OLD DIARY LEAVES, Fifth Series (1893-96)
by Henry Steel Olcott
THE year we are now entering is, of course, that of the majority of the Theosophical Society. The fact was to me so important that I sat up with my thoughts to see the old year out and gather strength to carry us through the coming twelvemonth.
On New Year’s Day Mrs. Besant, with Mr. Keightley and Babu Upendranath, left for Poona, where she had a lecturing engagement. Our three American visitors, Clark, Grece, and Scrogin, true to the national instinct, made themselves useful by taking the account of stock in the Theosophist Office, a job which lasted four days. I myself had all I could do in writing for the foreign mail and reading through large arrears of exchanges. On the 6th and 7th I wrote an Old Diary Leaf, and on the former day had the distinguished honor of a visit from that smooth talker and consummate humbug, “Prof. R. Guelph Norman,” who pretends to be a son of the ruling sovereign. He left his legitimate wife and children at Moulmein, and ruined the life
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of a highly respectable American lady at Boston by contracting with her a bigamous marriage. The man has, or had, strong healing power, which he exercised to the great profit of Countess Wachtmeister by rescuing her eyes from certain blindness; but he seems to be a thorough scamp in his financial dealings and his relations with the other sex. He is on the black list of the Burma Police.
On the 8th Mr. and Mrs. Grece left for Colombo, and Dr. English followed them on the 9th, as he had to get together and bring to Adyar the personal effects which he had left in the Musaeus School, his permanent connection with the Theosophist editorial department having been settled. On the same day Mr. Tokuzawa, the clever young Japanese student, had his order of recall. On the 16th he embarked on the Messageries steamer for Japan and I saw him on board, reluctant to lose him. This left in the house only two Europeans besides myself.
On the following day Mr. Yoshitomi Hiraga, Director of the Commercial Museum at Osaka, Japan, brought letters of introduction to me and asked my assistance to collect information and specimens for the important Government department over which he presides. I met him at the station, brought him home to breakfast, and later introduced him to the leading commercial houses of Madras, who were glad to render him any assistance within their power. We had long talks together on the subject of the condition of his country, which gave me a still deeper impression as
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to the perfect system on which all its affairs were managed.
The foreign mail of the 18th, by the swift P. & O. S. S. “Caledonia,” brought me letters from New York on the 24th day after posting. Among other things which I learned was the fact that the first Treasurer of the Theosophical Society, Mr. H. J. Newton, a confirmed and obstinate Spiritualist, whose early interest in our Society had long since faded out and who had done everything within his power to discredit us, was killed by a cable car in New York City. Poor man! I felt sincerely sorry for his horrible death, the more so because he had died rejecting the truth which he had been taught about the after-death state. Mr. Newton was a wealthy man and particularly well known as the inventor of the dry-plate process of photography. It may be remembered that it was at his private gallery that the pretended power of Mlle. Pauline Libert to cause spirit photographs to come on an exposed plate by simply laying her hand on the camera, was thoroughly tested and disproved. Mr. Newton and I were both anxious to have her prove the truth of her claim, for its value as a scientific fact would have been great.
The days of this week were fully occupied with going about with Mr. Hiraga and day and night correspondence and writing for the Theosophist. I was at that time connected with the Mahâ-Bodhi Society as Honorary Adviser, and Dharmapala, being in a peck of trouble about the property at Gaya, telegraphed me
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to come on to Calcutta. So I recalled Dr. English by telegraph, and on the 24th, in company with Mr. Hiraga, sailed for Calcutta in the “Eridan”. We arrived on the 27th, Dr. Hübbe-Schleiden came aboard and took me to Dr. Salzer’s house, where I had a nice welcome from his wife and himself. At 6 p.m., on the same day, I presided at Mrs. Besant’s first lecture of that season, on the subject of “Caste”.
