OLD DIARY LEAVES, Third Series (1883-87)
by Henry Steel Olcott
"COMING EVENTS CAST THEIR
THE eventful year 1884 now opens out before us the tenth since H. P. B. and I first met at that Vermont farm-house. What a succession of stirring events and picturesque experiences had followed each other throughout those ten years; how immeasurably had our field widened, how great the effect upon ourselves and upon others! The epoch opened upon us amid the weird nightly séances of farmer-mediums, with "materialised," or rather objectified, phantoms of the astral world stalking before us in the gloom, sometimes nodding in dumb show, sometimes whispering, and anon even shouting their common-place messages to the living; its close finds us settled in a noble Indian bungalow amid enthusiastic Asiatic friends, every corner of India familiar to me, our Society's name known throughout the world, and its chartered Branches established in various countries: truly, a chapter of romance.
The last of the visiting Delegates to the 8th T. S. Anniversary had hardly left the house before I resumed
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my official wanderings. On 4th January I sailed for Bimlipatam, on the Coromandel Coast, the nearest port to Vizianagram, to visit the Maharajah of which ancient Zemindary I had been invited.1 Among my fellow-passengers was a Scotch gentleman endowed with the "second sight," and, like the Swiss philosopher Zschokke, compelled at times, against his own wish, to see the life-histories of strangers pass before his inner vision in phantom pictures. Everybody who has read Dale Owen or Ennemoser knows the story of how Zschokke silenced a braggart infidel, one of a party of student pedestrians whom he encountered at an inn among the Alps. The feather-brained youths drank deeply and grew very noisy and impertinent. A quiet man at a small table in a corner attracted their attention, and presently the loud-voiced braggart in question, who had denied the existence of God and the soul in the most vehement language, turned to the quiet man and challenged him to defend the opposite view. Zschokke—for it was he—saw, as in a moving picture, the whole of the boaster's life spread out before him, and replied by asking him whether he would admit the existence of a soul if he, the speaker, should tell him the secrets of his past career. The young man laughed the proposition to scorn, and dared Zschokke to expose all, even the most important of his secrets. Thereupon the latter proceeded to do so, and among other disgraceful scenes described one where the young fellow was robbing his master's
1 The Prince has died since the above was written.
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till. The bursting of such a bomb, it may be supposed, put a stop to the idle debate, and the philosopher left the room in quiet dignity unmolested.
On landing at Bimlipatam I found the Maharajah's carriage and pair awaiting me, and after a pleasant drive for some hours, reached Vizianagram. I had "Bawaji" with me as Private Secretary, and my Mussulman servant, Abdullah, to look after my luggage and myself. After making a toilet I drove to the Fort, and was met at the door of his residence by the Prince, who welcomed me with the extreme courtesy for which he is known to the whole European community of Madras and Calcutta, and which has earned from them the title of Prince Charming. He is quite a book-collector, and has a very fine library, most of the books in rich bindings. He talked earnestly and fluently about religious and philosophical questions, but not with the evidently deep interest and conviction shown by the Maharajah of Kashmir. In fact, it struck me that he had no very well formed belief at all in religion, but was mostly concerned in the affairs of the world, its pleasures, and his personal position. I fancy that he had had some anticipation that I would show him phenomena, and that his lack of interest in our Society during the subsequent years marks his disappointment in that respect. However, nothing could have been nicer than his behaviour as host, and his conversation, on the four days of my stay, was very enjoyable. Before we left, he refunded to Bawaji the expenses of our
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journey, gave a considerable order for Theosophical literature, and made a gift of Rs. 500 to the Society's treasury. Two lectures were given, and a Branch organised at Vizianagram, and on 11th January we sailed for Madras, which was reached on the third day.
I had hardly got back before a small disturbance was created by the brother of one of our Hindu colleagues, who demanded that the latter should at once quit our house under penalty of being outcasted—an ordeal that few Hindus care to face, however zealous they may be as "reformers". Under the ponderous mass of ancient custom, backed by public opinion, the individual is crushed unless he have money to bribe influential pûjâris (family priests). This case being referred to me, I ordered both parties to go outside the compound and settle their differences, as I should not permit any caste battles to be fought out within our precincts.
