Theosophical Encyclopedia

H.N. Stokes’ Early Contact with The Theosophical Society

[This article originally appeared in Theosophical History II, no. 1 (January 1987): 4–22. It provides additional information on H. N. Stokes that could not be included in my original article, “H. N. Stokes and the O. E. Library Critic,” which appeared in Theosophical History I, no. 6 (April 1986): 129–39. Since the reproduction of the original was very poor, due to my poor choice of formatting, this is the first opportunity of displaying the article in a readable format. As with my previous article that appeared in Theosophical History I, no. 6 (April 1986), some minor revisions were made in order to correct the text.

H.N. Stokes’ Early Contact with The Theosophical Society

 By Dr. James Santucci 

Professor Emeritus of Religious Studies 

California State University 

Fullerton, CA 92834-6868  

“Dr. Roastem Stokes”, 1 “Paprika-Tabasco - Stokes” 2 : fitting names for an individual who was identified as perhaps the most outspoken detractor of the leaders of the Theosophical Society. (Adyar). For those familiar with Dr. Henry Newlin Stokes (1859–1942) and his O. E. Library Critic, he either was the doyen of derogators—a villifier, a falsifier, a vilipender—or the guardian of Truth and exposer of purulence, deception, and hypocrisy. 3 For those on the receiving end of his vituperations, Dr. Stokes was considered to be an individual incapable of engaging in or even, for that matter, of suggesting constructive endeavors. He was the censurer par excellence, a Cain, a scourge, a Hun on the rampage, and when there was nothing left to despoil, a “Shiva without a job” 4 on the lookout for new territory to plunder.

TE Stokes 2 b

Paprika-Tabasco - Stokes

Such observation, however blunt, cannot be disputed, for even a casual reading of the O. E.Library Critic from 1918 to its demise in 1942 exhibits this negative tendency well enough. Yet, when the Critic is read prior to 1917 in conjunction with Stokes’ private correspondence, especially from the years 1912 to 1914, one is struck—perhaps astonished is the more appropriate word—with the antithetical attitude of its Editor. A more diametrically opposed perspective vis-a-vis the Theosophical Society cannot be imagined. If he was a Leadbeater-phobe after 1917, he had been more of a “-phile” prior to this time; if he considered George Arundale more of a buffoon with overblown and fatuous designs for the Society from the 1920s on, he had had nothing but admiration for Mr. Arundale in 1914; if he was identified with the “Conservative Party” within the Theosophical Movement after 1917, he certainly had made it clear that he considered the “Progressive Party” as the more authentic representative of Theosophical ideals. Perhaps the most astounding revelation from his early correspondence is the impression that Dr. Stokes, the one responsible for coining the phrase “Back to Blavatsky” 5  in 1917, had not placed any reverential significance in the writings of Madame Helena P. Blavatsky a few years earlier. It is true that he [5] fully appreciated her role as a Founder of the Theosophical Society, but he considered Mrs. Annie Besant his role model, the one who inspired him to be a Theosophist, for it was she “who ...showed me the tremendous significance of Karma and that the universe is conducted on ethical principles .... “ 6

TE Stokes 2 c AB

Annie Besant

Certainly, the fundamental question to be raised at this stage appertains to the reason or reasons for this momentous reversal. Perhaps of more importance to the Theosophist or historian of the Theosophical Movement is the consequence of this conversion in 1917. The first question must be answered in the context of Dr. Stokes’ early life, background, education, and personality: a task that requires far more space than this paper will allow. The second question, of course, brings us into the realm of speculation; nonetheless, such speculation should make us more aware of the damage or benefit, depending upon one’s viewpoint, that the Theosophical Movement experienced through his association with it.

A lesson to be drawn from what little we now know of Dr. Stokes’ earlier life was his willingness to explore new areas of knowledge and a pattern that suggests the ability to undergo abrupt transformations regarding opinions and attitudes and those holding the same. At the same time, one cannot refrain from assuming that the underlying principle which caused Stokes to act in the manner that he did in his later life was due to the emphasis he placed on the ethical side of life, especially the role of altruism. The adaptability that he exhibited is obvious both in his career changes and in his religious perspectives. Originally a chemist, he took an interest in occultism, later establishing a library and book-lending business that concentrated on occult subjects. Religiously, he entered life as a Quaker in a prominent Quaker family,7 abandoned God and religion at the age of fourteen,8 remained an agnostic until a period of “personal troubles”—perhaps marital in nature—induced him to investigate the more spiritual or occult side of life sometime around 1902 and 1903 by examining such areas as spiritualism, yoga, psychism and theosophy,9 finally choosing membership in the Theosophical Society (Adyar) in 1903 and officially becoming a member on June 24, 1904. 10 His odyssey was not finished, however. Shortly thereafter, Stokes became involved with a local organization called either the Oriental Esoteric Center of Washington, or the Oriental Esoteric Head Center. 11 When the time came for him to choose the [6] organization that he believed would serve his needs more efficaciously, it was the O. E. Center that he selected. The reason the Center was chosen is most revealing: 12

for the purely ethical standpoint I have never met their equal. For this reason I cast my lot with the Center and through lack of time dropped out of the T. S. and the E. S.

