By Eleanor Mildred Sidgwick.
[Reprinted from the Journal of the Society for Psychical Research
(London), June 1886, pp. 282-287.]
[Most of this article is not reprinted. We reproduce only the
portion of Mrs. Sidgwick's article dealing with her analysis of Mr. William Eglinton's
involvement with Madame Blavatsky and the Theosophists.---BA Editor.]
This online edition is reprinted with permission
of the Society for Psychical Research,
Before laying before the readers of the Journal a collection of evidence
received from members of the Society about slate-writing experiences with Mr. Eglinton, it
seems desirable to recall two incidents in his career which show that we must not assume
any disinclination on his part to pass off conjuring performances as occult phenomena.
. . . . The [second] . . . incident
which I shall mention is the alleged occult conveyance of a letter from Mr. Eglinton on board the Vega
to Mrs. Gordon at Howrah --- an incident which appears to me to involve Mr. Eglinton
inextricably in the manufacture of spurious Theosophical phenomenon. Details will be
found in Hints on Esoteric Theosophy, No. 1, second edition, pp. 108-125, and in Proceedings
of the Society for Psychical Research, Vol. III., pp. 254-256. One additional
piece of evidence furnished to me by Mr. Hodgson I give below. As I have no space to give the full
details of the case here, I shall confine myself to a brief statement of what appear to me
the important points.
Mr. Eglinton, who had been staying with Colonel and Mrs. Gordon, at Howrah, went on
board the Vega in the Hooghly on his way to England, on March 14th, 1882. The
next morning a telegram came for him (from Madame Blavatsky, I presume from the context),
which Mrs. Gordon opened, saying that one of the Mahatmas wished him, while Colonel Olcott
was at Howrah, to send letters in his handwriting from on board ship, and that he would be
helped. Mrs. Gordon advised him, --- should he consent, to get some fellow-passenger
to endorse the letter before sending it off to her. He wrote from Fishermans
Point on the 15th, saying, Personally I am very doubtful whether these letters can
be managed, but I will do what I can in the matter. The Vega left
Ceylon on the 22nd, and on the 23rd a telegram from Madame Blavatsky asked the party at
Howrah to fix a time for a sitting. They named 9 p.m., Madras time on the 24th, and
at that hour Colonel and Mrs. Gordon and Colonel Olcott sat in Mr. Eglintons late
bedroom. After a few minutes a packet fell among them, consisting of a letter in Mr.
Eglintons handwriting, dated March 24th, a message from Madame Blavatsky, dated at
Bombay, the 24th, and written on the backs of three of her visiting cards; also a large
card such as Mr. Eglinton had a packet of and used at his seances. The writing on
this latter card purported to be by two of the Mahatmas. All these cards and the
letter were threaded together with a piece of blue sewing silk. The flap of the
envelope was marked with three Latin crosses in pencil. The letter expressed Mr.
Eglintons conversion to a complete belief in the Brothers,
an opinion which would henceforth be firm and unalterable. He also said
that he should read the letter to Mrs. B[oughton] and ask her to mark the
envelope, and made other remarks; but there seems to have been nothing in the letter
which could not perfectly well have been written before he left India. In return for
Mr. Eglintons expressions of confidence in him Koot Hoomi wrote on the
card about Mr. Eglintons wonderful mediumship and general excellence of character.
In the meanwhile, at Bombay, about 8 p.m. (Bombay time), a party of Theosophists were
sitting with Madame Blavatsky, when a letter was seen to fall. It contained a closed
envelope addressed to Mrs. Gordon, on the reverse side of which were three crosses in
pencil. This letter Madame Blavatsky strung with three of her visiting cards on a
thread of blue silk, and placed it on a certain bookcase, no other member of the party
having marked it in any way. The whole party then left the room, and when they
returned some minutes later the packet had disappeared --- evaporated, as they
expressed it. But as the bookcase stood immediately in front of a venetianed door
communicating with the room of Madame Blavatskys servant, Babula, who was accustomed
to help her in the production of marvels, and as the venetian spaces of this door are wide
enough to allow a hand and part of the arm to pass through, it seems more probable that
Babula removed the packet than that it disappeared in any more mysterious manner.
