OLD DIARY LEAVES, Fourth Series (1887-92)
by Henry Steel Olcott
THE FIRST CONVENTION IN EUROPE
THE meeting of the European Branches on 9th and 10th July, mentioned in the last chapter, was an important event in our history, as it was the first Annual Convention that we had held in Europe. At that time, it will be remembered, we had in Europe two Sections, viz., the British Section and the tentative European Section that H. P. B. had irregularly formed, and which was afterwards officially ratified. In the latter were included the London Lodge, Ionian T. S., Vienna Lodge, Swedish T. S., Dutch-Belgian Branch, Le Lotus, our French Branch, and the Spanish group of Madrid, from which Senor Xifré came as Delegate. Miss Emily Kislingbury was Treasurer, and Mr. G. R. S. Mead, General Secretary. In the British Section there were eleven Branches, viz., the Blavatsky, Scottish, Dublin, Newcastle, Bradford, Liverpool, Birmingham, West of England, Brighton, Brixton, and Chiswick; the Treasurer was Mr. F. L. Gardner; the General Secretary, Mr. W. R. Old. All the above took part in the Convention.
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The meeting was held in the hall of the Blavatsky Lodge, in Avenue Road. I took the chair, and appointed Mr. Mead, Secretary, and Mr. Old, Assistant Secretary of the Convention. Mrs. Besant then rose and, addressing the Delegates first, and then myself, bade me welcome in words so sweet, so characteristic of her own loving temperament, that I cannot refrain from quoting them here. She said:
“It is at once my duty and privilege, as President of the Blavatsky Lodge, the largest in the British dominions, to voice the welcome of the Delegates and members of this Convention to the President-Founder. It is not necessary for me to remind you of the past services he has rendered the cause to which his life has been dedicated. Chosen by the Masters as President for life of the Theosophical Society, associated with their messenger H. P. B., bound together by every tie that can bind, no words we can utter, no thought we can think, can add anything to the loyalty which every member must feel to our President. We welcome him with added warmth because of the promptitude with which, on receiving the notice of H. P. B.’s departure, he has come from Australia, where he had gone to recover the health lost in the service of the cause. He came across the ocean without delay, in order that by his presence he might strengthen and encourage us here in Europe, that everyone may go promptly forward in the work. And in bidding you, Mr. President, welcome to this Convention, we can assure you of our steadfast loyalty
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to the cause, you who are the only one who represents the mission from the Masters themselves. We are met here to-day to carry on the work of H. P. B., and the only way to carry on her work and to strengthen the Society will be by loyalty and faithfulness to the cause for which she died, the only cause worth living for and dying for in this world.”
The full report of the Convention appeared in the Theosophist for September, 1891, but as a whole decade has passed, it has, of course, been forgotten even by the readers of our magazine; and as the book into which these pages are destined to pass will come into the hands of hundreds who have never known about this historical meeting, I take the advice of friends and reproduce here the substance of my Address to the Convention. I do this the more readily because there are certain views expressed in it which ought to be widely known in the best interests of our Society. I quote, therefore, as follows:
“Brothers and Sisters,—When I try to concentrate my thoughts to speak to you, I find a very great difficulty in translating them into words, because my heart is so oppressed by the grief that has fallen upon us, by the presence of this empty chair, by the memories of seventeen years of intimate association, that the tongue refuses its office, and I can only leave you to infer what my feelings are on coming to meet you here . . . It was not until I came to this spot that I realised that H. P. B. was dead. We had, for the last few years, been working apart. I had not been accustomed,
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as before, to see her every day and hour, and therefore I did not realise the fact that she was gone until I came here and saw her empty room, and felt that we had indeed been bereaved. I passed some time alone in her room, and I received there what was necessary for my guidance in the future; I may simply say, in one word, the gist of it was that I should continue the work as though nothing whatever had happened, and I have been delighted beyond measure to see that this spirit has been imparted to her late associates, and that they have become inspired by her zeal to that extent that, while their hearts have been wrenched by this blow, their courage has never faltered for a moment, nor has there been the least vacillation nor the least intimation that they were ready to abandon the work in which she had enlisted them. Now, for the first time, I feel ready and willing to die. It has been the great anxiety of my life, since we left New York for India, lest I might die in the various exposures to which I have been subjected, and thus leave the movement before it has gained vitality to go on. ‘If H. P. B. and I should die,’ it has been said by the Hindus everywhere, ‘the thing would collapse.’ Now her death has shown that it will not collapse, and therefore I feel much more fearless than I have been heretofore as to exposing myself in different parts of the world. I feel now that this movement has acquired an individuality of its own, and that nothing in the world can drag it down. I have had recently in Australia the most striking proof of the existence
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throughout the world of this yearning after the Secret Doctrine, after Mysticism, after the truths to be obtained by soul development. I found everywhere throughout Australia latent inclination, potency in this direction, which only requires an excuse to manifest itself. I found it in Great Britain, and Mr. Judge has found it in America, so that now I feel satisfied that though the most of us who are engaged in this work as leaders should die, the movement itself is an entity, has its own vitality, and will keep on. How it shall keep on is a question for us to consider. We have heretofore had within easy reach a teacher who, like an inexhaustible well of fresh water, could be drawn upon at any time that we were thirsting for information. This has been an advantage in one way, but a great detriment in another. The very inaccessibility of the Masters is an advantage to all those who wish to acquire knowledge, because in the effort to come near them, to get any communion with them, one insensibly prepares in himself the conditions of spiritual growth, and it is when we are thrown upon our own resources that we are enabled to bring out the powers latent in our characters. I consider that H. P. B. had died at the right moment. She has left work unfinished, it is true, but she has also done work which is quite sufficient, if we make use of it properly, to supply us for many years to come with the help that we need in Theosophical progress. She has not gone away and left us absolutely without unpublished remains; on the contrary, she has left a large body of them, and in the
