OLD DIARY LEAVES, Second Series (1878-83)
by Henry Steel Olcott
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A NUMBER of phenomena occurred at our house during the first week in January, 1882, upon which I shall not dwell, as the details have all been published and doubt has been cast upon the genuineness of some. My rule has ever been, throughout my forty years of psychological researches, to eliminate all incidents which appeared to me tainted with the least suspicion of bad faith: I wish to count only those which have, to my mind, the stamp of genuineness. I may be deceived, often, but I try to be honest.
An early incident of the year was the arrival at Bombay, on a round-the-world tour, of the late Mr. D. M. Bennett, Editor of the Truthseeker. He came on the 10th of January, and was met on board his steamer, the P. and O. "Cathay," by. K. M. Shroff (the Parsi gentleman who lectured in the States), Damodar, and myself. Mr. Bennett was a medium sized stout man, with a big head, a high forehead, brown hair, and blue eyes. He was a very interesting and sincere person, a Free-thinker who had suffered a year's imprisonment for his bitter—often coarse—attacks upon Christian dogmatism. A sham case was manufactured against him by an unscrupulous detective of a Christian Society at New York,
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who ordered of him, under an assumed name, a copy of a popular work on sexual physiology, which Mr. Bennett supplied in his capacity of bookseller, without having even read it. A prosecution was then begun against him for circulating indecent books through the post, and an evidently prejudiced judge and jury condemned him to prison. The animus and trickery were identical with those of the bigots who prosecuted Mrs. Besant and Mr. Bradlaugh in the matter of the Knowlton pamphlet. He was made to serve out his whole term of one year, despite the fact that a petition, signed by 100,000 persons, was sent to President Hayes on his behalf. When he was discharged, a monster audience welcomed him enthusiastically at the most fashionable public hall in New York, and a fund was subscribed to pay his expenses on a world-round tour of observation of the practical working of Christianity in all lands. The record of his observations was embodied in an interesting work, entitled A Free-thinker's Journey around the World. His shrewd and sarcastic notes on Palestine are especially striking.
In conversation, I learnt from him that both he and his wife had been members of the Shaker Society; he, for a number of years. His religious yet eclectic mind had revolted against the narrowness and intolerance of the Shakers and of Christian sectarians in general; he and the gentle Shakeress in question decided to marry and make a home of their own; they left the Community; he devoted himself to the study of Christian evidences; became a confirmed skeptic, and, after some years in mercantile business, devoted
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the rest of his life to a vigorous Free-thought propaganda. There was a candor and friendliness about the man which made us sympathize at once. The Occult World of Mr. Sinnett had just appeared, and Mr. Bennett read it with avidity: in fact, he made very extensive quotations from it in his journal and in his new book. A full discussion about our views with H. P. B. and myself led him to apply for membership, and this put me into the dilemma which I have frequently described, orally and in writing, but which should not be omitted from my present historical sketch, as the case teaches a lesson too much needed by us all.
