May 8, 2022
HISTORY OF THE (ADYAR) THEOSOPHICAL SOCIETY
THE C. W. LEADBEATER AFFAIR, 1906 – 1908
By Alan Bain (c) 1996
In 1906 a former Anglican Clergyman and member of the Society, later to become prominent in the Liberal Catholic Church, was called before a committee headed by the President-Founder of the day, Colonel H. S. Olcott, one of the co-founders of the Society together with Madame H. P. Blavatsky, W. Q. Judge and others.
The charge against him was twofold: firstly that he taught young boys to masturbate (then also called “self-abuse”) on a regular, sometimes daily basis, as necessary to their development and to help avoid the temptations of the flesh in the future with women and “bad men.” In today’s world, such advice might not be regarded with as much horror, if any, as it was in late Victorian England, and there were those who, whilst embarrased by such teaching, could see far enough ahead to understand that, in itself, such advice might not be necessarily a bad thing.
Among the grounds of complaint however was the fact that he was giving such teaching to boys placed into his care by a parent or parents with spiritual motives, but who were not informed of this aspect of his teaching, and only found out via their children or other informants.
The second and more serious charge was that he encouraged the practice by boys who had not yet reached an age where they would otherwise have thought of it for themselves, nor in whom a physical sexual attraction to girls, women, or “bad men” had begun to develop.
Even more serious was the charge that in the course of his “instruction,” he handled the boys intimately himself.
Leadbeater denied none of the charges – he admitted them. The committee which sat to hear them had only, therefore, to decide which course of action would be best taken in the interest of the welfare and reputation of the Society. They could expel him, or in their wisdom, suggest to him that he resign. He willingly resigned his membership of the Society in the interest of the greater good, according to his own account, which was not disputed.
The affair was not made public at the time, for obvious reasons, and as the offender had resigned, there seemed little need to do so, not least perhaps because the more serious aspects of his behaviour would, in England and elsewhere, possibly or even probably have been grounds for criminal charges to be brought against him.
With some relief at the avoidance of a potential international scandal which would have harmed the Society enormously, the T.S. got on with ist business without him.
The calm was to be short-lived, for in 1908, the International President, Annie Besant, sought his return to the theosophical fold, and encouraged by supporters of Leadbeater, issued a letter to members retracting her 1906 condemnation of his behaviour as part of this
campaign, which would become successful. In the process, however, the very scandal which the Society had discreetly avoided in 1906, erupted into the international arena of the T. S., and damage was done which had lasting effects, many of which plague the Society to this day.
There were to be later scandals surrounding the name of Bishop Leadbeater, particularly in Australia, and some account of these is given in “The Elder Brother,” a biography of Leadbeater by Gregory Tillett, published in 1982.
I have chosen to begin this series of historical studies in the country from which CWL, as he is often referred to, began his career, and which is also my own homeland.
The article which follows is an account of the reaction to Annie Besant’s actions by members of the British Section of the Theosophical Society, and is self-explanatory.
Some readers will wonder why I have not begun with the President’s letter mentioned above. This will become clear in later documents, as there was also considerable dispute about the veracity and honesty of some of the claims made in the letter which resulted in the publication of a number of “open letters” and pamphlets, some of which have become very scarce.
In the interest of historical research, however, I intend to make Annie Besant’s letter the next article in this series.
For a short time, in 1908, in Chicago, Illinois, a journal dealing primarily with the details and campaigns within the American Section was published under the banner of “The Theosophic Voice” which went to only three issues. The first of these is available as a 32 page reprint, and readers can contact me for further information. For members of Theosophy International, I will post brief details on theos-buds.
In the meantime, the result of “The Leadbeater Affair” in his own country can be revealed through the words, published in 1909, of those who initiated the protest within the British Section – including some important and respected thesophists of the time – and which now follows:
To the Members of the Theosophical Society
THE LEADBEATER CASE.
THE Protest Committee of the British Section appointed at the Caxton Hall meeting on December 19, 1908, having issued on February 20 last the following Final Protest Resolutions for signature by members of the British Section, have now to place on record the result of their appeal to the Section.
