Some time ago, a Theosophist, Mr. R_____,
was travelling by rail with an American gentleman, who told him
how surprised he had been by his visit to our London Headquarters.
He said that he had asked Mdme. Blavatsky what were the best Theosophical
works for him to read, and had declared his intention of procuring
Isis Unveiled, when to his astonishment she replied,
"Don't read it, it is all trash."
Now I did not say "trash" so far as I remember; but
what I did say in substance was: "Leave it alone; Isis
will not satisfy you. Of all the books I have put my name
to, this particular one is, in literary arrangement, the worst
and most confused." And I might have added with as much truth
that, carefully analysed from a strictly literary and critical
standpoint, Isis was full of misprints and misquotations;
that it contained useless repetitions, most irritating digressions,
and to the casual reader unfamiliar with the various aspects of
metaphysical ideas and symbols, as many apparent contradictions;
that much of the matter in it ought not to be there at all and
also that it had some very gross mistakes due to the many alterations
in proof-reading in general, and word corrections in particular.
Finally, that the work, for reasons that will be now explained,
has no system in it; and that it looks in truth, as remarked by
a friend, as if a mass of independent paragraphs having no connection
with each other, had been well shaken up in a waste-basket, and
then taken out at random and published.
Such is also now my sincere opinion. The full consciousness of
this sad truth dawned upon me when, for the first time after its
publication in 1877, I read the work through from the first to
the last page, in India in 1881. And from that date to the present,
I have never ceased to say what I thought of it, and to give my
honest opinion of Isis whenever I had an opportunity for
so doing. This was done to the great disgust of some, who warned
me that I was spoiling its sale; but as my chief object in writing
it was neither personal fame nor gain, but something far higher,
I cared little for such warnings. For more than ten years this
unfortunate "master-piece," this "monumental
as some reviews have called it, with its hideous metamorphoses
of one word into another, thereby entirely transforming the meaning,l with its misprints and wrong quotation-marks, has given
me more anxiety and trouble than anything else during a long life-time
which has ever been more full of thorns than of roses.
But in spite of these perhaps too great admissions, I maintain
that Isis Unveiled contains a mass of original and never
hitherto divulged information on occult subjects. That this is
so, is proved by the fact that the work has been fully appreciated
by all those who have been intelligent enough to discern the kernel,
and pay little attention to the shell, to give the preference
to the idea and not to the form, regardless of its minor shortcomings.
Prepared to take upon myself vicariously as I will show the
sins of all the external, purely literary defects of the work,
I defend the ideas and teachings in it, with no fear of being
charged with conceit, since neither ideas nor teaching are
mine, as I have always declared; and I maintain that
both are of the greatest value to mystics and students of Theosophy.
So true is this, that when Isis was first published, some
of the best American papers were lavish in its praise even to
exaggeration, as is evidenced by the quotations below.2
The first enemies that my work brought to the front were Spiritualists,
whose fundamental theories as to the spirits of the dead communicating
in propriâ personâ I upset. For the last fifteen
years ever since this first publication an incessant shower
of ugly accusations has been poured upon me. Every libellous charge,
from immorality and the "Russian spy" theory down to
my acting on false pretences, of being a chronic fraud and a
living lie, an habitual drunkard, an emissary of the
Pope, paid to break down Spiritualism, and Satan incarnate. Every
slander that can be thought of has been brought to bear upon my
private and public life. The fact that not a single one of
these charges has ever been substantiated; that from
the first day of January to the last of December, year after year,
I have lived surrounded by friends and foes like as in a glass-house, nothing
could stop these wicked, venomous, and thoroughly unscrupulous
tongues. It has been said at various times by my ever active opponents
that (1) Isis Unveiled was simply a rehash of Eliphas Lévi
and a few old alchemists; (2) that it was written by me
under the dictation of Evil Powers and the departed spirits
of Jesuits (sic); and finally (3) that my two
volumes had been compiled from MSS, (never before heard of), which
Baron de Palm he of the cremation and double-burial fame had
left behind him, and which I had found in his trunk!3
On the other hand, friends, as unwise as they were kind, spread
abroad that which was really the truth, a little too enthusiastically,
about the connection of my Eastern Teacher and other Occultists
with the work; and this was seized upon by the enemy and exaggerated
out of all limits of truth. It was said that the whole of Isis
had been dictated to me from cover to cover and verbatim
by these invisible Adepts. And, as the imperfections of my
work were only too glaring, the consequence of all this idle and
malicious talk was, that my enemies and critics inferred as well
they might that either these invisible inspirers had no existence,
and were part of my "fraud," or that they lacked the
cleverness of even an average good writer.
