Reprinted by Blavatsky Study Center
The Society for
and the Theosophical Phenomena
The Report of the S.P.R. on Madame Blavatsky (1)
THE first serious modern attempt to investigate metaphysical phenomena in a quasi-scientific spirit was that made by the London Dialectical Society. At a meeting of the Council of that society in January, 1869, a committee was appointed "to investigate the Phenomena alleged to be Spiritual Manifestations, and to report thereon."
The Committee, composed of thirty-four well-known persons, passed nearly eighteen months in its investigations. It held fifteen sittings of the full committee, received testimony from thirty-three persons who described phenomena occurring within their own personal experience, and procured written statements from thirty-one others. The Committee also appointed from its membership six sub-committees who undertook first-hand investigations by experiments and tests. The Committee sent out letters inviting the attendance, co-operation and advice of scientific men who had expressed opinions, favorable or adverse, on the genuineness of spiritualistic phenomena.
On July 20, 1870, the full Committee rendered its unanimous Report to the Council, with request for publication of the report under the approval of the Society. The Council received and filed the Report, discharged its Committee with a vote of thanks, but declined to accede to the request for publication of the report. In consequence the Committee unanimously resolved to publish its report on its own responsibility. Two editions of the report were printed to supply the demand for copies, and at the time caused a very great discussion.
The Report is drawn with great conservatism. The statement of facts ascertained and conclusions reached by the Committee is, condensed, as follows:
The Committee specially invited the attendance of persons who had publicly ascribed the phenomena to imposture or delusion. On this the report says,
"your Committee, while successful in procuring the evidence of believers in the phenomena and in their supernatural origin, almost wholly failed to obtain evidence from those who attributed them to fraud or delusion. A large majority of the members of your Committee have become actual witnesses to several phases of the phenomena without the aid or presence of any professional medium, although the greater part of them commenced their investigations in an avowedly sceptical spirit."
The Committee recites that the reports of the several sub-committees "substantially corroborate each other, and would appear to establish the following propositions:
1. "Audible sounds and sensible vibrations of a very varied character apparently proceeded from articles of furniture, from the floors and walls of rooms, without being produced by muscular action or mechanical contrivance."
2. "Movements of heavy bodies take place without mechanical contrivance of any kind or adequate exertion of muscular force by the persons present, and frequently without contact or connection with any person."
3. "These sounds and movements often occur at the times and in the manner asked for by persons present, and by means of a simple code of signals, answer questions and spell out coherent communications."
4. "The answers and communications thus obtained are, for the most part, of a common-place character; but facts are sometimes correctly given which are only known to one of the persons present."
5. "The circumstances under which the phenomena occur are variable, the most prominent fact being, that the presence of certain persons seems necessary to their occurrence, and that of others generally adverse; but this difference does not appear to depend upon any belief or disbelief concerning the phenomena."
6. "Nevertheless, the occurrence of the phenomena is not insured by the presence or absence of such persons respectively."
In addition to these conclusions the Committee state that occurrences of a still more extraordinary character are testified to by reputable witnesses: Levitation, both of human beings and of other heavy bodies; Materialization, both of hands and of full figures; handling of red-hot coals without injury; drawings in pencil and in colors; automatic writings; prophecies of future events; voices, music, flowers, crystal visions, elongations of the human body, etc. The phenomena are variously ascribed by the witnesses, some attributing them "to the agency of disembodied human beings, some to Satanic influences, some to psychological causes, and others to imposture or delusion."
The Report concludes:
"Your Committee, taking into consideration the high character and great intelligence of many of the witnesses to the more extraordinary facts, the extent to which their testimony is supported by the reports of the sub-committees, and the absence of any proof of imposture or delusion as regards a large portion of the phenomena, the large number of persons in every grade of society and over the whole civilized world who are more or less influenced by a belief in their supernatural origin, and the fact that no philosophical explanation of them has yet been arrived at, deem it incumbent upon them to state their conviction that the subject is worthy of more serious attention and careful investigation than it has hitherto received."
It has been fifty years since the above Report was issued. In that period unnumbered thousands have repeated the investigations of "the phenomena alleged to be spiritual manifestations," great numbers of books have been issued, arguments and theories pro and con have been multiplied, but no advance whatever in actual knowledge has been gained. It remains today, as it remained then, that "no philosophical explanation of them has been arrived at" outside the propositions advanced by H. P. Blavatsky in "Isis Unveiled."
Viewing the moderation, the accuracy and the dispassionateness of the Committee's report of facts ascertained and conclusions reached, it should be of interest to the student of human nature in the light of the teachings of Theosophy, to observe the reception accorded the Report of the Committee by the moulders of public opinion in press and science. The London Times called the Report "a farrago of impotent conclusions, garnished by a mass of the most monstrous rubbish it has ever been our misfortune to sit in judgment upon." The Pall Mall Gazette declared, "It is difficult to speak or think with anything else than contemptuous pain of proceedings such as are described in this report." The London Standard commented, with unconscious verisimilitude, as follows: "If there is anything whatever in it beyond imposture and imbecility, there is the whole of another world in it." The Morning Post swept the whole matter aside in one contemptuous sentence: "The Report which has been published is entirely worthless." The Saturday Review pronounced the subject "one of the most unequivocally degrading superstitions that have ever found currency among reasonable beings." The reviewer of the Sporting Times made these dispassionate remarks: "If I had my way, a few of the leading professional spiritualists should be sent as rogues and vagabonds to the treadmill for a few weeks. It would do them good. They are a canting, deceiving, mischievous lot. Some of their dupes are contemptibly stupid -- insane, I should say." Professor Huxley, who had spoken slightingly of the manifestations, wrote, in reply to the Committee's invitation to participate: "It would be little short of madness for me to undertake an investigation of so delicate and difficult a character, the only certain result of which would be an interminable series of attacks from the side from which I might chance to differ. I hope that I am perfectly open to conviction on this or any other subject; but I must frankly confess to you that it does not interest me." Professor Tyndall's attitude is indicated by this quotation from his Fragments of Science: "The world will have a religion of some kind, even though it should fly for it to the intellectual whoredom of Spiritualism."
While the Dialectical Society Committee was engaged in its investigation, Professor William Crookes, later to become the most notable scientist of his generation, but then just beginning to attract the attention of the Fellows of the Royal Society, had determined on his own account to study the phenomena privately. His bold and unqualified statements of the results achieved, his cautious discussion of the many theories to account for the phenomena he witnessed, were first printed in the numbers of the Quarterly Journal of Science for 1870-72, and published later in book form in 1874, with the title, "Researches into the Phenomena of Spiritualism." His researches were undertaken in a truly scientific spirit, in the public interest, and his results described with a sincerity, a courage and candor that in any other field would have received, as they merited, the highest commendation. But upon his head, as in the case of Darwin, was heaped every abuse, and against his scientific repute every calumny was spread, that could be devised by the reactionists of religion and science. It was more than thirty years before his enormous services to mankind in the field of physical research brought him a restored reputation.
