OLD DIARY LEAVES, Fourth Series (1887-92)
by Henry Steel Olcott
FORMATION OF THE ESOTERIC SECTION
IT was remarked at the end of the last chapter that we were now about to review some disagreeable incidents of the year in which H. P.B. was a conspicuous factor; If she had been just an ordinary person hidden behind the screen of domesticity; this history of the development of the Theosophical movement might have been written without bringing her on the stage: or if the truth had been told about her by friend and foe, I might have left her to be dealt with by her Karma, showing, of course, what great part she had played in it, and to how great a credit she was entitled. But she has snared the fate of all public characters of mark in human affairs, having been absurdly flattered and worshipped by one party, and mercilessly wronged by the other. Unless, then, her most intimate friend and colleague, the surviving builder-up of the movement, had cast aside the reserve he had all along maintained, and would have preferred to preserve; the real personage would never have been understood by her contemporaries, nor justice done to her really
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grand character. That, she was great in the sense of the thorough altruism of her public work is unquestionable: in her times of exaltation self was drowned in the yearning to spread knowledge and do her Master's bidding. She never sold her rich store of occult knowledge for money, nor bartered instruction for personal advantage. She valued her life as nothing as balanced against service, and would have given it as joyfully as any religious martyr if the occasion had seemed to demand the sacrifice. These tendencies and characteristic traits she had brought over with her from the long line of incarnations in which she (and, in some, we) had been engaged in like service; they were the aspects of her individuality, high, noble, ideally loyal, worthy, not of being worshipped—for no human being ought to be made the cause of slavish adoration—but of aspiration to be like it. Her personality is quite another affair, and afforded a strong background to throw out her interior brightness into stronger relief. In the matter under present discussion, for instance, the front she presents to me in her letters is unlovely to a degree: language violent, passion raging, scorn and satire poorly covered by a skin of soft talk; a disposition to break through the "red tape" of the Society's mild constitution, and to rule or ruin as I might decide to ratify or disavow her arbitrary and utterly unconstitutional acts; a sniffing at the Council and Councillors, whom she did not choose to have stand in her way, a sharp and slashing criticism of certain of her European co-workers, especially of
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the one most prominent in that part of the movement, whose initials she parenthesised after the word “Satan,” and an appeal that I should not let our many years of associated work be lost in the breaking up of the T. S. into two unrelated bodies, the Eastern and the Western Theosophical Societies. In short, she writes like a mad person and in the tone of a hyper-excited hysterical woman, fighting for her good name against the black maliciousness of the, Missionary-Coulomb-Hodgson assault, and for her life against a number of physical ailments which three years later carried her off. Yet, ill in body and upset in mind as she may have been, she was still a mighty factor for me to deal with, and forced me to choose which line of policy I should follow. The first count in her indictment against me (for, of course, more suo, it was all my fault) was that I had decided against her favorite in an arbitration I had held at Paris, that year, between two opposing parties among the French Theosophists; it was, she writes me, "no mistake, but a crime perpetrated by you against Theosophy (doubly underscored), in full knowledge of what X. is and fear of Y. "Olcott, my friend, you are—but I do not want to hurt your feelings, and will not say to you what you are. If you do not feel and realise it yourself, then all I can say will be useless. As for P.,1 you have put yourself entirely in his hands, and you have sacrificed Theosophy, and even the honor of the T. S. in France, out of fear of that wretched little——." Encouraging
1 A Frenchman, subsequently expelled from the Society.
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praises, these, for a poor fellow who was struggling with all his might to steer the ship on its course, keeping clear of the shoals and rocks which wreck so many societies, and are doubly dangerous to vessels manned by cranky crews. She had hatched out a new section, with herself elected as "President," taken a commodious house, and had a signboard ready to pave painted on it either "European Headquarters of the T. S." or "Western Theosophical Society". Seeming to suspect that I might not like it very much to have the whole machinery of the Society upset to gratify her whim, and remembering of old that the more she threatened the more stubborn it made me, she writes: "Now look here, Olcott. It is very painful, most painful, for me to have to put to you what the French call marché en main, and to have you choose. You will say again that you ‘hate threats,’ and these will only make you more stubborn. But this is no threat at all, but a fait accompli. It remains with you to either ratify it or to go against it, and declare war to me and my Esotericists. If, recognising the utmost necessity of the step, you submit to the inexorable evolution of things, nothing will be changed. Adyar and Europe will remain allies, and, to all appearance, the latter will seem to be subject to the former. If you do not ratify it—well, then there will be two Theosophical Societies, the old Indian and the new European, entirely independent of each other." Hobson's choice, in a word! After this, one need not be astonished to see her saying: "I write in all calmness and after full deliberation,
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your having granted the Charter to P. having only precipitated matters!"
