OLD DIARY LEAVES, Sixth Series (1896-98)
by Henry Steel Olcott
THE 13th, 14th and 15th of October were occupied in the sea voyage from Auckland to Sydney, which town we reached at midnight on the 16th. There was a Council meeting on the afternoon on the 17th and in the evening I lectured at our Hall on “The Common Sense of Theosophy” to a crowded audience.
Our faces being now turned towards India we had to economize time at the different stations visited. On the 18th, 19th, 20th and 21st there were receptions, some public, others for the benefit of inquirers; I gave two more lectures, on the evenings of the 20th and 21st, and on the 22nd left by train for Bathurst, in fulfilment of the promise made to Mr. H. Wiedersehen when last in Sydney. The weather at Bathurst was very fine and I profited by it to walk about and see the town. I lectured in the evening, had a bit of supper afterwards to
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fortify my strength and, at 10 p.m., left in a buggy for Rockleigh, a thirty-five mile stretch, got there at 1 a.m. behind a pair of those wonderful Australian horses which we know in India as “Walers” (derived from New South Wales) and which in their own climate are gifted with marvellous endurance. In the hot climate of India they are liable to sunstroke and heat apoplexy and have to be coddled with pith sun-bonnets and carefully handled, but in the colonies they sometimes make a journey of a hundred miles a day. In the present case they covered the ground between Bathurst and Rockleigh in a steady trot at the rate of about twelve miles an hour. The driver told me that the price paid for the team had been £30.
After breakfast the next morning I was driven to Mount David, a gold-mining camp, reached there at noon and was put up at the house of the Superintendent, Mr. Wiedersehen. He had a room cleared for me and at 3 p.m. I gave a Theosophical lecture to an audience of sixty, virtually the whole population of the camp. The weather was so fine and the air was so perfumed with the balmy odors of the forest trees that I felt very happy and entered with zest into the exposition of Theosophy to those rough-clad miners. At the close there was much friendly handshaking and exchange of courtesies. The result was that on that same evening I formed
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the Mount David Branch T. S. My new friends very kindly showed me the next day the mine and the battery of stamps at work. At 1 p.m. I left by carriage for Bathurst on my return journey, stopped there at the hotel until 10 p.m. when I took train for Sydney, which I reached at 6 o’clock the next morning. I found Miss Edger at the house of Mrs. Page; we lunched at the headquarters and spent the rest of the day there. The same thing happened the next day, but in the evening there was a farewell public meeting at Protestant Hall where a good audience listened to Miss Edger’s lecture on “The Building of a World”. I presided and dosed with a farewell speech. Mrs. Moore-Jones, a fine artist and a sweet, sympathetic woman, but sadly crippled, gave Miss Edger and myself a reception at her studio. In the evening we attended a medical lecture to the ladies’ class for the Civil Ambulance Brigade, at which I presided and, by request, addressed the class at the close of the lesson. There was a conference the next morning between us and the Matron of the nursing staff of the brigade. I paid a visit to Mrs. Moore-Jones, lunched at our rooms, received visitors, and with Miss Edger dined at Dr. Le Freemann’s and in the evening attended a farewell meeting of the Sydney T. S. at which there were speeches by Mr. George Peell, the assiduous
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and excellent President of the Sydney Branch, since unhappily deceased, Miss Edger, Mr. Kolleström, Dr. Stordeur, Ph.D., a German mystic and an F. T. S., myself and others. Our pleasant and profitable visit to Sydney ended on the 30th. Messrs. Scott and Wilson accompanied us to the Orient Steamer, Oruba, in which we were to sail for Colombo via Melbourne. There were many friends to see us off, many sweet flowers given us and many affectionate words of farewell.
