Archive for June, 2009

Rudy Rucker has onlined the intro to his edited collection of Hinton’s work here. After first encountering Hinton in Iain Sinclair’s White Chappell, Scarlet Tracings, this was the piece of writing that really got me hooked. It’s a real boon to have it online, so respect to the man like Rudy.

He’s linked to it as part of a post on Alicia Boole Stott, Hinton’s sister-in-law, and included a letter from Thomas Banchoff, who did some research into the Hinton family. Coming to Hinton some twenty years after Banchoff and being based in London I’ve been fortunate enough to be able to access a number of resources that give a clearer picture of the events surrounding his conviction for bigamy. I’ll dig out the newspaper clippings at some point, and scan these, but for now, the following is from a draft of some biographical background research I did that isn’t going to be in my thesis, but may be of interest. I tried to piece together exactly what happened chronologically and to bed it into the social context: i.e. who were the witnesses and documenters of the events and how did they know each other. I apologise for the patchy and incomplete referencing: this was just a draft and my research had headed off in different directions. If anyone who reads it has queries about any specific sources, please drop me a line and I’ll dig them out.

In addition to the below, it is worth clarifying that Mrs Nettleship was indeed Adaline, Howard’s sister. She was married to John Nettleship, brother of Richard Lewis Nettleship, a tutor at Balliol, Hinton’s Oxford College, and quondam headboy of Uppingham College. My guess would be that Richard recommended Howard for the Uppingham job, and that Howard introduced his sister to Richard’s brother, but it looks as if the Nettleship family and Hinton family were friends from the same non-conformist Oxford circles for a couple of generations.

Anyway, here’s the text:


In 1879 a young Henry Havelock Ellis returned to England from Australia with a burning interest in the ideas of English philosopher and aural surgeon, James Hinton. James Hinton’s writing, focused on domestic life, was outside of mainstream philosophical and cultural thought, and radical in its advocation of polygamous relationships, freer relations between the sexes, and the benefits of female nudity. For the progressive Ellis, here was a bold and outspoken thinker, and he wrote to Ellice Hopkins, the author of a biography of Hinton, stating as much.

James Hinton had been dead for four years by the time of Ellis’s arrival in England, but Hopkins forwarded the letter to Hinton’s widow, Margaret, nee Haddon. Mrs Hinton invited Ellis to dinner at her house in High Barnet on January 6th, 1880. Also present were Miss Caroline Haddon, Mrs Hinton’s sister, and Charles Howard Hinton, her son. Ellis made notes of the conversation that evening in his journal, later used by his wife Edith for her study of James Hinton, A Sketch, published shortly after Howard’s death in 1909.

Ellis’s interest in James Hinton, and particularly unpublished manuscripts mentioned by Hopkins in her book, was welcomed by the Hinton family and access to the work was granted. Both parties were keen that the work should be published, and Ellis’s energy and enthusiasm was clearly a godsend.  Several projects were proposed including a collaboration between Howard and Ellis.

Ellis became very close to the Hintons, as he spent a great deal of time staying in the family home working on the James Hinton manuscripts, or visiting Howard and his family in Uppingham. He later wrote in his autobiography:  ‘I was soon on friendly terms with the whole family, who took me into their inner circle and interested themselves in all my affairs. In later years Mrs Hinton told my future wife that in some respects I much resembled Hinton, adding, however, some remark to the effect that such resemblance was no recommendation as a husband.’[1]

In 1883 Ellis met the South African novelist Olive Schreiner, having corresponded with her following the publication of her book The Story of an African Farm. The relationship between the two blossomed rapidly and they corresponded frequently and profusely. This correspondence, held in archive at the Harry Ransom Humanities Research Centre at the University of Texas, and published in an invaluable scholarly edition by Yaffa Claire Draznin, includes much remarkable detail about Charles Howard Hinton and his private life.

