Annie Besant
Annie Besant

Part 5 out of 5

down their work, some 1,400 of them, and then a crowd of them started
off to me to ask what to do next. If we ever worked in our lives,
Herbert Burrows and I worked for the next fortnight. And a pretty
hubbub we created; we asked for money, and it came pouring in; we
registered the girls to receive strike pay, wrote articles, roused the
clubs, held public meetings, got Mr. Bradlaugh to ask questions in
Parliament, stirred up constituencies in which shareholders were
members, till the whole country rang with the struggle. Mr. Frederick
Charrington lent us a hall for registration, Mr. Sidney Webb and
others moved the National Liberal Club to action; we led a procession
of the girls to the House of Commons, and interviewed, with a
deputation of them, Members of Parliament who cross-questioned them.
The girls behaved splendidly, stuck together, kept brave and bright
all through. Mr. Hobart of the Social Democratic Federation, Messrs.
Shaw, Bland, and Oliver, and Headlam of the Fabian Society, Miss
Clementina Black, and many another helped in the heavy work. The
London Trades Council finally consented to act as arbitrators and a
satisfactory settlement was arrived at; the girls went in to work,
fines and deductions were abolished, better wages paid; the
Match-makers' Union was established, still the strongest woman's
Trades Union in England, and for years I acted as secretary, till,
under press of other duties, I resigned, and my work was given by the
girls to Mrs. Thornton Smith; Herbert Burrows became, and still is,
the treasurer. For a time there was friction between the Company and
the Union, but it gradually disappeared under the influence of common
sense on both sides, and we have found the manager ready to consider
any just grievance and to endeavour to remove it, while the Company
have been liberal supporters of the Working Women's Club at Bow,
founded by H.P. Blavatsky.


The worst suffering of all was among the box-makers, thrown out of
work by the strike, and they were hard to reach. Twopence-farthing per
gross of boxes, and buy your own string and paste, is not wealth, but
when the work went more rapid starvation came. Oh, those trudges
through the lanes and alleys round Bethnal Green Junction late at
night, when our day's work was over; children lying about on shavings,
rags, anything; famine looking out of baby faces, out of women's eyes,
out of the tremulous hands of men. Heart grew sick and eyes dim, and
ever louder sounded the question, "Where is the cure for sorrow, what
the way of rescue for the world?"

In August I asked for a "match-girls' drawing-room." "It will want a
piano, tables for papers, for games, for light literature; so that it
may offer a bright, homelike refuge to these girls, who now have no
real homes, no playground save the streets. It is not proposed to
build an 'institution' with stern and rigid discipline and enforcement
of prim behaviour, but to open a home, filled with the genial
atmosphere of cordial comradeship, and self-respecting freedom--the
atmosphere so familiar to all who have grown up in the blessed shelter
of a happy home, so strange, alas! to too many of our East London
girls." In the same month of August, two years later, H.P. Blavatsky
opened such a home.

Then came a cry for help from South London, from tin-box makers,
illegally fined, and in many cases grievously mutilated by the
non-fencing of machinery; then aid to shop assistants, also illegally
fined; legal defences by the score still continued; a vigorous
agitation for a free meal for children, and for fair wages to be paid
by all public bodies; work for the dockers and exposure of their
wrongs; a visit to the Cradley Heath chain-makers, speeches to them,
writing for them; a contest for the School Board for the Tower Hamlets
division, and triumphant return at the head of the poll. Such were
some of the ways in which the autumn days were spent, to say nothing
of scores of lectures--Secularist, Labour, Socialist--and scores of
articles written for the winning of daily bread. When the School Board
work was added I felt that I had as much work as one woman's strength
could do.

Thus was ushered in 1889, the to me never-to-be-forgotten year in
which I found my way "Home," and had the priceless good fortune of
meeting, and of becoming the pupil of, H.P. Blavatsky. Ever more and
more had been growing on me the feeling that something more than I had
was needed for the cure of social ills. The Socialist position
sufficed on the economic side, but where to gain the inspiration, the
motive, which should lead to the realisation of the Brotherhood of
Man? Our efforts to really organise bands of unselfish workers had
failed. Much indeed had been done, but there was not a real movement
of self-sacrificing devotion, in which men worked for Love's sake
only, and asked but to give, not to take. Where was the material for
the nobler Social Order, where the hewn stones for the building of the
Temple of Man? A great despair would oppress me as I sought for such a
movement and found it not.