The weather was very cold at sea, the ship very large, the table very plain and the service only passable. We reached Melbourne on the morning, of the 1st November, lunched at the Society’s rooms, and I made a farewell call on my friend Mr. Terry. In the evening I left by train for Adelaide, Mr. Knox, having sent me the money for the railway ticket so that I might visit the Branch and give a lecture. Miss Edger remained on board the ship. I had a very cold night and broken sleep on the train, but all troubles eventually come to an end and I reached Adelaide at 10 the next morning. Mr. Knox, President of the Branch and a most useful member, and other friends met me. I lunched in town and in the afternoon Mr. Knox drove me to “Burnside”, his country seat, where Mrs. Knox gave me a most gracious welcome. The next morning at a reception at the Society’s rooms in
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town I had the pleasure of meeting two charming French lady members, sisters, and both artists, by names Mme. Mouchette and Mlle. Lion, who attended the Convention at Benares in 1904 and made the tour of India. There being many Spiritualists in Adelaide my first lecture was, by request, on the subject of “Spiritualism and Theosophy”, the one on the following evening on “Healing”, and that on the 5th (November) on “The Theosophical Society and Theosophy”,—my last in Australia. During the tour throughout the colonies of Australia, Tasmania and New Zealand, I had given sixty-three lectures and addresses.
Miss Edger arrived on the Oruba on the 8th November and in the evening of the same day, lectured at the Society’s rooms on “The Building of a World”. On the next evening, her last in Australia she discussed the question of “How to help the WorId”. The next morning we took the train for Port Adelaide and embarked on the Oruba, which sailed at 1-30 p.m.
A run of three days brought us to Albany, our last Australian port, from which it is a voyage of eleven days to Colombo. I had there the pleasure of making the personal acquaintance of that good man, Wilton Hack, who had driven six hundred miles, from the mining town of Coolgardie to Albany to see me: a proof of devotion to the Society hard to
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beat. Among other amusements to relieve the tedium of the voyage there was a fancy dress ball on the evening of the 27th November which Miss Lilian Edger, M.A., etc., attended in the character of “Night”. Her black dress besprinkled with stars and a crescent moon on her head, together with the excitement of the ball made her look very well from the human point of view if not from that of the university graduate. I confess that I was very pleased with her dissipation for it showed that there was the usual quota of human nature beneath the shell of collegiate enamel.
We reached Colombo on the 24th, glad enough to get ashore. Miss Edger was taken to Mrs. Higgins’ school and I to Sanghamitta School. I lunched that day with the Marquis Mahayotha of Siam and in the afternoon received many visitors, among them the Prince-Priest Jinawarawansa. In the evening there was a meeting of Hope Lodge T. S. at the Musæus School, at which I admitted a Mr. Sinclair, a member of a Highland regiment then garrisoned at Colombo, whose brother, Mr. G. Sinclair of Ibis Lodge T. S., Melbourne, made the exquisitely engrossed address of the Australasian Section to me on my 70th birthday, which has been so admired by all visitors to my office at Adyar. On the next day my enemy the gout attacked me, but with the aid of a pair of crutches I was able to get through
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the routine of my daily engagements. Our people were all pleased with Miss Edger so far as they could see her, and she with them. We embarked on the steamer Coromandel for Madras on the first of December. After a stretch of fine weather we landed at the latter port at nine o’clock on the fifth of the month. Miss Edger and I received garlands and addresses on disembarking, and then we had a hot drive to Adyar along the Beach road. Naturally enough, Miss Edger was charmed with the appearance of Adyar and with her welcome.
During the next few days the state of my gouty feet prevented my getting about much, even on crutches, but after a few days the trouble disappeared and I had my hands full of work. Wishing to make Miss Edger known to the leaders of the Indian community of Madras, I arranged a reception for her at Adyar, and on the 19th of the month, in the tastefully decorated hall, several hundred leading men headed by our respected Judge, Sir S. Subramania Aiyar, gave her a most cordial welcome. To my introductory speech she responded so admirably as to win the suffrages of her own audience.
It will be remembered that Mrs. Besant was at that time making a long and most important tour in the United States and that it would be impossible
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for her to return to address the Adyar Convention and, until I met Miss Edger in Australia, no possible substitute was suggested to my mind. But when I saw her qualifications as a lecturer on Theosophical subjects exemplified in her discourses throughout my Australasian tour, I determined to persuade her, if possible, to return with me to India and give the Convention lectures. When we came to discuss suitable topics I told her that what was preeminently necessary now was to drive home upon the minds of our members the fact that they could have no chance of spiritual progress unless they put into practice the rules of life which had been so splendidly defined by Mrs. Besant and others of our speakers: I therefore begged her to accept that idea as a guide for her discourses, which she very readily acceded to. She chose the general title of Theosophy Applied and in her four lectures applied its teachings to Religion, to the Home, to Society, and to the State. Having reported to the General Secretary of the Indian Section the scheme and having received his concurrence, I accordingly got Miss Edger to resign her position of General Secretary of the New Zealand Section, got Dr. Sanders elected in her place, made all necessary arrangements and brought her to India as temporary substitute for Mrs. Besant. With this explanation made, my narrative may proceed.
