Laurence Oliphant

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Laurence Oliphant

Laurence Oliphant (born August 3, 1829 in Cape Town , now part of South Africa , † December 23, 1888 in Twickenham , now part of the London Borough of Richmond upon Thames ) was a British travel writer , diplomat and occultist . In the steampunk novel The Difference Engine (1990) by William Gibson , he is portrayed as a former diplomat in Japan and a spy for the British secret service .


Laurence (or Lawrence) Oliphant was born as the son of Sir Anthony Oliphant (1793-1859), then Attorney General in the Cape Colony . After his appointment as Chief Justice in the former crown colony of Ceylon , he grew up in Colombo , where he enjoyed a very free upbringing. His father is said to have started tea cultivation in Ceylon (near Nuwara Eliya ) with plants smuggled from China . In 1851 he traveled with the Nepalese Maharaja Jang Bahadur Rana (1816–1877) from Colombo to Kathmandu ; he wrote the first of his travelogues about it .

After briefly studying law in England and traveling to Russia, he became Lord Elgin's secretary in 1853 . He accompanied the Secretary of State Henry Pelham-Clinton on a trip to Circassia during the Crimean War . From 1861 he could have pursued a diplomatic career as the first secretary of the British consul Rutherford Alcockin Japan. Hardly on duty, however, he was seriously injured on July 5, 1861 in a night attack by enemy Rōnin and traveled back to England.

From 1865 to 1869 he was an MP for the Scottish District of Stirling Burghs in the British House of Commons .

After his meeting with the American Swedenborgian and occultist Thomas Lake Harris (1823-1906) he followed this in 1868 in his community Brotherhood of the New Life in the state of New York . In 1870 his most successful book was published, the satirical novel Piccadilly . During the Franco-Prussian War he worked as a correspondent for The Times in Paris. In 1873 he returned with his wife Alice and his mother to his "guru" Harris, from whom he finally separated in 1881.

In 1879, after a trip to the Middle East, he planned to found a (Jewish) settlement in northern Palestine , before the first Biluim arrived . The Jewish poet Naphtali Herz Imber traveled to Haifa with him and his wife in 1882 as his secretary . After the death of his wife, he returned to England in 1887, married his second wife Rosamond - a granddaughter of Robert Owens - and died there before he planned to return to Haifa.

Works (selection)

  • A Journey to Katmandu (the capital of Nepaul) with the camp of Jung Bahadoor. Including a sketch of the Ambassador at home . Murray, London 1852
  • Russian shores of the Black Sea in the autumn of 1852. With a voyage down the Volga, and a tour through the country of the Don Cossacks . William Blackwood and Sons, Edinburgh / London 1853
    • New edition as: The Russian shores of the Black Sea and a journey to Katmandu . Könemann, Cologne 1998, ISBN 3-8290-0894-5
  • Minnesota and the Far West . Blackwood, Edinburgh 1855
  • The trans-caucasian campaign of the turkish army under Omar Pasha . Blackwood, Edinburgh 1856
  • Narrative of the Earl of Elgin's mission to China in the years 1857, 58, 59 . 2 volumes. Blackwood, Edinburgh 1859
    • New edition: Oxford University Press, New York 1970
  • Piccadilly. A fragment of contemporary biography . Novel. Blackwood, Edinburgh 1870
  • The Land of Gilead . With excursions in the Lebanon . Blackwood, Edinburgh 1880
  • The Land of Khemi. Up and down the middle Nile . Blackwood, Edinburgh 1882
  • Altiora Peto . Novel. 2 volumes. Blackwood, Edinburgh 1883
  • Masollam. A problem of the period . Novel. 2 volumes. Blackwood, Edinburgh 1886
  • Haifa. Or, life in Modern Palestine . Blackwood, Edinburgh 1887
    • Reissued as: Haifa. Or, life in the Holy Land 1882–1885 . Canaan, Jerusalem 1976
  • Fashionable philosophy and other sketches . Blackwood, Edinburgh 1887
  • Episodes in a life of adventure. Or, moss from a rolling stone . Blackwood, Edinburgh 1887
    • German as: When a ball gets rolling ... Notes of an adventurer, diplomat and occultist . Translated and introduced by Thomas Meyer . Perseus, Basel 2004, ISBN 3-907564-40-5


  • Margaret Oliphant: Memoir of the life of Laurence Oliphant and of Alice Oliphant, his wife . Blackwood, London 1891
  • George Lawton, Herbert Wallace Schneider: A prophet and a pilgrim: being the incredible history of Thomas Lake Harris and Laurence Oliphant. Their sexual mysticisms and utopian communities amply documented to confound the skeptic . Columbia University Press, New York 1942; Reprint: AmS Press, New York 1970, ISBN 0-404-05610-5
  • Philip Henderson: The Life of Laurence Oliphant: Traveler, diplomat and mystic . Hale, London 1956
  • Anne Taylor: Laurence Oliphant 1829–1888 . Oxford University Press, New York 1982, ISBN 0-19-812676-X

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