OLD DIARY LEAVES, Fourth Series (1887-92)
by Henry Steel Olcott
MRS. BESANT BIDS ADIEU TO
WE now pass on to the question of the action of drugs at a distance. The experiment with bottled drugs I could not try, because the matter had been deferred to my last day at Nancy, the experimental bottles in the hospital laboratory were empty, and I could not wait over to get them filled. But from the entire staff, including Dr. Bernheim, I heard that they had thoroughly tested the matter many times, and found that the drug action under such circumstances was due to suggestion. An apothecary in Nancy had repeated Dr. Luys’ experiment over and over again, until he became perfectly convinced that that eminent savant’s theory that drugs would affect persons from a distance was correct. He then asked Dr. Bernheim to try the experiment for himself. The Professor took eight vials of dark brown glass, so opaque as not to be seen through, and filled them with scammony, emetics, strychnine, a salivant, etc. and one with plain distilled water; the vials being numbered, but not marked so that
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either of the experimentalists could know the contents; they were also hermetically sealed. Not one produced its proper symptoms in a patient. After giving five hours to the tests, at last both the Professor and the apothecary were satisfied that whatever action there was had been provoked by suggestion alone. Bernheim tells me he has repeated all Charcot’s published experiments, with contradictory results. Among other things, he has produced a blister artificially by hypnotic suggestion, and by suggestion prevented a real fly-blister from blistering; while upon the same patient, at the same time, another blister, made exactly like the other and of identical materials, blistered the skin upon suggestion.
Again I say that I do not consider the case closed, for the evidence is not all in. Some years ago, as I have related in an early chapter, I assisted at some experiments made in New York City by Professor J. R. Buchanan in the psychometrical perception of the properties of dry drugs wrapped in paper on which were no external distinguishing marks. The tests were made in the presence of a number of newspaper reporters and others. There were equal quantities of such differing substances as tartaric acid, opium, ginger, quinine, soda carbonate, salt, cayenne pepper, black pepper, sugar, etc., all in powders, and all done up as powders are prepared by the apothecary. About eight or ten of the company, if my memory serves, were selected for the experiments. The packages were put into a hat, shaken up and passed around to the
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experimenters, who each drew out one. They were then bidden to hold them in the palms of their closed hands, make themselves passive, have no preconceptions, and see if they could tell what was in the packages. The majority failed, but two of the number succeeded with their packages, and also with others successively given them to hold. One young man, of about 25 years of age, rapidly distinguished the substance under his observation, and the correctness of his impressions was verified by opening the papers and examining the contents. Then, again, if I am not mistaken, we ought to regard as a higher form of this same faculty that intuitive power which is possessed by many clairvoyants, of seeing what remedy, chemical, vegetable, or other, is a specific for the malady which she also clairvoyantly detects in the patient. If we do not postulate the existence of auras throughout all the kingdoms of nature, we could hardly understand, on any commonsense hypothesis, the different phenomena above enumerated; whereas, conceding the auras, and also a certain condition of nerve-sensitiveness to them in the individual, the mystery is explained. We may supplement these observations with a reference to Baron Von Reichenbach. His renowned and classical work appeared in English translation in 1850, one edition having been brought out by the late Dr. Gregory, Professor of Chemistry at the University of Edinburgh, the other by the famous pioneer of mesmerism, Dr. Ashburner. Von Reichenbach was one of the greatest chemists of his day, the discoverer
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of glycerine and creosote, and renowned for his metallurgical researches. His announcement of his discovery of a new and potent force of nature, which he called Odyle, drew upon him the malevolent attacks of contemporaries whose envy and malice were aroused by the grandeur of his success. Not even yet, after fifty years’ interval, has justice been done to him; but Karma can wait. The chief point in his discovery was that there exists in nature a force which is neither electricity nor magnetism, but has, nevertheless, polarities like them; it flows at right angles with the electric current, impregnates the whole globe, affects all the different kingdoms of nature, and extends throughout space, every celestial orb being apparently, like our earth, a focal centre of it. The Baron made experiments for years with a number of persons of both sexes and different social conditions, some invalids, others in robust health, which showed that this force when associated with crystals and other bodies—the human body included—has luminosity as well as polarity. He divided the positives and negatives in groups, the reading of which is very instructive: the odylo-negatives gave the sensitives a feeling of warmth, odylo-positives one of cold. The reader will find the classification on pages 177-9 of Dr. Gregory’s translation. To the touch “almost all metals felt warm to the hand, but all, also, yielded the emanations which the patient called cool air. In the order of their energy they were nearly thus: chromium, osmium, nickel, iridium, lead, tin, cadmium, zinc, titanium, mercury,
