OLD DIARY LEAVES, Fourth Series (1887-92)
by Henry Steel Olcott
FROM STOCKHOLM TO KYOTO
BARON HARDEN-HICKEY had been so expeditious with his translation of the Buddhist Catechism that I was able on the 31st of August—only three weeks after we had made our arrangement in Paris about its publication—to read the printer’s proofs in London.
On the 2nd of September I went to the Aquarium to see “Joseph Balsamo, the Boy Mesmerist,” who gave a striking, but revolting, exhibition of phenomena by suggestion upon a wretched sensitive. If anything can be a prostitution of a noble science, it is these public degradations of subjects by travelling, charlatan mesmerisers: the drinking of lamp-oil and eating of tallow candles under the delusion that they are delicious food, and the compulsory doing of acts which lower the sense of manhood, are such outrages upon the private rights of the individual that the most ardent advocate of mesmerism would not object to have them forbidden by law. For my part, I do not wonder that these mesmeric and hypnotic public exhibitions have been prohibited by the authorities
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of different countries of Europe when I see what terrible after-effects sometimes follow the peripatetic “lecturer’s” demonstrations of his power of hypnotic suggestion. One of the perils of our times is the abuse of this mysterious faculty, and no one who has the least friendly regard for a relative or friend should abstain from warning him or her—especially her—of the danger incurred in lending themselves for such experiments. We have seen in our time women giving such exhibitions, one at least, a powerful mesmeriser, but this makes the risk no less, nor her offence the more excusable. There was at the Aquarium, at the same time, a Frenchman calling himself Alexandre Jacques, who was making a fifty days’ fast, under medical supervision. I saw him on the thirty-fourth day, and had quite a talk with him. He told me that he ate nothing, but took a herb powder which sustains life. He said that it was composed of common herbs, to be found almost everywhere. His weight was diminishing at the rate of 4 ozs. daily, but he appeared to be in good health. When the famous Dr. Tanner made his forty days’ fast at New York, some twenty years ago, under the strictest medical observation, night and day, some of the medical profession persisted in declaring it a fraud, because they believed it an impossibility for a man to go so long without nourishment. But if anyone wishes to have such doubts removed, he need only go among the Jains at Bombay and see elderly women making this very protracted fast with great ease at a certain period of the year.
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They are supposed to gain great merit by this asceticism; and the ludicrous part of it is that this merit has a certain commercial value, and they sell it for solid rupees to self-indulgent co-religionists who do not feel like mortifying the flesh, but are quite willing to get merit vicariously! Is this very different from the once prevalent traffic in papal pardons, so briskly carried on at the time when Luther dashed his mailed fist against the Vatican door, or the paying of men in cassocks to pray souls out of purgatory?
A fortnight before the day fixed for my sailing for New York, our friends at Stockholm telegraphed a request that I would visit them before my departure; and as the prospect was most agreeable, I consented, and left London on 4th September for that place, viâ Hull and Göteborg. The passenger season had closed, and the stories that I had read about the dangers of that tempestuous North Sea, with schoolboy reminiscences of the maelstrom, made me think that I was going to run an exceptional risk in making the voyage, and I actually made my will before leaving London. When, however, I found that I was sailing on as smooth a stretch of water as heart could desire and under a bright sunshine, I felt as though I wanted to find some corner where I could hide my mortification. Without adventure I reached Stockholm on the third evening, and was greeted at the station by all our members, headed by the good Dr. Zander, who took me to his house. An indelible impression was made upon my mind during my three
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days’ stay by the sweet hospitality and charming naturalness of the Swedish people. It was a case of love at first sight; and now that, during the past summer, I have revisited Sweden and been in the other Scandinavian countries, the impression is strengthened. In all my life I never met such uniformly delightful people. Hospitality is with them as much a religious duty as it is with the Hindus; and I fully indorse the opinion expressed by a Swedish lady, in a recent letter, where she says: “In my country the very fact that a person is a foreigner entitles him to double consideration, hospitality, and politeness.” Every hour of the day had its engagements, mostly public. There was a Branch meeting, at which I responded to an address of welcome; the next day, a lecture at the Hall of the Academy of Sciences, to an excellent audience; three conversaziones! a supper every evening, and a farewell dinner and surprise party at Dr. Zander’s house on the day of my departure. The pleasant recollections of the visit have been since marred by a disagreeable lesson as to the mendacity of hysterics, and the danger of being alone with such persons under any circumstances.
