by Kenneth Morris
“Measuring with little wit thy lofty love.” — The Light of Asia
The lives of most men, if worth writing at all, need writing in no more than a commonplace prose. Others, with the savor of romance and adventure in them, call for richer language. Some very few are grand tragedy in the Aeschylean manner, and can hardly be written in terms of modern life. They seem to belong to some ancient and timeless period: we imagine a prologue for them on Olympus; a climax on Golgotha or eagle-haunted Caucasus; a grand ﬁnale in some golden age to come, with a redeemed humanity greeting their names with Evoës — shouts of joy at sacred festivals. The life of Helena Petrovna Blavatsky belongs to this last class.
To see the mountain you must view it from afar, across plains and valleys; to get the perspective of such a character as this, one must stand somewhat aloof and look as it were with the eyes of History. When the value, weaknesses, signiﬁcance, and trend of an age can be appraised, then one can appraise the worth and meaning of its prototypal ﬁgures — unless, indeed, as commonly the case, falsiﬁcation has been vigorously at work to obscure the view.
So the time has not come yet when this great epic-life can be written adequately. When it does come — in some ﬁve hundred years or so, I think — the writing will not be in prose, and the story will have the dignity and glamor of an Arthurian legend or Quest of the Grail. Yet the facts ought to be stated, and set as far as possible in their proper light; because falsiﬁcation has been unusually busy here; even those of her own household knew her not, and measured her by insigniﬁcant and personal standards, explained her in the light of contemporary experience. As for the world at large, it judged her motives by its own.
A room at 17 Lansdowne Road, in the neighborhood of London’s Notting Hill; the time, anywhere in the later ’eighties of the last century. It is a quiet suburb of the well-to-do; and there is silence in this room but for the interminable running of a pen. A woman, old, rather stout, loosely clad in a somewhat faded gown and wrap, is at the writing-table; always she is at that writing-table, always writing. Her face is massive, scored with pain; it is that of a laboring Titan, indomitable, capable of inﬁnite suffering. You can read a man’s character by the impression that face makes upon him. It repels the shallow and frivolous; it causes something like fear in the insincere. The great, deep, clear eyes that can ﬂash so terribly, so masterfully when they will, seem to penetrate souls and read the depths of character: you cannot escape that uncomfortable conviction when she looks at you. And you are right; and therefore, naturally, the world loves her not.
Indeed, the world persecutes her with great bitterness, or a section of it does; and the rest, for the most part, play echo idly to the venomous. And she feels it intensely. Look at those wonderful musician’s hands of hers, and you will realize in a moment that no years or abysms of suffering will ever callous the sensitiveness of her nature. Cheapjack Tom, Dick, and Harry of the press have but to write a few lines, coupling such words as fraud or charlatan with her name, or attacking her mission; and doubt not that it will send an extra pang or two through that poor agonized personality. But it will not hinder the travail of her pen.
So the pile of written sheets grows and grows; it is to be a monumental work, this that she is writing. When November days are blacker with fog than midnight; when all London is lounging through the heat of July, still that pile of written sheets goes on growing; the pen runs on, and the woman works. Day after day there is that racked body to contend with, that is so tired, so tired now — and has been these many years — since 1884, when she left India, and before that. It is not far from dead, this body; no ordinary soul would consent to remain in it for a day; it has been the shield for her ﬁghting soul ever since she took the van for human liberation in that greater battle — of Light against Darkness. For ﬁfteen years it has been the target of the world, mark for all Hamlet’s slings and arrows of outrageous fortune.
But she must keep in it somehow: she must remain alive until her book is written — her book that is to be the spiritual pabulum of centuries to come. While these pictures appear to her, appear and appear and change, she must still force her hand to hold and drive the pen, lest any wisdom should be lacking that humanity might need in the aftertime. Her gaze is set on the future; she has seen the ills of the world, already terrible; and what other and more terrible evils threaten. She has seen how blind materialism and blind dogma have taken on themselves to lead blind humanity; she foresees the precipice that others take no note of. She has learnt; her eyes have looked into the world of causes. Let the world howl and threaten, it shall not hinder her from that, and it shall come to thank her for it some day — oh, when she has been dead a long time; and what are the thanks to her?
This woman is called the “Sphinx of the Nineteenth Century,” because none can understand her. The heap of written sheets is to be The Secret Doctrine, rejected by the nineteenth century, studied and questioned by the twentieth, chief text-book in the twenty-ﬁrst. She has been like a lightning-flash over the black sky of her age, revealing realms of beauty and glory beyond any imagining of us that dreamed. Against a world enamored of degradation she has vindicated the dignity of man, taking the ﬁeld against all sordid doctrine under splendid pennons of the Human Soul. She has proclaimed the existence of god-like Men, Teachers and Masters, Guardians of humanity, perfect in wisdom, compassion, and fortitude: she knows of their existence, being of their Brotherhood; it was They who taught her and sent her forth to teach the world.