Not only so; but since 1886 there had been slowly growing up a
conviction that my philosophy was not sufficient; that life and mind
were other than, more than, I had dreamed. Psychology was advancing
with rapid strides; hypnotic experiments were revealing unlooked-for
complexities in human consciousness, strange riddles of multiplex
personalities, and, most startling of all, vivid intensities of mental
action when the brain, that should be the generator of thought, was
reduced to a comatose state. Fact after fact came hurtling in upon me,
demanding explanation I was incompetent to give. I studied the
obscurer sides of consciousness, dreams, hallucinations, illusions,
insanity. Into the darkness shot a ray of light--A.P. Sinnett's
"Occult World," with its wonderfully suggestive letters, expounding
not the supernatural but a nature under law, wider than I had dared to
conceive. I added Spiritualism to my studies, experimenting privately,
finding the phenomena indubitable, but the spiritualistic explanation
of them incredible. The phenomena of clairvoyance, clairaudience,
thought-reading, were found to be real. Under all the rush of the
outer life, already sketched, these questions were working in my mind,
their answers were being diligently sought. I read a variety of books,
but could find little in them that satisfied me. I experimented in
various ways suggested in them, and got some (to me) curious results.
I finally convinced myself that there was some hidden thing, some
hidden power, and resolved to seek until I found, and by the early
spring of 1889 I had grown desperately determined to find at all
hazards what I sought. At last, sitting alone in deep thought as I had
become accustomed to do after the sun had set, filled with an intense
but nearly hopeless longing to solve the riddle of life and mind, I
heard a Voice that was later to become to me the holiest sound on
earth, bidding me take courage for the light was near. A fortnight
passed, and then Mr. Stead gave into my hands two large volumes. "Can
you review these? My young men all fight shy of them, but you are
quite mad enough on these subjects to make something of them." I took
the books; they were the two volumes of "The Secret Doctrine," written
by H.P. Blavatsky.

Home I carried my burden, and sat me down to read. As I turned over
page after page the interest became absorbing; but how familiar it
seemed; how my mind leapt forward to presage the conclusions, how
natural it was, how coherent, how subtle, and yet how intelligible. I
was dazzled, blinded by the light in which disjointed facts were seen
as parts of a mighty whole, and all my puzzles, riddles, problems,
seemed to disappear. The effect was partially illusory in one sense,
in that they all had to be slowly unravelled later, the brain
gradually assimilating that which the swift intuition had grasped as
truth. But the light had been seen, and in that flash of illumination
I knew that the weary search was over and the very Truth was found.

I wrote the review, and asked Mr. Stead for an introduction to the
writer, and then sent a note asking to be allowed to call. I received
the most cordial of notes, bidding me come, and in the soft spring
evening Herbert Burrows and I--for his aspirations were as mine on
this matter--walked from Netting Hill Station, wondering what we
should meet, to the door of 17, Lansdowne Road. A pause, a swift
passing through hall and outer room, through folding-doors thrown
back, a figure in a large chair before a table, a voice, vibrant,
compelling, "My dear Mrs. Besant, I have so long wished to see you,"
and I was standing with my hand in her firm grip, and looking for
the first time in this life straight into the eyes of "H.P.B." I
was conscious of a sudden leaping forth of my heart--was it
recognition?--and then, I am ashamed to say, a fierce rebellion, a
fierce withdrawal, as of some wild animal when it feels a mastering
hand. I sat down, after some introductions that conveyed no ideas to
me, and listened. She talked of travels, of various countries, easy
brilliant talk, her eyes veiled, her exquisitely moulded fingers
rolling cigarettes incessantly. Nothing special to record, no word of
Occultism, nothing mysterious, a woman of the world chatting with her
evening visitors. We rose to go, and for a moment the veil lifted, and
two brilliant, piercing eyes met mine, and with a yearning throb in
the voice: "Oh, my dear Mrs. Besant, if you would only come among us!"
I felt a well-nigh uncontrollable desire to bend down and kiss her,
under the compulsion of that yearning voice, those compelling eyes,
but with a flash of the old unbending pride and an inward jeer at my
own folly, I said a commonplace polite good-bye, and turned away with
some inanely courteous and evasive remark. "Child," she said to me
long afterwards, "your pride is terrible; you are as proud as Lucifer
himself." But truly I think I never showed it to her again after that
first evening, though it sprang up wrathfully in her defence many and
many a time, until I learned the pettiness and the worthlessness of
all criticism, and knew that the blind were objects of compassion not
of scorn.

Once again I went, and asked about the Theosophical Society, wishful
to join, but fighting against it. For I saw, distinct and clear--with
painful distinctness, indeed--what that joining would mean. I had
largely conquered public prejudice against me by my work on the London
School Board, and a smoother road stretched before me, whereon effort
to help should be praised not blamed. Was I to plunge into a new
vortex of strife, and make myself a mark for ridicule--worse than
hatred--and fight again the weary fight for an unpopular truth? Must I
turn against Materialism, and face the shame of publicly confessing
that I had been wrong, misled by intellect to ignore the Soul? Must I
leave the army that had battled for me so bravely, the friends who
through all brutality of social ostracism had held me dear and true?
And he, the strongest and truest friend of all, whose confidence I had
shaken by my Socialism--must he suffer the pang of seeing his
co-worker, his co-fighter, of whom he had been so proud, to whom he
had been so generous, go over to the opposing hosts, and leave the
ranks of Materialism? What would be the look in Charles Bradlaugh's
eyes when I told him that I had become a Theosophist? The struggle was
sharp and keen, but with none of the anguish of old days in it, for
the soldier had now fought many fights and was hardened by many
wounds. And so it came to pass that I went again to Lansdowne Road to
ask about the Theosophical Society. H.P. Blavatsky looked at me
piercingly for a moment. "Have you read the report about me of the
Society for Psychical Research?" "No; I never heard of it, so far as I
know." "Go and read it, and if, after reading it, you come
back--well." And nothing more would she say on the subject, but
branched off to her experiences in many lands.