Early in the relationship between Ellis and Schreiner questions were raised about the unconventional nature of the Hinton domestic environment, which was evidently a much gossipped-about subject. In September 1884 Olive had heard rumours about James Hinton putting into practice some of his more progressive theories, which she put to Ellis. He responded thus:

I don’t know anything about Hinton’s daughter Ada being undressed with her father and brother. I don’t quite know that I could ask. It is quite possible. The nakedness of women is a point he insists on a great deal. He puts it rather one-sidedly; he doesn’t say much about men going naked. Whether he took that for granted or whether he thought they weren’t worth seeing, or whether he considered that women were not so much in the need of the moral and aesthetic influence of nakedness, I don’t know.[2]

In December 1884 Ellis wrote to Schreiner referring, for the first time, to their shared knowledge of Charles Howard Hinton’s extra-marital affair with a woman known to them as Maude Weldon. Remarkably, this affair was known also to others in Howard’s immediate family: ‘Miss Haddon knows about Miss Weldon; says she doesn’t quite take Howard’s view, & feels, too, the difficulties for the children.’[3]

Over the course of 1885 both Ellis and Schreiner corresponded with Miss Weldon and visited her in Brighton. The emergent picture of the extra-marital relationship is one of instability, and an instability to which both Schreiner and Ellis were close witness. ‘Just got this from Brighton’, Ellis wrote to Schreiner on 20th January of that year, enclosing Maude’s letter to him. ‘It surprises me a little; I didn’t know she was religious like that. I’m not quite certain if ‘My King’ means Jesus or Howard. It’s a bit mixed.’[4]

In April Ellis actually visited Brighton with Hinton. His letter to Schreiner on this occasion, noting Howard’s intellectual concern with higher space, suggests that a strain was beginning to set in to the affair:

He came to me yesterday – plunged into a favourite question of his – “space-relations” – walking eagerly up & down. But I knew he had something more definite than that to talk about & by and bye he plunged into it with a good deal of confusion and hesitation. Olive, why is it people want to trust me so much & tell me things they don’t tell anyone else.[5]

By June this instability had evidently become a schism between Howard and his mistress, as Schreiner wrote to Ellis, drawing an analogy between their relationship and that of Howard and Maude: ‘Mrs Weldon gave the love to Hinton that you want, & now she talks of revenge.’[6]

At this point the Ellis-Schreiner correspondence becomes mute on the matter. Most likely the split between Howard and Maude had meant that their paths did not cross, and Schreiner, due to illness, spent much of 1886 living in two different nunneries. Discussion of the legacy left by James Hinton, however, flourished in different groupings.

In 1884 both Ellis and Schreiner had become members of the Men and Women’s Club, co-founded by the scientist Karl Pearson so that both men and women could meet to discuss freely the relations of the sexes. In early 1885 Pearson had invited Miss Haddon to speak about James Hinton’s philosophy, and the discussion of Hinton’s thinking within the club had prompted action on behalf of a number of its members who had, it emerged, violently different opinions of the man. The subsequent campaign against ‘Hintonianism’ revealed some uncomfortable truths.

Firstly Emma Brooke, on the posthumous publication of Hinton’s Serving Others, a pamphlet put out by Miss Haddon with Ellis’s assistance, wrote to both Ellis and Karl Pearson to describe how, as a young girl, she had found herself staying in the company of James Hinton for a weekend. Hinton had made a series of advances towards her, at one stage hoping to entice her away from company and attempting to encourage her to ‘serve his needs’. She had rebuffed him, but was appalled at the continued currency of his ideas, having witnessed at first-hand how he practically applied them. By the end of the year, numerous witnesses to similar behaviour had emerged. A letter from E.M. Walters to Olive Schreiner attested to the strength of feeling:

One acquaintance of mine used to have her hand kissed & worshipped by him when she went to him as a patient. “What a long hand!” with a fond gaze at it.

I often heard of this kind of ‘service’ to ‘other’s needs’, & his spiritual-wife theories, but I never knew anyone whom he had gone farther with than to seduction of the mind […]

How any woman, & especially his wife and sister-in-law can believe such a wretch, passes my understanding. You know I am not squeamish – you know I am not bound by any social proprieties – I always rebelled against the word ‘duty’ & I can admire love often when society would condemn it – but Hinton excites the intensest loathing in my mind. Far better to be a bold and boastful seducer than a sneak spinning webs of fine moral reasoning to catch his victims.

