Theosophy and Its Opponents

Theosophy and Its Opponents


A Letter by Henry S. Olcott on the Hodgson Report

[Reprinted from The Harbinger of Light (Melbourne, Australia), 
September 1, 1886, pp. 3281-3282.]

Mr. Reimers has received a long and interesting letter from Colonel Olcott on the above subject, which he has handed to us for publication.  In the opening sentences the Colonel expresses his pleasure at being in direct correspondence with so earnest, able, and honest a student of psychic science as Mr. Reimers, and proceeds as follows: ---

“Since my book on the Eddy mediums (‘People from the Other World’) appeared I have been occupying myself with the evidences for the reality of Asiatic psychic science and testing the reasonableness of the Eastern esoteric doctrine.  Without going into needless particulars, I shall simply say that I have personal knowledge of (a) the existence of adepts with developed psychic powers of the highest order; (b) the existence of a complete system of spiritual philosophy transmitted from an unknown antiquity; (c) of there being a genuine experimental science at its basis; (d) of the reconciliation of the latter with our most modern scientific discoveries; (e) of the fact of a personal relation between the aforesaid psychic experts and Madame Blavatsky; and of her possession of certain abnormal powers covering a wide range of phenomena, from the most elementary mediumistic rappings, tiltings, and psychography up to those upon a plane where consciousness and the power of action are enjoyed extra-corporeally.  To pursue my work uninterruptedly I relinquished all worldly interests in the year 1878, and since then my existence has been bound up and merged in that of the Theosophical Society.  We have had stormy times, sustained many rude assaults, and suffered much cruel injustice; but the outcome of it all is that the Society has expanded beyond all expectation, has 124 branches, and this month is forming more --- among them one in Ireland and one in Africa.  So whatever faults we may have made in administration, whatever offences either of us may have been charged with or committed, it is undeniable that our declared principles are good, and the platform upon which our Society stands so strong as to defy even the most violent and malevolent attacks upon personal character.  As regards the recent crusade of the London S.P.R. against Madame Blavatsky, there is one thing to be said which explains why it has so little permanent effect upon our Society.  The report is so full of personal pique and malice, and shows so little familiarity with psychological science, that experienced and unbiassed theosophists and spiritualists see that Mr. Hodgson has overshot his mark, and that his blow will recoil upon himself.  Nothing could have been more treacherous and malicious than his attempt to give Madame Blavatsky the character of a ‘Russian spy.’  That theory --- as Mr. Sinnett has shown, and as official documents in my possession prove --- was abandoned within a short time after her arrival in India.  Its absurdity is but too evident to every one who ever passed a fortnight in Madame B.’s company.  She is the very last person in the world to whom any Government, let alone the cautious Russian, would entrust such a delicate service.  But, finding absolutely no other than a philanthropic motive for her long courses of self-sacrificing devotion to theosophy, and instinctively feeling that the whole force of the crusade against her would be broken unless something wicked could be alleged against her, he deliberately revived the exploded ‘spy’ theory --- after arguing the pros and cons with myself and another gentleman here [at Adyar, Madras, India] and confessing its inadequacy --- backing it up with a fragment of the MSS. of an old translation she made five years ago for an Indian organ of Government --- the Pioneer --- which had been pilfered and laid by with malice prepensa by the adorable Madame Coulomb!  And he further supported it with a quotation from a sympathetic private letter from myself to a Hindu, written from New York in 1878, in the tone in which every true American would write, in answer to the patriotic plaint that the Indian princes were stripped of all their grandeur!  In India the cry ‘A Russian spy’ has the same effect as that of “A Prussian spy’ had in France of late, or that of the ‘Black Horse Cavalry’ had in the United States at the time of Bull Run.  Mr. Hodgson knew this, and deliberately employed this convenient method of disposing of Madame B.’s case.  