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I have arranged the letters according to their dates. Some have no dates but the day of the week, but this is not of much importance. They were removed from their envelopes and pasted in the scrap-book, which prevented accuracy in the dates. Of course with some letters the dates might have been worked out, and I should have done this had it seemed to me necessary.
The first letter was on February 9th, 1875, and they have been numbered up to March 22nd, 1876. The two letters in French to my mother are dated March 12th, 1876, and August 28th, 1878, and the letter of introduction to Aksakof is on the same date. There was therefore more than two years between these letters. Whether during this interval there were any letters I cannot tell. The chances are that there were not, for my father carefully kept all letters, and he would have been especially careful with H.P.B.'s. I have a distinct recollection that he was approached by the Theosophical Society asking for these letters, but he declined to give them up. If I mistake not, Mrs. Besant herself asked for them but he declined her request.
He once asked me not to give them away when they should fall into my hands after his death. He never hinted to me that he wanted me to publish them.
A former student of my father's and one of his greatest admirers, Mrs. William Vaughn Moody, of Chicago, wrote me but a few months ago begging me to have them published. She met H.P.B. during her visit to Ithaca, and she told me she used to make her cigarettes for her. She also said to me that while she was not a follower of H.P.B. in her Theosophical movement she recognized the greatness of her personality, and thought the letters should be published if they threw any light at all on her personality. I think her suggestion influenced me more than any inclination on my part for the task, for my own work and interests were wholly along my professional lines. But I should not have undertaken it at all had I not been greatly interested in the Theosophical movement up to the time of H.P.B.'s death, in 1891, and that I had read her books and most of the writings published during the first decade of the Theosophical movement, and had the books in my own library.
As I have already stated, the Vedanta Society's publications, and especially the works of Vivakananda, interested me more and had much more influence in teaching me the philosophy and religions of the East. The disciples of Ramakrishna founded the Vedanta Society, and they accomplished a great work in the United States by their lectures and publications. To those who failed to get from the Church as constituted and organized the comfort and consolation which they sought, the esoteric philosophy of the East came as a balm of Gilead, and much more than that, for it helped to explain much in the teachings of the Christian Churches which was otherwise obscure. The Hindoo helped to make a better Christian, or, at least, a more consistent and intelligent one. Christ Himself became a more approachable figure.
Now, the Theosophical Society was a good forerunner of the Vedanta Society, and as it developed, it came nearer to the purely Indian movement. I do not know its present status, but if its membership is less it's a better selected one, and the influence of Mrs. Besant and her co-workers have proved of greatest value.
Madame Blavatsky and Colonel Olcott were in a way pioneers in an effort to bring the much neglected teachings of the East into the Western world, and they were opposed and even slandered, as pioneers often are. They not only deserve recognition but they deserve praise, and their names will go down in history as prominent figures in the evolution of the religious thought and spirit of the West. Their mistakes and blunders were those of pioneers feeling their way, and when viewed critically were of but little influence on the progress of the movement itself. They suffered for their mistakes while the cause itself benefited by them.
Letter No. 2, with the date from the post-mark only, February 16th, 1875, is in a way the best letter and the most impressive one which she wrote to my father; it clears up, to my mind, the whole slander directed against her in regard to her deserting "spiritualism," so called, for the Theosophical Society. At the time this letter was written she was moving heaven and earth to find out the genuine in modem spiritualism, and to detect fraud among the mediums, and more than all that, to try and improve the literature of the movement in this country. As may be seen in some of her other letters, she did much to found and keep going the Spiritual Scientist in Boston, edited by E. Jerry Brown. Her object was to give a more philosophical character to the articles, and to eliminate much irrelevant and unevidential stuff which in a way made up the chief body of the Banner of Light and the Religio-Philosophical Journal. Spiritualism at that time was in a very crude state, and naturally so. It was but twenty-five years from the Rochester knockings, and great and striking as this first awakening stage was, and remarkable, too, as were the manifestations among a few selected mediums, there was no critical attitude, no middle ground for calm reflection and study. The phenomena were either heavenly or damnable. These determined purposes of H.P.B. were in no way antagonistic to her settled belief that the manifestations were often, if not mostly, a low form of communion with the spiritual world. By her own experiences in occultism, and by the teachings of the Eastern ascetics and adepts, this conviction had been burnt into her for several years. Spiritualism as a cult had not found a fertile soil in India. There is none of it in Vedanta, and in India generally the phenomena were regarded as the result of evocations and black magic, where the aid of lower spiritual entities were invoked. The phenomena which were produced by trained adepts, who had passed through a long and severe course of yoga, such as reading the thoughts of others, and projecting the astral body, and certain other occult phenomena, were considered as independent manifestations, and not due to a passive mediumship, as seen under trance and independent of the will of the medium.
I am not prepared to say how far right or wrong H.P.B. was at this time of her life. Certainly the future history of spiritualism shows a much better phase of the movement. The ill-effects of mediumistic practices have not been great; the good effects in innumerable instances have been very great. Anything which helps one to believe in his immortality is good; I don't care what it is. If ten thousand devils are helping you to realize that you are something else and something infinitely greater than your poor body, hail to them; only don't make intimates of them; be intimate only with yourself.
Now, the trouble with H.P.B. was that she let the black cat out of the bag too soon, or in a too spectacular way. It is hard to change a fixed idea. Even my father, whom H.P.B. had taken into her confidence, and had written him exactly where she stood, was not prepared for the sudden change of front with the founding of the Theosophical Society, and attacked it in public with very strong language. He had gotten certain manifestations which had been of the greatest comfort and benefit to him, and to be told suddenly that he was dealing with undeveloped spirits of the lower sphere was carrying the idea too far. And so it was, and there was the mistake which was made. As a matter of fact, the transition was like passing from one hundred degrees in the shade to sixty degrees below zero, and they did not have sufficient warm clothing for the change. Even to-day in modern spiritualism the chance of undeveloped spirits, so called, or elementals, whatever they may be, breaking through, is fully realized, and precautions are taken, and seances stopped if their presence is suspected.
The spiritual medium of the West was more acceptable than the naked or half-naked yogi of the East. Centuries of different customs and traditions, and the different characteristics of the race, had produced differences which no movements, no revolutions, no religions, could amalgamate or in any way bind together. The Theosophical Society invoked a tidal wave when only the gentlest seeping process was possible.
As I have before intimated, H.P.B. produced as her authorities certain mystics and alchemists, and so-called initiates of the Middle Ages, well known to the scholars of the Western World, and yet quite wholly rejected by them. Here and there some penetrating mind saw below the scholarly surface, and saw that there was some method in their madness. Robert Browning must have seen much in Paracelsus to write a great poem about him, and his thousands of readers enjoy the poem, but haven't much or any faith in Paracelsus.
I cannot see dishonesty or subterfuge or trickery in this phase of H.P.B.'s life. On the contrary, I think a cool-headed judgment, free from religious bigotry and prejudice and emotional stress, must explain whatever mistakes she made at that time of her life as due to other causes.
