THE “NINE-DAYS’ WONDER” PRESS
[Lucifer, Vol. IV, No. 24, August, 1889, pp. 441-449]
“Let God be true, but every man a liar.”
—Romans iii, 4.
“Let the foolish jackass bray,
The wind will carry the sound away.”
—A Persian Proverb.
The pot-au-feu of sensational news about Theosophy keeps seething night and day in the Press kitchens of our globe. Amid the fumes escaping therefrom, the Theosophical Society and its adherents are made to assume before the public the most distorted and varied forms—grotesque and menacing, grinning and smiling—but (to the members of the said body) these outlines are invariably jumbled up and often distorted beyond recognition. And to that shadowy phantom of the Theosophical Spook, like a variegated tail to a kite, our humble name is generally attached.
“Man, know thyself,” is an aphorism echoed among our generation of unbelievers, from the remotest times of antiquity. The wise precept is pretty closely followed—in one sense, at any rate—by mankind; individuals do know themselves generally speaking, but it is ten to one that they will not share their knowledge with the inquisitive outsider. And when some of them occasionally do, so accustomed is our modern public to lies, that no one is believed when he speaks the truth, least of all about himself. This is the cause why, in our day, truth is systematically boycotted and severely exiled from the public papers and journals. The fact is that truth is not as sensational as falsehood. It fails to tickle the reader’s bump of gossip and love of slander as effectually as a cock-and-bull story. And, therefore, since the
columns of a paper have to be filled up, nolens volens, and since unvarnished, common, every-day events are too monotonous, too matter-of-fact, to satisfy the reader’s greediness for sensation, the help of the imagination is indispensable in the dailies and weeklies. Hard is the task of some editors. Let us be lenient to them.
“Mother, tell me a story,” urged a little boy.
“What shall I tell you, dear? Do you want a pretty one out of the Bible?”
“No, no!” roared the little innocent. “‘Cause you say it’s all true in the Bible, and I want a lie story. It’s so much funnier . . .”
There is little difference between the average public and our small boy. Both prefer “lie stories.”
In our human conceit we have been labouring hitherto under the impression that, so far as human knowledge goes, we know all that is to be known about the Society we have founded and our own uninteresting personality. We are now being daily and rudely awakened from this dream of pride to the sad reality. The press of the two worlds knows the two far better than we do ourselves. Journalists talk of us as if they had invented both; as indeed they have, as far as the Theosophy and doings of the Society and its founders in their columns are concerned. Owing to the numerous “lie-stories,” the ignorance of the public with regard to the real T.S. deepens with every day, and the Society is now the terra incognita, the Pays de Cocagne of modern times. It is above all in the spiritualistic papers—supposed to be the organs of the highest spirituality!—that both editors and their contributors are dreaming dreams and seeing deceitful visions in their boots. And yet surely the editors—at any rate, of some of the spiritualistic papers—ought to know better.
But, like all other men, editors are subject to occasional sickness, absence, and rest, and then sub-editors will play ducks and drakes with their magazines, and will turn their best friends into enemies. This has happened with more than one weekly and monthly; aye, with our Lucifer and The Theosophist lately. (See “Theosophical Activities,” “A Puzzle from Adyar.”)
Therefore is it that we find also in Light, by one “Colenso,” ravings about Theosophical doctrines, that have never existed in our teachings. By the by, a query for our own information. It is generally held as a mean and base action for any man to hit a fellow creature from behind a dark corner, masked, or otherwise protected from recognition. An anonymous letter is regarded as too contemptible to be taken any notice of. A man who, fighting a duel, will surreptitiously protect himself with a coat of mail is as bad as one who will play with marked cards. This no one will deny. Why then should not this rule hold equally good in the case of a man who insults another in a public paper over a secure pseudonym? A nom de plume is permissible only so long as the person using it acts from a feeling of modesty or some other plausible reason. But when he wields it as a personal shield, from behind which he hits and insults an opponent, this ought to be regarded as a contemptible and a cowardly action. “Let him who hath ears hear.” Avis aux amateurs of pseudonyms. Ye Gods, how loose the code of honour and morals has become today, when compared with that which we were taught to respect in our young days!
