To speak of becoming a Theosophist, seems to imply a passing from one condition
to another, whereas to a child fortunate enough to have been brought up in a Unitarian
environment, there was no violent change, but only a taking on of knowledge, and a
widening of the windows of the soul. My father never spoke to us of religion, but I am
sure that he was what in his own day would have been called "a free-thinker,"
and that his influence upon my mother was always in the direction of breadth and freedom.
Her father was one of the old-school rigidly conservative Unitarians, and I can remember
what a different atmosphere pervaded his house on Sundays, from what we had been
accustomed to in England.
The first impression of a religious nature that I remember, a few years
before we left England, was when my mother tried to explain the omnipresence of God and
the divinity of Christ on a Unitarian basis. I was then about seven years old, and the
result of her efforts I well remember was to make me exclaim, "Well, then, if Christ
is divine, there are two Gods, and if God is everywhere there is only room for one!"
Afterwards I went away and meditated, in a childs fashion, upon this hard saying,
and finally came to the conclusion that there was only one God, and that Jesus
was our Elder Brother, a phrase I had probably picked up in some book, for my reading in
those days was very extensive and exceedingly varied. I had recently read about "the
Crusade of the Children," and I made up my mind that as soon as I was a little older
--- seven seeming even to the childs mind somewhat too young for such an undertaking
--- I would get up a crusade of children to go about the world and preach a new religion,
which should declare that there was but one God, our Father in Heaven, and that Jesus
Christ was not another God but only our Elder Brother. Having settled this to my own
satisfaction, I said nothing more on the subject, and my dear mother probably felt that
she had explained the knotty question of the Divinity of Christ and the omnipresence of
God in a manner perfectly satisfactory to her juvenile hearers.
Not very long after this, I got hold of Marryats novels, and in one
of them (I think Midshipman Easy, but I have never seen the books since), I came
upon a boatswain who believed in re-incarnation, not in the theosophic sense exactly, but
rather in the repetition of events and characters in regular cycles. It had a curious
effect upon my mind, which seemed to be struggling with something known before and known
better, like the twisted fabric of a dream that one cannot rightly recall.
Then came, long afterwards, of course, when I was about fourteen, the
teachings of the Rev. Samuel Longfellow, a brother of the poet. Of him it was said that
while Henry Longfellow was made a poet, Samuel was born one, and also it was said
that he was good enough to be a saint and interesting enough to be a sinner. He was
certainly a mystic, and his teachings were like those of all the mystics, --- but another
term for Theology. He preached to the Second Unitarian Church in Brooklyn for seven years,
and then went to Germantown, after his brother Henrys death, retiring to live with
his nieces in the old "Craigie House" in Cambridge. After this, through the
influence of some of my literary friends, I became very much interested in Positivism, and
the talks given by the Crolys and many others. Their foundation-stone, the creed that man
had no rights, only duties, had a certain chilly grandeur about it, but the worship of an
abstraction, called "Humanity," was not at all satisfactory to the religious
sense, and even the severe and lofty ethical system of Positivism seemed lacking in food
for the soul. I was sure I was not a Positivist, but that was all I was sure of.
On my first return from Italy in 1884, I came across Mr. Sinnetts Esoteric
Buddhism, which was just then making a tremendous sensation, and like many another
Theosophist took my first lessons in the "Wisdom Religion" from that fascinating
book. Four winters spent in Italy, studying Dante and the mysticism of the middle ages
helped me very much, as at the same time I was studying all the theosophical books that
were then published. Mr. and Mrs. Sinnett very kindly sent me lists of books, and long and
helpful letters, but after the "first fine careless rapture" drawn from Esoteric
Buddhism, I began to feel that too many of its symbols and allegories were taken as
solid realities and matters of fact, and when I visited H. P. B. in May, 1888, en
route to New York, I was glad to find that she sustained my objections.
That was twenty-one year ago, and it is harder sometimes to recall things
of that date, than even our childish impressions, I suppose because the former come in
crowds, and childhoods memories, strong enough to persist at all, are few and far
between. My ideas of H. P. B. before I met her, were of the haziest description, and by no
means worthy of her. On arriving in London, I went to an afternoon tea at the
Sinnetts, and there met Countess Wachtmeister, who was then living with H. P. B.,
and she asked me to come and see her.
I arrived in the midst of a domestic tempest. H. P. B., in a gorgeous
Oriental dressing-gown and a royal gaze, had been interrupted in her work with Dr.
Keightley, I think (possibly Mr. Bertram Keightley), because the Countess smelt gas, and
had insisted that the only available man should go down into the cellar and see about it,
to the great disgust of H. P. B. The Countess took the blows of the winged words most
meekly, and it was somehow conveyed to my moral consciousness, without a syllable being
said on the subject, that such tempests were part of the training of the disciples who
surrounded their great leader. After that I spent two or three evenings with Mme.
Blavatsky, who smoked cigarettes and played solitaire, all the while she led the
conversation. And she impressed me above all, as a great Power, and behind the
clumsy figure in the Oriental robe, there seemed to be agencies unseen, that worked her
will. Her eyes were the most piercing I ever saw, and appeared not only to meet your own,
but to see through and behind your bodily presence. She advised me to settle neither in
Rome nor London, but to return to New York. "You could not do better," she said
in her emphatic way, "than to go back to New York, and study with W. Q. Judge. He is
a good man." Never shall I forget the stress she laid upon those words, as
if to answer the attacks she doubtless foresaw.
Later in the spring of the same year I met Mr. Judge, who came to see me
in Brooklyn, and of that visit I can remember little or nothing. I did not appreciate him
quickly. Seeing him at first in my own home, and not in his proper environment, some
little time elapsed before I learned to recognize, under that quiet and rather
insignificant exterior, the wisdom, the practical common sense, the humor and the
independence of the man. Day by day I learned to know him better, and to trust him more.
In the "Letters That Have Helped Me" (II, p. 116), is an extract from a paper
that I wrote in commemoration of our Chief, which perhaps I may be excused for repeating
here, as explaining another of my reasons for becoming a theosophist.
"To the mystical element in the personality of Mr. Judge was united
the shrewdness of the practical lawyer, the organizing faculty of a great leader, and that
admirable common sense which is so uncommon a thing with enthusiasts. . . . And blended
with the undaunted courage, the keen insight, the endless patience, that made his
personality so powerful, were the warm affections, the ready wit, the almost boyish gaiety
that made it so lovable."
In the autumn I took up my abode in New York, and joined the T. S.
In November the first volume of the Secret Doctrine was published, followed
quickly by the second, and the problems that had found no answer in the earlier books,
were all solved here. Twenty-one years of diligent, but of course not consecutive study
have not exhausted its infinite variety.