It is quite clear from Dr. Stokes’ articles in the Critic and from his correspondence that this was. a man interested more in service to humanity than in engaging in metaphysics and theology, a man who espoused Brotherhood by deeds and not by talk, a man prepared to practice altruism no matter what the consequences of it were. This was the case with his subsequent estrangement in 1912 with the Oriental Esoteric Society, the ‘successor’ to the old O. E. Head Center,13 when he concluded that an organization with which the O. E. Society became involved, a secret organization known as the Universal Brotherhood, subverted the ethical teachings of the Society that were so admired by him. 14 The Society and its President, Agnes E. Marsland, caused Stokes a considerable amount of torment by buying the house he rented and by evicting him, and by laying claim to his prized possession, the Oriental Esoteric Library. The latter was attempted by initiating a lawsuit that, if successful, would have gained a total investment worth between $50,000 and $75,000. 15

The disillusionment with the O. E. Society led Stokes to seek readmission to the Theosophical Society (Adyar).16 He was to remain in the T. S. for the remainder of his life despite his disenchantment with its leadership after 1917, observing that 17

[h]e who has seen something of the grandeur of theosophical ideals and who desires to serve the Theosophical Movement owes a duty to these. He has placed himself in a position of responsibility towards his fellows which he cannot consistently abandon hastily.

The astonishment over Dr. Stokes’ early views of the Theosophical Movement and Society as reported at the beginning of this paper are now perhaps not as astonishing upon reexamination. Applied Theosophy was more important than theoretical Theosophy, but theoretical Theosophy could not be subverted; it [7] could not be adulterated with ideas and practices that were antithetical to Theosophy. When this was perceived to be the case with the infusion of “ritualism and magic” and the grafting of the Old—later Liberal—Catholic Church onto the Society, his perception of the Society’s leadership and its activities underwent a metamorphosis almost as complete as that in Kafka’s famous tale.

We turn now to the specifics of Dr. Stokes’ early contact with the T.S. By early contact, we mean the period 1903 to October, 1917. What little we know of this time has been mentioned in part above. We are, however, fortunate in having two separate accounts 18  of how he became a Theosophist. The first  account emphasized the influence that Browning’s poem, “Paracelsus,” played in awakening the true meaning of evolution in him; the second major influence was the impact of Frederic W. H. Myers’ book Human Personality and Its Survival of Bodily Death in demonstrating that life is not bound to the body alone. Also important was the impact of Charles Webster Leadbeater, who lectured in such a delightful if not so convincing a manner about the various planes of existence, followed by the impact of the “brotherly interest” of a lady member of the Washington, D.C. Lodge (T. S., Adyar) who devoted her time and effort in explaining the teachings of Theosophy and who introduced him to the books of Mrs. Besant. 19

The second account emphasized the role of this same lady at the Lodge, a stranger who was simply following the method described in Francesca Arundale’s Letters From The Masters of The Wisdom, 20 that is, to 

teach, acquire spiritual knowledge and strength that the weak may lean upon you, and the sorrowing victims of ignorance learn from you the cause and remedy of their pain.

Although Dr. Stokes devoted most of his energy to the furtherance of the aims of the Oriental Esoteric Head Center and Society from 1905 to mid-1912, his association with the Theosophical Society and its aims were not completely cut off, despite the fact that he allowed his membership in the T. S. to lapse during this time period. The library which he established proved most beneficial to the spreading of Theosophical tenets. We also have some evidence that he was a contributor to the Leadbeater Fund, which was overseen by an avid supporter of Mr. Leadbeater, Dr. Weller Van Hook, the General Secretary of the American Section of the Theosophical Society from 1907 to 1912. With regard to the latter, recently uncovered correspondence to Dr. Van Hook suggests that he remained in contact [8] with the leaders of the Society and that Stokes was held in high esteem by Mr. C. J. Jinarājadasa and, presumably, Mr. Leadbeater as well. 21

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 C. J. Jinarājadasa

TE Stokes 2 d Weller Van Hook 1911

Dr. Weller van Hook

The Library, however, was of far more consequence. Established in 1905 originally to meet the demand for literature connected to the lectures and courses of instruction given by Miss Marsland, the head of the O. E. Head Center, the Library later became, in 1907, a mailing library, an idea which arose during a conversation Dr. Stokes had with the Secretary of the Washington, D.C. Lodge of the T. S., a Mrs. MacDonald. 22 This library, called by various names until it was identified solely as the Oriental Esoteric Library in 1910, was described by Stokes the “largest mail loaning library in the world,” 23 a plausible claim considering the description of the Library’s assets prepared in December, 1912. These assets included a total of 14,906 books and 1300 new pamphlets, the value of which was $23,026 pre-sale and $30,340 retail. 24

From May, 1912 to the beginning of 1913, Dr. Stokes experienced considerable difficulty and disillusionment with the O. E. Society, thus causing him to reenter the T. S. on June 15, 1912. He initiated extensive correspondence with Albert P. Warrington, the General Secretary of the American Section, T. S. on June 1, 1912 suggesting cooperation between the O. E. Library and “any organization having theosophical or similar aims.” Indeed, it cannot be doubted that Stokes engaged in almost frenetic activity furthering the interests of the Society. His principal contribution was to interest the patrons of the Library and readers of its organ, the O. E. Library Critic, in Theosophical teachings by direct correspondence, by circularizing pertinent material, by making available a large number of books and periodicals related to occultism and Theosophy, and by arranging to have his correspondents get into direct contact with

TE Stokes 2 f AP Warrington in Madras 1933

Albert P. Warrington

Theosophical lodges. 25 The value of the Library is summarized in a letter dated July 1, 1913 from Stokes to Mr. Warrington. Therein, he remarks that about 150,000 books were loaned over the previous six years, more than half of which were either Theosophical or closely allied to Theosophy. The result of such activity, he claims, serves to bring to the fore the names of prominent Theosophical writers and “to sow the seed and prepare the way for further work.”

