26 JUNE 1936, Page 25

A Mountain of Rubbish

Six-TY years ago in New York the Theosophical Society was founded by H. P. Blavatsky and Henry S. Olcott. The first important converts of these quaint companions in India were A. 0. Hume, who after his return to solid earth initiated the Indian National Congress, and A. P. Sinnett, who by some curious chance was at that time editing the Pioneer of Alla- habad, the daily organ of the Services. At Simla, in 1880, Sinnett was the privileged recipient of a Mahatmic revelation, and, returning to England, he published two books, The Occult World and Esoteric Buddhism. These became the elementary scriptures of the new cult, which was enjoying a picturesque infancy on both sides of the Atlantic ; and no wonder, for Madame Blavatsky was then storming through her unique elderhood.

Sinnett's books were based upon certain letters which, as he believed, had come to him by " astral post " from the cus- todians of the Secret Doctrine in Tibet, Mahatmas of endless age from whom no secrets were hid. Blavatsky, to he sure, had a poor opinion of Sinnett, but it was nevertheless to this useful disciple that the bulk of the letters containing the Masters' instructions for the new society were addressed. Sinnett lived until 1921. He left his papers without conditions to his executrix, and she, very sensibly, arranged for the publication of the letters in extenso. They appeared in 1923, transcribed and edited by A. T. Barker. They are 130 in number, filling 500 pages. Who wrote them ? This question is dealt with in convincing detail by Harold and Loftus Hare. They have no doubt about the authorship and their answer is H. P. Blavatsky.

The amazing story of the Mahatmic revelation, mostly falling between 1880 and 1884, has been told many times, and ever since the first exposure of the Blavatsky methods, carried out by Dr. Hodgson for the Psychical Research Society in 1885, the record has been subjected to inquiry from many sceptical quarters. Not, however, until the brothers Hare (one of whom was a member of the Theosophical Society for over twenty years) undertook this investigation had any detailed study been made of the basic documents of what may be described as the most imposing structure of rubbish built up in the modern age. Permission to make photostat copies was not given, but by good fortune the authors were permitted to work over the whole batch of papers. The result is a report and conclusions to which, manifestly, there can be no reply.

Madame Blavatsky, a woman of boisterous vigour and humour, needed supernatural authority for her gospel. She found it in these remote Tibetans, the first two of whom bore the names of Koot Hoomi and Morya. (Not long after the first exposure in India renegade Theosophists were explaining that Koot Hoomi had been made up from Olcott and Hume.) From the beginning it was noted, and not without misgiving among the graver brethren, that the Masters had a peculiar mode of expression. They fell into sentences which were neither English nor Indian. They made play with French expressions and Latin tags—the former correct, the latter always wrong. They had a disconcerting habit of personal abuse, and a familiarity with American slang not to be looked for in high Tibet (Madame Blavatsky, who had lived in America and with Americans, explained that it was Koot Hoomi who taught her English—which was largely true I). The ways of the Mahatmas were a stumbling-block, but their mystery was a wonderful asset. When, however, the Sinnett Letters came, it was recognised that they made an embar- rassing addition to the mass of legend and exposition which had been built up by Annie Besant and C. W. Leadbeater during the thirty years following the death of Blavatsky. The material cried out for the full knowledge and cool method which the brothers Hare have now supplied. They show by parallel lists the precise resemblances between Madame and her elusive Master. Common to both are the fantastic allusions, wrong quotations, misspellings, French and American turns of speech, the ferocious split infinitives, and all sorts of odd minutiae, while we have the Hares' word for it that the handwriting evidence is final. What we have here is demonstration rather than discovery, for the identity now established was virtually admitted long ago by prominent Theosophists. Leadbeater in 1912 confessed the falsity of the original legend about the precipitated missives. Sinnett at the end of his life explained that they were " dictations to a competent clairaudient amanuensis, and Madame Blavatsky was generally the amanuensis in question."

In one matter only do I find myself in disagreement with the Hares, or able to suggest a line of further inquiry. They speak of the co-founder of modern Theosophy as a dupe. Olcott was no dupe. As one knew him in India thirty years ago, he was as shrewd and cynical an old performer as could be met with anywhere, and I think that a study of his Old Diary Leaves—which, apart from H.P.B., is the one enter- taining narrative produced by the movement—would pro- bably yield a fresh bundle of proofs. The Hares, for instance, lay stress upon Madame's un-English use of lower-case initials and of " but " where we should write " only " or " except." Both usages are thoroughly American (e.g., " But two senators voted for the resolution "). Blavatsky, we may be sure, got a great deal from Olcott besides slang and split infinitives. I should be surprised if he were not a large part of Koot Hoomi. But, in any case, the Snark was a Boojmn,