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palladium, copper, silver, gold, iron, platinum. A thin copper plate, of nearly 800 square inches, placed near and opposite to the bed of the patient, caused the sensation of a lively current of fresh, cool air, which by degrees seemed to penetrate the whole bed, and was very agreeable to the patient. A zinc plate of the same size produced a similar effect, but not so powerfully. Plates of lead and iron were still weaker”. When the surface of a mirror was turned towards the patient the effect was marked. “The radiation from the polished metal through the glass diffused that ethereal and delightful coolness described in section 182 as proceeding from sulphur and gypsum, also through glass. She felt her whole person, from head to foot, pervaded by a pleasurable sense of comfort.” But the crushing fact for the opponents of the theory that substances can act at a distance is, that the Baron was able to conduct the emanations of metals through wires to distances of more than 100 feet. For example (op. cit., p. 150), “Mlle. Reichel felt the sulphur to diffuse coolness at 124 feet. Astonished at this, I tried a copper plate of more than 4 square feet. It diffused warmth to the distance of 94 feet.
A plate of iron, 6 feet square, was felt
warm … … at 146 feet.
Thin lead foil of the same size, ... ” 75 ”
Tin foil, … … ” 70 ”
Zinc plate, … … ” 64 ”
Silver paper (genuine) of 1 square foot, ” 24 ”
Gold paper (genuine) of 3 square feet, ” 67·5 ”
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An electrophorus plate, 16 inches in
diameter … … at 98 feet
A mirror of about 10·5 square feet, ” 106 ”
A small bottle of oxygen gas, … ” 19 ”
“A number of other substances, such as brass utensils, porcelain vessels, glass, surfaces of stone, colored paper, 60 boards of wood, linen, open or shut doors, lustres suspended from the roof, trees, human beings, horses, dogs, cats approaching her, pools of water, especially after having been long exposed to sunshine—in short, all and everything of a material nature acted on her, diffusing in some cases warmth, in others coolness; and many things acted so strongly as to attract her attention and annoy her; others so feebly that, becoming accustomed to them, she no longer regarded them.”
From the foregoing results he deduced a general principle, which he formulates in the following words:
“All solid bodies in contact with persons sufficiently sensitive excite peculiar feelings, differing in degree according to their chemical nature; these sensations are chiefly those of an apparent change of temperature, such as cool, tepid, or warm, with which a pleasant or a disagreeable sensation keeps pace, more or less uniformly. Lastly, these reactions are in all respects similar to those produced by the force of magnets, crystals, the human hand, etc.”
And now, to avoid prolixity, I shall conclude with a few words about the discoverer of “the therapeutic
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suggestion,” the future of which seems so full of promise as a remedial agency to the human race. This public benefactor is a French physician named Ambroise August Liébault, a native of Favières, in the department of Meurthe et Moselle. He was born September 16, 1823, and was the twelfth child of his parents, who were cultivators. They wanted him to be a priest, and he was put to study with that object; but he felt it was not his proper vocation, and took up the study of medicine, and in due course won the degree of Bachelier ès Lettres (our B.A.); that of Doctor of Medicine he took in 1851 at Strasbourg. The French Academy Committee’s report of 1829 on Animal Magnetism interested him much, and he tested the theory by many practical experiments. Later, the report by the great surgeon, Velpeau, to the French Academy, upon the subject of Braidism, i.e., Hypnotism, caused him to continue his researches with additional ardor, and they resulted in his discovery of Therapeutic Suggestion (the healing of disease by suggestion), which has made his name known throughout the medical world. He was obliged to go on very cautiously in the dissemination of his theory on account of the prejudiced opposition of the profession, and at last removed in 1864 to Nancy, where he hoped to find a freer scope and less dogmatic intolerance. But he was disappointed, for the Faculty of the College would not even listen to him or look at his experiments, regarding him as a crack-brained innovator. They would even have persecuted him as a charlatan if he
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had not confined his hypnotic treatments to the poorer classes, and cured their diseases without money and without price.
