OLD DIARY LEAVES, Third Series (1883-87)
by Henry Steel Olcott
I CROSSED from Queensborough to Flushing, on the night of 23rd July, in one of the splendid boats that ply on that line, and reached Elberfeld (Germany) a 3 p.m. the following day. A most sisterly welcome was given me by Frau Gustav Gebhard, since, alas! deceased. A sweeter or more loyal character I never met. She was one of those women who shed about them an atmosphere of love and virtue, fill their homes with sunshine, make themselves indispensable to their husbands and adored by their children. Frau Gebhard possessed for her colleagues in the T.S. the special attraction of being a born mystic, and for man years a student of the occult, so far as her family duties allowed. For seven years she had been one of the two pupils of Eliphas Levi,1 and after the siege of Paris was raised, that half-starved and ill-starred Occultist found generous hospitality in her house for a long period. Her impressions of him were contributed by her to the Theosophist for January, 1886. She speaks very kindly and appreciatively of him as a learned Kabbalist, a teacher, and a friend, but says that his Epicurean nicety in the matter of eating was his weak point and
1 Baron Spedalieri was the other,
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was often to her" a matter of wonder". As both of them are dead, there is no harm in my saying that Mrs. Gebhard told me that Eliphas was an enormous eater, craved rich food, both animal and vegetable, and drank much wine at his dinner. Mrs. Gebhard's intercourse with him was chiefly in writing, he taking her through a long course of occult instruction by this medium. A large portion of these teachings were, with the kind permission of Frau Gebhard, translated for the Theosophist, and will be found in the volumes for 1884 (Supplement), 1885 and 1886. The Gebhard mansion was furnished in the best taste, and, in the temporary absence in America of Herr G. Gebhard, the host, his whole family vied with each other in making the home delightful to their guests. On the upper floor Frau Gebhard had an occult room for herself, where she had a choice library of rare books on her favorite subjects, and on the wall a portrait from life, in oils, of her master, Eliphas Levi. It represented him just as he is described by her in the article above mentioned—"of a short and corpulent figure; his face was kind and benevolent, beaming with good nature, and he wore a long grey beard which covered nearly the whole of his breast." It was an intellectual face, but that of a man whose attractions were for physical rather than for spiritual things; a face totally unlike that of the type of our Indian Adepts, upon which the majesty of a divine aspiration is enthroned. Two days after my arrival, the first of a group of expected Theosophists came in
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the persons of Mme. Hæmmerlé, of Odessa; Dr. Hübbe Schleiden, of Hamburg; and Dr. E. Coues, of Washington; and on the following day, at a meeting held in the "occult room," our first German Branch, the "Theosophische Gesellschaft Germania," was formed. The officers elected were: President, Dr. Hübbe Schleiden; Vice-President, Frau M. Gebhard; Treasurer, Consul G. Gebhard; and Secretary, Herr Franz Gebhard, the worthy son of excellent parents. This was the beginning of the movement in the most intellectual country of Europe, a field which in the course of time must yield a splendid harvest, though, like Scotland, local causes will long keep back its full development. While in Scotland our obstacle is the unexhausted power of Calvinism, in Germany there are several, viz., the tumultuous mental activity within the circle of pecuniary interests, the enormous development of physical science with its accompanying spiritual prostration, and the surviving distrust of mysticism, mystical teachers, and systems, which was caused by the overdose given to Germany by the Rosicrucians, the Egyptian Masonry of Cagliostro, and the misunderstood claims and labors of the mediæval alchemists. A century ago and more, Germany was the centre and hottest nucleus of all this occult research, and if we now see a reactive tendency, it is but the natural working of unchangeable law. The capacity for this high spiritual aspiration is innate in the German character, and it is quite possible that in future some change of circumstances will bring it once more into activity.
