As Wielded by the Great Russian Theosophist.
Religio-Philosophical Journal, March 16, 1878
Mr. Editor:—I have read some of the assaults upon Colonel Olcott and myself, that have appeared in the Journal. Some have amused me, others I have passed by unread; but I was quite unprepared for the good fortune that lay in store for me in the embryo of the paper of February 16th. The “Protest” of Mr. W. Emmette Coleman, entitled “Sclavonic Theosophy vs. American Spiritualism,” is the musky rose in an odoriferous bouquet. Its pungent fragrance would give the nose-bleed to a sensitive whose olfactories would withstand the perfume of a garden full of the Malayan flower-queen—the tuberose; and yet, my tough, pug, Mongolian nose, which has smelled carrion in all parts of the world, proved itself equal even to this emergency.
“From the sublime to the ridiculous,” says the French proverb, “there is but a single step.” From sparkling wit to dull absurdity, there is no more. An attack, to be effective, must have an antagonist to strike, for to kick against something that exists only in one’s imagination, wrenches man or beast. Don Quixote fighting the “air-drawn” foes in his windmill, stands for ever the laughingstock of all generations, and the type of a certain class of disputants, that, for the moment, Mr. Coleman represents.
The pretext for two columns of abuse—suggesting, I am sorry to say, parallel sewers—is that Miss Emily Kislingbury, in an address before the B.N.A. of Spiritualists, mentioned Colonel Olcott’s name in connection with a leadership of Spiritualism. I have the report of her remarks before me, and find that she neither proposed Colonel Olcott to American Spiritualists as a leader, nor said that he had wanted “leadership,” wanted it now, or could ever be persuaded to take it. “It is seriously proposed,” says Mr. Coleman, “by our transatlantic sister, Miss Kislingbury, . . . that American Spiritualists should select as their guardian guide . . . Col. H. S. Olcott!!” If anyone is entitled to this wealth of exclamation points it is Miss K., for the charge against her from beginning to end is simply an unmitigated falsehood. Miss K. merely expressed the personal opinion that a certain gentleman for whom she had a deserved friendship, would have been capable, at one time, of acting as a leader. This was her private opinion, to which she had as good a right as either of her defamers—who, in a cowardly way, try to use Colonel Olcott and myself as sticks to break her head with—have to their opinions. It may or may not have been warranted by the facts—that is immaterial. The main point is, that Miss K. has not said one word that gives the slightest pretext for Mr. Coleman attacking her on this question of leadership. And yet, I am not surprised at his course; for this brave, noble-hearted, truthful and spotless lady occupies too impregnable a position to be assailed, except by indirection. Some one had to pay for her plain speaking about American Spiritualism. What better scapegoat than Olcott and Blavatsky, the twin “theosophical gorgons”!
What a hullabaloo is raised, to be sure, about Spiritualists declining to follow our “leadership.” In my “Buddhistico-Tartaric” ignorance, I have always supposed that something must be offered before it can either be indignantly spurned or even respectfully declined. Have we offered to lead Spiritualists by the nose or other portions of their anatomy? Have we ever proclaimed ourselves as “teachers,” or set ourselves up as infallible “guides”? Let the hundreds of unanswered letters that we have received from Spiritualists be our witness. Let us even include two letters from Mr. W. Emmette Coleman, Fort Leavenworth, Kansas, calling attention to his published articles of “Jan. 13th, 20th, 27th, and February 3rd (four papers),” inviting controversy. He says, in his communication of January 23rd, 1877, to Colonel Olcott, “I am in search of truth”—therefore he has not all the truth. He asks him to answer certain “interrogatories”—therefore, our opinions are admitted to have some weight. He says: “This address”—the one he wants us to read and express our opinion upon—“was delivered some time since; if of more recent date, I (he) might modify somewhat.”
Now, Olcott’s People from the Other World was published January, 1875; Mr. Coleman’s letter to the Colonel was written in January, 1877; and his present “protest” to the Journal appeared February, 1878. It puzzles me to know how a man “in search of truth” could lower himself so far as to hunt for it in the coat pockets of an author whose work is “clearly demonstrative of the utterly unscientific character of his researches, full of exaggerations, inaccuracies, marvelous statements recorded at second hand without the slightest confirmation, lackadaisical sentimentalities, egotistical rhodomontade and grammatical inelegancies and solecisms.” To go to a man for “truth,” who is characterized by “the most fervid imagination and brilliant powers of invention,” according to Mr. Emmette Coleman, shows Mr. Coleman in a sorry light indeed! His only excuse can be that in January, 1877, when he invited Colonel Olcott to discuss with him—despite the fact that the Theosophical Society had been established in 1875, and all our “heresies” were already in print—his estimation of his intellectual powers was different from what it is now, that Mr. Coleman’s “address” has been left two years unread and unnoticed. Does this look like our offering ourselves as “leaders”? We address the great body of intelligent American Spiritualists. They have as much a right to their opinions as we to ours; they have no more right than we to falsely state the positions of their antagonists. But their would-be champion, Mr. Coleman, for the sake of having an excuse to abuse me, pretends to quote (see column 2, paragraph 1) from something I have published, a whole sentence that I defy him to prove I ever made use of. This is downright literary fraud and dishonesty. A man who is in “search of truth” does not usually employ a falsehood as a weapon.
