Table of Contents

Previous Chapter

Charles Webster Leadbeater 1854-1934 
A Biographical Study
by Gregory John Tillett
Table of Contents

Next Chapter

--- 242 ---

Chapter 10: Accusations of Immorality

          The letter from Mrs Helen Dennis, corresponding Secretary of the Esoteric Section in the United States was dated January 25th, 1906. [1]  It began:

          "I have suddenly learned the cause of the Pettit boy's hatred and contempt for Mr Leadbeater, of which I spoke to you in London and which cause he had at that time refused to reveal.  It is not, as I had suspected, a childish and personal grievance but as you will see from the charges and evidence formulated below, was the result of morally criminal acts on the part of Mr Leadbeater himself.  Before he was allowed to go to California with Mr Leadbeater he told the parents of this boy that his first effort in training boys, was a frank talk on the sex question with careful instruction to them on the necessity for an absolutely pure and virgin life.  He stated that he liked to gain their confidence while they were young and before they had erred through ignorance.  He wished to inform them before even a first offence which he said was fatal, so absolute must be their virginity.  This was the understanding between Mr Leadbeater and the boy's parents in


--- 243 ---

arranging his travels with him..." [2]

          Mrs Dennis then specified the charges against Leadbeater:

          "First:  That he is teaching boys given into his cure habits of self-abuse and demoralizing personal practices.

          "Second:  That he does this with deliberate intent and under the guise of occult training or with the promise of the increase of physical manhood.

          "Third:  That he has demanded, at least in one case, promise of the utmost secrecy." [3]

          Mrs Dennis added the testimonies of the mothers of two boys (one of whom was herself, although she did not state this) giving details of how the information had been received.  The first boy had suddenly become antagonistic towards Leadbeater, but despite rebukes from his mother would not explain his feelings, saying:  "Mother, I shall never tell you, but if you knew what I know, had heard and seen the things I have heard and seen, you would not wonder."  Eventually:

          "A few months ago charges reached me of immoral sexual practices by Mr L. with boys, having been made in India, and the same having been suspected


--- 244 ---

in England.   When [the boy] was again questioned he testified that Mr. L. had taught him how to practice self-abuse.  When asked what reason he gave for teaching him such practices he said, 'Mr Leadbeater told me that it would make me grow strong and manly.'  Asked his reason for concealing these facts so long from his parents, he said, 'He made me promise not to tell.'" [4]

          The mother of the second boy had also noticed her son's sudden change of attitude toward Leadbeater after a short trip the boy had made with him when he was fourteen years old.   The boy no longer replied to Leadbeater's letters until his mother insisted upon it, whereas previously affectionate letters had been frequent between them.  When questioned the boy said he could not tell why his attitude has changed.  When the charges against Leadbeater became known to the boy's mother, she questioned him again:

          "With great reluctance he admitted the facts of Mr L.'s immoral conduct and in reply to the question 'When did it happen?' he said 'The very first night I visited him we slept together.'  When asked what excuse Mr L. gave for such conduct, the boy's words were 'Mother, I think that was the worst part of the whole thing, somehow he made me


--- 245 ---

believe it was Theosophical." [5]

          The boy had rejected Leadbeater's advances and the matter was dropped, although the boy felt that Leadbeater no longer liked him, and he was glad to return home.

          The letter from Mrs Dennis was countersigned by Alex Fullerton (General Secretary of the American Section), F.F. Knothe (Assistant General Secretary) and Helen M. Chidester (Assistant Secretary of the ES in America). [6]  They pledged that the matter would be kept secret, but demand that "searching investigation and prompt action" should follow.  A copy of the letter was also sent to Leadbeater.  Both he and Mrs Besant received their letters at Benares, discussed the charges and talked about what action should be taken with regard to them.