Perhaps more than any one else here, I have been grieved and shocked with Mr. H.’s conduct, for --- as he himself admits --- I threw our most private records open to him, gave him facilities he could otherwise never had secured for investigating, and expected him to deal by us with absolute candour and loyalty.  I am also sorry to be obliged to say that, for the sake of impeaching the character of Mr. Damodar --- noblest, most unselfish, and devoted of young Hindu philanthropists, and one of the most successful of our psychic experimentalists --- Mr. Hodgson suppressed an account --- capable of verification by Postal Department, and other proofs --- of an ‘Astral flight,’ or psychic journey, of Mr. D.’s from Cawnpore to Madras on the night of November 4, 1883, and of his transportation of a certain letter (to me from a gentleman in Italy) from Madame Blavatsky, which very letter was posted to me to Aligarh, N.W.P., on the morning of November 5, at Adyar, by Madame Blavatsky and duly reached Aligarh on the 10th, in regular course of post, where I found it on the 12th.  This is so irrefutable a case, so outside of the possibility of any theory of collusion or deception, and it so upsets the plan to impeach Mr. Damodar’s veracity and integrity, that it was quietly ignored.  I am sorry to have to say this, but what other inference is possible when Mr. H. was shown the entries in my diary, from which he was quite willing to copy whatever suited his purpose?  The same may be said respecting the evidence for Madame Blavatsky’s occult powers --- whatever seemed incapable of explanation upon a gratuitous theory of fraud, falsehood, and collusion was omitted from his brief.  I have no time, and it would be useless to cite the mass of facts going to prove her strange psychic endowments, as exhibited in America, Europe and Asia within the past twenty or more years; for, as regards the outside public, occult things will ever be criticised from the vulgar, material point of view, and the laws of subjective nature impertinently ignored, while the educated occultist will never allow himself to come to snap-judgments, but tests all tales of phenomena by the canons of arcane science.  I recollect the case of the seizure of Mrs. Florence Corner, which you yourself witnessed, when personating a spirit at a London seance, and think it offers a very fair example in point.  Undoubtedly it was she who was seized by Sir George Sitwell and Mr. von Buch, and equally certain is it that she had disrobed for the part.  These sceptics, unacquainted with the laws of mediumism, were fully warranted in hastily concluding that a wilful deception was been practised by Mrs. Corner, and in so reporting to the Times.  But, being so ignorant, it was a shame, almost a crime, that they should have assumed the role of exposers, and should have published anything whatever about the case until, by a series of seances held under scientifically perfect test conditions, they had arrived at clear proof as to the nature of the thing they were investigating.  This was the course of Professor Hare, Mr. Wallace, Professor Zollner, Mr. Crookes, and other real investigators.  It was also the theory upon which I worked with the Eddys, the Holmeses, and Mrs. Compton, and my over-caution as to parading my personal opinions drew from various men of science the declaration that my case was clearly proved by my facts.  This instinct of caution now leads me to refrain from any ex cathedra declaration as to the merits of the Coulomb Missionary Hodgson S.P.R. case against my friend and colleague Madame Blavatsky.  Without omniscience nobody could penetrate to the depths of her consciousness and absolutely know whether she had tricked at all, and if so, when and how much?  What we do know is that she has given numberless proofs of psychic powers, that her erudition and literary and intellectual powers are of a high order, and that for the past twelve years we have seen her labouring, like a galley slave at his oar, to spread knowledge, encourage virtuous living, present noble ideals of life for imitation, and diffuse the idea of mutual tolerance and religious comity --- and all this without asking salary, fee, or reward for herself, but, on the contrary, giving freely of her private means to help on the Society’s work.  Whatever her faults of character, however rough and repulsive she may seem to some, however incoherent and inconsistent others may think her, the above facts cannot be denied.  And now, let such as can show a better record of useful work and unselfish life come to the tribunal and sit in judgment upon her.  Temperamentally she is doubtless so organised as to constantly draw upon her own head the blows of the sceptic and the bigot; she is emphatically her own worst enemy.  