Adyar, Mme. Blavatsky
and Her Confession
The Theosophists - An American Receiving the Buddhist pansala -
The Attempted Fraud on the Broughtons - Letter of Commissioner Broughton - Origin of
Koothoomi - Revelations of Mme. Coulomb.
by Moncure Daniel Conway
[Reprinted from Moncure Daniel Conway's book My Pilgrimage to the
Wise Men of the East, 1906, Chapter X, pp. 195-214.]
When Mme. Blavatsky was on her way from New York to India she stopped for some days in
London, and my wife and I were invited to meet her at the house of Mr. and Mrs. William
Tebb. Mrs. Conway was not attracted by her, but I found her entertaining. She had nothing
that could be described as culture; and though the work, "Isis Unveiled,"
ascribed to her, was without value to me so far as I read it, I have never believed she
could write anything so elaborate. In fact, though Mme. Blavatsky was entertaining, it was
because of her gossipy knowledge of contemporary persons and events. Such at any rate was
the kind of conversations she carried on with myself, and I wondered how my thoughtful
friends, the Tebbs, could take her so seriously.
After a time reports came from India of Mme. Blavatskys new religion called
Theosophy, and of her miracles. Marion Crawford introduced a mysterious
"Mahatma" into his romance, "Mr. Isaacs," and was proudly claimed by
Theosophists (whom, however, and their wonders he ridiculed in conversation on my
mentioning the matter). At length Mr. Sinnett came to London from India as an apostle of
the new faith, of which he gave strange narratives, mostly to the elite gathered in
fashionable drawing-rooms. I listened to several of his addresses, and after one in which
he told of the wonderful Mahatmas, who had lived for ages and were now semi-visibly
revealing themselves, I had some conversation with him. I was about to go to India, and
enquired whether I could find out one of the Mahatmas. He gave a start, and with a look of
surprise said, "Do you mean, can you see and talk with a Mahatma as you are talking
with me now?" "Yes," I replied, unconscious of my naivete.
"No," he answered, and went on with a nebulous explanation.
Mr. Sinnetts book, "Esoteric Buddhism," gave me an impression that Mme.
Blavatsky had simply invented a new set of archangels and saints to supply that
reverential fog amid which all impostures are possible. It was, however, a serious thing
that such notions should infect excellent people, and it became one of my duties as a
public teacher to investigate it. All the way around the world I was urged by persons of
influence to examine Theosophy in India. In Sydney, Judge Windeyer, in whose house I
passed several days, and who was one of the best of men, assured me that I would find the
evidences of Theosophy irresistible. In the same city the late Professor John Smith said
he had been impressed by his interviews with Mme. Blavatsky, and I promised him and his
wife, to whom I owed much for their hospitality, that I would investigate the matter.
And thus it was that on a bright day in 1884, beginning with the elephant-headed god of
wisdom at Madras, and travelling to the shrine of Doubting Didymus and his lonely priest,
I proceeded to visit the high priestess of Theosophy.
The centre of the Theosophic cult is Adyar. On the gateway was written,
"Headquarters of the Theosophical Society." At the entrance of the park was the
dilapidated carcass of a blue pasteboard elephant, which it appeared some Madras believer
had set up on a recent Theosophic anniversary. The carriage-road wound through a leafy
park up to a handsome bungalow. The spacious veranda displayed every elegance, but it was
unoccupied. For a few minutes my driver vainly tried to find some one about the place, and
I was conscious of a half hope that no one might be at home. My arrival, however, was
known: a young Babu came to bring me the "Countess" Blavatskys welcome,
and to say she would presently receive me. Next a Hindu youth of remarkable appearance -
delicate, almost maidenly - advanced; but when, in response to his greeting, I held out my
hand, he said sweetly, "I cannot shake hands with you." I afterwards learned
that this youth was a "a lay chela," that he already possessed the power of
appearing at a distance in his "astral" body, and that if he shook hands his
magnetism might be impaired.