A blatant theological Boanerges, named Cook—Joseph Cook, the Reverend Joseph Cook, to be exact—a burly man who seemed to believe in the Trinity—with himself as the Third Person—happened at Bombay on a lecturing tour, simultaneously with Mr. Bennett's arrival, and was "boomed" by the Anglo-Indian public. Their journals did their best for him, and used the story of Mr. Bennett's martyrdom as a trump card, denouncing him as a corrupter of public morals and a jail-bird whom decent people should avoid. The Christ-like Joseph opened the ball at his first lecture at the town hall, and committed the blind folly of equally denouncing us, Theosophists, as adventurers, in the hearing of a large audience of Hindus and Parsis, who loved and knew us after two whole years of intercourse. The clue thus given to the hostile Press caused them to attack and revile Mr. Bennett to such an extent that I hesitated to take him into membership, for fear that
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it might plunge us into another public wrangle, and thus interfere with our aim of peacefully settling down to our proper business of Theosophical study and propaganda. It was an instinct of worldly prudence, certainly not chivalric altruism, and I was punished for it, for, on expressing my views to H. P. B., she was overshadowed by a Master who told me my duty and reproached me for my faulty judgment. I was bidden to remember how far from perfect I had been when they accepted my offer of service at New York, how imperfect I was still, and not venture to sit as a judge over my fellow-man; to recall that, in the present instance, I knew that the applicant had been made the scapegoat of the whole anti-Christian party, and richly deserved all the sympathy and encouragement we could give him. I was sarcastically told to look through the whole list of our members and point out a single one without faults. That was enough; I returned to Mr. Bennett, gave him the application blank to sign, and H. P. B. and I became his sponsors. I then turned upon, our reverend slanderer and defied him to meet me in public on a given date, and make good his false charges against us. Swâmi Dayânand Sarasvati—then in Bombay—also challenged him on behalf on the Vedic Religion, and Mr. Bennett on his own account. The Swâmi and I received shifty replies, but Mr. Bennett's note went unanswered. Mr. Cook's excuse was that he had to go to Poona. Captain A. Banon, F.T.S., 39thN.I., who was with us at the time, sent him a challenge to meet us at Poona, with notice that if he again evaded us, he—the Captain—should post him as a liar and a
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coward. We held the meeting at Framji Cowasji Hall, Bombay, on the evening designated in our challenges; Mr. Bennett, Captain Banon, and I made addresses; I had Damodar read some certificates of our good character and of my public services in America, and the packed multitude, which crammed every inch of room and the approaches to the Hall, thundered their approval of our conduct. The next evening H. P. B., Banon, and I went on to Poona, only to find Mr. Cook had fled to the other side of India without filling his engagement with the Poona public!
The following day I lectured at Hirabagh, in the town hall, to so large an audience that the room would not hold them, and we had to adjourn to the open air. We stopped four days at Poona, during which time there was another lecture again at the same place, and we formed the Poona T. S., which still, exists under the same President, Judge N. D. Khandalavâlâ, whose name is familiar to all our Branches throughout the world as one of our ablest and staunchest associates. We then returned to Bombay. In due course, Mr. Bennett was formally admitted to our membership, in company with the late Professor J. Smith, M.L.C., C.M.G., of Sydney University, and a young Hindu gentleman of Bombay.
On 12th January (1882), the seventh anniversary of the T. S. was celebrated at Framji Cowasji Hall, in presence of one of our usual monster audiences. Blackguard handbills had been freely circulated to try and do us some harm, but the most cordial
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and sympathetic spirit prevailed throughout the meeting. Mr. Sinnett was present and spoke, and the other speakers, besides myself, were Moorad Ali Beg, and Messrs. D. M. Bennett and K. M. Shroff; all receiving great applause. Damodar read the Treasurer's Report, which very completely vindicated H. P. B. and myself from the low calumny that we were running the Society for personal profit. I have a Diary note of a few days later, stating that Mr. Shroff brought us word that the meeting had done us great service in bringing around public sympathy to our side.
I note, among several phenomena occurring in those days, one which I think good. Damodar received four letters by one post which contained Mahatmic writing, as we found on opening them. They were from four widely separated places and all post-marked. I handed the whole mail to Professor Smith, with the remark that we often found such writings inside our mail correspondence, and asked him to kindly examine each cover to see whether there were any signs of its having been tampered with. On his returning them to me with the statement that all were perfectly satisfactory, so far as could be seen, I asked H. P. B. to lay them against her forehead and see if she could find any Mahatmic message in either of them. She did so with the first few that came to hand, and said that in two there was such writing. She then read the messages clairvoyantly, and I requested Professor Smith to open them himself. After again closely scrutinizing them, he cut open the covers, and we all saw and read the
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messages exactly as H. P. B. had deciphered them by clairvoyant sight.
Within the next fortnight we saw much of Prince Harisinhji, Prince Dajiraj, Thakur Sahib of Wadhwan, the Thakur of Morvi, and other notables, and there were numerous phenomena in the way of letter-dropping from the ceilings of rooms, and once from the open sky, when we were in the garden. They have been described before, and will be found copied in The Occult World.