Since many, if not most, of the patrons of the Library, came from small towns, farms, and mining and lumber camps both in the U. S. and abroad, these services proved to be effective in communicating to those otherwise isolated from [9] Theosophical teachings of members within the Society. 26 A review of his correspondence with Mr. Warrington from August 14, 1912 to September 10, 1914 indicates that a number of individuals were nominated for membership in the American Section by Dr. Stokes. In fact, he writes in one letter that the names of thirty-three members-at-large were sent in over a ten-month period to the date of this letter (July 1, 1913). In total, about one hundred persons were estimated to have joined through the efforts of the Library. In subsequent correspondence (to September 10, 1914), twenty-seven additional individuals nominated by Dr. Stokes were counted. I would surmise that nearly the same number of individuals joined the T. S. through his efforts during this subsequent period. We also learn that he was instrumental in organizing the Wilmington (Delaware) Lodge, which was formed in June, 1913. The Lodge was in fact established by Mr. and Mrs. Julien Ortiz, who were originally correspondents of the Library but who became interested in the T. S. through Dr. Stokes. It is of interest that Mrs. Ortiz’ maiden name was Alice Dupont and a member of the Dupont family “of gunpowder fame,” a fact stressed by Stokes since there was promise that the couple could and would do a great deal for the Society. 27

Stokes was also active in supporting Society-related programs and organizations, such as the Order of the Star in the East, the Karma and Reincarnation League, the Prison Work Bureau, the Round Table, and the Lotus Circle. 28 Articles describing and praising these groups and written both by him or by representatives of the aforementioned groups appear in the Critic between 1912 and 19l4. 29 Furthermore, he took an active interest in giving aid to those correspondents who were in financial need, including convicts, establishing the O. E. Library Brotherhood Fund. 30 As time progressed, his consideration for the well-being of prisoners quickly took precedence over his other activities. 31

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Fritz Kunz

Notwithstanding his attention to prisoner welfare, his continued enthusiasm and the resources at his disposal made him a valuable asset to the American Section of the T. S. Mr. Warrington recognized Stokes’s value as well as a few others who were familiar with his contributions. 32 Indeed, one contributor to the O. E. Library Critic, Fritz Kunz, the Assistant General Secretary of the American Section (T. S., Adyar), acknowledged the work of the Library in the following passage 33 :

Thanks to the generous and strong [10] co-operation of the Librarian of The Oriental Esoteric Library, the Section has at its disposal the use of a fine lending library...; and in the true spirit of fraternalism the use of this extends far outside the membership of the Section.

Stokes’ activities and proclivities placed him more in the orbit of what he called the Progressive Party of the T. S., the Party that espouses the Theosophy of Mrs. Besant, C. W. Leadbeater, and the Order of the Star, the Party that emphasizes service to humanity, the Party of Brotherhood: in short, the Party that works and not merely roots. 34 This is quite evident from articles that appeared in the O. E. Library Critic, in his correspondence, and in an article written by him for the American Theosophist entitled “Moses and the Prophets” 35:

Today the test of a new doctrine is not what Blavatsky said or did not say, but whether it meets the higher needs of man….

The belief in the coming of a Great Teacher, possibly a reincarnation of Christ, is one which has aroused much antagonism and even bitterness. We are glad of the criticism, but what strikes us—and we are speaking as an outsider, as a looker-on—is the wholly un-Theosophical attitude of some of the critics. The argument is precisely that of the Pharisees. Moses did not mention John the Baptist or Christ; therefore they are pretenders. Blavatsky did not allude to a Coming Teacher; therefore away with the idea and away with those who teach and accept it. 36

The use of the terms “outsider” and “looker-on” to define Dr. Stokes’ position vis-à-vis the Society is quite revealing. His correspondence makes it abundantly clear that despite the zeal he displayed in working for the interests of the T. S. 37 and as much as he desired to be accepted by the Society, its rank and file greeted his efforts with suspicion, distrust, abuse, and indifference. 38 He was, in short, made to feel like a hanger-on. 39 This is especially evident in his correspondence with Mr. Warrington. Broaching the subject with the General Secretary, Stokes remarks 40 :

For years it [the Library] has been circulating theosophical literature, [11] largely at its own expense, and that means at my personal expense, and up to the present it has never received any recognition, except through the recent kindness of Dr. [F. M.] Willis [the Divisional representative of the East], but on the contrary has been the recipient of not a few snubs from the theosophists it was trying to aid.”

He conjectured that this was caused by his former relationship with the Oriental Esoteric Society, a suspicion confirmed by Mr. Warrington, whose reply acknowledges two problems that many members had with the Library 41 :

First, the rather unpleasant odor that accompanies the Library’s name, which no doubt you yourself feel because of the persecutions the O. E. people are subjecting you to; and second, the fact that you put forth all kinds of literature, including that which a most careful occult research has proven is more harmful than advantageous to the modern people steeped in the desire to gain power and ascendency over their brethren for financial and other advantages.

