When the 1884 visit to Europe was arranged, the Adyar headquarters was left in charge of a Council which included several disturbing elements, but only one, a Frenchman named Coulomb, was contemplating treachery, and of course he was not suspected by the other members. But he and his English wife — a "weird, witch-like creature" as Dr. Hartmann calls her — soon found an opportunity of preparing a cunning scheme to ruin H.P.B.'s reputation and destroy the Society. Fortunately, as will be shown, the Fates worked against them before it was consummated.
Though H.P.B. and Olcott suspected no special danger to the Society in India when they left, the Masters were perfectly aware of the coming crisis, for when Olcott and Mohini were alone in France in a compartment of a train on their way from Paris to London on April 5, 1884, a letter from K.H. dropped from the roof warning Olcott of the plot that was hatching at Adyar, and telling him not to be discouraged, however threatening it might appear. One sentence reads:
You have harboured a traitor and an enemy under your roof for years, and the missionary party are more than ready to avail of any help she may be induced to give. A regular conspiracy is on foot. She is maddened by the appearance of Mr. Lane Fox and the powers you have given to the Board of Control. — L.M.W., I, 51
"She" was Madame Coulomb, the real traitor, who had been omitted from the Council, her husband being little more than her tool. Mr. Lane-Fox was a new arrival from England.
On September 10, when the situation was becoming critical in India, a letter from Damodar was received at Elberfeld in Germany, where H.P.B., Olcott, and others were staying with her good friends the Gebhard family, stating that a plot was hatching, evidently with the help of Mme. Coulomb. On October 10, Sinnett received a letter by mail from K.H. warning him of the serious implications in the affair. Sinnett was in a disturbed condition, and the Master reminded him that this crisis was a probationary test for him as well as for others: "It is not the moment for reproaches or vindictive recriminations, but for united struggle." Sinnett had frequently opposed the principle of probation, and laughed at the suggestion that it could be applied to him, but the Master assured him that "he who approaches our precincts even in thought, is drawn into the vortex of probation" and that he was in danger of seeing his "temple" fall in ruins. K.H. writes:
However caused . . . a crisis is here, and it is a time for the utmost practicable expansion of your moral power. . . . Whomsoever has sown the seeds of the present tempest, the whirlwind is strong, the whole Society is reaping it and it is rather fanned than weakened from Tchigadze. — Mahatma Letters, 367
The entire Letter LXVI in which the above words occur is worth study as it makes clear the difficulties the Masters had with Sinnett and the reason that they were obliged to sever their connection with him within a few years. Tchigadze (Shigatse), mentioned by the Master, is the seat of the Tashi Lama of Tibet, and it is one of the centers where the Masters work, so the remark that the whirlwind was rather fanned than weakened from there is significant, and may not be inappropriate to other critical and trying periods through which it was the destiny of the movement to pass.
Sinnett never understood that the farseeing vision and the knowledge of human nature and past karma possessed by a real occultist justify methods of dealing with issues which no ordinary person can understand in all its ramifications. Hence, a true chela must tread the path, not with blind faith, but open-eyed and with a splendid trust in his teacher and his great ideal. K.H. wrote to Sinnett in regard to the trouble about to break out in India that such things were sometimes necessary results of the karma of the persons concerned, but for all that they provided useful experience and valuable opportunities of studying certain laws of the occult world in regard to karma, painful though they might be.
I grant you, those laws do seem very often unjust, even, at times cruel. But this is due to the fact that they were never meant either for the immediate redress of wrongs, or the direct help of those who offer at random their allegiance to the legislators. Still, the seemingly real, the evanescent and quick passing evils they bring about are as necessary to the growth, progress and final establishment of your small Th. Society as those certain cataclysms in nature, which often decimate whole populations, are necessary to mankind. An earthquake may, for all the world knows, be a bliss and a tidal wave prove salvation to the many at the expense of the few. The "fittest" were seen to survive in the destruction of every old race and made to merge into, and assimilate with, the new, for nature is older than Darwin. — Ibid., 358-9
The limited space at disposal forbids a lengthy treatment of the "Coulomb Conspiracy." Larger works are available for those few who wish to study the details. Thorough analysis and complete refutation of the Coulomb charges are contained in standard books such as William Kingsland's The Real H. P Blavatsky, G. Baseden Butt's Madame Blavatsky, and Olcott's Old Diary Leaves, etc. Dr. Franz Hartmann's Report of Observations is a useful exposure of the plot by one who was present during the most critical time. Other writers, unconnected with the Theosophical Society, such as Geoffrey West, Victor Neuberg, and Dr. E. R. Corson, aroused by the injustice from which H.P.B. suffered, have also defended her honor with conclusive logic. Beatrice Hastings' admirable Defence of Madame Blavatsky contains a brilliant analysis of the Coulomb case as well as a devastating criticism of the other charges against the maligned messenger of the Masters.
