OLD DIARY LEAVES, Second Series(1878-83)
by Henry Steel Olcott
NORTHERN WANDERINGS, DAYÂNAND
SARASWATI, SNAKE CHARMING,
THE "THEOSOPHIST" STARTED
Agra was our next station, and here we stopped three days. What can I say of the Taj that has not been many cleverer travellers? The single, sentence of Banyard Taylor that it is "a poem in marble” covers it all. Our local guide told us a legend that embodies practically the same idea. The plan, he said, had been in a vision by an old fakir, who had given it to Shah Jehan, who had followed it out implicitly. It is the materialized replica of a temple in Mohammed's Paradise! Let us hope that the heavenly original was not built at the cost of such human suffering, nor its stones cemented with such a hecatomb of lives as this peerless sepulcher of the lovely Noormahal. Words are absolutely inadequate to express the sensations felt by an æsthetic mind on entering the Taj garden through the splendid red-sandstone portal—itself a palace. Like a fair white dream it rises against the Indian lapis-lazuli sky of April, suggesting spiritual world untainted with the dirt of this gross
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world. But enough: let it stand a world-wonder for future tourists—indescribable, unique, a marble thought.
The same guide told us of another fakir1 who, to satisfy the incredulity of a Bhurtpore Maharajah, had caused a heap of his gold mohurs (coins) to disappear from before his eyes, and reappear in the form of a shower of pieces on his queens in the Zenana part of his palace!
While we were at Agra we were visited by the local agent of Swami Dayânand Saraswati, who gave us his views of that great religious chieftain. His explanations are noted in my Diary as having been "so satisfactory that we have decided to go to Saharanpore to meet the Swamiji on his return from Hardwar". We were misled, it seems, at every step as to his teachings.
At Saharanpore the Arya Samajists welcomed us most cordially and brought us gifts of fruits and sweets. The only drawback to our pleasure was the presence of the Police spy and his servant, who watched our movements, intercepted our notes, read our telegrams, and made us feel as if we had stumbled within reach of the Russian Third Section by mistake. The town was crowded with the stream of pilgrims returning from Hardwar, a most interesting sight to us foreigners. The multitude of ascetics (or pretended ascetics, as probably the overwhelming majority of them should be called, being ascetic only
1For the concerned I repeat that fakir and sanyâsi are respectively the Mohammedan and Hindu names for the same personage, viz., a wandering religious ascetic and celibate.
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in their saffron garments), male and female, particularly impressed us. I noted ‘one young fellow of most striking appearance—a gentleman in beads and whitewash. Eyes extremely bright and handsome, beard carefully trimmed, teeth white, stature tall; he looks a king."
The Samaj gave us a formal reception and banquet, Indian fashion; off leaf-plates laid on the floor, from which we ate perforce with our (washed) right hands. The Swamiji arrived the following morning at dawn, and Mooljee and I went to pay our respects. I was immensely impressed with his appearance, manners, harmonious voice, easy gestures, and personal dignity. He had just finished bathing at a well in a leafy grove, and indued his clean cloth, when we met. Equally prepossessed in my favor as I in his, of course our greetings were most cordial. He took me by the hand, led me to an open-air cemented terrace, had an Indian cot (charpoy) brought and made me sit beside him. A few compliments being exchanged we took our leave, and after an hour or so he came to the dâk bungalow and made H. P. B.'s acquaintance. In the long conversation which followed he defined his views on Nirvana, Moksha, and God in terms to, which we could take no exception. The next morning we discussed the new Rules of the T. S., he accepted a place on the Council, gave me full proxy powers in writing, recommended the expulsion of Hurrychund Chintamon, and fully approved of our scheme of having sections composed of sectarians such as Buddhists, Parsis, Mohammedans, Hindus, etc. My Diary notes having been made at the time
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there can be no mistake about this, and those who have followed these narratives from the beginning will appreciate our feelings when, later, his altruistic eclecticism changed into sectarian exclusiveness and his gracious kindness into bitter abuse.
