OLD DIARY LEAVES, Fifth Series (1893-96)
by Henry Steel Olcott
FIRST VISIT TO BERLIN
AT the house of Dr. Baraduc on the following day I met at lunch one of the most interesting men whom I have seen in France, a Dominican friar, whose white woollen robe and intelligent face reminded me of the description given of that great historical personage, Apollonius of Tyana. And, by the way, how majestically looms up against the background of history this incomparable man. The friar was an intimate friend of the family of my host and discussed with me for hours together and in the most amicable tone, the teachings of Eastern and Western philosophy. There is something about these well-educated ascetics of different religions, a something of unworldliness and high aspiration, which leaves a lasting impression upon the minds of those who come into contact with them. No wonder that princes show them homage and the greatest merchants and other capitalists place themselves at their feet to receive instructions. I have met many in my time—Hindus, Buddhists, Parsis, Mahomedans and Christians, all of whom made me think better of humanity; but towering above them all, and excelling
FIRST VISIT TO BERLIN 375
them in sweetness of expression and speech and the resplendency of spirituality, stand our Teachers and Masters.
What stronger contrast could there have been to this encounter with the worthy friar than the pictorial history of one of the most revolting pictures in the annals of the race, the panorama of the Bastille incident of the French Revolution, wherein we saw a glimpse of our humanity in its wildest, most murderous aspect: the mob shouting and fighting, volunteers enlisting, Marat and Hébert, those head devils of anarchy, looking on unmoved at the raging of the storm which they had helped to bring about.
My sister and I went on the same evening to the Robert Houdin conjuring show, originally founded by the great French conjurer himself, and since his death kept up by his pupil and successor, a man with a Scotch name which now escapes me. The tricks shown were extremely good and puzzling. We had table-turning and lifting by unseen agencies, and communications given by a human skull and an artificial detached hand that rapped out what they had to say on squares of thick plate glass brought forward in the aisle among the audience. Of course it was an electrical trick. We sat where we had a good view of the thing but neither of us could form any idea as to the nature of the mechanical appliance used.
I have always been fond of these exhibitions and two days later took my sister to see another show of the kind at the Theatre Isola. The puzzle offered us on this
376 OLD DIARY LEAVES
occasion was an exhibition of thought-transference which, though doubtless a humbug, was sufficiently surprising as may be inferred from the test which I gave the performer, M. Albertini. I told him to get his female subject, Mlle. Zmyka, to leave the stage, take her seat in a certain chair in the audience and say “Vive la Republique!” Without any apparent communication between them she obeyed his unspoken order, came and sat in the designated chair and cried, not what I had told him, but “Vive la France!” I fancy that this was really more satisfactory than if the right word had been spoken, for in the latter case some written paper might have been surreptitiously shown her, whereas, in changing the word it would look as if she had caught the thought but not the exact words called for.
Amid our pleasure-seeking I was obliged, now and again, to let my sister find her way about alone while I stopped at home to work off accumulations of office business. Thus, on the 8th of August I stopped at the hotel to write a chapter of OLD DIARY LEAVES. On the 12th my sister and I left Paris for Brussels, that coquettish town whose gay appearance has earned for it the nickname of “Little Paris”. For the information of whom it may concern I may say that living there is cheap and that for a large and comfortable room in a hotel close to the station the charge is only 2.50 fcs. per day. There was another round of sight-seeing for us, notable among them the Museum of Antiquities, in a tower of the fifteenth century, where one can see relics of the ancient time, including
FIRST VISIT TO BERLIN 377
household furniture and utensils, which enables the student of history to visualise quite easily pictures of the everyday life of our ancestors. After a successful season at Earl’s Court, London, the proprietors of the “Spectacle of Venice” had brought it over and installed it at Brussels. It was a most realistic reproduction of the “Bride of the Adriatic,” her bridges, canals, gondolas, piazzas, shops, and monuments. The whole was lighted up by electric lights, and there was the splendid band of a Bersaglieri regiment and a superb orchestra from La Scala, with no end of fantoccini (puppet shows), street singers, and processions of gay masqueraders.
