Thursday, July 15, 2010

Abner Doubleday, President of the Theosophical Society

Abner Doubleday may not be a name readily recognizable to those familiar with the history of the modern theosophical movement. Yet, for a brief time, he was deputed President of the Theosophical Society when Blavatsky and Olcott departed America for India. A new book from the publisher McFarland, Abner Doubleday: A Civil War Biography by Thomas Barthel, while focusing on his contribution to America’s Civil War, looks at his involvement with Theosophy. Doubleday (1819-1893) distinguished himself at the Battle of Gettysburg in 1863, where Confederate troops suffered a major defeat and effectively decided the fate of the Civil War. He traveled on the train with Abraham Lincoln later that year when the President delivered his famous Gettysburg address in Pennsylvania and was on the dais with other dignitaries. When Doubleday died in 1893 he was buried in Section 1 of Arlington National Cemetery in Virginia.

Doubleday’s later interest in Theosophy is well documented and can be read about here. Barthel gives an effective enough summary in his book, but also cites a letter on page 204 from Blavatsky to Doubleday written from Bombay “in July of 1879,” which seems out of context and for which no source is given:

The foremost rule of all is the entire renunciation of one’s personality—i.e., a pledged member has to become a thorough altruist, never to think of himself, and to forget his own vanity and pride in the thought of the good of his fellow-creatures, besides that of his fellow-brothers in the esoteric circle. He has to live, if the esoteric instructions shall profit him, a life of abstinence in everything, of self-denial and morality, doing his duty by all men.

The known surviving letters to Doubleday from Blavatsky of July 16, 1879 and April 17, 1880, in the archives of the Theosophical Society, Pasadena, have been printed, though there may have been others (see The Theosophical Forum, December 1939, 445-447). But neither gives such information. Hopefully more details can be provided.

Doubleday’s memorial at the Gettysburg Battlefield, Pennsylvania

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