THAT WHEREAS, at the last Convention of the British Section of the Theosophical Society, a Resolution was passed calling upon the President and General Council of the Society to take such action as would ensure “that the repudiation by the Society of this pernicious teaching (the teaching which determined the resignation of Mr. C. W. Leadbeater) may be unequivocal and final”:
AND WHEREAS the President has replied to this Resolution in a printed Letter to the Members of the Theosophical Society, dated November, 1908, in which Letter she not merely declines to take any action to free the Society from any taint of participation in this scandal, but even seeks to condone Mr. Leadbeater’s offence, thereby reversing her own previous judgment of the matter; and further announces her willingness to welcome Mr. Leadbeater back to membership in the Society without his repudiation of the teaching above referred to:
AND WHEREAS the General Council of the Society at its Annual Meeting at Adyar, in December, 1908, also refused to accept the appeal of the British Section, and not merely declined to take any action to repudiate, in the name of the Society, Mr. Leadbeater’s teaching of self-abuse, or to prevent the identification of this teaching with the Society, but, on the contrary, has taken the very course which will ensure the opposite effect, and has passed a Resolution stating that, “there is no reason why Mr. C. W. Leadbeater should not return, if he wishes, to his place in the Society”; and has thereby reversed the wise judgment and action of the late President-Founder, Colonel H. S.Olcott:
AND WHEREAS this disastrous policy on the part of the President and General Council must inevitably result – and indeed, has already resulted – in the gravest public scandal, and in the association of Mr. Leadbeater’s degrading teachings with the Society itself:
NOW, THEREFORE, IT IS HEREBY AFFIRMED AND RESOLVED –
(1) That we, the undersigned Members of the Theosophical Society, desire to express, in the first instance, our deep regret that the President and General Council should not merely have refused to take any steps to free the Society from this grave scandal but should actually have taken the most effective means to identity it therewith.
(2) That we hereby desire to protest in the strongest possible manner against this disastrous policy, to which the Society has now been committed by its highest officials.
(3) That we hereby place on record our deep abhorrence of the gross sexual practice into which Mr. Leadbeater – on his own confession – was guilty of initiating certain boys.
(4) That we desire to express our conviction that the question at issue is simply one of morality, but that it has been largely obscured by a false glamour of so-called “occultism” and a specious appeal to so-called “liberty of opinion.”
(5) That we do not feel called upon to judge Mr. Leadbeater’s motives, nor do we condemn any who, in this matter, have honestly thought that his further identification with the Society was desirable; but we protest most strongly against the good name of the Society being sacrificed for any one individual.
Three hundred and twenty-four members have signed the above Resolutions. Of these members 206 have severed their connection with the Society, or have notified their intention of doing so, and have signified their willingness to have their names published in connection with this Protest.
Fifty-three other members have also signed the Protest and resigned, but do not wish to have their names published.
Thirty-five members have signed, but have not yet decided as to resignation.
Thirty members have signed, but have signified their intention of remaining in the Society, in the new International Section, or otherwise.
There have also been a very large number of resignations by members who have not signed this Protest, but who signed the first Resolutions sent out in November last with the Reply of the Protest Committee to the President’s Letter.
The following members of the Executive Committee have resigned, and have left the Society:
HERBERT BURROWS. G. R. S. MEAD.
M. GLASS. A. P. SINNETT.
W. KINGSLAND. EDITH WARD.
The following Lodges have severed their connection with the Society.
ADELPHI President, J. M. Watkins.
BATTERSEA ” A. P. Cattanach.
BRISTOL ” Miss G. Platnauer.
DIDSBURY ” E. E. Marsden.
DUBLIN ” G. W. Russell.
EXETER ” Lt. Col. Montague.
HULL ” H. E. Nichol.
LONDON ” A. P. Sinnett.
MIDDLESBROUGH ” W. H. Thomas.
The following is an analysis of the signatures, and the names of the 206 members above referred to, who have resigned and consented to the publication of their names.
ADELPHI LODGE: – J. M. Watkins (President). – Mrs. Watkins. – H. J. Dyer. – Miss Saunders. – C. W. C. Barlow. – Miss Howsin. – A. F. Winckley.
