The Theosophical Forum – January 1947

"H. P. B." (1) — A. P. Sinnett

The world at large has heard too much about Mme. Blavatsky, and has known too little. Her misfortune was that she was interesting to average newspaper readers, and a grievously inviting subject for average newspaper writers. As she believed — as all Theosophists believe — she was concerned with bearing a message to the world of grave importance and infinite solemnity. It was not half uttered — not a hundredth part understood — before it was snapped up by every lively journalist in search of a new joke. Modern society has lost a great deal by gaining whatever amusement was involved in the treatment of Mme. Blavatsky as food for caricature. It is further to be regretted that she herself all the while, very sensitive to suffering of all kinds, has writhed in misery beneath the jeering to which she has been exposed. Now that at last she has bequeathed to the flames the battered and unwieldy physique that has burdened her fiercely energetic spirit so long, the time has perhaps come for focusing public attention a little more closely than has been possible hitherto on the work and purpose of her life.


Only four or five years ago she seemed fairly overwhelmed by the tide of obloquy turned against her by the Psychical Research Society. I visited her at Wurzburg in 1886, and then she had very few friends left, very little purpose in this life except to write her long-promised book, "The Secret Doctrine," and was spending her time in almost complete seclusion; while the world at large spoke of her as a detected impostor, and the Report against her, by a representative of the Society just named, was complacently regarded by its author as having put an end once for all to one of the most extraordinary delusions of the age. Bit by bit the famous Report has been torn to pieces by competent critics, till hardly a rag of it remains. The inextinguishable force of Mme. Blavatsky's character has borne her forward and far more than recovered for her all her lost ground. She has been for the last three years the center of a devoted circle of disciples, the nucleus of a great organization of occult students, which included over a thousand persons. The weekly lectures given in her presence by her Theosophical pupils have been attended by crowded audiences. Never before in her life has she been made so much of as during these last few years, when the vigour of her mind, the irresistible personal influence she exhaled, have pushed into the background, as so much silly impertinence, the accusations of fraud and trickery which looked at one time formidable enough to menace her with annihilation as a public teacher.


Like many other prophets and seers, she has been scorned and denounced, but her strength has been greater than that of her assailants. She has been suffering continually from illness, and partly through muscular weakness, partly because of her inconveniently bulky proportions, could scarcely get about more than from one room to another; but her mental and moral energy has made her the absolute chief of her large heterogeneous household, and of the busy volunteer staff of the Society she directed. A state of things like this should be recognised as more eloquent than petty details of disputable evidence pointing to the theory that she concocted spurious marvels. Vulgar cheating does not bring forth ever-increasing devotion and respect as its fruit. It is impossible to account for Mme. Blavatsky in any intelligent way except by regarding her as a great spiritual reality.


Nothing in her external attributes prepared one at the first glance to look at her in that light. She was rugged and eccentric in her ways and appearance; she dressed anyhow — in loose wrappers — smoked cigarettes incessantly. Worse than this, she was passionate and excitable, and often violent in her language. Namby-pamby conventionality shrank from her aghast — to her grim satisfaction, for she loathed it. She had a loud voice, that grew harsh in its tones when she felt irritated, and something or other would irritate her fifty times a day. And yet her disciples, summing up the spirit of her teaching in the course of the address read at her cremation, say: A clean life, an open mind, a pure heart, an eager intellect, an unveiled spiritual perception, a brotherliness for all, a courageous endurance of personal injustice, a constant eye to the ideal of human progress and perfection which the sacred science depictsthese are the golden stairs up the steps of which the learner may climb to the temple of Divine Wisdom. If we are to judge a tree by its fruits, we may judge Madame Blavatsky, to some extent, at all events, by the principles we find flourishing amongst those who are proud to acknowledge themselves her followers in the path of occult development.


