OLD DIARY LEAVES, Fourth Series (1887-92)
by Henry Steel Olcott
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I AVAILED myself of the presence at Headquarters of Mr. E. D. Fawcett to get up a course of lectures on the different schools of Philosophy, which he should afterwards bring out in book form under the title of The Power Behind the Universe. This young man, then of twenty-four years, has a brain which is remarkably adapted to the study of metaphysics and philosophy, impressed with his intellectual ability on reading the manuscript of his first lecture.1 It was a summary analysis of the whole series of modern metaphysicians, eighteen in number, from Descartes to Von Hartmann. Yet at the same time, as his more recent contributions to the London magazines show, his mind is capable of flights into the realm of pure imagination, and he is very ingenious in inventing thrilling situations for the entanglement of the personages of his story.
1 [Mr. E. D. Fawcett did bring out a book which bore the title The Riddle of the Universe. This has recently been followed by a volume of the philosophy of his riper experience, The Individual and Reality, Longmans, 1909.—ED.]
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His first lecture was given in our hall at Adyar on the 19th of July. The room looked grand with its decking of palm-fronds, flags, lights, and a large picture of Sarasvati, the Indian Minerva, suspended over the speaker’s platform. Every seat was occupied, and the audience, which was mainly composed of University graduates and College under-graduates, was as intellectual an one as any speaker could wish to address. To us who know the Hindus, it is hardly credible how little is known of this side of their character by their official superiors; the majority of military and civilian British officials return home, sometimes after thirty-odd years’ residence in this country, with no other impression of the Hindus than that which they have derived in their superficial relations with them in public offices, or from their exasperating experience with their sycophantic, usually illiterate, and often intemperate domestic servants. How could they possibly expect to be on terms of good understanding with high-caste men (i.e., gentlemen) whom they treat in official intercourse with unconcealed disdain, commonly classifying them as “niggers,” without caring at all whether it comes to the insulted gentlemen’s ears or not? It is inexpressibly sad to me to see this awful waste of good opportunity to bind the Indian empire to the British throne with silken bands of love, which are beyond comparison stronger than all the steel links that can be forged out of swords and bayonets. At the present writing we are blessed with a Viceroy, Lord Curzon of Kedleston, who has shown a tact
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more exquisite than any of his predecessors within the past twenty years; and I feel sure that he will leave behind him, on returning to England, a better feeling than has prevailed for many years. Politics, however, are not my concern, and I have only been tempted into this digression because of my own love for the Hindus and my sympathy in all their troubles.
The second lecture of the weekly course was one by Dr. Daly on “Clairvoyance,” which I read from the manuscript in his absence, and it was printed in the Theosophist. The third and subsequent ones were delivered at “Kernan Castle,” the residence of Mr. Biligiri Iyengar, on the Marina, as we found that the distance of Adyar was inconvenient to the class of men who wished to hear the course. Two of the lectures I gave myself, and Mr. Harte gave one on “The Religion of the Future”.
Among the many tokens of affection which I have received from the Hindus was a proposal that came to me in August from Babu Shishir K. Ghose, of Calcutta, informing me that a scheme was afoot for getting up an Indian National Testimonial to me, in the form of a subscription to ensure my future comfort. I declined it, of course, as my modest income from the magazine was quite enough to supply all my wants. The offer was, however, most gratifying. I notice in my Diary that the same proposal was made in a highly appreciative leading article in the Indian Mirror of 21st August.
