Olcott on Blavatsky
Extract from the Foreword to 'Old Diary Leaves,' by H.S.Olcott, 1895
"This wonderful organisation, [the Theosophical Society] which grew out of a commonplace parlour gathering in a New York house, in the year I875, has already made for itself such a record that it must be included in any veracious history of our times. Its development having gone on by virtue of an inherent force, rather than as the result of astute foresight and management; and having been so closely - for some years almost exclusively, connected with the personal efforts of its two founders, Madame Bavatsky and myself, it will perhaps help the future historian if the survivor sets down truthfully and succinctly the necessary facts. The series of chapters which now compose this book was begun nearly three years ago in the 'Theosophist' magazine, and a second series, devoted to the history of the Society after the transfer to India, is now in progress.
"The controlling impulse to prepare these papers was a desire to combat a growing tendency within the Society to deify Mme. Blavatsky, and to give her commonest literary productions a quasi-inspirational character. Her transparent faults were being blindly ignored, and the pinchbeck screen of pretended authority drawn between her actions and legitimate criticism. Those who had least of her actual confidence, and hence knew least of her private character, were the greatest offenders in this direction. It was but too evident that unless I spoke out what I alone knew, the true history of our movement could never be written, nor the actual merit of my wonderful colleague become known. In these pages I have, therefore, told the truth about her and about the beginnings of the Society - truth which nobody can gainsay.
"Placing as little value upon the praise as upon the blame of third parties, and having all my life been accustomed to act according to what I have regarded as duty, I have not shrunk from facing the witless pleasantries of those who regard me as a dupe, a liar, or a traitor. The absolute unimportance of others' opinions as a factor in promoting individual development is so plain to my mind, that I have pursued my present task to its completion, despite the fact that some of my most influential colleagues have, from what I consider mistaken loyalty to "H.P.B.," secretly tried to destroy my influence, ruin my reputation, reduce the circulation of my magazine, and prevent the publication of my book. Confidential warnings have been circulated against me, and the current numbers of the 'Theosophist' have been removed from Branch reading-room tables. This is child's play: the truth never yet harmed a good cause, nor has moral cowardice ever helped a bad one.
"Mrs. Oliphant in her 'Literary History of England,' (iii., 263,) says of Bentham just what may be said of H.P.B: "It is evident that he had an instinct like that of the Ancient Mariner, for the men who were born to hear and understand him, and great readiness in adopting into his affections every new notability whom he approved of, . . . he received an amount of service and devotion, which few of the greatest of mankind have gained from their fellow-creatures."
"Where was there a human being of such a mixture as this mysterious, this fascinating, this light-bringing H.P.B.? Where can we find a personality so remarkable and so dramatic; one which so clearly presented at its opposite sides the divine and the human? Karma forbid that I should do her a feather-weight of injustice, but if there ever existed a person in history who was a greater conglomeration of good and bad, light and shadow, wisdom and indiscretion, spiritual insight and lack of common sense, I cannot recall the name, the circumstances or the epoch. To have known her was a liberal education, to have worked with her and enjoyed her intimacy, an experience of the most precious kind. She was too great an occultist for us to measure her moral stature. She compelled us to love her, however much we might know her faults; to forgive her, however much she might have broken her promises and destroyed our first belief in her infallibility. And the secret of this potent spell was her undeniable spiritual powers, her evident devotion to the Masters whom she depicted as almost supernatural personages, and her zeal for the spiritual uplifting of humanity by the power of the Eastern Wisdom. Shall we ever see her like again? Shall we see herself again within our time under some other guise? Time will show.
H. S. OLCOTT.