 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.

Mortimer 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.

Apart 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 real world.

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 could.

Throughout 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 of success.

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 was atrophying.

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.

In 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".

In 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.

By 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.

On 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.

Mabel 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.

In 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.

Mabel 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.

Light 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.

As 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 Master Hilarion.

Until 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 spaghetti.

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 coattails.

While 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.

Mabel 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 of fights.

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.

Sinnett 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 defected.

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.

With 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 financially.

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.

The 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.

The 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 Lucifer.

Vittoria 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.

It 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.

In 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.

Vittoria 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.

The 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,

Mabel 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.

Whatever 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.

Right 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.

The 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.

As 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.

Sometime 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.

Mistakes 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 it further.

Arch 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?

Claims that Mabel had no close contact with Blavatsky until September of 1887 conveniently ignored the few months Blavatsky had spent at Maycot.

The 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.

The 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.

In 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.

While 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.

Mabel's 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.

The 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 D'Onston.

Stephenson 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 around himself.

Stephenson 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.

Stephenson 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.

He 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.

Mabel 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.

Vittoria and Mabel commissioned for Lucifer an article from Stephenson that appeared in November 1890, African Magic by Tau-Triadelta, which was attributed to Blavatsky.

Vittoria 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.

Mabel 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.

About 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.

Vittoria 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.

She 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.

Whether 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.

Whatever 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.

A 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.

Things 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.

Mabel 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.

She 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.

In 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 vivisection.

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.

Her 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 theosophy.

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.

During 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.

Mabel died of angina on 31st March 1927 at the age of seventy-six. In her will she left a little over £100.




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© Kim Farnell 2006.