In 1875 was published "The Unseen Universe," an attempt primarily to reconcile the "Darwinian Theory" with the tenet of a "revealed religion," and containing a discussion of ancient religions, spiritualism, and immortality in relation to the phenomena of the visible universe. In less than a year the work passed through four editions. Numerous other books and continuous discussion in the press throughout the period from 1870 to 1880 marked the steady increase of interest in metaphysical phenomena, and betokened the growing unrest of the generation. The formation of the Theosophical Society and its rapid progress was like a Gulf stream in the vast ocean of public discussion. The teachings embodied in "Isis Unveiled" and "The Theosophist" and put in popular form in "The Occult World" and "Esoteric Buddhism" might be likened to the sudden upheaval of a new land in the midst of that ocean, offering its compelling attraction to adventurous explorers.
It was in such circumstances that the Society for Psychical Research was established early in 1882 by a number of well-known persons, among them Prof. F. W. H. Myers, W. Stanton Moses (M. A. Oxon), and C. C. Massey, all members of the London Lodge of the Theosophical Society. The preliminary announcement of the new society declared that "the present is an opportune time for making an organized and systematic attempt to investigate that large group of debatable phenomena designated by such terms as mesmeric, psychical, and spiritualistic." Committees were to be appointed to investigate and report upon such subjects as telepathy, hypnotism, trance, clairvoyance, sensitives, apparitions, etc. The announcement stated that "the aim of the Society will be to approach these various problems without prejudice or prepossession of any kind, and in the same spirit of exact and unimpassioned inquiry which has enabled science to solve so many problems, once not less obscure nor less hotly debated."
With such a broad and just prospectus and such an inviting field for its efforts, the new Society almost immediately attracted to its Fellowship some hundreds of men and women of reputation and ability in their several fields. By 1884 the Society had made numerous investigations, had begun the publication of the voluminous reports of its Proceedings, and was firmly established in the public confidence as a serious and scientific body engaged in the methodical and unbiased investigation of the disputed phenomena.
Meantime Mr. Sinnett had removed to London, his published books had been read by thousands, he had been elected Vice-President of the London Lodge, and was the center and inspiration of eager investigations and experiments in the line of the "third object" of the Theosophical Society. Rumors and circumstantial stories were afloat regarding "astral appearances," "occult letters" and other phenomena connected with the mysterious "Brothers" supposed to be the invisible directors behind the Theosophical activities. When Col. Olcott arrived in London early in the summer of 1884, followed a little later by H.P.B., interest rose to a genuine excitement. This excitement, coupled with the fact that a number of members of the Society for Psychical Research were also Fellows of the Theosophical Society, made it natural and plausible for the S.P.R. to turn its attention to the new and inviting possibilities at hand. Accordingly, on May 2, 1884, the Council of the S.P.R. appointed a "Committee for the purpose of taking such evidence as to the alleged phenomena connected with the Theosophical Society as might be offered by members of that body at the time in England, or as could be collected elsewhere." Out of this beginning grew the famous "exposure" that for a time threatened the ruin of the Theosophical Society.
The S.P.R. Committee as originally constituted consisted of Professors E. Gurney, F. W. H. Myers, F. Podmore and J. H. Stack. To these were subsequently added Professor H. Sidgwick, Mrs. Sidgwick, and Mr. Richard Hodgson, a young University graduate.
The Committee held meetings on May 11 and 27 at which Col. Olcott was present and replied to numerous questions, narrating the details of various phenomena of which he had been witness during the years of his connection with H.P.B. Mohini M. Chatterji, a young Hindu who had accompanied the founders from India, was questioned on June 10. On June 13 Mr. Sinnett repeated to the Committee his observations of the phenomena described in his "Occult World." During the summer the meetings of the Cambridge branch of the S.P.R. were attended on several occasions, by invitation, by Col. Olcott, Mohini and Madame Blavatsky. On these occasions, says the preliminary report, "the visitors permitted themselves to be questioned on many topics." Additional evidences were obtained by the Committee from many sources, testifying to a wide range and variety of phenomena through the preceding ten years, in America and Europe as well as in India. All the witnesses were persons of repute and some of them well-known in England and on the Continent. In the autumn of 1884 the Committee published "for private and confidential use" the "first report of the Committee." This report, now very rare, is a pamphlet of 130 pages. The first 33 pages are devoted to the formal recital of the basis and nature of the investigations made, the Committee's comments on the various questions raised, the conclusions tentatively arrived at, and two notes, one relating to the Coulombs and the other, by Professor Myers, giving a brief digest of the Theosophical views and explanations of the phenomena inquired into. The remaining 97 pages consist of XLII Appendices, giving the substance of the evidence obtained from the many witnesses.
The phenomena investigated by the Committee were chiefly (a) "astral appearances" of living men; (b) the transportation by "occult" means of physical substances; (c) the "precipitation" of letters and other messages; (d) "occult" sounds and voices. The appendices contain the details of numerous occurrences of the kinds indicated, the sources of the testimony and the names of the scores of witnesses, with comments of the Committee on the character and validity of the testimony as to its sufficiency and bearing, and not upon the good faith of the witnesses themselves, all of whom are regarded as reputable. In the earlier portion of the report the Committee say that in considering evidences of abnormal occurrences it "has altogether declined to accept the evidence of a paid medium as to any abnormal event." It goes on to say, "in dealing with these matters, it is admitted that special stringency is necessary, and one obvious precaution lies in the exclusion of all the commoner and baser motives to fraud or exaggeration." But with regard to the Theosophical exponents it says, "we may say at once that no trustworthy evidence supporting such a view has been brought to our notice."
Although the witnesses expressly state that the Theosophical phenomena are not of the kind familiarly known as mediumistic, and although Madame Blavatsky expressly declined to produce any phenomena for the consideration of the Committee as her purpose was to promulgate certain doctrines, not to prove her possession of occult powers, the Committee's basis of treatment of the phenomena, and its theories to account for them, was the familiar one employed in spiritualistic investigations. Nevertheless, the Committee recognized that there were three points calling for the greatest care on its part. The first of these is "that it is certain that fraud has been practiced by persons connected with the Society." This refers to the charges brought by the Coulombs, who were members of the Theosophical Society, against Madame Blavatsky; to the "Kiddle incident," and to certain "evidence privately brought before us by Mr. C. C. Massey." On this matter the Committee says that it suggests, "to the Western mind at any rate, that no amount of caution can be excessive in dealing with evidence of this kind."
The second point raised by the Committee is that "Theosophy appeals to occult persons and methods." Accustomed to dealing with mediums and mediumistic manifestations, where the moral and philosophical factors have no bearing, accustomed to believe that where there is reticence there must be fraud, the Committee does not like the idea made plain at all times by H.P.B. that the subject of occult phenomena, their production and laws, will not be submitted to scientific exploitation, but will only be made known to those who qualify themselves under the strictest pledges of secrecy and discipleship.
Finally, the Committee recognizes that
"Theosophy makes claims which, though avowedly based on occult science, do, in fact, ultimately cover much more than a merely scientific field."
This, also, is not agreeable to the Committee, which remarks:
"The history of religions would have been written in vain if we still fancied that a Judas or a Joe Smith was the only kind of apostle who needed watching.... Suspicions of this kind are necessarily somewhat vague; but it is not our place to give them definiteness. What we have to point out is that it is our duty, as investigators, in examining the evidence for Theosophic marvels, to suppose the possibility of a deliberate combination to deceive on the part of certain Theosophists. We cannot regard this possibility as excluded by the fact that we find no reason to attribute to any of the persons whose evidence we have to consider, any vulgar or sordid motive for such combination."