Now, no one has any right to hold me responsible for what any
one may say, but only for that which I myself state orally, or
in public print over my signature. And what I say and maintain
is this: Save the direct quotations and the many afore specified
and mentioned misprints, errors and misquotations, and the general
make-up of Isis Unveiled, for which I am in no way
responsible, (a) every word of information found in this
work or in my later writings, comes from the teachings of our
Eastern Masters; and (b) that many a passage in these works
has been written by me under their dictation. In saying
this no supernatural claim is urged, for no miracle
is performed by such a dictation. Any moderately intelligent
person, convinced by this time of the many possibilities of hypnotism
(now accepted by science and under full scientific investigation),
and of the phenomena of thought-transference, will
easily concede that if even a hypnotized subject, a mere irresponsible
medium, hears the unexpressed thought of his hypnotizer,
who can thus transfer his thought to him even to repeating
the words read by the hypnotizer mentally from a book then
my claim has nothing impossible in it. Space and distance do not
exist for thought; and if two persons are in perfect mutual psycho-magnetic
rapport, and of these two, one is a great Adept
in Occult Sciences, then thought-transference and dictation of
whole pages, become as easy and as comprehensible at the distance
of ten thousand miles as the transference of two words across
Hitherto, I have abstained except on very rare occasions from
answering any criticism on my works, and have even left direct
slanders and lies unrefuted, because in the case of Isis I
found almost every kind of criticism justifiable, and in that
of "slanders and lies," my contempt for the slanderers
was too great to permit me to notice them. Especially was it the
case with regard to the libellous matter emanating from America.
It has all come from one and the same source, well known to all
Theosophists, a person most indefatigable in attacking
me personally for the last twelve years,4 though I
have never seen or met the creature. Neither do I intend to answer
him now. But, as Isis is now attacked for at least
the tenth time, the day has come when my perplexed friends and
that portion of the public which may be in sympathy with Theosophy,
are entitled to the whole truth and nothing but the truth.
Not that I seek to excuse myself in anything even before them
or to "explain things." It is nothing of the kind. What
I am determined to do is to give facts, undeniable
and not to be gainsaid, simply by stating the peculiar, well known
to many but now almost forgotten, circumstances, under which I
wrote my first English work. I give them seriatim.
(1) When I came to America in 1873, I had not spoken English which
I had learned in my childhood colloquially for over thirty years.
I could understand when I read it, but could hardly speak the language.
(2) I had never been at any college, and what I knew I had taught
myself; I have never pretended to any scholarship in the sense
of modern research; I had then hardly read any scientific European
works, knew little of Western philosophy and sciences. The little
which I had studied and learned of these, disgusted me with its
materialism, its limitations, narrow cut-and-dried spirit of dogmatism,
and its air of superiority over the philosophies and sciences
(3) Until 1874 I had never written one word in English, nor had
I published any work in any language. Therefore
(4) I had not the least idea of literary rules. The art of writing
books, of preparing them for print and publication, reading and
correcting proofs, were so many close[d secrets to me.
(5) When I started to write that which developed later into Isis
Unveiled, I had no more idea than the man in
the moon what would come of it. I had no plan; did not know whether
it would be an essay, a pamphlet, a book, or an article. I knew
that I had to write it, that was all. I began the
work before I knew Colonel Olcott well, and some months before
the formation of the Theosophical Society.
Thus, the conditions for becoming the author of an English theosophical
and scientific work were hopeful, as everyone will see. Nevertheless,
I had written enough to fill four such volumes as Isis,
before I submitted my work to Colonel Olcott. Of course he
said that everything save the pages dictated had to be rewritten.
Then we started on our literary labours and worked together every
evening. Some pages the English of which he had corrected, I copied:
others which would yield to no mortal correction, he used to read
aloud from my pages, Englishing them verbally as he went on, dictating
to me from my almost undecipherable MSS. It is to him that I am
indebted for the English in Isis. It is he again who suggested
that the work should be divided into chapters, and the first volume
devoted to SCIENCE and the second to THEOLOGY.