We took train for Meerut in his company the next day, and on the way came to an agreement with him that he should draft and send us the three Masonic degrees we intended to make for classfying our advanced Fellows according to their mental and spiritual capabilities. On arrival we were taken to the house of Babu Sheonarain, a wealthy Government contractor and Samajist, who placed his house and all at our disposal. The next evening at 6.30 we attended a crowded meeting of the Arya Samaj, which was most interesting to our unaccustomed eyes: a gathering picturesque beyond Western conceptions. It was held in an oblong courtyard, open to the sky and surrounded by buildings. At the further end a brick platform of 50 X l00 ft., covered with Eastern carpets and rugs; a low raised dais for the Swami with a reading-stool and books lying upon it; the teacher seated on a rug leaning against one of the thick round bolsters or back-pillows of the country. In calm dignity he dominated the assemblage, and in dead silence they listened for what he should say; the twittering of homing birds the only sounds audible. Our party having been conducted to the appointed seats, the Swami sunk his chin upon his breast, became abstracted for a few minutes, and then raising his face towards the sky, his sonorous sweet voice intoned the words: "Om; Om; Shântih, Shântih,
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Shântih!" and as the sounds died away began a discourse on the subject of Prayer. He defined prayer as work; it was no idle muttering of words, no lip-vibrations; no flattering or menacing of God, that had the least efficacy. He had heard once a Brahmo Samajist waste two hours in merely repeating the words: "Thou God art all mercy and justice!" What good did that do? Some people talk to God as a man does to his sepoy; as though they had the right of dictation! useless folly; let him who would pray effectively, work, work, work; all beyond one's reach must be sought after by contemplation and the development of spiritual powers. So he continued, eloquent, moving, as easy in speech as the flow of a running stream. Before he closed, the silvery moonlight touched the stuccoed cornice of the house in front of us while our side was in inky shadow, the sky hung an azure plain above the tree-tops, and a shaft of the lunar radiance spread behind the Swami like a burnished silver screen, throwing his fine figure out in high relief.
Next day it was my turn to lecture, and the event came off under a shamianah (a blue-and-white striped canvas canopy, supported by painted poles and steadied by rope stays pegged into the ground) in the compound of Sheonarain's house. The ground was covered with durries (Indian cotton carpets) and spread here and there with Persian and Indian rugs. There was a table for me and a few chairs for Europeans; the rest of the audience, including the Swami, squatting on the ground. Some English, officials attended and our Police spy with his
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moustache shaved—apparently for purposes of disguise—graced the scene. My remarks were devoted to an exposition of the mutual benefits likely to result from a blending of interests and gifts respectively of the West and the East. Mooljee interpreted.
The Swami told us, the next day, many interesting facts in the jungle experience of himself and other Yogis. He went seven years naked (save the langouti,—small breech-cloth or diaper, as we should call it), sleeping on the ground or a rock, eating what he could pick up in the forest, until his body became quite insensible to heat, cold, cuts and burns. Among wild animals and deadly serpents he went unharmed. Once he met a hungry bear in his path and the animal rose to him, but he waved her off with a gesture of his hand and his path was cleared. An adept he saw at Mount Abu, by name Bhavani Gihr, could drink a whole bottle of poison of which a single drop would kill an ordinary man: he could with ease fast forty days and do many other extraordinary things. That evening there was another large gathering to see us, and a discussion was carried on between the Swami and the Head Master of the local Government School about the proofs of the existence of a God. On Wednesday, 7th May, we turned our faces homeward (i.e., Bombayward, for the West has never been "Home" to us since we left it for India) and were escorted to the station by the Swami and a large number of his followers, who flung roses after us and shouted their friendly namastes as the train moved off.
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Days and nights of torrid discomfort carried us at last to Bombay, but before H. P. B. would look after her bags and parcels, she marched off to our adhesive spy, and then and there, on the platform, gave him a piece of her mind. In sarcasm she complimented him upon the great results he must have reaped from his expensive trip in first-class; carriages, and bade him present her best compliments and thanks to the authorities with a demand for his promotion! The poor man blushed and stammered, and—we walked away leaving him there. Then instead of going to the house for the bath and breakfast of which we stood in so much need, we drove to the U. S. Consulate and demanded that the Consul should send a vigorous protest to the Chief of Police for his insulting treatment of inoffensive: American citizens.
