OLD DIARY LEAVES, Fifth Series (1893-96)
by Henry Steel Olcott
AFTER THE CONVENTION
MRS. BESANT, having contracted with an Australian Manager to make a lecture tour throughout Australia and New Zealand (?), with the special understanding that she should be free to lecture on Theosophy, gave a farewell lecture at the Blavatsky Lodge on “The Meaning of Devotion,” and on the following Wednesday left for Australia; Mr. Bertram Keightley went with her as a fellow-passenger as far as Colombo. Mr. Judge and Dr. Buck got off for New York on Saturday, the 21st, and I bade them farewell at Euston Station.
On the previous evening I went with Mrs. Besant to Bow Street to officially close the Women’s Club which, it will be remembered, had been started with a capital of £ 1,000 given to H. P. B. for this philanthropic object. The experiment had proved a failure, probably because its moral tone was too high and there were no male fellows, potential lovers, to fill in the time with courtships and kisses. We had a very pleasant evening, however, and the girls were amusingly enthusiastic over my singing of some Irish songs—things that they could very easily understand, being on their own intellectual level.
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On the 22nd I went to Ramsgate to lecture and had a large audience despite a rainy evening. Whether the result of a low barometric pressure, or not, I cannot say, but I note in my Diary that the questions put and answered after the lecture were unusually stupid. Returning to London the next morning, I got through a lot of office-work and in the evening attended a meeting of the London Lodge at Mr. Sinnett’s house, at which I met a number of my oldest friends in Theosophy.
On the 30th of the month I went to Liverpool and lectured. It was at this meeting that a red-headed Irishman convulsed the audience by expressing his views about my lecture on “Reincarnation,” and flingingat me what he expected to be a staggering question: “Misther Chairman, Sur, I’d loike to ax Colonel Olcott a quistion. Here he’s been talkin’ to us a lot of sthuff about rayinkyarnation, but what does he know about it, at all? Can he till me fwat I wuz in me last birrth: wuz I Julius Cæsar or a moommy?” Of course a roar of laughter rewarded him, but, keeping a solemn face and looking towards his corner of the hall with an expression of bland benevolence, I replied that the gentleman had put so profound a question as to make it clear that he was a thinker who went to the bottom of things; that I made no pretence to seership, and could not, like some of my colleagues, look behind the veil to the past, I could only judge from analogy. As the gentleman had kept so quiet throughout the evening, I might have been
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warranted in supposing him to have been a mummy in his last previous birth; but now that he had broken out in his martial way we might imagine it possible that he had been that great Roman General, Julius Cæsar The audience seemed to appreciate the joke, and the questioner, like a true jolly Irishman, finding the laugh turned against him, was silent and, I passed on to the next question.
Southport was my next stopping-place and there I gave a private lecture to our members and their friends and answered questions. Next, on the 1st of August, I moved on to Manchester, and at the house of Mr. and Mrs. Larmuth, F.T.S., held a parlor talk with a roomful of company. The next morning was devoted to visitors and after luncheon I went to Bradford where our dear friends, Misses Pope and Ward, entertained me. At the lecture in the evening I found in the audience one gentleman whom I had met in Japan in 1889, and one who was on the steamer with me going to Sweden in 1891. On the 3rd I went to York, where a lecture was given in the evening to an appreciative audience on “Theosophy and the Theosophical Society”. Middlesborough, the great iron-manufacturing centre, where was held the quarterly Conference of the Northern Federation previously alluded to, was my next station. I presided at the meeting and addressed the delegates of nine Branches and two Centres; after which I moved on to Harrogate, and at 10 p.m. reached the hospitable house of our colleague, Mr. Goode, a retired Purser of the P. & O. Company’s
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Service. My lecture on the following evening was, by request, on “Theosophy and Buddhism”. In the course of a drive into the country a couple of days later, my host took me to one of those quaint old hostelries made familiar to us by writers on English country life, but the like of which is not to be found in all my own country. It was called the Clap Gate Inn. On the old creaking sign outside was painted this gem of poetry:
This gate is free,
And hinders none,
Refresh and pay,
And then pass on.
