OLD DIARY LEAVES, Third Series (1883-87)
by Henry Steel Olcott
H. P. B. AND THE S. P. R. REPORT
Two distinct and very different streams of the Society's Karma were now converging, though we then realised very little their prospective importance. One was the outcome of my special mission for the Ceylon Buddhists, which had brought me to Europe this year; the other, our first contact with the Society for Psychical Research. The former, beneficent in itself, brought honor to us and joy to a whole nation; the latter cast a disrepute upon the S. P. R., caused us undeserved grief and sorrow, tarnished our reputation, and pierced the heart of that unrewarded servant of the race, H. P. B. In the sequence of events it comes first, and shall have first attention.
There had been the making of acquaintances between us and the S. P. R.; entire cordiality and unsuspicious friendliness on our part; an equally apparent sympathy on theirs; agreeable social meetings at the houses of their leaders; and, finally, a consent on my part to be examined by a Committee of the S. P. R. The sky was purely blue, without the tiniest cloud to indicate the hurricane in preparation for us. So those were joyous days in London and Paris, and H. P. B. and I were in exuberant spirits. On 11th May (1884) I had my first sitting and examination with Messrs.
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F. W. H. Myers and J. Herbert Stack. A stenographer reported the Questions and Answers. The printed Report is in a pamphlet of 130 pp. 8vo. (Private and confidential to members of the S. P. R.), which was issued in December, 1884, and which also contains reports of similar examinations by the Committee of Mohini M. Chatterji, and forty-two documentary appendices. The ground covered by the inquiry was as to the appearance of phantasms of the living; the projection and material constitution of the human Double; appearances and communication with the same at distances from the physical body; visits to the witnesses from living Adepts or Mahatmas; apports of ponderable objects; astral bell-sounds; the phenomenal receipt of written documents; the precipitation of Mahatmic writing within closed letters from ordinary correspondents while in transit through the mails; the giving of flowers by an Adept's double to a group of observers, etc. I think that any candid reader of the Report will notice the perfect candor, openness, and evident good faith of the witnesses, and the amplitude of corroboration contained in the documents which were laid by us before the Committee. But to understand our feelings when, later on, the S. P. R. made its merciless attack upon H. P. B., our Masters, and ourselves, one should try to put oneself in our places. Here were we laying bare a series of personal experiences which had for us a most private and sacred character, for no possible benefit that could accrue to ourselves, but solely that our testimony might help the cause of
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spiritual science and give comfort to other students not yet so favored as ourselves; going before the Committee with no prepared case, but answering the questions sprung upon us, and hence putting ourselves at the mercy of those who had none of our enthusiasm, whose policy was to criticise, analyse, and pick flaws in our statements, and who in rendering their final judgment were unsparing of our feelings, sceptical as to our motives, and merciless to a degree. Worst of all, they were then incompetent through inexperience of psychical laws, misled by the conclusions of an agent—Dr. Hodgson—whom they sent out to India to verify our statements and collect evidence, and by an utterly incompetent handwriting expert's report, and so put themselves on permanent record as the self-righteous calumniators of a woman—H. P. B.—who had neither done an injury to a living person, nor asked or received any benefit or reward for her services to the world, yet whom they dared to brand as "one of the most accomplished, ingenious, and interesting impostors in history" (see Report of the Committee appointed to investigate phenomena connected with the Theosophical Society. Members: Messrs. E. Gurney, F. W. H. Myers, F. Podmore, H. Sidgwick, and J. H. Stack. Published in 1885).
This Second Report was received by poor H. P. B. at Adyar when she lay apparently on her death-bed, and it nearly killed her. With an agony of pathos she has written in blue pencil, in the copy that now lies before me, the following:
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"Madame Blavatsky who will soon be dead and gone, for she is doomed, says this to her friends of the P. R. S. (S. P. R.): After my death these phenomena, which are the direct cause of my premature death, will take place better than ever. But whether dead or alive, I will be ever imploring my friends and Brothers never to make them public; never to sacrifice their rest, their honor, to satisfy public curiosity or the empty pretext of science. Read the book. Never, throughout my long and sad life, never was there so much of uncalled for, contemptuous suspicion and contempt lavished upon an innocent woman as I find here in these few pages published by so-called friends.
