Theosophical Encyclopedia

Van Manen, Johan – Dutch Orientalist (1877-1943)

Johan van Manen was born on April 16, 1877, in the city of Nijmegen, the Netherlands, into a well-to-do Dutch family. As a youth he was not exactly a symbol of virtue. On the contrary, he gave his parents and teachers a lot of trouble. Van Manen was one of the innovative young artists and thinkers, and it is said that he remained a Bohemian for the rest of his life. However, Theosophy, its principles and tenets, took his fancy, and he started a thorough study of its teachings. At the same time, his remarkable linguistic talents helped him to explore the folklore of ancient peoples.

Not only was he fluent in several European languages, but without pretending to be a Sanskritist, he knew much about that ancient language, as well as about Tamil and other languages of south India. It is not surprising that ultimately van Manen was drawn to India. Between 1896 and 1908 he collaborated with Henry Olcott and Annie Besant by propagating Theosophy in the Netherlands, the Dutch East Indies (now Indonesia) and Europe. In 1909 he set off for the international headquarters in Adyar to become Charles Webster Leadbeater’s private secretary, a function he fulfilled until 1916. During this period he witnessed the discovery and initial education of the young Krishnamurti. From 1910 until 1916 he was assistant general manager of the Western branch of the Adyar Library.

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