This modern world gives most of us very little time for genuine social reunion. The telephone, automobile, and airplane, though they eat up distance like magic, have also destroyed, paradoxically, much of human closeness. I venture to say that in being within such easy reach of one another we are actually farther apart than we have ever been before.
But in the times which these recollections are trying to recreate for a moment it was not so. In 1895 the auto was a rarity. Moving pictures, today's ubiquitous diversion, were unknown. If people got together they had to make a real effort to do so and had fewer excuses to do something else. Nevertheless they came together for mutual enjoyment far oftener than is customary nowadays. This was well illustrated in the T. S. The Conversazione, an idea which Claude Wright brought from the London Headquarters and helped to establish in all the Branches, became a quite "fashionable" feature of Branch activity.
One of the pleasantest pictures which comes before me of my Theosophical life in Boston was the evening dinner-table at 24 Mt. Vernon Street. The house was a spacious one and sheltered a large and genial Theosophical family. It also held the meeting-hall of the Boston Branch with its library, and public sales and reading room. The dining-room was in the basement and at six o'clock everyone in the house gathered around a long table which could seat about twenty people at a pinch. And there were never any vacant places. Besides the twelve or fourteen members living in the house there were always paying guests who dropped in unannounced and were made cordially welcome. And here I must say a word for Louis Wade and his wife who were in charge of Headquarters. He was a man of odd and brilliant intellect and a highly original character. It was Louis Wade who made possible the series of little volumes called Studies in Occultism, the reprints of six of H. P. Blavatsky's most delightful articles, still in brisk demand by our students. It was Louis Wade who initiated and conducted the "Theosophical News" which later published letters and news items from Katherine Tingley's first great "Crusade Around the World." His wife, Minnie Hazleton Wade, was one of the most devoted Theosophists I have ever known, a tiny and charming bit of motherly femininity. They are both gone now, but the record of their fine and devoted work lives in my mind as clearly as if engraved in light.
One thing impressed me then and seems not in the least trivial but a matter of real significance. And that is that nowhere, in my wanderings over the world and my life in many cities both American and foreign, have I enjoyed better conversation than at that dinner table. Theosophists are always intensely individual. Most of us have come into Theosophy through human trial and intense inner experience. We have been seekers through the religious and intellectual highways and byways of the world. As a consequence we are as a body of people decidedly worth while.
One particular evening stands out in my memory. Louis Wade with his witty cordiality was at the head of the table, and Minnie Wade, with their little son David beside her, was at the foot. Present were Mr. J. Emory Clapp and his wife (their first baby was the dearest of our household), Mr. and Mrs. Will W. Harmon with their little boy, and Miss Marie Pyffer, Lodge Librarian, a delightful Swiss girl now known as Mrs. Schoolcraft. Also there were fascinating Madame Olivia Petersen and her husband Dr. H. C. Petersen, a Norwegian physician who had no use for Theosophy but was always the genial dinner partner on my left, Gertrude Lyford, and myself. All of these were permanent guests. Robert Crosbie had dropped in that evening with Cyrus Field Willard, the well-known journalist and devoted F. T. S. and Mrs. Herron, who brought a touch of illustrious Boston society to our board. I even remember the dinner, which was frugal but delicious — Mrs. Wade had a genius for that difficult combination.
The talk on this particular evening had veered to H. P. B. and her wonderful powers. Knowing Dr. Petersen's materialistic bias I made some jesting remark to him about his incredulity towards all this testimony. To my surprise he told me that he had met H. P. B. — had been present with his wife at meetings of the Blavatsky Lodge in London at which H. P. B. presided. He went on to say most emphatically that he had felt the greatest admiration for her.
"Why, Miss Leonard," he said, "some of the greatest savants in London were at those meetings and she could more than hold her own with them all, I can assure you."
This struck me as being a truly genuine and impressive tribute, coming spontaneously as it did from a somewhat egotistical and entirely skeptical materialist.
There was a small band of lecturers which covered the field around Boston. This comprised the Branches at Cambridge, Maiden, and Somerville. There were George Ayers, President of Maiden, Robert Crosbie, at that time President of the Boston Branch, Marguerite Guild, Cambridge President, Arthur Conger, then a student at Harvard, and others. One of the picturesque and popular activities at that time was the open-air lectures on Boston Common started by Thomas Seele, assisted by J. Emory Clapp and other speakers. One is tempted to wonder why a few activities of this popular kind could not be used to advantage today. A real difficulty at present is that there are literally millions of people who have never heard of Theosophy, especially of the younger generation. And of those who have, a large number associate it with the weird movements that have unfortunately been tacked on to some divisions of the Theosophical Society.
I have always thought it would be quite a good idea to send out in the summertime a small motor-bus or even one or two private autos carrying a few tried Theosophical speakers. This expedition could visit country towns, giving open-air talks on Reincarnation, Karman, Death, Perfectibility of Man, and other popular aspects of Theosophy. Literature could be sold too. Even if we never gained a member, the real message of Theosophy could be carried to places which we are now unable to reach. Many people would then at least know what Theosophy stands for. I believe this plan would bear active consideration.
I must not close without referring to Arthur Conger's Sunday morning classes on the Bible at Mt. Vernon Street, which were well attended and greatly enjoyed. Owing to the fact that I was soon added to the list of public speakers and had to lecture every Sunday night I was unable to my great regret to attend these classes.
I am often amazed when I look back and recall the excellent work that was done by this little band of speakers — most of them young, all of them untrained and inexperienced. Yet each had immense enthusiasm and devotion, and the membership grew steadily. That I was very inexperienced myself was laughably proved to me when I met Miss Helen Morton years later in Lomaland. She had just arrived and we were all surrounding her at a reception given in her honor. She had been a member of the Somerville Branch and very kindly reminded me that the last time she had met me I had delivered a public lecture in Somerville. My curiosity was aroused and I said, "But of course you wouldn't remember the subject I spoke on?"
"Indeed I do," she replied. "It was "The Three Vestures," and a very good lecture it was." How we all gasped with incredulity and laughed at the absurdity of such a subject. The Three Vestures?! (See The Voice of the Silence, Fragment III.) A subject that might daunt the self-confidence of a seasoned chela! Yet in spite of the fact that we younger speakers were often too highbrow and startling, there can be no doubt that we somehow got away with it.
The Editors" warning lying heavy on my mind, I must reserve an account of our celebrated Brotherhood Suppers for a later instalment.
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