The basis of the Coulomb-Missionary attack is not difficult to find. Theosophists, under H.P.B.'s leadership, were not only fighting materialism in science, and the dead letter interpretation of Oriental philosophies by scholars, but bigotry and literalism in theologies. Nor were they dealing only with the limited interpretations of the Bible by the missionaries. While they were revealing the deeper, the theosophical, meaning in those scriptures, they were also urging the Orientals to find the same obscured truths of the ancient wisdom-religion in their own sacred writings. But the restoration of Buddhism to its rightful place in Ceylon, and the increasing success of theosophy in India were sore subjects with the uncomprehending and ill-advised missionaries who felt that strong measures must be taken to suppress this growing movement before it was too late. Surely it could not survive if H.P.B.'s reputation were ruined; the Coulomb charges were perhaps a heaven-sent opportunity.
But they miscalculated the power behind the movement, and the undaunted courage and strength of endurance of H.P.B. Though, as she said, she suffered "till she could suffer no more," the theosophical ship weathered the storm successfully, only losing the fair-weather friends who could not stand adversity.
As the whole case against H.P.B. rests upon the statements of Mme. Coulomb, her character and record are of primary importance. What is known of her?
When H.P.B. had reached Cairo in 1870 after the shipwreck in which she lost everything but her life, and while waiting for remittances from Russia, she received some immediate help from Mme. Coulomb, who was connected in some way with a small hotel in Cairo. H.P.B. has never been charged with forgetting a kindness, and when about nine years later Mme. Coulomb and her husband, who were in great destitution, begged for assistance, she tried to find them work. Failing in this, she gave them shelter and occupation at the Bombay headquarters and then at Adyar. All went fairly well for some years, but both H.P.B. and Olcott had occasional causes of complaint against her, and the former had to reprimand her severely for misdemeanors. No one but H.P.B. suspected her of treachery and, as she made herself useful and had nowhere to go, she was tolerated.
She began building her plan of treachery in 1880, from the first day she landed at Bombay with her husband, both shoeless, penniless and starving. She offered to sell my secrets to the Rev. Bowen of the Bombay Guardian, in July 1880, and she sold them actually to the Rev. Patterson in May 1885. But those secrets were "open letters" for years. Why should I complain? Has not Master left it to my choice, to either follow the dictates of Lord Buddha, who enjoins us not to fail to feed even a starving serpent, scorning all fear lest it should turn round and bite the hand that feeds it — or to face Karma which is sure to punish him, who turns away from the sight of sin and misery, or fails to relieve the sinner and the sufferer. I knew her and tried my best not to hate her, . . . — Blavatsky Letters, 110
Mme. Coulomb was constantly trying strange money-making schemes, even to the extent of pretending to locate treasure by alleged clairvoyance. Her efforts to extort money from members of the Society caused much trouble, and her last effort in that direction precipitated the final break. Many other causes for serious friction arose before H.P.B. went to Europe in February 1884, which cannot be enumerated here, but a second attempt to 'borrow' 2,000 rupees from Prince Harisinghi, a devoted member, was too serious to be passed over lightly. He complained to H.P.B., who immediately put a stop to what seems to have been an attempt at blackmail. The prince says in an affidavit published in Hartmann's Report of Observations:
"This seems to have greatly disappointed her, and as we came to know, that she wilfully misrepresented to H.P.B. the facts, and told her that the offer was made by me without her asking for it, I related to H.P.B. what had actually happened, and satisfied her that the whole was a downright misrepresentation on Mad. C.'s part. I cannot help remarking that I have found her very unsympathetic and from what she told me of Madame Blavatsky, I know that she is no good friend of hers, as I falsely imagined her to be at first." — p. 31
Dr. Hartmann says in the same report:
. . . her fury knew no bounds, and her passionate outbursts of anger and jealousy were in no way soothed down by Madame Blavatsky, reproaching her for her unjust attempt of [at] extortion. — p.31
