OLD DIARY LEAVES, Second Series (1878-83)
by Henry Steel Olcott
TOURING AND HEALING IN BENGAL
UNTIL our contemporary men of science took up the serious study of mesmerism under its synonym of hypnotism, the stigma of charlatanry was, more or less justly, placed upon it. Its advocates were as culpably eager to claim too much for it as its opponents were to concede too little. The indisputable soundness of its basis is now proved beyond cavil by the results of recent hypnotic research. If such great points as the reality of clairvoyant vision, the transference of thought, and the existence of the mesmeric aura, or "fluid," are still in dispute, it is consoling to know that the evidence of their reality is daily accumulating. Before long, the materialists will be obliged to admit it, as they have had to do in the matter of the other phenomena of mesmerism.
The above thoughts are suggested to me by the record of my psychopathic experiences of the year 1883, which we are now recalling. I had wasted an enormous volume of my vital force in attempting the indiscriminate treatment of the patients presenting themselves to me. While I succeeded in curing hundreds, I had failed in hundreds of other cases and given but temporary relief in as many more,
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despite my having exerted my full will power and poured out my vitality as freely as in the successful cases. Nay, I may say that when I failed I had made double and sometimes ten times as much effort as when I effected cures of the most striking and sensational character. One day, when I felt myself very tired after my morning's work, I began thinking that I might spare my forces in the future by adopting a system of selection: could I not apply some test—some auric measure, or, say, an auræ metrum—by which I might pick out the most sensitive patients and abstain from operating on the others? I postulated to myself the existence in each individual of a nerve-fluid which would be characteristic of himself, or herself, and unlike that of every other individual. This, being conducted by the nerves to the extremities from the source of its generation in the brain, spine, and other centres (the sat chakrams), would be conductible by another person's nervous system in which an identical state of vibratory thrills or pulsations of aura, was occurring, and which might be brought into sympathetic relation with it, and by no other. Therefore a healer like myself could not cause his nerve-aura to enter the nerve-system of any patient which was out of sympathetic vibration with his own system, any more than an electric current could be made to run through a non-conductor. Per contra, the certainty and rapidity of his cure of any given patient would be in proportion to the completeness of this sympathetic vibration. The charge of charlatanism would only lie where the healer would pretend that he possessed some divine
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influence which was able to cure any patient who had faith in the healer's powers, regardless of the question of nerve-sympathy between the two individuals. To proceed upon the latter hypothesis would be to bring psychopathy within the domain of positive science. Then, what test could be tried; how could one know and prove to bystanders, which were the most curable patients? The test must produce visible phenomena, such as the most illiterate might appreciate for themselves. The only one of that sort was the phenomenon of "mesmeric attraction," and it could be applied thus: The patient should be made to stand erect, out on the floor and leaning against nothing, with his hands (unless paralysed, of course) hanging by his sides and his eyes shut, so as to prevent his being controlled by the "silent suggestion" of the movements of the healer's hands. Better yet, as regards that, if his back were turned to the healer. Then the latter, concentrating his thought and will upon the patient's head, raising his hand towards it and bringing his fingers together into a point, should silently will that his hand shall become an attractive magnet to draw the patient’s head towards him, This to be kept up a few minutes until it should be seen whether or not the intended effect followed. If almost immediately the patient began swaying on his feet and his head moved towards the operator's hand, then the latter might be sure that he was dealing with a very sympathetic sensitive, and the cure of his disease would be virtually instantaneous. The case of the young Brahmin whose facial and lingual paralyses were
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cured, illustrates my meaning, as does also that of Badrinath Babu, the blind man of Bhagalpore, who was marvellously sensitive. If a less extreme degree of attraction showed itself yet still a strong one, the patient would be curable after two, three, or more treatments. So on to the point where, after three or four minutes’ testing, the patient's head and body gave no responsive movements. There is nothing original in this experiment so far as the act of attraction goes—for that has been known from Mesmer's time—the novelty was in the using of it as an aurœmeter, a gauge of psychopathic sensitiveness. I tried it the next day with the most gratifying results: my best patients proved to be the most easily effected, Badrinath Babu to such a degree that—as explained in the preceding chapter—I could thus draw his head down to the very floor, and then, shifting my hand to the back of his neck, draw him up and up and over backward, until he would fall into my extended arms. Thenceforward I had to waste no more nerve-force on rebellious nervous systems, while the confidence gained by being able to know just how sensitive my patient was helped me immensely in working cures. For my own guidance, I mentally grouped all patients into ten classes or degrees of sensitiveness and proceeded to handle them accordingly.