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custody of her chosen depositary, Mrs. Besant, who, in the proper way and at the proper moment, will give them out to the world. But I maintain that even though not another book had been written save Isis Unveiled, that would have been enough for the earnest student. I may say that my Theosophical education has been obtained almost entirely from that book; for my life has been so busy of late years that I have had no time for reading. I cannot read anything serious when I am travelling, and at home my mind is so overwhelmed with the anxieties of my official position that I have no time and no inclination to sit down and meditate and read; so that of what I know about Theosophy and Theosophical matters, a large part has been obtained through Isis Unveiled, in the composition of which I was engaged with her for about two years. Our effort should be to spread everywhere among our sympathisers the belief that each one must work out his own salvation, that there can be no progress whatever without effort, and that nothing is so pernicious, nothing is so weakening, as the encouragement of the spirit of dependence upon another, upon another’s wisdom, upon another’s righteousness. It is a most pernicious thing and paralyses all effort. Now a method that is pursued in schools of Yoga in India and in Tibet is this: the Master gives at first no encouragemeat whatever to the would-be pupil, perhaps he will not even look at him, and frequently persons attach themselves to a Yogi as chelas, despite his trying to drive them away, perhaps with blows, or, at any
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rate, despite their being apparently scorned and put upon in every possible way by the Yogi. They perform most menial offices, sweeping the floors, making the fires, and everything of the kind, while perhaps the Yogî will reward them with indifference for months or years. If the aspirant is really desirous of obtaining the truth, he is not discouraged by any of these rebuffs. A time finally comes when, having tested him sufficiently, the Master may turn to him and set his foot on the path by giving him the first hint. Then he waits to see how he will profit by that hint, and the rapidity of his subsequent progress depends entirely upon his own behavior. But we may say we have been far better off than that. We have had H. P. B. with us as an active worker for the last sixteen years, during which time she has given out in various channels, in the Theosophist, in Lucifer, her books, and her conversation, a great volume of esoteric teaching, and hundreds of hints which, if taken, understood, and followed up will enable anyone of us to make decided progress, in our Theosophical direction.
“I have been for a number of years holding Conventions of Delegates representing the Society. On these walls you see photographs of some of those Conventions. This is the first one that has been held in Europe. You are behind America, where they have been having splendid Conventions for several years past. But everything must have a beginning, and this is the beginning in Europe. We have a fair representation of our movement in different parts of Europe, but nothing
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like as full an one as will come after this initiative has been understood and followed up. At the threshold of the work we have every promise before us of an immense extension of our movement. We have every reason to be satisfied with the outlook. When we consider the enormous reactionary influences at work in different parts of Christendom; when we consider the progress of vicious tendencies and of materialistic opinions in European countries; when we look at the distribution of our literature, and see how devoted persons in different countries, like our splendid Spanish group, are rendering the works into their vernaculars and are circulating them in their countries, and see what results we are obtaining, I think my observation is correct, that we have great reason to be satisfied with the outlook. I wish that every Delegate in this Convention representing any country might take to heart to avoid as a pestilence the feeling of local pride or local exclusiveness. With political divisions we have nothing to do; with distinctions of rank and caste and creed we have nothing to do. Ours is a common, neutral ground, where the standard of respect is the standard of a purified humanity. Our ideals are higher than those of time-serving communities. We have no king, no emperor, no president, no dictator here in our spiritual life. We welcome everybody who is eager after the truth to a seat beside us on the bench, on the sole condition that he or she will help us in our studies, and will receive in a kindly and brotherly spirit any help that we are ready and able
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to give. We should therefore know no England, no Scotland, no France, no Germany, no Sweden, no Spain, no Italy. These are geographical abstractions. For us the terms do not exist in our Theosophical consciousness. We have Swedish brothers, and German brothers, and French brothers, and Spanish, and English, Irish, Welsh, and so forth; as brothers we know them, as brothers we are bound to them, and in every way; so that in your work in your different countries you should try to imbue your fellows with the feeling that this is a union that has no regard to geographical or national boundaries or limitations, and that the first step in the development of the Theosophist is generous altruism, forgetfulness of self, the destruction and breaking down of the barriers of personal prejudice, an expanding heart, an expanding soul, so as to unite oneself with all peoples and all the races of the world in trying to realise upon earth that Kingdom of Heaven which was spoken of in the Bible, and which means this universal brotherhood of the advanced and perfected humanity which has preceded us in the march of cosmic evolution. And now, not to detain you longer, I welcome you with a full heart and an outstretched hand to this family meeting of the Theosophical Society.
