Laurence Oliphant (author)
Laurence Oliphant (3 August 1829 – 23 December 1888) was a British author, traveller, diplomat and mystic. He was best known for his satirical novel Piccadilly (1870 ), but also spent a decade under the influence of the spiritualist prophet Thomas Lake Harris. Before that Oliphant was Member of Parliament for Stirling Burghs.
Laurence Oliphant was the only child of Sir Anthony Oliphant (1793–1859), a member of the Scottish landed gentry. At the time of his son's birth Sir Anthony was Attorney General of the Cape Colony, but he was soon appointed Chief Justice in Ceylon. Laurence spent his early childhood in Colombo, where his father purchased a home called Alcove in Captains Gardens, subsequently known as Maha Nuge Gardens. Sir Anthony and his son have been credited with bringing tea to Ceylon and growing 30 tea plants brought over from China on the Oliphant Estate in Nuwara Eliya. The boy's education was of the most desultory kind, the most successful part belonging to the years 1848 and 1849, when he and his parents toured Europe. In 1851 he accompanied Jung Bahadur from Colombo to Nepal. He passed an agreeable time there and saw enough that was new to enable him to write his first book, A Journey to Katmandu (1852).
From Nepal Oliphant returned to Ceylon and from there to England. He dallied a little with the English Bar, at least eating dinners at Lincoln's Inn, and then with the Scottish Bar, for which he passed an examination in Roman law.
Russia, Canada, Circassia
Oliphant threw over his legal studies and went to travel in Russia. The outcome of that tour was his book, The Russian Shores of the Black Sea (1853).
Between 1853 and 1861 Oliphant was successively secretary to Lord Elgin during the negotiation of the Canada Reciprocity Treaty in Washington, and companion to the Duke of Newcastle on a visit to the Circassian coast during the Crimean War.
China and Japan
In 1861 Oliphant was appointed First Secretary of the British Legation in Japan under Minister Plenipotentiary (later Sir) Rutherford Alcock. He arrived in Edo at the end of June, but on the evening of 5 July a night-time attack was made on the legation by xenophobic ronin. His pistols having been locked in their travelling box, Oliphant rushed out with a hunting whip, and was attacked by a Japanese with a heavy two-handed sword. A beam, invisible in the darkness, interfered with the blows, but Oliphant was severely wounded and sent on board ship to recover. He had to return to England after a visit to Korea, where he discovered a Russian force occupying a secluded bay and obtained its withdrawal. The attack on the legation left him with permanent damage to one of his hands.
Oliphant returned to England, resigned from the Diplomatic Service and was elected to Parliament in 1865 for Stirling Burghs. While he did not show any conspicuous parliamentary ability, he was made a great success by his novel Piccadilly (1870). He then fell under the influence of the spiritualist prophet Thomas Lake Harris, who in about 1861 had organised a small community, the Brotherhood of the New Life, which was settled in Brocton on Lake Erie, and subsequently moved to Santa Rosa, California.
Brocton, Paris, Brocton
Harris obtained so strange an ascendancy over Oliphant that the latter left Parliament in 1868, followed Harris to Brocton and lived there the life of a farm labourer, in obedience to the imperious will of his spiritual guide. It was part of the Brocton regime that members of the community be allowed to return to the outside world from time to time, to earn money for the community. After three years this was permitted to Oliphant, who, once more in Europe, worked as correspondent for The Times during the Franco-German War, and afterwards spent several years in Paris in the service of the paper. There he met, through his mother, his future wife, Alice le Strange. They married at St George's, Hanover Square, London, on 8 June 1872.
In 1873 Oliphant went back to Brocton, taking with him his wife and mother. During the years that followed he continued to be employed in the service of the community and its head, yet in work very different from that with which he had been occupied on his first sojourn. His new work was chiefly financial, and took him much to New York and a good deal to England. As late as December 1878 he continued to believe that Harris was an incarnation of the Deity.
Palestine, England, America
In 1879 Harris sent Oliphant to make an extensive journey in Palestine, where he hoped to start a large project of colonisation. Oliphant also visited Constantinople, in the vain hope of obtaining a lease on the northern half of the Holy Land and settling large numbers of Jews there (this was before the first wave of Jewish settlement by Zionists in 1882). This he conceived would be an easy task from a financial point of view, as there were so many in Britain and the United States anxious to fulfill the prophecies, and bring about the End of Days. In this period, with financial support from Christadelphians and other Christian and Jewish individuals in Britain, Oliphant collected funds to purchase land and settle Jewish refugees in the Galilee.
Oliphant landed once more in England without having accomplished anything definite, but his wife, who had been separated from him for years and had been living in California, was allowed to rejoin him, and they went to Egypt together. In 1881 he crossed again to the United States. It was on that visit that he became utterly disgusted with Harris and finally split from him.
While Oliphant at first feared that his wife would not follow him in his renunciation of the prophet, this was not the case, and they settled themselves very agreeably, with one house in the midst of the Templers' German Colony in Haifa, and another about twelve miles away at Dalieh on Mount Carmel.
It was in Haifa in 1884 that they wrote together the book Sympneumata: Evolutionary Forces Now Active in Man, and in the next year Oliphant produced his novel Masollam, which may be taken to contain its author's latest views with regard to the personage whom he had long considered a new Avatar. One of his cleverest works, Altiora Peto had been published in 1883.
In December 1885 an attack of fever, caught on the shores of the Sea of Galilee, resulted in the death on 2 January 1886 of Oliphant's wife, whose constitution had been undermined by the hardships of her American life. Oliphant was too unsteady with fever to attend her funeral, and was unable to comprehend the magnitude of the tragedy that had befallen him. He was persuaded that after death he was in much closer contact with her than when she was still alive, and conceived that it was under her influence that he wrote the book to which he gave the title Scientific Religion.
In November 1887 Oliphant went to England to publish that book. In 1888 he went once again to the United States, where he married his second wife, Rosamond, a granddaughter of Robert Owen the Socialist. They were married in Malvern, and meant to go to Haifa, but Oliphant took very ill at York House, Twickenham, and died there on 23 December 1888. His obituary in The Times said of him, "Seldom has there been a more romantic or amply filled career; never, perhaps, a stranger or more apparently contradictory personality."
- "Reference to Sir Anthony Oliphant and the introduction of Tea to Ceylon". Retrieved 2009-08-07.
- Laurence Oliphant by Anne Taylor OUP 1982
- The Christadelphian Magazine, Birmingham 1884,1886
- Mrs (Margaret) Oliphant (his cousin), Memoir of the Life of Laurence Oliphant and of Alice Oliphant his Wife (1892).
- Philip Henderson, The Life of Laurence Oliphant Robert Hale Ltd, London, 1956.
- This article incorporates text from a publication now in the public domain: Chisholm, Hugh, ed. (1911). Encyclopædia Britannica (11th ed.). Cambridge University Press
- Burke's Peerage, Oliphant of that Ilk
- Burke's Landed Gentry, Oliphant of Condie
|Wikimedia Commons has media related to Laurence Oliphant.|
- Hansard 1803–2005: contributions in Parliament by Laurence Oliphant
|Parliament of the United Kingdom|
|Member of Parliament for Stirling Burghs
1865 – 1868