          On February 26th, Mrs Besant wrote to Mrs Dennis:

          "Your letter causes me some grief and anxiety, and I think I shall serve you, Mr Leadbeater and the Society best by perfect plainness of speech.  Mr Leadbeater is intimately known to you, and you have definite experiences in connection with him on superphysical planes;  you know something of his


--- 246 ---

relations there, and the impossibility of the existence of such relations with deliberate wrong-doing.   All this must not be forgotten in the midst of the terrible [sic] to which you are subjected.  I know him better than you can do, and am absolutely certain of his good faith and pure intent, though I disagree with the advice he has in rare cases given to boys approaching manhood." [7]

          She went on to discuss the problems faced by those "who have had much experience with boys", how some boys are ruined by self-abuse and others by seeking immoral women, and how others are simply tormented by sexual thoughts "which poison the whole nature".  She suggested that nature provided for the relief of such torment by "involuntary emission", but that this left the boy subject to long periods of torment when the mind was full of "unclean images".  Leadbeater's view, she had determined, was that the natural process of discharge could be hastened, though he said he would only recommend this in rare cases, and after a careful diet, exercise, and a "rousing of the boy's pride and self-respect against yielding" had failed.   He had told her that he had given "the advice" in only three or four cases "believing that it would save the boys from worse peril".  Leadbeater had agreed not to give the advice again, and offered to


--- 247 ---

retire from active work;  Mrs Besant opposed his retirement, and urged Mrs Dennis to understand that, given Leadbeater's occult status, the charges made were an impossibility.  She reminded her that "all who approach the path have to face these searching ordeals, and hold on through all".

          On February 27th, Leadbeater wrote a long and extremely interesting letter to Alex Fullerton.  In it he explained the principles behind his approach.

          "The business of discovering and training specially hopeful younger members and preparing them for Theosophical work has been put into my charge.  Possibly the fact that I have been associated with the training of young men and boys all my life (originally, of course, on Christian lines) is one reason for this, because of the experience it has given me.  As a result of that experience, I know that the whole question of sex feelings is the principal difficulty in the path of boys and girls, and very much harm is done by the prevalent habit of ignoring the subject and fearing to speak of it to young people.  The first information about it should come from parents or friends, not from servants or bad companions.   Therefore I always speak of it quite frankly and naturally to those I


--- 248 ---

am trying to help, when they become sufficiently familiar with me to make it possible.  The methods of dealing with the difficulties are two.  A certain type of boy can be carried through his youth absolutely virgin and can pass through the stages of puberty without being really troubled at all by sensual emotions;  but such boys are few.  The majority pass through a stage when their minds are filled with such matters, and they surround themselves with huge masses of most undesirable thought forms which perpetually react upon them and keep them in a condition of emotional ferment.  These thought forms are the vehicles of appalling mischief since through them disembodied entities can and constantly do act upon the child.  The conventional idea that such thoughts do not matter so long as they do not issue in overt acts is not only untrue;  it is absolutely the reverse of the truth.  I have seen literally hundreds of cases of this horrible condition, and have traced the effects which it produces in after life.  In this country of India the much abused custom of early marriage prevents all difficulty on this score.  Now all this may be avoided by periodically releasing that pressure, and experience has shown that if the boy masturbates at stated intervals he


--- 249 ---

can comparatively easily rid his mind of such thoughts in the interim and in that way escape all the more serious consequences.  I know that this is not the conventional view, but it is quite true for all that, and there is no comparison in the harm done in the two cases even at the time apart from the fact that the latter plan avoids the danger of entanglement with women or bad boys later on.  You may remember how St Paul remarked that while it was best of all to remain a celibate, in the rare cases where that was possible, for the rest, it was distinctly better to marry than to burn with lust.  Brought down to the level of the boy, that is practically what I mean, and although I know that many people do not agree with the view, I am at a loss to understand how any one can consider it criminal, especially when it is remembered that it is based on the clearly visible results of two lines of actions.  A doctor might advise against it, principally on the ground that the habit might degenerate into unrestrained self-abuse;  but this danger can readily be avoided by full-explanation and it must be remembered that the average doctor cannot see the horrible astral effects of perpetual desire." [8]