You know he was the son of a dissenting minister – that explains much.[7]

These rumours compounded the facts already public. At the time of James Hinton’s death, he had been living with his wife, Miss Haddon, a spinster called Agnes Jones, and Mary Boole, the widow of the mathematician George Boole, who had taken up a job as his secretary when the Committee of Education decided her no longer fit to run a boarding house for students at Queen’s College, London, and had terminated her lease. Of these he had shared physical relations with his wife, Miss Haddon and Mary Boole, while Agnes Jones had evidently been keen on the idea. To his circle he was known as ‘The Wizard’. Mrs Hinton had told Ellis that James had once remarked to her: ‘Christ was the saviour of Men but I am the saviour of Women and I don’t envy him a bit.’[8]

This unconventional domestic environment now took on a more sinister appearance, as anecdote and hearsay described James Hinton as a sexual predator. His philosophical writing was dismissed as the self-serving justification of a lecher. Miss Haddon was no longer invited to give papers but was forced to defend herself in a series of letters to Karl Pearson, Elisabeth Cobb and other members of the Men and Women’s Club. It was against this background that Howard’s bigamy came to light.

On 27th September Olive Schreiner left the nunnery in Harrow at which she had been living for the past three months and moved in with Mrs Hinton at 35 Acacia Road in St John’s Wood. By the 9th October she had moved to lodgings on Blandford Square. On 11th October she wrote to Pearson: “I had two trying visitors today (trying because one wishes to help but hasn’t the means) […] The other woman this afternoon is one whose son has seduced a woman & had two children by her; now his wife has found it out. Both she & the other woman are in such a wretched mental condition that one does not know which to pity the most […] This is one of the most painful cases I have seen. I will tell you about it some day [sic]. The poor old mother was walking up and down my bedroom crying and wringing her hands long after it was time for me to start, so I must with my head full of many things to the club.’[9]

We can roughly date the emergence of the truth of Howard’s affair and identify those who knew: Miss Haddon, Ellis and Schreiner, but not Mrs Hinton. And while we cannot know how Mary Hinton came to discover Howard’s infidelity, we can perhaps speculate as to what might have catalysed one of Howard’s confidants into telling her. In September 1886 Mary was four months pregnant with their fourth child.

Over the course of the next five days the situation unravelled. On 13th October Charles Howard Hinton presented himself to Edward Thring, the headmaster at Uppingham. ‘What a piteous and strange thing,’ Thring wrote in his diary. ‘Hinton came in with his wife and his sister (I understand) to say he had committed bigamy and that they had persuaded him to give himself up to justice.’[10]

The following day Charles and Mary reported to Bow Street police station. Charles confessed to the acting inspector that he had married a woman at the Registry Office in Bow Street in January 1883, having already been married to his wife, Mary Everest Boole, the daughter of his father’s quondam secretary, in April 1880, shortly before taking up his post as assistant science master at Uppingham.

Howard had evidently hoped to protect Maude. The Times recorded that ‘he had married another woman, whose name he did not remember.’ Mary reportedly ‘said she did not wish to prosecute, and prisoner had only given himself up as a matter of conscience as they did not wish to have a secret in the house.’[11] Charles was nevertheless remanded as the police sought Maude, whose maiden name they now knew as Florence, having recovered the certificate of their illegal marriage.

The following day the case was seen by a magistrate, Sir James Ingham. Charles was defended by Mr A.J. Ashton. Maude had been located and was called as a witness in court. It was confirmed that Howard had married her under the name of John Weldon, giving the occupation of electrical engineer, on 19th January 1883. Her testimony, as reported in The Chronicle, detailed events and for the first time, the truth of the affair, that there were children involved, became known to a broader public:

When she married him she knew he had been married before and that his other wife was then alive. She lived with him about a week after they were married in Argyll-square, King’s-cross [sic]. He went back to live with his former wife and witness went away. Since that time until very lately they had been intimate. She had twins eight months after she was married. It was to give a colour of legitimacy to any children who might be born that she married and not in any way to injure the prisoner’s wife. She first proposed that they should marry.

Asked if she thought she was doing wrong, Maude replied that she did not. She stated that she loved him. On being asked to sign her name to her deposition, the woman known to the Hinton circle as Maude Weldon asked: ‘What is my name?’

The story was reported widely, covered by all three major London papers on the 15th and 16th October and as far afield as Birmingham, Worcester and Liverpool over the succeeding week. Charles was released and the trial was set for the session beginning October 25th at The Old Bailey.

