Robert Crosbie’s Life and Work
Notes on the Life of a Friendly Philosopher
Robert Crosbie was the main founder of the
United Lodge of Theosophists, ULT, in 1909.
The original version of the biographical notes by
Dallas TenBroeck (1922-2006) includes a few
fragments dealing with topics not directly related
to the life of Mr. Robert Crosbie. Such fragments
are not included here. Having been written in
an informal way, these notes also had a number
of abbreviations, like “THY” for “Theosophy
magazine”. Such and other abbreviations have been
replaced by their complete words. Bibliographical
references have been completed, indicating,
for instance, the editors and publishers of books.
Original Title: “Brief Notes on Mr. Robert
Crosbie’s Life and Work - Robert Crosbie,
the Friendly Philosopher (1849-1919)”.
(Carlos Cardoso Aveline)
Robert Crosbie was born January 10th 1849, in Montreal, Canada. Both his parents were connected with the Hudson Bay Co.
In 1865, Crosbie, raised a Presbyterian, was invited to join the communion. As he said he considered himself still “unfit,” subsequent discussions caused him to doubt that church’s practices. He determined to independently find “the Truth, which must be knowledge,” and adopted a practise of constant questioning into life’s objects, pain, sickness, death, mercy, justice, fate. He found that the religions around him offered no satisfactory answers when he questioned them deeply. “...from his earliest years [he was] deeply interested in religious, philosophical and occult subjects...” (“Theosophy” magazine, volume 7, p. 320.)
The “psychic powers latent in man” [hypnotism, mesmerism, clairvoyance and telepathy] were seen by him to exist, but their rationale was still to be understood. He sensed there was danger in those, and also sensed that he was receiving “some guidance” which he later said, helped him avoid “unconscious black magic practices.” Crosbie always had a strong regard for the rights of others, and, always exercised a strong moral control over himself.
Selling their business in Montreal, Crosbie and his partner went to Boston, and started another shoe and leather manufacturing business. It became well known and was highly respected.
In 1888 he heard of the proposed establishment of a branch of the Theosophical Society in Boston. As the word: “Theo-Sophia” suggested much to him, Crosbie went to the first meeting. He recognized at once that this was what he was searching for, and he joined the Theosophical Society immediately. He was admitted on June 5th, 1888.
Soon after, Mr. W. Q. Judge came to Boston to speak at the Branch of the T S, and Crosbie was introduced to him together with other members. After the meeting, leaving for his hotel, Judge called back to Crosbie: “Good night Crosbie, I’ve got you on my list!” Mr. Crosbie recorded: “a veil was lifted...a tie was formed which has never since been broken.”
Crosbie was elected Secretary of the Boston Branch of the Theosophical Society. Mr. Griggs was its President. On Mr. Griggs retirement, he was made the President of the Boston branch.
He helped organize the 8th Convention of the American Section of the T. S. in Boston, (April 28/29th, 1895). It was during this convention that the American Section passed resolutions that transformed it into the THEOSOPHICAL SOCIETY IN AMERICA, giving it full legal autonomy.
On p. 24 of the “Report for the Convention,” we find Mr. Judge stating in an article the basis for fraternal affiliation which unites all Theosophical working bodies and Theosophists together: --
“The Unity of the Theosophical Movement does not depend upon the singleness of organizations, but upon the similarity of work and aspiration; and in this we will ‘KEEP THE LINK UNBROKEN !’ ” (Those were HPB’s last words.)
Along with Mr. L. Wade, and Mr. Ayers, Mr. Crosbie submitted to the Convention an “Historical Sketch of the T.S.” This traced the major events of its existence and work in America since 1875. And, this was included in the “Proceedings and Report” issued by the Convention. Later a pamphlet embodying this information was issued under the title: “WHAT IS THE THEOSOPHICAL ORGANIZATION?”
During this period Mr. Judge was attacked, exonerated, and, later, persecuted again by the chief officers of the T. S. outside of America. Those were Col. H. S. Olcott the President Founder, and Mrs. Annie Besant as President of the British and European Sections of the T S. Contemporary Theosophical magazines printed articles and contributions on this. If one considers them altogether, one may reconstruct both motives and events.