I borrowed a copy of the Report, read and re-read it. Quickly I saw
how slender was the foundation on which the imposing structure was
built. The continual assumptions on which conclusions were based; the
incredible character of the allegations; and--most damning fact of
all--the foul source from which the evidence was derived. Everything
turned on the veracity of the Coulombs, and they were self-stamped as
partners in the alleged frauds. Could I put such against the frank,
fearless nature that I had caught a glimpse of, against the proud
fiery truthfulness that shone at me from the clear, blue eyes, honest
and fearless as those of a noble child? Was the writer of "The Secret
Doctrine" this miserable impostor, this accomplice of tricksters, this
foul and loathsome deceiver, this conjuror with trap-doors and sliding
panels? I laughed aloud at the absurdity and flung the Report aside
with the righteous scorn of an honest nature that knew its own kin
when it met them, and shrank from the foulness and baseness of a lie.
The next day saw me at the Theosophical Publishing Company's office at
7, Duke Street, Adelphi, where Countess Wachtmeister--one of the
lealest of H.P.B.'s friends--was at work, and I signed an
application to be admitted as fellow of the Theosophical Society.

On receiving my diploma I betook myself to Lansdowne Road, where I
found H.P.B. alone. I went over to her, bent down and kissed her,
but said no word. "You have joined the Society?" "Yes." "You have read
the report?" "Yes." "Well?" I knelt down before her and clasped her
hands in mine, looking straight into her eyes. "My answer is, will you
accept me as your pupil, and give me the honour of proclaiming you my
teacher in the face of the world?" Her stern, set face softened, the
unwonted gleam of tears sprang to her eyes; then, with a dignity more
than regal, she placed her hand upon my head. "You are a noble woman.
May Master bless you."

From that day, the 10th of May, 1889, until now--two years three and
half months after she left her body on May 8, 1891--my faith in her
has never wavered, my trust in her has never been shaken. I gave her
my faith on an imperious intuition, I proved her true day after day in
closest intimacy living by her side; and I speak of her with the
reverence due from a pupil to a teacher who never failed her, with the
passionate gratitude which, in our School, is the natural meed of the
one who opens the gateway and points out the path. "Folly!
fanaticism!" scoffs the Englishman of the nineteenth century. Be it
so. I have seen, and I can wait. I have been told that I plunged
headlong into Theosophy and let my enthusiasm carry me away. I think
the charge is true, in so far as the decision was swiftly taken; but
it had been long led up to, and realised the dreams of childhood on
the higher planes of intellectual womanhood. And let me here say that
more than all I hoped for in that first plunge has been realised, and
a certainty of knowledge has been gained on doctrines seen as true as
that swift flash of illumination. I _know_, by personal experiment,
that the Soul exists, and that my Soul, not my body, is myself; that
it can leave the body at will; that it can, disembodied, reach and
learn from living human teachers, and bring back and impress on the
physical brain that which it has learned; that this process of
transferring consciousness from one range of being, as it were, to
another, is a very slow process, during which the body and brain are
gradually correlated with the subtler form which is essentially that
of the Soul, and that my own experience of it, still so imperfect, so
fragmentary, when compared with the experience of the highly trained,
is like the first struggles of a child learning to speak compared with
the perfect oratory of the practised speaker; that consciousness, so
far from being dependent on the brain, is more active when freed from
the gross forms of matter than when encased within them; that the
great Sages spoken of by H.P. Blavatsky exist; that they wield powers
and possess knowledge before which our control of Nature and knowledge
of her ways is but as child's play. All this, and much more, have I
learned, and I am but a pupil of low grade, as it were in the infant
class of the Occult School; so the first plunge has been successful,
and the intuition has been justified. This same path of knowledge that
I am treading is open to all others who will pay the toll demanded at
the gateway--and that toll is willingness to renounce everything for
the sake of spiritual truth, and willingness to give all the truth
that is won to the service of man, keeping back no shred for self.

On June 23rd, in a review of "The Secret Doctrine" in the _National
Reformer,_ the following passages occur, and show how swiftly some of
the main points of the teaching had been grasped. (There is a blunder
in the statement that of the seven modifications of Matter Science
knows only four, and till lately knew only three; these four are
sub-states only, sub-divisions of the lowest plane.)

After saying that the nineteenth-century Englishman would be but too
likely to be repelled if he only skimmed the book, I went on: "With
telescope and with microscope, with scalpel and with battery, Western
Science interrogates nature, adding fact to fact, storing experience
after experience, but coming ever to gulfs unfathomable by its
plummets, to heights unscalable by its ladders. Wide and masterful in
its answers to the 'How?' the 'Why?' ever eludes it, and causes remain
enwrapped in gloom. Eastern Science uses as its scientific instrument
the penetrating faculties of the mind alone, and regarding the
material plane as _Maya_--illusion--seeks in the mental and spiritual
planes of being the causes of the material effects. There, too, is the
only reality; there the true existence of which the visible universe
is but the shadow.

