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John & Katharine Maltwood Collection

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John & Katharine

Post-War Works - Part 3: Philosophical Leanings

It is in the context of this late 19th Century fervour for religious mysticism and Eastern philosophy that the interests of Katharine Maltwood must be viewed for she was very much a child of her age. She was drawn to the study of comparative religions in her youth through the teaching of Gertrude Ingham whose ideas were influenced by theosophy and Eastern thought. Like Gertrude Ingham, she also later turned to the writings of the celebrated Indian writer and poet Tagore who was noted for his reinterpretation of the Upanishad philosophy. Many of the books and periodicals in the Maltwood Collection are concerned with religious mysticism, Buddhism and theosophy.32 These Katharine Maltwood studied closely and came to believe, like many of her contemporaries, that their esoteric message offered lessons relevant to the spiritual blindness of her age.

Her sympathies with the Eastern outlook intensified around the time of the First World War, no doubt in reaction against the bloodshed and devastation in Europe. She began to frequent the book shop of John M. Watkins of Cecil Court, Charing Cross Road, London, which was one of the most famous centres of Far Eastern and Theosophical literature. This shop had become a favourite haunt to many in Buddhist and Theosophical circles at that time. John Watkins himself had been closely associated with the late H. P. Blavatsky and was particularly fond of reminiscing about her. The Maltwoods came to know him well as he later published and sold Katharine Maltwood's books on the Glastonbury Zodiac and she often visited and consulted with him at his home nearby her London studio.

In the 1920's there was an upsurge of interest in Buddhism in England as the esoteric wisdom of the ages and a return to Blavatsky trend swept the Theosophical Society. Although the Adyar Theosophical Society had done much to revive Buddhism in the East it had fast deserted the principles which Madame Blavatsky had founded it to proclaim. The psychic turn that had been given the Movement by the Adyar group led many Western Theosophists to either leave or disassociate themselves with that branch of the Society. This occurred in England for instance when the Buddhist Lodge within the Theosophical Society decided to become an independent Buddhist Society in 1926. Its founder, Christmas Humphreys, was a friend of Katharine Maltwood and she appears to have been closely associated with the aims and beliefs of this group.

The English Buddhist Society was scholarly in approach and dedicated to the expansion of Buddhism in the West. Christmas Humphreys, who later became a well known judge at the Old Bailey, was an avowed Buddhist from his seventeenth year. He became one of the foremost Western authors on Buddhism and travelled widely in the Far East. Although disapproving of the later psychic trend in the Theosophical Society he firmly believed in the teachings of Madame Blavatsky as an exposition of an ancient Wisdom-Religion which antedates all others and that Buddhism was the noblest of its branches. In addition he became a keen student of Zen Buddhism and was a British agent for the works of Dr. D. T. Suzuki of Japan whose books created a great interest in Zen in the West.

Katharine Maltwood was similarly impressed by Dr. Suzuki's work, being attracted to the intuitive approach in Zen with its emphasis on meditation and self knowledge as a means to sudden enlightenment. Daisetz T. Suzuki, who was professor of Buddhist philosophy at the Otani University in Kyoto, Japan, became the recognized pioneer and foremost interpreter of Zen Buddhism in the West. He lectured extensively in the United States and Europe and was a personal friend of the Maltwoods, staying with them on several occasions while in England.



All content on this page is copyright © 30 January, 2006
Rosemary Brown, the Maltwood Art Museum and Gallery, and the University of Victoria

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