Published by Blavatsky Study Center. Online Edition copyright 2004.

Madam Blavatsky
Her Opinions and Her Book

by Elizabeth L. Saxon

[First published in The Daily Picayune
(New Orleans, Louisiana) November 4, 1877, p. 12.]

Dear Pic. -- Previous to my late visit North, a mutual friend had given me a letter to the Russian Countess, Madame H. P. Blavatsky, whose queer ideas and freely expressed opinions on spiritualism and other matters, had made her a target, and the missels fired were of all sorts, ranging from Indian arrows with poison tips to the sling and stone of petty malice, as well as good round shot, for force and logic, on the part of some of her opponents. But the Madam had held such even combat, and her ever ready pen had so stoutly defended her Russian compatriots in the daily papers of New York, that when I went to see her the balances stood pretty even, for and against.

Some parties had essayed the task of ridicule, and represented her as a sort of monster in size, as well as character and action. Of all things, I like what are called "odd or curious people." I know at once they are not cut on the "Miss Nancy or Simple Thomas pattern," and there is a chance of finding something original in the individual so marked, and you don’t run the risk of finding them sewed up on all subjects but the weather.

I was invited into the famous "den," with its blue glass windows, described by so many New York reporters, never before, I think, by a woman. Her factotum Lucy was so like our New Orleans Lucys that a single impulsive exclamation on my part caused Lucy to become my friend at once, and ever after she desired to give me a cup of tea when I entered that hospitable abode.

I sat down in the square room to await the lady, feeling a strange sense of a foreign atmosphere, under the unbroken rays of deep blue glass, giving a shadowy moonlight mellowness to things seen from the outside, and a strange, Oriental appearance to the singular collection within.

In the four corners of the room was a long narrow mirror in a dark frame, crowned with palms. The three large windows were hung with heavily fringed blue drapery, under which a canary hung and sung in each. Over one door grinned a huge tiger’s head, over another a crocodile was suspended, an asp was clinging to the wall above, and around were pictures of Russian, Japanese and Indian friends, as well as many English and American savans and literati.

In one corner was a stuffed monkey wearing a saintly collar and snowy cravat, paper under arm and glasses astride the nose, that I heard her soon afterwards call by a professors name, in a jocular manner. On the mantel was a gilded image of Budka, seated on a figure of the globe, holding in his hand a flask. On a stand near, a bronze of some oriental workmanship, and a table loaded with crayons, pictures and papers. Two cases of shelves filled with books, a huge desk loaded with papers, and three or four large lounging chairs filled up the room.

From an adjoining room M’me B------ entered, holding my letter in her hand. It was from one she respected and admired and sufficiently cordial to insure me a very friendly welcome. M’me B------ is not in appearance over forty-five if that; she is stout, weighing about one hundred and eighty, has wavy brown hair, that she combs plainly back without puffs or braids, and she is evidently a woman well accustomed to all the amenities of refined society, however much she seems disposed to throw aside many of its useless conventionalities.

She speaks English with a strong foreign accent, has a gay, melodious laugh, and certainly the prettiest hands one could wish to see, snowy white and dimpled, the taper fingers bright with diamonds, and terminated by long sharp pointed nails, as worn by the Japanese.

Like all Russians she is a great smoker; she uses many cigarettes, and invariably tenders each guest one of the little rolls in the most graceful manner; and not unfrequently a cup of delicious tea is also shared with her guests in an equally unceremonious way. I am free to confess I would not refuse the pipe of peace, offered in solemn conclave by an Indian brave; or the "bread and salt" of an Arab shiek. The cigarette of the Russian lady was accepted in the same spirit. What I did with it "this deponent sayeth not." We entered into an amicable discourse of the views held by our mutual friend. This led us on, and we were soon deep in discussion.

She holds stoutly to the belief that much of what is called modern spiritualism is of human origin, and will so eventually be understood. That is, that the unseen living "Astral spirit" performs much of it, while both medium and investigator are ignorant of the fact.

"But, Madam," I exclaimed, "there are some facts that have come under my own observation, that I cannot reconcile with this belief."

"Tell me one," she said, folding her pretty hands, and settling comfortably back to listen to another "lunatic’s" story.

