A Personal Explanation
H.P. Blavatsky & H.S. Olcott
Theosophist, Supplement to January, 1882
It is impossible for the Founders of the Theosophical Society to answer more than a few of the attacks made upon them in the Anglo-Indian Press. They are naturally exposed to many such libellous accusations as the Theosophical movement excites the hostility of two great armies of bigots—the bigots of science, and the bigots of religion. But enemies who are honest enemies, who assail the teaching, or what they conceive to be the teaching of the Theosophical Society in a legitimate way by argument—even when the argument is intemperate and uncivil in tone— may be left to the influence of time and those tendencies in human thought which have generally defeated Bigotry in the long run. For the rudeness of antagonists who know nothing about the real nature of their pursuits, and will not take the trouble to enquire into these, the Founders of the Theosophical Society are fully compensated by the sympathy and regard of those who are better informed and more intelligent.
It happens sometimes, however, that occasional enemies who are not honest—people who have conceived a grudge against the Founders, or either of them—on private grounds will take advantage of opportunities afforded by the hostility of the orthodox press to Theosophy, and will write articles ostensibly about Theosophy, but really for the purpose of insinuating some ignoble calumny about the foremost, though humble, representatives thereof. In this way an article, the authorship of which is as obvious to the undersigned, as that of a familiar handwriting would be, was lately contributed to the Statesman of Calcutta. The writer had previously procured the insertion of similar slanderous attacks in the Civil and Military Gazette, but at length, refused further favours by that paper, he has apparently sought another opening for his contributions, finding this with the Statesman. On the 6th instant that journal published a long, leading article in vilification of the Theosophical Society, its Founders and its friends. The greater part of this is unworthy, either of quotation or reply, but one passage was not alone insulting and calumnious; it was libellous, even as libels are estimated by Courts of Law. Messrs. Sanderson and Co., solicitors of Calcutta, were, therefore, duly instructed on behalf of the undersigned to apply for legal redress, and they addressed to the editor of the Statesman the following letter:
To the Editor.
No. 10613, Calcutta, December 16, 1881.
Sir,—In the Statesman of Tuesday, the 6th instant, there appears an article having reference, among other matters, to Madame Blavatsky and Colonel Olcott, the Founders of the Theosophical Society. In the course of that article, it is stated:—
“It is now asserted not only that the resources of both (Madame Blavatsky and Col. Olcott) are exhausted, but that they are largely in debt, on account, it is alleged, of the expenses of the Society. It is not difficult for anyone to arrive at the conclusion that it would be highly desirable and expedient for the Founders of the Theosophical Society to have these debts paid off. This is a simple and not unpraiseworthy instinct. The question that remains is, as regards the means by which this consummation is to be effected.”
The remainder of the article, which we need not quote at length, is an elaborate insinuation that Madame Blavatsky is endeavouring to procure from a gentleman named, by spurious representations, the pavement of her debts.
Now, the allegation about Madame Blavatsky being in debt is, we are instructed, absolutely false to begin with; nor is the Society which she helped to found in debt, unless, indeed, it be to herself. The accounts of the Society, published in the THEOSOPHIST for last May, show that the outlay incurred on behalf of the Society up to that date had exceeded the receipts (consisting of “initiation fees” Rs. 3,900, and a few donations) by a sum of Rs. 19,846, but this deficit was supplied from the private resources of Madame Blavatsky and Colonel Olcott.
We may further explain that Madame Blavatsky is a Russian lady of high rank by birth (though since naturalized in the United States), and has never been in the penniless condition your article insultingly ascribes to her—whatever mistakes may have arisen from the improper publication of a private letter by Colonel Olcott to a friend in America, the careless exaggerations of which, designed merely for a correspondent familiar with the real state of the affairs to which these referred, have given you occasion for some offensive remarks.
We, therefore, duly instructed on behalf of Madame Blavatsky and Colonel Olcott, now require of you that you should publish this letter, together with an apology for the scandalous libel to which you have been misled into giving currency.
We also require that in further refutation of these and in general reply to the insulting language of your article, you should publish the enclosed explanations extracted from the Pioneer of the 10th instant.
In the event of your failure forthwith to comply with our request, or to give up the name of the writer of the article in question, we are instructed to proceed against you in the High Court for recovery of damages for the libellous attack of which our clients complain.—
SANDERSON & CO.
