Published by The Blavatsky Archives Online. Online Edition copyright 2000.
by Lord Queensberry
[Reprinted from The Agnostic Journal (London),
September 27, 1890, pp. 194-195
Some time ago I received a very flattering notice in Lucifer, the Theosophist journal, with regard to my little poem, The Spirit of the Matterhorn, and in which the reviewer stated that it was nearly all pure Theosophy. Being anxious to comprehend what Theosophy was, and not being much enlightened by some of the Theosophic literature which I got hold of, I attended one of Madame Blavatskys evening parties, and was enabled to have a personal conversation with her. The point of discussion which arose between us was as to the alleged immortality of the personal and individual consciousness, which appears to be held by Madame Blavatsky and all Theosophists as a positive certainty and an article of their faith, the same as in Christianity. Thinking as I do on the subject, that personal consciousness --- which to me expresses what we call individual soul-life --- had a commencement with the formation of the physical body, and that it must naturally, therefore, end with it, I found I could not be defined as a Theosophist.
In endeavouring to explain myself to Madame Blavatsky, I pointed out to her that I was unable to believe in a future personal consciousness after death, without the necessary corollary of a previous consciousness before birth; and this, to my mind, evidently had not existed. Is this future eternal consciousness which they predict for us, and which I myself have no wish for (if it is to be a continuation of our consciousness as now), to be a state of continued consciousness after death, but of perfect blankness of memory of the past here in this life, as it has been in the great before? There might be some comfort in this; but, alas, there can be no authority for such a belief. If that future existence is to be a conscious one, and a continuation of the present, where does the obliteration of all the wrongs that may have happened here in this life come in? With the ideas I hold, I may look forward, and do, to something of this kind, but at the expense of my personal identity and consciousness. I do not, however, put forward my belief as a demonstrated fact; I only say that I regard immortality, in some form or other, as possible, if not probable.
Madame Blavatsky, in reply to my statement that I could not conceive a previous personal individual existence, answered me in this way: How do you know you had no previous personal consciousness before you were born? I said, because that past is a perfect blank to me, and I have no consciousness of it whatever; and, therefore, had I a previous personal existence before I was born, my present one can hardly be an unbroken continuation of it. It could, moreover, not have been a conscious one, as it is now at any rate. Madame Blavatskys answer to this staggered me for the time being, for I was not quick enough to reply to her; but, in thinking it over, it staggers me no longer. She replied: It is no proof, because the past is a blank and you have no recollection of a previous conscious existence, that you had not one. You did have one. [No evidence given for this, only the bare assertion.] You do not remember, she continued, when you were born, nor when you were an infant; in fact no one can say exactly when he first began to remember. But you were conscious, and had a personal identity, though no recollection of it, when an infant; as you neither had recollection before you were born into this life, though you had conscious existence. I think any one may see the fallacy of this comparison, though for the time, in conversation, I could not reply to it. When I was born there were evidence and witnesses of my identity, though I have no recollection of it. There is no evidence or witness of that identity before I was formed in my mothers womb. That I have no recollection of conscious existence as an infant was simply that my brain was not sufficiently developed to enable it to what I call register; indeed, I cannot say if a new-born infant is conscious of his existence or identity at all, or at what exact age he does become conscious of it. Will some Theosophist enlighten me? We must all have first recollections of being able to remember, although hardly able to fix the date; but I should presume it would be the time when the brain had sufficiently grown and developed to be capable of doing what I have called registering. Is not this proof that there can be no consciousness without the brain power, and that in the way we use the word consciousness, as we express it in this life, there is no such thing without brain power? Will Madame Blavatsky or some other Theosophist answer me?
I suppose I shall be told of some third principle, which is neither body nor personal consciousness nor spirit. I can see no evidence of such a thing, nor how it could be myself without either my physical body or brain consciousness. My intellect as yet has not been able to grasp beyond the idea of body and soul, though of the soul I am very vague, and of its very existence my opinion is Agnostic. I can have no conception of such a thing as a soul, except as an effect or result of the physical body, as illustrated by the simile of an Aeolian harp. The melody of a musical instrument has indeed often been termed its soul. What I maintain is that Madame Blavatskys comparison of my want of recollection as an infant with my want of recollection before I was born is no reply to my answer to hers, that before brain power existed there was neither consciousness, memory, nor personal existence, though the forces that had met to form me had always been, and would live for evermore. This is the only immortality I can, at present, see my way to claim for myself.
[See Madame Blavatsky's reply titled "Personal Immortality."]