Stokes, Henry Newlin (1859–1942)
Theosophist and editor, born in 1859 at Moorestown, New
Jersey. Stokes attended Haverford College (B.S.) and Johns
Hopkins University (Ph.D., 1884). He later did postgraduate
work in Germany and Switzerland. He returned to the United
States in 1889 and became a chemist for the U.S. Geological
Survey. He wrote articles for scientific journals and served a
term as president of the Chemical Society of Washington, D.C.
He moved to the Bureau of Standards in 1903.
Early in the new century the agnostic Stokes began a search
in esoteric philosophy that led him to Theosophy and the writings
of Annie Besant. He joined the Theosophical Society in
1903 and the following year also became a member of a small,
independent theosophical organization, the Oriental Esoteric
(OE) Head Center. The OE had been headquartered in Paris
but had a small group in Washington. In 1905 Stokes helped
establish the Oriental Esoteric Library as a focal point of occult
information in the District. In 1909 he retired from the Bureau
of Standards. During this time his former wife spread rumors
alleging that he was involved with Anna Marsland, the head of
the OE.
Over the next three years he devoted his increased free time
to the OE, especially to developing the library, into which he
poured much of his own finances. In 1910 he and Marsland
broke with the Paris headquarters and established the Oriental
Esoteric Society as a separate entity. Then, in 1912, he and
Marsland split, and he sued the OE Society for the library,
claiming that he had largely built it with his own money. The
court agreed and gave him the books. He then aligned the library
as an independent but associated organization of the
American section of the Theosophical Society.
By 1911 Stokes had begun a periodical, the O. E. Library
Critic, which became his means of livelihood for the rest of his
life. After his break with Marsland he conceived the Critic as an
independent theosophical periodical serving the larger cause
of Theosophy. All was fine for a few years, but in the wake of
the founding of the theosophically based Liberal Catholic
Church in 1916, he turned on the church and especially bishops
Charles W. Leadbeater and James I. Wedgwood. Stokes attacked
Leadbeater for the new teachings he was introducing
into the society and condemned the homosexual preferences
of Wedgwood. He went on to attack theosophical offshoots such
as the Aquarian Foundation, the Arcane School, and the I AM
Stokes couched his criticism of the new trends in the theosophical
movement under the slogan Back to Blavatsky, a
phrase he first used in the November 14, 1917 issue of the Critic.
He lauded the groups and independent lodges that still adhered
to the writings of Helena Petrovna Blavatsky, the cofounder
of the Theosophical Society. He did not leave the
international Theosophical Society and is credited with reintroducing
Blavatsky’s writings to the general membership.
Stokes continued to edit the Critic until his death on September
20, 1942.
Santucci, James. ‘‘H. N. Stokes and the O. E. Library Critic.’’
Theosophical History 1, 6 (April 1986) 129–39.
———. ‘‘H. N. Stokes’ Early Contact with the Theosophical
Society.’’ Theosophical History 2, 1 (January 1987) 4–22.