OLD DIARY LEAVES, Third Series (1883-87)
by Henry Steel Olcott
PHENOMENA AND HEALING AT NICE
ON the second day after arrival, H. P. B. and I went to Nice for a promised visit to Lady Caithness, Duchesse de Pomar; and Mohini and Padshah preceded us to Paris. Our hostess did everything within her power to make us feel at home in her Palais Tiranty, and to draw around H. P. B. the cream of the nobility that flock to the Riviera in the colder months. Daily they visited us to talk of Theosophy, and on most of the evenings there were meetings at which discussions and expositions were followed by light suppers, for the arrangement of which Lady Caithness had a special talent. If I was delighted by this first intimate view of Continental high life, H. P. B. was still more so in meeting, after many years of voluntary expatriation, her compatriots with whom she could talk Russian by the hour, and get news at first hand of the fortunes and misfortunes of families in whose intimacy her own had always dwelt. Iconoclast she may have been as to some things, but a more -enthusiastic Russian than she was never born, albeit she took out her naturalisation papers at New York and forswore allegiance to the Czar and all other monarchs or princes. I fancy she did that, as she did her two marriages, either as a caprice or for some occult reason not apparent on the surface.
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We made two friends extremely well worth having, in Colonel and Mrs. Evans, of Cimiez, a couple who lived in a splendid villa, which was made for us altogether sunny by their cordial welcomes. We also met at Nice Madame Agathe Hæmmerle, of Russia, a lady of high culture, an astonishing linguist, and the regular correspondent of half the noted savants of Europe who give themselves to research in the different fields of Psychology. Then there was an evening with the astronomer Camille Flammarion, of the Paris Observatory, at that time a member of our Society. Two evenings were given in part to mesmeric experiments by M. Robert, the Parisian professional, which were very instructive; and on another occasion Mme. Hæmmerle and I attended a public lecture, with experiments, on the same subject, by Prof. Guidi, the Italian specialist. The disbelievers in thought-transference should be called upon to explain one of these experiments to which I was a party. The lecturer had two lady assistants, of whom one played the piano and the other was the mesmeric subject. He bade us notice the effect of the music on the latter—whom he had proved to us to be in a state of insensibility to pinches, pullings, and loud noises. He willed her to hear the music, and she responded in physical movements to every change in its character, expressing in highly dramatic postures the feeling appealed to for the moment. Pride, anger, mirthfulness, affection, disdain, defiance, terror, were successively portrayed by this cataleptical being, as though she had been
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some musical instrument played upon by the pianist's fingers. Signor Guidi then said that if any gentleman present wished to satisfy himself of the power of the subject to receive mental suggestions, he would be glad to give him the chance. I rose at once and offered myself for the experiment. The lecturer came over to me, told me that I must concentrate my thought at the moment when I wished to fix the subject in the pose in which she might be at the time, and when he was satisfied that I understood him, grasped my hand for a moment and then stood aside. The pianist was then told to resume her playing, and the hypnotised subject began once more her statuesque poses. I took one good look at her, after which I leaned my chin on my cane and turned my eyes downward, so that I could see her movements through my eyelashes, but she could not get any hint as to my purpose. I let her go on until, in expressing the feeling of sublimity, she was leaning backward, seemingly past the centre of gravity, and was kept from falling only by the contraction of the leg-muscles: it was a posture so difficult, that in the natural state one could scarcely have retained it a minute. Then, without making the smallest gesture or muscular contraction to show my object, I mentally ordered her to become rigid. She responded instantaneously; the thought had barely been formed in my mind before she caught and obeyed it. With her head thrown far back, her torso bent back from the hips at an oblique angle, her arms held at their full length pointing upward, her knees bent
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forward, she seemed as immovable as if she were a statue of bronze. It was to me a most instructive experiment; the more so in that the mere clasping of my hand for a moment by the mesmeriser sufficed to put me in psychical rapport with his subject, without the speaking of a word by him or by me.