--- 250 ---

          Leadbeater then considered the specific cases, and admitted having taught masturbation to the Pettit and Douglas boys, and to having told one boy that his physical growth might be encouraged by the practice.  He concluded his letter with a post-script:

          "I see that there is one point in Mrs Dennis' letter on which I have not commented - her reference to a conversation on the necessity of purity for aspirants for occult development, and to the fact that (for a certain stage of it) one['s] life without even a single lapse is required.  It is, of course, obvious that the lapse referred to meant connection with a woman or criminal relations with a man and did not at all include such advice as has been suggested in the body of my letter." [9]

          In the case of Douglas Pettit, Leadbeater continued to claim that the incident had been an isolated one, occurring as the result of the boy's request for advice regarding the psychological and physiological effects of the onset of puberty.  Leadbeater said he was able to tell from the boy's aura that he was experiencing desires and feelings which disturbed him, and offered masturbation as a natural


--- 251 ---

outlet for these.  The boy, however, subsequently made a sworn statement in which he gave his account of events:

          "Mr Charles W. Leadbeater and myself occupied the same bed, habitually sleeping together.  On the morning succeeding the first night that we slept together and before we rose to dress, Mr Charles W Leadbeater explained to me the practice [of masturbation] and urged me to engage in the practice, giving as a reason therefore that it would aid me in overcoming any desire to have sexual intercourse with women - which desire, he told me, would develop in the course of nature at my age very soon.  Mr Charles W Leadbeater also told me that the practice was recommended by his Master and teacher for that reason and advised me not to speak of the matter to anyone.  This reciprocal practice continued for the greater part of seven months." [10]

          In the case of Robin Dennis, Leadbeater claimed that Mrs Dennis had been concerned about the influence of mother boy on her son, and had therefore asked Leadbeater to have Robin stay with him in the hope that he would be able to help in the situation.  Leadbeater claimed that Robin confessed the "relationship with regard to sexual matters


--- 252 ---

to which he has entered" with the other boy, and said that has discussed the problem with Robin, giving him advice on diet and physical exercise, the latter not including masturbation.   He claimed that it was only when Robin wrote him expressing further concern that he recommended occasional masturbation.

          While a few members of the TS may have felt suspicion about Leadbeater, there is little doubt that many came to regard these charges as unsubstantiated and false, and probably connected in some way with Black Magicians and the enemies of the Masters.  It came as a surprise, therefore, when a letter allegedly from Leadbeater to one of the boys was found in a house in Toronto.  Copies of the letter were widely circulated, as was another letter also legedly from Leadbeater to a boy.  The first of the letters, some of which was written in code, became known as "the cypher letter" and copies of it were distributed roughout the Theosophical world, and widely discussed. [1]

          The letter began:

          "Private.  My own darling boy... it is better for me to write in cypher about some of the most important matters." [12]


--- 253 ---

          Most of the letter concerned astral experiences, but in the midst of this discussion there was a passage seemingly unconnected with the rest, and it was on this passage that what Mrs Besant called "a foul construction" was placed by many who subsequently read it.  Part of the passage was written in code:

          "Eg eu dinat xeuiiou iamq ia oaaet socceoh nisa iguao.  Cau oiu uii iguao, is ia xemm oiu dina xamm.  Eulat uiuu iuqqao xiao zio usa utmaaq;  tell me fully.  Hmue taotuueio et ti qmautuou.  Uiitotuoe lettat eusmeoh." [13]

          The code was a simple one and merely involved rearranging the letters of the alphabet by a given number of spaces:  the consonants were reduced by one letter (thus b becomes a, n becomes m, and so on) and the vowels were moved one space in the a-e-i-o-u sequence (thus a becomes e, a becomes i, and so on).  It was, interestingly enough, the code used by Leadbeater in his story "The Perfume of Egypt", published in later years. [14]  When the coded passage is translated, the paragraph in which it occurs read:

          "I am glad to hear of the rapid growth and strength of the results.  Twice a week is permissible, but


--- 254 ---

you will soon discover what brings the best effect.  The meaning of the sign [here appears a circle with a dot in the centre] is urethra.  Spontaneous manifestations are undesirable and should be discouraged.   [Then the coded passage which reads:]  If it will not come without help, he needs rubbing more often, but not too often or he will not come well.  Does this happen when you are asleep?  Tell me fully.  Glad sensation is so pleasant.  Thousand kisses darling." [coded passage ends] [15]

          When confronted with a legally attested copy of the letter, Leadbeater admitted that he recognized it, but said that he did not know it in "its present form", but did not explain what that meant.  It remained one of the mysteries associated with his life;  he never denied that he had written it, although others, including Mrs Besant, suggested that it was a forgery.  Miss Edith Ward, in a circular letter to the British Section of the TS, called for a full investigation and a denial or admission of the letter by Leadbeater.  He refused to give an answer, saying it was "a gross impertinence" to suggest that he should. [16]

          The American Theosophists began moves to have Leadbeater expelled from the TS, and Mrs Besant tried rather


--- 255 ---

desperately to defend her colleague, writing letters to those making the charges in an attempt to pacify them.  In response to the letters from Mrs Besant and Leadbeater, the American committee decided that it was necessary for definite action to be taken.  It was felt that Leadbeater should be "tried" by the British Section, since he was a member of a Lodge within that Section, and also be "tried" as a Presidential Delegate.  The American Section sent a representative, Mr R.A. Burnett of Chicago, to see Colonel Olcott, the General Secretary of the British Section, and officials of Leadbeater's Lodge.  Burnett also saw Leadbeater himself.  The American Section demanded that he should resign all connection with the TS and its activities, or accept a "trial" before the Section, leading, they assumed, to his expulsion from the Society.  Olcott, in London, appointed a committee to advise him in the matter:  it consisted of Mr Sinnett, Dr Nunn, Bertram Keightley, G.R.S. Mead, Mr W.H. Thomas, Mrs I. Stead, Mrs I. Hooper, Miss E. Ward, Miss K. Spink, and Mr A.M. Glass as secretary, The American Section was represented by Mr Burnett, and the French Section by Mr. P. Bernard. [17]  In later years, Mrs Ransom, in her history of the Society, referred to the committee as "unconstitutional court, judge and jury". [18]  The Committee began its meetings at the Grosvenor Hotel, Buckingham Palace Road, London, on May


--- 256 ---

16th.  Leadbeater attended, having been given the assurance that the proceedings would be confidential. [19]  The Committee was to consider not only the two American cases, but the general subject of Leadbeater's relations with his pupils.

          Leadbeater's response to the allegations was very much as he had written to Fullerton.   He stated that he recommended masturbation as a "prophylactic" for the prevention of something far worse.  The following extracts are taken from the official transcript of the "trial":

          "Thomas:  I should like to know definitely whether it was simply in the nature of advice or whether there was any action.

          "Leadbeater:  I want to call up quite clearly the exact incidents.  I scarcely recollect.  There was advice but there might have been a certain amount of indicative action.  That might be possible. 

          "Mead:  The boy suggests in the most distinct way that the difference between 'Z' [the other boy said to have been involved with Douglas Pettit] and you was that in the case of 'Z' he spoke of these things, and in your case something was done to him.

          "Leadbeater:  Nothing was done to him.  You can't be


--- 257 ---

suggesting what seems to be the obvious suggestion.

          "Mead:  You say the boy lies?

          "Leadbeater:  He has misrepresented.  I don't like to accuse people of lies, but a construction has been put upon it which is not right.

