OLD DIARY LEAVES, First Series (1874-78)
by Henry Steel Olcott
MADAME BLAVATSKY’S SECOND MARRIAGE
IN giving anything like a consecutive account of early Theosophic days—by which term I mean to include all days of intercourse between H. P. B. and myself, so far as I can recall them—I must briefly allude to the cases of precipitation of manuscript by her which are mentioned in my People from the Other World (pp. 455-6-7 and 8). Ostensibly, as above stated, they were given me by John King, of Kamaloca, whilom buccaneer, knighted by His Britannic Majesty Charles II, but now apparently a mere pseudonym of H. P. B.’s elementals. At a séance at her hotel in Philadelphia, on the evening of January 6, 1875, the alleged J. K. doing phenomena, I said: “If you are in reality a spirit, as you pretend, give me some exhibition of your power. Make me, for example, a copy of the last note from E. W. to Mr. Owen that I have in the portfolio in my pocket.” No notice was taken of the request that evening, but on the next but one after it, while H. P. B. was writing and I reading at the same table, loud raps sounded, and, upon
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my calling the English alphabet, spelt out, “Hand me your dictionary under the table, will you?” The only dictionary there, was a Russian-English one of H. P. B.’s, which was handed (not dropped, but handed, as if to something or invisible somebody down there, that could take the bulky volume) beneath as requested. The raps then called for a mucilage bottle, and then for a penknife. These also having been passed under the table, there was momentary silence, after which was rapped the word “Look!” We took up the book, knife, and bottle, and upon a fly-leaf of the dictionary I found a precipitated copy of the note in question. The call for the knife was explained to me thus: a certain infinitesimal quantity of the metal composing the blades was disintegrated from the mass and used in precipitation of the black writing from the state of metallic vapour. The gum-arabic lent some of its particles—also vaporised for the purpose—as a cohesive aid in the experiment. The portfolio containing the duplicated note had been in my pocket continuously since my coming to Philadelphia, until half an hour prior to the experiment, when I had laid it on the mantel-shelf, and had had it in full view whenever I raised my eyes from my book. H. P. B. was all the time within two feet of me, at her table writing, and no person save ourselves was or had been in the room since I laid it upon the shelf. Upon comparing the original writing and the duplicate, by superposition it was evident that they were not facsimiles, which made, it the more interesting.
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The next evening, H. P. B. and I being again alone, the raps called for a piece of Bristol-board drawing paper to be handed beneath the table. Showing me first that both sides were blank, my colleague passed it down to “John King,” whereupon the raps bade me look at my watch and note how long the experiment would require. With my watch in hand, I glanced under the table-cloth and satisfied myself that there was but the one sheet of paper there which I had handled the moment before. At the end of the just thirty seconds the raps spelt out “Done”. I looked at the paper and felt disappointed upon seeing that the exposed surface was as blank as before, but upon the under face, the one next the carpet, was found a second even better copy of the original E.W. letter. This time the portfolio containing the letter was in the inside breast-pocket of my coat, where it had been continuously since the previous evening’s experiment in precipitation. A Mr. B—, who entered the room at this moment, assisted me in making a very careful scrutiny of the documents, placing one over the other as I had already done, and becoming, like myself, entirely convinced of the genuineness of the phenomenon. I may say, in parenthesis, that this gentleman received in his carpet-bag while travelling by railway train, a letter from “John King” conveying instructions as to something of a personal nature. He told me the story himself, showed me the letter, and stated upon honour, that it had come into his bag while in a train and miles distant from Philadelphia and H. P. B.
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This incident recalls similar experiences of my own while travelling by train, in France, with Babu Mohini M. Chatterji, and in Germany with Dr. Huebbe Schleiden, both in the year 1884.
