Published by The Blavatsky Archives Online. Online Edition copyright 2000.
Mr. Sinnett's Circular
By Richard Hodgson
[Reprinted from the Journal of the Society for Psychical Research
(London), November 1885, pp. 109-112.]
This online edition is reprinted with permission
of the Society for Psychical Research, London.
To the Editor of the JOURNAL OF THE SOCIETY FOR PSYCHICAL RESEARCH.
Dear Sir, --- My attention has been drawn to a leaflet entitled The Society for Psychical Research and Madame Blavatsky, which appears to have been sent to many Members and Associates of our Society. It consists of a letter addressed by Mr. A. P. Sinnett to Light, and reprinted under the authority of the Council of the London Lodge of the Theosophical Society.
Mr. Sinnett complains in this letter of the great delay in the publication of my Report concerning the alleged marvellous phenomena in connection with the Theosophical Society. No one is chargeable for this delay but myself, and I do not blame Mr. Sinnett for having considered it a just cause of grievance. The Report might have been ready in August had it not been that many documents in connection with the subject were forwarded to me by Mr. Hume, and these documents required a careful examination. The delay is chiefly due to my examination of these documents, and especially of a large mass of K. H. MSS., which they included. But while I regret this delay, which I could not foresee at the end of June, as the documents in question had not then reached me, I am unable to see that the general charges brought against Madame Blavatsky were not adequately supported by the statements made at our meetings. It is true that it was impossible for me then to go into detail concerning every single phenomenon which I investigated in India; and if Mr. Sinnett had merely complained that I had expressed my opinion concerning the phenomena in their entirety, whereas I had shown only that the most important of them were fraudulently produced, I should have had nothing more to say beyond the expression of my regret for the delay in the production of the full Report, and the explanation of it which I have given.
But Mr .Sinnett seems to forget that the main burden of the indictment against Madame Blavatsky was laid and supported at our first meeting, at which Mr. Sinnett himself was not present. One of the principal charges against Madame Blavatsky had been brought against her by the authorities of the Madras Christian College Magazine, who published in September, 1884, portions of a series of letters which, if genuine, distinctly proved that Madame Blavatsky had engaged in a conspiracy, which had extended over several years, for the production of spurious marvels. The editor of the Christian College Magazine, before publishing these letters, had obtained the best evidence procurable at Madras as to the genuineness of their handwriting, and the various gentlemen to whom the letters were submitted were unanimously of opinion that Madame Blavatsky had written them. Mr. J. D. B. Gribble, of Madras, wrote a pamphlet on the subject, giving his reasons for coming to the same conclusion. Mr. F. G. Netherclift, the chief caligraphic expert in England, had examined a large number of these letters and had expressed his unqualified conclusion that they were unquestionably written by Madame Blavatsky. Mr. Sims, of the British Museum, expressed the same conclusion. The members of our committee, including myself, were also of the same opinion concerning them. At our meetings I gave accounts of various phenomena as described to me by the witnesses, and showed that there was clear evidence that these phenomena were fraudulently produced, and that abundant circumstantial evidence had been supplied by Theosophists themselves which corroborated the opinion of experts as to the authorship of the Blavatsky-Coulomb letters. Especially I went into considerable detail concerning the Shrine, and showed that it was manifest from the statements of Theosophists that the Shrine was fixed at the very spot on the wall most convenient for fraudulent purposes, that it had a sliding panel at the back, and that there had been a hole in the wall behind the panel, which communicated with Madame Blavatskys bedroom. Yet Mr. Sinnett writes: ---
A series of charges imputing misconduct of the blackest dye to Madame Blavatsky have been made public on the assumption that they would ultimately be supported by certain testimony. But after more than three months this testimony still remains unpublished.
Mr. Sinnett regards the evidence which I collected in India, as far as this was foreshadowed by my speech, as worthless; with this I in a certain sense agree, and it will be remembered that I gave instances at our meetings of the absolute unreliability of some of the native witnesses whose evidence I quoted. But if Mr. Sinnett thinks that the cumulative testimony which shows that the Blavatsky-Coulomb letters are genuine, and that the Shrine was, to use Mr. Sinnetts words, a conjurers box, is to be regarded as worthless, it is difficult to see what sort of testimony he would regard as having any value. Mr. Sinnett himself has, in more than one instance, relied on evidence supplied by apparent identity of handwriting. The whole point of the Jhelum telegram incident recorded by him in The Occult World, turned upon the opinion --- of Mr. Sinnett? --- that the writing of a certain telegram was in the K. H. hand; and he has laid stress upon the fact that he has received almost immediate K. H. communications in supposed reply to his letters when Madame Blavatsky was at the other side of India, --- where again the whole force of the incident must rest upon the fact that Mr. Sinnett recognised the writing as being in the K. H. hand.
