OLD DIARY LEAVES, Sixth Series (1896-98)
by Henry Steel Olcott
THE VALUE OF SOCIAL FUNCTIONS
I REACHED Sydney at noon on the 15th and was met at the landing by Miss Edger and the leading members of the Sydney Branch and of the Australasian Section and taken to our spacious headquarters in Margaret street, where I had a cordial welcome from members who could not get to the wharf. I was put up by Mr. Scott at his boarding-house and both Miss Edger and I lectured that same evening in Protestant Hall to a full audience. The next day there was a levee at our headquarters and in the evening she lectured on “Reincarnation” and I on “Spiritualism and Theosophy”: there was again a large audience and much interest shown. On the posters and in the advertisements there was an announcement which was quite a novelty to me and I asked an explanation. It was: “Admission by silver coin”, which meant, I was told, that persons on entering the Hall were
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expected to put, in a plate kept there for that purpose, any sum they liked as a contribution towards the expenses, but with the understanding that it should not be less than a three-penny bit, the smallest silver coin. This was an improvement on the old system of taking up a collection before the adjournment of the meeting. Of course, in both cases individuals would show their generosity or parsimony by the denomination of the coins contributed. I noticed that in some rare cases a coin of gold would be dropped into the plate.
At Sydney, Melbourne, Auckland and some other places they have the excellent custom of providing a luncheon at the local headquarters for the benefit of subscribers whose place of business being too far away from their homes to permit of their going to their houses for their midday refreshment, are in the habit of lunching at some restaurant. It occurred to some bright, practical mind, presumably a lady’s, that the most active workers of a Branch or Section might just as well lunch together at the headquarters, and thus have daily the chance of keeping up friendly relations and talking about current Society affairs. So it was agreed that each of those who were willing to come into the arrangement should contribute daily what they were accustomed to spend, and give it over to one of the lady members who were willing to take the management
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in weekly turns, and leave her to give the best lunch she could for the money. In the course of my tour I found the plan working most successfully, and I highly recommend it for adoption in all large towns where such a plan would be practicable. The reader may perhaps recollect the frequent testimony I have borne to a somewhat similar plan that has been pursued at our Colombo headquarters for many years past. The best workers are in the habit of stopping there on their way home from office and chatting for a half-hour or an hour about the Society business, as it comes up day by day. The disposal of it at Society meetings is a later affair.
A large meeting of the Sydney T. S. was held on the 17th (July), at which a resolution in favor of the appointment of Miss Edger as Branch Inspector was passed. Miss Edger and I attended a crowded meeting of the Sydney T. S. the next afternoon and in the evening we lectured together in Leigh House Ballroom—she on “Christianity” and I on “The Life of Buddha”. We held a levee the next day for three hours and in the evening, before a large audience, who applauded much, she discoursed on: “How we can help the world”; and I on a subject that was frequently repeated throughout my tour, viz., “The Divine Art of Healing”; in which I discussed more or less cursorily the different systems of healing
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practised in ancient and modern times and their several underlying theories. On the night of the 20th Miss Edger and I took train for Melbourne and reached there at about noon the next day.
One of the first visitors who called to see me at our headquarters was Mr. W. H. Terry, the veteran editor of that influential Spiritualist organ, The Harbinger of Light. It is one of the oldest and best of the publications of its class and has made the name of Mr. Terry known throughout the world of Spiritualism. In the very last number that has reached me at Adyar (for September, 1905) I see that Mr. Terry is retiring from public life and that he is succeeded in the editorial chair by Mrs. Charles Bright, also a well-known Spiritualistic leader. Soon after the arrival in India of H. P. B. and myself Mr. Terry accepted membership and even office in the Theosophical Society, but later broke the connection without, however, interruption of the relations between us two. I was glad to make his personal acquaintance on the occasion of my present visit to Melbourne.
For many years past Melbourne has been an active centre of the Spiritualistic movement and many public mediums, good, bad and indifferent, support themselves by their vocation. On the 23rd of the month under review, Miss Hinge, a charming little New Zealand lassie and Private Secretary to
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Mr. Terry, was kind enough to take me to see a somewhat famous medium who lived in one of the suburbs of the town; but instead of receiving communications from the denizens of the other world we had the bad luck to find her drunk and when she heard my name, she became maudlin, so we left her in a hurry.
