OLD DIARY LEAVES, Third Series (1883-87)
by Henry Steel Olcott
TENDER OF RESIGNATION
LIVING in a country where omens and portents are traced in the chirp of a lizard, the cry and flight of a bird, and in innumerable other natural phenomena, what wonder if one should in time be more or less affected by such ideas, and that on the occurrence of any unusual thing the idea of its possibly occult significance should present itself to one's mind? On awaking, -on the morning of 7th October (1885), I received an unpleasant shock. The splendid portrait of one of the Masters lay inverted on the floor, the top downward, having been detached from the nail where it had hung in my room,1 at some time during the night. The cord had been cut as if with a knife, and the picture had turned a summersault over a tall bookcase, and leaned itself against the glass doors without injuring them or itself, save at one corner where its heavy gilt frame had been a little crushed. I was amazed at the accident and distressed lest it might indicate the -displeasure of the Master for some serious fault that I had committed. I stood there and looked and pondered a long time, trying to recall any sin of omission
1 Previously to the building of the picture-annex of the Adyar Library.
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or commission which had brought upon me so phenomenal a rebuke, but I could find nothing. Yet the clean cut through the cord belied any accidental rupture of the fibres, and the fact that the canvas had not been torn when the picture was falling and striking the tiled floor made the affair mysterious. No one whom I consulted gave me any reasonable explanation, and I was worried all that day. At last the puzzle solved itself; the accident had been caused by the squirrels, which then infested the house and made their nests in the drawers of our furniture and behind the books on our shelves, doing much damage in various ways. They had gnawed the cord to get fibrous nesting material, and the picture had probably been let down easily by the friction of the dragging of the cord over the nail. But this did not weaken my resentment against the little rodents, for I got very angry when I bethought me of the irreparable loss that would have been caused by the destruction of the canvas on which was painted that divine face. So I straightway had wire-gauze frame fitted in all the doorways and window-openings of rooms where protection was needed against the ravages of these pretty little pests.
I do not recollect whether or not I have mentioned a scheme propounded by an eccentric member of the Society to buy up the Theosophist with the idea of suppressing it and in its place starting a new magazine, under the title of Karma. At any rate, such a proposal was made to me, which only as a matter of news I reported to H.P.B., never imagining that she would
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think that I should seriously entertain it; but one day I received from her a cablegram declining to sell (which cost her, as she wrote me, forty marks, or £ 2!). In due course of mail a letter came, in which she said she would "as soon think of cutting off her hand" as do it! She added some uncomplimentary remarks about the person making the offer.
A few days later I lectured at Pachiappah's Hall on "The Peril of Indian Youth. "A Committee of Hindu schoolboys took notes and wrote out the lecture for publication at their own cost. Thousands of copies have since been sold. Their peril, I showed, lay in the fact of their irreligious education by Government and their anti-nationalistic education by the Missionaries, whose policy was to destroy their reverence for their national religion, which to a Hindu is the spur of all action, his guide and polestar: to rob him of this is to leave him like a rudderless ship on the sea of life. This, in fact, has been the keynote of all our teaching in Asia from the very commencement; and the creation of the Central Hindu College at Benares by Mrs. Besant has been made possible thereby; it is the harvest after twenty years' sowing of thought-seed.
In November I went to Karur and formed a local Branch. One of the 18 Siddhas or high Adepts, recognised in Southern India, by name Karura, is buried in the temple at this place, and, according to popular tradition, is still alive in his tomb, sitting in samâdhi.
On my return home, "Ânanda" and I spent a good deal of time in planning, measuring, and calculating
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the cost of the alterations of the house-front and porte-cochere, which resulted in making the present Convention Hall. According to our closest ciphering we thought it could be done for Rs. 2,500, whereas the plan approved at the previous Convention for a separate building called for an outlay of about Rs. 15,000. The approval of our resident councillors, Messrs. R. Raghoonath Row, P. Sreenivas Row, and T. Subba Row, having been obtained, workmen were set to breaking ground the very next day, and from that time onward they were driven at a rate of speed more often seen in America than in slow moving India. The foundations and retaining walls were built, the earth-filling done, the marble steps transferred to the outside of the extension, a temporary roof of posts and palm-leaves lined with white cotton cloth constructed, decorations made, crystal lustres hung, and the Hall made ready for occupancy within twenty-seven days—deducting four days when it rained heavily. The Convention met at the usual time (December 27) in its own premises, and all the delegates expressed their complete satisfaction. A photograph of the empty Hall that was taken at the time, now possesses historical interest. The improvement saved us over Rs. 400 that year, which we should have had to pay for the hire of a temporary pandal or wigwam. The improvements cost only Rs. 2,600, one hundred more than the estimate.