BLAVATSKY LODGE: – G. R. S. Mead (President). – Mrs. Mead. – Miss Eardley-Wilmot. – C. J. Barker. – Mrs. Barker. – Miss Tisdale. – Miss M. Wolff van Sandau. – Mrs. E. Wood. – J. F. Tilly. – Mrs. Tilly. – Miss J. R. Willats. – Mrs. A. M. A. Rice. – G. A. Simmons. – Mrs. William Sharp. – J. R. Foster. – H. Burrows. – F. G. Castaneda. – V. C. Turnbull. – Miss S. B. Wilson. – Mrs. C. A. Baynes. – Miss A. Claxton. – Mrs. M. M. W. Kidston. – W. Theobald. – Mrs. Theobald. – Miss M. Theobald. – Miss A. G. Theobald. – B. G. Theobald. – Mrs. F. E. Marshall. – Miss C. E. Marshall. – W. T. Harrison. – Miss L. A. Peile. – Miss G. Linde. – P. Hookham. – Miss L. Henderson. – Mrs. C. Macrae. – Dr. C. G. Currie. – Mrs. Currie. – J. S. Brown. – Mrs. S. F. Dudley. – Miss S. E. Hall. – H. A. Colvile. – Miss A. L. Gaimes. – J. A. Kinnison. – Mrs. Kinnison. – H. R. Hogg. – Mrs. Hogg. – Mrs. Hoffmeister. – Mrs. M. H. Malan. – Miss T. J. O’Connell. – W. F. Kirby. – J. R. Acton. – Mrs. A. K. Ledger. – Miss J. Spence. – Miss E. M. L. Scull. – Col. R. H. Forman. – A. M. Glass. – H. E. Colbett. – H. L. Shindler. – Thirty-five other signatories.
BATH LODGE: – F.Bligh Bond.
BATTERSEA LODGE: – A. P. Cattanach (President). – Mrs. Cattanach. – Miss H. R. Gutteridge. – W. Hewett. – One other signatory.
BOURNEMOUTH LODGE: – E. H. Bellairs.
BRIGHTON LODGE: – Dr. Alfred King (President). – Mrs. King. – J. F. Bigwood. – Four other signatories.
BRISTOL LODGE: – Miss G. S. Platnauer (President). – T. R. Freeman. – Miss F. K. Simmons. – S. W. Smith. – F. H. Stevens. – Mrs. A. K. Furnival. – Miss A. Dobbie. – F. H. Palmer. – One other signatory.
DIDSBURY LODGE: – E. E. Marsden (President). – Mrs. Marsden. – Mrs. E. E. Worthington. – H. Levy. – Miss H. D. Mackie. – Miss F. Jackson. – F. H. Clarke. – Mrs. Clarke. – Mrs. E. Harrold. – W. G. Wilson. – Mrs. Wilson. – Miss K. Whitehead. – Miss E. Booth. – Miss L. Peck. – C. Midgley. – Mrs. Midgley. – Five other signatories.
DUBLIN LODGE: – Mrs. M.E. Greene. – Mrs. G. E. Jones. – Mrs. L. Robinson. – Miss M. Kelly. – Mrs. Kelly. – J. Tingly. – Mrs. E. S. Thornton.
EDINBURGH LODGE: – Mrs. Drummond (President). – Miss E. Drummond. – Mrs. M. H. Darlison. – Mrs. L. Handyside. – Mrs. M. H. Hebdens. – J. J. Bell. – Miss Edith Grant. – Miss Cochrane. – Miss I. Cochrane. – Mrs. Frater. – Miss Raeburn. – Miss E. C. Raeburn. – Mrs. Cragie Prophit. – Miss White. – Five other signatories.
EXETER LODGE: – Lt. Col. L. A. D. Montague (President). – Miss Wheaton. – Miss Z. L. Montague. – Miss F. Lake. – Miss E. E. Snodgrass. – Five other signatories.
GLASGOW LODGE: – R. H. Andrews. – Miss M. S. Ferguson.
H.P.B. LODGE: – H. E. Parry. – Miss C. E. Woods. – Mrs. C. F. Buller. – S. A. Mappin. – Mrs. Mappin. – Mrs. C. B. Fernandez. – Five other signatories.
HARROGATE LODGE: – Mrs. B. Ringrose. – Miss A. B. Woodhead.
HULL LODGE: – H. E. Nichol (President). – Mrs. Nichol. -J. W. Burton. – Mrs. E. B. Burton. – Miss C. A. Eccles.