I was sorry to hear that the president, "Colonel" Olcott, was absent. He was
founding a new branch of the society somewhere. The "Countess" Blavatsky was
cordial, and urged my remaining till the morning. I accepted her invitation so far as the
rest of the evening was concerned, and was there nearly six hours. Besides the two
mentioned, there were two other native gentlemen, one of them (Norendronath Sen) known to
me by reputation as editor of the "Indian Mirror." America was represented in
the company by a Dr. Hartmann of Colorado. Another person present was Mr. W. T. Brown of
Glasgow, a young man of pleasant manners, who told me some of his marvellous experiences;
but when I intimated that I would like to carry away some little marvel of my own
experience, the reply unpleasantly recalled vain attempts made through many years to
witness a verifiable spiritualistic "phenomenon." I was once more put off with
narratives of what had occurred before I came, and predictions of what might occur if I
should come again. There was a cabinet shrine in which letters were deposited and swift
answers received from the wonderful Mahatmas; but when I proposed to write a note, I was
informed that only a few days before the Mahatmas had forbidden any further cabinet
correspondence. I said that was just my luck in such matters; wherever a miracle occurs I
was always too soon or too late to see it. My experience was that of Alice in the
Looking-glass, - "Jam yesterday, jam to-morrow, but never jam to-day."
Mme. Blavatsky had been forewarned by Professor John Smith of my visit, and as a shrewd
reader of thoughts saw that I regarded the new order against letters as aimed at my
investigation. I was careful, however, not to say that I thought it unreasonable for the
Mahatma to foreclose the cabinet test just as his omniscience knew that one was coming who
needed the wonders so much more than the convinced already. My self-restraint in not
pressing the point in company pleased her. Some of the young neophytes moved off the
veranda and strolled meditatively under the palms. Their faces were serenely solemn; they
did not talk or smile; they impressed me out there as rare plants in a nursery, that must
be severally kept under glass in cold weather. These Hindu neophytes, not one of them
feminine, were of wealthy families and of high caste; I was told that the handsome mansion
was furnished by them. Mr. Sinnett and others in England and America were talking a good
deal about great sacrifices made by the "Countess" for the sake of her cause,
but I saw no trace or suggestion of martyrdom at the headquarters. The house, surrounded
by a fine park, was spacious and pretty; the long veranda was well supplied with easy
chairs softly cushioned, and a table with English and American magazines and the new
novels; and madame drove in her own neat carriage with fine horses, as I had grateful
reason to know, having returned to Madras in it. While never regarding Mme.
Blavatskys career as inspired by desire for gain, I cannot but smile whenever I hear
Theosophists talk about her movement in India as wrought by self-sacrificing devotion.
Certainly there was no pretence of that kind in Mme. Blavatsky herself. She sat in her
large decorated chair, in an airy white beltless gown much in the style of the midsummer
dress of Russian ladies, endlessly smoking cigarettes, conversing in a free and easy way,
and putting on no airs at all. Madame was not pretty, but she was a notable figure, her
eyes capable of every variety of expression, and her humour always playing.
At a certain moment when we happened to be alone on the veranda madame arose and asked
me to follow her. She led me through a hall and along a corridor, then up a stairway to a
boudoir richly decorated. There she invited me to take a seat, and proffered a box of
cigarettes, lighting one for herself. I preferred my cigar, and was ready for an
apparently intended encounter. She asked what was my particular proposal or desire. I
said, "I wish to find out something about the strange performances attributed to you.
I hear of your drawing teapots from under your chair, taking brooches out of flowers, and
of other miracles. If such things really occur I desire to know it, and to give a
testimony to my people in London in favour of Theosophy. What does it all mean?"
She said with a serene smile, "I will tell you, because you are a public teacher
[here she added some flattery], and you ought to know the truth; it is all glamour -
people think they see what they do not see - that is the whole of it."
It was impossible not to admire the art of this confession. Mme. Blavatsky, forewarned
by Professor John Smith of my intended investigation, had arranged precisely the one
maneuver that could thwart it. Had I continued it, cross-examining her adherents,
proposing plans for verification, I might have awakened doubts and suspicions among her
"neophytes." But she spiked my guns; her confession was made without witnesses,
and should I use it publicly it was easy enough to say I had misunderstood her. And
moreover she had used the vague word "glamour," which might preserve her
personal throne while giving up the reality of the things attested by her miracles.