Shortly after being foiled in this attempt, as H.P.B. was leaving for Europe, Mme. Coulomb bade her farewell and, says Dr. Hartmann:
Stepping into her boat she waved a last adieu to Babula, the servant of Madame Blavatsky, and said to him: "I shall be revenged on your mistress for preventing me from getting my 2,000 Rupees." — p. 32
When the theosophical party left India in February 1884, the Coulombs were left in charge of H.P.B.'s apartments on the then unoccupied upper floor of the headquarters, and they took the opportunity to plan cunning schemes of revenge which might prove useful for blackmail if the chance offered. One of these consisted in devising forged interpolations in H.P.B.'s handwriting to be inserted in letters written by her to Mme. Coulomb, which would imply that she was conspiring with the latter to produce fraudulent phenomena. The second, which was immediately inaugurated, was the fabrication by Coulomb, who was a very efficient carpenter, of holes and sliding panels in H.P.B.'s rooms which could be exhibited as evidence of trickery on her part.
Although no one at Adyar had any suspicion of these underhand doings, the friction between the Coulombs and the Council gradually became intolerable to the latter after H.P.B.'s departure. Finally, thoroughly exasperated by Mme. Coulomb's past and present provocations, including slander, lying, purloining of letters, eavesdropping, and attempted extortion, etc., the Council on May 13 laid twelve charges of serious misdemeanors against the Coulombs, supported by a large number of affidavits. Mme. Coulomb neither acknowledged nor denied the charges, and after considerable resistance she and her husband were finally expelled from headquarters.
In September, four months later — plenty of time to complete the forgeries — the Madras Christian College Magazine published the first letter of a series which the woman claimed was written by H. P. Blavatsky. These letters contained incriminating expressions. They had been paid for by the missionaries, and so Mme. Coulomb realized her desire for revenge and for money at one stroke! In Old Diary Leaves, Colonel Olcott mentions that the Coulombs threatened the Council that they would do this unless they were paid 3,000 rupees. Of course the Council indignantly refused, and the publication of the forgeries took place (III, 179-80).
When the news of the attack on the Theosophical Society was published, the widespread sensation it created at once showed what a strong impression the movement had made upon thinkers throughout the world, as well as upon the general public. However, without waiting to hear the defense, the British press hastily declared that H. P. Blavatsky was completely discredited and theosophy destroyed. Similar unwarranted conclusions were expressed by other ill-advised critics during subsequent crises in the T.S., and every time its cynical enemies have been put to shame by having their premature verdicts proved false.
H.P.B. instantly decided to return to India to confute the slanderers in the law courts, but before leaving Europe she wrote an indignant denial to the Times (London) in which these sentences occur:
. . . I have to say that the letters purporting to have been written by me are certainly not mine. Sentences here and there I recognize, taken from old notes of mine on different matters, but they are mingled with interpolations that entirely pervert their meaning. With these exceptions the whole of the letters are a fabrication.
The fabricators must have been grossly ignorant of Indian affairs, since they make me speak of a "Maharajah of Lahore," when every Indian schoolboy knows that no such person exists. — Incidents, 289
In the above she is referring to the printed copies of her alleged letters published by the missionaries in their magazine. She was never given an opportunity of seeing the originals which the Coulombs claimed to hold. She stopped at Cairo on her return to India, to obtain information regarding Mme. Coulomb's reputation when the latter lived there, and which might supply valuable evidence for use in the proposed lawsuit. Here she received timely help from Nubar Pasha, the premier, and she obtained both police and consular evidence which showed that Mme. Coulomb's Cairo record was of such a discreditable nature that its production in court would have been devastating to her competence as a witness.