The news from France at that time was encouraging, no less than four or five leading magazines having
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admitted serious articles on Theosophy by first-class writers. But the public mind of France has for many years been uncongenial to the discussion of metaphysics. The friends of that "distressful country" and of her cheerful, enthusiastic people—none are more so than Americans—have long been saddened in looking critically upon her spiritual condition. As a reaction from her crass materialism there has been a recrudescence of superstitious belief, as evidenced by the pilgrimages to Lourdes and other presumably favored shrines, and by the excitement over the jeremiads of Mlle. Couêon: a great attention has also been given to the subject of Hypnotism. But her public men seem to be madly clutching for money and the pleasures of sense, and the current of egoism sweeps everything before it. The books of Zola are, I fear, not so much exaggerations as social photographs. Moral corruption, formerly confined to the effete aristocracy, has rotted the middle and is rotting the peasant class. This is not only an impression from personal observation during my frequent visits to the country, but I have it from long talks with persons of the highest social rank and most conservative views, who have bemoaned the facts while admitting them. When a country descends so low as to crown vice with laurels and make virtue a butt for jest; when it fills its shop windows with pornographic books and pictures, and crowds a theatre to see a shameless hussy undress herself on the stage, and she sits to the photographer for a series of views of herself in her lascivious scenes, which are
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sold by thousands; when a Dreyfus case—i.e., the death of personal liberty and civil law—has become possible; when all these things are, what is the use of talking Theosophy to the general public and inviting the nation to rise to the higher ideal of human perfectibility? Yet things were never, can never be, so bad but that a large minority of true, noble souls can be found, and so let everyone of us send to Capt. Courmes, Dr. Th. Pascal, M. Gillard, and their little contingent of valiant workers, the fervent prayers of our hearts for the success of their efforts to spread Theosophical teachings in their sunny, smiling land—the cradle of many a hero, many a genius, many a great teacher, many a divinely inspired poet, many a master of science and arts.1 For my part, I shall never altogether despair of France until she commits national suicide. Absit omen!
In the same month of December Mr. W. T. Brown, the "Poor Brown" of Dr. Hartmann and Mr. R. Harte, published his autobiographical pamphlet entitled My Life, to the regret of his well-wishers at Adyar. It shows him to have been at the time an earnest young man but an emotional sentimentalist, quite unfit for practical life in the world. He had chopped and changed before coming to us, and has been doing it pretty much ever since; the latest news being that he has turned Catholic, taken the soutane, kept it on
1 Since the above was published (1899) a great change for the better has occurred. Our movement has quadrupled its strength in France.
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only a few days, became again a laic, and is now teaching in a Roman Catholic college in Madras Presidency, and married to an Eurasian widow lady of ripe age. May he prosper in his undertakings, and find that peace of mind for which he has so long been hoping.
