OLD DIARY LEAVES, Second Series (1878-83)
by Henry Steel Olcott
SIMLA AND THE CŒRULIANS
WAKING the next morning, refreshed and happy, Simla presented to us a charming aspect. Mr. Sinnett's house was so situated on a hill-slope as to command a superb view, and from the verandah the eye took in the residences of the majority of those high Anglo-Indian officials who conduct the government of this giant empire.
Mr. Sinnett's first move was to have a very serious talk with H. P. B. as to the policy she should pursue. I have noted that he most earnestly begged her to consider this visit as a holiday jaunt, and for three weeks, not even to speak a word about the T. S. or the nonsensical watching of us by Government as possible Russian spies; in short, to "sink the shop" entirely, the better to achieve results by making people friendly to us, which they would not be if we forced them to listen to our heterodox notions and complaints of our grievances. Of course, H.P.B. promised, and, equally of course, forgot all about it when the first visitor called. News from Bombay about the turn the Bates affair was taking threw her into a paroxysm of excitement, and the next morning, as usual, she made me the scapegoat; stamping up and down the room and making it appear that I was the
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proximate cause of all her trials and. tribulations. My notes say that Sinnett privately expressed to me his feeling of despair to see that she would not control herself, but threw away all her chances to make friends among the class whose goodwill it was most important to secure. The English, he said, always associate true merit with calm self-control.
Our faithful friend Mrs. Gordon was our first Simla visitor, and after her came a succession of the most important Government officials, whom Sinnett brought to the house to meet H. P. B. From my Diary I see that she began doing phenomena at once. She made her raps on the tables and elsewhere about the room, and out of a handkerchief, with her name embroidered on it, drew a second one marked, by request, with Mr. Sinnett's name in the same style of embroidery. Two days later, she did a queer phenomenon for a gentleman visitor: she rubbed off from the chintz cover of the chair in which she was sitting a duplicate of one of the flowers in the pattern. The flower was not a phantasm, like the smile of the Cheshire cat; but a substantial object, as though a piece of the cloth corresponding with the outline of the flower had been removed from the chintz under her hands; the chintz, however, was unmutilated. This was probably a Mâyâ.
From this time on, no dinner to which we were invited was considered complete without an exhibition of H. P. B.'s table-rapping and fairy-bell ringing. She even made them to sound on and within the heads of the gravest official personages. One day,
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after a luncheon, she caused the ladies and gentlemen present to pile their hands on top of each other, and then, laying her own hand upon the topmost one, would cause raps to come with sharp metallic clicks under the lowest hand of the pile. There was no possibility of cheating here, and the assistants were all greatly interested in this proof that a current of psychic force could be sent through a dozen hands and produce sounds on the table beneath. This experiment was repeated on several occasions, and once was attended with a striking circumstance. In the dinner party was a certain well-known High Court Judge. When his hands were interposed in the pile, no current would pass through, but the moment he withdrew them the raps would click again. Possibly, he thought that his special shrewdness prevented the playing of tricks, but, of course, the explanation is that his nervous system was not a conductor to H. P. B.'s nerve aura.
Among the notable acquaintances we made was Mr. Kipling, the Director of the Lahore School of Arts, the genius of whose son Rudyard had not then burst upon an astonished public.
Up to this time we had been under governmental disfavor as suspected Russian agents, and one object in view was to have this foolish misunderstanding removed so that our Indian work might not be henceforth hampered. But I waited until we had personally met all the leading officials, and given them the opportunity of judging for themselves as to our characters and probable motives in coming out to India.
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When the time seemed ripe I had, one day after dinner, a friendly chat with the Secretary to Government in the Foreign Department, and arranged for an exchange of letters, with copies of my credentials from the President of the United States and the American Secretary of State. For the sake of its historical interest and the importance of its results, I will fill out the record by printing the text of my letter:
" SIMLA, 27th Sept., 1880.
"SIR,—Referring to our conversation of Saturday with respect to the Theosophical Society and its work in India, I have the honor, in compliance with your suggestion, to put the case in writing.
"1. The Society was organized at New York in the year 1875 by a number of Orientalists and students of Psychology, for, the defined purpose of studying the religions, philosophies, and sciences of ancient Asia with the help of native scholars, experts, and adepts.
"2. It had no other object; especially, it had no interest in or disposition to meddle with politics, in India or elsewhere.