These frank expressions of the Committee are illuminating as to its own basis and motives, and equally illuminating when contrasted with the fair promises made in the preliminary announcement of the formation of the S.P.R. They become still more clear when viewed in the light of the Preface to "Isis Unveiled," with its statement in advance of the kind of opposition its author would be called upon to face.
In spite of its suspicions, its doubts, its fears, its mental reservations occasioned by its own ignorance of the laws governing metaphysical phenomena, by the absolute refusal of H.P.B. to disclose the processes of practical Occultism, by the atmosphere of mystery surrounding the whole subject of the hidden "Brothers" and their powers, by the charges of fraud laid by the Coulombs at the door of H.P.B., by the undisclosed "evidence privately brought before us by Mr. C. C. Massey" -- in spite of all these disturbing equations, the testimony amassed by the Committee was so absolutely overwhelming as to the fact of the alleged phenomena that the Committee found itself compelled to make certain admissions, as follows:
"It is obvious that if we could account for all the phenomena described by the mere assumption of clever conjuring on the part of Madame Blavatsky and the Coulombs, assisted by any number of Hindu servants, we could hardly, under present circumstances, regard ourselves as having adequate ground for further inquiry. But this assumption would by no means meet the case. The statements of the Coulombs implicate no one in the alleged fraud except Madame Blavatsky. The other Theosophists, according to them, are all dupes. Now the evidence given in the Appendix in our opinion renders it impossible to avoid one or other of two alternative conclusions: Either that some of the phenomena recorded are genuine, or that other persons of good standing in society, and with characters to lose, have taken part in deliberate imposture."
Accordingly, the Committee expressed the following conclusions:
"On the whole, however (though with some serious reserves), it seems undeniable that there is a prima facie case, for some part at least of the claim made, which, at the point which the investigations of the Society for Psychical Research have now reached, cannot, with consistency, be ignored."
The Committee decided to send one of its members to India to investigate the charges made by the Coulombs, to interview the numerous witnesses to phenomena testified to by Hindus and Europeans in India, and report on the results of such examination. Mr. Richard Hodgson was the member chosen. His report is the foundation and superstructure of the celebrated "exposure" embodied in volume III of the Proceedings of the Society for Psychical Research. Before considering Mr. Hodgson's report, it is necessary to review the antecedent and surrounding circumstances and events, the main features of which are wrapped up in the connection of the Coulombs with the Theosophical Society.
In the year 1871, Madame Blavatsky was en route by ship from India to her home in Russia after an absence of many years in the Americas, in Africa, and in the Orient. The vessel on which she embarked was wrecked. H.P.B., along with the other survivors, was landed in Egypt, destitute of money or belongings. She made her way to Cairo and there met Madame Coulomb, an Englishwoman then unmarried and conducting a lodging house. Madame Coulomb was moved by the misfortunes and distress of the wanderer, received her into her house, supplied her necessities, and advanced her funds until H.P.B. could communicate with her family.
Madame Coulomb was mediumistic, intensely interested in spiritualism, and the more so because she had but recently lost a brother with whom she was anxious to "communicate." Finding that H.P.B. possessed a fund of lore and experience in matters occult, Madame Coulomb besought her to aid in procuring the longed-for communications, as, from her experience, they could not consciously be obtained except through another. Finding that others in Cairo were also interested in the mysterious phenomena with which all the Western world was then dabbling in one way and another, H.P.B. took advantage of the opportunity, and endeavored to form a society for investigation and experiment. It speedily developed that curiosity and the thirst for phenomena, not the desire for philosophy and understanding, was at the bottom of all the would-be investigators' zeal, and H.P.B. dropped the matter. The society went to pieces as soon as she did so. H.P.B. was in Egypt in all nearly a year, returning to Russia toward the end of 1872. From there, in the spring of 1873, she went to Paris, and from there to New York, returning to India early in 1879.
Madame Coulomb married in Egypt. After a succession of misfortunes the Coulombs went to India, and then to Ceylon. Their misfortunes pursued them and they were living in direst penury in 1879 when they heard of the arrival of H.P.B. and Col. Olcott in India and the interest attendant upon their activities. Madame Coulomb at once wrote to H.P.B., recalling the Cairo acquaintance, detailing her circumstances and asking for help. To this letter H.P.B. replied with expressions of sympathy, but stating that she herself was in little better plight personally than the Coulombs, and describing her mission and purposes in India. Madame Coulomb wrote again avowing the interest of herself and husband in the Society, and pleading for help. To this appeal H.P.B. answered that if the Coulombs so desired they could come to headquarters and share such fortunes as might befall the Founders. Accordingly, the Coulombs made their way to India, arriving early in 1880. They took the pledges of membership and entered the Theosophical Society. During the ensuing four years Madame Coulomb acted as housekeeper, and, as she was acquainted both with French and Italian, and the labors were great and the workers few, she assisted in translations and in foreign correspondence. M. Coulomb was made general utility man around the premises. He acted as gardener, as carpenter, as librarian, and also assisted in some of the correspondence. The Coulombs were made entirely free of the premises and the work at headquarters, and at first professed the utmost gratitude for the succors given them, and the liveliest interest and sympathy in the work of the Society. As the affairs of the Society progressed, they became acquainted with the numerous visitors and inquirers, European and native, at headquarters. They became dissatisfied and discontented with the comparatively insignificant and menial rôle played by themselves, and felt that they were not receiving their just dues. Greedy, weak by nature, and anxious to become financially independent, it appeared to them that Madame Blavatsky was receiving an attention and prominence to which she was no more entitled than themselves. In addition, the Coulombs were Christians of the narrowest kind, superstitious to a degree, and in fact wholly out of sympathy and accord with the aims and teachings of the Founders.
Within a couple of years Madame Coulomb tried to extort or beg money from wealthy natives interested in the Society, notably from the native prince, Harrisinji Rupsinji. This coming to the knowledge of H.P.B., she reproved Madame Coulomb sternly. To others of the visitors and residents at headquarters Madame Coulomb whispered tales of her own powers and of her ability to find "hidden treasures." To others she intimated that Madame Blavatsky's powers were from the "evil one." The Coulombs were more or less constantly in communication with the near-by establishments of the missionaries, and Madame Coulomb, in particular, was in constant frictions and disputes over religious matters and opinions with resident chelas and members of the Society. Col. Olcott took her to task for these needless difficulties on several occasions. In general, however, the Coulombs were looked upon as harmless meddlers, their misfortunes caused them to be viewed with charity, and the known gratitude of H.P.B. for help received from Madame Coulomb at a time of need, reconciled the Theosophists to the annoyances and disturbances occasioned by their presence and officiousness at headquarters.
Just prior to the departure of H.P.B. and Col. Olcott for Europe in February, 1884, a Council was appointed to take charge of affairs at headquarters during the absence of the Founders. Among the Council were Dr. Franz Hartmann, St. George Lane-Fox and W. T. Brown, with whom, particularly Dr. Hartmann and Mr. Lane-Fox, the Coulombs had been in almost constant wrangles. They desired to dispense with the Coulombs altogether, but on the prayers of Madame Coulomb H.P.B. permitted them to remain as hitherto, and, in order to remove sources of disagreement as much as possible, gave the Coulombs "authority" to do the house-work, to have charge of the upkeep of the premises, and to keep her own rooms in order.