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There was what the “cullud pusson” calls “a heap of trouble” in our Theosophical groups at Paris at this time. Dr. G. Encausse, better known by his literary sobriquet of “Papus,” seemed disposed to play the part of an Ahriman in any organisation in which he was not supreme director, and fell out with his French colleagues, seceded from our Branch, made another one called the “Sphynx,” and then asked me for a charter. A file of rather acrimonious correspondence was sent me, and by the same mail came one from the unquiet gentleman himself, giving me direful threats if I should decide to stand by H. P. B. in the current quarrel. She was driving me almost to desperation at about that time, even to the extent of sending out Mr. Keightley to India with a sort of letter-of-marque, apparently intended to destroy the prestige of Adyar, and concentrate all exoteric, as well as esoteric, authority in London. Fortunately for all concerned, he showed this document to one of our strongest Indian members, who begged him not to show it to another person, for it certainly would give a deathblow to H. P. B.’s influence in India. This was the prickly side of my dear “chum”. Yet I wrote by the returning mail a letter to “Papus”, which left him, at least, in no doubt as to the unswerving loyalty which I felt for her who had shown me the way in which to climb towards the Higher Self. He inserted in his magazine at one time a dastardly attack on the characters of H. P. B. and Mrs. Besant, for which that loyal friend, the late M. Arnould, sent
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him his seconds; but in that case, at least, the offender declined a meeting. I also refused the charter, and since that time the Society has not had the honor of counting him among its members; quite the contrary—it expelled him. Some years later, during one of my visits to Paris, he sent me an invitation to witness some most interesting hypnotic experiments at the Hospital of La Charité, at the same time holding out the palm-branch. Much as I wished to see Dr. Luys’ experiments, I had to decline renewal of our personal relations until he had made in his magazine the amende honorable towards my two dear colleagues and friends.
I have noted throughout the summer months of that year that gifts, ranging from £100 to £3, for the support of Headquarters, came in from Europe and America; by one mail I received three. It is strange how this thing has been going on from the beginning down to the present day; my wants for the Society, whether great or small, are invariably covered by timely remittances. If I had no other assurance of the overlooking sympathy of the Great Ones, I should be dull, indeed, not to recognise it in these beneficent promptings to those who can afford to give what is needed. In this, as I have elsewhere observed, my experience coincides with that of all unselfish workers for the public good.
It was in 1890 that H. P. B. and her staff settled in the since famous Headquarters, 19 Avenue Road, St. John’s Wood, London, and it was here that in the
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following year she died. As the property has passed out of our hands within the past twelve month, it may be as well to devote a paragraph to a description of it. It was a large house, standing in its own grounds, which formed a pleasant garden, with bits of lawn, shrubbery, and a few tall trees. Mounting the front steps, one entered a vestibule and short hall, from each side of which doors opened into rooms. The front one on the left was H. P. B.’s working-room, and her small bedchamber adjoined it. From this inner room a short passage led into a rather spacious chamber, which was built for and occupied by the Esoteric Section. To the right of the hall on entering was an artistically furnished dining-room, which was also used for the reception of visitors. Back of this was a small room, then used as a general work-room, afterwards occupied by Mr. Leadbeater as his bedchamber. A door cut through the north wall of the dining-room gave access to the new hall of the Blavatsky Lodge; while one cut in the south wall of H. P. B.’s room led into the office of the General Secretary of the European Section. The upper stories of the house were sleeping apartments. The meeting-hall of the Blavatsky Lodge was of corrugated iron, the walls and ceiling sheathed with unpainted wood. Mr. R. Machell, the artist, had covered the two sloping halves of the ceiling with the symbolic representations of six great religions and of the zodiacal signs. At the south end was a low platform for the presiding officer and the lecturer of the evening. The hall had a seating capacity of about
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200. On the opening night the room was crammed, and many were unable to gain admission. The speakers were Mrs. Besant, Mr. Sinnett, a Mrs. Woolff (of America), and Mr. Keightley. H. P. B. was present but said nothing, on account of the critical state of her health.