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On the second day after the reception we had the extreme pleasure of welcoming as a delegate Dr. Arthur Richardson, that most respected colleague who came on from Bombay where he had been fighting the plague during the preceding half-year, exposing his life daily in the hospitals and working without remuneration. The delegates to the Convention now began pouring in, a group from Ceylon being composed of Mrs. Higgins, Miss Gmeiner, Miss Rodda, Mr. Peter d’Abrew and the Prince-Priest Jinawarawansa. Mr. K. Narayanaswami Iyer and Mr. J. Srinivasa Row, of Gooty, whose services at every Convention, in the matter of the feeding of the delegates, are invaluable, also arrived. On the 25th, Babu Upendranath Basu, General Secretary of the Indian Section, and Mr. A. Mahadeva Sastri, Director of the Mysore Government Oriental Library, and many other delegates came and crowded our house. In the evening Miss Edger held a conversation meeting and answered questions.
The first of her course of four lectures was given at 8 a.m. on the 27th, the title being “Theosophy applied to Religion”. The note in my diary is that “all liked her plain, clear exposition of the practical application of Theosophy to religion”, and the Hindu of the 28th contained one of those admirable critiques for which that influential journal has
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always been noted. My commentaries on each of the discourses are equally favorable, and at the close of the fourth, Judge Sir S. Subramania Aiyar, on behalf of the Indian public, gave a terse and eloquent expression of thanks. She was enthusiastically applauded at the close of each of the lectures and the language used by a Tasmanian paper about one of her lectures at Hobart is thoroughly applicable to the effect of those at Adyar: “ . . . As Miss Edger proceeded, her audience was drawn nearer to her and she seemed to communicate to them some of her own depth of earnestness when she strove to impress on their minds that, as religion was of the greatest moment to everyone, they should strive to make their religion purer and broader, and that this was what Theosophy sought to do. Theosophy was not opposed to the churches but it tried to remove narrow dogmatism. Theosophy was the very essence of every spiritual religion. With a clear and well modulated voice and wonderfully sustained earnestness, she impressed her hearers with the sincerity of her convictions as she went on to show how Theosophy had sought to give birth to a true Brotherhood of man, the teaching of social righteousness and the rooting out of social evils.” This “drawing nearer” of her audiences to herself was clearly manifested in her Adyar lectures. Perhaps one reason was that she was more didactic
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than oratorical; she aimed to instruct, not to dazzle, in which, she showed good judgment, for we must never forget that our Indian audiences are not being addressed in their own vernaculars, in which they would understand any possible synonyms, used by the lecturer and every subtle handling of phrases; whereas if they are listening to an English discourse it goes without saying that the subtler sense of many words must escape them. As an orator Miss Edger could never be compared with Mrs. Besant—how many could?—but one of the most eminent of our educated Madrassis said that every one of her audience had understood what she said.
The attendance at the Convention that year (the 22nd) was large, and a feeling of buoyancy, and perfect confidence in the future of the Society pervaded the meetings. The reports from all our Sections were optimistic and the centering of these various lines of thought among us created a most harmonious atmosphere. From the President’s Address the following few points are summarized:
The educational movement in Ceylon was very encouraging; 105 schools, with some 17,000 children, had been established. My Australian tour covered a distance of about 17,000 miles and had resulted in creating strong personal ties of friendship between the members in Queensland, New South
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Wales, Victoria, Tasmania, New Zealand and South Australia, and myself: previously I had been to them only a name and a title. And now, in this connection, let me mention a curious coincidence which I had forgotten to include in my narrative of the tour. I made it, as mentioned, at my own initiative, without consultation with anybody and because I was much dissatisfied with the state of things Theosophical out there—the result of secret machinations of the conspirators before the Secession. Of course there had been no fund set aside for the expenses, so I had advanced the money myself. During the tour there had been gifts from private individuals, from Branches, and the novel “silver coin collection at the door”. As usual on my return, I regulated my accounts with the Treasurer of the Society, and we found that my expenses (including Miss Edger’s) had been covered, all but five shillings. By the next mail or the following one there came from Dr. Sanders, General Secretary of the New Zealand Section, a Postal Money Order for five shillings, the delayed payment of a subscription of that amount by some friend in that colony! What sort of a “coincidence” would the reader call this?