The Founders away, fresh fuel for the fires of discord was soon heaped on the ashes of discontent. The Coulombs refused to accept any orders or obey any instructions from the resident members of the Council; they refused all access to H.P.B.'s apartments and declared that H.P.B. had placed them in independent control of her quarters and the conduct of the household. On the other hand, the members of the Council living at headquarters, having no liking for the Coulombs and distrusting them utterly, were more or less harsh and contemptuous towards them, communicating with them only by letter, and refusing to eat with them, or to eat the food provided by Madame Coulomb. They charged Madame Coulomb with extravagance, waste, and with personally profiting out of her handling of the domestic funds, and set about auditing and checking her daily expenditures. Vain, sensitive, and without doubt smarting under their grievances, real and imaginary, the Coulombs planned revenge in dual fashion. They wrote to H.P.B., reciting their wrongs, asserting their own loyalty and innocence of any wrong-doing, and making sundry charges against the Council members. At the same time the Council members were also writing the Founders their side of the disputes, and telling circumstantially the actions of the Coulombs and the insinuations being whispered about by them against the good faith of the Theosophists and H.P.B. While this war of charges and recriminations was going on by mail the Coulombs were busy fortifying themselves for their ultimate treachery by constructing false doors, and sliding panels in the so-called "occult room" in H.P.B.'s apartments, to give such an appearance of mechanical contrivance as might support and give color to charges of fraud in the phenomena taking place at headquarters. To our mind, after weighing well all the circumstances of this unhappy period, there is no room for doubt that the Coulombs were already in active conspiracy with the missionaries and were carefully following able but sinister instructions in their course of conduct. By temporizing with the resident members of the Council, by their written denials and protestations to H.P.B. and Col. Olcott, they were gaining the needed time to perfect the mise en scene for their subsequent accusations.
Both H.P.B. and Olcott wrote the Coulombs and the Council, endeavoring to patch up the rancors and bitternesses engendered, and appealing to all for the sake of the Society and its work, to exercise mutual forbearance and tolerance. But the evil forces at work were too favored of circumstance. The Council members at last forced their way to the quarters of H.P.B., discovered what had been going on there, talked severally with the Coulombs, and summoned them before the meeting of the Council to answer charges of bad faith, of treachery, of false stories about H.P.B. and the phenomena at headquarters. The Coulombs neither affirmed nor denied the statements made in the several affidavits read concerning their behavior, and declining to produce any evidence to support their allegations, were expelled from the Society and ordered to leave the premises. Legal proceedings were then threatened to eject them, and in the wrangling St. George Lane-Fox struck M. Coulomb, who had him arrested and fined for assault and battery. The Coulombs offered, during the disputes and negotiations, to leave the country and go to America if paid 3,000 rupees and given their passage. This was refused. Finally, on the direct approval of H.P.B., to whom both the Coulombs and the Council members had appealed, and after the Coulombs had threatened to her that if she did not support them in their contentions they would expose her, the Coulombs were compelled to leave the premises. This took place at the end of May, 1884.
The Coulombs went at once to the missionaries by whom they were received with open arms. They were given money and their living was provided them. In the ensuing three months the plans of battle were perfected and the material provided for the assault which it was hoped would once and for all destroy the reputation of H.P.B., and in the ruin of her good repute ruin the Theosophical Society. In the September and succeeding issues of the Christian College Magazine were published with extended comments a series of letters purporting to have been written by H.P.B. to Madame Coulomb which, if genuine, showed H.P.B. to have been a conscienceless and heartless swindler, her phenomena plain frauds, her Society a mere collection of dupes, her Masters a mere invention, her teachings a myth of the imagination.
The facts, so far as pulicly disclosed, may be found as represented by the various interests involved, in the Christian College Magazine articles entitled "The Collapse of Koot Hoomi;" in Madame Coulomb's pamphlet issued at the time in India and republished in London by Elliot Stock "for the proprietors of the 'Madras Christian College Magazine,'" under the title "Some Account of My Intercourse with Madame Blavatsky from 1872 to 1884, by Madame Coulomb;" in Dr. Franz Hartmann's pamphlet, "Observations During a Nine Months Stay at the Headquarters of the Theosophical Society, Madras, India," published in the fall of 1884; in the "Report of the Result of an Investigation into the Charges against Madame Blavatsky," by the Committee of the Indian Convention; in the Report of the Indian Convention of the Theosophists held at the close of December, 1884; in Mr. A. P. Sinnett's book, "Incidents in the Life of H. P. Blavatsky;" in Col. Olcott's "Old Diary Leaves," and in numerous articles pro and con at the time and during succeeding years in many Theosophical, Spiritualist, Christian and secular publications. The facts as herein given are those derived from the immense accumulation of literature on the subject, after the most careful and painstaking comparison and weighing.
We may now consider the effect of the Coulomb disclosures and the missionary use of them, both on the Theosophists and on the Society for Psychical Research.
WE have endeavored to place before the reader the circumstances surrounding the preliminary investigation and report of the Committee of the Society for Psychical Research on the Theosophical phenomena. That report was published in December, 1884, but drawn up in the midst of the excitement occasioned by the Coulomb accusations and the missionary attacks in the September and succeeding numbers of the Christian College Magazine of Madras, India.
Immediately the charges were cabled to England Madame Blavatsky took steps to protect the good name of the Theosophical Society. On September 27 she handed to Colonel Olcott as President her resignation as Corresponding Secretary, but under pressure from leading members of the London Lodge Col. Olcott refused to accept her withdrawal. At the same time H.P.B. addressed a letter to the London Times which was published in that paper in its issue of October 9. The letter follows:
"Sir, -- With reference to the alleged exposure at Madras of a dishonourable conspiracy between myself and two persons of the name of Coulomb to deceive the public with occult phenomena, I have to say that the letters purporting to have been written by me are certainly not mine. Sentences here and there I recognise, taken from old notes of mine on different matters, but they are mingled with interpolations that entirely pervert their meaning. With these exceptions the whole of the letters are a fabrication.
"The fabricators must have been grossly ignorant of Indian affairs, since they make me speak of a 'Maharajah of Lahore,' when every Indian schoolboy knows that no such person exists.
"With regard to the suggestion that I attempted to promote the 'financial prosperity' of the Theosophical Society by means of occult phenomena, I say that I have never at any time received, or attempted to obtain, from any person any money either for myself or for the Society by any such means. I defy anyone to come forward and prove the contrary. Such money as I have received has been earned by literary work of my own, and these earnings, and what remained of my inherited property when I went to India, have been devoted to the Theosophical Society. I am a poorer woman to-day than I was when, with others, I founded the Society. -- Your obedient Servant, H. P. Blavatsky."
On October 23, the Pall Mall Gazette published a long interview with H.P.B. in which her denial of the authorship of the letters attributed to her by the Coulombs is reiterated, the facts of the Coulombs' bad faith given, and attention called to the further fact that two letters attributed by the Coulombs to General Morgan and Mr. Sassoon had already been conclusively proved to be forgeries.
