Copyright © 1997 by Theosophical University Press. All rights reserved.
I start this part by describing the work of the Expert Witness as it applies to English Courts, and with particular reference to Handwriting Experts.
The Expert Witness is there to assist the Court in cases where specialist knowledge of some subject is needed. He should never try to act as advocate, and his prime duty is always to the Court and not to the solicitor, person, or organization that has hired him. If he is hired by the Defense and finds that he has to give an opinion in favor of the Prosecution, then so be it. He should never change his mind under duress from his employer.
To be accepted in Court, reports from witnesses normally have to take the Statement of Witness form prescribed by Section 9 of the Criminal Justice Act of 1967. It starts with the declaration:
This statement consisting of —-— pages each signed by me is true to the best of my knowledge and belief and I make it knowing that, if it is tendered in evidence, I shall be liable to prosecution if I have wilfully stated in it anything which I know to be false or do not believe to be true.
This declaration has to be signed, dated, and witnessed. After the declaration the report usually continues along the following lines.
There are two main parts to the report. Part A contains four sections. The first gives an outline of the Expert's qualifications for and experience of the job. He is liable to be questioned about this in Court. The second must give precise identification of the documents received for examination. For example, in a letter, this should give the date (if known), to whom and by whom the letter was written, and the opening and closing sentences. "A letter written on green paper" will not do. The third section should state the Expert's instructions — what exactly he was asked to do. He will normally keep within these instructions. The final section should state the Expert's Opinion, based on the evidence that he has been given, and an indication of the strength of that Opinion ranging from near certainty for or against through a neutral or "don't know" position.
An Opinion is a formal statement of reasons for a judgment given, a judgment which has often to be based on grounds short of proof. Here the statement should be as brief and clear as possible, leaving the detailed reasons to Part B of the report. An Opinion once given must stand unless new evidence comes to light which makes a revision necessary.
Part B of the report contains the detailed reasons for the Expert's Opinion, which he will have to defend in Court if the report is contested (as it often is). In this case, he will have to give his evidence in person and under oath. He must be prepared to withstand stringent cross-examination from "the other side" and, above all, he must keep his temper. Court hearings are highly adversarial, but usually without personal rancor. They are a far cry from academic discussions.
Sometimes the "Section 9" Statement of Witness is not enough, and the report has to be presented by Affidavit, drawn up by, and signed and sworn before, a solicitor, and neatly tied up with blue ribbon.
The Expert Witness should always remember that he is not describing what happens when sulphuric acid is poured onto zinc: he is helping to pass judgment on another human being whose life may be profoundly and permanently affected if his witness is careless, biased, or flawed. It is an awesome responsibility, particularly when the available evidence is meager or conflicting. I would that parapsychologists should remember that they may be in the same position.
I mention all this because it is evident that Hodgson, like Gallio (2), cared for none of these things. I grant that Court procedure may have been less stringent than it is today (though I am not sure about this), but Hodgson's methods are inexcusably lax and would never stand up in Court now.
Methods of examination differ in detail according to the examiner, but some basic principles are common to most.
First, there is the "feel" of the writing as a whole. Hodgson states:
The little importance that can be attached to the mere general appearance of a written document is well enough known to persons who are at all familiar with the comparisons of handwritings.-- p. 283
This is strongly denied by Charles Hamilton who does claim some experience in the examination of documents (In Search of Shakespeare: A Study of the Poet's Life and Handwriting, Robert Hale, London, 1986, pp. 7-8):
The feel of handwriting is nothing more than the instantaneous impression it creates upon a practiced eye. Far from being an amorphous test of authenticity, feel is actually the sum total of the viewer's knowledge, the fusion of intuition and an immense amount of experience. After the manuscript expert has made a feel judgment, his split-second impression can be crystallized by a detailed examination of the script. . . .
Feel is the key factor in comparing scripts or in judging authenticity. The occasional examiner of questioned handwriting may be impervious to feel. He may study laboriously the formation of individual letters in a document. . . .
Some of the factors that contribute to the feel of a manuscript are: the amount of space between words and between lines; the size of the script; the ease, or lack of ease, with which the script flows; the pressure of the pen in forming strokes, especially descending strokes; the length of the descending strokes, as in y's and g's; the overall legibility of the script; the position of the dots over the i's and the crossbars of the t's; the thickness of the pen strokes; and the haste, or lack of haste, with which the words and letters have been formed. . . .
Once a manuscript passes the feel test, a thorough examination of individual words and letters is in order.
