OLD DIARY LEAVES, Third Series (1883-87)
by Henry Steel Olcott
H. P. B. IN EXILE
"CHAFING like a caged lioness" is just the expression to use to convey an idea of H. P. B.'s state of mind throughout that period of three months which she spent at Torre del Greco in 1885. What wonder, when one recalls to mind the circumstances of her compulsory exile from the Adyar home that we had built up together and that she loved! This is one of the things most distasteful about which she complained in her letters to me. Then it was most galling to keep quiet, to so brave a hereditary fighter, child of an ancient family whose swords had always flashed in the forefront of battle from generation to generation, when called for by their sovereign. To her, as to them, the ultimate chances of conflict were of no account; the overpowering instinct was to give battle without counting the odds. But we, her colleagues, mindful of the quips and quillets of the Law, and of what her discomfiture in Court would mean to the Society, overbore her wish and wrung from her an acquiescence in the policy of silence and forbearance towards our enemies. While at Adyar with us, she saw that we were right, but in her lonesome exile in
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Italy the aspect of things changed, and she upbraided me in letter after letter for what she called our "cowardice" and our haste to sacrifice her as our scapegoat. She was utterly wrong, of course; but argumentation was useless, and remonstrance a waste of time and ink. She was of a most trustful disposition in one side of her character, and hence we see her constantly deceived and victimised by people whose effusive protestations masked sometimes the basest plans of treachery.
From this present point of view, after the lapse of thirteen years (viz., 1899), when people have been sifted through the sieve of time, it is mournful to read her letters and see how her most lauded courtiers have rewarded her trust with blackest treason. To emphasise her charges against us of Adyar, she quotes their names and sayings over and over again; she even sends me notes of theirs to her, condemnatory of myself and fulsomely laudatory of herself. Solovioff had passed five weeks with her at Würzburg, her second place of refuge, so-and-so a fortnight, so-and-so was coming—all of whom turned enemies later on.
The form of the Theosophist was changed—it will be remembered—at the beginning of Vol. VII, from quarto to octavo, as the larger size was found to be inconvenient for binding and also for carriage through the mails. She was in sole charge of it then, but had appointed as her assistant Mr. Cooper-Oakley, M.A., a fine scholar, and put him in full charge when leaving home for Naples. Certain malicious persons, whose.
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identity is now known by me since looking over her papers and our correspondence, had put it into her head that I meant to remove her name from the title-page, because we dare not carry the obloquy of the connection any longer, and that this was but part of a scheme to pitch her out altogether. Certainly there was not a shadow of truth in all this, but she was so ill, her mind was in so distressing a state of nervous commotion, that she at once plunged at me. I was called all the harsh names conceivable, my supposed delinquency was stigmatised as sheer poltroonery, and she gave me solemn notice that if any other name than hers, save T. Subba Row's or mine, were put on the magazine, she should not write another word for it! But in due course the new issue of the Theosophist reached her, and she then wrote:
"Well, I knew that the accusation of your taking off my name from the Theosophist was all bosh. But they all understood it and 'felt sure' it was so—even to H. S. It was in consequence of Nivaran Babu's innocent remark: 'The magazine is coming out in its new garb, and Mr. Cooper-Oakley is to be its Editor.' They said that since C.-O. had been its Editor for nearly a year already, why should Nivaran write this as news unless his name were to appear on the cover of the magazine, etc.? Well, I caught fire too. But now that's at an end . . . Anyhow, the Theosophist looks very neat now—of course, a great deal better than before. I send for it a long article, 'Have Animals Souls?' I shall write, this week, one or two more."
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Then she does the very unusual thing, for her, of asking my pardon, but on the basis of mutuality. "Let us," she says, "forgive each other, be indulgent for each other's failings, and cease fighting and back biting like Christian sectarians!" That shows the wonderfully elastic quality of her mind. In an instant she withdraws from an impasse, and carries off the other fellow in her retreat! Fancying this sort of thing as recurring weekly or fortnightly, along with the normal strain of executive duties at that crisis, the reader may gauge the inner life I had to lead until our ship came into smoother waters. For all the grief caused me by her cruel letters I do not, now, hold her responsible; for her wounded spirit was played upon by unprincipled third parties, whose hope was to separate her from the Society and use her power and talents for their own selfish ends; she was not in a state to be reasonable, and ten years of trial had proved to her that I should be ready to let myself be chopped into mincemeat rather than desert my duty or be unfaithful to my holy Teacher; so let her say or do what she liked, it would make no difference.