Had she confided in the public as she confided in my father in a private letter, I believe much of the suspicion cast upon her would have been prevented. But she saw in my father a scholar and a highly spiritual-minded man, and there was no restraint. But in dealing with a public there was a large uneducated and unspiritual mass which she must have dreaded, and naturally so. She probably had in mind a French proverb: "Toute la verite n'est pas bonne a dire."
This is the only solution of the situation which I can give. The verdict of the S.P.R. is in line with many of their other verdicts, which, to use a slang expression in America, is "rough stuff." It would have been much better to have introduced the Theosophical Society with a penny whistle than by a blast of trumpets. "Die milde Macht ist gross," of Goethe, would have been good advice.
Letter No. 3 is only valuable as showing H.P.B.'s intense desire to unmask fraud, and that she is willing to pay for the publication of her article to accomplish it. Why she suggested the Springfield Republican I can only explain on the ground that she had long corresponded with a lady in Springfield, Massachusetts, who was an ardent spiritualist and also much interested in H.P.B. This letter is also good evidence of her effort to try and compel the spiritualistic journals to come out in the open and not prevaricate, or try and conceal the fraudulent side of the movement. It is easy to understand their attitude in this matter; it is easy to understand their self-deception in wishing to keep silent about the fraud and other objectionable features in their cause at a time when the entire subject was under bitter denunciation and ridicule. For anyone to come out and publicly proclaim himself a spiritualist required great moral courage, and subjected the person to severe criticism, and even to financial embarrassment, and this even holds to-day. I may mention Sir William Crookes in this connection, a famous chemist and scientist, a member of the Royal Society, whose investigations into the phenomena were most careful and comprehensive, and who yet was severely criticized and even scorned by his confreres. My father, an honoured professor in a great university, had this moral courage, and wrote an article for the Cornell Era upholding the truth of the phenomena; he endorsed the movement as a timely one when faith in the spiritual and supernormal was at its ebb. He felt that spiritualism would be an aid to man's faith in his immortality. It was a surprise to me that the officers of the university did not take umbrage at this public declaration of his faith, but nothing was done, and his influence in the university was in no way impaired. His teaching of English literature was always on its spiritual side, fine scholar as he was, and against the usual course in the schools, where much time was taken up with mere outside circumstances of time and place, and the small details of the ordinary life of genius. He disliked the word environment, and thought it rather fortunate that we knew so little about the details of Shakespeare's life.
We can understand, then, why he was anxious to meet H.P.B. and to have her in his home as a guest. It is interesting to note in his letter that he had hoped to have some "sittings" with her as though she were an ordinary spiritual medium, and his disappointment when she showed no inclination for any "phenomena." The precipitated picture of my sister was almost the only one she did of her own accord, and we learn from her letter how much she repented of doing that after my mother's attitude in the matter. Had H.P.B. wished in any way to show off she had good opportunity in this university town; she may have felt, however, the antagonistic atmosphere of the place, for marvels and the supernormal are usually foreign to a university. When Professor Antony called she was anything but gracious, and begrudged the time from her writing.
Letter No. 4 is one of her longest and most remarkable letters, and it is, moreover, a very beautiful one. There are a number of points which I may comment on.
She speaks of her illness, of being swollen up, with her face as big as a pumpkin. Whether this had any relationship with the dropsy from nephritis which occurred later I cannot say. Olcott writes in Old Diary Leaves of the severe illness she passed through in June of that from an injury to the bone of her leg, when an eminent surgeon had advised amputation, but which, Olcott writes, was recovered from in some occult way in the night. We have no definite details about this occurrence, so that it cannot be further discussed. Several years later in India she had an attack more aggravated still with general dropsical swellings, and she went to the Thibetan border and returned in three days apparently cured. She lived several years afterwards, and died in 1891 apparently from the same trouble.
In this letter, as in all her letters which I have read, and few indeed have escaped me, does she at any time praise or vaunt herself. She is keenly conscious of the fact that after her stormy youth and many wanderings and hardships her face showed the storms she had passed through and the emotional and spiritual struggles she had battled with. She was an old woman at forty, but with the energy of youth, and with a set purpose which defied everyone and everything. I know no prominent person in literature who has been so candid and free in her analysis of herself. It is pathetic the way in which she apologises for her Russian smoking and swearing; she trusts to find in my mother, who was French, and yet, unknown to her, — most punctilious in regard to all straying from the respectable conventions of the day — one who would overlook these irregularities. As already quoted by me, my father found her lacking in the graces and amenities of life, and called her a Russian bear, yet, after she left, wrote me "we enjoyed her visit." Of course they did. She was too big a character, too exceptional a personality not to be interesting, for the exceptional is always interesting, and often inspiring, while the commonplace is deadly dull, and often passes all endurance. And it was a great thing to have had this woman for a guest for nearly four weeks; she gave you something to think about; she could help you to forget the dreary commonplace even in a university town. I have met many learned bores and many more respectable bores who have nothing to recommend them, not even scholarship. She may have been a Russian bear, but she was a very great one, and vastly greater than any of her traducers, who may have been as gentle and tractable as Mary's little lamb they when were not dealing with subjects which had no place in the clubs, or in the drawing-room, or in Parliament, or in the university. Personally, I am glad that she smoked cigarettes and swore in Russian like a trooper and wore loose wrappers instead of the corseted gowns of the Rue de la Paix. These everyday people are sometimes the death of you.
The great poet Walt Whitman was uncomfortable in their presence, and he usually fought shy of the academic professor. It took some time before he was willing to take my father into his full confidence. He loved the plain people, and his intimates were mostly from the working-people. The real secret of it was that he hated the artificial, and H.P.B. had reached this same mental state. It is really not mental, but a certain spiritual attitude hard to explain or put in words at all. It was a bit of the cosmic consciousness which sought out the human spirit without its earthly trappings. Let me lie on the ground in my solitude and look at the stars.
There was much of this in H.P.B., and it is a key to unlock some of the mysteries and irregular actions of her life. Such persons are bound to be misunderstood. Colonel Olcott, who knew her best and was longest intimately associated with her, patiently stood all her fits of temper and vituperations on what she considered his stupidity at times, simply because he saw her greatness. The game was worth the candle.
What she writes in this letter on reincarnation as a belief among the French spiritists, requires comment and explanation if it can be explained. While in Buddhism it is a definite concept and quite universally believed, and adopted as a basic principle in the Eastern philosophy, it may not have been so stressed among the mystics of the Middle Ages or in her own strivings and wanderings after the "sciences occultes." But I do not think this can hold. It was the dominant idea throughout the East. It was almost the keynote in Plato's philosophy. The Neo-Platonism of Plotinus and Proclus is full of it; with a belief in the immortality of the soul you cannot evade it.
The only explanation to my mind is that she kept silent as she did in so many other things at that time. She must have been aware that it would have been repugnant to the American spiritualists, and I am not aware that even to-day it is acceptable to them. I do not think it is acceptable in England either. The majority of spiritualists are not philosophically inclined, and do not care to look beyond the mere fact of intercourse between the two worlds. As a theory or as a basic principle of the Eastern religions it still demands a very subtle and very extensive analysis to put the idea into any shape and to give it a philosophical basis. In her later theosophical writings H.P.B. does go into the subject with great detail and great subtlety, and the reader must turn to her works for a comprehensive view of the question. Certainly I cannot touch upon it here at all. My idea is that she was silent, just as she was silent on other matters which were extensively elaborated in her later writings. As a matter of fact, she had all that she could attend to, and more too.
