OLD DIARY LEAVES, Fourth Series (1887-92)
by Henry Steel Olcott
HYPNOTIC EXPERIMENTS IN PARIS
ON the 20th (July) Mr. Harte brought to see me a distinguished Hindu gentleman who expressed so much interest in my lifework as to surprise me; he went so far as to entreat me to either write, or let Mr. Harte write, my biography, offering to advance the whole cost of publication; he said that his compatriots, at least, would never forget me for what I had done for them and their country, and that I owed it to them to put on record the story of my antecedents and different branches of work. I thanked him sincerely for his evidence of good-feeling, but had to decline, as, being a firm believer in the evolution of the human entity through numberless reincarnations, I considered these vauntings of a single personality as trash. As he also, being a Hindu, was of necessity a reincarnationist, I bade him tell me, if he could, the details of either one of his past lives, among which some must have been very influential, or else he could never have evolved up to his present degree of intellectual and moral strength. I asked
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him to recall to mind the thousand and one architectural monuments erected by sovereigns of Indian provinces, in their time considered mighty and never to be forgotten, but whose very names and epochs are now the subject of mere conjecture. He had to confess the justness of the position, but still continued to importune me until I gave him the decisive answer that I should refuse. What a pity it is that members of our Society, pretending to familiarity with our literature, and accepting the theory of reincarnation, cannot apparently show the least proof of their sincerity! They cling to and try to exalt their pigmy personalities, and to the end of their days live within the impassable ring of their nationalities and social or caste prejudices. Orthodoxy they spell autodoxy.
Mr. Judge and I, being such old acquaintances, and, until somewhat later, personal friends, passed most of our time together and discussed the situation in all its aspects. As I have before stated, he had developed enormously since the early days at New York, when he was a very insignificant party, both as to character and position; his capacity only developed itself in 1886, eleven years after our meeting. My confidence in him, however, received a severe shock, for he made pretences of intimacy with the Mahatmas which were absolutely contradicted by the whole drift of his private letters to me since we parted at New York; he had been constantly importuning me to get messages from them, and complaining of their obstinate silence. He even went so far as to lay on my table,
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inside the open cover of another letter, a message to me in Mahatma handwriting, and then clumsily told me, when he found I had not said anything about it, that the Mahatma bade him tell me that there was such a note on my table. The message itself, when found, turned out to be a palpable fraud. A variety of other things happening at this same time lowered him very much in my esteem, and from that time forward I had no confidence in his pretended revelations and occult commissions. But all this is now a matter of history, and has been published in connection with the case instituted against him later on. The worst of his operations were the deceptions he practised upon that dear woman, Mrs. Besant, who was one of his most fervent admirers, and reposed in him a touching confidence. But we shall come to this in its proper place. However, the exposure had not yet come, and so we were on the footing of the old friendship. He and I went and bought two bronze vases and divided H. P. B.’s ashes; of which I carried the Adyar portion with me around the world, with a notification on the wrapper that in case of my sudden death en route the package was to be forwarded to Adyar by whomsoever should take charge of my effects. It goes without saying that if I had had the least prevision of the future secession of the American Branches and Judge from the Society, I would not have given him one grain of the precious dust.
Mrs. Besant and I arranged that she should come out and make a tour in India the next season, and a
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preliminary notice was issued by me to that effect. This programme was, however, cancelled by her, although her passage was actually engaged, on receipt, through Judge, of a bogus Mahatma order, the particulars of which are now historical. My present conviction is that he had a double purpose in view, viz.; to keep Mrs. Besant within easy reach, and to prevent her from comparing notes with me at Adyar about his occult messages and pretensions. The tour was ultimately made in the year 1893-4, and will be described in a future chapter.