The next day came the sobering break of proof-reading of galleys and plates for my publishers. I have travelled so much and in so many lands that I never am content to follow in the beaten track of your “personally conducted” trippers, but wander hither and thither in search of interesting sights, unusual people, cheap restaurants, and cosy hotels where one can live economically: one has only to have command of a couple of languages besides English to get on well in any part of the world. These remarks are apropos of a note that I find in my entry for the 14th of August. I took Mrs. Mitchell to a restaurant patronised by working men where one dines abundantly and in a clean place for 60 centimes—say six annas, or six pence. Then there is a constant amusement offered gratis to the impecunious traveller, in the shape of the street fairs which one sees in almost every
378 OLD DIARY LEAVES
continental town. All is noise, movement, and glitter, the shops overrun with articles to eat and to wear, and in side shows are to be found those “freaks” that our former colleague, W.L. Alden, has so humorously described. Pasted in my Diary is a handbill of “The Living Skeleton, Surnamed the Modern Proteus,” whose case, if we may believe the advertisement, “has upset all the savants of the principal Faculties of France and Berlin”. I should think it must or else our men of science must have only rudimentary imaginations, for here is the feast of wonders which he offers, to his patrons:
1. The statue man; 9. The stoppage of the heart-beats
and the circulation of the blood in all
2. The abdomen man; parts of the body.
3. The obese man; “The most astounding thing to science is the
voluntary stoppage of the beating of the heart while the man is speaking.”
4. The tortured man; [Surely a man who can change himself from
a Daniel Lambert to a Calvin Edson,
5. The hanged man; have himself tortured, hanged and killed,
6. The skeleton man; and after all that come up smiling, is
7. The dead man; something to see.]
8. Interruption of the
circulation of the blood;
FIRST VISIT TO BERLIN 379
Two days more of sight-seeing and we then went on to Antwerp which we reached in barely an hour by rail. That evening we had the good luck to see the Place Verte, or Green Square, illuminated, and to hear the music of one of those well-trained military bands, which afford so much pleasure to the populace, who on the continent of Europe are quite able to distinguish good from bad music. On the next day we heard mass at the great Cathedral and saw Rubens’ magnificent “Descent from the Cross.” Our friend Dr. Weeks Burnett, attracted by my sister, for whom she had conceived a strong friendship, arrived from London, and during the next three days we made our outings together. Another day of heavy proof-reading followed, and as soon as I was free I took the ladies to see the Steen Museum, a very fine collection of historical and other antiquities. In the evening we all went to a clattering fair, where the usual distractions were offered, but where two of the soberest members of our Society, viz., Dr. Burnett and I, had rides on a gorgeous merry-go-round, to the equal astonishment and amusement of my sober sister, who could never have thought of so compromising her personal dignity. To tell the truth, we others would not have done it but for my prankish fancy to see such an embodiment of high respectability and sobriety of demeanor as Dr. Weeks Burnett flying around on a hobby-horse. It was not so easy a matter for me to persuade her and she made it a condition that the P.T.S. should mount the horse next hers, which I, nothing loath, did, and away we went, to the
380 OLD DIARY LEAVES
sound of a screeching steam-trumpet and steam-propelled barrel-organ!
On the 20th we tried to start for Homburg Bad, but on arriving at the station found that we had been deceived as to trains and had, perforce, to pass the night at a neighboring hotel. Dr. Burnett had bade us good-bye at the station and we were sorry to lose the sight of her then fresh and bonny face. We reached Homburg late that evening after changing cars three times, but the welcome we got from our friend Mrs. Tracy, and the delightful supper and beds more than compensated us for the disagreeable experience of the day. At these watering places the best of the daily life is in the early morning when the fashionable invalids throng the parks around the mineral springs of health-giving, pungent waters. Homburg was then in the height of the season and the lovely park was crowded with celebrities of all sorts and kinds, from royalties down. His Majesty Edward VII, then the Heir Apparent, was an assiduous health-seeker, and drank his mineral water from the bubbling spring and promenaded the avenue and mingled with the gay throng with evident zest. The two days spent at this place were full of interest to both of us but, if it had not been for parting with the dear friend who had invited us there, we should have been quite content to put the scene behind us. For the fashionable world is, at bottom, a wearisome and stupid thing; to enjoy it one must be ignorant of what constitutes the real pleasure of life.
