Judges or Slanderers?
Le Lotus, June, 1887
[Translation of the original French text by Dr. C. J. Ryan]
“. . . . . For our own part, we regard her (Madame Blavatsky) neither as the mouthpiece of hidden seers, nor as a mere vulgar adventuress; we think that she has achieved a title to permanent remembrance as one of the most accomplished, ingenious, and interesting impostors in history.”—Proceedings of the Society for Psychical Research, Vol. III, Part ix, December, 1885, p. 207.
Mr. Hodgson, the author of this remarkable verdict, ought to have added the following, in order to show that he was as prophetic as he was sagacious: “Yes, her name will pass into history. It will figure, in the twentieth century, between the names of Count de Saint-Germain and Cagliostro in future encyclopedias: article ‘Celebrated Impostors’.”1
Well, I have no objection. I shall find myself in excellent company. Really, an old woman who has had enough wit from her childhood to make fools of all who came near her, who for the last fourteen years has been able to deceive—let us say, to hypnotize—hundreds of intelligent men and dozens of personages of the highest society, including some brilliant minds very well known as men of science, such a woman surely deserves to pass into history, and, we hasten to add, her victims with her.
The verdict has gone around the world. It has been welcomed with avidity by all the garrulous and tattling journals, and has received the most friendly hospitality in the pages of the so-called scientific and philosophic magazines;2 it has provided high-sounding talk for some more or less literary pamphlets, and has been hailed and commented on by the swarming mob of penny-a-liners. But why did they choose that sentence from the Hodgson decree? It is perfectly simple. That decree comes from a scientific Society, from that Society for Psychical Research which lays claim to separate the good grain from the chaff, to recognise the true from the false, and so to establish the reign of peace and brotherhood among the English materialists and spiritualists. Has not its founder and chief, Mr. [Frederick W. H] Myers, been a member of the Theosophical Society for three years? Does not everyone in London know that he was one of the first in the London Lodge of the Theosophical Society to be “fooled,” since they will have it so, and that there was a time when he believed fully in all those phenomena? The latter are now called “tomfooleries” (niaiseries), in the Revue Scientifique, whose editor is another ex-Theosophist who has withdrawn in time, as in a comic opera, to save the face of Science.3 Ergo, the verdict is loudly proclaimed; Madame Blavatsky is condemned by default.
I am writing all this reluctantly, yielding to the solicitations of my friends. They beg me to reply to the volumes of barbers’ jokes, of silly, empty gossip accumulated by the papers, and to the more serious charges of the scientific and philosophic magazines. Life is too short, and time too precious, to waste it in contradicting idle tittle-tattle, suppositions founded on hypotheses—quite scientific though they be. I yield, but reserve the right, in this matter, to say exactly what I think. So much the worse for those who will hear the truth.
Now, I deny to science—even though self-styled “psychological”—the right to touch upon problems of which, materialistic as it is to the tips of its crooked fingers, it can make neither head nor tail. To be considered an expert in any art whatever one must be an artist in that specialty oneself. Now, if we except Mr. Myers, who was a believer, and who at first accepted the phenomena on faith, to repudiate them later—again on faith—trusting to the sagacity of his agent, i.e., to the absolutely unsupported testimony of one ignorant of psychological mysteries, none of the judges and jurors of the Psychical Society is competent to express an opinion upon abnormal manifestations. Among these good savants at Cambridge, not one is a medium, nor an occultist. Witness the fact that they have also declared Eglinton—one of the most remarkable mediums in Europe an impostor, from A to Z.
Science is at its wits’ end. Forced by facts, which respect no big-wig, to surrender to their testimony, it has been laid under the necessity of giving its opinion about psychic phenomena. It has submitted with bad enough grace. Among its representatives there are those who have ardently devoted themselves to hypnotic researches. Are they any the more enlightened for that? Those who are convinced of the reality of the phenomena as well as of the impotence of science to explain them on purely physiological principles, keep silence, not daring to speak, for they well know what awaits them. The list is long of well-known scientists who, having ventured into the arena of spiritualism to break a lance in defence of the phenomena, have been classed by their colleagues under the label of non compos mentis. Mr. Wallace, the great London naturalist, has shut his mouth and says no more; Mr. Crookes also prefers to keep silence. Monsieur Paul Gibier is on the point of being declared an amiable lunatic, if not a charlatan, as one of his colleagues, who shall be nameless, called him; and so forth.
