Alfred Percy Sinnett

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Alfred Percy Sinnett

Alfred Percy Sinnett (January 18, 1840, London - June 26, 1921) was an English author, journalist, and Theosophist, who played an important part in growth of the Theosophical Society during its first generation.

Life and career

Alfred Percy Sinnett was born on January 18, 1840, in London, Middlesex County. His father was a journalist, and his mother a writer who had published numerous books. Alfred's father died when he was only five years old. His widowed mother Jane struggled to sustain three boys and three girls by writing newspaper articles and translations, and by working as a governess. Young Sinnett was admitted to the London University School as a scholarship student, but left it without finishing his studies. He learned mechanical drawing, and worked briefly as a draftsman until he eventually obtained a position as assistant and sub-editor of The Globe, an evening newspaper.[1]

From 1859-1870, Sinnett wrote articles for the Morning Chronicle, the Birmingham Daily Gazette, and the Manchester Guardian in England, then went to Sweden as a special correspondent for the Daily News, followed by a trip to Ireland for the Daily Telegraph. On the ship to Ireland, he met the famous Professor Thomson, who was later known as Lord Kelvin. Late in 1865, he accepted the editorship of the "Hong Kong Daily Press," where he worked for three years. On his return journey, he visited Japan and crossed the United States by stagecoach. During a stop in Salt Lake City, he interviewed Mormon leader Brigham Young.[2]

Back in London, Sinnett became acquainted with the Edensor family. On April 6, 1870, Sinnett married Patience Edensor, at St. John's Church, Notting Hill, in London.[3] By that time he had become an editorial writer for The Evening Standard. In 1872, George Allen, the proprietor of the Anglo-Indian newspaper The Pioneer, offered him the editorship. Sinnett had "long been impressed with the belief that the only way of doing really well in journalism was by getting good editorial appointment in India,"[4] so he resigned his previous position and left for India, arriving at Allahabad toward the end of the year.

Years in India

During the years in India, 1872-1883, the Sinnetts had a good income, a pleasant social life, and professional recognition. Generally they lived in Allahabad, where The Pioneer was based, during the cooler months, and in Simla during the hot weather of the summer. In Simla, the couple visited with other British residents and held picnics to enjoy the spectacular scenery. Mr. Sinnett played waltzes and Beethoven sonatas on the piano.[5]

On May 16, 1877, Mrs. Sinnett gave birth to a son, Percy Edensor Sinnett, generally called "Denny". In March, 1881, the family returned to England for a holiday, and Patience, who was expecting a second child, remained in Notting Hill with her mother. On July 14th, the baby was delivered still-born.[6]

In 1875, during a visit to London, Sinnett had become interested in Spiritualism. A friend, perhaps Herbert Stack, had told him of the publication of Madame Blavatsky's first book, Isis Unveiled. In 1879, Sinnett read in a newspaper that H. P. Blavatsky and Col. H. S. Olcott have arrived at Bombay. Assuming they were Spiritualists, he wrote them a letter expressing his desire to become acquainted with them, and his willingness to publish any information which they liked to give him about their mission in India. On December 4 of that year the Founders visited Mr and Mrs Sinnett at their house in Allahabad and remained there as their guests for six weeks.[7] Colonel Olcott lectured on Theosophy at the Mayo Hall, with A. O. Hume chairing the assembly, and Madame Blavatsky charmed the Sinnetts' friends at dinner parties.[8] This visit began a life-long association with them and the Theosophical Society. On December 25, 1879, both A. P. Sinnett and his wife Patience formally became members.[9]

The Mahatma Letters

Sinnett crest on Mahatma Letter 76

In 1880 Helena Blavatsky and Henry Steel Olcott paid a second visit to the Sinnetts, this time at their summer-home in Simla. Many wonderful phenomena took place at the time, which Mr. Sinnett described in his book The Occult World. Although the phenomena were performed in front of witnesses and in a careful way, Sinnett wanted to design one that could be "really complete in their details and leave no opening for the suggestion even of imposture."[10] It was then that the famous correspondence with the Mahatmas began. In Sinnett's words:

One day, therefore, I asked Madame Blavatsky whether if I wrote a letter to one of the Brothers explaining my views, she could get it delivered for me. I hardly thought this was probable, as I knew how very unapproachable the Brothers generally are; but as she said that at any rate she would try, I wrote a letter, addressing it " to the Unknown Brother," and gave it to her to see if any result would ensue. It was a happy inspiration that induced me to do this, for out of that small beginning has arisen the most interesting correspondence in which I have ever been privileged to engage.[11]

The "Unknown Brother" that answered was the one known as Koot Hoomi, and from this grew a correspondence that took place from 1880 to 1885. The letters that Sinnett and his friend A. O. Hume received were published in 1923 under the title The Mahatma Letters to A. P. Sinnett.

Most of the letters were transmitted by psychic means and precipitated by different chelas such as H. P. Blavatsky, Damodar K. Mavalankar, and others.

Mr. Sinnett was extremely eager for some kind of immediate personal contact with the Mahatma K.H. On October 19, 1880, he received an astral visit by Master K.H. The former briefly described in a note the experience as follows:

I saw K.H. in astral form on the night of 19th of October, 1880,--waking up for a moment but immediately afterwards being rendered unconscious again (in the body) and conscious out of the body in the adjacent dressing-room where I saw another of the Brothers afterwards identified with one called 'Serapis' by Olcott,--'the youngest of the chohans.'[12]

About four years later William Q. Judge asked Mr. Sinnett about this, and reported the following:

He was lying in his bed in India one night, when suddenly awakening, he found K. H. standing by his bed. He rose half up, when K. H. put his hand on his head, causing him to fall at once back on the pillow. He then, he says, found himself out of his body, and in the next room, talking to another adept whom he describes as an English or European, with light hair, fair, and of great beauty. This is the one Olcott described to me in 1876 and called by name ------. . . He described K.H. as looking then not exactly like the picture now in his possession, but with some resemblance to it.[13]

As to why the Mahatmas agreed to enter in correspondence with him and Mr. Hume, the Master K.H. wrote:

Your sagacity, my kind friend, will have suggested long ago, that it is not so much because of your combined personal virtues — though Mr. Hume I must confess, has run up a large claim since his conversion — or my personal preferences for either of you, as for other and very apparent reasons. Of all our semi-chelas you two are the most likely to utilise for the general good the facts given you. You must regard them received in trust for the benefit of the whole Society; to be turned over, and employed and re-employed in many ways and in all ways that are good. If you (Mr. Sinnett) would give pleasure to your trans-Himalayan friend, do not suffer any month to pass without writing a Fragment, long or short for the magazine, and then, issuing it as a pamphlet — since you so call it.[14]

In addition to the numerous letters to Sinnett that were in his possession, published in The Mahatma Letters to A. P. Sinnett, one letter has been found at the Adyar headquarters of the Theosophical Society. It deals with questions about Laura Carter Holloway, and has been published as Letter 42 in Letters from the Masters of the Wisdom, First Series. [15]

Work at The Pioneer

Pioneer letterhead
from Mahatma Letter No. 109.

In 1872, Sinnett became editor of The Pioneer, owned by Sir George William Allen.[16] In the eleven years of his editorship, the little paper grew into the leading Anglo-Indian daily newspaper of the day.[17]

Soon after Sinnett's meeting with the Founders he established a correspondence with the Mahatmas. Through this correspondence and his involvement with Theosophy his attitude about the natives and the Indian affairs began to change, becoming more supportive.