During H.P.B.'s short visit to Egypt, she was received with great cordiality by Russian friends of her family and other Russians as well as by the wife of the khedive of Egypt and the court ladies. Mrs. Cooper-Oakley, then a prominent theosophist, who was in H.P.B.'s party, writes:
Very deeply impressed on my memory is every incident connected with that memorable voyage. H.P.B. was a most interesting fellow-traveller, her varied information about every part of Egypt was both extensive and extraordinary. . . . Especially interesting was one long afternoon spent at the Boulak Museum on the borders of the Nile, where H.P.B. astonished Maspero, the well-known Egyptologist, with her knowledge, and as we went through the museum she pointed out to him the grades of the Initiate kings, and how they were to be known from the esoteric side. — Lucifer, VIII, 278, June 1891
On reaching Madras, H.P.B. was received by a large committee and, garlanded according to the graceful Indian custom, she was escorted to an immense and enthusiastic public assemblage. An address of confidence, gratitude, and sympathy was read, signed by five hundred college students, including three hundred students of the very college whose professors were trying to destroy her reputation! She made a short speech, one of the very few she ever delivered, denying the charges, and saying that "of all the letters published, not a single one, as it stood, had been written by her." Any that were genuine had been tampered with by interpolations, etc., so as to present a compromising appearance. It is significant that when the missionaries presented many letters alleged to have been written by H. P. Blavatsky, not one telegram was offered. Yet, according to Mme. Coulomb, H.P.B. sent her many telegrams containing instructions for the production of fraudulent phenomena. Why were these telegrams not produced? It is very simple. While letters, or sentences in letters, could easily be forged, it was impossible to forge official postal telegrams. Hence no telegrams!
With few exceptions, the Indian press and public opinion agreed with the majority of the students of the Missionary College. The Indian Mirror of December 20, 1884, said:
"The Hindu community, in general, is the more attracted to Mme. Blavatsky, because they believe that the Missionaries have, in reality, attacked the ancient Hindu religion and philosophy under the guise and pretence of exposing the lady's 'trickery.' On that account the feeling of the Native community against the Missionaries and for Mme. Blavatsky is very strong."
The Indian Chronicle said:
"We are not Theosophists ourselves . . . but we have a great respect for the founders of the Theosophical Society. . . . The Christian scoffers . . . are perhaps not aware that the existence of Mahatmas . . . is universally believed throughout India, and it is preposterous to suppose that the Padris of Madras will do any serious harm to that belief. . . . Theosophy, though it may have to bear much temporary annoyance . . . will come out of the fiery ordeal purer for having gone through it." — O. D. L., III, 184-5
Allan O. Hume, whose open criticism of H.P.B. in certain matters was never concealed, and who was at the time of writing, as he says, "only a nominal member" of the Society, pointed out in the Calcutta Statesman that:
Madame Blavatsky is no fool; on the contrary, as all who know her, be they friends or foes, will admit, she is an exceptionally clever and far-sighted woman, with a remarkably keen perception of character. Would such a woman ever give a person like Madame Coulomb the entire power over her future, that the writing of such letters involves? Or again, say she had, in some mad mood, written such letters, would she have come to an open rupture with the holder of them? Parts of the letters may be genuine enough; one passage cited has a meaning quite different from that in which I see that the Times of India accepts it, but believe me, Madame Blavatsky is far too shrewd a woman to have ever written to any one, anything that could convict her of fraud. — Madame H. P. Blavatsky, K. F. Vania, 224
Detailed refutation of the Coulomb forgeries of H.P.B.'s writing would be out of place here. It has been pointed out that their style (in French) is illiterate, while H.P.B. wrote a highly cultured French. In this connection it is worth quoting a significant passage from a French letter by M. L. Dramard hitherto unpublished in English, so far as ascertained. Dramard was a leading and scholarly member of the French T.S., and after a careful study of the whole case he wrote (Nov. 12, 1885) the following criticism of the literary aspect of the letters which include the forged passages:
The compromising passages are of an entirely different style throughout. Madame Blavatsky's prose is vivacious, impulsive, not squeamish by any means — hardly enough so — the ideas are large, elevated, and, although the utmost fervor is revealed, delicate as amber, notwithstanding her frequent irrelevancies in whatever aim she is following. Now the compromising passages are sickening platitudes, such as a cook would write to his master's valet to arrange some smart business deal. These passages, which are after all very few, are obviously the work of a forger. — Contributions to the History of The Theosophical Society in France, by C. Blech, 166
Again, however incredible it may seem, neither H.P.B. nor her friends were allowed to examine or even to see the so-called original letters upon which the charges were based, charges which were supported only by the testimony of a woman of the indifferent character of Mme. Coulomb. How would such a violation of propriety be treated in any court of justice? Had Mme. Coulomb been a witness on H. P. Blavatsky's side of the case, Hodgson would have contemptuously refused to pay any attention to the testimony of a witness whose self-contradictions and bad character were proclaimed by her own acts and by her own letters and words.