To Hamilton's list I should like to add: relative size of capitals to small letters; relative length of ascenders and descenders to the body of small letters; abnormal lateral compression or extension of words; style, detached or running; consistency and fluency.
If writing looks wrong, it probably is wrong; but detailed examination may be needed to establish why it is wrong. "Feel" comes only with experience.
After the "feel" test, the second stage of the examination begins where the script is viewed under magnification, word by word, letter by letter. One seeks to ascertain the methods of execution of individual letters, the order of the pen strokes and the pressure variations. Photomicrographs made at a magnification of around x4 diameters are often informative and helpful. One should remember that differences are just as important as similarities, often more so.
Finally, there comes the search for significant idiosyncrasies, usually unconscious, which can help to make identification of a hand more certain. Such idiosyncrasies may be as small as the method of making the dot over the letter i. In my own handwriting, the loops to the letters a, g, o, and q are all made by a continuous clockwise movement of the pen. This is rare and not immediately obvious.
I conclude this section with a few important observations. It is often relatively easy to forge a signature freehand and from memory. It is much harder to write a single-page original letter in an assumed hand without reverting at some point to one's normal practice. It is harder still to write page after page of original composition in reply to specific questions in assumed handwriting and literary style, without reversions to normal practice. One or two of the KH letters top 16,000 words and they deal with abstruse subjects.
From an examiner's point of view, it is often quite easy to say that a piece of writing has been forged: it is more difficult by far to say by whom it was forged. To assert that one particular person was responsible, to the exclusion of all others, can be very risky.
Quite recently, in my own practice, I was asked to examine the handwriting of a threatening note which featured in a Crown Court case. As is usual with Crown Court documentary exhibits, the note was placed in a transparent envelope to which was attached an identification label. The details were filled in by the police officer who had questioned the witness who had provided the exhibit, and the witness had signed the label to authenticate it. I found, to my astonishment, that the police officer's handwriting was almost identical with the writing on the threatening note; but there was no likelihood that the police officer was responsible for the crime and the similarity of the writing was coincidental. It is quite wrong, and dangerous, to pick out one suspect to the exclusion of all others, and then search for evidence to incriminate that one suspect. That is what Hodgson did and I find his behavior inexcusable.
I have little to say about the first section (by far the longest) of the Hodgson Report. I have no means of telling whether or not any of the "phenomena" attributed to HPB were genuine. I was not there at the time; all the witnesses to the phenomena are long since dead; and all tangible evidence like the "Shrine" is lost or destroyed. The whole matter is shrouded in the mists of history and legend, and it seems unlikely now that any fresh evidence will come to light. The "phenomena" could have been performed by sleight of hand: whether they were so done, I am unable to say. I am therefore agnostic in the sense coined by T. H. Huxley: "I don't know." Fortunately, the enduring value of HPB's writing does not depend upon "phenomena."
This said, I do note Hodgson's hostility towards HPB and the contempt with which all but two of the witnesses are dismissed, often for ludicrous reasons. (3) The only two witnesses whose word Hodgson accepts without question are the Coulombs; and if they turn out to be untrustworthy, Hodgson's edifice collapses.
The Blavatsky-Coulomb Letters
These letters are of crucial importance, since if the incriminating portions of the letters are genuine, they show that HPB was involved in fraudulent practices. If, on the other hand, they were forgeries, in whole or in part, the only other suspects were the Coulombs; and the forgeries would mean that the Coulombs were lying and their evidence in other matters could not be trusted.
Since writing "J'Accuse," I have had the benefit of Michael Gomes' painstaking research into the Coulomb affair (4) and of his valuable annotated bibliography (5), of which Chapter 8 is particularly relevant to the present study. The work of Beatrice Hastings (6) on the Coulomb pamphlet (7) is not readily available, but is essential reading.
Unfortunately it seems that these vitally important letters have been destroyed. What we do know of them can be summarized thus:
Some of the letters from HPB to Emma Coulomb (which must have been numerous) contained short passages purporting to be instructions to EC for producing fraudulent phenomena.
Very few Theosophists (not even HPB herself) were permitted to examine these letters. Maj. Gen. H. R. Morgan, who did inspect one referring to himself, declared it to be a forgery. (8)
No facsimile of these letters was published by Hodgson, who gave the flimsiest of reasons for not doing so.
The key witness here is Netherclift, whose qualifications and background I have been unable to discover. His report, as published by Hodgson, is mutilated, part being excised, and it carries two dates. As stated, some of the documents Netherclift lists cannot be identified, and those that can be identified are not incriminating. Some are only envelopes. In his report, Hodgson "stars" some extracts from documents which he says he sent to Netherclift for examination, but it is hard to reconcile the "starring" with Netherclift's list.