"Well," I replied, "without going over a long list of investigations that I have made for years, I will cite one that occurred last week, two days before I left Boston. I sat in company with a man, seen for the first time; he claimed to be a medium for slate writing, similar to Slade. A very sensible gentleman had urged me to see him. I first washed his two slates carefully with soap and water. I sat with him for a few seconds, asking him some questions. He said: "Write some names on a slip of paper." I wrote the names and folded them, as in Foster’s case. He bade me take one of them in my hand; he told me the name very soon. I took up another, and when he hesitated he laid his hand on my forehead and soon gave the correct name. Now I can lay a letter on my forehead and tell six out of ten times the character of the letter and the mental state of the writer, often more. His faculties in this direction are far more acute, so in the same way he caught the name; still that will not explain the following fact: He put a grain of pencil about the size of a rice grain on the slate and closed it. "See here: you can get this writing yourself," he said immediately; "you hold the slate." It was 10 o’clock in the morning, the room without blinds. "How do you know I can get it?" I asked. "A spirit says so," was his reply.

I took up the slate, holding it on a level with my face, as he told me if I listened I could hear the writing. My last act was to open it, and see all clear. Then thrusting his thumbs in the armholes of his vest, he resumed the cigar he had laid down.

I asked aloud, "If Lilly is here, will she give me a message for her old lover?" The one I appealed to had been dead thirty-odd years, and Lilly was her pet name that this lover called her by, no one else did, and the request was made by me, owing to a promise that had been given through another party, claiming to be given by the spirit of said Lilly. Instantly the sound of writing was distinctly hear. When it ceased I opened the slate, and this was written on it:

"You ask me to send a message to my lover. I will write him a letter. Dear Oscar, you should know that I still love you as dearly as ever. I cannot fully control any medium," etc.

Then, after making one or two promises, the full name of the woman was signed with the word "Lilly" written under it. Beneath was given the name and title of the man to whom I was to convey the message. This writing was a facsimile of her own, as I had a sample and compared them. Now was this writing done by my spirit, that of the medium, or by the party claiming to do it? I received two others, but the slates lay on the table, and his hands, as well as mine, touched them, both in full sight, and the names were those of my father and brother, containing a fair test. Still none were so satisfactory as that first mentioned, as I held the slate away from all contact with anything.

"Understand me," she said, "I do not deny the power of spirit return. I only hold that much of these manifestations are made by elementary spirits of a low order, vile beings who are neither destined to, nor worthy of immortality, they are of the earth earthy, linger around until their material bodies dissolve into the elements, and they too dissolve and mingle with it." Turning she took up the first volume of her book [Isis Unveiled], fashioned in form but not yet bound, and read one or two extracts to prove her argument.

This led to a discussion of her book and its claims. I will not here express any opinion of my own, only stating that she has with daring courage undertaken to prove that modern science, religion and spiritualism have revamped modern ideas, on ancient facts, either knowingly or in ignorance, and stands forth a champion for the religion and philosophy of India.

She hurls her gage down and challenges investigation of Eastern claims. Her book reads like the wonders of the "Arabian Nights" in some of its statements, but she assured me the "half was not told," and certainly testimony of this mystic power is not wanting elsewhere. Her book comprises two large volumes of over six hundred pages each. It is issued by Bouton, and is bound to meet with large sales. I read the first volume, and would advise others to read them: whether for or against her opinions. Her long life in the East and her command of sources of information gives her great power. She is a formidable antagonist from the fact that the languages of the East are perfectly familiar to her and their literature has been at her command.

I found her in all things genial and pleasant, her information regarding Russian matters of the best. She is in daily communion by letters, passses and telegrams from friends, and an uncle and cousin are in the Russian service, both officers of rank. She is as earnest an advocate of her people as ever clashed a sworn or wielded a pen.

I was in company one evening in her rooms with the pretty and talented wife of a prominent Southern editor -- a member of the press -- and a gentleman from India, Col. Olcott, whom I had met the winter before, was also present. I heard the music spoken of by reporters floating through the air; of its origin or nature I have no opinion to offer. Col. Olcott read a long letter received from an aunt of M’me B., speaking in glowing terms of her niece, Helene. M’me B. asserts that the medium is a passive instrument in the hands of the invisibles, but the "adept" commands this unseen force by the power of will, and that she is an adept. Among many letters she showed me was one signed "Ada Z." If this meets the eye of the writer, I will state here that I can throw some light on the subject that then interested her.

I shall long remember with pleasure the cordial geniality of this woman. Hers is a grand, brave nature, a mighty identity, and feeling its own power, scorns the bonds of the little, indifferent to the yelping curs. "Tray, Blanch and Sweetheart," and has struck "steel on steel, as well as rhyme on rhyme when steel has offered."


October 23.