Sections: General Index   Present Section: Index   Work Index   Previous: XXXIV – A Home to Die In   Next: XXXVI – Priest Versus Prophet



(p. 351)





THE invalid continued, though with many fluctuations, so palpably to decline with the year that on the very last day of it Dr. White declared her to be rapidly sinking, and unlikely to live beyond another week or two. Nevertheless on January 2 [1888] she made so good a rally that both he and Sir Andrew Clark, who had been called in for the second time, said that they saw no reason why she should not yet recover a fair share of health and live for some years, especially if she would consent to follow the diet prescribed by them – beef and burgundy. Such an abandonment of her principles was out of the question, even if she had believed in its efficacy; and though admitting the momentary improvement, – she did not share their sanguine prognosis, be her diet what it might. For she knew too well what the accidents of her malady portended. These were the exhaustion, the inability to discharge the secretions of the lungs, the dropsical swellings, and the sleeplessness caused by the agony of the bed-sores, especially those at the base of the spine, which rendered sitting up and lying down alike intolerable, and to relieve which no device availed. Frantic with pain and want of sleep, the old impulses to suicide reasserted themselves, and it became necessary to consent to her demand for morphine if only to avoid being reproached with cruelty for depriving her of such relief as it might afford.

The second week of the year was one of unprecedented fog, smoke, and darkness, which tried her severely, greatly aggravating the cough and necessitating an increased use of morphine.

This week – January 9 – she for the first time recognised the necessity for a professed nurse, and consented to have one, overcoming her repugnance to have a strange woman about her; and then it was rather for our sakes than for her own, and chiefly for

(p. 352)

mine. For she perceived the effect which the long-continued toil and anxiety were having on me, and feared that, near as her own end appeared to be, symptoms were present to show that mine might be yet nearer; so seriously had the hearts action become impaired with those fifteen months of incessant nursing and anxiety. I had kept the matter to myself, hoping though almost against hope that I should be permitted to tend her to the last, and then be enabled to recover for the work’s sake. For I knew myself necessary to that; and I was, moreover, confident that our collaboration would not cease with her life. Her discovery of the state of things with me was made in this way. I had moved her, in the wheel-chair which I had procured for her, into the drawing-room, and was sitting by her, when she suddenly put her hand on my pulse and exclaimed, “Ill as I am, you are in danger of dying before me. I never knew such a pulse. I guessed it from the movement of your foot as you were sitting cross-legged. This long spell of nursing me is killing you. I must spare you by having a professional nurse. Nothing else would induce me to do so.”

A nurse was procured, but only to be dismissed before a week had passed, being not only incompetent, but indolent, unwilling, and even insolent to her charge. Meanwhile the emergency had become intensified, and it was necessary to obtain another without delay. A. was absent at his parish work, and at her suggestion I wrote to her friend Mrs. M., a Catholic lady living hard by, asking if she could recommend a properly qualified nursing-sister. She replied by promptly sending a regular nun, one of a society of ladies who had thus devoted themselves, receiving no personal remuneration, but only gifts for their order. This one was Irish, who had been brought up in France, and had taken refuge in England on the expulsion of the religious orders by the republican government. She was lady-like, gentle, and pleasant of speech and manner, and of aspect altogether prepossessing. Being entirely unprejudiced against her on the score of her vocation, I welcomed her cordially, fully believing that she was animated by pure love of God and humanity. It was agreed that she should begin with taking charge by night, getting her sleep in the afternoon and evening, while I, and A. when with us, should take charge by day. To my immense relief her patient took to her at once, being won, as I had been, by her voice and appearance.

(p. 353)

The day of her coming was Monday, and by the following evening we concluded that we had found a treasure in her. There was, however, one item in her programme, required of her, she said, by her “rules,” which was, that she should leave her patient every morning, while it was yet dark, for an hour or more, to attend early mass at the Pro-Cathedral.