A second batch of unidentified documents was sent to Netherclift, who returned them with an endorsement on the envelope containing them to the effect that they were all in the handwriting of HPB. The envelope could have contained HPB's laundry lists for all we know to the contrary.
I have some information about Mr. Sims of the British Museum. (9) He seems to have done little more than act as Tweedledee to Netherclift's Tweedledum. No written report from him is reproduced by Hodgson.
It seems that Hodgson never examined Alexis Coulomb's handwriting. It was very similar to HPB's. (10) At the time of writing "J'Accuse" I was not aware that this was well known to Theosophists. It is related that on at least one occasion Coulomb issued fraudulent instructions from HPB "as a joke." (11)
The last known recipient of the letters was Elliott Coues who bought them for his defense in a lawsuit. (12) If genuine, they would have provided damning evidence in his favor. He did not use them. HPB's death terminated the suit, but a year later the New York Sun published an editorial retraction. (13)
The check for the letters is preserved in Coues' papers (14) but the letters themselves have not been found despite diligent search for them by Anita Atkins and others. (15)
After Coues' death, a quantity of Blavatsky correspondence was burnt by Coues' heir. (16)
It is unlikely now that we shall ever be able to submit the incriminating portions of these letters to independent examination, but the circumstantial evidence that they were forgeries by Alexis Coulomb is strong. He had both motive and ability for so doing. I cannot believe that Coues would not have used the letters to harm HPB had they been genuine. Maybe Coues, realizing that they were useless to him, had them destroyed rather than that they should find their way into the Blavatsky camp.
The Mahatma Letters
Fortunately most of the Mahatma Letters are preserved in the British Library where they were deposited by Sinnett's executrix. They are available for study on request in the Department of Manuscripts (Additional MSS 45284, 45285, and 45286). THEY ARE PRIMARY EVIDENCE. There are, however, difficulties in the way of examining them in the British Library. The letters themselves are bound in three heavy and bulky volumes so that side-by-side comparison of different letters is often awkward or impossible. For valid reasons one is not allowed to use pen, pencil, or drawing instruments in the reading room. Photography is prohibited. Only the use of a hand lens is permitted. Even a midget pocket microscope of x30 magnification was viewed askance by the library attendants and had to be put away discreetly in my pocket. For those who live outside the London area, work in the British Library can be both time-consuming and expensive.
Thanks to the Theosophical Society with International Headquarters at Pasadena, California, I have been lent for several years a valuable set of 1,323 color slides of the complete collection of the Mahatma Letters in the British Library, which I have been allowed to study in detail for as long as I thought necessary. I can now say much more about the Letters than was possible in "J'Accuse."
The text of the Letters has been published by Barker. (17) This includes letters, fragments, and endorsements from KH (108), M (26), HPB (9), Subba Row (3, one with added comments by KH), A. O. Hume (2), A. P. Sinnett (2), the "Disinherited" (1), Stainton Moses (1) and Damodar (1). The Letters are worth reading in their own right, but they can be hard to follow because subjects can be presented in no particular order and they can be answers to unrecorded questions. KH is inclined to be long-winded and discursive; and he can often start to answer one question and, before going far, veer off to answer another (unasked) question.
Viewing the slides was tedious and time-consuming. To get the required detail, each of the 1,323 slides was examined under a microscope at x50 magnification, using the mechanical stage of the microscope to scan the text line by line. After an hour of this, one had to have a break.
The Paper used for the Letters seems to have been any scrap that came to hand. According to KH, paper was a scarce commodity and all available pieces were used, even parts left blank by a previous correspondent. Some of the paper was of "rice paper" thickness.
The Ink presents some problems. It has not faded in the manner of the ordinary writing inks of the period, which in the course of a century fade through brown and yellow to complete invisibility. These have remained legible and look as if they were confined to a thin layer on the surface of the paper. There is little "strike through." This is a term used by printers to denote penetration of ink through the pores of the paper to the reverse side. Victorian writing inks used to penetrate right through thin paper and make writing on the reverse side impossible (see Part 1, Figures 10a and 10b).
Negotiations with the Trustees of the Letters to have these inks tested nondestructively by a university for their chemical composition led nowhere; and now that the papers have been strengthened by enclosure in archival tissue, further research on this problem may prove impossible.
