Posts Tagged ‘Hinton’

Here’s one just for the Hinton spotters.

For some reason I was lying awake at 3 a.m. last night wondering if Charles Howard Hinton had met his bigamous bride Maude Florence while teaching at Cheltenham Ladies College. Perhaps she’d been a student: wouldn’t that be just scandalous! I thought to check it out this morning before dealing with REAL WORK and tried to find registers online. Searching for those came up null, but did reveal this: Charles Howard worked at Cheltenham College, not the Ladies College which of course makes total sense in retrospect. Seems worth correcting because every biographical account since Rudy Rucker (and possibly it was Marvin Ballard who was the source for this?) has him at Cheltenham Ladies. 

Another curiosity: he was on a list of examinees of the University of London in 1871, the year in which he matriculated as an non-collegiate student at Oxford. Any ideas on that would be interesting.

This heinous task-avoidance may be some use. I promise extensive higher-dimensional bibliographies imminently.

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I’m giving a talk at the ICA on Thursday night as part of the Strange Attractor curated series under the auspices of Nathaniel Mellors’s Ourhouse exhibition. Details and tickets here. This is in conjunction with an essay that appeared in the latest issue of the truly wonderful Strange Attractor Journal, where I’m in highly esteemed company, particularly that of Alan Moore who obviously has Hintonian pedigree himself:

Hinton in From Hell

Hintons in From Hell: James tells Gull about Charles

The talk will be a more informal fleshing out of the stories told there, an account that deals primarily with Charles Howard Hinton. It’s a real luxury to have a bit more time than the customary 20 minute slot to talk about this material and to a different audience too: an artistic setting is something of a homecoming for Hintonian higher space, after all.

In May I’m giving a paper at a 19th Century Maths and Literature colloquium in Glasgow. Again, I’m going to focus on Hinton, and this time specifically on the cubes. From the intial schedule it looks as though there are no fewer than four people presenting fourth dimension-related papers so this promises really lively discussion. Very exciting.

In the course of putting together the talk at the ICA I’ve been looking at various animated gifs representing various projections, cross-sections and unfoldings of tesseracts. I’ll post links to a selection of these in short order.

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Jorge Luis Borges was a fan of Hinton’s higher space writing, so much so that he included the first collection of Scientific Romances in The Library of Babel (or ‘La Biblioteca di Babele’) produced with Italian art-book publisher Franco Maria Ricci in the 1970s (French interview with the publisher here). It’s a beautiful looking series of 33 titles, including Henry James, Arthur Machen, Poe, Wells etc. (full list here) and was republished in French by the recently defunct Panama editions in 2006.

Borges’s prologue is also included in Selected Non-Fiction, which is rather more accessible. It is eminently quotable, so I’d like to share a couple of choice nuggets here:

“Others seek and achieve notoriety; Hinton has achieved almost total obscurity. He is no less mysterious than his work.”

re: the introduction to A New Era of Thought: “This suggests a probable suicide or, more likely, that our fugitive friend had escaped to the fourth dimension which he had glimpsed, as he himself told us, thanks to a steadfast discipline.”

“Why not suppose Hinton’s book to be perhaps an artifice to evade an unfortunate fate? Why not suppose the same of all creators?”

Why not indeed.

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Cubic addendum

No sooner have I posted the previous, than I’ve come across this interview with the artist Elizabeth Zvonar, who has also constructed some of Hinton’s cubes – from rainbow-coloured glass, no less. I’d realy like to see these, but there aren’t any images of them on the site of the gallery hosting her show, sadly. What images there are look worth investigating further, featuring manipulated photographs and rainbow colour-fields. They seem to recall surrealist photography, so carry through some of the art-historical promise.

It’s exciting that a practising and exhibiting artist is disinterring Hinton’s cubes at the same time as an obsessional dusty-book-head is making some rather shoddy approximations in his part-time post-graduate student’s garrett. It would be fantastic if there were a resurgence of interest in this work, as there was in the late seventies and early eighties when Rucker produced all his 4d stuff, Sinclair wrote White Chappell and Iain McEwan published ‘Solid Geometry’.

That said, I’m not sure Zvonar covers herself in glory in the interview. I think there’s some confusion about Henderson’s book, one of the most important functions of which was to re-establish the pre-Einsteinian spatiality of the fourth dimension.  Henderson’s point is precisely that Relativity wasn’t popularly known until the twenties, and that the Parisian Modernists were reading Poincare and Ouspensky and not Einstein. Priveledging time in this equation recapitualates the mid-century misreadings of the fourth dimension that Henderson’s work so usefully corrected.

