H. Р. Blavatsky died May 8, 1891, in the sixtieth year of her age. The generation which knew her personally is no more, but the fierce controversies which raged around her living still survive, and not a year passes but her name and nature become the target for renewed discussion. It is not overstating the fact to say that of no character in history is both so much and so little known. We say “known,” but the fact is that today, as when she moved among men, she is as much as ever a confronting mystery.
During sixteen years she lived on three continents amid the most alien surroundings, in the light of the most watchful as well as the most hostile publicity. For those who called themselves her friends and followers were not less critical and observant of her every mood, her every word and action, than those who saw in her a charlatan, an emissary of immorality and irreligion. Not one who sought to gain access to her was ever denied the opportunity to question and cross-examine her. Her doors were open to friends and foes alike. Yet today as while she lived she remains an enigma, not because of the mystery with which she cloaked herself, but because she presents to the mind of the race an unsolved problem – an insoluble problem from any but one approach: that of the Wisdom-Religion which she inculcated and exemplified. She was herself the very testimony and witness of that which she taught, but none thought to solve the riddle of the Sphinx of the nineteenth century by an application to her of the philosophy she brought.
Those who approached H.P.B. did so, each with his own preconceptions. Each was willing to admit the shortcomings of his own knowledge, experience, and consciousness; each was desirous of adding to his knowledge; each was “willing to learn” what he could from H.P.B., but when the opportunity and the test came, who studied himself in the light of H.P.B.’s knowledge, experience, and consciousness? Yet if she was, perchance, a Being of another order from mankind, some Buddha in disguise, how could she be truly availed of by any aspirant for Wisdom, unless by a reversal of our accustomed mode of inquiry? It is one thing to study the great doctrine, say, of Karma and Reincarnation, from the standpoint of our own present personal predilections and antipathies, and quite another thing to study our own present selves and natures in the light of these twin truths.
In the Preface to the “Secret Doctrine” she says that “the publication of many of the facts herein stated has been rendered necessary by the wild and fanciful speculations in which many Theosophists and students of Mysticism have indulged, during the last few years, in their endeavour to, as they imagined, work out a complete system of thought from the few facts previously communicated to them.” Although she specifically states that the “Secret Doctrine” is written for the instruction of students of Occultism, how many of those who call themselves “Occultists” have ever really studied her life or her writings, let alone derived any applications from them?
On the contrary, the multitude of books and other writings, emanating from self-styled “initiates,” “outer heads,” and “teachers” who pose as “successors” and “revealers,” do they not one and all merely betray themselves as those very “wild and fanciful speculations” of which H.P.B. wrote warningly? If her own students and professed followers and disciples have made such sorry use, and betray such sorry understanding, of the very genius, principles, and practices of the philosophy she taught, how could they or can they but grossly and grievously err in their understanding of H.P.B. herself – the living embodiment of what she taught? One has but to compare the record of H. P. Blavatsky for sincerity and consistency with that of any of her detractors, any of her followers, or with his own as known to himself, to gain some glimmer of recognition that here in our own times in the personage known as H. P. Blavatsky is one who, in the luminous zone of the eternal great, shines with an undimmed light, needing no borrowed radiance; a Messenger from other Spheres indeed!
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Theosophists, out of loyalty and gratitude to H.P.B. who brought them the message of Theosophy, would do well to inform themselves fully on the Coues-Collins and Sun case1 for they cover every accusation ever hurled at H.P.B.’s good name and fame; they constitute the only case where the charges were made directly, and by a responsible channel. The outcome of the case constitutes an absolute vindication of H.P.B. and an equally emphatic exposure of the bad faith or the ignorance of those who have since repeated those slanders. Vile as must be considered the characters of those who originate or circulate unverified base charges against the living, they are respectable in comparison with those who continue to revile the defenseless dead.
In the “New York Sun” for Sunday, June 1, 1890, the leading editorial article was entitled, “The Humbug of Theosophy.” (see photostat attached, #1)
This ignoble consideration of Madame Blavatsky, her teachings, and her students, was followed, on Sunday, July 20, 1890, by a full-page special article from its Washington correspondent in the form of an interview with Prof. Coues. The editorial page of the “Sun” of the same date contained as its leading article a still more undignified and disreputable treatment of the subject under the caption, “The History of a Humbug.” (see photostats attached, #2 and #3)
Following the “Sun” articles, Mr. Judge in “The Path” for August, 1890, advised all whom it might concern that he had brought suit for libel. Manifestly he had done this only for the protection of the Society and the good name of H.P.B., and to head off similar attacks in other publications, for he himself had been mentioned only incidentally and as rather dupe and tool than arch deceiver, and the same as to Col. Olcott. In his notice Mr. Judge made the significant statement:
The animus of the writer is so plainly disclosed that it might well serve as an ample answer to the attack. Inasmuch, however, as certain moral charges cannot be permitted utterance with impunity, I have brought suit for libel . . . and am awaiting instructions from Madame Blavatsky as to her own course.