During my stay in London I paid a visit to a Working Girls’ Club at Bow, which had been started by H. P. B. with the £1,000 given her by a sympathetic friend who ordered his name withheld, and who left to her discretion the way in which it should be used for the benefit of working women. Naturally, she consulted Mrs. Besant, having had no experience whatever herself as to the needs of that class, and they decided to use it for the founding of a social club in the heart of the East End. A roomy, old-fashioned house, just opposite the church, was rented, plainly fitted up, and the good Mrs. Lloyd engaged as matron. I was very much pleased with the appearance of things, and did my best to help make the evening pass pleasantly for the working girls. Miss Potter, an American elocutionist, recited admirably a number of pieces; there was piano-playing and singing, an informal dance, a collation; and, laying aside my official dignity for the time, I yielded to a request of Mrs. Lloyd’s and sang some
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Irish songs. It will surprise no one to learn that this style of music was better suited to the tastes and capacities of the audience than the most brilliant pieces played on the piano. I was greatly amused on receiving next day, from the matron, a note begging me to send her the words of “The Low-backed Car,” with the remark that the girls would give her no peace until she had written me. The experiment of the Bow Club, albeit superintended by Mrs. Annie Besant, whom the working girls fairly worshipped, proved a failure in the end, and the house had to be closed.
It was thought best that I should visit New York and pass through the country to San Francisco, so as to help to cheer up our American colleagues; this, moreover, would give me the chance of taking counsel with the principal Japanese priests about my platform of the Fourteen Principles. So this was determined upon, and I engaged passage for New York by the Atlantic greyhound “New York” for the 16th of September. My movements were closely calculated, so that I should get back to Madras in time to make the usual arrangements for the Convention.
Having determined to gratify a long-felt wish to study at first hand the theories and experiments of the rival hypnotic schools of Paris and Nancy, I crossed over with Mr. Mead to Paris on the last day of July, and we reached our destination without all notable incident on the way. Invitations to dinner from Lady Caithness (Duchesse de Pomar), Madame Zambaco the sculptress, and another lady member of
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the Society awaited me. On the next day I had the pleasure of visiting again Professor de Rosny of the Sorbonne, and the honor of making the acquaintance of Emil Burnouf the Sanskritist, and brother of the world-renowned late Eugène Burnouf, the master of Professor Max Müller, from both of whom Mr. Mead and I received a most cordial welcome. M. de Rosny has been known throughout the literary world for years as a lecturer on and advocate of Buddhism; he is one of the most erudite sinologues in the world.
At this time the brilliant and still handsome Countess of Caithness was enjoying excellent health and spirits, and was full of interest in the Theosophical Society, of which she had long been a member. We had become great friends during the visit of H. P. B. and myself to her favorite winter resort, the Palais Tiranty, Nice, and she was always extremely cordial to me on the occasions of my visits to Paris. During the present one she had me to dinner, drove me out to the Bois, invited friends to meet me, and showed other civilities. To signify her friendship, she had made for me, in diamonds and rubies, a miniature copy of our Society’s seal, arranged to wear in the button-hole. She was a woman who in her youth must have been the great beauty which tradition affirms. Her first husband was a Spanish count and general, afterwards raised to the diginity of Duc. His family name was Pomar, and the fruit which the word represents was blazoned on his coat-of-arms. By him she had a son, now the holder of the title, and a young man of most agreeable manners,
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and known in literature as the author of several romances. Some years after her husband’s death she married the eccentric Earl of Caithness, representative of one of the most ancient families of Great Britain. He was a great expert in mechanical science. Lady Caithness’ father owned large sugar plantations and many slaves in Cuba. From all these sources her ladyship inherited, it is said, a large fortune; certainly, if the possession of a splendid palace in Paris, gorgeously furnished, and probably the finest diamonds outside royal regalia in Europe, go for anything, we may well believe the story. She had been for many years an ardent spiritualist; previously to that, a deep student of mesmerism. The natural graduation from such a preliminary course was Theosophy, which takes them both in and explains them as no other school of thought can. She was not a woman of fixed ideas, but, on the contrary, impulsive and changeful. As her son had no wish to marry—at least so she told me—she speculated much as to how she should leave her fortune, and at the time I speak of, was balancing between a little spiritualistic group that met at her house, and that she had christened the “Star Circle,” and our Society. Later on, she summoned Mr. Mead and the Countess Wachtmeister to help her frame a will bequeathing us, I believe, the reversionary interest of her whole property upon the death of her son, with certain legacies to the medium or mediums who had helped her keep up the “Star Circle” meetings. But this was a flash in the pan, and in point of fact she made no bequest of the
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kind, but her whole estate passed to her son. She left behind her several books on occult subjects, of which one at least testified to her industry in compilation. Like most of us, she had her illusions, but they were harmless, the chief one being that she was a reincarnation of Mary Queen of Scots. She published one brochure entitled A Night at Holyrood, in which she describes a meeting between her and the spirit of the unfortunate queen. H. P. B., with characteristic frankness, posed her with the question how she could be at one and the same time the embodied Lady Caithness and the disembodied Mary. Her “Star Circle” was held in an exquisite little chapel in her Paris palace, built expressly for it. At the place where the altar usually is was a niche, at the bottom of which was a really splendid picture, in full-length, of Mary Queen of Scots. From gas-jets, masked behind the side pillars, an admirably arranged flood of light was thrown upon the picture, and the chapel being in deep shadow an effect of startling realism was produced; it seemed almost as though Mary would step out of the canvas and advance to receive the homage of her adorer.