No one will ever make sense of Mme. Blavatsky's career, or understand her influence, if they try to think of her as a woman of genius on her own foundation, so to speak, with ideas and theories of life and a great zeal for these, as other enthusiasts have been zealous for other theories and ideas. The tremendous importance of Mme. Blavatsky in the circle of her followers was due to the conviction they all felt that she was the visible agent of powers and personages transcending those of the ordinary world. Ancient theories of religion embodied the belief that by going through certain processes of training and initiation, men still living could attain to superior spiritual conditions, acquiring faculties and powers of an exalted order. Occult students conceive that, though there are no institutions in London to provide facilities for initiation, and no priests in our day qualified to confer degrees on the aspirant for spiritual progress, nevertheless wisdom and knowledge concerning spiritual things have not died out of the world altogether. A great many persons connected with the Theosophical Society regard themselves as in contact with the present representatives of that higher evolution, and acknowledge such contact as having been originally brought about by or in some way through the intermediation of Mme. Blavatsky. The message, in fact, which she had to deliver, was to the effect that those who had the courage and qualifications for treading it might still find the way of occult initiation open; that real knowledge concerning the possibilities of spiritual progress lying before mankind was procurable, and that a very lofty rule of life had to be adopted by those who would enter on "the Path."


Teaching these principles incessantly by speech and pen, Mme. Blavatsky has effectually lived down the distorted misrepresentations of her character put about from time to time by people who have resented and disbelieved in her wonder-working. At 19, Avenue Road, Regent's Park, where she resided, at the head, practically, of a large co-operative household, she was treated with an ardent respect that amounted to something like devotion. Shielded by this more than affectionate esteem, even she, sensitive as she has always been to attack, has learnt in the evening of her life to care a little less than formerly about the rude sneers of the outer world. She has been more at peace of late at the Avenue Road than during any other period of her varied career, though as busy as ever with her pen. The change and amusement required by most people played no part in her existence. To realise her as she has been for the last few years, we have only to get into the mind's eye a picture of her writing-room at the Avenue Road, with a large writing-table in the middle, the window shielded with a fern-glass over the lower half to the left, another table to her right, laden with books, photograph stands, and receptacles for papers, a sofa behind her, bookcases against the walls, a chair or two for the accommodation of visitors, but for herself always the big armchair at the writing-table — suited to her ample proportions — in which she permanently lived.

How she hated her ample proportions, by the by! When I corresponded with her in India, before I knew her personally, she used to describe herself as a "hippopotamus" and a Calmuck savage though the bright and lively style of these descriptions counterbalanced the alarming purport. Then she chafed furiously at the cruel fate that had made her a woman — in this incarnation.


The back room, opening out of her writing room, was her bed room. It was variety enough for her to pass from one chamber to the other, though sometimes she would get as far as the lecture hall adjacent to the house, which the Theosophical Society built for the convenience of its meetings when Mme. Blavatsky and her group of friends settled in the Avenue Road.

Beyond Mme. Blavatsky's room, and opening out of it, was "the secretaries" room, where two or three young men, devoted adherents of the "Blavatsky Lodge" of the Theosophical Society and members of the Avenue Road establishment, carried on the business of the Society and that of Mme. Blavatsky's magazine, Lucifer, under her general direction; and the "Esoteric Section" alone gave them plenty to do, for this branch of the Theosophical organization engaged Mme. Blavatsky's deepest interest and energies in the recent latter days. . . .

Her never-resting mind required no relaxation from work beyond that involved in conversation with friends, chiefly about her work. It has been so ever since I first knew her in 1879; it was so before that, ever since the public phase of her career commenced, four or five years before that date, as I am informed, when she began her mil by writing "Isis Unveiled" at New York, and stuck to that gigantic task — without breaking off, so to speak, except to talk with her early American friends and work occult wonders for their gratification. . . .


For about twenty years she wandered about the world, getting supplies of money from time to time from her father, always on the look-out for wonders and mysteries and for people of any kind qualified to open for her the doors of occult knowledge.

. . . A blatant world, "all ear and eye, with such a stupid heart to interpret ear and eye," has coined a score of groundless charges against her, on the assumption that a life so unconventional must have been riotous and vicious. There are people who cannot realize how any man or woman having the opportunity can be otherwise than vicious. But Mme. Blavatsky was abnormal in this respect. She deserved no credit for not being sensual, any more than a horse might deserve credit for not drinking absinthe. Her love of a wandering life sprang from no instincts of the kind that may sometimes prompt such restless activity. She cared nothing, it is true, for refinement in the ordinary sense of the word, even hating the superficial graces and ornamentation of life; but cared still less, to the extent of getting far on the other side of zero in respect to such feelings, for the whole range of emotions having to do with the pleasures of sense. As a mere subordinate illustration of this, her dislike of alcohol in all forms amounted to a comically intense loathing. The indefatigable tongue of slander has charged her, amongst other things, with drinking. One might as well charge a polar bear with setting fire to an iceberg.