In “The Path,” for September, 1890, is printed a letter from Madame Blavatsky whose tone and spirit is in shining contrast with the course and animus of her calumniators, (see the book “The Theosophical Movement 1875-1925,” pages 219-220)
At the time, the “Sun” was perhaps the most widely circulated and influential of American newspapers. It had at its command every resource of ability, influence, and money, and it is not to be supposed that it was unfamiliar with the technicalities of the New York State laws relating to libel or the difficulties in the way of anyone who might try to obtain a verdict against it in such a suit. It had but to establish in court its own good faith and prove or show reasonable cause for belief in and circulation of a single one of its major charges, and the whole history of American jurisprudence in similar cases showed that it would be acquitted. But one thing favored the suit of H.P.B.: the fact that this time, quite the contrary of the Coulomb charges, the S. P. R. report, and the numerous prior attacks upon her and her mission – this time the charges were direct, made as statements of fact, not of opinion, hearsay, conclusion, inference, or innuendo.
If H.P.B. was actually guilty of a single one of the offenses charged against her, she was ruined, ineradicably branded with the stigma of a convicted rogue – her enemies triumphant, her Society exploded, her followers buried in ignominy, her mission and her “Theosophy” a thing of contempt and of derision.
The case was pressed with the utmost vigor by H.P.B.’s attorneys, but the usual “law’s delays” were invoked and taken advantage of in the defense. In “The Path” for March, 1891, a statement of the then status of the suit was published under the caption, “The Libel Suits Against New York Sun and Elliott Coues.” (see the book “The Theosophical Movement 1875-1925,” page 222)
Madame Blavatsky died in May of the same year – 1891 – and, under the Laws of New York, her death automatically terminated the suit brought by her against the Sun. Mr. Judge, however, continued to press his own suit, although the allegations originally made against himself were rather ridicule than slander. Finally, on September 26, 1892, the Sun, which by this time had become convinced of the great wrong perpetrated through it, voluntarily published, in partial amends, an editorial article (see photostat attached, #4) repudiating the Coues interview, and a long article by Mr. Judge (also see photostat attached, #5)2 devoted to a tribute to the life-work and character of H. P. Blavatsky.
We print on another page an article in which Mr. William Q. Judge deals with the romantic an extraordinary career of the late Madam Helena P. Blavatsky. We take occasion to observe that on July 20, 1890 we were misled by Dr. E. F. Coues of Washington, in which allegations were made against Madam Blavatsky’s character, and also against her followers, which appear to have been without solid foundation. Mr. Judge’s article disposes of all questions relating to Madame Blavatsky as presented by Dr. Coues, and we desire to say that his allegations respecting the Theosophical Society and Mr. Judge personally are not sustained by evidence and should not have been printed.
The Sun’s retraction
It is probable that few Theosophical students of the present day have ever seen the article written by Mr. Judge on H.P.B. at the invitation of the Sun3 and included as part of its editorial retraction by the words “Mr. Judge’s article disposes of all questions relating to Madame Blavatsky as presented by Dr. Coues.” The article itself, and the accompanying editorial endorsement and retraction, should be contrasted with the two editorials from the Sun first quoted and with the Coues charges, in order fully to realize the complete reversal of its position by the Sun. This can be accounted for only on two grounds:
(1) that the Sun after vigorous and prolonged efforts to find evidence to support even one of the charges found that they were mere calumnies, and
(2) that its publishers were men honorable enough voluntarily to make amends for the wrong done by publishing a retraction, even after the death of H.P.B. had freed them from all risk of damages.4
1. These textual extracts are from the book “The Theosophical Movement 1875-1925,” sequentially arranged. The page references from which the statements are taken are, in order of the excerpts, as follows: 275, 276-7, 280, 224, 225, 212, 213, 215, 218, 220-1, 221-2, 223 and 223-4.
2. The photostats are from original newspaper cuttings.
- See Chapters XIII (‘The Coues-Collins Charges and Their Aftermath’) and XIV (‘The New York Sun Libel Case’) of the book “The Theosophical Movement 1875-1925.” The Coues interview fills seven closely printed columns of small type. The charges made and the alleged evidence procured by Prof. Coues ostensibly exposed the facts of H.P.B.’s career from 1857 onwards. It is worthwhile for the student to observe these putative facts in the “Sun” articles, for they include the multitude of attacks before and since upon H.P.B. and Theosophy. The sequel shows their untruthfulness and the basic ignorance or dishonesty of those who make and repeat those charges.
- Judge’s article was “The Esoteric She,” a strong rebuttal to the falsehoods and slurs on Mme Blavatsky’s good character, integrity and altruism. Being written by one who worked with her for for 16 years and knew her better than anyone else it is well recommended to readers and researchers as a brief but accurate overview of her life and high ideals.
- Reprinted in Magazine “Theosophy,” Volume 9, page 142.
- Other newspapers from the beginning took a more balanced and fairer line, such as the New York Daily Tribune which ran a complimentary Editorial shortly after Madame Blavatsky’s death (see photostat #6).