This stand-and-deliver ultimatum naturally frightened the "mild Hindu" members of our Executive Council to fits, and involved another visit to Europe in 1889. The Paris arbitration above referred to occurred during my European visit of 1888, which kept me there, from 26th August to 22nd October, and was made, at the entreaty of the Executive Council, as the tone of H. P. B.'s letters had alarmed them for the stability of the movement in the West. The tour should, by rights, have been mentioned before the incidents of the threatened split above alluded to, but H. P. B.'s letter lying nearest to hand, and the trouble being continuous through the two successive years, I took it up first.
The Paris imbroglio sprang out of a disturbance in the" Isis" Branch, founded by the late regretted M. Louis Dramard. After his decease, a hypersensitive young man named Gaboriau, who showed an excessive, enthusiasm for Theosophy, but small executive faculty, and who had been taken up as a protégé by H. P. B., was spending a small patrimony, just inherited, on Theosophical publications, and trying to lead the Isis T. S. along its difficult path. In doing this he had become involved in disputes, in which H. P. B. had taken his side, and made a bad mess for me by giving him, in her real character of Co-Founder and her assumed one of my representative, with full discretionary powers, a charter of a sweeping and unprecedented
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character, which practically let him do as he pleased. This was, of course, protested against by some of his soberer colleagues, recriminations arose, and an appeal was made to me. After my arrival in London a circular was issued to each registered French member appointing a time and place of meeting in Paris, and on 17th September my formal decision was read before the assembly. The impossibility of reorganising the Isis T. S. being evident, a new charter was granted to a new Branch, the “Hermes,” and the now lamented M. Arthur Arnould, the well-known author, was elected President; M. Eugene Nus, the historian, and George Caminade d’Angers, Vice-Presidents; Gerard Encausse, Corresponding Secretary; and C. Dubourg and Julien Lejay, Secretaries. A large roll of members was inscribed and the young Branch began its career. My action in this affair was taken according to my best judgment, after hearing all that was to be said and seeing everybody concerned; I believe it to have been the best under existing circumstances, though it threw M. Gaboriau out of the active running, caused him and some of his few followers to denounce me unqualifiedly, and led to a pitched battle, as one might say, between H. P. B. and myself on my return to London. The sequel is above shown in her revolutionary action with respect to the reorganisation at London.
It was during this tour that I made the acquaintance of Professor F. Max Müller, and visited him at Oxford, where he was good enough to have me meet Sir William
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W. Hunter, K.C.S.I., and the world-famous Prof. E. B. Tylor, the anthropologist. Professor Müller was so kind as to say that the Oriental reprinting, translation, and publishing portion of the Society’s work was “noble, and there could be no two opinions about it, nor were there among Orientalists”. But as for our far more cherished activities, the discovery and spread of ancient views on the existence of Siddhas, and of the siddhis in man, he was utterly incredulous. “We know all about Sanskrit and Sanskrit literature,” he said, “and have found no evidence anywhere of the pretended esoteric meaning which your Theosophists profess to have discovered in the Vedas, the Upanishads, and other Indian Scriptures: there is nothing of the kind, I assure you. Why will you sacrifice all the good opinion which scholars have of your legitimate work for Sanskrit revival to pander to the superstitious belief of the Hindus in such follies?” We sat alone in his fine library-room, well lighted by windows looking out on one of those emerald, velvety lawns so peculiar to moist England; the walls of the chamber covered with bookcases filled with the best works of ancient and modern writers, two marble statuettes of the Buddha sitting in meditation, placed to the right and left of the fireplace, but on the hearth (Buddhists take notice), and the grand old scholar, author, discoverer, controversialist, teacher, courtier, seated at his large morocco-covered mahogany writing-table, with the light of one window shining full in his face and another beyond the edge of the table bringing
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out his aristocratic profile in sharp relief. How the picture of that temple of high-thinking comes back to my memory out of the latency of the âkasa! I see this greatest pupil of that pioneer genius, E. Burnouf, sitting there and giving me his authoritative advice to turn from the evil course of Theosophy into the hard and rocky path of official scholarship, and be happy to lie down in a thistle-bed prepared by Orientalists for their common use. As he warmed with his subject, the blood rose to his head and suffused his delicate skin, his fine nostrils dilated, and his eyes sparkled. I sat facing the fireplace, at the nearer end of the table, where I could read the emotions in his face as they arose, listening with the respect to which so aged and so illustrious a scholar was entitled. When he had finished, I quietly said that his conclusions as to these occult things were at variance with the beliefs of every orthodox Pandit, from one end of India to the other; that the Gupta Vidya was a recognised element in Hindu religious philosophy, as, of course, he knew; and that what most drew the educated Indians into sympathy with us was the very fact that we believed exactly what they had believed from time immemorial on these subjects. Moreover, I would venture to declare to the Professor that I had had the clearest evidence at first hand that the Siddhas, or Mahatmas, live and work for humanity to-day as they ever have; and that the claims of Patanjali as to the siddhis and the possibility of developing them were, to my certain knowledge, true. The Professor, finding me so
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self-opinionated and indisposed to desert my colors, said we had better change the subject. We did, but not for long, for he came back to it, and we finally agreed to disagree, parting in all courtesy, and, on my own part, with regret that so great a mind could not have taken in that splendid teaching of the Sages about man and his powers, which is of all in the world the most satisfying to the reason and most consoling to the heart.
