Theosophical Encyclopedia

Arnold, Sir Edwin (1832-1904)

English poet, scholar, and journalist, as well as a friend of Henry S. Olcott, co-founder of the TS. Arnold was born at Gravesend in Kent on June 10, 1832, and educated at King's College, London, and University College, Oxford. After receiving his degree from Oxford, he was appointed Principal of Deccan College, Poona, in 1856. There he quickly mastered Sanskrit, Arabic, Turkish and Persian, thanks partly to a phenomenal memory. He returned to England in 1861, on the staff of the Daily Telegraph, of which he became editor.

Arnold became well-known to his contemporaries after the publication of his epic poem on the life and teachings of the Buddha, entitled The Light of Asia (1879). His reputation was further enhanced by his translation of the Bhagavad-Gita, entitled The Song Celestial (1885). Both works have been continually in print.

Having met in London in 1884, Arnold presented Olcott with some pages of the original manuscript of his poem. When Olcott visited Ceylon (now Sri Lanka) in 1886, he found Arnold also there. Arnold was unknown to the Ceylon Buddhists, so Olcott hastened to enlighten them. He organized a reception at the Buddhist College for Arnold and his wife and daughter. 

Arnold knew Helena P. Blavatsky well and expressed his admiration for her extraordinary mental attainments. He recalled an occasion when he asked if she knew the date of a Sanskrit grammarian and she was able to give it without hesitation. 

A nominal Unitarian, Arnold was obviously attracted to Buddhism and in the last year of his life allowed his name to stand as an honorary member of the International Buddhist Society. After giving up blood sports, he became a vegetarian and was vice-president of the Vegetarian Society in London. When, in London, two Theosophists introduced Mohandas Gandhi to the Bhagavad-Gita, it was Arnold's Song Celestial that they gave him. 

Arnold was sympathetic to Theosophy and expressed the opinion that the Theosophical movement had an excellent effect on humanity. 

Arnold's publications also include Pearls of the Faith (1883); The Secret of Death (1885); and Light of the World (1891).


Wright, Brooks. Interpreter of Buddhism to the West, Sir Edwin Arnold. New York: Bookman Associates, 1957.


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