Why a Shrine?Introductory Essay to A Bibliography of Annie Besant (1847-1933).
Early in 2008, I came across a cache of old theosophical books in a used bookstore in Boston. I peeked into a copy of Annie Besant's classic The Path of Discipleship. Inside was a postcard photograph of Besant taken in 1931, when she was 82 years old. She was dressed in a white robe overlaying a highly decorated inner garment, white-haired and bespectacled. Her eyes shone with startling penetration and intelligence. I bought the book so I could take the postcard home and enshrine it on my writing desk.
I had been studying Besant's teachings on astral projection for several years, with ever deepening respect. In doing this research, I discovered that there was no easily accessible or complete bibliography of her works. No wonder. She was rumored to have published over 500 books and pamphlets during her long writing life, many of which went through multiple editions. Some are still in print.
Trolling the internet for her books, I continually felt the need for some way to sort the random information served up by the many online booksellers I consulted. Imagine the mind-numbing effect of being confronted by hundreds of title listings organized by price, from lowest to highest, instead of alphabetically.
At first the project was intended for my personal use. I was simply trying to figure out which of her books would most contribute to my understanding of her views on astral projection. However, I began to read some of her collected lectures and found them fascinating, no matter the subject. That led me to wonder how her intellect and ideas evolved from year to year.
I knew that she passed through phases of religious disillusionment, theism, secularism, atheism, freethought, socialism, Marxism, finally ending up as a theosophist. But it was clear from the dozens of books published after her last conversion that Besant's desire to improve the social and spiritual condition of humanity was consistent from the beginning.
I began, innocently enough, by placing in order the titles of her most important series of theosophical lectures, those for the annual International Convention of the Theosophical Society in India in December, to which she contributed almost yearly from 1894-1931. These books, averaging about a hundred pages apiece, deal with a single topic seen from three to five different angles, depending on the number of lectures. Often the topic from one year leads into that of the next, so the series closely parallels the development of Besant’s thought on various aspects of Theosophy.
Soon I was wondering about her non-convention lectures, which follow a similar developmental pattern. Before I knew it, I was engaged in creating a full-fledged bibliography, under the watchful gaze of that photograph. As my admiration for Besant grew, I felt called to offer the fruits of my research on the web, to the many seekers after knowledge throughout the world who have been touched by her always informative and often uplifting words.
George Bernard Shaw called Annie Besant the foremost female orator of her time. In my opinion, she's also one of the world’s great spiritual teachers. Her project was to apply the principles contained in H. P. Blavatsky’s The Secret Doctrine, that fountainhead of theosophical knowledge, to every conceivable area of life, as practically as possible. To this end, she explained and popularized what seemed obscure in the work of her teacher.
Besant also studied the teachings of many ancient religions, especially Hinduism and yoga, forging fresh links of understanding between their tenets and The Secret Doctrine. Through clairvoyant investigations undertaken with her close friend and associate Charles W. Leadbeater, she added new insights to the canon of spiritual wisdom in ancient scriptures and Blavatsky. Many of these insights have proved useful in my ongoing study and practice of astral projection.
Biographers, critics, and scholars often focus on the story of Besant's life, full of the storm and stress that makes for interesting reading. They tend to favor her political activism and avoid her theosophical teachings. Yet Besant was associated with the Theosophical Society, with its ideals of achieving universal brotherhood and developing our latent spiritual capacities, for over forty years, acting as its international president for twenty-five.
Perhaps the absence of a thorough bibliography has prevented posterity from perceiving the full scope of Annie Besant's spiritual and intellectual achievement. The only published bibliography came out in 1924, thus omitting nearly ten years of her life and numerous posthumous publications.
The present bibliography, comprising over 1400 items, is intended to provide a glimpse at the vast reach of Besant’s social, political, and spiritual interests and how they led naturally from one to another. Though my primary interest in her work lies along metaphysical lines, I have included everything--from her early exploration of atheism to her active campaigning for Indian Home Rule.
The bibliography is organized into six divisions, as follows:
- Orientation, including this Introductory Essay, a detailed Contents listing, a Chronology, and a list of Sources.
- Early Works, listing titles that appeared in print prior to Besant’s involvement in the Theosophical Society, covering her intellectual and spiritual evolution from the wife of a Church of England clergyman to secularism, freethought, atheism, and socialism.
- Books, detailing Besant's theosophical publications, including monographs, collaborations, lecture series, contributions, and compilations; and those pertaining to her political work in India.
- Pamphlets, including individual theosophical pamphlets and pamphlet series, as well as those dealing with Indian political questions.
- Periodicals, providing a list of daily and weekly newspapers, and monthly and quarterly journals edited by Besant, as well as selections of her articles that appeared in six theosophical journals.
- Miscellaneous, comprising biographical, posthumous, and bibliographical publications.
Further information on individual sections within these divisions may be found in the Contents listing.