LONDON LODGE: – Lady Raines. – Mrs. B. H. M. Riddle. – Mrs. E. R. Cull. – Mrs. C. G. R. Smith. – Mrs. K. Baldwin. – Mrs. H. Huntly. – Mrs. N. Malan.
– Mme. Gennadius. – C.B. Wheeler. – Mrs. J. M. S. Walker. – Mrs. V. B. Thompson. – Three other signatories.
LIVERPOOL LODGE: – Mrs. C. B. Avery. – Mrs. M. Fulton. – Mrs. L. M. Queen. – Miss M. Barber. – Miss B. M. Mylehreest. – Three other signatories.
LEEDS LODGE: – C. N. Goode. – Mrs. Goode. – A. W. Waddington.
MANCHESTER CITY LODGE: – J. Mayo. – Mrs. Hadfield. – Miss Hadfield. – Two other signatories.
MIDDLESBROUGH LODGE: – W. H. Thomas (President). – Miss M. E. Thomas. – Baker Hudson. – Mrs. M G. Macfadzean. – J. A. Jones. – One other signatory.
NORTH LONDON LODGE: – V. Lewis. – Mrs. E. C. V. Worley. – One other signatory.
SHEFFIELD LODGE: – C. E. Young (President). – R. Cheatle. – R. Pexton. – Mrs. Pexton. – J. Abey. – J. Wood. – One other signatory.
WEST LONDON LODGE: – Miss E. Ward (President). – Mrs. F. Ozanne. – Mrs. G. B. O’ Donnell. – Miss Fortescue. – Mrs. A. Mallalue. – W. A. Carson. – Mrs. Carson. – Mrs. E. J. Beatty. – Two other signatories.
UNATTACHED: – Mme. de Steiger. – E. de M. Malan. – G. H. Popplestone. – I. L. F. Paynter. – Mrs. M. C. Brown. – Mrs. E. Kilburn. – O. Firth. – W. H. Bean. – Miss H. K. Burke. – Miss H. Bloxam. – I. H. Mitchell. – Mrs. Mitchell. – E. Melland. – Miss G. H. Minet. – Miss H. G. Micklethwait. – Miss A. M. Bostock. – W. Kingsland. – J. Dowall. – Mrs. J. Dowall. – Mrs. E. Schaub. – G. Graham. – Miss M. Scott-Kerr. – Eighteen other signatories.
BRUSSELS: – Seventeen signatories.
OTHER BRITISH LODGES: – Ten signatories.
At the Caxton Hall Meeting above referred to, the Protest Committee were empowered to “receive, consider and report on any suggestion that may be made as to the best manner of keeping together those who feel compelled to withdraw from the Society.”
No suggestions, however, have been received by the Committee; but the formation of a Society on the lines outlined by Mr. Mead at the above meeting is now an accomplished fact.
The name which was then proposed for this Society was, “The Mystical Research Society.” This, however, has since been changed to “THE QUEST SOCIETY.” Full particulars of this Organisation can be obtained from the Hon. Secretary, THE QUEST SOCIETY, 16, Selwood Place, Onslow Gardens, S. W.
A Conference of members and ex-members of the Theosophical Society, living in the North of England, was held at Manchester on January 19, 1909; at which Mr. G. R. S. Mead was also present. The Conference resolved to form Local Societies on lines more or less similar to those of the Quest Society; and also to federate such Societies when constituted.
Mr. W. H. Thomas, The Ness, Linthorpe, Middlesbrough, consented to act as Hon. Secretary, pro tem., and will be pleased to supply all particulars to intending members.
It may also be mentioned that in most cases where Lodges have resigned their Charters they are continuing their work under some different name.
The work of the Protest Committee is now practically finished. The subscriptions which they received have been most generous and ample, and a small balance is still in hand. It is proposed to retain this for a short time, in view of any eventuality arising which might necessitate its being called upon; but in due course a balance sheet will be sent to each subscriber, and suggestions will be asked for as to how the balance should he disposed of.
THE PROTEST COMMITTEE.
16, SELWOOD PLACE, ONSLOW GARDENS,
May 1, 1909.