The delegates to the Tenth Annual Convention began arriving on 23rd December, and thence-forward poured in by every train and steamer until the 27th, when the sessions began. Among the most welcome was Baron Ernst von Weber, President of the (German) International Anti-vivisection Society, who represented our German Branch. In my Annual Address I gave a retrospect of the history of our first decade as well as my usual glance over the movement in all parts of the world. I strongly pleaded for the creation of an Oriental Library at the Headquarters, showing how we had helped in the revival of Sanskrit learning in India and the opening of Sanskrit schools, citing the unanimous testimony of the Indian Press as to the national services we had rendered. "What an anomaly it is," said I, "that we have not at Headquarters a Sanskrit library! We ought to be able to attract to Adyar the cleverest Brahman Pandits and the most learned Western Orientalists by the size and value of our library. If we and our successors do our whole duty, this can be made a second Alexandria, and on these lovely grounds a new Serapeum may arise . . . . It may sound strangely for us to be mentioning these august names in connection with our infant Theosophical movement, but, gentlemen, wait twenty years
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and you shall see what it will grow into. We are but agitators and poor scholars now, hardly able to push on through the obstacles, but let us keep a dauntless soul and an unwavering faith in ourselves and our cause, and there will arise, perhaps in far-away lands and least-expected ways, friends who will snatch the laurel of imperishable fame by giving their names to our desired Adyar Library and Museum." I suggested that we should begin the work as a monument of the completion of our first decade. Was this not prophetic? See how friends, not then members of the Society—Carl H. Hartmann, of Brisbane; Charles A. White, of Seattle; Annie Besant, of London; Salvador de la Fuente, and others—have arisen to help us with their money and influence to build up the Society and make the Adyar Library what I had hoped for it before the twenty years have come and gone. We had no ancient MSS. then, and only a couple of hundred or so of books; whereas now we have sixteen thousand volumes in the two beautiful libraries that we have opened, and the prospect of the command of ample means in due course. With all the earnestness I can express, I again appeal to our members and sympathisers to hasten, by their individual exertions, the day when scholars will make pilgrimages to Adyar to study what they may make the finest Oriental literary collection in the world.
In the same official Address I tendered my resignation of the Presidency. "If you will allow me," I remarked "I shall gladly retire to that life of study and self-
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improvement which has such attractions for me—and which neglected early opportunities make so necessary. The time is a suitable one, for I have served my decade, and some other person ought to be given his chance to display his abilities. I pray you to consider this seriously . . . . I hope, therefore, with all seriousness and earnestness, that you will suffer no personal liking for myself, no thought of the brotherly affection that binds us together, to prevent your choosing as my successor some one of our colleagues who would be better able to carry the movement on to the end of the next decade."
An intelligent person knows better than anybody else his or her own limitations, and I have ever from the first been convinced that an abler and better man than myself ought to fill the post of chief executive in so vast an organisation as ours. I had had every advantage of early education that the best American schools and universities could supply, but, like hundreds of other sons of good families, had idled away the time which ought to have been given to study, never having dreamt that I should ever be called to take up such serious public duties as these. As for the bare honors of office, I cared absolutely nothing, and I was perfectly sincere in asking that the Convention should let me retire and choose my successor. But my too lenient colleagues would not listen to it: in the second day's session, when I was temporarily absent and Maj.-Gen. H. R. Morgan was in the chair, resolutions were adopted requesting Madame Blavatsky to return to
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Adyar as soon as her health should be restored, declaring that "the charges brought against her by her enemies had not been proven, and that our affection and respect for her continue unabated," and that "the President-Founder has, by his unremitting zeal, self-sacrifice, courage, industry, virtuous life, and intelligence, won the confidence of members of the Society and endeared himself to them throughout the world; and (2) that as this Convention cannot for one moment entertain the thought of his retiring from the Society which he has done so much to build up, and has conducted safely through various perils by his prudence and practical wisdom, they request him to continue his invaluable services to the Society to the last".
I hope I may be pardoned the possible bad taste of publishing these too complimentary resolutions, in view of their historical importance. They show that the policy which the Founders had pursued from the beginning and throughout the first decade of the Society's career was approved; that H. P. B. had the unbroken confidence and love of her colleagues, despite the worst attacks of the Missionaries and their allies; that the length of her exile was to be governed entirely by the state of her bodily health, and that she would be gladly welcomed on her return; finally, that it was the general wish that I should continue to hold office throughout my life. What public servant would not be glad and proud to have on record so gratifying a testimonial of the approval of his colleagues of the way in which he had done his duty? And how sad it is
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to see the dishonest policy of falsehood that is being followed out by the leaders of the party who seceded from the Society under the leadership of the late Mr. Judge. Poor babies in practical experience!
On the third day of the Convention a resolution was adopted approving of the plan suggested by the President-Founder for the completion of the Convention Hall and the erection of a building for the Sanskrit Library and Picture Gallery, and he was "requested to carry it out as soon as practicable".