But maybe I’ve misremembered. I’ll check. And besides, this is an interview, and not an essay, so ideas are communicated in a much chattier way, and these sound like they could be rather fetching baubles, ironing out some of that distasteful period ‘clunk’ (raises a quizzical eyebrow). Also, Zvonar’s previous shows demonstrate a continued engagement with Modernist art history, and I would like to see more.

For what it’s worth, if I were an artist working into this wonderfully rich field, I’d construct Hinton’s cubes at 24x scale (we’re imperial here, obviously) and from some kind of  highly tactile substance – perhaps memory-foam, a material whose function is only realised when it’s touched – and then forbid audiences from touching them. Or perhaps there’s a material that would be more period appropriate: wax? This would reference other of Hinton’s work. I think the key is to attempt to communicate the ambivalence of these objects, their position on the threshold of the empirical and the ideal, and the promise of transportation they make, not easily accessed.

I’d also like to see a pile of such blocks as high as person, just because. Maybe higher? Maybe I should be thinking 120x scale. Anyone got access to any funding?

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Jumpstart time: this blog has been dormant for five long months, so I’ve decided to do something a bit more engaging (hopefully) to relaunch it.

I’ve been busy on the newly retooled and refangled 19: Journal of Interdisciplinary Studies in the Long Nineteenth Century, which is now live in an OJS template, with essays available in html and integrated with Nines. We’re all rather proud of it.

Since finishing my contract there at the end of October, I’ve been catching up with my own research, long overdue (I’m sure my supervisor would agree). I’m still working on a second draft chapter, and should be doing so right now. BUT…

The catalogue cube Nala as detailed in A New Era of Thought

A section of this chapter is going to be devoted to Charles Howard Hinton’s system of cubes. The cubes are the foundation blocks – pretty much literally – of Hinton’s approach to thinking higher space and I am keen to meet them head on, because I’m convinced that they’re highly significant with regard to the writers who follow him. But they’re a wee bit daunting. The second half of A New Era of Thought is devoted to describing the construction of the cubes, a system for naming them, and various exercises for conducting with them.

It was written by Alicia Boole Stott, Hinton’s sister-in-law, who is the best advert for the effectiveness of the system, as demonstrated by her intuitive work with higher dimensional mathematics, published in a series of three papers 1900, 1908 and 1910, and discussed by HSM Coxeter, among others. But what mght have come readily to Alicia is not necessarily straightforward. The lists of names for the cubes alone deflect casual attention.

A table of Latin names for identifying the different sides of cubes in a 36-cube system

A few lines printed in A New Era urged readers to contact the publisher to buy readymade sets of the cubes, but this didn’t quite work out as smoothly as planned. Correspondence from Swan Sonnenschein to Howard’s friend and editor John Falk shows the rocky ride. On 21st September 1888, some months after publication, SS received an inquiry about the cubes. Sonnenschein wrote: “It would perhaps be as well, should this gentleman give an order for a set, to have two sets made, as it looks rather bad to have to admit that inquiries for them are unusual.” Another inquiry was received in January of 1889, but it wasn’t until February that Falk provided the first sets to the publisher, who returned them, writing: “The workmanship of the cubes is so rough it would affect sales very badly.” It took Falk until November to source improved sets, with the price set at 17/6 for trade plus 20% for public sales.

The models seem to have been more trouble than they were worth as a commercial venture, particularly when Charles resumed correspondence with his publishers upon his arrival in the USA in 1892: a alrge proportion of the correspondence mentions them. They sold very slowly but continued to pique interest. In 1903, SS wrote: “Can you send me one set of your models which a lady resident in Nice is very anxious to purchase?” In 1904 a Mr Dyson returned his set. Mr Dyson had possibly bought a copy of The Fourth Dimension, published in that year, in which a refined version of the system was presented, and clearer instructions provided for DIY cubesters. The naming system had been done away with as unworkable, and colour-coding was now the way forward. The colour plates presented in this book can be seen by clicking through the banubula and Greylodge links below.

'Kindergarten cubes': suggested activities do not include mind-destruction

It’s been helpful for me to review Hinton’s work and to reconstruct his bibliography. The sixth of the Romances, ‘On the Education of the Imagination’, issued as a pamphlet in 1888 with a brief endnote by Falk, also deals with the cubes, and was probably composed sometime in the early 1880s, despite its later publication. The endnote states that it was written ‘some years ago’ and ‘contains the germ of the work, which is more fully illustrated in his more recent writings, and thus in some respects forms a good introduction to them’. It describes the development of the cube system and its use in the classroom. It underlines Hinton’s role as a professional educator, and his approach to the aquisition of knowledge that comes from this job. And of course the cubes are in some way a game: an educational game, certainly, but a game none the less. I want to disinter the ‘ludic’ aspect of the cubes so I’ve decided to make a set for myself. I’ll blog about my progress (doubtlessly slow), here.

