OLD DIARY LEAVES, Third Series (1883-87)
by Henry Steel Olcott
IF there was ever a man who could turn a menu into a sort of alimentary poem, it is Brigadier-General A. Kenny-Herbert, ex-Military Secretary to the Government of Madras, now retired and living in London. He possesses so perfect a genius for cooking, that I believe he could develop the latent potentialities of a potato or parsnip so as to force one to realise what must have been the food of the Olympian gods. In fact, I should not be surprised to learn that he had been at least a sous chef in the Jovian kitchen, and along with his colleagues Soyer and Brillat Savarin, had reincarnated to teach our generation how to prepare digestible dishes. It is a passion with him, as it was with Alexandre Dumas, and I very much fear that—if 'tis truly said that the ruling passion shows strong at death—he would refuse to die until he had had time to give his final orders for the preparation of the “funeral bak'd meats".
General—then only Lieut.-Colonel—Kenny-Herbert invited H. P. B. and myself to his house one day to a tiffin which, in compliment to us, he made an entirely vegetarian repast. After so many years I vainly try to recall the courses, but I have the most vivid recollection of the fact that we and the three other guests declared it to be superlatively appetising. The service
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matched the food, giving one the impression that this was not a feast of Gargantua, but a Lucullan banquet over the preparation of which an exquisitely refined taste had presided. Most of our Western vegetarian cookery, on the other hand, has given me the impression that it was but the serving up of chicken feed in a style the reverse of attractive to a refined nature. If vegetarians could but get this pseudonymic "Wyvern" to teach them how to do it, their cause would win fifty converts where it now does one. They have proved unmistakably that vegetable food is as nutritious and healthier than meat diet, they need go no farther; but their cause can never be won until their cooks learn how to make one's mouth water at sight of their dishes.
Whether it was the food, or the sweet hospitableness of our hosts, or the semi-malicious banter of Mr. Forster Webster, Mr. Reed, and Capt. Agnew, A. D. C., or the bright sunshine and flowers in the garden, or what not, Madame Blavatsky bubbled over with high spirits and kept the company in continual merriment. Anon, a jest would be followed by an occult teaching, and that by the making of "spirit raps" on the table or silvery bell-tinkling in the air; and this party, like every other in which she had been present, broke up with the impression left on the guests that she was one of the most brilliant and entertaining, if eccentric, personages they had ever encountered. At Ooty, as at Allahabad and Simla, persons of the most influential position were disposed to be friendly to her and to the Society, some of the most impressible ready to submit
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themselves wholly to her charm. Here, as elsewhere, she spoilt her chances of full success by some sudden caprice of conduct, some passionate revolt against conventional narrow-mindedness, the uttering of strong language, or the indulgence of biting witticisms about some high-placed person. While eminently fitted to shine in the world, and having had many -years of intimacy with it through her high birth, she had passed out of the "sphere of its influence," and brought away with her a feeling of disgust for social shams and of contempt for moral cowards. She railed at society, not like your parvenus, whose bitterness springs from their being kept beyond the threshold of the salons of the fashionable caste, but as one who, born in the purple and accustomed to equal association with peers and peeresses, had differentiated from her species and stepped up to higher ground.
The culminating point of my visit was the settlement with the Madras Government of the civil status of the Theosophical Society which, as was remarked in Chapter XXX of the preceding volume, was successfully accomplished on 12th September, 1883, at Ootacamund. For convenient reference, I shall quote in this connection the text of the letters which passed between myself and the Governor-in-Council. They were as follows:
From COLONEL HENRY S. OLCOTT,
President of The Theosophical Society.
TO THE HONORABLE E. F. WEBSTER,
Chief Secretary to the Government of Madras.
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SIR,-I have the honor to address you on behalf of the Theosophical Society, of which I am President, and the objects of which organisation are as follow:
I. (a) To promote the feeling of mutual tolerance and kindness between people of different races and religions;
(b) To encourage the study of the philosophies, religions, and science of the ancients, particularly of the Aryans;
(c) To aid scientific research into the higher nature and powers of man.
II. These are our only corporate aspirations, and, since the year 1875—when the Society was founded at New York—they have been openly declared and publicly defended. With them we have exclusively occupied ourselves, and have most strenuously refused to meddle with politics or to advocate any creed to the exclusion of others.
III. The principal seat of the Society's operations was transferred from New York to India in February, 1879, for the greater convenience of our purely Oriental researches, and in December, 1882, was moved from Bombay to Madras for a like reason.
IV. The Society was, in the first instance, an open body; but it was found in practice that the successful prosecution of physical experiments, in the progress of which the most private thoughts and aspirations of our common nature had to be expressed, demanded a more confidential relation between members. The principle of secrecy, identical with
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that of Free Masonry and Odd Fellowship, and with the same laudable motive, was therefore adopted as early as the second year of the Society's existence.
