OLD DIARY LEAVES, Second Series(1878-83)
by Henry Steel Olcott
THE VOYAGE OUT
THOUGH we left American soil on the 17th of December (1878), we did not get away from American waters until 12.30 p.m. on the 19th, as we lost the tide of the 18th and had to anchor in the Lower Bay. Imagine the state of mind of H. P. B. if you can! She raged against the captain, pilot, engineers, owners, and even the tides. My Diary must have been in her portmanteau, for in it she wrote:
“Magnificent day. Clear, blue, cloudless [sky], out devilish cold. Fits of fear lasted till 11. The body is difficult to manage. . . At last the pilot took the steamer across the Sandy Hook bar. Fortunately we did not get stuck in the sand! . . . All day eating—at 8, 12, 4, and 7. H. P. B. eats like three hogs."
I never knew, the meaning of the phrase written by H.P.B.'s hand in my Diary on 17th December, 1878: "All dark—but tranquil,” until at London, when her niece translated for me an extract from the letter written by her aunt to her mother (Mme. Jelihovsky) from London on 14th January, 1879, and which she has kindly copied out for the present use. H. P. B. writes her sister:
"I start for India. Providence alone knows what the future has in store for us. Possibly these
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portraits shall be the last. Do not forget your orphan-sister, now so in the full meaning of the word.
"Good-bye. We start from Liverpool on the 18th. May the invisible powers protect you all!
" I shall write from Bombay if I ever reach it.
"LONDON, 14th January, 1879."
If she ever reached it? Then she was not certain that she would; that New York prediction might come true. Very well; but how, then, about all this romance we have been having circulated, about her having had complete foreknowledge as to our Indian career? The two clash.
There were but ten of us passengers aboard; our three—H. P. B., Wimbridge, and myself; a Church of England clergyman and wife; a jolly, red-faced young: Yorkshire squire; an Anglo-Indian army captain and wife; and another lady and gentleman. Can anyone fancy what that wretched clergyman passed through, what with sea-sickness, the biting, damp cold, and daily wrangles with H. P. B.! And yet, although she: gave him unreservedly her opinion of his profession, enforced at times with expressions fit to curdle his blood, he had the breadth of mind to see her nobler qualities, and at parting almost wept for losing her. He actually sent her his photograph and begged hers in exchange.
We had fine weather for only three full days. On the 22nd it changed, and--as H. P. B. records it— "Wind and gale. Rain and fog came pouring into the saloon skylarks (sic). Everybody sea-sick except
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Mrs. Wise and H. P .B.; Moloney (myself) sang songs." The next morning was fine again, but a terrific gale burst on us in the afternoon, and the Captain was “telling fearful stories of shipwreck and drowning the whole evening. Mrs. . . .and Mr. . . . frightened out of their wits.” After that the storm-fiends pursued us as if they were in the service of the opponents of our T.S. It seemed as though all the winds that Æolus tied up in paper bags for Ulysses had broken loose and gone on the rampage. One entry of mine runs through the pages for 20th, 21st, 22nd, 23rd, 24th, 25th, 26th, 27th, 28th, 29th, 30th and 31st December, viz., "Here follow a train of days and nights of ennui, turmoil, and distress. By night, tossed about like a shuttlecock between battledores. By day, the hours hanging so heavily as to seem whole days each. A small company of incongruous passengers, tiring of the sight of each others' faces." H. P. B. writes on one day's page: "Night of tossing and rolling; H. S. O. sick abed; monotonous, stupid, wearisome. Oh for the Land! Oh for India and HOME! " We sat out the Old Year and welcomed the New. The ship's bells rang Eight-bells twice, and down in the engine-room, agreeably to custom, there was a charivari of bells, pans, steel bars, and other sonorous objects. On New Year Day, 1879, we entered the British Channel in a sea of fog, typical of our as yet unmanifested future. Steaming very carefully and shaving by a number of vessels, we took the pilot, a very old, moss-grown sort of man, at 2.30 p.m., and at 5.30 had to anchor off Deal. As the Captain discovered later, his vision had become so impaired that
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he could not properly distinguish a red from a green light, and we would certainly have come to grief but for the unflagging vigilance of Captain Summer—a splendid fellow, an ornament to the British Merchant service. If the pilot had not become blear-eyed with age, he would have taken our ship straight through to Thames Haven, and so saved us a full day's misery in the Channel.
