OLD DIARY LEAVES, Third Series (1883-87)
by Henry Steel Olcott
THE PAINTING OF ADEPT PORTRAITS
Two days after the thought-testing experiments with Mr. Ewen, I went to Paris and remained there a fortnight with H.P.B. Meetings for the instruction of inquirers were held at our own rooms in the Rue Notre Dame des Champs and at those of several friends. Among them was one at the palace of Lady Caithness, at which we met M. Yves Guyot, the famous publicist, and some of his friends as sceptical as himself about things spiritual. H.P.B. and I were made by our hostess, to our great discontent, to sit in two huge throne-like gilt arm-chairs, as though we were royal personages holding a levee. M. Guyot and the others drew from us a full explanation of the principles of our Society and of the views of the Eastern school of mystics as to the constitution of nature and the alleged powers in man. All went well until they said they would now feel obliged if we would show them the phenomenal proof of the correctness of our teachings. I, for my part, had not expected this, as Lady Caithness had not prepared us for any such demand. H.P.B. refused point blank to do the smallest marvel, and could not be moved even by the urgent request of Lady Caithness. I told M. Guyot that we had done what
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lay within our power to explain the Eastern views as to states of matter beyond those hitherto discovered by Western science, and must leave him to accept, reject, or test them as might seem best to him; I assured him, however, from my own experience, that if any man really wished to get the proofs at first hand, he could do so if he would but take as much trouble as he would cheerfully undergo to gain knowledge in any other department of scientific research: but I regretted as much as himself that Mme. Blavatsky was not willing to do as much for him as I had often seen her do for other inquirers. But so it was, and we must leave the matter as it stood for the present. Of course, M. Guyot and his friends were much dissatisfied, but I never expected that a man of his standing would descend to such insulting and disparaging remarks about H.P.B. and myself as he did some time later. As things turned out, I now believe that H.P.B.'s stubborn refusal was a wise one, and that she or those behind her foresaw that compliance would have been worse than useless, for spiritual phenomena can only be comprehended by the spiritually-minded, and to that -class M. Guyot most certainly did not belong. If H.P.B. had shown him anything, the most that would have happened would, probably, have been that, on leaving the house, he would have said to his companions: "I wonder how that fraudulent old witch did that trick." What he did say about us subsequently fully warrants the suspicion. I fancy that he and Mr. Podmore and the late Prof. Carpenter and some
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hundreds more of the sort, will have to be reincarnated many times before they will be able to understand the laws of spirit-action on this physical plane.
I first made the acquaintance of that illustrious man, the late Prof. Charcot, at the Hospice de la Salpétrière, Paris, on 7th June, 1884. I called there with Dr. Combret, F.T.S., a former pupil of his, and the Professor kindly showed me various experiments in hypnotism. This subject has now become so widely known, that it is useless for me to dwell at any length upon the things that were shown me fourteen years ago. It must be familiar to most of my readers, at least to those outside India, that there are two very antagonistic schools among hypnotists, viz., the one of Charcot at La Salpétrière, Paris, and the other of Nancy, Lorraine, founded by Dr. Liêbault and his great disciple Dr. Bernheim. From a remote period there have existed the two parties which these schools now represent, and especially among alienists or physicians who treat patients mentally deranged. The one party, that of Charcot, attribute the abnormal mental and other phenomena of hypnotic subjects to physiological causes; while the other party, that of Nancy, trace them to psychological, i.e., operative mental causes. My readers will find the questions treated at length in back numbers of the Theosophist,1 together with an account of my experiments at the Salpétrière and Hôpital Civil (Nancy) in the year 1891. The