The mention of this gentleman (Mr. B.) reminds me of the duty I owe to the memory of H. P. B. to state her exact relations with him. It has been insinuated that they were not altogether creditable, and that there was a mystery concealed which would not bear probing. This is of a piece with the multitudinous cruel reports that were spread about her. She is dead and gone now from the world’s sight and beyond the reach of the slanderer, but, judging from my own feelings, I am sure that all who love her memory will be glad to know the facts from one of the half dozen who are able to give them. They are these: One of my Chittenden letters in the Daily Graphic aroused the interest of this Mr. B.—a Russian subject—and led him to write me from Philadelphia expressing his strong desire to meet my colleague and talk over Spiritualism. No objections being made by her, he came over to New York towards the end of 1875, and they met. It turned out that he fell at once into a state of profound admiration, which he expressed verbally, and later, by letter, to her and to me. She presistently rebuffed him when she saw that he was matrimonially inclined, and grew very angry at his persistence. The only effect was to deepen his devotion, and he finally threatened to take his life unless she would accept his hand. Meanwhile, before this crisis
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arrived, she had gone to Philadelphia, put up at the same hotel, and received his daily visits. He declared that he would ask nothing but the privilege of watching over her, that his feeling was one of unselfish adoration for her intellectual grandeur, and that he would make no claim to any of the privileges of wedded life. He so besieged her that—in what seemed to me a freak of madness—she finally consented to take him at his word and be nominally his wife: but with the stipulation that she should retain her own name, and be as free and independent of all disciplinary restraint as she then was. So they were lawfully married by a most respectable Unitarian clergyman of Philadelphia, and set up their lares and penates in a small house in Samson Street, where they entertained me as guest on my second visit to that city—after my book was finished and brought out. The ceremony took place, in fact, while I was stopping in the house, although I was not present as a witness. But I saw them when they returned from the clergyman’s residence after the celebration of the rite.
When I privately expressed to her my amazement at what I conceived to be her act of folly in marrying a man younger than herself, and inexpressibly her inferior in mental capacity; one, moreover, who could never be even an agreeable companion to her, and with very little means—his mercantile business not being as yet established—she said it was a misfortune that she could not escape. Her fate and his were temporarily linked
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together by an inexorable Karma, and the union was to her in the nature of a punishment for her awful pride and combativeness, which impeded her spiritual evolution, while no lasting harm would result to the young man. The inevitable result was that this ill-starred couple dwelt together but a few months. The husband forgot his vows of unselfishness, and, to her ineffable disgust, became an importunate lover. She fell dangerously ill in June from a bruise on one knee caused by a fall the previous winter in New York upon the stone flagging of a sidewalk, which ended in violent inflammation of the periosteum and partial mortification of the leg; and as soon as she got better (which she did in one night, by one of her quasi-miraculous cures, after an eminent surgeon had declared that she would die unless the leg was instantly amputated), she left him and would not go back. When, after many months of separation, he saw her determination unchangeable, and that his business, through his mismanagement, was going to the dogs, he engaged counsel and sued for a divorce on the ground of desertion. The summonses were served upon her in New York, Mr. Judge acted as her counsel, and on the 25th May, 1878, the divorce was granted. The original documents have ever since been in my custody. That is the whole story, and it will be seen that it shows no criminality nor illegality on her part, nor any evidence that she derived the slightest worldly advantage from the marriage beyond a very modest maintenance, without a single luxury, for a few months.
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Before dismissing Mr. B. from the scene, I might mention a variant of her precipitation phenomena which I personally witnessed. He talked continually of a deceased grandmother, whom he professed to have loved very dearly, and begged H. P. B. to get him, if possible, her portrait, the family having none. Wearied by his importunities, she, one day when we three were together, took a sheet of writing-paper, went to the window, held it against the glass with the palms of her two hands, and in a couple of minutes handed him the paper, upon which I saw the portrait, in black and white, of a queer little old woman, with a dark complexion, black hair, many wrinkles, and a large wart on her nose! Mr. B. enthusiastically declared the likeness to be perfect.
Her time during this period was fully engrossed with writing for the public press, upon Western Spiritualism at first, and later upon that of the East. Her “first occult shot,” as she terms it in a note to the cutting pasted into our scrap-book, will be found in the (Boston), Spiritual Scientist, vol. i. July 15, 1875, comment upon which will be made in the next chapter.
