OLD DIARY LEAVES, Third Series (1883-87)
by Henry Steel Olcott
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OUR last chapter brought us up to 1st September. There were more days of sunny friendships and bright surroundings at Elberfeld, but on the 10th day the first growl of the coming tempest was heard, for we received from Adyar a lugubrious letter from Damodar, intimating that the Missionaries were hatching a. plot, evidently with the help of Mme. Coulomb. He said that this woman was going about here and there, breathing vengeance against H.P.B. and the Society. The members of the Board of Control, to which I had confided the management of our affairs at Headquarters, became so tired of her and her wretched gossip, that they tried to get her and her husband to go to Colorado, where Dr. Hartmann offered to present them with a gold-mine claim of his. They were both willing and anxious to go, and a day for their sailing, via Hong Kong and San Francisco, had been agreed upon, when they spoilt everything by saying that they held compromising letters of H.P.B.'s and that if they did not receive a bonus of Rs. 3,000, they should give the letters for publication. Of course, that stopped all negotiation; the Board held a meeting to which the accused were summoned, affidavits of their slanders.
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were read in their presence, and they were expelled from membership in the Society. Then came a wrangle and contention about their quitting our premises, they contending that Mme. Blavatsky had left her rooms in their custody, and that they should not leave Adyar until an order was received from her to that effect. Under advice of counsel, the Board wrote and cabled H.P.B. to send the required order; she cabled it back, and at length, after weeks of most disagreeable disturbance, the worthy couple were turned out of the compound, and went and settled themselves at St. Thomé in a house provided for them by the gentle, Christlike Missionaries! Their bombshell mortar battery was fired off in the September number of their Madras organ, the Christian College Magazine, and then they stood by to see the superstructure of the Theosophical Society crumble and bury its founders beneath the ruins. No reasonable person was deceived by the pretence that the employment of the self-discredited Coulombs as tools to attempt our ruin was "in the interest of public morals"; the partisan spirit underneath the attack shone clearly through. If it had been a question of attacking the leaders of one of the sects of their own religion, it is very doubtful if the interests of public morals would not have been left to take care of themselves; but when the chance of discrediting the Society which of all others had the strongest hold upon the confidence of the Indian peoples offered itself, the temptation was irresistible, and even such unsavory accomplices as these were
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paid their price—partly in cash, partly in promises—and the Rev. Mr. Alexander is said to have served as their literary chef de cuisine. Very ably, too.
Naturally enough, so sensational an article achieved instant notoriety; the Calcutta correspondent of the Times cabled its substance to that paper on September20th and it very soon became known throughout the whole civilised world. Only by the reaction was it now seen how widespread the interest in our views had become, and it is doubtful if any Society had ever before had to sustain so terrible an attack. It almost seemed as if the very reactive bitterness of public denunciations of Mme. Blavatsky was the strongest proof of the deep impression which her revelations of the existence of the Eastern School of Adepts, their individual characters and spiritual attainments, and the part they play in the progress of our race, had made on the public mind.
Though I have traced the development of this conspiracy to its culmination within a single paragraph, weeks passed between our first warning from Damodar and the appearance of the Calcutta despatches in the Times. These were weeks of painful anxiety to us and others, but to H.P.B. herself of strong mental agony. Her supersensitive temperament made her suffer mental tortures proportionate to the length of her enforced inaction. A perfect parallel can be found in the case of my distinguished compatriot: J. Fenimore Cooper, the author, of whom his biographer, Prof. Lounsbury, says:
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"The extent to which Cooper was affected by hostile criticism is something remarkable, even in the irritable race of authors. He manifested under it the irascibility of a man not simply thin-skinned, but of one whose skin was raw. Meekness was never a distinguishing characteristic of his nature; and attack invariably stung him into defiance or counter attack."1
What H.P.B. could do under the circumstances, she did. She wrote to the Times of October 9th, denouncing the alleged private letters of herself to Mme. Coulomb as forgeries, and in published interviews in the Pall Mall and other journals declared her intention of returning to India and prosecuting the Coulombs and the Missionaries for libel. Following her letter to the Editor of the Times, appeared .one from Mr. St. George Lane-Fox, who had just returned from Madras, and who mid that, in common with all who were acquainted with the circumstances of the case, he had "no doubt whatever that, whoever wrote the letters, they were not written by Mme. Blavatsky"; moreover, that he did "not believe that the true Theosophic cause suffers in the slightest degree". The accuracy of this judgment has been abundantly proven by subsequent events, for, as statistics show, the growth and strength of the Theosophic movement have, year by year, been double what they had been up to the moment of the attack.