She had done this on the Wednesday morning, and had returned to the sick-room; and shortly afterwards there was a ring at the bell of the outer door, which I answered, to find myself confronted by a priest who gave the name of Monsignor Moore, and said, in what struck me as an offensively peremptory tone, that he had come to administer the sacrament to a sick Catholic lady who lived there. To this I replied that I thought there must be some mistake, because I was in the full confidence of the lady in question, and I had heard of nothing of the kind, and I was quite sure she would not keep such an intention from me. He persisted, however, saying he had been expressly summoned by the nursing-sister after mass that morning, and that he was quite prepared to find his visit objected to, as he understood the rest of the household were Protestants; but he was also prepared to insist on doing his duty in spite of all opposition. To this I replied that he was entirely misinformed respecting the situation, as there was no one in the house who had the smallest objection to the invalid seeing him if she really desired to do so, and if he would step into the parlour I would at once ascertain whether such was the fact.

The sister was in the sick-room when I entered it, and I observed on her face a very wistful look, showing that she knew the priest had come, and that she was anxious as to my course in the matter. As will at once be understood, my feelings were anything but pleasant at finding that on the very second night of her service she had come between Mary and myself, inducing her for the first time in all the fourteen years of our association to withhold her confidence from me, and this in respect of a matter of so great importance.

I repressed my feeling, however, to the best of my ability, not wishing to betray it to the sister; and as she remained in the room and I wanted to speak privately with Mary, I said what I had to say in an undertone. This was to the effect that I was so much surprised at the priest coming without her telling me of her

(p. 354)

wish to see him, that I could only suppose he had been summoned by the sister without her consent. Was it so or not? She knew perfectly well that I had no feeling in the matter one way or the other, and had more than once offered to go and fetch a priest myself if she wanted one, so that there was no reason for her to fear opposition on my part. All I desired to know was, whether it was really by her own wish that he had come, because I only wanted her to be free, and not to be persuaded against her will.

To this she replied, firmly and positively, that neither was the priest sent for by her wish, nor was it kept from me by her wish; it was all the sister’s doing. She had worried her all night about seeing a priest until she got too much exhausted to continue to refuse, and the sister had promised that if only she would see a priest this once, she should not be troubled any more. And the reason why I had not been told was because the sister insisted that it might prevent trouble in case I objected, as I was sure to do, being a Protestant; and, besides, it would be a pity to disturb me so early by rousing me before she went to mass, as it was then that she must see the priest.

To this I replied that there was no need for her to think more of the matter. I would tell the priest that he had not been sent for by her wish, and apologise for the mistake; and then we would dismiss the sister for violating her duty by tormenting her patient about her soul when she had been engaged only to minister to her body, and I would do at once what I should have done before had time allowed – telegraph to Dr. White to send forthwith a suitable nurse.

Had we been alone, I had no doubt that she would gladly have assented to all these propositions; but, as it was, the sister was not only present, but was watching her fixedly from the opposite side of the room, with an expression the meaning of which I failed at the time to divine, but which later became clear to me. Its influence upon M. was obvious, and I noticed on her face an expression which I had never seen there before, but which suggested the idea of her being under the influence of a will other than her own. In all our intercourse I had never sought to influence her other than through the reason, but what I saw now led me to believe that she was being dominated by a power she was unable to withstand, and of which she was in fear; for she said, in a tone and with a manner indicative of some vague apprehension,

(p. 355)

that she was afraid it would be very rude to send the priest away after he had taken the trouble to come, and the sister had promised not to worry her any more if she consented to see him, and she did not feel equal then to another change of nurses. Let her but get a little stronger, and then she would have someone else; but now she would do only what would cause the least trouble and worry. And then, referring to the proposed ceremonial, she said, with a faint smile on her wan face, “It can’t hurt me, you know, half so much as this worry does. Of course I do not take it in the sense in which they understand it. I know too much for that. And, besides, I have never had it, and am curious to know what it is like; and I am fond of new experiences.”

