OLD DIARY LEAVES, Third Series (1883-87)
by Henry Steel Olcott
H. P. B. LEAVES FOR EUROPE
YES, indeed, Black Care was enthroned at Adyar when I got back from Rangoon; the very moral atmosphere was dark and heavy; H.P.B. was struggling for life and as vehement as an enmeshed lioness; while certain of the European new-comers were displaying a special talent for meddling with the Headquarters' business, plotting to have me reduced to subjection to a faddish Central Committee, in which I should not have the least influence and keeping my quasi-dying "Chum" in a perpetual state of nervous explosion. Brief mention was made of this matter in Chapter XV, but it is important enough for extension. The wonder is she did not die before I could get there and fight for the status quo ante. One ostensible revolt was against my autocracy, demand being made—to quote from one of the documents before me—that
"The President-Founder should be asked to select out of the General Committee an Executive Committee consisting of five persons, including Mr. T. Subba Row and four European gentlemen residing at Headquarters, and to transfer upon them all the supervisory, financial, and executive affairs of the Society,
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to distribute and direct the work of the Society, to appoint all officers—the President-Founder excepted—and to ratify all documents concerning the Society."
If this was not modesty, what would be? I was to step aside, after conveying all my powers to a group of five persons, self-picked for me out of the whole Council—four of them Europeans, recently arrived from Europe and America, having but the briefest experience in the executive management of the movement, next to no personal intimacy with the majority of our members, no association whatever with the Ceylon Buddhists, whose educational programme was then getting into full swing, no recognised hold on the affections and confidence of the Hindus and Parsis, nor, with one exception, any private means to contribute towards the up-keep of the Headquarters and of the movement generally. This last difficulty, however, they would get over by forcing H.P.B. and myself to convey our Theosophist and its book business to the Society, without compensation, and without reserving out of the property we had ourselves created, without a rupee's help from the Society, even the pittances needed for our modest support: they thought it highly detrimental to the Society's interests that the magazine should be private property! A fine scheme, worthy of the Red Republicans of Ninety-three. Damodar, Bawaji, and Alnanda, our three devoted Hindu fellow-officers, denied the validity of each of the complaints, and protested vehemently against the plan in all its details; while Mr. Leadbeater coincided with
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them in a very temperate yet firm paper, which is before me. But on 5th February, 1885, when poor H.P.B. was thought to be dying, they got her to scrawl the following:
"Believing that this new arrangement is necessary for the welfare of the Society, I approve of it, so far as I am concerned.
"H. P. BLAVATSKY."
Mr. Leadbeater says, in his paper: "Mme. Blavatsky withdraws her endorsement of the writing, as having been given without a clear perception of the construction it bears upon its face." The imminence of death being past, her mind worked again, and she repudiated her endorsement and—as remarked in the last chapter—begged me tear the paper, which I refused. This is but one of a number of proofs of ingratitude that I have had since the Society was founded. If I mention it all it is not by way of protest, but as a striking corroboration of the old truth, that he who sets himself to work for his fellow-men should expect no thanks, but much unkindness. H.P.B. and I had given Rs. 9,000 out of the Theosophist fund towards the Society's necessities within the preceding twelve months, and, of the nett profits of the magazine to that date, viz., Rs. 15,600, had paid the Society Rs. 14,994-4-6, as I find noted in my Diary. If the charge of "autocracy" lay against me, it was because, until then, I had had to shoulder all the responsibility alone and push on all the movement. Our present helpers had not yet stepped into the ranks, and it
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was not until two years later that Mr. Judge began to work in America.