When I tell the reader that this sort of thing went on for eighteen years, he ever playing the part of public benefactor, and his proud colleagues standing aloof Bernheim included, it will be seen how loyal Liébault was to his discovered truth, how persistent in altruistic well-doing. The Faculty were unanimous in the assertion that he was crazy because he took no fees from the sick poor who crowded his consultation-room! But the tide turned at last: after he had hypnotised ten thousand patients and produced an infinity of cures, some of almost a miraculous character, a friend of Professor Bernheim’s personally testified to the latter as to what he had seen in Liébault’s clinique, and Dr. B., still overcautious, came, saw, tested, retested, managed patients in his own way, tried some in the hospital, was successful, and, with the moral courage which characterises great souls, stepped forth as the disciple, defender, and interpreter of the patient, generous little Nancy doctor of the Rue-Grégoire. Of course, he brought over in time all the rest of the Faculty of Medicine, and non-medical men, like Professor Liegois and others whose names are now celebrated, and the Nancy school of therapeutic suggestion became a fact, and Bernheim its prophet. From the first, its chief antagonist was the Charcot school of La Salpêtrière, which includes some very clever and world-renowned advocates, and so the
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whole profession is now ranged in two parties, and bitter controversy ranges all along the line.
Almost like a pilgrim before a shrine, I knocked one day at the heavy wooden gate in the wall that encloses Dr. Liébault’s house and garden. Presently it was opened, and there stood before me, courteously bowing, an elderly gentleman, with shortish, grizzled hair and full beard, a straight nose, firm mouth, serious and determined expression, and a full, broad forehead, well rounded out in the superior region—that, phrenologically speaking, of the intellectual faculties. I presented my card and mentioned my name, whereupon the old gentleman grasped my hand with warmth, declared that he knew me well through mutual friends, and bade me enter. It was a small garden, with gravelled walks, and thickly planted with flowering bushes and fruit and shade trees. A turn towards the right brought us to the house, and, as the weather was fine, we sat outside in garden seats. After the usual exchange of courtesies, we engaged in a lengthy conversation about hypnotism and cognate subjects, which was most interesting. He introduced me to his wife and daughter, the latter a sweet girl, evidently the apple of his eye. They kept me to dinner, and the Doctor showed me with honest pride a splendid bronze statue by Mercié of “David slaying Goliath,” which had been presented to him on 25th May, 1890, by a number of eminent physicians of different lands on the occasion of his formal retirement from practice. They had flocked
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to Nancy from their various distant lands to offer their homage to the veteran psychologist, had given him a public banquet, and placed in his hands an album filled with their signed photographs. These tardy honors had not spoilt the old man in the least; he was as modest and gentle as possible in speaking of them and of his realised triumph, in old age, over the bigoted professional prejudice against which he had had to fight his way for twenty long years. I have jokingly told him that the artist Mercié had well symbolised in his bronze the Doctor’s battle and victory over Ignorance. I have met great men in my time, but never one who wore his greatness more humbly and unpretentiously than Dr. Liébault. I have a list of the contributors to this testimonial, numbering sixty-one names, all well known, many eminent in the medical profession in Germany, Austria, Belgium, Brazil, Canada, Spain, the United States, France, Great Britain, Holland, Italy, Russia, Sweden, and Switzerland. The Revue de l’ Hypnotisme for June 1891 contains a full report of the banquet and the moving speeches of M. Dumontpallier, of Paris, Van Renterghem, of Amsterdam, and Dr. Liébault’s response. Dr. van Renterghem voiced a great fact in saying:
It has often happened—too often, alas! as history shows—that the pioneers, the workers of the first hour, have had, as their sole reward for all their efforts and sacrifices, only contempt and outrage. The instances are rare, and may be counted, where such
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admirable lives have at length been crowned with honor and glory. But such a rare fact is here produced, and, remembering the injustice with which humanity has so often made its benefactors to suffer, we feel happy indeed to be in the way of repairing the injustice of which one public benefactor has been the victim during long years—the more so since the injustice has been borne in the noblest manner. Most frequently, great souls, ignored, let themselves fall into despair and misanthropy. But let us testify frankly that one cannot imagine to himself a man less bitter, less misanthropic, than the venerated M. Liébault. Alexander von Humboldt said that the first condition of genius is patience. You will concur with me that in this respect M. Liébault has surpassed all the geniuses of his time.”