She referred to M. and Mme. Leymarie as representatives of the French spiritists and exponents of the literature of spiritism in France, independently of the teachings of Allan Kardec. She wanted the Boston Spiritual Scientist more after the French model, as more philosophical, and less occupied with insignificant and unevidential details.
In the letter she writes: "You invite me so kindly to the Cascade." This requires some explanation. At that time a Mrs. John Andrews, a very excellent woman, the wife of a carpenter, a strong medium for physical manifestations, was holding seances at a little place called Cascade, on Owasco Lake, where my father and mother had gone for some seances which had proved satisfactory, and they had invited H.P.B. to attend them as their guest. Evidently she had other work on hand and was not especially interested.
It is interesting to note what she writes about her articles on spiritualism: "Don't think for a moment, my dear Mr. Corson, that it is vanity or author's pride that speaks in me. If I write well enough in other languages, and I know I do, I know well enough at the same time that I have nothing to boast of in my English articles." As a matter of fact she writes marvellously well for a foreigner, and a native born might be proud of the work. As Count Witte writes, her grasp of foreign language was extraordinary. She seemed to feel the very genius of the language in all its forms and nuances, and we occasionally come upon a slang expression given with its full force and significance. When my father writes of his daughter as "dead" and "lost," she rebukes him in a gentle and beautiful way as untrue to his convictions as a spiritualist. The letter is all sincerity from beginning to end, she need not fear its publication; it is a genuine expression from a genuine woman.
Letter No. 5 is of interest on several points. She mentions the trouble with her leg and her confinement to bed. Ordinary mortals under such conditions don't write letters, but we see here the evidence of her indomitable will which nothing could control or turn from its course. And throughout her life as we know it there was this same intensity of purpose and endeavour. Even when dropsical she was at her desk writing, and so to the last day.
She writes of "the abstruse subject" of spiritualism and of my father's "need of spiritual truths," and the necessity of certain "simple facts" to clear up the doubts and questions in his mind. I was so long away from home that I never learned from him the results of her talks with him on the subject; how far she went in bringing out her own theories and ideas on the subject; whether she elaborated what she had already written him about her "spiritualism" and its differences from its modern phase.
Her description of her portrait and the "extra" is not only amusing, but shows that she views it quite differently from the ordinary spiritualist. I am glad that I can reproduce this strange photograph. The other photograph taken by Beardsley, of Ithaca, gives us a good idea of her general appearance, and I am not aware that any one like it has been published.
What she writes of Professor Wagner is also significant. She emphasizes the truth of the phenomena. As I see her position, it was always the truth of the phenomena. Never in any of her letters nor in her writings has she expressed herself as the ordinary spiritualist as we use the term. One should never forget that this term can have the widest significance, and I am sure she uses it in her own peculiar way.
Professor Wagner calls up again Professor Charles Richet, and the "truth of the phenomena." This figure of Richet stands out in psychical research far above most of the scientists who have been associated in this work, and his book is a monumental one. He was the cautious, indefatigible worker to discover the truth independently of all theories and emotions, religious or otherwise. No one among the English workers can be compared with him. Myers the genius could not help but believe in a spiritual world and in his immortality, though he always asserted he had worked and struggled hard for his belief. It came natural with him. He was not a scientist as we usually use that word. He was a poet and a lover of all expressions of the human spirit, and he could not think of genius except as an expression of immortality.
But Charles Richet was different. In a way he worked harder at psychical research than Myers did, but he worked as the physiologist and as the cool analytical scientist. He was after the physical reality, and after thirty years he got it and proclaimed it, but he could not class himself with the French spiritists or any spiritists; he could not feel sure of the spiritualists' theory; he wasn't obstinate; he was only cautious. It was this class of man that H.P.B. was after, like Professor Wagner the zoologist. The men she fought were those who denied everything without investigation. She wanted the phenomena generally established and then she could go ahead with her secret doctrine, and line all the phenomena up with her occultism.
If we compare John Tyndall's materialism with the great advances to-day in molecular and mathematical physics it seems juvenile. Mathematical physics has become really a spiritualized physics, for man's imagination has carried it to the very boundary line between the material and the spiritual world. Einstein, the greatest mathematical genius of his age, or perhaps of any age, has almost eliminated matter in his conception of the universe in its relation with the human consciousness.
Letter No. 6 is an interesting one and requires some comment. She refers to Howitt's Ennemoser which my father had read. William Howitt had translated the first volume of Ennemoser's Geschichte des Thierischen Magnetismus, under the title of the History of Magic. William and Mary Howitt were prominent figures in the early history of spiritualism, and their writings are all interesting and valuable. Howitt's History of the Supernatural is the best work he did and is a very readable book. The Howitts were Quakers, but gave up that faith when they became Spiritualists. Mrs. Howitt after the death of her husband became a Catholic and died at Rome at a very advanced age. Her autobiography in two volumes, edited by her daughter, is a charming book and gives us a vivid picture of English life at its best in the first half of the nineteenth century.
What she writes of Slade would imply that she thought him a fraud. But after investigating him later she changed her mind, for she and Olcott recommended him to Aksakof as the best American medium for examination and experimentation at St. Petersburg by the Russian scientists. Slade from all accounts was genuine, and my father had good evidence of his genuineness. Lankester's attack on him in London was entirely unwarranted and was in line with similar attacks on mediums by those incapable of any judgment or justice. The trouble with Slade was that he had not gone directly to St. Petersburg but had stopped over in London for public seances. He was very carefully investigated in Germany by Zollner, which led to Zollner's publication of Transcendental Physics. Zollner was a physicist and a mathematician with a much finer mind than Lankester, who was only a biologist. The latter saw nothing outside what his scalpel revealed. If physicists and biologists are materialists the physicist's is the higher materialism; it is at least an imaginative materialism.
As a comparison she writes: "Orestes turning back on Pylades, Castor accusing his bosom friend Pollux of lying information." There are numerous instances in her writings of an intimate knowledge of Greek mythology. She may speak of herself as unlearned, and she does so on many occasions, yet we have the best evidence that her store of information on many subjects was immense, and that she had a marvellous memory which, as Lord Byron once wrote of himself, was "wax to receive and marble to retain."
Again she writes: "I am bedridden, and a helpless cripple to be perhaps. If my leg is paralyzed my brains are not paralyzed, that's sure, and will-power, my dear Mr. Corson, goes far when well applied by those 'who know how and when.' "
To this will-power H.P.B. often refers, and that she possessed it in a superlative degree we have ample evidence. No one can write continuously fifteen hours a day without it; no one can write such letters from a sick bed without it. In her polemical writings especially we are aware of this indomitable will. Of her phenomena she ascribes their production to her will-power. The simple raps she asserted as always produced by her will-power; it was all will-power by one who knows how and when. Psychical research along this line has not been extensively carried out, and there is a large field open and waiting for this work. Those who have watched H.P.B. at the time of her phenomena speak of the signs of the great effort of her will.