Long as it appears when written, our conversation occupied but a few minutes, and at the end of it I felt that I had no choice but to admit the priest. She told me afterwards all that had passed in a manner which showed her complete exemption from the orthodox and superstitious view of the rite, and so the matter passed. But further experience of the sister made us both regret that we had not replaced her as I had proposed, so distressing were her limitations; for she was prohibited by her “rules” from doing for her patient the smallest service which was not of direct need for her as an invalid, such as keeping her wardrobe and linen. Nor might she read, either to herself or to others, any but books of devotion and lives of the saints, or even speak of secular things. She was obliged, moreover, to read and pray continually in the sick-room, aloud for the benefit of the patient if awake, and if asleep, silently for her own benefit, and this throughout the night. Though wholly uninformed and avowing her total lack of understanding, she was absolutely positive of the truth of her faith in the sense in which she held it, and supposed that all mankind are either Catholics or Protestants, having never heard of any other denominations, and that the Protestants are mere fools and idiots for rejecting what she believed in. In short, her ignorance, superstition, and credulity were without bounds, and Mary very soon became weary of her incessant reiteration of beliefs and formulas which to her were simply puerile.

My Diary at this time contains the following entry: –


January 30 [1888]. – After waking from a doze this evening, M. told me that she had just held some snatches of conversation with one of her illuminators, and believed there was an intention to impart to

(p. 356)

her an important instruction. The utterances which alone she had been able to seize and retain all referred to her illness, and were a continuation of some which had been given her several weeks previously, telling her that she had substantialised in her system a small portion of what was called the “philosopher’s stone,” in virtue of which she could not actually die of any illness; but the portion was so small that she could not recover from the present illness; for which reason she would live on long in suffering, and when she quitted her body it would be rather by a voluntary withdrawal than by compulsion of disease.

She tells me, moreover, that she had a visit from an old and very dear friend of mine, who had also become a great friend of hers, but had died in the autumn of 1886. [This was the Mary Margaret Woolley already referred to under that date as having announced her death to me in Paris, she having just died in Australia.] She had now come to Mary and told her that her death was near, and endeavoured to reconcile her to it by explaining that it would be the best thing both for ourselves and for our work, as she would be able to continue her collaboration with me after her death, unhindered by her present limitations of health; whereas, if she lived, her sickness and suffering would be such as to prevent any work being done by either of us. She also assured her that she should be present to receive her on the other side when she passed over.


The “philosopher’s stone,” it had been explained to us, signifies the pure spirit and soul-substance of which the regenerated selfhood – the “Christ within” – consists, and of which, therefore, the two eucharistic elements, the wine and bread, otherwise called the blood and the water, are symbols. So that when Jesus, speaking as typical man regenerate, says, “This is My body and blood,” He means that those elements represent the constituent principles of the new interior substantial selfhood which is divinely generated within man’s material body of his own soul and spirit, and is identical in nature with them. It was to this wholly reasonable explanation that Mary referred when she said that she knew too much to accept the sacrament in the sense understood by the priest.

From my Diary of February 16 [1888]: –


Notwithstanding her promise to leave her patient unmolested if she would see the priest once, the sister has now worried her into a consent to receive a second visit from him, and he has taken the opportunity to assail her about her writings – which, however, he admits that he has not read – and has tried hard to get her to acknowledge that she has written against the interests of the Church. She, however, she assures me, steadfastly maintained that she had not done so, but had, on the contrary, written in the highest interests of the Church. Upon which he gave in so far as to say that, though

(p. 357)

she might have written hostilely to the Church, unwittingly, he believed her conscience was clear in the matter, and he would therefore give her full absolution and the Papal benediction, which will invest her with all the last offices of the Church, and leave nothing more to be done, die when she may.

February 18 [1888]. – It appears that the sister had come upon a copy of The Perfect Way, and seeing Mary’s name as one of the writers, had told the priest of it. The sister has really become an intolerable nuisance, and Mary has more than once complained to me with tears in her eyes that she is so worried and wearied by her that she must have another nurse the moment she can bear the change. She tells me that last night the sister again recurred to The Perfect Way, telling her that she would get into serious trouble if she did not submit to the Church in the matter; and on Mary cutting her short, and refusing to do anything of the kind, or to listen to her on the subject, she became sulky, and made no attempt to help her to move when she wanted to change her position on account of the pain, and refused for some time to bring her some fruit when asked to do so, and then brought her but a very small quantity, and refused to bring more. Her demeanour, Mary says, was like that of a person angry at being baffled in a cherished purpose. The sister clearly considers herself as but an instrument of the priests, to be used in the interests of their order; in which case she is here as a nurse only under false pretences.

