Published by The Blavatsky Archives Online. Online Edition copyright 1999.
Facts about "The Secret Doctrine"
By G.R.S. Mead, M.A.
[Reprinted from The Occult Review (London), May 1927, pp. 319-324.]
It is with much reluctance that I intervene in the controversy in your pages over the revision of the first edition of Mme. H.P. Blavatsky's Secret Doctrine. For eighteen years I have kept silence on Neo-theosophical matters (as I call them in distinction from the general Theosophy of the past) of which I had previously intimate experience for twenty-five years, from 1884 to 1909. I now break that silence, but neither with the hope that I can convince those who think they are doing honour to my old friend Helena Petrovna's literary memory by defending every word she wrote, nor with the slightest expectation that mis-statements and false accusations, to which wide currency has once been given, can ever be overtaken by denial in a single publication, indeed in a dozen periodicals. I do so, because there are no few outside the modern Theosophical movement who do your humble servant the honour of regarding him as truthful and endowed with at least the elementary qualities of an ordinary gentleman. As they have no first-hand knowledge of their own with which to check the contradictory statements on the subject which have appeared in your last issue, those of my friends or well-wishers who have read them may, quite excusably, think there is possibly some obscure germ of justification for the charges brought against my literary honour, and may ask themselves why Mead does not reply. I therefore herewith put on record, for the benefit of the future historian who may perchance deal with this miserable business, my formal and unqualified denial.
On H.P.B.'s decease there remained over no manuscript or typescript S.D. material other than is now found in Vol. III. These pieces, or chapters, were omitted from the two volumes of the first edition, either because they were thought, by Mme. Blavatsky herself, not good enough or not sufficiently appropriate to be included.
The repeated statement made by H.P.B. in the first edition, that material for an additional volume, or two volumes, was already largely in existence and in process of completion, is not in accordance with fact. Doubtless, had Helena Petrovna had the time and health, and had she lived longer, she could have "delivered the goods," and written herself, or had dictated or written through her, a series of additional volumes. But in sober reality, her repeated categorical statement on the matter is, to say the least of it, a "terminological inexactitude" which, in a generous spirit, may be ascribed to her "Russian," enthusiastic, imaginative, and psychical temperament. That my old friend Dr. Archibald Keightley, who typed out the MS. of Vols. I and II so assiduously, respects this statement is no proof of independent testimony. He simply trusted to H.P.B.'s assertions in those volumes. He certainly never saw any more material than what was found on H.P.B.'s decease and is now printed in Vol. III. There are numerous similar enthusiastic mis-statements, or confusions of psychic probability with physical fact, to be found elsewhere in Mme Blavatsky's voluminous literary output.
I come now to the editing of the revised edition. My competence, such as it was, and authority for this task depended from the fact that for the last three years of her life, I had Englished, corrected or edited everything H.P.B. wrote for publication, including the MS. of The Voice of the Silence, and that, too, with her entire assent and approval. She was quite humble in this respect in regard to the form of the better things she wrote, or had written through her. What I could frequently not persuade her to change, were the acerbities of controversy in which she rejoiced, and the over-emphasis and flamboyance, to put it mildly, of the phrasing of these polemics, which she regarded as her very own, and of which she was inordinately proud. In such cases of difference of opinion, I was always overwhelmed with a torrent of picturesque, not to say abusive, eloquence. The atmosphere was electrically charged and very bracing for anyone who could stand it; but in no way could the irascible and witty 'old lady' be deemed in such outbursts a model of self-control, least of all a teacher of wisdom.