I did not press the matter at all. I felt that madame was a genius in her way, and a
moral phenomenon to be studied, but she made no pretences with me. Of the common
Theosophic talk about a new era, welfare of humanity, reincarnation, there was no trace
whatever. Not a word about "Occultism" or any other "ism" came from
her, nor anything in the way of an abstraction. She gossiped wittily and sometimes
satirically about this or that person she had met in America, London, Paris, and told
About seven a signal for dinner interrupted the boudoir interview. There were seven or
eight at the large round table, all of us whites. The dinner was excellent, but one or two
of the young men did not eat the meat. Mme. Blavatsky ate little and smoked most of the
time. In the talk, which was all about Theosophic marvels, Mme. Blavatsky did not
participate except with some such remark as, "There, Mr. Conway, what can be said of
such events?" etc. She limited herself to mild interjections, but meantime exchanging
with me humorous looks; for the situation was indeed amusing.
There was at the table a woman to whom I was not introduced, but whom I remarked
because she did not say a word nor even smile during the meal, and I thought watched me
There were named three Mahatmas in the Blavatsky system: Koothoomi, Morya, and Djual
Khoot. I strongly suspect the latter to be another of Mme. Blavatskys jokes. Having
created the imaginary Koothoomi (originally Kotthume) by piecing together parts of the
names of her two chief disciples, Olcott and Hume, that success probably led her to create
another Mahatma, - a second Cott (Olcott) travestied as a dual or Djual Khoot.
After dinner the young men were all eager to have me go into the sacred room, though
Mme. Blavatsky was rather reluctant. It was a small room and its only furniture the
so-called "shrine," - really a cabinet such as Spiritualists ordinarily use,
though smaller, and such as Mme. Blavatsky herself probably used when a spirit-rapping
medium in America. The only persons I remember present besides Mme. Blavatsky were two
young Hindus, and on entering they instantly prostrated themselves on the floor, flat on
their stomachs, burying their eyes under folded hands. It occurred to me that I myself
could perform miracles among such witnesses. Madame stood with an amused smile looking
from the neophytes to me. She then opened the doors of the cabinet, which was about five
feet high by four wide. It was tastefully decorated, and when opened richly wrought metal
was disclosed. In it sat a small Buddha, and on each side, in frames about seven inches
high, a picture. These were of two light-brown persons, the chief "Mahatmas,"
done by some process said to be occult. The portrait of "Koothoomi" was, I feel
sure, from one of Rammohun Roy made in London by my old friend James Philp. A copy of the
portrait of that famous founder of Brahmo theism, giving me by Franklin Philp in
Washington, had been on my wall thirty years before I saw him faked up as
"Koothoomi," with a praying machine on his head. The other Mahatma in the
cabinet was Morya, who seemed to be a Rajah from some sacred picture, perhaps a
manipulated Rama. I again proposed to leave a letter to one of the Mahatmas, but madame
shrugged her shoulders and closed the cabinet.
When we had returned to the veranda most of the young men declared they had at times
seen Koothoomi. Knowing well that Koothoomi was a name twisted from Ol[cott-Hume], and
that no such being existed, I still did not question the good faith of these young men;
but I quietly cross-examined them, without seeming to do so, and found that they had seen
him generally in his "astral" body. Three thought they had seen him once in his
physical body, but their testimony was unsatisfactory, especially as I had observed in the
sacred room their method of observing things with their eyes close to the floor. Mr. Brown
of Glasgow was candid in his narrative of his three meetings with Koothoomi. On the first
occasion he said he was so overwhelmed with awe that he "could not look upon
him." On the next occasion the Mahatma was at some little distance, his head and
lower face being covered after the manner of sacred Rajahs. On the last occasion it was at
night, Mr. Brown being in bed, and he only knew that he had been with Koothoomi by a
handkerchief marked "K. H." slipped into his hand with a letter. It was evident
that Mr. Brown was sincere, and also that he had no perception of the nature of evidence.
Several of the letters received from "K. H." were shown me; they were the merest
commonplace notes, without any value whatever unless read with occult emotions.
When I left in the evening for Madras, Madame Blavatsky said merrily that she would
make me an "astral" visit in London. I reminded her that I had in the morning
looked with doubt on the footprint of St. Thomas, the disciple who would not believe in
the existence of his Mahatma without touching him, and that his sceptical spirit is still
in the earth.