As it was, a dense fog closed in upon us, and we felt our way along so cautiously that we had to anchor again the second night, and only reached Gravesend the following morning, where we took train to London, and so finished the first stage of our long voyage. We were received with charming hospitality by Dr. and Mrs. Billing at their suburban house at Norwood Park, which became the rallying centre of all our London friends and correspondents; among them Stainton Moses, Massey, Dr. Wyld, Rev. and Mrs. Aytoun, Henry Hood, Palmer Thomas, the Ellises, A. R. Wallace, several Hindu law and medical students, Mrs. Knowles, and other ladies and gentlemen. On 5th January I presided at a meeting of the British T. S. at which there was an election of officers.
Our time in London was completely filled with odds and ends of Society business, receipts of callers and the paying of visits to the British Museum and elsewhere; the whole spiced with phenomena by H. P. B. and séances with Mrs. Hollis-Billing's spirit guide, “Ski,” whose name is known throughout the whole world of spiritualists.
The most stricking incident of our stay in London was the meeting of a Master by three of us as we were
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walking down Cannon Street. There was a fog that morning so dense that one could hardly see across the street, and London appeared at its worst. The two who were with me saw him first, as I was next to the kerb, and just then my eyes were otherwise occupied. But when they uttered an exclamation, I turned my head quickly and met the glance of the Master as he looked back at me over his shoulder. I did not recognise him for an acquaintance, but I recognised the face as that of an Exalted One; for the type once seen can never be mistaken. As there is one glory of the sun and another glory of the moon, so there is one brightness of the average good man or woman's face, and another, a transcendent one, of the face of an Adept; through the clay lamp of the body, as the learned Maimonides calls it, the inner light of the awakened spirit shines effulgently. We three friends kept together in the City and went together back to Dr. Billing's house, yet on entering we were told by both Mrs. Billing and H. P. B. that the Brother had been there and mentioned that he had met us three—naming us—in the City. Mrs. Billing's story was interesting. She said that the front door was locked and bolted as usual, so that nobody could enter without ringing. Yet as she left her sitting-room to go to H. P. B.'s room through the hall, she almost ran up against a tall stranger who was standing between the hall-door and H. P. B.'s room. She described him as a very tall and handsome Hindu, with a peculiarly piercing eye which seemed to look her through. For the moment she was so staggered that she could not say a word, but the stranger said: "I
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wish to see Madame Blavatsky," and moved towards the door of the room where she sat. Mrs. Billing opened it for him and bade him enter. He did so, and walked straight towards H. P. B., made her an Oriental salutation, and began speaking to her in a tongue the sounds of which were totally unfamiliar to Mrs. Billing; although her long practice as a public medium had brought her into momentary contact with people of many different nations. Mrs. B. naturally rose to leave the room, but H. P. B. bade her stay and not to mind their speaking in a strange language together, as they had some occult business to transact.
Whether or not this dark and mysterious Hindu caller brought H. P. B. a reinforcement of her psychical power I cannot say, but at the dinner-table that evening she gladdened her hostess's heart by bringing up for her, from under the edge of the table, a Japanese teapot of exceeding lightness; I think at her request, though I will not be sure about that. She also caused Massey to find, in a pocket of his overcoat in the hall, an Indian inlaid card-case; but I pass that over with a bare mention, as the thing might be explained away on the hypothesis of trickery, if one were disposed to challenge her good faith. I shall treat in the same way an occurrence which struck us all—in our then uncritical frame of mind—as very wonderful. On the evening of 6th January, Ski told me to go to Madame Tussaud's Exhibition, and under the left foot of Figure 158 I should find a note to myself from a certain Personage. The next morning Rev. Aytoun, Dr. Billing, Mr. Wimbridge, and I, accordingly went to the wax-works show and actually
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found the note described in the place designated. But it is recorded in my Diary that on the morning of 6th January, H. P. B. and Mrs. Billing went together to the British Museum, and, since they were out of doors, nothing prevented their going to Madame Tussaud's if they had been so minded. So, evidentially—as the .S. P. G. falterers would say—the case is valueless, although I then thought and still think it was a genuine phenomenon. The next evening we sat again in a séance with Ski, and were well pleased to hear him acknowledge that he was a messenger of the Masters, and pronounce the names of several. He also threw at me in the darkness a huge silk handkerchief, on which were written the names of several of them. It was a yard and a quarter square in size.
