It is hoped that it may serve as an introduction to the profounder works of H. Blavatsky, and be a convenient steppingstone to their study. Those who have learned a little of the Ancient Wisdom know the illumination, the peace, the joy, the strength, its lessons have brought into their lives. That this book may win some to con its teachings, and to prove for themselves their value, is the prayer with which it is sent forth into the world.
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Early life[ edit ] St. Her father was an Englishman who lived in Dublin and attained a medical degree, having attended Trinity College Dublin. Her mother was an Irish Catholic , from a family of more modest means. Besant would go on to make much of her Irish ancestry and supported the cause of Irish self-rule throughout her adult life.
Her father died when she was five years old, leaving the family almost penniless. Her mother supported the family by running a boarding house for boys at Harrow School. However, she was unable to support Annie and persuaded her friend Ellen Marryat to care for her.
Marryat made sure that she had a good education. Annie was given a strong sense of duty to society and an equally strong sense of what independent women could achieve.
There she acquired a taste for Roman Catholic colour and ceremony that never left her. In , at age twenty, she married year-old clergyman Frank Besant — , younger brother of Walter Besant. He was an evangelical Anglican who seemed to share many of her concerns.
Annie moved to Sibsey with her husband, and within a few years they had two children, Arthur and Mabel; however, the marriage was a disaster. As Annie wrote in her Autobiography, "we were an ill-matched pair". Annie wrote short stories, books for children, and articles. As married women did not have the legal right to own property, Frank was able to collect all the money she earned. Politics further divided the couple.
Annie began to support farm workers who were fighting to unionise and to win better conditions. Frank was a Tory and sided with the landlords and farmers. The tension came to a head when Annie refused to attend Communion. In she left him and returned to London. They were legally separated and Annie took her daughter with her. Besant began to question her own faith. She turned to leading churchmen for advice, going to see Edward Bouverie Pusey , one of the leaders of the Oxford Movement within the Church of England.
When she asked him to recommend books that would answer her questions, he told her she had read too many already. She finally left for London. Birkbeck[ edit ] In the late s she studied at the Birkbeck Literary and Scientific Institution ,  where her religious and political activities caused alarm. Annie was to remain Mrs Besant for the rest of her life. At first, she was able to keep contact with both children and to have Mabel live with her; she also got a small allowance from her husband.
Once free of Frank Besant and exposed to new currents of thought, she began to question not only her long-held religious beliefs but also the whole of conventional thinking.
In particular she attacked the status of the Church of England as a state-sponsored faith. Soon she was earning a small weekly wage by writing a column for the National Reformer , the newspaper of the NSS. The NSS argued for a secular state and an end to the special status of Christianity, and allowed her to act as one of its public speakers. Public lectures were very popular entertainment in Victorian times.
Besant was a brilliant speaker, and was soon in great demand. Using the railway, she criss-crossed the country, speaking on all of the most important issues of the day, always demanding improvement, reform and freedom. Bradlaugh, a former soldier, had long been separated from his wife; Besant lived with him and his daughters, and they worked together on many projects.
He was an atheist and a republican; he was also trying to get elected as Member of Parliament MP for Northampton. Besant and Bradlaugh became household names in when they published Fruits of Philosophy , a book by the American birth-control campaigner Charles Knowlton.
It claimed that working-class families could never be happy until they were able to decide how many children they wanted. It also suggested ways to limit the size of their families. Besant and Bradlaugh proclaimed in the National Reformer: We intend to publish nothing we do not think we can morally defend.
All that we publish we shall defend. They were found guilty, but released pending appeal. As well as great opposition, Besant and Bradlaugh also received a great deal of support in the Liberal press. Arguments raged back and forth in the letters and comment columns as well as in the courtroom. Besant was instrumental in founding the Malthusian League during the trial, which would go on to advocate for the abolition of penalties for the promotion of contraception.
The case was thrown out finally only on a technical point, the charges not having been properly drawn up. The scandal cost Besant custody of her children. Her husband was able to persuade the court that she was unfit to look after them, and they were handed over to him permanently.
Because of his atheism, he asked to be allowed to affirm rather than swear the oath of loyalty. When the possibility of affirmation was refused, Bradlaugh stated his willingness to take the oath.