Good friends, whose inquiries we have occasionally but rarely answered, bear us witness that we have always disclaimed anything like “leadership”; that we have invariably referred you to the same standard authors whom we have read, the same old philosophers which we have studied. We call on you to testify that we have repudiated dogmas and dogmatists, whether living men or disembodied spirits. As opposed to materialists, theosophists are Spiritualists, but it would be as absurd for us to claim the leadership of Spiritualism as for a Protestant priest to speak for the Romish Church, or a Romish cardinal to lead the great body of Protestants, though both claim to be Christians! Recrimination seems to be the life and soul of American journalism, but I really thought that a Spiritualistic organ had more congenial matter for its columns than such materialistic abuse as the present “Fort Leavenworth” criticism!
One chief aim of the writer seems to be to abuse Isis Unveiled. My publisher will doubtless feel under great obligations for giving it such a notoriety just now, when the fourth edition [fourth printing] is ready to go to press. That the fossilized reviewers of the Tribune and Popular Science Monthly—both admitted advocates of materialistic science, and unsparingly contemptuous denunciators of Spiritualism—should, without either having read my book, brand it as Spiritualistic moonshine, was perfectly natural. I should have thought that I had written my first volume holding up modern science to public contempt for its unfair treatment of psychological phenomena to small purpose, if they had complimented me. Nor was I at all surprised that the critic of the New York Sun permitted himself the coarse language of a partisan and betrayed his ignorance of the contents of my book by terming me a “Spiritualist.” But I am sorry that a critic like Mr. Coleman, who professes to speak for the Spiritualists and against the materialists, should range himself by the side of the flunkeys of the latter, when at least twenty of the first critics of Europe and America, not Spiritualists, but well-read scholars, should have praised it even more unstintedly than he has bespattered it. If such men as the author of “The Great Dionysiak Myth” and “Poseidon,” [Robert Brown] writing a private letter to a fellow archæologist and scholar, which he thought I would never see, says the design of my book is “simply colossal,” and that the book “is really a marvelous production” and has his “entire concurrence” in its views about: “(1) The wisdom of the ancient sages; (2) The folly of the merely material philosopher (the Emmette Colemans, Huxleys and Tyndalls); (3) The doctrine of Nirvana; (4) Archaic monotheism,” etc.; and when the London Public Opinion calls it “one of the most extraordinary works of the Nineteenth Century,” in an elaborate criticism; and when Alfred R. Wallace says, “I am amazed at the vast amount of erudition displayed in the chapters, and the great interest of the topics on which they treat—your book will open up to many Spiritualists a whole world of new ideas, and cannot fail to be of the greatest value in the inquiry which is now being so earnestly carried on,” Mr. Coleman really appears in the sorry light of one who abuses for the mere sake of abusing.
What a curious psychological power I must have! All the Journal writers, from the talented editor down to Mr. Coleman, pretend to account for the blind devotion of Colonel Olcott for Theosophy, the over-partial panegyric of Miss Kislingbury, the friendly recantation of Dr. G. Bloede, and the surprisingly vigorous defense of myself by Mr. C. Sotheran, and other recent events, on the ground of my having psychologized them all into the passive servitude of hoodwinked dupes! I can only say that such psychology is next door to a miracle. That I could influence men and women of such acknowledged independence of character and intellectual capacity, would be at least more than any of your lecturing mesmerizers or “spirit controls” have been able to accomplish. Do you not see, my noble enemies, the logical consequences of such a doctrine? Admit that I can do that, and you admit the reality of magic, and my powers as an adept. I never claimed that magic was anything but psychology practically applied. That one of your mesmerizers can make a cabbage appear a rose, is only a lower form of the power you all endow me with. You give an old woman—whether forty, fifty, sixty, or ninety years old (some swear I am the latter, some the former), it matters not; an old woman whose “Kalmuco-Buddhisto-Tartaric features,” even in youth, never made her appear pretty; a woman, whose ungainly garb, uncouth manners and masculine habits are enough to frighten any bustled and corseted fine lady of fashionable society out of her wits—you give such powers of fascination as to draw fine ladies and gentlemen, scholars and artists, doctors and clergymen, to her house by the scores, to not only talk philosophy with her, not merely to stare at her as though she were a monkey in red flannel breeches, as some of them do, but to honor her in many cases with their fast and sincere friendship and grateful kindness! Psychology! If that is the name you give it, then, although I have never offered myself as a teacher, you had better come, my friends, and be taught at once the “trick” (gratis, for unlike other psychologizers, I never yet took money for teaching anybody anything), so that hereafter you may not be deceived into recognizing as—what Mr. Coleman so graphically calls “the sainted dead of earth”—those pimple-nosed and garlic-breathing beings who climb ladders through trap-doors and carry tow wigs and battered masks in the penetralia of their underclothing.
H. P. Blavatsky.
“The masculino-feminine Sclavonic Theosoph, from Crim-Tartary”—a title which does more credit to Mr. Coleman’s vituperative ingenuity than to his literary accomplishments.