OLD DIARY LEAVES, Fifth Series (1893-96)
by Henry Steel Olcott
SPAIN, LONDON, AND HOLLAND
MY journey back from Madrid to Paris was made tedious and unpleasant by delays caused by landslips on the line of the railway. I was compelled to stop a night at a doleful hotel at Zumarraga and the next one at Tolosa, whence we moved onward to Hendaye, the French frontier town. From thence I went on to Paris very comfortably in a Pullman car. The monotony of the Spanish transit was relieved by the conversation of an elderly Irish gentleman, with whom I had a delightful passage of wit. After some hours of travel the thing became monotonous to him, so he presently took from the net over his head his travelling bag, drew from it a bottle of Irish whiskey and politely asked his neighbors at his end of the compartment to join him in a friendly drink. I noticed that he had a rich Irish brogue and when he came to my end of the compartment and offered me the bottle I politely declined, using the same brogue. He stopped, looked at me in surprise and said: “You’re Irish!” When I insisted that I was an American he stoutly denied it,
SPAIN, LONDON, AND HOLLAND 323
adducing as proof positive the fact that I had the brogue and that he could tell the very county of Ireland that I came from. My protests and disclaimers went for nothing and when, laughingly, I told him that my ancestors had been born and died in America during the past 250 years, he looked at me with an expression of reproach that I can never forget and said: “Excuse me, Sor, but it’s not a nice thing for a man to deny his own country.” Dear old gentleman, perfect type of his nationality and class, I shall ever preserve in memory the fact that he paid me, in this way, the highest compliment possible as to my mimetic faculty.
I got to Paris in the early morning of the 8th of June, left for London at about noon and reached there at 8 p.m. At the Headquarters in Avenue Road, I found all well and all glad to see me.
The Executive Notice about the American Section, which I had drafted at Zumarraga, was sent to the printer for distribution throughout the Society. Some of Mr. Judge’s principal backers came to see me to discuss the case and try to persuade me to smoothe things over and let the secession take its course: needless to say, without avail. On the evening of Sunday, the 9th, I went with Mrs. Besant to her lecture on “Man as Creator out of the Body”. On the 11th I read 26 galleys of proof of the first volume of OLD DIARY LEAVES. I presided on the 12th at a very fine lecture by Mrs. Besant on the “Light and Dark Sides of Nature”. On the 14th I sent out certified printed copies of my Zumarraga Executive Notice dissolving
324 OLD DIARY LEAVES
the Judge secession organisations, for circulation generally throughout the Society. That evening Mrs. Besant and I met at the private house of an influential Spiritualist, John Slater, a well-known medium, who gave tests of identity of deceased friends to several persons present. My record for the day closes with a note that Miss F. H. Müller, our old colleague, had resigned from membership. In her letter of notification to the Westminster Gazette she says that she withdraws because there is no longer any reason for her remaining and that she does not “esteem the opinions of the leaders of the Theosophical Society”. I thought it a pity that she should have taken this extreme step and her subsequent drift from us to Vivekananda, from him to Christianity, and from that to her present position as the supposed special agent of the Higher Powers to bear their message to mankind, has not tended to give one the impression that she gained much by her withdrawal. She had always been my strong and valued personal friend and during her long connection with the Society had done what lay within her power to promote the movement.
I embraced the opportunity afforded me to spend some time with my very old friend and New York colleague, Mr. Richard Harte, who joined the Society at New York very early and whose connection with the Headquarters staff at Adyar for several years is fresh in the memories of our Indian members. During my visit of this year of writing (1903) I have heard of his untimely decease and was sincerely sorry to lose
SPAIN, LONDON, AND HOLLAND 325
the companionship of one who, despite his eccentricities, was a congenial friend. The latest number of Light that has reached me gives an account of his having begun to convey automatic messages from the “Spirit World” through a medium, and I think it more probable that they are genuine, for he is just the sort of chap who would take pleasure in making that kind of experiment for his own satisfaction.
