On Tuesday March 25th, 1845, the poet Thomas Moore sat down in his study at Sloperton, in Wiltshire, to write a short – and somewhat confused – thank-you note to an old friend. The letter’s recipient pinned it carefully into a collection of treasured documents, but apart from herself, a handful of library staff members, and – oddly – Harry Houdini, almost 200 years would pass before anybody would set eyes on this letter again .
The note, and its partner from around a week later, represent two new additions to the stock of surviving letters by Moore. They also date from a time in the poet’s life which is comparatively poorly documented; there are far fewer surviving letters from this time period, and by the mid-1840s he had almost stopped updating his famous Journal, which for previous years provides a detailed record of his day-to-day life.
Here is a transcript of Moore’s first letter:
March 25 1845
Welcome, my dear Miss Crump after all your peregrinations, of which we shall soon, I trust have the fruits!
I was delighted to receive your letter but the book! the promised book! which was to accompany or follow it, has never ^(yet) made its appearance! For some time, I thought it might have got mixed up with the countless books and brochures that claim daily my notice. But, no – it has never made its appearance! and I must only throw myself on your kindness to favour me with another copy.
You must have felt very much the loss of our poor friend Campbell!
Ever yrs. truly & affect
Moore was an amazingly versatile writer and had achieved considerable fame in earlier years as a poet, lyricist, satirist, and biographer, as well as being a renowned performer (particularly of his own works, the celebrated Irish Melodies series). In 1845, though, at the age of sixty-six, he was mired in a seemingly never-ending project, a four-volume History of Ireland, and was struggling with financial difficulties, family troubles and an increasingly unreliable memory. It is possible that his confusion over the loss of the “book” – which was indeed actually a pamphlet – reflects the early stages of a form of dementia, which would sadly become more apparent the following year.
However, it is equally possible that upon its arrival in his study, the pamphlet had simply become lost among the clutter comprised by his increasingly large collection of historical notes. As a recent biographer of Moore’s describes,
At home, more and more learned rubbish piled up, threatening the floor of his study with its weight; more again lay stacked in the hall, next to the old clothes Bessy [Mrs. Moore] collected for distribution among the poor women of the neighbourhood – “and very fit company they are for each other”.Ronan Kelly, Bard of Erin (2009)
Miss Crumpe must have responded with an explanation and a further copy of her article, because a week later, Moore wrote a second letter.
April 1st 1845
Many thanks, my dear Miss Crumpe for your interesting brochure. I am much inclined to think that mesmerism may some day or other, be turned usefully to account – at present, between scoffers and over-believers, it has but little chance of fair play! Such contributors to the cause as those of your scientific pen, cannot fail to help its progress.
Yours most truly
These two short letters, written towards the end of Moore’s life, don’t provide a huge amount of new information in relation to the poet himself – with the possible exception of clarifying his views on the practice of mesmerism. They do, however, provide some interesting insights into the relationship between their writer and their proud recipient.
Who was Miss Crumpe?
Born in Limerick some time around the year 1796, Mary Grace Susanna Crumpe was an Irish novelist and poet. Between the 1820s and 1850s she brought out three novels – and, possibly, a pseudonymous fourth novel – and had a large number of friends and acquaintances among the British and Irish literary communities. Documentary evidence of her life is fragmentary, and her legacy has been overshadowed by that of her more famous father, Dr. Samuel Crumpe, but she seems to have been a fascinating, flamboyant and at times controversial character, who was willing to go to great lengths to get her books published, and attracted admiration and censure in more or less equal measure. Her life and works have received relatively little attention, which is a situation I hope to change .
A lifelong admirer of Moore’s, Miss Crumpe had taken the unconventional step of introducing herself to him back in 1823, when the poet – at the time a major celebrity – was visiting Limerick:
Received a note from another authoress, a Miss —, saying she wished me to call upon her. Did so. A very handsome, showy person; has published a novel, “Isabel St. Albe“, dedicated to Scott, and is about to publish another, which she proposes to dedicate to me.Friday, 15th August 1823. The Journal of Thomas Moore (ed. Dowden), vol II, p670.
(This excerpt from Moore’s journal may not represent his only thoughts on their introduction, as this particular volume was heavily censored by Moore’s editor, Lord John Russell .)