1 Vol. xiii, pp. 61 and 391: art. "My Hypnotic Research in France," q.v.
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observations of 1884 were valuable, as giving me my first chance to see for myself how far the so-called new science of hypnotism agreed with the century old science of mesmerism, which I had been studying for the previous forty years. Dr. Charcot provoked in his patients the three stages of hypnosis which he claims the credit of classifying, viz.: (1) the cataleptic; (2) the lethargic; (3) the somnambulic. In the first, the position of the patient's limbs is easily changed by the operator, and every position given them is unresistingly retained for some time; in the second, the subject is unconscious, and if a limb be raised and then let go, it will fall like a dead weight, the eyes are relaxed and the muscles abnormally excitable; in the third, the eyes are closed, or half closed, the muscles may be made to rigidly contract by gentle stimulation of the skin over them, and many other phenomena are producible by suggestion. The Nancy school admits the fact of all these phenomena, but ascribe them solely to the influence of suggestion upon the mind of the patient: "suggestion" covering not only ideas conveyed to him verbally by the hypnotiser, but also silently by gesture, or voluntary or involuntary movements of his body, or even the expression of his face. No one who has not made a deep study of the subject has an idea of the tremendous potentialities included in this matter of hypnotic suggestion: there is scarcely any limit to what may be done by it as regards the control of one mind over another. Charcot produced for me an artificial paralysis of a patient's limb by
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applying to it a strong magnet: I can do the same Without a magnet, without even touching the patient with my hand, simply by suggestion; he transferred the paralysis from one arm to the other by the same agency, viz., the magnet; I can do it without one: so can a man of the Nancy school, so can any experienced mesmeriser. Then why must we believe the effect physiological when the provoking cause is mental and lies outside the physical system of the subject?
On 13th June I returned to London in company with Mr. Judge, who had come over from New York to see us on his way out to India, his intended future field of work. A little while before this I had instituted a friendly competition between certain of our London associates who were either professional or amateur artists, to try an important psychical experiment. My earlier readers will recall my description (see London edition, OLD DIARY LEAVES, 1st Series, ch. xxiii, pp. 370-373) of the way in which my adept Guru redeemed his promise that he would give me his portrait at a convenient time. This was a profile likeness, drawn by an amateur who was not an occultist, either trained or untrained, and so, while the resemblance was unquestionable—as I verified later in personal intercourse—it did not show the soul-splendor that lights up an adept's countenance. Naturally, I wanted to get a better portrait if possible, and bethought me to try whether my sympathetic artistic colleagues in London could get clearer, more life-like, spiritual glimpses of this divine face. Upon broaching the
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subject, the five—three professionals and two amateurs—whom I addressed, very kindly and willingly consented, and I lent each in turn the photographic copy of the original crayon sketch that I had with me. The results were very instructive. One had got the right idea of his complexion, another of his profile and a third, my respected friend Mme. De Steiger, of the luminous aura that shimmers about his head. But neither of the five was, on the whole, a better likeness than the New York sketch by Monsieur Harrisse. Before this competition was finished, Herr Hermann Schmiechen, a very well-known German portrait-painter, domiciled in London, joined the Society and, to my great delight, at once agreed to have the inspirational test tried with him. The photograph was handed him with no suggestion as to how the subject should be treated. He began work on 19th June and finished it on 9th July. Meanwhile I visited his studio four times alone and once with H.P.B., and was enchanted with the gradual development of the mental image which had been vividly impressed upon his brain, and which resulted in as perfect a portrait of my Guru as he could have painted from life. Unlike the others, who all copied the profile idea of Harrisse, Schmiechen gave the face in full front view, and poured into the eyes such a flood of life and sense of the indwelling soul as to fairly startle the spectator. It was as dear a work of genius and proof of the fact of thought transference as I can imagine. In the picture he has got all—the face, complexion, size, shape and expression
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of eyes, natural pose of head, shining aura, and majestic character. This is also true of the companion portrait which Schmiechen painted of our other chief Guru, and one feels as if the grand eyes were searching his very heart. I have noticed the signs of this first impression in nearly every case, and the feeling of awe is enhanced by the way in which the two pairs of eyes follow one about the room, still seemingly reading one, no matter where he may take his stand. Then, again, by some trick of the artist's brush, the shining aura about the two heads seems to be actually in a shimmery motion, just as it is in nature. No wonder the religiously-minded visitor finds himself, as it were, impressed with a sense of the holiness of the room where the two portraits hang, and meditative introspection is easier there than elsewhere. Grand as they are by day, the pictures are even more striking by night, when properly lighted, and the figures seem as if ready to step out of their frames and approach one. The artist has made two or more copies of the portraits, but they lack the life-like character of the original; he evidently lacking the stress of inspiration under which the latter were produced. As for the photographs which were—against my passionate protest—permitted to be made from the copies, they are as inferior to the originals at Adyar, as a tallow candle to the electric light. And it has made me inexpressibly sad that these glorious faces, in cheap photographs, have been sold over the counter by Judgeites, and published in a magazine and a book by Dr. Hartmann.