On the second day of my visit I was invited to an audience with his Majesty Oscar II, King of Sweden and Norway, at his palace outside the town. I found him a most cultured gentleman, gracious and unpretentious in his manners. His reception of me was all that I could have asked, and he kept me talking for more than an hour on Masonry, Symbolism, Religion,
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Spiritualism, and Theosophy, on all of which subjects he gave proofs of extensive reading and sound reflection. He at once relieved me of the embarrassment of standing, inviting me to sit with him at a small table, where each of us drew figures on paper, illustrative of the symbolical expression of religious and scientific ideas by different nations. His Majesty cordially invited me to stop a day or two longer at Stockholm, so that I might become acquainted with a person for the sanctity of whose character he entertained a great respect, but I was obliged to hurry back to London to continue my voyage, and we parted with cordial expressions of mutual good-will. Of course, it is universally known that King Oscar is one of the best linguists and most cultivated men in Europe, an Oriental scholar and a patron of learning, and the reader may imagine what pleasant recollections I must have of my interview with him in his own palace.
I returned to London viâ Copenhagen, Kiel, Hamburg, Bremen, Osnabrûck, and Flushing, but when I went to claim my luggage I found that my trunk had been left behind en route, although booked through from Stockholm. This was a serious matter, for I was to sail from Liverpool in three days; to make things worse, my steamer and railway tickets, as far as Yokohama and Colombo, were in the trunk, together with half my clothes and some money. Telegraphing and worrying did no good, and I had to sail without it. The greatest annoyance was the behavior of the Messageries people, who actually would not give me
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a duplicate ticket until I had got the Manager of the great London bank where I keep my sterling account to sign a guarantee. When I went to tell him about this preposterous demand, he said it was something novel in his experience, but as he happened to know me for an old customer, he kindly complied with the French company’s demand. As for the American line, they granted me the duplicate tickets without a moment’s hesitation. I recovered the trunk ultimately at Colombo, on my way home from Japan.
My boat was one of the largest and swiftest of the “ocean greyhounds”; she rushed through the water like a swordfish at the rate of 20 miles an hour, even in the roughest seas. This was all very well for those who liked speed at whatsoever cost, but my recollection is that it was the most uncomfortable ocean travelling I ever did, for, what with the working of the engines and the thrashing of the propellers, the ship was in a constant vibration that was enough to upset the nerves of most people. Withal, she pitched and rolled so that barely a fourth of the passengers appeared at the table. I met some delightful people on board, whom I shall be very glad to see again, and happily escaped the usual call for a lecture: both the sick and the well were engaged in thinking much more of their stomachs than of their souls. The members of my own family, my friends Fullerton and Neresheimer, and others, met me on landing, and I was enjoying the prospect of getting speedily to my sister’s house, but my unfortunate notoriety barred the way. A
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dozen reporters, representing the principal New York journals, wanted to interview me, and as this could not be done conveniently on the wharf, Mr. Neresheimer had engaged a drawing-room at the Astor House, and had placed small tables around the four sides for the convenience of the reporters. Thither I was taken, installed in a big chair, given a cigar, allowed to remove my coat, as it was a very warm evening, and then subjected to a cross-questioning about my doings within the twelve years since my departure for India, and, generally, the condition and prospects of the Theosophical movement. It was a most amusing episode, this interview at wholesale; but being an old journalist myself, I managed to give the young fellows the sort of “copy” they wanted, and the next morning my arrival was heralded by the whole press, and my portrait appeared in the five principal dailies. Of course it was very late before I could get to bed.