A little logic, if you please, Messrs. Judges and Slanderers. How could the London Psychical Society pronounce in favour of all the phenomena described in The Occult World and elsewhere without risking its title of “scientific”? How would its acceptance of all that was attributed to me by the phenomenalists have been received by the scientists who deny wholesale the existence of intelligent forces outside of man? It was a question of life or death, of the to be or not to be of Hamlet. Once that the calumnies of a spiteful woman driven by vengeance, and helped by the entire black army of missionaries, were published in the evangelical organ of the latter, the Psychical Society—or rather its Theosophical founder—was forced to choose between the horns of a dilemma. One or the other: (a) either to declare publicly that the charges of the Coulomb lady were inventions—and in that case he and his learned Society would have to share the sorry jeers flung at the Theosophists and be drowned in a flood of ridicule, forever losing caste, as they say in India; or (b) sailing with the current, it would have to proclaim, in order to keep from sinking, that all the phenomena, the Mahâtmans and their agents, were a huge imposture.
Compromise was impossible; it was a case of taking or leaving it. The Psychical Society had gone too far, and was committed too deeply. Is it actually known under what conditions Mr. Hodgson’s investigation in India took place? What is known of that agent, so famous for his “marvelous sagacity,” a sagacity before which the exploits of the most renowned police-spies pale? Well, I am going to tell you, and I defy my enemies to refute me.
That young man, with no experience whatever, without the slightest conception of psychic and other phenomena, was sent to India; he alone was prosecutor, judge, jury, and counsel, all at the same time. When he arrived, he ought to have made an investigation, studied all the phenomena of the last seven years, compared the testimony of the Theosophists with that of their accusers, and so forth. What course did he take? He only interviewed our enemies, the hydrophobic missionaries, the ex-members of the Society who had been expelled from our ranks, the scoffers, and the hardened materialists. The Protestant Christians who constitute Anglo-Indian Society, sticklers for the routine of cant, rigid in the sheath of correctness and respectability, received him with open arms. Ever since the establishment of The Theosophical Society in India, this Anglo-Indian world, the official and jealous world, showed itself as our implacable antagonist. Mr. Hodgson loved to make a figure in the drawing-rooms; he frequented the balls and dinner-parties; he had to choose between the glittering world of spurious champagne and other things, and our occult world. In this way he came to us one day to borrow the costume of a Hindû prince from one of our Theosophists, to flaunt at a fancy-dress ball given by the Governor of Madras. Once there, he publicly declared, to the great delight of the respectable and correct assembly, that The Theosophical Society was nothing but a fraud; it was, according to him, an association of duped imbeciles and intelligent swindlers.
Here is a curious detail about the letters that I am accused, by the missionaries, of having written and that the London experts, after long hesitation,4 found to be in my handwriting, i.e., traced by the same hand which, they said, had written all the letters from the Mahâtmans: Mr. Hodgson carried them about with him for whole weeks. He came to see us every day. He stayed a week at our house. He never allowed me to see the letters; he never asked me to explain them. Until this day, I have never seen the color of one of these “incriminating” letters. And this is called a scientific inquiry, made in an impartial manner!
“Give a dog a bad name and hang him”; and Monsieur Pasteur could not do a thing about it. And so they wish me to defend myself! Good God, before whom? Before those who believe Mr. Hodgson and who take his movements seriously, or before the needy reporters for whom I am an inexhaustible mine of wealth? The former have condemned me in advance as a charlatan, with or without the famous investigation of such melancholy celebrity for the Psychical Society. They have never changed their minds. That investigation merely furnished them with one more apparent right: namely that of proclaiming in all the gutters what they had said among a select few ever since my name came before the public. As for the latter: well—the poor must make a living! If, by calling me a “fat frog” or “humbug,” a poor famished journalist is assured of a dinner, I have no objection.5 Charity and forgiveness are in the list of Theosophical virtues. Moreover, is there even one of my detractors, so eager for their quarry, who knows me?
