Published by Blavatsky Study Center. Online Edition copyright 2004.

Colonel Olcott on the Kiddle Plagiarism

by "M.A. (Oxon.)" [W. Stainton Moses]

[Reprinted from Light (London), November 17, 1883, pp. 497-8]

It is desirable that anything I may wish to say in reply to the letter of Colonel Olcott, which appears in another column, should be said at once. For to a vast majority of the readers of "LIGHT" it seems that "a little more than a little" more of this discussion "is by much too much." It is dry and fruitless, and desperately profitless. But the President-Founder of the Theosophical Society speaks with authority, and anything from his pen is worthy of attention. I, at least, always lend an attentive ear to his words, for I entirely reciprocate the friendly feelings that he, I am sure, entertains towards me; and did I know nothing more of him than his blameless and self-sacrificing life, spent literally in going about doing good, in healing all manner of sickness and disease, I should feel deep respect for that faith of his, which can inspire such words of beneficence. The man who gives up all that this world has to bestow -- home, and kindred, and friends, and profession -- and goes forth with unquestioning faith to promulgate what he believes to be the truth, is a man who commands the respect of every worthy critic. On all grounds I willingly listen to Colonel Olcott.


But I am a little puzzled to know what I have done. Unless Colonel Olcott, through hasty reading, has confounded in my Note my own words with an extract from the St. Jame’s Gazette, of which I was rather making fun and with the spirit of which I have no sort of sympathy, I must say he seems to me extremely sensitive and thin-skinned. And this is a quality which strikes me as being very pronounced in Theosophical utterances. It would seem that Theosophists are so little sure of their ground as to be very sensitive to the most kindly criticism, even so far as to resort to dogmatic utterance to avoid it. I have refrained for a long time from expressing any opinion about moot matters between Theosophists and Spiritualists. In the midst of much that was eminently provocative both respecting Christianity and Spiritualism, I maintained a perfectly good-humoured silence. For I was quite convinced that the superior knowledge which could put forward Bradlaugh as an antidote to Christianity, or discourse as their accredited organ, the Theosophist, did not infrequently about Spiritualism, was not a thing to be taken seriously. As Colonel Olcott says about me and Koot Hoomi, "I permitted myself" to smile, and I have continued to permit myself that amusement ever since. That, surely, hurt nobody. A consciousness of rectitude. I might ignore that. But when I make a very mild and jesting allusion to Mr. Kiddle’s allegation, I find the President-Founder down on me with all his big guns, ignoring anything I may have done to secure a fair hearing for his beliefs; and I learn, to my surprise, that I am considered by him, and by others of my Theosophical friends, to have dealt in "sneers, innuendoes," and so forth. By no means, my good friends. I do not wish to sneer. I do not deal in innuendoes. If I mean a thing I am apt to say it. But since I am publicly taken to task respecting what I should have imagined, from the way in which it has been treated, that Colonel Olcott considered an insignificant matter -- indeed, he expressly says of it that it is "fit only for children" -- I have no hesitation in expressing my opinion that it is, on the contrary, a very serious matter, eminently worthy of the best attention that Colonel Olcott can bestow upon it. I only regret that it has not been seriously dealt with hitherto; and that, with an exception hereafter to be made, it is not so treated now.


What Colonel Olcott regards as "a few unquoted and unimportant sentences," I am bound to say I regard far otherwise. Though I am fully aware of the various cases of plagiarism which he alludes to, and of others besides, in which the bona fides of the scribe is quite unquestioned, as, emphatically, it is in this case, it has never yet occurred, I think to any Spiritualist to attempt to pass off such cases as unimportant. We by no means ignore their existence or their significance. We do not refer them to fraud on the part of the medium; on the contrary, they have been regarded by us as evidencing the action of an unseen intelligence, the moral consciousness of which was not of a high order. We should be startled at the presence of such plagiarism in one who posed before us as a great moral regenerator and instructor, and on behalf of whom such tremendous claims were made, as are now made, on behalf of the Mahatmas.


Nor am I at all clear how far the action of what is, unquestionably, an occult law in the communion between us and the unseen world, applies to the present case. I can accept, for there is the evidence of it, even if I cannot understand, the transfusion of thought, the identity of utterance even, which reproduces an idea, or a specially apt term of expression, or a telling argument -- though I think in borrowing from another person most writers would feel bound to acknowledge the obligation in some way or other. The cases which Colonel Olcott gives are extremely striking, and should command the serious attention of all unprejudiced investigators of the subject now under discussion. But these ideas of Mr. Kiddle’s have not been merely transfused; they have been ingeniously perverted, distorted from their original intention, and, by the deliberate omission of inconvenient words and phrases, have been made to do duty for a purpose very different from that for which they were first intended. This, surely, differentiates the case under notice from others quoted by Colonel Olcott.