I found New York greatly changed in many respects; many of my old friends were dead, and many landmarks had disappeared. I, too, had changed in a marked degree, for after so many years of the placid intellectual life of the Orient, the mad quiver and rush of American life upset me greatly. I could not have realised that so radical a change would have come over me. My brothers wanted me to look at the giant buildings which had sprung up towards the sky and other so-called improvements; but I told them that I would not exchange my desk and library, and the restfulness of my Adyar home, if anyone should
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offer to give me the biggest of the buildings on condition that I should return to live at New York. Yet it was very sweet to meet so many old friends, some even of my school days, and the relatives whom I had not seen for so long. But I was not sorry when the time came for me to hurry across the continent towards the lands of the Rising Sun. My family was now the members of the Society; my friends, my working colleagues; my home, the Adyar Headquarters; my ambitions, aspirations, hopes, loves, and very life had passed into the Society; my country had become the wide world. Not that I loved America and my kinsfolk less, but that I loved the cause more.
My American visit was intended to be a mere transit, not a tour. It was now the end of September, and I had to be at home early in December to make ready for the Convention; meanwhile, I had some 15,000 miles of travel before me. While at New York I gave one public lecture to a very large audience, in Scottish Rite Hall, on Madison Avenue. The chairman, an amiable F.T.S., must have been unaccustomed to facing such crowds, for, intending to just merely introduce me, he wandered off into a discourse on Theosophy which must have taken close on forty-five minutes, and tired the audience very much. Meanwhile, I sat there like a simple auditor, and was half tempted, when I finally did get the floor, to say that as my friend had fully enlightened them about Theosophy, it was not worth my while to detain them any longer, and with that make my bow and retire.
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But as, clearly, that would not do, I went on with my address, and was very heartily applauded at the close. Then followed a pleasant experience, when one old friend after another came up to the platform and shook hands with me.
On the 28th I took the overland train of the Pennsylvania Road, and soon was spinning across the continent at the rate of 45 miles an hour. It almost seemed as though some tricksy elementals of the luggage department had been following me from Stockholm onward, for, having lost one trunk between there and London, I now found that the other had been left behind at Chicago by mistake. Then we had an accident to our sleeping-car which was quite enough to stimulate the nerves of an excitable person; for in the night of the 2nd, eight of its wheels flattened out—fortunately without doing any harm to us--and we were transferred to an ordinary carriage, where we passed a very miserable time until morning.
I was met at Sacramento by Mrs. Gilbert and Dr. Cook, the President and Secretary of our local Branch, and hospitably entertained at the house of the latter. Among my visitors was a gentleman who had been employed as a clerk in my office when I was Special Commissioner of the War Department. Some of the callers asked my advice on confidential personal matters, domestic and otherwise. It is one of the peculiar features of my tours that I am regarded as a sort of father confessor, to whom all are free to confide their secrets and ask for comfort in their
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sorrows. One gets in this way not only an idea of the extent of misery that prevails in social life, but also of the weakness of will which is too common among people who have fixed their aspirations on the Higher Life, but find the path full of stumbling-stones. The satisfaction one has in lightening, by ever so little, this burden of private grief, more than compensates for the trouble given by the seekers after advice.
On the evening of Sunday the 4th I lectured in public on “Theosophy and H. P. B.,” and a conversazione followed. The next morning I made the short journey to San Francisco, and became the guest of that sympathetic and cultured gentleman, Dr. Jerome A. Anderson. The chief workers of the city called on me, and on the following day the Branch gave me a formal reception, with a friendly address, to which I responded. Mr. Judge, who had been making a tour on the Pacific Coast, was in San Francisco at the time of my arrival, also a guest of Dr. Anderson, and here practised—for the time being, most successfully—another deception upon me. It was in connection with the mysterious Rosicrucian Jewel, formerly belonging to Cagliostro, but in my time worn by H. P. B.1 I say “mysterious” with reason, because the pure white crystals with which it was set had the occult property of changing their color to a dark green, and sometimes muddy brown, when she was out of health. I shall not dwell upon the details of his
1 [Now worn by Mrs. Besant.—ED.]
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falsehood, as it will have to be spoken of in connection with the transactions at London, when he was cited before a Judicial Committee which I convened to try him on the charges of malfeasance brought against him.