A letter from a lodge officer to Mr. Warrington confirms the suspicion that many members had toward the Library. 42 It reads in part 43 :

We are being flooded (Lodge and all) with Oriental Esoteric Centre literature, stating that they are working in unison, cooperation with Mr. Warrington, Miss Tuttle, of the Order of the Star, and  Mr. Willis. Their letters are so kindly and persistent, also asking for programs of the lodges in order to co-operate with us. This is very beautiful indeed, but is it genuine? We hear that Dr. Stokes was a T. S. member, then a Jesuit, and now returned to the T. S. for a purpose. This all may be talk, yes, gossip, but since reading a copy... of the K. C. [? Knights of Columbus] Oath which was handed to me, and is the most severe, fierce sheet I have ever read, it set us to wondering about the O. E. C. of Washington, D. C., because one statement is that its members are to assume relationship in other societies in order to forward their work for Catholicism .... Dr. Stokes’ literature is [12] all over the city, now if he is a sincere co-worker with you, great assistance will he be to T. S., and if the gossip of him be true, he is very dangerous.

Non-cooperation and suspicion were not limited to the rank and file. Despite Warrington, Kunz, Tuttle, and Willis’s confidence in Stokes, Weller Van Hook’s Karma and Reincarnation Legion and Mr. Catlin’s Prison Work Bureau, for reasons not entirely clear, refused all cooperation with the Library and the newly organized O. E. Library League, whose work will be detailed below. 44

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Irving Cooper

This was not the only setback that was to befall Stokes. In November of 1912, word got out hat Irving Cooper had proposed to initiate a lending library in conjunction with the Theosophical Book Concern of Chicago. 45 This decision came at an especially inappropriate time since the Library—never a profitable enterprise—was losing considerable sums of money at this time. 46 Correspondence with Mr. Warrington reveals that Stokes was quite persistent, at times almost desperate, in his attempt to convince Warrington that the Book Concern was a bad idea. In its stead, he proposed that the Library and Society join forces, the result being that the Library would operate either with a reduced deficit or with a profit margin depending upon the number of names on the active mailing list. 47

Details of Dr. Stokes proposal to turn the Library over to the American Section appear in letters to Judge A. A. Purman (Jan. 15, 1913) and to Mr. Warrington (Dec. 29, 1912). The Library, valued at between $30,000 and $40,000, would be given to the American Section together with the services of its Librarian; in return, Stokes would be guaranteed a life annuity of $1900 a year and rent-free quarters; that he should continue his work as Librarian and be subject only to the Board of Trustees; that the Library and Book Concern should be fused if the latter were continued; that the Section should take over the liabilities of the Library, amounting to $1300; that the Critic should be continued under the ownership of the Section; that traveling expenses and all costs of running the business be met by the Society; and that the Library’s name be changed, perhaps to The Theosophical Library.

Mr. Warrington’s reply was discouraging, despite his recognition of the value of the Library. The major stumbling blocks were the financial burden that the Library would impose upon an already [13] burdened Society and the unlikelihood that the Section would guarantee a lifetime annuity. Another difficulty was the tradition within the T. S. never to allow the membership lists to leave the General Secretary’s office. Warrington did propose an alternative to Stokes’ plan, however, and that was to make the Library a Branch of the Order of Service. 48

The monetary difficulties referred to by Mr. Warrington led Dr. Stokes to suggest a new proposal regarding the raising of necessary funding for the transferal of the Library: the formation of a stock company. Five thousand shares of preferred non-cumulative stock would be issued at $10 a share, and five thousand shares of common stock for the same amount would be issued. A controlling interest—from 51% to 55%—would be controlled by the Section. 49 Although the proposal was promising, Warrington and the Board of Trustees took a conservative stance, questioning whether such a business could ever be self-sufficient. The result of the Section’s deliberations was to decline Stokes’ offer. 50 The Book Concern proceeded as planned but not with much success, at least not in the short term. 51

The continued indifference and lack of support on the part of the Section soured Stokes somewhat on the T. S. After a year and a half of enthusiastic and selfless activity on behalf of the Society, he wrote to Mrs. J. B. McGovern 52 that not much had been accomplished. “This does not diminish my interest in the welfare of the Section,” he adds, “but I am convinced that any support which the Library is to get will come rather from those whose interest in these subjects it has been, itself, instrumental in arousing.” Such was the impetus behind the O. E. Library League. 53 The first mention of the League appears in the December 31, 1913 issue. Therein it states 54 :

It is proposed to form an association of those who are interested in the work of the O. E. Library and of the Critic, for the purpose of extending the sphere of their usefulness in any and every direction which will aid human progress, and of helping them to cooperate with other movements having the same aim.

It was quite obvious that the League was designed to make the O. E. Library more effective in furthering the aims of social and philanthropic movements interested in human progress and brotherhood by [14] circulating literature on these subjects and movements and in promoting mutual help. 55 A further proposal was made to initiate correspondence for League members on a wide range of topics, including correspondence with prisoners, various aspects of Theosophy, education of children, and psychical research. 56

Stokes’ views toward the work of the League are put forward in a letter to Fritz Kunz (March 5, 1914)

I want to run it after my own ideas and do not care for entangling alliances. I think it will give me the opportunity for work which I failed to find within the Section.