Each section is arranged chronologically by date of publication, to highlight Besant’s intellectual and spiritual evolution. Within each year, titles or authors (when other than Besant) are arranged alphabetically. When possible, I provide links to items in the bibliography that are available online.
I have not included information about the size of each item and the number of pages, as in conventional bibliographies. Such information was often not available from the heterogeneous internet listings I used to compile the bibliography. I would have had to examine hundreds of items myself to collect this information, many of them held in only one or two libraries worldwide.
Assuming that users of this bibliography will cut and paste information as needed, as I did when compiling it from various internet sources, I do not italicize the titles of books, pamphlets, and periodicals. Aside from the fact that such typographical effects often do not transfer from one program to another, the number of entries was prohibitive. I would have had to italicize 1400 titles in my computer files and hard copy, then do so again after uploading these files to my website. I opted to spare my wrist from so much mouse action.
The hundreds of pamphlets listed here may account for only ninety or so percent of Besant’s pamphlet production following her conversion to Theosophy and during her political work on behalf of Indian self-government. Some appear only in bibliographic listings from fifty and more years ago, with no copies showing in the internet library catalogs.
No complete collections of several important pamphlet series seem to exist anywhere in the world. Or perhaps librarians involved in transferring card catalogs to computer and internet neglected to note when particular titles appeared in one of these series.
If anyone has further information about the missing items in section XV (Later Political Pamphlets), please contact me so I can add it to the bibliography.
The selections of articles in the Periodicals division are limited to the theosophical journals edited by Besant. I omit columns, reviews, and obituaries, as well as quotations used as filler. I retain only a few notes, official letters, and published exchanges of correspondence--when relevant to well-known crisis periods in the growth of the Theosophical Society. My preference was to retain pieces longer than two or three pages. All the major serialized articles and books have been included.
I do not have library access to most of these periodicals. So the selected articles listings are like notes to myself, or other researchers, on possibly fruitful lines of inquiry into the evolution of Besant’s thought on theosophical themes.
I do not list editions after the first in most cases. Some of Besant’s books have been in print for over a hundred years, in dozens of editions. Most listings at Worldcat.org, the internet gateway to library catalogs worldwide, provide information about other editions and publishers beyond the first. However, I do note whenever a new edition receives a new title, especially in posthumous publications.
Many of Besant’s pamphlets were printed in several separately numbered series, in addition to their first appearance in periodicals, and in compilations in book form. When possible, I trace these multiple appearances, making it easier for researchers to track down reprints or online versions of the often scarce first editions.
During her lifetime, Besant’s theosophical books and pamphlets were issued by various theosophical publishing houses whose names, functions, and dates of operation often overlapped, creating confusion for librarians and bibliographers. The following list of principal publishers is intended to allay such confusion:
- Theosophical Publishing Society, London. Until 1895.
- Theosophical Publishing Society, London and Benares (now Varanasi), India. 1895-1917.
- Theosophist Office, Adyar, Madras (now Chennai), India. 1907-12.
- Vasanta Press, Adyar (sometimes referred to as Besant Press or Besant Power Press; most TPH books were (and continue to be) published by the Vasanta Press. 1908-present.
- Theosophical Publishing House, Adyar. 1913-present.
- Commonweal Office, Adyar. 1914-20. [Primarily political pamphlets.]
Other publishers, producing later editions of Besant’s books, or simultaneously released American editions, include:
- Theosophical Book Concern, Chicago. 1902-12
- Theosophical Book Concern, Los Angeles. 1912-16.
- Rajput Press, Chicago. 1909-12.
- Theosophical Publishing House, Krotona, Hollywood, Calif. 1916-22.
- Theosophical Press, Chicago. 1922-27.
- Theosophical Press, Wheaton, Illinois. 1928-66.
More recent reprints and posthumous publications may appear under these imprints:
- Theosophical Publishing House, Adyar, Wheaton, London. 1966-88.
- Quest Books, Wheaton, Ill. 1966-present.
I avoid the use of abbreviations in all but a few cases: AB (Annie Besant), CWL (Charles Webster Leadbeater), HPB (Helena Petrovna Blavatsky), in the Chronology; and TS (Theosophical Society) TPS (Theosophical Publishing Society), TPH (Theosophical Publishing House) throughout. N.D. means no date of publication given.
Errors and Additions
Despite months of exhaustive research, I’m still stumbling across new material. I intend to update the bibliography often as I become aware of errors and additions.
Users of this bibliography are welcome to write me about errors or lacunae, especially in connection with dates of publication or publishers. Such information from my online sources was sometimes contradictory. In such cases, I selected what seemed to me the most likely attributions. I can be reached by going to my Contact page.
In a famous lecture of 1889 ("Why I Became a Theosophist") in which Besant explained to her many friends in the National Secular Society why she was leaving behind nearly seventeen years of work in the cause of Freethought, she claimed that she wanted these words as an epitaph: "She tried to follow Truth." I dedicate this Shrine, which contains her literary remains, to all who wish to do the same.