A Libel Retracted 1
September, 1892, will stand as a red letter month in our history. Two events of importance occurred, the one removing a cloud, the other reassuring the Society that its President-Founder would remain in office.
In July, 1890, The Sun, a daily newspaper of great influence in the city of New York, published a news article in which gross charges were made against the character of H. P. Blavatsky, the Founder of the Theosophical Society, and charging also Col. Olcott, William Q. Judge, and many others with assisting her in fraud and with living upon the Society. It was intended to be a general sweeping attack on all who were in the Society, and, having been written by an enemy who once was counted in the ranks of our members, it was carefully sent by him to as many people as he could think of who would be hurt by it in feelings or warned off from the work of the T.S. Two suits for libel were then begun by Mme. Blavatsky and Mr. Judge against the Sun and Dr. E. Coues of Washington.
Some members thought then that we ought not to have gone to law, but as we do not profess to live by the code of Jesus but felt that the honor and the peace of mind of the members at large were involved, we took the only course given by the laws of the land. The suits went on the calendar of the courts of New York, and there were delayed by the immense mass of cases ahead of them. Meanwhile the author of the libel and certain Spiritualistic friends in another city kept up the attack and asserted that nothing would ever be heard of the suits again. In 1891 H.P.B. died, and, as her action was for a personal injury to character, her demise worked a determination of the suit begun in her name, and by that fact the paper that put out the libel was at once released from any fear from that action. This should be noted in view of what follows. On the 26th of Sept., 1892, the Sun published the following in its editorial columns:
We print on another page an article in which Mr. William Q. Judge deals with the romantic and extraordinary career of the late Madame Helena P. Blavatsky, the Theosophist. We take occasion to observe that on July 20, 1890, we were misled into admitting to the Sun’s columns an article by Dr. E. F. Coues of Washington, in which allegations were made against Madame Blavatsky’s character, and also against her followers, which appear to have been without solid foundation. Mr. Judges article disposes of all questions relating to Madame Blavatsky as presented by Dr. Coues, and we desire to say that his allegations respecting the Theosophical Society and Mr. Judge personally are not sustained by evidence, and should not have been printed.
The news columns of that issue contained a sketch of Madame Blavatsky by Mr. Judge, which although having some errors as printed, is in the main correct. The retraction is small in respect to the area of the paper covered, but it is a general one, and at a single blow sweeps away all that our enemies had thought was accomplished by the libel. As many newspaper men since have said, it is as complete as anything of the kind that was ever published. And in view of the fact that no suit by H.P.B. was then pending, it reflects credit on the paper in this age when newspapers in general never retract except when forced by law or loss of money. Thus ends this libel. The suits against the Sun have been discontinued, and the only one pending is that by Mr. Judge against Dr. Coues.
Col. Olcott still President 2
When Col. Olcott resigned the office of President before our Convention of April last, the universal desire in this country was that he should remain in office even if he did no great amount of work in consequence of bad health, and the Convention asked him to reconsider his decision. India had expressed the same thought before. Replying to the cable sent him from the Convention meeting in Chicago, he said he was willing to do what was right, and later announced that the important matter of the legacy left to the Society in Australia was not settled so as to be secure to the organization, and also that the property owned in India had not been transferred to trustees so as to put the title in a shape to prevent loss or trouble. These delayed his going out of office. Just before the July Convention in Europe he published a notice rather ambiguously worded, but which was meant to read that very likely he would revoke his resignation. This possibility of two constructions led the European Convention to assume that he had declared definitely he would not revoke, and it therefore saw no need of taking any action on the question as had been done in America.
But in August Col. Olcott came to the conclusion that as his health had been fully restored he could not do better than revoke the resignation, and so telegraphed to the Vice-President, and the official circular to that effect went out last month. He is thus still our President, and surely no one there is but hopes he may so remain until the day of his death.
Some words by H.P.B. on the matter, written years ago, may be of interest. She says, speaking of Col. Olcott:
As long as I live I shall never go against one who for ten years was my best friend, my staunchest, dearest, most loyal defender and brother, and one, moreover, whom the Master wants to stand firm at his post till his death-day.
It may be that you and others and even myself do not always agree with Olcott, and find faults in him, but it is Master’s wish that he shall be president until his death or that time which is equivalent to it. There is a quality in him that not many have, and that is the power and disposition to stand for his cause against all and every obstacle.
These serve to show that it is better, wiser, and safer for him to remain, and that it is not time, nor right, nor just, nor wise that he should go out either corporeally or officially. But let us hope that with the month in which the American Section heard of his action, and of the retraction of the libel on H.P.B. and all Theosophists, a new era began for the movement.
1. For the background on this subject, see: Libel by Dr. Coues and the “N. Y. Sun”, The Path, August, 1890.
In addition to this, the following appeared in the October, 1892 edition of The Path:
The Libel on H. P. Blavatsky.
On Sep. 26th the New York Sun published a general retraction of the libel emitted by it in July, 1890, which was written by Dr. E. Coues. Coming so late in the month it is impossible to give a full account of this important event, but space will be devoted to it in November. The retraction also covers libellous charges against the Aryan Theosophical Society and William Q. Judge. The law-suit begun by the latter is therefore withdrawn; that brought by H.P.B. died with her death and was not a menace to the Sun; hence this retraction, after her demise and when no legal remedy would lie, is unique and reflects credit upon that paper in this venal age.
2. For the background on this subject, see: Reply: Resignation of Presidency, T.S. by Col Olcott, The Path, March, 1892.
In addition to this, the following appeared in the October, 1892 edition of The Path:
Col. Olcott’s Revocation.
To the Members and Branches of T.S. in U.S.:
On the 30th of August, 1892, I received the following telegram from Col. H. S. Olcott:
MADRAS, August, 30, 1892
To JUDGE, NEW YORK:
Col. H. S. Olcott remains president [of the Theosophical Society].
Notice of this revocation of his resignation of the office of President was immediately given by me through the newspaper press of the country. His official letter arrived Sep. 24th and is given hereunder with the accompanying circular. They are now printed for general information, and will go to the Secretaries of Branches as soon as possible.
The election of successor to the presidency having been held in all the Sections, and the choice having been unanimous, there will be no new election for the office, but the General Council, consisting of the President and General Secretaries, will make the needed Constitutional alterations. The well-working machinery of the Sections will go on with no change of officials, and the President-Founder will remain at the head of the organization till the very last, thus fulfilling the promise given in his resignation of never ceasing to devote himself to the Cause of the Society which he has so long worked for in season and out of season, in every land and in many climates.
WILLIAM Q. JUDGE, Gen. Sec’y Am. Sec.
THEOSOPHICAL SOCIETY, PRESIDENT’S OFFICE, ADYAR, 21st Aug., 1892.
W. Q. JUDGE, Vice-Pres. T.S.
DEAR SIR AND BROTHER:—The restoration of my health and other important considerations induce me to revoke my letter of resignation of office, and I beg herewith to hand you an advance copy of the Executive Circular notifying the fact, which will appear in the September number of the Theosophist. You will kindly make the facts known to the American Section. Fraternally Yours,
H. S. OLCOTT, P.T.S.