From Madame Blavatsky to Mr. Joseph Cook
Theosophist, Supplement to February, 1882
Article Selections detailing comments from Mr. Cook’s Lecture | Notes and Reply by H.P.B.
[Note: the following was preceded by letters to Mr. Joseph Cook from Swami Dayanand Saraswati, Col. Olcott, and D. M. Bennett. Following these, was a long account titled “Further Development” which details some of Mr. Cook’s remarks, drawn from the Times of India, and with commentary (this is anonymous). H.P.B. appended two notes to this account, which are given here along with the relevant selections:]
He [Mr. Cook] spoke strongly . . . he thought that spiritualism had its influence with those who were not deranged, but were never well arranged. (Laughter.) Spiritualism had been doing immense mischief in the United States . . . He supposed that American spiritualism was composed of seven-tenth of fraud, two-tenths of nervous delusion, and as to the remaining one-tenth it might be said that nothing was in it, or Satan was in it.” “There was no scientific evidence given that they were open to the access of evil spirits,1 but there were . . . high theological men in America who said that they should not ignore what the Bible affirmed concerning the evil spirits and communication from familiar spirits . . .
1. We should think not. Science does not busy itself with “evil spirits” and scorns the very idea of the Christian devil, whose reality is accepted by such sciolists as Mr. Joseph Cook—dabblers in Science which they would pervert and dishonour if they could.—Ed. [H.P.B.]
He was himself a vehement anti-spiritualist. He did not believe that there was ever a scientific instance brought forward in investigating these topics . . . Let them have scientific experts called to examine these matters; let them have some books published worthy of their attention. American spiritualists had done nothing of the kind.”2
2. Mr. J. Cook conveniently forgets the scientific investigations of such men as Professors Hare and Mapes, of America; of Messrs. Crookes, A. R. Wallace and Varley of England; of Professors Wagner and Butlerof of Russia; and finally of Professor Zöllner of Germany—who investigated the phenomena with Dr. Slade. Are we to think that Mr. Cook is an ignoramus who never read anything but his Bible and Psalm-Book, or a false witness, who, knowing he is uttering big falsehoods, prefers to pervert and misrepresent truth, in the hope of his own unscientific ideas triumphing with some innocent fools who may regard him as an authority?—Ed. [H.P.B.]
After that, the tornado-like orator, pouncing upon the theosophists, proclaimed “as a shrewd American,” he said, his suspicion “that something other than philosophical purpose, underlay their (the theosophist’s) movement.” What was is? According to [him] “these two persons had come to India to study the ancient Indian system of magic and sorcery to return to the United States to teach tricks to mediums already exposed.” (!!!) He ridiculed the theosophists and “proved how miserable was that movement . . .
. . . Further on, the “shrewd” preacher fell foul of Mr. D. M. Bennett, the “associate of the Theosophical Society,” whom, he hoped, “the Society was not going to make a hero”;3 and uttered one calumny after another. . . .
3. The “Society” had no such intention, but Mr. J. Cook, notwithstanding his “shrewdness,” made “quite a hero” of Mr. Bennett, owing to his malicious slanders upon him.—Ed. [H.P.B.]
“American laws,” he said, “were stern against the abuse of the Post Office.” . . . The trial of Mr. Bennett was a disgrace to American Law. He had been guilty of no greater a crime than selling a medical work which was neither written nor published by him. He had sold it through the mail as dozens of booksellers did before and after his trial . . The American preacher says that while “a majority of the infamous organizations called Liberal Leagues, stood by that man [Mr. Bennett] and made him a hero; that man was a convicted poisoner of youth and a violator of the righteous postal enactments. That he no more represented America than Bradlaugh or Mrs. Besant represented England” . . . Truth and Fact might answer him, that in such a case the Rev. J. Cook has either to denounce all the Christian book-sellers who sold and yet do sell that book in America and Europe, or he has to be denounced himself as—a slanderer. We are afraid that the “righteous postal enactments” are on par with that “righteous” juryman, the only one of the twelve who stood for Rev. H. Ward Beecher’s acquittal, while the other eleven jurymen unanimously found him “guilty” in the Tilden-Beecher case.4 Yet, Mr. Cook feels very proud of that clergyman’s acquaintance. . . .
4. We have no intention of casting upon the Rev. H. W. Beecher an uncalled-for slur, or to revive old scandals. Nor do we take upon ourselves the right to decide whether he was guilty or not. He may have been as innocent as Mr. Bennet; yet the burden of proof against him, was far heavier than in Mr. Bennett’s caase, and, with the exception of his staunchest friends, his guilt was unanimously proclaimed and believed by all in America. We mention him simply as an hitherto historical character, and to show once more the great unfairness of bigoted Christians.—Ed. [H.P.B.]