On the opposing side the attack was pressed with vigor and all possible capital made of the Coulomb accusations, with, of course, a renewal of every old and exploded charge against H.P.B., her teachings, and her Society. The Christian sects, the Spiritualist publications, the space writers in the daily press to whom any sensation was so much material for "copy," regardless of the merits of the case, all joined in the fray.
Immediate preparations were made by the Founders to return to India. Colonel Olcott arrived at headquarters in November. H.P.B. stopped off in Egypt to obtain information in regard to the Coulombs and did not reach India till December. On her arrival she was met and presented with an Address signed by some three hundred of the native students of the Christian College, expressing gratitude for what she had done for India, and disclaiming any part or sympathy in the attacks of the Christian College Magazine.
The Convention of the Society in India met at headquarters near the end of December. From the first H.P.B. had insisted that the Coulombs and the proprietors of the Christian College Magazine must be met in Court by legal proceedings for libel. The good name of the Society, the bona fides of her teachings, she declared, were wrapped up in the assaults made upon her own reputation, and if her good name were destroyed both the Society and Theosophy would suffer irreparable injury. For herself, she avowed, she cared nothing personally, but the fierce onset was in reality directed against her work, and that work could not be separated in the public mind from herself as its leading exponent. To destroy the one was to inflict disaster on the other.
Colonel Olcott was between Scylla and Charybdis, both in himself and in relation to the Society to which he was wholly devoted. On the one hand he had come to regard H.P.B. as, in the final analysis, neither herself an Adept nor the trusted Chela of the Masters, but a medium used by the Masters for certain work in default of a better instrument. His long experience in Spiritualism had convinced him that mediums were irresponsible, equally open to adverse as to good influences. His close and long personal friendship and spiritualistic relations with W. Stainton Moses and C. C. Massey, both of whom believed H.P.B. to be a "medium", and who were convinced that H.P.B. had been the agency both for genuine and spurious phenomena, undoubtedly affected him powerfully. His relations with Mr. Sinnett were concordant in Theosophical views, and he knew that Mr. Sinnett had similar ideas to his own regarding the nature of H.P.B. On his return to India he found that Mr. A. O. Hume, formerly a responsible Government official and, next to Mr. Sinnett, the most influential friend of the Society in India, had become infected with doubts and suspicions and believed that, while some of H.P.B.'s phenomena were undoubtedly genuine, others had been produced by collusion with the Coulombs. Col. Olcott speedily found, also, that the more prominent Hindu members of the Society, while willing to speak politely in favor of H.P.B., were a unit in opposition to legal proceedings in which religious convictions and subjects sacred to them would be dragged in the mire of merciless treatment by the defendants' attorneys in an alien Court. On every hand he was urged to consider that psychical powers and principles could only be proved by actual production of phenomena in Court -- a thing forbidden alike by their religious training and the rules of Occultism. Others argued that a judgment, even if obtained, would be valueless before the world, since the mischief was already done; those who believed the phenomena fraudulent would still think so, judgment or no judgment; those who believed them genuine would continue to hold that view if the matter were allowed to drop; while an adverse judgment would forever brand H.P.B. and destroy the Society beyond any hope of resuscitation.
But H.P.B. stood firm for legal prosecution of the defamers, declaring her faith in Masters and her own innocence; that They would not countenance disloyalty and ingratitude, and that, if worst came to worst, it were better for the Theosophists to be destroyed fighting for what they held to be true than to live on by an inglorious and ignominious evasion of the issues raised. Torn by his fears and doubts Olcott took what was doubtless to him the only possible road. He proposed a compromise which was in effect a betrayal: he demanded that H.P.B. place the matter in the hands of the Convention and abide by its decision; threatening, if this were not done, that he himself and the others with him would abandon the Society and leave it to its fate. H.P.B. acceded to the demand made. Accordingly, at the Convention a Committee was appointed, and this Committee unanimously reported as follows:
"Resolved -- That the letters published in the Christian College Magazine under the heading 'Collapse of Koot Hoomi' are only a pretext to injure the cause of Theosophy; and as these letters necessarily appear absurd to those who are acquainted with our philosophy and facts, and as those who are not acquainted with those facts could not have their opinion changed, even by a judicial verdict given in favour of Madame Blavatsky, therefore it is the unanimous opinion of this Committee that Madame Blavatsky should not prosecute her defamers in a Court of Law."
The report of the Committee was unanimously adopted by the convention. This action was received by the Indian press and that wedded to sectarian interests with prolonged jeers and contumely leveled against H.P.B., her followers and her Society. By the great majority of public journals and intelligent minds it was considered to be the tacit admission by Theosophists that the Coulomb charges were true.
The blow was well-nigh mortal to the body of H.P.B. Defenseless and undefended, her life was despaired of by her physician. During the succeeding three months she was rarely able to leave her bed. Finally, toward the end of March, yielding to the solicitations of the few who still remained devotedly loyal to her, she prepared to leave India and go to Europe. On the 21st March she addressed a formal letter to the General Council, once more tendering her resignation as Corresponding Secretary, and closing her communication with these words:
"I leave with you, one and all, and to every one of my friends and sympathizers, my loving farewell. Should this be my last word, I would implore you all, as you have regard for the welfare of mankind and your own Karma, to be true to the Society and not to permit it to be overthrown by the enemy. Fraternally and ever yours -- in life or death. H. P. Blavatsky."
Her resignation was accepted by the Council with fulsome compliments, even as the cowardly action of the convention and its Committee had been accompanied with brave words.
Richard Hodgson, chosen by the Society for Psychical Research to continue in India the investigations begun in England, arrived at headquarters in December, passed three months in pursuing his inquiries and returned to England in April, 1885. He was, therefore, present in India during all the typhoons of fierce attack and all the period of wavering defense. He witnessed the bold confidence of the accusers and observed the timid, the cautious, the doubting and fearing attitude and actions of Col. Olcott and other leading Theosophists. Had there been no other influences at work upon his mind, these alone, we think, would have been more than ample to persuade him that Theosophy, the Theosophical Society, the "Adept Brothers" and their teachings were, with the phenomena of H.P.B., nothing but a vast hoax devised and perpetrated for some secret purpose.
Mr. Hodgson's report of his investigations was submitted to the Committee of the S.P.R., by them endorsed, and at the General Meeting of the Society on June 24, 1885, Professor Sidgwick of the Committee read its Conclusions. Certain difficulties developing, the ensuing six months were spent by Mr. Hodgson in revising and revamping his report. In the interval it became common knowledge that the report of the Committee and the S.P.R. would be entirely adverse to the Theosophical phenomena. As in the Coulomb case, the machinery of assault was prepared in secrecy and silence. No opportunity was given the Theosophists to inspect Mr. Hodgson's report, no chance offered for correction, criticism, objection or counter statement, while during all the long interval the most injurious damage was being inflicted through the public knowledge of what the findings would be, and while the Theosophists could only await the production of charges of whose essential nature they knew nothing and to which, therefore, no reply was possible.
The Conclusions of the Committee and the full text of Mr. Hodgson's report were finally embodied in the Proceedings of the S.P.R., volume III, pages 201-400, issued in December, 1885, more than eighteen months after the investigation was begun, more than a year subsequent to the preliminary report, more than six months after Mr. Hodgson's return from India.