When she really set herself to looking into people's motives, however, she could do it. Thus, she unmasks to me the secret plans and speculations of one man closely connected with her Society work at that time, and whose unfavorable remarks about myself she often quotes. No doubt all this heckling was just the discipline I needed, and undoubtedly still need as much as ever, to bring me down to my bearings, but I can't
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say it was nice. I am not like the negro boy who, on being found pounding his finger on an anvil, explained that it was done because" it felt so good when getting well". I could have spared three-fourths of the discipline to any other needy neophyte without regret, although, doubtless, it was best for me to have it.
H. P. B. had one trait of character that has made her memory so precious to most of her former colleagues—winsomeness. She might drive you almost mad with her sayings and doings, might make you feel ready to run as far away from her as possible, yet when she changed from one extreme to the other in her treatment of you, as she would in a flash, and looked and spoke to you with a sort of childlike blandness, your anger would vanish and you would love her in spite of herself.
There were, besides, special elements about H. P. B. which gave her power over others, viz.:
(a) Her amazing occult knowledge and phenomena-working powers, together with her relation to the hidden MASTERS.
(b) Her sparkling talents, especially as a conversationist, with her social accomplishments, wide travels, and extraordinary adventures.
(c) Her insight into problems of philology, racial origins, fundamental bases of religions, and keys to old mysteries and symbols; certainly not the result of study, for a more restless and eccentric student, there never was. She was not all smoothness or courtesy—far from it: when the mood was on her she was all that, but at other times she spared nobody, no matter
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how rich, powerful, or highly placed they might be. As to trained literary faculty, she had none; she wrote under inspiration, thoughts flashed through her brain like meteors, scenes painted themselves before her mental vision and died out often when but half caught, parenthesis bristled through her paragraphs so as to sometimes interminably stretch out her sentences, and she would—as it now appears—catch up and use other men's writings as though they were her own—intent only on fitting their formulated thoughts into the working out of her theme. In short, she was a genius in the same sense as Shakespeare and others, who took materials as they were found, and worked them into the amalgam upon which they put the stamp of their own individuality. Take her two great books, for instance. She has sinned a hundred times against the canons of literary usage as regards acknowledgment of authors drawn upon, but upon both is spread the golden web of her own high powers, and The Secret Doctrine is found, year by year, more and more like an inexhaustible mine of occult knowledge. That is what makes widening circles of students reverence her memory, and turn their backs in scorn upon those pigmies, like Solovioff, who work like ants to distil acids to squirt, on her clothing.
Her occult powers made her run after by Spiritualists, impelled by avid curiosity; discredited by men of science, who mistrusted all such pretentions; hated by the modern priests and pastors, who ought to have been able to cap her phenomena by like ones of their
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own, but could not; and feared by the orthodox multitude, who saw in her a black sorceress and dared not come near her. This uncanny evil reputation even extended to myself by reason of our association. "Dear me! Colonel Olcott," said Lady X to me one day at her luncheon-table, "how very different you are from what I had expected." "And what—may I venture to ask "—I said, "had your ladyship expected?" "Oh, you know," she replied, "we all thought that if we should meet you, you would throw on us some magic spell; but, really, you are just like ourselves!" This feeling among her acquaintances accounts for much of the latitude accorded her as to conduct and conversation. The same instinct makes the courtier think the King can do no wrong, and society pass over as "eccentricity" the millionaire's solecisms in manners, which they would revolt against in a poor man. One never knew at what moment she might do some wonderful feat of magic, or perchance whisper in their ears some message from the unseen Powers. Then, again, it was a frequent experience that the scoldings she gave her intimate friends proved subsequently to have been most timely checks in a wrong path, turnings into the right one and blessed kindnesses. Association with her was a continual excitement, and the most sluggish temperament was roused into some show of activity. She was truly a great woman—to confound, if we may, the carcase with its indwelling entity, which seemed to me as far removed as possible from the ideal of the gentler sex.