Mary tells me also that owing to the excitement of the altercation with the sister she must have carried on the conversation afterwards in her sleep, for she was awakened by the sister asking her what she meant by saying that. “Saying what?” “That I do not know my own religion.” “I must have said it in my sleep, then,” replied Mary, “for I am not aware of having said it, and you woke me by speaking to me.”


Much as she suffered through this course of experience, she declared to me that it was most valuable to her, and she would not have missed it on any account. For she had before no conception of the awful results of the conventual system in crushing the minds and darkening the souls of its victims, and if allowed to recover – which she now more than ever desired for the purpose – she would make the exposure of it a leading part of her work. Such systematic suppression of the faculties divinely given us in order to be unfolded, and such refusal of the experiences calculated to unfold them, was nothing short of rank blasphemy against both God and man. No wonder the priesthood condemns and turns away from all that is Hermetic. It knows that, as the Spirit of Understanding, Hermes and their system cannot exist together. “Why, only think,” she exclaimed in conclusion of her denunciation, “the sister actually believes that the pearls and precious stones promised to the saints hereafter, as a reward

(p. 358)

for their self-sacrifices here, are actually material jewels! And when I told her they were symbols of spiritual gifts and graces, she would not hear of such a thing.”

Indeed, one of the sister’s most marked characteristics was her imperviousness to any suggestion that might serve to enlarge or enlighten her mind. The moment a remark was made to her that failed to tally with the ideas imposed on her, she would set her face as a flint in such a manner as to suggest that, by dint of tremendous self-discipline, she had acquired the power of closing her ears with the same readiness as her eyes. And this, it appeared, was one of the “rules” of her order. Not only might she not read any but the books prescribed; she might not hear any but the beliefs prescribed.

Again and again, when the hour approached for the sister to relieve me in the sick-room, the poor sufferer fervently expressed the wish that I could remain with her instead, so distressing to her was the manner in which the sister talked when she did talk, or watched her when silent, as if endeavouring to obtain control over her by the power of her will. Eager to relieve her of what I saw was a growing bondage, my reply on such occasions was, that I would gladly stay by her – I had long since learned to rest as well in a chair as in a bed – but it meant the sister’s dismissal next morning, and the engagement of a fresh nurse. And from this she shrank, her only expressed reason being her aversion to having another strange woman about her, and to have to break her in to her ways. But – as I later became fully convinced – the real reason was her inability to shake off the spell – magnetic or hypnotic – which the priest and the sister had cast on her. And it was this that she meant when she remarked to me, “When I get better, you and A. will have to take me far away and hide me where they cannot find me. For, now that they have got hold of me, they will never let me go so long as they know where I am.”

Not thinking the end so near, A. had returned to his duties some days before it came. She had then, of her own accord, renounced her intention of being cremated, her sole reason being to spare A. the difficulty and possible annoyance which her persistence might cause him. He had readily consented to her wishes, and had received her instructions respecting the spot in which she wished to be laid. This was a spot in Atcham Churchyard, on the edge

(p. 359)

of the Severn’s bank, above the reach of floods, in view of the vicarage windows, and where we had been wont to stroll, gathering herbs for her pets, or watching the sunset gleaming on the river. It was through her own extraordinary love of circumstantial detail that the design to be cremated was abandoned. It had been settled that the burning at Woking was to be kept secret, and followed by a regular funeral in the ordinary style at Atcham, to avoid offending the prejudices of the rustic population of his parish, who would inevitably visit their disapprobation on A. “But,” she exclaimed, “the bearers will know by the lightness of the coffin that my body is not in it!” The reply that the undertaker would be instructed to put in something to compensate for the deficiency failed to satisfy her; and she forthwith abandoned her intention of being cremated at all, her sense of the ridiculous serving to reinforce her reluctance to expose A. to the liabilities in question. “I see now,” she remarked, “cremation is the best plan in itself, and for the generality; but it is not best for me, placed as I am in regard to others, and it would be selfish in me to persist.” She further assured me that one of her fears of burial arose from the possibility of her being taken for dead when only in a trance; to avoid the risk of which we were to make very certain that she was really dead, and if there was any room for doubt, to have a post-mortem examination made. The sister had been worrying her, she added, to go through a grand service in the Pro-Cathedral, and be buried with Catholic rites in the Catholic cemetery, and would not take no for an answer, so she had left off saying no, and taken refuge in silence. The sister could not understand her caring more to be buried at her own home among her own relations, Protestants as they were, than in the bosom of the Church.