The stream of our existence flowed placidly on, the picturesque features of our daily life impressing themselves deeper and deeper upon our senses as the days grew into weeks and the weeks into months Daily, the circle of our acquaintance with the Indians widened, but, with the exception of a bare handful, we came into contact with no Europeans. What difference could it make to us whether they liked us or not; they could teach us nothing we cared to know, and their round of life and occupations had no interest whatever for us. Until the calls upon my time forbade it I wrote weekly letters to a New York paper descriptive of our adventures and observations. I see from my Diary notes, that while they were running. I covered pretty much the same ground that I am now
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going over. A protest which I addressed to the Bombay Government through Mr. Farnham, the United States Consul, elicited from them a disclaimer of any intentional discourtesy in setting their Police spies to watch our comings and goings. I subsequently learnt at Simla, from the Viceregal authorities, that they were much vexed that the espionage should have been carried on so clumsily as to attract our attention, and that the watching of us was nothing out of the common; it being the rule in India to watch all strangers who appear to have particular intimacy with the Hindus and to avoid intercourse with the ruling race.
I took full notes at the time of the incidents connected with the visit to our bungalow of a clever snake-charmer, and as a very fanciful version of the story is given in Caves and Jungles, I may as well tell the sober truth, which is quite interesting enough. The man's name was Bishunath, a native of Indore, and the thing occurred on 15th June, 1879. His appearance was most picturesque. He had a shock of jet black hair; a full beard parted, Rajput-fashion, down his chin and the ends brought over his ears; his lean brown body was naked to the waist; he wore a dhoti, or cloth, swathing him from the hips to the feet; over his shoulder another cloth, folded, hung to the waist; a white turban covered his head, and his regular features and bright eyes were of the pure Aryan type. In a covered, round, flat basket were some cobras, of which he turned one out on the plastered floor of Wimbridge's room. The reptile coiled itself composedly without attempting any
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hostile demonstration at first, but the effect of his appearance was to make H.P.B. and Miss Bates mount upon two chairs and gather their skirts about them! The charmer, producing a ground pipe with vents cut in the neck, began playing a soft rhythmic air not at all unpleasant to hear. It seemed to have a surprising effect upon the serpent, which rose on its coil, outspread its double fan-like hood, darted out its slender tongue, and swayed its head from side to side in time to the measure. Fresh from the reading of the declarations of various authors that these performing snakes have been rendered harmless by the extraction of their fangs, I asked the charmer, through one of the three Parsi gentlemen present, if this had been done in the present instance. He denied it and, clutching the serpent by the neck, forced open its mouth with a stick, and showed us the slender, curved teeth with their poison-sacs, at the corners of the mouth. He offered to give us the best possible demonstration if we would procure a chicken to experiment upon. One was presently brought, and then the charmer, grasping its body behind the wings, thrust it towards the snake after first irritating him by motions of menace. The snake became most nervous and angry, flickering its thread-like tongue, expanding its hood, and hissing with a noise something like a stertorous breathing. At last, the fowl being held near enough, it suddenly drew itself back and instantaneously delivered a swift blow at its victim, withdrew in recoil and struck at it again. But this time it overreached its mark, and instead of hitting the fowl's back struck one of its fangs into the
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charmer's hand. A tiny drop of blood oozed out of the wound, and we could not repress exclamations of fear. But Bishunath threw the chicken on the ground, opened a small rusty tin box, took from it a bony disc, laid it on the spot of blood, and after keeping his hand quiet for a minute or two used it as freely as the other. The bony disc stuck to the skin as if it had been attached with the stickiest "stickphast” gum or glue. The poor chicken did not offer to rise, but lay where it fell, gave some kicks, shudders passed through its body, and then it died. Evidently the serpent's fangs had not been removed. But we now watched the charmer with painful interest; apprehending that he too might fall a victim to his temerity. He, however made light of the affair, saying that the "snake stone" would infallibly suck out all the venom. My curiosity being excited by seeing how it stuck to the man's hand, I asked him to let me take hold of it. He consenting, I did so, and found that its adhesion was so strong that the whole skin of the back of the hand rose when I pulled the "stone"; we could all see that plainly enough. After some minutes it dropped off of itself, and the charmer said he was none the worse. He then, in reply to our questions, gave us the following information. The wonderful disc is only a piece of bone—of about the size of a waistcoat button—and grows in the mouth of one cobra in fifty or an hundred, between the skin and bone of the upper jaw. The others do not have it. Its presence makes the snake king among its fellows and gives it the name Cobra Rajah. The snake-charmers open the mouth of every