Major-General H. R. Morgan, the distinguished Anglo-Indian, who was active in the defense, wrote:
When we consider the characteristics of this woman, her eavesdropping, purloining of letters, her hatred of the members composing the Society, her swearing she would be revenged, her incessant espionage of Madame Blavatsky, and those she might be talking with, the motive and manner of her concocting these letters, is not difficult to understand. — Reply to a Report of an Examination by J. D. B. Gribble, 4
The second main charge made by the Coulombs was also supported by false evidence. They asserted that the so-called shrine, already mentioned, had been used to deceive recipients of letters which appeared to come by occult means, but which they charge were really inserted through smooth-sliding secret panels and holes in the wall and which, according to the Coulombs, had been in constant use for many months. But evidence is available, signed by thoroughly responsible witnesses, that the wall and the 'shrine' were absolutely intact until the Coulombs were left in sole charge of the 'occult rooms.' Complete exposure of the Coulomb lies in regard to these points has been widely published and can be consulted in larger works than this. The following quotation from The Arena, March 1892, by W. Q. Judge, who carefully examined and measured the 'shrine,' etc., covers the ground sufficiently for our purpose. Having exposed gross misstatements by the Rev. M. Conway, the man whose false charge in a condemnatory article in The Arena against H. P. Blavatsky of having invented the name Koot Hoomi (or Kuthumi) has already been treated on a previous page, Mr. Judge continues:
Having now directly answered Mr. Conway's article I will take advantage of the opportunity to append some facts directly known to myself, about the "shrine" and the rooms at Adyar.
I went to Adyar in the early part of the year 1884, with full power from the president of the society to do whatever seemed best for our protection against an attack we had information was about to be made in conjunction with the missionaries who conducted the Christian College at Madras. I found that Mr. Coulomb had partly finished a hole in the wall behind the shrine. It was so new that its edges were ragged with the ends of laths and the plaster was still on the floor. Against it he had placed an unfinished teak-wood cupboard, made for the occasion, and having a false panel in the back that hid the hole in the wall. But the panel was too new to work and had to be violently kicked in to show that it was there. It was all unplaned, unoiled, and not rubbed down. He had been dismissed before he had time to finish. In the hall that opened on the stairs he had made a cunning panel, opening the back of a cupboard belonging to the "occult room." This was not finished and force had to be used to make it open, and then only by using a mallet. Another movable panel he also made in the front room, but even the agent of the psychical society admitted that it was very new. It was of teak, and I had to use a mallet and file to open it. All these things were discovered and examined in the presence of many people, who then and there wrote their opinions in a book I provided for the purpose, and which is now at headquarters. The whole arrangement was evidently made up after the facts to fit them on the theory of fraud. That it was done for money was admitted, . . .
. . . He [the principal of the Christian College] was then asked in my presence by Dr. Hartmann what he had paid to Coulomb for his work, and replied, somewhat off his guard, that he had paid him somewhere about one hundred rupees. — pp. 479-80
It is of course not charged that the principal employed Coulomb to fake the panels and holes.
After the Coulombs were sent away from Adyar, they were hospitably received by the missionaries, who saw a rare opportunity to discredit H. P. Blavatsky and theosophy by utilizing the revengeful feelings and the straitened circumstances of the discharged couple.
For a while no reason appeared why the Society's work should not proceed without further interruption. Resolutions and letters of confidence and support were received from lodges and members everywhere in the Society, as well as from numerous friends and sympathizers in India and abroad.
But now Richard Hodgson comes into the picture. This young man was sent to India by the Society for Psychical Research, recently organized in London, "to investigate phenomena connected with the Theosophical Society," of which the Researchers had heard from Olcott and Mohini, as already mentioned.