As is characteristic of consumption, the approach of the end was marked by increased hopefulness on the part of the sufferer, leading her to fancy she was actually mending, and might yet recover, even though at death’s door.

At times she would forget her pains, and be even blithe and cheerful, especially when the sister had retired to rest and she found herself alone with me and able to converse unrestrainedly; and she took delight in being wheeled by me into the parlour to sit by me at my meals, when she would recount to me all that had passed between her and the sister, their conversations, and

(p. 360)

the things she had read in the sister’s books of devotion; and how clear to herself was the spiritual intention of things to which the Church persisted in giving meanings grossly material and idolatrous; and how the sister was perpetually saying prayers to the saints, especially St. Bridget and St. Joseph, and to no one else, until she had felt tempted to tell her that she seemed to believe in everyone except God. “And only think!” she exclaimed, “the sister is so ignorant as to suppose that reincarnation is an article of the Protestant faith! For after you had said to her that monks and nuns would have to come back again to the earth to learn the lessons they have shirked by withdrawing from the world, she said to me that the Protestants are such fools that they actually believe people live more than once!”

And then she would descant on the work she would do in abolition of all the wicked falsehoods which had brought the world into its present terrible plight, until, as may readily be understood, I found her cheerfulness and hopefulness more saddening even than her opposite moods, knowing as I did their deceptiveness and what they portended.

Meanwhile she received from time to time illuminations which she described rapturously as being most glorious, confirming and amplifying all that we had been taught, and disclosing vista after vista of the divinest truth and beauty beyond. “But,” she would add tearfully, “I am too weak now to retain the particulars so as to tell you, or to write them down.” Among the precious things thus lost to the world were some additional stanzas in continuation of the poem last cited – that commencing,


“Sweet lengths of shore with sea between” –


which she declared to be no less exquisite than those already received.


Nevertheless she was able, partly by the light of these illuminations, to give me some suggestions for adoption in The Perfect Way when the time should come for issuing a new edition. Some of them bore reference to certain things she had read in the devotional books shown her by the sister, and these suggestions she gave me, contrary to her usual practice, in the sister’s presence and hearing, and with evident reference to her, as if designed to produce on her some impression apart from that founded on

(p. 361)

their intrinsic nature and bearing. This, I found, was the impression that she wanted a change of some kind to be made in the book of which she wished the sister to be aware. As the immediate consequence of this action was a complete cessation of the sister’s attempts to persuade her to recant her faith and repudiate her share in The Perfect Way, there was an obvious motive for the stratagem, and one which justified it as a means of escape from a persecution as cruel as it was unwarrantable, though it was one which she would assuredly not have employed had she foreseen the purpose to which it would be turned after her death, and on account of which I have thus minutely recorded these particulars.

Monday, February 20 [1888], was the last day on which she was able to quit her room and sit beside me at my dinner. A. was still absent. On the following [Tuesday] afternoon, towards six o’clock, the difficulty of breathing became so great that she was compelled to exchange her bed for the large easy-chair which stood beside it; and, being unable to sit back, she rested her head on a pillow placed on a small table before her, and never again left her seat. The trouble arose from her inability to free the chest from the accumulated secretions, owing to the loss of power caused by the morphine taken to allay the cough. She was very quiescent, but fully conscious, and really suffered less than she appeared to do, through the deadening effect of the drug. Tiring of this position in the course of the night, she signed to me to come close and let her rest her head on my shoulder, for which purpose I took up a kneeling position by her on a cushion, which I maintained unchanged for several hours, which were passed in silence. Towards dawn she desired me to telegraph for A. to come by first train from Shrewsbury, which would bring him early in the afternoon at soonest. Later, she desired the doctor to be summoned. He arrived about ten, when she asked him to administer a subcutaneous injection of morphine, on the plea that it would enable her to cough up the secretions. Considering the amount she had taken internally over night, he suggested an alternative treatment of an innocuous character, to which she assented, but declined it when about to be applied. Not apprehending an early termination, the doctor took his leave, promising to return early in the afternoon. She then resumed her previous position, resting her head on my shoulder and clasping