The great Russian bear had also a strong sense of humour; it was a part of her literary charm. She enjoyed a good story, and she never forgot it.
I never saw a copy of the Spiritual Scientist, but I can well imagine that the Diogenes column irritated her, and when she refers to the editor as having fished him out from a wash-tub in Boston, you feel she has a grim humour as well as a command of the English language.
In this letter, as well as in other letters, she shows her kind heart and her sympathy with General Lippitt and Robert Dale Owen in their trouble with the exposure of the Holmeses. Both these men were honoured gentlemen and any suspicion thrown on their veracity or integrity was keenly felt.
It must be noticed that H.P.B. regarded the Holmeses as real mediums but also as employing fraud and trickery. This strange combination has also been shown in recent years. Eusapia Paladino attempted it at times. It seems to be related to the deceptions and trickery found occasionally among hystericals, where the lack of will makes the subject a mere tricking automaton.
The entire letter is an interesting one; it has its peculiar literary charm because it is spontaneous, direct, bold, and withal genuine.
Letter No. 7 may be called the "Labarum" letter. There are several points worthy of comment. The only date is Tuesday night, with "night" underscored, and as a postscript she wishes my father to put most faith in what she writes at night-time rather than in her scribblings during the daylight. The advice is significant, and suggests that she herself is aware that her writing may be partially at least a copying or a dictation. She has never hesitated to admit that her writing was supernormal at times; no writer has so candidly admitted outside help, seen or unseen. She shows again her interest in the Spiritual Scientist and contributes money even though the scrapings from the bottom of an empty purse.
As she took occasion during her visit to Ithaca to call my father a schoolboy, her letters indicate that she regarded him much in that light as a correspondent, although she is very careful to be tactful and gracious with her own sense of superiority. She chides him over his expressions of grief and sorrow on the death of his daughter, though professing at the same time to believe fully in her continued existence. She certainly does not write like the ordinary modern spiritualist, but urges him to try to rise to his child's spiritual plane rather than to bring her down to his physical plane through the ordinary hired medium of the spiritualists. There is no doubt or equivocation in her attitude in the matter and her idea of the only real communion between the two worlds.
What she writes of phenomena as a basis for belief in immortality is surely the position taken to-day by all psychical researchers and spiritualists, and it is a strange and anomolous fact that the Churches do not hail and encourage every effort made in this direction, though the Christian religion itself is founded on it. The appearance of Christ at Emmaus as a positive proof of His resurrection, and all the miracles during His life, give a support to His teachings which was absolutely necessary to the new great spiritual dispensation.
Certain it is that the Catholic Church alone has kept the phenomenal and mystical elements of Christianity acutely alive by its central rite of the Mass, by its veneration and glorification of sainthood, together with the miracles inherent in holiness itself. It is this constantly vital mysticism which will ever preserve it from decay or destruction. It is of all religions, the religion of beauty and imagination, the beauty of holiness. John Hyde Preston has put this better than any modern writer who has come to my notice. He writes: "We may not be able to accept all the premises of the Roman Church, we may not be able to accept any of them; but we can and do accept its magnificent transformation of the baser metals of life into what Pater loved to call the beauty of holiness. The appeal to the senses and the emotions is stronger in most of us than the appeal to the intellect. To the first, Catholicism directs its best energies: the first is what American Protestantism comparatively denies, and instead attempts to make its address to logic and the moral idea." (The Virginia Quarterly Review.)
Imagination is our fairy godmother which helps to bring to us this sense of beauty, as well as faith and devotion, and, when carried to its limit, our faith in immortality. But even imagination needs phenomena; it certainly needs a ritual, and the more beautiful the ritual the more it flourishes. I have not been able to reconcile H.P.B.'s attitude towards the Roman Church because there is so much in it that she professes, and with the Russian Church as a tradition if not a practice of her youth.
Although she goes very minutely and deeply into the symbolism of occultism in her book, I cannot find she has treated the "Labarum" exactly as she had done in this letter. It is a subject of which I am ignorant, and I can but admire the earnestness and evident erudition with which she treats the subject, whatever may be the source from which she has taken it.
The allusion to Robertus de Fluctibus is interesting, and I have quoted the title of the work exactly as she wrote it. I saw at once that there was some mistake in the Latin. She had confused Flood with the astronomer Gassendi. Gassendi's work bears the following title: "Epistolica Exercitatio, in qua precipua principia philosophiae Roberti Fluddi deteguntur, et ad recentes illius libris adversus patrem Marinum Mersennum scriptos respondetur." — (See The Rosicrucians, their Rites and Mysteries, by Hargrave Jennings, London, 1887. Vol. II, p. 217.)
This piece was reprinted in the third volume of Gassendi's works, published at Paris in 1658 under the title of "Examen philosophiae Fluddanae," etc. (1630). It is unbelievable that H.P.B. had the works of Gassendi or of Flood at hand in her room in Philadelphia. The books of both these authors are very rare and very costly. The mistake points rather to a slip in her marvellous memory and accumulated knowledge, almost probably to a misinterpretation of what she saw clairvoyantly. This mistake is very significant and very interesting, though written at night when she felt most inspired.
Letter No. 8 antedates the previous letters in which the Spiritual Scientist is discussed. In this letter this magazine is first brought to my father's notice. Its value is simply to show her interest in the cause of spiritualism and her kindness of heart towards this young struggling editor, who has gotten himself in trouble for championing a very unpopular cause. H.P.B. as known to her intimates, in spite of her occasional fits of temper and rage had often a child-like kindliness. Octavia Hensel in her very well-written appreciation of H.P.B., wrote: "Much has been said of her fits of passion, but in them was an interesting study. Some people when aroused, reveal hidden depths of malignity and evil, and you feel you have been deceived by them; her passion was like that of a child who screams and kicks on the hearth-rug — you pick it up and kiss it and all is over. So, in the mist of her strongest bursts of passion, she would often strike herself on the forehead and say 'What an idiot I am! You are right and I am wrong; my dear friend, forgive me.' " I copy this from an excellent description of H.P.B. in the Ladies' Home Journal, December 26th, 1894, which my father had carefully pasted in the scrap-book with her letters.
What she writes in a postscript about the "Labarum" I must leave to those who know about the subject. My father's seal was the traditional one found in the Churches, and generally regarded as expressing the thought Christ the Beginning and End. Of course H.P.B. wished to trace the emblem from its original source and show how it had changed in its significance. But in the course of time many emblems have so changed, just as words have changed in their meaning and significance. Language and symbols grow like living things. How many words we use have so outlived their first meaning that the philologist alone can trace them back to their source.
All signs and symbols seem to have interested her. The elaborate one on the envelope which I reproduce, and I hope in its original colours, shows her love of the symbolism of occultism.
