Published by The Blavatsky Archives Online. Online Edition copyright 2000.
Mrs. Besant's New Teacher, Madame BlavatskyHer Indian Record.
by Rev. Henry S. Lunn, M.D.
[Reprinted from The Methodist Times (London), August 29, 1889, pp. 841-842.]
The conversion of Mrs. Besant to Theosophy is the most striking event in the history of popular Atheism which has occurred during the present century. Thomas Cooper and other prominent infidels have from time to time found the husks of Atheism unsatisfactory, and have returned to their early faith. But Mrs. Besants close association with Mr. Charles Bradlaugh, her manifest sincerity and earnestness of purpose, and the real sacrifices she has made in the cause of so-called Free Thought, since first she left the quiet country vicarage, and took a vow to be true to Truth through all her life, have given her a position and influence in England equalled by few of her predecessors in the revolt against all religions. It would be interesting to know the real feelings with which the announcement of her conversion was received in the Hall of Science on a recent Sunday. However loudly she may have been cheered, and however strong may be the personal bonds of affection which unite her and her audiences, she has definitely left Atheism for Pantheism, and has travelled a long stage on the return journey to the faith of her childhood. It is, therefore, the more to be regretted that at such a crisis in the history of one who might yet exert so vast an influence for good, her guide, philosopher, and friend should be one the record of whose public life is of such a character as Madame Blavatskys. Mrs. Besants declared adhesion to the Theosophist movement will no doubt attract considerable attention, and possibly increase the number of Madame Blavatskys English disciples. It will therefore be of interest to study the history of this strange movement in India, and the remarkable collapse in its development which occurred a few years ago.
On September 1, 1884, the Theosophical Society was spreading in India in every direction. During the few months previous to that date innumerable branches of the Society had been established in the principal Indian towns. Any one desirous of becoming a Fellow of the Theosophical Society (F.T.S.) could do so by paying a subscription of, I think, ten rupees per annum. The result of this device was that hundreds of the young Hindu graduates, who had previously prided themselves on putting the honourable suffix B.A. or M.A. after their name now preceded these letters with what they deemed the more honourable formula F.T.S. Some of the greatest names in Indian society, native and European, were enrolled amongst the Fellows. Mr. A. O. Hume, late Government Secretary for India; Mr. A. G. Sinnett, editor of one of the leading Anglo-Indian journals; Dewan Bahadur Raghunatha Rao, Premier to the Maharajah Holkar of Indore; Rai Bahadur Anandu Charlu, recently Secretary of the National Congress Committee; and other prominent men became warm supporters of the movement. At this time seemed probable that Madame Blavatsky would take her place amongst the greatest religious reformers of the worlds history, and few would have then ventured to predict that within six months she would be publicly accused of fraud and imposture. Suddenly there fell a bolt from the blue. The Christian College Magazine, at that time edited by Rev. Professor Patterson, in its September number published a series of exposes of Madame Blavatskys conduct of the most complete and crushing character. Professor Pattersons articles were telegraphed all over India; and published by the leading secular papers. This was followed up in October by further startling revelations, which secured a like amount of attention from the Indian public. The great feature of these articles was portions of certain letters purporting to have been written by Madame Blavatsky to a M. and Madame Coulomb, who had occupied positions of trust at the headquarters of the Theosophical Society for some years, but had been expelled from it in May, 1884, by the General Council of that society, during the absence of Madame Blavatsky and Colonel Olcott in Europe. Those letters, if genuine, unquestionably implicated Madame Blavatsky in a conspiracy to produce marvellous phenomena by fraud; and so complete was the evidence of their genuineness adduced by Professor Patterson deemed, that this remarkable movement collapsed as speedily as it had risen, and to-day the number of men in all India willing to sign themselves F.T.S. might almost be counted on the fingers of one hand.