Mr. Hodgson never saw a single phenomenon produced by H. P. Blavatsky. He never even heard a "fairy bell" or one of the raps she could easily make in different parts of the room, or, as in one famous case, inside the mouth and against the artificial teeth of a skeptic! Nor did he ever see the so-called shrine. In later years, when the S.P.R. investigated Eusapia Paladino, Mrs. Piper, and other noted psychics, they very properly spent months or years in close and detailed observation of their phenomena before venturing to render a verdict. The Psychical Society delegated H. P. Blavatsky's case to a committee which entrusted this responsible task to a single young and self-confident agent, who may have been well-intentioned at first, as she believed, but who was entirely ignorant of occultism, and who only had reports of events that had taken place several years before on which to form a judgment.
The Psychical Researchers overlooked the fact that, if her phenomena were fraudulent, she must have been often assisted by accomplices, and that such confederates must have been, by the nature of the case, the very persons whom she wished to convince of the genuineness of her occult powers. Some of the most important pieces of evidence on this line, which should have been submitted to the S.P.R., were omitted from Hodgson's Report. Why? In many places, his lack of straightforwardness is apparent when he wants to force a point, as Kingsland in his analysis of the Report, and other writers, have demonstrated. For instance, he deliberately suppressed the positive conclusion of his own handwriting expert which stated that "Madame Blavatsky was not the writer of the letters attributed to the Master."
Hodgson even went so far as to charge Damodar with being an accomplice, naively disregarding the fact that his chief witness, Mme. Coulomb, made only one attempt — a very feeble one — to inculpate him, seemingly in order to bolster up her reputation with Hodgson. In all her dealings with Damodar she treated him as a dupe, not a confederate. One of her charges against H.P.B. was that she was asked to convey a pretended Mahatma letter to Damodar "in a miraculous way," in order to deceive him, "the accomplice," according to Hodgson. In one of her letters to H.P.B. she shows that she well knew that the latter's phenomena were not all fraudulent, for she gives details of a phenomenon that took place in the 'shrine' in H.P.B.'s absence. She speaks of her astonishment, and of her belief that it was done by occult means — she calls it "Old Nick"! This letter was written in 1883, months before she got her husband to make trick panels and holes in the walls. General Morgan was present on this occasion and described the phenomenon in great detail in a letter to the press.
Among the witnesses of many other striking phenomena, are found the names of General and Mrs. H. R. Morgan, Mr. A. O. Hume, Colonel and Mrs. Gordon, Mr. and Mrs. A. P. Sinnett, and other Anglo-Indians, as well as of numerous native Indian gentlemen of high standing. Though some if not all of these persons must have conspired with H.P.B. in producing the phenomena if they had been fraudulent, yet neither Hodgson in his Report nor Mme. Coulomb ever hinted at such an absurdity. Colonel Olcott, who testified to having seen a large number of the phenomena of H.P.B. and of the Masters, both in America and in India, was categorically exonerated by the Psychical Research Committee from any possible collusion or deception.
In later years, many persons of equal responsibility and irreproachable character such as Countess Wachtmeister, Dr. Hubbe-Schleiden, Countess d'Adhemar, Dr. A. Keightley, Mrs. Besant, and others in Europe, testified to phenomena similar to those that took place in India. Were these confederates? According to this absurd accomplice theory, inevitable unless H. P. Blavatsky was genuine in her claims, the Theosophical Society would be a mutual-deception organization, playing fantastic tricks upon itself!
The conspiracy against H.P.B. had some astonishing features, more than one of which would have thrown the case for her traducers out of court if it had been legally examined. The only witnesses against her, the Coulombs, were admittedly paid cash for their evidence and, according to their own statements, they were accomplices in fraud. More than one hundred other witnesses testified positively to H.P.B.'s ability to produce phenomena. The verdict of guilty was given without the defense having an opportunity of rebuttal or cross-examination. There was no impartial judge or arbitrator to see that justice was done. The adverse decision of the 'inquiry' — really a criminal prosecution — was widely published and discussed six months before the official report was issued, and thus public opinion was in the meantime powerfully influenced against H.P.B. before the defense knew the details of the charges. Richard Hodgson, who enjoyed the privilege of being prosecuting attorney, witness, and, in essentials, judge and jury, was himself not so reliable as his Committee supposed. William Kingsland and others have shown this in their analyses. For example Charles Johnston, the well-known Orientalist, in his study of the case given at a conference in 1907, mentions a letter produced by Hodgson in which a remark occurs entirely destroying his argument but, as he points out, Hodgson suppressed that sentence in his Report (Cf. Theosophical Quarterly, V, 1, July 1907).