The tour of 1888 took me to London, Liverpool, Cambridge, Glasgow, Paris, and Bologna. I called two Conventions at London of the British Branches, organised and chartered a British Section of the T. S., and issued an order in Council forming an Esoteric Section, with Madame Blavatsky as its responsible head. It was thus worded:
“LONDON, 9th October, 1888.
“THE ESOTERIC SECTION OF THE THEOSOPHICAL SOCIETY.
“I. To promote the esoteric interests of the Theosophical Society by the deeper study of esoteric philosophy, there is hereby organised a body, to be known as the ‘Esoteric Section of the Theosophical Society.’
“II. The constitution and sole direction of the same is vested in Madame H. P. Blavatsky, as its head; she is solely responsible to the members for results; and the section has no official or corporate connection with the Exoteric Society, save in the person of the President-Founder.
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“Persons wishing to join the Section, and willing to abide by its rules, should communicate directly with Madame H. P. Blavatsky, 17 Lansdowne Road, Holland Park, London, W.
“(Sd.) H. S. OLCOTT,
President in Council.
“H. P. BLAVATSKY,
This was the beginning of the E. S. T. movement, now so very important an one as carried on by Mrs. Besant, the chosen successor of H. P. B. The reason for my throwing the whole responsibility for results upon H. P. B. was that she had already made one failure in this direction at Adyar in 1884, when she, with T. Subba Row, Oakley, Damodar, and others, tried to organise a secret class, or group, whose members were to have been brought more closely into relations with the Masters, but which failed, and I did not care to be responsible for the fulfilment of any special engagements she might make with the new set of students she was now gathering about her, in her disturbed state of mind. I helped her write some of her instructions, and did all I could to make the way easy for her, but that was all. Later, when I found that those who entered the E. S. were satisfied with what they were getting, I took a more decided stand in the matter, and now have nothing but praise to express for the way in which the present head of the school is dealing with her army of voluntarily enrolled students.
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At the same time, it must never be forgotten that the E. S. T. is not the T. S.; nor that its rules are binding only upon members belonging to that special school; nor that it would be a violation of the T. S. constitution for it to interfere with their rights of private judgment; nor that the President-Founder is compelled to guarantee to every individual member, of whatsoever religion, race, sex, or color, his or her personal liberty of belief and speech.
Nearly all the persons engaged in the Paris quarrel were to blame, they having given way to personal jealousies, obliterated the landmarks of the Society, fallen into a strife for supremacy, with mutual abuse, oral and printed. I first tried to get the dissentients to work harmoniously under the old charter, and, this failing, offered the two parties, M. Gaboriau’s and M. Arnould’s, a charter each, on the most liberal conditions; but Gaboriau would not or could not form a Branch without the others, and so the one charter for the Hermes Branch was the result. The thanks of the Society were officially given to Madame the Countess d’Adhèmar, F.T.S., for throwing open her drawing-rooms for meetings during my stay, and doing all else within her power to promote the reorganisation of our affairs at the French capital.