Another old friend of H. P. B.’s and mine, of whom I saw much during my visit to Paris, was the Countess Gaston d’Adhémar, F.T.S., a great American beauty, married to the representative of one of the noblest families of France. She was a true American, a warm lover of her country and compatriots. She and her sister, also married to a French gentleman, were two
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of the handsomest women I ever saw, but they were not alike in their love of Occultism; the Countess alone took up with Theosophy, and she proved her sincerity by editing and publishing for a whole year a Theosophical magazine called La Revue Théosophique, which filled the gap made by the collapse of our first French magazine, Le Lotus. In her introduction the Directress explains the intention of the magazine to be, “to make known a science as old as the world, and yet new for the West of our day”. It was something really remarkable that a lady of her position should freely give her name as the founder of such a periodical, and request that all editorial communications should be sent to her, to the address of her private residence.
My first move in the direction of hypnotic research was to call on my acquaintance Dr. J. Babinski, formerly Professor Charcot’s chief of clinic, and who had assisted at the experiments made by his master for me at the time of my first visit to La Salpêtrière. We had a most interesting conversation on our favorite subject. He told me that he had made many experiments pointing towards thought-transference, but, by Charcot’s advice, he was keeping them back. I have a note giving the bare mention of two or three examples which he related. The experiment was made with two hypnotic sensitives, of whom one was in an upper room, the other in one beneath it; let us call these Nos. 1 and 2. To No. 1 was given the suggestion that she was at the Jardin des Plantes, and her attention was specially called to the big elephant kept there;
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patient No.2 received the same hypnotic illusion. Again, No. 1 was, by suggestion, made speechless; No.2 also became mute. Again, No.1 was made to see red melons growing on a tree; to No.2 this illusion was gradually transferred. Then there were illusions of a flag, a staff, etc. Unfortunately, I only made this bare mention of these interesting facts, and the multiplicity of my mental impressions within the subsequent ten years has quite obliterated the memory of the details necessary to give scientific value to the experiments. He was going his daily round of visits to private patients, and took me along, leaving me in the carriage while he entered the houses. The way was enlivened by his many anecdotes, some of them very funny. Here was one. Charcot was holding his clinic one day when a white-aproned nurse came in and announced that a gentleman was waiting in the ante-room for an interview, as he had something very important to communicate. The Professor said that it was impossible for him to leave the clinic, and asked Babinski to see what was wanted. The latter found in the ante-room a thick-set, red-haired individual, with his coat buttoned up to his neck and his hands clasped behind his back, tramping up and down, and seemingly in a rather nervous state. When the young doctor appeared he approached, bowed impressively, and asked if he was speaking to the great Dr. Charcot. Babinski explained that he had been sent to inquire as to his business, as the chief was too much engaged to come out. “Then, sir,” said the man, “listen to me.
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I believe that your school denies the reality of thought-transference, but I, sir, can give you a most crushing proof.” “Ah, indeed; that is most important. Pray tell me what it is, for this is what science has been waiting for.” “Listen, then, M. le Docteur. My profession is that of a commis voyageur (commercial traveller), and my business takes me usually to South America. Between my wife and myself exists the closest possible sympathy; our hearts beat together, we share each other’s thoughts. We have acquired during the long years of our ideal marriage the power of holding communion with each other in dreams, howsoever far apart we may be in body. Well, sir, on arriving home recently after fifteen months’ separation, I found that we had an addition to our family.” The hard-headed Babinski, being a disbeliever in thought-transference, could not prevent the shadow of a cloud of doubt from passing over his face, which perceiving, the visitor exclaimed. “You seem to doubt me, sir; but I can assure you that this is not the first time!” Dr. Charcot’s emissary thereupon saluted him gravely, said he should certainly report this evidence to the chief, and dismissed the happy husband.