Verily logic has drawn its night cap over its eyes and gone to bed in the present generation. Men and especially irate editors will fib by the gross, for the sole pleasure thereof. Witness our old friend Charles Dana of the N.Y. Sun, who has lately devoted to Colonel Olcott and H. P. Blavatsky quite a flattering editorial. Described therein as two remarkably clever impostors, we are credited with having made a considerable amount of money out of our “dupes.” To crown this sympathetic biography the writer of the present pages is introduced to the notice of the Sun’s numerous readers as—“a snuffy old woman.”
All this is just what might and ought to be expected from an amiable and well-bred editor. Mr. Charles Dana, who sat for years on the late Rev. H. Ward Beecher, who harassed to death that “truly good man,” Deacon Richard Smith, of Cincinnati, and his “wicked partner” Romeo; and
who has never failed hitherto to endow his political opponents with direct lineal descent on the maternal side from the genus canis—is very discreet and magnanimous in having called us only that. But why “snuffy old woman”? Surely this is an incorrect epithet, a mistake proceeding from a confusion of snuff and tobacco, and might be truthfully characterized as a botanical lapsus calami. Had the eloquent solar editor said instead “a smoky old woman,” he would have branded the subject of his criticism all the same, and avoided being called names by us for being caught in a fib. For, in the opinion of the American Puritans—the worthy descendants of those pious Pilgrim Fathers who declared tobacco the “devil’s weed” and burnt and tortured their New England witches—to smoke is as bad as to snuff and vice versa.
All this is due to the fact that though editors who know anything at all of their modest colleague of Lucifer are few, yet each has to propitiate his subscribers, hence to besmear with literary mud all men and things unpopular in the sight of his readers. Human sacrifice has to be offered to public prejudice. Yet they might and should perform this a little more gracefully; the more so as our pity for poor struggling humanity is so genuine and true that we sincerely rejoice to be made, even by our enemies, the means for turning an additional honest penny, our getting a subscriber or two more for their papers at the expense of politeness and truth. The latter is their own private Karma. But people have to get their bread and butter, whether they pander to their customers one way or the other, by lying about and slandering innocent people, or advertising quack nostrums along with materializing spooks. Darwinism has to be vindicated by the survival of the fittest, in any and every case, and we are willing to admit that one paper apes the other simply on the ground and principle of pure atavism.
It will thus be seen that, personally, we do not feel the slightest objection to serving as material for press gossip. It is only when the reputation of the Theosophical Society as a whole is being attacked that we feel bound to speak out and deny glaring falsehoods and calumny. So large and broad indeed is our sympathy for the pen and ink fraternity
struggling for existence, that—not unlike the pious Jains of Bombay, who offer publicly in the Hospital for Animals their living bodies as pasture fields for millions of a (in polite Society nondescript) variety of blood-feeding insects, white and black—we feel as willing to place our personality as a wave offering on the altar of newspaper gossip, if it can only benefit anyone. But why, instead of honestly interviewing well-informed members of the T.S.—why resort to inventions? Truth pure and simple, dearly beloved Knights-errant of the quill and pencil, is often “stranger than fiction.” In Theosophy it offers the richest harvest if only the speculator would go to the right field and “strike oil” on the right spot. Dixit. This is a word to the wise.
Nor need we go far out of our way to preach to the unwise; or expatiate at any length upon the weekly freaks of the (Un-) Religio and (Un-) Philosophical Journal, our American well-wisher of the Far West. Good, square, downright lies about Theosophy and the Theosophists, whom the editor has placed on his black list, seem to have become its specialty. Since the poor Journal—a very respectable organ in its day—has opened its columns to a contributor in full delirium tremens of squelched ambition, and made of him its prize-fighter, the latter in his turn has made of the Journal his garbage-bin. Keep silence, Theosophists, if ye are wise. He who stoops to analyze or even notice such indescribable and nauseating filth, only risks dirtying his hands. We have been just told that the editor refuses to print one word in our defense by our friends, insisting that “H. P. Blavatsky should write what she has to say about it herself.” Heaven forbid that we should touch the Journal with pincers, let alone parade our name in such a Noah’s ark! Let the Journal rave and break its head against dead walls by publishing stolen documents offered to the public as “profound secrets exposed,” while these documents have been printed from the first for wide, though “private” circulation, and have been sent to all who asked for them. Let the said Journal severely alone, we say; for it is now
performing its own hara-kiri, singing its own funeral dirge, its venomous Billingsgate having poisoned but itself, and left it a clawless and toothless drivelling idiot. Peace be with thee, old chatter-box! We forgive thee, for the sake of merits and virtues in thy days of youth. In latter years we have paid little attention to, and have hardly seen it; and now we take a solemn vow never to read the R.P.J. again. Friends from America, who send us occasionally cuttings from our scandal-loving and erring contemporary, abstain in future, and save your postage. Henceforth such cuttings will be invariably thrown into the waste paper basket.