One need not be surprised to find a sort of spirit of restlessness and combativeness showing itself occasionally in Branches whose members have
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acquired but a faint conception of the federal character of our Society and the enormous moral strength which it derives from the cultivation of a brotherly spirit among its members, a spirit which obliterates political, sectarian and racial antagonisms. Though the two Colonial Sections were, as a rule, on the best of terms with Headquarters, yet I found, in a very few instances, the signs of incipient antagonism which, if not removed at the very outset, might, in the course of time, create evil results. As the imperative necessity for the general understanding of the constitution of our Society is evident, it will be well for me to quote from the Presidential Address to the 22nd Annual Convention the follow ing remarks:
“I was sorry to see a tendency in certain very few Branches towards the assertion of a corporate importance and autonomy which, if carried far, might resemble that which bore such bitter fruits in the American Section two years ago. This heresy of individual sovereignty was the cause of the great Slaveholders’ Rebellion of 1861-5, in America. No world-covering, practical movement can possibly be carried on without perfect loyalty to the principle of federal combination of autonomous units for the common good. Our Theosophical Society is, I think, as perfect an example of a maximum of centralised moral strength with a
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minimum of invasion of local independence as the world can show. Until I formed distant Branches into autonomous Sections, all was drifting into confusion because there were not hours enough in a day nor working strength enough in my body to keep me (unaided, almost, as I was) in touch with them. The Sections of Australia and New Zea1and are but organised Central Committees, which act for all their Branches, derive their power from them, and serve as their agency to keep alive the bond between them and the President-Founder, the Society’s central executive. I hope that this view may become clear to every Branch throughout the world, and that it may realise that it is but one out of four hundredsimilar groups of students, and that no one Section is of any more importance to me than any other, but is equally important as any other in the whole Society. A Section cannot do its whole duty to the Society or the Branches which compose it, unless every Branch and every member loyally and unreservedly supports its lawful measures. As Sections are parts of the Society, so Branches are parts of the Sections, and any disunity between a Branch and its Section is as deplorable and dangerous as disunity between a Section and the Headquarters. We need go no farther than the Judge Secession for proof of this.”
11239 in 1934. Ed.
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One day, riding in a tramcar in Auckland, a Salvation Army man sitting next to me showed me a subscription list and asked me to contribute something to their Self-denial Week Fund, at the same time explaining to me this admirable plan of General Booth’s to raise money. When writing my Address this fact recurred to me and I ventured to make to the Convention the following suggestions:
“I feel it my duty to call your attention to the splendid example of self-denial for a religious and philanthropic cause, which is shown the world by the Sa1vation Army. While I was in New Zealand the ‘Self-denia1 Week’ of the Army occurred, and the astounding fact is that the sum of £25,000 was put into its treasury as the result of this self-sacrifice. What can we, Theosophists, show of this sort that is worth mentioning, by comparison? Here are we who profess to be spreading the most noble of all truths throughout the world and to teach the highest morality and purest altruism. Who among us has practised the self-denial of these eccentric religious sensationalists; what have we to boast of in this direction? I solemnly adjure you, my brethren, to begin this year to earn the respect of your own consciences by setting aside some fixed percentage
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of your respective incomes as a great fund for the benefit of the Society. Why should we not select the week in which our White Lotus Day occurs to do this generous thing that H.P.B. would have approved, and that Annie Besant and Constance Wachtmeister habitually practise? This should be a general, not a Sectional fund, and should be kept at Headquarters, for distribution as the exigencies of our work in the Sections and otherwise throughout the world shall demand. The cutting off of our mere luxuries for one week of each year would give us enough for all our pressing needs.”
There were other important matters worth recalling in the Report for that year, but as we have reached the limits of my space they may be put over until the next chapter.