OLD DIARY LEAVES, Fifth Series (1893-96)
by Henry Steel Olcott
MRS. MITCHELL AND HYPNOTIC
WE have now seen the unsavory Judge case pass through the Judicial Committee and the General Council, so that only one stage remains before this page of our history can be turned down, viz., the European Section Convention. Of course the Convention had no jurisdiction over the matter, being the representative only of its own territorial area, but, for its information, the proceedings of the General Council had to be reported. Shortly after I had taken the Chair and called the meeting to order, a paper was handed in by Dr. Keightley and other representatives of the secession party, which proved to be an address of an apparently fraternal character, offering to co-operate with all bodies that were organised with the object of helping mankind. But when I came to read it, its real underlying motive was clearly exposed. It was not addressed to me as President of the Society and Chairman of the Convention of the European
MRS. MITCHELL AND HYPNOTIC EXPERIMENTS 361
Section, but to “The European Theosophists in Convention assembled as the ‘European Section of the Theosophical Society,’” that is to say, the self-styled European Section, etc., thus implying that there was no properly formed European Section but only a conclave of individual members. The discourtesy intended and expressed is too evident to require further notice, and, of course, as the responsible Chairman I had no choice but to have the paper laid, unread, upon the table. The vote on this was unanimous. In history there is no record, to my knowledge, of any such paper having ever been admitted to a reading by any sober assembly or convention. Yet it is amusing to note in the various complaints made against us by the seceders, one of unbrotherliness and discourtesy because of its exclusion. The fact is that it was simply a continuation of the impertinent tone adopted by the Boston Convention when it declared that the great international movement which H. P. B. and I had engineered for so many years, so successfully, “was solely the result of growth, and not the result of votes,” that the different modifications adopted “to suit the exigencies of the moment” were “merely de facto and not de jure”. The Judgeites offered in the Convention several resolutions of like tone, which were rejected, of course; whereupon they rose, to the number of 43, and departed from our midst: then came a huge sigh of relief and thenceforward the proceedings went on in the greatest harmony. And now let this whole black mephitic fog of secession be swept out to sea by the fresh breeze
362 OLD DIARY LEAVES
that is ever filling the sails of our richly freighted bark. That beloved Quaker poet, Whittier, has said in a few golden words all that we needed to have said:
The clouds, which rise with thunder, slake
Our thirsty souls with rain;
The blow most dreaded falls to break
From off our limbs a chain.
By way of contrast with the diagreeable sensations caused by the episodes in question I had the joy of a re-union with my sister, after a number of years—the one who was so kind and considerate to H. P. B. during the old Lamasery times at New York. It was a delightful change to be able to withdraw one’s thoughts from present surroundings and recall the days of our youth and the many years of our happy family life with our noble parents. I took her to various interesting places in and about London, often with Dr. Mary Weeks Burnett, and once or twice with Madame Le Roux, a French nun, Mother-Superior of a Spanish Convent, who had been converted to Theosophy by a perusal of our literature, supplemented with the persuasive arguments of my friend Xifré. The first volume of these DIARY LEAVES being in the press I had to give a good deal of time to proof-reading. On the 9th of July my wanderings about town were interfered with by an attack of gout, but by the next afternoon I had got well enough to drive to the house of my friends, the Earl and Countess of Jersey, for luncheon.
MRS. MITCHELL AND HYPNOTIC EXPERIMENTS 363
I do not recall any visit which gave my sister more leasure than one on the 11th to see a beloved friend of mine at Streatham Hill, whose tranquillity of mind and beauty of life is matched by the charms of the grounds about his country place.
Among my notable visitors of that time was Miss Brich, F.T.S., of Southampton, now so widely known as the wife of my good friend, Alan Leo, editor of Modern Astrology, and one of the most interested members of our Society in London. The lady has a decided gift for palmistry and, I believe, for psychometry as well. I know quite a number of persons who have been astonished at her power to trace out the varying incidents of their lives in the lines of their hands. It is useless for anyone to say that there is nothing in palmistry, or psychometry, or phrenology, or physio-gnomy, or even Dr. Buchanan’s Sarcognomy, for each and all of these are severally indications of the fact that the body of man is constructed by Nature after a plan in which the power of the indwelling entity is commingled with the plastic matter of flesh in such a way that the study of the latter, or rather of the body as a whole, is rewarded by glimpses more or less perfect, according to our developed discriminative powers, of the character of the dweller. The reader will remember that Professor Buchanan in announcing his system of Sarcognomy affirms that if a man’s head be removed, his character may be as accurately read from the developments of the body, as before. For my part, I hold to the idea which I have expressed before,
364 OLD DIARY LEAVES
that, seeing that the Eastern and Western systems of palm-readings are quite different, and yet that equally successful tracings of the subject’s life events have been made by proficients in both of the schools, it is not so much the hard-and-fast system of interpretation of the palm-lines as the possession of a psychical insight which enables the palm reader to trace out the vicissitudes of the subject’s life. This Mrs. Leo seems to have.