Blue Pencil: a knotty problem is the writing which appears to be in blue pencil or crayon. Much of this writing (but not all) has a clean, sharp, striated structure reminiscent of a mackerel sky. It looks as if it had been made by a modern, precision line scanner (see Figure 11a and Figure 11b). To me, the reason for this method of production remains a mystery. Emma Coulomb is reported to have said that the effect was made by writing with the paper resting upon bookcloth. I cannot understand why anyone should want to write with the paper resting on bookcloth; in any case, I cannot get the effect by writing in this way. The irregularities of the bookcloth and the dragging of pigment into the strips which should remain clear are immediately apparent. This remarkable feature of the writing has been ignored by most of the writers on the subject of the Mahatma Letters whom I have come across.
Corrections: A further feature of the KH Letters is that corrections have been made to the text with much care. These corrections often entail the erasure of whole words, or even of whole phrases, and writing the corrections over the erasure. The erasures have not been made by rubbing with a hard rubber or by scraping with a knife, for there is no local weakening of the paper. It looks as if a chemical ink eradicator has been used; but application of liquid reagents usually disturbs the surface fibers of the paper and leaves faint stains that are hard to remove. It would be useful to know from laboratory tests whether there are traces of chemical residues in these places. If there are not, it may be that the corrections were made on originals, of which the Letters preserved in the British Library are copies. Knowing nothing of the method of transmission of these Letters, I do not know whether this suggestion is plausible.
The history of these Letters and abundant references have been given by Gomes. (18) The last letter believed to have come from KH was received in 1900 by Annie Besant. I now have a photocopy of this letter and my opinion is that it is a good simulation of KH's hand, but nevertheless a forgery. The literary style is unlike that of KH.
THE QUALIFICATIONS OF HODGSON, NETHERCLIFT, AND SIMS
At this stage it is pertinent to inquire what were the qualifications and experience of Hodgson as an examiner of questioned documents. It is not clear from the records that he had either qualifications for or experience of the job. On the contrary, his methods suggest that he was untrained and illogical, with little sense of justice. Madame Blavatsky puts it very well when she refers to —
Mr. Hodgson's elaborate but misdirected inquiries, his affected precision, which spends infinite patience over trifles and is blind to facts of importance, his contradictory reasoning and his manifest incapacity to deal with such problems as those he endeavored to solve. . . . — H. P. Blavatsky: Collected Writings 7:9
The reported opinions of Netherclift and Sims must be disregarded insofar as they relate to the Mahatma Letters. I repeat: we have no written and signed report from either of them, only Hodgson's version of what he says they had told him. The documents submitted to them cannot be identified. They changed their opinions under duress from Hodgson. Finally, and importantly, no suspect other than HPB was considered. No Court would accept such testimony.
Let us now have a look at the main features of this series of scripts.
General features: The following general features are found throughout the whole series:
The writing has a forward slant of about 30° to the vertical.
The height of the body of the small letters (excluding ascenders and descenders) is remarkably uniform. Let us denote this height by H.
The ascenders rise to a height of about 2H above the baseline, and the descenders extend to about 1H below the baseline.
The space between lines is about 3 1/2 H.
The height of the capitals is about 3H.
The space between words is around 2H.
The writing is flowing, unhurried, and carefully made.
Pressure from word to word is even.
Crossbars of the t's are a prominent feature. They are long, sometimes excessively long, with a slight rise towards the right.
Dots over the i's are carefully placed close to the upward projection of the stem of the i.
Stable characters persisting throughout the series: There are a few highly characteristic letters which are found right from the start and persist throughout the whole KH series. They are:
h — which reads like li without a dot, thus .
p — which usually looks like a hairpin with the right prong shortened and having a little downward curve added to the extremity, thus .
n — with its deeply troughed "garland" form which makes it indistinguishable from u, and
x — which takes the Elizabethan form .
Characters variable in earliest scripts: The rest of the letters are fairly stable with the exception of five: f, g, k, t and y. These exhibit a variety of forms in the early Letters, but they stabilize rapidly in the course of a few weeks.
I now recall Hodgson's FIRST CARDINAL PROPOSITION:
That there are clear signs of development in the K.H. writing, various strong resemblances to Madame Blavatsky's ordinary handwriting having been gradually eliminated.— p.283
Writing of the earliest letter received by Mr. Sinnett (Barker's Letter 1, our Figure 12), Hodgson states:
In this, which was received about October, 1880, the traces of Madame Blavatsky's handiwork were numerous and conspicuous, and from this onwards the gradual development of the K.H. conventional characteristics, and the gradual elimination of many of Madame Blavatsky's peculiarities, were clearly manifest. The K.H. writings which had been submitted to Mr. Netherclift [for examination], were written after Madame Blavatsky had had years of practice.-- pp. 282-3
These statements are flatly contradicted by the direct evidence that has been preserved for us, including the Hodgson Report itself. We now look at some of the KH Letters in detail.