1 James Fenimore Cooper, by Thomas R, Lounsbury, London, 1884. Kegan Paul, Trench & Co.
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I have no intention at this late day to flog this dead horse; the public have taken their sides, H.P.B. has cast off the burden of her earthly sorrows, and time is daily vindicating her greatness of character and dignity of life-aims. Her personal faults and weaknesses are well-nigh forgotten, and her reputation now rests upon the books she gave us, whose paramount value is being brought to view after the dust and smoke of the conflict have passed away. In company with Mr. Rudolph Gebhard, I returned to India in the first half of November, and Mme. Blavatsky followed in December, bringing with her Mr. Leadbeater and Mr. and Mrs. Cooper-Oakley, of London, and three Delegates from Ceylon, to attend the Annual Convention. Dr. Hartmann and I had joined the party at Colombo, whither I had gone to report to the Sinhalese the grand results of my mission to London in their interest.
Before her departure from Europe, H.P.B. received the most gratifying proofs of the unshaken confidence of our European colleagues in her integrity; the London Lodge and the German and French Branches unanimously adopted resolutions of a complimentary character, and the first two cabled their decisions out to Adyar. Meanwhile letters and telegrams poured into Headquarters from the Indian Branches, and the reports from our colleagues of the Board of Control—all of which are now lying on my table as I write—became bright and reassuring; we felt that the storm had passed without doing us such grievous damage after all.
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Landing at Bombay on November 10, I lectured on the 12th, on "Theosophy Abroad", in Framji Cowasji Hall, to a packed audience, and one of the most enthusiastic I ever addressed. Madras was reached on the 15th, and what sort of reception I had the local papers of the day show. More than 300 students of the very Christian College whose professors had attacked H.P.B., and a large number of our Society members, met me at the station, with cheers, a band of musicians, addresses, garlands, and perfume-sprinklings. Their joy and enthusiasm seemed boundless. The address read to me by the schoolboys is very flowery, but quivers with true affection. In certain of its sentences they touch the very heart of the mystery of the failure of the Missionaries to weaken our hold on the Indian public—for a mystery, indeed, it must have seemed to them. These Indian lads identify the Theosophical Society with the revival of Sanskrit Literature, the reconciliation of Religion with Science, the throwing of light upon man's future state, the welding of the "incohesive" Indian castes and creeds into one brotherhood feeling of mutual sympathy, and the defence of Aryan wisdom and Hindu honor against all critics and all comers. With such convictions as these possessing their minds, and with such thrills of gratitude pulsing through their hearts, the poor conspiracy against H.P.B. and the Blessed Ones was foredoomed to failure—nay, was predestined to do us infinite good instead of infinite harm in the long run. One sees this in the tone of the influential Indian
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journals of the day. Noticing the return of Mme. Blavatsky and her party, the Indian Mirror of December 20 said:
"The Hindu community, in general, is the more attracted to Mme. Blavatsky, because they believe that the Missionaries have, in reality, attacked the ancient Hindu religion and philosophy under the guise and pretence of exposing the lady's' trickery'. On that account the feeling of the native community against the Missionaries and for Mme. Blavatsky is very strong."
The Indian Chronicle said: "We are not Theosophists ourselves. . . but we have a great respect for the founders of the Theosophical Society. It is the only foreign movement which appeals to the national feeling of India. . . and instead of being made the butt of ridicule, and its leaders the subject of persecution, it ought to be patiently nourished. The Christian scoffers . . . are perhaps not aware that the existence of Mahatmas . . . is universally believed throughout India, and it is preposterous to suppose that the Padris of Madras will do any serious harm to that belief. . . . Theosophy, though it may have to bear much temporary annoyance . . . will come out of the fiery ordeal purer for having gone through it." The Sahas of 3rd November expressed the same opinions, saying that the Hindus believed in occult science before we two persons were born, and that this belief—in the case of hundreds, knowledge—cannot be affected by anything that may happen to us. The Amrita Bazaar Patrika said that the Christian accusers were incapable
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of grasping the possibility of facts such as Theosophy dealt with, but the Hindus, knowing Yoga, believe in the Mahatmas implicitly. In trying to discredit the existence of such men, the Missionaries, as the tone of the whole Indian Press showed, were slapping the faces of, and offering deadly insult to, the whole Indian people.