But this option was also challenged. Although many Christians were shocked by Bradlaugh, others like the Liberal leader Gladstone spoke up for freedom of belief. Meanwhile, Besant built close contacts with the Irish Home Rulers and supported them in her newspaper columns during what are considered crucial years, when the Irish nationalists were forming an alliance with Liberals and Radicals.
Besant met the leaders of the Irish home rule movement. In particular, she got to know Michael Davitt , who wanted to mobilise the Irish peasantry through a Land War, a direct struggle against the landowners.
She spoke and wrote in favour of Davitt and his Land League many times over the coming decades. Women had no part in parliamentary politics. Besant was searching for a real political outlet, where her skills as a speaker, writer and organiser could do some real good. The World Parliament is famous in India because of Indian monk Swami Vivekanand addressed in the same event and which has received global recognition.
Political activism[ edit ] For Besant, politics, friendship and love were always closely intertwined. Her decision in favour of Socialism came about through a close relationship with George Bernard Shaw , a struggling young Irish author living in London, and a leading light of the Fabian Society who considered Besant to be "The greatest orator in England".
Annie was impressed by his work and grew very close to him too in the early s. It was Besant who made the first move, by inviting Shaw to live with her. This he refused, but it was Shaw who sponsored Besant to join the Fabian Society. In its early days, the society was a gathering of people exploring spiritual, rather than political, alternatives to the capitalist system. This new commitment — and her relationship with Shaw — deepened the split between Besant and Bradlaugh, who was an individualist and opposed to Socialism of any sort.
While he defended free speech at any cost, he was very cautious about encouraging working-class militancy. Besant agreed to appear as a speaker at a meeting on 13 November. The police tried to stop the assembly, fighting broke out, and troops were called.
Many were hurt, one man died, and hundreds were arrested; Besant offered herself for arrest, an offer disregarded by the police. Besant was widely blamed — or credited — for it. She threw herself into organising legal aid for the jailed workers and support for their families.
Another activity in this period was her involvement in the London matchgirls strike of She was drawn into this battle of the "New Unionism" by a young socialist, Herbert Burrows. They were also prey to industrial illnesses, like the bone-rotting Phossy jaw , which was caused by the chemicals used in match manufacture. Besant met the women and set up a committee, which led the women into a strike for better pay and conditions, an action that won public support.
Besant led demonstrations by "match-girls", who were cheered in the streets, and prominent churchmen wrote in their support. In just over a week they forced the firm to improve pay and conditions. Besant then helped them to set up a proper union and a social centre.
At the time, the matchstick industry was a very powerful lobby, since electric light was not yet widely available, and matches were an essential commodity; in , lobbyists from the match industry had persuaded the British government to change its planned tax policy. During , Besant had developed a very close friendship with Edward Aveling , a young socialist teacher who lived in her house for a time.
Aveling was a scholarly figure and it was he who first translated the important works of Marx into English. He eventually went to live with Eleanor Marx , daughter of Karl Marx.
She remained a member for a number of years and became one of its best speakers. She was still a member of the Fabian Society; neither she nor anyone else seemed to think the two movements incompatible at the time. Besant drove about with a red ribbon in her hair, speaking at meetings. She combined her socialist principles with feminism: "I ask the electors to vote for me, and the non-electors to work for me because women are wanted on the Board and there are too few women candidates.
She wrote in the National Reformer: "Ten years ago, under a cruel law, Christian bigotry robbed me of my little child. Now the care of the , children of London is placed partly in my hands. She spoke for the dockers at public meetings and on street corners. Like the match-girls, the dockers won public support for their struggle, and the strike was won.
After reading it, she sought an interview with its author, meeting Blavatsky in Paris. In this way she was converted to Theosophy. As her interest in theosophy deepened, she allowed her membership of the Fabian Society to lapse and broke her links with the Marxists.
In , she described herself as "marching toward the Theosophy" that would be the "glory" of her life. Besant had found the economic side of life lacking a spiritual dimension, so she searched for a belief based on "Love".
She found this in Theosophy, so she joined the Theosophical Society, a move that distanced her from Bradlaugh and other former activist co-workers.
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