Among the intelligent Europeans who were drawn to the Maharajah's Guest-Palace to witness my cures was the Rev. Philip S. Smith, of the Oxford University Mission; a pale little man, highly educated, of course, presenting the type of the religious ascetic,
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and clothed after the Romish fashion, in a white cassock and a hat of about the shape of an American pie. He was very pleasant towards me, and I gave him every chance to satisfy himself as to the reality of psychopathy: he watched every case, put many questions to the patients, and stopped until he and I were left alone towards dusk. Then we had a long talk together about the business, and case after case was dwelt upon and analysed. He declared himself thoroughly satisfied, and said he could not have believed possible what he had seen, upon the testimony of third parties. Then the subject of the Bible miracles was introduced by him, and he had to confess that he had seen me do a number of the things ascribed to Jesus and the Apostles in the matter of healing—sight restored to the blind, hearing to the deaf, speech to the dumb, the use of limbs to paralytics, neuralgia, colic, epilepsy, and other ills removed. "Well, then, Mr. Smith, please tell me," I said, "how you would draw the line between these healings and the identical cures wrought in the Bible narratives. If I do the same things why should they not be given the same explanation? If the Bible cases were miraculous, why not mine: and if mine are not miraculous, but perfectly natural, perfectly easy to do by anyone who has the right temperament and can pick out the right subjects, then why ask me to believe that what Paul and Peter did was proof of miraculous power? It seems to me quite illogical." The little man pondered deeply for several minutes while I quietly smoked in silence. Then he gave me an answer
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that was most original and one which I can never forget: "I grant you that the phenomena are the same in both cases: I cannot doubt that. The only way I can explain it is by assuming that the healings of our Lord were done through the human side of His nature! "
On 9th March (1883) I dined at the house of the most learned Brahmin Pandit of Bengal, the late Taranath Tarka Vachaspati, author of the famed Sanskrit Dictionary. He cooked food for me and paid me the highest honor possible in India, by giving me the Brahminical sacred thread, adopted me into his gotra (the Sandilya) and gave me his mantra. This was a sort of brevet conferring of the caste of Brahmin, the first case, I fancy, in which the details of the ceremony had been gone through with a white man, although the thread itself was given to Warren Hastings in his time. The favor shown me was, I was given to understand, to mark the sense of gratitude felt for me by the Hindus for my services in the revival of Sanskrit literature and of religious interest among the Indian people. My deep appreciation of the honor has often been expressed by me since then, and, although an avowed and convinced Buddhist then and now, I have always worn the poita since the venerable Pandit placed the first one about my neck.
Our conscientious enemies have been good enough to say, quite recently, that we Founders have done nothing in India for the children, perhaps not caring to call to mind the boys' religious schools, libraries, and societies that we have formed throughout the land. I see by my Diary that the first religious
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school opened by us in Calcutta was started on the 11th of the same month as the above, with Babu Mohini Mohun Chatterji as chief teacher and other members of our Calcutta Branch as helpers. Since then, society after society for the moral, religious and intellectual benefit of the young, of both sexes, has sprung up in that metropolis, and at this day hundreds are being instructed in the principles of their hoary religion. Ladies' T. S. was formed in 1883, with the lovely and gifted Mrs. Ghosal as its President, and the outcome of this movement was the founding of the Bharati, a magazine fit to be compared with the great London and New York periodicals.
