The Theosophical Forum – June 1946

"STUDIES IN OCCULT PHILOSOPHY" — J. M. Prentice

[Note: page numbers cited for The Esoteric Tradition are to the 2-vol. Second Edition and do not correspond to the 1-vol. 3rd & Revised Edition.]

A Personal Appreciation

Sir Arthur Quiller-Couch, one of the really great teachers and an outstanding man of letters in our time, published a splendid little treatise entitled On the Art of Reading. It comprised twelve lectures given on various occasions to students at Cambridge University. From the second lecture is extracted the following passage:

Between these mysteries of a harmonious universe and the inward soul are granted to live among us certain men whose minds and souls throw out filaments more delicate than ours, vibrating to far messages which they bring home to report them to us; and these men we call prophets, poets, masters, great artists, and when they write it we call their report literature.

The passage recurred to me as I was seeking a suitable introduction to the difficult task of reviewing this last gift from our late Leader. I was tempted to cut the passage off short at the word "artists" and indicate the unfinished nature of the quotation thus . . .. Because the question confronted me, as it has before: After allowing for the authenticity of these far messages that G. de P. brought home to us, how do they rank as literature?

It is not an easy query to answer without some reservations, without perhaps even giving unintended offence in some quarters. Much of what G. de P. has left us was spoken, and no attempt has been made on publication to alter this material from the oral to the spoken form. Hence, to get the very best effect of much of G. de P.'s published work, it should be read aloud. There is no doubt, no question, that G. de P. had an outstanding command of spoken English, but when it comes to us in print in a literal reproduction there is a sense of prolixity — a superabundance of adjectives, of verbs, a determined insistence that no shadow of doubt should be left in the mind of the hearer (rather than the reader); that every shade of meaning should be made manifest. In the same fashion that H. P. B. used facts in her determination to leave no stone unturned, to make her case completely fool-proof, so G. de P. used words.

A brilliant Englishman recently published an essay on books that had affected his outlook. He spoke of the Secret Doctrine as one of the great formative works in his reading but spoke of it as written "in angry and abominable English." Without in any way agreeing with this, one could easily imagine the same or a similar essayist finding a book like The Esoteric Tradition jewelled, over-ornate, finicking. I remember, when it was published, writing an enthusiastic review which was entirely sincere, but after a couple of critical re-readings I found myself returning to Judge's Ocean of Theosophy as my regular stand-by, a doorway into a land where I was familiar, and not the tropical exuberance, the prolific growth of this new realm.

Please understand that I am not being wise after the event or saying something that I did not say, even more emphatically to G. de P. himself. During his lifetime the Leader and I had some merry exchanges on such points as redundancy, recapitulation, repetition, in his published writings. "Every time I open Fundamentals my fingers itch for the blue pencil," I wrote once in the very early days of my membership. The reply was worthy and typical: "By all means use the blue pencil to your heart's content, but only on your own copy"! G. de P.'s method was the Oriental method of teaching by recapitulation. Perhaps thereby he showed himself the lineal descendent of those Eastern sages who used such methods ages ago.

As regards my stricture on Fundamentals: notwithstanding the retention of the oral form and (to those who did not know the background) the almost fulsome adulation paid to his predecessor — which, to my personal knowledge, has proved a bad stumbling block to many worthy students — I still regard this as his greatest book, his most priceless gift. I rank it third only to The Secret Doctrine and The Mahatma Letters to A. P. Sinnett. But I confess with a sense of my own perverseness that after more than forty years of Theosophical reading, I still find "Mahatman" and "Karman" pedantic and completely unacceptable. G. de P. sympathised with me in this and told me to please myself regarding their use in my public work, but in all my small writings I have conformed, as a mark of respect to his desire for accuracy.

Coming belatedly to Studies in Occult Philosophy and by a round-about track, I want to offer a tribute to its scope, its scholarship, its vast intent, its magnificent Theosophical vistas. Good as the two preceding posthumous volumes were, this is still better. Hints regarding matters hitherto hidden in the secrecy and silence of Esotericism abound; many dark and difficult teachings are clarified; many a secret of Occultism is wholly revealed.

This does not mean that study is not required. The book is definitely for the student and much of the gold will only be found after the ore-bearing material has been thoroughly worked over. Not that the reading is difficult. These "far messages" are easier than either Fundamentals or The Esoteric Tradition. One fascinating section will be found pp. 244-253. The quotations from the S. D. are eloquent in themselves — one is probably the very apex of all that was written either by or through H. P. B. as far as literary style is concerned. In expanding these teachings G. de P. has produced a noble prose style that is equally satisfying and has transmitted therein one "far message" that will reverberate in the mind rather than the heart.


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