The essential conclusions of the Committee are embodied in the following extracts:
"After carefully weighing all the evidence before them, the Committee unanimously arrived at the following conclusions:
"(1) That of the letters put forward by Madame Coulomb, all those, at least, which the Committee have had the opportunity of themselves examining, and of submitting to the judgment of experts, are undoubtedly written by Madame Blavatsky; and suffice to prove that she has 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.
"(2) That, in particular, the Shrine at Adyar, through which letters, purporting to come from Mahatmas were received, was elaborately arranged with a view to the secret insertion of letters and other objects through a sliding panel at the back, and regularly used for this purpose by Madame Blavatsky or her agents.
"(3) That there is in consequence a very strong general presumption that all the marvellous narratives put forward as 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.
"(4) That after examining Mr. Hodgson's report of the results of his personal inquiries, they are of the opinion that the testimony to these marvels is in no case sufficient, taking amount and character together, to resist the force of the general presumption above mentioned.
"Accordingly, they think it would be a waste of time to prolong the investigation." And with reference to Madame Blavatsky herself, the Committee say, "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 imposters in history."
The preliminary and final reports of the Committee should be taken together. The former is to be found only in private collections and a few large libraries, but the Proceedings, volume III, of the Society for Psychical Research, may be consulted in nearly every library of any consequence in England and America. Every student of Theosophical history ought to read, digest and collate this report for himself. Such a careful and first-hand examination and comparison will prove to him as nothing else can the facts and lessons that we can only briefly indicate.
The miscarriages of justice are frequent even in controversies involving only ordinary physical events, and where surrounded and safeguarded by all the jurisprudence, principles and practice embodying the accumulated experience of the race in the determination of moot and disputed issues. How much greater, then, the risk of mistaken or false judgment in cases not so protected, and where the matters to be decided not only do not lie within the general experience of the race, but by most men are believed to be impossible and therefore incredible; where the very facts themselves to be investigated, as well as the laws and principles by virtue of which alone their possibility can be assumed, lie outside the knowledge or experience of the investigators themselves, and where it is recognized that the admission or establishment of these laws, principles and phenomena will work a revolution in every department of human thought and action. Bearing these considerations and the concomitant circumstances in mind the real facts and the real issues may be understood from a study of the reports of the Society for Psychical Research alone.
In the first place, the investigation was entirely ex parte. The Committee laid out its own course of procedure, determined its own basis, admitted what it chose, rejected what it chose, reported what it chose of the evidence, subject to no supervision, no correction, no safeguards to insure impartiality, or afford redress if bias were exercised. It entered upon the investigation of its own volition, uninvited by the Theosophists or anyone else; of its own motion and decision it constituted itself court, judge and jury; at its pleasure it took upon itself the rôle of prosecutor without allowing or permitting to those it thus constituted defendants to its proceedings any right of cross-examination or rebuttal. That which began ostensibly as a mere inquiry into the extent of certain evidences available concerning the Theosophical phenomena degenerated into a criminal prosecution, in which a verdict of "guilty" was pronounced upon H. P. Blavatsky, without a hearing, without appeal, without recourse for the victim. Had the Committee been a duly and legally constituted Court, its procedure would have been without a parallel in English history save in the "bloody assizes" of the infamous Jeffreys.
But in fact the Committee was that of a rival society whose objects, methods and purposes in the investigation of "the unexplained laws in nature and the psychical powers latent in man" were diametrically opposed to the objects and principles proclaimed by H. P. Blavatsky and the Theosophical Society for ten years preceding the investigation. The Society for Psychical Research was interested in phenomena solely and only as phenomena; was moved by mere scientific curiosity. It specifically disclaimed any interest in philosophical research, any concern in occult laws, any regard for the moral factor, in its equations. The Theosophical Society and H.P.B., on the contrary, specifically avowed the primary object of its existence was the moral factor of Universal Brotherhood, its second object the serious study and comparison of religions and philosophies, and its third object the investigation of laws and powers as yet unexplained and misunderstood; not phenomena at all, save as these might be incidental and illustrative.
These differences were recognized by the Committee. In the preliminary report it says: "Now we do not deny that good reasons may exist for the concealment either of persons or of processes from the knowledge even of honest and friendly inquirers. In all such matters our rule is to make no assumptions." Yet in the next sentences the Committee betrays its own animus, for it declares: "We do not say: 'You ought to show us your Teachers and explain your methods.' We only say: 'If your Teachers think it right to conceal themselves and their methods from us, we on our part feel it our duty to scrutinize all that is revealed with proportionate stringency.'" What is this but to say: We propose to investigate you for our own purposes; if you do not throw aside your own long-proclaimed objects, principles and moral rules, and submit yourselves freely and without reserve to our probing, your reticence will be counted as a presumption against you? Is it any wonder that the Committee announces: "We must remember that in psychical research we must be on our guard against men's highest instincts quite as much as their lowest?" And with regard to the two societies, the Committee say: "The difference between Theosophical Society and the Society for Psychical Research is here almost diametrical. The Society for Psychical Research exists merely as a machinery for investigation.... The Theosophical Society exists mainly to promulgate certain doctrines already formulated, those doctrines being supported by phenomena which are avowedly intended and adapted rather for the influencing of individual minds than for the wholesale instruction of the scientific world."
What the Committee's attitude was in regard to the moral factor, we have already seen; its attitude toward the "certain doctrines already formulated" for the promulgation of which the Theosophical Society "mainly exists" may be shown by quotations from its own reports. In the preliminary report the statement is made, "The Theosophical Society was founded ... for certain philanthropic and literary purposes, with which we are not now concerned." In the final report the statement is made: "The Theosophical Society was founded ostensibly for certain philanthropic and literary purposes ... with these doctrines (or so-called 'Wisdom-religion') the Committee have, of course, no concern." It should be understood in connection with the use of the word "ostensibly" above, that not a shred of evidence is introduced or claimed to be introduced that the Theosophical Society ever had any other objects than its proclaimed ones.
The Committee took enough note of the Theosophical doctrines to recognize at the beginning their enormous import:
"The teaching ... comprises a cosmogony, a philosophy, a religion. With the value of this teaching per se we are not at present concerned. BUT IT IS OBVIOUS THAT WERE IT WIDELY ACCEPTED A GREAT CHANGE WOULD BE INDUCED IN HUMAN THOUGHT IN ALMOST EVERY DEPARTMENT. TO TAKE ONE POINT ONLY, THE SPIRITUAL AND INTELLECTUAL RELATIONSHIP OF EAST TO WEST WOULD BE FOR THE TIME IN GREAT MEASURE REVERSED. 'Ex Oriente Lux' WOULD BE MORE THAN A METAPHOR AND A MEMORY; IT WOULD BE THE EXPRESSION OF ACTUAL CONTEMPORARY FACT."
Why was the Committee "not at present concerned" nor concerned subsequently in "the value of this teaching?" Was it because the West or the Committee already possessed abundant, clear and verifiable knowledge either as to the existence of superphysical phenomena or the laws and processes by which such phenomena are produced? Here is what was proclaimed in the prospectus of the S.P.R. in 1882:
"The founders of this Society fully recognize the exceptional difficulties which surround this branch of research; but they nevertheless hope that by patient and systematic effort some results of permanent value may be attained."
