Dictionary of National Biography, 1885-1900/Lead, Jane

LEAD or LEADE, Mrs. JANE (1623–1704), mystic, was daughter of Schildknap Ward, who belonged to a good Norfolk family (Jaeger). She was educated like other girls, but is said to have heard at a very early age a miraculous voice amidst the Christmas gaieties at her father's house, and thenceforth devoted herself to a religious life. All attempts on the part of her family to divert her mind from its serious bent failed At twenty-one she married her kinsman, William Lead, who was six years her senior. He died not long after, leaving one daughter, Barbara. Mrs. Lead appears to have lived after her husband's death in the greatest seclusion in London.

Her early tendency to mysticism was increased by a study of the works of Jacob Boehm, in the English translations of 1645- 1661. She was deeply impressed by his mystic, revelations, and experienced almost nightly prophetic visions, which she recorded from April 1670 in her spiritual diary, entitled 'A Fountain of Gardens.' Mrs. Lead probably made the acquaintance of Dr. John Pordage [q. v.] about 1670, and published in 1681 and 1683 respectively two books, 'The Heavenly Cloud, a treatise on death and resurrection, by some considered her best work, and 'The Revelation of Revelations,' an account of her visions. It appears from the title-page of the latter that she was then living 'in Bartholomew Close.' At the time her books attracted little notice, but about 1693 one of them reached Holland, and was translated into Dutch and German by Fischer of Rotterdam, who commenced a correspondence with the author. Mrs. Lead's reputation in Holland was at once established, and Francis Lee [q. v.], a young Oxford scholar, returning through Holland from his travels, was commissioned to seek her out in England, and obtain further writings.

Lee made her acquaintance, and, soon convinced of her piety, was adopted by her as her son and adviser. She became blind, and all her correspondence passed through Lee's hands. In obedience to what was alleged to be a divine order (Walton, Law, pp. 226-7), Lee married her daughter, then a widow (Mrs. Walton), wrote many works from Mrs. Lead's dictation, and edited them, with prefaces of his own, and some occasional verses by Richard Roach [q. v.] An influential body of theosophists calling themselves Philadelphians gathered around Lee and the prophetess in London, and many members were to be found in Holland and Germany. In 1686 Mrs. Lead printed a 'Message to the Philadelphian Society whithersoever dispersed over the whole Earth.' In the following year her disciples drew up a constitution, held meetings at Westmoreland House (Lambeth MSS.), and promised to publish quarterly 'Transactions.' of which only one volume appeared.

In her latter days Mrs. Lead suffered much from poverty and from the jealousies of some of her disciples under the leadership of Gichtel; but a German sympathiser, Baron Kniphausen, allowed her four hundred gulden a year, and she was admitted into one of the almshouses of the Lady Mico at Stepney. In 1702 she published her own 'Funeral Testimony.' and after Easter 1704 she had only brier intervals of consciousness. She died on 19 Aug. 1704, 'in the 81st year of her age, and 65th of her vocation to the inward life.' She was buried on the 22nd in Bunhill Fields, the funeral address being delivered by Roach. A month later, Lee, her faithful attendant to the last, to whose ability she owed much of her popular influence, wrote many epistles to the Countess Kniphausen and others in France and Germany describing her death, and 'The Last Hours of Jane Lead, by an Eye and Ear Witness.' which was at once translated into German. The original does not appear to exist, but a manuscript copy, retranslated from the German, is in the Walton Library (now preserved in Dr. Williams's Library), together with some English translations of Lee's Latin letters, by Canon R. C. Jenkins.

Mrs. Lead's writings were eagerly purchased and read, and are now very rare. Her language is ungrammatical, her style involved, and her imagery fanciful and strained. The titles are:

  1. 'The Heavenly Cloud now breaking. The Lord Christ's Ascension-Ladder sent down.' London, 1681.
  2. 'The Revelation of Revelations.' &c., London, 1683.
  3. 'The Enochian Walks with God, found out by a Spirituall Traveller, whose Face towards Mount Sion above was set. With an Experimental Account of what was known, seen, and met withal there.' London, 1694.
  4. 'The Laws of Paradise given forth by Wisdom to a Translated Spirit.' 1695.
  5. 'The Wonders of God's Creation manifested in the variety of Eight Worlds, as they were made known experimentally unto the Author.' London, 1695.
  6. 'A Message to the Philadelphian Society whithersoever dispersed over the whole Earth.' London, 1696.
  7. 'The Tree of Faith, or the Tree of Life springing up in the Paradise of God, from which all the Wonders of the New Creation must proceed.' 1696.
  8. 'The Ark of Faith, a supplement to the Tree of Faith.' 1696.
  9. 'A Fountain of Gardens watered by the Rivers of Divine Pleasure, and springing up in all the variety of Spiritual Plants, blown up by the Pure Breath into a Paradise, sending forth their Sweet Savours and Strong Odours, for Soul Refreshing.' 4 vols., London, 1696-1701; reprinted four times.
  10. 'A Revelation of the Everlasting Gospel Message.' 1697.
  11. 'The Ascent to the Mount of Vision.' n.d. [1698].
  12. 'The Signs of the Times: forerunning the Kingdom of Christ, and evidencing when it is to come.' 1699.
  13. 'The Wars of David and the Peaceable Reign of Solomon … containing:
    1. An Alarm to the Holy Warriors to Fight the Battles of the Lamb.
    2. The Glory of Sharon in the Renovation of Nature, introducing the Kingdom of Christ,' with a preface containing autobiographical remarks, 1700.
  14. 'A Second and a Third Message to the Philadelphian Society.'
  15. 'A Living Funeral Testimony, or Death overcome and drowned in the Life of Christ.' 1702.
  16. 'The First Resurrection in Christ.' dictated shortly before her death, and published almost immediately in Amsterdam. She intended to call it 'The Royal Stamp' (see Lee's Letters in the Walton Library).

[Walton's Materials for Biog. of Law, printed privately, 1854 (with manuscript notes; the fullest are in the copy in the Walton Library, now preserved in Dr. Williams's Library); Lee's Letters and Last Hours, Walton MSS.; Jaeger's Hist. Eccles. ii. pt. ii. 90-117, Hamburg, 1717, gives the date of her birth wrongly; Trans, of the Phil. Soc. 1697; Rawlinson MS. D. 833; information from Canon Jenkins, and his art. in Brit. Quart. Rev. July 1873, pp. 181-7; Gichtel's Theosophia Practica, Leyden, 1722; Notes and Queries, 4th ser. vi. 529.]

C. F. S.