I am responsible for by far the major part of this revision of the original edition of The Secret Doctrine, and have no excuse to make except that I did not execute the task more thoroughly. I am therefore glad that your correspondent the Hon. Mrs. Davey has had printed in parallel columns the series of mis-statements as to the additional material in hand, made in the original text, which I corrected, by omission, in the revised edition. It provides the reader with an instructive instance of one class of errors of fact which perforce had to be corrected by any honest editor. Another class of errors, which I hope the industrious gentleman engaged in comparing verbally the two editions in question has duly noted and profited by, is that of the numerous misquotations. These I made literally exact. They were, unfortunately, not all due to errors in typewriting from the original MS. Some of them had been "pulled" to favour the relevant argument or contention. Again, sometimes for greater clarity I removed a sentence or paragraph from the text to the notes, or vice versa. The English had, of course, frequently to be revised; and the spelling of words and technical terms, mostly Oriental in general and Sanskrit in particular, had as frequently to be corrected. Speaking generally, whatever "howlers" I was able to detect, I amended. I did not, however, alter the views and arguments of the authoress. Had I the job to-day, when my equipment is more extensive and judgment riper, of re-editing this first revision, and had I the liberty of blue-pencilling out what is plainly untenable, the bulk of the matter would be very considerably reduced. And this proceeding would be in keeping with such competent judgments, within the Neo-theosophic frame of reference, as of, for instance, the now long deceased T. Subba Row, the most learned member the T.S. ever had, who refused to collaborate with H.P.B. in this her magnum opus, which was first planned as simply a revision, or rewriting, of Isis Unveiled, and the view of another learned Brahmin, recently Vice-Chancellor of Lucknow University, who agreed with me that the work would be greatly improved by being cut down by half. In any case, why should I have regarded the major part of the material as in any way sacrosanct? Did I not know that chiefly my three friends and colleagues --- the now long deceased scientist and polymath, Dr. C. Carter Blake, whose professional work was largely the writing of encyclopedia articles, the present brilliant philosophical writer, E.D. Fawcett, and the well-equipped Bertram Keightley --- had "devilled" assiduously for H.P.B. at the British Museum and otherwise? Between them they supplied piles of material, and many a paragraph, which she "revised" for her special purposes.
If, again, "the Master K.H." whatever meaning we may attach to that phrase (whether that of a living person or of a psychic complex) transmitted the words: "every mistake or erroneous notion corrected or explained by her (H.P.B.) from the works of other Theosophists was corrected by me or under my instruction" --- this sentence was directed to the address principally of T. Subba Row and A.P. Sinnett, and does not, except for the very credulous, avouch, or assume responsibility for, all the innumerable other points of controversy with non-Theosophy in which H.P.B. delighted. To-day, moreover, we know that all such psychic "communications" must needs be transmitted through the make-up of the medium, both cis- and transliminal, and that they are more or less always, even in the most favourable instances, coloured by his or her personality. H.P.B., it must be remembered, had been, or was, in lively, not to say embittered controversy, on some points of Neo-theosophical dogma, with both the above-named gentlemen.
Next, I come to Vol. III. With this I refused to have anything to do whatever. I judged the disjecta or rejecta membra from the manuscript or typescript of Vols. I and II not up to standard, and that it would in no way improve the work. They could, I thought, be printed preferably as fugitive articles in Lucifer, but could not possibly be made into a consistent whole. Mrs. Besant, who put a far higher valuation on everything H.P.B. had written than I did, persisted in her view, and by herself edited the matter for publication. But even when every scrap that remained was utilised, it made a very thin volume. I therefore persuaded her to add the so-called Instructions of what was known as the "Esoteric Section" or "Eastern School," which had hitherto been secret documents. My argument was that the "occult teachings," as they were deemed by the faithful, were now in the hands of hundreds, scattered over the world, some of whom were by no means trustworthy, and that it was highly probable that we should any day find them printed publicly by some unscrupulous individual or privately circulated illegitimately. Fortunately, Mrs. Besant agreed, and they were included in Vol. III, save certain matter dealing with sex questions. A load of anxiety was lifted off my mind. I thought that the making of these "Instructions" accessible to the general public might possibly put an end to this unhealthy inner secret school. But this hope, alas, was not to be fulfilled.
Speaking generally, I should say that H.P.B. herself, at any rate, would now be the first to thank me for the pains I took in revising the non-essentials of her Secret Doctrine.