On 14th February I delivered, in the town hall, Bombay, in presence of an overflowing audience of Parsis, and with Mr. Nanabhai Byramji Jeejeebhoy, one of their most distinguished personages, in the chair, a prepared lecture on "The Spirit of the Zoroastrian Religion"1 (vide Theosophy, Religion and Occult Science, London, George Redway, 1882), in which I endeavored to show its highly spiritual character, and its identity with Hinduism and Buddhism in the matter of Yoga-training and the awakening of spiritual powers in man. The approbation of the audience was shown in a way to convince us all that the discourse was satisfactory. At the close, some interesting and kindly remarks were made by the Chairman, and by Mr. K. R. Cama and Ervad Dastur Jivanji J. Modi, the learned Orientalists. A subscription paper was subsequently circulated among the Parsis, and 20,000 copies of the lecture were printed in English and a Guzerati translation—a gratifying compliment I must say for myself, that I only consented to prepare the discourse after I had vainly
1 Published in pamphlet form by T. P. H.
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tried to persuade Mr. Cama to do it, for I thought it somewhat presumptuous for an outsider to handle so great a subject, with so little material available for quotation. In fact, I believe the Zoroastrian religion had never been discussed from the same standpoint before. The comments of the Parsi Press were various; some very favorable, some the reverse. But it happened that the adverse criticisms were all from Editors who prided themselves upon their "reformatory" principles, and were out of sympathy with Zoroastrian orthodoxy: in short, they were Freethinkers, believing nothing in either spirit or Yoga, and the chief among them regarding the legends of their great priest-adepts of old as fairy-tales and childish nonsense. Of course, from such critics, we had nothing good to hope. To this day they are hostile, but we manage somehow to get on very well without their praise: there are more Parsi members of the T. S. now than ever before, and the Bombay T. S. is almost wholly composed of those excellent people and staunch friends.
A long tour to the North was my next important work of that season. With Pandit Bhawani Shunker as a companion, I left Bombay on 17th February, by train. H. P. B., Damodar, Shroff, and a large number of other members came to the station to see us off. Passing by Mount Abu, the sacred Jain mountain with its bare, rugged, splintered crests, and through "Malwa's fields of sleep," or poppy districts, we reached Jeypore on the second morning. The usual compliments of limes and garlands were given us at the station, and we were installed at the very
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comfortable rest-house in this most bright and attractive of Indian cities. I lectured at the Maharajah's College, in a spacious quadrangle, from a platform under a great red canopy, to a large audience. There were 900 students in the College, two-thirds of them Hindus and one-third Mussulmans: there is also a separate school for young nobles. I was shown the College Library, and, being asked to make a note in the visitors' register, wrote: "This is a good Missionary Library": which it was; some Padre, having been entrusted with the book selection, filled the shelves with the driest, stupidest, most namby-pamby works on Christian Theology. I thought it a petty swindle.
The Jeypore Branth T. S. was formed on the next day with respectable officers and members.
Passing on to Delhi, whence I enjoyed my first view of the architectural wonders created by the Mohammedan Emperors of the past, and the picturesque Chandni Chowk boulevard, I lectured as usual and formed many notable acquaintances. It was while strolling along this street and noticing the imprints of Urdu seals at the doors of the seal-engravers' shops, that I was struck with the resemblance they bore to the cryptographic signature of one of our Mahatmas, and, for the mere whim of it, ordered a common brass seal (price 4d.) engraved with it, to show H. P. B. on my return. I had no ulterior purpose whatever, and as it turned out, it was a stupid mistake, for one may imagine my resentment when, many years later, I saw candle-smoke impressions of this wretched object affixed
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to palpably bogus Mahatmic notes and letters sent out by the late Mr. Judge. How the wretched seal got into his possession I do not know, but when we met in London, in 1894, he told me that it was no longer in existence, and he hoped that would pacify me. On seeing an imprint of the seal on a false message, I had written him that, if I found that any scoundrel was using it for evil. purposes, I should denounce the fraud and publish in the Theosophist a facsimile of the seal. He advised me, in reply, not to do so, because the public would believe me particeps criminis; to which I wrote that I did not care in the least what might be said about me, as I was perfectly innocent of wrong and my conscience would support me: but expose the swindle I certainly should I have his letters on this subject, and suppose that mine to him are among his papers.
