OLD DIARY LEAVES, Fifth Series (1893-96)
by Henry Steel Olcott
AMERICAN VISITORS AND THE CONVENTION
AMONG the heroes of the Japan-China war of ten years ago was one whose name shone conspicuously in the list of great soldiers. General Vicount Nodzu, the man of whom I speak, commanded one of the two armies which, marching from different points, united at the appointed time and place and crushed the enemy. It was my good fortune to make him my friend during my Japanese tour of 1889, at which time he commanded the military district of Hiroshima, if my memory serves me. His was a deeply religious nature and it was that which drew us together. He presented me with a copy of a thick book which he had written on a Buddhistic subject, and which is now in the Adyar Library, along with the fifteen hundred other volumes which, thanks to the kindness of friends, I was able to bring back from Japan. When, at the close of the war with China, the Japanese arms were victorious, I wrote my friend to beg him to use his influence, then very great, to prevent his fellow-countrymen from being swept away from the religious level on which I had left them by the
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tidal wave of the bloody thirst for fighting and conquest. I knew the man so well that I felt assured that, although he had won the admiration of his people by his military achievements, he was still at heart the devotee of religion and the aspirant after spiritual knowledge. I sincerely regret that, as this chapter is being written at my Nilgiri cottage, I cannot lay my hand upon either of the letters which passed between us. I remember, however, that he told me that he was now too old to turn aside from the profession of his life to enter the field of religious teaching; this, he added, was my special province: he thanked me for what I had done during my tour of 1889 and hoped that I might be able to come again to his country and continue my work. This matter is brought back to my recollection by the entry of November 19th in my Diary for 1895, where the dispatch of my letter to him is recorded.
On the next afternoon an American traveller, a Dr. Scrogin, of Kentucky, paid me a visit. It seems that he had been attracted to India by the extravagant stories of Yogis and Mahatmas, outrivalling even the imaginative flights of Louis Jacolliot, which had been circulated in England and America by one Dr. Hensoldt. I have never known anything whatever about that individual beyond what I read in the public prints. So I am not qualified to pronounce ex cathedra as to his narratives of alleged personal experience. But I can say that, from first to last his stories were so improbable and romantic, albeit clever, that I was inclined to classify him as another Munchausen.
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His report, for instance, of his visit to Lhasa and interview with the Dalai Lama is almost too circumstantial, for when I read it I just went to our Library, got out Thomas Manning’s report of his Embassy to Lhasa in 1811-12 (London, Trubner & Co., 1876, p. 287), and found that our contemporary sensationalist had, apparently, drawn upon Markham for his account of the interview in question. For example, compare the following:
HENSOLDT (1894). MARKHAM (1811).
“A youth indeed, I “The Lama’s beautiful
found him—a boy per- and interesting face and
haps eight years of age, manner engrossed almost
certainly not over nine— all my attention. He
but instead of a face of was at that time about
idiotic meaninglessness seven years old: had the
and indifference, I en- simple and unaffected
countered a look which manners of a well-edu-
at once filled me with cated princely child. His
astonishment and awe. face was, I thought,
It was a face of great poetically and affectingly
symmetry and beauty, beautiful.”
a face never to be forgotten
on account of its singular
which contrasted strange-
ly with the childlike
features; but what startl-
ed me most were the eyes.”
As I remarked, when calling attention to this literary feat (Theosophist, Vol. XVI, p. 269), the preservative action upon flesh of the dry climate of Lhasa is known,
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but justice has never been done to it if it can keep a boy at the age of seven or eight years from 1811 to 1893-4. But, unfortunately, the reigning Dalai Lama was twenty-two years of age at the time of Hensoldt’s alleged visit! At any rate, poor Dr. Scrogin had become fired with the ambition to see the wonders and Mahatmas described by our author, and had left his medical practice at Lexington, come to India, worked his way north as far as Kashmir without seeing the least bit of a wonder-worker or miracle, had contracted a dreadful fever in the Terai jungle, been laid up a month in hospital, discharged as cured, and then come to Adyar, which he ought to have visited in the first instance and learnt the truth. Perhaps some of my readers may remember a similar case, where three Russian gentlemen, two of them officers, with whom I crossed from Colombo to Tuticorin some years ago, had come to India on the strength of the fascinating stories told by H.P.B. in her Caves and Jungles of Hindustan: they ardently hoped to enjoy some of the weird experiences depicted by her. That they were disappointed, as have been scores of others who have come to India on the same quest, goes without saying. Mahatmas and other miracle workers are not on show like the freaks in the Dime Museum; if they are encountered and if they do exhibit any siddhis it is with another object than the gratification of mere vulgar curiosity.