The publication of my book led to important results; among others, to interminable discussions in the American and English organs of Spiritualism and in the secular press, in which both H. P. B. and I engaged, and to the formation of lasting friendships with several most excellent correspondents, with whom we threshed out the whole subject of Eastern and Western occultism.
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Almost immediately we found ourselves addressed by enquirers in both hemispheres and attacked or defended by opponents and sympathisers. The well-known Hon. Alexandre Aksakof, Russian Imperial Privy Councillor and a fervid Spiritualist, engaged H. P. B. to translate my book into Russian, offering to bring it out at his own expense. She complied, and shortly there appeared in St. Petersburgh a very kind and appreciative pamphlet by Professor N. A. Wagner, of the Imperial University, in which he (himself a scientific authority of the first rank) was good enough to say that in conducting my researches I “had complied with all the requirements of cautious scientific enquiry;” a testimonial of which I naturally felt very proud. Mr. Crookes, F.R.S., and Mr. Alfred R. Wallace, F.R.S., of England, and M. Camille Flammarion of France, the world-famous astronomer, were also very kind and sympathetic in their expressions. Some months later, Mr. C. C. Massey, of London, came over to America expressly to verify, by personal observation on the spot, the accuracy of my account of the Eddy phenomena. We saw much of each other, and. were so mutually satisfied that a close, almost brotherly friendship sprang up between us; one that has lasted to this day unbroken and unclouded even by a single misunderstanding. I had already been brought into the most sympathetic relations with the late Hon. R. D. Owen and Mr. Epes Sargent, of Boston. The latter gentleman and scholar had been the channel for my gaining both a precious correspondent and the dearest of friends, in the
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late Mr. W. Stainton Moses,M.A. (Oxon), teacher of Classics and English, in University College, London, and the mot honoured and brilliant writer among British Spiritualists. A copy of my book was sent to him and reviewed in the Psychological Magazine or Human Nature—I forget which—and little by little we drifted into an almost weekly interchange of letters for several years. His first one, now before me, is dated April 27, 1875, and is devoted to discussion of the conditions and results of “circle” mediumistic phenomena. He draws my attention to a fact, sneered at by Professor Tyndall in his well-known letter to the old London Dialectical Society, yet only too palpable to all experienced enquirers into this class of natural phenomena, viz., that “as a matter of fact certain people by their mere presence do seriously interfere with, and by their mere contiguity paralyse the phenomena: and that from no fault of their own, nor from any mental attitude (as want of faith, etc.), but from the atmosphere which surrounds them. The more sensitive the medium the more perceptible this is.” Mr. Stainton Moses continues: “There are many personal friends of mine in whose presence phenomena with me cease, to my great chagrin, nor have I the least power to alter the result.” Alluding to the phenomenon of the apparent de-materialisation of the medium (e.g., the case of Mrs. Compton, as described in my book), he declares it to be most astounding of all, and says he cannot
1Moses is not the real name but Moseyn or Mostyn, as he told me. The other is a corruption.
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account for it, though he believes “it is not unknown to the Oriental Magicians.” What I have said in a previous chapter as regards the power of deluding the sight by the now scientific process of hypnotic inhibition of the nerves, solves this mystery and does away with a lot of superstitious beliefs and alleged diabolism. It was worth all the trouble of writing that book to have made two such life-long friends as Stainton Moses and Massey: but it did much more, it changed my life and made an epoch. While Mr. Massey was in America we together visited several mediums, and he was one of those who joined H. P. B. and myself in forming the Theosophical Society toward the close of that year (1875). I introduced him to H. P. B. and he frequently visited her rooms, became her close friend and constant correspondent until the intimacy was broken, several years later, by a circumstance known as the “Kiddle incident.” When he returned to London I gave him an introductory letter to Mr. Stainton Moses, and thus began that intimacy between us three which has only been interrupted by the death of “M. A. Oxon.”
