Published by Blavatsky Study Center. Online Edition copyright 2004.

The Alleged Use of Intoxicating
Liquors by Madame Blavatsky

by William Emmette Coleman.

[Reprinted from The Religio-Philosophical Journal
(Chicago, Illinois) April 7, 1888, p. 6.]

I see that Helen Densmore, in the Journal of March 10, denies my statement that Madame Blavatsky uses intoxicating beverages. What the lady says about Madame Blavatsky’s habits seems to refer exclusively to her present mode of life in London. Although Mrs. Densmore speaks of knowing the Madame in New York in 1872 and 1873, yet she does not specifically assert that at that time Madame B. did not use intoxicants. All that she says relative to her habits in this regard is placed in the present tense. It may be that she has of late years forsworn the use of all intoxicants, and if so I am glad to hear it. I have no cause to doubt the truth of Mrs. Densmore’s statements, and as she states that Mme. B. does not now indulge in liquid stimulants, such is probably the case. It is noteworthy that only one of the statements alleged concerning Mme. B’s personal habits is denied. At the same time that I spoke of her use of intoxicants I referred to her tobacco-smoking, her use of slang in French and other languages, and her use of oaths. If Mrs. Densmore was and is so intimately acquainted with her as she says, she must know whether the other statements concerning the Madame are correct or not; and her silence thereupon is a virtual admission of their truth. Their truth is also implied in her remark, "whatever the faults of this remarkable woman may be, this (the use of intoxicants) is not one of them." The fact of her smoking is so notorious, that it would be folly to deny it, and as to the character of her conversation and language I have abundant testimony from those who were intimately associated with her at different times and places.

I am not in the habit of making allegations, such as this concerning Mme. Blavatsky’s use of stimulating beverages, unless I have substantial, trustworthy evidence of their truth. In this instance, my evidence concerning this lady’s habits in the particulars stated was derived from the following sources:

(1) My late wife was a resident of the same house with Mme. Blavatsky in Philadelphia in 1874 or 1875, on Girard street. I think my wife told me that she aided Mme. B. in writing for the press the first article, or one of the first articles, she ever published in the English language. My wife’s assistance consisted only in an examination and revision of the phraseology, the Madame’s knowledge of correct English composition being then somewhat imperfect. Mrs. Densmore is mistaken in saying she knew Mme. B. in New York in 1872-73, "at the time the Theosophical Society was formed," as this society was not instituted till several years after the date mentioned. My wife was one of the most scrupulously truthful persons I ever met, and I am confident that her statements concerning Madame Blavatsky’s habits can be implicitly relied upon.

(2) Several years before his death, Mr. D. D. Home, the celebrated medium corresponded with me concerning Madame Blavatsky. He informed me of a number of episodes in her life that were known to him, all of a very damaging character. He lived in Paris, and he was well posted regarding her life there, the details of which in extenso would not bear publication. I had no cause to doubt the truth of Mr. Home’s statements concerning the Madame’s personal habits, and I was and am convinced that all that he said was true, including her use of intoxicants.

(3 and 4.) I have been told many details of Mme. B’s life, both while she was in Paris and in New York, by two ladies formerly intimately associated with her. One of these ladies knew her in Paris and also lived for a considerable time with her and Colonel Olcott in New York. This lady gave me a detailed history of the numerous impostures practiced by the Madame alike upon Olcott and others in New York. Both ladies told me of Blavatsky’s husband, whom I think she married in Philadelphia, and of whom she seemed in so much dread in New York, giving her servants instructions not to admit him should he ever present himself at her New York residence. I was and am convinced of the truth of the statements made to me by these two ladies, including those anent her personal habits.

(5) If I am not mistaken, references to her use of intoxicants have been published in various American newspapers at different times. This by itself would not be conclusive evidence of its truth, but taken as confirmatory of the statements of the various parties above mentioned, who were in a position to know the truth in the matter, the newspaper statements are not without a subordinate value.

I am desirous only of stating the exact truth on this as on all other matters. I have no desire to lay anything at the door of Mme. B. of which she is innocent. If it can be shown that all of my informants were mistaken, or else that they misled me with false statements, and that Mme. Blavatsky has not since 1874 used intoxicants, I shall be glad, of course, to make the amende honorable in this matter. There is little fear, however, in my opinion, that such a task will ever be undertaken. I should be glad for any persons having any information in this matter, pro or con, to write to me stating the facts as known to them. I may be addressed "Chief Quartermaster’s Office, San Francisco Cal."

[See the following defenses of Madame Blavatsky against Coleman's charges:

(1) "General Doubleday in Defense of Madame Blavatsky" by Abner Doubleday;
(2) "Madame Blavatsky" by Helen Densmore;
(3) "The Countess Wachtmeister Defends Blavatsky" by Countess Constance Wachtmeister;
(4) "Letter from Dr. J.D. Buck" by J.D. Buck.

Also see Coleman's reply to the above four articles: 

"Madame Blavatsky and Theosophy: A Reply to My Critics" Part One and especially Part Two. - BA Editor.]