My father had one on his letter-head, a striking emblem, two Greek words forming an acrostic with their middle letter, the Greek words meaning light and life, enclosed within a circle formed by a serpent swallowing his tail, a symbol from the far distant past signifying eternity. Professor J. Rendel Harris, at one time Professor of New Testament Greek at Oxford, visited my father many years ago and noticed this emblem on his letter-head. He asked him where he got it. My father's reply was, "I got it out of my head." Professor Harris then informed him that he had seen it on some old Syriac manuscripts: all of which goes to show that there is nothing new under the sun.
Professor Harris is still living, I believe, and has become famous as an archeologist and interpreter of old Greek texts.
That the ancients realized the intimate relationship between life and light was an inspiration, a leap in the dark towards the truth. That same truth has been brought even more intimately home to us through modern science, the slow but sure snail's pace of the modern laboratory and scientific research. It is the same inspiration; they only differ in their velocities.
Letter No. 9. We can see great differences in the quality of her letters; she herself admits this, asking my father to have more confidence in what she writes at night than her scribblings during the day, as she puts it herself. In this letter, in her eagerness, her thoughts run ahead of her pen, and her sentences are more involved and drawn out.
Her detractors will still say that this letter shows her as the ordinary spiritualist, but I cannot so interpret it. I see her still as fighting for the truth of the phenomena, as the first step in this movement. And even to-day, after half a century has passed, the same spirit prevails among the better class of spiritualists. Get your facts first and be sure of them, and it will then be high time to try and interpret them. This was Professor Richet's position, and it is the only one.
In this letter, rambling as it is, she does come out in a very positive way to state her attitude: "Spiritualism as it is must be stopped in its progress and given another direction. The delusions and insane theories of some spiritualists are shameful in our century."
Now while at that time there were some great pioneers in the movement, the great mass of the literature, and especially in this country as it appeared in the Banner of Light — and in the Religio-Philosophical Journal, was worthless. Every bit of rapping nonsense, and trance speaking especially, was put down as direct messages from the dead. The fact that much of it came from well-meaning and sincere people did not alter the situation. Fraud and all kinds of trickery and delusions were forgotten in the wild enthusiasm over the "summerland." You can understand Professor Tyndall's exclamation: "Man must have a religion even if he has to fly to the intellectual whoredom of spiritualism." Savagely as H.P.B. attacked Tyndall, it was for his materialism and lack of spiritual vision, rather than for his hostility to spiritualism, for she has expressed herself almost as viciously against a phase of spiritualism as she found it in this country. What she was after was a higher order of literature on the subject, more discrimination and more cool judgment. As she put it in this letter: "We have but very, very few scholars," and "What we need the most is brains and fearless indomitable minds to work up in the mental department at our command." Strangely put, but we can understand fully what she means. She wants to let Colby know "that there is behind the screens a small party of spiritualists who are after truth alone, and will never allow a lie or an exaggerated fact to spread abroad without trying to rectify it. They will never allow him, the truthful Colby, to withhold truth and help falsehood."
Surely this position was to her credit. Get the real phenomena but don't go crazy about them; whether from devils or undeveloped spirits, or from angels of light, get the phenomena, and they may be worked out to the truth. It is that spirit alone which has produced results worth considering.
It is easy to see that the woman was misunderstood, and being misunderstood, was slandered and vilified. Even after she had written my father so emphatically and definitely that her spiritualism was not the spiritualism of the Rochester knockings, and long antedated it, he still could not look upon her phenomena but as mediumistic and wrote me that he was disappointed that she had not given him some "sittings." Even when she sent him her photograph, taken by a "spirit photographer," she makes fun of the "extra," and does not reverence it at all as the usual spiritualist would. Her words and sayings were twisted into every conceivable shape to malign her.
She sees the troubles ahead of her. "I see the arduousness and barrenness of the journey lying before me, the impassable forms my path is covered with, but I do not fear or feel discouraged. I have received anonymous letters, threatening messages, and insulting warnings, but only feel like laughing at them. . . . Were I to fail or succeed, in either case I shall be laughed at, defamed, slandered, and blackmailed."
And all this came to pass, but she worked on to the last day.
The Letter No. 10 is a short one, but it is one of the finest. It was written after she had passed the crisis with her inflamed leg, and when any idea of amputation had been discarded. No one can read this letter without seeing the beautiful side of this remarkable woman. There is no hypocrisy here, and if you suspect it, you had better give up all faith in your fellow-man.
When she wrote: "You know I am a missionary, and a fanatic, too, by the way. You must believe in something else beside your 'Ennemosers and Howitts.' " Had this letter been made public at the time she might have silenced some of her slanderers and detractors who saw in her only a tricky turn-coat who had passed from an enthusiastic supporter of the investigation of mediumistic phenomena to a theosophist who looked beyond them.
To anyone who reads these letters it must be evident that this letter does not stand by itself. Throughout the whole series it is easy to see that in her endeavour to separate the true from the false phenomena, mediumistic though they were, she was looking far beyond the ordinary spiritualistic interpretation of them. She saw their value even with a very different interpretation. What she saw was the value of supernormal faculties of the human spirit as pointing to something more than the everyday functioning of the physiological man, beyond which the materialists did not look, and what is more important still, did not care to look. When Professor Huxley publicly stated that the phenomena did not interest him even if true, he was but speaking for a very large body of scientists, and of a very large body of the intelligentsia outside of science proper, who viewed them in the same light and in the same attitude of intellectual pride and self-sufficiency. When I was a student in the university more than a half-century ago there was practically no psychology taught. The lectures on the subject were a series of definitions or concepts or abstractions about which there was no concrete knowledge whatsoever. Even Physiological Psychology was in its infancy, the academic psychology as it exists to-day.
Consciousness as we understand the term was not only static, but it had no range and no degrees of intensity. We were either asleep when we were unconscious, or awake when we simply knew we were awake and alive. Psychology as a philosophy of the East was never mentioned. Emerson, who probably more than anyone else at that time was in sympathy with the Eastern philosophy, preached it but in a vague and limited way. He never developed it or elaborated it; his essays were but successions of statements, and Eastern thought did not get into the West in any noticeable way except through other channels and by other writers.
The New Church or Swedenborgianism did show, or attempt to show, in a limited way certain supernormal faculties as represented in Swedenborg himself. Henry James, the father of William James the psychologist, did attempt to popularize the general doctrine of the New Church, but the son was almost the first to put new life into the subject and did favour an investigation of these supernormal powers. As has happened in other lines of human thought and endeavour, outsiders have been the main contributors. It is those outside the laboratory who have put new life into psychology, and by psychology I do not mean the physiology of the nervous system; this department of science belongs in the laboratory and is properly controlled by physiologists.
Modern spiritualism was but a revival of interest in certain supernormal powers long known in history, sacred and profane. With all its crudities it brought the subject to a point that would not down. The supernormal had become the supernatural, and the world was more eager for it.
