Stanislas de Guaita, Edward Bulwer Lytton and ‘Zanoni’.
Although Stanislas de Guaita played an important rôle in the formation of initiatory groups in Paris in the last decade of the 19th century and was a larger than life figure in his time, such as to rival even Papus, his lasting contribution is likely to be what he wrote rather than what he did. Even so, he was not able to finish his “great work” – the three volume La Serpent de la Genèse (The Serpent of Genesis).
Le Temple de Satan (The Temple of Satan) was an historical survey of magical belief and practice. La Clef de la Magie Noire (The Key to Black Magic) virtually a treatise on the Astral Plane. And the uncompleted and barely begun Le Problème du Mal (The Problem of Evil) would have been a philosophical review of the concept of evil.
Why he chose such ominous titles remains something of a mystery to me, they were hardly instruction books on the dark arts of sorcery, and certainly not intended as such. He seemed prompted by a desire to contribute a major work on the popular conception of evil beyond a fire and brimstone Demon King or the tempting Serpent in the Garden of Eden. The three volumes were loosely structured around Tarot Trump images following Eliphas Levi’s preferred system although for the most part there seems to have been no deep significance in this. He used it when it seemed appropriate or obvious and did not when it was not.
Victor Emile Michelet, true to style, tended to take his work and fate deeply romantically. “If he prematurely lifted the veils that conceal the dark Isis, if his tranquil audacity provoked the anger of the Furies, it was simply his destiny as a revealer. Death, jealous at having him reveal her mysteries, like a vengeful woman struck him down as a lover who sang too much about her intimate beauty.” In brute physical fact the odds were stacked against Stanislas from the beginning by an illness that had probably seen his father die young and which prostrated him with migraines of increasing frequency and severity from which he found relief only in narcotics. Which took him off, drugs or disease, or a combination of both, remains a matter of speculation.
His early essays in the esoteric field were published in volume form under the title Au Seuil du Mystère (At the Threshold of the Mysteries) in the final (1894) edition of which is an appendix on the subject of the English Rosicrucian novel Zanoni by Bulwer Lytton, which he hails as “an exceptionally significant work in the form of a contemporary novel that is nothing less than a great esoteric and idealist epic.”
Zanoni had been first published in 1842 and into French in 1867. A fact that was welcome by Stanislas, but who was incensed by the fact that the French edition had omitted the author’s Introduction to the original work. Indeed, so incensed was he, that he translated it himself and published it himself.
“We think these omitted pages of such importance that we have no hesitation, with the assent of the copyright holders, to repair the omission of the first translation. So bizarre as it may seem to offer the public a preface without a text, here are the preliminary pages together with a few substantial annotations.”
His view was that it contained ‘the magical key to the work’.
“Zanoni is a book full of revelations and arcana. Under the veil of dazzling fantasy the author has disguised secret traditions of the Rose Cross, and as far as the far depth of fraternities even more ancient and occult, of which the Order instituted by Rosenkreutz is only the latest prolongation.”
With this in mind, we might do well to take advantage of the fact that we have both original text and Introduction (or Preface as Stanilas tends to call it) readily available to us in English along with the text of the original novel. It is readily available on the internet.
Indeed it is well worth treating as a guided visualisation, about going to a rather strange antiquarian occult bookshop and meeting another customer who befriends us and whom we meet again coincidentally at the foot of Highgate Hill who accompanies us to the top and invites us into his house that has some aspects as an art gallery and museum and overlooks the town and city of London.
It can be a useful preliminary to then tackling the novel itself. Again which is best read with emphasis on the pictorial imagination rather than the discursive mental faculties. You never know where this can lead. Beats television or cinema or computer games any day of the week!
Remember it was a ‘loaded’ novel by Péladan that set de Guaita on his way.