. . . That his vile aspersions upon our Society and Mr. Bennett fell upon rather sterile soil is proved by the fact that at his next lecture in the Town Hall, he was more hissed than applauded; and that a deputation of natives was sent to the Theosophical Headquarters to ask the Founders to reply to these aspersions. In accordance with this wish, Col. Olcott and Madame Blavatsky . . . proceeded on the following day to hear Mr. Cook’s last lecture. Their appearance at the Town Hall was greeted with such a thundering and prolonged applause that it must have stirred up the lecturer’s guilty conscience. Otherwise, why should he have opened his discourse with the cowardly remark to the address of the native audience—reminding them “of the presence of four policemen” at the door of the Hall? It was not only in bad taste, but positively vile, since the natives only availed themselves of their legal right to applaud or hiss at their will and pleasure.5 . . .
5. This bad taste and utter lack of gentlemanly tact and discretion were shown by the Boston lecturer a day later at Poona with a still greater prominence. Refused by the non-Christian natives to listen to the Lord’s Prayer which he insisted forcing upon them, Mr. Cook wrathfully advised them to pray to their “false gods.” Then he quarelled with two of the Christian missionaried present and insulted the chairman, a respectable European gentleman of Poona, the remarkable lecture coming to a close, to the great delight of the “heathen” audience, amidst a “general Christian row” as the heathen editor of a local paper expressed it.—Ed. [H.P.B.]
Before coming to Mr. Cook’s lecture, four letters were sent to him from the insulted parties, challenging him to prove what he had said of the Theosophical Society, its two Founders, the Vedic religion, and Mr. Bennett. Three of the letters are found in the Report of the Proceedings farther back, and the fourth from Madame Blavatsky read as follows:
(From Madame H. P. Blavatsky to Mr. Joseph Cook.)
Editor’s Office of The Theosophist, Bombay, 20th January, 1882.
“Madame Blavatsky, while sending her compliments to Mr. J. Cook, offers him many thanks for the free advertisement of the Theosophical Society—of which she is one of the Founders—and of her work Isis, in his highly dramatical and sensational performances called lectures. Mr. Cook had the means of ascertaining last evening what effect his denunciation of, and false statements about the Theosophical Society, on January 17, had upon the native public. The long and unexpected applause of greeting upon the appearance of the two Founders in the Hall shows better than any words the esteem in which Mr. Cook’s denunciations are held. Madame Blavatsky especially thanks Mr. Cook for the good taste and tact he exhibited in the opening sentence of his speech, so menacingly referring to four policemen—the mention of whom, as he thought, was capable of checking the expression of the good feeling of the natives towards those whom they know to love them unselfishly, and to have devoted their lives and means to defend them and their children from the demoralizing influence of those who would pervert them from their respective faiths into missionary Christianity. These influences are too well known to the rulers and the ruled to need detailed notice. The term “native Christian” in India is almost synonymous with a “drunken and lying rascal” in the mouth of the English themselves. Mr. Cook is welcome to try to tear down the Theosophical Society everywhere he goes—as he will always find Theosophists and Arya Samajists to answer him. At the same time Mr. Cook is warned—unless he would risk to have his triumphant progress through India checked by a disagreeable lawsuit—to beware what he says of Madame Blavatsky or Col. Olcott personally, as other and more influential persons than an American preacher—namely, Englishmen,—have found that there are laws in this country to protect even American citizens from malicious calumny. As neither Col. Olcott nor Madame Blavatsky will ever return to America, Mr. Cook’s remark that they are trying to learn sorcery here to teach it to mediums in America is absurdly false and truculent—though little else could have been expected from such an exemplar of Christian meekness and charity. To show Mr. Cook who Madame Blavatsky is, a printed circular is enclosed. Mr. Cook’s aspersions will be fully answered and proved false tonight. If, instead of accepting the challenge, he runs away, all India will be notified of the cowardly act.
He did run away. As reports of the proceedings will be published in a separate pamphlet, and a copy sent gratis to each of our subscribers in the next number we need only notice, at this time, Mr. Cook’s cowardly rejoinder to the four challenges above noted, and append as the sequel a correspondence between Captain Banon and himself at Poona, in which his unfairness and moral obliquity are most clearly shown.