It may be as well to say a few words about the attitude of the Society towards caste and other social abuses that swarm about us. I bracket caste with them, because in the present state of India and the world I regard it as an abuse and even an infringement of personal liberty of action. What it was in the beginning, and why instituted by the unseen Managers of the Aryan race, has been explained to us by Mrs. Besant in sublime language and with masterful ability: as a working part in the plan of spiritual development its excellence is apparent. But like the rusting machinery of an abandoned mine, it is useful
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to nobody, a cumberer of the high road. I speak my own opinion, of course, and that binds nobody save myself. Unquestionably we find all groups of the race, called nations, differentiate themselves into the four chief classes that correspond with the four castes of the Aryans, viz., the hand-toilers, the traders, the fighters and rulers, and the teachers of various kinds; undeniably, therefore, the institution of caste by Sri Krishna was a wise act and bore splendid fruits. But the Western class is not a fixed but a changeful thing; the peasant of one day may become the trader, general, or teacher of the next decade: this is proved by a thousand examples. The class, therefore, is not so great an evil in our modern social order as the fixed and immovable condition of hereditary caste, which has fallen from the dignity of a nursing school for reincarnating souls, to the low state of trades guilds, social tyrannies, and unspiritual panditism and miseries of religious hypocrisy. Admitting all this, there is a necessary reformatory work to be carried on by specially-fitted caste reformers, individuals, and societies. It is as much outside the field of our Society's corporate activity as diet, intemperance, widow remarriage, chattel slavery, the social evil, vivisection, and fifty other outlets for philanthropic zeal. As a Society we abstain from meddling with them, though as individuals we are perfectly free to plunge in to the thick of either of the fights that they occasion. The Theosophical Society ignores the differences of sex, for the Higher Self has
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no sex; also of color, for That is neither white, black, red, or yellow like the human races; of rank, wealth, and political condition, worldly power or literary rank, for It is above all these limitations of the physical man—spotless, immortal, divine, unchangeable. That is why, as President, I never commit the Society to one side or the other of these questions. Mrs. Besant's Central Hindu College at Benares, my three Buddhist Colleges and two hundred schools in Ceylon, and my Pariah (Harijan) free schools in Madras are all individual, not Society, activities.
The Sinhalese Buddhists having secured my promise to go to London and try to settle their religious disabilities, I now began to make the necessary preparations, first for a visit to Colombo for the final arrangement of matters with them, and then for the European journey. In view of possible contingencies of accident to me, I held a Council Meeting on January 20th, at which I put the management of the Society into their hands until my return, and the next day left by train for Tuticorin, the southernmost station in India, whence the British India Company's boats sail for Colombo. The Council deciding that H. P. B. should accompany me to Europe, she also began her preparations during my absence in Ceylon. On the boat from Tuticorin I met two young Russian nobles and a wealthy friend of theirs who had been enticed to India by H. P. B.'s romantic stories in her Caves and Jungles of Hindustan, as they appeared originally in the Roussky Vyestnik. The young men told
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me that all Russia had been charmed and bewildered by them.
Reaching Colombo the next morning at dawn, I called a meeting of leading Buddhists, under Sumangala's chairmanship, to consider the situation; and on the following day, at an adjourned meeting at Meligakanda, that useful body, the Buddhist Defence Committee, was formed, with suitable officers and a very simple and common-sense code of Rules. It was then decided that I should go to London as an Honorary Member and special delegate of the Committee. Visits of conference to the Governor, Government Agent, Inspector-General of Police, and other officials, various meetings with the Buddhists, the drafting of several petitions and addresses and other work followed. In view to possibilities, the Chief priests of the two ancient Royal Viharas at Kandy, together with Sumangala, Subhuti, Dhammalankara, and other priests of the Maritime provinces, united in giving me full powers to represent them in the admission of candidates into the ranks of Buddhism, on their "taking Pansil"—the Five Precepts.