She was relatively in good health in her New York days when the Theosophical Society was first founded by a very small group of enthusiasts in 1875, and wonders of many kinds surrounded its origin. I do not propose here to argue the question of Madame's "phenomena" at any length, but one could no more write a memoir on trigonometry and say nothing about triangles, than survey the strange career just concluded and ignore the marvels coruscating all through it. And at this early period of her enterprise she seems to have depended more on the startling effect of surprising powers she was enabled to exhibit than on the philosophical teaching concerning the evolution of man and the world, and the ultimate destinies, or rather the opportunities lying before humanity for those who can appreciate them, which became the burden of her later utterances. I have never been able to gather from her that she had any settled plan of operations at New York. In a general way she wished to make known the existence of Eastern Initiates possessing knowledge and powers far transcending those of ordinary humanity. She had not yet got the whole idea of a spiritual crusade which should lead converts into "the Path" of occult development formulated in her mind. This was brought into shape later on in India when she migrated thither accompanied by Col. Olcott and when the Theosophical Society began to acquire momentum in that country.


At this stage my own acquaintance with her began in 1879. Her troubles at this time were all before her, and they had not yet begun to depress her naturally buoyant spirits. Her friends of recent date have only known her weakened by illness, somewhat embittered and disheartened by calumny, contumely, and misrepresentation; almost sternly bent on preaching the lofty ethics of the Theosophic code, and drifting into a position in which, as the recognized spiritual chief of so many earnest followers, she was hardly able to divest herself of a quasi-papal character. When the movement she set on foot was still in its infancy, she was burdened by none of these oppressive circumstances. Her bright intellect and abundant wit made her a charming conversationalist, and many people, I am sure, who met her at Allahabad in the year just mentioned, will remember her chiefly as a very delightful companion at the dinner table, full of sparkling and eccentric anecdotes, and only unconventional enough to be an amusing feature of any gathering she joined. For she would never allow herself the strong language in which she sometimes indulged when any but intimate friends were present. As I have said in describing her as she was at this period in the book already referred to: (2) "No one with the least discernment could ever fail to see that her rugged manners and disregard of all conventionalities were the result of a deliberate rebellion against, not of ignorance or un-familiarity with, the customs of refined society. Still, the rebellion was often very determined, and she would sometimes color her language with expletives of all sorts, some witty and amusing, some unnecessarily violent, that we should all have preferred her not to make use of. She certainly had none of the superficial attributes one might have expected in a spiritual teacher; and how she could at the same time be philosopher enough to have given up the world for the sake of spiritual advancement, and yet be capable of going into frenzies of passion about trivial annoyances, was a profound mystery to us for a long while, and is only now partially explainable within my own mind, by some information I have received relating to curious psychological laws under which initiates in occult mysteries, circumstanced as she is, inevitably come. By slow degrees only, and in spite of herself — in spite of injudicious proceedings on her part, that long kept alive suspicions she might easily have allayed if she could have kept calm enough to understand them — did we come to appreciate the reality of the occult forces and unseen agencies behind her; . . . but guests, especially if they happened to be of a very materialistic temperament, would regard anything Mme. Blavatsky might do of an apparently abnormal character as so much juggling, and hardly disguise these impressions from her. The result in such cases would be a stormy end to our evening after such guests had gone. To be suspected as an impostor, deluding her friends with trickery, would sting her at any time with a scorpion smart, and bring forth a flood of passionate argument as to the cruelty and groundlessness of such an imputation.

"Recollection of this time supplies me with a very varied assortment of memory portraits of Madame taken during different conditions of her nerves and temper. Some recall her flushed and voluble, too loudly declaiming against some person or other who had misjudged her or her Society; some show her quiet and companionable, pouring out a flood of interesting talk about Mexican antiquities, or Egypt and Peru, showing a knowledge of the most varied and far-reaching kind, and a memory for names and archaeological theories she would be dealing with, that was fairly fascinating to her hearers. Then, again, I remember her telling anecdotes of her own earlier life, mysterious bits of adventure, or stories of Russian society, with so much point, vivacity, and finish that she would simply be the delight for the time being of everyone present."