          "Thomas:  Your reply as to scarcely recollecting suggests that there were so many cases.  I would like to know whether in any case - I am not suggesting sodomy - there was definite action.

          "Leadbeater:  You mean touch?   That might have taken place.

          ........

          "Thomas:  You admit giving advice to more than the

two boys?

          "Leadbeater:  You are to take it that the same advice was given to several.

          "Olcott:  How many?  Twenty altogether?

          "Leadbeater:  No, not so many.

          ..........

          "Mead:  The second charge read:  'That he does so with deliberate intent or with the promise of the increase of physical manhood.'  The evidence of these boys says nothing about applying to him for help.  I want to ask whether this advice was given on appeal or not.


--- 258 ---

          "Leadbeater:  Sometimes without, sometimes with.  I advised it at times as a Prophylactic.

          "Miss Ward:  I suppose from what you saw on the other planes?

          "Leadbeater:  From what I saw would arise. [sic]

          "Olcott:  That is not within our discussion." [20]

 

          Leadbeater eventually gave clues as to the origin of the principles behind the advice.   These amazed the Committee and constitute yet another mystery in this affair.

 

          "Bernard:  Since Mr Leadbeater was teaching these boys to help them in case of need, considering that men may be in the same difficulty, has he ever taught this to any grown-up men?  Has he taught the same thing in the same personal way to grown-up men as to children?

          "Leadbeater:  I believe that at least on two occasions in my life I have given that advice to young men as better than the one generally adopted.

          "Olcott:  Since you came into the Society?

          "Leadbeater:  I think not, but one case might have been. [21]  You are probably not aware that one at least of the great Church organizations for young


--- 259 ---

men deals with the matter in the same manner.

          "Mead:  Do you deliberately say this?

          "Leadbeater: Yes.

          "Mead and Burnett:  What is its name?

          "Leadbeater:  I am not free to give this.  I heard of the matter first through it.

          "Mead:  Mr. Leadbeater states then that there is an organization in the Church of England which teaches self-abuse.

          "Olcott:  Is it a seminary for young priests or a school?

          "Leadbeater:  It is not a school but I must not give definite indications.

          "Olcott:  Is it found in the Catholic Church?

          "Leadbeater:  I expect so.

          "Olcott:  I know that in Italy Garibaldi found many terrible things.

          "Mead:  This last statement of Mr Leadbeater is one of the most extraordinary things I have ever heard.  It is incredible to me that there is an organization of the Church of England which teaches masturbation as a preventative against unchastity.  I ask, what is the name of this organization?

          "Leadbeater:  I certainly should not tell.

          Mead:  I understand that it is an organization


--- 260 ---

pledged to secrecy and I take it that Mr Leadbeater received his first information from this organization.

          "Leadbeater:  I suppose it would have been better if I had not mentioned it.

          "Mead:  I absolutely refuse to believe that this is so.

          "Leadbeater:  I decline to prove it in any manner." [22]

 

          As to the identity of the organization, if indeed it did exist, no clues were given. [23]

          Finally, with Leadbeater out of the room, the Committee considered the case, and decided to accept his resignation, although they were divided over the issues of whether he should be expelled, what sort of publicity should be given to the case, and what sort of official announcement should be made.  Bertram Keightley commented:

          "Unless in some public manner the Society is informed that Mr Leadbeater is no longer a member, he will be visiting branches and giving lectures and picking up boys, as he has done in the past.  I cannot leave this room satisfied until I know that no member of the Society can be taken unawares.  We


--- 261 ---

cannot allow there to be any doubt that Mr Leadbeater has ceased to be a member of the Society." [24]

          The "trial" then concluded:

 

          "Olcott:  I should like to ask Mr Leadbeater if he thinks I have acted impartially?

          "Leadbeater:  Absolutely, if we should consider later I can do anything, let me know.

          "Mead:  Do you mean to continue this course of teaching?