The Europeans being leagued against us, I naturally turned for counsel and sympathy to my most trusted Hindu advisers, and long consultations ensued between them and myself, at the residence of Dewan Bahadur R. Raghoonath Row. The result was the adoption of a policy which shortly after I carried out. Mr. Hodgson, of the S.P.R., was still at Madras, and hearing that at an Anglo-Indian dinner-table he had expressed his belief that H.P.B. was a Russian spy, I called on him with Mr. Cooper-Oakley to discuss the matter. Both of us gave our views so clearly that we came away with the impression that Mr. Hodgson thought the charge as puerile and unfounded as we did. Yet he stuck to it, and put the cruel slander into his report to his employers of the S.P.R. Since then I have had no respect for him, for it was a stab in the back to a helpless old woman, who had never done him the least harm. He made me suffer intensely in mind for a couple of days by declaring that Hurrychund Chintamon, of Bombay, had shown him a letter of H.P.B.'s to him, from New York, in which she said I was so under her hypnotic spell that she could make me believe what she liked by just looking me in the face. I saw that such an assertion, however transparently childish and absurd, would be taken up by our opponents to do us harm. While I did not mind what they might do, if even ten times worse than this, it went to my heart that H.P.B., whose loyal
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friend I had been through everything, should have done this act of treachery to me; and merely to gratify her vanity, as it would seem. But that is the inconsistent creature she was, in her physical self, and it was these traits which made it then so very hard for anybody to live and work with her for any length of time. I have always said that the trouble of getting on with her, as Helena Petrovna, was infinitely more difficult than to overcome all the outside obstacles, impediments, and opposition that stood in the way of the Society's progress. In my whole experience in the movement, nothing ever affected me so much as this. It made me desperate, and for twenty-four hours almost ready to go down to the beach and drown myself in the sea. But when I put the question to myself what I was working for, whether for the praise of men or the gratitude of H.P.B., or that of any other living person, all this despondency drifted away and my mind has never gone back to it. The sense of the paramount obligation of doing my duty, of serving the Masters in the carrying on of their lofty plans—unthanked, unappreciated, misunderstood, calumniated—it mattered not what—came in to me like the flash of a great light, and there was peace.
March 25th, I wrote to Mr. Sinnett and suggested the formation of a Central Committee or T.S. Board of Control, with Headquarters at London, to have charge of our interests in Europe; thus anticipating the idea of a Section, which was adopted later. He, however, did not like it, for, in fact, this would commit
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him to the policy of a popular propaganda, which H.P.B. and I, under superior encouragement, had always followed out, but which to him was always repugnant; as it had been to Mr. Massey and Dr. Wyld before him.
March 28th was a tempestuous day at Adyar, it seems, for I have written: "A day of disagreeable experiences: H.P.B. wild and violent; news of a further step in the plot of the Missionaries against us; threatened suit against General Morgan by the Coulombs. A bazaar rumor, and improbable." But it was true, as the sequel proved. All this excitement told almost fatally upon my dear Chum's health. It was awful to see her, with her face empurpled by the blood that rushed to her head, her eyes almost standing out from their orbits and dead-looking, as she tramped up and down the floor, denouncing everybody and saying wild things. Her physicians said this could not last, she must have rest and quiet or she would drop down dead some day without giving us a moment's warning. So she listened to them, and, on 29th March resigned her office and gave Babula orders to pack her trunks. Dr. Hartmann and I went the next day to town and took passage tickets for her, Miss Flynn, of Bombay, the Doctor, who consented at my request to go and look after H.P.B., and "Bawaji," then a devoted follower of hers. The party sailed for Naples on the Tuesday in the Messageries Co.'s steamer "Tibre". She was so helpless that Dr. Mary Scharlieb's husband, one of the Presidency Magistrates, procured the use
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of a hospital chair, and she, sitting in it, was lifted from the boat on board by a hoisting tackle. That night, by her request. I moved over into her room and slept in it for the first time. She particularly asked me not to give it to any other occupant.
The following passages are copied from the official report that appeared in the Theosophist (Supplement) for May, 1885:
"At about this time Madame Blavatsky was having severe attacks of palpitation of the heart, and all at Headquarters were kept in a state of alarm, as the physicians had expressed the opinion that under any sudden excitement death might be instantaneous.
"Following is the certificate of her medical attendant:
"I hereby certify that Mademe Blavatsky is quite unfit for the constant excitement and worry to which she is exposed in Madras. The condition of her heart renders perfect quiet and a suitable climate essential. I therefore recommend that she should at once proceed to Europe, and remain in a temperate climate—in some quiet spot.
(Sd.) 'MARY SCHARLIEB,
'M. B. and S. L. London.’”
"The local members of the General Council, meeting at Headquarters as an Executive Committee on the 12th instant, adopted unanimously the following:
"'Resolved that Madame Blavatsky's resignation be accepted, and that the President be requested in
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the name of the Council to inform her of the great regret with which they have learnt that she is compelled, on account of her extreme ill-health, to relinquish her duties as Corresponding Secretary of the Theosophical Society. The Council further record their high sense of the valuable services she has rendered to the cause of science and philosophy.