Her reception at Madras on her return was even more tumultuously joyous than mine had been. She was met at the pier by a large Committee, garlanded, along with her party of fellow-travellers, and escorted in procession to Pachiappah's Hall, where an assemblage that crowded the place to suffocation was waiting. They rose to their feet and gave vent to their feelings in a roar of cheers and vivas, as she slowly walked through the press to the platform, her hand nervously gripping my arm, her mouth set like iron, her eyes full of glad light and almost swimming in tears of joy. The new-comers from London received each a separate ovation also. Mr. C. Ramiah, the Tahsildar of Madras, bade her welcome on behalf of the local Branch; Judge P. Sreenivas Row requested permission for the address of the Christian College and other College students, bearing some 500 signatures, to be read; and she assenting, it was read by A. G. Krishnaswamy Iyer, a student of the Christian College, amid great excitement. When the outburst of cheering at the end had somewhat subsided, H.P.B. made her first and, so far as I know, only speech from a public platform. She said that "of all the letters published,
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not a single one, as it stood, had been written by her. She would deny them all in toto . . . she would be the greatest fool in the world to commit herself so that she might be fairly accused of such vile, disgusting things . . . . As for her accusers, she and the Colonel had treated them with all possible kindness, and what should she say of their going over to the enemy's camp, when her back was turned, and selling her like Judas Iscariot? She had not done anything against India of which she should be ashamed, and she was determined to work for India while there was health in her". (Report in the Madras Mail.)
Other speeches were made by Mrs. Cooper-Oakley, Mr. Leadbeater, and myself, which were vehemently applauded, and the presentation of garlands and bouquets to H.P.B. and the rest of us terminated the proceedings.
H.P.B. came back fully determined to prosecute the Coulombs and the Missionaries; she had so declared in London and so wrote me from Cairo, where she had stopped some time to collect testimony about the antecedents of the Coulombs. From thence Mr. Leadbeater, then an Anglican curate, or clerk in Holy -Orders, wrote to the Indian Mirror (issue of December 16) about what he and the others had discovered—facts certainly not much to the credit of these champions of "public morals". He says that the information, derived from the members of Mr. Coulomb's own family, showed that his (Mr. C.'s) wife, formerly a Miss Emma Cutting, had been employed for a short
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time as governess in the family of S . . . Pasha "but was expelled from his household upon the discovery that she was endeavoring to instil vicious ideas into the minds of her charge"; that she pretended to be able to see clairvoyantly buried treasures; that several were induced to dig where she told them, but discovered nothing save once, when they found some: doubloons—which a little girl had seen her place in the hole the night before. Mr. Leadbeater further says that he was assured by Mr. Gregoire d'Elias, Vice-Chancellor of the Russian Legation at Cairo that he knows Mme. Blavatsky intimately, and saw her daily during her (former) stay there, and "esteems. her most highly, and has never till now heard the slightest reflection on her moral character". I think we may fairly offset this testimony of a high Russian official against the calumnious falsehoods of an accuser like Mme. Coulomb. And a fair-minded person would be disposed to look with great suspicion upon her statement that Mme. Blavatsky, one of the most brilliant women of her time, had put her reputation so completely in her power as the wretched letters in question would show. Of course, never having seen the letters themselves, nor being as infallible in determining the genuinenesses of handwriting as professionals like Netherclift and Berthelot—the Government expert in the recent Zola trial, who made as ridiculous a failure about Dreyfus's writing as the other did about Parnell's—I cannot express any opinion as to their genuineness; moreover, since poor
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H.P.B. is dead, the truth will never be known; but I can and do so say, for the hundredth time, that I have had numberless proofs of H.P.B.'s occult powers, of the clear altruism of her motives, and the moral purity of her life; and I thrust those old scrap-books and bundles of letters and papers back into their boxes, with the sense of relief that one feels on putting out of sight a loathsome thing. Yet not until I have shown why H.P.B. never redeemed her promise to prosecute the Coulombs; for that fact has been used ever since to her discredit, and most unjustly. Fortunately, it is all a matter of record. For it, we must now turn to the Annual Report of the T.S. for the year 1884.1
She sent me from Cairo the following cable: "Success complete. Outlaws. Legal proofs. Sail Colombo, Navarino." The meaning of this is that she had what she regarded as legal proofs of the fact that the Coulombs were outlaws who had fled the country to escape arrest for fraudulent bankruptcy. This I learnt on reading the written statements of reputable witnesses which she brought with her; statements which, however suggestive as to the line of inquiry that should be followed up in case the matter should come to trial, I saw at once were not in form for production in Court. Acting without legal advice, she had made a mess of the affair. From the day she landed, she kept urging me to take her to a judge, or solicitor, or barrister, no matter which, for her to file her affidavit and begin our action,