At Meerut and Bareilly, the next towns on my programme, the routine of lecturing and Branch-forming was repeated. At Rohilkhund Institute the subject of my discourse was a brass dinner-plate, a queer selection one would say, but it was provoked by the following incident. Here, as everywhere else, I was treated with the greatest kindness and respect by my Indian friends: they provided me with a furnished house, and had a Brahmin cook to prepare my food, which I ate off a brass plate. On the day of the lecture three or four of them were standing about, watching me eat with my fingers in the ancient fashion. They had paid me so many compliments that I was tempted to give them a lesson, so I quietly asked them what they should do
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with that plate when I had gone. They blushed, and were too embarrassed to speak. I said: "Don't hesitate to tell the truth. I know what you will do. The plate will either be given to the scavenger or passed through fire to purify it before any of you Brahmins can touch it. Why is this? See that cook's filthy cloth and his generally untidy appearance, and say if I am not less likely to defile, the plate than he." They hung their heads, not wishing to be impolite to their guest, but one of them finally said: "We don't know the real reason why, but only that it is so inculcated in our Shastras. "Very well, then," I said; "I shall take this plate as my text this evening and explain the mystery." So I did, discoursing upon the nature of the human aura, the theory of gradual purification by Yoga, and the theoretical state of spiritual refinement at which the true Brahmin arrives. I showed them how their custom of eating "separately, father not touching son, brother brother, nor relative relative, while at meals, was strictly based on this theory of individual development as opposed to the collective one of the family, and that as electricity and magnetism are transmitted by conductors from one object to another; so, if an advanced Brahmin should touch a person less pure, he risked contamination of the aura and consequent injury to himself. The mistake made in these spiritually degenerate days, I said, was to suppose that because an unwashed person happened to have been born a Brahmin he must, of necessity, have a less polluting touch than a cleanly white person, Of caste, only the bare name now survives,
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and, that is usually an obstruction and a nuisance to all concerned. It should either be restored to, its pristine value and utility or thrown aside as a worn-out vestment. I find, by my Diary, that I employed pictures of Hindu gods to exemplify the esoteric meaning of their quaint shapes and multiple symbols.
At Lucknow I saw the battered Residency, which withstood the five months' siege by the swarming thousands of Sepoy rebels, thanks to the heroic bravery and dauntless fortitude of its small, ill-fed, ill-armed garrison. I saw the cellars where 250 women and children lived throughout that fearful time, and where most, were heroines and some died of fright.
Among the new members of our local Branch were some Princes of the Oudh Royal Family—Mohammedans—who were flatly charged with having apostatized from Islam and adopted the new religion of Theosophy! My lecture was given in the Baradari, or Hall of the Twelve Columns, a spacious structure standing in the late King's pleasaunce or Kaiserbagh, where he used to waste his useless life in sensual revels of naked women and love-dramas and songs. He must have been a beast.
To Cawnpore next, the ever-memorable scene of the brutal massacres of the Rebellion. A new Branch here, and two lectures, and then on to Allahabad and the perennially charming Sinnetts. There were meetings of Theosophists and lectures and some phenomena at Mr. Sinnett's house, which I shall not dwell upon. I sent Bhavani Shanker back to Bombay and went on myself to Behar and Bengal.
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Berhampore, once the centre of military and political activity in the Company days, has always been one of the best working nuclei of the Theosophical movement. The late Babu Nobin K. Bannerji, his colleagues Dinanath Ganguly, Satcory Mukerji, and some others, possessed the two elements of success for any public movement—perfect conviction and perfect zeal. Their names figure conspicuously in our Society's Indian history. A great fuss was made over my visit, and yet they seemed to think they had failed to show me enough respect. A Rajah's carriage, with driver and footmen in gaudy liveries, came many miles to meet me on the other side of the Ganges and drive me to Berhampore; at the seven-mile post a guard of honor of red-coated sowars met and closed in behind the carriage; in the town I had to pass between two rows of saluting Sepoys, silver-sticks-in-waiting, and all sorts of more or less decorative flunkeys from the palace; there were double lines of pennons fluttering from lance-staffs; my quarters gay with bunting and greenery, and every sort of worldly flim-flam that is farcically supposed to administer to the pleasure and complacency of public men.