And the Committee itself admits in the preliminary report that the evidence for these phenomena "is of a kind which it is peculiarly difficult to disentangle or to evaluate. The claims advanced are so enormous, and the lines of testimony converge and inosculate in a manner so perplexing that it is almost equally hard to say what statements are to be accepted, and what inferences as to other statements are to be drawn from the acceptance of any." To have concerned itself seriously with Madame Blavatsky's teachings, to have investigated and studied the principles and processes she inculcated would have called first of all for rigid moral discipline, for a self-sacrificing devotion that no member of the Committee had any zest for; would have required them also to do as Madame Blavatsky and her chelas had done -- to brave all for the sake of proclaiming unpopular truths: to become her followers and emulators, with no other reward than calumny and misunderstanding. There was advertising value in "investigating" H.P.B. and her phenomena; immediate and safe profit and advantage in arguing such opinions and speculations as accorded with their own preconceptions and theories and not in direct opposition to the "cosmogony, philosophy and religion" of the times, nor counter to prevailing ideas of the complete superiority of "the spiritual and intellectual relationship" of the West to the East. The Committee had no appetite in a direction that might result in making "ex oriente lux" something more than "a metaphor and a memory." What other rational inferences can be drawn from the Committee's own statements?
Realizing that the whole investigation was ex parte, and a farce as well, because it refused to enter into any study of the stated principles under which the phenomena were possible, the next question is concerned with the competency of the Committee in any event to inquire into the Theosophical phenomena or weigh the value of the evidence amassed.
The whole history of spiritualistic and allied phenomena without exception shows that the occurrences are involuntary on the part of the medium, both as regards their production and control, and that their rationale and processes are not understood either by mediums or investigators. On the other hand, absolutely every iota of evidence amassed by the Committee shows that the Theosophical phenomena were voluntary, that is, consciously produced and consciously controlled by the operators, and those operators themselves claimed that the explanation of laws and processes could be acquired through the Theosophical teachings and the Mahatmas alone. Nevertheless, the Committee and Mr. Hodgson steadfastly took the position that the Theosophical phenomena were of the same character as spiritualistic manifestations, and were to be approached in the same way. Although the phenomena were admittedly metaphysical in causation, the Committee used only physical means of investigation, and rejected every hypothesis other than physical to explain them. Although in the preliminary report it was aware of the Coulomb accusations in regard to phenomena in India, of the "Kiddle incident" in connection with one of the "letters" in the "Occult World," and of the nature of Mr. Massey's "private evidence" in regard to another "occult letter", yet the testimony to numerous other phenomena was so overwhelming, so unquestioned, that the Committee say it is "impossible to avoid one or other of two alternative conclusions:-- Either that some of phenomena recorded are genuine, or that other persons of good standing in society, and, with characters to lose, have taken part in deliberate imposture." In the final report not a scintilla of evidence can be found to controvert this testimony, nor to impeach the "persons of good standing in society, and with characters to lose." They, at least, are not charged with having "taken part in deliberate imposture." How, then, does the Committee explain the phenomena so overwhelmingly testified to? It says they were due "to spontaneous illusion, or hallucination, or unconscious misrepresentation or invention on the part of the witnesses." For this wholesale "explanation", nota bene, not one particle of evidence is introduced or pretended to be introduced. It rests unequivocally, nakedly and unashamedly on the ipse dixit of the Committee; its only support their theories and speculations to account for phenomena that cannot otherwise be done away with. Where was the "spontaneous illusion, or hallucination, or unconscious misrepresentation or invention" then -- "on the part of the witnesses," or on the part of the Committee and Mr. Hodgson?
It remains to be stated that not a single member of the Committee nor Mr. Hodgson were able themselves to produce any phenomena, nor were witness of any of the Theosophical phenomena. Nor did they claim for themselves any knowledge of their own as to how such phenomena could or could not be produced. All that they set out to do was to secure the testimony of witnesses who had seen phenomena. The two reports show that with the single exception of the accusations of the Coulombs not a witness of the more than one hundred whose testimony was obtained, but testified unequivocally and positively to the occurrence of phenomena of which he was witness under circumstances that for him precluded any other conclusion but that the phenomena were genuine. So much for the competency of the Committee to adjudge the facts as testified to.
Upon what, then, did the Committee rely for its conclusions? Upon the Coulombs; upon the "Kiddle incident;" upon Mr. Massey's "private evidence;" upon the "expert opinions" of Mr. Netherclift and Mr. Sims on handwritings; on the "opinions" of Mr. Hodgson and others. The Coulombs and their charges have already been discussed. By their own story they were knaves, cheats and extortioners, "accomplices" with plainly evident evil motives, whose story had no independent corroboration whatever outside the suspicions of Mr. Hodgson and others, and which was denied point-blank by H.P.B., contradicted point-blank by the testimony of scores of actual independent witnesses and investigators. The "Kiddle incident" has been given, and whatever opinion may be formed in regard to it, there is no evidence whatever of fraud in connection with it, or of any bad faith on the part of Mr. Sinnett or H.P.B. or any other Theosophist. Mr. Massey's "private evidence" is given at page 397 of the report and anyone who reads it can determine for himself that, whatever of the mysterious and the unexplained there may be in connection with the matter, there is no evidence whatever of any fraud on H.P.B.'s part. As in many, many other cases, something occurred which Mr. Massey could not understand; his suspicions were aroused; H.P.B. denied absolutely any wrong-doing, but refused as absolutely to explain the mystery; hence she was "guilty."
Mr. Hodgson and the Committee reached the conclusion that the "Mahatma letters" to Mr. Sinnett and others were in fact written by Madame Blavatsky -- a conclusion or suspicion only, be it noted. To fortify this opinion some of the letters were submitted to Mr. Sims of the British museum and to Mr. F. G. Netherclift, a London handwriting expert, along with samples of the writing of H.P.B. In the first instance both Mr. Netherclift and Mr. Sims independently reached the conclusion that the "Mahatma letters" were NOT written by H.P.B. This is one of the "certain difficulties" already spoken of as confronting Mr. Hodgson and the Committee. For if the "Mahatma letters" were not written by H.P.B., who wrote them? After his return to England, therefore, Mr. Hodgson found himself in a quandary on this phase of his report. He thereupon took the matter up again with the experts, and agreeably they reversed their opinion and decided that the "letters" were written by H.P.B.! Incredible as this may appear it is the fact as derived from the report itself. One who is at all familiar with the course of "expert testimony" as to handwriting knows that, at best, such testimony is but opinion, and often erroneous, even where not formed to suit the desires of the client.