In my previous introduction to “The Leadbeater Affair” published as CWL01.TXT mention was necessarily made of a letter from Annie Besant to the members of the T.S. of November 1908. This text reproduces that letter. It is an eminently reasonable plea for justice, eloquently worded by a skilled orator. It was not, however, accepted at face value by all of its readers for reasons which will become apparent.
Some members clearly saw, whether rightly or wrongly, that a skilled writer and speaker might also be a skilled manipulator, and in a reply dated the same month as this letter, G. R. S. Mead. Herbert Burrows, W. Kingsland and Edith Ward sought to show that this was indeed the case. This will become [Part 3] as the next article in this study and research exercise.
Alan Bain, June 1996
A LETTER TO THE MEMBERS OF
THE THEOSOPHICAL SOCIETY
FROM ANNIE BESANT,
President of the Theosophical Society.
PRINTED AND ISSUED TO THE MEMBERS OF THE THEOSOPHICAL
SOCIETY BY ANNIE BESANT, 31 ST. JAMES’S PLACE, LONDON, S.W.
TO THE MEMBERS OF THE T.S.
AN appeal has been made to the General Council and to myself, by the British Section in Convention assembled, to take action to put an end to the painful condition of affairs which has arisen in consequence of certain “pernicious teaching” ascribed to Mr. C. W. Leadbeater. The General Council does not meet until December next, and will then take such action as it may deem right. The appeal to myself I answer, after such delay as has been imposed on me by the fact that I was in the Antipodes, on the Society’s business, when the appeal was made, and could not complete my reply until I had verified certain data by reference to documents not then within my reach.
My wish is to lift the present controversy out of the turmoil of passion in which all sense of proportion has been lost, and to submit the whole case to the judgment of the Theosophical Society, free from the exaggerations and misunderstandings which have surrounded it.
I recognise fully that those who denounce Mr. Leadbeater are inspired, for the most part, by all intense desire to protect the purity of public morals and the good name of the Society, and are therefore worthy of respect. I ask them to believe that others may have an equal love of purity and of the Society’s good name, while not accepting their view of Mr. Leadbeater’s advice, and while considering that they have been misled by exaggerated and distorted statements, as I was myself.
I even ask them whether they seriously think that I, after nearly twenty years of unstinted labor for the Society, and of a life more ascetic than lax, am likely to be indifferent either to purity or to the Society’s good name? I ask them to give credit to others for good intent, as they claim good intent for themselves. From the occult standpoint, the duality of sex represents the fundamental duality of the universe, and in the individual human being the duality once existed, as it still exists in the universe and in some forms of vegetable and animal life. The separation of humanity into twosexes, in each of which one sex predominates and the other is rudimentary, is but a temporary device for the better development of complementary qualities, difficult of simultaneous evolution in the same person.
The separation being thus necessary, but the presence of both sex elements being essential to reproduction, the sex instinct, drawing the separated halves together, became a necessary factor in the preservation of the race. To subserve this purpose is its natural function, and any other use of it is unnatural and harmful. In the animal kingdom it has never gone astray from its due utility. In the human, owing to the activity of mind, with vividness of memory and of anticipation, it has become abnormally developed, and its true function has become subsidiary.
It should serve to draw one man and one woman together, for the creation of pure bodies fit for incoming souls, and thus aid in cementing an enduring union of two lives complementary to each other, a union also needed for the nurture and protection of the young ones within a settled home during their years of helplessness.
But by unbridled indulgence, both within and without marriage, it has developed into an overmastering passion, which seeks merely for gratification; its one rightful use, its only natural and legitimate function, is forgotten; the great creative power is prostituted to be an agent of pleasure, and this has brought an inevitable nemesis.
Society is honeycombed with diseases which, directly and indirectly, spring from the general abuse of the creative function; by an extraordinary reversal of facts, continence is regarded as unnatural instead of natural, and the demand of the sex instinct for constant gratification is looked on as normal instead of as abnormality evolved by habitual excess.
Doctors know the suffering and the misery wrought under marriage sanction by unbridled incontinence; faced by the sex passion in unmarried lads, they bid them resort to the women of the streets, and thus increase the evil heredity; statesmen vainly try by Contagious Diseases Acts to minimise the ruin both of men and women; solitary vice is becoming more widespread, and is the deadly peril which teachers in schools are forced continually to face, against which they ineffectually strive.