Mention has been made of one Signor B—, an Italian artist possessed of occult powers, who visited: H. P. B. in New York, I witnessed, one autumn evening, in 1875, just after the T. S. was formed, the extraordinary phenomenon of rain-making effected by him by—as he said—the control of spirits of the air. The moon was at the full and not a cloud floated in the clear blue sky. He called H. P. B. and myself out upon the balcony of
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her back drawing-room, and, bidding me keep perfectly silent and cool, whatever might happen, he drew from the breast of his coat and held up towards the moon a pasteboard card, perhaps 6X10 inches in size, upon one face of which were painted in water-colors a number of squares, each containing a strange mathematical figure, but which he would not let me handle or examine. I stood close behind him, and could feel his body stiffen as though it were responding to an intense concentration of will. Presently he pointed at the moon and we saw, dense black vapours, like thunder-clouds, or, I should rather say, like the tumbling mass of black smoke that streams away to leeward from the funnel of a moving steamer, pouring out of the shining eastern rim of the brilliant satellite, and floating away towards the horizon. Involuntarily I uttered an exclamation, but the sorcerer gripped my arm with a clutch of steel and motioned me to be silent. More and more rapidly the black pall of cloud rushed out, and longer and longer it stretched away towards the distance, like a monstrous jetty plume. It spread into a fan-shape and soon other dark rain-clouds appeared in the sky, now here, now there, and formed into masses rolling, drifting, and scudding exactly like a natural watery meteor. Rapidly the heavens became overcast, the moon disappeared from view, and a shower of rain-drops drove us into the house. There was no thunder or lightning, no wind, just simply a smart shower, produced within the space of a quarter-hour by this man of mystery. When we came into the
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light of the chandelier, I saw that his face had that look of iron firmness and that clenching of the teeth that one sees on the faces of comrades in battle. And truly for good reason, for he had just been battling against and conquering the unseen hosts of the elements, a thing that brings out every spark of virile force in man. Signor B. did not linger with us but hastily took his leave, and, as the hour was late, I followed his example within the next few minutes. The pavement was wet with rain, the air damp and cool. My rooms were but a few steps off, and I had barely reached them and settled myself for a smoke when the bell rang, and, upon opening the front door, upon the threshold I found Signor B., pale and partly exhausted. He excused himself for troubling me but asked for a glass of water. I made him enter, and after he had drunk the water and rested awhile we went to conversing about occult subjects and kept it up for a long time. I found him ready to talk about art, literature or science, but extremely reticent about occult science and his personal experience in psychical development. He explained, however, that all the races of elemental spirits are controllable by man when his innate, divine potencies are developed: his will then becoming an irresistible force before which all inferior, that is every elemental force, whether organised as entities or brute, blind cosmic agents, are compelled to yield. I had seen no black smoke actually pouring out of the moon, that was a simple illusion produced by the concentration of his thought upon her surface, but I had certainly seen
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clouds form out of the moonlit sky and rain fall, and he commended the fact to me for reflection. But now he gave me a bit of advice which fairly astonished me. I had seen him on the best of terms with H. P. B., talking in the most friendly and unreserved Sway about Italy. Garibaldi, Mazzini, the Carbonari, the Eastern and Western adepts, etc., and matching phenomena, like the trick of the white butterflies, and I certainly had reason to be amazed when, putting on an air of mystery, he warned me to break off my intimacy with her. He said she was a very wicked and dangerous woman, and would bring some terrible calamity upon me if I allowed myself to fall under her malign spell. This—he said—he was ordered by the great Master, whose name I had heard him pronounce to H. P. B., to tell me. I looked at the man to see if I could detect the concealed meaning of this preposterous speech, and finally said: “Well, Signor, I know that the Personage you mention exists; I have every reason, after seeing your phenomena, to suspect that you have relations with him or with the Brotherhood; I am ready, even to the sacrifice of my life, to obey his behests; and now I demand that you give me a certain sign, by which I shall know, positively and without room for the least doubt, that Madame Blavatsky is the devil you depict, and that the Master’s will is that my acquaintance with her shall cease.” The Italian hesitated, stammered out something incoherent, and turned the conversation. Though he could draw inky clouds out of the moon, he could not throw black doubt into my heart about my
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friend and guide through the mazy intricacies of occult science. The next time I saw H. P. B. I told her about B.’s warning, whereupon she smiled, said I had nicely passed through that little test, and wrote a note to Signor B. to “forget the way to her door.” which he did