1 Cf. also my article on the death of H. P. B. in Theosophist for August, 1891.
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but I positively refused. I told her that within the next few days the Convention would meet, and that our paramount duty was to lay her case before the Delegates, have a special Committee formed, of our ablest lawyers, and let them decide what steps she should take; that she and I had so merged our personalities into the Society, that we ought not to move until we should know the wish of our colleagues. She fretted and stormed and insisted, but I would not stir from my position, and, when she threatened to go by herself and "wipe this stain off her character," I said that I should, in that case, resign my office and let the Convention decide between us: I knew too much about legal practice to do any such foolish thing. She then yielded.
The Convention met in due course on the 27th, and in my Presidential Address I laid the matter before it. The following paragraphs will be pertinent to our present narrative:
"With regard to the proper course for Madame Blavatsky to adopt in the matter of a lawsuit, there is a difference of opinion among her friends. She herself naturally feels anxious to go to Court with her proofs, and have her accusers punished. That was her first thought when we received the news in London, and I am not aware of her having changed her opinion. Some of her friends and all her enemies also urge it. Her assailants especially display a very eager and unanimous, not to say suspicious, anxiety for her to do so. But the vast majority of our members
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throughout the world have expressed a decided objection to this course. Their opinion is that, do what our counsel may, it will be impossible to avoid having the trial of Madame Blavatsky's reputation turned into a trial of the truth of the Esoteric Philosophy and of the existence of the Mahatmas, and, as these are subjects the most sacred, not only to Hindus but to occultists of all religions . . . the prospect is shocking to their feelings. They represent that, in view of the angry prejudice against us among the Anglo-Indians as a class, the utmost latitude is likely to be given to opposing counsel to ask the most insulting questions, and goad to desperation our witnesses, especially Madame Blavatsky, whose extreme nervousness and excitability all know. This strictly within the limits of legal practice, and without our having any redress. I have the written opinions of eminent London counsel upon this point, which will be submitted for your consideration. In face of this divergence of opinion, and in deference to the views of so many of the leading men in our Society, I have represented to Madame Blavatsky that it is her duty to be governed by the sense of the General Council and not undertake to decide for herself . . . . If for (the Society's) sake we should be required to sacrifice even our lives, we ought to be ready to do it without a moment's hesitation. And, finally, I have insisted that the present imbroglio shall be unreservedly laid before a special Committee of the best lawyers and judicial officers, selected from among the Delegates, who shall
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be required to examine persons and papers, and submit their recommendations for the decision of the Convention before its final adjournment; she to hold herself ready to sue or not to sue her traducers, as the Convention may order. To this she has with some reluctance finally consented."
A Committee was chosen, and, before the adjournment, duly reported as follows:
"Resolved: That the letters published in the Christian College Magazine under the heading "Collapse of Koot Hoomi," are only a pretext to injure the cause of Theosophy; and as these letters necessarily appear absurd to those who are acquainted with our philosophy and facts, and as those who are not acquainted with those facts could not have their opinion changed even by a judicial verdict given in favour of Madame Blavatsky, therefore it is the unanimous opinion of this Committee that Madame Blavatsky should not prosecute her defamers in a Court of Law. Signed by Norendro Nath Sen,l Chairman; A. J. Cooper-Oakley, 2 Secretary; Franz Hartmann, M.D.; S. Ramaswamier 3; Naoroji Dorabji Khandalavala 4; H. R. Morgan, Major-General; Gyanendranath Chakravarti, M.A. 5; Nobin
