The decision to publish this combined Chronological Table for use with The Letters to A. P. Sinnett from the Mahatmas and from H. P. Blavatsky has been made at the repeated requests of those who have felt it to be helpful in its gradually improving form during the twelve years of its advance in accuracy.
Mr. A. Trevor Barker's grouping of The Mahatma Letters has a very distinct value of its own, and one can only marvel at the work he has accomplished. Yet, as he himself says in his very modest preface, there is bound to be "some overlapping" and, necessarily, a lack of continuity. The present Table of Dates is the effort of one earnest student to achieve as far as possible both continuity in the teachings and a more exact sequence in the events of the epic period which the two volumes cover.
The original impulse to work out such a sequence was greatly stimulated by the loan in 1927 from Dr. J. H. Fussell, of Point Loma, of the first four volumes of H. P. B.'s first magazine, The Theosophist. These soon made it evident that Mr. Sinnett's own dating was not merely often indefinite but sometimes quite wrong. Mahatma M.'s letter 40, for example, is grouped with those received "about February, 1882." But we find Mr. Sinnett had printed the article mentioned in his daily paper The Pioneer, on December 10, 1881. In letter 42, he is asked to write a certain answer and we see he did this in time for the February Theosophist. Since that magazine normally went to press on the 15th of the month preceding its issue, it is allowable to presume that the request was received at least in the early part of January. Again Mr. Sinnett dates Mahatma Letter 65, "Summer of 1884," although in it K. H. says "Damodar went to Tibet," which did not happen till February 25, 1885. Mr. Sinnett has here given, amusingly enough, not the date of the receipt of the letter but that of the period when the so-called "distressing event" occurred, the event which H. P. B. explains, as ordered, in Mahatma Letter 138.
Those letters to Mr. Hume which appear in this collection — for we by no means have them all — have been entered, not at the date when they were given to Mr. Sinnett to copy, sometimes months later, but at the approximate date of their receipt as evidenced by their content and connection with then current events. As the two volumes of Letters form really a unit, the items from both have been entered in sequence on a single list. While this has been found not to interfere with its usefulness when reading The Mahatma Letters only, it has served to impress those students who are so fortunate as to own both volumes with the wondrous way in which they complete, corroborate and explain each other.
No arrangement, of course, could make The Mahatma Letters easy to understand. Hard work and intuition will always be required; yet those who have used this Table have felt it wipe out many seeming contradictions, clear up many small perplexities and, what is more important, it has shown that what in a few instances might perhaps appear to be a vacillating estimate by the Masters of some of the early members of the T. S. was a profound, patient, sympathetic understanding, of which subsequent events proved the correctness. The gradual coming to the surface of both good and evil qualities under the stress of discipleship, even in those who have only touched its outer fringe, becomes startlingly exampled, and provides a vivid lesson in occultism. Further, the many prophecies as to men and events, made sometimes months and even years before their fulfillment, gain in impressiveness when given their proper place in time.
In all cases when it has seemed necessary, either to justify a date or to give a clearer understanding of events, explanatory notes have been written. These, with a few brief biographical sketches, will be found in the Appendix. Should these not suffice, the compiler will gladly endeavor to answer any questions as to facts. A partial list of sources consulted is also given, but the one absolutely reliable and uncolored record of the period is to be found in the early volumes of The Theosophist. After 1884 H. P. B. was no longer in charge. Up to that time we have not only the extraordinary articles which we owe to her pen and editorial genius, but also accurate, official monthly reports of Theosophical events and of the movements of the two Founders, as well as of the more prominent of the early T. S. members. H. P. B., during the first years of her stay in India, traveled nearly as much as did Colonel Olcott, sometimes with him, sometimes alone, visiting and establishing Branches, initiating members and holding informal question-meetings, though there is no record of her ever having lectured.
The earlier volumes of Old Diary Leaves make of course absorbing reading and are in general reliable, but even Olcott sometimes errs in retrospect when giving dates and, naturally, while on those long tours when H. P. B. did not accompany him, he could record only his own experiences.
That resounding trumpet call The Occult World, by A. P. Sinnett, is still without a rival in its field, especially in the 4th English and 6th American editions. On the other hand, his posthumously published little book The Early Days of Theosophy in Europe written in his 80th year is entirely unreliable as to dates and sometimes even as to events. Doubtless had he lived to edit the book himself he would have corrected many of its inaccuracies. Yet, such as it is, it is well worth reading for its revealing portrayal of many early T. S. members, and is especially intriguing because of its unconscious disclosure of Mr. Sinnett's own psychology, that of a sincere and gallant, if somewhat snobbish, gentleman who appears to have been woefully without any power of self-analysis.
