Published by Blavatsky Study Center. Online Edition copyright 2004.

Explanation of the "Kiddle Incident" in the
Fourth Edition of The "Occult World"

By C.C. Massey

[Reprinted from Light (London), July 26, 1884, pp. 307-9]

I have very recently procured a copy of the fourth edition of "The Occult World." As noted by "M. A. (Oxon."), two or three weeks ago, the Appendix contains an explanation by Koot Hoomi of the above perplexing incident. Although Mr. Sinnett tells us that the subject had lost its interest for all persons in England whose opinion he valued, and that in the London Theosophical Society it was looked upon as little more than a joke, I venture to think that the explanation deserves a more careful examination than it seems yet to have received. I should certainly not offer to discuss the subject before a society where it is treated as a joke, but as the readers of your paper are interested in psychological problems, and this question has been already before them, some of them may like to look a little more closely into the explanation now given to the public in Mr. Sinnett’s book.

At first sight, nothing can be more intelligible, and at the same time instructive, than the account given us. The adept has to impress the chela, and the chela has to transmit the impression to paper. Upon the distinctness and vivacity of the former’s impelling thought, on the one hand, and on the attentive apprehension by the latter, on the other hand, depend the fidelity and clearness of the final representation on the paper. Given a defect in the first condition, the chela will get only a confused and blurred impression, and can pass nothing more on to the material vehicle. Given a defect in the second condition -- imperfect attention to, or apprehension of, what is conveyed -- and again the same result. In this case, taking the words and lines now printed in italics, and which are those which had to be "restored" from the original document, by reason of the chela’s inability to decipher and transcribe them, I find that they amount to about thirty-one lines out of fifty-three. And they are, as the Adept says, "precisely those phrases which would have shewn the passages were simply reminiscences, if not quotations," and thus have precluded the suggestion that passages taken without acknowledgment from the Banner of Light could not belong to a letter dictated by a veritable "Mahatma" in India or Thibet. How came it, then, that it was just these explanatory portions and none other that the Adept failed to transmit, or his chela to receive, distinctly?

At first, and till I came to examine and compare the sentences in detail, I was disposed to accept Koot Hoomi’s reply to this question as clear and satisfactory, since the simpler solution (on occult principles, which had occurred to some of us, was not the right one. The explanation is this: Koot Hoomi having, for reasons stated, made himself acquainted with certain typical utterances of American Spiritualists at Lake Pleasant, retained them in his memory for the purpose of comparison or contrast with the true ideas of which they shewed a dawning but imperfect apprehension. His own comments and interpolations, on the other hand, were excogitated at the moment, and when he was in a state of physical exhaustion. The result was that though he could still compose the well-framed sentences now "restored," and could even project a tracing of them to the chela’s mind, they were in the back-ground, as it were, of his consciousness, and were not propelled with the requisite energy. Whereas Mr. Kiddle’s sentences, being clear in memory, stood out at the surface, and were more easily, and therefore more distinctly, detached.

"While dictating the sentences quoted -- a small portion of the many I had been pondering over for some days -- it was those ideas that were thrown out en relief the most, leaving out my own parenthetical remarks to disappear in the precipitation."

And again: --

"So I, in this instance, having, at the moment, more vividly in my mind the psychic diagnosis of current spiritualistic thought, of which the Lake Pleasant speech was one marked symptom, unwittingly transferred that reminiscence more vividly than my own remarks upon it and deductions therefrom. So to say, the ‘despoiled victims’ -- Mr. Kiddle’s -- utterances came out as a high light, and were more sharply photographed (first in the chela’s brain, and thence on the paper before him, a double process and one far more difficult than Thought-reading simply), while the rest, my remarks thereupon and arguments, are hardly visible, and quite blurred on the original scraps before me."