As for my friends—the true friends—they have confidence in me as in the past. For every desertion—and there have been very few—I have acquired ten new and devoted friends, and as many members for our Society. The only result of the thunderbolts flung at me by the Psychical Society has been to force public attention to divide itself between the Bulgarian Regents, Bismarck, the Pope, and—myself. This is highly flattering. All the more so as the psychic tours de force accomplished by those gentlemen are far more remarkable than all the phenomena ascribed to me. Another result, however, is the formation in England of a new Theosophical Lodge, called the Blavatsky Lodge, and its approaching transformation into the British Theosophical Society, including within it the London Lodge and the other branches.
Now then, to dispose of one final question: every act—and even more, every series of acts extending over a long period of years, committed by any individual whatever—must have necessarily a plausible motive. Every tree is judged by the fruit it bears. What, then, can be the motive that urged me to establish The Theosophical Society, to reveal what I had kept secret for long years, to throw myself, body and soul, into the jaws of the monster called Public Opinion which was waiting for me to enter the arena? The necessity of finding a motive tallying with its conclusions was so well recognised by the Psychical Society that it became its most burning question and its most arduous task. None could be found; but the following facts were discovered by Mr. Hodgson:
1. I had never accepted one cent for the phenomena. Every offer of that nature had always been refused. It was enough for anyone to offer me remuneration,6 to lose any hope of getting the shadow of a phenomenon from me.
2. On the contrary, Mr. Hodgson established, that since its foundation, I have given all my money to the Society, as well as my unceasing and gratuitous services.
3. Valuable jewels were received by a good many persons, sometimes even by non-members, while on many occasions needy Theosophists or those in urgent distress received considerable sums (in one case 500 rupees or 1250 francs) in letters coming from Mahatmas, letters that I am accused of having written.
4. The poorer the Theosophist, the humbler his social standing, the more likely he was to be a witness to the greatest phenomena.
I will say, in passing, that no one has ever breathed a word, publicly, about the really significant phenomena;7 they were always held sacred and secret. Only those in the category of psychic manifestations, and others of no importance, produced for the amusement of my friends—Theosophists as well as non-Theosophists—were dragged into the light of day by the indiscretion of certain enthusiastic members. I was always opposed to this, but the current was stronger than I: it has overthrown me, and it is over the corpse of my reputation and of my honor that certain facts have been brought forward to the knowledge of the public.
What, then, can that intangible, mysterious motive-power be that I am accused of obeying for the last fourteen years, to which I have sacrificed all I had, all the money I have earned elsewhere by my literary work, all my strength, my health—lost for ever—and finally almost my very life? Was it ambition, the desire to see myself famous? Impossible, for in that case I would have made a better job of it. I should have remained the friend and ally of the Spiritists and the Spiritualists, my most implacable enemies today. I should have shown respect, at least apparently so, to the missionaries and the clergy, instead of denouncing them; I should have burnt incense under the noses of the gods of Public Opinion, and have moved in good society. I ought to have played the part of a tame cat therein, instead of showing my indifference—I was about to say my contempt—for that frivolous, heartless, brainless world, pitiless for the sorrows of others, above all for those who turn their backs to it. Never have I done any one of these things.
It must, however, have been a very strong motive that, having first driven me to invent Adepts and a mighty Fraternity in the Himâlayas, compelled me afterwards to forge letters in the names of several of them. It was not an easy task. The handwritings of these letters are as different as their styles They were written in English, in French, and sometimes in Russian; three languages that I know. But they were also written in Marâthi, in Bhâshâ, and in all the dialects of Hindûsthân, of which I do not know the first word.
Besides certain letters, portions of which have been published from time to time, there are whole volumes of letters that are known to very few persons indeed; private letters, filled with philosophy, preserved as treasured relics by certain Theosophists. These are the letters to whose production I am accused of devoting my time and my life. Why? Well, the sagacious Mr. Hodgson discovered the reason. According to him, it was for pure patriotism and as a spy of the Russian Government that I invented the whole thing. That accusation leaves much to be desired, because it explains nothing. In what way could the Hindû and Buddhist Adepts, living in the Himâlayas, ever benefit my country? How could a bell-sound in the shoe of an Anglo-Indian or a cigarette passing from a pocket into a piano be of any use to a Russian army on its way to break into Afghanistan? So many mysteries merely complicate the chaos of scientific explanations of the Psychical Society. From Cape Comorin to the heights of Simla there was one loud guffaw when this accusation was read. There is not an Anglo-Indian who does not know it to be an absurdity. The English in India may say mea culpa, for the many alarms created by their chronic fear of the Russians, but they have never been so stupid as to believe a motive of this nature. They know the contrary far too well. During the first three years I passed in India, the Viceroy himself did not have such a fine escort of disguised police detectives as those who shadowed me night and day.