Finally, I come to the amende honorable, and to the self-contradictions of my old friend and colleague James M. Pryse, a lawyer by profession, and a most capable printer to boot, who with me ran the "H.P.B. press" for a number of laborious and stormy years. The explanation for his change of view about my work of revision is quite simple. "Jim's" first statement dates back to the sad years subsequent to the notorious "Judge case," when he "followed" William Q. Judge, the leader of the T.S. movement in America, implicitly believed in him, and was one of my many at that time bitter opponents in the endeavour to keep the movement sane and clean. J.M.P. wrote that criticism under the influence of Judge's erroneous belief, which is the fons et origo of the whole of this fantastic mare's nest. W.Q.J. held strongly, at the time I was revising the printed text of Vols. I and II, that the S.D. throughout, in all its parts and all its diction, was transcendently "occult," inspired verbally by the "Mahatmas," as he himself told me when he first saw the printed revised text. I thought he was utterly mistaken, and so I told him. We were very fond of one another, and intimate friends; and (though this will give a shock to those who have made a cult of his memory) I still have a feeling of strong affection for him, in spite of my judgment, based on private knowledge, that his conducting the matters which led to the "case" was utterly wrong and reprehensible. It is, however, quite common for us to love sincerely those of whose conduct we are forced to disapprove. Judge was not a man whose opinion on literary subjects I could anyhow dream of taking, while his views on "occultism" as revealed to me personally in the matter of the "case" I had incontinently and decisively to reject. I would believe no word against him till he came over to London to meet the very grave charges brought against him and I could question him face to face. This I did in a two hours' painful interview. His private defence to me was, that his forging of the numerous "Mahatmic" messages on letters written by himself, after H.P.B.'s decease, to devoted and prominent members of the Society, in the familiar red and blue chalk scripts, with the occasional impression of the "M" seal, which contained the flaw in the copy of it which Olcott had had made in Lahore, was permissible, in order to "economise power," provided that the "messages" had first been psychically received. He also more than hinted that it was entirely in keeping with precedent, and that this was his authority for what he had done. Shortly after Judge's decease, one of his two chief mediums came to London to see me privately. In a four hours' interview she went with painful minuteness into every detail of how it had all been done, and wound up with an utterly amoral proposition purporting to come from the "Mahatmas," which was a very tempting offer had I been a charlatan. I very impolitely told the lady to inform her "Masters" that they might go to h--l. Subsequently, another old friend who had been in Lansdowne road and Avenue road with us, and had gone to the U.S.A. to work under Judge, and who had helped him in the forging of these messages, came to London and owned up to me. With such "occult" practices I naturally would have nothing to do in any shape or form; it was all utterly repugnant to my character. And so I had to join issue with Judge and his devotees for all I was worth. The upshot was a complete schism in the Theosophical movement; and the most painful side of it all was the personal loss to myself of many a friend whom I loved.
It remains only to add that Mrs. Alice Leighton Cleather, who is so prominent in the "Back to Blavatsky" retrograde movement, and believes in the verbal inspiration of the first edition of the S.D. with all its palpable errors, "followed" Judge and subsequently Mrs. Katherine A. Tingley. The Hon. Mrs. Davey, your correspondent, is a fervent admirer of Mrs. Cleather and believes, doubtless quite honestly, but ignorantly, all her assertions and accusations. Hinc illae lacrimae. I hardly dare hope, however, that these ladies will change their minds by my plain recital of the historical facts. It is always easier for fanaticism in "Theosophical" matters to regard an honest opponent as an unscrupulous "enemy" than to give up long-cherished convictions --- no matter how flimsily founded.
Finally, it may interest readers to know the exact terms of the proposal made me by the "Mahatmas" of Judge's medium who came to see me at Avenue road. They were these: That if I would join up with the Judge section and go to the U.S.A., they would give it their blessing and support; that if I refused, they would turn the whole Theosophical Society adrift, and throw all their influence into the Rosicrucian movement.
Note. --- The above was written on February 15, when I had not yet been shown a copy of the February issue of The Canadian Theosophist, in which Mr. James M. Pryse, fully and most handsomely, confirms my interpretation of his contradictory utterances, and explains his change of view. I rejoice, on this date of March 22, to clasp his hand once more across the long years of our temporary estrangement and the ocean and continent between our present local habitations. --- G.R.S.M.
[For valuable commentary on some of Mr. Mead's statements, see Dr. H.N. Stoke's two articles titled "The 'Memory' of Mr. G.R.S. Mead" and "Mr. Mead's 'Facts About 'The Secret Doctrine'."'
For an overview of the history of the writing of Volume III of The Secret Doctrine, see The Myth of the "Missing" Third Volume of The Secret Doctrine by Daniel H. Caldwell. --- BAO editor.]