Professor Charcot being away from Paris when the letter announcing my intended visit came, he sent instructions to his then chef de clinique, Dr. Georges Guinon, to conduct the experiments for me in the laboratory.1 My first séance was on 5th August, and the female patient operated upon a well-known
1See report in Theosophist of November, 1891.
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sensitive, whose case has been described in several medical works. The experiments made were so suggestive and intrinsically valuable that they deserve a more permanent record than can be gained in the pages of a magazine, and so I shall again draw from a back number of the Theosophist portions of my printed report, as I could not possibly make the narrative any clearer by rewriting it. In the first day’s experiments, now under discussion, “Dr. Guinon produced the three stages of Charcot—‘lethargy’ by pressure upon the eyeballs, ‘catalepsy’ by simply lifting the eyelids and exposing the pupil to the light, and ‘somnambulism’ by pressure on the vertex or crown of the head. The patient was made to pass from one stage into another with perfect ease, and in whatever one she was, one of the characteristic phenomena described above was exhibited. As Dr. Guinon, on behalf of the Charcot school, denied the existence of a mesmeric fluid or aura, I suggested to him the experiment of making the patient stand with her face close to the wall, then extending his hand towards the nape of her neck as if it were a magnet he held, and then slowly withdrawing it, at the same time willing intensely that the head should follow his hand, as a suspended needle would a magnet. He did so, and some degree of attraction was proved. This, Dr. Guinon thought, might be due either to his having made a slight current of air to pass over the hystrical girl’s supersensitive skin, or she might have felt the animal heat of his hand. Either of these might act as a suggestion, and put the idea
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into her head that she was expected to let her back approach the Doctor’s hand. To meet this theory, I suggested that her head and shoulders should be covered with a cloth. It was done, and there were still some signs of attraction.1 I purposely abstained from making the experiment myself—one that I have made hundreds of times successfully in India—that whatever result there was might be produced by Dr. Guinon’s own hand. I was led to believe that his absolute scepticism as to the existence of such a magnetic or mesmeric force prevented his getting a much more satisfactory result, simply because he created no will-current. However, it was a beginning. Among other experiments this day, Dr. G. called in a second sensitive, and placing two chairs back to back, caused the two girls to sit thus with their heads close together, yet not touching, and put them into the hypnotic sleep. A paralysis (contracture) of the right arm of one of them was then artificially produced (by simple friction along
1How nonsensical it does seem to see these sceptical scientists, without having taken the trouble to make mesmeric experiments and accumulate facts, dogmatising about simple mesmeric phenomena like this of attraction! Literature has preserved scores of certificates by competent observers as to the truth of this law, from the time of Mesmer onward. No one would dare challenge the scientific status of the late Professor Gregory, of the Edinburgh University, and he tells us that he can vouch for the fact “that a magnetiser can strongly affect a person who is not only in another room, in another house, or many hundred yards off, but who is utterly unaware that anything is to be done”. Dr. Edwin Lee in his admirable book on Animal Magnetism, and Magnetic Lucid Somnambulism (p. 54), says that the attraction of the subject towards the magnetiser makes him “follow the direction of the hand of the magnetiser—even when he is out of sight of the patient—as a piece of iron fixed on a pivot will follow the course of the magnet”. M. Charpignon, Rev. Mr. Sandy, Dr. Calvert Holland,
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the muscles of the inside surface of the arm), and a large magnet being laid gently on the table against which both their chairs touched, the paralysis in the first girl’s arm gradually disappeared, and the same arm of the second girl became contracted. This mysterious phenomenon, the Charcot school says, is due to the direct auric action of the magnet; for when the trick has been resorted to of using a wooden magnet painted to resemble the real one, or a magnet made of simple unmagnetised iron, the transfer does not take place. At least, it has not at La Salpêtrière, though Dr. Guinon admitted that it had in England and elsewhere. Professor Charcot showed Mr. Harte and myself this same experiment in 1888, but the next day Mr. Robert, the celebrated magnetiser, of Paris, did the same thing for us without using any magnet, but merely his meerschaum cigar-tube. So that it is still a disputable question to what extent, if any, the magnetic aura is an active agent in the experiment described. The school of Nancy says it has no effect at all—it has been tried a hundred times without active result, and the phenomenon is due to unconscious suggestion and expectancy.