"H. P. BLAVATSKY
"ADYAR, Feb. 5, 1885,
"on my death-bed."
She adds the remark that she shall never forgive me for "thrusting our phenomena upon the attention of the gentlemen scientists of the P.R.S. (S. P. R.),” which was rather hard on me, considering the innocent part I played in the whole affair. I knew of nothing to be concealed, had no suspicion whatever of bad faith anywhere, and was perfectly willing to put every facility in the way of those who wished to investigate the facts. This is conclusively shown in Dr. Hodgson's Report on his investigations in India, as the special agent of the S.P.R. On page 311, he says
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of me: "His candor was shown by his readiness in providing me with extracts from his own diary, and the freedom with which he allowed me to inspect important documents in, his possession; and he rendered me every assistance in his power in the way of my acquiring the evidence of the native witnesses. Not only so, but observing, as I thought, that Mr. Damodar was unduly endeavoring to take part in my examination of a witness, shortly after I arrived in India, he desired me not to hesitate in taking the witnesses apart for my private examination, and he made special arrangements for my convenience."
Now there are several points not to be overlooked in finally revising the wholesale condemnation of Madame Blavatsky and the discrediting of her phenomena by Dr. Hodgson and his colleagues of the S.P.R.:
1. No prepared case was submitted to the Committee in London, Mr. Sinnett, Mr. Mohini, and I having come forward and answered questions impromptu, according to our best recollections about events stretching back over several years. When the incidents occurred there had been no measuring by feet and inches, consulting of watches, tying up of H. P. B. in a bag or fastening her to chairs by sealed threads, as in the case of mediums; nor did either of us think for one moment of daring to banter with the august Personages in momentary view, or to tell them to move here, or stand there, or let themselves be weighed or handled or pinched, to satisfy us that they were real.
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I have never heard of anybody's so treating any saintly personage. So we simply made ourselves the easy game of a Committee who cared not a whit about our feelings, motives, or opinions as to the Living Teachers, but concerned themselves chiefly in trying to break down the standing of the great rival Society, and sweeping our rubbish off the ground which they aimed at occupying alone. This is the tone that seems to run through the whole Report.
2. That when later on, in India, they cross-examined the Hindu and other Indian witnesses who had signed the certificates published in the Theosophist, in Mr. A. O. Hume's Hints on Esoteric Theosophy and other pamphlets, every stress was laid upon their contradictions, while no allowance whatever was made for (a) the utter inexperience of Asiatics in psychical research methods, and (b) their mental incompetency to restate accurately what had been their observations and impressions at the time of witnessing the phenomena, when no tests had been applied, measurements taken, or other details looked to: since nobody had had an idea that they would have to recall the incidents four or five or even more years later. A judicially-minded investigator would have seen at a glance that self-contradictions would, under those circumstances, have been the most natural, and mnemonic accuracy the least so, to expect. Every cool observer at mediumistic circles would know that. I have attended the late Date Owen, Epes Sargent, and other equally honest and cultured men, to circles
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where they proved to me their perfect inaccuracy of observation. How much less, then, ought to have been expected from Hindus who had never had the least personal experience in such matters?
3. The chief accuser of Madame Blavatsky was Mme. Emma Coulomb, whose moral worth is shown in her confession to the Missionaries that she had been cognisant of the fraudulent character of H. P. B.'s phenomena all along, and had served as her lying and dishonest accomplice! Inquiries at Cairo, of the ladies of the Royal harem, would yield highly interesting facts about her.
4. That the pretended letters of H. P. B. to her were never shown me by anybody, although I was within easy reach, a fact which does not go towards proving their genuineness.
5. That the unqualified opinion of the caligraphic expert who declared the K. H. and other alleged Mahatmic letters to have been written by H. P. B. (from certain resemblances between them and her admitted handwriting), upon which the S. P. R. Committee largely based their denunciation of her, is that of a man notorious for having declared, on like professional analyses, the "Pigot Forgeries" to have been genuine letters of Mr. Parnell, while the forger himself later killed himself in prison after confessing to his forgeries. Moreover, his professional opinion is opposed to the categorically opposite one of the chief caligraphist of the High Court of Berlin. Letters of H. P. B. and of the Mahatma K. H. were submitted
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for his decision by Herr G. Gebhard, Persian Consul, and he declared in writing that "it was impossible that the two letters could have been written by the same hand" (Theosophist, June; 1886, Supplement).
