Published by Blavatsky Study Center. Online Edition copyright 2004.
The Myth of the "Missing" Third Volume of The Secret Doctrine
In 1897, Annie Besant published what she called the third volume of The Secret Doctrine, which had been announced by H. P. Blavatsky but left unpublished during the author's life. Received opinion at the present time is that what Besant published was not Blavatsky's third volume, but instead something assembled out of various documents left by HPB.
Some examples of the received opinion are as follows:A spurious 'Third Volume'. . .[was] issued in 1897, six years after the death of H. P. Blavatsky. Compiled from miscellaneous papers found among her effects, this volume forms no part of the original SECRET DOCTRINE written by H.P.B. [Publishers' preface (1947) to the facsimile reprint of the 1888 edition of The Secret Doctrine by The Theosophy Company, Los Angeles, California.]
Volume III of The Secret Doctrine. . .was published in London in 1897 with a preface written by Annie Besant. It should be understood, however, that this volume is not the third volume contemplated by H.P.B. [Geoffrey A. Barborka, H. P. Blavatsky, Tibet and Tulku, 159]
The real Volume III...vanished without a trace. [Boris de Zirkoff in H.P.B.'s Collected Writings, 7: 226 fn]
The prospective Volume III...never saw the light. [de Zirkoff in SD 1: 679 (Collected Writings edition)
It is possible that H.P.B. had in mind an additional [third] volume of The Secret Doctrine which was never actually found among her papers. [de Zirkoff in CW 14: 1]
In volume 1, Blavatsky had promised a third volume and projected a fourth. That promise was repeated at the end of volume 2.... There was some material left over from volume I as she had originally conceived it. . .but relatively little seems to have been actually written down....When Annie Besant tried to find the unpublished material, she was able to locate very little that seemed to belong to what HPB had intended for the continuation of the book. The little which Besant found, she combined with some instructions Blavatsky had written for members of the Esoteric Section...and that material, admittedly a hodgepodge, was published...as the "third volume" of HPB's work. The 'third volume' undoubtedly contains some material--that on the lives of famous occultists--which had been rejected from the first volume of the original work. But it also contained a good deal of material which certainly was never intended to be a part of The Secret Doctrine." [John Algeo, Getting Acquainted with The Secret Doctrine: A Study Course, l990 ed., 23-4]
H. N. Stokes, editor of The 0. E. Library Critic (Washington, D.C.), held the view that the real Volume III manuscripts vanished and were never published. He wrote about seventeen articles analyzing the evidence concerning the Volume III manuscripts.
To the list of those holding similar views, we can add many other distinguished names: Alice Cleather, Basil Crump, Charles J. Ryan, Victor Endersby, Walter A. Carrithers, Jr., Kirby Van Mater, Ted G. Davy, Richard Robb, Dara Eklund, and several more.
This received view was also my initial opinion. But after a great deal of study of the Wurzburg MSS of The Secret Doctrine and all the other relevant primary source documents (1886-1897) on the subject, I am no longer certain that the Theosophical writers mentioned above are correct in their views concerning Volume III.
In fact, I am inclined to believe that pages 1-430 of Volume III of The Secret Doctrine published in 1897 was the real third volume intended by HPB. (Pages 433-594 of that published volume consist of H. P. Blavatsky's esoteric teachings given to members of her Esoteric Section or School during the years 1889-1891 and are not at issue.) The evidence and reasoning to support this position follow.
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