Bulwer-Lytton ~ The Last Days of Pompeii
We commenced research where modern conjecture closes its faithless wings.
And with us, those were the common elements of science which the sages of to-day
disdain as wild chimeras, or despair of as unfathomable mysteries.
If what you know about Edward Bulwer-Lytton is that there's a bad-writing contest named after him, then what you know is next to nothing. In his day, he was more popular than Dickens, with whom he was closely contemporaneous. He had a huge influence on Madame Blavatsky (her favorite novelist, she said), and I would argue (though I've never seen it said), on the alchemical speculations of C.G. Jung. Given the influence of these latter luminaries on the shifting and shifty realities of our present -- an influence veiled in historical shadow, occult in the original sense -- few understand the continuing impact of a bad science fiction writer's second-rate dreams on the dark and stormy world we've inherited from all three by virtual default.
With that the old gentleman condescended to enter into a very interesting, and, as it seemed to me, a very erudite relation of the tenets of the Rosicrucians, some of whom, he asserted, still existed, and still prosecuted, in august secrecy, their profound researches into natural science and occult philosophy.The allure of that occult philosophy was too much for Blavatsky to resist. Not that she was an unwitting dupe. Ever the brilliant mystic side-show barker, she knew an opportunity when she saw one. By 1875, coincidentally the year Carl Jung was born, she had founded the full three-ring Theosophical Society in New York, and the psychic fever that generated worldwide was a major driver of the occult revival into which G.I. Gurdjieff -- three years Jung's senior -- first emerged in fin-de-siècle Russia. None of these later developments were unrelated or took place in a vacuum. And the Gurdjieff phenomenon was but one among many.
It is in the occult category of subterranean or Shambhala-Agartha literature in which Bulwer-Lytton’s name frequently arises. Bulwer-Lytton had a profound effect on events of both the nineteenth and twentieth centuries. He had a passion for occult studies, and used his knowledge of the occult as the basis for several of his novels, including Zanoni (1842), A Strange Story (1862) and The Coming Race (1871) (all available, by the way, from the Gutenberg Project). His work strongly influenced Madame Helena Petrovna Blavatsky, founder of the Theosophy spiritualist movement in the late nineteenth century, and the Nazi movement of the early twentieth century. I shall present a number of quotes from the following four sources, describing this influence: The King of the World by Réné Guénon; Shambhala by Victoria LePage; The Occult Roots of Nazism by Nicholas Goodrick-Clarke; and Arktos: The Polar Myth in Science, Symbolism and Nazi Survival by Joscelyn Godwin.In an epilogue of sorts to Zanoni, Bulwer-Lytton writes:
Were we not so divinely charmed with "Faust," and "Hamlet," and "Prometheus," so ardently carried on by the interest of the story told to the common understanding, we should trouble ourselves little with the types in each which all of us can detect, --none of us can elucidate; none elucidate, for the essence of type is mystery. We behold the figure, we cannot lift the veil.For "types" in the above, try reading "archetypes," and ask yourself, as I've been doing, whether, in addition to Madame B, Jung also read that passage. And whether, drawn by this essence of mystery, he decided then and there -- or thereabouts -- to lift the veil.
Somewhat miraculously, given the circumstances, I recall a scene from over 25 years ago. I was drinking heavily (it was never light) at some Buddhist bash in Denver -- a birthday party for Trungpa Rinpoche -- and talking to Shambhala Publications' publisher Samuel Bercholz.
"Sam, I want to write a book," I said.
"Yeah? And what would your book be about?" he asked.
That threw me. Having been on semi-permanent vacation for so long, I hadn't really thought about it much. Five years later I got sober and I've been thinking about it ever since.