6. That even if the resemblances in the handwritings to Madame Blavatsky's had been much more striking than they were, this would have been no proof of her mala fides, since every tyro in spiritualistic research knows that, whether a psychic message is written on a closed slate, or precipitated on a paper or card laid on the floor, or on the ceiling, or anywhere else at a distance from the medium, the writing will usually resemble that of the medium. The same rule applies to all intermediary agents through whom messages in psychic writing are transmitted. Neither Dr. Hodgson, nor either of his colleagues, nor their infallible "expert" seems to have known this elemen1ary fact; yet this did not deter them from rendering an unjust and cruel judgment on a woman whom they almost seem to have fallen upon to claw to pieces, like so many wolves on a victim's carcase. I wish to keep my feelings within bounds, but it becomes very hard when I think of the injustice done to my old colleague. The attitude of the Committee of the S. P. R. seems to me that of a body of gifted, scholarly men, blinded by self-righteousness so as to make them incapable of seeing facts as they were, and daring to lay violent hands upon the reputation of a person entitled, under every principle of human justice, to
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benefit of the doubt.1 Was any mercy shown her? One searches in vain throughout the published Report for the smallest sign of it
Oh! for the rarity
Of Christian charity.
7. That Dr. Hodson, the agent-detective sent by the S. P. R. to India to ferret out the facts, has since then become an avowed spiritualist, to the extent of pronouncing the medium, Mrs. Piper's phenomena, spiritualistic after six years' scrutiny of them! In his earlier days he devoted fourteen hours to the writing up of a single slate-writing séance—i.e., at the time when he was as sceptical and incompetent to pronounce upon" psychic powers" as is Mr. Podmore to this day. It is sad to think what a different report on H. P. B.'s phenomena he would have made to the S. P. R. but for his incompetence as an observer of psychic facts; sad, because he might then have done her justice instead of injustice, and spared her years
1 The character of Mr. Podmore has been just recently drawn by the veteran Editor of Light (see issue of November 27th, 1897), in a way that will show how little chance off fair treatment H. P. B. had at the hands of his S. P. R. Committee. "Patient, unspeakably painstaking, with a wonderful eye for a crevice, and an equally wonderful wrist for jerking an incident off the rails, and putting an up-train on the down line . . . Mr. Podmore is an enthusiastic unbeliever. He starts with a vehement assumption against all things spiritual, and strictly attends to business as one whose business is to detect crevices, and stuff them up with anything that comes to hand; and if there is nothing substantial to stuff them up with, he jams in an unfailing supply of innuendos, assertions, and assumptions. But a passage, towards the end of the book [under review] gives us the key to it all . . . 'We are bound to assume abnormality somewhere, and, of the two, it may be easier to suppose the medium abnormally dishonest than to credit him with abnormal psychic powers.' "
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of agony undeserved. The congeniality of Dr. Hodgson's mind at that time with Mr. Podmore's is apparent throughout his report of observations: a single example will suffice—ex uno disce omnes. Mr. S. Ramaswamier, District Registrar of Tinnevelly, Madras Presidency, encountered in Sikkim my Guru, Mahatma M., on horseback, and had a long conversation with him, which he describes at length (Theosophist, December, 1882). Dr. Hodson says: "I see no improbability in supposing that the Mahatma was personated by one of Madame Blavatsky's confederates." As though this penniless woman had a paid army of cheats scattered over India, even to Sikkim!
8. That weird phenomena occurred in H. P. B.'s presence from her very childhood, as is proved by the testimony of her family, and that similar ones were witnessed by myself and many other persons in America and India, long before the Coulombs came out of their obscurity, and under circumstances precluding the theory of confederacy or bad faith.1 This fact should, it would seem, have great weight in the making up of the public verdict in the case at issue. The misfortune was that the S. P. R. Committee, owing to ignorance and lack of experience, doubted the possibility of such phenomena, and hence—as Mr. Podmore puts it in the passage above quoted—as they had "to assume abnormality somewhere,"
1 See OLD DIARY LEAVES, "The True History of the Theosophical Society," London, New York, and Madras, 1895 [First Series].