Now all this is quite intelligible on the face of it; and it is only when we look into the matter more closely and compare the several texts that it becomes less easy to accept the statement. Referring to the letter as originally printed, I find that what we have of it (Mr. Sinnett giving only extracts from the correspondence) occupies fifty-six lines of pp. 101-2 of the new edition of "The Occult World." No exception is taken to the first thirty lines on the score of incompleteness, and we have to suppose that the Adept’s inability to project his own composition accurately and clearly began just when it got mixed up with Mr. Kiddle’s sentences -- the latter half (twenty-six lines) of the letter. The tangle begins with "Plato was right" at line thirty. Then suddenly there are nine lines (of Appendix print) clean dropped out, the sentence continuing with Mr. Kiddle’s "Ideas rule the world;" and so it goes on for a bit with Mr. Kiddle’s language, the Adept being just awake enough to substitute the future for the present tense, and to insert "creeds and even powers" among the things that are to crumble before the march of ideas. Again four or five lines dropped (relating to the foolishness of the Spiritualists), and then by a revival of energy we get three or four more lines of Koot Hoomi’s own upon the congenial topic of sweeping away the dross left us by our pious forefathers. Next, bearing in mind the explanation that it was all intended as a running commentary upon, and correction of, the Spiritualistic utterances, partially reproduced, let us see how further comparison bears that out. The key-note of the whole is, of course, Spiritualism and its ideas, and Mr. Kiddle had said, "the agency called Spiritualism is bringing a new set of ideas into the world," &c. Yet not in a single instance does the Adept succeed in effectually projecting the word spiritualism or Spiritualists (though he tried four times, as appears by the restored version), or anything whereby the chela would understand what was meant. And, curiously enough, the omissions include not only Koot Hoomi’s own new and less vividly represented words, whenever these words would have thrown light on the subject-matter of the discourse, but also phrases of Mr. Kiddle’s, which Koot Hoomi had so well pondered, and which stood out so sharply in his memory, whenever these conflicted with the ideas of Occultism. Thus we have the above passage of Mr. Kiddle’s about Spiritualism suppressed, and his expressions relating to the "Divine Will," both of which we find, more or less complete -- with a commentary -- in the restored version. Not less curiously, on the other hand, the chela, while failing to catch such phases of Mr. Kiddle’s, is now and then exceptionally impressed by the feebly transmitted words of the commentary, when these come in well to impart a dash of Occultism or Adept philosophy to what is retained of Mr. Kiddle’s. In addition to the instances of this already quoted, we have the reference to "previous and future births") which should have been "future not previous births"), the word "immutable" before "law," and the word "uninitiated" before "mortals."

Similarly, a good deal of criticism might be expended on the sentence tacked on to "Plato was right." From the sceptical point of view, one can see what a difficulty there was here. "Plato was right" had to be retained, because the chela would not have invented the words; but then it had to be separated from Mr. Kiddle’s "Ideas rule the world," and some connection must be inserted between the two, leading up to the Spiritualists, and so accounting for the quotation. This could not be done in a few words, and so we have this monstrous lacuna of nine lines, this sudden and long failure of power, where all before had gone smoothly.

Without a full reprint of all the three texts the improbability of the third having ever been included or designed cannot be adequately appreciated. Seeing that your space is limited, those who wish to master the question must be referred to the book itself, now published at a very cheap rate.

Koot Hoomi thinks that Mr. Sinnett ought to have perceived a discrepancy in the original version with the earlier part of the letter -- an indication that something was wrong in the transcript he had received. But with submission, this is not at all apparent. All seems fairly relevant, at least as relevant in the original as in the reformed version. Indeed I think the transition is much more strange and violent in the latter than in the former. The reference to the supremacy of ideas in the historical development of the world seems to me more natural in regard to the great results just before predicted for Occultism than is a comparison of the methods of Plato and Socrates, and a criticism of the views and expressions of Spiritualists.

Literary criticism is by no means exhausted by the foregoing observations. Take, for instance, the phrase "noumena, not phenomena," in the restored version. We have all heard a great deal of "noumena," as distinguished from phenomena, lately, and the word has become familiar. With Western metaphysicians, of course, it has been long in use. And a Thibetan Adept might, no doubt, know all the words that ever were coined, and their meaning. But recondite terms are only thrown out incidentally when they are "in the air," and I confess I doubt whether nearly four years ago, when this letter was written, such familiarity with metaphysical terminology would have been assumed in a correspondence of this character. That, however, is only one of several minor points to which little weight would be attached if they stood alone. Yet it would be interesting to learn from Mr. Sinnett whether this word turns up here for the first time in his correspondence with Koot Hoomi, or whether it occurs in the strictly philosophical letters (wherein it would often be relevant) upon which "Esoteric Buddhism" is founded.