The next evening, after dinner, H. P. B. explained to ourselves and two visitors the duality of her personality and the law which it illustrated. She admitted without qualification that it was a fact that she was one person at one moment and another the next. She gave us an astounding bit of proof in support of her assertion. As we sat chatting in the gloaming, she silent near the window with her two hands resting on her knees, she presently called us and looked down at her hands. One of them was as white, as sculpturesque as usual; but the other was the longer hand of a man, covered with the brown skin of the Hindu; and, on looking wonderingly into her face, we saw that her hair and eyebrows had also changed color, and from fair brown had become jetty black! Say it was a hypnotic M€y€, yet what a fine one it was: produced without the utterance of
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a word by way of suggestion! It may have been a M€y€, for I recollect that the next morning her hair was still much darker than naturally, and her eyebrows quite black. She noticed this herself on looking into the mirror in the drawing-room, and remarking to me that she had forgotten to remove all traces of the change, she turned away, passed her hands over her face and hair two or three times, and, facing me again, she was her natural self once more.
On 15th January we sent on our heavy baggage to Liverpool; on the 17th I issued an Executive Notice appointing, ad interim, Major-General A. Doubleday, U. S. A., F. T. S., Acting President of the T. S.; Mr. David A. Curtis, Acting Corresponding Secretary; and Mr. G. V. Maynard, Treasurer; W. Q. Judge was already elected Recording Secretary. This arrangement was for the purpose of carrying on the work at the New York Headquarters until the future disposal of the Society should have been decided upon, according to what should happen after we had settled at Bombay. The same evening, at 9.40, we left from Euston for Liverpool, after a delightful stay of a fortnight with and among our kind friends and colleagues. Many were there to see us off, and I remember, as if it had happened but yesterday, walking to and fro the vast waiting-room with Dr. George Wyld, and exchanging views upon religious matters. The next day we passed at the Great Western Hotel, Liverpool, and at 5 p.m. embarked on the" Speke Hall" in a downpour of rain. The vessel was dirty and disagreeable to see; and what with that, and the falling of the rain, the smell of
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damp tapestries and carpets in the saloon and cabins, and the forlorn faces of our forty fellow-passengers, all equally disgusted as ourselves, it was a wretched omen for our long voyage out to India. Filth and noise when embarking at New York; filth, noise and bad smells when embarking at Liverpool; it needed all the bright dream of sunny India, and the phantom mind-pictures of our anticipated Hindu friends, to keep up our courage.
We lay at anchor in the Mersey all the night of the18th, but got away by the next dawn. My Diary shows how it looked to us: "On board everything is in a pitiable plight. The vessel is loaded almost to the water's edge—it would seem—with railway iron. There is a rough sea and nearly every wave comes aboard of us. Wimbridge and I are quartered in a, cabin forward on the main deck, and are cut off from communication with the saloon aft. It is as much as a landsman's life is worth to attempt the transit. How bad it is for seafaring stewards is shown in the fact that we got nothing to eat until 3 p.m." The same misery went on the next day, and but for a basket of bread and butter that had been given us in London, and that by good luck had been put into our cabin, we should have gone hungry enough. Meanwhile, H. P. B. was making it lively for the servants and her fellow-passengers who, with one or two exceptions, were shocked by her ironclad language, outraged by her religious heterodoxy, and unanimously voted her a nuisance. The ship being struck by a tremendous sea, H. P. B. was pitched against a leg or the dining-table and got her knee badly bruised.
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The third day we two got her peremptory command to come aft and show ourselves; so we rolled our trousers up to our knees, took our shoes and stockings in our hands, and made rushes through the slip-sloppy water on deck, between the rolls of the ship. We found the saloon in confusion, the carpets up, water and wet things everywhere, and smells that one might expect after a ship's cabin had been shut up for two or three days. H. P. B. laid up in her cabin with her lame knee, and through the confined space of the small cabins her strong voice would ring -out the name of the stewardess, "Meeses Yetz" (Mrs. Yates), in stentorian tone. O Bay of Biscay, under what an unalluring aspect wert thou presented to us, poor, sea-sick wretches!
Cape Finisterre was passed on the night of 23rd January, and so were we delivered from the raging Bay. But we got no observation of the sun that day, and the passing from our cabin to the saloon was like wading through a wet ditch or a mill flume. The next day the weather broke and we had an azure sky and a sapphire sea. The air was balmy and spring-like, and our bedraggled passengers crawled out to bask in the brightness of the day. The rose-and-opal tinted shores of Africa, seen through a pearly haze, rose like fairy cliffs out of the sea. At the rate of 250 to 300 miles a day, we sailed up the Mediterranean, past Gibraltar, past Algiers, on to Malta, where we anchored for the night on 28th January, and -filled the coal-bunkers. We went ashore and viewed the picturesque fortress and town, so famed in history for the deeds of heroism done by its besiegers and
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defenders. Off again the next morning, with the ship "besmeared with coal-dust in its every nook and cranny; and, as if in keeping, we encountered bad weather almost as soon as we left port. The wretched ship rolled and pitched like man, shipping seas that would not have been even noticed on a vessel less deeply laden. All brightness fled, of course, from the faces of the passengers, and we were miserably sea-sick; our only compensation being that H. P. B. herself, who had been ridiculing us for our weakness of will and holding herself up for a pattern, was overtaken by Karma and was sick also. It was our turn to jibe and jeer, and we paid her back in kind.