One evening while he was at Adyar he made, in the presence of the Baroness Kroummess, F.T.S., of Austria, and myself, a very interesting experiment, viewed from the scientific side. He had procured in the bazaar a large glass clock-shade, which he placed on a cloth-covered writing-table in our library: to make sure that no air could get under the case another woollen cloth was spread for the edge to rest upon. In a short cork inside the shade was fixed a darning-needle, point upward; on which point was nicely balanced a long strip of newspaper margin, running to a point at one end and folded down the middle. Mr. Harte then had each of us in turn place our hands against the glass on the outside, and hold them still to see if his balanced paper indicator would be affected by any vital, magnetic, or other current emanating from our hands. There was some slight movement in the case of us two men, but when the Baroness’ hands touched the clock-case an agitation immediately began in the paper index and, finally, it swung on its pivot half around the circle. By changing her hands the motion was turned in the other direction. The
326 OLD DIARY LEAVES
experiment was several times tried and always with the same result. This antedates Dr. Baraduc’s apparatus for recording the effects of human vital currents by several years and, to my mind, is even more convincing than the vibrations of his needles
Mr. Harte had a chronic liking for experimental investigations in physics. While he was at Adyar, he had a carpenter at work about two years on a working model of a boat-propeller on the fish-tail principle, from which he had great hopes. He modified his plans fifty times until, finally, he was ready to test the efficacy of his propeller. So, on a warmish day he got into his boat, put his feet on the treadles that were to make the shaft revolve and at the word fell to with all his force: I, meanwhile, walking along the river-bank between two marked points with a watch in my hand. Before he had travelled over half the course the perspiration was streaming from him at every pore, yet his boat crawled along the water at an ominously slow speed. Arrived at the point of destination, he was pretty nearly done up and his state of mind may be judged from the fact that it appeared from our calculations that a steamer fitted with his fish-tail propeller would move at a rate of about two and a half miles per hour. Nevertheless he took his failure good-naturedly and bore me no malice for my laughing at him.
During my visit to London on the occasion under notice it was my good fortune to make the personal acquaintance of Madame Sarah Grand, authoress of
SPAIN, LONDON, AND HOLLAND 327
The Heavenly Twins, whom I found to be a most agreeable, cultured, and attractive lady. My dear old friend, C. C. Massey, whom I looked up as usual, I found depressed about the fall in land—values—he being a land-proprietor—and generally in a pessimistic mood. My friend Moore and I went one evening to hear a paper read before the Folklore Society by a noted author, and were greatly disgusted with the seeming moral weakness shown by him in dealing with the question of psychic phenomena; we were equally so with the speech made by another celebrity on the question, his remarks being couched in a tone of insolent and superficial scepticism as to the subject. It is inconceivable to me that a man who has become convinced of a certain truth should have the moral cowardice to shrink from giving his testimony to it: on the other hand, nothing arouses a stronger combative feeling in me than to hear a person who is absolutely ignorant of and incompetent to express an opinion upon psychic phenomena, venturing to air his worthless opinion and to insult persons who are qualified by long experience to discuss the phenomena in question.
Among my visitors on the 20th of June was a tall and handsome gentleman, Count Franz Bubna, F.T.S., of Austria whose acquaintanceship with us leaders of the Theosophical movement began, if we may believe our colleagues who have developed the power of reading the Akashic records, in the far-distant days of ancient Peru. His is only one of several such cases
328 OLD DIARY LEAVES
which have been brought to my notice and which go to show that the ties between myself and my fellow-members in the Society are not now formed for the first time in our present incarnations. It is indeed a pleasing thought that we have been evolving along the same ray of the Logos, and that our mutual relationship will be strengthened in proportion to our joint activity in our present life-work; that if we learn to love and work with each other now, death will not cut asunder the bond of union. I wish that every member of the Society could take to heart this truth, and apply it to all his relationships in life, for certainly in the case of those who are united in marriage or family ties, they would come to understand that their contact is not accidental, nor their permanent wrenching asunder inevitable or even possible.
On the day above mentioned I left for Holland and reached Amsterdam at 8 on the following morning by that short and agreeable route via Harwich and the Hook of Holland. The three days of my visit included delightful conversations with my dear friends of Amsterdam and the Hague, visits to Mr. Fricke’s model school, a steamboat excursion to Alkmaar, an old, quaint Dutch town four hours’ sail from Amsterdam, a reception and question-meeting at the Amsterdam headquarters, a visit to the Royal Museum, where the Director-General, Mr. Fred. Obreen, showed me all the pictorial treasures of the Dutch school, and a drive from the Hague to Scheveningen, the fashionable watering-place, during which the fisher
SPAIN, LONDON, AND HOLLAND 329
girls, standing along the road, burst into laughter as they saw my curly white hair and long beard and shouted after me the words “Welcome Klaus!” their popular name of Santa Claus, the children’s toy-bringer at Christmas-time. I left on my return journey on the 23rd and twelve hours later arrived in London after a pleasant transit by rail and boat from Amsterdam.