I must now advert to another point invalidating, I think, the whole supposition which struck me at first so plausibly. Would the relative mental prominence of the ideas and phrases to be conveyed, and therefore their relative facility of transference, be such as is alleged in this case?

Certainly, a passage with which I am very familiar -- a favourite one from Shakespeare, for instance -- will stand out in my mind more easily and distinctly than the context of my own words in quoting it. But is that the case when I am dealing controversially with the language of another, however clearly I may have committed it to memory? I think then that my consciousness, my thought, gives as much prominence to my own characterisation of the passage I quote as to the passage itself. Were I a thought-transferer, I doubt if I could pass on the words quoted to the recipient without verbal colour of my own -- unless that was my intention. Or rather, I do not think that could happen when, as in this case, the quotation and the commentary are not kept apart, but the one interlaces the other, so that the quoted words are not allowed to run on continuously, the comment being postponed, but the latter, with its nay, nay, is intruded into the fabric of the sentence. In that case, I submit, there is almost necessarily a mental vehemence or emphasis which must present my own words at least as vividly as mere memory presents the quoted ones. To suppose that in such a mixed composition nearly all that to which I myself attach importance, which is the motive of the whole composition, can be neatly and exactly eliminated as here described, passes my understanding, and therefore, I frankly avow -- having regard to all the facts that seem to me relevant in this case -- my present belief.

I do not presume to follow the question into the mystery of "precipitation," that final process as to which the analogy of our "Thought-transference" experiments will not help us. All these omitted thirty-one lines, consisting of whole long passages, short sentences, fragments of sentences, and single words, though not intelligibly impressed on the chela’s consciousness, nevertheless so far reached it that some trace of them, recognisable by their author, got transferred to the paper. The restoration is not from memory alone of what was dictated, but from memory aided and suggested by a faint and blurred record. That sufficiently appears from Koot Hoomi’s statement of the facts. It further appears that the rapport between Adept and chela is such that the latter can telegraph back to the former, since Koot Hoomi was actually asked "at the time," by his chela, to "look over and correct" the imprint. Being very tired, he declined. But one would have thought that when the chela found the word-pictures or sounds, as the case may be, of whole sentences coming blurred and unintelligible, he would have at once, and before or at the time of precipitation, intimated that fact to his chief, so as to arrest a communication which must prove so defective as a whole. But as to this, we are not qualified by knowledge of all the conditions and circumstances to judge with confidence.

We have finally to consider the value of the evidence of Mr. T. Subba Row and of General Morgan. Both these gentlemen say they have seen the original "precipitation proof" -- "scraps," according to the latter of them -- "in which whole sentences, parenthetical and quotation marks are defaced and obliterated and consequently omitted in the chela’s clumsy transcription." That is to say, they were shewn something -- by whom we do not learn -- which they were told was the original "precipitation proof." How they could possibly know it to be so, except on the assumption of somebody’s good faith -- the chela’s, I suppose -- on an assumption which begs the whole question, I cannot see; and this evidence, therefore, seems to leave the case just where it was.