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Does it not seem as if this foregoing experiment threw a great light on the mystery of art-inspiration, and helped us to see what makes the difference between a great painter or sculptor and the general rabble of the professions? The great artist must be a man whose lower mind is sensitive to the impressions that can be impressed on it by his higher, or spiritual, consciousness, and his best works would be produced in those so-called moments of "inspiration," when this transfer of consciousness is going on. Is it not illustrated in the case in point, when the artist, guided and fired by an influx from without, paints such pictures as he cannot duplicate in his normal state of independent mortality? And is not the Titian, Rubens, Claude, Cellini, Leonardo, Praxiteles, or Pheidias, one who is open to the guidance of the Higher Self, capable of receiving in "flashes" those race-lifting glimpses of the divine reality behind these walls of flesh? A point of interest in this instance is that the Schmiechen portrait of my Guru was the seventh attempt to get a worthy reflection of his image, for the helping of those who cannot as yet go in sukshma sharira to the Ashram and converse with him face to face.
At about this same time, in July, 1884, occurred at the house of our dear hostess, Mrs. Arundale, the afternoon reception by H.P.B. which Mrs. Campbell-Praed has so vivaciously sketched in one of her novels, Affinities. It brings the scene vividly to mind, and I can see the lion-faced H.P.B. sitting there, smoking her cigarettes and resisting all the attempts of Professors
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Barrett, Oliver Lodge, Coues, Mme. Novikoff, and several others to get her to make some phenomena for them; the while, an insinuatingly kittenish and supple-framed American lady sitting on the arm of her chair, and now and then snuggling her face under the old lady's double-chin, to her evident disapproval. I stood as spectator in the doorway, greatly amused at the comedy that was going on. Mrs. Campbell-Praed has it all in her story, down to the details of Babula's coming into the room, and Mohini's participation in the conversation and discussions.
The making of the acquaintance of Sir Edwin Arnold, briefly alluded to in Chapter VIII, was one of thy notable incidents of that London summer. I met him at the dinner table of a well-known society lady, and shall not forget my astonishment when he was pointed out to me by the lady whom I took in to dinner. The reading of a poem or great novel gives one a sort of ideal of the probable appearance of its author. I had expected to find in the writer of The Light of Asia a person of a romantic type of countenance, pale, with delicate features, a dreamy eye, and a frame of rather the feminine type; instead of which, there sat at the opposite side of the table a portly man, with a large nose and mouth, thick lips, more of a worldly than cloistral look, and wearing a black silk skull-cap. "You must be mistaken," I said to the lady, "that cannot be Arnold! "But it was, as I found on going around and talking with him after the ladies left the room. He kindly asked me to lunch at his house,
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and was good enough to present me, as above noted, with some pages of the original manuscript of The Light of Asia, which are now treasured in the Adyar Library. It was from that original that I read when we celebrated, at Adyar, the first anniversary of the death of our dear H.P.B., in compliance with the terms of her will.