I was so pleased with my Kentucky visitor that I invited him to come from his hotel and stop with us
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for some weeks. He thankfully accepted the invitation and came to us on the following Sunday (November 24th). Very shortly after his arrival his Terai fever threatened to break out again, so I asked some of our servants if they knew of any plant used in India as a febrifuge. The butler pointed to a grand old margosa tree near the house and said that, with permission, he would make a decoction out of the young leaves which he thought would prove efficacious. Dr. Scrogin gladly made the experiment, drank a lot of the bitter dose—for the leaves are as bitter as aloes or quinine—and within a few days the fever symptoms entirely disappeared and there was no return during the time that he was with us.
November being included within the period of the North-east Monsoon, my notes show that it was raining heavily every day at that time, to the great obstruction of our building work. But by covering the space with a temporary roof of palm leaves the masons and their work were effectually sheltered and we could push on the erection of the room which Dr. English has occupied ever since its completion.
The entry of 26th November in my Diary relates to the payment of Copyright on Isis Unveiled, by J. W. Bouton, the New York publisher. As H. P. B. had transferred her author’s rights to me in her Will I had collected in 1892, through the agency of Mr. Judge, a certain sum, which I turned over to the American and some other Section, but I have no recollection of receiving a penny of copyright since
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that time. In fact, from the pecuniary point of view, the book paid neither of us two anything to speak of, although it has passed through a number of editions and the publisher covered his cost before we left New York for India. I have recently heard of his death, from Professor Wilder, who tells me that he was victimised like ourselves.
On the 2nd of December another American traveller, a Mr. Clark, of Detroit, landed from a Clan steamer and drove out to see us. As he was interested in Theosophy I invited him to stop with us over the Convention, so he did and was with us for some weeks. The following day brought still another gentleman, a Mr. Grece, also of Detroit, who came from Ceylon, and he also was glad to be able to stop over and attend our Annual Meeting. Naturally enough the succeeding days were largely devoted to Theosophical discussions and explanations with our two American visitors, both of whom profitably employed themselves as well in reading the books in our library.
“To have the honour of meeting Their Excellencies the Viceroy and the Countess of Elgin” is the heading on the official invitation card from the Governor, Lord Wenlock, which I find pasted in my Diary of Friday, December 6th. I wish that some of my fellow countrymen who aspire to the acquaintance of titled foreigners could attend one of these brilliant State functions. In the grounds of the Governor’s official palace in the city of Madras stands a large detached building in the Ionic style, which is known
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as the “Banqueting Hall”. It is an imposing structure, pure white without and within. The inside forms one lofty and spacious hall, with a broad gallery running around the four sides and resting upon massive white columns; light is furnished by enormous lustres with crystal drops; at the further end isa large raised dais for the chief personages in attendance. At the appointed hour His Excellency and party drive up in grand style in open barouches drawn by four or six horses, with postilions and numerous outriders. Ranged along the other side of the avenue in front of the hall, are troops who come to the salute as the Governor drives up; the military band breaks out into the National Anthem, the dignitaries clad in Court costume, mount the long flight of steps to the terrace between parallel lines of the picturesquely clad, lance-bearing Sepoys of the Body Guard, the invited guests within form a hedge, and the exalted personages, bowing right and left, walk to the dais and thence saluting the company, turn and speak to the principal officers of Government, Civil, Military and Ecclesiastical, take their seats, and after a few minutes the Ball opens with the State Quadrille; thence onward, until the approach of morning, the snow-white hall presents a scene of brilliant animation.
