Letters That Have Helped Me — William Q. Judge

William Quan Judge

[Condensed from a four-part biographical sketch, originally published in The Irish Theosophist, vol. iv, 1896]

William Quan Judge was born in Dublin, Ireland on April 13, 1851, son of Alice Mary Quan and Frederick H. Judge, a Mason and student of mysticism. Of William's childhood there is little to say except for a memorable illness in his seventh year. Shortly after the physician had declared the child dead it was discovered that he had revived. During convalescence he showed aptitudes and knowledge never before displayed. He seemed the same and yet not the same. Upon recovery he devoured every book he could obtain relating to Mesmerism, phrenology, character reading, religion, magic, Rosicrucianism, and the Book of Revelation. But the magnetic link so abruptly renewed in his near-mortal illness was perhaps never fully vitalized for he remained physically frail. His mother died at the birth of her seventh child, and when William was thirteen, the family moved to the United States, arriving in New York on July 14, 1864.

W. Q. Judge worked as a clerk before entering the law office of George P. Andrews, later a justice of the Supreme Court of the State of New York. On coming of age, Judge became a naturalized citizen of the United States and in May 1872 was admitted to the bar of New York, specializing in commercial law. In 1874 he married Ella M. Smith of Brooklyn, by whom he had a daughter, whose death in early childhood was long a source of deep, though quiet, sorrow to them both.

At this time the tide of occult inquiry and speculation was high and the experiences of numbers of people at the "Eddy Homestead" in Vermont were attracting wide attention. A series of articles by H. S. Olcott appeared in the New York Daily Graphic (later published as People from the Other World), and Judge wrote to the author for further information. On learning of his interest, H. P. Blavatsky invited the young lawyer to call on her. Thereafter he spend much of his time with her and Colonel Olcott, studying under her direction. He was among those present at her rooms at 46 Irving Place, New York, on the evening of September 7, 1875, when the proposal was made to form a society for research into the spiritual laws governing the physical universe. Judge was called to the chair and he nominated Olcott as chairman; he himself was nominated as secretary. This was the beginning of the Theosophical Society.

During the writing of Isis Unveiled — H. P. Blavatsky's first major theosophical work — Judge was one of those who assisted her and Colonel Olcott with the final preparation of the manuscript. The next year, December 1878, H. P. Blavatsky and Olcott went to India, appointing Major-General Abner Doubleday president pro tem and W. Q. Judge recording secretary. They carried on the responsibilities of the Theosophical Society in America as best they could. Although the work went slowly at first, with little activity, the link was kept unbroken. Theirs was a difficult task indeed because H. P. Blavatsky, who was the one great exponent, had left the field, and the curiosity and interest excited by her original and striking mission had died down. Henceforth the Society was to subsist on its philosophical basis alone, and this principle Judge adhered to until his death, his energies being devoted to the dissemination of the theosophical philosophy and the practical realization of universal brotherhood.

In 1884, Judge joined H. P. Blavatsky in Paris, spending a few months with her before traveling to India; then, after a brief stay in Madras, he returned to America to pick up his professional and theosophical duties. Little by little he gathered about him a number of earnest seekers, and gradually built up a strong American section. From scoffing and jeering the press began to accept his articles on theosophy. In 1886 he founded and edited The Path magazine, started a printing press, and wrote unceasingly: books, articles, and letters to inquirers and members all over the country. He lectured from coast to coast, accomplishing the work of several men.

Finally, when the work had increased to large proportions, Judge relinquished his profession to give his entire time to the Society. However, as a result of continuous overwork and weakened by recurrent Chagres fever contracted in South America years earlier, his health gave way and, shortly before his 45th birthday, he died in New York on March 21, 1896.

So much for the outer facts of his life. As a mystic W.Q.J. had another office, simple yet profound, rarely visible on the surface, yet luminous. During the years 1887–8 he wrote to two friends a series of letters (later issued under the title Letters That Have Helped Me). It would be difficult to trace the lives touched, the many individuals for whom these letters have been as a light to the soul. Those who have worked with true devotion for the welfare of their brothers know well the uplifting, widening force which flowed through them, ripening the character, developing the higher nature, and letting patience have her perfect work. A friend to all men and women he was, yet impersonal always.

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On page 68 of the first volume of Letters is a letter from an adept from which a certain portion ("private instruction") is omitted. The omitted portion runs as follows:

"Is the choice made? Then Y. will do well to see W. Q. J. and to acquaint him with this letter. For the first year or two no better guide can be had. for when 'presence' is upon him, he knows well that which others only suspect and 'divine' . . . . is useful to 'Path,' but greater services may be rendered to him, who, of all chelas, suffers most and demands, or expects the least."

(If this extract be fitted into the original letter is immense importance in respect to W. Q. Judge may be realised by the intuitive student.)

Summing up his life, one must still say what was written soon after his departure: "In thinking of this helper and teacher of ours, I find myself thinking almost wholly of the future. He was one who never looked back; he looked forward always. . . . We think of him not as of a man departed from our midst, but as a soul set free to work its mighty mission, rejoicing in that freedom, resplendent in compassion and power. His was a nature that knew no trammels, but acknowledged the divine laws in all things. He was, as he himself said, 'rich in hope'."

J. N.

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