Julia Keightley

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Julia Keightley

Julia Wharton Lewis Campbell Ver Planck was an American Theosophist, lecturer, and writer, who married Dr. Archibald Keightley. The Keightleys were active in the Theosophical Society in America, later renamed Theosophical Society, which was headed by Ernest Temple Hargrove in New York. She is best known for her writings under the pseudonym Jasper Niemand.

Early life

Julia Wharton Lewis Campbell was born in 1851 into a distinguished Philadelphia family as the daughter of Judge James. W. Campbell (1820-1895).[1]

[Judge Campbell] commanded a regiment during the Civil War, served as member of the U. S. Congress for several terms, and held two diplomatic commissions under President Lincoln, as Minister to Sweden and Norway, and later at Bogatá, Colombia. Her mother was Juliet Lewis, daughter of Chief Justice Ellis Lewis of the Supreme Court of Pennsylvania, a writer of verse possessing great poetic charm and value."[2]

The Campbells lived in rural Pottsville, Pennsylvania. Julia had three brothers, two of whom died in 1864. She and her parents spent several years in Europe. By 1870 the family had taken up residence in Philadelphia.[3]

She married Philip William Ver Planck on December 21, 1871 at St. Stephen's Episcopal Church, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania.[4] He died at the age of 32 on December 15, 1876, in Colorado.[5] They had two sons who died very young - James Campbell Ver Planck (1872-1875) and Gordon Ver Planck (1874-1875). The shock of these three deaths led Julia into a long and difficult illness. She returned to her parents' home, and during her long recovery, she wrote two plays.[6][7]

Involvement with Theosophical Society

During an interval that she was living in New York City following the deaths of her first husband and sons, Mrs. Ver Planck became aware of the Theosophical Society.

One day, while lunching with her close friend, Mrs. Anna Lynch Botta, the name of Madame Blavatsky was mentioned, though she was spoken of as an exposed fraud. Mrs. Botta invited her to hear Arthur Gebhard speak on Theosophy at the home of a friend of hers. The impression produced upon Julia Ver Planck was so deep that she joined the Theosophical Society within two weeks, and started upon her Theosophical career.[8]

She joined the Aryan Lodge (in New York City) on May 27, 1886.[9] She contributed heavily to the literature of the early Theosophical Society in articles to The Path and two extremely popular volumes, Letters That Have Helped Me. In addition to her writing, she assisted with editorial and proofreading work.

Encounter with a Mahatma

After Mme. Blavatsky died, Mrs. Ver Planck had the following experience:

A few days after Madame Blavatsky died early in 1891, HPB awoke me at night. I raised myself, feeling no surprise, but only the sweet accustomed pleasure. She held my eyes with her leonine gaze. Then she grew thinner, taller, her shape became masculine; slowly then her features changed, until a man of height and rugged powers stood before me, the last vestige of her features melting into his, until the leonine gaze, the progressed radiance of her glance alone remained. The man lifted his head and said, "Bear witness!" He then walked from the room, laying his hand on the portrait of HPB as he passed. Since then, he has come to me several times, with instructions, in broad daylight while I was busily working, and once he stepped out from a large portrait of HPB.[10]

Marriage to Archibald Keightley

The 1891 marriage of Mrs. Ver Planck to Dr. Archibald Keightley was celebrated in The Path:

With great satisfaction the Path announces the union of two very eminent Theosophists, Dr. Archibald Keightley, former General Secretary of the British Section, and Mrs. J. Campbell Ver Planck, wholse published and private expositions of Theosophy have done so much to enlighten and guide the minds of students. The nuptials were solemnized in the Parish Church of Wayne, Pa., on Nov. 25th, the Rector of Wayne officiating. In this auspicious union is symbolized anew the oneness of two great Sections, and encompassing it may well be, not only the deep interest, but the joyous felicitations and the cordial benedictions of the London and the New York Headquarters. Always an American in sympathy, and of late years in habits, the Doctor now settles permanently in the land of his heart, and whether assuaging physical ill or ministering food to souls, will continue the services which have made the name of Keightley so beloved in the Theosophic world. With its now added lustre, we welcome it and salute it anew. May it be indissolubly connected with Theosophic history and Theosophic extension![11]

She had been living with her parents in Philadelphia, and the doctor had been in practice in San Francisco, after immigrating to the United States in 1888.[12] Following the wedding they established a household in New York City, then the headquarters of the American Section of the Theosophical Society. A year later, the ill health of Dr. Keightley's mother necessitated a move to England.[13]

1895 events and afterwards

The Keightleys maintained their memberships in the Theosophical Society until April 28, 1895. That spring at the American Section's convention, most American lodges withdrew from the Adyar Society and formed their own independent organization. Julia and her husband followed William Quan Judge in the establishment of the first Theosophical Society in America, which was quickly renamed by Judge's successor as the Universal Brotherhood and Theosophical Society. The couple traveled from England back to New York in April 1895, and were present for much of the turmoil that spring. They were very supportive of Mr. Judge and remained in New York for some months. Dr. Keightley played a role in the May 1896 wedding of coworker Claude Falls Wright to Leoline Leonard.[14]

Julia Keightley continued writing articles for Theosophical journals, as did her husband, sending their contributions to the journals of Ernest Temple Hargrove, Theosophy and The Theosophical Quarterly. Hargove and a small group of prominent American Theosophists had left the Universal Brotherhood and Theosophical Society, and established an offshoot organization, the Theosophical Society in America. The Keightleys were active in an English branch of that organization.