On the morning of the 28th I was confined to my bed by a passing illness. Dharmapala came to consult me about Mahâ-Bodhi the Zemindary which touches the enclosure about the great temple at one side, and which we were talking about buying. I sent him to arrange with Mrs. Besant for an important meeting on the following evening. Dr. Hübbe-Schleiden came up to town from Uttarpara to be with me. In the evening I presided at Mrs. Besant’s second lecture on “Karma Yoga: Building of Character”. On the next morning Dharmapala and Tookaram Tatya, who happened to be in Calcutta at the time, came to see me, the latter to consult me about the employment of his time henceforth, as he had the intention of retiring from business. I advised him to devote himself to the inspection of Branches in connection with the Indian Section. At 4.30 p.m., Mrs. Besant gave a splendid lecture on “Vivisection,” in the Town Hall, which awakened great enthusiasm, especially among the Jains who are, as is well known, the foremost opponents of cruelty to animals. An enormous audience filled the building to overflowing. After the lecture
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Mrs. Besant and I met Tookaram, Dr. Hübbe, Upendranath Basu, Norendro Nath Sen, Dharmapala and his pleader, Babu Nunda Kissore Lall, of Gaya, and after a full discussion of the points, pro and con, we decided that the Mahâ-Bodhi Zemindary should not be purchased. We advised Dharmapala to buy a house in the town of Gaya as a temporary residence for priests, and I attended to other business with him.
Mrs. Besant was giving lectures and holding conversation meetings daily, to the great edification of the Hindu public. Her final lecture on “Education,” was given on the 1st of February, and an hour later I put her into the train for Benares. The Secretary of the Calcutta Literary Society, profiting by my presence in Calcutta, persuaded me to give a course of three lectures before his Society. On the 2nd, at 3 p.m., I held a meeting of the Himâlayan Esoteric T. S. (of Simla) and admitted three members. By request I granted permission to the Branch to sit in Calcutta during the cold weather season, as the members were Government employees and were obliged to go up to and return from Simla yearly with the heads of their respective offices. My first lecture on “The Fate of Hindu Boys” was given at the rooms of the Patriotic Institution on Monday evening; my second on the two subjects of “Unselfishness” and “Mesmerism,” the next day, with Dr. Hübbe-Schleiden in the chair. The third, on “Soul,” at Ripon College, on the 5th. Day by day there was a good deal of discussion going on as to the whole Mahâ-Bodhi business and I was receiving
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visitors and going about town pretty much all the time.
A grand Military Tournament was held at this time on the broad maidan, under the auspices of the Military authorities. It fully deserved the success it earned, for the troops selected to take part in it were in good training and the exhibitions of drill, horsemanship and driving were very fine. There was also a sham assault upon an Indian Fort, ending with its capture which was very blood-stirring. On the occasion of my second visit I had for companion Mr. W. Forbes-Mitchell, one of the historians of the Indian Mutiny, a very intelligent and interesting Scotchman, who had his mind filled with vivid pictures of the incidents of that fearful tragedy. My old friend, Mark Twain, then on his lecturing tour around the world, happened to be at Calcutta simultaneously with myself, and here is the note he sent me to ask me to come around and see him.
“MY DEAR OLCOTT,
“I’m shut up here in the Continental Hotel with a brisk new cold in the head.
Come and cheer me up!
S. L. CLEMENS.”
Now fancy that. The sober-sided President of the Theosophical Society invited to come to the bedside of Mark Twain and cheer him up, who, for more than a generation, has been cheering up the whole world of English readers. But I went, and a delightful
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meeting did we have; recalling old incidents of our association in the famous Lotos Club, New York, and our meetings at Boston, Hartford, Washington, and elsewhere. We smoked our pipes and chatted and laughed, and almost forgot that we were in India, at the other side of the world from our former haunts. And his dear wife and daughter, how tenderly they ministered to him and what a deep impression their sweetness of character made upon me.For no man of my acquaintance have I a greater respect than for this man, whose purity of character was so completely shown in his undertaking of this very world-round tour, to pay off the great burden of debt that had been cast upon him, as similarly happened to Sir Walter Scott, by the failure of the publishing house which had the publication of his works and in which, to his undoing, he had acquired a co-partnership interest. He was unable to lecture until after the lapse of three days, when he made his appearance at 5.30 p.m. before an immense audience. Needless to say, he kept them bubbling over with mirth and breaking out into applause throughout. I laughed to the shedding of tears at his comical descriptions of his struggles with the German language, and other good points. May blessings attend him to the close of his life. He will leave none but friends behind him.
1By a coincidence, on the very day when this was written a cablegram appeared in the Indian papers that Mrs. Clemens had died, and added that she was a lady possessed of great grace, gentleness and intelligence. Poor, dear “Mark,” what a blow this must be for him!