Richard Harte

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Richard Harte was an early Irish Theosophist who worked on the periodicals Lucifer and The Theosophist.

Personal life

Richard Harte was born on May 17, 1840 at Coolrus, County Limerick, Ireland to landed gentry. His father, Richard Harte, was a Justice of the Peace who died when the boy was only two years old. His mother, Anne Vance Harte, was a cultured woman who cared for her son devotedly.

He was sent to St. Columbus College, Dublin, later to Rugby, and finished his scholastic education at Trinity College, Dublin, and at Heidelberg.

Following the advice of a friend, he entered at the Middle Temple and studied law, but after two years of hard work quitted law for medicine, and for another period o f two years was a student at St. George’s Hospital. But with a mind having a very strong bent towards occultism, he found both law and medicine too narrowing...

Ever of a restless disposition, thirsting for a more complete knowledge of the world — for a knowledge of the various conditions of men, and their modes of life — the year 1870 found him on his way to Australia, where he took up sheep fanning on a large scale. Later on he visited the South Sea Islands, gaming fresh experiences and bringing back with him many curious mementos of uncivilised life.

In 1876 Mr. Harte first visited America, where he lectured upon the Irish question. It was in America that he first became acquainted with Madame Blavatsky and Colonel Olcott, resulting in both cases in a life-long friendship. The sojourn in America, with slight intervals of absence, lasted until 1886.[1]

Harte was married, but his wife's name is not known. They had at least one son, Richard Gerald Harte, who became a London stockbroker, and a daughter, Mary.

He died on February 19, 1903. For several years his health had not been robust, as he suffered from asthma. While visiting a friend's office, Harte was suddenly stricken and taken to hospital.

In the meantime Mr. Harte had recovered his speech and gave several instructions to his daughter, who had been telegraphed for; one of his last expressed wishes being that she should call at this office and communicate the sad tidings to the Editor of 'Light,’ for he seemed to be perfectly conscious of the fact that his transition was at hand.[2]

Interest in Spiritualism

Like Colonel Olcott and H. P. Blavatsky, Harte was interested in the manifestations of Spiritualists.

Mr. Harte’s interest in Spiritualism commenced at the same time as in mesmerism, and brought him into intimate contact with Home, the Eddy brothers, and many other well-known lights in the spiritualistic world. With Home he told me he had many extraordinary experiences and manifestations.

He took rooms with an American medium, Mrs. Williams, "for several months, attended her séances nightly, and vouches for the genuineness of her mediumship in the most positive terms."[3]

Involvement with Theosophical Society

As a New York newspaperman, he was "an old time personal friend" of Colonel Olcott, [4] who visited the Founders in the Lamasery. An account in Blavatsky's diary indicates that Harte accompanied Charles Sotheran to visit there on February 6, 1878, when Olcott's sister Isabelle Mitchell was also present. Harte insisted that HPB write an editorial for the paper.[5]

Harte was admitted to membership in the Theosophical Society in 1879 in New York.[6] On December 27st of that year, he wrote a letter to fellow member Thomas Alva Edison[7] He joined the Aryan Theosophical Society in New York after it was organized by William Quan Judge in 1883.[8] He served as President of the lodge.

In April 1887, Harte attended the convention of the American Section of the T.S. at Mott Memorial Hall in New York City where he was elected as one of the members of the General Council of the American Section. Soon after this he left for England.

In England, he helped to support Madame Blavatsky and the efforts of her lodge. With his background in writing, he went on to serve as Secretary of the Theosophical Publishing Society, a new venture that was started up shortly after his arrival. There has come to be a body of thought that Harte was responsible for an early editorial of the new magazine, Lucifer. In December 1887, this famous editorial, titled "Lucifer to the Archbishop of Canterbury, Greetings!", was first printed. It was later to be reprinted by the Theosophical Publishing Society along with other such titles as, "Theosophy and the Church", "Keely's Secrets", and "Elementals and Elementaries".[9]

On September 16, 1888, Olcott and Harte went together to Paris to try to settle difficulties within the Isis Branch, involving Gérard Encausse. Harte was among a party of people who accompanied Colonel Olcott to India that year. The group included Charles and Vera Johnston, E. Douglas Fawcett and Baroness Kroummess. They left London on October 22, and arrived at Adyar on November 15.

