OLD DIARY LEAVES, First Series(1874-78)
by Henry Steel Olcott
WHILE I may well despair of proving the exact degree in which the complex personality, H. P. B., may be said to have written Isis Unveiled, yet I think it clear and beyond dispute that she digested and assimilated all the material, making it her own and fitting it into her book like bits of stone into a mosaic. As Prof. Wilder recently wrote me: “Few books are absolutely original. That these volumes were in her peculiar style is as plain as can well be. People only demand that Mr. Henry Ward Beecher’s principle be applied: ‘When I eat chicken, I do not become chicken; the chicken becomes me!’”
Nothing would be easier than to shirk the whole inquiry, and chime in with those who simply declare H. P. B. to have been, so to say, divinely inspired, and guiltless of errors, contradictions, exaggerations, or limitations; but I cannot do this, having so well known her, and the truth only will serve me. As for shrinking from the closest inquiry into her occult and mental gifts, it is
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not to be thought of. I, certainly, am not going to shut my eyes to facts, and thus abandon her and her work to those who would rejoice in destroying the pedestal upon which we ought to place her, and degrading her into the dangerous impostor which the leaders of the S. P. R. tried to show her to be. The very question of the alleged resemblances between her own handwriting and that of a Master—one of the counts in their indictment—properly comes within the lines of our present discussion of the MS. of Isis Unveiled.
One cannot fail to see, after reflection, that as regards the case in point, at least these several hypotheses must be considered:
1. Was the book written by H.P.B. entirely as an independent, conscientious amanuensis, from the dictation of a Master?
2. Or wholly or in part by her Higher Self while controlling her physical organism?
3. Or as a medium obsessed by other living persons?
4. Or partly under any two or more of these three conditions?
5. Or as an ordinary spiritual medium, controlled by intelligences disincarnate?
6. Or was it written by several alternately latent and active personalities of herself?
7. Or simply by her as the uninspired, uncontrolled and not obsessed Russian lady, H.P.B., in the usual state of waking consciousness, and differing in no way from any author doing a work of this class?
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Let us begin with the last alternative. We shall discover very readily and unmistakably that H. P. B’s education and training were quite incongruous with the idea that she was erudite, philosophical, or in the least degree, a book-worm. The memoirs of her life, as communicated by her family to Mr. Sinnett, her biographer, and to myself,1 show that she was a rebellious pupil with no love of serious literature, no attraction for learned people, no tendency to haunting libraries: the terror of her governesses, the despair of her relatives, a passionate rebel against all restraint of custom or conventionality. Her early years were passed in the company of “hunchback goblins” and sprites, with whom she spent days and weeks together, and in playing disagreeable tricks upon, and clairvoyantly telling disagreeable secrets to, people. The only literature she loved was the folk-lore of Russia, and at no period of her life before she began to write Isis, not even during the year she lived in New York before being sent to hunt me up, did the family or any of her friends or acquaintances hear of her displaying bookish habits or tastes. Miss Ballard and other ladies who knew her in her several New York lodging-houses, and were familiar with her habits and mode of life, never knew her to have visited the Astor, the Society, the Mechanics’, the Historical, the American Institute, the Brooklyn, or the Mercantile library: no one has ever come forward to recognise her as a frequenter of those alcoves of printed
1Cf. Chapter VII.
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thought. She belonged to no scientific or otherwise learned society in any part of the world; she had published no book. She hunted up thaumaturgists in savage and semi-civilised countries, not to read their (non-existent) books, but to learn practical psychology. In short, she was not a literary person up to the time of writing Isis. This fact was equally clear to each of her New York intimates as it was to myself; and the opinion is confirmed by herself in the last Lucifer article, “My Books,” that she wrote before her death.1 In it she says that the following facts are “undeniable and not to be gainsaid:
“(1). When I came to America in 1873, I had not spoken English—which I had learned in my childhood colloquially—for over thirty years. I could understand when I read it, but could hardly speak the language.
“(2). I had never been at any College, and what I knew I had taught myself; I have never pretended to any scholarship in the sense of modern research; I had then hardly read any scientific European works, knew little of Western philosophy and sciences. The little which I had studied and learned of these disgusted me with its materialism, its limitations, narrow cut-and-dried spirit of dogmatism and air of superiority over the philosophies and sciences of antiquity.
“(3). Until 1874, I had never written one word in
1The article in question is very inaccurate, as was shown in this chapter as originally published in the Theosophist, May, 1893. Space does not permit its repetition here.