This is exactly what transpired. The feeling of frustration that he must have experienced working with the American Section was now replaced by the unimpeded ability to give “a more  practical trend to idealism” while at the same time idealizing the practical. 57

From the beginning of 1914 on, a new chapter in Stokes’s activities opens. His interests were moving more into prison reform and prisoner correspondence and less in working with or under the American Section. All attempts to achieve an active role in the Section were abandoned. It is little wonder, therefore, that the articles appearing in the Critic also changed markedly from this period of time. No longer was there a preponderance of Theosophically oriented articles and notices; instead, the emphasis was now on penology. We can only speculate, therefore, what the future held for the T. S. and the American Section if Stokes remained loyal to the policies and activities of the leadership, or if the Section had been more accommodating to his proposals to cooperate and to be given a more active role in it. His ability to recruit and to propagandize Theosophical teachings and activities were no doubt effective and would have been of continuing benefit to the Society. Certainly, if his activities were channeled to more constructive uses, it may well have been the case that the intensity of his criticisms after 1917 would not have been so extreme or damaging.


[15] *Dr. Stokes’ personal correspondence and his O. E. Library Critic were made available through the kindness and permission of the Leader of the Theosophical Society (Pasadena), Ms.Grace F. Knoche. Without her assistance, this paper could not have been written, so she has my deepest gratitude. Also, the cooperation and support of Mr. Kirby Van Mater, Archivist for the Theosophical Society (Pasadena), and Mr. John Van Mater, Librarian of the Theosophical University Library (Pasadena) also have my gratitude for allowing me access to Dr. Stokes’s papers and paraphernalia.


1 A. Neuron, “The Roaster Roasted,” O. E. Library Critic VI, no. 2 (September 6, 1916): 5.

2 [Editor], “Sweet Pickles,” O. E. Library Critic V, no. 20 (May 17, 1916): 6.

3 An overview of Dr. Stokes’ activities and views, “H.N. Stokes and the O. E. Library Critic,” appears in Theosophical History I, no. 6 April 1986):129–39. Another article of mine, entitled “A Note on the Liberal Catholic Church’s ‘Raid’ on the Theosophical Society”, appears in Studies in The Humanities: A Festschrift in Honor of Joseph Kalir, edited by Alan S. Kaye (Fullerton, CA.: Department of Religious Studies, California State University, Fullerton, 1985): 149–60. 4 Personal letter from Victor Endersby, dated April 17, 1985.

5 The phrase “Back to Blavatsky” appears in the November 14, 1917 (VII, no. 7: 5) issue of the O. E. Library Critic. His attitude toward C. W. Leadbeater is best expressed in his article, “Who is Mr. Leadbeater?” O. E. Library Critic III, no. 4 (October 8, 1913): 4–6. There is, however, some ambivalence toward him. He wrote to Fritz Kunz on April 16, 1914 that he wished he could meet him because some of his recent articles were much to his liking. In the same year, however, he states that

“There can be no question that the American Section is in a bad way in certain respects. It is eaten up with psychism, Leadbeatered all over and inside and out” [Letter to Mrs. J. Ortiz, September 28, 1914].

In the same letter he mentions Sidney Coryn of the United Lodge of Theosophists stressing the dangers of  intellectualism and psychism. It may be noted that Stokes joined the U. L. T. on July 25, 1914. Of George Arundale, the future President of the T. S., there is this opinion:

“I was greatly pleased with the first number of the Herald [the Herald of The Star), and especially with the two articles by Mr. Arundale. He is so commonsense and practical, a big man, I should judge. It is this practical work of preparation which appeals to me so strongly” [Letter to Fritz Kunz, Feb. 2, 1914].

“George S. Arundale, Bishop, Arhat, and Apostle, tells his brethren in The Theosophist (December, page 322): ‘I go forth into the world wearing, as the Lord Shri [16] Krishna-Christ has bidden me, the uniform of His Christian army ....’ This reminds me of Mark Twain’s apology that if he is a fool, it was God who made him one. In the present case I am disposed to think that it was neither God nor Christ who made George a fool, but idiocy presided over by Mephisto Leadbeater” [O. E. Library Critic XV, no. 21 (June, 1926): l4].

6 [Editor], “How I Became a Theosophist,” O. E. Library Critic II, no. 21 (June 4. 1913): 5.

7 Letter to A. P. Warrington (Dec. 5, 1912): “I myself as a pure blooded Quaker, my ancestors having been nothing else for generations.” This is confirmed in Joseph Stokes, Notes on My Stokes Ancestry (published by Joseph Stokes, 1937).

8 [Editor], “Editor’s Twaddle,” O. E. Library Critic XIV, no. l (August 13, 1924): 2. Coincidentally, this occurred approximately at the time of his father’s death in 1873 (Joseph Stokes, Notes on My Stokes Ancestry, 25f. and Chart I).

9 “Editor’s Twaddle,” O. E. Library Critic XIV, no. l. An amusing quote on his encounter with yoga appears in a letter to the then President of the American Section of the Theosophical Society and head of the Esoteric School of Theosophy:

“...something induced me to take a book called Raja Yoga, by Vivekananda, from a shelf in a book store; why, I do not know, unless there was behind my agnosticism a craving for the occult. I took it home, read about the shushumna and the kundalini, and began practicing breathing alternately through the right and left nostril. Suddenly it occurred to me that either I or the writer was a fool, or both, for seeking salvation through respiration, and I cast the book aside.

Mr. Warrington commented that the phrase “salvation through respiration” deserved to be perpetuated. [Letter dated June 14, 1913].

10 According to the records at Adyar. See note 4 in “H.N. Stokes and the O. E. Library Critic” (citation in note 3 above).