(Sd.) 'R. RAGHOONATH ROW,
"To mark our respect for Madame Blavatsky's exceptional abilities, the vacancy caused by her retirement will not be filled, and the office of Corresponding Secretary is hereby abolished. Official correspondence upon philosophical and scientific subjects will, however, be conducted as heretofore by other members of the Executive Staff, and inquiries may be addressed to the Recording Secretary at Adyar."
Her resignation, as acted on by the Executive Committee, read as follows:
"ADYAR, March 21st, 1885.
"To the GENERAL COUNCIL
of the THEOSOPHICAL SOCIETY.
"GENTLEMEN,—The resignation of office, which I handed in on September 27th, 1884, and which I withdrew at the urgent request and solicitation of Society friends, I must now unconditionally renew. My present illness is pronounced by my medical attendants mortal; I am not promised even one certain year
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of life. Under these circumstances it would be an irony to profess to perform the duty of Corresponding Secretary; and I must insist upon your allowing me to retire. I wish to devote my remaining few days to other thoughts, and to be free to seek changes of climate, should such be thought likely to do me good.
"I leave with you, one and all, and to every one of my friends and sympathisers, my loving farewell. Should this be my last word, I would implore you all, as you have regard for the welfare of mankind and your own karma, to be true to the Society and not to permit it to be overthrown by the enemy.
"Fraternally and ever yours-in life or death,
(Sd.) "H. P. BLAVATSKY."
I believe that by taking this wise step she saved her life, for it was to the last degree unlikely that she could have borne the strain much longer; and her colleagues are, in a way, indebted to Dr. Mary Scharlieb for the subsequent appearance of The Secret Doctrine, The Key to Theosophy, The Voice of the Silence, and all the other valuable writing she was spared to do after getting out of the psychic maelstrom that had been created about her at Adyar. Apart from the motive of her ill-health and incapacity for work, she was influenced by the wish to relieve the Society from the responsibility which her continuance in office would lay upon it. Later, at one of the Annual Conventions, she was unanimously and enthusiastically invited to return if her physician should consent, and although she
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could never do that, she resumed her old official status.
"The Headquarters," I wrote on April 1st, in my Diary, "is desolate, yet peaceful as it has not been before. We can now face the situation calmly. General Morgan writes that he has received a letter from Mme. Coulomb's counsel, demanding an apology for calling her a 'forger' and a 'purloiner of letters'." On this, a Council meeting was called, and we telegraphed the loyal old veteran to ask a week's delay to give him time to prepare his answer. At an adjourned meeting, the next day, "the whole Morgan case was discussed, and the unanimous opinion was that the General had better defend the case, as he would most probably win it and expose the worthless characters of the Coulombs." He did so, but—as noted in a previous chapter—the Missionaries withdrew the suit, as they could get no benefit from it now that H.P.B. was out of their reach!
At a Council meeting on the Sunday following (5th April), I brought forward as a tentative measure a plan for the creation of a real Executive Committee, which should share with me the management of the Society, and it was adopted. My circular was worded as follows:
"ADYAR, April 7th, 1885.
"With a view to improving the administration of the Theosophical Society and relieving the President of a portion of the responsibility which now devolves
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upon him, I have determined to form, as an experimental measure and subject to ratification by the next Convention an Executive Committee, of which I invite you to become a member.
"My wish is that this Committee should assume, in connection with myself, the entire management of the Society's affairs during the recess—each member and myself to have an equal vote, the President to have a casting vote in case of a tie; all questions to be decided by the majority present; the Secretary to the Society to act as Secretary to the Committee; the entire proceedings to be kept strictly confidential, save with the consent of the majority present; and the Committee to meet at least once a week for business.
"The design being merely to form a convenient working Committee of Councillors most accessible from the Headquarters, I propose that a circular be sent to each and everyone of the members of the General Council, notifying him of the appointment of this Executive Committee, and inviting him to attend the sessions when in Madras, and at all times to communicate through anyone of his colleagues among your number any matter he may think it advisable to have acted upon. Thus practically the entire General Council would have a share in the management of the Society throughout the year.