First step was to buy a set of ‘kindergarten cubes’, as recommended by the authors. They’re a natural wood colour so I can colour-code them myself.

Not quite Farrow and Ball

I had initially thought I’d go with Farrow and Ball colours, because being a good middle-class, South-West London homeowner, I have a stack of Farrow and Ball sample pots, so I figured I could reproduce some faux-authentic period colours, like Bourgeois Blue, Nostalgia Rouge and Opium Ochre. Sadly, this collection of samples has been loaned to a neighbour’s sister, so I’ve gone with what I had in the house – children’s paints.

If these end up being washed out, I’ll retrieve the F&B house paints and use those (decorators assure me that Dulux are better quality paints and that anyway, you can reproduce any colour with Dulux colour match, but I’m sure the inferior F&B should suffice for this).

There has been some interest in Hinton’s cubes online in recent years. There were a couple of posts on the now defunct blog banubula, showing scans of the coloured plates from The Fourth Dimension. Greylodge onlined a tidied-up  [pdf] instruction sheet, which is very useful – I would have used this, but getting my colours to match would be too tricky.

This took me back to airfix days, when the parts would become glued to the paper

I think a contemporary legacy for the cubes has been assured by a letter received by Martin Gardner, a popular science writer of the mid-century who wrote about higher space puzzles in the Scientific American. The letter from Hiram Barton, “a consulting engineer of Etchingham, Sussex, England” responded to an account of Hinton’s cubes, and was published by Gardner on p.52 his book Mathematical Carnival (and reposted by Banubula, and cited also by Rucker).

Dear Mr. Gardner:

A shudder ran down my spine when I read your reference to Hinton’s cubes. I nearly got hooked on them myself in the nineteen-twenties. Please believe me when I say that they are completely mind-destroying. The only person I ever met who had worked with them seriously was Francis Sedlak, a Czech neo-Hegelian Philosopher (he wrote a book called The Creation of Heaven and Earth) who lived in an Oneida-like community near Stroud, in Gloucestershire.
As you must know, the technique consists essentially in the sequential visualizing of the adjoint internal faces of the poly-colored unit cubes making up the larger cube. It is not difficult to acquire considerable facility in this, but the process is one of autohypnosis and, after a while, the sequences begin to parade themselves through one’s mind of their own accord. This is pleasurable, in a way, and it was not until I went to see Sedlak in 1929 that I realized the dangers of setting up an autonomous process in one’s own brain. For the record, the way out is to establish consciously a countersystem differing from the first in that the core cube shows different colored faces, but withdrawal is slow and I wouldn’t recommend anyone to play around with the cubes at all.

Frances Sedlak probably used old copies of The Theosophist instead of The Guardian

The sensational tone of this letter falls in line with a current of response to higher dimensional thinking that is seeded with the anti-Zollner propaganda in the early 1880s and emerges more consistently at the fin-de-siecle: the idea that  thinking higher space results inevitably in madness. What Barton doesn’t mention is that Sedlak was also, unsurprisingly, a Theosophist, contributing frequent articles to The Theosophical Review from 1906-1908 and to The Theosophist in 1911-1912. He later also contributed an article to Orage’s The New Age disputing Einstein’s Theory of Relativity on the grounds that Einstein was insensible to the dictates of “Pure Reason”. His partner in a “free union”, Nellie Shaw, wrote an account of their life together in the Whiteway Colony in A Czech philosopher on the Cotswolds; being an account of the life and work of Francis Sedlak. Shaw’s account of Sedlak’s interest in the cubes gives it an altogether more positive spin, and beds into the utopian Theosophical verison of higher spatial thinking:

Some readers may be acquainted with a book by C. Howard Hinton, entitled The Fourth Dimension, which contains a coloured diagram representing twenty-seven cubes of various colours. This idea was [108] seized upon by Francis, who adapted it to his own ideas.

A box of children’s playing blocks was obtained and each one painted a different ad nameable shade. So far as I am able to understand, the idea was to build up from the whole twenty-seven cubes one cube, each separate colour being in a particular relation to the next one, and then to gaze fixedly at it until the whole was mentally visualised. This accomplished, the cube was unbuilt and then rebuilt with a different combination of colour, and visualised mentally as before.