But, feeling as I do strongly our ignorance of occult laws, I should have adopted in respect of this new difficulty the tactics with which I have met so many others, had it not been that the case as a difficulty does not stand alone. I speak with some authority here, for I have followed from its very earliest conception the history of that which from small beginnings has now developed into a very portentous claim. It was some time before we heard of any Brothers at all. When we did they were spoken of quite simply as Himalayan Brothers, and we got at no facts about them. Then they became Adept Brothers, and we heard of their marvellous occult powers. But it is not till very recently that they have been spoken of with bated breath and bended knee as the Mahatmas, and lack of such reverence on our part has come to be regarded as blasphemous. This is very perplexing, and really, in the light of what "G. W., M.D." tells us of his futile attempts to get at them, first through one "perfectly holy man," and then through another "almost Divine in wisdom, power, and holiness," both of whom turned out badly, it is provocative of one of the smiles that I still "permit myself." It may be that all this is on the lines of legitimate development, that these mysterious beings are all that is claimed for them now by their most enthusiastic devotees. It is impossible to prove a negative. But if they be so holy, at least they are not wise. If they be wise according to their own judgment, at least they have taken some steps with regard to us that are hardly consonant with our ideas of advanced holiness. So long as they were enwrapped in isolation, we could say nothing. When they meddle with us, through an intermediary agency, we are entitled to criticise their methods of action. And this criticism, however lenient, must be adverse to the claims advanced. There is no perceptible ground for accepting what is dogmatically forced upon us as an article of faith.


I have said that this Kiddle plagiarism is not an isolated case of difficulty. Since Colonel Olcott challenges me because I attach importance -- in common, I may say parenthetically, with every person with whom I have conversed on the subject -- to what he thinks "fit only for children," I reply, first that it is a fact -- an oasis in the midst of a desert of speculative theory. And secondly, I say that, until it is fairly met, it is to the mind of most men an ugly fact. Here I give full credit for what Colonel Olcott adduces as evidence of the working of an occult law of which this may be an instance. But no such explanation will apply to the claim made from the same source that I myself had, without knowing it, been all these years in communication with, and under the inspiration of, these Brothers, of whom "Imperator" was claimed as one. Now, I had been, as any who has read my "Spirit Teachings" will know, extremely careful as to what I did. The records of all these years were most carefully kept, and many a query was put and answered respecting these mysterious Brothers. The result was the same always. The reply was that of the converts of whom it was inquired whether they had received the gift of the Holy Ghost." Any knowledge of the very existence of such a Brotherhood was invariably disclaimed. When, then, I found that "Imperator" was claimed as a brother, and I as an unwitting disciple -- I who had made secure every step of my onward progress! -- I regarded it as a very serious matter. For many years I had searched for a fact. When I got one, it dissipated many theories.

It would be fruitless to prolong this controversy. Whether it be "fit only for children" or, as I rather think, of very serious import, no good can be got by prolonged discussion. I have exercised a patience of which I am not ashamed. I have always given credit to Theosophical teachings for the recognition of the powers of the incarnate human spirit which Spiritualists are too apt to ignore. I have done what in me lay to secure a fair hearing for the claims put forward. If now I am compelled to say the evidence does not satisfy me, I am ready also to admit that it does apparently satisfy some who are fully able and have full materials on which to judge for themselves. I have no wish to bias any man. I should have gone on my own way, with a hearty respect for those with whom I cannot agree -- for I am sure that their motives are as pure as my own, and I do not expect to live to see the day when we shall all see eye to eye -- were it not that Colonel Olcott, hastily I cannot but think, accused me of unfairness and precipitancy; where I have been scrupulously patient and impartial. It is, I know, quite vain to represent to those who have arrived as a position of unquestioning faith in the wisdom and absolute knowledge of these Brothers that they are in error in face of the facts. I have felt inclined to say repeatedly to them as Cromwell once said to an assembly of Scotch divines: "I entreat you by the mercies of God to remember that it is possible that sometimes you may be mistaken." But the dogmatic assertion: "It is impossible that the Brothers should be mistaken about anything," removes everything from the realm of discussion into that atmosphere of infallible authority which is indifferently well adapted as an environment to the Supreme Pontiff, but is only ludicrous in an imitator. And so, cadit quoestio.

M. A. (OXON.)