I was surprised next morning, when we were out at sea on the Teheran to find on board
Norendronath Sen, whom I had seen at Adyar, still more to hear from him that while I was
in the presence of the cabinet a "sign" had been given of which I took no
notice. The young men had told him that when I entered the room a bell rang in a place
where there was no bell. I remarked only that it was unaccountable that my attention
should not have been called to it at the time. This Mr. Sen, of the "Indian
Mirror," was a relative of the Brahmo leader, Keshub Chunder Sen. That he did not
have perfect faith in the Theosophic miracles was evident to me from the fact of his
expressing regret that the movement should be permitted to be anything more than an
ethical and religious reformation. He rather complained of myself and others who were
interested only in the "signs and wonders," being thus the means of preventing
Theosophy from developing into the great Reformed Religion of India. He was an intelligent
man, and I received from him a clear idea of the causes which had given so-called
Theosophy its success. While Madame Blavatsky had, in my opinion, no real interest in the
moral and religious "regeneration" of India, and would I think have sympathized
with my own dislike of the Christianizing propaganda, these scholarly Hindus were dreaming
of an ideal religion built out of their own history and literature. And it was an event
whose importance we western people can hardly comprehend when there appeared from America
this company of people who had abandoned every form of Christianity, taken up their abode
in India to lead in the work of at once rehabilitating and revising these ancient systems,
and pointed Hindus and Buddhists to their own scriptures and prophets as fountains of
faith and hope. They naturally gained a hold on the hearts of these people, and in a few
years moved and attracted them more than did the Christian missionaries in as many
I have spoken of Dr. Hartmann of Colorado. In Colombo the chief priest Sumangala told
me he had received from "Colonel" Olcott of New York a request for
"permission" to administer pansala to Dr. Hartmann, and had granted it. Pansala
means the five precepts of Buddhism, and their administration to any individual means his
initiation into the higher grade of Buddhism. This ceremony had been performed in Madras
by "Colonel" Olcott. In the midst of a circle of devout oriental people stood
these two Americans. The one repeated, the other responded to, the ancient and solemn
formula, "I take refuge in Buddha! I take refuge in religion! I take refuge in
truth!" Before the assembly Dr. Hartmann pledged his honour to observe the five
precepts, - to abstain from theft; to abstain from lying; to abstain from taking life; to
abstain from intoxicating drinks; to abstain from adultery. The spectacle, two Americans
abandoning Christianity and adopting an oriental religion, touched the Hindu imagination.
It was unique, even among the anomalies of theological history.
But Mme. Blavatsky was not a woman of imagination, she was a woman of the world. It is
said that she ran away from her Russian home in girlhood to travel with a circus, and she
appeared to me as an actress trained by many adventures to a morbid desire to sway men.
Without beauty, she made the most of her wit, and had managed to get a few able men to
commit themselves to her magical pretensions. Possibly she possessed some of the power now
called "hypnotic." When I met Mrs. Anne Besant, whom I had so long known as a
freethinker, after her conversion to Theosophy, I told her what Mme. Blavatsky had said to
me about its being all "glamour." Mrs. Besant said that "glamour"
implied a good deal; to make one see a person in ones room, even if there was no
person there, was a marvellous power. But she thought I must have been mistaken in
thinking madame had added "that is the whole of it."
Mme. Blavatskys fault as a thaumaturgist was too great eagerness to capture
distinguished people. I was told at Bombay that she had to give up her residence there by
the exposure of her effort to deceive the prince (now Edward VII), and a daring attempt at
fraud in 1882 no doubt led to her leaving Calcutta. About this latter affair I was able to
ascertain the facts.
I had brought a letter of introduction from a leading barrister in London, Charles C.
Macrae, to an eminent English official in Calcutta, Commissioner Broughton, who with his
wife, a lady distinguished in society, were persons whom Mme. Blavatsky naturally desired
to have in her train. Mr. Broughton told me the story of the collusion between Mme.
Blavatsky and Mr. Eglinton (a London "medium," who had been holding seances in
Calcutta) to impose on his wife and himself. The facts were subsequently written for me in
detail by him and are curious enough to be placed on record in the Blavatsky annals.