Link to Figure 12
Barker, p. 5
Slide No. K36015
Received at Simla on or about 15 October 1880
This is a page from the first Letter that Sinnett received at Simla on or about 15 October 1880 — identified as the one referred to in the Hodgson Report as K.H. No. 1. The writing is more untidy and a little harder to read than in the KH Letters which follow. There is a noticeable difference of "feel" compared with the later scripts. The letters are less rounded and regular; but the general features and stable characters are there from the start. As for the variable letters we find:
f — This is made only with the lower loop or with no loop at all.
g — This takes a multiplicity of forms. In Figure 12 we find . Some other forms occur in the pages of this Letter which are not illustrated. We shall see later that none of these forms is particularly Blavatskian with the exception of and . Far from being exclusively Blavatskian, the first of these is common enough, and the second is of ancient lineage, being common in the Elizabethan Secretary Script.
y — This occurs in the forms . The second of these is the Blavatskian form, but there is nothing unusual about it.
It should be mentioned at this point that cases where a writer makes the same letter in two or more distinctive forms, apparently haphazardly, are frequent. Many writers make the letter e in the forms and , and d in the forms and ; and the alternatives can be found on the same page or even within the same word.
Link to Figure 13
Barker, p. 8
Slide No. K36023
Received at Simla 19 October 1880
This arrived only four days later than Letter 1, and it is already a more elegant script. We find:
f — appears either with the lower loop only or with both loops.
g — The form is preferred throughout the extract.
y — and are still preferred, but and make their appearance.
Link to Figure 14
Barker, p. 11
Slide No. K36034
Received about 20 October 1880
f — appears either with the lower loop only or with both loops.
g — Forms and make their appearance.
y — The form is preferred, but we also have and .
Link to Figure15
Barker, pp. 16-17
Slide No. K36050
Dated 29 October 1880
f — appears with the upper loop only.
g — takes the forms .
y — and are preferred, but now appears for the first time. Thus, within a fortnight, we are very near the fully "developed" KH script.
Figure 2, Part 1
Dated 1 November 1880
This is part of Hodgson's K.H. (i) from a letter to Mr. A. O. Hume. It is not found in Barker, nor in the British Library's collection. The illustration is only a "facsimile" of the original, but it shows clearly that:
f — is found with the upper loop only.
g — takes the forms and .
y — prefers the forms and , but and appear.
This is almost the final form of the script, dated only a fortnight after the arrival of Letter 1. This is taken from the Hodgson Report itself. So much for HPB's "years of practice."
Did Gurney, Myers & Co., and the generations who have followed them, never look critically at Hodgson's Report?
Link to Figure 16
Barker, p. 24
Slide No. K36070
Received about 10 December 1880
f — appears with upper loop only.
g — is preferred, but and are also found.
y — Forms and are found.
Link to Figure 17
Barker, p. 26
Slide No. K36078
Received about 20 February 1881
f — appears with upper loop only or with both loops.
g — Form is used almost exclusively.
y — Forms , and are found.
This is an excellent example of the KH script with long crossbars to the t's.
I conclude this section with one example of a later date.
Link to Figure 18
Barker, pp. 191-2 (2nd ed.), 189 (3rd ed.)
Slide No. K36496
Received 2 February 1883
The crossbars to the t's are more pronounced here than in Letter 8, otherwise the script does not differ from it except in points of detail.
The transition from the instability in form of the earliest KH script to a stable script is yet another puzzling feature of these writings and the reason for it is not clear; but it certainly was not "gradual." It was almost completed within a fortnight. I do not find "numerous and conspicuous traces of Madame Blavatsky's handiwork" anywhere. Nor is it "manifest" that "Madame Blavatsky's peculiarities" were eliminated during a process of gradual development of the script. To be sure, a number of forms of g and y disappeared after the first few weeks of receiving the scripts, but these were not typically Blavatskian forms.
After Letter 7, the variations in the KH script are no more than one might expect of the same writer using different pens or pencils, and in different moods or states of health. The most conspicuous variations in later Letters are in the lengths of the crossbars to the t's, which can become grotesquely long and spoil an otherwise graceful and legible script.