H. P. B.’s work-room was crammed with furniture, and on the walls hung a large number of photographs of her personal friends and of members of the Esoteric Section. Her large writing-desk faced a window through which she could see the front grassplot and trees, while the view of the street was shut out by a high brick wall. Avenue Road was a veritable beehive of workers, with no place for drones, H. P. B. herself setting the example of tireless literary drudgery, while her strong auric influence enwrapped and stimulated all about her. This very high pressure of work naturally tended to destroy the feeling of geniality and welcome which members and inquirers visiting London had every reason to hope to find at the social centre of the European Section, and which could always be found at Adyar and in New York when H. P. B. had fewer cares oppressing her mind. I have heard many complaints on this score, and have known of some persons who had intended joining us, but were chilled into a change of mind. Under all the circumstances, I cannot say that I regret that the residential Headquarters have been given up.
On 21st September a telegram from Colombo informed me of the death by apoplexy of Megittuwatte,
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the incomparable Buddhist priest-orator. Among Sinhalese Buddhists he had not his equal as a public speaker. He played upon his audience as though they were some musical instrument which responded to his lightest touch. But he was not a morally strong man, and his behavior towards me was most reprehensible after he saw that I would not give over to his control the National Fund that I had raised for the support of Buddhist schools and other propaganda agencies, and had vested in Boards of Trustees at Colombo and Galle. He built, out of funds collected by himself in lecturing tours, the Temple in the Mutwal ward of Colombo, which most steamer passengers are taken to see by the local guides. Since his death it has fallen greatly in public esteem, and has about as much of the aroma of religion about it as a railway restaurant! And so passes from sight, and already almost from memory, a man who a quarter-century ago was one of the most influential monks in the island.
I have often remarked that the selfsame lecture on Theosophy, provided that its broad outlines are given, and the temptation to wander into the side-paths of details be avoided, seems to be recognised by people of various religions as in each case a presentation of the fundamentals of their particular religion. I have remarked this before, but it again forces itself upon my mind in reading the entry for 28th September in my Diary. On that day I went to a Mussalman meeting at Pachiappah’s Hall to hear a Maulvi lecture on “Salvation”. It was, I think, my first attendance
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at a meeting of this community in Madras, and I expected nothing else than to quietly seat myself near the door, so that if the lecture should prove uninteresting I could slip out without being noticed. But the moment I crossed the threshold I was surrounded by Muhammadan gentlemen, who received me with great cordiality, and straightway had me elected as chairman of the meeting! Protests were useless; in vain I declared that I was not a Muhammadan, but a Theosophist and a Buddhist; they said that they had heard me lecture, and I was as good a Muhammadan as any of them. So I took the chair, and after a few preliminary remarks, which were received with great friendliness, invited the lecturer, Maulvi Hassan Ali, the well-known Muslim missionary, to address the audience. He was an eloquent speaker and fervent religionist, and his discourse was listened to with every mark of approval by his auditors. Two days later he called at Adyar and strongly urged me to publicly declare myself a Muhammadan, as I “was undoubtedly one at heart”; he only asked that I should go on lecturing just as I had all along! On my refusal, “he went away sorrowful”. He is since dead.
I received, about this time, an urgent request from Colombo to preside at the opening of the Sanghamitta Girls’ High School, by the Women’s Educational Society of Ceylon. The invitation urged it upon me as a duty, since it was the first school of the kind ever opened in the island, and the direct outcome of my own efforts. I went, and the function came off on
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18th October and was a brilliant success. Great enthusiasm was shown, and the sum of Rs. 1,000 was subscribed in aid of the school. In view of its historical importance, I may mention that the speakers were the High Priest Sumangala, the learned Pandit Batuwantudawe, L. Wijesinha Mudaliar, Mr. A. E. Buultjens, B.A. (Cantab.), Dr. Daly, Mrs. Weerakoon, Babu K. C. Chowdry, and myself.
As my visit to Ceylon extended over a few days, I was, as usual, kept busy with visits and lectures; I also opened a boys’ school near Kotte, distributed prizes at the Boys’ English High School, the one founded by Mr. Leadbeater, and was gratified to find that the Government School Inspector had given it credit for 90 per cent of passes; a figure high above the Indian average, yet still 5 per cent less than that obtained at last season’s examination of the Pariah children in the Olcott Free School, Urur, thanks to Miss Palmer’s most able management. I also presided at the anniversary of our Colombo Branch and at the annual dinner, where invariably the best of feeling prevails.
