OLD DIARY LEAVES, Third Series (1883-87)
by Henry Steel Olcott
A STRUGGLE IN THE LONDON LODGE, T.S.
ON the 5th of April I left H. P. B. and took the train for London with Mohini M. Chatterji. As a serious dispute had grown up in the London Lodge between Mrs. Anna Kingsford, Mr. Edward Maitland, and their party, on the one hand, and Mr. Sinnett and the rest of the members, on the other, about the comparatively superior value of the Indian teachings as compared with the Christo-Egyptian teachings which she was giving out, and as it lay with me to settle it or see the members divided into two camps, as it were, I had issued from Nice a circular to each registered member of the London Lodge, asking them to send me, separately to Paris, in confidence, their views respectively on the situation. These letters I had brought with me to read in the train. I had just come to a passage in the letter of Bertram Keightley, where he affirmed his entire confidence that the Masters would order all things well, when, from the roof of the railway carriage, above Mohini's head, a letter came fluttering down. It proved to be addressed to me and to be in the K. H. handwriting, giving me necessary advice for the treatment of the difficulty.
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It was as if intended as a marked response to the loyal thought of the writer of the letter I was reading at the moment. I wish that everybody in the Society could realise how certain it is that those Great Brothers who are behind our work keep a vigilant eye upon all of us who with a pure heart and unselfish mind throw our energies into it. What more comforting than to know that our labors are not in vain nor our aspirations unheeded?
The trouble in our London Lodge, like all such misunderstandings, tended to increase and ultimately to disrupt the once harmonious group. It was imperative that I should put a stop to it, if possible, and this was my principal business in going over to London. If I had had the least doubt of it before, it would have been dispelled by a letter which I received phenomenally in my cabin on board the "Shannon," the day before we reached Brindisi, and in which it was said:
"Put all needed restraint upon your feelings, so that you may do the right thing in this Western imbroglio. Watch your first impressions. The mistakes you make are from failure to do this. Let neither your personal predilections, affections, suspicions, nor antipathies affect your action. Misunderstandings have grown up between Fellows, both in London and Paris, which imperil the interests of the movement . . . try to remove such misconceptions as you will find, by kind persuasion and an appeal to the feeling of loyalty to the cause of truth,
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if not to us. Make all these men feel that we have no favorites, nor affections for persons, but only for their good acts and for humanity as a whole."
A great truth was stated in this same letter, viz.: "one of the most valuable effects of Upasika's (H.P.B.'s) mission is that it drives men to self-study, and destroys in them blind servility to persons." What a pity that some of her most ardent disciples could not have realised this, for they would have been spared the bitter pain that has been caused them and all of us by the many successful exposures of her defects of character, by opponents who accepted their foolish challenge and proved her to be the reverse of infallible. She was great enough and had quite sufficient claims upon our gratitude, without our trying to make of her a goddess, immaculate and unerring.
In the London struggle in our Branch I had to deal with a learned, clever, self-confident woman, ambitious and eccentric: a unique personality, who believed herself the angel of a new religious epoch, the reincarnation of Hermes, Joan of Arc, and other historic characters. By canvassing the opinions of all the registered members of the London Lodge, T.S., I had ascertained that as between her teachings and those of the Indian sages, the verdict was almost unanimous against her. It was not that they did not appreciate her great qualities as they deserved, but that they valued those of the Masters more. Perhaps, also, they found her inclined to be too masterful for British notions. The first step was naturally to call
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on her, which I did. I cannot say I altogether liked her, although it did not take many minutes for me to gauge her intellectual power and the breadth of her culture. There was something uncanny to me in her views about human affection. She said she had never felt love for a human being; that people had told her, before her child was born, to wait its appearance and she would feel the great gush of mother-love and the fountains of her affection would be unsealed: she had waited, the child had been shown her, but her only feeling was the wish that they should take it away out of her sight! Yet she lavished excessive love on a guinea-pig, and, in his Life of Anna Kingsford, Mr. Maitland's splendid pen has made us all see, as in a mental kinematograph, his great colleague carrying the little beast around with her travels, lavishing on it her caresses, and keeping the anniversary of its death as one does that of a near relative.
The annual election of officers by the London Lodge was to come off on the following day, so I had no time to lose. I made Mrs. Kingsford the offer to give her a charter for a separate Branch of her own, to be called The Hermetic T.S., first having discussed it with Mr. C. C. Massey, her sincere friend and mine. The offer was accepted, and the election passed off harmoniously; Mr. G. B. Finch being chosen President, Mr. Sinnett, Vice-President and Secretary, and Miss Arundale, Treasurer. Things were proceeding smoothly, in the usual manner, when they were interrupted by the sensational appearance of H.P.B., whom I had
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left in Paris, but who took a flying trip so as to be present at this meeting. The Kingsford-Maitland party, who had notified me in advance that they would not be candidates for re-election to office in the London Lodge, T.S., presented me, before leaving, a formal application for a chapter for the new Branch, which I promised to grant. On the 9th (April) the meeting for organisation was held at the chambers of Mr. Massey, and the "Hermetic Lodge, T.S." became an established fact. Besides Mrs. Kingsford, Mr. Maitland, Mr. Kirby, and Mr. Massey, there were present Lady Wilde, her sons Oscar and William, and the wife and daughters of the late Dr. Keneally. These three ladies applied for, and were admitted into, membership. Mohini M. Chatterji accompanied me, and made one of the excellent addresses on the occasion.