"It is clear that from such investigations some further mental
equipment is necessary than that normally afforded by the human body.
And here comes the parting of the ways between East and West. For the
study of the material universe, our five senses, aided by the
instruments invented by Science, may suffice. For all we can hear and
see, taste and handle, these accustomed servitors, though often
blundering, are the best available guides to knowledge. But it lies in
the nature of the case that they are useless when the investigation is
to be into modes of existence which cannot impress themselves on our
nerve-ends. For instance, what we know as colour is the vibration
frequency of etheric waves striking on the retina of the eye, between
certain definite limits--759 trillions of blows from the maximum, 436
trillions from the minimum--these waves give rise in us to the
sensation which the brain translates into colour. (Why the 436
trillion blows at one end of a nerve become 'Red' at the other end we
do not know; we chronicle the fact but cannot explain it.) But our
capacity to respond to the vibration cannot limit the vibrational
capacity of the ether; to _us_ the higher and lower rates of vibration
do not exist, but if our sense of vision were more sensitive we should
see where now we are blind. Following this line of thought we realise
that matter may exist in forms unknown to us, in modifications to
which our senses are unable to respond. Now steps in the Eastern Sage
and says: 'That which you say _may_ be, _is_; we have developed and
cultivated senses as much superior to yours as your eye is superior to
that of the jelly-fish; we have evolved mental and spiritual faculties
which enable us to investigate on the higher planes of being with as
much certainty as you are investigating on the physical plane; there
is nothing _supernatural_ in the business, any more than your
knowledge is supernatural, though much above that accessible to the
fish; we do not speculate on these higher forms of existence; we
_know_ them by personal study, just as you know the fauna and flora of
your world. The powers we possess are not supernatural, they are
latent in every human being, and will be evolved as the race
progresses. All that we have done is to evolve them more rapidly than
our neighbours, by a procedure as open to you as it was to us. Matter
is everywhere, but it exists in seven modifications of which you only
know four, and until lately only knew three; in those higher forms
reside the causes of which you see the effects in the lower, and to
know these causes you must develop the capacity to take cognisance of
the higher planes.'"

Then followed a brief outline of the cycle of evolution, and I went
on: "What part does man play in this vast drama of a universe?
Needless to say, he is not the only living form in a Cosmos, which for
the most part is uninhabitable by him. As Science has shown living
forms everywhere on the material plane, races in each drop of water,
life throbbing in every leaf and blade, so the 'Secret Doctrine'
points to living forms on higher planes of existence, each suited to
its environment, till all space thrills with life, and nowhere is
there death, but only change. Amid these myriads are some evolving
towards humanity, some evolving away from humanity as we know it,
divesting themselves of its grosser parts. For man is regarded as a
sevenfold being, four of these parts belonging to the animal body, and
perishing at, or soon after, death; while three form his higher self,
his true individuality, and these persist and are immortal. These form
the Ego, and it is this which passes through many incarnations,
learning life's lesson as it goes, working out its own redemption
within the limits of an inexorable law, sowing seeds of which it ever
reaps the harvest, building its own fate with tireless fingers, and
finding nowhere in the measureless time and space around it any that
can lift for it one weight it has created, one burden it has gathered,
unravel for it one tangle it has twisted, close for it one gulf it has

Then after noting the approaches of Western Science to Eastern, came
the final words: "it is of curious interest to note how some of the
latest theories seem to catch glimpses of the occult Doctrines, as
though Science were standing on the very threshold of knowledge which
shall make all her past seem small. Already her hand is trembling
towards the grasp of forces beside which all those now at her command
are insignificant. How soon will her grip fasten on them? Let us hope
not until social order has been transformed, lest they should only
give more to those who have, and leave the wretched still wretcheder
by force of contrast. Knowledge used by selfishness widens the gulf
that divides man from man and race from race, and we may well shrink
from the idea of new powers in Nature being yoked to the car of Greed.
Hence the wisdom of those 'Masters,' in whose name Madame Blavatsky
speaks, has ever denied the knowledge which is power until Love's
lesson has been learned, and has given only into the hands of the
selfless the control of those natural forces which, misused, would
wreck society."

This review, and the public announcement, demanded by honesty, that I
had joined the Theosophical Society, naturally raised somewhat of a
storm of criticism, and the _National Reformer_ of June 30th contained
the following: "The review of Madame Blavatsky's book in the last
_National Reformer_, and an announcement in the _Star_, have brought
me several letters on the subject of Theosophy. I am asked for an
explanation as to what Theosophy is, and as to my own opinion on
Theosophy--the word 'theosoph' is old, and was used among the
Neo-platonists. From the dictionary its new meaning appears to be,
'one who claims to have a knowledge of God, or of the laws of nature
by means of internal illumination.' An Atheist certainly cannot be a
Theosophist. A Deist might be a Theosophist. A Monist cannot be a
Theosophist. Theosophy must at least involve Dualism. Modern
Theosophy, according to Madame Blavatsky, as set out in last week's
issue, asserts much that I do not believe, and alleges some things
that, to me, are certainly not true. I have not had the opportunity of
reading Madame Blavatsky's two volumes, but I have read during the
past ten years many publications from the pen of herself, Colonel
Olcott, and of other Theosophists. They appear to me to have sought to
rehabilitate a kind of Spiritualism in Eastern phraseology. I think
many of their allegations utterly erroneous, and their reasonings
wholly unsound. I very deeply regret indeed that my colleague and
co-worker has, with somewhat of suddenness, and without any
interchange of ideas with myself, adopted as facts matters which seem
to me to be as unreal as it is possible for any fiction to be. My
regret is greater as I know Mrs. Besant's devotion to any course she
believes to be true. I know that she will always be earnest in the
advocacy of any views she undertakes to defend, and I look to possible
developments of her Theosophic views with the very gravest misgiving.
The editorial policy of this paper is unchanged, and is directly
antagonistic to all forms of Theosophy. I would have preferred on this
subject to have held my peace, for the public disagreeing with Mrs.
Besant on her adoption of Socialism has caused pain to both; but on
reading her article and taking the public announcement made of her
having joined the Theosophical organisation, I owe it to those who
look to me for guidance to say this with clearness.