The scale of the trauma for all involved is apparent from the letters Olive Schreiner wrote during this period. On 16th October she wrote to Karl Pearson:

As I write Mrs Nettleship has come in to ask me to get Mrs Weldon to come and take a room near this till the trial, so that I can look after her. They are afraid she may run away or kill herself & then Howard will they think kill himself. He really loves this woman, he doesn’t care a stroke for his wife as compared to her […] You don’t know how terrible it was in the court yesterday. That poor woman would have been there utterly alone if I had not been there with her: all the others were together; she seemed such an outcast.[12]

On the same day she wrote more briefly to Ellis of the same matter: ‘Terrible day at the Old Baley [sic]. You know my brain has given way.’[13] Draznin reads some difficulty between Ellis and Schreiner during this time, evidenced by Ellis’s destruction of sections of his correspondence with Schreiner: ‘Considering that Ellis knew both parties extremely well and was, in fact, Howard Hinton’s confidant in this illicit love affair, the fact that all relevant letters are now gone suggests (as OS does) that his role was not a very admirable one, since he neither visited nor gave even written support.’[14]

Charles’s openness towards his friends regarding his affair with Maude was now beginning to emerge through other sources. On October 17th Edward Thring recorded in his diary: ‘A letter from Mrs Hinton to Mrs David. She knew nothing of her husband’s infidelity till about a week before she made him confess. Mrs Nettleship knew it from the beginning almost. This is fearful. Altogether it is the strangest tragedy I ever heard of.’[15]

The Hinton family closed ranks. Olive Schreiner wrote to Karl Pearson on Monday October 18th, 1886: ‘The Hinton affair gets worse and worse. They are now trying to prove that the children are not his but another man’s. Perhaps they are right. Life seems to have been to me like a grim face with a smile of despair on it since I came to town.’[16]

By the time of the trial, the last heard before the Recorder on 27th October, The Hintons had mobilised what resources they oculd in defence of Howard. The solicitor acting on behalf of Hinton, Mr Bexley, read out glowing letters of recommendation of Howard’s good character from Edward Thring and Benjamin Jowett, the Master of Balliol. Sir Thomas Chambers, presiding, noted that the details of the case were so painful that they should not be made public. Howard was found guilty and sentenced to three days in Pentonville jail, which he would not have to serve due to the time he had already spent in prison on remand since being arrested on 25th.[17]

Alerted by the newspaper reports and Schreiner’s letters to Pearson, the members of the Men and Women’s Club were  disappointed to discover the extent to which the trial had been ‘managed’, thanks to the auspices of Geoffrey Lewis, a friend of Hinton’s sister. Ralph Thicknesse, attending on their behalf, noted that Maclure, the solicitor for the prosecution, ‘was a school or college friend of the prisoner at Balliol or Cheltenham’.[18]

For those members of the club who had felt betrayed to discover the unpleasant truth about James Hinton, the fact that clear evidence of the danger of his teachings was to be suppressed was difficult to stomach. Elisabeth Cobb, particularly, struggled to conceal her feelings in her letters to Pearson, writing on November 2nd: ‘One hardly feels as if it was fair, it seems as if it would have been better if James Hinton’s name had come in, & people who think about him, had understood more. And yet one can hardly wish that more cruel pain would have fallen on those who perhaps are innocent.’[19]

According to Ellis’s biographer Phyllis Grosskurth, ‘subsequent events are very confusing. Howard Hinton tried unsuccessfully to find work lecturing on four-dimensional space, about which he seemed, like his father in his way, to be an obsessional.’[20] Elisabeth Cobb wrote to Pearson: ‘All the family […] have to join together to support this man & wife & all the children, in their utter material ruin. He is trying to get mathematical pupils.’[21]

Throughout all this, the absence of Howard Hinton’s own voice is noticeable. In a later letter Elisabeth Cobb wrote to Pearson that Miss Haddon was insisting that Howard was concerned that his crime should not be misinterpreted:

“Poor Howard was never for a moment misled into thinking he had been acting according to his father’s theories, & it is one of his bitterest thoughts now that he may have been the means of deferring the time when his father’s ethical doctrine should be accepted.” & again “he cannot believe that any readers of his father would make the mistake of in any way associating his errors with his father’s teaching.”

