Published by Blavatsky Study Center. Online Edition copyright 2004.

Madame Blavatsky

by Helen Densmore

[Reprinted from The Religio-Philosophical Journal
(Chicago, Illinois) May 5, 1888, p. 6.]

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To the Editor of the Religio-Philosophical Journal:

In relation to Mr. Coleman’s answer in your issue of April 7th to my correction of his error in regard to Madame Blavatsky’s habits of drinking intoxicating liquors, I wish to say:

1. I was in error in stating the years in which I knew Madame B. to be 1872 and ‘73; it was probably 1874 and ‘75. Mr. Judge states in The Path that the Theosophical Society was formed at a house on Irving Place, this city, in 1875. I knew Madame Blavatsky at the time and before the formation of the society; I often visited her while she was writing "Isis Unveiled," and was making the preliminary arrangements for the formation of the Theosophical Society.

I was a frequent visitor at her house; often saw her at meals. I have a distinct recollection that she not only did not use wine at that time, but that she refused all alcoholic drinks, and explained that she had never been able to use any.

3. My silence as to the other charges was not intended to imply consent, as Mr. Coleman concludes, but rather, since this one charge, of which I did know, being without foundation in fact, that the other charges involving moral turpitude are likely also untrue.

4. Madame Blavatsky did then and does now smoke cigarettes. So does the Rev. Stopford Brooke, the celebrated, and Rev. Mr. Spurgeon, the very enlightened, and no less reverened champion of free thought, Mr. Felix Adler, and a host of good fellows of all sects and nationalities. I well understand that the use of tobacco in any shape is not only unphysiological, poisonous, and the direct cause of many serious ailments, including the certain impairment of the nervous system, and is surely a lamentable habit. But I wish to protest against the time-worn custom of inveighing against women for doing the same things that are taken quite as a matter of course when done by men. It is no more unladylike for Madame Blavatsky to smoke than it is ungentlemanly for Mr. Adler.

A few Sundays ago I listened in the morning to a most eloquent discourse in London by Mr. Stopford Brooke, and later in the day I came upon him strolling in a side street with a gentleman and two ladies daintily puffing the smoke of a cigar in their faces. I could but regret then and do now that so eminent a teacher and able liberal thinker should have a habit so unfortunate; but would Mr. Coleman therefore think of making aspersions against his character?

5. In regard to swearing: Madame Blavatsky often indulges in a freedom of expression which would no doubt be shocking to the machine-made religionist of the modern Christian Church; but remembering that there can only be profanity in a real sense where there is reverence for the things profaned, and that Madame Blavatsky does not revere the objects usually held sacred by the majority of Christendom, I hold that she is not guilty of this sin. While I think it is not in good taste to indulge in such a habit at any time, I remember that many of our able liberal thinkers, who have broken away from the traditional theology do indulge in this habit; and I ask Mr. Coleman whether he thinks it is any more evidence of immorality in Madame Blavatsky than the same indulgence would be in Col. Ingersoll, or any other earnest able male worker who may be guilty of the same habit? The saluted Lincoln, it is well known indulged in stories in his social intercourse with men that would not bear repeating to ears polite. Is this taken by any one to be evidence of lack of moral character in him?

Let us be just - be fair. Madame Blavatsky, no doubt, has grave limitations; who of us have not? I feel like protesting against the practice of parading the private and personal lives of men or women in the columns of the public press. Let us discuss principles rather than people. It would be pertinent to inquire what are the tendencies of the teachings of Madame Blavatsky? I would like to have Mr. Coleman’s estimate of Madame Blavatsky’s letter to the Archbishop of Canterbury, published in a late number of Lucifer; I mail him a copy.

"By their fruits ye shall know them." I know of no more earnest elevated body of people, intent in searching after Spiritual truth than the members of the various Theosophical societies whom it has been my good fortune to meet, and these societies are the direct result of Madame Blavatsky’s efforts.

Helen Densmore.

[See Coleman's reply titled:  "Madame Blavatsky and Theosophy: A Reply to My Critics"  Part Two. - BA Editor.]