The ladies of our local Branch had organised a charming scheme of moral and religious instruction for children, to which they gave the name “The Children’s Hour.” A special exhibition of it was given for my information, and it delighted me very much. The motive was to impress upon the youthful minds the idea of the fundamental resemblance between the world religions, and the advisability of learning to be kind and tolerant to all men, of whatsoever race or creed. A senior girl represented Theosophia, and others the Founders of religions—Krishna, Zoroaster, Gautama Buddha, Christ, Mahommed, etc. Each of these held a staff carrying a symbolical pennant. A simple yet excellent dialogue was framed, in which Theosophia put questions to each of the flag-holders, to give him or her the chance to quote from the Scriptures of the Founder of that religion verses which embodied the Theosophical spirit. The children wore pretty dresses, there was some little marching and other exercises, and all seemed to enjoy the occasion. It would be a good thing if this device were adopted throughout the whole Society, for it is calculated to be of great service in implanting Theosophical ideas in the youthful mind.
The, to me, most delightful incident of my San Francisco visit was a meeting with three brothers of
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the Steele family, with whom I was brought into contact at Amherst, Ohio, in 1851-2-3, and whom I may almost regard as my greatest benefactors in this incarnation, since it was from them, and the other bright minds and noble souls connected with them in a Spiritualistic group, that I first learned to think and aspire along the lines which led me ultimately to H. P. B. and the Theosophical movement. The family had migrated to California, become great landed proprietors—rancheros—and attained to places of distinction in that State: one was a judge, another a senator, a third President of the great Society of the Grangers. The hours we passed together were full of unalloyed delight, and the life-pictures which had been concealed behind the veil of latent memory for forty years came out again, vivid and real. On the evening of the 7th I lectured at Metropolitan Temple on the same subject as at Sacramento; Mr. Judge was chairman, and we had on the platform a life-size photograph of H. P. B., standing on an easel. On the 8th I embarked on the “Belgic” for Yokohama, a host of T. S. friends seeing me off, and loading me with flowers.
The Pacific Ocean was true to its name, a calm sea and sunshine following me almost all the way across. We had a few rough days and some rolling of the ship, but not enough to cause much inconvenience. It seemed as though I had not finished with the meeting of persons who would bring back to me the memory of the olden days, for the surgeon of the
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“Belgic” proved to be the son of a charming lady whom I had known as a schoolgirl at New York many years before her marriage; moreover, he was the living image of his mother. When I came to recall the past I realised that but for the advice of this lady and her elder sister, I should never have gone to Cleveland, Ohio, in 1851, whence I went to Elyria, thence to Amherst and the Steeles; those ladies, then, formed the first link between my home-life at New York and my spiritual enfranchisement at Amherst. By this I do not mean that I had ever been a follower of my parents’ religion, or sectarian of any sort, but that, until I became associated with the Amherst circle, my mind had been lying fallow, waiting for the sowing of the seeds of Theosophical thought.
After a voyage of seven days we reached Honolulu, and stopped there twenty-four hours before continuing the journey. We went ashore and looked about the place, some of us going to see Dr. Trousseau’s ostrich farm. The birds were kept in paddocks, with an avenue running through the middle, and wide enough so that persons passing through could not be reached by the iron beaks of the male birds, who are not at all friendly at certain seasons. The proprietor of the farm, with whom I had some conversation, expressed himself as well satisfied with the profits of the undertaking, saying that the yield of plumes fit for commerce was a good deal larger than the average. We sailed again on the 16th, taking our fine weather along with us. On the 19th I accepted an invitation given me
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at the urgent request of a large missionary party on board to lecture on Theosophy, and thenceforward, throughout the voyage, this subject was very much talked about. On the 21st we crossed the l80th meridian of longitude, and thus, in a Pickwickian sense, blotted out Tuesday, it being Monday until noon, and then Wednesday. I had to laugh when I recalled the ingenious employment of this device by Jules Verne to make his eccentric hero get around the world in eighty days, and thus win the bet at the London Club, which depended on this result. The festive missionaries relieved the tedium of their voyage by a lot of hymn-singing.
