The head of Madame Blavatsky is one of remarkable strength in many elements of
character. With her fine physical constitution and temperamental balance her brain
is capable not only of prolonged labor, but of extraordinary exertion under
excitement. She is not of that quiet, scholastic mould which is so often found in
literary pursuits, but possesses an intense emotional and energetic nature, adapting her
to fields of robust action.
With a large head, whose intellectual development is very marked, particularly in the
perceptive region, she exhibits a strong learning to observation and the study of facts
and things as they exist. We do not find much evidence of the disposition to trust
to mere impressions, or to be won over by probable or plausible showings; she is rather
skeptical, more inclined to be iconoclastic in her attitude toward philosophy, religion,
and literature, than to build up a system by negative reasoning, or by speculation.
The type of her intellect renders her critical, and that, assisted by her cautious
skepticism and strong individualism, makes her a stubborn and fearless partisan of her own
convictions. She has a great deal of firmness, and the sense of justice, duty, and
of honor is nearly equal to her firmness; hence, whatever cause she may espouse she will
maintain with enthusiasm. When she has confidence in persons, or in the sources of
her information, she accepts and acts upon them to the fullest extent.
Her social nature is influential, but on account of her moderate Spirituality and
Intuition, her full Secretiveness and critical intellect, she may be said to watch mankind
closely, and is thoroughly distrustful where she perceives cause for distrust. So in
society she combines a vigilant observation of persons with a great deal of earnest
friendship. Her highly sanguine temperament and energetic nature lead her to adhere
to friends through good and evil report. Being as earnest to conquer opposition in
social as in intellectual relations, she is highly capable of love and friendship which
are real and practical, but disposed to laugh at what people generally term sentiment in
literature and character, relegating it mainly to effeminacy and weakness.
She has a great love of freedom, and aversion to almost any kind of restraint which
prevents her from taking an independent course, and acting out her own convictions.
In emergencies she would generally show great coolness and boldness. She has a great
deal of hope and enthusiasm for the elevation of humanity according to her own peculiar
views; and her views in most cases are likely to appear peculiar and extreme to others,
notwithstanding her caution and self-control. She is patriotic, and would be brave
in the defense of country, home, family, and faith. Her attachments would tend ever
to carry her back to the country and home of her love, especially if it were among a
people whom she could impress by her mental force. She would never feel at home
among people of a gloomy and cynical temperament.
Her development of Self-esteem is not large, so that she does not believe so much in
herself as in her knowledge, experience, duty, and purposes. Her temperament
ministers great activity to an energetic, thorough-going nature; so her force and ambition
lead her into a bold career, but in such a career she does not make her accomplishments
redound so much to her own honor and elevation, as a woman of greater self-esteem would.
The reader must have been struck at first sight by the unusual development of Language
which renders her a natural linguist, and gives remarkable ability in the expression of
her thought. Madame Blavatsky has a masculine order of intellect, and a masculine
energy with a womans temperamental susceptibility and social feeling. Hence we
should not expect her to follow the conventional routine of the society lady, nor yet to
adopt the passive round of most society men, but we should expect her to display unusual
qualities and pursue a career unique, individual, and exceptional in achievement, as she
is exceptionally endowed.
It is rare for us to meet a person, man or woman, so advanced in life with so much
physical freshness and youthful ardor and capability. She would pass easily for a
lady of but fifty or so, while she differs from most people of fifty, in being still an
earnest student of life and literature, taking up and pursuing new subjects with vigor and
The subject of this sketch is in many respects a very rare one. Whether we take
into account her originality and breadth of thought, her physical and moral courage, her
adventurous pursuit of knowledge, seldom sought and more seldom found, or her zeal in
propagating Oriental religious ideas, Madame Blavatsky is altogether an extraordinary
personage. She was born in Asiatic Russia and reared in the tenets of the Greek
Church. She left home and friends at an early age, to travel in strange lands and
sojourn among strange peoples and tribes. She has, unaccompanied, traveled three
times around the globe, and has dwelt among dark-skinned races for years together,
learning and speaking their languages, studying philosophy and practicing magic with their
priests; indeed, making herself for the time being one of the people with whom she dwelt.
The Russians of the upper class have always been noted for their linguistical talent,
but Mme. Blavatsky seems to have excelled most of her compatriots in this respect.
Prince Emil Wittgenstein, a cousin of the present Empress, in writing to Col. Olcott, of
New York, said that he knew Mme. Blavatsky well some twenty-five years ago at Tiflis, when
she was famed for her ability to speak Georgian, Mongolian, Circassian, and other Caucasus
dialects. Those who have met her can certify, that besides the French and Italian,
several other languages are familiar to her. Epes Sargent, the American author, in a
recently published letter, affirms that she writes English with the ability of George
Eliot, and the Hartford Times, reviewing her Isis Unveiled, (2) says, that she makes use of the
purest English, is matter of surprise to her readers. She expresses herself with the
utmost clearness and simplicity, even when dealing with the most abstruse
subjects. In this view other critics concur. Dr. R. Mackenzie, one of
the better known of our literary reviewers, wrote in the Philadelphia Press:
We have to admire the thorough simplicity and natural grace of Madame
Blavatskys language. It is pure and expressive, which is singular, considering
her Asiatic birth, and that the first languages she learned must have been Oriental,
which, in their expression, certainly are very deficient in simplicity.