To do this, the matter had to be re-shifted, and many of the chapters
also; repetitions had to be erased, and the literary connection
of subjects attended to. When the work was ready, we submitted
it to Professor Alexander Wilder, the well-known scholar and Platonist
of New York, who after reading the matter, recommended it to Mr.
Bouton for publication. Next to Colonel Olcott, it is Professor
Wilder who did the most for me. It is he who made the excellent
Index, who corrected the Greek, Latin and Hebrew
words, suggested quotations and wrote the greater part of the
Introduction "Before the Veil." If this was not
acknowledged in the work, the fault is not mine, but because it
was Dr. Wilder's express wish that his name should not appear
except in footnotes. I have never made a secret of it, and every
one of my numerous acquaintances in New York knew it. When ready
the work went to press.
From that moment the real difficulty began. I had no idea of correcting
galley proofs; Colonel Olcott had little leisure to do so; and
the result was that I made a mess of it from the beginning. Before
we were through with the first three chapters, there was a bill
for six hundred dollars for corrections and alterations, and I
had to give up the proof-reading. Pressed by the publisher, Colonel
Olcott doing all that he possibly could do, but having no time
except in the evenings, and Dr. Wilder far away at Jersey City,
the result was that the proofs and pages of Isis passed
through a number of willing but not very careful hands, and were
finally left to the tender mercies of the publisher's proof-reader.
Can one wonder after this if "Vaivaswata" (Manu) became
transformed in the published volumes into "Viswamitra,"
that thirty-six pages of the Index were irretrievably lost, and
quotation-marks placed where none were needed (as in some of my
own sentences!), and left out entirely in many a passage cited
from various authors? If asked why these fatal mistakes have not
been corrected in a subsequent edition, my answer is simple: the
plates were stereotyped; and notwithstanding all my desire to
do so, I could not put it into practice, as the plates were the
property of the publisher; I had no money to pay for the expenses,
and finally the firm was quite satisfied to let things be as they
are, since, notwithstanding all its glaring defects, the work which
has now reached its seventh or eighth edition, is still in demand.
And now and perhaps in consequence of all this comes a new accusation:
I am charged with wholesale plagiarism in the Introductory
Chapter "Before the Veil"!
Well, had I committed plagiarism, I should not feel the slightest
hesitation in admitting the "borrowing." But all "parallel
passages" to the contrary, as I have not done so, I do not
see why I should confess it; even though "thought transference"
as the Pall Mall Gazette wittily calls it, is in fashion,
and at a premium just now. Since the day when the American press
raised a howl against Longfellow, who, borrowing from some (then)
unknown German translation of the Finnish epic, the Kalevala,
published it as his own superb poem, Hiawatha, and
forgot to acknowledge the source of his inspiration, the Continental
press has repeatedly brought out other like accusations. The present
year is especially fruitful in such "thought transferences."
Here we have the Lord Mayor of the City of London, repeating word
for word an old forgotten sermon by Mr. Spurgeon and swearing
he had never read or heard of it. The Rev. Robert Bradlaugh writes
a book, and forthwith the Pall Mall Gazette denounces it
as a verbal copy from somebody else's work. Mr. Harry de Windt,
the Oriental traveller, and a F.R.G.S. to boot, finds several
pages out of his just published A Ride to India, across
Persia and Beluchistan, in the London Academy paralleled
with extracts from The Country of Belochistan,
by A. W. Hughes, which are identical verbatim et literatim.
Mrs. Parr denies in the British Weekly that her novel Sally
was borrowed consciously or unconsciously from Miss Wilkins'
Sally, and states that she had never read the said
story, nor even heard the author's name, and so on. Finally, every
one who has read La Vie de Jésus, by Renan,
will find that he has plagiarised by anticipation, some
descriptive passages rendered in flowing verse in the Light
of the World. Yet even Sir Edwin Arnold, whose versatile and
recognised genius needs no borrowed imagery, has failed to thank
the French Academician for his pictures of Mount Tabor and Galilee
in prose, which he has so elegantly versified in his last poem.
Indeed, at this stage of our civilisation and fin de siècle,
one should feel highly honoured to be placed in such good
and numerous company, even as a plagiarist. But I cannot claim
such a privilege and, simply for the reason already told that
out of the whole Introductory chapter "Before the Veil,"
I can claim as my own only certain passages in the Glossary appended
to it, the Platonic portion of it, that which is now denounced
as "a bare-faced plagiarism" having been written by
Professor A. Wilder.