The earliest known "Mahatma letter" was one handed to Madame Fadeef, aunt of H.P.B. and widow of a well-known Russian General, in 1870, long before H.P.B. was known in the world, and long before the formation of the Theosophical Society. According to the written testimony of Madame Fadeef, whose good character no one questioned, the letter was handed to her in Russia by an Oriental who vanished before her eyes. She stated that, at the time, H.P.B. had been absent for years, no one of the family knew of her whereabouts, all their inquiries had come to naught, and they were ready to believe her dead when the letter relieved their anxieties by saying that she was in the care of the Mahatmas and would rejoin her family within eighteen months. With regard to this first Mahatmic letter, Professor F. W. H. Myers of the Committee certified as follows in the preliminary report: "I have seen this letter, which certainly appears to be in the K.H. (Mahatma) handwriting. F.W.H.M." Can anyone suppose that this Mahatma letter, written to relieve the pressing anxieties of loved and loving relatives, was "due to deliberate deception carried out by or at the instigation of Madame Blavatsky?" If not, how account for it and the other Mahatma letters being in the same handwriting?
Remains one more question for consideration: that of the "moral factor" of motive. The influences affecting the motives and conduct of the Committee, Mr. Hodgson, the Coulombs and others, have been indicated. In every case preconceptions, ignorance of occult laws and processes, mysterious circumstances which they could not understand and which H.P.B. refused to elucidate, the baffling nature of the phenomena, self-interest, popular and sectarian pressures and prejudices, all combined to create uncertainties, doubts, suspicions, conjectures and inferences of fraud and deception. The evidence, that which was actually testified to, was overwhelmingly in support of the genuineness of the phenomena.
The motives of the witnesses are equally evident: they had nothing whatever to gain and everything to lose by their testimony. They were affirming the genuineness and reality of phenomena in which nine-tenths of humanity disbelieves, and which, if proved and accepted, would upset and destroy cherished and almost universally prevailing ideas in religion, science and "almost every department of human thought and action." The most that could have been expected from the Committee in such circumstances was such a conclusion as that of the London Dialectical Society on the spiritualistic phenomena. But the Theosophical principles and phenomena reach far deeper into the foundations of human consciousness; unlike the spiritualist manifestations and theories, there is no room for reconciliation or compromise between Theosophical teachings and phenomena and the "forces of reaction," the established interests in church and science and human conduct. Bitter as was the opposition to "Darwinism," malevolent as was the antagonism to the spread of spiritualism and to such investigators of it as Professor Crookes, these were as nothing to the fear and hatred inspired by H.P.B., her teachings and her phenomena. In the one case compromise, a middle ground, was possible. In her case it was instinctively recognized by all that no compromise was possible. Hence, the conclusions of the Committee were in fact foregone from the beginning.
In no one thing, perhaps, is the weakness of the S.P.R. investigation more fatally self-betraying than in the motives attributed to H.P.B. to account for the "long-continued combination and deliberate deception instigated and carried out by Madame Blavatsky." That anyone, let alone a woman, should for ten or more years, make endless personal sacrifices of effort, time, money, health, and reputation in three continents, merely to deceive those who trusted her, with no possible benefit to herself; should succeed in so deceiving hundreds of the most intelligent men and women of many races that they were convinced of the reality of her powers, her teachings, her mission as well as her phenomena, only to be unmasked by a boy of twenty-three who, by interviewing some of the witnesses and hearing their stories, is able infallibly to see what they could not see, is able to suspect what they could find no occasion for suspecting, is able to detect a sufficient motive for inspiring H.P.B. to the most monumental career of chicanery in all history -- this is what one has to swallow in order to attach a moment's credibility to the elaborate tissue of conjecture and suspicion woven by Mr. Hodgson to off-set the solid weight of testimony that the phenomena were genuine.
"No crime without a motive." What, then, was the motive relied upon by Mr. Hodgson and the Committee to make credible their conclusion that H.P.B. was "one of the most accomplished, ingenious, and interesting imposters in history?"
She was a Russian spy, and her motive was to destroy British rule in India!
It is interesting to observe the successive steps of the Committee's struggle with this question of the possible motives of H.P.B. In the preliminary report the Committee raises the question of "all the commoner and baser motives to fraud or exaggeration," and states, "we may say at once that no trustworthy evidence supporting such a view has been brought under our notice." Next the Committee considers the possibility of "good" motives for bad conduct: "Now we know, indeed, that the suspicions which the Anglo-Indian authorities at first entertained as to the political objects of the Theosophical Society have been abandoned as groundless." Next the Committee say, "But we can imagine schemes and intentions of a patriotic kind ... we must be on our guard against men's highest instincts quite as much as their lowest."
In the final report Mr. Hodgson goes over the grounds of possible motives: "The question which will now inevitably arise is -- what has induced Madame Blavatsky to live so many laborious days in such a fantastic work of imposture? ... I should consider this Report incomplete unless I suggest what I myself believe to be an adequate explanation of her ten years' toil on behalf of the Theosophical Society."
Was it egotism? "A closer knowledge of her character would show such a supposition to be quite untenable."
Was she a plain, unvarnished fraud? "She is, indeed, a rare psychological study, almost as rare as a 'Mahatma'! She was terrible exceedingly when she expressed her overpowering thought that perhaps her 'twenty years' work might be spoiled through Madame Coulomb."
Was it religious mania, a morbid yearning for notoriety? "I must confess that the problem of her motives ... caused me no little perplexity.... The sordid motive of pecuniary gain would be a solution still less satisfactory than the hypothesis of religious mania.... But even this hypothesis I was unable to adopt, and reconcile with my understanding of her character."
What, then, was the compelling motive that induced the labors of a Hercules, the sacrifices of a Christ, to carry on a career of deception worthy of the Prince of Deceivers himself? "At last a casual conversation opened my eyes.... I cannot profess myself, after my personal experiences with Madame Blavatsky, to feel much doubt that her real object has been the furtherance of Russian interests.... I suggest it here only as a supposition which appears best to cover the known incidents of her career during the past 13 or 14 years."
H. P. Blavatsky lived and died a martyr, physically, mentally, and in all that men hold dear; she forsook relatives, friends, ease and high social standing, became an expatriate and naturalized citizen of an alien land on the other side of the globe; she founded a Society to which she gave unremitting and unthanked devotion; she wrote "Isis Unveiled," the "Secret Doctrine," the "Voice of the Silence " all of which were proscribed in Russia; she became a veritable Wandering Jew devoted to the propagation of teachings and ideals hateful to the world of "reactionary forces;" she eschewed all concern with political objects of any kind, all attachment to "race, creed, sex, caste, or color," and her life-blood formed and sustained a society sworn to the same abstentions; she lived and she died in poverty, slandered, calumniated, betrayed by followers and foes, misunderstood by all; she never from 1873 to the day of her death, set foot on Russian soil, an exile from family and country. Why did she do these things? "In furtherance of Russian interests!"
(1) This essay was first published in Theosophy (Los Angeles, CA, USA), June, 1920, pp. 230-241 and July, 1920, pp. 257-270. A slightly edited and revised version was published as Chapter V, "The S.P.R. and The Theosophical Movement," pp. 59-74 and as Chapter VI, "The Report of the S.P.R.," pp. 75-93 in the book titled The Theosophical Movement 1875-1925: A History and a Survey (First edition, 1925).
An online edition of this material as first published in Theosophy was reprinted on John DeSantis' WisdomWorld.org Web Site. See the "Modern Theosophical Movement" Section at his site. Mr. DeSantis has kindly allowed us to reprint this article.
For the BSC reprint, the title of this essay has been taken and adapted from the titles of Chapters V and VI in The Theosophical Movement 1875-1925. Quoted material in the above essay has been indented in the BSC version.