The primary objects that my European visit was intended to realise were: (1) To convince Government of the actual disabilities under which the Sinhalese Buddhists suffered in a case of criminal assault, like the recent bloody attack by Roman Catholics on a Buddhist religious procession, the culprits in which riot had escaped punishment. (2) To induce Government to appoint a Buddhist Registrar of Marriages
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so that the Buddhists might not be compelled to get married by an official of hostile religious belief. (3) To get some action taken on the questions of the management of the Temporalities of Buddhist Viharas, whose rights had long been trampled on by their own lay administrators, to the shame of the Colonial officials, who had neglected their duty. (4) To try and secure an order declaring Wesak—the May Full-Moon day, Buddha's Birthday, and consequently the Buddhist Christmas—a public holiday. While each of the great sects in India enjoyed their own special holidays, the patient, long-suffering Sinhalese had no such act of justice done them. Before sailing, on February 10th, I took Sumangala to the Government House to see the Governor, and a discussion which I had previously held with His Excellency about the Wesak, was resumed between us three, and Sir Arthur gave us encouragement to count upon his friendly action when the question should be referred back to him in due course from the Colonial Office, where I was to broach it.
On reaching Adyar I found there waiting for me Mr. St. George Lane-Fox, the electrical engineer, a new recruit to our ranks. H. P. B. had gone away to Kathiawar with Dr. Hartmann, on a visit to the Thakur Saheb of Wadhwan, one of our members. I hurried up affairs, and on 18th February the Wadhwan party met me in Bombay. On the 20th we sailed for Marseilles, on the "Chandernagore," Captain Dumont—an excellent French steamer and a
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super-excellent French Commander, whose friendship I have kept ever since. He is now chief manager of the Suez Canal traffic. Our party consisted of H. P. B., myself, Mohini M. Chatterji, and B. J. Padshah, one of the cleverest Parsi graduates of the Bombay University. Then there was Babula, our trusty servant. Before sailing I enlarged the Managing Committee left in charge of Headquarters, by adding to the Council Members Dr. Hartmann, Mr. Lane-Fox, and—Mr. Coulomb. Considering what happened later, this last appointment may surprise some, but nothing whatever had occurred up to that time to make me have a bad opinion of him. As for his wife, I was as far as possible from suspecting that she had been a party to tricks, either with or without H. P. B.'s knowledge. Not a word of suspicion had been dropped, nor a thing done by her, to my knowledge, of that sort. Of course, if I had had even an inkling of her real character, instead of making her husband (at her request—she saying that he was a proud man and his feelings would be hurt if I left him out) a Committee man, I should have had our servants chase both of them out of our compound with bamboo switches. She seemed to me a hard-working woman, who was doing all she possibly could to keep the house tidy and take care of H. P. B.'s physical comfort: she bought the food, had meals very properly served, and looked after the servants. Often I felt quite sorry for her when H. P. B. scolded her for trifling faults and, I thought, showed ingratitude for her
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services. Her character I did not admire in the least; she was a gossip and tale-bearer, and gabbled too much about religious matters that she did not in the least comprehend. But she seemed faithful as a dog to H. P. B., and well earned the food and shelter she and her husband got from us. He was handy with tools and fond of using them, so he was given in charge the work of masons and carpenters, that in a large place like ours is constantly needed. He was a quiet, well-behaved person, seemingly perfectly honest, and I liked him well enough to put him on the Committee. A few words of explanation as to the house will be useful.
