The Letters of H.P. Blavatsky
© 2003 Online Teosofiska Kompaniet Malmö
The Letters of H.P. Blavatsky
John Algeo, Editor
This unparalleled collection contains all known letters written by Helena P. Blavatsky (1831-1891) between 1860 and the time before she went to India in 1879, with related material, such as letters to and about her, articles, and editorial commentary by John Algeo. Her corpus of published material—14 volumes—represents the public H. P. Blavatsky, the leading esoteric thinker of the nineteenth century. Her correspondence reveals the private HPB, an enigmatic, puzzling sphinx. Within the time frame of this book, she has traveled over the world, undergone personal crises, discovered her identity, published her first major works, founded the Theosophical Society, and seen a vision of her future. The first volume of letters now being presented as part of the H.P. Blavatsky Collected Writings, the book constitutes a major contribution toward understanding the woman who first introduced Eastern spirituality to the West, thus launching what became the New Age.
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HUNTING FOR H.P.B.
By John Algeo
H. P. Blavatsky corresponded with a great variety of people: her family in Russia, but also friends and acquaintances in America, Europe, and India—scientists and spiritualists, journalists and generals, professors and preachers. She wrote in three languages: English, French, and Russian (and sometimes in a mixture of the three). As she wrote to people all over the world, her letters are now deposited all over the world. So getting to see them, in order to ensure the accuracy of the texts published in The Letters of H. P. Blavatsky, was a pilgrimage around the globe.
Actually, much of H.P.B.’s correspondence no longer exists in autograph (that is, original) form, but only in copies made by others or in published forms. The originals having long ago disappeared. When there is no original but only several copies, the decision has to be made of which copy is the best, that is, the closest to what H.P.B. actually wrote.
To give some idea of the vastness of the hunt, here is a list of some of the places one must look to find the Old Lady’s letters:
Adyar Archives. This is the richest depository of H.P.B.’s correspondence. Annie Besant and others very carefully gathered as many of H.P.B.’s letters as they could for safekeeping at the international headquarters of the Theosophical Society. But many of those letters are now in bad condition from the ravages of age. Adele and I spent long hours pondering the distinctive, but sometimes difficult-to-read, handwriting that we came to recognize as H.P.B.’s. We worked together, puzzling out whether a particular squiggle was an “s” or an “a” or just a squiggle. Deciphering her script is a little like working a crossword puzzle. You go at a particular piece of correspondence for a couple of hours, then put it aside and do something else for a while. When you return to the handwriting puzzle hours or days later, sometimes the mysteries solve themselves, and you immediately recognize what the message says. At other times, however, the puzzle remains a mystery, and you can only make an educated guess. But the work is fascinating, and when you finally succeed in making sense of an orthographic puzzle, you feel as though you have passed an initiation into the esoteric mysteries of H.P.B.
A number of other archives also contain letters (or copies of letters) by H.P.B. They include those of the Theosophical Society in America at Wheaton, the Theosophical Society with international headquarters in Pasadena, the British Library, the College of Psychic Studies in London, the Thomas Edison National Historical Site in West Orange (New Jersey), the Grand Lodge of Freemasons at Freemason’s Hall in London, the Historical Society of Pennsylvania, the Philosophical Research Society in Los Angeles, the Kroch Library of Cornell University, the Society for Psychical Research in the Cambridge University Library, the Library of Congress in Washington, the India Office Library (of the Political and Secret Foreign Office correspondence) in the British Library, and the private H.P.B. Library in Toronto.
Some of H.P.B.’s letters now survive only in published form from early magazines and newspapers, some still published but many not. Those publications include the Banner of Light, Calcutta Review, Carrier Dove, Ceylon Times, Harbinger of Light, Hindu, Human Nature, Link, Madras Christian College Magazine, Medium and Daybreak, New York Daily Graphic, New York Sun, New York World, Path (London), Path (New York), Rebus, Spiritual Scientist, Spiritualist, Theosophic Isis, Theosophical Forum, Theosophical Nuggets, Theosophical Quarterly, Theosophist, Times of India, and Word.
Other letters survive only by quotation of or from them in books. Such books include Charles Blech’s Contribution a la Histoire de la Société Théosophique en France, Jirah Dewey Buck’s Modern World Movements, Vishwa Prakash’s Life and Teachings of Swami Dayanand, Har Bilas Sarda’s Life of Dayanand Saraswati, Arthur Theophilius’s The Theosophical Society, Its Objects and Creed, and K. F. Vania’s Madame Blavatsky.
The hunt for H.P.B.’s correspondence is a quest and, like all quests, is never completely finished, for there always remains the yet undiscovered letter somewhere over the horizon.