Mary Anne Atwood
She was born in Dieppe, France but grew up in Gosport, Hampshire. Her father, Thomas South, was a researcher into the history of spirituality, and she assisted and collaborated with her father from her youth. Mary Anne married the Anglican Reverend Alban Thomas Atwood in 1859, and moved to his parish near Thirsk in North Yorkshire where she spent the rest of her life. She continued private correspondence with several influential Theosophists until her death in 1910. Her final words, "I cannot find my centre of gravity."
She is buried at Leake Church, in Yorkshire.
Mary Anne wrote A Suggestive Inquiry into the Hermetic Mystery (1850) at her father's request, and in parallel with his own composition of a lengthy poem on the same subject. Thomas South paid for the book to be published anonymously in 1850, but without having read it, trusting his daughter's judgement. Reading it after publication, he believed Mary Anne had revealed many hermetic secrets that were better left unpublished, and therefore bought up the remaining stock and, with his daughter, burnt them, along with the unfinished manuscript of his poem. Only a few copies of the book survived.
Ms. Atwood published nothing after A Suggestive Inquiry. Walter Leslie Wilmshurst, in his 1918 introduction to the reissue, laments that the thoughts of her later years did not find fruition in another work. He claims, however, that there is much to be found in her papers, of which he was then in possession. These have not yet been published. The special collections archive of the Brown University library currently holds around 700 of Ms. Atwood's letters.
A Suggestive Inquiry was reissued in 1918 under Mary Anne's married name, with an appendix containing her table talk and memorabilia, and with an extensive biographical and philosophical introduction by Walter Leslie Wilmshurst. Principe and Newman (2001) considered A Suggestive Inquiry to be one of three books which started the influence of the spiritual interpretation of alchemy in early modern Europe.
In popular culture
- Greer, John Michael. The New Encyclopedia of the Occult. p. 50.
- Θυος Μαθος [anagram of Thomas South] (1846). Early Magnetism in its higher relations to humanity, as veiled in the Poets and the Prophets. London: H. Baillière. pp. viii. 127.
- [South, later Atwood, Mary Ann] (1850). A Suggestive Inquiry into the Hermetic Mystery With a Dissertation on the More Celebrated of the Alchemical Philosophers, being an attempt towards the recovery of the ancient experiment of Nature. London: Trelawny Saunders. pp. xxv, 531.
- [South, later Atwood, Mary Ann] (1918). A Suggestive Inquiry into the Hermetic Mystery With a Dissertation on the More Celebrated of the Alchemical Philosophers, being an attempt towards the recovery of the ancient experiment of Nature. A new edition: with an introduction by Walter Leslie Wilmshurst. Belfast: William Tait. pp. (64) xxv, 596. (Introduction preview at http://www.amazon.com/Suggestive-Dissertation-Celebrated-Alchemical-Philosophers/dp/0766108112 )
- Principe, L. M., Newman, W. R. (2001). Some Problems with the Historiography of Alchemy. In: Newman, W. R., Grafton, A (eds). (2001) Secrets of Nature: Astrology and Alchemy in Early Modern Europe. (Transformations: Studies in the History of Science and Technology) Cambridge:MIT Press.
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