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English, nor had I published any work in any language. Therefore:—
“(4). I had not the least idea of literary rules. The art of writing books, of preparing them for print and publication, reading and correcting proofs, were so many close secrets to me.
“(5). When I started to write that which developed later into Isis Unveiled, I had no more idea than the man in the moon what would come of it. I had no plan; did not know whether it would be an essay, a pamphlet, a book or an article. I knew that I had to write it, that was all. I began the work before I knew Colonel Olcott well, and some months before the formation of the Theosophical Society.”
The last sentence is misleading, for she did not begin it until we were well acquainted and in fact, were close friends. In fact, the whole article ought to have been entirely re-written if it was to have been her last.
The endless substitutions of new for old “copy” and transportations from one Chapter or one Volume to another, in Isis Unveiled, were confined to such portions of the work as, I should say, were done in her normal condition—if any such there was—and suggested the painful struggles of a “green hand” over a gigantic literary task. Unfamiliar with grammatical English and literary methods, and with her mind absolutely untrained for such sustained desk-work, yet endowed with a courage without bounds and a power of continuous mental concentration that has scarcely been
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equalled, she floundered on through weeks and months towards her goal, the fulfilment of her Master’s orders. This literary feat of hers surpasses all her phenomena.
The glaring contrasts between the jumbled and the almost perfect portions of her MS. quite clearly prove that the same intelligence was not at work throughout: and the variations in handwriting, in mental method, in literary facility, and in personal idiosyncracies, bear out this idea. At this distance of time and with her MS. destroyed, it is impossible for me to say which of her shifting personalities is mainly responsible for her alleged unacknowledged use of quotations. Whatever came into my hands that seemed as if taken from another author I, of course, would put between inverted commas, and it is quite possible that their blending with some of her own original ideas is chargeable to me; the passages in question reading as if somebody’s else. When she wrote other people’s words into her current argument without break of the continuity, then, naturally enough—unless the passages were from books I had read, and that were familiar to me—I would go on correcting it as H. P. B.’s own “copy”. I have said above that I got my occult education in the compilation of Isis and in H. P. B.’s teaching and experiments; I must now add that my previous literary life had taken me into other and much more practical fields of study than the literature which is synthesised in Isis, viz., Agricultural Chemistry and Scientific Agriculture generally. So that she might have given me “copy” entirely made
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up of passages borrowed from Orientalists, Philologists, and Eastern Sages, without my being able to detect the fact. Personally I have never had plagiarisms in Isis pointed out to me, whether verbally or otherwise, nor do I know there are such; but if there are, two things are possible, (a) that the borrowing was done by the untrained, inexperienced literary beginner, H.P.B., who was ignorant of the literary sin she committed, or (b) that the passages had been so worked into the copy as not to draw my editorial attention to their incongruity with what preceded and succeeded them. Or—a third alternative—might it be that, while writing she was always half on this plane of consciousness, half on the other; and that she read her quotations clairvoyantly in the Astral Light and used them as they came à propos, without really knowing who were the authors or what the titles of their books? Surely her Eastern acquaintances will be prepared to think that a plausible theory, for if ever anyone lived in two worlds habitually, it was she. Often—as above stated—I have seen her in the very act of copying extracts out of phantom books, invisible to my senses, yet most undeniably visible to her.
Now let us consider the next hypothesis, the 6th, viz., that the book was written by several different H.P.B. personalities, or several personal strata of her consciousness capable of coming seriatim into activity out of latency. Upon this point the researches of our contemporaries are not yet so far advanced as to enable us to dogmatise. In his Incidents in the Life of Mme. Blavatsky
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(p. 147), Mr. Sinnett quotes a written description of hers of a “double life” she led throughout a certain “mild fever,” which was yet a wasting illness, that she had when a young lady in Mingrelia:
“Whenever I was called by name, I opened my eyes upon hearing it, and was myself, my own personality in every particular. As soon as I was left alone, however, I relapsed into my usual, half-dreamy condition, and became somebody else (who, namely, Mme. B. will not tell). . . . . In cases when I was interrupted, when in my other self, by the sound of my present name being pronounced, and while I was conversing in my dream-life,—say at half a sentence either spoken by me or those who were with my second me at the time,—and opened my eyes to answer the call, I used to answer very rationally, and understood all, for I was never delirious, But no sooner had I closed my eyes again than the sentence which had been interrupted was completed by my other self, continued from the word, or even the half word it had stopped at. When awake, and myself, I remembered well who I was in my second capacity, and what I had been and was doing. When somebody else i.e., the personage I had become, I know I had no idea of who was H. P. Blavatsky! I was in another far-off country, a totally different individuality from myself, and had no connection with my actual life.”