I took my sister one day to Maskeleyn & Cook and saw that infamous libel on our Society, the play of “Modern Witchcraft,” about which I have spoken already. As she had a strong personal attachment to H. P. B. and a lasting friendship had been con-tracted between them, she was as indignant as myself in seeing our mutual friend caricatured in such an unpardonable manner.
Richard Harte, who was a New York acquaintance of my sister as well as myself, came for dinner on the 16th of July and discussed metaphysics in his usual eccentric style, with Mr. Mead, Mrs. Mitchell, Dr. Weeks Burnett, and myself. On the 17th, my friend Xifré arrived from Spain, via Paris, and charmed our ladies by his finished courtesy and cheerful conversation. Mrs. Mitchell and I left London on the 18th for Margate where Mrs. Holmes, the animating genius of our local group, extended to us her hospitality, and at 8 o’clock that evening I lectured and answered questions afterwards until bedtime. On the following morning we sat on the jetty enjoying the balmy
MRS. MITCHELL AND HYPNOTIC EXPERIMENTS 365
sea breezes and watching the invalids and other visitors. While the season lasts, no summer resort offers a more delightful atmosphere than this famous place. I was interested in seeing my old American acquaintance J. L. Toole, the comedian, with whom we members of the Lotus Club used to pass many joyous hours at New York. Watching him being wheeled about in his bath-chair, a man stricken in years and seemingly feeble, one would never suppose that throughout a whole generation he had held without dispute so commanding a position as he did in the world of dramatic art.
On the afternoon of the same day we all went by train to Ramsgate, where Miss Hunter, our local leader, had arranged a meeting of members and inquirers to hear me discourse. The next day my sister and I left for France, via Boulogne, our kind hostess accompanying us across the channel for the sake of the excursion. We reached Paris at 11 p.m. and put up at my usual place, the Hôtel Gibraltar, then situate in the Rue St. Hyacinthe, but now and for several years past at the corner of the Rue de Rivoli and Rue St. Roch.
During the ten days that Dr. Burnett, my sister, and myself were together, we did much sight-seeing and profited by every opportunity to gain information about hypnotic science and the phase of therapeutics that was specialised by Professor Charcot at La Salpétrière. The headquarters of our movement in Paris was then in the Rue d’Estrées in charge of Madame Kolly, a
366 OLD DIARY LEAVES
most enthusiastic F.T.S., whose face is familiar in some of the group photographs of delegates present at London Conventions. She kept our rooms so tidy that it was a pleasure to visit them. Mr. Xifré also turned up in Paris and we had the pleasure of his company for four or five days until he left for Carlsbad to take his usual course of the waters. He took me one day to see a village of Soudanese negroes, that had been set up in the Jardin des Plantes, and a more dirty, stupid, and brutal group of human beings I never saw; despite their being Moslems, it seemed to me that they must be capable of every cruelty and treachery in their own country, and one visit was quite enough to satisfy our curiosity. On the 25the my nemesis of accumulated work overtook me, and while the ladies went to the various paradises of the Paris shops, I stayed at home, read thirty galleys of my book and wrote some twenty letters.
On the 26th we all went to call on our old colleague, Lady Caithness, Duchesse de Pomar, at her palace in the Avenue Wagram. We met there the gifted Madame de Morsier, who had been for years Lady Caithness’ indispensable Private Secretary and literary aid on the Theosophical magazine, L’Aurore, which she published for several years. Madame de Morsier and I were intimate friends and I was always very glad to meet her again. On the day in question she took me to call on Dr. Baraduc, who showed us some remarkable photographs of what purported to be astral light, human auras, and cosmic matter in the process of
MRS. MITCHELL AND HYPNOTIC EXPERIMENTS 367
differentiation. Whatever it might have been, the photographs were certainly very interesting. They have been engraved for one of his books on the subject, which have succeeded his first one, La Force Vitale, of which he presented me a copy. That evening I dined with Xifré and saw him off to Carlsbad.