V. Our work being thus cut off from public view, many ladies and gentlemen of good position, socially, joined us, both in America and Europe—where branches after a while sprang up. But coincidently with our coming to India this private relation between ourselves, and the great favor which our endeavors to revive Aryan learning excited among Hindus, caused a suspicion—to the last degree unjust and unfounded—that we might have under the mask of philosophical study some political design. Accordingly, the Government of India, at the instance of Her Majesty's Home Government, caused us to be watched both at Bombay, our residence, and while travelling over India. There being nothing whatever to discover of the nature apprehended, the expense and trouble lavished upon us only ended in proving our blamelesseness of motive and conduct. For sufficient proof of which I would respectfully invite attention to the enclosed letter [No. 1025 E. G., dated Simla, the 2nd October, 1880] from the Secretary to Government in the Foreign Department to myself—which I transmit in the original, with request for its return. It is therein remarked that "the Government of India has no desire to subject you (ourselves) to any inconvenience during your (our) stay in the country," and "so long as the members of the Society
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confine themselves to the prosecution of philosophical and scientific studies, wholly unconnected with politics, . . . . they need apprehend no annoyance, etc., etc."
VI. The above decision is in strict accordance with the oft-declared policy of Her Most Gracious Majesty's Asiatic relations with subjugated peoples, to maintain strict neutrality in all matters involving religious inquiry or belief; and, having ever faithfully observed the laws and respected the established regulations of Government in India—as everywhere else throughout the world where our Society has branches—we are entitled to protection, and demand it as our right.
VII. Entire freedom from annoyance and molestation we have not enjoyed in the Madras Presidency. In various quarters a certain pressure, none the less; menacing because unofficial, has been put upon Hindu subordinates to prevent their taking active interest in our work. Though the vindication of the wisdom, virtues, and spiritual achievements of their ancestors was involved, they have been made to feel that they could not be Theosophists without losing the goodwill of their superiors—possibly their chances of promotion. Timid by nature, the subordinates have, in many—though, to the honour of true manhood, be it said, not all—instances, sacrificed their feelings to this petty tyranny. But despite all opposition, whether of sectarian bigotry or other kinds, the Society has so rapidly increased, that it has already founded twenty Branches within the
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Madras Presidency. An impartial inquiry among our members will show that the influence upon the natives is excellent: improving their moral tone, making them more religious, more self-reliant, and more tractable as subjects. Should the Government of Madras care to test the truth of this assertion, I shall most gladly furnish every needed facility.
VIII. In view of the above facts, what I respectfully ask is, that the Government will make it understood that so long as the Theosophical Society shall keep to its declared field of activity, an absolute neutrality shall be observed towards it by officials throughout the Presidency; and especially forbid that the fact of membership or non-membership shall even be considered in determining the claims of any employée, English or Native, to official favor.
I have the honor to be, sir,
Your most obedient servant,
President, Theosophical Society.
Proceedings of the Madras Government
Read the following [foregoing] letter from Colonel H. S. Olcott, President, Theosophical Society, dated 7th September, 1883: (l) stating the objects of the Society; (2) transmitting a letter addressed to him by
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the Government of India, Foreign, Department, of 2nd October, 1880, promising the members of the Society freedom from all annoyance so: long as they confine themselves to the prosecution of philosophical and scientific studies wholly unconnected with politics; (3) complaining that in various quarters of the Madras Presidency, some native subordinates have been made to feel that they cannot join the, Society without losing the goodwill of their official Superiors.
13th September, 1883, No. 1798
Colonel Olcott may be assured that this Government will strictly follow the lines that have been laid down by the Government of India in their letter to his address. In regard to the complaint he has preferred, they observe that it is of a general nature only, no specific instances being mentioned; and His Excellency the Governor-in-Council need only say that he would highly disapprove any interference with the religious or philosophical ideas of any section of the population.
(Sd.) FORSTER WEBSTER,
Ag. Chief Secretary.
TO COLONEL H. S. OLCOTT,
President, Theosophical Society.
I have elsewhere mentioned H. P. B.'s inheritance of the fiery temper of the Dolgoroukis, and the
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terrible struggle it was to even measurably subdue her irritability. I will now tell a story which I had from her own lips, and the incidents of which had a most lasting effect upon her through life. In childhood her temper was practically unrestrained, her noble father petting and idolising her after the loss of his wife. When, in her eleventh year, the time came for her to leave his regimen and pass under the management of her maternal grandmother (the wife of General Fadeyef, born Princess Dolgorouki), she was warned that such unrestrained liberty would no longer be allowed her, and she was more or less awed by the dignified character of her relative. But on one occasion, in a fit of temper at her nurse, a faithful old serf who had been brought up in the family, she struck her a blow in the face. This coming to her grandmother's knowledge, the child was summoned, questioned, and confessed her fault. The grandmother at once had the castle bell rung to call in all the servants of the household of whom there were scores, and when they were assembled in the great hall, she told her that she had acted as no lady should, in unjustly' striking a helpless serf who would not dare defend herself; and she ordered her to beg her pardon and kiss her hand in token of sincerity. The child at first, crimson with shame, was disposed to rebel, but the old lady told her that if she did not instantly obey she would send her from her house in disgrace. She added that no real noble lady would refuse to make amends for a wrong to a servant, especially one who
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by a lifetime of faithful service had earned the confidence and love of her superiors. Naturally generous and kind-hearted towards the people of the lower classes, the impetuous child burst into tears, kneeled before the old nurse, kissed her hand, and asked to forgiven. Needless to say she was thenceforth fairly worshipped by the retainers of the family. She told me that that lesson was worth everything to her, and it had taught her the principle of doing justice to those whose social rank made them incapable of compelling aggressors to do rightly towards them.
