Published by Blavatsky Study Center. Online Edition copyright 2004.

Madame Blavatsky

by Hannah M. Wolff

[Reprinted from Two Worlds (Manchester, England)
December 11, 1891, pp. 671-672.]

There is such a diversity of opinion in regard to this remarkable and notorious woman, and the combined result of the articles published concerning her is of such an oddly kaleidoscopic character that I am tempted to add my bit of color to the mass of evidence which will eventually determine the verdict regarding her.  That she was a woman of strong intellectual ability and great diversity of talent can not be denied.  She had been solidly educated; had traveled extensively; was almost insanely fond of adventure; had no physical or moral fear; was a close observer of whatever scenes she passed through and of whatever circumstances surrounded her.  She had marvelous readiness of adaptability to her environment and knew "how to abound and how to suffer need."   She delighted in gaining any kind of intellectual ascendancy over those about her, and particularly in dominating men of known strong mental calibre.  She would go any length to dupe them and scorn and mentally deride them when duped.  I first saw her in the early part of 1874 at the Working Woman's Home in Elizabeth street, New York, where I called on business for the newspaper upon the staff of which I was then engaged.   On entering the room of the lady whom I was to interview (the room was shared with four other inmates) I saw, half sitting, half reclining on the carpetless floor, a scantly clad, and, as I then thought, very stupid and unprepossessing woman who was introduced as Madame Blavatsky.  She was at that time quite stout, though not as unwieldy as she subsequently became.  Her complexion which must in her youth have been fair, was torpid, pasty and grimy; her eyes were magnetic and peculiar, with a strange compelling fascination in their blue-grey depths, but were in no sense beautiful, as some have described them.  Her nose was a catastrophe, like Petrea's, an appendage for use and not for ornament, and her mouth lacked power and was animalistic.  The shape of her head was finely intellectual, and her hair was the most peculiar I have ever seen.   It was very thick, and not long, gathered into a knot at the back of her head.   Its peculiarity consisted in that while it was blonde in color, its texture was like that of the negro's.  It was soft and fine and light-colored, but woolly.

When my interview with Miss M. was concluded, Madame Blavatsky, who retained her position and extremely careless attitude upon the floor, and had, while attentively listening to our conversation, rolled and smoked cigarettes with a most marvelous rapidity, entered into conversation with me.  She appeared desirous of informing herself concerning the position of women on the press of this country, and my role of interviewer was changed to that of the interviewed in the colloquy that ensured between us.  I gave her all the information I could; but I left that room with the new sensation of having met an educated, intellectual woman with marvelous conversational powers, who had no more sense of propriety or feeling of natural modesty than the cat or the dog that sprawls about the floor at will.  During this conversation she informed me that she was stopping at the Working Woman's Home for economical reasons.  A month or six weeks after this I met her in the ante-room at one of the women's conventions.   She then told me that she had received a large sum of money from Russia and was staying at an expensive hotel on Fourth avenue, near Twenty-third street.  On this occasion she invited half-a-dozen ladies to lunch with her, and subsequently told me that her bill footed up at the rate of $5 each.  I think that this lavishness of expenditure was habitual to her when she had means.  When her purse was collapsed she retired to humble quarters and contented herself with frugal fare.  She was prodigal, but not generous; lavish, but not benevolent.  She had at no time any need to be cramped for the means of comfort, for she had a ready pencil and could, whenever the incentive presented itself, dash off most graphic and salable sketches of Russian or other life, with which she was familiar.  It was no uncommon occurrence for her to receive $30, $40 or $50 for sketches limned in a few minutes when the mood was upon her.  Two or three months after I first met her she expressed the wish to a near friend of mine, who was an ardent Spiritualist, to attend some of the Spiritualist lectures, and to study its phenomena and philosophy, of which she professed herself ignorant.  Mr. W. took her to a lecture, given by E.V. Wilson, a noted trance speaker and test medium.  At the close of the lecture she received from him what she declared was a very remarkable test, and told Mr. W. that it was the first experience of that sort she had ever had.   Since that time she has claimed, and others have for her, that years previous to this she had not only investigated spiritualistic phenomena, but had attempted to establish some sort of spiritualistic organization in Constantinople.  I do not know which of her statements was true.  I know only what she told us.  She told us, however, that she had for many years been conscious of strange and peculiar psychic gifts and experiences which probably could be best accounted for on the spiritualistic hypothesis of mediumship.  At this time she fell into the habit of dropping in at my rooms and conversing with me about her travels, occult phenomena, etc.  She spoke of having been with Garibaldi in his struggle, but I was never able to hold her to the subject so as to get any succinct or lucid account of her adventures as a soldier.   She showed me the scar of what she claimed was a sabre-wound.  A Russian acquaintance of hers told me it was the mark of the knout, one of the many that scarred her body, received for complicity with the Nihilists.  If this were true I cannot imagine why she should not have told me so, for she knew that I was in hearty sympathy with this class in Russia, although disapproving of some of the methods.  In relating her experiences in the East she never touched once upon having made any study of Buddhism.   It was evident from the first that she smoked tobacco to great excess, frequently, as she told me, using a pound a day.  I soon learned also that she was addicted to the use of haschish.  She several times endeavored to persuade me to try the effect upon myself.  She said she had smoked opium, seen its visions and dreamed its dreams, but that the beatitudes enjoyed in the use of haschish were as heaven to its hell.   She said she found nothing to compare with its effects in arousing and stimulating the imagination.  In all the interviews I had with her, and they were many, during the four or more months of my intercourse with her, she never mentioned theosophy.  I always believed it was an after-thought sprung from some seed sown in her fertile brain by some of her experiences in Spiritualism and her dabblings in an at least semi-spurious mediumship.  Very soon after her attendance on the lecture of E.V. Wilson above alluded to, she professed to Mr. W. to have had a new and singular development of occult power.  She claimed that photographs left in her possession and shut up in a box or drawer, would without aid of human instrumentality become colored as by water-color pigments.  She asked Mr. W. to go to her lodgings and see some of these specimens of spirit art, and invited me also.  We went.  At this time she had spent the large sum of money received from Russia, and had moved into cheap quarters down town.  The apartment she occupied was shared on the co-operative plan with a party of journalists of rather Bohemian tendencies, two gentlemen and a lady.   There was a good sized room served as a sort of salle a manger into which the bed-rooms opened.   The furniture of the room consisted of a small dining-table, a few chairs, and an old-fashioned chest of drawers, which also served as a sideboard.  This bureau was just opposite the door of a small bedroom occupied by Madame Blavatsky.  The pictures were in one of the three little drawers at the top of the bureau.  She showed them to us, and explained that the coloring seemed chiefly to be done in the night when nature was in her negative mood.  Subsequently I made acquaintance with the three young journalists who occupied the other three rooms of the apartment, and was told by them that they, being skeptical as to the Madame's occult powers, had laid wait for the spirit who worked in the night watches, and had discovered it materialized in the form of Madame Blavatsky, dressed in saque de nuit; had seen it glide softly across the room, armed with lamp, colors, and brushes, take the pictures from the drawers, and rapidly work upon them one after another until they were as nearly completed as could be at one sitting. 