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After stopping three months at Torre del Greco, she went to Würzburg which, as she writes me, bids fair to become a sort of Theosophical Medina, since she was, exiled from the Mecca of her heart, Adyar. "I have not much time now," she writes (October 28, 1885), "with the Secret Doctrine. I am only at the middle of Part I, but shall in a month or two send you the first six sections. I take from Isis only facts, leaving out everything in the shape of dissertations, attacks on Christianity and Science—in short, all the useless stuff, and all that has lost its interest. Only myths, symbols, and dogmas explained from an esoteric point of view. It is actually and de facto a new work entirely. Cycles are explained, along with everything else, from their occult bearings. I wish you had sent me the Preface, or Introduction."
In this same most interesting letter she sketched out a form of communication she wanted me to put into the Theosophist in her name. I find in it the outline of the whole teaching now being given out by our chief Theosophical writers, as to the persistence of the Individuality: "the same Divine monad, plus; all its essence of compound spiritualities from its endless rebirths, must come down again and be reborn in a higher, hundredfold more perfected and pure earth or planet—in short, commence again its grand cycle of reincarnations."
Among the devoted friends who thronged to her at Würzburg were the Countess Wachtmeister (ever the same faithful, loyal woman of generous heart and.
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invincible devotion), and Frau Gustav Gebhard, of Elberfeld, whom I loved so dearly and regret so sincerely since she left us. These dear ladies nursed H P. B. in her sore illness, being like younger sisters in their assiduous ministrations. Dr. Hübbe Schleiden and Madame Gebhard's son Franz were there also, and from this group I received a most important Document. It is a complete vindication of my beloved "chum" H. P. B. from the foul charge of the woman Coulomb and those who echoed her falsehood, that while at Cairo she became the mother of illicit offspring. The author of the document was (perhaps still is) the Royal Medical Director of that District, and the certificate was given by request of Madame Blavatsky's friends, who foresaw the immense future importance it might have. Following, is a translation of its text:
"The undersigned testifies, as requested, that Madame Blavatsky, of Bombay—New York Corresponding Secretary of the Theosophical Society—is at present under the medical treatment of the undersigned. She suffers from Anteflexio Uteri, most probably from the day of her birth; because, as proven by a minute examination, she has never borne a child, nor has she had any gynaecological illness.
(Sd.) "DR. LEON OPPENHEIM,
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"WÛRZBURG, 3rd November, 1885.
"The signature of Doctor
Leon Oppenheim is hereby
officially attested. WÛRZBURG,
3rd November, 1885.
"The Royal Medical Officer
of the District.
(Sd.) "DR. MED. ROEDER.
"we, the undersigned
hereby certify that the above
is a correct translation of the
German original before us.
WÛRZBURG, November 4th,
(Sd.) "HÛBBE SCHLEIDEN.
( ,, ) "FRANZ GEBHARD."
The document, worded as delicately as possible, was intended to cover the whole question of H. P. B.'s moral history from her youth upward. She herself, as well as the friends in question, wrote me about the circumstances, and expressed the hope that I would keep the paper with care against the future time when I could make the best use of it. I think that time is the present, for now that the bitterness of that olden epoch has given place to a more charitable feeling towards her, and her underlying greatness has gradually become more and more recognised, I believe that the publication of this document, of unquestionable
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authority, in its proper place in this chronological narrative, will give pleasure and consolation to her friends and pupils, and afford them some sort of a shield with which to ward off the arrows of slander, shot at the heart of our benefactress. As the years roll by and this movement of ours consolidates itself upon its permanent foundation, this rugged personality behind which a giant Individuality worked for humanity will be more and more uplifted, grow brighter and brighter. For sayeth not the Buddhist aphorism: Good men shine from afar, like the snowy peaks of Himavat; while bad men are unseen, like arrows shot in the dark? "Peace to thee, H. P. B.!" is now the loving cry of thousands.