Judge, William Quan (1851-1896)

W. Q. Judge, with Helena P. Blavatsky and Henry S. Olcott, helped to found the Theosophical Society in 1875. He worked for its cause during the 21 years between that event and his death at the age of 44. He was General Secretary of the American Section (1886-95) and President for Life of the independent Theosophical Society in America (1895-96).

Of his early life, Judge wrote to Sarah A. Cape (Oct 1893): “I was born in Dublin, Ireland, April 13, 1851. My father was Frederic H. Judge, my mother Alice Mary Quan, both Irish. Father was deeply interested in Freemasonry. Mother died young on the birth of her seventh child. I was educated in Dublin. In 1864 Father decided to emigrate to America & we were six of us brought by him here . . . . I studied law, living with my father, who however, died not very long after. When I came of age I was naturalized a citizen of the U. S. in April 1872, and in May of that year was admitted to the bar of New York; after that I practiced law steadily for many years. I left home to marry in 1874, Ella M. Smith of Brooklyn . . . . At an early age I was interested in religion, magic, Rosicrucianism . . . . In 1874 thought of looking up spiritualism & finding Col. Olcott's book People from the Other World, I wrote him asking for the address of a medium. He replied that he did not then know but had a friend Mme Blavatsky who asked him to ask me to call. I called at 46 Irving Place, New York, & made her acquaintance.”

Looking back on his initial meeting with HPB, Judge recalled: “She looked at me in recognition at that first hour, and never since has that look changed. Not as a questioner of philosophies did I come before her, . . . but as one who, wandering many periods through the corridors of life, was seeking the friends who could show where the designs for the work had been hidden . . . . it was teacher and pupil, elder brother and younger, both bent on the one single end, but she with the power and the knowledge that belong but to lions and sages” (Lucifer, June 1891, reprinted in Echoes 2:16).

Judge studied with and helped Blavatsky while she lived in New York. When she and Olcott left for India in 1878, Judge wished to go also, but could not because of his domestic obligations. His business ventures at this time involved travel, and in Venezuela he had contracted Chagres fever, a lingering disease from which he never fully recovered. In 1883 he was instrumental in founding the Aryan Theosophical Society in New York City.

Judge was free to move to India in 1884. En route, he visited Blavatsky and Olcott, who were then in Europe, and received full powers to deal with the emerging Coulomb conspiracy at Adyar. Late in 1884, however, he left India suddenly, giving no reason, to return to New York and, once reestablished in law, worked there for Theosophy. In April 1886, he and Arthur Gebhard founded The Path magazine, with Judge as editor. This became the official organ of the American Section of the TS. Practicing law during the day, Judge worked at home far into the night, as at this time he had to write practically every article himself under various pen names.

Under Judge's guidance, efforts were made to link the members scattered across the United States in both thought and action. Starting with himself as primary speaker, he eventually placed three full-time traveling lecturers in the field to aid struggling groups and to support established centers. Local speakers were encouraged to start new centers in nearby communities. From only a dozen branches in 1886, by 1896 more than 100 had been formed in America.

Blavatsky and Judge had a close relationship. He always gave her his support and understanding, but when he thought she was in the wrong, he told her so. On the other hand, as a young man, he at times needed both encouragement and criticism from her. In a letter of October 23, 1889, she spoke of him as "part of herself since several aeons" and as "the Antaskarana [bridge] between the two Manas(es) the American thought & the Indian—or rather the trans-Himalayan Esoteric Knowledge" (Echoes 1:xxxix). By 1887, a few members had asked Judge if esoteric work might be established, and he wrote to Blavatsky suggesting such a move. After publishing The Secret Doctrine, she invited him to London and drew up the Preliminary Memorandum and Rules of the Esoteric Section. Judge then conducted the Esoteric Section in America as Secretary to Blavatsky.

In 1889, members of the Aryan Branch in New York purchased a press and type and secured the services of a member to operate it. The first publications were three small monthly magazines for members, followed by Patanjali's Yoga Aphorisms (1889), Judge's Echoes from the Orient (1890), the Bhagavad Gita (1890) with introduction and footnotes by Judge, and Judge's Letters That Have Helped Me (1891) and Ocean of Theosophy (1893). In 1895 Judge estimated that a half million flyers had been printed by the Aryan Press. 

After Blavatsky's death in 1891, Judge and Annie Besant jointly headed the Esoteric Section. As General Secretary and later as vice-president of the TS, Judge continued to concentrate on work in America. He spoke at the 1893 World Parliament of Religions at the Chicago World's Fair and the following year at the Religious Parliament of San Francisco's Mid-Winter Fair. However, disagreements soon arose. In 1894, Annie Besant accused Judge of misusing the Mahatmas' names and handwritings on letters to others. Olcott then asked Judge to retire from all TS offices, but Judge cabled: "Charges absolutely false. You can take what proceedings you see fit; going London July." The case was dismissed; yet tensions continued between the two parties—Olcott and Besant on the one hand and Judge on the other. 

The case was reopened, and consequently the 1895 Annual Convention of the American Section declared complete autonomy from Adyar and elected Judge president for life of the American Theosophical Society. But his years of continuous labor, combined with the effects of Chagres fever, finally took their toll, and Judge died on March 21, 1896.

As Claude Bragdon remarked: “No figure rises out of the dim limbo of that recent, though already distant past, with a more engaging presence than that of this handsome Irish-American, and I venture to say that in a movement which has been a forcing house for greatness, no one developed such power, such capacity, such insight, in so short a space of time—when the pressure was put upon him—as Judge. There is abundant evidence, aside from the best evidence of all—the fruitfulness of his labors—that he was under the direct guidance of the Masters. One Adept wrote of him, ‘when the presence is upon him, he knows well that which others only suspect and “divine”.’ In the same letter he is referred to as the one ‘who of all chelas suffers most and demands, or even expects, the least.’ He was a man of exquisite sympathy and gentleness: stern with himself, he was lenient toward others. Mr. Keightley has said, ‘Judge made the life portrayed by Jesus realizable to me.’ He was that rare and beautiful thing, a practical mystic. One of his last messages to his intimate band of followers was that they should learn, by actual experience, that occult development comes best, quickest and safest, in the punctilious fulfillment of the small duties of every day” (Episodes from an Unwritten History, pp. 24-5).

Much of Judge’s writings have been compiled by Dara Eklund in Echoes of the Orient, 4 vols. 2nd ed. (Pasadena: Theosophical University Press, 2009-11). All four volumes in PDF are freely available at www.theosociety.org


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