"It is to be understood, of course, that the present measure is adopted tentatively, and that the right is reserved of rescinding this special Rule in case difficulties should arise (as in the late Board of
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Control) of so serious a nature as to prove its inexpediency. "
In pursuance of the invitation appended to the above circular, the Executive Committee met, and in obedience to a Resolution unanimously adopted, the following gentlemen signed an acceptance of seats “under the conditions mentioned in the President-Founder's circular letter”; R. Raghoonath Row; P. Sreenivasa Row; S. Subramanier; C. Ramiah; P. Parthasarathy Chetty; T. Subba Row; A.J. Cooper-Oakley; and C. W. Leadbeater.
The Committee as thus organised went on harmoniously for some months, but was ultimately abandoned, for the practical reason that nobody save myself had all the details in his head, nor the personal acquaintance with individual colleagues and their local environments, which were needed for acting with judgment in specific cases. The meetings resolved, finally, into mere sittings to agree to all my recommendations, one member after another absented himself, and it was the general wish that I should go on as previously, doing what seemed best without further obstruction. The marplots, Messrs. Lane-Fox and Hartmann, had left the country, and no one else was disposed to make trouble. Yet autocracy was my abhorrence, and I asked nothing better than that somebody should come forward and take a share of the great responsibility for the administration of our difficult business. I looked on the Society as a free and open republic of altruism, in which there should be no sect, or caste,
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or privileged class, nor any strife or emulation save as to who should best work for the good of the world. I put my views into a leader in the Theosophist for June, 1885, entitled, "Infallibility." It was apropos of a recent move of Keshub Chunder Sen towards the assumption of quasi-divine honors from his following, I said:
"A Brahmo organ charges us with the purpose of building up 'a new order of priesthood'. Perhaps the theory is based upon the fact that certain phenomena have been shown in connection with our movement, and that the authors of two or three Theosophical books, possibly to give them more weight, have affirmed their personal relationship with Mahatmas. But whatever the phenomena, their exhibition has always had for its object to prove the existence in all mankind of certain psychic potentialities, which, under favoring conditions, develop. Was it ever pretended that only certain chosen 'vessels of election' could have these powers, or that their exercise proved their possessors to be infallible teachers? Is it not, on the contrary, absolutely true that, from the first page of Isis Unveiled to the last line printed about Theosophy, the uniform burden of Theosophical teaching has been that man, as man, possesses to-day exactly the same psychic and other capabilities as his remotest ancestor possessed; that in successive cycles these have been alternatively developed and latent; and that religious knowledge results from psychic development? Where is the room for a priesthood
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among us in the exoteric sense of the word? or the necessity, in a Society like ours, for leaders? The writer, for his part, is convinced that, whatever mental sufferings, and whatever injury to personal reputations may result from recent events, the price is not too high to pay if the last chance be destroyed of ever building up a sect and 'priesthood' in the Theosophical Society. Rather than see that calamity befall the movement, he would prefer that the respect now felt by any friend for anyone concerned in its inception or direction should be lost; for then the field would be cleared of obstructive personalities for the consideration of first principles. In neither his official nor private capacity has he evinced any sympathy with the yearning after inspired teachers or infallible teachings. Quite the reverse: for he has never let slip an opportunity to affirm the dignity of private judgement; the necessity of individual research and interior development for the comprehension of truth; the absolute independence of Theosophy of all special teachers or groups of teachers—all sects, dogmas, confessions of faith, forms, ceremonies, and national or geographical limitations. If this is not broad enough; if, in any other language besides English, there be any stronger words to express an absolute repugnance to the idea of any thinking person blindly giving up his sovereign right of inquiry to any other person, high or low, adept or non-adept, and of giving any value to a teaching beyond its own intrinsic weight by appealing to an authoritative authorship—then those are the
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words the writer would wish to employ. There never was an Adept or Mahatma in the world who could have developed himself up to that degree if he had recognised any other principle. Gautama Buddha is held to have been one of the greatest in this august fraternity, and in his Kalama Sutta he enforced at great length this rule, that one should accept nothing, whether written, spoken, or taught by sage, revelator, priest, or book, unless it reconciled itself with one's reason and common sense.
"This is the ground upon which we stand; and it is our earnest hope that, when the founders of the Theosophical Society are dead and gone, it may be remembered as their 'profession of faith'. With stout old John Hales, the preacher of the sixteenth century, we maintain that 'to mistrust and relinquish our own faculties, and commend ourselves to others, this is nothing but poverty of spirit and indiscretion'."
