Elliott F. Coues

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Elliott F. Coues

Elliott F. Coues (September 9, 1842 – December 25, 1899) was an American army surgeon, historian, ornithologist and author.

According to Readers Guide to The Mahatma Letters to A. P. Sinnett:

Coues, Prof. Elliot F., employed by the Smithsonian Institution, Washington, D. C., for many years a loyal and active member of the TS. Later he turned hostile and, in 1890, published an article in the New York Sun in which he made an outrageous attack upon the Founders, particularly HPB. She could not let this stand and sued Prof. Coues for $50,000, but died before the suit was finally settled. However, the Sun published a retraction and, when the suit reached the Supreme Court, the attorney for that newspaper confessed complete inability to prove the charges. In 1889, Prof. Coues was expelled from the TS for "untheosophical conduct." ML, p. 475. SH index.[1]

Early life and Army experience

Scientific research

Involvement with Theosophy

Early in the 1880's Prof. Coues felt the inadequacy of formal orthodox science in dealing with the deeper problems of human life and destiny. Interested in psychical research, he conducted many experiments of his own with chosen subjects. He became an early member of the London Society for Psychical Research.[2]

On June 26, 1884, at the time the S.P.R. Committee was making its "preliminary investigation and report" on the "Theosophical phenomena," he met H. S. Olcott in London at Mme. Isabel de Steiger's reception. Finding about his interest in this field, Olcott invited him to join the Theosophical Society. Then, Prof. Coues and his wife journeyed with Col. Olcott to Elberfeld, Germany, to meet Madame Blavatsky, who was at the time with the Gebhards. By the end of the year E. Coues was appointed by Colonel Olcott a member of the newly constituted "American Board of Control" of the Theosophical Society. On his return to the United States he founded the Gnostic Theosophical Society of Washington [a lodge formed in late 1884, dissolved June 22, 1894].

In September 1886, an article published in The World (New York) writes: "In Washington, Prof. Elliott Coues, one of the foremost scientists of the Smithsonian Institution, astonished his friends and the public by declaring his complete acceptance of the ideas and tenets of Theosophy".[3]

Prof. Coues began to work towards taking over the leadership of the American Section but Mme. Blavatsky was against this and supported W. Q. Judge who had been for a number of years the General Secretary.

On May 11, 1889, Prof. Coues published an article in the The Religio-Philosophical Journal to discredit Mme. Blavatsky. There, he used as evidence an unsigned and undated note purportedly sent by Mabel Collins in 1885. Blavatsky quickly and vigorously disputed Coues in a letter to Light, written on June 1.[4]

He claimed to be the "Perpetual President of the Esoteric Theosophical Society of America", which lead Mme. Blavatsky, founder and Head of the Esoteric Section of the T.S. to issue a private letter on May 14, 1889, stating that he was not even a member of that Section.[5] On June 21 she publishes an explanatory article entitled: "To All Theosophists. 'The Esoteric Section of The Theosophical Society' and Its Enemies".[6] Finally, on June 22 the Executive Committee of the American Section expels Prof. Coues from the Society.

A year later, on June 1, 1890, Prof. Coues publishes an article in the New York Sun repeating every slander and gossipy charge that had ever been made against Madame Blavatsky. She brought suit against the Sun for libel. The Sun's lawyers were obliged to confess in open court their inability to prove the charges.


Additional resources




  1. George E. Linton and Virginia Hanson, eds., Readers Guide to The Mahatma Letters to A. P. Sinnett (Adyar, Chennai, India: Theosophical Publishing House, 1972), 224.
  2. See The Theosophical Movement, Chapter 12, at http://www.wisdomworld.org/additional/TheTheosophicalMovement-Series/Chapter-12.html
  3. See "Theosophy in New York" at http://blavatskyarchives.com/nyworld1886.htm
  4. See "A Letter to the Editor of Light" by Mme. Blavatsky at http://www.katinkahesselink.net/blavatsky/articles/v11/y1889_034.htm
  5. See "The Esoteric Section of the Theosophical Society" by Mme. Blavatsky at http://www.blavatskyarchives.com/blav89ess.htm
  6. [See "To All Theosophists. 'The Esoteric Section of The Theosophical Society' and Its Enemies" by Mme. Blavatsky at http://www.katinkahesselink.net/blavatsky/articles/v11/y1889_040.htm]