Catharine Ann Stevens Crowe 1790 – 1872

Catharine Ann Stevens Crowe 1790-1872 was an English writer and a friend of the Drysdale family, Charles Dickens, Harriet Martineau, Hans Christian Andersen and Charles Darwin.

Catharine Crowe was a patient of James Manby Gully at Malvern, and she wrote about homeopathy and extensively on spiritualism, phrenology and mesmerism.

Catharine Crowe was at the centre of an intelligentsia which included the Drysdale family, Charles Dickens, Harriet Martineau, Hans Christian Andersen, Jane Webb Loudon, William Makepeace Thackeray, Charlotte Bronte and Charles Darwin in England, and James T Fields in America. James T Fields was her publisher in America.

James T Fields, one of America’s most famous publisher of American writers, and a partner in Ticknor and Fields, had a bookstore known as Parnassus Corner on Old Corner.

His literary salon was packed with the influential people of the time, including Louisa May Alcott, John Greenleaf Whittier, Thomas Bailey Aldrich, James Russell Lowell, Henry David Thoreau, Nathaniel Hawthorne, Julia Ward Howe, Ralph Waldo Emerson, Margaret Fuller, William Makepeace Thackeray, Charles Dickens, Matthew Arnold, Robert Browning, Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, Alfred Lord Tennyson, Bret Harte, Bayard Taylor, Harriet Beecher Stowe, Edwin Booth, and Nathaniel Parker Willis who described Parnassus Corner as ‘the hub in which every spoke of the radiating wheel of Boston intellect had a socket.. ‘.

Catharine Crowe was suspected of being the author of The Vestiges of the Natural History of Creation, alongside Harriet Martineau, William Makepeace Thackeray, Ada Lovelace, Charles Babbage and many others. Even Charles Darwin was suspected of penning this book, published anonymously in England in 1844.

The Vestiges of the Natural History of Creation proposed a natural theory of cosmic and biological evolution, tying together numerous speculative scientific theories of the age, and created considerable political controversy in Victorian society for its radicalism and unorthodoxy., 17 years before the The Origin of Species:

The Vestiges of the Natural History of Creation put forward a cosmic theory of transmutation (which we now call evolution). It suggested that everything currently in existence had developed from earlier forms: solar system, Earth, rocks, plants and corals, fish, land plants, reptiles and birds, mammals, and ultimately man.

Catharine Crowe was born in London but spent most of her childhood at Borough Green in Kent. Little is known of her early life until she married Lt Col John Crowe. She was an early advocate of womens’s educational rights including ladies such as Harriet Martineau among her correspondents.

Her other associates reflect Edinburgh and London society in the mid nineteenth century and include Hans Christian Andersen, Jane Webb Loudon, the publisher James T Fields and his wife Annie Adams and many more authors, artists and photographers.

She was also deeply interested in the supernatural, in particular spiritualism and the occult. She is mentioned as a prominent spiritualist in the 1871 Yearbook of Spiritualism.

Catharine Crowe wrote a series of novels and articles relating to the supernatural and in 1848 published Night-side of Nature. This book includes topics such as mesmerism, parapsychology, poltergeists and phrenology. Mrs Crowe described herself as the ‘disciple’ of George Combe, a prominent phrenologist. The popularity of the book is attested by the fact that it went through three editions in five years.

In 1859 Mrs Crowe suffered some form of mental breakdown. This event was well documented by, among others, Charles Dickens. After her illness she wrote very little.

Geoffrey Larken became interested in Mrs Crowe after seeing her name included in William Makepeace Thackeray‘s party given for Charlotte Bronte. Mrs Crowe was described as a ‘ghost fancier’. Although he collected a great deal of material relating to Catherine Crowe, Geoffrey Larken was unable to find a publisher.

The material consists of a large number of manuscript notes by Geoffrey Larken as well as photocopies of relevant articles. There are a number of scrapbooks which hold images that were, in some way, connected with Mrs Crowe. Geoffrey Larken also provides copies of letters written by, to or about her.

The collection also includes a number of copies of Mrs Crowe’s published books which are catalogued onto the opac at the University of Kent. The collection was given to the University of Kent in two parts, the first after Geoffrey Larken died and the second after the death of his fellow researcher Mrs Wyn Bergess.

Catharine Crowe wrote dramas, children’s books, and one or two novels, including Susan Hopley (1841), and Lilly Dawson (1847). She is chiefly remembered for her Night-side of Nature (1848; new edition, 1904), a collection of stories of the supernatural.

She was born in Borough Green, Kent. In 1822 she married an army officer surnamed Crowe, and spent most of the rest of her life in Edinburgh. In her novels, among which are Adventures of Susan Hopley (1841), The story of Lilly Dawson (1847), and Linny Lockwood (1854), she showed much skill and ingenuity in the development of the plot. A later collection of her ghost stories is Ghosts and family legends (1859). Two tales from this book, “The Italian’s Story” (1859) and “Round the Fire” (1859) are included in Victorian Ghost Stories (1936), edited by Montague Summers.

During the latter part of 1847 James Young Simpson experimented with ether and other agents on himself and on guests at his home at 52 Queen Street, Edinburgh. These sessions were generally held after dinner and are known to have been attended by Dr. Matthews Duncan, Dr. George Keith and other medical colleagues.

Nevertheless, not all of the guests who either observed or participated in the post prandial inhalation of ether were professional acquaintances. James Young Simpson was host to many distinguished visitors from home and abroad and on the evening of 17 August 1847 the company included two eminent literary figures, Hans Christian Andersen from Denmark and the Victorian authoress Catherine Crowe…

Catherine Crowe’s writings, betraying her obsession with the supernatural, were widely read around the middle of the nineteenth century. She was also interested in spiritualism and her best known book, Night-side of Nature (1848), not only contains a great deal of information on that subject but endeavours to uncover a scientific explanation for the occult.

Not surprisingly, therefore, James Young Simpson found in this particular guest a willing participant in his after dinner experiments. Hans Christian Andersen and Catharine Crowe had met the previous evening at a reception given in Hans Christian Andersen‘s honour by Carl Joachim Hambro. On that occasion they sat next to each other at dinner and Mrs. Crowe presented him with a copy of her horror novel Susan Hopley (1841) also known under the title Circumstantial Evidence. The two had a great deal to discuss: although best remembered for her preoccupation with the occult, Catherine Crowe was also authoress of a number of childrens’ books.

Catherine Crowe wrote Ghosts and family legends, The Night-side of Nature; Or, Ghosts and Ghost-seers, The story of Lilly Dawson, Linny Lockwood, The adventures of a beauty, Ghosts and family legends, Pippie’s warning; or, Mind your temper, Men and women; or, Manorial rights, Adventures of Susan Hopley, The juvenile Uncle Tom’s cabin, The story of Arthur Hunter and his first shilling, with other tales, Spiritualism, and the age we live in, The adventures of a monkey, Light and Darkness; Or, Mysteries of Life, Aristodemus, a tragedy, The Cruel Kindness, and she translated Justinus Kerner‘s book about Frederica Hauffe, “the Seeress of Prevorst,” and it was published in English in 1845 under the title The Seeress of Prevorst; or, Openings-up into the Inner Life of Man, and Mergings of a Spirit World into the World of Matter.

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