          "Leadbeater:  Seeing there is such a feeling on the matter by people whose views I respect, I do not." [25]

 

          By modern standards, the advice Leadbeater gave, if it simply was a recommendation to accept masturbation rather than the mental anguish of sexual desire, would not seem immoral or dangerous.  But in 1906 attitudes towards "self-abuse" were very different, a legacy of the Victorian period when masturbation was seen as the cause of insanity, immorality, or, at the very least, blindness and physical collapse.  Those who "indulged" were easily identifiable according to medical texts of the time:


--- 262 ---

          "The frame is stunted and weak, the muscles undeveloped, the eye is sunken and heavy, the complexion is sallow, pasty or covered with spots of acne, the hands are damp and cold, and the skin moist.  The boy shuns the society of others, creeps abroad alone." [26]

          So the encouragement of anything less than an absolute avoidance of "self-abuse" (the name reveals the attitude) was regarded as unhealthy, immoral and criminal.

          Leadbeater's arguments, then and later, fell down when it was realized that he, first, admitted to giving the advice to pre-pubescent boys who had not sought it, and, second, admitted employing some form of "indicative action" which might have included touch.  Precisely what Leadbeater did or did not do has been a matter of debate and conjecture ever since the matter first became known.  However, even the semi-official Short History of the Theosophical Society acknowledges:

          "[Leadbeater] said that in regard to one boy, in order to obviate this trouble [i.e. sexual disturbance] of which he was clairvoyantly aware he advised a certain regulated practice.  To about three other boys in difficulties he had advised


--- 263 ---

caution and the gradual overcoming of their troublesome habits.  To the first boy he had written in cypher, not only about his sex problems, but also on another matter of higher import, the development of which was contingent not only upon controlling the physical distress but also on the mental necessity of outgrowing it.   On the nature of this higher purpose Mr Leadbeater was pledged to secrecy and did not divulge it however fierce the attack upon him or the misunderstanding of his motives, though to Mrs Besant he admitted its existence." [27]

          So Leadbeater's resignation was accepted, and Olcott cancelled his special appointment as Presidential Delegate.

          But Leadbeater continued to defend his actions, alleged his opponents were under the influence of Black Magicians, and claimed that two of his most damning admissions before the Committee were mistakes made by the stenographer, and did not constitute part of the original transcript.  Immediately upon receiving the Committee's decision, he cabled Mrs Besant, seeking her advice.

          "Brief report of Committee meeting  Col. advised resignation.  Best course.  Copies of your letter to


--- 264 ---

Mrs Dennis and mine to Mr Fullerton put before Committee.  Mead exceedingly hostile.  Bertram implicated you, stormy debate.  Col. accepted resignation.  What work should I do now?  Cannot do public lecturing.  Burma good.  I should prefer to spend time in the tropic rather than in England.  If there is any work that I can do, please let me know.  I might be useful in Australia or in New Zealand.  Technically my resignation from the T.S. removes me from the E.S.  But I can answer questions in unofficial capacity as friend." [29]

          Mrs Besant replied by letter on May 17th.  She agreed that Leadbeater should have resigned, and suggested that she might do so in protest.  She intended to expel from the ES all who had taken part in "this insane action", and to cancel her American tour.  But she was "fully, utterly, certain" that Leadbeater had acted with good intentions "in the most difficult problem that parents and teachers have to face".  She also speculated on what he could do, though she suggested if public activities were impossible it was because the Master had more important work for him.  "They are so indifferent to the world's opinion." [29]

          On the same day that she wrote her letter to him, he followed his cable with a letter to her, giving an


--- 265 ---

account of the "two hours of discussion and cross-examination" which preceded the Committee's findings.  He speculated on his future, wondering whether he could find work in India or Burma, and regretting that he could not take a Headmastership because he lacked a University degree.  He wanted some quiet time to do some writing, but did not want to spend it in England.  Basil Hodgson-Smith and Fritz Kunz were to continue as his secretaries, though Basil was preparing for university.  He included some discussion of ES matters in the letter:  Mrs Besant had recently established an "Inner Group" (known as the IG) within the ES, and its existence was already causing some problems amongst those who had not been invited to join. [30]