Here surely are doctrines to unsour the chief of pessimists, to fall like morning sunlight on all hearts in the world, to drench the common things of life in a dew and glory of poetry, to bulge and set singing forever the sails of hope. To repay her for bringing them, the world complacently dubbed her “charlatan”: crying out for proof, they have ignored the absolute proof that is given — herself. Is there no perfectibility in wisdom — no fountain of knowledge within, nor status that you may attain spiritually, which shall open for your perception all the storehouses of the knowable? Then whence the learning in her books: how has she, with scarcely a full bookshelf at her disposal, ransacked all the literatures for references in support of her teaching? How does it come that she, who never studied science, can yet anticipate the discoveries of twenty coming years; lay bare the flaws in the theories of the most learned, and confound the Huxleys and the Haeckels at their own game? Is there no perfection in compassion to be attained? Then why, in Heaven's name, does she elect to live on in that tortured body, in this torturing age and world, until she shall have written out her message for humanity’s sake? In strength? Then how does she live on, and endure, and labor on?
You must be a sentimentalist — which she is not; you must wink at the weaknesses and insincerities of men, and pamper personalities, or the world will never credit you with the possession of a heart. Such milk-and-water ideals in ethics and conduct have been ours, that when great Goodness comes riding its proper whirlwind, a terror to evildoers, tearing down all shams and exposing every rottenness — aye, but exposing, too, for him that hath eyes to see, the great hope and beauty and divinity at the heart of things — it is then that we pygmies cry out Charlatan! and look for mud to throw. Such a type of ethical splendor is too great and bright for our vision. We will have no ambrosia, not even meat for men; we will admire and boast of nothing but the old pap and gruel — while we feed on ranker stuff.
Gentle Jesus, we say, meek and mild — and there you have the upward limit of our vision. We must have meekness and mildness, if we are to believe there is real goodness there. The one who is more than common man, who has vision of our hearts — a God forbid that he should be anything but a fool, or there will be no peace for us others, the wicked! Where was the whip of small cords, the Woe unto you hypocrites If any shall come, and so scourge and thunder, and yet scourging and thundering upbuild the better life of men, we cry out, as we cried at her: Fraud! Charlatan! and Crucify him! It is the only protection we have — save mending our ways (an exertion not to be contemplated!).
So — these marks of suffering on her face; this body that is such a curse and burden to her; these racked and weary days, and the sweet release of death held at bay endlessly. We have called her old, but she had not completed her sixtieth year when she died. Had you seen her thirty years earlier — twenty years earlier — you would have foretold for her eighty or ninety comfortable years.
Charlatan! — Ah, but how should we understand this grand anachronism, the spacious and ancient simplicity of a soul out of the heroic ages? Accuse Egyptian Cheops of jerrybuilding his pyramid; search Stonehenge for the characteristics of a desirable villa residence in the suburbs! Who is she that she should explain herself as do the little; has she not the Wisdom of all the Ages to explain? The greatest of the great have forgotten their own personality; they make no parade of their lives and doings; no urge arises in them towards self-defense or justiﬁcation. To such peaks the path is a vast modesty: Be humble if thou would’st attain to wisdom. We might speak of the humility and modesty of this woman, but that such qualities have attained a transcendental state in her, and new words are needed. Such an austere simplicity becomes, in the popular mind, the mask of something disingenuous, crafty, unwholesome; as our imaginations father on the stones of the Druids a long record of human sacriﬁce, because in their simple augustness they are incomprehensible. Mysterious indeed she is: but it is with the mysterious simplicity of the mountains. In such natures there is an absolute directness which seems to our tortuous minds wholly indirect, intentionally mystifying. Supposing she had written an autobiography, published and advertised herself, peppered her writings with I, I, I — we should have understood her well enough, and felt that all was as it should be. But in these things she is sublimely uninterested, cannot imagine them to be interesting; it is the message, and again the message, everlastingly the message that counts.
I think that such a fate and history as H.P.B.’s have been common to many who made in their day such a choice as she made in hers. They are young and splendid; they have the leonine physique, perhaps the Junonian bearing; health — it would seem as if Apollo’s self courses through their veins. “A station like the herald Mercury, an eye like Mars” to threaten and command. They take their place royally among their fellows; they talk more brilliantly, have ten times more wit; can do, as no one else can, whatsoever they turn their hands to; they are greater and more excellent in every way than their fellows. The world recognises them for its sovereigns, and desires nothing better than to continue recognising them until the end — will they only comply with what is demanded of them. And that is little: no more than to go on reigning in society, attending to their own reasonable pleasures, not overstepping the bounds in conventional philanthropy — leaving things alone, and behaving like ordinary mortals.
But they have heard a cry: the Gods have visited them, or the Angel Gabriel, in their sleep. They are commissioned God’s great Warriors, to overturn thrones and empires of the Princes of Night. They bring not the peace that we expect of them, but a ﬂaming, two-edged sword; evil at their approach feels the whole universe grow unwholesome and perilous. And then the world turns upon them, whom before it lauded; they are brought to Golgotha — who might have had Herod’s throne for the asking, but for Woe unto you hypocrites!