"It is not possible for me here to state fully my reasons for joining
the Theosophical Society, the three objects of which are: To found a
Universal Brotherhood without distinction of race or creed; to forward
the study of Aryan literature and philosophy; to investigate
unexplained laws of nature and the physical powers latent in man. On
matters of religious opinion the members are absolutely free. The
founders of the society deny a personal God, and a somewhat subtle
form of Pantheism is taught as the Theosophic view of the universe,
though even this is not forced on members of the society. I have no
desire to hide the fact that this form of Pantheism appears to me to
promise solution of some problems, especially problems in psychology,
which Atheism leaves untouched.


Theosophy, as its students well know, so far from involving Dualism,
is based on the One, which becomes Two on manifestation, just as
Atheism posits one existence, only cognisable in the duality force and
matter, and as philosophic--though not popular--Theism teaches one
Deity whereof are spirit and matter. Mr. Bradlaugh's temperate
disapproval was not copied in its temperance by some other Freethought
leaders, and Mr. Foote especially distinguished himself by the
bitterness of his attacks. In the midst of the whirl I was called away
to Paris to attend, with Herbert Burrows, the great Labour Congress
held there from July 15th to July 20th, and spent a day or two at
Fontainebleau with H.P. Blavatsky, who had gone abroad for a few
weeks' rest. There I found her translating the wonderful fragments
from "The Book of the Golden Precepts," now so widely known under the
name of "The Voice of the Silence." She wrote it swiftly, without any
material copy before her, and in the evening made me read it aloud to
see if the "English was decent." Herbert Burrows was there, and Mrs.
Candler, a staunch American Theosophist, and we sat round H.P.B. while
I read. The translation was in perfect and beautiful English, flowing
and musical; only a word or two could we find to alter, and she looked
at us like a startled child, wondering at our praises--praises that
any one with the literary sense would endorse if they read that
exquisite prose poem.

A little earlier in the same day I had asked her as to the agencies at
work in producing the taps so constantly heard at Spiritualistic
_Seances_. "You don't use spirits to produce taps," she said; "see
here." She put her hand over my head, not touching it, and I heard and
felt slight taps on the bone of my skull, each sending a little
electric thrill down the spine. She then carefully explained how such
taps were producible at any point desired by the operator, and how
interplay of the currents to which they were due might be caused
otherwise than by conscious human volition. It was in this fashion
that she would illustrate her verbal teachings, proving by experiment
the statements made as to the existence of subtle forces controllable
by the trained mind. The phenomena all belonged to the scientific side
of her teaching, and she never committed the folly of claiming
authority for her philosophic doctrines on the ground that she was a
wonder-worker. And constantly she would remind us that there was no
such thing as "miracle"; that all the phenomena she had produced were
worked by virtue of a knowledge of nature deeper than that of average
people, and by the force of a well-trained mind and will; some of them
were what she would describe as "psychological tricks," the creation
of images by force of imagination, and in pressing them on others as a
"collective hallucination"; others, such as the moving of solid
articles, either by an astral hand projected to draw them towards her,
or by using an Elemental; others by reading in the Astral Light, and
so on. But the proof of the reality of her mission from those whom she
spoke of as Masters lay not in these comparatively trivial physical
and mental phenomena, but in the splendour of her heroic endurance,
the depth of her knowledge, the selflessness of her character, the
lofty spirituality of her teaching, the untiring passion of her
devotion, the incessant ardour of her work for the enlightening of
men. It was these, and not her phenomena, that won for her our faith
and confidence--we who lived beside her, knowing her daily life--and
we gratefully accepted her teaching not because she claimed any
authority, but because it woke in us powers, the possibility of which
in ourselves we had not dreamed of, energies of the Soul that
demonstrated their own existence.

Returning to London from Paris, it became necessary to make a very
clear and definite presentment of my change of views, and in the
_Reformer_ of August 4th I find the following: "Many statements are
being made just now about me and my beliefs, some of which are
absurdly, and some of which are maliciously, untrue. I must ask my
friends not to give credence to them. It would not be fair to my
friend Mr. Bradlaugh to ask him to open the columns of this Journal to
an exposition of Theosophy from my pen, and so bring about a long
controversy on a subject which would not interest the majority of the
readers of the _National Reformer_. This being so I cannot here answer
the attacks made on me. I feel, however, that the party with which I
have worked for so long has a right to demand of me some explanation
of the step I have taken, and I am therefore preparing a pamphlet
dealing fully with the question. Further, I have arranged with Mr.
R.O. Smith to take as subject of the lectures to be delivered by me at
the Hall of Science on August 4th and 11th 'Why I became a
Theosophist.' Meanwhile I think that my years of service in the ranks
of the Freethought party give me the right to ask that I should not be
condemned unheard, and I even venture to suggest, in view of the
praises bestowed on me by Freethinkers in the past, that it is
possible that there may be something to be said, from the intellectual
standpoint, in favour of Theosophy. The caricatures of it which have
appeared from some Freethinkers' pens represent it about as accurately
as the Christian Evidence caricatures of Atheism represent that
dignified philosophy of life; and, remembering how much they are
themselves misrepresented, I ask them to wait before they judge."