          Mrs Besant also wrote to Colonel Olcott on May 23rd, expressing her disapproval both of the advice Leadbeater had given to the boys, which she thought "likely to lead the boys into a very vicious practice ruinous to health", and of the proceedings against him being founded upon "one sided statements by hysterical people and their report of statements forced from frightened boys by people determined beforehand to convict".  She thought the Americans had "behaved disgracefully" in making the matter public.  Fullerton had issued an official circular to all American members:   it dealt with the rumours about Leadbeater and stated that stories which had been current "for years" in


--- 266 ---

India, Ceylon and England had finally reached America, where proof had been found to substantiate them.   Mrs Besant felt Leadbeater's loss was a "terrible blow to the Society":

          "It is a serious thing to destroy one of our best workers, and the procedure should be grave and judicial, not a mere chorus of howls." [31]

          Leadbeater, meanwhile, continued to reside at 10, East Parade, Harrowgate, and it was from there that his next letter to Mrs Besant was addressed.  He advised her against resignation, and felt her suggestion that he might remain in England was impractical, fearing that "the enemies of the Society will endeavour to set the law in motion" against him, and that Mead and Keightley would follow with their "persecutions".  He planned to rest for a few months.

          Mrs Besant's understanding of her colleague seems to have taken a change of direction, for on June 9th, she issued a strongly worded letter to members of the ES in which she condemned his teachings, and, implicitly, him.

          "Mr X [Leadbeater] appeared before The Council of the British Section, representatives of the French and American Sections being present and voting;  Colonel Olcott in the chair.  Mr X denied none of


--- 267 ---

the charges, but in answer to questions very much strengthened them, for he alleged that he had actually handled the boys himself and that he has thus dealt with boys before puberty as a prophylactic.  So that the advice supposed to have been given as a last resort to rescue a boy 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 passions were awakened, could be given with pure intent only if the giver were, on this point, insane." [32]

          And she concluded:

          "Let me here place on record my opinion that such teachings as this given to man, let alone to innocent boys, is worthy of the sternest reprobation.  It distorts and perverts the sex


--- 268 ---

impulse, implanted in man for the preservation of the race;  it degrades the idea of marriage, of fatherhood and motherhood, humanity's most sacred ideals;  it befouls the imagination, pollutes the emotions and undermines the health.  Worst of all is that it should be taught under the name of the Divine Wisdom, being essentially 'earthly, sensual, devilish'". [33]

          Mrs Besant's sudden, and never explained, change of attitude, and her refusal to give him the support he had come to expect of her, was a serious blow to Leadbeater.  However, they continued to exchange letters as Mrs Besant went on working in India, and Leadbeater lived quietly at Harrowgate, the island of Jersey, or Sicily, continuing his occult investigations.  He continued to seek her advice regarding his future, and to remind her of their past occult work together:

          "You have been in daily contact for years with my astral and mental bodies, and you know they are not impure or sensual in the ordinary meaning of those words, and there are other higher things too.  You doubted the highest once, you remember, not unnaturally, but summoned up again, and said at leave-taking:  'You will not think again that I


--- 269 ---

am only a dream will you?'  Can you have doubted again?" [34]

          Leadbeater was thinking of going to Japan, perhaps becoming a Buddhist monk, although he feared this would mean that he had to leave Basil behind in England, preparing for his University work, and take only Fritz, and a new young man, Johan van Manen, with him. [35]   Leadbeater's letters to Mrs Besant were long and friendly;  hers in reply were short and formal.