Miss Haddon’s protestation did little to convince Cobb or Pearson. Olive Schreiner, despite her friendship and loyalty, was also completely opposed to Hintonianism, describing it as a ‘terrible deadly theory’ and ‘a blight’.  A Hintonian rearguard action was always doomed to failure faced with such a damning crime. Howard’s conviction was the silver bullet for the anti-Hinton lobby, the final evidence that James Hinton’s philosophy was more dangerous than muddleheaded.

We are afforded a single account of Howard’s thoughts, contained in a letter to his publisher, William Swann Sonnenschein, one of only two that survive, written on 22nd February 1887 at 31 Acacia Road , nine days after the birth of his fourth son Sebastian and as he prepared to leave the country to work for a mission in Japan. So revealing of Howard’s thought processes and his philosophy is it that it bears citing here in full.

I think I may take the liberty of writing pretty freely with you as from the conversation I have had with you will I think understand my position. In the essays which you have already had of mine there lies not merely chance and occasional thoughts but the most serious ones which I have had and they form if I may say so the necessary train of reasoning by which a mind must pass from materialism to a different form of belief – if it proceeds in a purely scientific way not accepting any form of historical “revelation”.

What I have come to see is that in the mere facts of the material world there is an evident and clear proof of a higher existence than that which we are conscious of in our ordinary bodily life. And it is, I believe, in the prosecution of this line of thought that the access to science of those truths which are apprehended of the religious consciousness will be found. However much or little these may seem in the reflections of others, they have been of vital importance to me – and the effect has been thus far simply ruinous – for I found myself in a false position – and the first & absolute condition of any true life as I understand it now lies in absolute openness. I have had to give up everything and go through disgrace such as rarely falls to anyone’s lot – and have to put up with misconception on every side. But still although I have lost all outward things I have got on the right basis of life. In the book which you have got of mine lie the steps of my reasoning. And I cannot help believing that at the present time when there are so many who like myself base all their belief on the evidence of the senses and refuse to admit anything supernatural, the process of thought which has led me to see that in materialism itself and through it there is a truer and higher idealism than can be got by turning from matter, may be of interest and perhaps of use.

If therefore you are inclined to help me in this subject I should be glad to have the book brought out as soon as possible.

If you think the present juncture is unfavourable for publication I should be much obliged if you would return me the M.S.S.

Believe me

Sonnenschein’s reply was the most personal he would offer to his author in a professional correspondence that spanned a decade:

I fear I am too much of an ordinary-minded individual to fully enter into your thoughts. I consider your speculations, so far as I have examined them, of much interest; but it appears to me that their application to every-day practice is fraught with much risk of error, not to speak of so mean a thing as danger. I should want a greater confidence in the sureness of my own mental strength before I ventured on so hazardous a line of action as such [illegible] ever feel inclined to judge others by the standards of my own timidity: I can only wonder at others’ confidence in themselves, & sometimes enjoy it.

What of Maude Weldon and her children by Hinton?  Of all those who suffered from the scandal, Maude would surely have faced the most difficulty as the young mother of two illegitimate children. We know she remained in London immediately after the trial. On 29th October Olive Schreiner visited her and wrote to Karl Pearson: ‘I have just returned from the city (11 PM) where I have been to see Mrs Weldon who is lying alone & ill in a miserable little public house near the Old Bailey.’[22]

Thereafter, Schreiner makes no mention of Maude in her correspondence. Almost a week later, on the 2nd of November, Elisabeth Cobb wrote to Pearson that Olive was unwell but was seeing Mrs Weldon ‘constantly’: ‘I hardly know how but she [OS] has taken the guardianship of this unhappy Mrs Weldon on herself.’[23]

The correspondence between Ellis and Schreiner is incomplete for the period after the trial but a curious footnote is to be found in the papers of Ellis.