Everywhere I went I was followed and watched. Finally, the war ended and I was left in peace. Convinced that there was nothing to discover, it only remained for them to pay the bills. It was Sir Frank Souter, head of the Bombay police, and Sir Alfred Lyall, at Simla, who admitted this to me personally.
Look elsewhere, gentleman of the press. Continue to search, and above all see if you cannot find a reasonable and logical motive. Meanwhile, if you absolutely insist on making accusations against me, try not to forget that you are Frenchmen, and endeavor to be at least a little more courteous, if it be impossible for you to show impartiality or good sense. Once you accept the portrait traced by the hand of a person ignorant of occult matters, and copy in so many words that Mme. Blavatsky “is not a simple and vulgar adventuress,” but that she deserves to live in the memory of posterity “as one of the most accomplished impostors,” etc., do not proceed to destroy the effect of that fine sentence. Because it is downright impossible to believe that a person of such power could ever have been guilty of certain blunders attributed to her by you. That is a position no one who indulged in such insanities, such fibs, such incredible lapses of memory, as those I am accused of, could have the wit to reach. The hypothesis falls by its own weight.
Well now: one cannot have it both ways: either I am (a) an innocent woman, slandered in the most cowardly way possible, for reasons that are far from being mysterious; or I am really (b) a permanently hypnotized person. My nurse must have suggested to me that there were Adepts and phenomena! But who then suggested it to all those who believe they have seen Mahâtmans and phenomena with their own eyes? A new mystery! On the one hand, “a witness of the rank of Mr. Hodgson” (Revue de l’Hypnotisme; article written by Monsieur Tétard, hypnotized to the extent of allowing the witness a rank that no one gives him in London); on the other hand, several hundred witnesses whose rank is certainly not less than that of Monsieur Tétard’s witness. Did I hypnotize them all perchance?
In that case, gentlemen of the press, and above all Editors of Hypnotic, Scientific, and Philosophic Magazines, for the love of science come to me, and beg for lessons in suggestion and hypnotism, instead of wasting your time in slandering me. For, if all who remain faithful to The Theosophical Society and to me personally (a mere trifle of thousands of Theosophists representing the hundred-odd branches in India, and several hundred Europeans and Americans) are living under the permanent effect of my hypnotism, and if this hypnotization has made them mistake bladders for Adepts,8 and letters written by me, or even copied in the spiritualistic journals, for letters on high philosophy, it must be granted that I am more powerful than all your great medical authorities. In that case, Drs. Charcot, Charles Richet, e tutti quanti, would not reach to my ankle. As for the poor Psychical Society, if it does not at least extend, and quickly too, the narrow outlook of its “telepathic impact,” which afflicts our ears, it will end by hypnotizing the public so effectively that there will soon be no means of awakening it.
Finally, and to close this too lengthy discussion, here is a citation showing that opinions differ on this subject and that they can be separated into three, diametrically opposed. It is taken from a letter from an English Captain in India, Mr. B——, a Theosophist and a man of intelligence. . . . . . I am very sorry that you should take seriously the fiasco of the wretched Coulombs and the nauseating business hatched up by Mr. Hodgson for the Society for Psychical Research. It is only a subject for amusement to your friends, because it is easy to see through the story. It is exactly what must be expected. Messrs. Gurney and Myers launched the Psychical Society in the midst of a loud blowing of trumpets that was hailed by nothing but shouts of laughter from a mocking world. As a result, they have demonstrated that the public understands the matter and will not let itself be imposed upon. The Coulomb affair was cleared up in no time. Hodgson is the man of Madras: Veni, vidi, vici. He had to make his reputation at your expense; it was a question of life or death for him and the Psychical Society. It is the way of the world, and we must not complain of it, but rather rejoice. The Theosophical Society is purged: now you know who are your real friends. None but fools and the brainless pay attention to a Hodgson. Do you know the Catholic publication, The Month? In its February and March numbers that magazine gives a review of The Occult World and Esoteric Buddhism, and draws the conclusion that you are a horrible sorceress. Merciful Heavens! They evidently must laugh at Hodgson and his grand Report. So, you see, opinions are divided into three camps: the Psychical Society’s party of the Russian Spy and Charlatan theory; that of the Holy Church—diabolical magic beloved by Des Mousseaux and De Mirville; and, finally, ourselves, who have retained our confidence in you after having read the good and the bad reports. As for myself, I have no aim but the pursuit of truth.9
That is all I have to say about this concert of calumny and silly gossip which is becoming monotonous. I am too seriously occupied to waste my time answering all the wolves that bay at the moon. . . . .