11 “History of the Oriental Esoteric Library,” O. E. Library Critic II, no. 3 (September 25, l9l2): l–3; ORIENTAL ESOTERIC CENTER OF THE UNITED STATES OF AMERICA, A Corporation, et al, Plaintiffs, vs. Henry N. Stokes, Defendant, Equity No. 31,317, heard in the Supreme Court of the District of Columbia [now known as the Superior Court], 1912–1913: 2 [hereafter, this document will be identified as O.E.C. vs. H.N.S.]; and The Radiant Truth I, no. 1, (Nov. 24. 1902): 29. The latter, of which only one number was published, was to be the organ of the “Esoteric Centre of Washington” (= O. E. Head Center). The significance of the term “Head” is given in the General Regulations: [17] 

Article 9. The head Centre should reside, by preference, in the official Capital of the Nation, unless local difficulties prevent it.

Article 10. The other Centres which are formed in a Nation all owe obedience to the Head Centre at the Capital. [Radiant Truth:29]

12 Letter to A. P. Warrington, June 15, 1912. In a letter to Julien Ortiz (June 2, 1912), he writes:

My adherence to the O. E. S. for several years past has been based, not so much on its occult tenets, for these I could have found in more satisfactory form elsewhere, as in the Theosophical Society, but because I found its ethical teachings acceptable and so clearly expressed that they would appeal to the average man.

The reference to the E. S. [Esoteric Section] is interesting because shortly thereafter (letter to A. P. Warrington, dated January 21, 1913) Stokes considered rejoining it. Subsequent correspondence to Mr. Warrington (April 16 and May 1, 1913) reveals that he did formally apply but could not be readmitted immediately because of the requirement of a two-year working membership in the T. S. Stokes needed to wait a year (May, 1914) before he would be eligible. By the latter date, however, he lost all interest in the E. S.

13 The O. E. Head Center was under the direction and control of the General Inspector (Albert de Sarak) of the Supreme Council of the Order of the Initiates of Thibet, with headquarters in Paris. In1910, a disagreement arose between Miss Agnes Marsland, the individual in charge of the Center, and Dr. de Sarak that resulted in the formation and incorporation of the Oriental Esoteric Society. Those within the Society were soon expelled from the Order of Initiates. Thereupon, Miss Marsland and the other members of the Society incorporated the Oriental Esoteric Center of the United States of America in order to protect themselves in the use of the name, Oriental Esoteric Center, on the Bulletin, the organ of the Center. She also attempted, and probably succeeded, in transferring all the property and most of the members of the original O. E. Head Center to the incorporated O. E. Society and O. E. Center, including the nonresident members and correspondents, without their knowledge.

Information on these events are contained in O. E. C. vs. H. N. S.: Defendant’s response (Oct. 3, 1912), Exhibit B (Statement of Edith C. Gray), and Exhibit C (Statement of Ernest N. Brown, dated Oct. 14, 1912).

The disagreement between Marsland and de Sarak was based on the procedures of electing officials at the Center, of admitting members, “and [of[ other matters relating to the conduct of [18] the Center” (Exhibit C of O. E. C. vs. H. N. S.). A far more substantive reason is contained in a letter to Julien Ortiz (Sept. 3, 1912):

Less than a year ago Miss Marsland admitted to me that she had detected Sarak in a forgery of telegrams, and yet knowing this, for seven years she continued to work under his direction, to hold him up to the O. E. C. and O. E. S. as a spiritual authority, and to get the member to celebrate the birthday of Sarak’s son as the beginning of “The New Era.”

14 Mentioned in letters to a. P. Warrington (June 14, 1912), L. W. Rogers (Sept. 2, 1912), A. A. Purman (Jan. 15, 1913), and J. Ortiz (June 2, 1912). Stokes believed (in the Warrington letter) that the U. B. was identical to the organization mentioned by Mrs. Besant in The Theosophist XXXIII, no. 8 (May, 1912): 162:

The Roman Catholic church just now is showing much activity against the Theosophical Society, and Theosophists should be on their guard. The Jesuits are, as usual, the active agents, and their ingenuity is great. I have to warn friends in America that I have nothing to do with a body called ‘The Besant Union,’ which pretends to be working in my interest, and which is trying to gather E. S. members into its fold. I am offered, in connection with this, the headship of a Federation of secret Societies, a post to which I do not aspire, and as requested to communicate mysteriously to a certain address. I hope American members will not fall into these traps.

It is interesting that the Bulletin the organ of the O. E. Center and Society, records as early as July 1, 1910 that the O. E. Society was in “[a]ffiliation with the Universal Brotherhood…”, but what this meant and just what the W. B. was is not explained.

15 Letters to Henry Herrick Bond (Sept. 5, 1912), wherein he gives the figure of $50,000, and to Julien Ortiz (Jan. 12, 1912), wherein the sum of $75,000 is given. He estimates the Library to be between $35,000 and $40,000 (letter to A. A. Purman, Jan. 145, 1913).

16 The date on his T. S. membership certificate is June 15, 1912.

17 “Quitters,” O. E. Library Critic XII, no. 9 (December 6, 1923): 5.

18 “How I Became a Theosophist,” O. E. Library Critic II, no. 21, 1–6 and XIII, no. 10 (December 19, 1923): 5–7.

19 “How I Became a Theosophist,” O. E. Library Critic II, no. 21.