Meanwhile, before leaving home for Ceylon, I had written to H. P. B. my intention to retire from the Presidentship and to give her the entire executive, as well as spiritual management, which she seemed anxious to acquire; I reminded her that our pioneering work was practically finished, and she could easily find half a dozen better educated and more yielding men than myself to help her continue the movement. My intention was also communicated to a number
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of our leading men, both of the East and West. I was so much in earnest that I wrote to Ootacamund to ascertain what was the best season for me to begin building a cottage which I intended for my old-age retreat—and where this very chapter is being written.
Protests came pouring in from all sides, and a number of my correspondents announced that they should leave the Society unless I consented to remain. H. P. B. cabled Keightley that she would not allow him to read to the Convention a friendly farewell address to myself, which he had drafted and sent her a copy of for approval; she said that the Masters disapproved of my resignation, and by the next mail she wrote him a positive order to return at once if I should retire, threatening to herself withdraw and dismember the T. S. By the next week’s mail, which reached me on the last day of the year, she offered to make any sacrifice to keep me in office. As, in any case, the ruin of the Society was prophesied by so many of my most valued friends, I consented to continue in office for the present, and my announcement of this decision provoked a storm of applause at the Convention when my Annual Address was read. In notifying H. P. B. of my suspended resignation, I told her that my continuance in office would depend upon her readiness to alter the form of obligation which candidates for the E. S. were then taking. It was worded so as to exact the promise of perfect obedience to her in all their relations with the T. S.; in short, giving her quasi-dictatorial powers, and quite nullifying
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the basis of membership upon which the movement had been built up, and which left each member the most absolute freedom of conscience and action. I was very pleased when she adopted my suggestion, and altered the indiscreet pledge to its present un-objectionable form.1 Had we been together, the mistake would not have been made.
I left Ceylon on the 27th of October for Tuticorin, whence I went on to Tinnevelly. Mr. Keightley met me here, and together we made a tour in southern India, which took us to Ambasamudram, Papanassum Temple and Falls, the hill called Agastya Rishi’s Peak, Padumadi, Madura, Tanjore, and Kumbakonam, whence we returned to Adyar on the 10th of November. Our visit to the first-named place was very interesting. We were put up in the Albert Hall, a new building for the local library and public meetings, the erection of which was chiefly due to the enterprise of our local Branch, headed by, Mr. V. Cooppooswamy Iyer. In the large room hangs a tasteful brass Memorial Tablet to perpetuate the memory of my colleague Mr. Powell, who was greatly beloved in that place. On the evening after our arrival we had the real pleasure of hearing a recitation of Puranas in the ancient style by an actor-pandit; there was a musical accompaniment on Indian instruments by a very good band. One can imagine what a gratification it would be to European Sanskritists if, at one of their Oriental Congresses,
1 [This was written in 1900, and does not refer to the existing formula.-ED.]
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they could hear the sonorous slokas of the Aryan Scriptures recited so beautifully as they were by this orator on the above occasion. On the way to the Rishi’s Peak we halted at the Banatitham Falls and slept in the Forest Officer’s bungalow at Mundantoray! and although there were no doors to keep out the cold air, no furniture, swarming mosquitos to be counted by the cubic inch, and rumors of elephants and tigers being near, we slept the sleep of the weary. The next morning we were ferried across a river on a platform-boat worked by a wire cable overhead. At Papanassum we were the reverse of pleased by the appearance of the dandy ascetic in charge of the temple. His style will give the reader some idea of the stage of his spiritual development. He was a sleek and sensual person, wearing on his head, coronet-fashion, a string of large rudraksha beads, had gold earrings, around his neck a large gold talisman-case or taviz, and about his body the usual orange cloth. One would as soon expect a fat sloth like that to help one to Moksha as one of the similar-looking spiritual shepherds of our Western sects who fatten on the gifts and tithes of credulous laymen. At Tinnevelly I got a young cocoanut from the tree, which was planted in the temple compound in 1881 by a Committee of Colombo Buddhists and myself. So the Hindus had not torn up our “Tree of Brotherly Love,” as our loving friends, the missionaries, had widely reported!