The mention above of M. Robert's experiments at the Palais Tiranty recalls to my mind a story that he told us, and which conveys a useful lesson to all mesmeric experimentators. He had a certain very good clairvoyant subject who, one time when he was asleep and lucid, told his mesmeriser that a certain jeweller's shop in Nice would be entered by burglars on a certain night. Thereupon, Robert, seeing a fine chance to help the mesmerist party, and, very likely, to advertise his own business of Masseur, went to the jeweller, handed him his business card, and told him to take extra precautions against burglary on the night in question. The jeweller thanked him, but said that he did not believe much in clairvoyance, and that, in any case, his premises were quite secure against burglars. Yet it so happened that the predicted burglary actually was made at the time mentioned. Then there was a fine excitement, a running to the Prefect of Police, and the usual wailing on house tops. Ah! that address card of the mesmeriser—happy thought! He must have known something about it and tried to buy him off by the offer of a bribe, failing the receipt of which he had allowed his pals to do the burglary. So the card is taken to M. le Prefect, and the poor
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innocent M. Robert summoned to come and stand an investigation. He went, was examined, and politely told that the Police were as incredulous as the jeweller about clairvoyance, and he must explain on some more reasonable and common-sense ground his fore-knowledge of the intended burglary. The wretched Robert managed to get off by citing a number of the most eminent personages in Nice to testify to his good character but he had to pack off secretly his equally innocent clairvoyant, to put him beyond the clutch of the Nice detectives. Perhaps these facts will give a valid reason for the extreme reluctance of every respectable mesmeriser to allow his clairvoyant to aid in the tracking of criminals and the unravelling of crimes. The narrow escape of H. P. B. from arrest in Russia for suspected complicity in a murder, the perpetrator of which she discovered clairvoyantly at her father's request and the special solicitation of the District Inspector-General of Police, is familiar to many of her friends, and bears me out in the precautionary word I offer to all mesmerisers who are so fortunate as to have under their control a good clairvoyant, whose aid the Police would obtain:—DON’T.
It so happened that the annual "Bataille des Fleurs" (Flower Carnival) came off while we were in Nice, and I was very glad to see one of the most charming ways in which the fashionable world contrives to kill time. The Duchess could not go out herself, but sent me, in charge of one of her lady friends, in her carriage to fall in with the procession. Almost every carriage
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but ours was bedecked with flowers and garlands, and bunches of them adorned the horses. From every house fronting the street, flowers were showered down upon us; the sun shone resplendently, the bosom of the Mediterranean lay like a pavement of sapphires, the cool grey-greens of the olive orchards on the hilly slopes refreshed the eye, and all was joyous laughter, gay trifling, and prankish little tricks of flower-pelting along the route. A pretty Russian Countess up in a balcony asked, by dumb show, of her friend the lady by my side, who I was, and was answered with a mysterious nodding and winking to indicate that she should hear the facts later. She did, and no mistake: the mutual friend told her that I was the Governor of Madras and her affianced husband! The flower-battle was very pretty foolery, to be sure, yet a saddening spectacle; for one can realise, in seeing the round of childish amusements followed year after year in changeless monotony, how indisposed the higher circles are to think of serious things, how completely submerged in sensuous pleasures. Yet their religious feelings can be excited to even the point of frenzy by a great preacher or a great idea set in circulation at the right time. At this moment there are many women of the highest social rank, some even among the royalties, who read Theosophical literature and think the Theosophical things: this is a fact well known to me. A bit of leaven is working in the mass, and the influence will grow. But for the several scandals that have been attached to our movement since 1884, an open
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connection with Theosophy would not be so shunned as it has been, and, to some extent, still is, by the European aristocracy and upper middle class. The greatest obstacle in our way, however, is the iron hold that social routine has upon those classes, and the almost hopeless submergence of the individual in the fashionable, time-killing, oblivion-seeking round of daily life. Apart from the crowd, these reading and thinking entities would be free to develop all the good in themselves: as it is, they are wasting this present incarnation.
Although I thought, before leaving Adyar, that I had done with my healings, I let myself be tempted to take, at H. P. B.'s request, the cases of three Russian ladies whom we met at Lady Caithness' house on the evening of 25th March—a Princess, a Countess, and a Baroness: the second, a cousin of H. P. B.'s; the last-named, one of her playmates in childhood. The Princess had a stubborn remnant of a stroke of hemiplegia, which, since twelve years, had prevented her raising her left hand to her head and using her left foot properly. Within a half-hour I freed both limbs from their bonds. The Countess was extremely deaf: after a treatment of fifteen minutes she could hear ordinary conversation, and was enchanted to he able to enjoy the music of a concert that evening, as she had not for years. The third lady I relieved of a minor spinal trouble. H. P. B. and I left Nice for Paris, March 27, many of our new friends seeing us off at the station.
