Published by Blavatsky Study Center. Online Edition copyright 2004.

Madame Blavatsky

By P* * * * * *

[Reprinted from The Woman's Herald (London),
May 16, 1891, pp. 465-466.]

The first time I saw Madame Blavatsky was many years ago when she and her friends first went to live at Norwood.  I had then been a good deal in London society; that perhaps accounted for the fact that the strongest impression I received about her on this occasion was her naturalness.  She seemed to me before all things a child of nature; other people might say she was Bohemian, “rather opposed to les convenances” --- that is simply another way of putting it.  Manners she had none, and her appearance, it cannot be denied, was the reverse of attractive, but her unconventionality, though rough, was refreshing.  I never observed that her eyes were either beautiful or magnetic as has been stated.  They did not give me that impression.  She had a large mobile mouth, there were no set hard lines around it, such as English people usually have.

She once had it in her power to do me a great service, and I have always been grateful to her for the kindliness and earnestness with which she helped me; at the same time I must confess that a certain indiscretion and want of tact on her part, in this connection, caused me the most exquisite tortures.

This was very characteristic of her; it is also characteristic of her that I did not resent my sufferings.  No one with a sound and true heart could long bear her ill-will; at the same time no one with a sound and true judgment could deny that she was the most trying and aggravating person that ever lived.  Few people have been in more constant hot water than Madame Blavatsky, indeed it may be said that her sky was never without a thundercloud of criticism and abuse; and it often struck me as strange that she was never able to meet it with equanimity.  It always hurt her to the quick.  This was possibly the result of temperament, but I think it was the result also of the mere intellectuality of her religion.

Our Western nature appears to need the spirit of the Christ in order that it may reach its highest development, and she was almost antagonistic to Christianity sometimes --- but upon these points we may not dogmatise.  In any case, although much of the criticism to which she was exposed was well deserved, still more was the result of blind prejudice.

For instance, I have frequently heard her charged with taking money from people, the implication being that there was something nefarious and dishonest in her doing so.  My answer has invariably been, “Do you think she takes money for her personal use?”

The answer has always been “No.”  Then I ask, “Why may not Madame Blavatsky collect funds for the cause she has at heart, just as you collect funds for your temperance, your mission, or your various philanthropic schemes?”  This question is not usually answered.

As a matter of fact, had any one suggested that she spent the money on herself I could have denied it.  I am not a Theosophist, and speak only as an outsider, but I have frequently stayed in her house, and I know the extreme simplicity, almost the poverty, of her life.

I remember on one occasion some years ago she was very seriously ill, and her doctor ordered her to drive out; her friends did all they could to persuade her to take an occasional drive in a hired carriage, or a bath chair; nothing would induce her to spend the money on herself --- and so it always was.

It is impossible to read a more true account of this strange and difficult character than Mr. Sinnett’s life of her.  I have been very frequently struck with the suggestiveness of the following passage.

“No one could understand Madame Blavatsky without studying her by the light of the hypothesis that she was the invisible agent of unknown occult superiors.  There was much in her character which repelled the idea that she was an exalted moralist trying to lead people upward towards a higher spiritual life.  Once, however, recognise her as the flighty and defective, though loyal and brilliantly gifted representative of superiors in the background, making through her an experiment on the spiritual intuitions of the world in which she moved, and the whole situation was solved, the apparent incoherence of her character and acts explained, and the best attributes of her own nature properly appreciated.”

Those who are acquainted with the deep religious sentiment and spiritual aspirations which influence the advanced women who are the reformers of this age were frequently disappointed in her.  Mr. Sinnett has given us the reason --- we were always looking for the “exalted moralist” who would help us to solve our social problems, and we never received any help.

She was exceedingly clever at not answering questions, and was, moreover, entirely ignorant of our social questions.  It must never be forgotten that she was Russian to the backbone.

But no such feeling of disappointment accompanies us when we try to follow her through her book, The Secret DoctrineThe Secret Doctrine is not religion, but it is the scientific aspect of religion; the age has not produced a more marvellous work than this, its erudition alone is unsurpassed; for the clearest thinker it is a hard nut to crack --- a good preparation towards the understanding of it is to pass through the Moral Science tripos of the University of Cambridge, but those who have not this advantage may yet be able to get some gleams of light on the subjects it treats of; these are Cosmogenesis or Cosmic Evolution, Anthropogenesis, and Symbolism.

Just before one of these volumes appeared, her secretary, who was a great student of Tennyson, remarked that he was not acquainted with some quotation which she gave in it from Tennyson’s works, and as a matter of fact it could not be found in his published writings.  But Madame Blavatsky was not to be moved, and Mr. K. (1) went off to the British Museum to make further investigations.  After several days of fruitless search he discovered a poem of Tennyson’s, written in his early youth and published in some insignificant magazine which contained the lines in question.

To criticise such a work is impossible, because in the first place the critics do not read it (they have not all passed the Moral Science Tripos); those who have made a serious study of this volume and who are unable to accept its teaching are still bound to confess that it exhibits not only a working hypothesis but, indeed the only hypothesis yet offered to us of the genesis and evolution of cosmic and individual life.

To those of us who seek to penetrate behind and beyond the dry bones of positive science The Secret Doctrine opens out possibilities which are infinite, and avenues of thought which a conventional world has hitherto stopped, and which the thinkers of past ages, Plato, Porphyry, Schopenhauer, Boehme, Schelling, &c., have dimly perceived and have pointed out.  There is much in it that is repellant to Christian feeling, but there is more that may be taken as a priceless commentary upon the Bible.

The two main doctrines which she has been instrumental in transplanting from the East to the West are the doctrines of Karma and Re-incarnation; neither can be described within the limits of a newspaper article, both are deeply interesting, and suggest thought, whether we accept them or not.

Re-incarnation is based on the eternity of the soul in the past as in the future and its ultimate identification with the true self; the self, they say, is not this body, but the body is used by the soul for its own edification, and to this end also each soul incarnates itself in a succession of thousands of lives, and these lives, with an intervening period of rest, are to the life of that soul as the days and the nights are to the life of the individual.

Karma is the destiny which we weave for ourselves by our thoughts, our desires, and our actions, and in which, of course, the past life history of the soul plays an important part.

Madame Blavatsky has long been out of health, and lately her sufferings had been aggravated by the cold.  She died on Friday week, and was, according to her wish, cremated at Woking Cemetery last Monday.  A large number of friends and followers were present.

Whatever may be out opinion of “H. P. B.” we, who are not her followers, may offer to those who are, our compassionate sympathy for the loss of their leader.


(1)  "Mr. K." is Mr. Bertram Keightley.