The, common-room is quaint to a degree, with old oaken settles near the fireplace and opposite, a stone-flagged floor, small window panes and a general air of cosiness that makes it easy to imagine how the place must look of a cold winter night with a bright fire burning and the cheerful landlady, Mrs. Mary Ann Brown, serving out to each bucolic customer his favorite tipple.
Leeds was my last halting-place during this short tour before leaving for Ireland. I lectured at that place on the evening of the 7th, was put up by Mr. W. H. Bean, F.T.S., and on the 8th took train for Holyhead, from whence I was to cross the Irish Channel to Dublin. I reached the Irish capital at 9.30 p.m. and was taken straight to the local headquarters at 3 Upper Ely Place, where I held a conversation-meeting from 10 to 11 and then was free to remove myself to the chummery of the genial Bates brothers, whose house-keeper
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was the daughter of my old friend, Mrs. Londini, of Liverpool. On the next morning I had a reception. for visitors at headquarters, took tea with Mr. and Mrs. Dick there later, and at 8 p.m. lectured on “Theosophy” at the “Antient Concert Rooms”. My return passage to London, via Holyhead, was stormy and thoroughly disagreeable, equal to that one had to endure in bad weather between Colombo and Tuticorin. However, I got safely to Avenue Road before midnight, glad enough to get to bed.
On the afternoon of the 11th I called by appointment on Sir R. H. Mead at the Colonial Office, to discuss the obnoxious “Quarter-Mile Clause” in the Ceylon Education Bill. This, as my readers may know, was an ingenious trick of the Missionary party to prevent Buddhist villagers from opening, schools within a quarter of a mile of any existing Christian school: as all the best sites had been occupied by them already it amounted to an exclusion of the Buddhists from their own villages for school purposes, and left them the option of erecting their buildings away from a convenient centre or of sending their children to schools where they would be taught that their religion was idolatrous paganism, infinitely inferior to Christianity. Sir Richard Mead and I were old acquaintances, my first interviews with him dating back to 1884 when I was settling the difficulties of the Sinhalese Buddhists with Lord Derby and the Colonial Office. A more genial and fair-minded official than Sir Richard it would be hard to find.
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For over a year Maskeleyne and Cook had been coining money at their theatre in the Egyptian Hall with a disgraceful libel on the Theosophical Society and H. P. B., introducing into their play, “Modern Mystery,” a number of very clever illusions and imitations of psychical phenomena. Among these was an aërial suspension. A man is made to lie upon a board apparently suspended in mid-air; Maskeleyne walks around him and waves a drawn sword above and below the plank to show that it is neither suspended by hooks from the ceiling nor supported by props beneath: an illusion of course, but by what means done I cannot say. Another illusion was the apparition of a man dressed in Oriental garb, coming out of a dark background, and illuminated by gradual degrees by some hidden light which produces what was meant to be the effect of a radiant aura: there is also the phenomenal dropping of letters or written messages, composed in the sight of the audience, by a man dressed up to represent our dear H. P. B., but who spoke with an Irish brogue. In collusion with her was a person called “Professor” something, who was supposed to be a learned German chemist, with no moral principle to speak of; a rich young woman figures as the selected dupe of the conspirators. My name was brought into the dialogue, it being intimated that they could not depend on my standing by them if I should discover their trickery, but the representative of H. P. B. said that they could use my name for some time yet and that it behooved them to hasten the
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plucking of the pigeon in question. Altogether it was a revolting spectacle, and made one wish that he might have the offenders in some breezy place “out West” where a good cowhiding could be indulged in with the consent of public opinion. I had a mind to take legal proceedings for defamation, but by advice of counsel abstained, as the chief party aggrieved was dead and the Society would have no standing in Court as a legal entity. I am not sure but that, after all, this libel with its run of a year and more, and its audiences numbering many, many thousands, did not do us on the whole more good than harm; and so let it pass into oblivion along with the many other futile attempts to harm us and check our irresistible movement.