I may take this opportunity of removing one or two misapprehensions which Mr. Sinnett has shown in his letter. He appears to think that I ought to have allowed Madame Blavatsky to see the original letters alleged to be hers, and he says that he cannot reconcile my neglect in this matter with my assurance that I conducted my inquiry with an open mind. Now in the first place I had no authority to show these letters to Madame Blavatsky, and Madame Blavatsky well knew that I had none. She frequently asked me whether I had seen the letters myself, and she knew that a considerable time had elapsed before I had an opportunity of doing so, in consequence of the absence from Madras of the Editor of the Christian College Magazine; and when I was first enabled to inspect them, I spoke to her of certain restrictions which were placed --- I think quite rightly --- upon my use of them. Several of them I had in my own possession for a day or two only, for my own examination. The remaining ones I examined in the house of a gentleman in whose custody they were at the time, and two groups of them were eventually entrusted to me for the specific purpose of being sent to England for the judgment of the best caligraphic experts obtainable here (a fact of which I did not think it necessary to inform Madame Blavatsky), under the particular condition that they should be returned as soon as possible; and they were actually sent back to India before my arrival in England. Those which I had in my own possession for a short time I was requested not to take on my own responsibility to the headquarters of the Theosophical Society, the Editor of the Christian College Magazine being naturally apprehensive that Madame Blavatsky might seize an opportunity of tampering with them.(1) In the second place, Madame Blavatsky had explicitly pronounced certain portions of them to be forgeries, when they were first published, and I should be surprised to learn that she had ever expressed any wish to see the originals while I was at Madras. Had she done so, I have no doubt that some arrangement would have been made according to which she would have had the liberty of inspecting them in the presence of witnesses. That I do not say this unadvisedly is sufficiently shown by the fact that some of the disputed letters were taken to the headquarters of the Society and shown to Theosophists, in September, 1884, in consequence of a request by Major-General Morgan to see the letter in which he was concerned. The editor of the Christian College Magazine writes in the number for April, 1885: ---
We took with us to headquarters four of the disputed letters, and freely allowed all present to examine them. In return we asked to be permitted to see some of Madame Blavatskys recent letters to Dr. Hartmann, Damodar, or any one at headquarters. This request was complied with only to the extent of showing us a portion of a letter written from Paris. No THEOSOPHIST HAS EVER ASKED TO SEE ANY OTHER LETTER, or his request would have been, under proper precautions, at once complied with.
Further, Mr. Sinnett speaks of my inquiries concerning the letters as carried on behind Madame Blavatskys back. This I am quite at a loss to understand. It was perfectly well known at the headquarters of the Society that I was taking the evidence of witnesses, that I had interviews with the authorities of the Christian College Magazine, and also with the Coulombs; that I was investigating all the circumstances in connection with every phenomenon so far as it was possible for me to do so. Mr. Sinnett must have been strangely misinformed about the facts of the case, and his misapprehension has already been once pointed out. In a letter to the Journal for July, he spoke of my evidence as collected in secret (p. 462), and Professor Sidgwick directed his attention to the fact that we took care to make it known to all concerned that Mr. Hodgson had gone to India to collect this evidence on behalf of our Society, and that his unfavourable view of the evidence was communicated to the leading Theosophists at Madras before his departure from India (p. 464). Yet, notwithstanding this explicit statement made by Professor Sidgwick, Mr. Sinnett apparently repeats the charge. If he will turn to p. 16 of the Official Report of the Theosophical Society for 1885, he will find that Colonel Olcott made the following statement before the Convention, shortly after my arrival. Speaking of the officers of our Society, he said: ---
As an evidence of their sincere wish to learn the exact value of our Theosophical pretensions, they have sent a Special Commissioner to India to take evidence upon the spot.
Another statement in Mr. Sinnetts letter seems deserving of notice here, as he made an allusion of a somewhat similar character at our meeting in June. He speaks of my unfamiliarity with India and Indian ways as having led me into many serious mistakes. Of course I do not claim the familiarity with India which Mr. Sinnett possesses, but I do not see how this fact can affect my investigation in the way Mr. Sinnett seems to suppose. He may, indeed, mean that I ought not to have been surprised to find that certain chelas told me deliberate falsehoods, and that had I been more familiar with the Indian ways I should have known that such falsehoods were the natural outcome of Occultism. This I am not concerned to dispute; but if he means that my unfamiliarity with India and Indian ways rendered me incapable of taking down evidence correctly, of comparing documents and drawing reasonable inferences, of examining envelopes which had been surreptitiously opened, of carefully exploring the interstices of ceilings and other localities where marvellous phenomena were alleged to have occurred, I must simply join issue with him. It was, at any rate, not unfamiliarity with Indian ways that led the Parsee gentleman, Mr. K. M. Seervai, formerly Vice-President of the Theosophical Society at Bombay, to give up all connection with the Society, or that led Mr. S. K. Chatterjee, formerly President of the Lahore Branch, to declare that the Society was a huge imposture, or that led Mr. A. O. Hume, long before the exposures of the Coulombs, to the opinion that some of the chelas were morally untrustworthy --- that the Shrine was a conjurers box --- and that many other of Madame Blavatskys phenomena were fraudulently produced, or that led Pundit Dayanund Saraswati, the President of the Arya Somaj of India, to inform the public, in 1882, that neither Colonel Olcott nor Madame Blavatsky knows anything of Yog Vidya (occult science) as practised by the Yogis of old, and that for them to say that they perform their phenomena without apparatus, without any secret pre-arrangement, and solely through the forces existing in nature (electricity), and by what they call their will-power, is to tell a lie.
It is to be hoped that Mr. Sinnetts eagerness in the cause he represents will not prevent his taking due steps to ascertain the actual facts of any other case to which he may refer; as I have no doubt that Mr. Sinnett would hardly have impugned the impartiality of my investigation on the ground that I did not show Madame Blavatsky the original letters alleged to be hers, if he had been aware that it was not in my power to do so, and that Madame Blavatsky might have seen them had she requested permission from the persons whom she knew to be the custodians. There has in truth been blundering all along the line, as Mr. Sinnett says, and I for one have been sorry enough to think that the blundering is so greatly chargeable to the enthusiastic carelessness of Mr. Sinnett, and his confidence in Madame Blavatsky. --- Yours sincerely,
October 31st, 1885.
(1) I was allowed only a similar degree of liberty with certain documents which I obtained from Theosophists.