At this time Mme. Blavatsky's own home was established at Bombay, where she resided with Colonel Olcott and two or three persons, Indian and European, associated with the Theosophical Society. At first she lived in a comfortless native quarter of the town, but afterwards in a small bungalow called "The Crow's Nest," at Breach Candy, which had long been unoccupied owing to a bad reputation for snakes and ghosts, and was thus let to the Theosophists, quite willing to brave all encumbrances of this sort, on reasonable terms. The building lay on the slope of a steep hill, and the upper part, an enclosed verandah with two or three rooms opening out of it, constituted Mme. Blavatsky's quarters. Here I visited her in 1881, and found her immersed in a constant ebb and flow of native visitors, members of the Society, and others. She would have admiring groups of such friends round her up to all hours in the evening, smoking innumerable cigarettes and talking Vedic philosophy with eager enthusiasm, or as eagerly and excitedly discussing some trumpery little incident connected with the progress or difficulties of the Society, or the misdoings of some "enemy," which a person of cooler temperament in her position would have found too insignificant to engage five minutes' thought. . . . And then, if I may again quote a few words from my own former account of her, "in the midst of some fiery argument with a Pundit about a point of modern Hindoo belief that she might protest against as inconsistent with the real meaning of the Vedas, or a passionate remonstrance with one of her aides of the Theosophist about something done amiss that would for the time overspread the whole sky of her imagination with a thundercloud, she would perhaps suddenly "hear the voice they did not hear" — the astral call of her distant Master, or one of the other "Brothers," as by that time we had all learned to call them — and forgetting everything else in an instant, she would hurry off to the seclusion of any room where she could be alone for a few moments, and hear whatever message or orders she had to receive."


She would make no efforts at this time to cultivate friendly relations with the European society of the place, having started indeed with a very flourishing stock of misconceptions about the character of the English in India, which gave way after a time, but at first made her fancy herself, by reason of her special sympathy with the natives, as necessarily antagonistic to the Europeans. Moreover, she hated the outer forms and ceremonies of Anglo-Indian life, and would have found it a terrible penance to give up the loose wrappers she habitually wore, or the cigarettes she constantly smoked, for the sake of commonplace parties and people who know nothing of the Vedas, and still less of the mysterious occultism in which all her deeper interests were rooted. However, it is none the less true that she did fret after a time at the isolation as regards European society, in the midst of which she lived at Bombay, and she used thoroughly to enjoy the change in this respect she obtained from time to time during her visits to Allahabad and Simla. At Simla especially she made many friends, and during the summer of 1880 she was perhaps the prominent feature of the Anglo-Indian season, for that was the year of her most sensational performances, as described in "The Occult World"; and though, of course, accounts of these no sooner began to penetrate the newspapers than they evoked outcries of ridicule and incredulity, a great many people at the time, including some very prominent members of the English community who apostatised afterwards, when the tide of scornful public incredulity set in strongly, were altogether overwhelmed by the marvels of which they were personally witness.


Up to this time we had received no glimmerings of the comprehensive or systematic teaching concerning the evolution of man and the world and the laws governing the spiritual progress of humanity, that ultimately identified the Theosophical Society with something resembling a new religion. So far Mme. Blavatsky's efforts had been altogether directed to establish the broad fact that there were people in existence whose knowledge and power transcended those of ordinary mortals; that they corresponded in the present day to the initiated hierophants of ancient religious systems; that some touch with the superior wisdom they possessed was to be got at through the study of Indian sacred literature; and that Western communities, insofaras they had begun to investigate abnormal super-physical phenomena by means of the practices resorted to by "spiritualists," were altogether on a wrong track. Many modern newspaper writers are so densely ignorant of everything that appertains to this investigation, that they not only mix up the silly, fraudulent imitations of spiritualistic phenomena with the real occurrences, such as they are, to which scores of eminent and entirely credible inquirers have borne testimony, but also confuse these occurrences, the central block of real experience connected with spiritualism with the theories of occult science, as these have been gradually developed in recent years through Mme. Blavatsky's agency and others which she in the first instance set in motion. It is only necessary here to explain occult teaching sufficiently to make her Theosophical work intelligible; and her attitude towards spiritualism will be made apparent when I say that the occultist's view of Nature recognizes a plane of phenomena and existence directly in contact with our own, though imperceptible to commonplace physical senses, in which the inferior remnants of post-mortem humanity float about and persist for a time, while the true Ego or spiritual consciousness of every departed soul fit to have anything worth calling a spiritual life, passes off into realms with which the mediumship of the spiritualist has, as a general rule, no contact whatever.