Neither of these two officers appeared to have understood that Mr. Judge (and Mr. Crosbie in Boston) stood primarily for Theosophy (as HPB did) and not only for the T S. To them, the Theosophical Society was a useful tool, to be sustained as a promulgating body for the doctrines of Theosophy.
Mr. Crosbie supported Mr. Judge’s principles fully. He acted as one of the “witnesses on the scene.” He kept the “link” of pure Theosophy “unbroken,” after Mr. Judge’s death.
The hints given by W.Q.J. during his life in regard to Crosbie were not grasped by those around him, who had what they fancied to be their own positions. And, in addition, seemed to be glamoured and deluded by the psychic powers Mrs. Katherine Tingley exhibited (she had only become a member in 1895 - for a year - prior to Mr. Judge’s death).
In New York, Mr. A. E. Neresheimer, who was Mr. Judge’s executor and Mr. E. T. Hargrove went through Judge’s papers. They found what was later described as an incomplete and very fragmentary, cryptic diary of Mr. Judge’s, but which Hargrove claimed (in 1896) to be an “occult” diary; and in this, he said he detected that Mr. Judge’s indicated that Mrs. Tingley was to “succeed” him.
She had been of help to Mr. Judge during the last year of his life which was spent in great discomfort and illness. However this gave her no special “position” in regard to the management of the T.S.
Many years later (1923), Mr. E. A. Neresheimer made a deposition outlining these events, and in that, he reversed some of his earlier pronouncements, on which the “succession” of Mrs. Tingley had been based. This deposition is available.
From time to time this “occult diary” has been mentioned as giving “authority” for the “Tingley succession,” however, when requests were made to see it, or have it published, for all to verify, this was not done at that time. Copies were made of it and are available from several sources, but a reader will find it is difficult to establish any coherence in those phrases and notes. (See also “Theosophy”, volume 3, p. 280)
Mr. Judge died March 21st l896. Mr. Crosbie was in Boston.
Of the events in New York, he wrote:
“Two or three of the New York members - notably E. T. Hargrove and E. A. Neresheimer -obtained possession of Mr. Judge’s keys and went through his private papers; in these [they said] they found reference to a certain ‘chela’, whom Neresheimer determined to be Mrs. Tingley whom he had known for about a year, and whom he had brought to Judge’s notice. The idea being in their minds that there must of necessity be an occult successor, and concurring in the opinion that Mrs. T. was indicated, they sent out a circular to the E. S. that Judge had appointed her as such. … Mrs. T. took advantage of the situation, and most plausibly and shrewdly strengthened her position for two years after her advent, then formed the ‘UNIVERSAL BROTHERHOOD’ with herself as absolute dictator; carrying with her by far the greater number of the members throughout the country. A year later she went to Point Loma and established the institution there.”
April 1896 and later
Mr. Crosbie, in Boston was in cordial relations with Mrs. Tingley who had been placed, shortly after Mr. Judge’s death, in the position of “Outer Head” of the E S Section of the TS in America. He retained his supervision of its affairs over the area comprising the New England states.
In reviewing this period, Mr. Crosbie wrote:
“I was in Boston and had no reason to doubt the statements of those in N.Y. whom I believed to be sincere and of good training and judgment. I should have known by other means the true state of affairs...when Judge passed out of life, I lost touch with him; doubtless I relied on him too much, and had not exercised my own intuition; from later events my comprehension is, that this loss of touch was purposely done in order that I might strengthen my weakness in that direction. I went to Point Loma at Mrs. T’s urgent request to assist in the proposed work, and was there two years, helping to prepare the way for the expected developments, before I began to get back the touch I had lost. I am prone to excuse inconsistencies and deviations in others, so that although I had begun to doubt, and to see, it was more than a year afterwards I saw so clearly and unmistakably that I took occasion to tell Mrs. T. the facts as I saw them, and to state my intention to withdraw from all connection with her. She tried of course in every way to change my determination, but finding me unchangeable, she let me go, and as I afterwards heard, gave out that she had sent me away for ‘bad conduct’- just what I do not know.” (“Autobiographical Note” by R.C.)
