Published by Blavatsky Study Center. Online Edition copyright 2004.

[Reply to Mr. Sinnett's Letter].

by Henry Sidgwick

[Reprinted from Journal of the Society for Psychical Research 
(London), July, 1885, pp. 462-64.]

This online edition is reprinted with permission
of the Society for Psychical Research, London.

Mr. Sinnett’s letter gives me an opportunity of clearing up some misapprehensions, under which he seems still to labour, both as to the action of the [S.P.R.] Committee and as to the grounds on which it has been based.

I must begin by saying that I do not quite understand his argument as to the money paid by the editor of the Christian College Magazine for the Blavatsky-Coulomb letters.  Had he maintained that a large sum had been given for them, I should have supposed that he was attacking the editor on the ground of the somewhat difficult ethical question as to how far it is justifiable to bribe impostors to betray their accomplice.  But since it is not denied that the payment was on the ordinary scale for work done for the magazine, I fail to see what ground of attack there is.  The opinion of Mr. Myers as to the tact and temper shown by the editor is founded, I believe, on the moderate tone of the articles that have appeared in the magazine on the subject; and I think that all impartial persons who read these articles and consider the strength of the case in the editor’s hands against a bitter enemy to the cause he represents, will agree with him in this view.  Perhaps, however, the object of Mr. Sinnett’s remarks is not so much to attack the editor of the Christian College Magazine for giving work and wages to the Coulombs, but rather to depreciate the trustworthiness of the recipients of the wages.  If so, it is sufficient to say that no part of the conclusions, either of the Committee or of Mr. Hodgson, rest in any degree on the assumption that the Coulombs are trustworthy witnesses.

With regard to the second question discussed in Mr. Sinnett’s letter, I think that he understands the expression prime facie case in a different sense from that in which it was used by Mr. Myers and the Committee.  We do not regard the establishment of a prima facie case as implying a definite conclusion that certain phenomena were genuine, but only as a reason for investigating further.  Moreover, we considered this case to rest, so far as the Indian phenomena were concerned, chiefly on the testimony of certain native witnesses who were not available for examination in London.  As regards phenomena experienced in India by Mr. Mohini, Mr. Sinnett, Colonel Olcott, and the greater number of witnesses, English and Indian, we did not consider that it had been shown that they could not have been deceived by a combination between Madame Blavatsky, the Coulombs, and servants.  We thought it possible, however, that our views on these points might be modified if, through one of our number, we could obtain that knowledge of “times and places” which, as Mr. Mohini justly remarks, we did not possess.  Mr. Hodgson accordingly went out to India with instructions to examine, and have examined by experts, the Blavatsky-Coulomb letters; to ascertain, so far as possible, the degree of value that was to be attached to the statements of certain important native witnesses; and to examine localities and witnesses with a view to ascertaining whether various phenomena, such as the falling of letters from the ceiling, and appearances of Mahatmas, could be accounted for by fraud in the ways that had suggested themselves to the members of the Committee, or in other ways.  This, Mr. Hodgson has done, and the Committee, with the results of his investigation before them, have arrived at the conviction that their prima facie case has broken down; a conviction, it may again be stated, which in no degree depends on the assertions of the Coulombs.  I find it difficult, therefore, to understand why Mr. Sinnett should consider that “Mr. Hodgson’s investigations have not grown in any legitimate way out of the incidents to which Theosophists attach importance.”  His impression on this point may possibly be due to the fact that Mr. Hodgson’s Report has as yet been only laid before the Society in a fragmentary and incomplete form.  If so, the matter will be much clearer when this report is published in full in the next number of the Society’s Proceedings.  But I cannot so account for Mr. Sinnett’s assertion “that Theosophists generally seem to put Mr. Hodgson’s results aside as irrelevant.”  If they put aside as irrelevant the whole of the cumulative argument by which Mr. Hodgson has supported his conclusion, (1) that the Blavatsky-Coulomb letters are genuine, and, (2) that the Shrine at Adyar was constructed and used for the production of spurious phenomena, --- then it is difficult indeed to conceive the kind and degree of evidence that would induce them to abandon their confiding attitude.

Finally, Mr. Sinnett repeats in a modified form his objections to the constitution of the Committee.  His complaint now is that the Committee did not contain any person adequately in sympathy with the Theosophic view of things.  It must, I think, be obvious that any objection of this kind ought to have been raised, if at all, when the Committee was first constituted more than a year ago, and not now, after it has reported unfavourably on the Theosophic marvels.  But I need not press this point, for I have no fear that Mr. Sinnett’s complaint will be regarded as well founded by any impartial reader of our First Report.  I am much more afraid that most sensible persons will criticize our action from the opposite point of view, and will consider that with the evidence which was even then before us of trickery on the part of Madame Blavatsky, we were hardly justified in the expenditure of time and trouble involved in our Indian investigation.  To this criticism my answer would be that we did not regard ourselves --- as Mr. Sinnett seems to suppose --- as a “tribunal” to try the question “whether Madame Blavatsky’s character is immaculate.”  The question we had to deal with was both wider and more difficult; we had to consider whether any part of the whole mass of evidence offered in connection with Theosophy could be made available for the establishment of any of the psychical laws hitherto unrecognised by science, which it is our function to investigate.  The negative conclusion at which we have arrived on this point is one which we were bound to state with perfect unreserve; but we have no right and no desire to call on the members of our Society to accept it merely on our authority.  The evidence on which it is based will be shortly placed before all who are interested in the question; and if, after reading it, any member of the Society should still think it a profitable pursuit to fish for “psychical” phenomena in these troubled waters, it is perfectly open to him to do so, and to bring his results before us.

There is one other point in Mr. Sinnett’s letter to which I must refer.  He speaks of Mr. Hodgson’s evidence as “collected in secret.”  It seems, therefore, worth while to state that we took care to make it known to all concerned that Mr. Hodgson had gone to India to collect this evidence on behalf of our Society; and that his unfavourable view of the evidence was communicated to the leading Theosophists at Madras, before his departure from India.

H. Sidgwick.