Published by The Blavatsky Archives Online.Online Edition copyright 1999.
The "Memory" of Mr. G.R.S. Mead
by H.N. Stokes
[Reprinted from The O.E. Library Critic (Washington, D.C.) June 1927, pp. 7-11]
[In this article Dr. Stokes critically comments on some of
Mr. Mead's remarks in Facts about 'The Secret Doctrine'.]
How far the memory of long past events, unsupported by records made at the time, can be depended upon, is not only an interesting but an exceedingly important and practical question. We all believe that that which we remember actually happened, and we resent the imputation that our memory may play us tricks, that we may confuse that which really occurred with that which we have imagined, suspected, desired, feared, that that which we have before our mind's eye as a matter of personal experience may be nothing of the sort, but rather, in whole or in part, a sort of dream which we have mistaken for reality. Yet nothing is more certain than that memory is fallible. We not only forget, but we remember things which never happened, and which can be definitely and positively proved never to have happened within our experience at the time. Certain it is, too, that memory does not improve by age. As time elapses, some details of an event or scene are forgotten, while other ideas attach themselves to our mental picture, so that it may occur that in time the resulting memory is almost entirely false, while perhaps retaining all the vividness of actuality. When several persons have been witnesses of the same occurrence, this process is going on independently in the minds of each, so that no matter how well they may have agreed at the time, they may come to have entirely different and conflicting recollections as time goes on. Persons who are under criminal charges usually find it to their interest to have their trial postponed as long as possible, partly for the reason that the memory of witnesses becomes rapidly impaired; they are more likely to contradict each other, to the befuddlement of the jury and the obvious advantage of the accused.
It is a grave question as to whether a recollection of an event said to have occurred thirty or forty years ago can be accepted as evidence, in the absence of confirmatory records made at the time, and if so, what is to be said of it when the testimony of the very same person, given and placed on record at the time, contradicts it?
In saying what follows, I distinctly wish to disclaim any intention of taking sides in the old-time controversy over the honor and honesty of William Q. Judge. Theosophy, the Ancient Wisdom, existed before Mr. Judge and would continue to exist without him. He has left a body of writings which must be judged by their own inherent value and by their agreement with what has been imparted to us from other sources which can be presumed to be authoritative. At the same time, he was for many years and up to her death, the trusted associate of H.P. Blavatsky, and there is no evidence on record that she did not trust him implicitly to the very last. For this reason, and from the natural desire to see fair play, one is prompted to inquire whether any charges brought against him today by a person of standing are sufficiently well-founded to be given serious consideration.
Mr. G.R.S. Mead is a gentleman of whose sincerity and desire to speak the truth I have not the least question. Further, as regards the Theosophical Movement, he has no axe to grind, having dissevered himself from it years ago in the effort to get away from the mass of moral putridity which developed in connection with the infamous Leadbeater scandal.
In The Occult Review for May (foreign edition, page 323) in connection with other matters, Mr. Mead makes the distinct statement that at the time of the Judge controversy in 1894, Mr. Judge made a full confession to him that he had forged letters from the Mahatmas, which is, in fact, the original charge against him. We must therefore inquire, simply from a sense of fairness, how far Mr. Mead's unsupported memory of something purporting to have occurred thirty-three years ago is to be accepted. Mr. Mead gives no evidence whatever other than his unconfirmed recollection; he refers to no notes, records, or witnesses of the interview which he claims to have taken place.
Very important is it, however, that Mr. Mead placed himself on record very shortly indeed after the Judge investigation in 1894, that this record still exists and flatly contradicts what he says today and assuming that he spoke honestly at the time, may very fairly be used in rebuttal of his present-day assertions.
In order to make the contradiction the more glaring, let us place side by side what Mr. Mead published in "A Letter to the European Section", dated February 1st, 1895 (issued as a private circular and also printed in Lucifer, February, 1895), with what he says in The Occult Review for May, 1927 (foreign edition, page 323). The italics are mind:
Mr. Mead; February 1st, 1895:
Mr. Judge also refused all private investigation. I and others, who had previously stood by Mr. Judge unfalteringly, and proved our whole-hearted confidence in a way that cannot easily be understood by those who were not present during the trying months that preceded the Committee, could get no straightforward reply to any question . . . . Mr. Judge could not be persuaded to face any investigation.
Mr. Mead, February 15th, 1927:
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 defense 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 "economize power", provided that the "messages" had first been physically received.
Clearly, if it is true that during the Judge controversy, Mr. Judge himself being present in London, "Mr. Judge refused all private investigation. I and others ... could get no straightforward reply to any question," it cannot be true that Mr. Mead had a painful interview with Mr. Judge, who admitted, and attempted to justify, the grave charges against him.
At the beginning of his letter to the European Section, which, mind you, was written after the whole incident was closed and Mr. Judge had returned to America, Mr. Mead assures us that he is now going to unburden himself and let us have his personal opinion frankly, which was at most merely a matter of surmise. Now, after thirty-three years, he assures us that what he then handed out as fact was no fact at all, in short, was what can hardly be regarded as anything but a deliberate falsehood. Today he charges Judge with complete frankness, while before he charged him with hedging and concealment. What are we to think of a witness who eats his own words in this fashion? Trusting to Mr. Mead's truthfulness in 1895 and to his good intentions in 1927, I can only conclude that in the time which has elapsed his memory has played him a shabby trick, that by dwelling on the charges made against Judge by Annie Besant he has actually woven them into his mental picture as a personal experience with Judge, and that the present charge is of absolutely no evidential value whatever.