So with this woman. She remembers now — if for the sake of a moment’s rest she will let her mind turn at any time from the future to the past — how all the world in her own Russia used to bow. Granddaughter of a princess and the governor of a province, descendant of the great Dolgorukis and Fadeyevs, of Rurik himself, she yet went among the serfs without restraint; joining in the games of all the children of the neighborhood. It was she who, born on the Eve of Saint John, had power, it was said, to command the Russalka, the watersprites of the Volga; it was she who must not be opposed — and she who could hold her companions inspelled the whole day with her wonderstories, so that they would forget hunger, lessons, everything, while the marvel she related was being, as it seemed, acted out before their sight. It was she, too, who was the idol of servants and muzhiks, the queen-enchantress of the children, the pride and hope of her grandfather the Governor — whose castle was her home at that time.
And all the while she was living two lives: she knew that the peasants’ superstitions about her were not altogether unfounded. There was the One who came to her at times, a radiance about his head, and who might be standing plainly visible to her, and yet remaining unseen and unheard by the others. And how the wild birds would ﬂy to her and nestle on her shoulders; and how the forest-creatures would neither fear nor harm her; and what marvelous secrets she had from the Radiant One whom the others could not see. And there was the dancing of the fairies by twilight and moonlight — it was an aristocracy that carried, hers, in the inner and outer worlds: how to account for it? But of all the Dolgorukis there never was another like this; there have been many children of Rurik, but only one Helena Petrovna Hahn. Such lives are the blossoming of a spiritual heredity also, diviner and more royal than might be drawn from any kings. For these some questing Essence came wandering down the centuries: a Knight that for ﬁelds of adventure rode errant from age to age. Here is a glory that glowed in the ﬁres and stress of a thousand forgotten epochs; a brand that had lain for ages on the anvil of the world. They are the allsufﬁcient proof of reincarnation.
We find her at the point where womanhood and girlhood meet. Behind her lay the wonder-childhood in wonder-fruitful Russia: years shot through with those intense joys, that piercing sense of the beautiful, of which, one would say, only some poets, mystics, and children have the secret. Every tree bore blooms and fruit for her out of wonderful and daedal regions in the unseen; every ﬂower was a doorway into Slavonian Edens; mysterious ichor ran through all the veins of earth. For her, truly, “the corn was orient and immortal wheat, that never should be reaped, and was never sown.” In the ﬂight of birds, and in their music, in the drowsy monotone of summer bees, in the glint of the Wings of the butterﬂies, she beheld mysterious and entrancing meanings, and read messages from the white-bearded seers of fairyland. The subtil elixir of poetry, which gives vision of wizard and invisible things, was her daily and common drink; she was nourished continually on honey-dew and the milk of Paradise.
What we call ordinarily “a happy childhood” can bear no comparison with this; she is familiar with Eternal Beauty: Wonder is her nursing-mother; it is the sordid and the mournful that she would have difﬁculty in imagining. The soil beneath her feet, the Russian soil, is pregnant with a million brooding memories and dreams: this reed, yonder stone, may become articulate at any moment in some soft Russian of its own: this dear Volga ﬂows surely out of wonderland into wonderland. Under her kindly and wise grandfather there was no squalor nor misery among the serfs; they were a cheerful and mystical people, highly conversant with the Realms of Faerie. Then there was the old castle, with its rambling passages and far, vast, unused apartments; the old books of mysticism that she discovered; the remote attic that she made her own enchanted palace, and where they found her once, after an all-day search, half buried under her cooing, nestling, communicative birds.
So we behold her at this point: radiant with the beauty that comes of perfect health, perfect physique, perfect bearing and breeding, and — genius. She is wilful, somewhat, in the full royalty of her nature: what she purposes, that she commonly does. Withal, you can get her into a measure of rashness, too, by the simple expedient of daring her to it.
It was in that way that she came to accept her husband — old Blavatsky, soon to be Vice-Governor of Erivan in the Caucasus. “No one will ever marry you, if you are so willful, not even old Blavatsky” — so the governess, desiring to get her way from high-handed Helena Petrovna over some triﬂe. Before nightfall Blavatsky, who had by no means been contemplating running the risks and incurring the expenses of marriage, had proposed and been accepted; which acceptation she, for her part, was not seriously to consider until after the wedding.
So now she leaves her husband and Russia, to ransack the world for the Hidden Wisdom. Not that she knows deﬁnitely that such a Hidden Wisdom exists, or that there is any healing for human woes; but evil upon her if she rests from her search for it while one corner of creation is unexplored! Is this the Daughter of Rurik? Will heredity account for this? No: it is the shock of her experience which has awakened some ancient self in her, that has been accustomed these twenty thousand centuries to do battle for human liberation.