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serpent they catch to see if one of them may not have the precious bit of bone. The same thing is also found in the anaconda, in a species of large, poisonous, yellowish toad, and even in the elephant. Its possessor in each case is king of its species. How curious, if true! And he gave us proof of its possessing some sort of virtue. He first excited the cobra as before until he set it to striking, hissing, and expanding its spectacles-marked hood. Then, taking the disc between his finger and thumb, he held it towards the reptile, which to our utter surprise shrank back from it as one would from a hot iron held towards one's face. Swaying to right and left, it seemed to be either in terror of the mysterious object or to be getting under a sort of mesmeric influence. The charmer followed it up closely in its motions, giving it no respite; the serpent ceased hissing, retracted its hood, swayed more and more feebly, and finally settled itself down upon its coils on the floor. The charmer finished his experiment by touching the cobra on the head with the "stone". In thinking out the thing stage by stage, I could see but one alternative—either the "stone" did have the apparent effect on the serpent and thus possess a scientific interest, or the deadly reptile had been trained to go through this performance for the master it knew. To test this theory I took the disc from the charmer and went through the thing myself. My skin being white, I argued, if the snake only acts thus for a brown-skinned hand, it will probably try to bite me instead of relaxing its energies and settling itself down for a nap. I first
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enraged it as I had seen it done by the charmer, keeping, it may be believed, a very close watch upon its movements and instantly withdrawing my hand when I saw the preliminary motion of its bending itself backward before the stroke. The ladies, from their vantage ground on the chairs, protested against my foolhardiness—as they called it—and H. P. B. was more than usually uncomplimentary. However, for the sake of Science, I was obdurate. The cobra being in the right state of anger, I thrust the "snake stone" at it, and was pleased to see that it behaved as before; the excitement died away, its motions grew more and more languid, and finally it settled itself all limp and I touched its head with the disc of power. After the amount of chaffering, without which no transaction can be effected in the East, we; bought the snake stone for a few rupees, and I used to carry it about in my dispatch box in case anyone; should be bitten by a cobra and come to me for cure. But the chance to test its efficacy did not recur, and .at last I gave it to Dr. Mennell, of London, who had paid much attention to the subject of the operation of poisons of all sorts. Bishunath failed to keep an appointment for the following Sunday, when he was to have come and experimented on a couple of pariah dogs, thus disappointing a rather distinguished company of Europeans and Indians whom I had invited to be present. Our time was not entirely wasted, however, for a friend brought one Ghulam Goss, a Mohammedan juggler, to show us some of his clever tricks. I have notes of two which are worthy of mention. A perforated ball of wood was made by
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him to rise slowly and fall again on a vertical string, of which one end was held in the juggler's hand and the other by his great toe. When he ordered it to mount it rose, when the opposite it slowly descended. A strung bow of bamboo, of about the size of that of a double bass, but having only two strings to it, was held by him, the strings upward, with one end pressed against his right side. On the strings three free balls of equal size lay, one before the other. At the word of command the balls moved as he bade them, now all ascending to the top of the bow, now descending one at a time, or two or three; now one ascending while the others descended to meet it at middle distance. None of us could make it out at all. The juggler kept slowly turning on his feet the while, and of course the idea of the observed effect being attributable to centrifugal force came easily enough; but it would have to be centripetal force, or gravity, which showed itself in the case of the falling balls; and how the turning juggler could make one ball be mounting under centrifugal impulse while the others were falling down the string cradle by virtue of the opposing force puzzled the company.