The expose, commenced by Professor Patterson in The Christian College Magazine, has since been completed by the Society for Psychical Research, who sent a representative --- Mr. R. Hodgson, of St. Johns College, Cambridge --- to study the whole case in India, and subsequently published a full account of his investigations. The following particulars, taken from this Report, as published in the Proceedings of the Society for Psychical Research, Part IX., will show better than any words of mine the alleged character of Mrs. Besants new guide. The Report is prefaced by a statement of the committee, who first of all deal with the letters alleged by Madame Blavatsky to be Mahatma, communications from a being named Koot Hoomi. These the committee declare to be undoubtedly written by Madame Blavatsky, and they give the emphatic testimony to this effect of Mr. Netherclift, the well-known expert in handwriting, and of Mr. Sims, of the British Museum. It may be interesting to relate the way in which some of these letters were ingeniously supplied to Madame Blavatskys dupes. In many instances the letters which were supposed to be precipitated by supernatural means in the presence of those for whom they were intended were really dropped from a garret through chinks in the ceiling by Madame Blavatskys accomplice, Madame Coulomb. There were, however, instances referred to triumphantly by Mr. Sinnett in his Occult World (p. 21) when letters passed between Koot Hoomi and ourselves which were not in every case transmitted through Madame Blavatsky. In one case, for example, Mr. Hume, who became president for the first year of the new society, got a note from Koot Hoomi inside a letter received through the post from a person wholly unconnected with our occult pursuits, who was writing to him in connection with some municipal business. Unfortunately for Mr. Sinnetts story, Mr. Hume afterwards discovered that such a letter had been taken from the postman by Babula, a very clever servant of Madame Blavatskys, and formerly a conjurors servant, and carried by him to his mistress, and then returned to the postman with the remark that it was not for Madame, but for Mr. Hume.
The committee proceed to deal with the whole mass of the Blavatsky-Coulomb correspondence, and declare that these letters prove that Madame Blavatsky had been engaged in a long-continued combination with other persons to produce, by ordinary means, a series of apparent marvels for the support of the Theosophic movement. Mr. Hodgson himself shows that from these documents it appears that Mahatma letters were prepared and sent by Madame Blavatsky, that Koot Hoomi is a fictitious personage, that supposed astral forms of the Mahatmas were confederates of Madame Blavatsky in disguise --- generally the Coulombs --- and that alleged transportation of cigarettes and other objects, integration of letters and allied phenomena, were ingenious trickeries, carried out by Madame Blavatsky, with the assistance chiefly of the Coulombs. The committee next deal with Madame Blavatskys so-called Shrine at the Adyar, Madras, through which letters purporting to come from Mahatmas were received, and declares that it was elaborately arranged with a view to the secret insertion of letters and other objects through a sliding panel at the back, and was regularly used by Madame Blavatsky or her agents for this purpose. They sum up the whole evidence by stating that there is a very strong, general presumption that all the marvellous narratives put forward in evidence of the existence and occult power of the Mahatmas are to be explained as due either (a) to deliberate deception, carried out by, or at the instigation of Madame Blavatsky, or (b) to spontaneous illusion or hallucination, or unconscious misrepresentation or invention on the part of the witnesses. They conclude their report with these words: For our own part, we regard her neither as the mouthpiece of hidden seers nor as a mere vulgar adventuress; we think that she has achieved a title to permanent remembrance, as one of the most accomplished, ingenious, and interesting impostors in history.
Did space permit, it would be interesting to recount many of Mr. Hodgsons stories of Madame Blavatskys miracles. The conclusion to which he felt himself forced to arrive is expressed in the following plain and unmistakable terms: As Madame Blavatsky in propria persona she can urge her followers to fraudulent impersonations; under the cloak of Koot Hoomi she can incite her Chelas to dishonourable statements; and as an accomplished forger of other peoples handwriting she can strive to save herself by blackening the reputation of her enemies.
Such, in very brief outline, is the terrible indictment against Mr. Besants new teacher, Madame Blavatsky, which has been on record for nearly four years, and has, so far as we have been able to ascertain, never been satisfactorily answered. Those who believe in the sincerity of Mrs. Besants quest of Truth, and they are many, will earnestly hope that ere accepting her present position as a final and satisfactory resting-place she will thoroughly investigate, and, if possible, disprove, charges of so grave a nature which have been brought against her present Mentor. Failing in this disproof, let us hope that the quest may be again resumed, and terminate at the feet of Him who said, I am the Way, the Truth, and the Life.
[See Annie Besant's reply to Rev. Lunn's article.---BAO editor.]