H.P.B. was fighting materialism, and spiritualism was a weapon to battle with. When later she saw in theosophy a better weapon she grasped it with a firmer hand. How far she was influenced by seen or unseen helpers it is hard to determine. As she has repeatedly stated, she was but the scribe. She may have made a serious mistake in burning down the bridge which had helped her on her way, and I am quite sure it was her greatest mistake; her immense labours and writings after the founding of the Theosophical Society explain it. As the expression goes, she had other fish to fry, but she should have fried the entire catch, big and little, edible and inedible. She had a big job on her hands and she realized it. She was a modern Mrs. Partington trying to keep back the Atlantic Ocean with her mop.
As prophesied by H.P.B. the quality of the phenomena has improved and a mighty host is on the open road. The Theosophical Society is still active. The Vedanta Society and many Indian scholars outside the Society, just as true representatives of the Eastern religions and philosophy, are taking an active hand; and the fight goes on. Those of simple faith do not need it, but there is an immense body who do, even though they are in the Church. I recall a fervid exclamation of Robert Elsmere at a dinner-party: "It's better to believe than to know; it's better to pray than to understand." I quote from a hazy memory of the book. But this does not satisfy the earnest seeker, and the expression is too fanatical, for the spirit of man must ultimately know, or there is no peace. Some know soon by the grace of God, and many more have a weary journey and climb ahead of them, and they must have the phenomenal to hold on to.
She wrote nobly and with wisdom when she penned these words: "For nothing blinds so much your intuitions and perceptions and prevents you from hearing the whisperings of your spirit as too much study and pondering over books — 'the dead letter that killeth.' Read more on the pages of your soul if you can and leave the idle speculations of others — outwardly scientific as they may appear — to the stony Tyndalls and the skeptical bookworms who live and die in other people's authorities, though in their pride they may fancy them their own."
If this is not fine writing I am no judge. Let us make our bow to genius, no matter how visaged and how garbed, for genius is power, and powerful because it comes from the depths of the immortal spirit of man, or, as F. W. H. Myers puts it, because it is an uprush from a diviner self.
Letter No. 11 is somewhat explained by Olcott in Old Diary Leaves (p. 57): "She fell dangerously ill in June from a bruise on one knee caused by a fall the previous winter in New York upon the stone flagging of a sidewalk which ended in violent inflammation of the periosteum and partial mortification of the leg; and as soon as she got better (which she did in one night by one of her quasi-miraculous cures after an eminent surgeon had declared that she would die unless the leg was instantly amputated) she left him (i.e. her second husband) and would not go back."
This quotation helps us to place the dates of several of her letters where she complains of being ill and suffering with her leg.
This letter was written the day before the intended amputation. She admits calling for help from the unseen "and ask those I dread and fear, but who alone can save it from amputation, to come and help me." Whether those she dreads and fears are the "elementals" which she alludes to as helping her in her phenomena, is a question. It is the only way I can interpret the letter.
Olcott speaks of the sudden change as quasi-miraculous. This is of course very vague, and we must let the incident pass as one of the many mysteries attending her which can never be explained.
When she speaks of peeping from under the veil of Isis and coming down to have a chat with him, and that he must not be scared, it seems to me that she is joking only. The letter impresses me as one of confidence and that she had no fear of her dying, in spite of her last words, "I will come, yours truly here and there."
Letter No. 12 is very different from her other letters and brings out certain novel features. When she writes, "Is your wife's sister's niece's child dead or what?" thereby hangs a tale. The story goes back to my youth and shows H.P.B.'s sense of humour. The story as told by my father was something like this. The incident occurred in a large establishment in Philadelphia. The place was about to be closed up for the day, and my father with several others were discussing omens and perhaps other mysterious subjects. The Irish janitor was standing by evidently much interested. Suddenly he made bold to interrupt the talk, and this is what he said: "Gentlemen, pardon me for interrupting you, but I can tell you about a wonderful omen that happened to me. I was living in the city of Limerick with my wife's sister's niece, when my wife's sister's niece's child was taken very ill in the night, and I was sent out to get a doctor, and while on my way to the doctor's, I saw a man on the opposite side of the street enter a chemist's shop; and that night my wife's sister's niece's child died!"
H.P.B. enjoyed this story and she alludes to it twice in her letters. In a letter to my mother she speaks of my father as "my wife's sister's niece's child." She had a sense of humour, and you come across examples of it even in her serious writings, though usually in the form of a grim humour.
She suspects displeasure from my parents for some unknown cause. She writes: "Are you mad with me for anything? Think not, for I feel as innocent of any wrong done to you as an unborn kitten." There is a childlike simplicity about the letter. She would know what they were doing, whether my mother was busy with her translations, and how pussy was getting along and how the apple trees were flourishing. She did not suspect that they may have felt hurt over her disregard of the social amenities, and lack of interest in the outside world. My parents had never met such a person and they could not fathom her. Even my father, who, of all men, could disregard the ordinary conventionalities of life, was nonplussed, and only later realized that he had housed a wonderful personality.
She evidently had had some misunderstanding with Olcott. In Old Diary Leaves Olcott mentions how difficult it was at times to get along with her, the genus irritabile vatum.
Though the Theosophical Society was founded she was still reading the Banner, and she is still getting communications from "John," who tells her they have lit "a goodly bonfire," and that they have a hard fight ahead of them on account of their "spiritual heresy."
The letter is a very human one, with its frankness and real affectionateness, and appreciation of the hospitality shown her. She has not forgotten the fifty cents she owed the washerwoman, and she had evidently taken pride in Beardsley's photographs of her.
Letter No. 13 is more private in its character than any of the letters but I can see no reason why it should not be published. What she writes of Olcott is written in strict confidence, and she appeals to my father as a gentleman, if not as a friend, to consider her letter as strictly confidential.
Of course it was generally known that Olcott was the ordinary worldly man with a family, and family ties and responsibilities, and that he had given up all this for the new life he had undertaken. I do not know the details, but I am under the impression that he had arranged his affairs in a satisfactory way before his departure for India. That his sister was on friendly terms with H.P.B. would seem to point to this amicable settlement. The life in India was an ascetic one combined with great intellectual activities and with his whole heart in the work.
She still calls herself a spiritualist, as she has done throughout all her letters, but she draws a sharp line between the common phase of it and its higher practices. She brings out clearly her conception of "John King" as an undeveloped spirit, an ex-pirate who is still but a pirate, and she seems quite willing to depreciate herself to the extent of admitting her inability entirely to control him, and that she had therefore given him up. She has been criticized for holding him up as an exalted spirit, and then after the founding of the Theosophical Society calling him an evil or undeveloped one. I think this letter disproves this. What she writes of Sir William Crookes from the testimony of Massey I believe is entirely false. Sir William Crookes was always outspoken. He was fearless in making public his experiments in psychical research, as well as his remarkable experiences with "Katy King," and if he had thought her an elementary or evil spirit he would have publicly so stated. That he so believed and admitted in a private conversation with Massey I am sure is false, or that he was a follower of Eliphas Levi. "Katy King" in her reported talks stated that she was doing penance for past sins by materializing, a painful effort on her part and giving the world evidence of her continued existence as a sort of missionary work. She further stated that she was going on a higher plane when she bid them good-bye. The scene as described was a dramatic one. All her talks and actions during this remarkable series of seances made her out a charming personality, and in the entire range of spiritualistic literature there is nothing quite so captivating as this remarkable experience. My confidence in Sir William Crookes is unbounded. I knew his scientific work, the very high quality of it, and his very fine character as a man, and I accepted his testimony in psychical research just as I accepted his labours in chemistry and in "radiant matter." He was a great pioneer in the most glorious phase of modern science. His experiments with the electrical discharges through the Crookes' tube made possible the wonderful discoveries which followed. I place him above Rontgen as a scientist, for Rontgen's discovery of the X-ray was an accident, though his mental grasp of the accident placed him among the great discoverers in science.