Such is the condition of humanity at the present time, and for this condition – at the root of most of the misery and crime in civilised life-Occultism has but one remedy – the restoration of the sex function to its one proper use by the gradual raising of the standard of sexmorality, the declaration that its only legitimate use is the creative, that its abuse for sensual pleasure is immoral and unnatural, and that humanity can only be raised out of its present sensuality by self-control.
This view is not likely to be acceptable in a society hereditarily self-indulgent, but occult morality is higher and sterner than that of the world. Also it cares for realities not conventions, and regards unbridled indulgence within marriage as degrading both to mind and body, although, because monogamous, somewhat less ruinous to both than outside the marriage union. Hence, Occultism condemns “neo-Malthusian practices,” as tending to strengthen sex passion, it condemns the medical advice to young men to yield to their “natural passions”; it condemns solitary vice as only less harmful than prostitution; all these things are degrading, unmanly, unwomanly. [See my Theosophy and the Law of Population, 1891.] It exhorts man to remount by self-control the steep incline down which he has slipped by self-indulgence, until he becomes continent, not incontinent, by nature.
On all this Mr. Leadbeater and myself are at one. I do not seek to impose this view on the Theosophical Society, for every member is free to form his own judgment on the sexual problem, as on any other, and mutual respect, not wild abuse, is the rightful attitude of members in face of this, the most difficult problem which confronts humanity. I speak on this as Occultist. “He that is able to receive it, let him receive it.” I turn now to the accusations against Mr. Leadbeater, reminding the Society against whom these accusations are levelled. Mr. Leadbeater was a clergyman of the Church of England who in 1883 entered the Theosophical Society, and in 1884 threw up his career to devote his ripe manhood to its service. From that date until now he has served it with unwavering fidelity, through good and evil report, has travelled all over the world to spread its teachings, has contributed to its literature some of its most valued volumes, and thousands, both insideand outside the Society, owe to him the priceless knowledge of Theosophy.
During the last two and a half years, under a hurricane of attack as unexampled as his services, he has remained silent, rather than that the Society should suffer his reproach.
Because he loved the Society better than his own good name, I, at his wish, have also kept silence. But now that I am appealed to, I will speak, and the more gladly because I also wronged him, believing that he had admitted certain statements as true; I wrote in 1906: “June 7th, I received an account of the acceptance by Mr. Leadbeater before the Committee of the facts alleged in the evidence”.
I thus accepted on what I believed to be his own word, that which, on the word of others, I had rejected as impossible, and that which I ought to have continued to reject even coming as from himself both he and I have suffered, by my blunder, for which I have apologised to him, to an extent which our unmerciful critics little imagine; but it is over, and never the shadow of a cloud can come between us again.
The so-called trial of Mr. Leadbeater was a travesty of justice. He came before judges, one of whom had declared beforehand that “he ought to be shot”; another, before hearing him, had written passionate denunciations of him; a third and fourth had accepted, on purely psychic testimony, unsupported by any evidence, the view that he was grossly immoral and a danger to the Society.
In the commonest justice, these persons ought not to have been allowed to sit in judgment. As to the “evidence,” he stated at the time: “I have only just now seen anything at all of the documents, except the first letter”; on his hasty perusal of them, he stated that some of the points “are untrue, and others so distorted that they do not represent the facts”; yet it was on these points, unsifted and unproven, declared by him to be untrue and distorted, that he was condemned, and has since been attacked.
It was also on these points that I condemned his teaching; on the central matter I had before expressed disagreement, but no condemnation.
The following statement is the one which has been so widely used against him, and contains the teaching that both he and I condemn. That condemnation I hold to, but the teaching thus condemned was never his; part of it was repudiated by him before the Advisory Council in 1906, and the rest of it had been denied in a private letter of February, 1906, since widely published. I wrote, on the false information then in my hands:
“The advice supposed to be given to rescue a boy, as a last resort, in the grip of sexual passions, became advice putting foul ideas into the minds of boys innocent of all sex impulses, and the long intervals, the rare relief, became twenty-four hours in length, a daily habit. It was conceivable that the advice, as supposed to have been given, had been given with pure intent, and the presumption was so, in a teacher of Theosophical morality; anything else seemed incredible. But such advice as was given in fact, such dealing with boys before sex passion had awakened, could only be given with pure intent if the giver were, on this point, insane.”