For my part, as one of the co-founders of the Society, I had persistently adhered to that policy of personal freedom and personal responsibility of the member from the beginning, and have stood for it and fought for it down to the present day. When I can no longer have such freedom within it, I shall leave the Society, and grieve over it as a lost cause. If I needed a Pope I should go to Rome, where a so-called Viceregent of God is enthroned, and a brazen toe of a statue is always waiting to be kissed. Docile obedience to a TEACHER, who has mastered the secrets of life and death, of man and nature, is natural and
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proper; but servile obedience to a bald creed, or to a person no better nor spiritually wiser than oneself, is the worst of serfdoms—undignified, unmanly, a spiritual suicide. This, I repeat, is my own feeling about the matter, and nobody save myself is responsible for it. It does not bind another member of the Society, and, free-thinker as I am, I am ever ready to stand by my neighbor and defend his right of private judgment, howsoever orthodox he may be to whatsoever form of religious faith. If he is unable to reciprocate, I should ask or compel him to resign his membership, for he has no natural place within our ranks, and "an empty house is better than bad company".
Two consoling things happened at this time, two rifts of clear sky amid the gloom: the Berhampur (Bengal) T.S. sent us a letter of sweet sympathy, and the Ceylon Buddhists reported that the Buddhist National Holiday which I had asked Lord Derby to grant them had, with their Governor, Sir Arthur Gordon's consent, been gazetted.
Under the circumstances of the situation we had the choice of two policies, the passive and the active: we might keep quiet, carryon our current business without attracting public attention, or we might adopt the bolder course of challenging public opinion, by giving lectures in the principal centres of Indian influence and thought. I declared for the latter, and, my colleagues of the Executive Committee concurring, a lecture at Pachiappah's Hall, Madras, was arranged for 27th April—the 117th day of the year; hence,
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to our notions, one of good omen. The result exceeded our highest expectations; the Hall was packed in spite of the fact that, to prevent a rush, the Managing Committee made a small charge for admission. The sum of Rs. 150 was taken at the doors, and given away in charity. Five professors of the Christian College attended, but their presence did not dampen the ardor of their students, who almost cheered themselves hoarse.
I see that the lecture was very fairly reported the next day in the local papers—an encouraging circumstance in itself. T. Subba Row brought back, on the same day, our copy of Mohini's and Mrs. Holloway's Man, a Fragment of Forgotten History, and made a very severe criticism on it. "He condemned it utterly" —I write— "saying that its mistakes are calculated to throw discredit upon the Mahatmas, while its dogmatic tone is insufferable." When the book was announced in London, with the intimation that it embodied authoritative teaching from the Masters of Wisdom, I at once wrote to the Pall Mall Gazette to deny the claim in toto, and warned the public that the authors of the book were alone responsible for its contents. Moreover, I had pasted inside the cover of every copy sold by the Theosophist Manager the same notification.
The European Mail of that week brought dispiriting accounts of the feeling among our people: the result, no doubt, of H.P.B.'s not having been allowed to prosecute her slanderers in court. Still, it could not be helped; to have done otherwise than we did would have been most unwise.
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If the Missionaries did not let Mme. Coulomb loose against General Morgan, it certainly was not for lack of provocation, for the Madras Mail of April 29 contained his reply to her plaint, in which he renewed his former insults and defied her to do her worst; the Editor, at the same time, giving notice that the discussion should not be carried further in his columns.
As a mental recreation, on the principle of offsetting one disagreeable thing by another even more lugubrious, I read a good deal just then about the Witchcraft and Witch Trials of the seventeenth century. It strikes a Theosophist, in particular, most forcibly what revolting proofs those tragedies afford of human bigotry, stupid prejudice, and densest ignorance of the laws of life, mind and soul. It is enough to make one weep to recall the pictures of ignorant and innocent hysterics and mediums persecuted, imprisoned, even judicially murdered, because phenomena, which they could not help, occurred in their presence, spreading panic and horror among the eye-witnesses, who were equally ignorant and powerless as the neurotic patients themselves. D'Assier has made good use of some of the thousands of recorded facts, and Prof. Charcot and his colleagues have drawn upon the judicial archives for a basis of argument; but we have only to turn over the pages of Des Mousseaux and the host of writers upon these psychical and mediumistic mysteries, to see that there exists an inexhaustible fund of proof of the occasional interplay of occult forces and the mutual interference of the planes of the living and the dead.