This amazing performance required hours of time at first, but gradually the speed quickened, until eventually it became focused upon the mind, and Francis was able to review the blocks in all their twenty-seven positions so swiftly, that it became almost like seeing the cube from all sides at once.

It will be realised that the changes of position were almost innumerable. At first a very hard laborious task, it became an absorbing occupation, to which was given every spare moment. Many persons, not understanding, looked on it as a most unproductive way of spending time. Others admired the wonderful patience, but could see no useful result.

Just as the would-be athlete twists and turns on the parallel bars, using time and energy to develop his muscles and gain strength which can be used later in any direction which he may desire, so Francis assumed that this power gained by practice in visualisation, seeing mentally the block of cubes on all sides simultaneously, could also be used in any sphere and on any subject; in fact, it was ability to see through anything, and must eventually lead to clairvoyance.

This study of the cubes was followed intermittently, [109] since it was not a mental exercise calling for philosophic reasoning or mental effort whatever. So, after devoting many months to the cubes and having an urge in another direction, Francis would drop them again for several years.

The extraordinary thing was that afterwards he could resume the practice without difficulty. He did not lose the power; indeed, he seemed to have a positive affection for these bits of wood, which he would tenderly dust and preserve.

Towards the end of his long and trying illness, when terrible coughing prevented him from sleeping at night, the long silent hours seemed interminable. On my enquiring one morning as to what sort of a night he had had, he said almost joyfully, “Oh, being awake does not trouble me now. I do the cubes, and the time flies.” So I thanked God and blessed the cubes, for which had been found a utilitarian use at a most desperate psychological juncture. Power won cannot be lost, and will some day be utilised.

So I’m hoping, really, to achieve a new mental power before I get bored. But not to go mad. That wouldn’t further the research, I don’t think. My next post will probably look more closely at the theory presented in A New Era, which makes clear an interesting nexus in Hinton’s thought that is also significant. I’m hoping in future posts to develop the varied and playful cultural legacy of Hinton’s cubes, and pledge to make sure there are no more five month lapses.

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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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While on the subject of publishing contexts at the end of 1884, and before edging further into Flatland and dealing with content…

It has become customary to connect Flatland to the work of Charles Howard Hinton, and the connections between Edwin Abbott and the author of Scientific Romances have been explored in some detail by a number of writers (Banchoff, Stewart, Valente). Developing the case made by Banchoff in 1990, that ‘Hinton lies at the centre of a web of intellectual, mathematical and social influences’, Ian Stewart argues that ‘the similarities between Hinton’s 1880 article [‘What is the Fourth Dimension?’] and Flatland are far too great to be coincidence’ and that ‘the circumstantial evidence that they probably did meet – or that, at the very least, Abbott was strongly influenced by Hinton’s ideas – is considerable’.

Extrapolating the publishing history of Hinton’s work clarifies one such connection. Hinton’s ‘What is the Fourth Dimension?’ had, as noted, been first published in 1880, but to a very limited audience; indeed, to an audience so scant that it failed to sustain The University Magazine, the ailing journal in whose last number the essay appeared (originally the monthly Dublin University Magazine, The University Magazine had been renamed in 1878, and reduced frequency of publication from monthly to quarterly from June 1880, before finally closing at the end of 1880. Hinton’s mother-in-law Mary Boole had been a frequent contributor).

By the end of 1880 Charles Howard Hinton was working as assistant science master at Uppingham College (one of the connections made by Banchoff: Abbott’s lifelong friend Howard Candler, to whom Flatland was dedicated, was mathematics master at the same school). He was not a novice to publishing, having edited a collection of his father’s work, Chapters on the Art of Thinking and Other Essays, published by C.K. Paul & co in 1879, but ‘What is the Fourth Dimension?’ was his first published work under his own name.

It was reprinted in slightly expanded form in 1883 in the magazine of Cheltenham Ladies College, where the author had worked as assistant master from 1877 to 1880. Once again, it is safe to assume that the school magazine had a limited audience, although precise figures are not available. Stewart’s speculation that Edwin Abbott’s acquaintance with the headmistress Dorothea Buss in the 1880s was another potential point of contact between Abbott and Hinton seems more tenuous than the Candler link. What is clear from both the titles in which Hinton’s essay first appeared – a magazine hoping to appeal to a core student readership, and the magazine of a school – is that its author considered it a pedagogical piece. An instructional essay for students it is likely to have remained were it not for Abbott’s book.

