Posts Tagged ‘Charles Carleton Massey’

Marc Demarest, who maintains the excellent Emma Hardinge Britten archive, a shining example of open-source web scholarship, has been in touch with a couple of corrections regarding the CCM post below. With apologies for sloppiness, here’s Marc’s message:

Thanks for the post. Too few people looking into CCM’s life.

Couple of things:

– William Stainton Moses was the co-editor of *LIght* (to which periodical CCM was perhaps the most regular contributor in the 1880s), not *The Medium and Daybreak* (as your post says). James Burns was the editor of the M&D, and the M&D stands, in relation to Light, like the New York Post to the New York Times 🙂

– WSM was not a founder of the TS. I’m not sure he was ever even a read-in member of the TS. He and Henry Steel Olcott were correspondents, and Blavatsky woo’d him for the TS, but (like Emma Hardinge Britten and CCM) he eventually turned against the TS in public.

– CCM didn’t just defend Slade; perhaps more importantly, in the broader sweep of things, he defended Penny, the astrologer, when he was brought up on the charge of violating English laws against fortune-telling. That case was the opening salvo in a battle that went on until Helen Duncan’s trial under the same act in the mid-1940s (if memory serves). CCM also acted for several other spiritualists and occultists in different matters.

I’m grateful for the pointers – they’re all spot-on. It’s never less than productive to make contact with other researchers in the field and a great advantage to have engaged readers. I can also heartily recommend Marc’s Chasing Down Emma blog, where he posts updates on his ongoing research. This recent post expands the picture of Massey’s legal activities defending spiritualists and occultists by reproducing a report on his defence of the astrologer Richard Henry Penny.

Keep an eye out for more updates on CCM.


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I’m reading Roger Luckhurst’s book The Mummy’s Curse and have reached a section on the Ghost Club, of which I was unaware until today. On this particular day, celebrated by the Ghost Club as the day in the calendar on which the skein between this world and the next was at its very thinnest, it seems particularly apt to recommend this reading matter. Luckhurst writes:

In 1882, the same year that the SPR was founded, a dining club was established by the spiritualist writer and medium the Reverend William Stainton Moses and the occultist Alfred Alaric Watts. It was called the Ghost Club (not to be confused with the better-known Cambridge Ghost Club that had been formed in 1862). It was started, as a brief history of the Club outlines, ‘expressly so that persons who might object to any general publication of their experiences might be encouraged to relate them at Ghost Club in the strictest confidence. [As Luckhurst later quips, ‘The first rule of Ghost Club is that you don’t talk about Ghost Club.’ MB] It was also decidedly a club not a society: ‘We propose rigidly to confine ourselves to clubbable men.’ (The Mummy’s Curse, 46)

That last line was Moses writing to the gentleman below, Charles Carleton Massey.

Charles Carleton Massey by Eveleen Myers (née Tennant)

Charles Carleton Massey by Eveleen Myers (née Tennant)
platinum print, 1890s
Reproduced under a creative commons license from The National Portrait Gallery
NPG Ax68485

Massey was something of a player in the scene of fin de siècle occultism, as William Barrett’s obituary in the Journal of the SPR explained [it’s in this volume, if you’re interested], participating in just about every group or society going.

He had been a signatory at the founding of the Theosophical Society [TS] in New York having met and befriended Colonel Henry Steel Olcott while both were visiting the Eddy ranch in Chittenden in 1875 in investigate the phenomena taking place there. In 1876, the qualified barrister Massey defended the medium Doctor Henry Slade in a highly entertaining trial for fraud  brought by Professor Edwin Ray Lankester. Massey went on to translate Zöllner’s Transcendental Physics [see posts passim], von Hartmann’s Der Spiritismus and Baron Carl du Prel’s The Philosophy of Mysticism: in the final analysis it was as a translator of occult works that he left a mark.

Massey’s translation of Transcendental Physics and subsequent defence of Zöllner’s reputation introduced English readers to this body of higher spatial theorisation. His professional status as a qualified barrister, and his family connections – his father was the liberal MP, Rt. Hon. William N. Massey – lent him a powerful legitimating role, both legally and socially, and he was a prized signatory to the foundation of the TS for this reason. He was the founder and later President of the London Lodge and his public departure in 1884, following the notorious Kiddle Incident, severely damaged the reputation of the Society.[1]His defection to the SPR, with whom he already had public connections, prefigured the SPR’s damning report into the TS.

Massey is exemplary of the permeability between the TS and other groups in this period. Many leading spiritualists were also, at one time or another, members of the TS, and vice versa. Alongside Massey at the foundation of the Society were Emma Hardinge Britten, who would go on to edit The Two Worlds and The Unseen Universe, and the aforementioned William Stainton Moses, editor of Medium and Daybreak and founding member of the Society for Psychic Research, the London Spiritualist Alliance and the College of Psychic Studies. Both Massey and Moses were present at the initiation of C. W. Leadbeater into the TS on February 21, 1884, as was Frederick Myers, and initiated on the same occasion were William Crookes and his wife: spiritualist aristocracy and leading lights in the SPR all present and correct. The English barrister played an important, and largely unrecorded, mediating role in the history of psychic research in the fin de siècle, Barrett’s obituary telling of ‘a profound student both of philosophy and psychology, and one of the most original and suggestive thinkers I have ever known’ and regretting the fact that ‘he has left behind him no work to make his name more widely known and admired’.[2]

Despite the fact that he remained lifelong friends with Olcott, Massey’s public defection probably explains Blavatsky’s less than enthusiastic embrace of higher space in The Secret Doctrine. She had, after all, given positive notice of Transcendental Physics in her review in The Theosophist, which trumpeted Massey’s achievements on behalf of the Society:

It is not too much to say that in this one case the agency of the Theosophical Society was productive of an effect upon the relations of exact science with psychological research the importance of which must be felt for long years to come. Not only was Slade originally chosen by Theosophists for the European experiment and sent abroad, but at his London trial he was defended by a Theosophist barrister, Mr. Massey; at St. Petersburg another Theosophist, Mr. Aksakoff, had him in charge; and now Mr. Massey has bequeathed to future generations of English readers the full story of his wondrous psychical gifts.[3]

By the time of the publication of The Secret Doctrine at the end of 1888, however, Blavatsky was considerably more critical of the ideas contained in the book and one senses a touch of sour grapes.

Luckhurst records that Massey was also President of the Ghost Club and a post mortem visitor to seances held by the Brothers.

Happy Hallowmas!

[1] For a detailed account of the Kiddle Incident see Massey’s own resignation letter, ‘Explanation of the “Kiddle Incident” in the Fourth Edition of “The Occult World”’, Light, 26 July, 1884, pp. 307-9.

[2] William Barrett, ‘Obituary: C.C. Massey’, Journal of Society for Psychical Research (June 1905), 95-99 (p. 95). Barrett went some way to correcting this by publishing an anthology of Massey’s essays and correspondence.

[3] H.P. Blavatsky, ‘Transcendental Physics’, The Theosophist, 2, 5, ( 1881), 95-97.

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