In 1935, having read of the award of an OBE to a Howard Hinton of Sydney, Australia, in the New Year’s honours list, Ellis made enquiries through friends in Australia and wrote to the man in question. No doubt his friends had reported that this Howard Hinton had grown up in London and moved to Australia as a child, for Ellis ventured: ‘I now address you in [illegible] that you may be my old friend’s son. If so I knew your mother about the time of your birth and was acquainted with all the circumstances.’[26]

The man was not and could not have been Howard Hinton’s son, having been born in 1867 to Thomas Hinton and Mary Howard. The fact that Ellis thought he might be, however, and his allusion to ‘the circumstances’ suggests very powerfully that Ellis suspected this man to be Hinton’s illegitimate son. Ellis, after all, knew the legitimate Hinton children and having stayed with them in Uppingham would certainly have known their names: George, Eric, William and Sebastian. He was in contact with Sebastian as late as 1913, four years after Charles Howard Hinton’s death, when Edith Ellis dined with him in Washington DC.

Phyllis Grosskurth has speculated that Ellis had acted as the midwife at the birth of Maude’s twins. Her evidence for this claim is, firstly, that Ellis specialised in midwifery and, secondly, that Elisabeth Cobb wrote the following line to Pearson referring to Olive Schreiner’s friendship with Maude: ‘She had been to see her, thro’ Mr Ellis who as a doctor attended her, some time ago before she even knew she (Mrs W) had anything to do with H.H.’[27]

In the same letter, Elisabeth Cobb also wrote to Karl Pearson: ‘OS is wondering if she can help Mrs W away to work at the Cape.’ Schreiner was wondering aloud about how to help Maude Weldon shortly before all mention of her disappeared from correspondence. Her letters to Ellis of this period were incompletely destroyed at her request and some fifty years later Ellis wrote to a stranger in Sydney, hinting at knowledge of the ‘circumstances’ surrounding his birth. My own speculation is that Schreiner did indeed act upon her instinct to help Maude Weldon and her twins to leave the country and that Ellis, friend to them both, was her sole confidant in the matter and subsequently destroyed all correspondence relating to it. Ellis certainly seemed to think it possible that he was writing in 1935 to Hinton’s illegitimate son in Australia.[28]

[1] Ellis, My Life, 142.

[2] Draznin, 116.

[3] Draznin, 276. For the purposes of brevity and clarity I shall hereafter refer to Charles Howard Hinton by the Christian name Howard, by which he was known to his family and friends.

[4] Draznin, 291.

[5] Draznin, 337.

[6] Draznin, 361. Draznin, who has seen the further correspondence of Schreiner archived at the HRHRC, notes that this remark ‘may also refer specifically to a promise Howard Hinton gave to Mrs Weldon to seek a divorce from his wife, which he has now reneged upon.’ I have been unable to locate any primary material referring to such a promise so cannot comment upon its veracity and can only assume it is mentioned elsewhere in Schreiner’s letters.

[7] EM Walters to Olive Schreiner, Pearson papers. There is an irony to this last line, in that Karl Pearson, perhaps the most morally indignant member of the Men and Women’s Club, was also from a family of dissenters.

[8] Havelock Ellis papers, British Library.

[9] Karl Pearson papers, UCL.

[10] Edward Thring diaries, Uppingham School. Only the first and last of Thring’s diaries survive, the remainder having been destroyed by Thring’s biographer Parkin. The final diary begins in October 1886, a trying time for the headmaster.

[11] The Times, October 15th 1886.

[12] Pearson papers, UCL.

[13] Draznin, 422.

[14] Draznin, 9.

[15] Thring diaries, Uppingham School.

[16] Pearson papers, UCL.

[17] In the same session of the Old Bailey, eight cases of bigamy were tried. Sentences ranged from three days to two years with hard labour. Hinton’s was the shortest sentence.

[18] Karl Pearson papers, UCL.

[19] Karl Pearson Papers, UCL.

[20] Phyllis Grosskurth, Havelock Ellis: A Biography, 102.

[21] Karl Pearson papers, UCL.

[22] Karl Pearson papers, UCL.

[23] Karl Pearson papers, UCL.

[24] Draznin, 9.

[25] Draznin, 423.

[26] Havelock Ellis papers, British Library.

[27] Karl Pearson papers, UCL.

[28] I note the difficulty in tracking Maude due to the ambiguity over her name after the trial. That Ellis might have assumed that an illegitimate son assumed the name of the father who abandoned him is reasonable in light of this.

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