The timing, format and re-editing of Hinton’s essay for publication by Swan Sonnenschein in November 1884 suggests very powerfully a commercial response to Flatland, whose first edition of 1,000 copies had been sold within a month of publication. What is the Fourth Dimension? (italics will henceforth be used to distinguish between the pamphlet and the collected essay) came hot on the heels of Abbott’s book as a part-issue, a format suggestive of a rapid publishing response: as the entry for ‘Serials and the Nineteenth Century Publishing Industry’ in the Dictionary of Nineteenth-century Journalism notes: ‘The principle motivations underlying the rise of serial publications were speed and economy.’ (Brake, Demoor eds, 2009: 567) There is also considerable evidence in the archives of Swan Sonnenschein that Hinton did not yet have enough completed work for a book.

Should there be any doubt concerning the opportunistic nature of the 1884 re-publication of Hinton’s essay on its third go round the block, its new title and subtitle surely settle them. It has been suggested by Rudy Rucker that the subtitle Ghosts Explained was added by the canny publisher, aware of the Zöllnerian hypothesis and its currency in spiritualist groupings. But surely the title of the series, Scientific Romances, is even more suggestive of commercial expediency? Hinton’s first ‘romance’, after all, was not even fiction, but a pedagogical exposition answering its own question in terms that only began to hint at the visionary hue of the psychological metaphysics that would follow. Stylistically, it owed more to the popular science writing of Tyndall than it did to Stevenson, but the content was evidently particularly amicable towards Flatland and the market was demonstrably keen on dimensional romances in November 1884.

It seems highly likely, then, that the chosen designation of ‘romance’ would have identified Hinton’s work to the readership to whom it was most likely to appeal: recalling Stevenson’s definitional account, a young (?), masculine, domestic (British) readership. The subject matter of geometry would further limit the audience to those educated in mathematics.

Darko Suvin’s obsessive historical materialist categorisations of the readerships of early SF precursor texts are interesting here, not because I would like to categorise Hinton’s work in such a way, but because in identifying a social proximity between the authors of proto-SF, scientific non-fiction and the readers of both, outside of mainstream circuits, he speaks directly to the textual hybridity of Hinton’s work: ‘Indications from the textual system point to one of those groups comprising mostly upper-middle and middle class males with special interest in politics, religion and public affairs in general. This is a circuit very close, perhaps even identical, to that of the bourgeois nonfiction reading – which would explain the intertextual closeness to SF of such nonfiction genres as the social blueprint, the political tract, the predictive essay, even the semi-religious apocalypse.’ (Suvin, 1983: 403)

This also, however, creates an interesting tension. I find myself wanting to argue that savvy publishing nouse helped to make the fourth dimension a subject of discussion in social groupings beyond specialist mathematicians and spiritualists.  If the readerships of texts such as Flatland and What is the Fourth Dimension? are as socially narrow as Suvin suggests, however, do they really introduce the arcania of higher space to a broader audience? I think the answer to that question probably lies, in part, elsewhere: it’s what these texts do with the subject, as well as to whom they tell it, that catalyses interest.

Finally, a word or two on that canny publisher, William Swan Sonnenschein. Sonnenschein built his list in the early years (ca. 1878-1882) around books for children, educational texts or theoretical work concerning education policy. There was also a focus on German language translations, such as Grimm’s Teutonic Myths. Both arose naturally from the publisher’s family background: his father was a German-born mathematics teacher. Although Sonnenschein described himself as a liberal, he was closely connected socially to a number of Fabians and socialists, publishing both the first English translation of Marx’s Capital and George Bernard Shaw’s Unsocial Socialist in 1887. (Stepniak, exiled Russian revolutionary, was apparently often to be encountered taking tea chez Sonnenschein).

The Swan Sonnenschein list also always included philosophy, and the publisher was a member of the first Ethical Society in the late 1880s. Commissioned to write a history of the firm’s precursors by George Allen and Unwin in the 1950s, the historian F. A. Mumby wrote: ‘Throughout his life Swan Sonnenschein was a remarkable blend of other-worldliness and business acumen; a man of wide erudition whose interests were quickly roused by the simplest human problems’. Combining education, mathematics, philosophy and literature, Swan Sonnenschein was a highly appropriate home for the esoteric and hybrid work of Hinton.

So, some further lines of research worth pursuing with regard to dimensional romance: its roots in pedagogy and a progressive, broadly socialist, political subtext. Onwards and upwards. Or, as Flatland has it, Upward, not Northward.

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