Before the appearance of her notable work, the panegyrics pronounced upon Mme.
Blavatsky by her intimate friends were attributed to over-partiality. But now that
Isis Unveiled has run the gauntlet of criticism on both sides of the Atlantic,
it is easy to see that in its author we have one of those characters who usually become
historical. Such individualities, by the very intensity of their magnetism,
invariably arouse the enthusiasm of friends and the rancor and hostility of enemies.
It is not surprising, therefore, that while one class of critics finds in our Russian
visitor the evidences of profound erudition, marked intellectual depth, and elevation of
sentiment, another should toss her volumes aside with a sneer and expression of derision.
It is a strange news that Madame Blavatsky brings from the Orient to us Western
people. She relates that not only have the mystical brotherhoods over there all
those literary treasures that we have long supposed were burnt in the Alexandrian
libraries by the Moslem General Amru and others, but that the secrets of the ancient magi,
those wise men of the East, are preserved and put to practical use.
European travelers have seen and testified to some of the magical feats performed by these
adepts, but attributed them to legerdemain. None, however, have reported a tithe of
what Mme. Blavatsky has witnessed.
In the course of Mme. Blavatskys long life - for she is upward of eighty years
old, yet wonderfully young in body and fresh in mind - she has had her life in peril by
sword, fire, shipwreck, poison, wild beasts, pestilence, not once, but scores of
times. Were the space and time afforded to record her travels and experiences, a
story of the most romantic interest could be unrolled.
Madame Blavatsky, judged by her writings, is from one view an iconoclast, but does not
tear down without offering to rebuild. She assails the old routine of Christian
theology, and proposes to replace it with Buddhistic and Brahmanic ethics. She
rejects our exact science, and holds that in Oriental psychology and physiology there is
far more to be learned of nature and its forces, of man and his tremendous powers.
This being the case, we need not wonder that the Russian Government, as if apprehensive of
the injury her Isis Unveiled may do to the State religion, has prohibited its
admission across the frontiers.
For the admirable photograph from which our portrait was engraved we are indebted to M.
Sarony, of Broadway, while our acknowledgments are due to Prof. J. R. Buchanan, M.D., for
contributions to our phrenological notes.
(1) Vera Johnston (H.P.B.'s niece) quotes from a letter H.P.B.
wrote to her sister about this article by Professor Buchanan:
"H.P.B. did not spare herself when portraying the humorous side of
her surroundings. The American Phrenological Society wrote and asked for her portrait and
for a cast of her head, and Professor Buchanan, the phrenologist and psychometer, called
on her for an interview. She describes the incident in writing to Madame Jelihovsky:
'And so this poor victim (victim in view of his awful task) was sent to
me -- a phrenological occultist, who came in the company of a huge bouquet (as if I were a
prima donna!) and with three trunk-loads of compliments. He fingered my head and fingered
it again; he turned it on one side and then on the other. He snorted over me -- snorted
like a steam-engine, until we both began to sweat. And at last he spat in disgust. Do
you call this a head?, he says; Its no head at all, but a ball of
contradictions. On this head, he says, there is an endless war of
most conflicting bumps; all Turks and Montenegrins. I cant make anything of
this chaos of impossibilities and confusion of Babel. Here, for instance, he says,
poking my skull with his finger, is a bump of the most ardent faith and power of
belief, and here, side by side with it, the bump of scepticism, pessimism, and
incredulity, proudly swelling itself. And now, if you please, here is the bump of
sincerity for you, walking hand in hand with the bump of hypocrisy and cunning. The bump
of domesticity and love for your country boxes the ears of the bump of wandering and love
of change. And do you mean to say you take this to be a respectable head? he asked.
He seized himself by the hair, and in his despair pulled a considerable lock from his own
respectable head, answering to the highest standards of phrenology... But all the same he
described, drew, and published my poor head for the amusement of the hundred thousand
subscribers to the Phrenological Journal. Alas, alas, heavy is the crown of
Monomach! The aureola of my own greatness, acquired so undeservedly, is simply
crushing me. Here, I send you a copy of my poor head, which you are requested to swallow
without any sauce. A hundred thousand Yankees are going to feast upon it, and so I am
certainly going to save a bit for my own blood!'
Quoted from http://blavatskyarchives.com/blavlet3.htm
(2) Isis Unveiled: A Master Key to the Mysteries
of Ancient and Modern Science and Theology. New York: J.W. Bouton.