As already said, this is not the place to discuss the case in detail, but readers who, in the name of common justice, wish to defend the honor of the great theosophist on broad and incontrovertible lines should remember that a wise Teacher of old asked:
Do men gather grapes of thorns, or figs of thistles? . . . A good tree cannot bring forth evil fruit, neither can a corrupt tree bring forth good fruit. . . . Wherefore by their fruits ye shall know them. — Matt., vii, 16-20
Is her life history reconcilable with the character of a self-seeking, disreputable, and ambitious charlatan, as her enemies alleged?
Hardly. Even the worst calumniators admit that she spent long years of self-sacrificing and incessant labor under most trying conditions, including ill health and tropical climates; and that she was beset with endless worries, anxieties, insults, and mortifications from which she could have instantly escaped into peace and comfort by dropping her theosophical leadership. She lived simply and economically, all her spare earnings being devoted to the cause so near her heart. She had given up a comfortable home (always open to her), high social standing, the so-called pleasures of life, and assured fame as a writer — all this for a noble ideal, to help ignorant and suffering humanity.
In the Conclusion of his Report (313) even the unimaginative Hodgson wonders "what has induced Madame Blavatsky to live so many laborious days in such a fantastic work of imposture?"
It was impossible, he says, to see her as an egotist seeking notoriety, a religious maniac, or a mercenary adventuress. She never even claimed the rightful credit due for her books, but always said that nearly everything original in them was directly owed to her Masters for whom she was little more than amanuensis. The embarrassed and puzzled young man had to find some explanation, however farfetched, for this strange problem and, like the proverbial drowning man, he grasped at a straw, the discredited charge that H. P. Blavatsky was a Russian spy, and that her theosophical activities were nothing but a plausible make-believe to conceal political intrigue. Hodgson jumped at this easy solution for he had nothing else to present to his employers, although he privately admitted to Colonel Olcott and Mr. Cooper-Oakley that it was absurd. Still he published in his Report that "her real object has been the furtherance of Russian interests . . . a supposition which appears best to cover the known incidents in her career." As even Hodgson could find nothing more credible to offer than the preposterous Russian spy yarn, it is no wonder that impartial critics have condemned his entire procedure. For some time the spy slander was widely circulated, and it is even now occasionally resorted to by some ignorant journalist who does not know that today the more intelligent of the carping critics of H. P. Blavatsky have abandoned it as absurd and indefensible.
The Committee of the Psychical Research Society made no proper effort to understand the background of the problem of H.P.B. They ignored the available firsthand evidence regarding her astonishing childhood and youth, so inextricably associated with psychic and occult phenomena and with her claim that she was helped by the Masters who were invisible to others and yet were not "spirits." They ignored her serious studies in Oriental philosophies and her strenuous efforts to revive Sanskrit learning, which were publicly and gratefully recognized by competent scholars. They paid no attention to the fact that the Brahmans, jealous of their secret knowledge, recognized that she possessed many of their guarded teachings which include the laws governing the employment of occult powers. Nor did they consider certain striking teachings on scientific matters by her and her Masters and their chelas, which in all reason should have appealed to serious investigators who really wished to understand the problem before them. By disdainfully ignoring this line of inquiry the S.P.R. missed a great opportunity; for although certain scientific teachings of theosophy were unsuspected in 1885 many of them have since been discovered by scientific research, and others have become promising subjects of intensive investigation.
When Mme. Coulomb's charges that H. P. Blavatsky had fabricated certain letters from the Masters were made, very few such letters were available for consideration, but a large number have been published in late years, making it clear by internal evidence alone that she could not have written them. The difference of style as well as of handwriting between the letters of H.P.B. and her Masters is marked, although there is at times evidence that her mentality colored the phrasing, at least in cases where she was their direct instrument of transmission. Many of the Masters' letters and notes were never seen by her. They contained criticisms of her actions, or even instructions to various people about matters of which they, the Masters, wished her to remain ignorant. They passed through other channels, and in some cases the instructions were quite opposed to her own desires.