We come to Hodgson's SECOND CARDINAL PROPOSITION:
That special forms of letters proper to Madame Blavatsky's ordinary writing, and not proper to the K.H. writing, occasionally appear in the latter.
This proposition does not amount to much. Hodgson refers vaguely to examples he has found in the documents in his possession, but I have found it impossible to track them down, and no examples are given.
There are many erasures and corrections in the Letters, but these are the work of a writer who, having second thoughts about a word or phrase, did not want to rewrite the whole sheet and did not have a word processor. You will find plenty of what Hodgson calls "additions, reformations, cloakings and erasures" in my own handwriting.
Hodgson states on page 287 of his report:
The letter e in Madame Blavatsky's ordinary writing is uniformly made upon the common type which we are all taught in copybooks, but when it begins a word in the K.H. writing, it is formed on the same type as Madame Blavatsky's capital E in her ordinary writing. Yet in the early K.H. documents there are many instances where the initial small e was at first well formed in the ordinary way, and then transformed into the other type by the addition of a second curve at the top; there are instances also where the transformation was never made, and the initial e of the ordinary type still remains.
I have noticed a few examples of this type of alteration in the slides, but I have to say that the use of both types of e is widespread. E is the commonest letter in the English language; and e permits of fewer variations than do most other letters of the alphabet. There is nothing in these particular e's that is specially characteristic of HPB. What possible justification had Hodgson for attributing them to Madame Blavatsky to the exclusion of all others? They could have been made by almost anyone, including KH himself.
Hodgson makes much of one or two rogue x's which he has found in the documents in his hands. I cannot identify these documents in the slides, but a rogue x is found in the word "Quixottes" seen in K.H. (v) of Plate 3 of his report. This form is suggestive of HPB's x, but I cannot attach much weight to an isolated example. KH could easily have made a false start to the Elizabethan type of x that he normally uses and decided that it would be both easier and neater to cross the x in the Blavatskian manner in order to complete the letter.
Hodgson points out some similarities in the capital letters used by KH and HPB; but the similarities are not very close and the forms used are common enough. I do not think that they have any significance.
Hodgson's THIRD CARDINAL PROPOSITION is
That there are certain very marked peculiarities of Madame Blavatsky's ordinary writing which occur throughout the K.H. writing.— p. 283
I hold this proposition to be demonstrably false; and as I have dealt with it largely in Part 1, there is no need to repeat what I have written. During my examination of the 1,323 color slides, I paid special attention to those which showed specimens of HPB's writing. I could not find any single feature of her handwriting which, if present in a manuscript, would prove her authorship beyond reasonable doubt. What Hodgson calls the "left-gap stroke" is found in other writers and is far less important than Hodgson thought it to be.
It is convenient at this point to describe the M series of Letters which Hodgson ignores. There are twenty-six of these in the British Library collection — fewer than the KH Letters, but quite enough to be important. The M Letters differ markedly both in handwriting and in literary style from the Letters of KH and HPB. KH writes an individual script which is, apart from some of the earliest Letters, graceful, legible, and easy to recognize. His style is aristocratic, courteous, rather formal and reserved, discursive and at times plain long-winded; but he is not without the occasional touch of humor. M's writing is quite different. He usually prefers red ink. He dislikes writing, and says so. He is direct and terse, says what he has to say, and signs off. M is more down to earth than is KH; and the smile when he is writing is never far away. The scripts of both KH and M are far removed from the explosive bursts of HPB which suggest a Meteorological Office warning of the approach of Hurricane Helena.
As few can have seen M's Letters, I reproduce a typical sample in Figure 19. This will suffice as M's writing does not vary nearly as much as does KH's writing in his earliest Letters.
Link to Figure 19
Barker, pp. 227-8 (2nd ed.), 225 (3rd ed.)
Undated Slide No. K36592
This is the last page of a long letter.
The most striking characteristic of M's script is the "regular irregularity" of the small letters. Some, like r, are consistently larger than the average, while others, notably e, are smaller than the average. It is therefore hard to estimate the mean height (H) of the body of the small letters. They do not fit neatly between two parallel lines as do the characters of KH. This feature gives the writing strong individuality.
The slant of the writing is consistent and about 40° forward from the vertical, significantly greater than in the KH scripts.
Despite the variability of the small letters, they generally keep to the baseline.
The writing is carefully made and flowing, but not all the letters within a word are connected.
The height of the capitals is about 2 1/2 H.
The lines are more closely spaced than in KH's writing — about 3H.