As men of his kind love to slander people behind their backs, but keep ever aloof and avoid to face those whom they denounce, Mr. Cook took care that his answer to the four challenges should reach the writers when he was already near Poona, and at a secure distance from the Theosophical audience. That answer was handed by a Mussulman to the President of the Framji Hall in the evening, and when he was already on the platform ready to open the meeting. It reads thus:
Bombay, January 20, 1882.
Col Olcott, of the Theosophical Society.
Sir,—I am not open to challenges of which the evident object is to advertise infidelity.
You invite me to sit on your platform with a man whose career has been described in an unanswerable article in Scribner’s Monthly as “The apotheosis of Dirt.” No honourable man can keep company of this kind.
For using this man as a weapon with which to attach Christianity, the enlightened public sentiment of India will hold the Theosophical Society to a stern account. Men are measured by their heroes. Several days before I received your communication, I was definitely engaged to be in Poona on the night proposed for your meeting in Bombay.
So was Col. Olcott “engaged to be in Poona on that night:” but he postponed all to vindicate his cause.
In the above letter, the writer objects to sit on the platform with Mr. Bennet—not with the theosophists who might rather object to sitting with Mr. Cook, the friend and brother in faith of several reverend scoundrels. And his last sentence implies that he might have overlooked even that objection had he not been obliged to keep his engagement.
Therefore, on the following day, the Founders of the Theosophical Society, accompanied by Captain Banon started for Poona by the 2 o’clock mail train and arrived there at 8 ½ the same evening. At 10 o’clock Mr. Cook had already received the following message from Captain Banon.
[CAPTAIN BANON TO MR. COOK.]
Napier Hotri, Poona 21, 1882
At Bombay you publicly asserted that my friends Colonel Olcott and Madame Blavatsky, Founders of the Theosophical Society, were persons of no repute in the United States; and that they had come here to learn certain tricks, and arts of Magic that they might teach them to mediums in America already exposed.
You were challenged by Colonel Olcott to face him before the public of Bombay last evening, but instead sent a note to the effect that you could not help “to advertise Infidelity” nor stand upon the same platform with Mr. Bennett.
Madame Blavatsky and Colonel Olcott have, therefore, followed you there, and on their behalf, I, who am not an Infidel, but a Christian officer of the Army, demand that you shall meet Colonel Olcott before the Poona public, and make good your charges.
If you decline, I shall post you as a coward and a slanderer: Mr. Bennet is not here, so you cannot make that excuse.
As I must rejoin my Regiment forthwith I cannot stay over to-morrow and must request an answer early to-morrow morning. On behalf of Colonel Olcott, I stipulate that not a word will be said about religion.
Your obedient servant,
A. BANON, CAPTAIN,
39th N. I.
To the Revd. JOSEPH COOK.
To this a reply was immediately sent to the Captain and, as anticipated, there was another excuse ready.
[Mr. J. COOK’s REPLY]
Poona, 21st January, 1882.
CAPTAIN A. BANON,
39th Bengal N. I.
Colonel Olcott and Madame Blavatsky have kept such public company at Bombay that I can have no connection with them.
I am very much surprised at the ludicrously dictatorial tone of your note demanding that I shall accede to their desire to use me as a means of advertising Infidelity.
I hope I shall not be obliged to give your name to the public, as an apologist for those who have publicly fraternized with a man, but just out of Jail, for violating righteous American laws, intended to secure the purity of the mails. My remarks on the enterprises of the Theosophical Society were all justified by its official documents which I cited.
(Signed) JOSEPH COOK.
A. BANON, CAPTAIN.
39th N. I.
Thereupon, Captain Banon sent the above two letters to the Editor of the Poona Dnyan Prakash,1 with an explanatory letter accompanying them. The whole was published in a Supplement “Extraordinary” of that paper and distributed all over Poona, and read as above, headed by a short editorial, and followed by the explanatory document. We give both.
Dr. COOK EXPOSED.
“We gladly make room for the following communication from Captain Banon of the Bengal Army regarding Dr. Cook’s attack on Madame Blavatsky and Colonel Olcott, the Founders of Theosophy. We have no doubt that the whole correspondence will be read with deep interest by our readers and the general public. The bold challenge offered Dr. Cook by Captain Banon to make good his charges against Madame Blavatsky and Colonel Olcott, and the refusal of Dr. Cook to accept the challenge so manfully given, will show tot he reader that Dr. Cook is really nothing better than “a coward and a slanderer” of honest respectable people. With this necessarily brief preface we give below the whole correspondence sent to us for publication.”
TO THE EDITOR OF THE DNYAN PRAKASH.
Sir,—I trust you will kindly publish in your columns my letter to the Revd. J. Cook and his reply thereto, at the same time allowing me to add these few lines in explanation.