FIRST VISIT TO BERLIN 381
On the 25th, in the early morning, we reached Berlin and were put up in the house of a Lutheran Pastor in Grossbeerenstrasse, near what I think is decidedly the most original and effective urban decoration I ever saw. I refer to that artificial hill which has on its summit a church at which special services connected with the army are held. The mound is planted with forest trees, here and there clusters of bright flowers are placed, and a little mountain brook tumbles from the top to the bottom over boulders, through pebbles, and from small shelves of rock the water drops in silvery veils. A stranger would be ready to take his oath that it was a natural hill in the midst of a great metropolis, whereas, in point of fact, every cartload of soil, every tree and flower and every zig-zag turning of the (artificial) streamlet has been placed where it is by the cunning engineers who designed this unique monument to the memory of the brave sons of the Fatherland who had fallen in battle. My illusions as to the hill were all dispelled by the revelations of the engineer himself, a member of our Theosophical Society.
This being my first visit to Berlin1 I was naturally led to make the comparison between it and Paris, with whose physical aspect I was so familiar. To summarise my impression I may say, while the former city cannot be compared for magnificent monuments with the latter, and it has nothing to even remotely
1 [Colonel Olcott’s first visit to Germany was from July 24 to October 3, 1884, but evidently he did not visit Berlin then.]
382 OLD DIARY LEAVES
hold its own with the Avenue des Champs Elysées—no city has that—the impression it gives one is much more restful and domestic than the gay metropolis of France, where domesticity is hidden from public view behind the fronts of enormous apartment houses and so deceives most strangers into the belief that in France the “home” is almost unknown, a most erroneous assumption, for in no country are the domestic ties warmer and stronger than there. To me Berlin seems a town of private residences, and therefore, being an American, most attractive. And yet a pleasure-seeker may find as much amusement as his heart craves, and if one wishes to see amusement shared by the whole family, assuredly one should go to Germany. The beer gardens are an unfailing subject of interest to the traveller for, while the father smokes his pipe and talks his politics, or commerce, or science with his male friends, the mother knits and listens and looks after the children who are playing around her with their toys. Surely this is an immense improvement over our brutish ways of solitary drinking in saloons while the family are left at home to pass the time as best they may. And one of the sights of the world is a German public park, say the Thiergarten, on a Sunday, with every table occupied, every path and avenue crowded with moving throngs, and two superb military bands, stationed at two points, which play alternately the choicest pieces from the operas and minor composers. I was greatly struck by the chest developments of the German women, which offered a very striking contrast with what one sees
FIRST VISIT TO BERLIN 383
in England or America: they look like a race of natural mothers and housewives.
On the evening of the 30th there was a full meeting of our Berlin Branch, or rather as full as could be expected in the summer season when many were out of town. I spoke in English and was interpreted in German by a talented young actor named Reicher, son of one of the most distinguished tragedians of the day. He had been partly educated at New York and spoke our language with great correctness. One of my pleasantest acquaintances at Berlin was Mr. B. Hübbe, brother of that dear old friend and colleague, Dr. Hübbe-Schleiden, whose home it was a charm to visit. Our movement goes slowly in Germany, not because of their lack of capacity to understand our philosophical teaching, but, as I have elsewhere remarked, because mysticism degenerated into a sort of childish pretension unsupported by personal spirituality, and got its death-blow for the moment in the mummeries of a horde of petty societies which aped the spiritual powers that they did not possess. The national mind has now reacted into commercialism and we must, perforce, wait patiently for the German pendulum to swing back to its natural place in the arc of high thinking.