20 “How I Became a Theosophist,” O. E. Library Critic XIII, no.10, 6. [19] 

21 Correspondence with Dr. Weller Van Hook (Feb. 20, 1907, March 4, 1907, and Nov. 16, 1907).

The Leadbeater Fund most likely is related to the charges of immoral conduct brought against Leadbeater in 1,1906. This is discussed in detail in Gregory Tillett’s The Elder Brother: A Biography of Charles Webster Leadbeater (London: Routledge and Kegan Paul, 1982): 77–90. Dr. Van Hook’s role in defending Mr. Leadbeater is mentioned on pages 91, 95–98. For Dr. Van Hook’s background, see page 297, note 1.

22 “History of the Oriental Esoteric Library,” O. E. Library Critic II, no. 3, 2; O. E. C. vs. H. N. S.: 2. A slightly different version is given in the “History of the Oriental Esoteric Library,” 2 and the BULLETIN VIII/30 (Sept. 6, 1912): 2-3.

23 From an advertising circular of the O. E. Society that was prepared in 1910. The same statement appears in the October 13, 1911 edition of the Bulletin. The Library’s change of name to the Oriental Esoteric Library was first announced in the May 20, 1910 issue of the Bulletin.

24 The information is included in a letter to Mr. Warrington dated December 29, 1912 and in a full statement (Dec.29, 1912) of the assets and liabilities of the library.

25 Letters to A. A. Purman (Jan. 15, 1913), A. P. Warrington (July 1, 1912), and to Mrs. J. B. McGovern (August 24, 1912).

26 Also in letters to A. A. Purman (Jan. 15, 1913), Mrs. J. B. McGovern (August 24, 1912), and in “The Oriental Esoteric Library” (unpublished, dated Feb. 25, 1913). In the latter, Dr. Stokes writes that the Library lends three thousand books a month, claiming to have placed “theosophical and similar books in the hands of two hundred thousand people, when one considers that they are frequently read by others than the original borrowers and that they go into families. It would hardly be an overestimate to say that through them the word Theosophy has been made at least respected among half a million people.”

27 In a letter to A. P. Warrington (Jan. 21, 1913), Stokes writes:

I have just returned from a visit to one of the Duponts, of Wilmington. This particular family is much interested in the Library and have given it very material financial assistance .... The Duponts, of gunpowder fame, could do a good deal for the T. S.

A similar statement is found in a letter to L. W. Rogers (Jan. 20, 1913). [20] 

28 Letters to A. P. Warrington (Oct. 6, 1912), B. W. Lindberg (June 12, 1913), and to Litta Kunz (Jan. 15, 1914) with her reply of Jan. 21, 1914.

29 Articles on the Order of the Star in the East appear in “The Coming Christ,” O. E. Library Critic I, 20 (May 22, 1912): l-4, “Education as Service,” O. E. Library Critic II, no. 1 (Aug. 28, 1912): l-3; “A Letter to the Editor,” O. E.Library Critic II, no. 2 (Sept. 11, 1912): 5-6 [article written by the National Representative of the Order in the U. S., Marjorie Tuttle]; “The Coming of a World Teacher,” O. E. Library Critic II, no. 2, 6-7; “The Herald of the Star,” O. E. Library Critic II, no. 6 (Nov. 6, 1912): 1-4; “The Coming of a World Teacher” O. E. Library Critic II, no. 9 (Dec. 18, 1912): 6-7; Marjorie Tuttle, “Studying the Question,” O. E. Library Critic II, no. 20 (May 21, 1913): 4-5; “After Peace—What?” O. E. Library Critic II, no. 24 (July 16, l913): l-4; Marjorie Tuttle, “The O. S. E.—Is It Mistaken?” III, 7 (Nov. 19, l9l3): 4-5; “Order of the Star in the East” (Extract from a Circular of the Order) III, no. 7, 6; “For the Benefit of the Order of the Star in the East,” III, no. 7, 9-10; “The Herald of the Star,” O. E. Library Critic III, no. 8 (Dec. 3, 1913): 5-6,; “Servants of the Star” III, no. 10 (Dec. 31, l913): 6 [p. 5: “The New Herald of the Star”). Stokes mentioned that Lady Emily Luytens had promised him an article on the Servants of the Star (letters to Mrs. J. Ortiz, Jan. 10, 1914, and to Litta Kunz, Jan. 15. 1914) but none was forthcoming.

The Karma and Reincarnation League or Legion is mentioned in O. E. Library Critic I, no. 23 (July 3, l9l2): 8; II, no. 3 , 4-5 (“Relation of the Karma and Reincarnation League to the Theosophical Society,”) ; and “Karma and Reincarnation: The Great Need for These Teachings Today” III, no. 12 (Jan. 28, 1914): 2-5 [article written by its Secretary, C. Shuddemagen].

An article, “The Prison Work Bureau,” was written by its Head, Edwin B. Catlin in III, no. 4 (Oct. 8, l913): 2-3. The Bureau was part of the outreach programs of the American Section, Theosophical Society (Adyar). Mr. Catlin was a member of the T. S. The Bureau is also mentioned in III/2 (Sept. 10, 1913): 4.

Articles by Norris W. Rakestraw, Senior Knight of the Round Table, and Litta Kunz, Sectional Read of the Lotus Circle, appear in III, no. 18 (April 22, 1914): 3-5 (“The Round Table”) and 5-6 (“Lotus Circle”).

30 “Jam Every Other Day,” O. E. Library Critic I, no. 25 (July 31, 19l2): 7; “A Game of Poker,” II, no.1, 7; “The New God,” II, no. 3, 7-8; “The Beggar’s Bowl,” II, no. 17 (April 19, 1913): 8.