Moreover, she has a sort of fatal knack of doing her phenomena in a slipshod, unsystematic, and impolitic way, which too often tends to arouse suspicion in the minds of outsiders.  To so old a spiritualist as you I need not say that the very same remark is to be made as regards mediums, nor that many an innocent one has been branded with imposture by hasty, self-sufficient ‘investigators’ --- heaven save the mark!  How futile and absurd is the theory of the S.P.R. that Madame Blavatsky gradually developed the forged ‘K.H.’ handwriting and simultaneously eliminated her own caligraphic peculiarities; and how useless the trouble and expense they went to to prove this fact you have yourself shown in your letter under reply, where you tell me that for months you exchanged letters with an unseen intelligence, or ‘spirit,’ through different mediums, ‘under circumstances that made the theory of trickery sheer nonsense to think of, and yet the handwriting much resembled that of the medium.’  Why, it requires little more than common sense to see that this must be so, and that where a foreign influence is writing through the hand or (by precipitation) through the aura of an intermediate agent, it takes time to overcome the habitual personal peculiarities of that agent.  With very negative intermediaries, of feeble will and unpronounced personality, this vicarious writing may quickly become perfected; but when the psychic agent is such a raging lion of temperament as my colleague the personal idiosyncracies must assert themselves whenever they are not quelled and made dormant by an exercise of will.  With mediums, as every spiritualist knows, any temporary disturbing cause --- such as bad health or a change of health, despair about money matters, grief, violent irritation about something, fear, or any one of fifty things which affect the normal action of the brain or nervous system --- is liable to stop phenomena, or may even destroy the mediumship entirely by breaking up the passive state which had favoured its development and continuance.  Even adepts recognise and conform to this law by secluding themselves from scenes and relationships which disturb the mental calm and purity of surroundings in which the psychic powers are best developed.  This is the chief though not the sole reason why such men seek the solitude of the cave, the jungle, and the mountain.  You have also shown me that such incidents as the apparent plagiarism of Mr. Kiddle’s language in a ‘K.H.’ letter have no evidential value in support of a theory of conscious fraud, by citing the startling fact that in the great Handel’s oratorios ‘there are whole choruses, note by note, by Stradella’ --- a composer who died a half-century before his time.  Surely it would be an impertinent sceptic who should aver that he whom Beethoven styled the ‘greatest composer that ever lived,’ had consciously plagiarized from Stradella, an inferior genius!  How many examples are there not of this unintentional literary appropriation not merely noted in mediumistic annals, but in those of general literature?  The materialist, who has scarcely yet begun to suspect the possibility of telepathic action of thought-waves, has until now been believing that ideas, unless preserved in print or by other mechanical device, unless communicated orally to hearers of retentive memories, died away.  In fact, the common proverb, Scripta manent, verba volant embodies this belief.  As regards Mr. Hodgson’s re-examination of the witnesses to appearances of the Mahatmas, all that can be said is that he has got about as near the truth as prepossessed investigators --- e.g. the late Dr. W. B. Carpenter and the present Dr. Lankester --- usually get in handling psychical matters.  Take the testimony of witnesses to any ordinary circumstance after the lapse of two or three years --- as he did in this instance --- let alone any wonder-exciting phenomenon like the appearance of a phantom, living or dead, that was originally seen without previous expectation or prepared test conditions, and see what confusion one will get!  And to think that a pretended scientific Society, with a professedly trained scientific detective, should ruthlessly traduce the characters for veracity and intelligence of as honest a body of gentlemen as can be found upon such researches as Mr. H. reports to the S.P.R. is something astonishing!  Well, your spiritualism has survived nearly forty years of that sort of injustice, and perhaps theosophy will not be quite destroyed by this petard, even though its engineer may."

[The conclusion of the letter explaining a discrepancy in Col. Olcott’s evidence before the Committee of the S.P.R. is unavoidably held over till next month. --- Ed. H. of L.]

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