Miss Crumpe followed through on her promise to dedicate a novel to Moore, with her second acknowledged work, Geraldine of Desmond (1829). Evidently proud of their friendship, she peppered her published writings and her private correspondence with Moore allusions, and may have emulated his writing practices. Like his Melodies, her later works contain many – some would say too many – historical footnotes, and she published at least one of her poems as song lyrics, in sheet music form.
Moore’s private views on Miss Crumpe were somewhat less cordial. Although his surviving letters to her are unfailingly polite, and on a number of occasions he seems to have deliberately sought out her company, as well as helping her with matters relating to her book, his entries in the Journal from the later 1820s indicate his growing impatience with her importunities and her flirtatious manner.
…[C]alled upon Miss Crumpe, my Limerick Blue-Stocking, and was received by her with all due ardour and eloquence – her novel & herself in a state of great forwardness. – asked me to dinner, to breakfast &c. &c. and threatened to read me “the scene of the Tournament” out of her novel – Hinted that I was a bad listener, but nevertheless would be happy to listen to her –Wednesday, October 17th 1827. Dowden, The Journal of Thomas Moore, vol III, p1067. This section was deleted in its entirety by Lord John Russell.
In 1829 Moore’s annoyance with Miss Crumpe came to a peak, when she became party to a brief scandal in the London literary scene. Reports were circulating that his good friend, the poet Thomas Campbell, was considering marrying Miss Crumpe; these rumours had certainly been fuelled by a couple of notorious letters Campbell had sent to his contacts in the periodical press, asking them to write good (or at least generous) reviews of her latest novel Geraldine. After a tedious dinner with the infatuated Campbell, Moore described her in his journal as “Miss Crump, my eternal plague” (Journal, vol III, p1192).
In the months to come, Campbell would strenuously deny the allegations of their romantic involvement, particularly emphatically to their mutual acquaintance Walter Scott, who for unknown reasons nursed an especially strong dislike of Miss Crumpe. However, it seems that their relationship had in fact ended with an almost farcically brief engagement.
Alexander Dyce’s Reminiscences relate that Campbell, in a fit of passion, had made a proposal of marriage to Miss Crumpe one evening, but had awoken the next morning in a panic and appealed to his friend (and later biographer) Dr. Beattie, who went “on a very disagreeable embassy to Miss Crumpe, and with great difficulty, and much to the young lady’s indignation, contrived at last to break off the engagement into which the poet had so rashly entered.” (p195-196) 
Whether or not Moore knew about this undignified end to the love affair, his comment at the end of the first letter above, on Campbell’s recent death – “You must have felt very much the loss of our poor friend Campbell!” – was still something of a mean-spirited joke. Nevertheless, Miss Crumpe might well have been willing to overlook this in favour of his pleasant inquiry about her recent travels, and his evident (although mistaken) interest in her “book”, which indicated that he recalled her work-in-progress. (She had been labouring over this book, another historical novel, since at least 1830; titled The Death-Flag, it would eventually be published in 1851.) Moreover, given the extent of the struggle Moore was having with the History, his having taken the time to read and respond to an old friend’s letters was, at least, a kind gesture.
Of course, it’s also possible that Moore was procrastinating.
What exactly is this odd manuscript?
In 1845, Miss Crumpe – who up until then, as far as I know, had only published fiction and poetry – wrote an article for a science journal, on the study of mesmerism. Her intention was to respond to Harriet Martineau’s recent call for people who had experienced mesmerism to write articles in support of it as a medical treatment (Animal Magnetism, p4). To celebrate the appearance of this paper in the Polytechnic Review – it was seemingly the first thing she had published in fifteen years – she had a number of copies of the article’s text reprinted by the Edinburgh publishers W. H. Lizars & Co, to send to some friends. She also had a copy specially bound for herself, in green leather. In the back of this book, she affixed some newspaper clippings – reviews of the article – and the letters that she had received congratulating her on her work. An index in her own handwriting lists these letters and their authors; there are 24 in total, three of which seem to be missing.