The main building at Adyar is nearly 100 feet square; there are six large rooms and the Convention Hall (100X28) on the ground floor, and when we moved there, there were one large and one very small room upstairs: the rest brick-and-cement terrace. The large room upstairs was used by H. P. B. as her bedroom, a piece curtained off from which made her sitting-room. I put up a temporary kitchen for her at the N. W. corner of the roof, and the little room over the stairs was given to Damodar. My quarters were in a detached, one-storied brick bungalow in the grounds, distant a hundred yards from the house. To gain access to the upper floor of the main building, one had to go outside on the back verandah and mount by an inclosed brick staircase. When the door at its foot was locked, no one could get to the upper rooms. This should be kept in mind. Soon after coming we
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had built a room for use as a "shrine," and cut down a blocked-up window in H. P. B.'s room into a door to give access to it. When the room was finished, she moved her desk in and installed herself in it. But her bedroom did not suit her, so she set Mr. Coulomb to work to building another for her at the N. E. angle of the terrace, and this was in progress when we left for Europe. He having charge of the work, and his wife that of H. P. B.'s effects, they kept the key of the staircase, and nobody had the least concern in what the workmen were doing upstairs, as even the materials were carried in at the back verandah without troubling anybody. Damodar was now sleeping and working in the office-room downstairs. The Coulombs occupied another detached bungalow in the grounds that matched my own. Dr. Hartmann, Mr. Lane-Fox, and the rest of the house-party had quarters either in the downstairs rooms or over in my bungalow, according to their choice. The easy and natural isolation of the upper floor apartments will now be clearly understood, and should be kept in mind when reading the S. P. R. report of the "Coulomb case". We may now return to the "Chandernagore," where day after day we shall find H. P. B. working in the Captain's cabin on a French translation of Isis Unveiled which she had undertaken at the request of our French colleagues.
Barring a very little rough weather in the Mediterranean, our voyage was exceptionally calm and delightful: in fact, the Captain said he had never had such
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an one, taking it throughout. I see that I have taken special notes of the lovely picture that we sailed through when passing the Straits of Messina: a cloudless azure sky, the town of Messina, picturesque Reggio, on the Calabrian side, the winding blue strait, the lighthouse standing out in high light, a red-piped coasting steamer, and a sombre contrast of black clouds massed above Ætna's smoking peak. Along the Italian shore ran the trains with their puffing engines, looking from the deck of our distant steamer like a toy rail-road run for dolls. Reaching Marseilles on 12th March, we were sent over to Trioul to be quarantined twenty-four hours for the sanitary sins of Bombay—a vexatious experience just at the end of a long voyage, when we were impatient to set foot again on the solid ground. Trioul is a basin-harbor amid barren rocks, with clusters of silent grey pavilions and godowns in stone, and a Roman Catholic chapel perched on a rock and capped with its great cross. A tremendous gale had sprung up—the mistral, I presume—and our ship was so pushed by it that we broke three cables at our moorings; if the fourth had parted we must have inevitably been wrecked within the very basin. Happily it did not, and we left the Quarantine early the next morning and got safely to Marseilles; passing on the way Château d'If, about which rather commonplace, if somewhat old fortress, Alexandre Dumas has woven the golden spell of romance. No wonder tourists actually ask to be shown the cells of Edmond Dantes and the good Abbé Faria, and the rocky precipice from which the
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future Comte de Monte Cristo was flung as a supposed corpse; and no wonder the guides actually do show them. When Mark Twain can be forgiven for weeping at the bogus grave of Adam in Palestine, and the whole of Christendom was collectively bamboozled by toe nails of the Holy Ghost, phials of Liebfraumilch, winking statues, etc., and French Spiritistes have recorded improving messages from "Tartuffe," who shall blame the breadwinners at the Château d'If for truckling to the ignorant and harmless curiosity of a public who have been so hypnotised by Dumas' genius as to believe that D'Artagnan and Athos, Dantes and Danglars, were men of blood and bone like ourselves? Surely their offence is not equal to that of a travelled New York ignoramus, who told me that he had seen the dungeon in the Castle of Chillon where "Lord Byron had been imprisoned so many years that he had worn a track in the stone floor of his cell"!
We were met, on landing, by our two staunch, highly-cultured friends, Baron J. Spedalieri, the pupil of Lévi, and Captain D. A. Courmes, of the French Navy, who showed us every possible attention and H. P. B. a sincere reverence. Among the throng of her admirers not one was so capable of gauging her literary and mystical abilities as the good Kabbalist of Marseilles. It is my delight to revisit his house every time I pass that way and be folded to the breast of the affectionate patriarch, whose mind is as vigorous now at 85 as it was when my chum and I first sat at
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his table in 1884.1 The fidelity and unflagging sympathy of Captain Courmes in our work is matter of common knowledge among all readers of Theosophical literature.
1 Our good friend has since died.