The lectures were delivered, and were condensed into a pamphlet
bearing the same title, which has had a very great circulation. It
closed as follows:--

"There remains a great stumblingblock in the minds of many
Freethinkers which is certain to prejudice them against Theosophy, and
which offers to opponents a cheap subject for sarcasm--the assertion
that there exist other living beings than the men and animals found on
our own globe. It may be well for people who at once turn away when
such an assertion is made to stop and ask themselves whether they
really and seriously believe that throughout this mighty universe, in
which our little planet is but as a tiny speck of sand in the Sahara,
this one planet only is inhabited by living things? Is all the
universe dumb save for _our_ voices? eyeless save for _our_ vision?
dead save for _our_ life? Such a preposterous belief was well enough
in the days when Christianity regarded our world as the centre of the
universe, the human race as the one for which the Creator had deigned
to die. But now that we are placed in our proper position, one among
countless myriads of worlds, what ground is there for the preposterous
conceit which arrogates as ours all sentient existence? Earth, air,
water, all are teeming with living things suited to their environment;
our globe is overflowing with life. But the moment we pass in thought
beyond our atmosphere everything is to be changed. Neither reason nor
analogy support such a supposition. It was one of Bruno's crimes that
he dared to teach that other worlds than ours were inhabited; but he
was wiser than the monks who burned him. All the Theosophists aver is
that each phase of matter has living things suited to it, and that all
the universe is pulsing with life. 'Superstition!' shriek the bigoted.
It is no more superstition than the belief in Bacteria, or in any
other living thing invisible to the ordinary human eye. 'Spirit' is a
misleading word, for, historically, it connotes immateriality and a
supernatural kind of existence, and the Theosophist believes neither
in the one nor the other. With him all living things act in and
through a material basis, and 'matter' and 'spirit' are not found
dissociated. But he alleges that matter exists in states other than
those at present known to science. To deny this is to be about as
sensible as was the Hindu prince who denied the existence of ice
because water, in his experience, never became solid. Refusal to
believe until proof is given is a rational position; denial of all
outside of our own limited experience is absurd.

"One last word to my Secularist friends. If you say to me, 'Leave our
ranks,' I will leave them; I force myself on no party, and the moment
I feel myself unwelcome I will go.[29] It has cost me pain enough and
to spare to admit that the Materialism from which I hoped all has
failed me, and by such admission to bring on myself the disapproval of
some of my nearest friends. But here, as at other times in my life, I
dare not purchase peace with a lie. An imperious necessity forces me
to speak the truth, as I see it, whether the speech please or
displease, whether it bring praise or blame. That one loyalty to Truth
I must keep stainless, whatever friendships fail me or human ties be
broken. She may lead me into the wilderness, yet I must follow her;
she may strip me of all love, yet I must pursue her; though she slay
me, yet will I trust in her; and I ask no other epitaph on my tomb but


Meanwhile, with this new controversy on my hands, the School Board
work went on, rendered possible, I ought to say, by the generous
assistance of friends unknown to me, who sent me, L150 a year during
the last year and a half. So also went on the vigorous Socialist work,
and the continual championship of struggling labour movements,
prominent here being the organisation of the South London fur-pullers
into a union, and the aiding of the movement for shortening the hours
of tram and 'bus men, the meetings for which had to be held after
midnight. The feeding and clothing of children also occupied much time
and attention, for the little ones in my district were, thousands of
them, desperately poor. My studies I pursued as best I could, reading
in railway carriages, tramcars, omnibuses, and stealing hours for
listening to H.P.B. by shortening the nights.

In October, Mr. Bradlaugh's shaken strength received its death-blow,
though he was to live yet another fifteen months. He collapsed
suddenly under a most severe attack of congestion and lay in imminent
peril, devotedly nursed by his only remaining child, Mrs. Bonner, his
elder daughter having died the preceding autumn. Slowly he struggled
back to life, after four weeks in bed, and, ordered by his physician
to take rest and if possible a sea voyage, he sailed for India on
November 28th, to attend the National Congress, where he was
enthusiastically acclaimed as "Member for India."

In November I argued a libel suit, brought by me against the Rev. Mr.
Hoskyns, vicar of Stepney, who had selected some vile passages from a
book which was not mine and had circulated them as representing my
views, during the School Board election of 1888. I had against me the
Solicitor-General, Sir Edward Clarke, at the bar, and Baron Huddleston
on the bench; both counsel and judge did their best to browbeat me and
to use the coarsest language, endeavouring to prove that by advocating
the limitation of the family I had condemned chastity as a crime. Five
hours of brutal cross-examination left my denial of such teachings
unshaken, and even the pleadings of the judge for the clergyman,
defending his parishioners against an unbeliever and his laying down
as law that the statement was privileged, did not avail to win a
verdict. The jury disagreed, not, as one of them told me afterwards,
on the question of the libel, but on some feeling that a clergyman
ought not to be mulcted in damages for his over-zeal in defence of his
faith against the ravening wolf of unbelief, while others, regarding
the libel as a very cruel one, would not agree to a verdict that did
not carry substantial damages. I did not carry the case to a new
trial, feeling that it was not worth while to waste time over it
further, my innocence of the charge itself having been fully proved.