The first lectures of Miss Edger and myself were given on the evening of the 24th in Masonic Hall, with Mr. H. W. Hunt, President of our Branch, in the chair. The next day we lunched at the house of the Hon’ble Alfred Deakin, then an F. T. S., and now Prime Minister of the Australian Commonwealth. On the 26th I lunched with Mabel Scott, daughter of Mrs. Annie Besant, now married to a son of the late renowned dramatic critic, Clement Scott, of London. At the time of my visit Mr. Scott, Jr., was a Senate reporter in the Victoria Parliament. I had known his wife as a young girl in London but found her now developing into a staid housekeeper, very proud of her baby and of the clothes that she had been making for her. On the wall of her sitting-room hung a great many photographs of her idolized mother. Among my callers on that day were James Miller, whose acquaintance I had made during my Japan tour of 1889, and Cavalier James Smith, a highly gifted editor and author, who has been for many years writing
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on Spiritualism in the Harbinger and who claims to have had intercourse through his medium with Jesus, Buddha and all the other deceased world-teachers and saviours, from the remotest time down to our day.
Of the four public lectures given by me in Melbourne three were on psychical subjects and practically all the great Melbourne mediums attended them. On the 28th Miss Edger and I were taken separately to see a wonderful psychometrist, Mrs. Laidlaw, a Scottish woman. She is a palmist and certainly has a great gift in that line. I was a perfect stranger to her, even as to my name, but she very clearly read in my hand a great deal of my personal history. Knowing nothing about Miss Edger, and seeing her, in a separate sitting, she told her that she would soon make a short voyage which would be successful in the fulfilment of its objects, and that, later, she would make a very long one, in the company of the white-haired gentleman who had recently visited her (myself); that during this predicted journey she would travel through far-distant countries in the tropics and that she would gain much renown by public lectures; that all the signs were favorable for her having a brilliant career in the large Society to which she was attached. When in my sitting she was reading my palm, she told me that I should by all means
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take with me to India the young woman whom she saw in relation with me, as she was a person of noble character and her tour in the country where I lived would be a great success. In my Diary entry of that date I find a note to the effect that Mrs. Laidlaw told me that thenceforth I should never want for money, as much would be bequeathed to me: also that I should live twenty years more which, the year being 1897, would give me a lease of life until 1917. This strangely corroborates the prediction of the late Madame Mongruel, and substantially those of the different horoscopes that have been cast for me at different times. If Mrs. Laidlaw’s prophecy should come true that would make me die at the age of eight-five. This, I should say, is not far from the mark, and it is for that reason only that I am putting this prediction on record at the present time: for, so far as I am concerned, it is a matter of smaller importance in which year I may have to transfer my activities to the other plane, since I shall be working as much for the Society then as I am at present. But the Masters have all that in Their keeping and I am satisfied to go or stay as may be necessary for the carrying out of Their plans.
On the 29th I attended a joint meeting of both of our Melbourne Branches and “improved the occasion” to give them some very plain talk on the
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subject of Brotherhood, the ideal so constantly preached but too frequently not practised among us. I have no patience with those outside critics who expect us to live fully up to our lofty ideal of tolerance and eclecticism, making no allowance whatever for human infirmities (save in their own cases) and condemn us out of hand because we are no better than the average man. Not one of us who has a share in leading the Theosophical movement has ever made the pretence that we were any better than our neighbors, any wiser, any stronger morally, and it certainly shows a perverted nature to hold us guilty because we have not been able, with all our strivings, as yet to make ourselves saints or adepts. We are like the heterogeneous soldiers of an army of varying moral strength who follow a great leader and the banner of an Ideal which is calculated to appeal to all that is best in the heart and mind of a human being. So then, as I have often said and written, I am never surprised or discouraged when dissensions between individuals or groups break out within our Society, and instead of opposing I am rather inclined to favor the separation of a large Branch into two or more when there seems a prospect that such a separation will make for the restoration of peace and harmony. Old members will recollect how I dealt with the case of the unrest that prevailed in our London
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Lodge in the year 1884 because of the different opinions held by the late Dr. Anna Kingsford and her friends, and Mr. Sinnett and his party, who were tenaciously loyal to the Indian Teachers and teachings. A struggle which threatened the disruption of the Branch was imminent but the danger was averted when Mrs. Kingsford was persuaded to retire from the London Lodge and form a Branch of her own, in which she could have full sway for the giving out of her opinions about the supreme perfection of the Egyptian teachings.
My plain talk to the people at Melbourne was provoked by the existence of more or less unfriendly feelings between the two groups who had formed separate Branches. My own conviction is that these dissensions are almost inexcusable when we come to think of the heavy responsibility resting upon us as a Society which professes to be co-working with the WHITE LODGE for the revival of ancient learning, the purification of religions and the elevation of the race. It always makes me wonder if these quarrelsome persons who let themselves be carried away by sometimes the most contemptible of motives, have ever for one moment realized what Eyes are watching them and what spiritual insight is searching the innermost recesses of their hearts. What have we, as Theosophists, to do with wars and insurrections and political animosities and
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commercial strife; what with race hatreds and color lines and mutually contradictory theologies? The influence of the Society upon us individually has been strong, as is plainly shown by the exhibitions of mutual goodwill and brotherliness at the meetings of Branches, Federations, Conventions and International Congresses. This is something to be proud of and thankful for since it gives great promise of the future; but while we are waiting for the consummation of our collective desires we ought to keep constant watch and ward over our lower natures and make it possible for our colleagues to live and work with us in harmony.
