OLD DIARY LEAVES, First Series (1874-78)
by Henry Steel Olcott
MADAME BLAVATSKY IN AMERICA
I HAVE found a letter to myself from an older acquaintance of Madame Blavatsky’s than even Miss Ballard, the existence of which I had forgotten. The last-named lady met her at New York within the first week after her arrival from France, but Dr. Marquette knew her in Paris, before she started on that long and brilliant career which led, per aspera ad astra, to end at the Woking crematory for the moment, in 1891, and then keep on and ever onward. The innuendoes about her having led a wild life at the French capital in 1873, are answered by this frank statement of an educated lady physician, whom I personally knew at New York, but who, I understand, is now deceased. She says:
“NEW YORK, December 26, 1875.
“In reply to your inquiries, I have to say that I made Madame Blavatsky’s acquaintance in Paris in the year 1873. She was living in the Rue du Palais in an
28 OLD DIARY LEAVES
apartmentwith her brother, M. Hahn, and his intimate friend M. Lequeux. I was with her almost daily, and, in fact, spent a good part of my time with her when I was not in the hospitals or attending the lectures. I am, therefore able to state from positive knowledge, what her behaviour was. It gives me great pleasure to say that that behaviour was unexceptionable, and such as to entitle her to every respect. She passed her time in painting and writing, seldom going out of her room. She had few acquaintances, but among the number were M. and Mme. Leymarie. Mme. Blavatsky I esteem as one of the most estimable and interesting ladies I ever met, and since my return from France, our acquaintance and friendship have been renewed.
(Sd.) “L. M. MARQUETTE, M.D.”
In the preceding chapter it was mentioned that she had left Paris for New York, by order of the Masters, on a day’s notice, and with barely enough money to pay her way out. I recall a circumstance of the journey which, as she told it, brings into high relief one trait of her many-angled character—her impulsive generosity. She had bought a first-class ticket from Havre to New York, and had gone to the quay to either see or embark on the steamer, when her attention was attracted by a peasant woman, sitting on the ground with a child or
1An “appartemem” does not mean, as with us, a single chamber, but a suite of rooms, comprising reception, dining and bedrooms, with a kitchen and servants’ quarters.—O
MADAME BLAVATSKY IN AMERICA 29
two beside her, and weeping bitterly. Drawing near, H. P. B. found she was from Germany on her way to America to rejoin her husband, but a swindling emigrant runner at Hamburg had sold her bogus steamer tickets, and there she was, penniless and helpless: the steamship company could do nothing, of course, and she had neither relative nor acquaintance in Havre. The heart of our kind H. P. B. was so touched that she said: “No matter, good woman, I will see if something cannot be done.” She first vainly tried her powers of persuasion (and objurgation) upon the blameless agent of the company, and then, as a last expedient—her own funds being insufficient for the purpose—had her saloon ticket changed for a steerage berth for herself, and for the difference got steerage tickets for the poor woman and her children! Many “proper” and “respectable” people have often expressed horror at H. P. B.’s coarse eccentricities, including profanity, yet I think that a generous deed like this would cause whole pages of recorded solecisms in society manners to be washed away from the Book of Human Accounts! If any doubt it, let them try the steerage of an emigrant ship.
We have seen how Miss Ballard found H. P. B. living in a wretched tenement-house in an East-end New York street, pending the arrival of money from home, and honestly supporting herself by sewing cravats. This was in July, 1873. In the following October her ever-indulgent, forbearing, and beloved father, died, and, on the 29th of the month, she received a cable dispatch from
30 OLD DIARY LEAVES
Stavropol, from her sister “Elise,” conveying the news and informing her as to the amount of her heritage: adding that a draft for 1000 roubles had been sent her. [I have the original dispatch before me as I write.] In due course of post she received all the money, and then shifted her quarters to better neighbourhoods in New York city—Union Square, East Sixteenth St., Irving Place, etc., and it was in the last-named I found her domiciled upon returning from the Eddy Homestead. Her money did not stay with her long, however, for, as it is recorded in Mr. Sinnett’s book, while she could endure with perfect patience the miseries of poverty if compelled, no sooner did money fall into her lap than she seemed to be unhappy unless she was throwing it away with both hands in the most imprudent fashion. A document in my possession illustrates this so well that I must quote from it. It is an agreement entitled “Articles of co-partnership entered into this twenty-second day of June, in the year One thousand eight hundred and seventy-four, by and between C. . . . . . G. . . . . . . ,party of the first part and Helen Blavatsky, party of the second part, to wit: “Clause 1 recites that the co-partnership is “for the purpose of working the land and farm at N—, in the County of—, Long Island,” the property of C. G.; Clause 2 says, “the said co-partnership shall commence on the first day of July, 1874, and shall continue for the period of three years.” Clause 3 states that C. G. puts the use of the farm into the co-partnership as an off-set against the sum of one thousand dollars paid in
MADAME BLAVATSKY IN AMERICA 31
by H. P. B. By Clause 4 “all proceeds for crops, poultry, produce, and other products raised on the said farm shall be divided equally, and all expenses” equally shared. Clause 5, and last, reserves the title of the land to C. G. The document is duly signed and sealed by the parties, witnessed and recorded.