I quote this as corroborative of my estimate of this dear altruist, in whose company I passed delightful hours during my visit.
When I come to look at it, everyone of us practises suggestion every day of our lives: as parents, giving children our rules of conduct; as business men, persuading each other as our interests prompt; as lawyers, persuading jurymen and judges; as preachers, winning over people to our sects; and as priests, keeping them in the straight paths of our doxies: the physician cures his patient by suggesting hopes of recovery and the efficacy of medicines; the flag in the forefront of battle is a suggestion that the nation honors its braves; the lover suggests domestic bliss to his sweetheart—and
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so on throughout the whole tangle of human relations. Finally, by the practice of Yoga we teach ourselves to suggest to ourselves self-control and the development of latent spiritual potentialities. From birth to death, the whole family of mankind are acting and reacting upon each other by interchange of thought, called psychical suggestion, and by interblending of auras, resulting in sympathetic mutual relations; the ideal outcome of which should be, in that far-distant day when humanity shall have progressed, the establishment of a reign of good-will on earth and a loving brotherhood of nations. And the modern discoverer of this power, which the good may use, like gods, beneficently, and the bad, like demons, with infernal selfishness, was Dr. Liébault, founder of the Nancy school of hypnotism.
I left Nancy on the 21st of August for Spa, viâ Longwy and Luxembourg. Through the stupidity of the railway officials I had to make a detour of 50 leagues, and so pass the battlefield of Mar le Duc, where there was a desperate struggle between the French and Germans in 1870; slept at Luxembourg, and reached Spa before noon on the next day. The occasion of my visit was to meet an American lady, a very earnest member of our Society. It certainly gives a serious man a profound contempt for high society to see its representatives wasting their time in the inane amusements of the gambling-rooms at these fashionable watering-places. Fancy a lot of full-grown, presumably intelligent men and women
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crowding around a long table on which are a number of tiny toy horses, with tiny jockeys astride them, moved by mechanism, and running races towards a goal—at best a pastime for children—working themselves up into a state of excitement and betting large sums as to which little horse will get in first! The spectator of such a scene can hardly help reflecting what a pitiful waste of time this is, and how blind to the real dignity of their humanity must these well-dressed idlers be, as though the supply of soul-stuff had run short just before they were being made.
To a travelling American, the sight of a king is always interesting, and so I was gratified to see and exchange salutes with the tall, handsome, soldierly-looking King of Belgium, who walked about, with his wife and daughter, amid the crowds with perfect freedom.
I found on reaching London most of the staff of Headquarters away on their holidays, Mrs. Besant was there, and I had the opportunity of hearing her give a splendid lecture at the Blavatsky Lodge on “East and West: the Future of the T. S.”. On the 28th I went to Canterbury to see my dear old friend Stainton Moses, the most brilliant of the writers on Spiritualism, so well known as “M. A. (Oxon)”. No two men could have been more drawn to each other than he and I; our friendship, begun through correspondence while I was still at New York, had continued unshaken throughout all changes and frictions between our respective parties, the Spiritualists
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and Theosophists. The recollection of this visit to Canterbury is one of my pleasantest memories, because of the delightful hours we passed together in wanderings about the ancient town and in the cathedral, and in affectionate talk. I can see before me now the picture of him standing on the railway platform, watching my receding train, and waving his hand in a farewell that was doomed to be eternal—that is, so far as this incarnation is concerned.