3 Outram St., Calcutta.
My Dear Sir, - I am happy to tell you all I know about the letter said to have been
brought from the Vega, and as some of the passengers are now here I showed your letter to
them, and enclose their respective accounts. My wife is in Europe, and may write to you
herself. I have sent these letters to her, with your own. With regard to my own knowledge
of the transaction, I was in Calcutta, and a friend was staying with me, - Mr. H.
Blanford, a Fellow the Royal Society and head of the Meteorological Department, a
practical man, not I think disposed to judge wrongly one way or the other. We both know
Mrs. Gordon, the lady to whom Mr. Eglinton wrote, or says he wrote, from the Vega while at
sea, and I am on friendly terms with her, as is Mr. Blanford, to the best of my belief.
She called at my house a day or two after the Vega had left Colombo, and produced a
letter, an envelope, and two or three cards. The letter was from Mr. Eglinton; it was not
in the envelope, but was attached to it by a string in the corner, which was also passed
through the corners of the cards. These cards had writing upon them, which we were told
was the writing of Mme. Blavatsky, then at Poona; the writing on the cards referred to the
contents of the letter. The envelope had three crosses upon it in the positions I have indicated. Mrs. Gordon stated that
these letters had been brought to her the day before by what are called "astral"
means, having been conveyed from the Vega - then on the way from Colombo to Aden - first
to Poona, and then from Poona to her residence in Hourah, a suburb of Calcutta. I have not
the slightest doubt that Mrs. Gordon firmly believed this, and I am under the impression
that she believes it still, but I have not had the pleasure of meeting her for some time.
Mr. Blanford and I, however, ventured to ask a few gentlemen as to the circumstances under
which the letters made their appearance at Hourah, and the replies led us to form an
opinion that the lady might have been imposed upon.
The circumstances, which were, I believe, considered to amount to strong proof in
favour of the "astral" theory, were published in a paper called the
"Psychic Notes," which for a short period in that year had been published, I
think weekly, in Calcutta.
I wrote to my wife, and sent this account, substantially as I have now stated it, to
her; and she replied that Mr. Eglinton had brought a letter to her to be marked, that it
had a cross upon it, that she was asked to mark another or others, and that she did so,
crossing the first cross in this manner.
I will add that when my wife left Calcutta I accompanied her, with some other passengers,
in a steam launch, and she embarked on board the Vega at Diamond Harbour or thereabouts,
some hours run from Calcutta. I was the bearer of a letter to Mr. Eglinton. It was
given to me for him by Mrs. Gordon, I think, but I wont be positive, and of course I
do not know by whom it was written. I gave it to Mr. Eglinton, who was playing a rubber in
the smoking-room when we arrived at the ship. I took leave of him, and have never seen him
since. I had known Mr. Eglinton; he was in the habit, when in Calcutta, of giving
exhibitions of his powers at private houses for a fee. He generally dined at the house,
and the company afterwards adjourned to a darkened room, where musical boxes played and
tambourines were thumped by, as it was said, mysterious agencies. He came to our house in
this way, but nothing occurred. I think he considered it a failure.
Mr. Sinnett we do not know.
I am, yours faithfully,
L. P. DELVES BROUGHTON.
Mrs. Broughton says in her letter (October 24, 1885):
"When Mr. Eglinton brought me the envelope it had one cross upon it, and I said in
a vague way, Let me see, how shall I mark it? whereupon Mr Eglinton promptly
proposed I should make a second + + so, which
naturally decided me not to do so, and no doubt in this consisted the bad
behavior Mr. Sinnett spoke to you of. As Mr. Eglinton found occasion to open the
envelope I had marked, it seems singular he should not have found it worth while to tell
me he had done so. He made an unfortunate mistake in referring the matter to me at all, as
he did not find me the pliable being he expected!"
Mrs. Broughton was travelling to London with friends, - Mr. and Mrs. W. K. Eddis and
Mr. A. Wilson. Letters from these gentlemen were enclosed to me by the Broughtons. They
were elicited by my report to them of an explanation sent me by my friend Mrs. Caroline
Gordon, a devout Spiritualist, who before her husband (an officer) was transferred to
Calcutta attended my chapel in London. She had learned from Mr. Eglinton that after the
envelope was marked by Mrs. Broughton, he concluded to enclose a note to Mme. Blavatsky in
it, and put the contents into a new envelope; but it was late (why the haste?) and he
could not find Mrs. Broughton, so he marked the envelope himself! Of all this, however,
not a word was heard from Eglinton during the rest of the voyage, - not even when he was
held up to ridicule on the Vega, where a letter was brought on board at Gravesend from Mr.