How the world would judge her actions: what might be the clack of contemporary gossip, or the verdict of a silly unenlightened future, had never the weight of a gossamer thread for a moment in the mind of H. P. Blavatsky, to turn her from the highest course of action that presented itself; albeit the invisible shafts of hatred might always wound her to the quick. By heredity she was accustomed to be a law unto herself. By the divine heredity of many lives of service and aspiration, the law that she was to herself was what we call the Higher Law, compelling her to selﬂess service.
So now we ﬁnd her gone forth on her wanderings, having ﬂung away with both hands such matters as wealth, high standing, inﬂuence, and unlimited prospects for social and literary ambition, for the sake of ﬁnding a Light whose existence she but guesses at. A quixotic, glorious project altogether; yet one in which we may read indications of an old and great soul, who had already and long ago traveled far along the path to the Divine; whose guesses and determination were really threads of memory from beyond old births and deaths. No answer to her imperious questions in sweet, familiar Russia; her old fairylands look askance at one who has come to such grips with the world and the spirit. Very well: she will leave Russia — and the sweet familiar things, and all she has ever loved, loved, loved.
I wish we could catch here some glimpse of the human side, and see not only this new and grand Don Quixote ride forth — whose seeming madness is a divine sanity and intuition of Godworlds hidden from all our eyes — but also the hot, dumb sorrow of the young girl, who now bids farewell, probably forever, to all the accustomed beauty and delight. That ﬁerce adoration of Russia which never left her, sheds a light almost tragical on this time and incident. If faith, a great conflagration, was surging in the soul, there was yet something like a broken heart in the young girl personality, for the fairylands grown useless that had been so real and absorbing. It was a sadness that was to return and return; as long as she lived, it appears, there was still some part of her to feel the old ﬁrst pangs. Long afterwards she was to write home from India in this strain:
We allow the light wings of reverie to transport us to the far North, to the peaceful village cemeteries . . . where humble wooden crosses stand in rows, sheltered by old birches. How peacefully our dead repose under the rich green grass! None of them ever saw these gigantic palms, sumptuous palaces and pagodas covered with gold. But on their poor graves grow violets and lilies-of-the-valley, and in the spring evenings nightingales sing to them in the old birch-trees.
No nightingales ever sing for me, either in the neighboring groves or in my own heart. The latter least of all.
But now she is gone forth; and one notes what lands ﬁrst attracted her footsteps, as showing in which direction her intuition suspected Light might be found. Like Merlin, she is “following the gleam”: a quest that may be unending and resultless, but that never shall be laid aside. It leads her to Greece, Egypt, and Syria, India and Ceylon, North and South America: wherever of old there were centers of mystical wisdom, to those regions is she led, and taught to listen there for echoes of forgotten and mysterious voices. In some Coptic peasant by the Nile, in some Quechua or Aymara amidst the unexplored Andes, she, having eyes to see and ears to hear, ﬁnds one with grip and countersign dimly familiar to her, who can lift for her a corner of the Veil of the Temple.
We know little of her years between that ﬁrst going forth alone, and her last arrival in America in 1873, which just preceded her appearance on the worldstage and the beginning of her public work. Fragmentary data gathered from her own lips; details from members of her family; a few anecdotes told by persons who chanced to meet her here and there about the world: this is all we have. Legends have arisen, mainly of the sort quite unprovable; but proving this: that she belonged to that rare class of great personalities about whom legends inevitably do arise.
She was eighteen when she left Russia; two years of wandering followed, during which, it would appear, she must rely wholly on her own intuitions, her faith and burning will to ﬁnd the Light. Then came the another great landmark of her life, after which she was to know that she stood not alone. She was somewhere at the beginning of 1851, when the urge came to her to visit the ﬁrst International Exhibition, then going forward in London. There all the world was gathered, including several mahārājās from India. Him she meets, and it is He whom she has known since her earliest childhood: the Radiant One of her old-time visions, director of her wanderings and guardian angel of her life. From him she learns at last, in no visionary manner, but face to face ordinarily, by word of mouth, what high destiny awaits her: she is the one chosen to be their Messenger by Those who hold the Light of the world.
To begin at once? No; the time is unripe; there must be more years of wandering ﬁrst, and certain years of training in the Trans-Himālayan Esoteric Schools. For whoso would undertake this mission must be equipped with arms forged in a thousand adventures; beyond all knowledge of philosophy, must possess a human wisdom only to be gained in a thousand diverse kinds of experience. For it is to be a question of understanding men and women: not conventionally, but with plummets of vision and sympathy to sink through all intervening fathoms as deep as to the inmost soul. Unless such strength and wisdom had been gained long ago, and lay stored now in sealed recesses of her being, no experience gained in this present lifetime would serve in the labor before her. Yet experience is needed to unseal those recesses: as if her life, wanderings, battles, sorrows, and persecution were an epitome and acting-out-inbrief of all she had fought and toiled through in past ages and buried civilizations. The personality must be extraordinarily prepared; the woman’s body and brain that are to resist such extraordinary pressure. So, for her the wide world shall be a Hall of Initiation.