In the same month I went to the seat of Lord Borthwick, Ravenstone, in Wigtonshire, Scotland, on a visit, and thence on to Edinburgh, where I founded the Scottish Theosophical Society, with the late Robert M. Cameron as President, and E.D. Ewen as Secretary. Despite the liberalisation of modern thought, the old Presbyterian influence is still so strong in the Northern Capital, as to prevent the very learned and influential men composing this excellent Branch from openly avowing their interest in our movement. Their names are concealed from the public, and admission to their meetings barred against all outsiders. It seems ridiculous that this should be so, and I, for my part, if I lived in Edinburgh, would defy the bigoted public to do their worst, even, if they dared, to burn me for a heretic, rather than submit to such moral slavery. However, men are not all of one opinion as to these questions of expediency, and the spread of our ideas goes on all the same, whether on or below the surface of contemporary society. The only other country in the world where we have encountered the same state of things is Russia, where persecution is the order of the day for such as dare swerve from the straight lines of the State religion.
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On the day after the Branch was formed, I lectured on "Theosophy" in the Oddfellows Hall, to a crowded audience. The incident is worth recording for what happened at the close. Among those who came up to shake me by the hand, was a gentleman who said that the views expressed in the lecture were identical with those which he preached from his own pulpit. I found, upon inquiry, that he was the most popular Presbyterian minister in Edinburgh, and I must say I was astonished that he had recognised in Theosophy the spirit of his particular form of creed, for, having been brought up in it myself, I had always associated it with all that was narrow, bigoted, and hateful: the embodiment of religious tyranny. The conviction now sank into my mind that the followers of even the most intolerant sects will soften and spiritualise their creeds if themselves superior to them, and that even a Scottish Presbyterian may, in exceptional cases, be as kind to his fellow-men outside his sectarian fence, as though he had not been brought up on the iron-and-thunder theology of Knox and Calvin. Do we not see it exemplified in the history of Islam? At one time, the courts of its Khalifs were homes of tolerance and religious amity; at another, hell-centres of bigotry and massacre. "In the tenth century, "says Draper, "the Khalif Hakem II had made beautiful Andalusia the Paradise of the world. Christians, Mussulmans, Jews, mixed together without restraint . . . All learned men, no matter from what country they came, or what their religious views, were welcomed . . . His
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library contained four hundred thousand volumes, superbly bound and illuminated . . . Almansor, who usurped the Khalifate . . . put himself at the head of the orthodox party. He therefore had the library of Hakem searched, and all works of a scientific or philosophical nature carried into the public places and burnt or thrown into the cisterns of the palace." Averroes, the ornament of Islam, a star of the first magnitude in the sky of learning, "was expelled from Spain . . . denounced as a traitor to religion. There was hardly a philosopher who was not punished. Some were put to death, and the consequence was that Islam was full of hypocrites." 1
This is the holding of the mirror up to human nature, for what happened under the Khalifs has always happened, is happening now, and ever will do the same. For the moment, the learned men who belong to our Scottish Branches may be forced to hide their connection with us, and go to meetings under cover, but as surely as the sun will rise to-morrow, the day is not far distant when Theosophy will be preached, not in one but the majority of Scottish pulpits, and it will be deemed an honor to hold our diplomas of membership. For Scottish nature is but human nature, and the national intellect is powerful beyond the average of the intellects of human races, and cannot be prevented from following wherever the thinkers of the past have been able to soar. When the day of liberty dawns, then—as I told the Edinburgh colleagues when forming
1 Conflict between Religion and Science, p. 142.
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the Branch—I shall expect Scottish Theosophists to outstrip all others in spreading the Ancient Wisdom throughout the world.
On 8th July there was an open meeting of the London Lodge, T.S., at the Prince's Hall, Piccadilly, intended as a public and farewell demonstration to H. P. B. and myself. Many distinguished people in science, literature, diplomacy, and society were present, and addresses were given by Mr. G. B. Finch, then President of the London Lodge, Mr. Sinnett, Mohini, and myself. My topic was "Theosophy"; Mohini's, "The Wisdom of the Aryans"; and Mr. Finch's, a welcome and farewell to us.
My next move was towards Germany, where what happened was so interesting from the Theosophical as well as the personal point of view, that I shall reserve the narrative for the next chapter.