On the Vega a letter was duly shown to Mrs. B[oughton], who was asked to mark
it, but there was a little difficulty about the mark. The letter which appeared at
Calcutta was marked by three crosses in a horizontal line. Mr. Eglinton marked the
one which he showed to Mrs. B[oughton] with one cross; she crossed that cross obliquely,
twice, making an asterisk of it. But --- to quote Mrs. Gordons words: ---
"With the similar incapacity to understand the important element of test
conditions which distinguishes nearly all mediums and persons long familiarised with
occult phenomena, Mr. Eglinton unfortunately opened the envelope which had been first
marked, he having enclosed another letter and made it too heavy. He then used a new
envelope, and being unable to find at the moment the lady who marked the former envelope,
he, in the presence of three witnesses, made the crosses, differing, as you say, from
those made before. But tiresome as this mistake on his part is, it leaves the
substantial elements of the wonderful feat accomplished altogether untouched. The
letter was read, before being sent, to several of the passengers on board the Vega,
and that would alone establish its identity except on the hypothesis of fraudulent
collusion between Mr. Eglinton and the founders of the Theosophical Society in
We see, therefore, that there is absolutely nothing to identify the letters seen on the
Vega, at Bombay, and at Calcutta, and that both the change of mark on the Vega and
the occurrences at Bombay are exceedingly suggestive of pre-arrangement and fictitious
But this is not all. A Mr. J. E. OConor, a Theosophist, on
board the Vega, hearing of Mr. Eglintons intention of sending by occult means
a letter to Madame Blavatsky, asked to have one of his own sent too. Mr. Eglinton
agreed to put this letter with his, and let it take its chance, and afterwards told Mr.
OConor that it had gone. Nothing was heard of this letter in India at the time
of the fall of Mr. Eglintons. Neither did Mr. OConor hear anything of
it. Later, however, Madame Blavatsky stated that it had arrived soon after the
other, and it was said that she had made no public mention of it because it was a private
letter. I have seen the letter, and cannot but regard this excuse for not mentioning
it as frivolous, since the letter, though doubtless technically a private one (as Mr.
Eglintons was), contained nothing that might not be published anywhere, and was
pretty obviously written with the sole object of obtaining a test phenomenon. The
following is Mr. Hodgsons account of the result of his inquiries into the matter:
[Mr. Hodgsons Account of the O'Conor Letter]
So far as I have been able to ascertain, the fact that Mr. OConor had written
under the circumstances described was first made known publicly in India by Mr.
OConor himself. Mr. A. O. Hume, in the letter quoted on p. 125 of Hints on
Esoteric Theosophy No. 1 (Second Edition) writes: Mrs. Gordon was
apparently not aware, as I am, that Mr. -------s letter duly reached Madame
Blavatsky on the same day as Mr. Eglintons letter. And in a footnote Mr.
Hume adds that the letter in question was in his possession, together with a letter
of Madame Blavatskys of the 28th of March, enclosing it and explaining why she
wished the matter kept secret. Now, if Mr. Hume had received Mr.
OConors letter in the ordinary course of the post leaving Bombay on the 28th
or 29th of March, it would, I conceive, be difficult to dispute that some
occult power had been displayed. But I find on inquiry from Mr. Hume,
that he saw neither Mr. OConors letter nor Madame Blavatskys till June
6th. It seems that after the appearance of the article in the Englishman
on May 27th (vide Hints &c., p. 118) and the letter by Mrs. Gordon in the Englishman
on June 5th (vide Hints, &c., p. 122), Colonel Olcott wrote to Mr. Hume,
enclosing (a) a letter purporting to have been written by Madame Blavatsky to him
on March 28th or 29th (the second figure of the date being doubtful), (b) an
envelope addressed to Colonel Olcott, post-marked Bombay, March 29th, registered, and (c)
Mr. OConors letter, torn into three pieces, contained in an envelope docketed
thus: Letter from OConor, of Simla, to H. P. B., received by her by Astral
post, March 24th, 1882, and enclosed to me in her letter of 29th March, 1882. --- H. S.
O. In the letter accompanying these documents Colonel Olcott requested Mr.
Hume to write to the Englishman and explain the matter; and hence Mr. Humes
letter of June 7th, which appeared in the Englishman of June 13th. The
postmarked envelope described above seems to be the sole piece of evidence worth calling
such that Madame Blavatsky sent a letter to Colonel Olcott on March 29th, while the
evidence that this envelope contained either Mr. OConors letter or Madame
Blavatskys letter in which she referred to the receipt of Mr. OConors,
rests solely on Colonel Olcotts memory, in which, as we have already seen, but
little trust can be placed. Madame Blavatsky says in her letter, writing of Mr.
OConor: He is on board, it seems, and wrote by the same
opportunity, he says. I know where it would lead to were I to take any notice
of his letter. New tests, new scandals, and new botherations. I
tore it up, but upon second thought had Babula find the pieces, and after reading them to
Damodar, who was alone with me when it came, I now send them to you. It may be
worth mentioning that the phrase, same opportunity, does not occur in Mr.
OConors letter, though he says in the middle of his letter, I am taking
advantage of the opportunity to write myself.
I now proceed to give accounts of slate-writing seances [with William Eglinton]. . . .
ELEANOR MILDRED SIDGWICK.
[See also Mrs. Sidgwick's article titled The Charges Against Mr.