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We reached Marseilles at 9.30 p.m., and Paris the next evening at 11 p.m. Mohini, Dr. Thurman, F.T.S., and W. Q. Judge—who had left New York for India—met us at the station and conducted us to our apartments at 46 Rue Notre Dame des Champs, which Lady Caithness had hired for us, and H. P. B. occupied, three months. Visitors thronged, and a multitude of questions were asked about our Society and its aims. It had then about 100 Branches or a sixth of its present strength. The Parisian Press, always in search for sensations, gave us many columns of notices; Victor Hugo's organ, Le Rappel, leading off with an article of three columns on "The Buddhist Mission to Europe".
Our old Albany friends, Dr. and Mrs. Ditson, we found living in Paris, and the Doctor and I went together to see the famous healer, Zouave Jacob, a few days after our arrival. The exceptional healing power of this man was first exhibited during the Second Empire, and the Press of Europe and America teemed for years with stories of his wonders. We were courteously welcomed, M. Jacob saying that he knew me by reputation as a founder of the T.S. and a healer. He was a spare man of medium size, lithe, active, and full of nervous force, with his hair cut short, black firm eyes, and a black moustache; he was dressed in black, his frock-coat buttoned, his linen scrupulously clean. He led us to his clinic room—a long narrow basement chamber, with a bench against the walls all around. On the average he was treating fifty
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patients a day, and having been at the work twenty years, there must have passed through his rooms some300,000 patients. I was much struck with his method. At the appointed hour the entrance door would be closed, the patients seated on the benches, and in silence, and with an air of solemnity, Zouave would enter and take his stand, with arms folded, at the centre of the lower end near the door. After a moment of meditation, he would raise his head and slowly glance at every patient, letting his eyes rest on every face deliberately and scrutinisingly. Then, beginning with the nearest on his left hand, he would stop in front of him and gaze as if trying to look his body through; then he would perhaps touch him in some part, or not, as the case might be, and ask: "Est-ce là?" (Is it there?), and upon receiving the affirmative reply, would give some order, or make a pass or two, or let the hand rest on the affected part, and either let the patient stop, or send him away and pass on to the next. Sometimes, after gazing at a patient, he would shake his head and say: "Rien! Allez," intimating that he could do nothing and the patient should go away. So he would move around the whole room, always silent, grave, impressive; effecting many cures, rejecting some cases, directing others to return the next day for further treatment, taking no fees, but trusting for his support to sales of his photograph and literature. A striking personality, a rather vain man, bitterly resenting the petty persecutions of the doctors of medicine and
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the priests, which had followed him throughout his career. I had—it will be remembered—but just completed my fifteen months of healings, and his method greatly impressed me with its efficacy and simplicity. It was pure hypnotic suggestion, and called for no outpouring of the healer's own vitality as mine had done. His impassive calm and mysterious insight into symptoms, the silence maintained, the gliding noiselessly from patient to patient; the joyful words and expressions of such as were relieved of pains in the sight of all, combined to create a vivid expectancy, which his repute as a great healer intensified, and effected spontaneous cures at the moment when his pointing finger touched the spot of suffering. The one indispensable factor was that he should show in his every motion and whole demeanor a sense of absolute self-confidence as the Master of Pain. It was collective auto-suggestion, the mighty power that helps General Booth and all great revivalists to “convert” their thousands and tens of thousands. In fact, the method of the Salvation Army is one of the most effective hypnotising agencies ever adopted. Last summer I saw it used to perfection by Booth himself in Exeter Hall, and seventy-five subjects drawn by Braid's and Charcot's system to the "anxious bench". The rhythmic pounding of the big drums and swells and falls of the music were identical in potency with that of the tap of the huge tambourines of the Aïssouas in their blood-curdling hypnotic phenomena.
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The next day Dr. Ditson and I called on another healer, a spiritualist medium named Eugene Hippolyte, fils, who was said to have made many cures under "control". He was a large, sallow-complexioned man, and on testing him, with his consent, I found him quite sensitive to my mesmeric control—a patient whom I could have relieved of almost any functional disorder in two or three treatments. We then paid our respects to still another, M. Adolphe Didier, brother of the very celebrated "Alexis," whose marvellous clairvoyant faculty is historical. M. Adolphe had only recently resumed residence in Paris after many years spent in London in practice as a medical clairvoyant. He gave me his brother's address and we called on him, but had no opportunity of witnessing a display of his powers.
Meetings for conversation and discussion were being held by H. P. B. and myself at the houses of Lady Caithness and other friends, some of the results of which her ladyship has embodied in her work, The Mystery of the Ages.