(p. 362)

one of my hands as I knelt beside her, the hour being about eleven. Meanwhile the sister, having first asked my permission, recited some prayers, kneeling behind me. No word was spoken by Mary, nor any heed given to the images and pictures with which the sister had surrounded her. She was fully conscious, but her thoughts were inward, and nothing external affected her. I felt, however, that I knew her thoughts. As I read them, she was making up her mind to withdraw from her body as no longer of any possible use, but a hindrance only and a cause of distress to herself and others. Having patiently endured all that she was called on to endure, she was now free to depart. Such was my reading of her thoughts at this time; and we had been accustomed to read each other’s thoughts in a manner that often startled us.

The first token of her actual departure was the sudden coldness of her hands. Then drops of sweat appeared on the brow and neck, which, on touching, I found to be cold and clammy. She then raised her head from my shoulder, and for the first time in those eighteen hours leant back against the pillows behind her. On this I rose from my kneeling posture and stood over her, steadying her head with both hands. In another moment she silently and painlessly, and to all appearance consciously and voluntarily, exhaled out her life in one long breath, her face and eyes at once losing all signs of animation. The withdrawal at that moment was distinct, certain, and complete.

After having, with the sister’s aid, lifted the body on to the bed, I withdrew, to allow the necessary offices to be performed, and await the coming of A. He had lost no time, but nevertheless failed to arrive until some two hours after she had died. He likewise observed the completeness of the withdrawal, as also did those of our friends who saw her and were possessed of psychological knowledge. They one and all agreed in regarding her appearance after death as a proof of the high development of the psychic and spiritual principles of her system, since not otherwise could she have effected her withdrawal so rapidly and completely. From the first moment it was impossible to conceive of her as being in a trance, as she had feared.


“February 22 [1888], Evg.

“DEAR MRS. JAMES, – Our long hopes and fears have come at last to a sudden end. After an all-night struggle for breath Mrs.

(p. 363)

Kingsford passed away in perfect ease at noon today, surprising even the doctor who had seen her an hour before and discerned no immediate danger. (...) One of her latest utterances was that she could carry on the work better from the other side, where she would be free of her physical limitations. That, and that only, would be any consolation and compensation. May it be indeed so. – Always yours sincerely,




“February 25, 1888.

“DEAR OUSELEY, – I seize the first moment possible to tell you of our sad loss. Mrs. Kingsford died on Wednesday at noon after an eighteen hours’ struggle for breath, sitting in her chair and supported by me – her husband failing to arrive in time – but at the end in perfect ease. A vast relief for her this escape from a world which shocked her at every turn, and an organism which from infancy had been a torture-chamber to her, so constant and severe were her sufferings through its inherited characteristics. To the last I had some hope, knowing her marvellous vitality, and could only fitting conditions of climate have been found she would – I felt – have recovered. But in her state of weakness and emaciation removal was out of the question. Only in her own home could she have got the necessary nursing and other comforts. However, it was not to be, or it would have been. And now, my only consolation is in the consciousness of having spared myself in nothing to secure her welfare, and indulging the hope that she may be enabled to return in spirit and continue to co-operate with me in the work. She promised to do so if possible, – the doubt lay in the probability that she would require too long a rest ere again fit for activity. – Always yours sincerely,



The burial took place [on the following Wednesday] at Atcham, in accordance with her expressed wishes, and was attended by several of her brothers and a large assemblage from the country-side. Snow fell during the ceremonial. Many wreaths, both from individuals and from societies, testified to the estimation in which she was held. The societies thus represented were those devoted to the causes for which chiefly she had worked herself to death. In due time a memorial was erected over her grave, with the inscription, “In loving memory of Annie Kingsford, M.D., who died February 22nd, 1888.”



Sections: General Index   Present Section: Index   Work Index   Previous: XXXIV – A Home to Die In   Next: XXXVI – Priest Versus Prophet