That gentleman is still living in or near New York, and can be
asked whether my statement is true or not. He is too honourable,
too great a scholar, to deny or fear anything. He insisted upon
a kind of Glossary, explaining the Greek and Sanskrit
names and words with which the work abounds, being appended to
an Introduction, and furnished a few himself. I begged him to
give me a short summary of the Platonic philosophers, which he
kindly did. Thus from p. 11 down to 22 the text is his, save a
few intercalated passages which break the Platonic narrative,
to show the identity of ideas in the Hindu Scriptures. Now who
of those who know Dr. A. Wilder personally, or by name, who are
aware of the great scholarship of that eminent Platonist, the
editor of so many learned works,5 would be insane
to accuse him of "plagiarising" from any author's
work! I give in the footnote the names of a few of the Platonic
and other works he has edited. The charge would be simply preposterous!
The fact is that Dr. Wilder must have either forgotten to place
quotes before and after the passages copied by him from various
authors in his Summary; or else, owing to his very difficult handwriting,
he has failed to mark them with sufficient clearness. It is impossible,
after the lapse of almost fifteen years, to remember or verify
the facts. To this day I had imagined that this disquisition on
Platonists was his, and never gave a further thought to it. But
now enemies have ferretted out unquoted passages and proclaim
louder than ever "the author of Isis Unveiled,"
to be a plagiarist and a fraud. Very likely more may be found,
as that work is an inexhaustible mine of misquotations, errors
and blunders, to which it is impossible for me to plead "guilty"
in the ordinary sense. Let then the slanderers go on, only to
find in another fifteen years as they have found in the preceding
period, that whatever they do, they cannot ruin Theosophy,
nor even hurt me. I have no author's vanity; and years
of unjust persecution and abuse have made me entirely callous
to what the public may think of me personally.
But in view of the facts as given above; and considering that
(a) The language in Isis is not mine; but
(with the exception of that portion of the work which, as I claim,
was dictated), may be called only a sort of translation
of my facts and ideas into English;
(b) It was not written for the public, the latter having
always been only a secondary consideration with me but for the
use of Theosophists and members of the Theosophical Society to
which Isis is dedicated;
(c) Though I have since learned sufficient English to have
been enabled to edit two magazines the Theosophist and
LUCIFER yet, to the present hour I never
write an article, an editorial or even a simple paragraph, without
submitting its English to close scrutiny and correction.
Considering all this and much more, I ask now every impartial
and honest man and woman whether it is just or even fair to criticize
my works Isis, above all others as one would the
writings of a born American or English author! What I claim in
them as my own is only the fruit of my learning and studies in
a department, hitherto left uninvestigated by Science, and almost
unknown to the European world. I am perfectly willing to leave
the honour of the English grammar in them, the glory of the quotations
from scientific works brought occasionally to me to be used as
passages for comparison with, or refutation by, the old Science,
and finally the general make-up of the volumes, to every one of
those who have helped me. Even for the Secret Doctrine there
are about half-a-dozen Theosophists who have been busy in editing
it, who have helped me to arrange the matter, correct the imperfect
English, and prepare it for print. But that which none of them
will ever claim from first to last, is the fundamental doctrine,
the philosophical conclusions and teachings. Nothing of that have
I invented, but simply given it out as I have been taught; or
as quoted by me in the Secret Doctrine (Vol. I, p. 46 [xlvi)
from Montaigne: "I have here made only a nosegay of culled
(Eastern) flowers, and have brought nothing of my own but the
string that ties them."
Is any one of my helpers prepared to say that I have not paid
the full price for the string?
April 27, 1891
Lucifer, May, 1891
H. P. Blavatsky
1 Witness the word "planet" for
as originally written, corrected by some unknown hand, (Vol. I.,
p. 347, 2nd par.), a "correction" which shows Buddha
teaching that there is no rebirth on this planet (!!)
when the contrary is asserted on p. 346, and the Lord Buddha
is said to teach how to "avoid" reincarnation;
the use of the word "planet," for plane,
of "Monas" for Manas; and the sense
of whole ideas sacrificed to the grammatical form, and changed
by the substitution of wrong words and erroneous punctuation,
etc., etc., etc.
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2 Isis Unveiled; a master key to the
mysteries of ancient and modern science and theology. By H.P.