We reached Yokohama at 7 p.m. on the 28th of October, the 20th day according to the calender after leaving Frisco, but including the day which had been nominally obliterated. We were inexpressibly shocked to learn on arriving that on the morning of that very day one of the most disastrous earthquakes in the history of Japan had spread devastation over a wide area: thousands of buildings, including some of the strongest temples, had been destroyed, and thousands of persons killed. It was not a promising time for me to get the High Priests together to consider my Fourteen Propositions. However, I got them translated into Japanese by Mr. N. Amenomori, an excellent English scholar, of Yokohama. He completed the task the same day, so that I was able to leave on the 31st for Kobé, en route for Kyoto. As the earthquake had broken up the railway, I went by the P. & O. S.S.
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“Ancona,” and the weather being delightful, had fine views of the coast and of Fugi San, the snow-capped sacred mountain, whose glittering cone, figures so very often in Japanese paintings. It was certainly one of the most charming journeys in the world—almost like fairyland. We reached Kobé at 1.30 p.m. on 1st November, and I put up at the Hiogo Hotel, at the waterside, where I had the honor and pleasure of meeting Professor John Milne, the world-renowned seismologist.
From what I heard I had good reason to fear that it would be very difficult for me to get the signatures of the Chief Priests of the sects to my Platform, as a number of them had left Kyoto for the scenes of earthquake disaster. However, I determined, since I was on the ground, to overcome all obstacles, in view of the immense importance of the object sought. I went on to Kyoto on the 2nd, and put up at my old inn, Nakumraya’s Hotel. I notified the two Hongwanjis and the Ko-sai-kai—the General Committee of all the sects, which I had induced them to form on the occasion of my former visit—of my arrival. My rooms were thronged with visitors the next and following days. Among the old acquaintances were Mr. Nirai, formerly a leading member of the Young Men’s Buddhist Committee which sent Noguchi as a sub-committee to Madras to personally escort me to Japan; and that highly influential and agreeable priest, Shaku Genyu San of the Shin-gon sect. He was a most enlightened man, open to all good suggestions
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for the advancement of his religion, and travelled with me over the empire when I was there before. We had a very earnest discussion over the Fourteen Propositions, the wording of which he found perfectly satisfactory; but he put it to me why it was necessary for the Northern Church to sign these condensed bits of doctrine when they were so familiar that every priest-pupil throughout the empire had them by heart: there was infinitely more than that in the Mahayana. In reply I said: “If I should bring you a basketful of earth dug out of a slope of Fuji San, would that be part of your sacred mountain or not?” “Of course it would,” he answered. “Well, then,” I rejoined, “all I ask is that you will accept these Propositions as included within the body of Northern Buddhism; that they are a basketful of the mountain, but not the whole mountain itself.” That view of the case seemed to be quite convincing; and when I had argued at length upon the vital necessity of having some common ground laid out on which the Northern and Southern Churches might stand in harmony and brotherly love, offering a united front to a hostile world, he promised to do his best to have my wish accomplished. He then left me to go and see some of his leading colleagues, and on the 4th returned with a favorable report and signed the document on behalf of the Ko-sai-kai, thus giving my scheme the imprimatur of the approval of the united sects, even although I should secure no other signatures. But I did, as personally, and through the medium of
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Shaku San, the Chief Priests who were within reach of Kyoto could have the thing explained to them. Before leaving for Kobé on the 9th I had got all the sects except the Shin-shu to sign the paper. This latter sect, as the reader may remember, occupies an entirely anomalous position in Buddhism, as their priests marry—in direct violation of the rule established by the Buddha for his Sangha—have families and hold property; for example, a temple will pass from father to son. At the same time they are by far the cleverest sectarian managers in all Japan, drawing immense revenues from the public, and building superb temples everywhere. They are, par excellence, the most aristocratic religious body in the empire. They excuse their infraction of the monastic rules on the ground that they are samaneras, semilaymn, not full moenks. The principal men among them whom I needed to see were away in the earthquake districts, where they had suffered great losses; and as my time was extremely limited, and the people whom I saw would not give me a definite answer, I had to do without those signatures. However, as they were represented in the Ko-sai-kai, Shaku San’s signature on its behalf virtually gave me the consent of the whole body of Northern Buddhists. My joy in achieving this result may readily be imagined.