Sir William regarded "Katy King" as a distinct individual from the medium, and this conclusion of his I accept. I have heard certain men of science laugh at him and sneer at him who were not to be compared with him in any particular. He gave us certain facts which have never been disproved but, on the contrary, have been repeatedly corroborated, whatever the interpretation of those facts may be.
I believe also that H.P.B. has gone sadly astray in her depreciation of the general run of spiritualists, and her very uncalled for emphasis on free love. This part of her letter is simply nonsense, and how she got off on this side-track I am unable to explain, and I say this fully realizing the many crudities, not to say frauds, in the early phase of the movement, a phase which may still exist to-day in a modified or limited way. As a religious movement it called forth certain emotions and illogical ideas which were bound to militate against the cool judgment of the investigator, as well as against a wise analysis of the proved facts.
As I have already expressed myself in a preceding chapter, both H.P.B. and Mott blundered grievously in their early efforts, and it is surprising when you consider their mental equipment, and what I shall always believe, their honesty, that they should have so blundered, — and like all blunders was so unnecessary, — could have been so easily avoided. H.P.B.'s attitude towards D. D. Home has never been cleared up, in my mind. She never even spells his name right. Home was a weakling in many ways, a natural result of his mediumship perhaps, but he was no fraud, and the attacks on his character I never thought proved. H.P.B. admits his strong mediumship for physical phenomena, and that he escaped the critical mind and eye of Sir William Crookes was sufficient evidence to me of his genuineness.
I have already alluded to her distress over the unfortunate effect of the precipitated portrait of my sister upon my mother. The admission in her letter that "John" was responsible for the ugly feature of the portrait, and that she would resist in future calling on his aid, is at least interesting. Had she herself drawn or painted the portrait she certainly would not have introduced these grinning gnomes or monkey faces as seen in the precipitated portrait of the Chevalier Louis. Olcott in Old Diary Leaves photographed some later precipitated pictures which do not show the grinning gnomes and sylphs. Her mention of Felt and his failure to disclose the secrets of the elementals is described in detail by Olcott in Old Diary Leaves. The entire incident was a hocus-pocus in the early history of the Theosophical Society. The Society subsequently dropped the subject, and very wisely too, and nothing was ever developed out of it.
The description of the seances of Mary Thayer, the flower medium, is further elaborated in Old Diary Leaves.
The most pleasing feature of the letter is H.P.B.'s expressions of friendship and good will; she showed not the slightest resentment against my father's severe criticism published in the Banner of Light. When the Society got well under way in India, and the great and persevering labours of the founders were shown, my father became a sympathetic onlooker, though he never joined the Society.
Letter No. 14. This is the last letter to my father. Though their differences had been patched up in a way, and though she showed not the slightest rancour over the severe criticism he published in the Banner, she had too many new directions given to her energy to continue the correspondence, quite aside from the arriere pensee that he was interested in spiritualism and not in the Theosophical Society. He did not understand the woman at the time, and certainly misjudged her after the founding of the Theosophical Society. He did later appreciate her wonderful qualities, obscured as they were at times by her eccentricities and violent bursts of passion. Her genius and great powers could not function under emotional calm and serenity. Towards the end of her life a calm and serenity did come to her; her mind became clearer and emotionless with its greater penetration, and the dignity of inspired teacher fell upon her.
I doubt if the casual reader of this letter could appreciate the grim humour of her imagining herself as a reincarnation of Pope Joan, one of the many examples of her ready wit and general knowledge.
She writes: "Olcott blew a loud blast on the trumpet because he knew that Phelps' experiments would come right upon his heels, and so they did." I puzzled some time over this allusion and only found out its meaning when she mistook the name Phelps for Wendell Phillips. In Old Diary Leaves (Vol. I, p. 155) Olcott wrote: "It was one of those moments when the turn of events depends upon the speaker. As it happened, I had once seen the great Abolitionist orator, Wendell Phillips, by imperturbable coolness quell a mob who were whooping and cat-calling him, and as the memory flashed within me I adopted his tactics."
Though Olcott did for the moment quell the hooting, the hooting later became louder and more insistent.
In her comparison of spiritualism with occultism H.P.B. would distinguish between them and separate them by the most cardinal differences, differences which the thinking world would not accept. She would make the literature of occultism comparable with the precise and cogent definitions of Spinoza. Had occultism and the cabbala been based upon mathematical demonstration it would have been generally accepted to-day. But the whole philosophy of occultism and the cabbala cannot be demonstrated intellectually. You will have to go beyond the mere intellect and trust to your spiritual intuitions and the verbum aeternum. To say that modern spiritualism is based upon hypothesis and the spiritualism of the cabbala upon a geometrical theorem, can convince us only of her own firm belief in her doctrine.
While placing Plato above Aristotle and the philosophy which reasons from universals to particulars, Aristotle cannot be given up. The laboratory of science must still work from particulars to universals. While boring in opposite directions through the mountain of doubt and the unknown, the workers may still meet and open up the light from both sides. And to-day we cannot be too sure about our Euclidean geometry, if Einstein is right. And as to hypotheses, theories, and speculations, they are all useful in a way, for often a working-hypothesis carries us over a royal road, and if not to truth, at least offers us an exhilarating exercise for our faculties.
She at least admits that Olcott's method kicked up a tremendous row on two continents, and she is aware that she had to receive all the return blows. If, as she writes, she was generally considered in the light of the daimon of Socrates towards Olcott, she should be proud of the comparison, and I am not so sure that she did not so stand. She certainly changed Olcott from an ordinary man of the world into a hard-working honest fanatic who accomplished a great work and will long be remembered for what he accomplished. His mistakes were almost wholly in the beginning and may well be forgotten in the light of his later heroic efforts.
I may mention here his three volumes of Old Diary Leaves: the True History of the Theosophical Society. It is not only a true history of the Society in his lifetime but it is the best Life we have of H.P.B. He does not hesitate to tell of her weaknesses, of her contrariness at times, and of her emotional storms, and how hard it was to get along with her, but he is her truest and greatest champion, and he was longest intimately associated with her, and was a daily witness of her many powers. He has given us much evidential testimony of her phenomena, better testimony than any of her followers and admirers have given us. He was a first-class temion oculaire and he could teach the S.P.R. a great deal in the field of psychical research, though they called him a dupe. As to his honesty, they never could find a flaw, however anxious they might have been to prove him dishonest. All that he wrote gave evidence of painstaking care, and conscientiousness, and he could well disregard the sneers and insinuations of that unmitigated cad Solovyoff. Cads are sometimes useful when they help to show up the fine qualities of their superiors. We should not have had H.P.B.'s "confession" without that useful member of society. It seems providential that we find him in all walks of life; we might almost be willing to shake hands with him occasionally. Mr. Thackeray, who delighted the world by his Book of Snobs, unfortunately failed to give us a similar treatise on the cad, and no one to-day seems willing to undertake the task. But a genius like Thackeray's is not common, and we may have to wait some time before one appears worthy of the undertaking.