From the first moment when Mme. Blavatsky completed the apprenticeship of her wandering life and came back to Europe in 1870, at the close of three years spent in an Eastern seclusion, of which it is useless to speak except to persons knowing something of what occult initiation means, she regarded herself as especially bound to combat and oppose the spiritualistic movement, not from the ignorant and stupid point of view of those who regard the whole thing as a vulgar fraud, but from that of the inner penetralia of the movement itself. No one knew better than she that the phenomena of the spiritualists were often entirely genuine, but she felt herself in possession of knowledge which the most earnest spiritualists were entirely without, which enabled her to go behind the phenomena and explain them as originating from super-physical causes, quite unlike those to which they were assigned by spiritualists. To wean the spiritualists from their misconceptions was thus the real motive of the very first step she took — at Cairo, in 1870 — in the direction of Theosophical work. She founded a little Society for investigating spiritualistic phenomena, and of course this action on her part has been twisted later on by her detractors into the statement that she began her public career as a spiritualistic medium. Her letters to private friends written about this time and later on from New York, whither she migrated a year or two afterwards, amply establish her bitter antagonism from the first to the whole theory of modern spiritualism, so that the charge against her that she practiced as a spiritualist medium is a ludicrous inversion of the facts.


Greatly promoted by the dogged determination and single-minded exertions of Colonel Olcott, the Theosophical Society grew rapidly during the years Mme. Blavatsky spent at Bombay. . . . In this country a certain readiness to brave conventional opinion is still required by people who attach themselves to a movement resting on special knowledge and experience not yet hall-marked by orthodox authority, but in India there was nothing in Mme. Blavatsky's profession of belief in the existence of and acquaintance with occult initiates to offend public opinion. A similar conviction is so widely spread as to be general throughout India, while the whole programme of the Theosophical Society, in its exaltation of the importance of Indian literature and traditions, was flattering to native susceptibilities. So wherever Colonel Olcott wandered in the course of his incessant tours, he found it easy to establish branches of the Society, and these were counted by hundreds when the Theosophical household moved at the end of 1882 to Madras.


Here are some extracts from a characteristic letter she wrote to my wife and myself in 1884, when she had come Londonwards as far as Nice for the sake of the sea voyage, being in a thoroughly bad state of health: —

"I have received the kind invitations of yourselves and of ------ and ------ and others. I am deeply touched by this proof of the desire to see my unworthy self, but see no use to kick against fate and try to make the realisable out of the unrealisable. I am sick, and feel worse than I felt when leaving Bombay. At sea I had felt better, and on land I feel worse. I was laid up for the whole day on first landing at Marseilles, and am laid up now. At the former place it was, I suppose, the vile emanations of an European civilized first-class hotel, with its pigs and beef, and here — well, anyhow I am falling to pieces, crumbling away like an old sea-biscuit, and the most I will be able to do will be to pick up and join together my voluminous fragments, and gluing them together, carry the ruin to Paris. What's the use of asking me to London? What shall I, what can I, do amidst your eternal fogs and the emanations of the highest civilization? . . . What kind of company am I to civilised beings like yourselves? . . . I would become obnoxious to them in seven minutes and a quarter were I to accept it and land my disagreeable bulky self in England. Distance lends its charms, and in my case my presence would surely ruin every vestige of it."

In spite of this reluctance, the intense interest she felt in the progress of the Theosophical movement in London, and the continued pressure of her friends' wishes, brought her over to London eventually after a few weeks spent in Paris. At whatever house she stayed, her presence becoming known drew crowds of visitors anxious to see her. The constant ebb and flow of people round her never seemed to weary her. Ill as she often was, her nervous energy was inexhaustible, and she flung herself now into the task of promoting a Theosophical propaganda in Europe as if that were the final culmination of her work to which everything else were subordinate. No one ever more than Mme. Blavatsky acted on the principle of doing with all her might whatever work she was engaged upon at the moment.