My tour realised the objects in view, H. P. B. being pacified, our affairs in Great Britain put in order, and the E. S. started; but, as was above made plain, the calm was not destined to last, and a second visit to Europe had to be made in l889, after my return
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from Japan. Yet the strife between us two was always on the outside, and as regards questions of management and policy; interiorly, we were linked together in an unity of purpose and ideals that not even death has broken asunder. To refute the many falsehoods spread by third parties who wanted to breed dissension between us, or give the impression that the Society was on the point of splitting—a belief held by many, my Executive Council included, on the strength of H. P. B.’s hysterical letters—she and I issued the following joint note:
“To dispel a misconception that has been engendered by mischief-makers, we, the undersigned Founders of the Theosophical Society, declare that there is no enmity, rivalry, strife, or even coldness between us, nor ever was; nor any weakening of our joint devotion to the Masters or to our work, with the execution of which they have honored us. Widely dissimilar in temperament and mental characteristics, and differing sometimes in views as to methods of propagandism, we are yet of absolutely one mind as to that work. As we have been from the first, so are we now united in purpose and zeal, and ready to sacrifice all, even life, for the promotion of Theosophical knowledge, to the saving of mankind from the miseries which spring from ignorance.
“H. P. BLAVATSKY. H. S. OLCOTT.
“LONDON, October, 1888.”
On my way overland to Naples to take the P. and O. “Arcadia” for the return voyage, I stopped a
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Bologna to see Count Mattei, the inventor of “Electro-Homoeopathy,” and decide whether it would be worth while for Tookaram Tatya to try it in our Bombay Charitable Dispensary. I was prompted to this by what I saw of the results of the application of one of the Mattei “electricities” as a lotion to the hand of a poor fellow, which had been terribly crushed in some machinery: in one night the pain had been much assuaged. The experimenter was “Major” Tucker, of the Salvation Army, who had implicit faith in the Mattei system. Signor Venturoli, now Count Venturoli-Mattei, the discoverer’s adopted son and heir, kindly took me to Rioli, the station on the road to Florence, near which stands “Rochetta,” the picturesque but ill-planned castle of Count Mattei, and I spent the day with him in interesting discussion. He was then a strong giant of a man, despite his eighty-four years, and vehement to a degree in his denunciation of orthodox doctors and their remedies. In his bedroom— in one of the turrets, if my memory serves—was a scathing caricature on them, done in fresco on the groined ceiling. He was justifiably proud of the numberless cures wrought by his Electro-Homoepathy, for I have heard too many stories about them at first hand to doubt its efficacy. When it comes to the “electrical” part of the matter, however, the case is quite a different affair. My belief is that, if the true name were given to the system, it would be “sun-bathed” or “chromopathic” medicine. I may be wrong, but, from all I can hear and infer from the
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behavior of the medicines, I am persuaded that the words “blue-electricity,” or green, yellow, red, or others, mean simply distilled water which has been exposed to the magical action of the sunlight, passed through panes or lenses of glass of those several colors; that in the Mattei system we are dealing, in reality, with Chromopathy. Of course it does not matter a pin, save as a trade secret, whether the concealed agency be solar or herbal; the prime fact is that the medicines cure, and human suffering is diminished. Nothing that the Count said warranted me to adopt this opinion, but on the face of it his electrical nomenclature is ridiculous from the scientific point of view, and one of his most successful and loyal disciples, an English doctor, whose diploma was cancelled by the Faculty because of his professional heresy, confessed to me his concurrence in my views. The Mattei pills and powders may be, as alleged by his opponents, the ordinary homoeopathic remedies mixed together, on the off-change that some one of them will cure the patient, or they may not; perhaps they are common remedies exposed to chromopathic influence, or possibly mesmerized to imbue them with a healing vital aura; this does not much matter; the fact is they effect cures by thousands, and the sale of the medicines is, I believe, fast enriching my genial friend of 1888, Count Venturoli Mattei.
As I was to pass through Rome, I halted there a day, not to pretend to see the city, but only to enter Saint Peter’s and thus lay my hand, as it were, on
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the heart of Christendom to test the vibrations. The experience was a curious one. As I looked around me at the statues of kings, emperors, and pontiffs, with their usually false epitaphs, I seemed to feel the karmic current of their unholy alliances, offensive and defensive. What horrors, what injustice, what selfish pacts, what conspiracies to wrong and dominate the helpless victims of ruthless power and self-delusion, what rivers of blood set flowing in the name of God, but for the greed of tyrants! Who, with an open mind, could stand in that monstrous cathedral and not shudder at the thought of what it represented in world-history, the Walhalla of scourges of humanity? I stayed there for hours, walking about, speaking to no guide, asking no questions, simply psychometrising the place, and following the mental clues in all directions, that I might indelibly impress the pictures on my memory. The next morning I left for Naples, and on the following day embarked. As the “Arcadia” did not sail until 10 p.m., we had from her deck the chance to see the lovely panorama of the illuminated city mirrored in the glassy waters of the bay—a fairy scene.