Broughton saying that the envelope had three crosses; for the matter had been the talk of
all the passengers. That Eglinton had not in any mark imitated Mrs. Broughtons
asterisk Mrs. Gordon (sincere as she was credulous) ascribed to his strange ignorance of
test-conditions. Eglinton was no idiot. Like Mme. Blavatsky he was an actor, and I was
told that in Calcutta they affected contempt of each others pretensions.
"My wife," writes Mr. Eddis, "was sitting by Mrs. Broughton when
Eglinton read to her the letter he was going to send by astral means. Both noticed at the
time that there was not one word in the letter which might not have been written in
Calcutta before the steamer started, - not a single allusion to anything which had
occurred since we left Colombo, which would have put suspicion out of the question."
These ladies were too witty to point out to the Spiritualist this defect in his letter,
and allowed him to go on digging the pit into which he and Mme. Blavatsky fell.
One evening at a dinner company at the Salisbury Hotel, London, where Mr. Sinnett was
present, I asked him how he could explain that Blavatsky-Broughton incident. He answered,
"It is a long story, but I can say this much: Mrs. Broughton behaved very
One day when I was at the house of General Pitt Rivers in London "Colonel"
Olcott called. The Hon. Mrs. Pitt Rivers, one of whose sons had been a believer in
Theosophy, repeated the story of the attempted fraud on the Broughtons and asked him to
explain it. "Colonel" Olcott answered, "Your question implies the
possibility of a collusion between the Theosophists of India and Mr. Eglinton, and before
such a suggestion I am dumb." It was the best - indeed, the only - reply that could
be made, and Mrs. Pitt Rivers tried in vain to get any other. But the evasions of Sinnett
and Olcott prove the truth of what Mme. Blavatsky said in a letter to Mme. Coulomb, when
the latter resolved to expose her tricks, "God himself cannot take out of my hand
those who believe in me."
That Mme. Blavatsky without beauty or wealth should be able to bind men to her proves
that she possessed some of those "occult" qualities in which Lord Bacon finds
the secret of success. I do not believe that she was characteristically crafty or shrewd.
Although she had exhibited art in her confession to me, she afterwards made a blunder
about it by getting a premature explanation printed in England. I had not reported or used
what she said, but only had it under consideration when I saw it stated in some paper, on
her authority, that the answer she gave me was what she was directed by her
"Guru" to give! She was imprudent also in allowing some of the earlier
signatures of the chief Mahatma, as "Kotthume," to remain in circulation after
the change to "Koothoomi." One of her young disciples, Mohini, exhibited a sort
of book-mark ("Kotthume") once given him by Mme. Blavatsky in a company at my
house in Bedford Park, London, and unwittingly confirmed the belief that the name was made
up of Olcott-Hume; the change to "Koothoomi" having been made as a better
disguise of the combination. (Sir William Hunter told me in Calcutta that in either form
the name is outside all analogies of any language ever known in India.)
I repeat my conviction that Mme. Blavatskys impostures were not for the purpose
of getting money. At times she lavished all the money she had on some scheme to amaze a
distinguished person or secure an influential follower.
The silent woman at the Adyar table was Mme. Coulomb, who soon after made the fatal
revelations concerning Mme. Blavatskys tricks. The French woman, I am now certain,
was resolved that if any attempt to impose on me were made she would warn me. She had
already ceased to be an assistant, and it is possible that Mme. Blavatskys
explanation to me, that her mysterious familiars had just forbidden further correspondence
through the miraculous cabinet, was due to Mme. Coulombs withdrawal of her
connivance. The awful conflict was even then going on in secret, and I did not suspect the
extent of Mme. Blavatskys histrionic powers until the publication of her letters to
her penitent accomplice revealed that during all that time when she was so serenely
presiding at her table, and conversing with me so merrily, she was just over a rumbling
volcano threatening every instant to burst out with ruin to her whole empire in India.