Besides seeing my dear colleagues I had the honor and profit of becoming acquainted with Babu Ram Das Sen, the Oriental scholar and valued correspondent of the chief European Orientalists, who also joined our Society and remained its friend until his premature death.
Calcutta was my final stage on this roundabout tour of 1882. I was first entertained there by my
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excellent friends Colonel and Mrs. Gordon, and, later, by the Maharajah, Sir Jotendro Mohun Tagore, the premier Indian noble of the Metropolis. At the Gordons' happened the famous phenomenon of the dropping of letters from the medium Eglinton, and H. P. B., out of the air. All the details were published at the time by Mrs. Gordon, and may be read by everybody who chooses.
A few days later I accepted the invitation of Maharajah Sir Jotendro Mohun Tagore, and became his guest at his palatial Guest-House (Boituckhana) for the remainder of my stay in Calcutta. This gentleman is one of the courtliest, most cultured, and estimable friends I have ever known. He fills a great position with perfect dignity and graciousness. I have enjoyed his hospitality several times; once along with H. P. B., and once with Mrs. Besant and Countess Wachtmeister.
The first four days of April were devoted to writing my lecture on "Theosophy the Scientific Basis of Religion," as I could find time in the intervals of other engagements. On the 4th, the Maharajah held a reception for me, to make me acquainted with the chief Indian gentlemen of the city. On the 5th, my lecture was given at the town hall to a tremendous audience: the larger, I fancy, because of the publication in the unfriendly local journals of the then recent savage and unprovoked attack on us by Swâmi Dayânand Saraswati. Such attempts at injuring our cause have invariably recoiled on their authors. The beloved Bengali author and philanthropist, the late Babu Peary Chand Mittra, was my Chairman.
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H. P. B. joined me the next day at the Boituckhana, and that evening, at the same place, we organized the Bengal Theosophical Society, one of our best known Branches, with Babu Peary Chand Mittra as President, Babu Norendranath Sen as Secretary, and Babu Balai Chand Mullick as Treasurer. For many years now, Norendra Babu has been the President, and may almost be said to have done most of the public work of the Branch himself, in his capacity of Editor of the Indian Mirror; for the public has been kept fully advised by him of every important event in the history of our movement, and his brave appeals have done much towards bringing about the Hindu revival in Bengal; which is a well-known and universally admitted fact.
On the 9th of the month, I went in company with Mrs. Gordon to the garden-house of Babu Janaki Nath Ghosal, a very influential Bengali gentleman, and admitted into membership his ideally beautiful wife—daughter of the venerable Debendra Nath Tagore, associate-founder, with the late Rajah Rammohun Roy, of the famed Brahmo Samaj. Mrs. Gbosal, besides being a Peri for beauty, is also one of the brightest intellects of the day, and her children inherit her talents. Along with her, I admitted three other Indian ladies. This sounds simple enough to Western people, but they should recollect that since the days of Mussulman supremacy the high-born ladies of Bengal have been secluded behind the purdah, or entrance-door curtain of the Zenana, the Brahmo ladies alone excepted, and the fact of my being admitted so often as I have, into the family privacy,
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is a striking proof of the kindly light in which I am regarded by the Hindus.
H. P. B. and I stopped in town until the 19th (April), busy as working bees, writing, receiving visitors, holding discussions with outsiders, and meetings of the new local Branch. I see that on the 14th there was a recast of officers, the new list being as follows: President, Peary Chand Mittra; Vice-Presidents, Dijendra Nath Tagore and Raja Syama Shankar Roy; Secretary and Treasurer, Norendranath Sen; Assistant Secretaries, Balai Chand Mullick and Mohini Mohun Chatterji.