This letter was published by the editor of the Statesman in his issue of December 17, together with an article which, in a private letter to Messrs. Sanderson and Co., he refers to as his “apology.” This so-called apology, in the midst of a good deal of comment designed apparently to sound as offensive as it can be made compatible with safety for the writer as regards legal penalties, says:—
. . . “The statement that the Founders of the Theosophical Society were in debt, has already been contradicted by us, on the authority of the Pioneer, in our issue of Monday last, the 12th instant. As soon as we learned from the Pioneer that the deficit in the accounts of the Society had been paid off by Madame Blavatsky and Colonel Olcott out of their private resources, we took the earliest opportunity of giving publicity to the fact . . .”
Later on, the apology adds:
. . . “We are, of course, delighted to hear that Madame Blavatsky has never been in the penniless condition in which she was represented to be, and that being so, we regret that the public should have been so misled, and that we should have been led to base a mistaken inference upon the statements that were before the public. We may add that we have much pleasure in publishing Messrs. Sanderson’s repudiation (for unless it is so, their letter has no meaning) of any wish or intention on the part of the Founders of the Theosophical Society to obtain money from wealthy members of the Society. This, we should have thought, would be one of their great objects, as we do not see how otherwise the Society can go on and flourish; but we never said that they were likely to seek that object by dishonest means, and therefore, we do not see clearly wherein the scandalous libel consists . . .” 1
The Statesman then goes on to offer a gratuitous opinion on certain “apparently miraculous achievements attributed to Madame Blavatsky by the Pioneer.” As the Statesman thus shows that it has not yet reached the stage of being able to define with accuracy the object of its disbelief, it is unnecessary to pay much attention to its conclusions as to who are “dupes” in this case,—the open-minded students of Nature’s mysteries who find help in Theosophy, or the orthodox professors of faith in the science of the Pentateuch, and the religion of Mr. Huxley.
To render the personal explanation complete, it seems desirable—distasteful as it is to Madame Blavatsky to advance any claims to public respect, except those which she confidently rests on her devotion to the noble intellectual revival on which the Theosophical Society is engaged—to republish in connection with it a certain article which was published on the appearance of the libellous article in the Statesman, in the Pioneer of December 10. This was as follows:—
MADAME BLAVATSKY AND “THE STATESMAN.”
Pending any further proceeding that may be taken by the lady concerned, in reference to a libellous attack on Madame Blavatsky in the Calcutta Statesman of Tuesday, we feel bound to publish a translation of a letter we have just received (by the mail which arrived yesterday morning) from Odessa. The establishment of Madame Blavatsky’s real identity by formal proofs of this nature has never been necessary for any person of culture or intelligence who knows her, but foolish or malevolent people, proceeding on vague and erroneous conjectures as to the nature of the work to which she has devoted herself in this country, have ventured to imply that she must be an impostor, aiming at commonplace ends — money, or social position. The absurdity of this contention is made evident by the following letter, which shows to what rank in society she properly belongs:—
“Sir,—Having heard with astonishment that there exist somewhere about the world persons who have an interest in denying the personality of my niece, Mme. H. P. Blavatsky, pretending that she has appropriated to herself a name that does not belong to her, I hasten to send you these lines, begging you to make use of them to dissipate the very strange calumny. I say strange, but I might say senseless (insensée). For why should she choose (supposing she had really any necessity to change her name) a family which is not at all illustrious except by literary and scientific merits, which, indeed, would do honour to its name whatever that might be. What astonishes me especially is that anyone can make a mistake about the origin of a person so erudite and of so cultivated an education as that of my niece.
“However, as it is the burlesque fancy of her personal enemies to treat her as an impostor, will you receive my personal guarantee (given on my honour) that she is what she affirms herself to be, Madame Helen P. Blavatsky, widow of a Civil Councillor, late Vice-Governor of the Province of Erivan in the Caucasus, daughter of a Russian Colonel, Peter von Hahn (whose ancestors were allied with the Counts von Hahn of Germany, and whose mother was née Countess Pröbsting) and my niece by her own mother, my sister née de Fadeyeff, granddaughter of the Princess Dolgoroukov of the elder princely line.
“To establish her identity I enclose in this letter two of her portraits, one taken twenty years ago in my presence, the other sent from America four or five year ago. Furthermore, in order that sceptics may not conceive suspicions as to my personal identity, I take the liberty of returning your letter received through Prince Dondukoff-Korsakoff, Governor-General of Odessa. I hope that this proof of authenticity is perfectly satisfactory. I believe, moreover, that you will have already received the certificate of the individuality of Madame Blavatsky that the Governor-General desired himself to send to Bombay.