Port Said was reached on 2nd February, visited by us all, and then came the blessed rest for the storm-tossed ones, of two days and nights in the Suez Canal. This, it is to be remembered, was in the days before the use of the electric search-light made night passages possible through the Canal. The "Speke Hall" entered it at 10.30 p.m. on the 2nd; tied up that night opposite the Arab village of Khandara— where, at an Arab coffee-house, we had genuine black coffee and some smokes of narghiles; the next night, we tied up at a station five miles from Suez, where I passed a merry evening at the station-master's house, in company with two Corsican pilots who talked French fluently; and at last, in the early dawn, emerged into the Red Sea and began the third and final stage of our sea-pilgrimage to the Land of Desire. Letters met us at Suez from some of our Hindu friends, which quickened our feverish anxiety to get to our destination as soon as possible. That
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night the moon paved with silver the waters of the: Gulf of Suez, and we felt as if we were sailing on a dream-sea. Nothing of moment happened until the 12th, when a flue burst in the boiler, and we had to stop for repairs. Patched up, it burst again the next day, and there were two long waits, and many precious hours lost and much irritation felt by us, to be checked thus when we ought to be close to the Bombay lights. On the 15th, at noon, we were but 160 miles away from them, and the next morning entered Bombay Harbor. I had sat up on deck until 1 o'clock in the morning, looking at the majesty of the Indian sky, and straining my gaze for the first glimpse of the Bombay light.
It came at last, as it were, a lamp rising out of the sea, and I went to bed to rest my weary body for the next day's work. Before sunrise I was on deck again, and as we steamed rapidly towards our anchorage, revelled in the panorama of the Harbor that was spread before me. Elephanta, ahead of us, was the first locality we asked to be shown us, for it was the type and visible representative of that Ancient India, that sacred Bharatavarsha, which our hearts had yearned to see revived in the India of to-day. Alas! as one turned towards promontory of the Malabar Hill the dream was dispelled. The India we saw there was one of sumptuous bungalows, framed in the luxury of English flower-gardens, and surrounded with all the signs of wealth gained in foreign commerce. The Aryavarta of the Elephanta era was blotted out by the garish splendor of a new order of things, in which religion and philosophy have no part, and the
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sincerest worship is paid to the Queen's idol on the current rupee. We have become used to it now, but at first sight it gave us the painful sensation of our first disillusionment.
The ship's anchor was hardly dropped before we were boarded by three Hindu gentlemen in search of us. All seemed strangers to us, but when they pronounced their names I opened my arms and pressed them to my breast. They were Mooljee Thackersey, Pandit Shyamji Krishnavarma, and Mr. Ballajee Sitaram—all holders of our Society's diplomas. No wonder I did not recognise Mooljee, clad as he was in the artistic dress of his Bhattia caste, the dhoti and top coat of white muslin and the red turban with its quaint helmet-like shape and horn pointing forward above the brow. When he and I crossed the Atlantic together in 1870, he wore European dress throughout, and did not in the least resemble his present self. Shyamji's name has since become famous throughout Europe as a learned Pandit coaching Professor Monier Williams; and H. P. B. and I felt for him from first to last a sort of parental affection. Our three friends had passed the night on board a "bunder-boat," waiting for us, and were as joyful for our arrival as we were to come. It was a great disappointment not to be met by Hurrychund Chintamon, our chief correspondent, and, until then, our most respected one; we had not yet found him out. As he did not make his appearance, we went ashore with the others in their bunder-boat and landed on the Apollo Bunder. The first thing I did on touching land was to stoop down and kiss the
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granite step; my instinctive act of pooja! For here we were at last on sacred soil; our past forgotten, our perilous and disagreeable sea-voyage gone out of mind, the agony of long deferred hopes replaced by the thrilling joy of presence in the land of the Rishis, the cradle country of religions, the dwelling-place of the Masters, the home of our dusky brothers and sisters, with whom to live and die was all we could desire. All the cruel things that our fellow-passengers had told us on board ship about their moral weakness, their sycophancy, their inability to keep faith and command the respect of Europeans, were forgotten already; for we loved them for their ancestry and for their very present imperfections, nay, we were prepared to love them for themselves. And, in my case at least, this feeling has continued down to the present day. In a very real sense to me, they are my people, their country my country; may the blessings of the Sages be and abide with them and with it always!