Let us then, in the light of the above, consider the further evidence of Mr. Judge's moral turpitude which Mr. Mead presents. He says (pages 323-4):
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. . . . 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.
Is this statement to be regarded as a true memory or an illusory one? Even supposing such an interview to have taken place, what evidence has Mr. Mead that the woman was telling the truth about Judge, and that she was not merely fishing for business? Is not the very fact, if fact it was, that she approached Mead with a suggestion to join the Judge faction, backed by the statement that Judge was a fraud, a sufficient proof of her moral and mental irresponsibility? One wonders that Mr. Mead could have regarded it as anything other than a joke.
Mr. Mead further says (page 323):
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.
Whether this "old friend", who had been a confederate in a fraud, was conscience stricken or awed by Mr. Mead, does not appear, but Judge was a lawyer and as such presumably acquainted with the hazards of forgery, and it is exceedingly improbable that he was fool enough to have employed a confederate instead of doing the very simple tricks in privacy. Certainly, writing with a blue or red pencil over the face of a letter and affixing a seal are not acts which would call for an assistant and the risk of exposure. The story is entertaining but by no means convincing.
Mr. Mead's memory needs inspecting in other respects. In his interesting article in The Quest, April, 1926 (page 294) he says:
On February 17, 1907, the President-Founder, Colonel H.S. Olcott, died. In considering previously this sometime necessary future event, those of us who were chiefly interested in the fortunes of the Society, had always agreed that in no case could the private leadership of the Esoteric Section, which was founded entirely on a purely dogmatic basis, and the public Presidential office of a Society with a professedly entirely open and undogmatic platform be combined in the same person. This ruled out Mrs. Besant from the future presidency. The difficulty was to find a fit candidate to succeed Olcott. The post was offered to myself; but I refused . . . . Mrs. Besant, whose memory was always conveniently short when there was any opportunity of extending her position and exalting herself, allowed herself to be nominated by some vociferous followers. By the teamwork of the E.S. under her orders throughout the Theosophical world she was duly elected. I opposed her election publicly.
This entirely misrepresents the facts. The fact is that Col. Olcott, on his deathbed, and acting upon what purported to be direct orders from the Mahatmas who appeared to him personally, "appointed" Annie Besant as his successor in the presidency. His letter making this announcement and dated Adyar, January 7th, 1907, was widely circulated and was known to Mr. Mead. It will be found in The Theosophic Messenger, April, 1907, page 99. It appears that the President-Founder had been accorded the rather empty privilege of nominating his successor subject to ratification by a vote of the members. After some quibbling as to whether this "appointment by psychic orders" was a regular nomination an election was held and Mrs. Besant received the requisite number of votes. That she was "nominated by some vociferous followers" does not appear, however vociferous these may have been in supporting her nomination by Col. Olcott. Who offered the post to Mr. Mead remains a mystery. He was clearly in great demand, for he himself tells us (letter to the T.S., March 1, 1907, in The Theosophic Messenger, April, 1907, page 109) that the Mahatmas even appointed him as Vice-President!
Mr. Mead's recent statements about his relationship to H.P.B. and his editorial functions are equally open to question. In The Quest, April 1926, page 290, he tells us:
In 1889 I gave up my profession of teaching, and went to work with Yelena Petrovna Blavatskaia (generally known as Mme. Blavatsky). For the last three years of her life I was her private secretary, and in closest intimacy with her. I was sub-editor of her monthly magazine.
And in the Occult Review article above quoted (page 320) he says speaking of The Secret Doctrine:
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.
Now H.P.B. died May 8th, 1891. If the above date --- 1889 --- is correct, he could not have been her private secretary "for the last three years of her life." Further, The Secret Doctrine was put through the press in 1888, which is included in these "last three years," and was by far the most important work she did, yet Mr. Mead had nothing whatever to do with its publication. As for The Voice of the Silence, first published in 1889, and the Key to Theosophy, also first published in 1889, the originals of these are highly characteristic of H.P.B. If Mr. Mead had "Englished, corrected or edited" the original manuscript of The Voice of the Silence, why was it necessary to make a further complete revision after her death, as was done in the current London edition, the changes in which are characteristic of Mr. Mead? (See Critic, January 3, 17, 1923). And if he had such complete liberty with The Key to Theosophy, why was it necessary, after her death, to make changes averaging one to every three lines? (See Critic, August 1, 1923). Let one place the originals and the revisions side by side and it will be obvious that if Mr. Mead really did any work on the originals at all, he did not have the sweeping authority he claims and did not dare to make the changes he made later when she was dead and could not check his proclivities.
Now that Mr. Mead seems to be in the mood of talking for posterity, perhaps he will tell us whether, in view of what he says of Mr. Judge today, he was really telling the truth in 1895 when he stated that he could get no straightforward reply to any question, and also why, if he was really the all-important person in H.P.B.'s office that he now professes to have been, he did not make those revisions at the time, instead of waiting till she was out of the way. The two articles referred to, interesting as they are, are quite as much an expose of Mr. Mead as an exposition of certain phases of theosophical history; in fact, I think they are decidedly more so. Here we have the real Mr. Mead, while we do not have real theosophical history. And for this revelation he is to be thanked.
[See also Dr. Stoke's follow-up article titled Mr. Mead's "Facts about 'The Secret Doctrine'."]