But a terrible catastrophe was brewing for her all this while. A magazine published at Madras in the interest of the missionary body at that place — always bitterly inimical to the Theosophical movement, which tended to exalt native confidence in the Oriental philosophies and religions, which it was the missionaries' business to attack — obtained from a woman who had been attached to the Theosophical headquarters as a kind of housekeeper (and whom Mme. Blavatsky had very unwisely treated as a friend) certain letters purporting to be written by Madame, the contents of which seemed to show that some of the abnormal phenomena that had taken place at Madras and elsewhere had been fraudulently concocted by Mme. Blavatsky with the assistance of the ex-housekeeper and her husband. The authenticity of these letters was strenuously denied by Mme. Blavatsky; but the Psychical Research Society sent out an agent to investigate the whole imbroglio. Mr. Hodgson, the agent in question, was entirely won over in the end by the accusing side, and published a Report condemning Mme. Blavatsky unreservedly. A complete review of this disagreeable business would take up too much time.


Volumes have been written about it, and while at first no doubt the leaders of the Psychical Research Society undoubtedly accepted Mr. Hodgson's view, the few people who had been intimate with Mme. Blavatsky all through the period of the transactions referred to, showed by degrees, in various pamphlets and articles, how worthless Mr. Hodgson's conclusions were, how fatally he had been hoodwinked by the enemies of the Theosophical movement at Madras, and how narrow-minded and unjust his methods of inquiry had been. To the present day, of course, people who are out of touch with the deep realities of the Theosophical movement — which, however completely its origin may be traced to Mme. Blavatsky's efforts, has long since acquired a momentum and interior justification of its own quite independent of her personality — are vaguely of opinion that Mme. Blavatsky was somehow exposed by the Hodgson Report, and that the continued regard and respect shown for her by a large Society is an unaccountable manifestation of human credulity. But, nevertheless, no one ever lived down all injurious accusation more effectually than Mme. Blavatsky, before she died, lived down the apparently at the time overwhelming denunciations of the Psychical Research Committee.


It was a tremendous blow at the time, of course. She returned to India at the end of 1884, while Mr. Hodgson was carrying on his investigations there; but that gentleman never sought her explanations of the circumstances he thought suspicious, never showed her the originals of the letters on which the whole accusation turned, and disguised his unfavorable conclusions while staying as a guest at the Theosophical headquarters. Then she fell very ill again, nearly died — was in fact given over by the doctor in attendance upon her — but unexpectedly rallied, and when a little better again returned to Europe, where, however, at the time her star seemed to have set entirely, and many of the people who had exhibited a spasmodic enthusiasm for her and her teachings in 1884, fell off both from the number of her friends and from the movement.

She wrote from Naples to my wife, in June, 1885, soon after landing: —

"The sight of your familiar handwriting was a welcome one, indeed, and the contents of your letter still more so. No, dear Mrs. Sinnett, I never thought that you could have ever believed that I played the tricks I am now accused of, neither you nor any one of those who have Masters in their hearts, not on their brains. Nevertheless, here I am to stand accused, without any means to prove the contrary, of the most dirty, villainous deceptions ever practiced by a half-starved medium. What can I and what shall I do? Useless to either write to persuade or try to argue with people who are bound to believe me guilty to change their opinions. Let it be. The fuel in my heart is burnt to the last atom. Henceforth nothing is to be found in it but cold ashes. I have so suffered that I can suffer no more."


This tone of despair was very unnatural to her, and in the dejection of the moment she underrated her own reserves of strength and courage. At Wurzburg, where she settled down for a time, old friends found their way to her again one by one. She had fallen out of fashion, it was true, but for all who had got upon the track of the great principles she had been instrumental in interpreting, realms of interest lay before them which would equally have drawn them on, even if Madame Blavatsky had been as personally unworthy of respect as her worst enemies declared. But in truth the more any Theosophist has at any time become attached, through experiences or mere reasoning of his own, to the pursuit of occult knowledge and development, the better he has been able to appreciate Mme. Blavatsky's career as a whole, without worrying about petty scraps of evidence seeming to impugn the bona fides of this or that little manifestation of abnormal energy among the hundreds or thousands of those with whom she has been concerned. That in his most seemingly injurious discoveries Mr. Hodgson had altogether blundered, became, for all who learned to appreciate the Theosophic position, a thousand times more probable than that Mme. Blavatsky was otherwise than genuine throughout, as most certainly a great many Theosophists of their own knowledge knew her to be in regard to her general relations with what I have called the Occult World.