Far more amusing and harmless are the occasional references to Theosophy in the English press, though whenever we are mentioned personally, our name is almost invariably associated with doings and sayings to which we have to plead “not guilty.” Thus the Northern Whig, of Belfast, has suddenly discovered the presence of:—
Mdlle.[?] Blavatsky, the lady whose name is associated with the doctrines known as Theosophy, at the Mansion House meeting in support of sending female medical aid to India.
The reporter must be a clairvoyant medium. We have never set our foot in the Mansion House, never attended any meetings, and have been, moreover, for the last five weeks, on a visit to France and Jersey. We disclaim the power of ubiquity.
Less innocent, however, are the repeated attacks on Theosophy and its teachings by a contributor, a bullying descendant of Ananias, in the Agnostic Journal, who maintains that these doctrines, as taught in the “Blavatsky Lodge,” are “phallic worship”—pure and simple!! This shows both ignorance and malevolence. Avaunt, you slanderer of the ages! Your name will not disgrace the pages of Lucifer, and your lying words are your own condemnation.
Another contributor who signs his letter “Cyril” confesses himself in the same journal a broken reed truly, declaring that one day he flatters himself that he is a Theosophist, and the next discovers that he is “only a bat, sitting in the outer darkness below the horizon.” To explain this shifting
mood, he brings forth a new accusation against us. We are taken to task for saying in our last editorial that:—
“Theosophia properly means not a knowledge of God, but of Gods —that is divine, that is superhuman, knowledge,” so says Madame Blavatsky.
Well, so she says; and what is more she maintains it. But “Cyril” believes otherwise and expresses it in the following words:—
And, mirabile dictu, although Theosophy is a knowledge of the gods, an Atheist, she asserts, can be a Theosophist! The Atheist who is solicited to join the Theosophical Society wrote the other week: ‘An Atheist certainly cannot be a Theosophist.’ This is so obvious that it hardly required to be stated. We shall next see the proposition put solemnly on record: An Atheist cannot be a Theist. I have no patience with a system that will throw overboard its every principle in order to compass a convert. Till I read the first article in Lucifer, for July, I was of opinion that Theosophy was something. Now I think, and till further notice I shall continue to think, it is nothing.—Yours truly,
Now that’s really heart-rending. Yet the plaint does not quite tally with facts, nor with the spirit of our Theosophical Society. No atheist, says Cyril, can be a Theosophist. It does not follow. All depends whether the term is derived from theos or theoi, god or gods, and we say it is from “gods.” The term is not Christian, but was coined by polytheists and by the Neo-Platonists who believed in gods, and preceded, as we prove in The Key to Theosophy, Christianity by long centuries. In “Christendom” an atheist means one who does not believe in God; in “Heathendom” or India, an atheist (Nastika) is one (whether a theist or an atheist) who disbelieves in the gods; and an atheist and a polytheist are not quite the same thing. To say, therefore, that an atheist cannot be a Theist, is to apply it only to Europe or America, for the remark could not hold water in non-Christian lands. Now our Society is international and universal. It boasts of having no creed, of being no sect, and while showing outward respect for every religion and school of thought, it prides itself on belonging, as a Society, to none, save that of truth—or Theosophy. What can you do with
that, esteemed “Cyril”? And why should you ascribe to backsliding that which exists only in your own fancy? Had you read our Statutes and Rules and acquainted yourself with the Society’s policy, from its beginning, you would have paused before writing as you have. Whether rightly or wrongly (from the Christian standpoint) we have adopted the word Theosophy and see in the term a meaning quite different from that which a Theist or a Christian gives to it. Were it as you say, how could we have thousands of Buddhists—godless, atheistical Buddhists like those of the Siamese sect at Ceylon—as members of the T.S.? What would become of the President-Founder of the T.S., Colonel Olcott, a confessed Buddhist—hence as godless as Mr. Bradlaugh himself, in the sense of rejecting every idea of a personal, or extra-cosmic god? A happy day, nevertheless, would it be for Theosophy, could we have in our Society many such Atheists yet genuine true Theosophists, as the High Priest of Ceylon, Sumangala, or even that same Colonel Olcott, all his worldly shortcomings notwithstanding. We call the Lord Gautama Buddha, the greatest Theosophist of the past ages. Will our critic rise and deny this also, on the ground that Buddha was an Atheist?