My work in Calcutta having been finished, including several public lectures to overflowing audiences, I resumed travel on the 12th, and turned my face towards Krishnagar. I lectured there; healed the sick, and admitted seventeen new members into the local Branch. On the following day I gave mesmerised water to one hundred and seventy applicants. There lived in the town a common potter, who must have had the soul of some old sculptor reborn in his body, so skilful was he in the modelling of figures. A tiny statuette, the price of which was but one rupee, represented a Brahmin seated for his morning devotions, and I think I never saw more character put into clay: the face showed the most intense concentration of mind and introspection and was a chef d’œuvre. I did my best, later on, to persuade my good friend Maharajah Sir Jotendro Mohun Tagore, K.C.S.I., to erect in some crowded native quarter of
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Calcutta a life-size statue of an Aryan Rishi, after Ram Lal's design, with suitable inscription on the pedestal to remind the modern Hindu of his glorious forefathers. With the Maidan and other open spaces studded with conspicuous statues of successful foreign soldiers and cunning politicians, it seems a vast pity that no rich Hindu gentleman or group of gentlemen comes forward to erect these mementoes for generations yet unborn, of the mighty sages and saints whose world-wide renown casts a brilliant radiance upon the Aryan race.
To Dacca next, one of the historical centres of Indian history, and, for years past, of modern culture. My host here was Babu Parbati Charan Roy, a highly educated Government employee and a materialist. I met at his house very cultivated society, among them Babu P. C. Roy, Ph.D., of London University, subsequently Registrar of Calcutta University, and his educated wife, a representative of the highest culture among Brahmo ladies. The time not needed for my lectures and other public duties was most pleasantly occupied in private discussions with these friends on philosophical and Theosophical subjects. Parbati Babu was a man well worth winning over to our side, and I was glad to answer his questions and try to resolve his doubts on religious subjects. I remember his taking me into his library and showing me his fine collection of books, almost exclusively by Western authors, and when we came to the last book-case, I made as if searching for more. He asked what I was looking for. I told him I supposed he must have still another room where he kept his Sanskrit and other
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Indian works. "No," he said, "this is all; is it not enough?" "Enough” I replied “why, certainly not, for a Brahmin who wants to know what his religion can answer to the criticisms of foreign sceptics: it might do very well for an European, who neither knows nor cares what the Aryan Shastras teach." My host flushed a little, for I fancy this was the first time that a white man had reproached him for knowing only the opinions of white men. However that may have been, in the course of time this bright University graduate turned his attention most seriously to the studies of his Shastras, and but the other day published a book announcing his full acceptance of the views of his ancestral religion.1
From Dacca to Darjeeling is a long stretch, even by rail. At Siliguri we were transferred from the ordinary train to the steam tram that rushes up the Himalayas by a most devious route, curving around the hills, doubling and twisting upon itself, once in a figure of eight; going through forests and wild jungle, past banks of wild flowers growing beside the track; meeting gangs of Bhooteah coolies and Bhootanese, faring along with loads carried on their backs in baskets like inverted cones, supported by straps passing across their foreheads; through sman villages of hillmen and Bengali shopkeepers, whose wares were exposed at the doors of the ill-smelling and squalid dens that serve them as bminess and living quarters combined; up, ever up into the cold and thin air of the heights, where the lowering of the temperature compels a change of dress and the use of
1 From Hinduism to Hinduism.
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topcoats and rugs; new vistas of the hot, steamy plains opening out at every turn of the road, until rivers seem like glistening threads down below, houses like dolls' boxes, and moving animals and men like the figures of a toy Noah's ark. Then, finally, towards the end of the climb one finds oneself amid a confusion of mountain peaks crowned by the glittering pinnacles of Kanchanjunga, or Dhavalagiri, twice as far up in the sky as the crest of Mt. Blanc. On the station platform at Darjeeling I was met by my brothers of the local Branch, who gave me a warm welcome and took me to the mountain palace of the Maharajah of Burdwan, who had sent orders to place it at my disposal and give me hospitality.
Only one who .has been living in the hot climate of the Indian plains can really know the inexpressible relief and charm it is to get up to this lofty hill-station where, at an elevation of about 8,000 feet, one finds the climate of England, and the blazing fire in the chimney-place recalls the delights of home. Outdoors, especially in the bazaar or market-place, there is little to remind one of that, for one finds oneself in a crowd of people with Mongolian features, yellow skins, quaint headgear and costumes, jabbering away in a dozen strange tongues. Here is a trader selling Tibetan prayer-wheels, turquoise necklaces, charm-boxes to wear on the neck and arm; there, another offering the thick red sleeping-rugs of Tibet, or the pretty white and blue figured bedspreads of Bhutan, or the artistic woven woollen girdles with fringed ends, which every hill man and woman appears to wear for confining their loose top-garments at the waist; and
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beyond him, a third who deals in the sweet-sounding cymbals and bells of Lhassa; dealers in ponies, cloths, grains, and every sort of merchandise which is in demand, throng the place, and the scene is full of movement and clamor. As I was working my way towards the eastern side of the bazaar ground, I was brought to a sudden stop by seeing a man approaching with his splendid eyes fixed upon mine and a smile on his face. For a moment I could scarcely believe my eyes—so far away were my thoughts from the possibility of seeing him. It was one of the senior pupils of a Mahatma, with whom I had been brought into relations in a place far distant from there. I stood still, waiting for any advances he might choose to make, but just when he was quite near, he turned aside, with his smiling eyes fixed on mine, and was gone. I could find him nowhere.
