[FORMATION OF THE THEOSOPHICAL SOCIETY]
[In H.P.B.’s Scrapbook Vol. I, pp. 54-55, there is a cutting from a weekly journal. The Liberal Christian, of Saturday, September 4, 1875, which consists of an article entitled “Rosicrucianism” in New York.” It is unsigned but is known to have been written by the Rev. Dr. J. H. Wiggin, the Editor of that Journal. Starting with a superficial survey of Rosicrucian ideas, Dr. Wiggin goes on to relate the circumstances under which he had recently met H. P. Blavatsky. He says:
“It was just after Col. Olcott’s astounding stories in the Sun about the floral gifts received from the spirits through a Boston medium, that I was kindly bidden by my friend Mr. Sotheran, of the American Bibliopolist, to meet both Madame and the Colonel the following evening in Irving Place; with permission to bring some friends . . .”
According to Dr. Wiggin’s account, there were present at this gathering: Col. Olcott. Il Conte, “the secretary once of Mazzini,” Charles Sotheran, Judge M. of New Jersey, his wife, Mr. M., a Boston gentleman, and H. P. Blavatsky, who, he says, was “the centre of the group.”
To the cutting in her Scrapbook, H.P.B. appended the following remarks in pen and ink:]
Written by Rev. Dr. Wiggin. This article provoked the wrath of Rev. Dr. Bellows; hence he wrote another one, on “Sorcery and Necromancy” and pitched into us.
[H.P.B. then drew a blue line from the title along the cutting to the bottom on the right edge of page 55 and added in pen and ink the following significant remark:]
On that evening the first idea of the Theos. Society was discussed.
[To this, Col. Olcott added the following note, possibly at a later date:]
For a much better account see a quotation on p. 296 of E. H. Britten’s Nineteenth Century Miracles, London 1883.
[Unfortunately, Col. Olcott’s remark confuses the issue. What he has in mind is a report of the gathering that took place in H.P.B.’s quarters, at 46 Irving Place, on Tuesday, September 7, 1875, which was published in one of the New York Dailies and reprinted in The Spiritual Scientist a year later. Some seventeen people were present at this meeting, and George H. Felt, an engineer and architect, gave a lecture on “The Lost Canon of Proportion of the Egyptians.” It is this account that was included in Mrs. Emma Hardinge-Britten’s work, and it is obvious, of course, that Dr. Wiggin could not have reported it in the September 4th issue of his Journal.
We have seen that Dr. Wiggin specifically mentions Col. Olcott’s stories in the New York Sun. This has reference to his article entitled “Ghosts That Are Ghosts,” published in the Sun of Wednesday, August 18, 1875, in which he outlines at considerable length the remarkable mediumship of Mrs. Mary Baker Thayer of Boston, whose phenomena consisted mainly of apports of flowers and birds. Somewhat prior to the above-mentioned date, Col. Olcott had occasion personally to investigate the genuineness of her powers and remained thoroughly convinced of their bona fides.
From Dr. Wiggin’s words it would appear that the gathering he describes took place fairly soon after Col. Olcott’s published account of Mrs. Thayer’s phenomena. As no mention of any such gathering occurs in The Liberal Christian of Saturday, August 28th, it is likely that it took place sometime between August 28th and September 4th.
In mentioning this earlier gathering, but giving no date, Col. Olcott (Old Diary Leaves, I, 114-15) speaks of it as having taken place “during the previous week,” and identifies one of the persons present as Signor Bruzzesi, who may have been the same personage as “Il Conte” of Dr. Wiggin. By “previous week” he means the period between August 29th and September 4th.
There seems to be no reason, however, to doubt the fact that the actual formation of the Theosophical Society took place on September 7th, 1875, even though, in Col. Olcott’s own words “no official memorandum exists of the persons actually present on that particular evening,” and “no official record by the Secretary of the attendance at this first meeting survives” (op. cit., pp. 114, 118).
In a book which belonged to H.P.B. and is now in the Library at Adyar, entitled A Guide to Theosophy—a Collection of Select Articles which was published by Tukaram Tatya in Bombay in 1887, we find on page 51 the Objects and Rules of the T.S., as revised in 1886. Among other things, the account states that the Society was formed at New York, U.S. of America, 17 November, 1875. To this H.P.B. appended a footnote in pen and ink:]
Formally; Yet in truth it was founded on 7th Sept. 1875 at my house in 46 Irving Place New York.
[On page 79 of Vol. I of H.P.B.’s Scrapbook, there is another cutting from The Liberal Christian of September 25, 1875. It is a report of the Meeting of September 7, 1875, entitled “The Cabala.” It describes Mr. Felt’s lecture and mentions the formation of the Theosophical “Club.” It speaks of Dr. Pancoast of Philadelphia as a very wise occultist, and refers to his statement to the effect that ancient occultists “could summon long departed ‘spirits from the vasty deep,’ and compel them to answer questions.” To this H.P.B. appended the following remark in pen and ink:]
Not “departed Spirits or souls” but the “Elementals” the beings living in the Elements.
[We must bear in mind that Col. Olcott, when writing the First Series of his Old Diary Leaves, did so from memory, as his actual Diaries of the period 1874-78 had mysteriously disappeared. Speaking of the gathering on September 7th, he says that during the animated discussion which followed Felt’s lecture,
“. . . the idea occurred to me [Olcott] that it would be a good thing to form a society to pursue and promote such occult research, and, after turning it over in my mind, I wrote on a scrap of paper the following:
‘Would it not be a good thing to form a Society for this kind of study?’
—and gave it to Judge, at the moment standing between me and H.P.B., sitting opposite, to pass over to her. She read it and nodded assent . . . .”
On the other hand, Annie Besant, writing in Lucifer (Vol. XII, April, 1893, p. 105) about the formation of the T.S., says that
“. . . she [H.P.B.] has told me herself how her Master bade her found it, and how at His bidding she wrote the suggestion of starting it on a slip of paper and gave it to W. Q. Judge to pass to Colonel Olcott; and then the Society had its first beginning . . .”
While these two contradictory accounts are somewhat perplexing to the historian, we must bear in mind that neither of them is based on any actual document or written contemporary account. What is of particular importance and interest, however, is the fact that H.P.B. herself, as we have seen earlier in the present Volume, concluded her “Important Note” pasted in her Scrapbook, I, pp. 20-21, with the statement that “. . . M ... brings orders to form a Society—a secret Society like the Rosicrucian Lodge. He promises to help.” In addition to that, she specifically states having received orders from India “to establish a philosophico-religious Society” and to “choose Olcott,” and dates this notation “July 1875.”
It is evident, therefore, that the impending formation of such a Society was already “in the air,” so to say, a considerable time prior to the gathering at which it was first broached.]
[In addition to H.P.B., Col. Olcott and W. Q. Judge, the other “formers” of the Theosophical Society, to use Col. Olcott’s own expression, were: Charles Sotheran, Dr. Charles E. Simmons, Herbert D. Monachesi, Charles C. Massey, W. L. Alden, George H. Felt, D. E. de Lara, Dr. W. Britten, Mrs. Emma Hardinge-Britten, Henry J. Newton, John Storer Cobb, J. Hyslop, and H. M. Stevens.
The reader should consult the BIO-BIOGRAPHICAL INDEX at the end of the present Volume, under the respective names. A special effort has been made to collect as much information as was possible to obtain concerning at least some of these individuals. A few of them have remained untraced.—Compiler.]