Act II in her drama, then, lasts between 1849 and 1858, in which latter year she returned to Russia. The unities are flouted here, unless one takes, for stage, the four continents and the seven seas. That scene in London stands out, illuminant not only of this period, but of all her life; let history say of how much more beside. For the rest, this is important to be noted: in the ’ﬁfties she passed the Himālayas into Tibet, the headquarters of the School to which her Teacher belonged. Resultant of that journey, literature is the richer for her translation, published years after as The Voice of the Silence — passages from the Book of the Golden Precepts, which may be called a manual of the ethics of the Trans-Himālayan Esoteric School; also for several passages scattered through her works, descriptive of the weird solitudes of the Central Asian desert.
Followed a return to Russia, and resumption of her place in society there. At her sister’s in-laws’ house in Pskov a wedding party is going forward, and the surviving members of the family are gathered there. A hall bell rings through champagne toasts; and impatiently it rings again. Vera knew, convinced it was she, her long lost sister. And greeted her at the door to all amazement — an arrival is announced.
In Russia she then remained for six or seven years; creating some stir in society, according to her custom, by the inevitable greatness of her personality; also by another means, which must be mentioned, if any intelligent account of her life is to be given: the exercise of psychic powers usually latent in men of the present age. It is needless to argue for, and idle to deny the existence of, the psychic world: the facts have been too abundantly proved. Here we shall only note that such a world exists, and that some have access to it; such access, however, often a disease, sometimes leading to physical and moral ruin.
She has been called a “medium” — this even by members of her own family; and in her own writings there are passages which might be twisted so as to lend color to such an accusation. But this must be remembered: there was little exactitude, in the early days of psychic research, in the use of terms for phenomena so new to our experience. For the blind wanderer in psychism, destined victim of all its snares, and for the one who might travel in it as a monarch in some dependent province of his own realm, there was but the one word “medium.” Sometimes, in private or in society, she would produce phenomena, with the object of startling people into knowledge that there are “more things in heaven and earth than are dreamt of in our philosophies”; but for no other reason than that. She never sought to gain power, prestige, or inﬂuence, by such means.
It says something for a soul of goodness in the Russian Church, whatever abuses may be current, that a high dignitary thereof, a Bishop or Metropolitan, could be found, who, in lieu of banning her for “heretic,” “charlatan,” or “obsessed,” blessed her as one endowed with great powers by God, and using them in the service of God and man.
During these years, we should say, she was rehearsing, no less than at all other times and during her wanderings, for the great work that was to come.
The Far East again; then Greece, Palestine, and Egypt; and once more a meeting with the Copt at Bulak, from whom she had heard secrets on her ﬁrst wanderings. Then, in 1872, her last visit to Russia, where experience of a new kind is waiting for this daughter of a long line of aristocrats.
For she is bidden engage in commerce, of all things; and so, starts an ink-factory at Odessa; drives it forward with her own peculiar energy, and shortly makes it a paying concern. This accomplished, however, warning intuition comes to her that she is soon to go forth again. For her face is set now towards the battleﬁeld of the ages, and the doing of that which she was born to do, and for which a long series of incarnations, surely, had been preparing her.
She follows her star to the Havre, and spends the last of her ready money on a ticket for New York; at which place, on her arrival, she will receive fresh supplies from Russia — or from the gods: she does not know. She is on the quay about to embark; and comes on a woman with her little child, obviously in trouble. It appears that the woman was to have joined her husband in America, but has spent her all on bogus tickets, and is now stranded and destitute. The Daughter of Rurik might be royally lavish in her charities; now, however, it is one greater than the Daughter of Rurik who takes action: the disciple of the Masters, humble, self-sacriﬁcing, compassionate, for whom “inaction in a deed of mercy becomes an action in a deadly sin.”
She goes in search of the ticket agent, and carries her point with him with a high hand. So far the grande dame will have her way with ofﬁcialdom, even when her way jumps not with the bye-laws. So: three steerage tickets in exchange for this ﬁrst-class one of mine; and neither argument nor excuses need be offered. Followed the long steerage voyage — with no privacy day or night that all the instincts of her heredity might have shrunk from.