On the Easter Sunday I went with Miss Arundale and Mohini to Westminster Abbey to hear a preacher of high repute, and then to the Central Hall and Barracks of the Salvation Army. We all gave the palm to Mrs. Booth and the other speakers who followed her, over the stately and soulless inanity of the fashionable Abbey priest, whose discourse had not warmth enough in it to vitalise an amœba, whereas those of the others boiled over with fervor. The Kingdom of Heaven will never be carried in white bands and cassocks, unless the man they hide be a bit more like "flames of fire" than like a boxful of dictionary words and rhetorical phrases.
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The change from the tropical heat of India to the bitter winds and damp days and nights of London, and the lack of warm clothing, laid me up with a pleuritic cold for two or three days and might have been more serious but for the unselfish care of Mrs. and Miss Arundale, my hostesses, who were kindness personified. Out again on the 16th, I was given a dinner at the Junior Athenæum Club by Mr. W. H. Coffin, of the Society for Psychical Research. He had bidden to meet me Messrs. W. Crookes, F. R. S.; Prof. W. F. Barrett, F.R.S.E.; Co1. Hartley, LL.D.; H.J. Hood; A. P. Sinnett; F. Podmore, M.A.; Edward Pease; Rev. Dr. Taefel; F. W. H. Myers; and Edmund Gurney. Truly a brilliant company of scholars and literati! This was in the early pre-Coulombian days, when the Theosophical Society had not been declared taboo, and H. P. B. had not been branded by the S. P. R. as the most accomplished and dangerous charlatan of the present world-period!
On the 17th Mohini and I visited the laboratory of Mr. Crookes, and were shown a variety of most interesting experiments. The next day we two and Mr. Sinnett dined at a private house, where Mohini saw for the first time a lady partisan of the Esthetic Reform movement, dressed in the utterly absurd style of costume affected by that body of cranks, and having her hair tousled, like a rat's nest, all over her head, and far too much of her bust exposed to suit our Hindu's notions of decency. As luck would have it, she was given to Mohini to take in to dinner. He glanced at me
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hopelessly, not knowing what was expected of him, with a strange expression of eye that I could not make out and had no time to inquire into at the moment. When we were driving home, later, in the cab, the mystery was explained in a way that was nearly the death of me. "That lady that I took in to dinner," said he, "does she sometimes get dangerous?" "Dangerous? What do you mean?" I replied. "Why, she is insane, isn't she? She must be. She asked me at the table if we ever laughed in India! It was when you were telling that comical story, at which they all roared. The fact is, I kept my eyes all the while fixed on my plate, lest by catching hers I might send her off into a paroxysm and she might use one of the knives beside her plate: how could I laugh? Don't you think it was inhospitable in them to put such a lady in my charge without telling me what to do in case a fit should come on?" He said this in perfect sincerity, and stared in astonishment when I burst into fits of laughter; which made it worse than ever for me. He was much relieved when I at last was able to explain matters, and assured me that he thought the lady was a mad relative of the family, who was, perhaps, harmless, ordinarily, but subject to recurrent crises of the nerves, and was "allowed to dress like that to keep her quiet ".
My Diary shows that the making of the "Hermetic" group did not quite settle the disturbance in the old Lodge. The members generally wanted to profit by both courses of instruction and to belong to both Lodges. The effect was to keep up the excitement, so I was
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obliged to issue a new rule, to the effect that multiple membership would not be allowed; no person to be an active member in more than one Branch simultaneously; and where double membership existed, choice should be made in which group the individual preferred to remain. The effect was to threaten the disruption of the "Hermetic" Lodge. So, after consultations with Mr. Massey, I suggested that Mrs. Kingsford should return her charter and form her friends into an independent society, and thus make it feasible for them to belong to both. For, the Hermetic being an outside body, its relation to us would be the same as that of the Asiatic, Geographical, Astronomical, or any other foreign society. Mrs. Kingsford returning a favorable answer through Mr. Massey, this plan was carried into effect, the Hermetic Lodge of the T. S. ceased to exist, and the "Hermetic Society" was born, with Mrs. Kingsford as President and Mr. Maitland as Vice-President. Calm followed the storm and all went well. The first meeting was held on May 9th, and, by request, I made a friendly address of good wishes and sympathy for the new society.
The interest in Theosophical ideas was now spreading throughout all London social circles. Virtually begun by the publication of Mr. Sinnett's The Occult World—of which the late Mr. Sam Ward gave away 250 copies among his friends—it had been fostered by a number of agencies, literary and social, and one could pretty well foresee the extension that has since occurred. A number of persons of high
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standing in the world of letters, as well as in the nobility, joined us. I had my full share of dinners to eat in company with social lions, some of whom impressed me most amiably—others didn't. At Mrs. Tennant's house I met Sir Edwin Arnold, was invited to lunch with him, and he gave me the valuable present of some pages of the original manuscript of The Light of Asia, which is now one of the curios of the Adyar Library. At Mrs. Bloomfield Moore's Mr. Sinnett and I met Robert Browning, and talked some Theosophy with that master of verse. Earl Russell had me up to Oxford for a night, and Lord Borthwick, F.T.S., to his place in Scotland for a fortnight. At one table I met an officer of the Queen's Household and a famous General; at another, one of the greatest of modern painters. Everywhere the theme of talk was Theosophy: the tide was rising. The ebb was to follow, but as yet no one foresaw it in Europe, for it was to begin at Madras: the Scottish Missionaries its engineers, the high-minded Coulombs their tools. We shall come to that chapter of history very soon now, as we are recalling the incidents of the month of April, 1884, and the grand explosion occurred only a few weeks later.