“I ought also to mention a rather important fact, which is, that since the departure of my niece Helen Blavatsky from Odessa for America, in 1872, she has always been in continuous correspondence, not only with me, but all her relatives in Russia—a correspondence which has never been interrupted even for a month, and that all this time there has been no change whatever in her style, which is peculiar to herself, nor in her handwriting. This can be proved by all her letters to anyone who wishes to convince himself. This fact alone can leave no doubt except to idiots or evil-intentioned persons who have their own ends to serve. But with these there is no need to waste time.
“I cause my signature to be certified by the confirmation of a notary.
“On which I beg you to receive the expressions, etc. (Signed) Nadejda A. de Fadeyeff, member of the Council of the Theosophical Society, daughter of the late Russian Privy Councillor, formerly director of the Department of State Lands in the Caucasus, and member of the Council of the Viceroy of the Caucasus.
“Odessa, 3rd (15) November .”
(The signature is formally authenticated by the Notary of the Bourse at Odessa, and the letter bears his official stamp.)
We must add, in explanation, that the enclosed portraits are undoubtedly portraits of Madame Blavatsky, and that we have seen the formal certificate 1 of her identity forwarded direct (for the better assurance of sceptics, to the care of a gentleman in high official position at Simla) by General Rostislav A. de Fadeyeff, at present Joint Secretary of State in the Home Department at St. Petersburg. We have also seen the letter addressed to Madame Blavatsky as to an intimate friend by Prince Dondukoff, expressing, besides warm sympathy no small measure of (well-deserved) contempt for persons who could misunderstand her true character.
The Statesman now argues at great length that Madame Blavatsky must have come to India in order to beguile any well-to-do persons she might be able to dupe, into giving her hospitality and possibly money. Of course, no one can escape beyond the limits of his own nature in estimating the motives of others; and the author of the article in the Statesman may be unable to imagine human creatures governed by any other motive but the desire to procure money or meals; but for most people it will be plain that if so, the imagination of the Statesman does not range over the whole subject in this case.
One element in the present libel is to the effect that in connection with the affairs of the Theosophical Society, Madame Blavatsky has incurred large indebtedness. This statement, which is entirely false, is a blundering misconception of the published fact that the receipts of the Theosophical Society have fallen short of its expenditure by Rs. 16,000 or more. But this deficit is not a debt by Madame Blavatsky; it would be a debt to her, if she cared to regard it in that light, she having supplied the money from her private resources supplemented by those of the other equally self-devoted apostle of Theosophy—Colonel Olcott.
The certificate sent by General R. de Fadeyeff and referred to in this statement runs as follows:—
“I certify by the present that Madame Helen Petrovna Blavatsky now residing at Simla (British India) is on her father’s side the daughter of Colonel Peter [von Hahn] and granddaughter of Lieutenant-General Alexis Hahn von Rottenstein-Hahn (a noble family of Mecklenburg, settled in Russia); that she is on her mother’s side the daughter of Helen de Fadeyeff and granddaughter of Privy Councillor Andrew de Fadeyeff and of the Princess Helen P. Dolgorukov; and that she is the widow of the Civil Councillor Nikifor V. Blavatsky, late Vice-Governor of the Province of Yerivan’ (Caucasus).
“(Signed) MAJOR-GENERAL ROSTISLAV FADEYEFF, of H. I. Majesty’s Staff,
“Joint Secretary of State at the Ministry of the Interior.
St. Petersburg, 23 Little Morskaya St.
18th September, 1881.”
Taken in connection with the official documents published in the Supplement to the THEOSOPHIST of December, 1881, concerning the social status in America of Colonel Olcott, these explanations may, it is hoped, lay at rest once for all the wonderful question on which many people in India have wasted a good deal of speculation, whether the undersigned are or are not “adventurers.” They were most unwilling in the beginning to make any fuss about their own personality, or the worldly sacrifices they have made in the hope of serving the principle of “Universal Brotherhood” and of contributing to revive the philosophical self-respect of the Indian people. But when malevolent antagonists—as short sighted as they are vindictive—attempt to impede the progress of Theosophy by trying to represent its Apostles in the country as self-seeking aspirants for contemptible worldly advantage, it is time to show once for all, by an exhibition of the worldly advantages they have chosen to surrender, the abject absurdity of this miserable accusation.
H. P. BLAVATSKY.
H. S. OLCOTT.
Bombay, December 31, 1881.
1. No copy of this certificate is in our possession at this moment, or we would publish it herewith, but its tenor precisely corresponds with the explanation in the above letter.—ED., Pioneer.