Shortly before the meeting of the Convention, a Committee of Burmese Buddhists notified me that
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they had raised Rs. 20,000 for a propaganda mission to Europe, of which they wanted me to be the leader and to start in February, all my expenses to be paid. Feeling that the time was not ripe, and foreseeing the uselessness of taking a Committee, with probably a very limited knowledge of English, to argue the claims of their religion with the ablest scholars of Europe, I declined.
In the month of December I suggested to the late Mr. Tookaram Tatya, of Bombay, a scheme to transfer the Adyar property to the Adyar Library, and have him endow it with the sum of Rs. 50,000, which he had long told me he intended to give the Society. My reasons were that by so doing we should give the Library a permanent existence after my death, and despite all chances and changes; the Society to retain, free of rent, as much room in the house and grounds as might be needed for Headquarters business. Even now, after the lapse of ten years, I think the idea a good one, for the Library is tenfold more valuable to-day than it was then; and if we should enlarge it, as proposed, into an Oriental Institute, increase the staff of Pandits, organise series of lectures on the different schools of philosophy and religion, and need classrooms, then it would be indispensable that the Library should be put above beyond all possible contingencies which could be anticipated. This could be accomplished by the plan above suggested. The Society has to face one serious contingency, viz., that my successor might find it impossible to leave his country—supposing
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him to be a Western man—and take up residence at Adyar, where the temperature is that of the tropics, and where life is so tranquil as to be maddening to one whose nerves have been always mangling in the hurly-burly of a Western city: for particulars, inquire of Mr. Fullerton. No large society could ask for a better executive headquarters than ours; it offers everything to make a scholar’s life pleasant, and its surroundings one might almost call enchanting. When H. P. B. and I first saw it, it filled her with enthusiasm, and her love of it endured to the last. Then there is our collection of books, comprising more than 12,000 volumes and constantly growing; more than 700 new manuscripts have been added within the past two months. If my successor could not, or would not, live at Adyar, what would be done but break up this executive and spiritual centre of the movement which has cost so many years of loving labor, and become the strong nucleus of the noble aspirations of the Founders of the Society and their working colleagues? H. P. B. expressed in her Will a wish that her ashes should be brought here; and if it be true that she has taken with her into the Beyond her interest in the movement, surely it would give her pain to see our beloved home sold to strangers and our Library shipped away to a distant place. I am glad that the occasion is offered by the record in my Diary to bring this matter to the attention of my colleagues, and I sincerely hope that the way will present itself to settle this question to the best advantage of our Society.
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The Delegates for that year’s Convention began to arrive on the 23rd of December; the attendance on the opening day was rather large, and the proceedings were unusually interesting. A large delegation attended from the Bombay Presidency; Mr. Fawcett gave three lectures on Herbert Spencer, Dr. Daly spoke on Technical Schools, and Mr. Keightley on Theosophy in the West. On the 28th—the second day—we constitutionally organised the Indian Section, which I had provisionally formed some time before, and Mr. Keightley was confirmed as General Secretary. There were lectures by Fawcett, Keightley, Nilakanta Sastri, Subramania Swami, C. Kottaya, and Pandit Gopi Nath, of Lahore. The Anniversary celebration on the 29th was a great success, as usual, and there were nine speakers. By the 31st the house was cleared of all visitors and we were left to take up the usual daily routine, and so we come to the last page of the year’s Diary, where I have written “Good-bye, 1890”!