Published by Blavatsky Study Center. Online Edition copyright 2004.

[Count Witte on Madame Blavatsky]

[Excerpted from The Memoirs of Count Witte.  Translated from the
original Russian manuscript and edited by Abraham Yarmolinsky.
Garden City, N.Y.:  Doubleday, Page & Company, 1921, pp. 4-10.

Several members of my mother's family were prominent in one way or another.  One of my aunts, who married a Colonel Hahn, achieved some fame as a writer. Her older daughter was the celebrated theosophist known under the name of Madame Blavatski. The personality and career of my cousin Yelena Petrovna Blavatski deserves to be treated at some length.

As I was many years her junior, I could not have any recollections of Yelena in her youth. From the stories in our family I gather that when Mrs. Hahn, her mother, died, she and her sister came to live with my grandfather at Tiflis. At an early age, such is the family tradition, Yelena married a certain Blavatski, Vice-Governor of the province of Erivan, and settled in the city of the same name, but soon abandoned her husband and came back to her grandfather. When she appeared in his spacious mansion he immediately decided to send away the troublesome young person at the earliest possible moment to her father, who was an artillery colonel stationed in the vicinity of St. Petersburg. As there were at that time no railways within the territory of the Caucasus, the problem was not without its difficulties. It was solved in this wise. Two women and as many men, including grandfather's trusty steward, were selected from the large staff of domestic serfs, and under this convoy the future theosophic celebrity proceeded in the direction of Poti, enthroned in a capacious four-in-hand. From Poti it was planned to ship the fugitive by sea to some port connected by rail with the interior of Russia. When the company arrived in Poti, several steamers, including an English craft, lay in the harbour. Young Mme. Blavatski, so the story runs, immediately struck up an acquaintance with the captain of an English vessel. To make a long story short, one fine morning the convoy discovered to their horror that their mistress and charge had vanished into the air. Stowed away in an English ship, she was on her way to Constantinople.

The subsequent developments of her amazing career appear as follows:   At Constantinople she entered a circus as an equestrienne, and it was there that Mitrovich, one of the most celebrated opera bassos of the time, fell in love with her. She gave up the circus and accompanied the singer to one of the European capitals where he was engaged to sing. Shortly afterwards, grandfather was the recipient of letters from the singer Mitrovich, who asserted that he had been married to Yelena and styled himself "grandson." The famous basso apparently was not disconcerted by the fact that she had not been properly divorced from her legal husband, the Vice-Governor of Erivan. Several years later a new "grandson" accrued to my grandparents. A certain Englishman from London informed them in a letter bearing an American stamp that he had married Madame Blavatski, who had gone with him on a business trip to the United States. Next she reappears in Europe and becomes the right hand of the celebrated medium of the sixties, Hume. Then her family caught two more glimpses of her dazzling career. They learned from the papers that she gave pianoforte concerts in London and Paris and afterwards became the manager of the royal choir, maintained by King Milan of Serbia.

In the meantime some ten years had passed. Grown tired, perhaps, of her adventures, the strayed sheep decided to return to the fold. She succeeded, at the end of that period, in getting grandfather's permission to return to Tiflis. She promised to mend her ways and even go back to her legitimate husband. It was during that visit of hers that I saw her first. At that time she was but a ruin of her former self. Her face, apparently once of great beauty, bore all the traces of a tempestuous and passionate life, and her form was marred by an early obesity. Beside, she paid but scant attention to her appearance and preferred loose morning dresses to more elaborate apparel. But her eyes were extraordinary. She had enormous azure coloured eyes, and when she spoke with animation, they sparkled in a fashion which is altogether indescribable. Never in my life have I seen anything like that pair of eyes.

It was this apparently unattractive woman that turned the heads of a great many society people at Tiflis. She did it by means of spiritualistic seances, which she conducted in our house. Every evening, I remember, the Tiflis society folks would foregather in our house around Yelena Petrovna. Among the guests were Count Vorontzov-Dashkov, the two Counts Orlov-Davydov, and other representatives of the jeunesse doree, which at that time was flocking to the Caucasus from the two capitals in quest of pleasure and adventure. The seance would last the whole evening and oftentimes the whole night. My cousin did not confine the demonstrations of her powers to table rapping, evocation of spirits, and similar mediumistic hocus-pocus. On one occasion she caused a closed piano in an adjacent room to emit sounds as if invisible hands were playing upon it. This was done in my presence, at the instance of one of the guests. Although a young boy, my attitude towards these performances was decidedly critical, and I looked on them as mere sleight-of-hand tricks. I should like to add that these seances were kept secret from my grandparents and that my father, too, entertained a negative attitude towards the whole business. It was Hume, I believe, to whom Madame Blavatski owed her occult knowledge.