"3. In 1878 two of its founders—Mme. H. P. Blavatsky, an American citizen by naturalization, and a lifelong student of Asiatic psychology, and myself—with two other members (British subjects), came to India to promote the work in hand. Two of the party being English-born, the third a naturalized citizen, and the other a native of the United States, not even the thought of mixing in Indian politics had
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occurred to us. I myself bore a special passport (of the Diplomatic form) from Mr. Secretary Evarts with a special circular letter of introduction from the Department of State to American Ministers and Consuls, and one of similar import—an unprecedented honor, as I am told—from the President himself. Copies of these papers are now filed with the Bombay Government, and triplicates will be sent to your Department as soon as they can be: procured from Bombay.
"4. False reports, based upon ignorance or malice, respecting the objects of our Indian Mission, having been made to the Government of India, we were placed under surveillance; but the work was so clumsily done that the attention of the whole country was attracted, and the idea was put into the dative mind that to be known as our friends would incur the displeasure of high officials, and might seriously affect their individual interests. Thus the laudable and beneficent plans of our, Society were seriously impeded, and we were subjected to many, wholly undeserved indignities, as a consequence of the action of Government upon false and misleading rumors.
"5. It has been remarked by everyone who has had the opportunity to acquaint himself with the facts, that, during our eighteen months' residence in India, we have exerted a wholesome and conservative influence upon the natives, and been accepted by them as the true friends of their race and country. We have letters from every part of the Peninsula to prove this. If the Government would but undo the
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wrong it unintentionally did us, and restore the character we bore until the stigma of alleged political machination was so cruelly and unjustly placed upon us, we could render great service not only to the Hindus but to Western literature and science. It is not enough that the previous order to watch us should be rescinded, the suspicion has filtered from the officers of your Department through all the classes of the native population, and a blight rests upon us. An effectual remedy would be for the Department to order its subordinates to make known in their several localities the fact that we are no longer under suspicion, and that so far as our work is for the good of India, it is approved. And this, as an American officer and gentleman, I ask of you as the representative of British equity.
"I am, dear sir,
"Your obedient servant."
The reply of the Government was not quite all that I wished for; while assuring us that we would not be interfered, with so long as we did not meddle in politics, it did not say that the orders to British residents in, native states, to watch us, would be countermanded. In a second letter, I brought this to the notice of the Foreign Office, and in due course got all that I wanted. From that time we have been free.
On 29th September, Mrs. Sinnett, H. P. B., and I went to the top of Prospect Hill. On the slate-roof of a small Hindu shrine that is there,
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among the many names of visitors scribbled, I discovered the cryptograph of Mahatma M. with my own name written beneath it: but how they got there I cannot say. As we sat there chatting, H. P. B. asked what our souls would most desire. Mrs. S. said: "To have a note from the Brothers drop in my lap. "H. P. B. took a bit of pink note-paper from her pocket-book; traced on it certain invisible signs with her finger; folded it in triangular shape; took it in her hand; walked to the brow of the hill—twenty yards off; faced the West; made some signs in the air; opened her hands, and the paper was gone. Instead of having the answer dropped in her lap, Mrs. Sinnett got it by climbing into the heart of a tree near by. It was written on the same pink paper, folded triangularly, and transpierced on a sprig. Inside, in a strange hand, was written: "I believe I was requested to leave a note here. What do you wish me to do?" The signature was in Tibetan characters. From the evidential point of view, the weak point about this incident was that the note was not delivered in the way desired.
I now come to the much-mooted incident of the finding of an extra cup and saucer at a picnic. I shall give the narrative exactly as I find it told in my Diary entry for the 3rd of October, 1880.
A party of six of us—three ladies and three gentlemen—were leaving the house for a valley some distance from town, where we meant to find a suitable place for our purpose. The Sinnetts' butler had packed the hampers and put in a half-dozen cups and saucers of a peculiar pattern—one for each of us.
