Contemporary Literature and Theosophy
The Path, June, 1888
There is growing every day among contemporary writers a strong disposition to take up theosophic doctrine, and especially in those light stories that always flow from ideas that are “in the air.” This will grow as time goes on, for every one with any means of judging knows that the doctrines of Karma and Reincarnation are gaining a hold, slowly perhaps, but surely, on the public mind. Both of these offer a wide field for novelists and magazine writers.
In a recent number of the Century, Mr. Stevenson, who writes such charming stories, and also weird ones like Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, gave an account—in some sense a confession—of how his best stories and plots came to him. He said that all his life, in dreams and waking visions, his “little Brownies” showed him scenes, incidents, and plots that he wove into his writings, and that the main situations in Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde were obtained in that manner.
The field is extended enough. None of the possibilities of black or white Magic have been touched on except by such writers as Mabel Collins, one of the Editors of Lucifer, but as that comes to be better understood—or misunderstood, which is the same thing for those who write for their daily bread—we shall be flooded with a series of tales and sketches based on these ideas. This suggestion is not copyrighted, so that aspiring authors can use it as they will, to their heart’s content.
The rising tide is shown when such a staid, and anciently somewhat bigoted, magazine as Harper’s Monthly treats of these matters. In Harper’s for May last, Mr. Charles Dudley Warner, in the “Editor’s Drawer,” takes up the subject of Heredity so as to use it for the bringing in of Karma and Reincarnation, together with some light remarks about the theosophists of India, Boston, and Ohio. He considers Heredity to be a puzzle, mourning a little that the progress made in questions of the effect of breeding and descent was to some extent impeded by these notions. But he also gives a fair resume of Karma, clearly showing that responsibility for deeds done in the body must rest upon the individual, and cannot be shifted to his ancestors. We have to thank him for his words, since he reaches clearly the gist of the matter in saying: “The notion is that all human beings in this world undergo successive incarnations, preserving unconsciously the personal identity in all the changes of condition. Therefore, every human being is the result of all the influences in all his previous conditions. . . . . The form in which he shall reappear in the world is not determined by his visible ancestors, but by his conduct in his former lives . . . . But whatever he was, now in this present incarnation he suffers the penalty of all his misdeeds in all former states of being, or he enjoys the reward of good conduct in any of them. And it behooves him now to live the higher life—perhaps of expiation—in order that he may rise into a still higher life in the next unknown incarnation, and not sink into a lower. Therefore no effort is thrown away, and no act is without its infinite personal consequences. The law of Karma, it is explained, is the law of the conservation of energy on the moral and spiritual planes of nature . . . . The Drawer, of course, has nothing to do with an investigation of this theory of life; it simply notes it in reference to the prevalent study of the doctrine of heredity.”
This is just the doctrine the people need, and it can easily be understood. When they come to believe that there is no way of escape, either through priest or mere lip-acceptance of a dogma, they will begin so to live, if only for selfish reasons, as that the “next unknown incarnation” will not find them in suffering and misery. While the motive at first may not be of the highest character, it will lead to a wide belief in the doctrines, so that, as the spirit of the age is changed, those who are sincere and unselfish will not have such a hard fight to wage against subtle and dangerous influences. In fine, it will prepare the conditions for the dawn of the day when human brotherhood shall be admitted and lived. Men will then see that legislation and strikes and outward temporary reforms can cure no evil. The evil lies within, in other lives, in this one. In a sense, we are our own ancestors; we are building now the houses we are to live in during our coming lives. For our ignorance of this, nature reeks not; she holds us fast in an iron-grasp, and will compel us at last through pain to believe in the true doctrine, and to live our lives and think our thoughts in submission to the Higher Law that no human assemblies can revoke.