In 1879 William Henry Rattigan and a partner purchased The Pioneer from Allen and the new proprietors communicated to Mr. Sinnett that at the end of his engagement, in November of that year, the newspaper would no longer need his services. Sinnett wrote of Rattigan:

He had been from the first intensely unsympathetic with my interest in the occult development ..., but for my connection with Theosophy it would have been unlikely that my connection with the Pioneer would have been disturbed at this period. There was some friction between myself and the new proprietors, but my success as writer had become fairly conspicuous and the friction such as it was would not have been enough to break the tie. But again both my wife and I had grown tired of the Indian life and wished to be back in England. It seemed just possible that the savings of our time in India, plus journalistic work at home, would enable us to live there in moderate comfort, so that we contemplated my resignation of the Pioneer editorship as a step we might be inclined to take. The parting therefore was neither strained nor unfriendly, and for many years after my return to England I continued to write articles of various kinds for the paper in India.[18]

The Sinnetts were not reluctant to return to England; he wrote that "We had grown very tired of the Anglo-Indian life of empty and frivolous gaiety".[19]

The Phoenix venture

After Sinnett was announced that he was going to be dismissed from The Pioneer in 1883, the Master K.H. made an effort to engage Mr. Sinnett in organizing a newspaper called the The Phoenix, supported by Indian capital. This newspaper sought to help in raising the social and economic condition of the Indian masses, their sense of self-respect, and their standing in the eyes of the world.

Sinnett left for England hoping to return to India for this project, but after considerable efforts to raise the funds needed the enterprise had to be abandoned for lack of support from the Indians. On September 11, 1883, the Master K.H. cabled to Mr. Sinnett in England, releasing him from his promise not to accept another position of employment.[20]

Return to England

On February 11, 1883, the Sinnetts left Allahabad on their way to England. They first stopped in Calcutta (where Alfred had an interview with the British Viceroy of India, Lord Ripon) and then continued to Adyar, in Madras, arriving there on March 2. At this time, he was engaged in writing his new book Esoteric Buddhism.

On March 30 the Sinnetts sailed for Europe on the P. & O. steamer SS Peshawar, reaching England on April 26. Upon his arrival he attracted the interest of the London Spiritualists, members of the Psychical Research Society, and Theosophists such as the Arundales and the Gebhards. At this time, his second book, Esoteric Buddhism, was published.

In April/May 1883 Sinnett became a member of the London Lodge. In autumn 1883, the Lodge separated into two parts, one following Sinnett, the other following Anna Bonus Kingsford. At this time, he made the acquaintance of Charles Webster Leadbeater, an Anglican curate who became interested in Theosophy after having read Esoteric Buddhism. They formed a friendship "which endured the rest of his life."[21]

Mr. Sinnett became the President of the Lodge in January 1885.[22] By the fall of that year the correspondence with the Masters stopped, partly due to HPB's bad health, and partly because of his non-supportive attitude in regards to the Hodgson Report. He conducted the transaction of the lodge "first as a part of the Theosophical Society's work, later more or less separated, and for a while as an independent society."[23]

In 1886 the proprietors of The Pioneer decided to establish a London office, a task that was entrusted to Sinnett. He was in charge of this office for a couple of years until the proprietor himself took over.

In 1889, Sinnett asked C. W. Leadbeater to come back to England from Ceylon to tutor his son Denny, now a boy of 12, and George Arundale. Leadbeater agreed and brought with him one of his pupils Curuppumullage Jinarājadāsa. Around 1891, he was able to help Leadbeater obtain employment in the London office of The Pioneer.[24]

Mr. Sinnett regarded that he maintained his touch with the Master throughout his life. C. Jinarājadāsa wrote:

Mr. Sinnett, even in 1889, when I joined his household, never realized that he had broken his link with the Master. Though he received no more letters, he was thoroughly convinced that the Master still communicated with him, through a lady, a clairvoyante, whom he used to put weekly into trance, whenever she stayed with his wife and himself. . . . When a few years later, this lady could no longer act as the Master's mouthpiece (so Mr. Sinnett firmly believed) he sought another, and later another.[25]

Later years

From January 1904 to June 1907 Sinnett edited a monthly magazine called Broad Views, dealing mostly with current events, sociology, philosophy, and world cultures.