This was clearly a treasured book, reflecting the author’s pride in her achievement and in the accolades of her friends. The other correspondents represent a surprisingly diverse group of people, including an archdeacon, the inventor of Milk of Magnesia (whose letter is decidedly flirtatious), a number of famous mesmerists, a newspaper proprietor, and – bizarrely – the MP who is widely credited with starting the Second Opium War. Knowing Miss Crumpe, I would be extremely surprised if she didn’t also send a copy to Harriet Martineau; if this is the case, however, she doesn’t seem to have responded.
Interestingly, the first two letters that she listed in the handwritten index are Moore’s, although this puts them out of date order; it’s tempting to think that these were the responses that she valued most.
(I’m currently preparing a transcript of the handwritten index. If you’re interested in the other letters and their authors – which include the writers S. C. Hall and Horatio Smith – then watch this space!)
Yes, but where does Houdini come into this story?
Miss Crumpe died in 1861, on the island of Jersey. Having left no descendants, no literary executor, and apparently not even a will, her personal papers were dispersed. Many of the more valuable items, such as letters from more famous writers like Maria Edgeworth and Walter Scott, seem to have been sold off, and have resurfaced in libraries around the world, but it seems likely that many were also lost or destroyed. Moore’s two letters would also have been worth money to collectors, but happily, the bound Letters on Animal Magnetism had the good fortune to find its way almost undisturbed into Harry Houdini’s personal library, probably due to the magician’s interest in collecting rare texts on mesmerism and other esoteric topics.
Over the course of his life, Houdini had amassed a considerable collection of materials relating to spiritualism and magic, which he himself described as “one of the largest libraries in the world on psychic phenomena, Spiritualism, magic, witchcraft, demonology, evil spirits, etc., some of the material going back as far as 1489”. Upon his death, he left around 4000 volumes to the Library of Congress, amongst which was Miss Crumpe’s cherished book.
How did the letters resurface?
In 2019, trawling WorldCat for extant physical copies of Miss Crumpe’s novels (which are quite rare), I happened upon the Library of Congress listing for the Letters on Animal Magnetism, and was immediately struck by the description of the book, which briefly mentioned the presence of clippings and letters – as well as a handwritten index – but didn’t have specifics. This was clearly a unique manuscript and I was desperate to get a look at it, but travelling to Washington D.C. wasn’t going to be a possibility for me in the near future. Chancing my arm, I contacted the Library. Was there any possibility of my seeing a digital copy of the work?
Libraries are wonderful places! Within a few days, the Rare Book and Special Collections Division got back to me to say they had decided to put the Letters into the Library’s digitization queue. After some conservation work – unsurprisingly for a 175-year-old document, it’s quite fragile – a scan of the complete manuscript is now available online, and is in the public domain.
Thanks to the generosity and openness of the Library of Congress, this unique book and its trove of letters has found its way back into public view, almost 200 years after it was originally printed, bound and painstakingly assembled. Miss Crumpe would no doubt have been delighted by this!
Space, budgets and time are all limited commodities for working librarians, even (and especially!) in the world’s biggest libraries, with the most extensive collections of unique manuscripts. Many special collection items – like this one – may be described only briefly in a library’s catalogue; there just aren’t the resources for each book, file or document to get the individual attention it deserves. It’s extremely common for a researcher to find themselves working their way through a box with a name like “Miscellaneous correspondence of the Smith family – approx. 200 letters dated between 1800 and 1950”. This can make the search for particular items frustrating, but also exciting, as you never know exactly what you’re going to find. The discovery of these two letters by one of Ireland’s most famous 19th-century writers, tucked inside a seemingly unrelated book, suggests that as more collections are indexed and digitized, many more forgotten treasures are likely to resurface.
Many thanks to Dr. Francesca Benatti for kindly sharing her expertise on Moore’s life and works, and to Eric Frazier at the Rare Book and Special Collections department of the Library of Congress, for his kind assistance in getting this rare collection item digitized – and for fielding many over-excited emails from me. Thanks also to Esther Ní Dhonnacha for proofreading!