In view of what has since been seen, some might say that the only H. P. B. was the conscious entity which inhabited her physical body, and that the “somebody
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else” was not H. P. B., but another incarnate entity, having an inexplicable connection with H.P.B.’s body and H.P.B. True, there are cases known where certain tastes and talents have been shown by the second self which were foreign to the normal self. Prof. Barrett, for instance, tells of a vicar’s son in the North of London who, after a serious illness, became two distinct personalities. The abnormal self “did not know his parents, he had no memory of the past, he called himself by another name, and what is still more remarkable, he developed musical talent, of which he had never shown a trace.” So there are many cases where the second self, replacing the normal self, calls itself by a different name and has a special memory of its own experiences. In the well-known case of Lurancy Vennum, her body was completely obsessed by the disincarnate soul of another girl named Mary Roff, who had died twelve years before. Under this obsession her personality changed entirely; she remembered all that had ever happened to Mary Roff prior to her decease, but her own parents, connexions, and friends became total strangers. The obsession lasted nearly four months. 1 The body occupied seemed to Mary Roff “so natural that she could hardly feel it was not her original body born nearly thirty years ago.” The Editor of the Watseka Wonder pamphlet copies from Harper’s Magazine for May, 1860 the Rev. Dr. W.S. Plummer’s account of
1See The Watseka Wonder. To be had of the Manager, Theosophist Office.
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a certain Mary Reynolds’ double personality which lasted, with intervals of relapse to the normal state, from her eighteenth to her sixty-first year. During the last quarter century of her life, she remained wholly in her second abnormal condition: the normal self, that was the conscious owner of that body, had been wiped out, as it were. But, observe the strange fact that all she knew in the second self had been taught her in that state. She began that second life at eighteen (of the body’s life) oblivious of Mary Reynolds, of all she had known or suffered; her second state was precisely that of a new-born infant. “All the past that remained to her, was the faculty of pronouncing a few words: until she was taught their significance, they were unmeaning sounds to her.—(Watseka Wonder, p. 42.)
In the Incidents, etc. (p. 146), is an explanation of the way in which H. P. B. would give the Gooriel and Mingrelian nobility, who came to consult her, answers to their questions about their private affairs. She would simply, while in full conscious-ness, clairvoyantly see their thoughts “as they evolved out of their heads in spiral luminous smoke, sometimes in jets of what might be taken for some radiant material, and settled in distinct pictures and images around them.” The following is especially suggestive:
“Often such thoughts and answers to them would find themselves impressed in her own brain, couched in words and sentences in the same way as original thoughts do. But, so far as we are all able to understand, the former
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visions were always more trustworthy, as they are independent and distinct from the seer’s own impressions, belonging to pure clairvoyance, not ‘thought transference,’ which is a process always liable to get mixed up with one’s own more vivid mental impressions.”
This seems to throw light upon the present problem, and to suggest that it is thinkable that H. P. B., while quite normal as to waking consciousness, saw clairvoyantly, or by thought-absorption—a better word than thought-transference in this connection—the stored-up wisdom of the branch of literature she was examining, and so took it into her own brain as to lose the idea that it was not original with herself. Practical Eastern psychologists will not regard this hypothesis so unreasonable as others may. True, after all, it is but a hypothesis, and her enemies will simply call her a cribber, a plagiarist. With the ignorant, insult is the line of least resistance.
The supporters of this theory should, however, recollect that H. P. B.’s most ardent and passionate wish was to gather together as many corroborations as possible, from all ancient and modern sources of the theosophical teachings she was giving out; and her interest all lay on the side of quoting respectable authorities, not in plagiarising from their works for her own greater glory.