The pen pressure from word to word is even.
Some Characteristic Letters. Some letter formations of particular interest are:
In addition, g and y are often disproportionately small.
I now take for examination extracts from two Letters from HPB preserved in the British Library collection. The particulars are:
Link to Figure 20
Barker, pp. 463-4 (2nd ed.), 456-7 (3rd ed.)
Slide No. K37262
Dated: Dehra Dun Friday 4th
Link to Figure 21
Barker, pp. 466 (2nd ed.), 458-9 (3rd ed.)
Slide No. K37268
Dated: March 17th
MAIN FEATURES OF HPB'S WRITING
There is a powerful drive about this writing. It is rapid, but mostly legible though one has to depend upon context more than in the KH and M scripts. There are wide variations in the pressure applied to the pen, and strong downward pressure is particularly noticeable in letters like d and p. This can be discerned even in the slides. The effect of pressure is completely lost in the facsimiles of Hodgson's Plate 2, which thereby give a misleading impression of the writing as a whole.
The slant of the writing is about 45° to the right of the vertical. It reaches 50° on occasion.
The body of the small letters is small (sometimes vanishingly small) compared with their spacing.
By comparison with the body height, the ascenders and descenders of the small letters are long. Descenders may reach 6H, ascenders 4H.
The height of the capitals is estimated at about 3H and the distance between lines at 3H.
Some Characteristic Letters. Noteworthy are:
See also the comparison table of letter formations set out below.
Comparison of Scripts by KH, M, and HPB. I find no evidence of common authorship of the KH, M, and HPB scripts. Comparison of their general features, which Hodgson ignored, as well as the detailed construction of individual letters, shows that these are three different writings. I attribute them to different writers.
In his efforts to implicate HPB it seems never to have occurred to Hodgson that one should have a look at the writing of other possible suspects before concluding. One possible suspect is A. P. Sinnett himself. His two books, The Occult World and Esoteric Buddhism, proved to be best sellers, and it could be argued that he forged the Mahatma Letters in order to provide spurious authority to his work. This is at any rate a more plausible motive than Hodgson's suggestion that HPB forged the Letters in order to foment insurrection in British India.
Sinnett's script is shown in Figure 22, and the particulars are:
Link to Figure 22
Barker, pp. 125 (2nd ed.), 121-2 (3rd ed.)
Slide No. K36266
Dated: Simla July 25th
Received August 1882
If we compare Sinnett's writing in Figure 22 with KH's writing in Figure 17 we see that there are numerous similarities. Sinnett's writing is more angular than KH's and it is more stretched in the horizontal direction. However, it is much nearer in style to KH's than is HPB's.
MAIN FEATURES OF A. P. SINNETT'S SCRIPT
The slant is about 30° from the vertical, forward.
The height of the body of the small letters (H) is fairly uniform.
The ascenders rise to about 1 3/4 H above the baseline and the descenders dip to about 2H below the baseline. They are less prominent than they are in the KH script.
The height of the capitals is about 2H.
The space between lines is about 3H and the space between words is about the same.
These rough measurements and the general "feel" of the writing are enough to show that it could have been much easier for Sinnett to adapt his writing to the KH style than it would have been for HPB to do so.
Comparison of Individual Letters with KH's. Compare the following:
Letter - KH's writing (Fig. 14) -— APS's writing (Fig. 22)
c - - - - - (Line 5) received - - - - - - - - - (Line 3) once
c - - - - - (Line 7) currents - - - - - - - - - (Line 9) covers
d - - - - (Line 1, fig 17) dear - - - - - — (Line 8) production
g - - - - - (Line 3) receiving - - - - - - - - -(Line 2) began
th - — - - (Line 14) there - - - - - - - - - - (Line 4) this
n - - - - - (Line 3) not - - - - - - - - - - - - (Line 3) once
n- - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - (Line 7) tangle
p - - - - (Line 4) reply - - - - - - - - - - - (Line 4) appearing
p - - - - (Line 8) production
x - - - See Fig. 15, line 18, expressing - - (Line 5) next
Accepting these similarities, rejecting all differences and investing the letter p with the importance of Hodgson's "left-gap stroke," I could make a case for Sinnett's authorship of the Mahatma Letters. This illustrates the importance of looking at the handwriting of as many suspects as possible before pronouncing judgment. Hodgson never considered any suspect other than HPB.
However, Sinnett may rest in peace. His writing is not the same as KH's, despite the similarities.