Busily the months rolled on, and early in the year 1890 H.P.Blavatsky
had given to her L1,000, to use in her discretion for human service,
and if she thought well, in the service of women. After a good deal of
discussion she fixed on the establishment of a club in East London for
working girls, and with her approval Miss Laura Cooper and I hunted
for a suitable place. Finally we fixed on a very large and old house,
193, Bow Road, and some months went in its complete renovation and the
building of a hall attached to it. On August 15th it was opened by
Madame Blavatsky, and dedicated by her to the brightening of the lot
of hardworking and underpaid girls. It has nobly fulfilled its mission
for the last three years. Very tender was H.P.B.'s heart to human
suffering, especially to that of women and children. She was very poor
towards the end of her earthly life, having spent all on her mission,
and refusing to take time from her Theosophical work to write for the
Russian papers which were ready to pay highly for her pen. But her
slender purse was swiftly emptied when any human pain that money could
relieve came in her way. One day I wrote a letter to a comrade that
was shown to her, about some little children to whom I had carried a
quantity of country flowers, and I had spoken of their faces pinched
with want. The following characteristic note came to me:--

"MY DEAREST FRIEND,--I have just read your letter to ---- and my heart
is sick for the poor little ones! Look here; I have but 30s. of _my
own money_ of which I can dispose (for as you know I am a pauper, and
proud of it), but I want you to take them and _not say a word_. This
may buy thirty dinners for thirty poor little starving wretches, and I
may feel happier for thirty minutes at the thought. Now don't say a
word, and do it; take them to those unfortunate babies who loved your
flowers and felt happy. Forgive your old uncouth friend, _useless_ in
this world!

"Ever yours,


It was this tenderness of hers that led us, after she had gone, to
found the "H.P.B. Home for little children," and one day we hope to
fulfil her expressed desire that a large but homelike Refuge for
outcast children should be opened under the auspices of the
Theosophical Society.

The lease of 17, Lansdowne Road expiring in the early summer of 1890,
it was decided that 19, Avenue Road should be turned into the
headquarters of the Theosophical Society in Europe. A hall was built
for the meetings of the Blavatsky Lodge--the lodge founded by her--and
various alterations made. In July her staff of workers was united
under one roof; thither came Archibald and Bertram Keightley, who had
devoted themselves to her service years before, and the Countess
Wachtmeister, who had thrown aside all the luxuries of wealth and of
high social rank to give all to the cause she served and the friend
she loved with deep and faithful loyajty; and George Mead, her
secretary and earnest disciple, a man of strong brain and strong
character, a fine scholar and untiring worker; thither, too, Claude
Wright, most lovable of Irishmen, with keen insight underlying a
bright and sunny nature, careless on the surface, and Walter Old,
dreamy and sensitive, a born psychic, and, like many such, easily
swayed by those around him; Emily Kislingbury also, a studious and
earnest woman; Isabel Cooper Oakley, intuitional and studious, a rare
combination, and a most devoted pupil in Occult studies; James Pryse,
an American, than whom none is more devoted, bringing practical
knowledge to the help of the work, and making possible the large
development of our printing department. These, with myself, were at
first the resident staff, Miss Cooper and Herbert Burrows, who were
also identified with the work, being prevented by other obligations
from living always as part of the household.

The rules of the house were--and are--very simple, but H.P.B.
insisted on great regularity of life; we breakfasted at 8 a.m.,
worked till lunch at 1, then again till dinner at 7. After dinner
the outer work for the Society was put aside, and we gathered in
H.P.B.'s room where we would sit talking over plans, receiving
instructions, listening to her explanation of knotty points. By 12
midnight all the lights had to be extinguished. My public work took me
away for many hours, unfortunately for myself, but such was the
regular run of our busy lives. She herself wrote incessantly; always
suffering, but of indomitable will, she drove her body through its
tasks, merciless to its weaknesses and its pains. Her pupils she
treated very variously, adapting herself with nicest accuracy to their
differing natures; as a teacher she was marvellously patient,
explaining a thing over and over again in different fashions, until
sometimes after prolonged failure she would throw herself back in her
chair: "My God!" (the easy "Mon Dieu" of the foreigner) "am I a fool
that you can't understand? Here, So-and-so"--to some one on whose
countenance a faint gleam of comprehension was discernible--"tell
these flapdoodles of the ages what I mean." With vanity, conceit,
pretence of knowledge, she was merciless, if the pupil were a
promising one; keen shafts of irony would pierce the sham. With some
she would get very angry, lashing them out of their lethargy with
fiery scorn; and in truth she made herself a mere instrument for the
training of her pupils, careless what they, or any one else thought of
her, providing that the resulting benefit to them was secured. And we,
who lived around her, who in closest intimacy watched her day after
day, we bear witness to the unselfish beauty of her life, the nobility
of her character, and we lay at her feet our most reverent gratitude
for knowledge gained, lives purified, strength developed. O noble and
heroic Soul, whom the outside purblind world misjudges, but whom your
pupils partly saw, never through lives and deaths shall we repay the
debt of gratitude we owe to you.