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If it were wise to do so, I might mention names of high Germans secretly inclined towards our Theosophical ideas, that would make my remark seem quite warranted; but all will be made clear in time. Meanwhile, my duty is to go on as I have throughout :so many years, keeping many secrets about persons and things locked up in my breast, and suffering myself and others to be maligned and misunderstood for the sake of the cause to which we have devoted "our lives, our fortunes, and our sacred honor".
We have at Adyar a souvenir of the above incident, in an excellent photograph of the group of friends who assisted in forming the new German Branch, and Frau Franz Gebhard has one of myself in an oil portrait for which I gave her sittings. In the interest of the movement in Germany, I left Elberfeld on 1st August with Dr. Hübbe Schleiden for Dresden. It was on that day that the good Doctor received in the train a letter from one of the Masters which answered a question that he had just then put to me. As his account of the incident has been published by the S. P. R. (with their usual sniffings and suspicions), there is no impropriety in my saying that he had begun a conversation about certain painful experiences of his early years, which he was then relating for the first time, and about which he had not spoken to Mme. Blavatsky. While we were thus occupied, the railway guard came to the right-hand window of the carriage for our tickets. I sat to the Doctor's left. He took both his and my ticket and leaned to the right to
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hand them to the guard, across the knees of the person who sat to his right. As he was resuming his seat, he saw between his body and the next passenger a letter: it was addressed to himself in the K. H. handwriting, was in a Tibetan, or, rather, Chinese envelope, and its contents not only explained the cause of the misfortunes he had just been complaining of, but also answered certain questions he had addressed to H.P.B. (then in London) in a posted letter, to which, in due course of mail, there had not been time to receive her reply.1 The case seems free of taint of fraud, but the kind, generous S. P. R. critic who reviews it hints at the possibility of an agent of (the penniless) H.P.B. having been in the train with us! Really, with such people is it worth while to waste time in taking them seriously? At all events, poor Dr. Hübbe was much cheered up and encouraged by the contents of the letter, which, after all, was the principal thing. And I too rejoiced in his joy—as my Diary records it.
At Weisser Hirsch, a summer resort near Dresden, we visited that noble soul Herr Oskar von Hoffmann, a gentleman in every instinct as well as action. He was then engaged on a translation of Esoteric Buddhism, which he subsequently published at his own cost. It was at his house in Leipzig that Zöllner and the other Professors of the Leipzig University held their memorable séances with Slade, the medium, which confirmed Zöllner in his theory of a Fourth Dimension. The
1 Second Report on H. P. B.'s Phenomena to the S. P. R., pp. 383-4.
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Germans are a handsome race, with a suggestion of the lion, very often, in their faces, and Herr von Hoffmann was a marked example of the type. Both he and his brother who resides in England have been my dear friends for many years, and the latter, especially, has helped the Society when it most needed help.
The same evening Dr. Hübbe and I called on Herr Schroeder, the famous magnetiser, who does—or was then doing—wonders in psychopathic healing. His method was simplicity itself; he sets up an auric communication with his patient, and then just lets his superfluous vitality flow into the other's system until he is cured or helped, as the case may be. Puts himself on tap, as one might say! Well, that is what the Jewish doctors made the Shunamite woman, Abishag, do for old King David, and it is scientific therapeutics. After two more days at Dresden we went to Bayreuth, where we were in time to attend a representation of Parsifal in Wagner's own theatre. The performance lasted from 4 to 9 p.m., and was deeply impressive. The effect was, in fact, indescribably grand. The Doctor and I called on Baron Hans von Wolzogen, Vice-President and Manager of the Wagner Verein. He received us in his library, where he was standing at a high desk correcting proofs of, an article on "Theosophy and Wagner". The coincidence struck us all as strange and this impression was enhanced when, on hearing my name, he turned to a book-shelf and, with the remark that a friend at Helsingfors had sent it him the day before, handed me a copy of my Buddhist
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Catechism, gilt-edged and bound in while velvet! Wagner, he told us, was deeply interested in Buddhism, and Parsifal was originally written to represent the Buddha's struggles after wisdom and his attainment of the Buddhahood. But at the instance of the kings of Saxony and Prussia and other august patrons, he had recomposed it into its present form, a search after the Holy Grail.
