Maitland, Edward (1824-1897) (DNB01)
MAITLAND, EDWARD (1824–1897), mystical writer, born at Ipswich on 27 Oct. 1824, was the son of Charles David Maitland, perpetual curate of St. James's Chapel, Brighton; he was the nephew of General Sir Peregrine Maitland [q. v.], and brother of Brownlow Maitland and of Charles Maitland (1815–1866) [q. v.] His father was a noted preacher, and Edward Maitland was brought up among strict evangelical ideas, and rigorous theories about original sin and atonement. After education at a large private school in Brighton, he was admitted as a pensioner at Caius College, Cambridge, on 19 April 1843, and graduated B.A. in 1847. He was destined by his family for the pulpit, but was diverted from taking orders by doubts as to faith and vocation, and by the feeling that the church was rather 'a tomb for the preservation of embalmed doctrines' than a living organism. In his perplexity he got leave of absence from his home for a year, and left England. He went in 1849 to California, became one of the band of 'forty-niners,' and remained abroad, on the shores of the Pacific, mainly in America and Australia, where he became a commissioner of crown lands, until the one year of absence had grown into nine. He married in Australia, but was left a widower with one son after a year of wedlock.
Returning to England at the; end of 1857 he devoted himself to literature, with the dominant aim of 'so developing the intuitional faculty as to find the solution of all problems having their basis in man's spiritual nature, with a view to the formulation of a perfect system of thought and rule of life.' Many of the vicissitudes of his life, both physical and mental, were recorded with but little distortion in his romance called 'The Pilgrim and the Shrine. From the Life and Correspondence of Herbert Ainslie, B.A. Cantab.,' which was published in 1867, and warmly acclaimed by thoughtful critics. It was followed by a romance called 'The Higher Law' (1869), which represents the escape of a youth from the trammels, no longer of orthodox religion, but of traditional morals. Maitland became a figure in society, and was appreciated highly by Lord Houghton and Sir Francis Hastings Doyle. He began to write in the 'Spectator' and 'Examiner,' and did some reviewing for the 'Athenæum' from 1870 onwards. His book 'By and By: an Historical Romance of the Future' (1873) led to his making the acquaintance of Anna Kingsford [q. v.], whom he visited at her husband's vicarage of Atcham, in Shropshire, in February 1874. In conjunction with her he produced anonymously, in 1875, 'The Keys of the Creeds.' At the close of 1874 his mother died at Brighton, and Maitland accompanied Mrs. Kingsford to Paris. He joined her crusade against materialism, animal food, and vivisection, upon which subject he wrote a forcible letter in the 'Examiner' (June 1876), which attracted the most widespread attention to the subject. In this same year he first saw the apparition of his father, who had then been ten years dead, and he soon afterwards recognised that he 'belonged to the order of the mystics.'
In 1876 Maitland informs us that he acquired a new sense, that of 'a spiritual sensitiveness,' by means of which he opened relations with the church invisible of the spiritual world. He was able to see the spiritual condition of people. In a state of mind which must have approximated to that of William Blake, he tells us that he saw upon one occasion the soul of a tree. He could also, he asseverated, recall the memory of some of his past lives. He was told through a sensitive that these had been many, that he had lived in trees and animals, and that he had been a prince. He 'remembered' a life lived in ancient Thebes; he believed that he had been Marcus Aurelius and St. John the Evangelist (hence the mention of boiling oil was inexpressibly painful to him). St. John, he believed, was a reincarnation of the prophet Daniel.
In 1881, before a highly fashionable audience, he gave a series of lectures upon his new or, as he affirmed, revived esoteric creed; these lectures formed the groundwork of his 'revelation,' in which Anna Kingsford collaborated, 'The Perfect Way; or, the Finding of Christ,' 1882 (revised 1887 and 1890). By publishing this in his own name he admits that he cut himself off from his old friendships and all his literary and social ambitions. A striking parallel is afforded by the later life of Laurence Oliphant [q. v.], with whom Maitland had a good deal in common, though he was constrained to express dissent from the spiritualistic theories embodied in 'Sympneumata.'
Maitland joined the Theosophical Society about 1883, but the vagaries of Madame Blavatsky soon compelled him to secede from the 'London Lodge,' and in May 1884, in collaboration with Mrs. Kingsford, he founded the Hermetic Society, of mystic rather than occult character, claiming no abnormal powers, and 'depending for guidance upon no Mahatmas.' In 1885, with some help from 'Anna,' he rendered into English the 'Minerva Mundi' and other hermetic writings of Hermes Trismegistus. In 1886 he and Mrs. Kingsford visited Madame Blavatsky at Ostend, but refused to be inveigled back into the theosophical fold. After the death of Anna Kingsford, in February 1888, Maitland lived alone at 1 Thurloe Square Studios, London, where he professed to receive continual 'illumination' from his former collaborator. Henceforth he devoted his main energies to an elaborate record of their singular partnership and co-operation, though he still found time to do a certain amount of journalistic work, and in November 1891, in response to astral intimations, he founded the Esoteric Christian Union. His later works were 'Clothed with the Sun, being the Book of the Illuminations of Anna (Bonus) Kingsford,' 1889; 'The New Gospel of Interpretation,' 1892; and 'Anna Kingsford. Her Life, Letters, Diary, and Work. By her Collaborator . . . with a Supplement of Post-mortem Communications,' 2 vols. 1896. After the conclusion of this last, which he regarded as his magnum opus, Maitland's physical and mental decline was remarkably rapid. In 1896 he went to reside with Colonel Currie at The Warders, Tonbridge, and he lost the power of speech some months before his death, on 2 Oct. 1897. He was buried in Tonbridge cemetery on 5 Oct. By his wife Esther, who died in Australia, he left a son, a surgeon-major in the Bombay medical service.
Physically, Maitland was a giant, and his moral and intellectual gifts were of a very high order. A pure and flexible prose style lends a charm to all his writings, of which it is sad to reflect that so little will survive. The motto of his later life was 'An honest god's the noblest work of man,' and in his strenuous endeavours to construct an honest deity (with some aid from the Bible, the sacred books of the East and Hermes Trismegistus, and also from Emerson, Carlyle, Tucker's 'Light of Nature,' Elephas Levi, and Anna Kingsford, but mainly out of his own inner consciousness), he gradually became to all appearance completely distraught.
Good portraits of Maitland are reproduced in 'Light,' 'Borderland,' and the 'Life of Anna Kingsford.' He had a large domed head, with a somewhat massive cast of features, his face suggesting at the same time intellectuality and will-power.
[Most of Maitland's works are replete with autobiographical detail, more particularly 'The Pilgrim and the Shrine' and 'Anna Kingsford,' which is an autobiography as much as it is a Life.' See also Venn's Biogr. History of Caius College, ii. 261; Graduati Cantabr.; Academy, 16 Oct. 1897; Athenæum, 16 Oct. 1897; Light, 16 Oct. 1897 (portrait); Borderland, ii. 383 (portrait).]