1 Editor, Indian Mirror, Honorary Magistrate, Calcutta; now a Member of the Legislative Council.
2 M.A. (Cantab.); now Registrar, Madras University.
3 District Registrar, Madura.
5 Formerly Professor of Mathematics, Allahabad; now Inspector of Schools.
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K. Bannerji1; T. Subba Row2; P. Sreenivasrow3; P. Iyaloo Naidu4; Rudolph Gebhard; R. Raghoonath Row5; S. Subramania Iyer. 6 The high character and competency of this Committee cannot be questioned, and if a client is ever justified in acting in legal matters under the advice of counsel, assuredly H.P.B. was in this case.
In the course of the debate upon the above Report of the Committee, Babu Norendronath Sen cited the case of an action for libel brought by his cousin, the late Keshab Chunder Sen, and said that "the position of plaintiff in an Indian libel case is much worse than that of defendant". This was his professional experience as a Solicitor of many years' standing. Judge Khandalavala said that, after giving the Coulomb letters a careful study, he was convinced that the one in which his own name occurred was "a perfect forgery". General Morgan said that, for reasons stated, he believed that the whole series of letters were forgeries. Judge Sreenivasrow narrated the circumstances which attended his own receipt of Mahatmic letters, and which made a deep impression on his audience; finally he felt convinced that there was no legal proof of the genuineness of the letters in Mme. Coulomb's possession:
1 Deputy Collector and Magistrate.
2 B.A., B.L., Pleader, High Court, Madras.
4 Deputy Collector (Ret.).
5 Deputy Collector, Madras, formerly Prime Minister, Indore.
6 Since knighted by H. M. Government, and now a Justice of the High Court, Madras.
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"at the best it is but a matter of opinion." Mr. (now High Court Judge) S. Subramania Iyer's remarks were full of the luminous impartiality and commonsense which have elevated him to his present position on the Bench.
"From my experience," he said, among other things, "I know the difficulty of proving the genuineness of letters in a Court of Law, a difficulty which has existed in cases in which I have been engaged myself. It is merely a question of opinion, and I would ask if it is not better to form such an opinion from the evidence embodied in a pamphlet than by the surrender of one's judgement to the verdict of a Court of Justice. The question is whether this Society, putting itself forward as a Society for the promotion of peace and order, is justified in making an appeal to a Court of Justice in this matter. I think that every reasonable man is at liberty to form an opinion on the evidence placed before him . . . without going into a Court of Justice in which results are very often contrary to the truth. If Theosophy has only strength in itself, I consider it will survive such difficulties . . . . We cannot bind Madame Blavatsky, but as a member of our Society I do not think it is the proper course for us to give the world the spectacle of a spiteful cross-examination. Many are insisting that it will be necessary, simply because it would make an interesting trial, but as sober men engaged in spreading the truth, we ought to take a different view."
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Other speakers took part in the discussion, and, the question being put to vote, "the Report of the Committee was then unanimously adopted by acclamation. Three cheers were then given for Madame Blavatsky, who was deeply (and very naturally) affected by this fresh proof of affectionate confidence." On her appearance the next evening before the audience of 1,500 persons who attended the celebration of the Society's ninth anniversary, she was cheered to the echo, and every allusion to her in the speeches of the several speakers aroused great enthusiasm.