During Mr. Cook’s course of Lectures in Bombay, when at a loss for argument he descended to personalities, and libelled Col. Olcott and Mr. D. M. Bennett, these gentlemen challenged Mr. Cook to prove his statements in their presence, before a Bombay audience. To ensure fair play, and to allow an injured man to be heard in his defence, I consented to take the Chair. I am proud to reckon Col. Olctott among my friends. Of Mr. Bennet I know little and care less; still the greatest criminal is entitled to be heard in his defence,—even Guiteau in the United Stated being allowed a fair trial. In addressing the meeting as Chairman, I said that, when, at Mr. Cook’s farewell Lecture the evening before, the Native audience signified their disapproval of him, he tried to stifle the adverse expression of opinion by threatening to have any one taken up by the police who might show disapprobation; and that such a despotic bearing was unworthy of a man hailing from a free country like the United States and would not be tolerated there for an instant. I then remarked the I believed that the first duty of a missionary was to the poor and heathen of his own country, and that the immense sums subscribed in Eurpose and America for foreign missions should of right be spent on the “Heathen” of those countries; that while the poverty, ignorance, and vice of the great towns in Europe and America remained undiminished, any missionary coming out to convert the Hindus was a deserter and a skulker from his own proper work at home; for the Bible tells us to remove the beam from our own eye before attempting to remove the mote from the eyes of our neighbor. After Co. Olcott’s address on Friday evening (which was enthusiastically received by a crowded audience in the Framjee Cowasjee Institute) I further said that Mr. Cook refused to meet the Colonel and prove his charges on the pretext that he had associated at the late anniversary meeting of the Theosophical Society, with an objectionable person (meaning Mr. Bennett). This was the very excuse of the Pharisees of Jerusalem who objected to receive Christ’s teachings because he associated with publicans and sinners; the Pharisees and Mr. Cook, therefore, stood on the same platform of religious intolerance. I have no the least doubt that better Christians than myself might object to sit on the same platform with Mr. Cook because he is an associate of Mr. Ward Beecher in the American Ministry.
Jan. 22, 1882.
A BANON, CAPTAIN,
39th N. I.
Notwithstanding this exposure, we do not entertain the slightest doubt but that Mr. Joseph Cook will proceed on his trumpeting march through India, scattering on his way, everywhere he goes, his most oratorical slanders about our Society, his unmeasured abuse of the “false gods” of the Indians, and his sycophantic praises of the British—to their faces. After his row with his Christian brethren at his first lecture at Poona,2 feeling the theosophists at his heels and not caring perhaps to encounter Captain Banon, Mr. Cook shortened his visit at Poona and on the following day vanished without preaching again. He has made himself odious to the orthodox Hindus, ridiculous in the eyes of the young and educated generation, and a “nuisance tot he missionary” as one of the Poona praris expressed himself, because every lecture of his destroys the fruit of their efforts for years to conciliate, to their religion and themselves, the native community. Who, we ask, but a bumptious fool would even think of advising the English before an audience of 500 Hindus—the rulers in the face of the ruled—that all Government schools should enforce Christian morality upon their native pupils! Mr. Cook accuses us of “going against Christianity,” of impeding its progress in India. Were that our object, what better ally could we ever find than the eloquent and irrepressible preacher who “hails from Boston!”
1. The same was sent all over India to every paper of any importance and by this time must already have appeared. We hope the American liberal papers will reprint the correspondence.—ED. [H.P.B.]
2. “At the close of the meeting,” says the Dnyan Prakash “a ludicrous scene ensued which was any thing but creditable to the persons concerned. Dr. Cook wanted to offer a prayer . . . whereupon a brother missionary of his said that it was not desirable to say a prayer before . . . non-Christians. Mr. Cook, however, persisted and said that as he had followed his own way in Bombay he would do so here too; whereupon the previous speaker (Rev. G. Rivington) said that to offer the (Lord’s) prayer in the presence of so many non-Christians was like ‘throwing pearls before swine.’ This reckless remark naturally gave rise to great indignation among the native audience and would have certainly given rise to angry discussion and unpleasant retorts but for the fact that a third well-known missionary volunteered to defend the natives against the cowardly aspersions of his brother missionary. The chairman advising Mr. Cook to abstain from offering a prayer, Mr. Cook, instead of obeying, proceeded to denounce the Chairman and ‘to set his authority at naught.’” The Chairman is an English gentleman of position at Poona. “The whole spectacle was disgraceful to a degree, and the meeting dispersed at once without Mr. Cook being allowed to pray.”