The Recording Secretary's Report showed that 117 Branches had been chartered within the decade; that the two Founders had given about Rs. 35,000 to the Society, and that it went over to the next year with an almost empty cash-box but unlimited confidence and enthusiasm. On the whole, the Convention proved a very great success, and it broke up in the best of feeling all around. One of the pleasantest features of the meeting was the glowing and eloquent speech made at the Anniversary celebration in Pachaiappah's Hall, by Prof. G. N. Chakravarti, delegate from the N. W. P.
A fearful tragedy occurred, however, in the People's Park, Madras, during the days of the Convention; some three or four hundred persons were burnt alive in a panic that seized them when some palm-leaf shops and fences accidentally caught fire at a People's Fair that was in progress. The reason for my mentioning it is that the wave of agony that it created in the Astral Light reached H. P. 'B. in her lodgings in Belgium,
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and threw her into the greatest excitement about our safety. She tells the story thus:
"OSTENDE, January 4, 1886.
"My DEAR OLCOTT,—This is the first time that I have smoked and passed a whole New Year's Day quite alone, as if I were in my tomb. Not a soul the whole day, as the Countess is gone to London, and I have no one but Louise [her maid] with me in the big house. A queer thing happened. I had been writing all day, when, needing a book, I got up and approached my table de nuit, over which hangs the photograph of Adyar and the river. I had looked long and earnestly at it on 27th December and tried to imagine what you were all doing. But on that day (New Year's), occupied in finishing the Archaic Period, I had not given it a thought. Suddenly I saw the whole picture blazing as with fire. I got scared, thinking it meant blood to the head; looked again; the river, the trees, and the house were all glowing as from a reflection of fire. Twice a wave of flame, like a long serpentine tongue, crossed the river and licked the trees and our house, and then receded and everything disappeared. I was struck with surprise and horror, and my first thought was that Adyar must be on fire. For two days all Ostende was drunk (from the festival excesses) and I had no papers. I was in agony. Then on the morning of 2nd January I wrote to . . . (in England), begging him to look over the papers and see if there was no fire at Adyar or in Madras on that day. On
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the 3rd he telegraphed me: 'Great fire at People's Park, Madras: 300 natives burnt. Don't bother.' To-day I saw the notice in the Independance Belge myself. What is it? and why should I connect Adyar with that Fire and the poor 300 Hindus burnt? Are there any victims among the Theosophists? I am positively in great fear. I hope you were not there. You could not leave Adyar on that day, could you? It is terrible, that. And that young fool to telegraph: 'Don't bother; only 300 natives burnt!' Well, I wrote him to say that I would have felt less 'bother' if it had been 600 Europeans—confound his impudence!"
This is a most instructive psychological phenomenon. The "wave of agony" of which I spoke touched Adyar, of course, first of all, being so near, and from me passed on to H. P. B., with whom I was spiritually so intimately connected. In the fact of her seeing the sheet of fire reaching us from the direction of the People's Park—the North—across the Adyar River, on whose Southern bank our house stands—we see that my explanation is valid; while, as for the tragedy being communicated to her from me, that was as natural as that, when she died in London in 1891, I was made aware of it in Sydney, N. S. W. We used to call ourselves "twins," and twins we were so far as community of sympathies within the lines of our work was concerned. No great wonder, considering how we had worked together! Moreover, one of our Madras members was burnt. I had visited the Fair with Mr. CooperOakley and Dr. J. N. Cook, and left it just before the
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fire broke out; so that our narrow escape intensified the horror which the awful tragedy caused us to feel. But my thoughts did not go out to H. P. B. in connection with it, else in all probability she would have received telepathically from me a more accurate picture of the occurrence.
Near the Sea Customs building, opposite the Harbor at Madras, stands a solid, two-storey brick building, ornamented outside with inlaid encaustic tiles, and which is occupied as a Police Station. I have been told that it was built out of the money realised by the sale of the melted gold and silver ornaments that were found in the pile of cremated corpses at the Fair grounds. The bodies were consumed beyond possibility of recognition, and the jewels reduced to formless metallic masses. I had had it in my mind to take two of the lady Delegates in our Convention to see the Fair, but something (what something?) put it out of my mind. I shudder to think what might have happened if they had gone with me; been enticed by the novelty of the spectacle to get me to stop until the fire had broken out; had been themselves seized with panic, and broken away from me and rushed with the mad multitude into the raging flames.