New York and poverty, and the Daughter of Rurik working for her living as a seamstress, but the hour is ripe. The air is astir with rumor of unknown forces: the marvelous is manifesting everywhere: it is the heyday of spiritualistic phenomena. Now her literary gift comes into play; the medium for it is to be English, still very much a foreign language to her; but she has the Russian gift of tongues, and above all, literary genius, master of a style, clear, trenchant, and vigorous. Armed with this, and with what incomparable knowledge of the lore and tradition of a hundred nations, she rides in on the whirlwind, and takes the ﬁrmament of current topics royally. The inner words are shouting to a whole continent: since Salem days there has been nothing like this; and we suffer a like perturbation to that which found its easing then in the burning of witches. Here we were, standing on solid ground, whether of old religion or of new science; whichever we chose, we might thunder comfortable dogmas from pulpit or professional chair, and give unjogged allegiance to original sin or simian origin, as our tastes and disposition might dictate. But now terra ﬁrma runs and ripples, inanimate tables have taken to spinning round, churchyards yawn fantastically. Fraud! shouts science; religion knows not what to make of it, trial for witchcraft being out of fashion; spiritualists ecstasize on the “Summerland” and return of the “dear departed.” But your dear departed appear to be all such idiots: Shakespeare and Homer, dropping in at every séance, drivel such unconscionable doggerel; and you will ﬁnd better philosophy in Mother Goose than from the spooks of Plato and Aristotle. Still, the world takes notice — scoffs, reviles, or worships, but — takes notice. In which world rises H. P. Blavatsky, seizes the interest aroused, whips it up to humming-point, and champions the cause of spiritualism from a standpoint altogether new.
She champions it indeed, and with a pen such as has never before been wielded in its behalf, so that the despised cult is prepared to hail a new prophet risen in its midst. But it is a prophet that scouts Summerland and will have no truck with the dear departed: which things cause consternation in the ranks presently — and attack. So, vituperation from the spiritualists; charges wild and improbable, against which no better defense could be devised than their own sheer and startling improbability. They are all dead long since, perhaps in Summerland; we know not if their spooks may still rumble a little at times, at belated séances. For in place of plain-sailing acceptation of tales told by shadowy, returning Platos and oozy Homers of the cabinet, there is a certain august thread and sequence to what this woman has to tell. Listen to her, and you shall become impressed with the imminence of worlds and worlds unseen; you shall feel the glow of a stable wisdom looming always beyond the horizons of thought; you shall catch echoes of immemorial voices of immortals; suspect and hunger after a doctrine at once more scientiﬁc than any science, more religious than all the religions.
Launching such ideas on the press, loosing them on the impalpable atmosphere by some magic of her own, she captures the attention of the world; more especially, draws to her those sane and serious investigators of spiritualism who may be discontented with the common theories. She begins to hold receptions at her rooms at Irving Place; whither at last came those who were to help her in her work: Henry S. Olcott and William Q. Judge of New York. And now the Theosophical Society may be founded.
What follows belongs to the history of that Society; only a few incidents can be given here. She knew that she must sow Theosophy, before she died, in three ﬁelds: America, India, and Europe: as if one should say, in the future, the past, and the present. For America is the cradle of the race that is to be; and it is in India, of all ancient lands, that one ﬁnds the literature in which the esoteric wisdom is most accessible; as for Europe, it was that, and of that mainly later-Victorian England, which still held the present in fee. To India she must go then, but not until she had left to America two inestimable possessions: William Quan Judge, who was to be absolutely trusted, “until death and after”; and her ﬁrst great book, Isis Unveiled: precursor of this greater one that we have seen growing.
Ah, but it is a grand new message that this ﬁrst book proclaims! Think: before, you might take your choice only between Adam and the ape, natural selection and original sin; to be snuffed out like the candle, or to take your probable chance of eternal damnation: in either case to live in a poor little twopenny world, cribbed, cabined, and conﬁned amidst poverty stricken dogmas and theories. But read Isis Unveiled and the clouds are blown away over immeasurable horizons: you are about upon limitless steppes, and may breathe the ozone of the spirit; mysterious stars are ﬂaming in a sky ﬁlled with wonder and hopeful portent; once more there is the Soul of Man, set in a Universe vast and grand enough to contain it. Now once more you may dare breathe the word Magic: and mean by it — ah, none of the nonsense of medievalism, none of the clammy atmosphere of the darkened séance-room; but kinship with the stars and with the Gods, a certain valorous and puissant being attainable within your own being of a man.
H. P. Blavatsky saw Man sanely and whole. She saw in him a spiritual being, linked with the Universe at all points of his nature, for whom the supreme necessity is that he should live in harmony with universal law. We others commonly see ﬁrst the physical being; cognise then, often rather dimly, the intellectual; and anything further we know of hardly at all. To see — or not to see — thus, has become second nature with us, wholly banishing the ﬁrst: a mold of mind which she set herself to smash somehow, and set up reasonable, spiritual, discernment in its place.
So she showed Man Spiritual, intangled and involved in matter, psychic, mental, and physical. She ﬂashed picture after picture on the screen of time — diverse, arresting, wonderfully strange to her age; but the central ﬁgure of them all is Man Spiritual. Now in his relation to the mental world, now to the physical, now to the psychic: but always in the core and reality of himself, Spiritual, and therefore moral.
She came at a momentous period: at one of those crossroads in time when vast destinies depend on the right direction being proclaimed. Two paths most obviously offered themselves: one heading towards fanatical medievalism; the other for a dead torpid materialism, and all beauty and human hope to be sloughed in the mires, and lost. There was a third path, not so obvious as yet, but fearfully attractive: that of psychism; attractive because unknown, and because the psychic world, a region sealed for centuries against the majority, was then beginning to be rediscovered, and you found mediums, clairvoyants, hypnotists, everywhere.