“I wish you to feel that this is a Section of the General Council of the Society, that you represent the dignity and the majesty of the Society, and that your interest is as deep in the things that are transpiring in the American Section, and in the Indian
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Section, and in Ceylon and other Sections, as it is in what is merely transpiring within the geographical boundaries which are represented in your respective Branches. I hope the spirit of amity may dwell in this meeting; that we may feel that we are in the presence of the Great Ones whose thoughts take in what is transpiring at any distance as easily as what is transpiring near by, and also that we are imbued, surrounded, by the influence of my dear colleague and your revered teacher, who has left us for a while to return under another form and under more favorable conditions.”
Resolutions in honor of H. P. B. were offered by the Countess Wachtmeister, seconded by Señor Xifré, and carried by acclamation. Mr. W. Q. Judge offered resolutions for the creation of an “H. P. B. Memorial Fund,” which were seconded by Mrs. Besant in an eloquent speech, and supported by Mr. B. Keightley in a fervent address. The resolutions were carried unanimously. I then read a letter to the Convention suggesting a partition of the ashes of H. P. B.’s body, recommending that one portion each should be given to Adyar, London, and New York. I recalled the fact that this plan had been followed in the disposal of the ashes of Gautama Buddha and other sacred personages. The Theosophical career of H. P. B., I said, had been divided into three stages, viz., New York, India, and London--its cradle, altar, and tomb. I did not overlook that it had always been understood between us that the one of us two who survived should
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bury the other’s ashes at Adyar. I was moved to this plan of the partition because I could plainly see that if I took all the ashes back with me, feelings of resentment would be excited. In fact I noticed that, in seconding the motion of Mrs. Besant for the acceptance of the proposal, Mr. Judge said that “it was a question of justice; and if any other arrangement had been adopted, though he himself personally would have made no claim, he felt sure that the American Section would have done so”. Of course the offer was at once accepted.
The Countess Wachtmeister transmitted an offer from the great Swedish sculptor, Sven Bengtsson, to make an artistic urn as a repository for the share of the ashes apportioned to London. Naturally, the offer was gratefully and enthusiastically accepted, and I appointed an art committee to examine designs and settle preliminaries, with the artist as a member.
The keynote of harmony having been struck, the proceedings of the two days’ sessions were interesting and cordial throughout. Mr. Mead gave a masterly survey of the Theosophical outlook in Europe, which he declared to be highly encouraging. Results have proved his prognostic to have been fully warranted, for the movement has spread and strengthened to an extent not then dreamed of.
The uselessness of having two Sections to cover in a great part of the same territory was so apparent that an arrangement was come to to dissolve the British Section, and further strengthen and consolidate
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the European Section. To carry this legally into effect, I issued on the 17th of July, at London, an Executive Notice, officially recognising the latter, ordering the issue of a Charter to Mr. Mead and associates of the Executive Committee, and officially ratifying the unanimous vote of the British Section to dissolve its organisation. The European Section was instructed to take over the records, liabilities, and assets of the British Section as from the 11th of July. Mr. Mead was unanimously confirmed by the Convention as General Secretary.
