[Impressions of Madame Blavatsky]
by Henry Sidgwick
|[Reprinted from Henry Sidgwick: A Memoir by Arthur
Sidgwick and Eleanor Mildred Sidgwick, London, Macmillan and Co., Limited, 190 , pp.
384-385, 405, 410. The excerpts are from Henry Sidgwick's "intermittent journal kept
between 1884 and 1892."]
August 9  - Arthur [Sidgwick] comes to spend Sunday; after dinner we
all go to a meeting of the Cambridge Branch of the S. P. R. [Society for Psychical
Research], where Madame Blavatsky, Mohini [Chatterji] , and other Theosophists are to show
off. The meeting is in Oscar Brownings spacious rooms: which are crowded to
overflowing - all the members of the Branch, and more than as many outsiders. There must
have been over seventy; I should not have thought that such a crowd could have been got
together in the Long Vacation. [F.W.H.] Myers and I had the task of drawing
Mme. B. by questions, Mohini taking a share of the answers. We kept it up better than I
expected for a couple of hours; the interest of the miscellaneous throng - half of whom, I
suppose, came with the very vaguest notions of Theosophy - being apparently fairly well
sustained. On the whole I was favourably impressed with Mme. B. No doubt the stuff of
her answers resembled [her book] Isis Unveiled in some of its worst
characteristics; but her manner was certainly frank and straightforward - it was hard to
imagine her the elaborate impostor that she must be if the whole thing is a trick.
August 10  - We all went to a Theosophic lunch with Myers. Madame de
Novikoff was there; certainly she has social gifts, but she does not interest me. Our
favourable impression of Mme. B[lavatsky] was sustained; if personal sensibilities can be
trusted, she is a genuine being, with a vigorous nature intellectual as well as emotional,
and a real desire for the good of mankind. This impression is all the more noteworthy as
she is externally unattractive - with her flounces full of cigarette ashes - and not
prepossessing in manner. Certainly we like her, both Nora [Eleanor Sidgwick] and I. If she
is a humbug, she is a consummate one: as her remarks have the air not only of spontaneity
and randomness but sometimes of an amusing indiscretion. Thus in the midst of an account
of the Mahatmas in Tibet, intended to give us an elevated view of these personages, she
blurted out her candid impression that the chief Mahatma of all was the most utter
dried-up old mummy that she ever saw. . . .
March 22  - On Friday last we went to Brighton to experiment in Mesmerism.
. . . We talked over Theosophy, of which [Richard] Hodgson keeps us amply informed by
weekly accounts [from India] of his investigation. His opinion of the evidence seems to be
growing steadily more unfavourable; but there are still some things difficult to explain
on the theory of fraud. I have no doubt, however, that Blavatsky has done most of it. She
is a great woman. . . .
April 30  - Hodgson came back from Madras. He has no doubt that all
Theosophic marvels are and were a fraud from beginning to end. He thinks Mme. Blavatsky a
remarkable woman, possibly working from motives of Russian patriotism and Russian pay to
foment native discontent. He thinks Theosophy will go on, but that we may help to prevent
people of education from being further duped. . . .