Where, or how, then, have we sinned in our editorial against our principles? “Cyril” seems to think that we have departed from them in order to “compass a convert”; in other words to pander to Mr. Bradlaugh? This is the first time in our long life that we have been accused of pandering to any living being. Why not say next that we may pander to the Archbishop of Canterbury? For surely there is more hope of seeing the Primate of England joining our ranks than in entertaining the same idea with regard to the M.P. for Northhampton.
This is really silly, respected “Cyril.” Go, and sin no more.
Speaking of Mr. Bradlaugh, one is naturally led to think of Mrs. Annie Besant, for so many years his right arm in the propagation of Freethought. Her “perversion” as the materialists call it—to Theosophy seems to have caused a great
stir all over the United Kingdom. How severely the blow is felt by our opponents is evidenced by a recrudescence of bitter attacks upon us by the Freethinkers, who have hitherto left us personally undisturbed. Aye, the prize was worth fighting for, as there can rarely be found a truer embodiment of the first and uppermost Theosophical principle (as it stands the first in rank among the objects of our Society)—the Brotherhood of man, than Annie Besant. She is indeed the ideal of practical altruism and well may Gerald Massey have greeted her as he has by writing:
Though we stand not side by side
In the front of battle wide,
Oft I think of you with pride,
Fellow soldier in the fight,
Oft I see you flash by night
Fiery hearted for the Right!
You for others sow the grain
Yours the tears of ripening rain,
Theirs the smiling harvest-gain.
Why then should not every noble-hearted Freethinker, every true and right-minded materialist think of her “with pride” just the same now as then? Though she fights no longer for stony-cold, scientific materialism, yet by joining the ranks of those most of whom regard as exemplars of boundless love for humanity the Buddha and the ideal Christ, the two pioneer and champion Socialists of the historical ages—Annie Besant can do but the more good in the right direction of social reform and help for the weak and the oppressed.
But if her conversion to Theosophy has increased the number of our enemies it has brought us if not friends at least fair-minded judges from a quite unexpected quarter—a clerical journal. True, this journal is The Church Reformer and its editor the very liberal and socialistic Rev. Mr. Stewart D. Headlam, the motto of whose magazine is four very aggressive lines by William Blake. Still his action is unprecedented in the annals of clerical publications, as he actually declares that there is much good in Theosophical
Nazareth and proceeds to show it. His leading article of this month, devoted to Annie Besant and Theosophy, is headed, “My soul is athirst for God.” “Athirst for truth” would be perhaps more appropriate and correct, but we need not quarrel over trifles. The chief point is to ascertain what the reverend gentleman thinks of our Society and to point out, that like the rest, he seems to misunderstand our real doctrine.
Having told his reader of a story once current about the Prince of Wales who “used to say that if ever he took to religion he should ‘go in for Charlie Wood’s religion’,” Mr. Headlam proceeds to add:—
In the same way, many who have not troubled themselves much about religion in the past, will now be inclined to give a good deal of attention to Theosophy simply because it has become Mrs. Besant’s religion. And, indeed, the religion which “finds” a woman so noble and self-sacrificing as Mrs. Besant is, must have a great deal in it. For the really interesting fact about Mrs. Besant having become a fellow of the Theosophical Society consists in this, that while Christians, Buddhists, Mahometans, can all be Theosophists, an Atheist cannot, and therefore her election to that Society is a clear declaration on her part, that after trying it consistently and earnestly for many years, she has found that atheism does not satisfy, does not answer the needs of human nature.
