"Old Diary Leaves: The True History of The Theosophical Society" is a series of six books written by the first president of the Theosophical Society: Henry Steel Olcott, and based on his Diary (which is kept in the Archives of Adyar and is composed of 30 volumes) and where the Colonel Olcott tells the story of the Theosophical Society since he met Blavatsky on the farm of the Eddy brothers in 1874, until 1898 when the former Anglican priest Leadbeater already had a great predominance in Adyar.
The first volume was published in 1895 by the publisher G. Putnam's Sons, and subsequently, the following volumes were published by The Theosophical Society in Adyar between 1900 and 1923.
These volumes relate the following periods of time:
· Volume 1: 1874 - 1878
· Volume 2: 1878 - 1883
· Volume 3: 1883 - 1887
· Volume 4: 1887 - 1892
· Volume 5: 1893 - 1896
· Volume 6: 1896 - 1898
And now, I share the opinion given by several researchers about this work:
Upasika Library’ Opinion
The Upasika Library is one of the most important libraries of esoteric, philosophical and spiritual works online.
« “Old Diary Leaves” is a detailed account of the origins of the Theosophical Movement, which originally appeared in articles published in the official Adyar magazine of “The Theosophist” from March 1892 to December 1906, and subsequently these articles were regrouped and gradually reprinted in six books.
And the colonel's closeness Olcott with Blavatsky makes of these books an interesting document for all those interested in deepening the historical development of esotericism in the West. »
Colonel Henry Steel Olcott
Boris de Zircoff’s opinion
Boris de Zircoff is an important theosophist that compiled all the articles that wrote Blavatsky in 14 volumes called “Collected Writings”.
« Shortly after the death of Blavatsky, Colonel Olcott decided to publish in the official Adyar magazine “The Theosophist” a historical sketch of the Theosophical Society.
The first installment appeared in Vol. XIII of March 1892, ending the First Series in Vol. XV of September 1894.
And for good or bad, Colonel Olcott felt that within the Theosophical Society there was a strong tendency towards the establishment of idolatry to Blavatsky, and one of the main objectives of his historical outline was to undermine the image of Blavatsky to counteract that trend.
And to achieve this, Colonel Olcott allowed himself to treat petulantly certain phases and aspects of Blavatsky's life and character, being exposed by this act to severe criticism for having "dwarfed" his old colleague, friend and teacher.
In addition, certain passages of the First Series were considered by some of their collaborators as irreverent and what caused them to be offended by them, to such a degree that when Colonel Olcott, he asked at the Countess Wachtmeister to publish the First Series as a book, through her publisher (the HPB Press in London), she refused to do so unless some unpleasant passages were expunged from her. Which the colonel did not accept to do, publishing his book with another publisher.
But in spite of the many limitations and errors that its history contains, “Old Diary Leaves” must be considered the Magnum Opus of Olcott, and without this work, little would be known about the History of the Theosophical Society. »
(Collected Writings, Vol.1, p.503-518, excerpts)
Countess Constance Wachtmeister
B.P. Wadia’s opinion
B.P. Wadia was also an important theosophist who collaborated closely with Annie Besant, but face the madness that she committed, he renounced to Adyar and joined the United Lodge of Theosophists (ULT).
« “Old Diary Leaves” is not exactly the history of the Theosophical Society as its title claims, but rather the personal history of Colonel Olcott, and although it often fails in accuracy, his work has at least the merit to describe faithfully (although unconsciously to himself) “the true story” as he lived it.
And if we know how to interpret his vision, we will see the difficult stages and trials through which the aspirant to initiation has to go through the “hard and thorny path” of approval.
And if you read it in this way (like the diary of a disciple of the Trans-Himâlayan Masters in a probationary state), nowhere else can you find very important lessons for the study and instruction of the student on the esoteric side of the Theosophical Movement.
And also, in no other work, will they better understand the causes that led to the failure of the Theosophical Society than in “Old Diary Leaves”.
_ _ _
And for those who have a distorted view of the events that happened after having read the painful accounts of Colonel Olcott in the pages of his Fourth Series, must remember that at that time the colonel was an old and exhausted man, who was narrating something that had happened more than ten years ago (after the fatal blunders of the years 1894-1896) and that he felt under the overwhelming need to put himself before posterity in the best possible way. »
(The Theosophical Movement, 1875-1925, pp. 141 and 267-274)
Henry Olcott ca 1906
Opinion of Jose Ramon Sordo
Jose Ramon Sordo is one of the most erudite theosophists, I have known.