On the 27th, armed with an introductory note from my acquaintance, Dr. Babinski, to his successor as Chef de Clinique, Dr. Souques, we visited La Salpétrière, and Dr. Souques was obliging enough to give my lady companions the opportunity of seeing some of the hypnotic experiments which Professor Charcot and his chief aid, Dr. Babinski, had shown me on the occasion of other visits. He also made with us an appointment for a second visit two days later.
Meanwhile I went on the 28th to the Ecole Polytechnique, on invitation, to see Colonel de Rochas make some hypnotic experiments for the edification of some of his scientific friends. I have seen him give demonstrations of the sort more than once and have found them invariably instructive. Being disembarrassed of the necessity of thinking about curing a patient and following out a medical routine, he dashes boldly into the subject from the standpoint of the student of psychology who has no ulterior motive beyond learning something new about psychology. It is a great loss, to us, his fellow-inquirers, that he should have taken pension lately and so broken up his laboratory at the Polytechnique. The several books which he has published are important contributions
368 OLD DIARY LEAVES
to this branch of science, and I hope that in his retreat he may produce other books embodying more of his notes of experiment, with the comments which his ripe experience and present freedom from official interference enable him to make.
According to appointment, then, the ladies and I made a second visit to La Salpétrière to see Dr. Souques experiment with one of Professor Charcot’s most famous subjects, known as “Blanche,” and with a fresh one. Among several successes the doctor made a failure in a case where I suggested that he should, before calling the sensitive into the room, gaze fixedly at a bright coin laid on the table, and try to keep the picture of it fixed in his mind until the hypnotic girl had entered, when he should attempt to transfer to her mind his visualised picture of the coin, and tell her that she might have the coin lying there as a present if she would pick it up. As remarked, the experiment failed and, as I told the doctor, because he had failed to keep vivid in memory the coin-image.
We all lunched with the Duchesse that day and in the evening a friend of Madame de Morsier, le Comte de Constantin, a very old experimentalist in mesmerism and clairvoyance, brought to my hotel at her request one of his mesmeric subjects. The best thing she did on that occasion was to read print and writing while her eyes were gummed and bandaged securely.
On the 30th our good friend, Dr. Weeks Burnett, left us for England and I took my sister about to see more objects of interest. All this time the publishers
MRS. MITCHELL AND HYPNOTIC EXPERIMENTS 369
were daily sending me rolls of page proofs of my book, which had to be read and returned at once so as not to keep the press waiting. On the afternoon of the day in question we made a call on a cousin of ours whom I had not seen for forty years, and who, naturally, brought up a thousand and one souvenirs of our childhood. At 9 p.m. on that day Mrs. Mitchell and I attended a séance at Lady Caithness’ palace, of what she called her “Star Circle”. There was a beautifully decorated little chapel quite in the old Gothic style, with a full-length and beautifully painted picture of the hapless Mary, Queen of Scots, in a sort of recess or chancel at the end of the room. Masked sidelights illuminated it so as to impress one with the idea that a living woman was waiting there to receive our salutations: the rest of the chapel was darkened. The Duchesse had been having this performance going on for a long time and seemed to be thoroughly convinced of the genuineness of her relations with the deceased queen through the paid mediums. One of these was a snuffy old woman in a rumpled bombazine dress, who gave messages by raps and table-tippings. One, to my address, purported to be from H.P.B. herself, and the Duchesse with an air of perfect conviction asked me if I did not think it was genuine. “Why, Duchesse,” said I “you knew Madame Blavatsky intimately, as well as I, and you certainly must be willing to admit that if she were indeed present, rather than give such a stupid performance, she would fling the table to one end of the
370 OLD DIARY LEAVES
room and the medium to the other!” Our hostess and I were on such terms of friendship that she took no offence at my candor, but still seemed as if she were not ready to abandon her faith in her employée. The other medium was a rather pretty young woman who wrote very rapidly at a side table while the other performance was going on. When I came to read her essay I found it good enough to put into the Theosophist as a sample of the best of the matter which was being given in this famous circle. Here is a paragraph from the paper, which, under the title of “Clairvoyance” will be found in the number of our magazine for April, 1896:
“What more staggering fact is there for human intelligence than that the immensity of the heavens reflects itself accurately at the sensitive end of the optic nerve, and that all the worlds which rush through the starry spaces, with the races which cover their surfaces, may be contained in the human eye, while man sees the creation merely because he condenses and contains it within himself. Thus in each human eye the same phenomenon repeats itself and immeasurable space faithfully come to each of us and mirror themselves in this luminous spark.”