          Jinarajadasa, meanwhile, was in America, and wrote to Fullerton defending his former teacher.  He pointed out that he had lived for many years in close contact with Leadbeater, and had never had the slightest reason to suspect him of sexual irregularity.  Jinarajadasa disagreed with Leadbeater on his theories about the benefits of masturbation, but stated that he believed his colleague held these views sincerely, and largely as a result of the work as an Anglican clergyman, during which he had been confronted with so much evidence of the evils of illicit sexual intercourse.  Fullerton objected strongly to Jinarajadasa's views.  Olcott, who was strongly antagonistic to Leadbeater at this time, was visiting New York, and heard of Jinarajadasa's defence of Leadbeater.  Taking exception to


--- 270 ---

this, he issued an "Executive Notice" cancelling his diploma of membership, unnecessarily, as it happened, since Jinarajadasa had already resigned. [36]

          Meanwhile, there was concern over the matter in other Sections of the Society.  In Germany, Rudolph Steiner, then General Secretary of the German Section, sent a circular on the Leadbeater case to all members in Germany, in which he declared:

          "I can speak the more freely of the Leadbeater affair since I have always deemed it necessary to repudiate the methods by which he arrives at his occult information, the spreading of which he so extols." [37]

          Steiner had developed a dislike for Leadbeater and his (by Steiner's standards) crude psychism, and a concern for the dominance Leadbeater was acquiring over the TS.  Steiner's intellectual approach, together with his emphasis on western occultism and Christianity, conflicted with Leadbeater's view of occultism.  Steiner was likewise coming more and more into conflict with Mrs Besant, and his personal following, which made up most of the German Section of the TS, was generally of a different character to the rest of the Society's membership.   From around 1905 Steiner began


--- 271 ---

lecturing on "Anthroposophy", and his individual interpretation of Theosophy, contrasting both with the "orthodoxy" of HPB and the teachings of Besant and Leadbeater, began to acquire dominance in the German TS. [38]

          By September 27th, Mrs Besant's attitude was again changing, and she wrote a much friendlier letter to Leadbeater.  She was, however, still concerned that she may have been under a "glamour", that is, an artificial and illusory image, throughout her working with Leadbeater. [39]  This could have explained why she thought she had done great things in the spiritual worlds with a man who was "earthly, sensual, devilish". [40]  Leadbeater's next letter to her, on October 17th, reassured her on this, implying that this sort of doubt was likely to have been fostered by the Black Powers. [41]  He informed her that he has sent out a little printed letter giving his side of the affair, and that there was a move in the USA to establish a fund to compensate him for the financial loss resulting from his resignation.  And he warned her against Chakravarti, to whom she was turning again:  "He is playing a double game", warned Leadbeater.

          By November 6th he was giving Mrs Besant an account of his attempts to contact Mrs Dennis on the astral plane:


--- 272 ---

          "Mrs Dennis' attitude is a mystery.  I have tried to reach her astrally but it is useless;  she gives me the impression of a different person altogether.  Does this seem to you also?  I do not like to make the suggestion, and I shall not hint a word of it to anyone but you, but the truth is that it seems to me a kind of half obsession.  The Mrs Dennis that I used to know would not have behaved as she has done even if I has committed all the crimes that she appears to believe.   She had not such bitterness and rancour in her." [42]

          The exchange of letters between them moved from the first phase of support and collaboration, through a period of formality and coldness on Mrs Besant's part as she was more and more influenced by the Theosophists at Adyar who had been horrified by Leadbeater's behaviour, to a gradual resumption of friendliness by the end of 1906.  As the result of his frequent letters, regular reminders of their occult work together and the occult bonds which indissolubly linked them, she came gradually to reinterpret the events of 1906.

          The relationship between Leadbeater and Mrs Besant was too close to be dissolved, even by so great a


--- 273 ---

scandal.   The fallen prophet gathered his forces, and awaited his return to power.  He did not have long to wait. [43]


Table of Contents

Previous Chapter

Charles Webster Leadbeater 1854-1934 
A Biographical Study
by Gregory John Tillett
Table of Contents

Next Chapter