Psychic Experiences of an American Sculptress: 1860s

Harriet Hosmer, American Sculptor [1830-1907]

Harriet Hosmer, American Sculptor [1830-1907]

The narrator is the American sculptress Harriet Hosmer:

“When I was living in Rome I had for several years a maid named Rosa, to whom I became much attached. She was faithful and competent, and I was greatly distressed when she became ill with consumption and had to leave me. I used to call frequently to see her when I took my customary exercise on horseback, and on one occasion she expressed a desire for a certain kind of wine. I told her I would bring it to her the next morning. This was toward evening, and she appeared no worse than for some days; indeed, I thought her much brighter, and left her with the expectation of calling to see her many times.

During the rest of the afternoon I was busy in my studio, and do not remember that Rosa was in my thoughts after I parted from her. I retired to bed in good health and in a quiet frame of mind. I always sleep with my doors locked, and in my bedroom in Rome there were two doors; the key to one my maid kept, and the other was turned on the inside. A tall screen stood around my bed. I awoke early the morning after my visit to Rosa and heard the clock in the library next, distinctly strike five, and just then I was conscious of some presence in the room, back of the screen. I asked if any one was there, when Rosa appeared in front of the screen and said, ‘Adesso sono contento, adesso sono felice.’ (Now I am content, now I am happy).

For the moment it did not seem strange, I felt as though everything was as it had been. She had been in the habit of coming into my room early in the morning. In a flash she was gone. I sprang out of bed. There was no Rosa there. I moved the curtain, thinking that she might have playfully hidden behind its folds. The same feeling induced me to look into the closet. The sight of her had come so suddenly, that in the first moment of surprise and bewilderment I did not reflect that the door was locked. When I became convinced that there was no one in the room but myself, I recollected that fact, and then I thought I must have seen a vision.

At breakfast I mentioned the apparition to my French landlady, and she ridiculed the idea as being anything more than the fantasy of an excited brain. To me it was a distinct fact, and is to this day a distinct vision. Instead of going to see Rosa after breakfast, I sent to enquire, for I felt a strong premonition that she was dead. The messenger returned saying Rosa had died at five o’clock. When I told Mr. Gladstone of this experience he was interested until I came to the apparition talking. He said he firmly believed in a magnetic current, action of one mind upon another, or whatever you choose to call it, but could not believe ghosts had yet the power of speech. However, to me this occurrence is as much of a reality as any experience of my life.

Then, too, I have had many strange flashes of inner vision in seeing articles that were lost. I have never been able to produce them by reasoning or strong desire. They have come literally in a flash. I had three such visions during different visits to Lady A., once at her country seat in Scotland and the others at her London house. Lady A. wears a curious gold ring designed by her husband. When taken from the finger it can be straightened into a key. All of her valuables, from jewel cases, to her writing room, where many important papers are kept, are fitted with locks for this key. She has one duplicate of this, made of steel that she sometimes left with her daughter or me, when going away.

One morning she came into my room much distressed, saying she could not find her ring key, and asked me to come into her room and help in the search that was being made for it by the housekeeper and assistants. She was positive she had put the ring in a cabinet by the side of her bed upon retiring the night before. When I went into the room I saw the ring key, in my mind’s eye, plainly on the table in her daughter’s apartment. I told her it was needless to search further there, that she had left it in her daughter’s room. Lady A. protested that she was certain she had taken it off after retiring. But the ring was found just where I saw it.

On another occasion Lady A. could not find a despatch box containing valuable papers. She enlisted my services in hunting for it in her writing room. She described the box. She had scarcely finished the description when a vision of it flashed across my brain. I said, ‘It is useless to search here, the box is at Drummond’s bank, in one of your large boxes.’

Lady A. said her secretary had made a careful inspection of every box at the bank, and it was not there. I saw that box distinctly, and I went to the bank. When I reached there the Messrs. Drummond seemed to think it was quite unnecessary to go through the boxes again. I asked the clerk to bring out his ledger containing the list of boxes. I felt that I could locate the right one without examining all. When I ran my hand down the list (there were seven) it stopped at five. Number five was brought from the vault into the private room of the bankers and there opened in the presence of the three brothers.

The box proved to have women’s belongings in it, rare laces chiefly. The bankers smiled incredulously and said, ‘You are not likely to find the despatch box among those things.’ All the while I saw that lacquered box. After taking out all the carefully packed articles I was rewarded by finding the lost box at the very bottom: ‘Despatch Box’ across the front in gilt letters. I said to Messrs. Drummond, ‘ I will not take the box home, my friend must come and see for herself that my vision was accurate.’ So it was left in the private room of the bank while I drove home. When I told Lady A. the circumstance she turned pale and said she believed I was a witch, as the servants thought, because I had such powers of finding lost articles. We drove back and got the treasure.

How and why these visions come, is, as yet, an unknown science, but I firmly believe it will be made clear some time, perhaps at no distant day.”

Harriet Hosmer: Letters and Memories, Harriet Goodhue Hosmer, edited by Cornelia Carr, 1912

Mrs Daffodil’s Aide-memoire:  Harriet Hosmer [1830-1907] was an American sculptress and inventor. She went to Italy at age 22 and lived there for many years, becoming friends with notables such as Nathaniel Hawthorne, Thackeray, the sculptor Thorvaldsen, George Eliot, George Sand, and the Brownings. She was also associated with a group of women artists in Rome, who were ridiculed by Henry James for their masculine proclivities. One fears that James was spiteful because he was jealous. Elizabeth Barrett Browning wrote euphemistically of Miss Hosmer and her friends: “there’s a house of what I call emancipated women…very clever and very strange…” Sculptor William Wetmore Story (creator of the “Angel of Grief”) wrote to a friend that Hosmer and her friends formed  “a Harem (Scarem) of emancipated females.”

Hosmer created a large body of work, much of which seems to have been lost or destroyed.  Naturally an “emancipated female” working as a sculptor was the target of prejudice. A rumour was  circulated that her monumental Zenobia in Chains was actually created by one of her Italian workmen because obviously ladies couldn’t sculpt anything that large or that well. Hosmer sued the London Queen, who had printed the story, and won her case. See this link for the entire fascinating story and photos of Miss Hosmer in her studio.

Miss Hosmer was, it is said, devoted to patroness of the arts Louisa, Lady Ashburton, the “Lady A.” of the passages above, for over 25 years. Her letters are at Harvard, but many of them were destroyed or mutilated, with indiscreet, erotic, or overly-candid passages scissored out by her friend Cornelia Carr, who edited the letters for publication.

Mrs Lydia Maria Child [1802-1880] was a novelist and worker for the rights of the American Indian and women.  She was also an Abolitionist and a Spiritualist. She and Harriet Hosmer were friends and correspondents. Miss Hosmer gave her permission to paraphrase the story of the ghostly Rosa’s visit in a piece entitled “Spirits” for the Atlantic Monthly.

Mrs Daffodil invites you to join her on the curiously named “Face-book,” where you will find a feast of fashion hints, fads and fancies, and historical anecdotes

You may read about a sentimental succubus, a vengeful seamstress’s ghost, Victorian mourning gone horribly wrong, and, of course, Mrs Daffodil’s efficient tidying up after a distasteful decapitation in A Spot of Bother: Four Macabre Tales.

 

Advertisements

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s