31 “De Profundis,” O. E. Library Critic II, no. 23 (July 2, l913): 4-5; “For Our Brothers in Prison,” III, no. 4, l-2, 6. Letter to J. Ortiz (Sept. 3, 1912).

32 Dr. F. Milton Willis, the Divisional Representative in the East for the American Section, was a close friend and supporter of Stokes during this time; L. W. Rogers, a future General-Secretary of the American Section (1920-1930) also acknowledged his contributions.

33 Fritz Kunz, “Why the Theosophical Society Exists in the United States,” O. E. Library Critic III, no. 3 (Sept. 24, 1913): 8.

34 “The Progressive Party,” O. E. Library Critic II, no.2, 1-5; “Theosophy and – Theosophy”, II, no. 19 (May 7, 1913): l-5; Letter to Mrs. J. B. McGovern (August 24, 1912).

35 Dr. H. N. Stokes, “Moses and the Prophets,” XV, no. l (Oct., l9l3): 28-31. Another endeavor of Stokes was to support the American Theosophist, especially when he learned that the number of subscriptions was only 145, a number based on the number sent in through the Book Concern [letter to F. Kunz, March 5, 1914]. For this reason, he began to advertise the contents of the journal in the O. E. Library Critic [III, no. 16 (March 25, l9l4): 6-7 and III, no. 19 (May 6, 1914): 111].

36 Stokes, “Moses and the Prophets,” XV, no. 1, 29-30. [21] 

37 Letter to A. P. Warrington (October 6, 1912).

38 Letters to Mrs. J. B. McGovern (August 30, 1912), J. Ortiz (May 6, 1913), F. Milton Willis (February 13, 1914), and A. P. Warrington (October 6, 1912).

39 Letter to Fritz Kunz (December 11, 1913).

40 Letter to A. P. Warrington (October 6, 1912).

41 Letter to A. P. Warrington (November 2, 1912). In the November, 1912 issue of the Theosophic Messenger, Mr. Willis (the General Secretary’s Representative, Division of the East) endorsed the Library (“The O. E. Library has my warmest endorsement.” This appears in a full-page advertisement in the advertising section at the beginning of the journal. A few pages prior, The Oriental Esoteric Library is included in a list of dealers in Theosophical books.

42 So also in letters to A. A. Purman (January 15. 1913) and B. W. Lindberg (June 12, 1913).

43 Letter from A. P. Warrington (November 29, 1912). Stokes replied to these suspicions on December 5, 1912.

44 Letters to A. p. Warrington (November 30, 1912) and F. Milton Willis (March 28 and 30, 1914).

45 Letter to A. A. Purman (January 15, 1913). The Theosophical Book Concern (and mention of Dr. Stokes) was founded in Chicago and later (October 1912) moved to Krotona. It is discussed in Joseph E. Ross’s Krotona of Old Hollywood: 1866–1913 (Montecito, CA: El Montecito Oaks Press, 1989), 113, 132, 153,187, 223, 242-44, 251-52, 258

46 Letters to A. A. Purman, L. W. Rogers (December 30, 1912), and J. Ortiz (January 12, 1913).

47 Letters to A. P. Warrington (November 30, 1912) and Purman.

48 Letter dated January 6, 1913. The Order of Service was a means by which the T. S. could affiliate with other groups involved with the betterment of humanity.

49 Letter to A. P. Warrington (January 10, 1913).

50 Letters from P. Warrington (January 13 and February 1, 1913).

51 Letter from A. P. Warrington (March 12, 1914). Henry Hotchner replaced Irving Cooper as manager of the Book Concern (letter to F. M. Willis, March 28. 1914). See also Ross, Krotona of Old Hollywood: 1866–1913. 258.

52 January 16, 1914.

53 For this reason, Stokes remarked to F. M. Willis (February 13, 1914) that he was getting away from T. S. work. In a more strongly worded statement, he added that he was tired of knocking at the door of the T. S. (letter to F. Kunz, March 5, 1914).

54 “The O. E. Library League,” III, no.10 (December 31, l9l3): 3. This initial announcement of the League is followed by a comprehensive description in the next issue. In fact, “The O. E. Library League” represents the lead article in III, no. 11 (January 14, 1914): 1-4, together with a quoted passage from Annie Besant’s “Initiation: The Perfecting of Man” headlined under “One Reason for an O. E. Library League” (4-5). The next issue (III, no. 12 [January 28, 1914]) leads with the title “Correspondence for O E. Library League Members” (1-2) joined by “O. E Library League Notes” (6). In the February 11, 1914 issue (vol. III, no. 13), there is contained a brief definition of the League: “The League is ‘an association for promoting the circulation of useful literature by mail, for cooperation in social and philanthropic movements, and for mutual help.’”

55 Critic III, no. 11, 1-2; III, no. 13, 5. [22] 

56 Critic III, no. 12 (January 28, 1914):1-2. The idea for correspondence most probably arose from the Occult Exchange Club, an informal association founded by H. Kloddoni of Ottawa, Canada. Both the Club and its head impressed Stokes enough for him to become a member (letter to A. P. Warrington, October 14, 1913). Numerous notices of the Club appear in the Critic (III, nos. 1, 3, 7, 9, 11, 13,15, 20, 22, and IV, no. 2).

57 Letter to F. Kunz, February 2, 1914.

This article is published in collaboration with Professor James Santucci, editor of Theosophical History. For more interesting articles and subscriptions follow this link:


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