About this time she called at my rooms and told me that she was doing some literary work in English, and not being sufficiently conversant with the language to write it with grammatical correctness she wished to secure my services as editor.  In reply to my inquiry as to the nature of the work, she said it was a humorously satirical criticism on the Government of the United States.  I ventured to suggest that it might be thought an impertinence for a person who had been so short a time in the country as herself, who had so little insight into its institutions to attempt such a structure, but she cried me down and declared that I must examine before I condemned. it.  She left, engaged to bring manuscripts in a few days.

In the meantime I met Mrs. Y., the lady who shared the apartment with her, and told her of the proposition.  She looked quizzical, and said:  "When you get that manuscript let me know, and I shall have something to propose to you.  Do not engage to attempt the work until I have seen you."

In a few days the unfinished manuscript was left at my rooms.  I dropped a line to Mrs. Y. and she promptly responded by coming to see me.

"Now," she said, "I want you to go to Brooklyn with me to the house where this thing was written, while Madame was the guest of the people, who are Russians."

We went, and I found Mr. ------- and wife very cultured and charming people.  Mrs. Y told our host that Madame B. asked me to edit her work on our government. 

"Did she tell you it was original?" he asked.

"Certainly," I replied.  "She claimed that it was an expression of her own views of our government in satire."

"Well," said he,"the portion of it that you have she translated from this volume." taking a book from the case near by, "the second volume she borrowed when she left here and has not yet returned."

The book was the work of a celebrated Russian humorist, whose name has escaped me.   Mr. -------said:  

"If you will follow me on the pages you have I will translate a few paragraphs from the print."

This he did.  The manuscript was an almost verbatim translation of the book, "United States" being substituted for "Russia," "President" for "Czar," and certain other needful changes and adaptations being introduced.   The Madame's pretended original work was a complete theft.

When I returned the manuscript with a note explaining my reasons for not accepting the commission she made no reply, but later, when I accidentally met her and brought up the matter, she sneering said that as Americans were almost entirely ignorant of Russian literature she saw no harm in what she had attempted.  This closed my personal acquaintance with the founder and high priest of Theosophy.