The italics are ours. While feeling grateful to the reverend writer for allowing Theosophy to have “a great deal in it,” we are sorry to find ourselves compelled to point out some inaccuracies, seemingly trifling, in truth very important. First of all, Theosophy is not, and never was a religion, necessitating belief in any God. Therefore, any Atheist is at full liberty to join our Society, and may, without ceasing to be an Atheist at all—i.e., a disbeliever in a personal God—become the grandest Theosophist living. As we have just explained this very fully, it is quite useless to go over the old ground again. Suffice it to say, that at the very summit of her atheism Mrs. Besant has always been a Theosophist in action and in heart. She has only given a more defined and sincere expression now to her longing and
aspirations after the truth, by declaring herself a member of the Theosophical Brotherhood, and no more. Therefore though truly she is “the most strenuous of all workers for humanity,” one is permitted to doubt whether she has plainly said, “My soul is athirst for God,” unless the reverend writer uses the term “God” metaphorically, as we Theosophists often do. But, it is quite correct to say that “having for long done the will (i.e., put in practice the first of the Theosophical principles) she is now beginning to know of the doctrine.” But this doctrine, let us hope, will never lead her to make again “her communion at a Christian altar,” in other words to renounce the whole and the absolute for the part and the finite. For if she has “worked to see that the people were properly fed, clothed and housed,” . . . “visited the prisoners and cared for the oppressed,” she has done only that which Buddha taught before Christ and archaic Theosophy, the Wisdom-Religion, before Buddha; aye, from days prehistoric.
To the same kind of objection, though necessitating but a slight amendment, belongs the following truthful remark by Mr. Headlam:
. . . indeed, so far from there being any contradiction between Theosophy and the religion of Jesus Christ, page after page of Theosophical teaching is almost word for word like the teaching of a pious Evangelical or a devout Catholic; and Mrs. Besant is already bringing into prominence that teaching as to brotherhood, which has always been in Theosophical books, though not always in Theosophical action.
The second part of the proposition is quite correct; the first needs a reminder. If the Theosophical teaching is so like that of an Evangelical or a Catholic, it is not because Theosophy took Christianity as an exemplar, but because symbolical, and later dogmatic and ritualistic, Christianity are simply an edition copied, with slight modifications, by the Church Fathers from Pagan symbology and Gnosticism; the old religions of the Gentiles being, in their turn, the more or less faithful echoes of the WISDOM-RELIGION, or—“Theosophy.”
Mr. Headlam concludes his editorial with the following reincarnation of the Delphic puzzle: “If Croesus crosses
the Halys, he will destroy a great empire.” “The battle between them” (the Theosophists), he says, “and the Christians, with their love of beauty and kingdom of Heaven upon earth, will come later on.”
To whom shall we ascribe the “love of beauty and kingdom of Heaven upon earth”? To Christians or Theosophists? If the former, then all Christians are Mystics, and consequently, Theosophists—which is far from being the case. If to the latter, then we hope that the Reverend gentleman may be proved no true prophet, lest haply the Christians be found to fight against the gods.
If this kingdom of Heaven or New Jerusalem is to be a reality, then a common platform for all religions, sciences and philosophies must be found. This, Christianity per se, cannot, in the nature of things, offer—neither, for that matter, can any other so-called religion—as it now stands; for all unduly exaggerate the personality of their Founders, Christianity more than others, as it makes Jesus very God of very God, and of his brother-teachers in Christ (or CHRISTOS) false prophets. We speak here of modern Church Christianity, not of the mystic religion of Christos, the LOGOS, the Western aspect of the one religious philosophy, which can bind all men together as brothers. It is in the service of the latter that the Theosophical Society has become a humble handmaiden; seeking earnestly, but so far, vainly, her fellow servants among the bedizened flunkeys of State religions in the great World’s Fair.