The two points on which stress is laid here, to which my condemnation applies were: (1) the fouling of “the minds of boys innocent of all sex impulses”; (2) the advice for daily self-indulgence; neither of these is true, and with the falsity of these my condemnation no longer applies to Mr. Leadbeater’s advice.
(1) In the case on which most stress has been laid, the boy had already contracted an evil habit. Mr. Leadbeater found it impossible to cure the vice at once, but he induced the boy to give up his daily habit, and to lessen the frequency of the self-indulgence, gradually lengthening the intervals, that it might at last be entirely renounced. In a second case, the boy wrote to his father, expressing his intense gratitude to Mr. Leadbeater for helping him, and adding: “They were to be continued only for a very short time. Do not call them a habit, because they were never intended to be anything of the kind.”
Instead, then, of advising self-indulgence Mr. Leadbeater sought to help boys in their difficulties by leading gradually up to a perfect control of the sex-functions, laying especial stress upon the avoidance of haunting lascivious thoughts. If a man is poisoned with arsenic, what is the treatment by a doctor? he does not cut off the poison at once, for that would kill; he prescribes lessening doses till the body regains its normal state. Is the doctor to be denounced as a poisoner because he takes the only means of saving his patient?
Mr. Leadbeater says positively that he has never given such advice except in cases where certain symptoms had already shown themselves either on the physical plane or in the aura, even though in one or two instances this may have taken place before what is commonly called puberty. Unhappily – as is known to every teacher of children – this vice is found at a very early age, an age much below that of any boy to whom Mr. Leadbeater spoke. This statement of his – sufficient to all of us who know him – is thoroughly borne out by the fact that most of the boys who were much in his company had never heard of any such advicebeing given.
His usual habit was to speak to the boy of the danger of both solitary and associated vice, to advise non-stimulating diet, exercise, and the turning of thought away from subjects connected with sex-advice on the lines borne witness to by a lad who was much with him, in a brave letter to the ~ Vahan ~. This was Mr. Leadbeater’s ordinary advice, as it is the advice of all of us.
(2) This Mr. Leadbeater positively denied before the Advisory Committee, and there is not a shred of evidence to support the charge. He said:
“The interlineation in writing giving a statement by the mother as to interval is untrue. The original interval was a week, and then it was lengthened to ten days, then a fortnight, and so on.”
I ask the members of the Theosophical Society to consider whether this simple explanation is not more consonant with the character of the great teacher who has lived among them for twventy-four years, than the lurid picture of the monster of sexual vice painted by the inflamed fancy of a few Americans and English? It must be remembered that every effort hasbeen made to construct personal charges against him, without avail.
I have had In my possession for nearly two years a letter from one of Mr. Leadbeater’s most prominent enemies, addressed to a boy whom Mr. Leadbeater was said to have corrupted, in which (with many caressing words, himself using an expression stronger than that which has been taken, in Mr. Leadbeater’s case, to imply impropriety) the writer tried to coax the boy into confessing criminal relations with Mr. Leadbeater, begging him not to show the letter to his father, and to destroy it when read. The lad, utterly ignorant of what was suggested, took the letter to his father, and the father indignantly sent a copy to me. I have also seen the original.
It is not true that this advice was given as theosophical or occult. On the contrary, Mr. Leadbeater has stated throughout that it was a purely physical matter, from his standpoint, and was given as a doctor gives advice to a patient, as a temporary expedient to avoid a worse danger, while lifting the boy out of vice Into purity. Mr. Leadbeater agrees with me that the advice is dangerous when scattered broadcast – as has been done by his assailants – and from the very first he volunteered the promise never to give it again; but in the few special cases in which he gave it, he thought he had safeguarded it from the obvious danger.
Much has been made of a “cipher letter.” The use of the cipher arose from an old story in the Theosophist, repeated by Mr. Leadbeater to a few lads; they, as boys will, took up the cipher with enthusiasm, and it was subsequently sometimes used in correspondence with the boys who had been present when the story was told. In a type-written note on a fragment of paper, undated and unsigned, relating to an astral experience, a few words in cipher occur on the incriminated advice. Then follows a sentence, unconnected with the context, on which a foul construction has been placed.