He became Vice President of the Theosophical Society from 1880-8, and was also in that role from 1895-1907, and from 1911-21. In 1907 the President-Founder Henry Steel Olcott died. Sinnett, as Vice-President, became invested with the authority of the Presidential office until Annie Besant was elected as the second international President of the Theosophical Society (Adyar).

On May 11, 1908, his son Denny died of tuberculosis, at 31 years of age. Sinnett's wife Patience died of cancer the same year, at midnight on November 9, despite her husband's skillful efforts at mesmeric healing. After the passing of his beloved Patience, Mr. Sinnett was devastated and sought assistance from psychic Violet Tweedale to get news of his wife from the world beyond.

As a diversion in those days, Sinnett picked up a story, "Married by Degrees", that he had published in Broad Views, and turned it into a three-act play. With encouragement from American actress and Theosophist Maud Hoffman, the play was produced at the Royal Court Theatre on March 5 and again on September 16, 1911. Maud Hoffman was in the cast, and the play was favorably reviewed, but ultimately lost money.[26] In another financial experiment, Sinnett invested some of his remaining funds into the International Foil Company, of which he became a Director and ultimately Chairman.[27]

During a series of sittings with a clairvoyant friend, Robert King, from 1909 to 1914, Sinnett eventually was able to communicate with Patience, with Koot Hoomi, and others. He lectured to the Eleusinian Society in 1911, forecasting the First World War and the redistribution of land that followed it, through information received from the White Lodge. During the war years he frequently wrote articles for The Nineteenth Century about the forces at work in the world.

Until the end of his life, Sinnett continued to be active in Theosophical Society work. He wrote, lectured all over England, and conducted the meetings of the revived London Lodge. His close friends, supported by many others collected funds to support him, and presented a large check to him on April 5, 1919 in a gathering at Maud Hoffman's house.[28] Annie Besant subsequently initiated a "testimonial" collection from Theosophists worldwide, in appreciation of Sinnett's many accomplishments.

Mr Sinnett, still serving as Vice President of the Theosophical Society, died on June 26, 1921, at the age of 81. The annual convention of the Society in England was then in session. D. Graham Pole reported:

A simple service was held at the Golden Green Crematorium on Saturday, 2nd July. The General Secretary [D. Graham Pole, TS in England and Wales] read extracts from World Scriptures and the President [Annie Besant], in a few well chosen words, pointed out that this was not an occasion for grief or mourning but that we rejoiced that our brother was now with the Master he loved and served.[29]


In addition to his editorial work, Sinnett wrote numerous articles for Theosophical periodicals. The Union Index lists over 240 articles that he submitted or that were reprinted from his books. One especially important series of articles was published in The Theosophist as "Fragments of Occult Truth" from October 1881 to May 1883, using the pseudonym "A Lay Chela."

In March 1881, when the Sinnetts went to England for a holiday, APS published his first Theosophical book, The Occult World. It described the occult phenomena produced by Mme. Blavatsky in India. The book produced a profound impact but generated tense relations within part of the Anglo-Indian society, and eventually led to his dismissal as Editor of The Pioneer.

During his return to England, in 1883, he published his second book, Esoteric Buddhism, which had a huge impact on the Theosophical Movement.

His other works, in order of publication:

  • Karma: A Novel. London: Chapman and Hall, 1885. Chicago: The Yogi Publication Society, 1911. Reprinted by Mokelumne Hill, CA: Health Research, Mokelumne, 1968. Available online from Internet Archive and from Hathitrust.
  • Occult Essays, 1886. London: Theosophical Publishing Society, 1905. Available from Hathitrust.
  • United: A Novel, London G. Redway, 1886. It was serialized in Broad Views, 1904-1905. Volume I is available from Internet Archive - Vol. I, and Volume II from Internet Archive - Vol. II.
  • The Rationale of Mesmerism. London K. Paul, Trench, Trübner, 1892. Boston: Houghton, Mifflin and Co., 1892. Available from Internet Archive, from Open Library, from Hathitrust, and from Forgotten Books
  • Nature's Mysteries, and How Theosophy Illuminates Them. 1901. Revised and reprinted by Los Angeles, CA: Theosophical Publishing House, 1918. Available from HPB.NAROD.RU.
  • The Growth of the Soul: a Sequel to "Esoteric Buddhism". 2nd edition, enlarged. London: Theosophical Publishing Society, 1905. Available from Internet Archive.
  • Married by Degrees, 1911. A play.
  • In the Next World: Actual Narratives of Personal Experiences by Some Who Have Passed On, London: Theosophical Pub. Society, 1914.
  • The Spiritual Powers and the War. London: Theosophical Publishing Society, 1915.
  • Lectures. London: Women's Printing Society, [1915?].
  • Collected Fruits of Occult Teaching. Philadelphia, PA: J. P. Lippincott, Philadelphia, 1920. Available from Internet Archive.
  • The Social Upheaval in Progress. With a foreword by Annie Besant. London, Theosophical Publishing House, 1920. Available at Hathitrust. Pamphlet.
  • Tennyson An Occultist; As His Writings Prove. London: Theosophical Publishing House, 1920. New York: Haskell, 1972. Available from Hathitrust and from Forgotten Books.
  • The Early Days of Theosophy in Europe. Theosophical Publishing House Ltd, London, 1922. Published posthumously, this gives an account of how the Sinnetts came to invite HPB to Simla; how APS left The Pioneer; the use of the term Brotherhood; Anna Bonus Kingsford; HPB's time in Europe; the Gebhard family; and many other aspects of early TS history. Manuscript published after death. Available online at Canadian Theosophical Association.Also available at Hathitrust, scanned from a volume that belonged to and has annotations by Iverson Harris.
  • Super-Physical Science. London: Theosophical Publishing House, 1924. Originally published in The Nineteenth Century and After for March 1916 and February 1917. Manuscript published after death. Available from Internet Archive and in paper form in pamphlet section of Boris de Zirkoff Papers. Records Series 22. Theosophical Society in America.
  • Autobiography of Alfred Percy Sinnet. London: Theosophical History Centre, 1986. Manuscript published after death. Note: the surname is spelled with one "t". Available as free PDF download at IsisInvokes website.

He was editor for these books:

  • Incidents in the Life of Madame Blavatsky: Compiled from Information Supplied by Her Relatives and Friends. London: G. Redway, 1886. London: Theosophical Pub. Society, 1913. 1886 edition is available from Internet Archive and
  • Besant, Annie, and Charles W. Leadbeater. Occult Chemistry: Clairvoyant Observations on the Chemical Elements. Revised edition. London : Theosophical Pub. House, 1919. The Editor's Preface stated: "I have contributed an entirely new preliminary chapter ... From the beginning of chapter III to the end the book in its present form is simply a reprint of the original edition." Available from Internet Archive.

Published lectures include:

  • "The Pyramids and Stonehenge". London, 1893. Second edition - London: Theosophical Publishing Society, 1901. Third edition - London: Theosophical Pub. House, 1958. Reprinted in 1970. Originally delivered as two lectures before the Theosophical Society, London, in 1892-93.
  • "Expanded Theosophical Knowledge". Hollywood, CA: The Theosophical Publishing House, 1919. Pamphlet of a lecture delivered to the Convention of the National Society in Scotland on June 8, 1918. Sinnett was then Vice President of the international TS. Available in pamphlet section of Boris de Zirkoff Papers. Records Series 22. Theosophical Society in America Archives.