A queer remedy for jaundice was reported to me by a Hindu friend who had actually been cured by it ten times by his mother. A needle is threaded, the patient's forehead stroked downwards with the point of the needle several times, while the operator repeats a mantram; then the needle is laid in a cup of water; the patient is put on a plain diet for a day or two; the needle and thread turn to a deep yellow color, and the patient recovers! If somebody
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tries it and succeeds perhaps they will be good enough to tell me. The mantram I cannot give, but I presume anyone will do provided that it be repeated with "mesmeric intent," that is, with concentration of thought and belief in the remedy. Still, I may be wrong, for in India there are a great many mantric conjurations for as many different purposes. For one desired result one goddess (elemental) will be invoked by a specific mantram, for another object another goddess with another for mulary. In every case, however, as I understand it, it is an elemental spirit that is besought to help the worshipper to obtain his desire. A very instructive essay might be written on this subject, and I hope it may be done.
Here is an entry for 23rd June, which I do not recollect the meaning of: “At 10.30 p.m. went to H. P. B.'s room and worked with her until 2.30 a.m. on the ideal of an Antetypion, or machine to rescue from Space the pictures and voices of the Past.” That is all said about it, and what sort of machine we had in view has quite passed out of my recollection. There are several entries about helping H. P. B. to write "her new book on Theosophy". On 23rd May, it seems, she "broke ground" for it; on the 24th I "gave her, by request, the skeleton outline of a book embodying such crude ideas as suggested themselves to one who did not intend to be the writer of it"; on the 25th I "helped in preparing the Preface"; on 4th June we finished it; and that seed lay in the mummy's hand five or six years before it sprouted as The Secret Doctrine for which the only
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thing I then did was to invent the title and write the original Prospectus. After coming to Bombay I had quite enough common routine work to do without helping to write another book of cyclopaedic bulk.
With the best of intentions our quartette undertook to learn Hindi for the good of the Society, but as one cannot be learning a new language and at the same time be daily receiving crowds of visitors and writing scores of letters, the attempt was soon reluctantly abandoned. Yet, so widespread is the knowledge of English in India among the educated class with whom our work has principally lain, I do not think our cause has materially suffered from our ignorance of the vernaculars.
On 18th May, I spoke before the Bombay Arya Samaj for the first time. It was an open-air meeting and the attendance was large. It appears that the Teverend Editor of the Marathi organ of the Presbyterian Mission was present, and that I challenged him to come forward and make good certain slanderous innuendoes that he had permitted himself to put forth against our characters—and for which our solicitor, Mr. Turner, later made him humbly apologise in his paper. But he only muttered something in an embarrassed way, whereupon the Chairman of the meeting, the venerable Mr. Atmaram Dalvi, lost his temper and called him names. Then H. P. B.—says my Diary—"pitched into him at a lively pace. Row. Laughter. The Missionaries laid out flat!" And so they were.
A few days later, H. P. B., Miss Bates, and I paid a visit by invitation to a Dekkanee Sirdar to meet the
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(Parsi) Chief Justice of Baroda, and after that gentleman left and we were about retiring, our host excused himself from the room for a moment. He presently returned, leading by the hand a charming child of ten years, whom we supposed might be his granddaughter. She was richly dressed in the Hindu fashion with a costly silk saree (petticoat cloth) and jacket, and her ebon hair, smoothed like polished jet on her head, was almost hidden by gold ornaments. Heavy jewels were in her ears, around her neck, wrists and ankles, and—to our surprise—in one nostril she wore the jewelled ring which, in Bombay, betokens marriage. H. P. B.'s face relaxed into a sweet smile as the child approached, but when the grey-bearded, white-haired noble, holding forward the girl's hand toward hers, said: "Madame, allow me to present to you my little wife," the smile gave place to a frown, and in tones of inexpressible disgust she shouted: "Your WIFE? You old beast! You ought to be ashamed of yourself!" We left the host trying to smile.