On the 30th I became the guest of Mr. and Mrs. Henry Roughton Hogg, two of the finest characters and most useful members in our Society, who have now been for some years residents of London and have taken an active part in the management of our affairs in the metropolis. On that same day I met at Mr. Terry’s office Mr. Bowles, the Christian Scientist, and dined at the house of Mr. Stirling, F.T.S., the Government Geologist. The next day Miss Edger and I were taken by Miss Hinge to a séance at the house of Cavalier James Smith and received through his medium, discourses alleged to come from Pythagoras and Jesus Christ. The latter blessed me; an incident which I respectfully commend to the
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notice of all Popes, Cardinals, Archbishops, Bishops and other clergy. It may interest some of these gentry to learn that many years ago I received in due form through his Cardinal Master of Ceremonies, Cardinal Cataldi, the blessing of the late Pope Pio Nono: which nevertheless has not interfered with the foundation and success of the Theosophical Society, in spite of his having had the reputation of having the malocchio.
Miss Edger and I were holding daily levees and giving lectures to good audiences. At the levee on the 3rd (August) there was a natural seeress who, although an ignorant woman, gave Miss Edger a wonderfully accurate psychical reading. Like Mrs. Laidlaw, she too prophesied for her a brilliant career in the Society. I see in my entry of the 5th, in speaking of a reception given at Mr. and Mrs. Hogg’s house, the remark—“These social functions are more useful than public meetings”: an opinion to which I hold after many years of experience. The fact is that a lecturer talks more or less over the heads of his audience, stirring them up perhaps and implanting in their minds ideas which may take root and produce good harvests later on; but it is not so sure of results as when the inquirer can sit down with the teacher and get answers to the questions that spring up in his mind. Where the putting of questions after a lecture is allowed, I
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have found that it has taken me quite as long to answer them as it did to give the lecture, and that, while occasionally there are some utterly absurd interrogatories as, for instance, that of a person at Chicago who asked me to please tell them “Why Madame Blavatsky was born a foreigner”, yet the majority are worthy of thoughtful attention and courteous reply. I know that some lecturers show impatience, and sometimes rudeness, but I am always glad to be questioned and never afraid to say that I do not know, if I really do not. One time in Europe I got credit for great candor when, in answering the question: “When the Second Logos evolved from the first Logos, was it of His own will or because it was in the nature of things?” I replied that, having no personal acquaintance with the Logos, I could not answer the question, more-ever that I was perhaps the only man in the Society who dared say, when necessary, “I do not know”! These speculations commend themselves to a certain type of mind but I, as a practical man, cannot help feeling vexed when I see colleagues wasting their lives in that sort of kite-flying while the world around them is weltering in ignorance which they do nothing practical to dispel or to make their neighbors wiser and happier.
The 7th August was our last day in Melbourne. In the morning I went with Mr. and Mrs. Hogg to
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consult a woman who styled herself a “Futurist”, but apparently got nothing of sufficient importance to be noted in my diary. A visit to the Museum and a lunch with friends filled up our day and in the afternoon Miss Edger and I embarked for Hobart, Tasmania, on the coasting-steamer Moonawan, many friends coming to see us off.
Over a calm sea and in fine weather we sailed until the second morning after, when we reached Hobart. It was a bright, bracing, sunny day and the picture of the town and harbor that was spread out before us was one of the prettiest I have ever seen. On landing we were most heartily welcomed by our members, who took me to the Imperial Hotel and Miss Edger to the house of Mr. Leo Sussmann, President of the Branch. Tasmania, as every student of geography knows, was discovered in the middle of the seventeenth century by the Dutch sailor, Abel Janssen Tasman, who circumnavigated the Australian continent and discovered the great island in the Southern Pacific Ocean which called Van Dieman’s Land, in honor of his patron, the then Governor of the Dutch possessions in the East Indies; but which, in 1803, was given his own name by the British expedition under Bowen, dispatched from Sydney to form a settlement on the island, until then absolutely neglected by white men. With a few soldiers and convicts, Bowen finally
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fixed on the spot where Hobart Town now stands. From 1817 commenced a rapid increase in the number of free (i.e., not convict) settlers who received grants of land in proportion to the capital which they brought into the colony: In 1825 Tasmania was declared independent of New South Wales; since 1854 authority has been invested in a Parliament, consisting of a Governor as Queen’s representative and two elective Houses—the Legislative Council of fifteen and the Assembly of thirty-two members. The total population is about a quarter of a million only.