« His first volume was the best of the series, although in it, he incurs in certain personal speculations about Blavatsky's supposed ignorance about the Reincarnation, which exposes the fact that his stories are based on a mere external observation, lacking of intuition.
In the six volumes there is a style of "ghost hunting" and wonders seeker predominates. And from the third volume, Colonel Olcott mixes the historical account of past events, with what happened in the Theosophical Society at the time of writing his memories, showing in certain passages a clear animosity toward William Judge. »
William Quan Judge
Opinion of Jose Rubio Sanchez and Jose Miguel Cuesta Puertes
They are two great researchers who have written several books about the Theosophical Movement.
« “Old Diary Leaves” tells the story of the Theosophical Society, written as a diary by Colonel Olcott, but focused on his coexistence with Blavatsky, since they met for the first time in the brothers Eddy’s farm until the end of his life.
This work was very criticized for considering that it tarnished the character of Blavatsky, telling curiosities that made her look “more human”. »
(Blavatsky’s Initiation Journeys, Prologue, p.14)
Helena Petrovna Blavatsky
I have not read the whole work of Olcott because it is huge. To give you an idea, the first volume in its original edition has 491 pages, and the second volume has 476 and in total it is mentioned that the six volumes have more than 2000 pages...!!!
(Henry Olcott really loved writing a lot!)
But the parts that I have read, I have indeed noticed that Colonel Olcott tends to downgrade his former colleague, as he describes her as a very immature woman and at times even infantile.
And I do not say that Blavatsky did not have flaws, that he did have, but the Colonel Olcott's description of her does not correspond to the description made by other people who also knew Blavatsky very well (and for a long time) such as: Alfred Sinnett, William Judge , Bertram Keightley, etc.
So I agree with the other investigators when they say that Colonel Olcott intentionally devalued his former teacher. And himself declared it, since at the beginning of his first volume, Henry Olcott wrote the following:
« The series of chapters which now compose this book was begun nearly three years ago in the Theosophist magazine, and a second series, devoted to the history of the Society after the transfer to India, is now in progress.
The controlling impulse to prepare these papers was a desire to combat a growing tendency within the Theosophical Society to deify Mme. Blavatsky, and to give her commonest literary productions a quasi-inspirational character.
Her transparent faults were being blindly ignored, and the pinchbeck screen of pretended authority drawn between her actions and legitimate criticism. Those who had the least of her actual confidence, and hence knew least of her private character, were the greatest offenders in this direction.
It was but too evident that unless I spoke out what I alone knew, the true history of our movement could never be written.
I have pursued my present task to its completion, despite the fact that some of my most influential colleagues have, from what I consider mistaken loyalty to Blavatsky, secretly tried to destroy my influence, ruin my reputation, reduce the circulation of my magazine, and prevent the publication of my book. »
(Old Diary Leaves, Vol.1, Foreword, v-vi)
And curiously, in his work we can perceive the defects that Colonel Olcott had, such as: the fact that he was very good at criticizing, but when people criticized him, he was extremely offended.
Or the fact that all the time he flatters himself.
Or the fact that he was overly suspicious, so extremely that Master Kuthumi wrote him in a letter:
« Your impressibility is so changeful that I must not wholly depend upon it at this critical time. Put all needed restraint upon your feelings, so that you may do the right thing in this Western imbroglio. Watch your first impressions. The mistakes you make spring from failure to do this. Let neither your personal predilections, affections, suspicions nor antipathies affect your action. »
(Letters from the Masters of the Wisdom, I, C19, p.44)
Unfortunately Olcott ignored these advices that the Master Kuthumi gave him, and this was the main factor that caused the failure of the Theosophical Society. And it is only at the end of his life that Colonel Olcott reconsidered and showed repentance for the unjust and cruel way he treated his former work colleagues (Blavatsky and William Judge).
* * * * *
I do not recommend reading this work, because it is exaggeratedly voluminous, unless you are someone who wants to delve into the history of the Theosophical Society, and for that, keep in mind that it is not exactly the real story, but the history as Henry Olcott perceived it.
For those who are only interested in theosophical teaching, this work contributes very little. And for those who want to know the history of the Theosophical Society, but without going so deep, I recommend better reading other books.
But if you want to read it:
- You can read online the six volumes (here).
- And you can download the three first volumes (here).