H. P. Blavatsky,
London (Maycot), June 1887.
1. See The Occult World (preface, p. vi, etc., and Appendix, p. 349 etc.). For all obscure passages in this article, we refer the reader who is ignorant of the contemporary events to The Occult World, published by the Editor of this Magazine.—F.K.G. [Monsieur F. K. Gaboriau, Editor of Le Lotus]
2. See the pedantically absurd articles in the Revue Scientifique (April 16, 1887, p. 503); in the Revue Philosophique (April, 1887 p. 402), in the Revue de l’Hypnotisme (February, 1887, p. 251), etc.—F.K.G.
3. Never having had the honor of knowing Charles Richet, it is not I who have fooled him in making him enter the Society, but rather two ardent ex-Theosophists, a Parisian lady and a Russian. The latter, having sworn to all Theosophical Paris that one of the Adepts (Mahâtmas) had appeared to him in the astral body in his own room, had talked to him for nearly an hour, while seated on a chair before him, and had reappeared again ten minutes after leaving in order to prove that what he had seen was no dream, it follows that I am not the only one who has invented oriental Adepts—if they are mere fictions. The gentleman thus visited thinks he can get out of the scrape now by putting the public on the wrong scent. He asserts to everyone that it is Madame Blavatsky who had hypnotized him and had forced him by that method to perceive that scene. If this were so, the illusion having lasted nearly an hour, it would be rather illogical to deny me the possession of extraordinary powers. The phenomenon would only be the more remarkable. The Revue Scientifique, finding that The Occult World “might provide the subject of a curious study of the psychological condition of its author and of his heroes” (No. 16, April, p. 503), would have to begin by making this study of the two Theosophists who recruited its editor into the ranks of the Theosophical army, before permitting him to undertake it Feminine gossip and personalities do not agree well with exact science.
4. I am not surprised at this hesitation in view of the fact that another expert, not less famous, who occupied in Berlin a prominent position in the highest tribunal, had pronounced a decision diametrically opposite to that of his colleague in London. This expert, in an official document, written and sworn to, declared that the letters signed by the initials of the Mahâtma K. H. could in no case be in Madame Blavatsky’s hand.
5. See La Lanterne, a journal of the insulters; November 30, 1886. —F.K.G.
6. Many Râjâs who could be named offered me thousands of rupees in vain. In America, a millionaire made me an offer of $10,000 if I should succeed in demonstrating to him one of the most simple phenomena—one I had never refused to produce for any of our members—the melodious tinkle of one or several tones in the air. He was spurned, and I declined to hear anything more on the subject. And this is history, if you please.
7. The Revue Scientifique says: “ . . . . The question arises why human beings, endowed with so great a power, should amuse themselves with such trifles as are reported to us.” The bibliographer would know why if he took the trouble to read the book. A little further: “The objects on which Mme. Blavatsky exercises her power and that of the mysterious adepts . . . . are really too paltry.” The Revue Philosophique makes some similar remarks. It would be easy for us in our turn to make amiable jokes about the importance these gentlemen, who claim for themselves the monopoly of science, attribute to their limited experiences, ridiculous as they are when not dangerous. The hypnotized Nana could be exhibited, displaying signs of suggested pregnancy to the great amusement of the vulgar, or about to embrace, at very short notice, a solemn professor who, without perceiving it, serves as a laughing-stock for a troop of hussies, in order to demonstrate the neurosis of the psychosis of hypnotism . . . . But we prefer to be lenient. (F.K.G.)
8. Some have gone so far as to say that the astral bodies seen by numerous witnesses were made of inflated gold-beater’s skin. —F.K.G.
9. We have had this letter in our own hands for translation, and we observed that the Cabinet Noir is not ashamed to unseal letters sent to Mme. Blavatsky, for on the envelop was found the postal stamp: found open and officially sealed—F.K.G.