What anybody might have expected happened: H. P. B. went to live on the farm; got no profits, had a row, acquired debts and a neat little lawsuit which friends helped her to settle long afterward. That was the last of her bucolic dream of profits from sales of garden-truck, poultry, eggs, etc.: three months later she met me in the Vermont ghostland, and the wheels of our war chariot began rumbling prophetically through the lowest levels of the Akash!
In November, 1874, signing her letter “Jack the Pappoose,” she wrote to ask me to get her an engagement to write weird stories for a certain journal, as she would soon be “hard up,” and gave me a rollicking account of her family pedigree and connexions on both sides; talking like a democrat, yet showing but too plainly that she felt that she, if anyone, had reason to be proud of her lineage. She writes me how the Daily Graphic people had interviewed her about her travels and asked for her portrait. Considering how many thousand copies of her likeness have since been circulated, the world over, it will amuse if I quote a sentence or two about this first experience of the sort:
“Don’t you know, the fellows of the Graphic bored
32 OLD DIARY LEAVES
my life out of me to give them my portrait? Mr. F. was sent to get me into conversation after I came out [for the Eddys, she means], and wanted them to insert my article against. . . Beard. I suppose they wanted to create a sensation and so got hold of my beautiful nostrils and splendid mouth. . . I told them that nature has endowed and gifted me with a potato nose, but I did not mean to allow them to make fun of it, vegetable though it is. They very seriously denied the fact, and so made me laugh, and you know ‘celui qui rit est désarmé.’”
A well-known physician of New York, a Dr. Beard, attracted to Chittenden by my Graphic letters, had come out with a bombastic and foolish explanation of the Eddy ghosts as mere trickery, and she had flayed him alive in a reply, dated October 27th and published in the Graphic of October 30th. Her letter was so brave and sparkling a defence of the Eddy mediums, and her testimony as to the seven “spirit-forms” she herself had recognised so convincing, that she at once came into the blaze of a publicity which never afterwards left her. This was the first time her name had been heard of in America in connection with psychological mysteries, my own mention in the Graphic, of her arrival at Chittenden appearing, if I am not mistaken, a little later. However, be that as it may, her tilt with Dr. Beard was the primary cause of her notoriety.
She carried a tone of breeziness, defiant brusqueness, and camaraderie throughout all her talk and writing in
MADAME BLAVATSKY IN AMERICA 33
those days, fascinating everybody by her bright wit, her contempt for social hypocrisies, and all “caddishness,” and astounding them with her psychical powers. The erudition of Isis Unveiled had not yet overshadowed her, but she constantly drew upon a memory stored with a wealth of recollections of personal perils and adventures, and of knowledge of occult science, not merely unparalleled but not even approached by any other person who had ever appeared in America, so far as I have heard. She was a totally different personage then from what she was later on, when people saw her settled down to the serious life-work for which her whole past had been a preparatory school. Yes, the H. P. B. I am now writing about, in whose intimate comradeship I lived, with whom I was on terms of perfect personal equality, who overflowed with exuberant spirits and enjoyed nothing more than a comic song or story, was not the H. P. B. of India or London, nor recognisable in the mental colossus of the latter days. She changed in many things, yet in one thing she never improved, viz., the choice of friends and confidants. It almost seems as though she were always dealing with inner selves of men and women, and had been blind to the weakness or corruption of their visible, bodily shells. Just as she flung her money to every specious wretch who came and lied to her, so she made close friends of the passing hour with people the most unworthy. She trusted one after another, and, for the time being, there seemed nobody like them in her eyes; but usually the morrow brought disillusion and disgust,
34 OLD DIARY LEAVES
without the prudence to avoid doing it all over again. I mentioned above the attempt to form a Miracle Club, for the study of practical psychology. The intended medium belonged to a most respectable family, and talked so honestly that we thought we had secured a prize. He proved to be penniless, and as H. P. B. in his hour of greatest need had no money to spare, she pawned her long gold chain and gave him the proceeds. That wretch not only failed utterly as a medium, but was also reported to us as having spread calumnies against the one who had done him kindness. And such was her experience to the end of her life; the ingratitude and cruel malice of the Coulombs being but one of a long series of sorrows.
The subsequent history of that gold chain is interesting. It was, of course, redeemed from pawn, and, later, she wore it in Bombay and Madras. When, in the Ninth Annual Convention of the Society, held at Adyar, a subscription was started to create the Permanent Fund, H. P. B. put her chain up at private auction, and it was bought by Mr. E. D. Ezekiel, and the money handed over to the Treasurer of the T.S. for the Fund in question.