Online resources


Additional resources


  1. A. P. Sinnett, Autobiography of Alfred Percy Sinnet (London: Theosophical History Centre, 1986), 5-9.
  2. A. P. Sinnett, Autobiography of Alfred Percy Sinnet (London: Theosophical History Centre, 1986), 14-16.
  3. London Metropolitan Archives, Saint John The Evangelist, Ladbroke Grove, Register of marriages, P84/JN, Item 018.
  4. A. P. Sinnett, Autobiography of Alfred Percy Sinnet (London: Theosophical History Centre, 1986), 13.
  5. Vicente Hao Chin, Jr., The Mahatma Letters to A.P. Sinnett in Chronological Sequence No. 68 (Quezon City: Theosophical Publishing House, 1993), 33. Koot Hoomi mentioned the piano playing in Mahatma Letter No. 68.
  6. A. P. Sinnett, Autobiography", 19-20.
  7. Alfred Percy Sinnett,The Occult World, 42. Available at WikiSource.
  8. A. P. Sinnett, Autobiography", 24-25.
  9. Theosophical Society General Membership Register, 1875-1942 at See book 1, entries 245 and 246 (website file: 1A/16).
  10. Alfred Percy Sinnett, The Occult World (London: Theosophical Publishing House, 1969), 81.
  11. Alfred Percy Sinnett, The Occult World (London: Theosophical Publishing House, 1969), 82.
  12. Vicente Hao Chin, Jr., The Mahatma Letters to A.P. Sinnett in chronological sequence No. 3A (Quezon City: Theosophical Publishing House, 1993), 10. See Mahatma Letter No. 3a.
  13. William Q. Judge, Letters That Have Helped Me, (Los Angeles: The Theosophy Company, 1946), 196.
  14. Vicente Hao Chin, Jr., The Mahatma Letters to A.P. Sinnett in chronological sequence No. 68 (Quezon City: Theosophical Publishing House, 1993), 202-203. See Mahatma Letter No. 68
  15. C. Jinarajadasa, Letters from the Masters of the Wisdom, First Series (Adyar, Chennai, India: Theosophical Publishing House, 2011), 85-88.
  16. "Sir George William Allen KCIE," [1]
  17. Combined Chronology of The Mahatma Letters - Preface
  18. Alfred Percy Sinnett, Early Days of Theosophy in Europe. (Theosophical Publishing House Ltd, London, 1922),38-39. Available online at Canadian Theosophical Association.
  19. Sinnett, Autobiography, 22.
  20. C. Jinarajadasa, Letters from the Masters of the Wisdom, Second Series (Adyar, Madras,India: Theosophical Publishing House, 1925), 136.
  21. Anonymous, "The Passing of Sinnett," The Messenger 9.3 (August, 1921), 69.
  22. Alfred Percy Sinnett, Autobiography of Alfred Percy Sinnett (London: Theosophical History Centre, 1986), 31.
  23. Anonymous, "The Passing of Sinnett," The Messenger 9.3 (August, 1921), 69.
  24. Alfred Percy Sinnett, Early Days of Theosophy in Europe. (Theosophical Publishing House Ltd, London, 1922),110-111. Available online at Canadian Theosophical Association.
  25. Curuppumullage Jinarājadāsa, The "K. H." Letters to C. W. Leadbeater (Adyar, Madras: The Theosophical Publishing House, 1980), 74.
  26. Alfred Percy Sinnett, Autobiography of Alfred Percy Sinnett (London: Theosophical History Centre, 1986), 53-56.
  27. Alfred Percy Sinnett, Autobiography of Alfred Percy Sinnett (London: Theosophical History Centre, 1986), 56.
  28. Alfred Percy Sinnett, "At a Later Date" appendix to Autobiography of Alfred Percy Sinnett (London: Theosophical History Centre, 1986), 3-5.
  29. D. Graham Pole, "The T.S. in England and Wales" The General Report of the T. S 1921 (Adyar, Madras, India: Theosophical Publishing House, 1922), 42. See also this detailed account: Helen Fitzgerald, "Notes on Mr. Sinnett" The Messenger 9.4 (September, 1921), 87.