The two slender volumes of Letters from the Masters of the Wisdom, edited by Mr. Jinarajadasa, are arresting and of much spiritual value. Unfortunately they need to be read with discrimination, for taken as the letters sometimes are, not merely from copies but from copies of copies, and differing in some instances from H. P. B.'s reproductions from the original, they cannot be considered as authentic material.
The difficulties which have been encountered during the years of arranging this chronology have steadily increased the compiler's already deep appreciation of Mr. Barker's success in surmounting what must have seemed at times insuperable obstacles. Theosophists everywhere must remain deeply in his debt for his devoted and meticulous labors in giving to the world those two epoch-making volumes The Letters to A. P. Sinnett from the Mahatmas and from H. P. Blavatsky.
Margaret Conger810 Jackson Avenue, Takoma Park, D.C.
By Margaret Conger
Mme. Blavatsky and Colonel Olcott landed at Bombay February 16, 1879. Because both had been much publicized, in both the United States and England, their arrival, as journalists say, "made news." Consequently, February 25, a letter arrived from A. P. Sinnett, Editor of The Pioneer, the leading English Daily of India, expressing interest and a willingness to publish any facts.
Both Mr. and Mrs. Sinnett had been much interested in Spiritualism and Mesmerism and, during the brisk correspondence which developed, they became curious to see demonstrations of Mme. Blavatsky's powers, and therefore soon invited the two newcomers to visit them. Much to Colonel Olcott's surprise H. P. B. accepted, but, owing to a long tour through the south of India, they reached Allahabad only on December 4, 1879.
In the matter of the phenomena which Mr. Sinnett had hoped for, the visit does not appear to have been entirely satisfactory, as far as the host was concerned. But, from the point of view of H. P. B.'s mission, it was of very great subsequent value in the lasting friendships which she then formed with a number of influential English people.
H. P. B.'s previous visits to India had, naturally, not made her acquainted with the social customs of Anglo-India where the newcomer makes the first calls. It had not occurred to her to make advances to the English and, thus far, her contacts had been entirely with the natives of the various races, religions and creeds, some of them very high personages indeed, and rulers of kingdoms, but "natives" nevertheless.
An unfortunate result of this was that her apparent catering to the native elements, in combination with her nationality, inevitably aroused the suspicion that she was a Russian agent or spy and that Colonel Olcott was in some way her assistant. It must indeed have seemed a novel form of spying, but England had good reason at that period to be warily watching "the bear that walks like a man." As the work on which Colonel Olcott was engaged for the Agricultural Department of the American Government took them into all sorts of out-of-the-way places, this, with their praise to the natives of their ancient religions and literatures, naturally lent color to the suspicion that they were fomenting unrest and discontent among the people. As a consequence they found themselves constantly watched and followed and subjected to a species of espionage so clumsy and so increasingly annoying that, as the months went by, it became necessary to set themselves right with the central government. Their efforts to do so through local British authorities had been of no avail.
At this juncture a second invitation came from Mr. and Mrs. Sinnett, this time to visit them at their summer home in Simla, the summer capital of British India. It was gladly accepted in the hope that there where was the seat of government, and properly introduced this time, they might have better success. Accordingly, armed with all necessary credentials, they arrived there on September 8, 1880, and, between then and their departure on October 20, everything had been satisfactorily adjusted.
Some fifty pages of The Occult World are taken up with a description of this remarkable visit, notable not only because of the phenomena which took place, but because it saw the inception of the most extraordinary correspondence of which there is any record.
Mr. Sinnett, who was growing to feel that back of the phenomena which H. P. B. produced at will, and without any of the "conditions" required by mediums, there must indeed be real power and knowledge and a science which, though still occult, should not be unfathomable, one day asked H. P. B. whether, should he write a letter stating some of his questions, it would be possible for her to forward it to one of the "Brothers" and receive an answer from him.
She promised to try and, a few days later, said she succeeded in contacting a "Brother" who had consented, and she told Mr. Sinnett to write his letter. In it, in addition to his questions, Mr. Sinnett, still phenomena hunting, suggested that the very best "test phenomenon" would be the production, in the presence of a group of well-known English people at Simla, of a copy of the Times, on the very day of its publication in London.
Not many days later he one evening found on his writing table, the first of the Mahatma Letters.