And thus I came through storm to peace, not to the peace of an
untroubled sea of outer life, which no strong soul can crave, but to
an inner peace that outer troubles may not avail to ruffle--a peace
which belongs to the eternal not to the transitory, to the depths not
to the shallows of life. It carried me scatheless through the terrible
spring of 1891, when death struck down Charles Bradlaugh in the
plenitude of his usefulness, and unlocked the gateway into rest for H.
P. Blavatsky. Through anxieties and responsibilities heavy and
numerous it has borne me; every strain makes it stronger; every trial
makes it serener; every assault leaves it more radiant. Quiet
confidence has taken the place of doubt; a strong security the place
of anxious dread. In life, through death, to life, I am but the
servant of the great Brotherhood, and those on whose heads but for a
moment the touch of the Master has rested in blessing can never again
look upon the world save through eyes made luminous with the radiance
of the Eternal Peace.



[Footnote 1: This odious law has now been altered, and a married woman
is a person, not a chattel.]

[Footnote 2: "The Disciples," p. 14.]

[Footnote 3: "On the Nature and Existence of God." 1874.]

[Footnote 4: "On the Nature and Existence of God." 1874.]

[Footnote 5: "The Gospel of Atheism." 1876.]

[Footnote 6: "Why I do not Believe in God." 1887.]

[Footnote 7: Ibid.]

[Footnote 8: Ibid.]

[Footnote 9: "Life, Death, and Immortality." 1886.]

[Footnote 10: "Life, Death, and Immortality." 1886.]

[Footnote 11: "Life, Death, and Immortality." 1886.]

[Footnote 12: Ibid.]

[Footnote 13: "The Gospel of Atheism." 1876.]

[Footnote 14: "On the Nature and Existence of God." 1874.]

[Footnote 15: "The True Basis of Morality." 1874.]

[Footnote 16: "Gospel of Atheism." 1876.]

[Footnote 17: "On the Nature and Existence of God." 1874.]

[Footnote 18: "A World without God." 1885.]

[Footnote 19: "The Gospel of Atheism." 1876.]

[Footnote 20: "The Gospels of Christianity and Freethought." 1874.]

[Footnote 21: "A World without God." 1885.]

[Footnote 22: "A World without God." 1885.]

[Footnote 23: "The Gospel of Atheism." 1876.]

[Footnote 24: "A World without God." 1885.]

[Footnote 25: "A World without God." 1885.]

[Footnote 26: "The Christian Creed." 1884.]

[Footnote 27: _National Reformer_, June 18, 1882]

[Footnote 28: _Theosophist_, June, 1882.]

[Footnote 29: I leave these words as they were written in 1889. I
resigned my office in the N.S.S. in 1890, feeling that the N.S.S. was
so identified with Materialism that it had no longer place for me.]


"Autobiography," J.S. Mill, 184

"Christian Creed, The," 173

"Freethinkers' Text-book," 144

"Gospel of Atheism, The," 145, 152, 158, 168

"Gospels of Christianity and Freethought," 164

"Life, Death, and Immortality," 147, 149, 150

_Link_, The, 333

_National Reformer_, The, 79, 80, 280, 346-50, 354

_Our Corner, _286, 329

_Theosophist_, The, 282, 288

"True Basis of Morality," 156

"Why I do Not Believe in God," 146

"World without God," 165, 169, 172


Affirmation Bill brought in, 287
rejected, 299
Atheist, position as an, 139
Authorship, first attempts at, 84.

Bennett, D.M., prosecution of, 232
Blasphemy prosecution, 283, 287, 289
Blavatsky, H.P., 189, 337
meeting with, 341
"Bloody Sunday," 324
Bradlaugh, Charles, first meeting with, 135
as friend, 137
in the Clock Tower, 258
and the scene in the House, 265
_v_. Newdegate; result, 289
prosecuted for blasphemy, 283, 289

Confirmation, 51

Daughter, application to remove, 213
denied access to, 219
Death of father, 21
of mother, 126
Doubt the first, 58

"Elements of Social Science," 196
Engagement, 69
Essay, first Freethought, 113

Fenians, the, 73
_Freethinker_ prosecution, 283, 287, 296
Freethought Publishing Company, the, 285

Harrow, life at, 30
Hoskyns, Rev. E., libel action against, 359

Knowlton pamphlet, the, 205
prosecution, 208
trial, 210

"Law of Population, The," 212, 210
"Law and Liberty League," the, 326
Lecture, the first, 181
Linnell, the Trafalgar Square victim, 316
funeral of, 327
_Link_, founding of the, 331

Malthusian League formed, 229
Malthusianism and Theosophy, 240
Marriage, 70
tie broken, no
Match-girls' strike, 335
Union, established, 336

_National Reformer,_ the, 134
first contribution to, 180
resignation of co-editorship, 320
National Secular Society joined, 135
elected vice-president of, 202
resignation of, 357
Northampton Election, 183
struggle, 253, 344

Oaths Bill, the, 314, 329
_Our Corner_, 286, 314

Political Opinions, 174
Pusey, Dr., 109, 284

Russian politics, 311

Scientific work, 249
School Board, election to, 338
Scott, Thomas, 112, 127
Socialism, 299
debate on, between Messrs. Bradlaugh and Hyndman, 301
Socialist debates, 318, 319
Socialists and open-air speaking, 312
Defence Association, 323
Stanley, Dean, 23, 122

Theosophical Society, the, 180
joined, 344
headquarters established, 361
Theosophy and Charles Bradlaugh, 350
the National Secular Society, 357
Trafalgar Square, closing of, to the public, 323
Truelove, Edward, trial of, 225

Voysey, Rev. Charles, 106

Working Women's Club, 337, 360


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