That the boy did not so read it is proved by a letter of his to Mr. Leadbeater – not sent, but shown to me by his mother – in which he expresses his puzzlement as to what it meant, as he well might. There is something very suspicious about the use of this letter. It was carefully kept away from Mr. Leadbeater, though widely circulated against the wish of the father and mother, and when a copy was lately sent to him by a friend, he did not recognise it in ist present form, and stated emphatically that he had never used the phrase with regard to any sexual act. It may go with the Coulomb and Pigott letters.
There is no doubt that the sex problem is in the air, and it may be, as Dr. van Hook thinks, that that problem must be discussed in the Theosophical Society, as it is being discussed by sociologists, doctors and teachers outside. It can, however, only be decently and usefullydiscussed by mature men and women, possessed of physiological and pathological knowledge and of experience of the darker side of life. On the moral question we are all at one; it is the method of dealing with dangerous physiological conditions which is under debate.
Personally I think – basing the view on well known physiological facts – that as every secretory gland is readily stimulated by thought, and without stimulation does not work to excess, the occupation of the mind along healthy lines will generally avoid dangerous excess, and will preserve in the body the vital elements necessary for the continuance of youth and strength.
Dr. van Hook’s medical experience is, of course, enormously wider than my own, but many doctors hold the view expressed by me that nature may, in normal cases, be left to give any necessary relief. But this does not touch Mr. Leadbeater’s effort to help boy’s through a difficult period by counsel often given by Catholic priests under similar circumstances, and given by himself when a priest of the English Church. Mr. Mead has lately stated, in the pages of the Theosophical Review, that the facts of sex should be explained to boys and girls, so as to avoid the dangers to which they are exposed by hearing the coarse talk of evil-minded servants or vicious comrades.
I agree with him on this, but he will be a bold man who ventures to give such instruction, in the face of the hideous misconstruction with which Mr. Leadbeater has been met. The giving by an elder of a scientific and common sense explanation would be incredible to a society which can only regard sex through an atmosphere of prudery or vice. In all speech thereon a vicious purpose would be taken for granted.
With regard to the preamble of the resolution condemning Dr. van Hook, I am bound to say that it is based on a misrepresentation. Dr. van Hook does not say that any “corrupting practices . . . . are the high doctrine of Theosophy and the precursor of its introduction into the thought of the outer world'”; he says that certain habits, characterised a few lines lower as “this degrading practice,” “could not be instantly interrupted by unspiritualised boys. What more natural than that he should recommend that the practice be curbed? And who knows how many boys, taking this advice from Mr. Leadbeater, have not been gradually weaned away from their vice and brought to entire cleanness of life?” (Italics are mine.)
He then speaks of other boys who had not yet fallen into vice, but who were surrounded by dangerous thought-forms, as already mentioned above. Dr. van Hook, after this, says that “the introduction of this question” – obviously the question of how to deal with boys addicted to vice or on the brink of it, alluded to on the preceding page as a ” problem ” known to ” every woman school teacher dealing with children” – “into the thought of the Theosophical world is but the precursor of its introduction into the thought of the outer world.”
It is a proof of the danger of introducing an important resolution without notice, and of inflaming the listeners with a garbled account of a paper which they had not read, although they were called on to vote its condemnation, that such a misrepresentation should have beenimposed on the Convention. The further statement that Dr. van Hook has said that his letter was “dictated verbatim by one of the Masters” suggests, though it does not say, that Dr. van Hook had made this statement publicly. It would, perhaps, have been fairer to point out that Dr. van Hook had said this privately, with a request that it should not be published, and that it was promptly published by the person to whom he privately wrote it. On this, as President.
I follow the decision laid down by the General Council on July 7th, 1894, in the case of Mr. W. Q. Judge. Mr. Judge was charged with certain offences “with respect to the misuse of the Mahatmas’ names and handwriting”; Mr. Judge contended that he, as Vice-President, could not be tried on such a matter; the Council, on the motion of Messrs. Keightley and Mead, decided that the point was well taken.
The Judicial Committee, on July 10th, followed this decision, and apart from the question of his office, it further declared that they could not consider a charge which involved declaration on their part as to the existence or non-existence of Mahatmas, as “it would be a violation of the spirit of neutrality and the unsectarian nature and constitution of the Society.”
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