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it was "easier to suppose the medium abnormally dishonest than to credit him with abnormal psychic powers" .
If the reader will but think a moment, he will see how impossible it was that the members of the committee could have been qualified to pronounce upon phenomena of the class of H. P. B.'s. There had been plenty of mediums in Europe and America, but no alleged adept proficients in psychical science since Cagliostro and Count St. Germain. Where is the record of verified phenomena with which H. P. B.'s could be compared and tested? In the whole range of scientific research no branch demands of the experimenter such intuitive insight, such capacity for delicate weighing of facts, such a profound knowledge of man in his physical, mental, and spiritual aspects, such an intimate acquaintance with the ancient schools of philosophy and of occultism, such a memory of the recorded powers of adepts, such a power to experimentally verify at first hand the number and play of the finer forces of nature, as this field of transcendental physics. What were the special qualifications, then, of Messrs. Myers, Gurney, Podmore, Stack, Sidgwick, and Hodgson for this inquest? What weight ought to be given to their hasty verdict? We scorn the raw opinions of the uneducated tradesman upon astronomy, mathematics, symbology, spirit survival, or any other of the great questions of human knowledge with which he has had no familiarity whatever. Yet is his case worse than that of these gentlemen amateurs in
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Practical Psychology, who possessed no more qualification to render a just judgment on H. P. B.'s psychical powers than our supposed green-grocer, tailor, or blacking-maker? If the S. P. R. had had to convert the public to a belief that ran counter to its preconceptions, or to some new aspect of a fixed error, such as the geocentric theory, for example, does any sane man believe that they would have brought forward so weak a case as this, and so hastily risked the indignant censure of a more enlightened posterity? But the chance of discrediting a dangerous personality, by merely calling her a clever impostor and thus appealing to popular ignorance and popular prejudice, was too tempting to be resisted; so they slandered and passed on, leaving their poisoned shaft to rankle in the breast of this poor, race-loving, imprudent, impulsive thaumaturgist and teacher. They have had their day of triumph, but divine justice has still its inexorable policy to vindicate.
Whatever her other friends may have done, I, at least, have always tried to deal with H. P. B. as a natural, not a supernatural, personage. In relating my observations of her phenomena I have done my best to speak the plain truth and present my facts without bias. This policy has been adhered to in the face of the resistance of many of my colleagues who would have liked to cover up her weaknesses. What they might think of me was of no consequence whatsoever; I had my duty to do to "my benefactress, friend, and co-founder of the Society. I have done it all
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the better, I believe, by telling the truth, adding nothing pleasant, concealing nothing unpleasant. I have taken H. P. B. as a being of different sides of character, some almost angelic, others the reverse. Often, when on lecturing tours in far-away lands, I have been asked what I had to say in defence of her against the charges of the Coulombs and Hodgson. My answer has always been that the case against her had never been judicially presented, but very crudely and in an unconvincing way; that I myself had seen so many of her phenomena produced under circumstances of an unimpeachable character, as to make me know that she was a great adept in handling nature's occult forces; but that, even if one had to accept as proven every charge brought against her phenomena, she was still a benefactress of mankind in the teachings she had left behind, and had won the fervent gratitude of thousands of men and women whom her writings had first shown the path up the hill of spiritual truth. And I have challenged my questioners to tell the audience whether they or any other of Mme Blavatsky's flippant accusers dare claim the right to a tithe of the love and gratitude given her by the public, for what they had done for humanity. I never yet failed to win the applause of my hearers. For there is beneath all social movements, down in the heart of human nature, a passionate love of fairplay, and this will vindicate the now besmirched reputation of Helena Petrovna. In short, all of us instinctively believe in Karma. As for the victim of the S. P. R., she is beyond their reach,
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at their most malicious attempts to do her Karma thrust her under this crushing burden of sorrow, but the ordeal is past, and she can now
Know how sublime a thing it is
To suffer and be strong.