H.P.B. at least parts with my father with a "God bless you." I should like to know the Latin quotation from one of the hypercritical Fathers of the Early Church which he sent her in his last letter. He was a great admirer of St. Augustine both in his De Civitate Dei and his Confessiones, and not unlikely he quoted from this great figure in the Church.
Letter No. 15. This letter to my mother in French may not be a pleasing one but it has the vigour of her strong personality, and while it shows her reaction to the slanders and persecutions heaped upon her, and the emotional storm under which she was suffering, it also shows that she had not forgotten the hospitality and kindness shown her by my mother and father, though word had been brought to her that he called her an impostor. Whether he did or not does not much matter now; he probably did. It shows how strong feelings were excited by antagonizing a large body of spiritualists who had transformed the phenomena of the seance room into a religion.
To antagonize emotions, and especially religious emotions, must always create a reaction and a storm which may pass all bounds of reason and justice. Antagonism to doctrines or theories or hypotheses produces no reactions unless the emotions are involved. The mathematicians and the philosophers may differ to their hearts' content provided they leave out their emotions. The atmospheric pressure remains the same and the barometer does not change. But this woman was weak in her strength; her vigour of mind made her impulsive, violent, and fanatical, and raising the wind she reaped the whirlwind, and was swept into the cyclone. And all natures like hers suffer alike.
Dr. Madden has shown in his tables that eminent mathematicians, dwelling on the clear cold heights of the intellect, have an average duration of life of seventy-five years, while the poets, down in the heated atmosphere of imagination, have an average duration of sixty-five years only. The moral philosophers live till seventy, the dramatists only to sixty-two (quoted by Sir James Crichton-Browne). It is a wonder that H.P.B. lived to be sixty.
Letter No. 16. There is the long interval in the correspondence between March 12th, 1876, and August 28th, 1878.
This letter is chiefly of interest on account of her allusion to her second marriage. Olcott in Old Diary Leaves has gone into this affair in detail, and the reader who may be interested can turn to his book. He writes in conclusion: "That is the whole story, and it will be seen that it shows no criminality, nor illegality on her part, nor any evidence that she derived the slightest worldly advantage from the marriage beyond a very modest maintenance, without a single luxury, for a few months."
The affair can be put down to the eccentricities of genius; many women without genius have done the same foolish thing.
She still shows the same freedom from any resentment against my father, but on the contrary greets him with affection.
My mother had evidently written to her for a letter of introduction to Aksakof, which she at once sends her, and at the same time bids her farewell. My mother was interested in the Russian language and literature, and thought a trip to Russia would aid her. If my memory serves me, the Countess Tolstoi dissuaded her from undertaking the journey on account of certain inconveniences and possible difficulties.
I was at the time in Vienna busy with my medical studies, and I regretted missing the opportunity of meeting her relatives.
Her letter of introduction to Aksakof is a graceful one. Aksakof was long interested in the phenomena of spiritualism and became convinced of their reality. His position was that of the scientist, as cautious and as careful as Richet. But he went further than Richet, and was willing to accept, provisionally, at least, the spiritualistic hypothesis. I have before me his chief work: "Animismus und Spiritismus": Versuch einer kritischen Prufung der mediumistischen Phanomene: mit besonderer Berucksichtigung der Hypothesen der Hallucination und des Unbewussten. Als Entgegnung auf Dr. Ed. v. Hartmann's Werk "Der Spiritismus." Von Alexander N. Aksakow: Herausgeber des Monats-Journals "Psychische Studien" in Leipzig: Leipzig, Druck und Verlag von Oswald Mutze 1898.
H.P.B.'s attitude towards the Church, and especially towards the Catholic Church, she does not hesitate to express on every occasion which offers, and again when uncalled for. This letter is no exception. Though born a Russian and an aristocrat, and in the body of a woman, she is like an Asiatic or an Egyptian, born centuries ago and suddenly awakened into this modern world, with its industrial civilization, with its cast-iron conventions, and its ranges of thought confined within a Chinese Wall. Immortality was preached from the pulpit but not from the housetops; it was more a tradition than a deep belief or conviction. She was wholly Oriental. She accepted Christ as the Emancipated Spirit and Sanctified Soul, comparable with many other liberated souls. The machinery of the Church jarred upon her; she spoke of it as "churchianity." While interested in the symbolism of the ancients, she seemed to ignore the symbolism of the Church even though she could trace it back of the Christian era; and in ignoring this symbolism she seemed to ignore its mysticism, which should have been dear to her. She writes of going against idolatry whether in the heathen or Christian religions, and regards the saints of the Greek and Latin Churches as idols, comparable with the Indian pantheon.
All cannot stand on the pinnacle of the esoteric philosophy of the East. The masses must have their symbols and their so-called idols. If they are idols they are idols in the same sense as the child "idolized" by the mother. Back of it all there is veneration and love, combined in the higher natures with the aesthetic principle, and with the magic play of the imagination, which in its last analysis is but the formation of the mental and spiritual image. And there can be no religion without it; it alone gives it life, it alone saves it from the dry-rot of mere intellectual dogma. I prefer the polytheism of Greece and Rome to the unimaginative sects of to-day.
Treat the life of Christ as a history or as an historical personage which many Biblical scholars would do, and He becomes lifeless; but treat it as a beautiful story, even uncertain of its details, or even as a fairy-tale, and the Life becomes beatific, and everything is there and here, the past and the present and all time.
And this is the inconsistency of H.P.B. as a religious teacher. She is the occultist, the philosopher, and but indirectly the religious teacher. This is seen when you compare her with a modern religious teacher like Vivakananda, for example, who represented the highest philosophical teachings of the Vedanta, a Hindoo of the Hindoos who could see some good in all religions, for they were all expressions and efforts of the soul of man to reach its goal, infinite knowledge, infinite existence, and infinite bliss.
Some may say that H.P.B. had not a Christian bone in her body, and yet she could forgive her enemies, could bear no malice or rancour against her traducers, which is a greater Christian virtue, and much more difficult to accomplish, than the observance of the conventionalities.
As she advanced in years this virtue became more pronounced. This combined with her great intellectual vigour and deep knowledge of her beloved subject, vitalized by her genius, made her adorable to all those who came in intimate touch with her.
These letters were written during a transition period in her life. Her real intellectual activity had just begun with the writing of Isis Unveiled. But even in these letters, if the reader will overlook certain careless and grating phrases, and some inconsistencies, and certain emotional follies of expression, he may still see gleams of the vigour of her mind and the play of her undoubted genius.