“Another interesting experiment was shown me. One of the girls being sent away, the other was given a package of letter-envelopes, and told that she would find upon one of them a fine portrait of Dr. Charcot walking and followed by his big dog. (While both girls were out of the room, I had marked one of the
Rev. C. H. Townsend, Dr. Elliotson, and many others confirm this statement.
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envelopes in the fold inside the flap with a slight pencil-point speck. He held this envelope for an instant before her, and said that this was the one which bore the picture. The envelope was then returned to the pack and all shuffled.) She went through the pack carefully yet rapidly, and presently selected one and examined the imaginary portrait with apparent pleasure, saying how good was the likeness, and asking Dr. Guinon if it had been taken by the photographer of the clinic. I asked her to let me look at it; it was my marked envelope. She was then restored to her ordinary consciousness, and the freshly shuffled pack given her with the intimation that there was a present for her in one of the envelopes. She looked them over, uttered a cry of pleasure on coming to one of them, and when asked what she had found, said: ‘Why, a beautiful likeness of Dr. Charcot; see for yourself.’ I looked: it was my marked envelope. Thus unerringly did she, in full waking state, choose out the envelope shown her, when hypnotised, as bearing a picture, without there being a single peculiarity of spot, mark, shape, dent, or crease, so far as my eyes could detect, to show her that this was the right one. The Charcot school says the patient discovers by her hypersensitive nerves of vision or touch physical peculiarities in the envelope not visible to normal vision. It may be, but I do not believe it; I think it is a species of clairvoyance.1 I suggested this experiment to Dr. Guinon:
1Or, perhaps, a hypersensitive perception of auras. A proof of this tactile sense has been obtained by most mesmerisers by
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for him to take a package of envelopes, select out one, put a private mark inside, lay it on the table, fix his attention powerfully upon it, and try to visualise to himself as upon the paper some simple object, say a triangle, a circle, a splash of some color, etc.; then to mix the envelope with the rest of the pack, recall the girl, and see if she could pick it out. He tried it and failed—a fact tending to substantiate the Charcot theory, yet not conclusive, for similar experiments of various kinds have been often successfully made by mesmerists—by myself among others; and the supposition is warranted that Dr. Guinon, from lack of faith in the possibility of the thing, did not really visualise any thought-picture at all on the envelope for the sensitive to find there. The color experiment I tried once at Rangoon with Mr. Duncan, Superintendent of the Fire Department of that town. He made a sensitive Hindu boy of his sit near an open door with his back to the wall, so that he could not see what was going on out in the verandah. He stood before him holding an open handkerchief in his hand. I had in mine a paper-seller’s sample-book containing many samples of various colored papers. The experiment was to see
having their subjects pick out, from amongst other similar objects, a coin, a letter, or any other thing which has been touched by them, especially when the touch has been made with mesmeric intent. Among other respectable authorities who have recorded this fact is Mr. Macpherson Adams, who published an account of experiments with M. Richard’s clairvoyant, Calixte, in The Medical Times for October 15, 1842. Calixte could select a coin which had been touched by his magnetiser, from several others. And then we know the entirely familiar experiment of having a dog select a handkerchief or glove which has been handled by his master and hidden away with other like objects.
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if, when I showed Mr. Duncan a paper of a given color, he could make his handkerchief appear of the same color to the subject without his varying his questions or giving any other hint as to what color was being shown to him by me. Under the conditions described, the mesmerised boy named color after color correctly, thus proving the transfer of thought-images from the operator to the subject. It is not unreasonable therefore, to say that the whole truth has not yet been reached at La Salpêtrière.”
This ended my first day’s observations. I had fully intended to devote about two months to the study of practical hypnotism in the rival French schools, but the engagements that came thronging upon me prevented my giving more than a bare week to each. Since I rode on the trottoir roulant at the Paris Exposition, it has seemed to me that it is a kind of symbol of my official life—my engagements ever moving forward under the impulsion of a concealed power, and I borne along with them, try as I may to step aside for a rest. Well, that is far better than inaction, for by action alone are the world’s great movements carried on.