In regard to more recent charges in connection with the Masters' letters, C. Jinarajadasa has done good service in publishing his Did Madame Blavatsky Forge the Mahatma Letters? in which he gives photographic copies of letters from various Mahatmas, a study which shows the striking differences between them, and demonstrates the marked individuality of their characters. In presenting these facts, he gives unanswerable evidence that H.P.B. was in some cases thousands of miles away from the places where the letters were written, or received, or both, and that it was physically impossible for her to have written them.
Dr. Eugene R. Corson, the independent writer of Some Unpublished Letters of Helena Petrovna Blavatsky, and not a theosophist, says on page 63 of his book:
When we view to-day, after so many years and after all the actors in the affair are dead, the methods of the English Society for Psychical Research in their attack on H.P.B., we are filled with a moral nausea.
In "A Plea for a Just Understanding," in The Aryan Path for May 1931, Theodore Besterman, editor, librarian, and research officer for the Society for Psychical Research, appeals to its members and to theosophists alike to drop the disputed question of H. P. Blavatsky's phenomena, and to concentrate on her writings which, he says, "merit the most serious consideration." He fully recognizes "the unquestionable services she rendered in making the Oriental Scriptures known in the West." Besterman almost repeats the encomium of the lama Kazi Dawa-Samdup (see p. 94).
This is a good sign, for it is a complete reversal of Hodgson's childish sneer that scholars would pay no attention to her Oriental studies. Their intrinsic value has attracted the attention of many serious scholars who are now studying theosophical literature in various centers of learning. She herself predicted that her works would not be recognized by the learned world generally until well on in the twentieth century.
Besterman also says that Hodgson's conclusion was only that of "a plain and uninspired individual" and carries no "final authority." He suggests that the results of recent psychical research would have greatly modified Hodgson's outlook if he had known them in 1884. The Society for Psychical Research, warned by past experiences, now disclaims responsibility for facts, reports, or reasonings published in its Proceedings, leaving that with the authors. While Mr. Besterman's position is not too generous in view of the established facts, it must stand until a larger amende honorable is made to the world. (1)
It was hardly possible for such a body as the Committee of the Society for Psychical Research to have understood such a complex being as H. P. Blavatsky. They knew nothing about occultism, occult laws, or the methods of occult teachers, and felt it necessary to be meticulously careful lest their garments should be splashed by any suspicions of being anything but rigidly scientific, according to the conventions of the day. Diplomacy, outward coolness, and self-control under petty worries, were not the qualifications for which she was selected as the messenger for the nineteenth century. She had no time to waste upon the unresponsive characters after they had thrown away their opportunities. As W. Q. Judge says, she was so regardless of worldly prudence, that she would brusquely turn away from her friends when they showed signs of coolness toward the movement, or causeless distrust of herself. In this way she made many bitter enemies, who almost necessarily misunderstood her actions when they affected their personal feelings. K.H. said she brought many of her troubles on herself by well-meant indiscretions.
In spite of these handicaps — serious enough, indeed — she had the absolute devotion to the theosophical work and to her Masters, the utter disregard for trials and dangers both open and hidden, and other magnificent qualities of mind and heart which carried her mission to success and which will be more and more recognized as time passes. From an outsider's standpoint, Geoffrey West sums up her character in these few words:
Her character was compounded of contradiction. In some directions profoundly perceptive, in others she seemed almost wilfully blind. . . . She totally lacked ordinary discretion! Faced by either superior scepticism or open-mouthed gullibility she would 'pull the legs' of her audience mercilessly, quite careless of the charges of fraud she might sometimes thereby invite. She defied convention, and laughed at if she did not ignore the gossip she provoked. Thus she laid herself open at times to the gravest suspicions, and yet, with them all, one turns from a study of her life with the final impression of a fundamentally honest, a deeply serious and sincere personality, possessed of, at once, courage, will, and purpose. — The Aryan Path, V, 268, May 1934
1. [Cf. Obituary: The "Hodgson Report" on Madame Blavatsky — 1885-1960 by Adlai E. Waterman, published in 1963, for a detailed refutation of the charges made against H. P. Blavatsky. — ED.] (return to text)