All who have published reminiscences of her childhood—Mme. Jelihovsky, her sister; Mlle. Fadeyef, her aunt; Mr. Sinnett, and others—testify to the innate kindness and chivalrousness of her disposition, notwithstanding her inability to restrain her tongue or her temper, which too often, as at Ooty, brought her into trouble. But whatever her faults, there is one chargeable to a high placed lady at Ootacamund which does not redound to the latter's credit. My readers may remember my telling in the previous volume of H. P. B.'s "doubling" a valuable topaz or yellow diamond in a ring for Mrs. Sinnett while we were together at Simla. She did a similar favor for the lady friend at Ootacamund, a duplicate being made for her by H. P. B. of a valuable sapphire. In the course of time she and the lady fell out, or rather the lady fell away from her, but kept the stone, which she had had appraised by a jeweller and found its commercial value to be quite two hundred rupees. If
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poor, impecunious H. P. B. had played her—as was pretended—the trick of passing off a valuable sapphire (which she did not possess before it went from her hand to the lady's) as a mysterious apport, at least the recipient kept it and made the only profit out of the: transaction!
Two days after receipt of the Order in Council, we two left beautiful Ooty in tongas for Coimbatore, where we tarried three days, receiving visitors, answering questions, and taking candidates into membership. I lectured on two successive days and did a good deal of psychopathic work: on 19th September, it appears, I mesmerised thirty large jars of water and seventeen bottles of oil for the use of the sick. H. P. B. was present when, in the usual formal way, I organised a local Branch under the name of the Coimbatore T. S. Our visit finished, we left for Pondicherry, followed by warm protestations of affectionate goodwill. This was one of the two or three occasions only in which my colleague even assisted in the formation of Indian Branches, despite the foolish idea entertained by many, ignorant of the facts, who constantly talk of her personally founding our Branches and wearing herself out with travel and its privations. Greater stuff was never spoken: her sphere was the literary and spiritual one, and her travelling in those days was mainly limited to the distances between her writing-table, the dining-room, and her bed. She was as unfit for platform and pioneer organising work as she was for cooking; and when we remember that
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she thought to get boiled eggs by laying them, raw, on the hot coals, her culinary aptitude is easily gauged. Moreover, she had too much sense to try it, but kept strictly to her own department, as I did to mine.
From the Nilgiris to the French territory of Pondicherry one has to cross country from West to East by rail, at Villupuram Junction changing to a short, branch line of twenty-six miles that takes one to Pondicherry. An amusing episode occurred between the two stations. At the Junction a certain elderly Hindu gentleman of our acquaintance accosted us with the usual signs of exaggerated reverence, so easily seen through by foreigners, and begged me to cure a paralytic—some rich or influential person—who would apply to me before reaching Pondicherry. Now this was too much for good nature; if I was to be pestered from morning to night by patients while stopping at stations, at least I ought to be allowed to rest myself while traveling. Naturally, I refused the man's request; but he stuck to me like a leech, got into our compartment of the train, and urged, and fawned, and begged until he wore out my patience. Just then we came to a place where there was a halt of ten minutes, and my pest abased himself to the dust to persuade me to get out and cure his man, whom we saw sitting in an arm-chair on the platform with a number of people about him. In desperation, and to rid myself of the man's importunities, I got out, went over to the sick man, handled his paralysed
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limbs, made mesmeric passes over them with a little massage, got his arm flexible, then his leg, made him stand, walk, put his bad foot on his chair, lift the chair with the just-paralysed hand, and then, as the engine whistle blew, salaamed the company and ran back to our carriage. All this while H. P. B. had sat at a window, smoking a cigarette and watching my performance: she had never seen me at this work before and was deeply interested. As the train started, we saw my cured paralytic walk off, followed by his party and by a servant carrying the chair; not one of them looking behind him. The effect upon H. P. B. was most comical to me and set me to laughing heartily. The language she used was choice and so strong, that if her words had been leaden shot and hurled at their mark by the full force of her wrath, the backs of the retreating company would have been well peppered. Such ingratitude, such base and disgusting ingratitude, she had never seen in her life. "What do you mean?" I asked. "Mean? why, there was that man almost licking your feet in the train to get you to heal his friend; you heal him in the most marvellous way, on the platform, while the train stops ten minutes or so; and he, his friend, and his friend's friends calmly walk away, without a word of thanks or even a backward look of thankfulness. That beats everything I ever saw!" I told her that if she had travelled with me and seen my mesmeric healings, she would have realised that the number of patients who had shown real gratitude for benefits conferred were far less than one in a
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hundred: that if the other ninty-nine were really grateful, they concealed it from view, and left me to practise the rule that Srî Krishna gave to Arjuna, to do the necessary thing and care naught for the fruits of action. But she never forgot the incident.