On such occasions as this one has the chance of seeing the Indian Rajahs and Zemindars of the Presidency in their most gorgeous attire; some wearing clusters of jewels that would make most ladies green with envy. One evening, at a function of the sort, I was chatting with the late Maharajah of Vizianagaram,
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an educated and courteous gentleman who had earned by his lavish hospitality and pleasant manners with the Anglo-Indians the sobriquet of “Prince Charming”. In his rich turban he wore an aigret of diamonds and around his neck a string of enormous emeralds. Accidentally, the string broke and the precious gems rolled about him on the floor. Of course, I helped him to gather them together and was rather amused at the nonchalance he showed, handling the precious stones as though they were common pebbles. I suppose that, if the truth were known, the obligation to wear these loads of jewels must be to many of our Indian Princes an intolerable nuisance: I am quite sure it must be so with an educated and thoughtful man like the present Gaekwar of Baroda. For that matter, is it not so with Kings and Rulers all the world over?
Among the Indian notabilities of Madras is Rajah Sir S. Ramaswamy Mudaliar, Kt., C. I. E., who has made his fortune as “Dubash,” or broker for the great house of Arbuthnot & Co. His name is seen on drinking-troughs and rest-sheds all over Madras, while diagonally opposite the Central Railway Station is an extensive Dharmasala for the use of Hindu travellers who want some convenient place of accommodation when visiting the city. He is in high favor with the authorities, and as he likes that sort of thing, the Government is glad to get him to give great receptions more or less in the Oriental style, to distinguished visiting personages, like the Viceroys of India, the Czarevitch of Russia, the Princes of Royal Families,
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etc. He gave a reception to Their Excellencies, the Earl and Countess of Elgin on the evening of December 9th. His extensive grounds were brilliantly illuminated, his mansion was one blaze of light, here and there in the compound were small kiosks and other structures in which amusements were provided by native performers: after that, supper and refreshments and at the end of all a superb pyrotechnic display. The programme accompanying my ticket may, perhaps, interest Western readers. There was a Hindu dance by a Madras girl; playing on the vina by a renowned musical pandit; Indian marionettes; amusing performances by parrots; kolattum, a rope-braiding dance, by eight girls (very much like our Maypole dance); an Indian drama; then the supper and fire-works. At intervals the company would be set into fits of laughter by the performances of specialists who would wander about the grounds and mimic the voices of birds and beasts, the noise of machinery and other familiar sounds.
I was very pleased to receive on the 10th of December a letter from the Viceroy’s Private Secretary to the effect that His Excellency took an interest in my work for the Pariahs and that he wished me every success.
On the 15th of the month Mr. Grece made application for membership The 16th was rather a memorable day for me, since I received from London advance copies of the first volume of my OLD DIARY LEAVES. On the afternoon of that day a Vaishnava Hatha yogi came and, in illustration of the power of the mind over the body, showed us some experiments
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that I am sure would not be credited by any college of physicians and surgeons without the evidence of their own senses. The subject is not one that can be laid before the mixed public of my readers, but for the benefit of the profession I may say that, by a reversal of the peristaltic action he could fill himself up with water at will. The working of the abdominal muscles during the experiment was most striking.
In the early morning of the 17th I had a visit from H. P. B. in her astral body, which was very pleasant. She presented herself in the same appearance with which I was perfectly familiar. On the same day all my three American visitors acquired membership. All this time, despite the heavy rain, I was pushing on the building work with good success. On the 21st Mrs. Grece arrived from Colombo and rejoined her husband. The Convention time was now very close and on the 23rd Mrs. Besant arrived with Mr. Keightley, Upendranath Basu, Tookaram Tatya, Dr. Edal Behram, and seven or eight more from Bombay. In the evening Mrs. Besant held one of her splendid conversaziones in the great hall; as usual, charming her auditors with her replies to questions and explanations of difficult subjects. Delegates were now arriving by every train and, as the whole space on the ground floor was needed for the accommodation of delegates, I turned out the European occupants of the bedrooms on that floor and made them ready for the Indian visitors. The European gentlemen I housed in the octagon room in the river bungalow and put Mr. and Mrs.