Dr. Coues and Herr Rudolph Gebhard, F.T.S., joined us at Bayreuth in time to attend the opera, and Coues went on with Dr. Hübbe and myself to Münich, which we reached at 8 p.m. on the 5th of August and went to a hotel. We called on Dr. Franz Hartmann's most estimable sister, the Countess von Spreti, wife of a retired German army officer, and visited the great galleries of paintings and sculptures. The same evening those excellent people, with a Captain Urban and Herr Diesel, another popular mesmeriser, came and spent a pleasant time with us at our hotel. It was here also that I first met Baron Ernst von Weber, the veteran anti-vivisectionist, whom my Indian colleagues will recollect as a Delegate from Germany at one of our Adyar Conventions, and a F.T.S. who was proud of the title. The next morning he accompanied Dr. Hübbe and myself to Ambach, the summer villa, on the lovely Starnberger See, of Prof. Gabriel Max, the great German painter. We returned to town in the evening, but went back again the next day to Ammerland, another lakeside bit of Paradise, where Baron Carl du Prel, the philosopher, was in the habit
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of spending his hot-weather seasons. He was a short, stoutish, hardy, sun-browned man, with an honest face and a noble head, inside which worked one of the grandest brains of our times. Du Pre was the most esoteric and Theosophical writer of his time in Germany. We dined at Prof. Max's. He is a short man also, with a thick and long body, a great intellectual head, and is very shy with strangers. We stopped at Ambach that night and the next day and night, returning to Münich on the 10th. A most charming and memorable experience it was throughout. Add to the grand company of high-thinkers, a perfect, sunny day, a clear sky, a lakeshore spread with velvety turf, picturesque villas, a smell of pines in the air, and before us, open, like a heavenly mirror of cloud and shore, the unruffled expanse of Starnberger See. Amid such surroundings I admitted into the Society's membership, on the 9th, the Baron and Baroness Du Prel, Prof. and Frau Max, the latter's sister, Fräulein Kitzing, Count and Countess von Spreti, Baron E. von Weber, and Captain Urban. Mme. Hæmmerlé, of Odessa, had joined us on the 8th, and was present in the capacity of an old member. That there was some high talking may be inferred from the quality of the company present. We returned to Ambach by moonlight in rowboats. A few notes on some of the new members will be interesting outside Germany, where their personal history is less known than it is at home.
Gabriel Max was born 23rd August, 1840, at Prag; studied there at the Academy from 1855-58, and in
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Vienna until 1861; returned to his native town; in 1862 surprised the world by a series of thirteen pictures which very effectually, yet fantastically, illustrated pieces of music; from 1863-69 continued his artistic studies at Münich, and has since become, by his various pictures, one of the greatest artists of Germany. His subjects are usually of a weird and mystical character. He is also a great anthropologist, and owns a splendid ethnographical collection.
Hübbe Schleiden, Juris Utriusque Doctor, was born 20th October, 1846, at Hamburg; studied jurisprudence and political economy; was, during the War of 1870-71, an attaché of the German Consulate-General in London; travelled over almost all Europe, and lived in West Africa from 1875-77. He is the author of several very important works, and the author of the German colonial policy, his statesman-like scheme having been adopted by Prince Bismarck, and since carried out by the Kaiser.
Baron Carl du Prel was born 3rd April, 1839, in Landshut (Bavaria); studied at the University in Munich; in 1859 entered the Bavarian military service, which he left in 1872 as Captain. In 1868 he was graduated Doctor Philosophæ by the University of Tübingen for his magisterial work on dreams, and his fame was constantly enhanced by other books until his lamented death in 1898; one of them, The Philosophy of Mysticism, which appeared in 1885, has been splendidly translated by my dear friend C. C. Massey.