I had just refused, in Brisbane, the bequest of one fortune, and now another was offered me. At a garden-party at Avenue Road, a French-Swiss member, M. C. Parmelin, F.T.S., a resident of Havre, until then stranger to me, took me aside and asked me to accept his small fortune of fcs. 30,000 in cash for the Society. He explained that he had no use for the money, and wanted to do something practical to help on a movement in which he felt the deepest interest: especially he wished to aid the work in France. In answer to my questions respecting himself, he told me that he was a bachelor, with no desire or intention to marry; that his salary as a bank employee was ample for all his wants; and that on the death of his mother he would inherit another handsome sum. In reply, I pointed out to him that it was unwise for him to strip himself of all his reserve capital, for in case of serious illness he might lose his employment and find himself in want; but as he had the prospect of an inheritance, and
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also of the continuance of his income from his salary, and as I recognised the right of every member of the Society to give as freely as I did myself, I would accept half of the sum offered, leaving him the other half to use in case of necessity, with the understanding that when his inheritance fell in he could, if he chose, give me the other half. But, for the sake of a permanent record, I requested him to put the offer, as modified, in writing. This he did the same day. I then called Mrs. Besant and Mr. Mead into a consultation with M. Parmelin, and we came to the following agreement; (1) The offer should be accepted; (2) The money should be lodged in bank in the names of Mrs. Besant, Mr. Mead, and the donor himself, my determination being that he should give his signature with that of the others, on every cheque drawn, so that all disbursements should be made with his knowledge and consent; (3) That, as his wish was to help the movement generally, as well as particularly the French portion of it, the sum of £100 each should be given to Adyar, London, and New York headquarters for general purposes, and that the remainder should be used in aid of the operations in France. This being agreed to, I received, ten days later, through Mrs. Besant, the£100 for Adyar, and it will be found in the Treasurer’s report for February, as assigned to the Library Fund. I have given the foregoing details about this affair for two reasons: one, that so well-intentioned an act of beneficence should be recorded in our history; and the other, because, later on, the donor seemed to have
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changed his mind about it to some extent, and to be disposed to cast imputations against us three persons, who were—as the above facts prove—only striving our best to carry out his own wishes and apply his gifts to the very purposes he had himself designated. Fortunately, I had induced him to put into writing the offer first made to me verbally, a precaution born of long experience in the study of human nature, and one which I strongly recommend for adoption by all my present and future colleagues.
I was extremely shocked on receiving news from Colombo of the accidental death by drowning of our dear Miss Pickett, only ten days after I had installed her as Principal of the Sanghamitta School. It appears that she was subject to occasional attacks of somnambulism, and that she rose in the night, passed noiselessly out of the house, wandered over the lawn, and fell into a well which was only protected by a low parapet wall. It was a very sad and tragical case. She had left Australia with her mother’s blessing; her new home was a beautiful one; she began her work with zeal, and, as far as we knew, was in vigorous health; her reception had been so warm as to fill her heart with joy; there was even a strong probability of her mother’s joining her very soon, and I had given half the price of the passage ticket. There was no apparent cloud on the horizon of her young life, while the future opened out before her a smiling prospect. The day after the accident 7,000 persons came to see the drowned body, and in a long, sad, strange procession,
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all clad in white garments, they followed it to the cemetery, where Mrs. Weerakoon, the President of the W. E. S., lighted her funeral pyre. I have, at the mother’s request, the sacred ashes in my custody.
So serious an event as the death of Madame Blavatsky could not occur without exciting in timid minds throughout the world of Theosophy apprehensions as to its -probable effect upon our movement. At this critical movement it behoved me to step forward and lay down the policy which would be pursued. We have seen that a stupid notion prevailed to some extent that the death of one or both of the Founders would mean the destruction of the Society. I dealt with this in the address above copied into this narrative; and to reach the many who would not be likely to read the Convention proceedings, I issued at London, on 27th July, the following Executive Notice:
“As the survivor of the two principal Founders of the Theosophical Society, I am called upon to state officially the lines upon which its work will be prosecuted. I therefore give notice—
“1. That there will be no change in the general policy, the three declared objects of the Society being strictly followed out, and nothing permitted which would conflict with the same in any respect.
“2. The Society, as such, will be kept as neutral as heretofore, and as the Constitution provides, with respect to religious dogmas and sectarian ideas; helping all who ask our aid to understand and live
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up to their best religious ideals, and pledging itself to no one more than another.
“3. The untrammelled right of private judgment and the absolute equality of members in the Society, regardless of their differences in sex, race, color, or creed, is reaffirmed and guaranteed as heretofore.
“4. No pledges will be exacted as a condition of acquiring or retaining fellowship, save as provided in the Constitution.
“5. A policy of open frankness, integrity, and altruism will be scrupulously followed in all the Society’s dealings with its members and the public.
“6. Every reasonable effort will be made to encourage members to practically prove by their private lives and conversation the sincerity of their Theosophical profession.
“7. The principle of autonomous government in Sections and Branches, within the lines of the Constitution, and of non-interference by Headquarters, save extreme cases, will be loyally observed.”
Any officer of a Branch, or other person concerned in the management of any portion of the Society’s activity, who will keep strictly within the lines placed in the above Notice, will not go far wrong nor compromise the Society in the eyes of the public.