Of the perils of this path H. P. Blavatsky gave warning; to do so, she must throw light on it, laying bare before the world at least some few truths concerning the hidden nature of man. This she did; but always relating and subordinating psychic to spiritual; pleading or thundering against attempts at developing the former until the latter should have been learned, and foothold attained on the one terra firma of the inner worlds: an absolute morality, which implies absolute selﬂessness. To that stable condition she called; take this as the keynote and keystone of her whole teaching: To live to beneﬁt mankind is the ﬁrst step; to practise the six glorious virtues is the second — a teaching as old as the world, but long since obscured under dogma and the organization of sects. A new sanction was needed for it, which should be a revelation of the whole nature of man. Not mere body, as science saw him; not mere actual body, plus problematical soul and spirit, as according to religion; certainly not mere body and psychic nature. Some new dignity must be given to the word Soul. Hearing of it rarely, considering it not at all (for the word was made to cover only vagueness, about which nothing was known nor troubled to be known); believing that it began to be at bodily birth, and became important only at bodily death; what prestige, dignity, or even reality had we left to it?
But here now came H.P.B. making it a real thing, the pivot of all evolution and raison d’être of the mighty Universe itself; a thing beginningless and endless in time; a ray from the Absolute; out upon the journey of the life-cycle to reap all experience and uplift all material things; reimbodying through the ages, involved in the world and the business of evolution, supremely and inextricably interested in the progress and betterment of things; containing divine creative powers within itself — and withal imperfect too, because working through this most imperfect medium of ﬂesh and mentality which not yet has it molded to its own perfect design.
To Universal Brotherhood, depending for its sanction on the essential identity of all souls, and to the imperative necessity of discovering that inner part of us which is the Divinity, and mastering by it the personal self, all her teaching, every line of it, leads. When she makes furthest excursion into archaic history, eastern and western secret lore of Purāṇas or Qabbālāh, symbology or the classiﬁcation of the principles of man, she is still but carrying the bricks, mixing the mortar, or raising the scaffolding for her grand central temple. And thereof, the spiritual nature of man and the Universe is dome, pinnacles, and whole architectural pattern; and stern and pure morality, not frieze nor carving, statuary nor any form of adornment, but the simple floor, on which none may enter but must tread — aye, ﬂoor, foundation, bedrock whereon the whole is builded. What then of those who would steal fragments of the rare carving, and with it and hideous gargoyles of their own adorn a building founded upon quagmires? What of those who flouted Madame Blavatsky’s warnings, neglected her call to a life of pure altruism, and launched forth on a sea of psychic practices lured by ambition and the desire to pose as teachers of sensational doctrines? In that sea she did indeed erect lighthouses; she did teach that the only dikes against its desolating inroads were purity of life, stainlessness, vigorous altruism.
To America, then, she leaves William Quan Judge and also Isis Unveiled, which rather hints at than reveals her teachings; and betakes herself to India, there to establish the Society and labor like ten Titans for some half dozen years in its furtherance and defense. There an unmalicious but blundering Government starts up at once something in the way of persecution, considering her probably a Russian spy; it is related that she caught the detective set to shadow her, and gave him royally her mind (a piece of it), after which she suffered no open trouble from that source. It was in 1884 that a more serious persecution began.
For, what had she been doing? Careering through the length and breadth of the huge peninsula, sounding certain calls to the inner self of men, of a kind to alarm many. Human Brotherhood, the Divinity of Man — in which terms are included also Mlechchha, Vaiśya, Śūdra, and Pariah: what will the high caste say to that? Many indorse it and come forward to aid her; but there be those who batten on their aloofness and superiority, and on the groveling of the lowly. The Brotherhood of Religions, the origin of them all in a divine wisdom or esotericism; and seek the truth, you Indian peoples, not in a foreign creed, but in your own ancient scriptures: what will the salaried missionaries say to that? Here is a Messenger of Peace, who comes, after the fashion of her compeers, with a bright sword against those who let and hinder peace; when she appears, evil cries out Alas! it shall have no peace again.
And there is this strange thing about her also: be in her presence a little while, and in a manner inexplicable, your own character becomes exposed. She holds up, as it were, a mirror to you, wonderfully and terribly, wherein you read all that was concealed from the world and all that was concealed from your own self-searchings. This she must do by a law pertaining to her exalted spiritual rank; for she has taken the ﬁeld now as a teacher of mankind — pertinent to which exaltation there is an awe-inspiring humility, hardly comprehensible by us small folk that are so proud and vain.