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Such were the men who clustered about me on that green slope by the shore of the sweet lake, which that unfortunate mad king Louis, of Bavaria, loved so romantically and covered with so sad a pall by his suicide in its blue waters. My friendship with them remains unbroken, although two of them have since retired from their membership.
From Münich we passed on to Stuttgardt, Kreuznach, and Heidelberg, where we, of course, visited the Schloss, the giant wine-tun, and the other sights. We slept at Mainz, and went thence to Kreuznach to pay a visit to Mme. Hæmmerlé. This is a summer resort for invalids, and is very interesting to strangers. They have there an Ozone Kurhaus (Cure house) which is very curious. The walls are of birch twigs piled up on each other between the timbers of a skeleton frame. A fine spray of water is caused to trickle through the twigs from top to bottom, and in evaporating is said to liberate ozone, which serves as a very healing atmosphere for patients with weak lungs. There are baths, fine gardens lit up at night, a splendid band of musicians—one never hears a bad one in Germany—and in the Bazaar numbers of little shops where one can buy at almost nominal prices jewelry and other objects in agate, onyx, carnelian, and the other stones that are found in the neighboring mountains. Countess von Spreti and Frau Max and her sister suddenly turned up, having determined to give us an agreeable surprise. Mr. Rudolph Gebhard and I got them to consent to come on with us
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to Elberfeld, our faces being now turned in that direction. We all sailed down the Rhine from Mainz to Cologne, and as the day was bright, the steamboat good, and our company congenial, we had a very happy time of it. The cloud of the Missionary plot was not yet visible, but it was approaching.
The Gebhard mansion could contain us all, and the next five days passed away like a bright dream. Dr. Coues, whom we had left behind at Kreuznach, rejoined us on the 15th (August); and on the 17th H. P. B., Mrs. Holloway, Mohini, Bertram Keightley, and Mrs. and Miss Arundale came in a body from London. I gave up my room to Countess von Spreti, and went over to Mr. Franz Gebhard's villa. Herr Consul G. Gebhard had returned from America, and was the very type of an ideal host. In fact, I never met a more courteous gentleman nor more sympathetic friend. We celebrated his birthday on the 18th with enthusiasm. Mme. Hæmmerlé arrived that day from Kreuznach. On the 19th the Münich ladies left and Dr. Hübbe arrived. Dr. Coues departed on the 20th, and Mme. Hæmmerlé on the 21st. The reader may imagine the tone of conversation that went on during this memorable week, with H. P. B. sparkling like champagne with her witty talk, and everybody contributing his or her best to the enjoyment of the others. Dr. Hübbe, debilitated by severe mental work, left us to go to the Black Forest to recuperate his nervous system in the balsamic air of that vast piney wood. This reminds me that I have omitted mentioning
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an important incident of my visit to Prof. Gabriel Max.
In the compound of the villa stood some majestic old pine trees, under whose shade it was pleasant to lie and look out upon the lake. It suddenly came to my mind that I had been told that a certain Adept in Tibet is in the habit of lying at the foot of a pine tree, resting his back against the trunk, and so absorbing into his system the pure healing aura of the tree. Now, as I have already said, my nervous system had been pretty effectually drained of vitality by the thousands of sick folk whom I had treated psychopathically, and I did not recuperate; my general health was perfect, but the ganglia along the spinal tract felt empty; after five months of rest it was no better. So I tried the tree experiment. It worked like magic, the aura poured through my system, and within two days I was as well as possible.
