W.T. Stead on Madame Blavatsky
Excerpted from W. T. Stead, The M. P. for Russia: Reminiscences & Correspondence of Madame Olga Novikoff (London, A. Melrose, 1909) volume I, pp. 130-133
Count Keyserling was always very sceptical; Madame Novikoff was not. That which lay beyond the confines of the visible world always appealed to her. What Mr. Lucien Wolff regarded as the central idea of Judaism revolted her. Hence she was always keenly interested in all investigations into the mysterious Borderland.
It was this craving for knowledge of the unknown that brought her into friendly relations with Madame Blavatsky, the founder of the Theosophical Society, and indirectly led to the latest stage in the spiritual evolution of Mrs. Annie Besant.
It was in the year 1888 that Madame Blavatsky took up her abode in London. Madame Novikoff was charmed by her powerful intellect, which commanded her homage altogether apart from her pretension to have explored with steady foot the bewildering mazes of the occult world. She was, besides, a great Russian patriot. Madame Novikoff wrote to me one day:-
I made Madame Blavatsky translate the enclosed letter for you, as I thought it so very interesting. Don’t you think so? By the bye, she is dying to see you; so, unless you commit a murder, shall you not go there with me some afternoon?
I did not respond to the appeal. My interest in occult studies, which had been stimulated by a curious prediction made at the first seance I ever attended, in 1881, had languished under the stress of mundane preoccupations. Madame Novikoff repeated her invitation more insistently than before. Even then I do not think I should have consented to go had Madame Blavatsky not been a Russian. However, to make a long story short, I went. I was delighted with, and at the same time somewhat repelled, by Madame. Power was there, rude and massive, but she had the manners of a man, and a very unconventional man, rather than those of a lady. But we got on very well together, and Madame Blavatsky gave me her portrait, certifying that I might call myself what I pleased, but that she knew I was a good theosophist.
The pleasant relations thus established with Madame Blavatsky had unexpected results. When the Secret Doctrine came in for review to the Pall Mall office I shrank dismayed from the task of mastering its contents. I took it down to Mrs. Besant, who had been for some time past attending seances and interesting herself in the other world, and asked her if she would review it. She grappled with the task, was fascinated by its contents, and when she finished her review she asked me if I could introduce her to the author. I did so with pleasure. It was from that introduction dates the latest evolution in Mrs. Besant’s career. Madame Blavatsky became everything to Mrs. Besant. She was proud and glad to kneel at her feet and drink in her teachings as if they were the oracles of Divine Wisdom. When Madame Blavatsky died, Mrs. Besant was appointed her successor. She is now President of the Theosophical Society. But, humanly speaking, if Madame Novikoff had not been so insistent in making me call upon Madame Blavatsky, the Theosophical Society might never have secured the adhesion of Annie Besant.
Madame Novikoff never allowed her personal friendship with Madame Blavatsky to be interfered with by the stories set about by her enemies as to her alleged impostures. She even wrote to Sir Mountstuart Elphinstone Grant Duff when that Gallio was Governor of Madras in the hopes of interesting him in Madame Blavatsky’s favour. The attempt was unsuccessful. I quote Sir Mountstuart Grant Duff’s letter as a characteristic response to a not less characteristic appeal:-
Government House, Madras, November 21, 1884.
My Dear Madame Novikoff,
Your letter of November 1 reached me yesterday. I have never taken any sort of part in the Blavatsky controversies which have raged here except in so far that the Government of which I am the head was given the most peremptory orders against interference with the religious or philosophical views of the members of the Theosophical Society or of any one else.
As for pretending to have an interest in the matters with which your friend occupies herself, I could not do it if I tried: I should as soon think of pretending to occupy myself in squaring the circle or counting the sands of the sea. If, however, it amuses Madame Blavatsky and her followers to occupy themselves with such things, I cannot see why they should not do so.
Quite recently the most public attacks have been made against her and hers in a local periodical. If she proposes to return to Madras it would, I presume, be with a view of proceeding against the persons who have either slandered her in the most outrageous manner or else made accusations against her which, if admitted to be true, must exclude her from the company of all persons of good character.
Happily, these accusations are of so definite a kind that she will, if she is what you represent her to be, not have the ghost of a difficulty in showing them to be utterly groundless and wicked inventions.
I am sure that I shall be only too delighted to hear that our Courts of Law have pronounced her not to have the vestige of a stain upon her character in connection with any of the doings attributed to her friends in Madras; but, personally, I detest the whole class of subjects with which her name is connected here, and have no desire for the personal acquaintance of her or any of the persons who have made themselves conspicuous by their interest in Mahatmas, astral bodies, and the rest of it.
I dare say it is all very wise and very profound, but if so it belongs to intelligences of a higher order than mine. Moving on a lower plane, I always read, however, with much interest your political articles and letters. They belong to that workaday world on the surface of which I crawl, caring nothing for the holy brothers of Thibet and all the lofty prospects opened to our race by Esoteric Buddhism – Koot Hoomi and Co.
Believe me very sincerely yours, M.E. Grant Duff