Theosophy in Liquidation
is This Theosophy? An Autobiography by Ernest Egerton Wood. (Rider. 16s.).
Reviewed by FATHER HERBERT THURSTON, S.J.
it is unusual in these days to find a book without a preface, but the omission 1S supplied in the work before us by the publisher's announcement printed on !its dustcover. It tells us that " in this remarkable autobiography are revealed the secrets of the inner conclave at Adyar, the headquarters of the Theosophical Society, written by a leading personality in the movement. The revelations regarding Leadbeater and the Ktishnamurti fiasco are specially interesting."
We are also informed that the author " records with what is obviously genuine disappointment his growing difficulty in accepting Leadbeater's clairvoyance as reliable," and further that " the book contains ' a sober and slightly ironical account of the extravagant proceedings ' which followed Dr. Annie Besant's acceptance of Krishnamurti as the coming World Teacher end Saviour."
Although it often happens that the con tents of a book do not by any means correspond with the anticipations which one forms from a publisher's advertisement, it must be confessed that in the present case the reader who puts faith in the announcement from which we have quoted will not be disappointed. Mr. Wood has made a really valuable contribution to the later history of the movement launched to 1875 by Madame Blavatsky.
From 1909 onwards, down to the death of Mrs. &sant in September, 1933, he was In a position to know almost all that went on at the headquarters of the society at Adyar. When Mrs. I3esant's commanding figure passed away Mr. Wood himself became a candidate for the presidency, bin he was defeated in a contest in which his opponent scored 15,000 votes, and he less than 5,000. There is perhaps a trace of bitterness in the author's statement regarding the canvass which preceded this decision.
" The election," he tells us, " which ought to have been a courtly record of policy and opinion—a manifestation of brotherhood in a society established ' to form a nucleus of the universal brotherhood of humanity '----degenerated into something worse than any political elec
tion I have ever known. Alas that every experiment in brotherhood should fail on meeting a modicum of material prosperity."
Still, there is nothing in the book which suggests a spirit of vindictiveness. On the contrary, though the writer seems to have given up belief in the seership of Leadbeater and Mrs. Besant and in their supposed intercourse with " the Masters," he speaks of them sympathetically and even with a certain note of affection.
What does come to the surface, both in this work and in every other impartial survey of the history of Theosophy, is that never since the world began can there have been an organisation so rent with schisms and discredited by ignoble personal jealousies as this society founded ostensibly to promote the brotherhood of man. Not to refer to the early quarrels connected with the names of Anna Kingsford, Coues, Wyld, Old and Judge, or to the implacable hostility to Adyar of Katharine Tingley and the whole Point Loma branch, we have had since the beginning of the present century such defections as those of G. R. S. Mead, Rudolf Steiner, A. P. Sinnett, Krishnamurti, and now Mr. Wood himself, all of them the very pillars by which this unstable fabric was sustained. Speaking of the period immediately preceding the death of Mrs. Besant, our author says, and it must be rememberski that he was the secretary of the Society at the time: "Since Krishnamurti's announcement that he would have no disciples, and that he disapproved the methods prevailing in the society, there had been a stream of resignations and Lapses, which lost the society 28,000 (out of 45,000) members. . . . This decline was not due to economic depression, as some
thought; the biggest part of it took place in 1928, the year of the boom."
There are many other matters of interest in the volume. The author's personal experience of voices and visions and his account of the supposed clairvoyance of Leadbeater and Mrs. &sant will be valuable to all who study the phenomena of hallucination. One misstatement of fact, however, must not pass uncorrected. The " man called Willoughby," through whom indirectly Leadbeater acquired episcopal orders, had not, as Mr. Wood asserts, been " a bishop in the Roman Catholic Church." He had been both ordained priest and consecrated bishop by Arnold Harris Mathew, whose episcopal title came from the Dutch Jansenists.