One should always remember that the writing as a whole, as well as the formation of individual letters, is important when judging a piece of handwriting.
On pages 306 and 307 of his report, Hodgson seeks to reinforce his case by citing mistakes of spelling, grammar, style, and hyphenation found in the pages of both KH and HPB. I find this section wholly unconvincing. The most that these mistakes show is that the two writers were not quite familiar with the English language. We knew this already. Since the mistakes are common and widespread, what they do not show is identity of KH and HPB.
There can be but few aspects of the writer's craft which authors understand less than that of hyphenation at the end of lines. You will find elaborate rules for hyphenation in the preamble to Webster's New International Dictionary of 1928, but I can never remember what they are. This does not worry me because if my work is intended for publication, hyphenation, if needed, will be made by the compositor or a computer, no matter what I write. To advance the faults of hyphenation shown on page 306 of the Hodgson Report as evidence of the identity of KH and HPB is ridiculous.
HPB did not start to write in English until quite late in life, and she did so because she thought that her work would be more widely read in this language. She needed help at first. It is not surprising that her earlier work in English shows a French influence.
I do not know what KH's linguistic background was, but it also shows a French influence. As French was, and still is, a world language, this does not prove much.
Hodgson never misses an opportunity of sneering at HPB's English. One would think from his remarks that both KH and HPB wrote in a sort of Pidgin English. This is not so. KH's style, though a little formal, is generally good, and his occasional lapses are no more than most of us make from time to time in the first draft of a document. He himself made many corrections to his Letters on points of wording and style.
Having read the original, unedited, holograph KH Letters, I find this section of the Hodgson Report quite deplorable. It illustrates argument by innuendo.
Replies to Criticism
1. J'Accuse d'autant plus, "I accuse all the more." (return to text)
2. Acts 18:17. (return to text)
3. The first known letter from KH was delivered by a "mysterious stranger" about 1870 according to the testimony of Madame Fadeyef. This testimony is dismissed by Hodgson on the grounds that "we should remember that she is a Russian lady, and the aunt of Madame Blavatsky, and that Madame Blavatsky may have been influenced by political motives in the founding of the Theosophical Society." I think it possible that on occasion even Russian ladies can tell the truth. The quotation comes from page 292 of the Hodgson Report and the whole footnote deserves study as an example of Hodgson's reasoning. (return to text)
4. Michael Gomes, "The Coulomb Case 1884-1984," The Theosophist, December 1984, January 1985, February 1985, pp. 95-102, 138-47, 178-86. (return to text)
5. Michael Gomes, Theosophy in the Nineteenth Century: An Annotated Bibliography, Garland Reference Library of Social Sciences, Vol. 532 (Religious Information Systems Vol. 15), Garland Publishing, New York & London, 1994. (return to text)
6. Beatrice Hastings, Defence of Madame Blavatsky, Vols. 1 & 2, The Hastings Press, Worthing, England, 1937. (return to text)
7. Emma Coulomb, Some Account of My Intercourse with Madame Blavatsky from 1872-1884, Higginbotham & Co., Madras, 1884. (return to text)
8. Reply by H. R. Morgan to a Report of an Examination of the Blavatsky Correspondence by J. D. B. Gribble, Ootacamund, 1884. (return to text)
9. See Part 1, p. 9. (return to text)
10. See Part 1, pp. 27-8. (return to text)
11. Sylvia Cranston, HPB: The Extraordinary Life and Influence of Helena Blavatsky, Jeremy P. Tarcher/Putnam, New York, 1993, p. 270. (return to text)
12. Michael Gomes, "Witness for the Prosecution: Annie Besant's Testimony on behalf of H. P. Blavatsky in the New York Sun / Coues Law Case," Occasional Paper, Theosophical History, Fullerton, CA, 1993. (return to text)
13. Text of the retraction is reproduced in Cranston, HPB, p. 377. (return to text)
14. Cranston, HPB, p. 271. (return to text)
15. Information from Anita Atkins. See Part 1, p. 7. (return to text)
16. Information from Walter A. Carrithers. See Part 1, p. 8. (return to text)
17. A. Trevor Barker, ed., The Mahatma Letters to A. P. Sinnett, facsimile 2nd Edition (1926), Theosophical University Press, Pasadena, 1994; Third and Revised Edition, The Theosophical Publishing House, Adyar, Madras, 1962. (return to text)
18. Michael Gomes, "The Coulomb Case 1884-1984," The Theosophist, December 1984, January 1985, February 1985, pp. 95-102, 138-47, 178-86. (return to text)