Mme. Blavatski made her peace with her husband and went as far as establishing a home at Tiflis, but it was not given her to walk the path of righteousness for any length. One fine morning she was accosted in the street by Mitrovich. The famous basso was now declining, artistically and otherwise. After a brilliant career in Europe, he was forced to accept an engagement at the Italian Opera of Tiflis. The singer apparently had no doubts as to his rights to my cousin, and did not hesitate to assert his claims. As a result of the scandal, Mme. Blavatski vanished from Tiflis and the basso with her. The couple went to Kiev, where under the guidance of his "wife" Mitrovich, who by this time was approaching sixty, learned how to sing in Russian and appeared with success in such Russian operas as "Life for the Czar," "Rusalka," etc. The office of Governor-General of Kiev was held at that time by Prince Dundukov-Korsakov. The Prince, who at one time served in the Caucasus, had known Yelena Petrovna in her maiden days. I am not in the position to say what was the nature of their relationship, but one fine morning the Kievans discovered a leaflet pasted on the doors and telegraph posts which contained a number of poems very disagreeable for the Governor-General. The author of this poetic outburst was no other person than Mme. Blavatski herself, and as the fact was patent,  the couple had to clear out.

She was heard of next from Odessa, where she emerged in the company of her faithful basso. At that time our entire family was settled in that city (my grandparents and father had died at Tiflis), and my brother and I attended the university there. The extraordinary couple must have found themselves in great straits. It was then that my versatile cousin opened in succession an ink factory and retail shop and a store of artificial flowers. In those days she often came to see my mother, and I visited her store several times, so that I had the opportunity of getting better acquainted with her. I was especially impressed by the extraordinary facility with which she acquired skill and knowledge of the most varied description. Her abilities in this respect verged on the uncanny.  A self-taught musician, she was able to give pianoforte concerts in London and Paris, and although entirely ignorant of the theory of music, she conducted a large orchestra.  Consider also that although she never seriously studied any foreign languages, she spoke several of them with perfect ease. I was also struck by her mastery of the technique of verse. She could write pages of smoothly flowing verse without the slightest effort, and she could compose essays in prose on every conceivable subject. Besides she possessed the gift of hypnotizing both her hearer and herself into believing the wildest inventions of her fantasy. She had, no doubt, a literary talent. The Moscow editor, Katkov, famous in the annals of Russian journalism, spoke to me in the highest terms of praise about her literary gifts, as evidenced in the tales entitled "From the Jungles of Hindustan," which she contributed to his magazine, The Russian Messenger (Russki Vyestnik).

Mme. Blavatski's ventures in the field of commerce proved, of course, dismal failures. It was then that Mitrovich accepted an engagement to sing at the Italian Opera at Cairo and the couple set out for Egypt. By that time they presented a rather sorry sight, he a toothless lion, perennially at the feet of his mistress, an aged lady, stout and slovenly. Off the African coast their ship was wrecked and all the passengers found themselves in the waves. Mitrovich saved his mistress, but was drowned himself. Mme. Blavatski entered Cairo in a wet skirt and without a penny to her name. How she extricated herself from that situation, I do not know, but she was next discovered in England, where she founded a Theosophic Society. To strengthen the foundations of the new cult, she travelled to India, where she studied the occult science of the Hindus. Upon her return from India she became the centre of a large group of devotees of the theosophic doctrine and settled in Paris as the acknowledged head of the theosophists. Shortly afterwards she fell ill and died. The teachings of theosophy, however, are still thriving.

Let him who still doubts the non-material origin and the independent existence of the soul in man consider the personality of Mme. Blavatski.  During her earthly existence, she housed a spirit which was, no doubt, independent of physical or physiological being.  As to the particular realm of the invisible world from which that spirit emerged, there may be some doubt whether it was Inferno, Purgatory or Paradise.  I cannot help feeling that there was something demoniac in that extraordinary woman.