Returning to London, I escorted Mrs. Besant to the “Hall of Science” to hear her farewell address to the Secularists. With a curious incapacity for introspection, the leaders of that party had passed a vote that she should not be allowed to lecture any more on Theosophy if she wished to continue to speak from the Secularist platform. The poor creatures did not see that they were virtually setting up a new orthodoxy—that of Disbelief—and arrogating to themselves disciplinary authority over the pretended Freethinkers of their party. Annie Besant had given to that movement nearly all its culture and idealism, had thrown over its crude iconoclasm the iridescent veil of her own refinement and eloquence: Mr. Bradlaugh was their Hercules and embodiment of strength, she their Hypatia, embodiment of culture and winsome eloquence. They could afford to lose her least of all, and yet they were too blind to see that the inevitable result of their meditated tyranny would be to drive her out of their association into Theosophy, where independence of action and thought is not only tolerated, but enjoined.
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I sat on the platform with her looking over the large audience of intelligent faces, and felt very sorry to think that these useful pioneers of a new era of religious activity were so foolishly losing their best friend. Mrs. Besant’s, address vibrated with pathos as she defined the false position in which they sought to place her, and the imperative necessity that she should be true to the basic principle of their party by keeping perfect liberty of action in matters of conscience. Evidently a deep impression was made upon the majority; and I judged from the applause that if a poll of opinions had been taken she would have been asked to abide with the old friends with whom she had battled so many years against popular superstition and bigoted prejudice. But the critical moment was allowed to pass, since there was no one in the hall brave enough to rise and make the necessary motion; and so she and I passed out into the street, and, in the carriage on the way home, exchanged sympathetic views as to the future of the Secularist party.
From the fact that the address was published in full in the Daily Chronicle, and commented upon by, virtually, the whole British press, I am able to give a few extracts to show the general drift of her argument. She said that it was upon 28th February, 1875 that she had stood for the first time on that platform and spoken to a Freethought audience. She had written for the National Reformer under the pseudonym of “Ajax,” a name which she had chosen because the words which were said to have broken from the lips of that mighty
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hero, when the darkness came down on him and his army, were, “Light, more light!” And then she uttered this noble sentiment: “It is that cry for light which has been the keynote of my own intellectual life. It was and is so—wherever the light may lead me, through whatever difficulties. “She eloquently referred to the profound friendship which had existed between Mr. Bradlaugh and herself, and said that if there was one thing above all others which Charles Bradlaugh did, it was to keep the Freethought platform free from any narrowness of doctrine or belief recalled the stormy days of 1875-6 when their windows were broken, stones were thrown at them, and they walked the streets to and from the hall through brandished sticks. She said that she had broken with Christianity in 1872, and broke with it once and for all; she had nothing to unsay, nothing to undo, nothing to retract as regards her position then and now; she stood on the same ground as heretofore, and in passing into the newer light of Theosophy, her return to Christianity had “become even more impossible than in any older days of the National Secular Society”. She sharply distinguished from each other two very different schools of Materialism; one of which “cares nothing for man, but only for itself; which seeks only personal gain, and cares only for the moment. With that materialism neither I nor those with whom I have worked had anything in common. (Cheers.) That is the materialism which destroys the glory of human life, a materialism which can only be held by the degraded; never a