Olcott asked Harte to step into the role of acting editor of The Theosophist to replace Alfred J. Cooper-Oakley, who had resigned in April.[10] The colonel had plans to travel to Japan in 1889 with Anagarika Dharmapala and Zenshiro Nogouchi, to meet with Japanese Buddhists, and needed help to keep the periodical in print during his absence.

Consequently, on January 7th he [Olcott] appointed a three member commission to run things in his absence, one of whom was Richard Harte. While Olcott was away, Harte penned two notorious articles, "Applied Theosophy" and "The Situation". The implication of these two articles was to make Adyar the New Rome. This naturally angered at least two of the founding members, W.Q. Judge and H.P. Blavatsky. These articles attempted to undermine a central principle of theosophy, that being that the individual is responsible for his own karma and spiritual progress.[11]

H. P. Blavatsky, writing in Lucifer, plainly expressed dissatisfaction with Harte's work:

When the cat is abroad the mice dance in the house it seems. Since Colonel Olcott sailed for Japan, The Theosophist has never ceased to surprise its European readers, and especially the Fellows of our Society, with most unexpected capers. It is as if the Sphinx had emigrated from the Nile and was determined to continue offering her puzzles broadcast to the Oedipuses of the Society.

Now what may be the meaning of this extraordinary, and most tactless “sortie” of the esteemed acting editor of our Theosophist? Is he, owing to the relaxing climate of Southern India, ill, or like our (and his) editor-enemies across the Atlantic, also dreaming uncanny dreams and seeing lying visions—or what? ... Lucifer, The Path and The Theosophist are the only organs of communication with the Fellows of our Society, each in its respective country. Since the acting editor of The Theosophist has chosen to give a wide publicity in his organ to abnormal fancies, he has no right to expect a reply through any other channel than Lucifer. Moreover, if he fails to understand all the seriousness of his implied charges against me and several honourable men, he may realise them better, when he reads the present. Already his enigmatical letter to Light has done mischief enough. While its purport was evidently to fight some windmills of his own creation, an inimical spiritualist who signs “Colenso” has jumped at the good opportunity afforded him to misrepresent that letter. In his malicious phillipic called “Koothoomi Dethroned” he seeks to show that Mr. Harte’s letter announces that the “Masters” are thrown overboard by the T.S. and “Mme. Blavatsky de-throned.” Is it this that “Richard Harte, acting editor of The Theosophist,” sought to convey to the Spiritualists in his letter in Light of July 6th?

Without further enquiry as to the real meaning of the Light letter, what does he try to insinuate by the following in the July number of The Theosophist?*[12]

Nonetheless, Harte continued working for The Theosophist for some time afterward.

Harte continued on until a replacement could be found, with his last official duties occurring with the March 1891 issue. There is some evidence that he may have remained active with the Society in England at least until 1893. Blavatsky may have been forgiving towards Harte due to the noxious atmosphere at Adyar that she described in a letter at about that time.[13]

After Harte's death in 1903, Colonel Olcott wrote, "I was sincerely sorry to lose the companionship of one who, despite his eccentricities, was a congenial friend."[14]

Harte's copy of The Secret Doctrine

According to a penciled notation in R. Harte's own copy of Volume I of The Secret Doctrine, "This is the first copy ever issued. I got it from Printer by special Messenger on the morning of the 20 Oct. '88 as I was leaving the house 17 Lansdowne Road, with Col. Olcott for India (Col. went personally via Naples). The Second Vol. followed me to India."[15] These books are in the Boris de Zirkoff Papers, Records Series 22, Theosophical Society in America Archives.

Interest in mesmerism, hypnotism, and thought power

From an early age, Harte was fascinated by the concepts of mesmerism, hypnotism, and the power of thought. His compilation of the history of hypnotism, Hypnotism and the Doctors, was received with great praise by Theosophists and Spiritualists.

At seventeen years of age he had taken up the study of mesmerism, and, later on, still further pursued the subject under the guidance of Dr. Charcot; and so it is not remarkable to find that on his return to England in 1891 [from India] the old love for these subjects should return with redoubled force. With all the energy of his being, with all the power of his mind, he once more threw himself into the study of this great subject, believing that much good could be done for humanity in general by the power of suggestion, even without absolute hypnotic sleep. So for fourteen years has he laboured; his labour entailing a research almost passing comprehension, embracing as it did the reading of works on the subject in almost every modern language — fourteen years of patient, incessant labour, culminating in the book just lately published, ‘Hypnotism and the Doctors’ — a work perhaps the most remarkable ever written on the subject, as it is a complete review of the birth, growth, and development of hypnotism, to the present day.[16]

Humanitarian concerns

Harte was praised by his friend Alfred Pusey-Keith as a man who sought the truth, and aspired to teach about the power of thought in transforming the world.