Mr. Crosbie married his second wife: Josephine Parsons, on April 10th 1900, in Manchester, N. H. They had two children: a daughter named Kathleen, (Kay, Kittie) and a son: Cameron.
Mr. Crosbie was summoned by Mrs. Tingley to take up residence in Point Loma outside of San Diego, California, where a Headquarters had been located for the “Theosophical Society in America”, now renamed “UNIVERSAL BROTHERHOOD and THE THEOSOPHICAL SOCIETY”.
Mr. Crosbie noted that he had been active in Theosophical matters in Boston for some 14 years. (“Theosophy”, volume 7, p. 293)
He went there with Mrs. Crosbie, and as was required then, on taking up residence, all their assets were turned over to the organization. He gave his support to Mrs. Tingley, as will be noted from several articles and letters of his written during those years. ( See book “The Theosophical Movement - 1875-1950”, pp. 317-19 ; “Theosophy”, volume 65, pp. 159-60.)
Conflicting reports were circulated from the Point Loma organization as to why Mr. and Mrs. Crosbie left the Point Loma establishment.
None of the family assets which he turned over at the time of entry were returned to him.
He and Mrs. Crosbie, when they left were left penniless.
Mr. Crosbie is reported to have said: -- “We quietly left Point Loma.” And that closed the subject. (The Register of Members kept in Point Loma shows a smudged remark in red ink against his name: “EXPELLED 1904.”)
Mr. and Mrs. Crosbie found a house to rent in South Pasadena. He secured a job as a bookkeeper with the Los Angeles Times. This work was arduous and required long hours standing, and was not well paid. Like many others he rode the “Red Cars” (street-cars) to work.
Mr. Crosbie became acquainted with his neighbors in South Pasadena. He found that they were interested in theosophical ideas, and with their joint interest a study class in Theosophy was started, using Mr. Judge’s The “Ocean of Theosophy,” and Mme. Blavatsky’s “The Key to Theosophy” as the first texts to be studied, and also the “BHAGAVAD GITA”, the Theosophy of 5,000 years ago.
“Robert Crosbie preserved unbroken the link of the Second Section of the Theosophical Movement from the passing of Mr. Judge in 1896, and in 1907 - just eleven years later - made that link once more Four Square amongst men. In the year 1909 the Third Section was restored by the formation of the United Lodge of Theosophists. In 1912 he founded the magazine THEOSOPHY.” (“Theosophy”, volume 7, August 1919, p. 289; and volume 3, pp. 187/8; and the pamphlet “THE ULT, ITS MISSION & FUTURE”, p.8.)
Organized Theosophical meetings were first held by Mr. Crosbie under a charter obtained from the “T.S. in America” that E. T. Hargrove had reformed, after splitting away from the Point Loma TS, in New York 1898/99. This had attracted a number of Mr. Judge’s earlier companions including Dr. A. Keightley and his wife, Julia, better known as “Jasper Niemand”. (“Theosophy”, volume 23, pp. 544-5)
A year later this “Theosophical Society in America” decided to change their appellation back to: “The THEOSOPHICAL SOCIETY.” Since this was considered injudicious, some in the L.A. Branch rejected the change.
Mr. Crosbie and 7 others decided to organize on their own, adopting the original principles and the original program of the Masters which HPB and Mr. Judge had embodied practically during their life-time.
These PRINCIPLES are to be found in the DECLARATION OF THE UNITED LODGE OF THEOSOPHISTS. (“Theosophy”, volume 23, pp. 544-547)
Nov. 17th 1908
Mr. Crosbie issued an announcement: “TO ALL OPEN-MINDED THEOSOPHISTS” (Theosophy”, volume 24, p. 341, and “THE FRIENDLY PHILOSOPHER”, by Robert Crosbie, Theosophy Company, Los Angeles, p. 409)
February 18th 1909
The United Lodge of Theosophists, U.L.T., was launched. The DECLARATION is its only basis. An initial explanatory statement will be found in “Theosophy”, volume 23, p. 337, and ‘THE FRIENDLY PHILOSOPHER”, p. 412-14.