I have read a good deal and known something about this question of multiple personality in man, but I do not remember a case where the awakened latent personalities, or second personality, was able to quote from books
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or talk languages with which the normal waking self had never had any connection. I know a scientific man in England who had quite forgotten his mother-tongue from having lived abroad from his eleventh year without speaking or even hearing it spoken, until his twenty-ninth year, when he began to re-learn it with the help of grammar and dictionary, yet while he was thus struggling through the rudiments of the language, spoke it correctly in his sleep. But the knowledge had in his case simply sunk into the realm of “sub-liminal” consciousness, i.e., latent memory. And there is the familiar case of the illiterate house or kitchen-maid, who was overheard reciting in her somnambulic state Hebrew phrases and verses which—as afterwards proven—she heard declaimed by a former master, years before. But who brings forward proof that H.P.B. had ever in her life studied the authors quoted in Isis Unveiled? If she did not consciously plagiarise them, and had never read them, how could they have come to her on the theory that the book was written by an H. P. B. II or H. P. B. III? My readers in Western lands will have seen the unique case of Madame B., a French hysteriac and patient of Professor Janet, reported and commented upon by Prof. Richet, the eminent hypnotist. The case is quoted by Mr. Stead in his “Real Ghost Stories” number of the Review of Reviews, for Christmas, 1891. In her case the two personalities—we are told—“not only exist side by side, but in the case of the subconscious self, knowingly co-exist, while over or beneath both
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there is a third personality which is aware of both the other two, and apparently superior to both. . . . Mme. B. can be put to sleep at almost any distance, and when hypnotised completely changes her character. There are two well-defined personalities in her, and a third of a more mysterious nature than either of the two first. The normal waking state of the woman is called Léonie I, the hypnotic state Léonie II. The third occult unconscious personality of the lowest depth is called Léonie III. Léonie I is a ‘serious and somewhat melancholy woman, calm and slow, very gentle and extremely timid.’ Léonie II is the opposite—‘gay, noisy, and restless to an insupportable degree: she continues good-natured, but she has acquired a singular tendency to irony and bitter jests. In this state, she does not recognise her identity with her working self. “That good woman is not I,” she says: “She is too stupid.”’ Léonie II gets control of Léonie I’s hand when she is in an abstracted mood; her face calm, her eyes looking into space with a certain fixity,’ but not ‘cataleptic, for she was humming a rustic tune; her right hand wrote quickly, and, as it were, surreptitiously.’ When recalled to herself and the writing shown her, ‘of the letter which she was writing she knew nothing whatever.’ When Léonie I (the waking self) was effaced and Léonie II, the second self, was aroused in the hypnotic condition, and rattling on with her usual volubility and obstreperousness, she suddenly showed signs of terror; hearing a voice as if from another part of the room,
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which scolded her and said: ‘Enough, enough, be quiet, you are a nuisance.’ This was a third personality, which awakened and took full possession of the patient’s organism when she had been plunged into a deeper stage of lethargy. She unhesitatingly confessed that it was she who had spoken the words heard by Léonie II, and that she did it because she saw that the Professor was being annoyed by her babble. The imaginary voice which so terrified Léonie II because it seemed super-natural, proceeded”—says Mr. Stead—“from a profound stratum of consciousness in the same individual.”
Our present purpose being only to superficially examine the subject of multiple personality in connection with the hypothesis that H. P. B. might have had no other aid in writing Isis than her own several personalities, we need not go deeper into a problem to sound which one must turn to the Hindu philosophical and mystical authorities. The ancient theory is that the “KNOWER” is capable of seeing and knowing all when he has been disburthened of the last veil of the physical consciousness. And this knowledge comes to one progressively as the fleshly veils are raised. In common, I suppose, with most extemporaneous public speakers, I have by long practice acquired, in some degree, the habit of triplex mental action. When lecturing in India extemporaneously, in English, and being interpreted, sentence by sentence into some other tongue I find one part of my mind following the translator and trying to guess from the behaviour of the audience, often aided by
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the hearing of familiar words, whether my thoughts are being correctly rendered; at the same time, another part of my mind will be observing individuals and making mental comments upon their peculiarities or capabilities—sometimes I may even address side remarks to some acquaintance sitting near me on the platform; the two mental activities are distinct and independent. The instant my interpreter has uttered his last word, I catch up the thread of my argument and proceed through another sentence. Simultaneously with the progress of these two functions, I have a third consciousness, as of an observant third, and higher self, which notes the other two trains of thought, yet without becoming entangled with them. This represents, of course, a rudimentary stage of psychical development, the higher degrees of which are indicated in some of the aspects of H. P. B.’s spiritual endowments; yet even so much experience as this helps one to comprehend the problem of her mental phenomena: it is a feeble, yet sure, sign that the Knower can observe and know.
If I were a Mussulman, I should probably affirm with Mahomed himself, that the writing of the Koran in such classical Arabic by so uneducated a man as himself was the greatest of psychical miracles, a proof that his spiritual Ego had burst through trammels of flesh and drawn knowledge directly from its heavenly source. If H. P. B. had been an ascetic, mistress of her physical self and her waking brain, able to write pure English without having acquired it, and to have formed and
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fashioned her book after a consistent plan, instead of messing up her materials as she did, I might believe the same thing of her, and ascribe that wonder-book of entrancing interest to her own developed individuality. As it is, I cannot; and I must pass on to discuss our other theories.