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materialism preached from this platform, or the training schools which have known many of the noblest intellects and purest hearts. To the materialism of such men as Clifford and Charles Bradlaugh I have no sort of reproach to speak, and never shall. (Cheers.) I know it is a philosophy which few are able to live out—to work without self as an object is the great lesson of human life. But there are problems in the universe which materialism not only does not solve, but which it declares are insoluble—difficulties which materialism cannot grapple with, about which it says man must remain dumb for evermore. I came to problem after problem for which scientific materialism had no answer. Yet these things were facts. I came across facts for which my philosophy had no place. What was I to do? Was I to say that nature was not greater than my knowledge, and that because a fact was new it was an illusion? Not thus had I learned the lesson of materialistic science. When I found that there were facts of life other than as the materialists defined it, I determined still to go on—although the foundations were shaking—and not be recreant enough in the search after truth to draw back because it wore a face other than the one I had expected, I had read two books by Mr. Sinnett, and these threw an intelligible light on a large number of facts which had always remained unexplained in the history of man. The books did not carry me very far, but they suggested a new line of investigation, and from that time forward I looked for other clues. Those clues were not definitely
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found until early in the year 1889. I had experimented then and before in Spiritualism, and found many facts and much folly in it. (Cheers.) In 1889 I had a book given me to review—a book written by H. P. Blavatsky, entitled The Secret Doctrine. I suppose I was given it to review because I was thought to be more or less mad on such subjects. (Laughter and cheers.) I knew on studying that book that I had found the clue I had been seeking, and I then asked for an introduction to the writer, feeling that one who had written it might tell something of a path along which I might travel.”
After defending the character of Mme. Blavatsky and the Theosophical Society, she concluded with this powerful peroration:
“Every month which has passed since Madame Blavatsky left has given me more and more light. Are you, I would ask, quite wise to believe that you are right, and that there is nothing in the universe you do not know? (Hear, hear.) It is not a safe position to take up. It has been taken up in other days and always assailed. It was taken up by the Roman Church, by the Protestant Church. If it is to be taken up by the Freethought party now, are we to regard the body as the one and final possessor of knowledge, which may never be increased? That, and nothing less, is the position you are taking at the present time. (“Yes,” “Yes,” “No,” “No,” cheers and hisses.) What is the reason I leave your platform? Why do I do so? I shall tell you. Because your
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Society sends me off it. The reason this is my last lecture is, because when the hall passes into the hands of the National Secular Society, I should not be permitted to say anything going against the principles and objects of that Society. (Hear, hear.) Now I shall never speak under such conditions. (Cheers.) I did not break with the great Church of England and ruin my social position in order that I might come to this platform and be told what I should say. (Cheers.) Our late leader would never have done it. (Cheers.) I do not challenge the right of your Society to make any conditions you like. But, my friends and brothers, is it wise? I hold that the right of the speaker to speak is beyond all limitation, save of the reason. If you are right, discussion will not shake your platform; if you are wrong, it would act as a corrective. (Cheers.) While I admit your right to debar me, I sorely misjudge the wisdom of the judgment. (Hear, hear.)
“In bidding you farewell, I have no words save words of gratitude. In this hall for well-nigh seventeen years I have met with a kindness which has never changed, a loyalty which has never broken, a courage which has always been ready to stand by me. Without your help, I should have been crushed many a year ago; without the love you gave me, my heart had been broken many, many years since. But not even for you shall a gag be placed on my mouth; not even for your sake will I promise not to speak of that which I know now to be truth. (Cheers.) I should commit a treachery to truth and conscience if I allowed anyone
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to stand between my right to speak and that which I believe I have found. And so, henceforth, I must speak in other halls than in yours. Henceforth, in this hall—identified with so much of struggle land pain, and so much also of the strongest joy nature can know—I shall be a stranger. To you, friends and comrades of so many years—of whom I have spoken no harsh words since I left you, for whom I have none but words of gratitude—to you I say farewell; going out into a life shorn indeed of many friends, but with a true conscience and a good heart. I know that those to whom I have pledged my services are true and pure and bright. I would never have left your platform unless I had been compelled. I must take my dismissal if it must be. To you now, and for the rest of this life, I bid farewell.”
Her concluding words were spoken with deep emotion, and it was very evident that the hearts of the majority of the audience were touched; tears could be seen in many eyes, and as she left the platform the hall rang again and again with deafening cheers.