"H. P. B. savage," is one of my Diary entires of 24th August; which means that she was in a mood the opposite of mild, and that we all caught our share of the thunderbolts! She had an attack of rheumatism, poor thing! besides her regular ailments. On the evening of the 25th there was a letter phenomenon, strange and convincing enough to satisfy even Mr. Rudolph Gebhard, one of the cleverest conjurers in Europe. He described it in his address before the Annual Convention at Adyar in December, 1884, which he attended as a Delegate (vide Official Report of that year's Anniversary, p. 111). He said that
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"from the age of seven he had studied conjuring. At the age of nineteen he went to London, and took lessons from Professor Field, the best sleight-of-hand man there. He had met the leading conjurers of the day and has exchanged tricks with them. He had made a special study of sleight-of-hand. He then gave an interesting account of the dropping of a letter from a picture in the drawing-room of his father's house while Mme. Blavatsky was in the room. The letter was (by request) addressed to the speaker's father, and treated of the exact subject he was thinking about at the time. He offered a reward of Rs. 1,000 to anyone who would repeat the same thing under the same conditions. He was himself an amateur conjurer and had his eyes open". (Cheers.)
In passing judgment on this incident, one important fact is to be considered, viz., that the company present, some twelve or fifteen in number, themselves voted that the letter, if any should come, was to be addressed to Herr G. Gebhard and to be a test to him. They might equally as well have had it addressed to any other person in the room, and as the choice was made only a minute or so before the letter dropped on the piano, it is hard to imagine a more self-evident proof of H.P.B.'s real power to effect these phenomena.
Happily, we have now passed beyond the cycle of psychophysical phenomena of this sort since poor H.P.B.'s death, yet, all the same, they were of the greatest importance at that time, and did more than anything else could have done to focus public attention
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on the Society and upon the way for the diffusion of the ideas of which it was the channel. Prof. Max Müller has done me, personally, a grievous wrong in declaring and repeating in print that in a private conversation between us, at his house in Oxford, I had spoken of false miracles as the natural manure of new religious movements, with the implication that if H.P.B.'s phenomena were of that category it was all right. I cannot lay my hand upon the place where the statement occurs, but I believe he first printed it in the Nineteenth Century, and repeated it in a Gifford Lecture, though of this I am not sure. The important fact is that—probably without malevolent intention, and only because he misunderstood my remark—he made me appear to uphold trickery and falsehood as a necessary means for pushing a religious movement. As we were alone in his library when the conversation occurred, it becomes a question of his memory against mine, and all I can do is to solemnly deny having ever said anything that would bear such a construction, and offset it with the record of my whole life, which in nothing shows me to have been governed by such low principles. My word will go as far as Prof. Müller's with those who know me intimately. What I did say was that "miracles" had attended the birth of all religions, and that when real phenomena had not been forthcoming, the priests usually employed bogus ones as manure for their crops. But that had no reference to the Theosophical movement, and it was only Prof. Müller's hatred of
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it which caused him to misunderstand me. "You have done nobly," he said, "in helping so much to revive the love for Sanskrit, and the Orientalists have watched the development of your Society with the greatest interest from the commencement. But why will you spoil all this good reputation by pandering to the superstitious fancies of the Hindus, by telling them that there is an esoteric meaning in their Shastras? I know the language perfectly, and I assure you there is no such thing as a Secret Doctrine in it." In reply, I simply told the Professor that every unspoilt (i.e., unwesternised) Pandit throughout all India believed, as we did, in the existence of this hidden meaning; and that, as for the Siddhis, I personally knew men who possessed them and whom I had seen exhibit their powers. "Well, then," said my erudite host, "let us change the subject." And we did, and since then, and until his death, he attacked us and our movement whenever the spirit moved him.
Several other letter phenomena occurred during our stay at Herr Gebhard's house, but I need not relate them, as the one above described will do for all. Among the visitors of H.P.B. was that talented Russian Solovioff, whose book, which appeared long after dear H.P.B.'s death, made it safe for him to tell his falsehoods about her, shows him to be as heartless and contemptible, though fifty times more talented, than the Coulombs. On 1st September he related to all of us the wonderful waking visit he had had from an Adept and the striking phenomena attending
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it, not as a questionable delusion of the senses, but as an actual experience so perfect and realistic as to banish all theory of doubt. But, as Prof. Max Müller said, "let us change the subject."