During the next two days I was kept as busy as possible, receiving visitors, discussing high topics, and treating sick persons. On the 24th I lectured at the town hall on "Theosophy a True Science, not a Delusion." That morning I had seen a sight that I shall never forget until my dying day. I saw Dhawalagiri in a clear sky, without a veil of mist between it and myself. It was like the uncovering of a world of gods and immortals, and language is almost too poor to do it justice. Before dawn I had gone out of the house and was waiting for the sunrise. There was no cloud in the steel-blue sky to dim the light of the stars. Facing the east I saw, of a sudden, a pinnacle of eternal snow come into view, as if born out of the breast of the night: a small, shining white
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mass, so far up in the heavens that I had to crane my neck to look at it. That was the only shining mass in the sky, all else was night and stars, while the mountains around and before me were shrouded in deep darkness. Anon, the glory burst out in another peak, and then it ran like a flash of molten silver from the one to the other: within the next few moments the whole rugged cap of the kingly mountain was a blaze of lighted snow. Towering 20,000 feet above Darjeeling and 7,000 more from the plains, seen afar like a dream more than a reality, what wonder that the Hindu popular belief should make it the home of Rishis, those ideal embodiments of all human perfections!
On the 26th I left Darjeeling, retraced my route down to Siliguri, where I was once more subjected to the heat of the plains, the more awful by reason of the contrast of forty-odd degrees Fahrenheit. My objective point, Jessore, was reached on the 28th. I lectured as usual, and on the 29th formed a local Branch. Thence, to Narail, where I was put up in a travellers' bungalow composed of bamboo tattis and having a thatched roof—a flimsy construction that, one would think, could not withstand the strain of a high wind. The mercury stood at 106° Fah. So my state of comfort may be imagined. I lectured to a large crowd from the steps of a schoolhouse, for want of a room big enough for the purpose, and, as there was not a single European about, wore my muslin Hindu costume with much comfort. If Europeans in the Tropics had really good common sense, they would discard their clinging, cramping
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and stuffy dress for the roomy and thin garments and head-covering of the natives of those countries. But what can be expected from people who wear Piccadilly costumes, including the bell-topper, at garden-parties, and slavishly submit to the conventional custom of making calls in the very hottest part of the day, and the most inconvenient? At Narail a Branch T. S. was formed with fourteen members. By palanquin, country boat and dâk gharry (mail coach) I went via Jessore to Calcutta, travelling a night and a day with the thermometer at 101°. I had yearned for a little rest on reaching the Maharajah's Guest Palace, but got none, as patients had gathered and were persistent and clamorous. So I worked through the day as well as I could, and, naturally enough, at evening had nervous fever, high temperature, and exhaustion of my forces. So I put my foot down the next morning and took my needed rest. In the evening, however, I paid a visit to my dear friends, the Gordons and later, held a meeting of the Bengal T. S. for the admission of new members. The next morning (April 4) I left for Berhampore, in the Murshidabad District.
Our Jain members of Azimganj met me as last year, and after giving me the usual garlands, bouquets, perfumed sprinklings, and refreshments, conducted me in grand state to a flower-wreathed boat in which I was taken across the river to some showy carriages sent from Berhampore for my use, in charge of my tried and trusty friend Dinanath Ganguli, Government Pleader. The reception at Berhampore was as gaudy as that on my previous
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visit, and the enthusiasm and welcome, equally hearty. Then were healings of the sick, a lecture in the open air of a large courtyard that was prettily illuminated for the occasion, and a large meeting of the local Branch with seven new members admitted. The third day I left, in charge of the Dewan and Private Secretary of the Nawab Nazim of the Lower Provinces, who had been sent to invite me to pass a night at his Highness' palace at Murshidabad. My host and I had a long talk together that evening, and I passed a good night despite the luxurious surroundings, which offered so great a contrast to my quarters in the bamboo screen and grass-thatched hut and the other strange houses in which I had so recently been entertained, It was amusing to see the Nawab's gleeful astonishment when, the next morning, I relieved a huge Pathan, of his military establishment, of a severe attack of sciatica before resuming my journey towards Azimganj.