“No formal bond existed among the Associates of the ULT, the sole object being the study and dissemination of Theosophy pure and simple.” (“Theosophy”, volume 23, p. 102, and “Theosophy”, volume 23, pp. 548-549)
There were 7 original associates. (“Theosophy”, volume 23, p. 102, and “THE FRIENDLY PHILOSOPHER”, pp. 412-414.)
The “Third Section” was said to be restored by the formation of the U.L.T. (“Theosophy”, volume 7, p. 289; and the pamphlet “ULT ITS MISSION & FUTURE” (Theosophy Co., Los Angeles), p. 8.
“All sincere Theosophists deplore the evils in the Movement and long for their eradication. They ‘dimly perceive’ that these evils have an originating and sustaining cause which must be counteracted, but so long as their attention is fixed on effects, how can they, except with ‘divided mind,’ study the producing cause or causes ?...They cannot learn the truth about nature and themselves in any other school than that provided in Theosophy and in the lessons to be learned from self-study and the study of theosophical history. The Theosophists of today are ... faced with the same inherent difficulties, the same problems, the same weaknesses...but the real lack then is the real lack now--the disposition to face the facts, to make the necessary effort to gain first-hand knowledge of Theosophy as a basis and standard of discrimination and judgment - and then the will to act upon those finely established principles thus self-perceived ... From the beginning, but a handful recognized the gravity of the issues involved, and that is still the case. ... work - the will to study, apply, and so come to understand the play of forces in human nature - is the practical application of the 3rd. Object.” (“Theosophy”, volume 23, pp. 102-103)
The “semi-esoteric character of the U.L.T.” was a phrase that Mr. Crosbie used. He also said that the ULT had to do work which the various Theosophical Societies, then in existence, had all failed in.
It had to work to restore the integrity of the Original Impulse, as laid down by Masters through HPB. (“Theosophy” magazine, Nov. 1951, “Theosophy”, volume 50, p. 338)
Crosbie stressed impersonality and anonymity to protect the work and to help protect the workers from “pride,” and “ambition”. It was recorded that in his work Mr. Crosbie was “undeviating.” (“Theosophy”, volume 52, p. 252)
As regards himself and family, Mr. Crosbie was always well dressed in public, at work, and at the Lodge rooms, so that Theosophy might not be rated on a poor personal appearance. He made a point of this to all those who worked at ULT.
Letters “In The Beginning” (“The Friendly Philosopher”) were written by Mr. Crosbie to early students at various ULT lodges out of the San Francisco and other areas. These few letters concerned themselves with the principles on which the ULT was established.
Impersonality, conferencing together on decisions affecting the operations of a Lodge, and a direct approach to the actual teachings of HPB and WQJ were stressed again and again. (“THE FRIENDLY PHILOSOPHER”, pp. 376-7, 382-3)
THEOSOPHY magazine was founded, Mr. Crosbie serving as chief editor until his death in 1919. (“Theosophy”, volume 7, p. 291)
“In 1912, the mid-point of the 2nd quarter of the Movement, the magazine THEOSOPHY was founded to provide a medium for dealing with theosophical philosophy and history, free from sectarian affiliations or influences. Slowly the effort spread despite all obstacles and opposition, the impregnable basis of impersonal devotion keeping the work unsullied, an impersonality strictly continued after the death of Mr. Crosbie in 1919.” (“Theosophy”, volume 23, p. 102, and volume 23, p. 548.)
THEOSOPHY magazine, in its second volume started to publish a series of articles on Theosophical History under the title: MASTERS AND THEIR MESSAGE. This historical review of the events and the documents of the modern THEOSOPHICAL MOVEMENT forms the basis for the book later issued under the title: THE THEOSOPHICAL MOVEMENT: 1875-1925, edited by Mr. Crosbie.
THEOSOPHY SCHOOL was started. This activity was adopted and implemented by most ULTs as they became established.
“(Mr. Crosbie’s) ... burdens during many years have been enormous. In addition to his other work, he was a frequent speaker at the meetings of the United Lodge; he was constantly at the service of the hundreds of students who sought his wise and benign counsels in their many problems; he attended personally, under no matter what pressures upon his time and energies, to an incessant stream of correspondence from unknown inquirers who came in some unknown ways to learn of him and to seek his kindly advice and suggestion. He never denied his help, but gave freely, without stint or limit.”