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Grece in one of those very comfortable leaf huts that are now so largely employed at Conventions. Mrs. Besant’s disquisitions that evening at the usual meeting were upon dreams, the astral body, and kindred subjects. I do not know when I have been more interested than in her descriptions of the experience of watching the dream-life of sleeping persons—the magical creations of the wandering imagination, the reproduction of actual experiences during the waking state, and the instantaneous transformations caused by the rush of thought and the impulse of sensations. The narrative recalled vividly Moore’s description of the dream state as
. . . that dim twilight of the mind,
When reason’s beam, half hid behind
The clouds of sense, obscurely gilds
Each shadowy shape that fancy builds.
But the student who would really wish to see the subject ably and thoroughly worked out, should read Mr. Leadbeater’s monograph on the subject of “Dreams”.
Until the Council Meeting at London in 1896, when the Rules of the Society were crystallised into their present shape, there were, as we all know, periodical tinkerings at them, often but to pacify the caprices of whimsical members. I note that, on Christmas Day, 1895, Mr. Keightley and I collaborated on a new draft of the Rules for presentation to the Convention. By the 26th we had a house full of delegates, by the 27th
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we were crowded. At noon on that day the Convention met, and an unusually large number of delegates answered roll-call. An interesting feature was the presence of American members coming from the States of Vermont, New York, Kentucky, and Michigan. With the assembling of this Convention, the Society celebrated the completion of the twentieth year of its history. Of course I noticed the fact and recalled the incidents of the early times and of our tempestuous journey from New York to Bombay. Deducting fifteen days passed in London, the journey occupied just forty-nine days, 7 X 7. The American secession having occurred during that year had to be referred to, but I made my allusions as brief as possible. One point, however, I dwelt upon, as our statistics so completely refuted the false assumption of the secession leaders that New York had always been the vortex of our movement, while the activities of H. P. B. and myself, after reaching India and establishing Head-quarters at Bombay, were but the extension of the functions of the New York Society. The figures are so instructive that I had better copy from my Annual Address the paragraph which contains them:
“Before leaving the American question I shall just cite a few figures to show you where the vortex of this movement of ours was from the time of our leaving America to, say, the close of 1887. In 1879, 1880, and 1881 those in charge of the New York centre formed no new Branches, H. P. B. and I formed 24. In 1882 the St. Louis (Arjuna) and Rochester Branches
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were formed, we had formed 52; in 1883 the dead New York (original) Society was reincarnated in the Aryan T.S., Mr. Judge obtaining the charter from us; in the whole United States there were three Branches at the close of 1883, but we had formed 95; in 1884 there was one Branch formed in the United States, making 4 in all, while we had 103 elsewhere; Mr. Judge met the Founders in Europe in that year, was home again in 1885, and two new Branches sprang up, we had chartered 124 in all; in 1886 two were made in America and 136 charters were extant; finally, to the end of 1887—twelve years after our beginning, and nine after the Founders came to India—eleven charters had been issued by me to American Branches and 147 to others in other countries. Whether de facto or de jure, it is evident that H. P. B. and I were doing the hard work of building up the Theosophical Society and making its name and objects known throughout the whole earth.”
The theme of Mrs. Besant’s morning lectures at this year’s Convention was “the Path of Discipleship”. However well they may read, the printed reports of her lectures are but as husks in comparison with the life and charm that she gives them in her utterances. People came, as they always do, from the distant heart of the City of Madras in the very early morning so as to secure places, and the audiences increased from day to day. We got through the work of the two Conventions (of the T.S. and the Indian Section) in perfect harmony and the Victoria
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Town Hall in Madras, where we always celebrate our Anniversary on the 28th of December (biennially now, since the new rule makes us hold our Conventions alternately at Adyar and Benares) was crowded to such an extent that the Trustees were a little fearful for the safety of the building. The speakers of the occasion were Mrs. Besant, and Messrs. Keightley, Grece, O. D. Sarma and, of course, myself.
Mrs. Besant’s fourth and last lecture of the course, on the 30th, drew the same huge audience and was most eloquent. The Hon’ble Mr. Justice S. Subramanier returned thanks on behalf of the Indian public, after which the delegates began leaving and the house soon emptied itself. The psychological effect upon my mind of this year’s Convention seemed to be that of a great explosion of harmony on the astral plane and, as I note in my Diary, Mrs. Besant seemed more than ever inspired by the current of thought and good-will sent out by the Masters.
This closes the record of the Society’s twentieth year.