So finally it came to pass that Mme. Blavatsky, having grown very tired of her isolation at Wurzburg, moved for a change to Ostend, and after staying on there till the spring of 1887, was brought back to London by the earnest invitation of a Theosophical group, by whose care and forethought the journey, very difficult for her in her then state of health, was facilitated by every arrangement that could be made for her comfort. Norwood, where she stayed for a few months, then became the vortex of Theosophical meetings and activities of various kinds, and afterwards several members of the Society joined together in taking a house in Lansdowne Road, Notting Hill, where "H. P. B.'s" banner was set up very proudly, and everything done by all parties concerned to emphasise in the most unequivocal way their devotion to and trust in the leader whom the outer world vainly imagined to have been crushed entirely by the much-talked-of Report. "H. P. B.," I may explain, was the simple designation by which Mme. Blavatsky came to be known and addressed henceforth in the Society in accordance with her own wish. From this time on, the few remaining years of her life have seen her personal ascendency and influence with all around her constantly increasing. Her receptions have been crowded, her spirits and energy have recovered their old vigour, schemes of all kinds have been set on foot around her for pushing on the Theosophical movement, and a practical answer has been afforded to critics who suppose that the interest Mme. Blavatsky excites turns on the "phenomena," genuine or otherwise, which have been so much talked of in connection with her, by the fact that in these last few years her public energies have been entirely bent on teaching Theosophical philosophy and ethics, and no casual frequenter of her receptions or lecture-room has ever been encouraged to expect the smallest manifestation of occult mysteries.


In spite of this, as teacher and philosopher Mme. Blavatsky has been more closely surrounded by eager admirers than at any time in the past as a wonder-worker. She has been working more productively, moreover, than ever before as a writer. Besides a constant stream of articles in the monthly magazine she edited, she has published, during her final residence in England, the two bulky volumes known as the "Secret Doctrine." . . . She has also published "The Key to Theosophy," and a little book of great interest for occult students, called "The Voice of the Silence." Idleness never had any charms for her, and she had to be very ill indeed before she would tear herself from her writing-table and surrender herself to her bed.


This irresistible force or energy in her nature is the clue to a comprehension of her, as far as it is possible to understand her without explicit reference to the "occult world" from which her power, knowledge, and influence were really derived. She always, as it were, filled every place she occupied. She dominated every situation in which she was placed, and she had to be either greatly loved or greatly hated by those whom she came in contact with. She could never be an object of indifference. For people even who quarreled with her and shunned her she remained an important fact. People who knew her were always talking her over; and even, though in some cases she might give offense and exasperate friends for a time, these would generally in the long run be found amongst the number of her friends once more. She was more interesting than even she could be irritating.


And now the generation she has lived with is left face to face with the mass of literature she has left behind her, with the great scheme of philosophy, at the same time a vast and coherent system of thought, interpreting Nature and Man, which has been elaborated under her guidance — by herself or others in co-operation with her; and with nothing countervailing this tremendous bequest but some trumpery imputations on the bona fides of a few among the endless series of marvels which have always been taking place around her, in all countries and amongst endlessly various people, all her life — imputations, moreover, which have been in themselves discredited and refuted for those who take the trouble to read both sides of that wearisome story. To discuss Mme. Blavatsky at this stage of the proceedings, with reference to a single petty controversy about a single episode in her extraordinary career, would be like criticizing some great picture with exclusive reference to the smell of the paint. . . . The broad fact remains that Mme. Blavatsky's influence in the world for good, directly and indirectly, has been world wide, and that views of Nature and spiritual evolution which are distinctly traceable for those who understand them to the impulse given out by Theosophical writings, are fermenting in modern society to an extent that bids fair to accomplish serious and important modifications of religious thinking.


1. From the magazine Borderland, London, June, 1891. (return to text)

2. The Occult World. (return to text)

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