My next station was Bhagalpore, which I reached at 10 p.m., and received a very kind welcome. Of course, there were addresses to reply to and flowers to be crowned with in the usual fashion. Babu Tej Naraen, a most benevolent and public-spirited man, put me up in his sumptuous Guest Palace. I healed sick persons the next day, visited a school, or rather college, founded by the above-named gentleman under the auspices of the T. S., where above 300 Hindu boys were receiving instruction in the national religion, and Muslim pupils in the tenets of Islam. He had spent Rs. 20,000 on the buildings and
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made a monthly grant of Rs. 150 towards current expense account, as a supplement to the, Rs. 250 per mensem derived from school fees. The able manager was Dr. Ladli Mohan Ghose, one of our old and staunch T. S. members. My cures the next day are recorded as, two Hysteria, one Lumbago, one Hemiplegia, and three Rheumatism. At the Branch meeting eight new members were admitted, among them a Jain gentleman holding a judicial appointment under Government and a man of the greatest merit. The next morning my usual clinic was held, and I see that I made a deaf man, after a half hour's treatment, hear words spoken in an. ordinary conversational tone at the distance of twenty feet. Four more candidates for membership were admitted, and I then took a goods train for Jamalpur, a great railway centre, where I was lodged in a most shabby little house near the railway station, the best that our poor members could afford, and so quite as good for me as a palace would have been. A Branch meeting followed and candidates were admitted.
Twenty patients were cured by me the next day, but the heat was so excessive that I was more than glad when the hour arrived for clearing my rooms of the crowd. I lectured that evening in a large, airy hall that was crowded in every part. An European, a pig-headed fellow of some Dissenting sect, undertook to heckle me in rough language at the close, but he got what he deserved, perhaps more than he expected. Gaya, Buddha Gaya, and Dumraon came next in order; and at each the same incidents
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of healings, lectures, Branch Meetings, and admissions to membership occurred. The temperature ranged from 100° to 106° day by day.
A most unpleasant and, to me as an European, mortifying thing happened at the Dumraon lecture. A drunken, foul-mouthed indigo-planter came with a bottle of brandy and a basket of soda water bottles, and while I was lecturing kept drinking pegs. Fancy what was the impression made upon the audience of sober, intelligent, and self-respectful Hindus by this misconduct! Can anyone be surprised at the contempt in which they hold the dominant race whose social habits are so different from their own standard of propriety? I am glad to say, however, that no similar degrading exhibition of bad conduct has ever been made at my lectures throughout India, however much may have been seen by the Hindus among the soldiers and sailors of the British Army and Navy.
My blind patient, Badrinath Babu, was travelling with me for daily treatment, and there was constant improvement of his vision. It was at Dumraon that the ophthalmoscope was applied to his eyes, and, as this is a question of fact and science, not of fancy and superstition, I may as well quote a passage or two from the letter of the medical man who made the observation, which he addressed to the Indian Mirror, of Calcutta, from Arrah, 18th April, 1883. The gentleman, Dr. Brojendra Nath Bannerji, L.M.S., is a graduate of the Calcutta Medical College, and was a favorite pupil of the ophthalmic surgeons on the College Staff. It is copied at length in
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the Supplement to the Theosophist for May, 1883. He says:
"The word wonderful is scarcely strong enough to characterise the cures made by Colonel Olcott while on his present tour. . . . It is the simple fact that cases given up by learned European and native physicians as hopeless and incurable have been cured by him as by magic. . . . There is nothing secret about his methods. On the contrary, he especially invites medical men to watch his processes and learn them, if so disposed, as scientific facts. He neither takes money, desires fame, nor expects even thanks; but does all for the instruction of his Society members and the relief of suffering. The waste of vital energy he makes to cure incurable cases is something tremendous, and how a man of his advanced age can stand it seems marvellous. I have seen him treat, perhaps, thirty or forty patients, but a few examples will suffice to give you an idea of all."