Blavatsky, Corresponding Secretary of the Theosophical Society.
2 vols., royal 8vo., about 1,500 pages, cloth, $7.50. Fifth Edition.
"This monumental work . . . about everything relating to
magic, mystery, witchcraft, religion, spiritualism, which would
be valuable in an encyclopædia." North American
"It must be acknowledged that she is a remarkable woman,
who has read more, seen more. and thought more than most wise
men. Her work abounds in quotations from a dozen different languages,
not for the purpose of a vain display of erudition, but to substantiate
her peculiar views . . . her pages are garnished with foot-notes
establishing, as her authorities, some of the profoundest writers
of the past. To a large class of readers, this remarkable work
will prove of absorbing interest . . . demands the earnest attention
of thinkers, and merits an analytic reading." Boston
"The appearance of erudition is stupendous. Reference to
and quotations from the most unknown and obscure writers in all
languages abound, interspersed with allusions to writers of the
highest repute, which have evidently been more than skimmed
"An extremely readable and exhaustive essay upon the paramount
importance of reestablishing the Hermetic Philosophy in a world
which blindly believes that it has outgrown it." N.Y.
"Most remarkable book of the season." Com. Advertiser.
"[To Readers who have never made themselves acquainted with
the literature of mysticism and alchemy, the volume will furnish
the materials for an interesting study a mine of curious information." Evening
"They give evidence of much and multifarious research on
the part of the author, and contain a vast number of interesting
stories. Persons fond of the marvellous will find in them an abundance
of entertainment." New York Sun.
"A marvellous book both in matter and manner of treatment.
Some idea may be formed of the rarity and extent of its contents
when the index alone comprises fifty pages, and we venture nothing
in saying that such an index of subjects was never before compiled
by any human being. . . But the book is a curious one and will
no doubt find its way into libraries because of the unique
subject matter it contains . . . will certainly prove attractive
to all who are interested in the history, theology, and the mysteries
of the ancient world." Daily Graphic.
"The present work is the fruit of her remarkable course of
education, and amply confirms her claims to the character of an
adept in secret science, and even to the rank of a hierophant
in the exposition of its mystic lore." New York Tribune.
"One who reads the book carefully through, ought to know
everything of the marvellous and mystical, except perhaps, the
passwords. Isis will supplement the Anacalypsis.
Whoever loves to read Godfrey Higgins will be delighted with Mme.
Blavatsky. There is a great resemblance between their works. Both
have tried hard to tell everything apocryphal and apocalyptic.
It is easy to forecast the reception of this book. With its striking
peculiarities, its audacity, its versatility, and the prodigious
variety of subjects which it notices and handles, it is one of
the remarkable productions of the century." New York
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3 This Austrian nobleman, who was in complete
destitution at New York, and to whom Colonel Olcott had given
shelter and food, nursing him during the last weeks of his life left
nothing in MS. behind him but bills. The only effect of the baron
was an old valise, in which his "executors" found a
battered bronze Cupid, a few foreign Orders (imitations in pinchbeck
and paste, as the gold and diamonds had been sold); and a few
shirts of Colonel Olcott's, which the ex-diplomat had annexed
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4 I will not name him. There are names which carry
a moral stench about them, unfit for any decent journal or publication.
His words and deeds emanate from the cloaca maxima of the
Universe of matter and have to return to it, without touching
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5 A. Wilder, M.D., the editor of Serpent and Siva
Worship, by Hyde Clarke and C. Staniland Wake; of Ancient
Art and Mythology, by Richard Payne Knight, to which
the editor has appended an Introduction, Notes translated into
English and a new and complete Index; of Ancient Symbol Worship,
by Hodder M. Westropp and C. Staniland Wake, with an Introduction,
additional Notes and Appendix by the editor; and finally, of The
Eleusinian and Bacchic Mysteries; "A Dissertation,
by Thomas Taylor, translator of 'Plato,' 'Plotinus,' 'Porphyry,'
'Jamblichus,' 'Proclus,' 'Aristotle,' etc., etc., etc.,"
edited with Introduction, Notes, Emendations, and Glossary, by
Alexander Wilder, M.D.; and the author of various learned works,
pamphlets and articles for which we have no space here. Also the
editor of the "Older Academy," a quarterly journal of
New York, and the translator of the Mysteries, by
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