Obituary The Hodgson Report on Madame Blavatsky

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Obituary The Hodgson Report on Madame Blavatsky

By W.A. Carrithers

The Blavatsky-Coulomb Correspondence

In the first of these "conclusions" (204), the S.P.R. Committee accepted as authentic those "letters" of the alleged Blavatsky-Coulomb correspondence "which the Committee have had the opportunity of themselves examining, and of submitting to the judgement of experts," alleging that these "suffice to prove that she has been engaged in a long-continued combination with other persons to produce by ordinary means a series of apparent marvels for the support of the Theosophic movement" (204).

1. Now the late literary critic and writer, Mrs. Beatrice Hastings, already has shown that, in crucial instances, the portions of this "correspondence" calculated to implicate H.P.B. in fraud --- and therefore the parts open to the suspicion of having been forged by the Coulombs --- do not stand up to close analysis, neither by literary content nor comparison with known fact. [11]

2. Such contested passages are not only inconsistent with indisputable circumstance, but contradict other (unquestioned) parts of the incongruous "correspondence", the latter parts showing, for example, that H.P.B., in writing to Mme. Coulomb (the later self-styled "confederate"), commented knowingly on her own occult powers and treated Theosophical phenomena as genuine psychic occurrences (e.g., 16-17).

3. Other doubted parts even disprove the Coulomb story on some of its most essential points (e.g., see Section IX, Part 1 following).

4. As for the question of the handwriting of the incriminating portions of the "Blavatsky-Coulomb correspondence," Dr. Hodgson --- who, as a self-appointed judge of handwriting, seems to have regarded himself as more expert than his experts (282-83; 297) --- here excused himself by saying, "I do not propose to go into any detail in describing the similarities between Madame Blavatsky's undoubted handwriting and the handwriting of the Blavatsky-Coulomb letters [sic]:" (276-77).  Significantly, the calligraphic features of the incriminating letters and parts of letters remain largely unknown, for although the S.P.R. Committee published a photograph of one "Blavatsky-Coulomb document" (B-x in Plate I, following 380), this was not one of the disputed letters, and no specimen of the incriminating handwriting was ever exposed to camera nor subjected to public scrutiny.  Nevertheless, neither Hodgson nor anyone else offered an excuse for this suspicious reticence.

5. Moreover, the record does not show that the handwriting experts, consulted on behalf of the S.P.R. in this matter, were ever given opportunity to make any comparison between the script of the disputed passages and the handwriting of the suspected forgers.

6. Neither does the expert's "Report" (381-82) present any calligraphic proof; no tracings are shown; no examples given, no characteristics cited; while the conclusion is strangely worded and the contents of the "Blavatsky-Coulomb documents" examined are not even identified, an inexcusable omission, seeing that Mme. Coulomb did receive numerous innocent letters from H.P.B. in the latter's absence.

7. What Dr. Hodgson and the Committee had to show by expert testimony was that incriminating passages of the "Correspondence" were in the genuine handwriting of H.P.B., a simple task if she was guilty --- but this was never done!

8. Instead, a thorough dissection (in ms. since 1958) of all the published evidence goes to prove that Hodgson misled his public by having the expert, F. G. Netherclift, certify the authenticity of certain Blavatsky-Coulomb documents which were genuine but neither disputed nor incriminating (though the identification of which Hodgson contrived to conceal as best he could), this certification afterwards being misrepresented as proof of H.P.B.'s authorship of the incriminating (uncertified) portions of the "correspondence".

Even the published title to Netherclift's "Report" is misleading, for, as printed, it is not at all, as labeled, a report "ON THE BLAVATSKY-COULOMB DOCUMENTS," but only on those few which Hodgson, at his own discretion, selected for professional judgement (277).

9. It is clear enough that Hodgson realized the necessity of establishing a reasonable explanation for such foolhardy conduct before he could hope to persuade any intelligent reader that in India Mme. Blavatsky --- if one of the most astute tricksters in history --- would have voluntarily put herself and incriminating correspondence (so rich in potential blackmail as the damning portions of the "Blavatsky-Coulomb letters") into Mme. Coulomb's hands.  With the passing of years, he must also have come to realize that his report of 1885 had signally failed in this necessity.

And so, in 1893, in his reply to Theosophical critics, Hodgson came forth with an arresting explanation.  He remembered (or pretended to "remember") and believed his readers would "remember" (or pretended to believe they would "remember") that in "1872, at Cairo, Madame Blavatsky had been associated with Madame Coulomb in producing bogus 'spiritistic' phenomena" and so "was already in Madame Coulomb's power" before there was written the first of the "Blavatsky-Coulomb letters" used against her in 1884. [12]

One need have little doubt that the majority of Hodgson's readers were ready to join him in this remembrance --- such is the fearsome power of the will-to-disbelieve, or rather to believe with the un-believer.  But neither the readers of the S.P.R. Report of 1885 nor anyone had ever heard this one before.  In fact, the readers of Mme. Coulomb's pamphlet could only rightly remember that, by her own admission therein (3, 4), Mme. Coulomb had been no more than an intended victim of these "bogus 'spiritistic' phenomena" which had taken place in Cairo in 1872 (during H.P.B.'s absence, and about which she disclaimed any pre-knowledge).  And how did the Doctor of Laws from Cambridge get past this admission by his chief witness?  He simply ignored it.  Fatal as it was to his charge, he suppressed and omitted it from his report, as if he were not a scientific investigator making an impartial inquiry but only a common prosecutor obligated to "building a case" at all costs.

Thus, in order to explain H.P.B.'s alleged disregard of self-incrimination, conduct in itself a priori improbable but without which his major charge would have been more than ridiculous, Dr. Richard Hodgson claimed to "remember", and did boldly put forward as fact, an unverified, uncorroborated, unsupported statement that was and is manifestly false as disproven by the testimony of his own chief witness.  After requiring almost two-hundred pages for an elaborate endeavor to convince the world that Madame Blavatsky had been engaged in a criminal conspiracy at Bombay and Adyar, this "nemesis of the Mahatmas", eight years later, tried to make his readers believe that he could in a single sentence, and with no evidence whatever, actually convict her of the same alleged offence at Cairo!  From this alone, it would seem somewhat that his "modes of scientific investigation," his meticulous prudence and vaunted perspicacity did not improve with the passing years, years devoted to the "exposing" of William Eglinton, Henry Slade, Eusapia Palladino and other "humbugs"!


[11]  Defence of Madame Blavatsky, Volume II, The "Coulomb Pamphlet", by Beatrice Hastings; Worthing, 1937; pp. 70-71, et al.

[12]  "The Defence of the Theosophists," by Richard Hodgson, LL.D., Proceedings, S.P.R., vol. ix, part xxiv, 1893, p. 146.



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