Later years

The Keightleys lived in England after 1896, with Dr. Keightley practicing medicine. England Census records show that by 1901 they had a well-established household in Hampstead, with six servants.[15]

Julia Keightley died on October 9, 1915 in Dolgelly, Merienethshire, Wales.[16] Evidently she had retained property in the United States, and her will was probated in Delaware, Pennsylvania, as well as in England.[17][18] Her husband continued to live and work in London until the late 1920s, when he returned to the United States.


Boris de Zirkoff wrote that Julia "felt an intense desire to help others by means of her writing."[19]

It appears that when Julia Ver Planck began to write articles for Theosophical journals, H.P.B. sent her a pen which Julia always used for this type of work. She said that, while the articles were always written in full objective consciousness, she felt at such times special inspiration and greater mental freedom. There can hardly be any question about the high level of her writings, and the profound mystical quality of most of them. Here and there they embody some occult truths which bespeak deeper knowledge acquired perchance in former lives.[20]

Early writings

As a teenager Julia Campbell began her writing career:

Her early writings consisted of translations from the poems written by the Kings of Sweden, and of original verse, tales and descriptions published in Harper's Magazine, the Galaxy, and other periodicals, both under her own name and the nom-de-plume of "Espérance." The full market rates paid to her for these writings are evidence that their fine quality was recognized by the Editors of the day."[21]

While recovering from the deaths of her first husband and sons, she wrote "her two successful plays, The Puritan Maid and Sealed Instructions: An Original Comedy-drama in Four Acts, the latter of which having had a marked success during two seasons at the Madison Square Theatre in New York, as well as in other parts of the country."[22][23]

Theosophical writings

As Jasper Niemand, Mrs. Keightley wrote numerous articles for Theosophical periodicals, including The Path, The Lamp, Lucifer, Theosophia, and Theosophical Quarterly. Union Index of Theosophical Periodicals lists at least 140 articles under that pseudonym.

  • Letters That Have Helped Me. Mrs. Ver Planck compiled this volume as an exchange of letters between "Jasper Niemand" and William Quan Judge, who signed his as "Z."
  • The Wonder-Light and Other Tales. True Philosophy for Children London: Theosophical Publishing Company, 1890. Author Mrs. J. Campbell Ver-Planck. Dedication: "To the Lion Heart now known as Helena Petronovna Blavatsky this little book is offered by the author."
  • The Vow of Poverty and Other Essays: And Other Essays, 1904.
  • The Unity of Religions, 1908.
  • The Sleeping Spheres, 1893-1899. This pamphlet about after-death states has a complex publishing history, but was first printed as a whole in 1953 by the The Canadian Theosophist. Available at spheres.pdf EasternTradition.org.


Mrs. Keightley wrote extensively under the pseudonym Jasper Niemand. Jasper means "master of the treasure" and Niemand is German for "nobody." Other Theosophical articles in The Path used the names "August Waldensee," "J," and "Julius."[24]

As a teenager she had previously used the nom-de-plume of "Espérance," meaning hope or promise.

Other resources

  • Autograph Letters Signed from Julia Wharton Lewis Campbell Ver Planck Keightley to Augustin Daly was published in 1885.
  • Folger Shakespeare Library, Washington, D.C. has autograph letters from Mrs. Ver Planck to William Winter and Augustin Daly. Both concern her plays.


  1. William Benford Aitken, Distinguished Families in America, Descended from Wilhelmus Beekman and Jan Thomasse Van Dyke (New York: Knickerbocker Press, 1912), 139. Available as Google eBook.
  2. Boris de Zirkoff, "Keightley, Julia Wharton" in H. P. Blavatsky Collected Writings Volume IV (Wheaton, Ill.: Theosophical Publishing House, 1969), 435. Please note that most of the wording of BdeZ's article came directly from "Faces of Friends" in The Theosophical Quarterly 3 (1916), 220.
  3. U. S. Census, 1860, 1870.
  4. Pennsylvania and New Jersey, U.S., Church and Town Records, 1669-2013.
  5. Philadelphia Inquirer (December 23, 1876), 4.
  6. Boris de Zirkoff, 376.
  7. U. S. Census, 1880.
  8. Boris de Zirkoff, 436. Julia's own account of this event was printed in Lucifer 8 no. 47 (July, 1891), 382-383.
  9. Theosophical Society General Membership Register, 1875-1942 at http://tsmembers.org/. See book 1, entry 3646 (website file: 1B/21).
  10. A Casebook of Encounters with the Theosophical Mahatmas Case 62, compiled and edited by Daniel H. Caldwell
  11. "Wedding Bells" The Path 6.9 (December, 1891), 293.
  12. U. S. Census, 1930.
  13. Boris de Zirkoff, 438.
  14. "Waited Centuries: Claude Falls Wright and Mary Leonard Wedded at Last" The Newark Daily Advocate (May 8, 1896), 7.
  15. 1901 England Census.
  16. England & Wales, Civil Registration Death Index, 1837-1915. Registered for Oct-Nov-Dec, 1915 in Dolgelly Registration District, Merionethshire. Volume 11b, page 491.
  17. England & Wales, National Probate Calendar (Index of Wills and Administrations), 1858-1995.
  18. Pennsylvania, U.S., Wills and Probate Records, 1683-1993.
  19. Boris de Zirkoff, 436.
  20. Boris de Zirkoff, 437.
  21. Boris de Zirkoff, 436.
  22. Boris de Zirkoff, 436.
  23. "Madison Square Theatre" in Wikipedia
  24. Boris de Zirkoff, 436.