This is, of course, a bit of hyperbole! The bound volume was accessible at the Library of Congress from 1927 onward, and the main document in the collection – Miss Crumpe’s Letters on Animal Magnetism – is cited in a couple of books on the subject of 19th-century mesmerism and psychical research. To the best of my knowledge, however, the obscurity of the text means that the letters and clippings which were pinned inside the folder alongside the printed Letters have been entirely overlooked: they don’t appear in either Wilfrid Dowden’s 1964 collection of Moore’s letters, or Jeffery Vail’s 2013 edition, which contains more than a thousand additional texts. I am open to correction on this point, though!
 Limerick historian Sharon Slater has written the most extensive discussion of the lives of the Crumpe family, while Claire Connolly’s “A Bookish History of Irish Romanticism” discusses Miss Crumpe’s second novel and its use of lithographs. Nora Crook’s article “Fourteen New Letters by Mary Shelley” also briefly describes Miss Crumpe’s interactions with the Shelley circle, as does her paper “Desperately Seeking Miss Crumpe”.
 Wilfred S. Dowden’s edition of Moore’s Journals (1983-1991) describes the butchery that Lord John Russell inflicted upon the original manuscripts: working in a great hurry, he edited as he went along by scribbling or striking out passages that he felt reflected poorly on Moore or on others. Dowden’s edition, based upon the original rediscovered copybooks, restored the majority of the passages which were excised by Russell, including almost all of his references to Miss Crumpe – many of which were not especially kind. The original volume that records their meeting in 1824, however, was water-damaged beyond any hope of retrieval, and is available to us only in Russell’s bowdlerised edition (Dowden pp10-12).
Lord John’s decision to publish a heavily redacted version of the Journal makes more sense given that many individuals mentioned in the book – including Miss Crumpe! – were still alive when it was published, but that doesn’t make the loss any less frustrating.
 Dyce’s information allegedly came from Campbell himself, but his Reminiscences were not written down until the late 1860s, many years after the events they describe, so may not be entirely accurate. Miss Crumpe seems to have retained friendly memories of Campbell until later in life, referring to him as “a distinguished poet” in a footnote to her 1851 novel The Death-Flag (p218).
Connolly, Claire. “A Bookish History of Irish Romanticism.” Rethinking British Romantic History, 1770-1845, edited by Porscha Fermanis and John Regan, Oxford University Press, 2014.
Crook, Nora. “Fourteen New Letters by Mary Shelley.” Keats-Shelley Journal, vol. 62, 2013, pp. 37–61. JSTOR.
Crook, Nora. “News and Notes/ Desperately Seeking Miss Crumpe: Finding Mary Shelley Letters on the Internet.” The Keats-Shelley Review, vol. 29, no. 1, Apr. 2015, pp. 7–14.
Crumpe, Miss M. G. S. Geraldine of Desmond, or, Ireland in the Reign of Elizabeth: An Historical Romance. Colburn, 1829.
Crumpe, Miss M. G. S. Isabel St. Albe, or, Vice and Virtue. Edinburgh, London, Dublin: Constable and Company (Edinburgh); Hurst, Robinson and Co. (London); John Cumming (Dublin), 1823.
Crumpe, Miss M. G. S. The Death-Flag; or, The Irish Buccaneers. William Shoberl, 1852.
Dyce, Alexander, and Richard J. Schrader. The Reminiscences of Alexander Dyce. The Ohio State University Press, 1972.
Kelly, Ronan. Bard of Erin: The Life of Thomas Moore. Penguin Books Limited, 2009.
Moore, Thomas; Dowden, Wilfrid S. (ed). The Journal of Thomas Moore (multiple volumes). University of Delaware Press, 1984.
Moore, Thomas. Thomas Moore to Miss Crumpe, Mar 25th 1845. 25 Mar. 1845 (letter).
Moore, Thomas. Thomas Moore to Miss Crumpe, April 1st 1845. 1st Apr. 1845 (letter).
Moore, Thomas, and Wilfred S. Dowden. The Letters of Thomas Moore. Clarendon Press, 1964.
Moore, Thomas, and John Russell Russell. Memoirs, Journal, and Correspondence of Thomas Moore. Longman, Brown, Green, and Longmans, 1853. Hathi Trust.
Slater, Sharon. “Dr Samuel Crumpe – A Man of Many Talents.” Limerick’s Life, 8 Feb. 2019.