The homeward voyage proved most interesting, as a great desire to know something about Theosophy, the Society, and occult sciences generally, was shown by the passengers of both saloons. Among them was that gracious student of mystical subjects, the Countess of Jersey, whom I found one of the most high-minded, pleasantest acquaintances I ever made. Doubtless, as a consequence of her example, the whole first saloon
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fell to talking about Psychometry, Thought-transference, Clairvoyance, Palmistry, Astrology, and similar topics of the Borderland group; and practical experiments were made to test the correctness of theories. On the fourth day out I received an invitation in writing from Lord Jersey, Sir Samuel W. Baker, the African explorer, and other notables, on behalf of the saloon passengers, and with the captain’s consent, to lecture on “Theosophy,” which I gladly did. The vote of thanks was offered by Sir Samuel in a beautifully worded short speech, which was very gratifying. Three days later there was another call upon me, and I took, by request, the subject of “Psychometry”. This set many to making experiments, and I myself made some that were instructive. A certain lady brought from her cabin a half dozen letters from persons of widely different characters, each enclosed in a plain envelope, so that the experimenter might get no clue whatsoever to the sex or character of the writer—a clever precaution. I made her sit in an easy-chair, and passed the letters one by one over her head to her forehead, where I bade her hold them and answer my questions. She was not to stop and think what the answer ought to be, but just to say the first thing that came to her mind. I asked her: “Is the writer a man Or a woman? Answer quickly, please.” Then I asked: “Is he (or she) old or young? Tall or short? Stout or thin? Healthy or ill? Hot-tempered or calm? Frank or deceitful? Generous or miserly? Worthy or unworthy of trust as a friend? Do you
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like this person?” etc., etc., never putting a leading question or doing anything to confuse the spontaneous thought of the subject. Now, at first blush, it is perfectly plain that the closest scrutiny of a blank envelope—unless its shape were an unusual one and associated with a certain correspondent—would reveal nothing as to the sex, age, complexion, form, or mental or moral characteristics of the writer of the enclosed letter. The first lady experimenter proved herself devoid of the psychometric faculty, but another lady who next submitted herself to the test was successful in five out of seven cases—as subsequently verified on opening the covers; and the first lady’s brother, an army officer and a rather flippant critic of the science, found to his amazement that he could psychometrise. The rumor of these instructive experiments running through the ship, caused the invitation to make my second lecture on the subject of Professor Buchanan’s discovery. A well-known Member of Parliament gave very correct delineations in two cases submitted to him for psychometric reading. The scientific and practical value of the possession of this sense is evident, inasmuch as it arms a person with a super-refined faculty of feeling the true character and motive of a correspondent, or of one with whom one is talking, or whom one meets in the world, whatever mask may be used in the letter or put on the face of the individual. Then again, the developed psychometer ought naturally to be intuitive for learning the sense of an author and reading the meaning of a public lecturer, despite his, perhaps,
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clumsy way of putting things. It makes one instantaneously responsive to appeals to the higher nature, and guarded against being carried away by the sophistries of those who would deceive and cajole one with evil designs.1
The “Arcadia” landed her passengers at Bombay on 10th November, and our party, which comprised, besides myself, Mr. and Mrs. Charles Johnston, Baroness Kroummess, Mr. E. D. Fawcett, and Mr. Richard Harte, all members of the Society, were warmly welcomed by our friends of the Bombay Branch. Mrs. Johnston is the daughter of Madame Vera Jelihovsky, H. P. B.’s sister, and was married from her aunt’s home, 17 Lansdowne Road, W., to the brilliant young Sanskritist and Indian Civilian in question, during the summer of 1888. Her mother being away in Russia, I represented her and the rest of the family at the civil marriage at the registrar’s office. Her husband was now coming out with us to take up his appointment in the Bengal Civil Service. The whole party were present at the Convention of that year, and were photographed in the annual group picture.
1Cf. Professor Buchanan’s Psychometry; Professor Denton’s The Soul of Things; and a useful pamphlet compilation, Psychometry and Thought- Transference.