Always taking the deepest interest in all social problems, his most earnest desire was that by means of education the masses should learn to know their own strength and power, and so learn that ‘spirit’ not ‘matter’ is the great motive power of the world; and his greatest hope was that through the means of true education we should at last gain the ideal world where all is love.[17]


Harte was a journalist for the New York Telegram and the New York Echo. After becoming a Theosophist, he assisted with periodicals Lucifer and The Theosophist. The Union Index of Theosophical Periodicals lists 19 articles by or about Richard Harte. Additional articles were published under the name R Harte, and probably others were anonymous. He wrote several books:

  • Keely's Secrets. London: Theosophical Publication Society, 1888. Written with Mrs. Bloomfield H. Moore in the Theosophical Siftings series. Part. I. Etheric force identified as dynaspheric force. Part II. One phase of Keely's discovery in its relation to the cure of disease.
  • Introduction to The Hebrew Talisman. London: Theosophical Publishing Society, 1888. 32 page. The only known copy has been annotated: "Warburg Institute copy bound 13th with: 'Lucifer' to the Archbishop of Canterbury, greeting!. [London: Theosophical Society, 188-?]./ 'Reprinted verbatim from a copy of a rare pamphlet, date circa 1836' - t.p.[title page]" With an introduction by Richard Harte. Available at Theosophy Canada.
  • Lay Religion, Being Some Outspoken Letters to a Lady on the Present Religious Situation. London, E.W. Allen, 1894. 178 pages.
  • The New Psychology, or the Secret of Happiness. Being practical instructions how to develop and employ Thought-Power. R. Harte: Worthing,, 1901. On title page: "By D.C.K. [i.e. Richard Harte.]." 93 pages. A third edition came out in 1903.
  • Hypnotism and the Doctors. London, L.N. Fowler & Co.; New York, Fowler & Wells Co., 1902-1903. Two volumes. Volume 1. Mesmer. De Puységur. 128 pages. Volume 2. From Mesmer to Charcot. 253 pages. Volume 2 is avaiable from Hathitrust.

Additional resources

  • Richard Harte biography at Theosophy Canada (Edmonton Theosophical Society).
  • Harte, Richard. "A Clerical Booby Trap." The Theosophist 11 (March 1890), 300. Available at IAPSOP website.


  1. Alfred Pusey-Keith "Mr. Richard Harte" Light 23 (March 7, 1903), 111. Available at IAPSOP website.
  2. "Decease of Mr. Harte" Light 23 (February 28, 1903), 98.
  3. "Cuttings and Comments" The Theosophist 16.5 (February, 1895), 337.
  4. "The Theosophical Movement, Chapter XV" Theosophy 9.9 (April, 1921), 162-175.
  5. H. P. Blavatsky, H. P. Blavatsky Collected Writings, Volume I (Wheaton, Ill.: The Theosophical Press, 1966), 406.
  6. Theosophical Society General Membership Register, 1875-1942 at See book 1, entry 174 (website file: 1A/14).
  7. Richard Harte letter to Thomas Alva Edison. Dated December 27, 1879. Rutgers University website.
  8. "India" The Path 3.9 (December, 1888), 299.
  9. "Richard Harte" in Theosophy Canada website.
  10. The Theosophist 10 Supplement (December 1888), xxvii-xxviii.
  11. "Richard Harte" in Theosophy Canada website.
  12. H. P. Blavatsky, "A Puzzle from Adyar" Lucifer 4.24 (August, 1889), 506-509.
  13. "Richard Harte" in Theosophy Canada website.
  14. H. S. Olcott, "Old Diary Leaves" The Theosophist 25.5 (February, 1904), 258.
  15. Helena Petrovna Blavatsky, Collected Writings vol. X (Wheaton, IL: Theosophical Publishing House, 1988), xxvi.
  16. Pusey-Keith, 111.
  17. Pusey-Keith, 111.