However, it is more probable that Mme. Blavatsky would not in any case have attempted to
convert me; she must have heard from her London friends that I was so exacting in
evidence, about all such wonders, as to be a hopeless case. What she really wished was, I
think, to forestall the ugly reports about her that I was likely to hear in Calcutta and
Bombay, and by her personal cordiality and hospitalities to me induce me to talk of her in
a friendly way among our mutual friends in London. I was indeed in a tolerant spirit
towards Spiritualism, having found so many excellent people who were made happy by it, and
I regarded Theosophy as simply Spiritualism in a fez.
The letters written by Mme. Blavatsky to Mme. Coulomb to persuade her or to threaten
her silence are numerous and unquestionably genuine. The French woman could no more have
written anything in them than she could have written Brownings "Mr. Sludge,
the Medium," and, moreover, the originals were opened to public
inspection in a community where Mme. Blavatskys peculiar handwriting was well known.
It is due, I think, Mme. Coulombs inability to have them printed anywhere except in
an obscure Madras magazine, that the strange situation revealed in the correspondence has
not attracted the attention of some novelist or playwright. Every sentence in the
Blavatsky letters is born of a life-and-death struggle. Her alternate wrath and soft
persuasiveness, her audacity and her ingenuity, reveal wonderful powers, and remind me of
the ablest subtlety and invective I have ever heard at the bar.
I received from Mme. Coulomb in London a long and piteous letter showing that the
publication which ended Mme. Blavatskys thaumaturgy in India had a terrible recoil
on herself. The disclosure she made was certainly conscientious. She had met Mme.
Blavatsky in Cairo, I think, and being a Catholic was easily persuaded that the Theosophic
miracles were genuine. She and her husband invested all the money they possessed, - a
considerable sum, - and after they discovered that some things requested of them were of
doubtful honesty, the two French people had no means at all of recovering their money or
of living except by receiving support at the Theosophic headquarters. Mme. Coulomb was a
believer in supernaturalism; she naively says that she did not mind very much the
deceptions worked on Hindus because they already believed such miracles, but when the
frauds began to impose on English people she could not stand it. (1) The situation was thus really unique. In order to reveal
the whole thing and publish all the letters that Mme. Blavatsky had written to her, poor
Mme. Coulomb had to confess that she had been an accomplice, and also lose all the money
that she and her husband had invested in the concern. She was thus a sort of martyr. She
was reduced to pauperism, for I do not believe that the missionary magazine which
published the letters paid her even a pittance for them; and what became of her I know
On our way from Madras to Calcutta a Sunday morning was occupied by Mr. Muller of
Bristol, who had gained celebrity by carrying on a sort of religious hospital there which
he claimed was supported by prayer alone. Miss Mary Carpenter and Miss Frances Power Cobbe
had discovered the imposture of that claim, which indeed all intelligent people well knew,
the scandal being that so many subscribers lent themselves to the pious fraud. Muller,
whom I had some curiosity to see, preached the most repulsive sermon that I ever heard.
His theme was the blessing of those whose "sin is covered" (Ps. xxxii, 1), and
he asserted that if a man or woman were only believers in the blood of Christ, the
Almighty did not see their sins at all. Whatever crimes or villainies they had done, they
were entirely hidden under the name of Christ, and the all-seeing eye would never look
beyond that covering. After this sermon I was conversing on deck with a number of educated
Hindu gentlemen who were astounded that any preacher could talk in that way. There were
three or four of these educated Hindus, and they were unanimous in the opinion that if any
such doctrine as that were really to get into the mind and heart of any large number of
Hindus, the amount of crime that would ensue would be unimaginable. I told them that the
fruits of such preaching were already visible in England, but that fortunately very few
preachers could be found even in the most ignorant conventicles to believe such stuff, and
that the masses of English and American people got their morals mainly from the law
To those who like myself desire to preserve and continue all the varieties of religion
in their own structural development, it is a satisfaction to realize the extent to which
the literalism of missionaries prevents their doing much real harm.
(1) In her letter to me Mme. Coulomb bitterly complains of a
gentleman who repaid her effort to save him from a deception by assisting in her ruin.
" I do not think that ever since the world began there has been an impostor
like Madame Blavatsky. I am not ashamed to be called a Theosophist, and would I were
able to devote my time to it, but what I would like very much would be to tear out of my
life the page that concerns my life with Madame Blavatsky."