The doctor then enumerates cures of a fixed pain in the chest, of four years' standing, the result of a kick by a horse; two cases of deafness, one of twenty seven years' standing; chronic dysentery; epilepsy; and then comes to the most instructive case of the blind Badrinath. I think I had better quote rather fully. "Boidya Nath (the Bengali provincial mispronunciation of Badrinath) Banerji, an educated gentleman, a Pleader, Judge's Court, Bhaugulpore, had been suffering from glaucoma (chronic) and atrophy of both the optic discs for the last seven years. . . . The pupils did not respond to the stimulus of
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light. His case was pronounced incurable by two of the best oculists in India, viz., Drs. Cayley and R. G. Saunders. Boidya Nath Babu possesses certificates from Dr. Cayley to this effect. He has had fourteen treatments [from myself] only, and at intervals since 25th February last (about eight weeks). He has perfectly regained sight in his left eye, the right one is also getting better. This morning he could even discern with it the color of flowers growing at a distance of twenty yards. I and my friend, Babu Bepin Behary Gupta, Assistant surgeon, Dumraon, examined his eyes yesterday with an ophthalmoscope. We found that the atrophied discs were becoming healthy, the shrivelled blood-vessels admitting blood to circulate in and nourish the discs. . . . He can easily walk about without anybody's help, and the glaucomic tension of the eye-ball is gone. . . . Our medical books report no such case, and every ophthalmic surgeon among your readers will admit this cure to be unprecedented. I put it to my professional brethren whether the cure of this one case should not induce them to look into this subject of mesmerism which, on purely scientific principles, effects such staggering marvels of healing. . . . I have mentioned the names of Drs. Cayley and Saunders in connection with this case, only because of my respect for the eminence of their authority and the importance which their unfavourable official certificate gives to the cure which Col. Olcott has made in this instance. I have written mainly for the eyes of my professional colleagues, and none know better than they how safe I am in challenging
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the medical world to produce the record of a duplicate to this case."
Generous enthusiast, to be so blinded by an unspoilt heart as to imagine that his colleagues should be moved to look through even one volume of Braithwaite to satisfy themselves that I could teach them something worth knowing, and something that would relieve human suffering: he should have taken warning from the experience of that young, assistant surgeon at Galle, who also ventured to tell the truth about the cures he had seen me make of "incurable" patients!
In the same supplement to the Theosophist (May 1883) the curious reader will see the medical certificate sent to the Editor of the East, a local journal, by Purna Chundra Sen, Practitioner of Homœopathic Medicine and Surgery, of Dacca, about my curing within twenty minutes two distressing cases of malarial fever, with enlargement of the spleen and functional derangement of the heart, resulting in acute hysteria. Then, in the June Theosophist Supplement, of 1883, one can see Dr. Ladli Mohun Ghose's report on ten marked cases which I had cured, among them his own, which was a case of blindness in the left eye which Drs. Cayley and Macnamara, of Calcutta, had, after examination, pronounced incurable and probably congenital. "But to-day," says Dr. Ladli Mohun, "after a few minutes of simple mesmeric treatment, by breathing through a small silver tube, Col. Olcott has restored my sight. He has made me close the right eye, and with my
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hitherto useless left one read ordinary print. My feelings may be better imagined than described." Yes, but fancy the feelings of those two great oculists and eye-surgeons who had pronounced the eye incurable!
I went on to Bankipur from Arrah, where I had been through the usual routine, and was received and treated throughout my visit in the most affectionate manner. My audiences at the College Hall were very large and demonstrative; the second, when I gave a special address to the pupils, excessively so. After speaking a full hour I wanted to stop, but the room rang with shouts of "Go on; please do go on!" so on I went for another hour, and the boys would have kept me at it all night, I suspect, if I had not told them I was hungry and should go straight away home for my dinner. Dear young fellows; what a limitless field of work there is among the schoolboys and college undergraduates of India for those whom they know and love! And this is the field which is incomparably the most important of all, for the boys are not yet spoilt, nor the sweetness of their young natures destroyed by contact with public life. I ask no better epitaph when I am dead and gone than to be called the Friend of Children.