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Just as we were starting, another gentleman rode up, and was invited to join our party. The servants went on ahead with the hampers, and we leisurely followed in single file, down the sinuous and rocky path which led to the valley. After a somewhat long jaunt we came to a flat space on the comb of a ridge covered with green turf, and overshadowed by great trees. Having decided to camp there, we dismounted, and flung ourselves upon the grass, while the servants laid the tablecloth upon the ground and arranged the provisions. They built a fire to boil the kettle for tea, and presently the butler came to Mrs. Sinnett, with an anxious face, telling her that there was no cup and saucer for the Sahib who had joined us at the last moment. I heard her say, in a vexed tone: "It was very stupid of you not to put in another cup and saucer when you knew that the other gentleman would have to have tea." Turning to us, she laughingly said: "Two of you good people must drink out of the same cup, it seems. "I remarked that, once, in a similar quandary, we had settled the affair by giving the cup to one person and the saucer to the other. Thereupon, one of the company jokingly said to H. P. B.: "Now, Madam, here is a chance for you to do a bit of useful magic." We all laughed at the absurdity of the idea, but when H. P. B. seemed ready to accept the suggestion in sober earnest, there was an outcry of pleasure, and she was asked to forthwith do the phenomenon. Those who were lying on the grass rose and gathered near her. She said that if she was really to do this, she must have the help of her friend Major. . . . He being more than willing,
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she requested him to take something to dig with, and so, snatching up a table-knife, he followed her about. She looked intently over the ground, presenting the face of her great seal-ring towards one spot after another, and finally said: "Please dig here." The gentleman plied his knife-point vigorously, and found that beneath the grass the ground was filled with a net-work of fine roots of the adjacent trees. These he cut and pulled out, until presently, brushing away the loose soil, a white object was uncovered. It proved to be a tea-cup imbedded in the ground, and on being taken out, was found to be of the identical pattern of the other six. Imagine the exclamations of surprise and the excitement of our little group! H. P., B. told the gentleman to continue his digging in the same place, and after cutting away a root as thick as my little finger, he excavated a saucer of the identical pattern desired. This capped the climax of our excitement, and the gentleman who had plied the knife was loudest in his expressions of wonder and satisfaction. To complete this part of my narrative, I will state that Mrs. Sinnett and I, reaching the house first, on the return of our party, went straight to the butler's pantry, and found the three other cups of the nine which she had left of the original dozen, put away on an upper shelf with their handles broken, and otherwise dilapidated. The seventh cup produced at the picnic had, therefore, not formed pan of her broken set
After luncheon, H. P. B. did another wonder which surprised me more than any of the rest. One of the gentlemen said that he was ready to join our Society
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if H. P. B. could give him his diploma then, and there duly filled out! This was, certainly, a large order but the old lady, nothing daunted, made a sweep of her hand, and pointing to a bush at a little distance, told him to see if he could not find it there; trees and bushes having often served as letter-boxes. Laughingly, and in apparent confidence that his test would not be complied with, he walked over to the bush—and drew forth a diploma of membership filled in with his name and that day’s date, together with an official letter from myself, which I am quite sure I never wrote, but which was still in my handwriting! This put us all in hilarious spirits, and as H.P.B. was in the vein, there is no telling with what other phenomena she might not have treated us, but for most unexpected and disagreeable contretemps. On our way home we stopped at a certain place to rest and chat. Two of the gentlemen—the Major and the one who last joined us—strolled away together, and, after a half-hour, returned in a very serious mood. They said that, at the time when the cup and saucer were exhumed, they thought the circumstances perfectly convincing, and were prepared to uphold that view against all comers. They had now, however, revisited the spot, and made, up their minds that by tunnelling in, from the brow of the hillock, the articles might have been put where they were found. This being so, they regretted that they could not accept the phenomenon as perfectly satisfactory, and offered H. P. B. the ultimatum of doing another phenomenon under conditions to be dictated by themselves. I leave anyone who was
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acquainted with H.P.B., her family pride and volcanic temperament, to picture to himself the explosion of wrath that followed this speech. She seemed about to take leave of her senses, and poured out upon the two unfortunate sceptics the thunder of her wrath. And so, our pleasant party ended in an angry tempest. For my part, in thinking over all the details of the cup and saucer incident, and with every desire to get at the truth, I cannot regard the theory advanced by the two skeptics as at all valid. Every one present saw that the cup and saucer were covered over with multitudinous roots which had to be cut and violently torn away to get at them, and both appeared to be imbedded in the soil as though they were fragments of stone; the turf above them was green and disturbed, and if they had been introduced through a tunnel, the disturbance of the surface could not have escaped the eyes of our whole party, who were clustered about the digger while he was work. However, let it pass for what it is worth; H.P.B.’s merit as a public teacher does not depend upon the many phenomena which this marvelous woman produced from time to time, for the instruction of such as could profit by them.
And certainly it is better to have launched the Eastern Doctrine than to have created in the ground a whole tea-service of porcelain.