The Cambridge History of English and American Literature in 18 Volumes (1907–21).
Volume XIV. The Victorian Age, Part Two.

III. Critical and Miscellaneous Prose

§ 26. Laurence Oliphant

Two “rolling stones,” both of whom gathered moss, as the elder hinted in the title of one of his books, were Laurence Oliphant and Lafcadio Hearn. Oliphant’s books bear testimony to his wanderings. His earliest volume dealt with Khatmanda; and his next, The Russian Shores of the Black Sea, caused him to be consulted when the Crimean war broke out. In two wars, he acted as correspondent of The Times. He was in Japan while Japan was still in the medieval stage, and nearly lost his life in an attack in which the weapon of the assailant was a two-handed sword. So stirring a life afforded rich materials for various lively narratives from his pen, and for the essays which were gathered up near the close of his life in Episodes in a Life of Adventure. But the most extraordinary episode of all was Oliphant’s subjection to the “prophet” Thomas Lake Harris, whom the disciple believed to be not only a prophet, but “the greatest poet of the age,” and to whom he surrendered the whole of his property. One outcome of this discipleship was Sympneumata, a singular book, the joint composition of Oliphant and his wife, who both wrote, or believed that they wrote, under the dictation of a spirit. Other products were of a very different sort; for Oliphant seems to have united with this trait of enthusiasm a marked talent for business, which the prophet was shrewd enough to employ for his own benefit. Hence, The Autobiography of a Joint-Stock Company, in which Oliphant embodied the knowledge he had gained of the methods of American financiers. In the literary sense, however, Oliphant’s most valuable work was the satiric fiction Piccadilly, which shows him to have been a keen observer and a penetrating critic of the society of his time. Long afterwards, he returned to the realm of fiction in Altiora Peto, and proved that he still retained his old fineness of touch.