Our acquaintance with the Editor of the famous opposition journal of Calcutta, the Amrita Bazaar Patrika, began with a letter that we received from him on 12th May. He had read a report of my Framji Cowasji Hall lecture and asked our friendship. He has had it ever since, for he is a fervent patriot and a devotee of his religion—two most excellent qualities in any man. The correspondence eventuated in his coming over from Calcutta to see us, and stopping a fortnight in a bungalow next door to ours which we had hired for the library. Ashe was so
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sincerely interested in our interpretations and defence of his sacred books, H. P. B. did some few phenomena for him; for instance, pulled some black hair from her own head, rang the astral bells and—(8th September) my Diary records—"duplicated in his presence and at his request a magic mirror with a black frame and handle, that she had received to-day from a. Master." I was present and thus was it done. He was to leave in two days, and begged her to show him the phenomenon of duplication, so that he might fully comprehend her teaching as to the nature of matter and force, and their potential relations to the power of a trained will. She persistently refused for some time, but finally, when he caught up the mirror in question and asked her to duplicate that, she said she would if he would promise not to bother with any more such requests. He promising, she took the mirror in her hand, rose from her chair, turned her back upon us, and in another moment threw on the seat two identical glasses. Then, exhausted, she dropped into her seat and sat silent for some minutes to recover herself. Shishir Babu is happily, still living, and will be able: to set me right if I have made any mistake in telling the story.
By what to Americans may seem an interesting coincidence, the conversation which decided us to found the Theosophist occurred on the 4th of July of that year, Independence Day. As elsewhere explained we were driven to it by the necessity of meeting the growing interest in Theosophy by some better means than epistolary correspondence. It was simply
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impossible for us to bear the strain of such constant drudgery. Entries in my Diary show that I sometimes worked from 6 a.m. to 9 p.m., and night after night until 2 and 3 a.m., yet in vain. And then the same questions would be repeated by the majority of our correspondents, and to be for ever traversing the same ground was a tiresome work. We discussed the question in an its bearings, calculated the pros and cons, and finally decided upon the venture. But the difficulties were grave, one of them being that the Society did not possess a penny of capital nor an iota of mercantile credit to borrow upon. I made the stipulation imperative that we should issue the Magazine on the terms of the best American and English periodicals, viz., payment in advance and no book debts. I was willing to bring out a year's numbers punctually even although we did not book a single subscriber; but be bothered out of our lives by trying to collect arrears of book debts, and be so harassed as to be unfit for the serious work of thinking, learning, and writing, I would not. Our Indian friends strenuously opposed this innovation, as they regarded it, Babu S. K. Ghose, of the A. B. Patrika particularly so; they prophesied that it would never succeed. But it did not shake my determination. So we provided for meeting the cost of the first twelve monthly numbers, and on 6th July I wrote the Prospectus and sent it to Press. We asked Sumangala. Megittuwatte and other Ceylon priests; Swami Dayanand, Babu Pramâda Dâsa Mittra, of Benares; Shankar Pandurang Pandit; Kashinath T. Telang, and many others to send us articles; and got the news
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spread widely of our intention. This kept us busy all that season. Our active members bestirred themselves to secure subscribers, one—Mr. Sreevai, our then devoted Secretary—getting nearly two hundred himself. Not before 20th September did we get the first form of type to correct; on the 22nd we sent the second form to Press, on the 27th the last, and on the evening of the last day of that month the first 400 copies of the new Magazine were delivered to us and made the occasion of much jubilation among us. My entry in the Diary concludes with the salutation: "Welcome, stranger!" That on 1st October, the day of publication, is "Sit Lux: Fiat Lux!" That, reader, was one hundred and ninety-two months ago, and since that time the Theosophist has never failed to appear, never met with a disaster, never caused its projectors to incur a shilling of debt. Since the fourth month it has paid a profit, small, it is true, yet in the aggregate enough to enable us to contribute a good many thousand rupees towards the Society's expenses, besides giving our personal services gratis. Which is saying much for a periodical like ours.