Our visit to Berlin came to an end on the 2nd of September, when my sister and I left for Amsterdam via Hanover, reaching there at 8 p.m. after a dusty and fatiguing ride. Of course, Mr. Fricke, who never neglects a duty but makes it a pleasure to do it, met
384 OLD DIARY LEAVES
us at the station and took us to a clean and nice hotel, where we were soon made to feel the affectionate interest of our colleagues in the gift to my sister of baskets of lovely flowers, sent by Mesdames Meuleman and Windust. The next day Mrs. Windust came and took us by train to Haarlem, where we heard the great organ—in my boyhood counted as one of the wonders of the world, but now over-shadowed by sundry others—played, rather badly. And on the 4th Mr. Fricke conducted us on a steamboat ride to a quaint inland Dutch town, where we had refreshments and the amusement of seeing the queer clogs and dresses, and brick-paved streets, and high-peaked gables, and sluggish canals, all of the most pronounced Dutch type. On the 6th I was laid on my back by an insidious enemy that I now recognise as gout, which effectually stopped my gadding about. It seems absurd that I should have anything the matter with me, but until Dr. Nanjunda Row of Madras had the happy inspiration to experiment on me with the new German remedy, Urosine, I was now and again reminded by a swollen and painful foot that not even this granite-and-iron body of mine could be counted on for an indefinite old age. On the day in question, with much pain and the help of some men, I managed to get from my hotel to the Amsteldijk Headquarters, where a large meeting of our members was held in my honor.
We left Amsterdam for London via Hook of Holland on the 6th, I, using a pair of crutches, without which I could not have moved a step. On the boat I slept
FIRST VISIT TO BERLIN 385
on deck, as my foot was too bad for me to go below. After an uncomfortable night we got to Headquarters in Avenue Road the next morning and were warmly welcomed. I had to keep my room all day and so was prevented from going to the station to see Mrs. Besant off for the North on a lecturing tour. Gout did not prevent me, however, from reading my book-proofs or carrying on my correspondence. One day I read ninety-two pages, and another two hundred and fifty of the book, which brought me to the end of the main text and left nothing but the Index to prepare. On the 19th all was finished, and now the publisher’s part of the work would begin.
I see that I had a good many visitors in those days and some very interesting discussions and conversations. On the 17th I had the pleasure of sending to the good Dr. Zander, of Stockholm, the engrossed Charter for his Scandinavian Section of the T.S.
I cannot pass over without notice certain experiences at the time, which were very fascinating and yet at the same time open to much criticism from the close student of psychical science; I mean experiments in tracking up past incarnations of some of our leading entities. Nothing could be more probable, to say the least, than that the principal agents in our Theosophical movement, which we have reason to believe to be overlooked and directed by certain Personages, should have had mutual personal relations and with the unseen Personages in question at different epochs of the past. The moment one accepts as reasonable the
386 OLD DIARY LEAVES
theories of karma and reincarnation, and at the same time the concept that entities are no more confined to certain countries or families in perpetuo than the individual drops of water in a fountain to the fountain basin, we can see clearly enough how, when an entity develops to the point of potential efficiency as an aid to evolution, it would be directed to reincarnate in that place or family where it could at the same time give most useful help to others and earn for itself the best chances to work out its collective karma. For instance, I have seen a long table of successive reincarnations of a certain entity which had developed a peculiar capacity for art1; each time that it passed into incarnation it used its innate faculty to produce art forms, thus acquiring more proficiency, and at the next stage taking that faculty into incarnation where it had more or less chance to earn artistic renown as the environment happened to be more or less favorable: this environment changing at each stage according to the moral and intellectual and even spiritual influences which lay behind it. This does not mean that a painter, musician, or sculptor should go on uninterruptedly, becoming greater in his art at each succeeding rebirth, for the entity was not confining itself entirely to the one art faculty, but functioning in the family, the state, or otherwise, according to its developed attractions. So would it be with the religious
1 [This refers to the lives of “Erato” which had been investigated by C. W. Leadbeater in May, 1895. They have been published in the Theosophist, April-September, 1912.—C.J.]
FIRST VISIT TO BERLIN 387
tendency, or the faculty of invention, of war, of literature, or of Government: the entity, given the necessary circumstances, would fall instinctively into the groove built for it by past experience.
This by way of commentary upon a variety of readings in the âkâshic records which were made for me at London at the time specified. Among others whose evolutionary careers were traced was myself, and it was certainly a fascinating picture that my psychometers painted from the records in the Book of Chitragupta. Far be it from me to pretend to the ability to discriminate between the truth and the delusion in these narratives: not having the developed psychometric gift myself, I can only lay away these stories in a back chamber of my memory and wait for time to show which is right and which wrong. This subject is so interesting that I shall just leave it at this point and make the continuation in the next chapter.