One fact, reported confidentially by a very respected colleague of ours, made a deep impression on the minds of the Committee. He had overheard a conversation between two influential Madras civilians about Madame Blavatsky and the charges against her. In reply to a question by one of them as to what would be likely to happen, the other said: "I hope she will bring an action, for . . . who must try it, is determined to give the greatest latitude for cross-examination so that this d——d fraud may be shown up, and it is not at all impossible that she may be sent to the Andaman Islands." Of course, this was equivalent to saying that the case was already prejudged, and that H.P.B. would not have a chance of getting justice. What it was that was calculated upon seemed pretty clear from the fact that when the Missionaries saw that H.P.B. had been kept from walking into the trap, they caused Mme. Coulomb to bring an action for libel against General Morgan, intending to
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subpœna H.P.B. as a witness and cross-examine her, but immediately withdrew it when she was sent away to Europe by her attending physician, as will here-after appear. Their anticipated victory proved a defeat; H.P.B.'s persecution doubled the love felt for her by the Hindus and her foreign colleagues; and they were left with their disreputable informer on their hands. The Rev. Mr. Patterson, "Editor, Christian College Magazine", in the Madras Mail of 6th May, 1885, appealed to the public for money to send them to Europe, "as the genuineness of the Blavatsky letters may now be considered (by them?) settled, and there is therefore no longer any necessity for M. and Mme. Coulomb to remain in India . . . . They are penniless, and it is impossible for them to earn a livelihood in this country . . . . They are not without some claim upon the consideration of the public. . . . There are many who, feeling that a good work has been done, will be willing to contribute, etc." He acknowledges receipt of the following sums: The Rt. Rev. the Bishop of Madras, Rs. 50; the Hon. H.S. Thomas, Rs. 100; the Rev. Dr. Miller, Rs. 100; the Rev. J. Cooling, B.A., Rs. 10. Poor Missonaries! poor Coulombs! This was their last resource, after the ghastly failure of a lecture scheme, in which the Coulombs—personally conducted—were to have made the grand tour, showing up the fraudulent tricks of H.P.B., with accessories of bladders, muslin, wigs, and pulling-strings. The one trial given them at the (Missionary) Memorial Hall, Madras, was such a fiasco that it was never
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repeated, and the poor traitors sank gradually out of sight into their congenial mud. Up to that time the Society had chartered 95 Branches in all the world, up to last December (1897) it had chartered 492.1 Evidently the crumbling which was expected to follow the Coulomb episode did not happen: the engineer was "hoist with his own petard".
While the party were in Colombo, en route for Madras, an interesting episode occurred. The Rev. Mr. Leadbeater, with H.P.B. and myself acting as, sponsors, "took Pansil" from the High Priest Sumangala and Rev. Amaramoli, in the presence of a crowded audience. This was the first instance of a Christian clergyman having publicly declared himself a follower of the Lord Buddha, and the sensation caused by it may be easily imagined.
As we are not likely to have to recur to the Coulomb scandal in any detail, it is proper that I should say what its actual effects were upon us. We have seen that the growth of the Society, as a whole, was quickened to an unexpected degree, and I must also add that very few individual resignations of members were sent in. Yet, so far as the great public is concerned, undoubtedly both H.P.B. and the movement were for a long time under a cloud. It is so much easier to think ill of others than to judicially decide upon their merits and shortcomings, and "where much mud is thrown against a public person, some of it always sticks": a venerable truism. Until the attacks of the
1 Up to the close of 1902 we had issued 714 charters.
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Coulombs and the S.P.R. were made, H.P.B. was simply an exceptional, eccentric, and brilliant woman sans pareil; after that, she was as one who had been arraigned before a Scottish jury and dismissed with the verdict "Not proven," which was very different from "Not guilty". Among our members were quite a number, and some influential ones, who had acquired doubts of her perfect innocence, yet excused her in their minds for the sake of the public benefits and private consolations she had given. 1 We were still under the spell of phenomena-hunting, and to have doubt cast on H.P.B.'s phenomena was to shake the whole superstructure—that now solid edifice of Theosophy which settled on its base later on. My correspondence shows the existence of this feeling of gloom and unrest, and in my succeeding chapters it will be shown how I handled the situation. As these nineteen years have gone by since that tragical 1884, the relation of H.P.B. to the movement has greatly changed, and for the better. She is now remembered and appreciated, not so much as the thaumaturge, but as the devoted agent of the Elder Brothers for the spreading of long-hidden truth to modern times. As time goes on this will be more and more so, and in
1 This same charity has been extended to W. Q. Judge, whose guilt was much more capable of proof. One might almost fancy the author of these lines had poor H. P. B. in mind when writing them:
" A thousand blacker names, worse calumnies,
All wit can think and pregnant spite devise.
Strike home, gash deep, no lies nor slander spare;
A wound, though cured, yet leaves behind a scar."
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the growing effulgence of this new day the shadows cast about her martyr personality will melt away and the calumnies of her foolish foes be forgotten, as are those libels against Washington which were so rife in his lifetime. For she was the herald of truth and, as Bacon said: "the sun, though it passes through dirty places, yet remains as pure as before." He might have added: "it illumines the faces of those who stand in its glory."