“Worn out in these unselfish labors for the benefit and advantage of his fellow men, burdened with the toll of advancing years, the frail body could no more sustain the increasing demands upon it. He died as he had lived, calm and serene, with no word of complaint during the days of intense suffering that preceded his release.”
Something of his firm principles and the impersonality of his life and work can be gained from his article, printed in the July 1919 by THEOSOPHY magazine, “Is Theosophy a Progressive System of Religion?”.
June 25th 1919
Death of Mr. Crosbie. (“Theosophy”, volume 7, p. 320.)
It is valuable to note that H.P.B.’s last article was “MY BOOKS”, published in “Lucifer” magazine for April 1891. It is a resume evidencing the nature of her writings as the recorded teachings of the Masters of Wisdom.
In April 1896 Mr. Judge’s last article appeared in “The Path/Theosophy”: “H.P.B. WAS NOT DESERTED BY MASTERS”- it is his statement confirming his belief in the reliability of H.P.B., the Messenger.
Mr. Crosbie’s last article: “IS THEOSOPHY A PROGRESSIVE SYSTEM OF RELIGION ?” (“THEOSOPHY”, July 1919) reiterates the position that Theosophy is not a constantly changing set of ideas, but a consistent and complete body of knowledge to be studied, applied and promulgated as originally presented.
Following the principles of the ULT DECLARATION neither Mr. Crosbie, nor any student of the ULT has made any claim to be a “successor”, “leader” or “teacher”.
Each student and inquirer has been carefully put into direct touch with H. P. B., our teacher, through her writings - original and unchanged.
Each has been encouraged to study, work for Theosophy and practice that universal brotherhood which forms the unifying basis of all Nature.
Mr. Judge’s writings have been selected for study and reproduction because they most faithfully and carefully follow and supplement Mme. Blavatsky’s writings and all students are encouraged to prove this for themselves.
Robert Crosbie: Bibliography
[All volumes published by Theosophy Company]
*“THE FRIENDLY PHILOSOPHER” - Letters and talks by R. Crosbie.
*“ANSWERS TO QUESTIONS ON THE OCEAN OF THEOSOPHY” - Unedited selections from questions asked and answers given by Robert Crosbie in study classes in the Ocean of Theosophy by Wm. Q. Judge
*“THE THEOSOPHICAL MOVEMENT : 1875 - 1925”, edited by R.C.
*“BECAUSE - FOR CHILDREN WHO ASK WHY” - short stories illustrating practical Theosophy for children. edited by R.C.
*“UNIVERSAL THEOSOPHY” - a reprint of selected talks and letters by Mr. Crosbie culled from “The Friendly Philosopher” 
Articles on Mr. Crosbie
*“THEIR COLLEAGUE PASSES” -- an appreciation of his work in and for ULT and “Theosophy” magazine, at “Theosophy” magazine, volume 7, p. 289.
*“THE GUIDANCE OF ROBERT CROSBIE” - “Theosophy” magazine, volume 26, p. 337.
*“LOYALTY” [OF ROBERT CROSBIE ] - “Theosophy” magazine, volume19, p. 337.
*“THE RECORD OF ROBERT CROSBIE” - “Theosophy” magazine, volume 25, p. 337.
*“THEOSOPHISTS AND ROBERT CROSBIE” -“Theosophy” magazine, volume 24, p. 337.
*“ROBERT CROSBIE” - “Theosophy” magazine, volume 21, p. 337.
*“HE KEPT THE LINES UNBROKEN” - “The Theosophical Movement” magazine, volume 16, p. 99.
*FOUNDER OF THE ULT - “The Theosophical Movement” magazine, volume 4, p. 113.
*“THE U.L.T. AND ITS FOUNDER” - “The Theosophical Movement” magazine, volume 14, p. 113.
In September 2016, after a careful analysis of the state of the esoteric movement worldwide, a group of students decided to form the Independent Lodge of Theosophists, whose priorities include the building of a better future in the different dimensions of life.
E-Theosophy e-group offers a regular study of the classic, intercultural theosophy taught by Helena P. Blavatsky (photo).
Robert Crosbie’s Life and Work