Before my series of Chittenden letters to the Daily Graphic was finished, I had arranged for their publication in book form at Hartford, Conn., and about the same time H. P. B. removed to Philadelphia. A blight fell upon Spiritualism in those days, in consequence of Mr. Dale Owen’s public denunciation of the Holmes
MADAME BLAVATSKY IN AMERICA 35
mediums as cheats. The journals of that movement lost heavily in subscribers, the most popular books lay unsold on the publishers’ shelves. My own publishers were so alarmed that I arranged, through Mr. Owen, with Mrs. Holmes for a course of test-séances under my own conditions and went there and carried out my plan, with the colleagues before mentioned. Thence I proceeded to Havana, N. Y., and saw the truly marvellous mediumistic phenomena of Mrs. Compton. Both sets of experiences were embodied in my book, and it was published.
H. P. B. was still at Philadelphia, so I accepted her urgent invitation to come and take a few days’ holiday after my long term of work. Expecting to be absent from New York only two or three days, I left no instructions at my office or club about forwarding my letters, but, finding upon arrival that she was not likely to let me go so soon, I went on the second day to the General Post-Office, gave the address of my lodgings, and asked that any letters coming for me might be delivered there by carrier. I expected none, but fancied that the people in my office, not hearing from me, might address me at the Philadelphia Post-Office on the chance of my getting their letter. Then happened something that astonished me—knowing so little as I did of the psychical resources of H. P. B. and her Masters—and which even now, despite so long an experience of phenomena, remains a world-wonder. To understand what follows, let the reader examine any letter he has
36 OLD DIARY LEAVES
received by post, and he will find two office stamps upon it; the one on the face, that of the office at which it was posted, the one on the back, that of the office to which it was addressed; if it has been sent on after him from the latter office, it will at least bear those two stamps, and, in addition, those of any series of post-offices to which it was re-addressed until it finally reached his hand. Now, on the evening of the very day on which I had left my address at the Philadelphia General Post-Office, the local postman brought me letters coming from widely distant places—one, I think, from South America, or at any rate, some foreign country—addressed to me at New York, bearing the stamps of the respective offices of posting, but not that of the New York Post-Office. Despite all post-office rules and customs, they had come straight to me to Philadelphia without passing through the New-York Post Office at all. And nobody in New York knew my Philadelphia address, for I did not myself know what it would be when I left home. I took these letters myself from the postman’s hand, being just on the point of going out for a walk when he arrived. So the letters were not tampered with by H. P. B. Upon opening them, I found inside each, something written in the same handwriting as that in letters I had received in New York from the Masters, the writing having been made either in the margins or any other blank space left by the writers. The things written were, either some comments upon the character or motives of the writers, or matter of general purport as regards my occult studies. These
MADAME BLAVATSKY IN AMERICA 37
were the precursors of a whole series of those phenomenal surprises during the fortnight or so that I spent in Philadelphia. I had many, and no letter of the lot bore the New York stamp, although all were addressed to me at my office in that city.
The accompanying facsimile of one of the covers—a letter from Prof. J. R. Buchanan—will show that although addressed to me at New York, it was delivered by the Philadelphia carrier without having been re-addressed to that city. The house number—H. P. B.’s residence—was written in the city Delivery Department of the Philadelphia Post-Office. The New York stamp is not on the back.
When we come to analyse the psychical phenomena of or connected with Mme. Blavatsky, we find that they may be classified as follows:
1. Those whose production requires a knowledge of the ultimate properties of matter, of the cohesive force which agglomerates the atoms; especially a knowledge of Akash, its composition, contents, and potentialities.
2. Those which relate to the powers of the elementals when made subservient to human will.
3. Those where hypnotic suggestion through the medium of thought-transference creates illusive sensations of sight, sound, and touch.
4. Those which involve the art of making objective images, pictorial, or scriptory—which are first purposely created in the adept-operator’s mind; for instance, the precipitation of a picture or writing upon paper or other
38 OLD DIARY LEAVES
material surface, or of a letter, image, or other mark upon the human skin.
5. Those pertaining to thought-reading and retrospective and prospective clairvoyance.
6. Those of the intercourse at will between her mind and the minds of other living persons equally or more perfectly gifted, psychically, than herself. Or, sometimes, the subordination of her will and whole personality to the will of another entity.
7. Those, of the highest class, were by spiritual insight, or intuition, or inspiration—as indifferently called; there being no real difference in the condition, but only in names—she reached the amassed stores of human knowledge laid up in the registry of the Astral Light.
Recalling my observations for the past twenty years as well as I can, I think that all the tales I have ever told or shall henceforth tell, will drop into one or other of these classes.
The sceptic will certainly say that my groups are arbitrary and my hypotheses fanciful. He will ask me to prove that there are elemental spirits; that there is such a thing as clairvoyance; that material objects called for can be brought from a distance; that anybody really knows the nature of the attraction of cohesion, etc. I shall, for my sole answer, tell what I and others have seen, and then challenge the doubter to find in nature any thinkable laws, outside those above enumerated, which explain the facts--the hard undeniable facts. If the theory of miracle, or diabolism, be propounded, then I shall be
MADAME BLAVATSKY IN AMERICA 39
dumb, for that cuts off argument. I do not pretend to be able to explain the rationale of all of H. P. B’s phenomena, for to do that one would need to be as well informed as herself; which I never pretended to be.