We embarked on the 19th for Madras, but the "India" lay at the wharf all night taking in cargo, and what with this awful din, the scorching heat of the cabins and the mosquitoes, one may imagine the kind of night we spent and the kind of temper H. P. B. was in, the next morning! We had our first chance to learn by personal experience the dangers and difficulties of the navigation of the Hughli River, but, after anchoring for the night, we got to sea on the 20th and headed for Madras.
We reached that port on the 23rd at 11 a.m., but got a message from T. Subba Row asking us to stop! aboard until 4 p.m., for which hour a formal reception had been arranged. We did as requested, and, on landing, were greeted by the principal Indian gentlemen of Madras and a large crowd of sightseers. We enjoyed the breezy drive along the beach road—the best in India—and were lodged in the bungalow of the late Sir T. Madhava Row in the suburb of Mylapore. Our old Sinhalese colleague, Mr. W.D' A brew,
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was with us. At the house an extremely well-worded address signed by the best known Indian gentlemen of the place, and bound as a book in red morocco, was read to us by the Hon. Mir Humayun Jah, a representative of the Mysore ex-royal family of Tippoo Sultan, who then garlanded us in the customary Eastern fashion. My reply was warmly received. Our time was crowded with engagements, during the next succeeding days, with visitors and receptions of candidates into membership; among the latter, T. Subba Row, whom I had to admit alone in private, for some unfathomable reason of mystery; the venerable philanthropist and statesman, Dewan Bahadur R. Raghoonath Row; Judge P. Sreenivas Row, Judge G. Muthuswamy Chetty (also of the Court of Small Causes) and his sons, and in fact, most of the leading men of Madras of Asiatic race. The community seemed caught by a wave of enthusiasm for the time being, and it was not strange that we two should have believed it would last, but time dispelled the illusion. Shortly afterward the Cosmopolitan Club, with lounging, reading, and billiard rooms, was started, and our excited friends gradually left metaphysics and Yoga philosophy for the elevating game of pool and the mental pabulum of the newspaper files. However, for a time our rose-garden bloomed and we inhaled the sweet odors of compliment. So great was the rush for membership that I had to admit the candidates en bloc, and I have an entry to the effect that I took in one party of twenty-two on the roof-terrace in the moonlight. Of course we had to state the
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case of Theosophy before the general public, and SO, on 26th April (1882) I lectured at Pachaiappah's Hall on "The Common Foundation of Religions," to a crushing multitude that made the Trustees dubious about the safety of the building, the public hall being in the first story, up a long flight of steps. The same question has arisen many times since, I am happy to say, for our public meetings have always overcrowded the building. H. P. B. and Abrew were on the platform beside me; she, the cynosure of all eyes. The next evening a lot of twenty-one more candidates were accepted, and after the ceremony, the Madras Theosophical Society came into being, with R. Raghoonath Row as President, and T. Subba Row as Secretary. The former used his best endeavors to make it a useful Branch, but he was not well seconded by the latter, who was a most indolent executive officer.
On the 30th of the month H. P. B. took a party of seventeen of us, including T. Subba Row, the Dewan Bahadur, and myself, to Tiruvellum, once a very holy place, owing to the great souls who live—and some still live, as it is alleged—there. A procession, with music and flowers, met and escorted us from the station to the place assigned for our lodging. We were particularly anxious to visit the sanctuary of the temple, but, as the sordid Brahmins in charge demanded a bonus of Rs. 25, we felt so disgusted that we refused to go into the polluted shrine, and returned the same day to Madras.
A second lecture being on the programme for the next day, the Dewan Bahadur and his associate
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committee-men tried to prevent a repetition of the crush of the first day by charging for reserved seats, the proceeds to go to some charity. On reaching Pachaiappah's Hall, however, we had great trouble to push our way from the door to the stage through the packed crowd, while the poor Dewan Bahadur, albeit one of the most honored personages in Madras, was so jammed into a corner that, instead of constraining the audience to go hither or thither, he was obliged to call for the help of my square shoulders and muscular strength to rescue him from his plight.
We began, the next day, a journey by canal in a house-boat, which may as well be described in a separate chapter.