The next day, on our way back from a visit to Versailles, my sister and I visited a splendid panorama called “L’Histoire du Siêcle” a visual presentation of the history of France within the past century. The painting was so well executed and the portraits of the chief personages of the several epochs were so accurate, that one got a very vivid idea of the course of events
MRS. MITCHELL AND HYPNOTIC EXPERIMENTS 371
since the pre-Revolutionary days of the eighteenth century and down to the current epoch, the Republic of Carnot (who was subsequently assassinated). I wish that the time might come when history would be taught in schools by this method, for I am sure that it would be more efficacious than any course of cramming out of dull books.
At the hotel on the evening of the 1st of August we had a second hypnotic séance with Mme. V. . . , M. de Constantin’s best clairvoyant. The results this time were much better than on the former occasion. Besides reading with gummed and bandaged eyes, she was made to exemplify the power of fascination by the unspoken command of the mesmeriser, her bodily weight was sensibly increased, and her nervous sensitiveness was changed so that, while her skin was insensible to pinches, touchings, and even pricks of a pin, or the point of a knife-blade, she could feel acutely every finger-touch or pin or knife-prick on the surface of a glass of water placed behind her and out of the range of her sight, after she had held it in her hands in her lap a few moments, so that the water might become saturated with the aura given off from her person. This is always a very interesting and instructive experiment. At the séance in question, not only the Count but I myself also tested the subject. She showed no sign of consciousness when I was pricking her arm and shoulder with a pin, but the moment that my sister, obeying my gesture, thrust a pin into the surface of the glass of water, the woman started and gave a
372 OLD DIARY LEAVES
little scream as she would naturally have done when the skin was pricked while she was in her normal waking state. I tested over and over again the power of attracting and repelling her by a mental command. The reader will bear in mind that the mesmeriser in this case was a private gentleman, and that his researches for so many years had been solely for the purpose of gaining scientific information.
The next day was the 2nd of August, and my 63rd birthday. With Madame Savalle, Jules Bois, the author, and M. Bailly, the publisher, we went to Aulnay-s-Bois to breakfast with M. Arthur Arnould, President of our chief Parisian Branch, and a very well-known journalist. The breakfast was itself worth remembering because of the superb omelet given us by our hostess. The house occupied a small corner of the Forest of Bondy, known to every schoolboy for its connection with the tragedy in which a murdered victim’s dog picks out of a crowd his master’s assassin, who is brought to justice.
On the next day, among other things visited, was the famed Musée Grévin, a collection of Waxworks that is superior to that of Madame Tussaud. Scattered here and there through the different galleries are life-size effigies of individuals and groups, so placed as to deceive the unwary visitor. One seats himself beside a quiet-looking gentleman who holds in his hand a catalogue and who seems to be occupied in looking at the wax group before him. One asks permission to see the catalogue for a moment and, getting no
MRS. MITCHELL AND HYPNOTIC EXPERIMENTS 373
answer, turns to repeat the question when, lo! the silent neighbor proves to be a man of wax. In one corner in a passage, a uniformed attendant seems to be taking a quiet nap but on inspection, he too proves to be wax. So that really one gets a bit bewildered and cannot always distinguish living persons from their ceramic simulacra. As my sister and I were sitting on a bench I noticed that various passers-by scrutinised us closely as if to make out what we were. This provoked my love of fun to try an experiment, so, moving to the other end of the bench and cautioning my sister not to betray me, I assumed a pose and looked at a fixed object with a steady stare; controlling my breath so as to make an almost imperceptible motion of my chest. Presently there came along a party which included a young woman of twenty-odd years, who stopped nearly in front of me, watched me for a couple of minutes, then nudged her cavalier and whispered: “How very lifelike! What a clever piece of modelling. Alphonse, it is really incredible.” Then, always keeping a watchful eye upon me, and encouraged by my immobility, she came timidly forward, stretched out her right arm and with her middle finger touched me on the cheek! This was too much for my gravity and I had to smile, but at the touch of the warm flesh the inquisitive young person gave a little scream, flushed up to her hair, and ran away: my sister, who throughout the scene had with the greatest difficulty resisted the tendency to laugh, now gave way to her mirth, in which all the bystanders joined.