And what, then, should be our judgment on the whole matter? Most minds will follow a mere bent of inclination in accepting or putting aside the considerations which seem so weighty to me. I am used to adopt a method with myself which I find to be a sort of chemical test, as it were, of prejudice, and to be very effectual in checking hasty conclusions. I imagine that I have to state my opinion before some invisible but infallible tribunal, under a heavy and immediate penalty, something that I should most fear, for being wrong. How sudden a silence would thus fall upon those who "deliver brawling judgments, unashamed, on all things all day long!" But had I to encounter this risk in judging of the case before us, I should commit my fate to the opinion that these passages were copied out of the Banner of Light, everything being excluded which would indicate a Spiritualist origin, and a word or sentence being inserted here and there to adapt them to other ideas; that they were appropriated without any view to general publication (as, indeed, we learn that the letters were not written with such intention, which disposes of the improbability arising from the "stupidity" of the act), and that the defective precipitation and the subsequent "restoration" are alike mythical. It will thus be seen that I do not accept the Thibetan origin of the act or of the letter itself, and that, therefore although I have throughout written of the letter and explanation as "Koot Hoomi’s," that was only for convenience, and to avoid circumlocution. I do not know, and am not prepared to offer any definite theory as to who is responsible for one and the other. Mr. Sinnett’s sense of the absurdity of a "Mahatma," and a Mahatma "who inspired the teachings of ‘Esoteric Buddhism,’" plagiarising, if he will pardon me for saying so, begs the question. It even reminds me of the reasoning of those Christians who are accustomed to meet Biblical criticism with an appeal to "the Word of God." "Esoteric Buddhism" is certainly a remarkable, in some respects, I think, a great book; but sincerely as I respect Mr. Sinnett’s own profound conviction of its origin, I would rather not found any intellectual estoppels on it for the present. I doubt if Mr. Sinnett has fathomed the mystery of his real correspondent.

And as to the "intellectual temptation" of the latter to borrow from Mr. Kiddle -- which Mr. Sinnett thinks so preposterous -- we need not doubt his ability; but every one knows that the best writers quote aptly from others. Nor would there have been anything amiss in that in this case, were it not that the incongruity of a Thibetan Adept making approving extracts from the Banner of Light prevented it being done with due acknowledgment. For no one could suppose that Koot Hoomi "took in" that newspaper, regularly as it is received at the office of the Theosophist. And is it not somewhat curious that whereas Koot Hoomi was intellectually present at Lake Pleasant when the lecture was delivered, and had for some time been in correspondence with Mr. Sinnett, he should have waited to impart his reflections upon these Spiritualistic utterances until after the published report of them had reached India? We learn that "some two months" intervened between the delivery of the lecture and Koot Hoomi’s letter; a period not unimportant in estimating the probability of a very vivid recollection of the exact phrases used. And if, on the one hand, the delay is significant, so, on the other, is the fact that the references occurred so soon after the arrival of the American newspaper containing the report. The lecture was delivered on August 15th, 1880; and Mr. Kiddle tells us that it was reported in the Banner of Light "the same month." Allowing for this slight interval, the date of Koot Hoomi’s letter would probably be found to tally pretty closely with the arrival of the newspaper at Bombay or Madras. The exact dates ought to be ascertained.

There will still be such a thing as common-sense, even when the facts of Occultism are admitted and understood; and that does not point to a Thibetan origin of the celebrated "Kiddle letter."

The evidence for the existence of Adepts -- or "Mahatmas," since that terms is now preferred -- and even of their connection with individual members of the Theosophical Society, need not here concern us. We may, and I do, accept it; and yet see in their methods, or rather in the things that are said and done in their names, such deviations from our Philistine sense of truth and honour as to assure us that something is very wrong somewhere. For this is by no means a singular case. The repeated necessity for explanations -- which are always more formidable than the things to be explained -- must at length tire out the most patient faith, except the faith superseding all intelligence, the credo quia impossibile.

I have only to add that while preserving all the interests, and much of the belief which attracted me to the Theosophical Society, and which have kept me in it up to now, notwithstanding many and growing embarrassments, I do not think that the publication of the conclusions above expressed is consistent with loyal Fellowship. The constitution, no doubt, of the Society is broad enough to include minds more sceptical than my own in regard to the alleged sources of its vitality and influence. But let any one try to realise this nominal freedom, and he will find himself, not only in an uncongenial element, but in an attitude of controversy with his ostensible leaders, with the motive forces of the Society. That is not consistent with the sympathetic subordination or co-operation which is essential to union. If anything could keep me in a position embarrassing or insincere, it would be the noble life and character of the president, my friend, Colonel Olcott. But personal considerations must give way at length; and accordingly, with unabated regard and respect for many from whom it is painful to separate, I am forwarding my resignation of Fellowship to the proper quarters.

July 22nd, 1884.