The teachings live, and go steadily forward winning inﬂuence upon the age. Yet, as against the Teacher, success it has been; as you are to realize, looking at the pensive face as she sits at her writing. Not a month is to pass, between this and her death, but slander shall lift its foolish fanged head in some newspaper or other, to strike at her; and she — Hell’s grand antagonist, that takes all the buffetings of the world — is still half the sensitive Russian aristocrat, owner of those wonderful musician’s ﬁngers, who suffers more keenly than people of the common clay. It has brought her to this: the leonine constitution is broken beneath the stress of torment; the body that seemed destined to stand any strain for eighty or ninety years, ought to have been dead now years ago: she has been living in it by virtue of adamantine will, ﬂat in the face of all natural probability, and at the cost of so many daily hours of pain. And she will go on living in it for a while yet — until the book shall have been written which not the present, but coming centuries, are to judge.
Yes, she has her Theosophical Society: her great world-wide organization, which is for her, however, largely a Frankenstein’s monster. And it was to win money, power, influence, cackles the world, that she founded her Society. In it she holds the proud position of — what? Director, absolute dictator of its policies, loyally supported by the members everywhere? Had such been the case, bright Theosophy might have been a dominant force in the world today; there would have been fewer mistakes or losses by treachery. No: Corresponding Secretary, forsooth; and chieﬂy buffer against attack. Power, wealth, position, and inﬂuence she had flung away from her long since; fame she might have made easily in music or in literature, but fame had no attraction for her. Would she but tolerate adulation now, and take the fate of indolent weaklings into her keeping, she would have fewer enemies than she has. But she had her own methods of dealing with attempts to substitute hero-worship of the Teacher for manly consideration of the teachings. It is complained that she outrages the conventions of society; she does — whenever society comes fawning on her with meaningless, insincere adoration.
For do what she will, it was always the case: the right (or penalty) of a vast dynamic nature, molded and ﬁnished to extreme ﬁneness by aristocratic descent. Old, weary, ill: sickness and persecution have left such marks on her that nothing remains but the look of power and the beauty of an undimmed eye lit with divine intelligence. The world has been made to resound with aspersion against her, and there is no redress; she has been branded fraud; she is at outs with orthodoxy, the scourge of dogmatic religion, thorn in the ﬂesh of dogmatic science; denounced and preached against everywhere, lied about in the press of three continents — and yet the world ﬂocks to her receptions and high society sits at her feet.
But what is that to her? It is long since, now, that she heard the cry of the world, and the Titan heart in her glowed into a white heat of resolution. Did she know when that great purpose ﬁrst ﬂamed up in her, what years of sorrow it would imply? Perhaps, perhaps not; it would have made no difference. I conceive some such proem as this to our drama: — The Gods are in council, and at their old topic, the salvation of man. Here was the forlorn hope of the ages: to plant some kind of spiritual common sense in the soil of a selﬁsh age. Who will go forth? What armed champion: what Hercules irresistible with his club, what Apollo with bright bow?
And now this woman, old, writing, writing, writing. Has she failed in her life’s work then; has the gross world that she lives for overcome her? The written sheets that mount up on her writing table answer — No! She has made a dint on things; she has startled and shocked old Lethargy, the world, into some kind of attention: she has aroused malice against herself, and forced it to rise against the menace of her light. By all manner of means, she has caught the eye and ear of the time. Let men lie profusely as they will; let them ﬂing all the mud in all rivers of the world: they have heard it thundered in their ears that there is a truth beyond the tides of their mendacity, where their own captains have been little better than dwarfs and fools; in the things of the Spirit a proved and provable certainty, where they have been used only to ﬂoundering in quicksands and quagmires. Now let time pass and harass men, sweeping away their weedy anchorage in unreality: the dogmatic superstition, the barren stultitude of materialism, and that more dreadful current of psychic thirst which sweeps roaring down, bearing the vice-wrecked, into the gulf of hell. Let inexorable time mature, washing the paint from the cheeks of harlot systems, tearing away the mask from hypocrite creeds and hopes and fears.
Here the warning has been cried: a shout to come down through night, and be heard and heeded by many when she that raised it shall have gone. She has published her Key to Theosophy: a clarion call from the Realities; it shall accomplish its work in time. She has translated her Voice of the Silence, and sweetened the air with the pure Himalayan snowbreath of its teachings. Now to end this great Secret Doctrine, to set this star in the sky, to ﬂing out this lifeline into the turbid waters, and then have peace to die, knowing that she has accomplished the labor of ten battalions of heroes. Be the result in the hands of the Law.
So too there is a peace and silence in this little room, although it is the anvil of the world. Peace and silence; and in the air before her, the wonderful visions that she sees and writes down on the growing pile of sheets. For there will be new centuries, and new cyclic efforts on the part of those she serves. The tide that ﬂowed in 1875, the crest-wave that cast her on the shores of the world, will ﬂow again — this at least she knows, being versed in spiritual-tide lore. And that new Teacher shall ﬁnd the way prepared. When she is dead, The Secret Doctrine shall still be speaking — not for her, but for Truth, for Humanity, for all the shining hierarchies innumerable between this and the lone and ultimate Light.
So, she goes on writing, writing, writing.