Theosophy – June 1896

THE LESSONS OF A NOBLE LIFE — Katharine Hillard

It is always a difficult task to form a just conception of people of our own time, and the task increases in difficulty the nearer we stand to our subject. It is so hard to put aside the personal likes and dislikes, to take into due account the obstacles to a complete success, or the real meaning of a seeming defeat, to be undazzled by a brilliant exterior, or unrepelled by a forbidding one. If we want to realize the height and grandeur of a mountain, we must not sit down at its base; we must go far off across the intervale and look at it from a distance if we expect to realize the majesty of its towering peak and the vastness of the dark woods that clothe its sides. And if it be always difficult, in fact almost impossible, to estimate the true proportions of the human soul that has its earthly lot cast side by side with our own, whom we have known for years coming and going about the daily business of life, much like the rest of the world, how altogether impossible is it, when behind this everyday character stands the representative of a great spiritual force, charged with a special work to do among his fellow men. To be intrusted with such a task is a great honor, but rather an overwhelming one, and I must ask your indulgence in advance for the inevitable short-comings that you will find in its execution.

Those of you who have read the recent papers in the Irish Theosophist on William Q. Judge, are familiar with the main outlines of his life, and for those who have not had access to one of the best of our magazines, it will be enough to sum up briefly the few facts there are to tell about his outward existence. He was born in Dublin, April 13th, 1851, and at the age of seven, a noteworthy point in a child's life, which should mark the complete union of the mind with the physical body, he had an illness so severe that he was thought for a few moments to have passed away. Suddenly the pulses throbbed anew in the delicate frame, and the child returned to life, so to speak, with what seemed to those about him a new character, with both artistic and mystical tendencies most strongly marked. His father brought his little family (who were early left motherless) to America in 1864, and settled in New York. William soon began to study law, and having attained his majority, and become a citizen of the United States, he was admitted to the New York bar in May, 1872. Two years later he was married, and for many years worked steadily at his profession, in which he distinguished himself by his thoroughness and unwavering persistence. It was in the practice of his profession that he went to Chagres, where he contracted the terrible malaria that completely undermined his physical constitution, and brought about his early death on the 21st of March, 1896.

That is the brief outline of his physical life, seen from the standpoint of the outer world. But those who knew Mr. Judge best, who fought side by side with him in the battle for truth and freedom, know that the inner life, the real life, must be sketched in very different terms. The real history of Theosophy in this last quarter of a century is just beginning to display itself to our startled eyes, and while heretofore we have been working like the weaver of a Gobelin tapestry (who sees only the wrong side of his pattern, with its confused medley of colors) we are now allowed to step to the other side of the loom and realize the wonderful symmetry of the design that existed from the beginning, a design wherein every thread, every stitch had its ordained place, and fell into ordered lines even though we could see nothing but confusion.

Students of Theosophy know that all force, — from the power that holds the sun in its place to that which makes two grains of sand cohere, — moves in cycles, and that with every final quarter of a century, a new impulse comes from those Elder Brothers of the race who guard our spiritual welfare. In some way mankind has to be shaken out of its torpor, and made ready for a new era of life and wisdom. With us, here in America, the new school of spiritualism, with its rapping and materializing mediums, had begun to rouse the sluggish curiosity of the world, and make men open their eyes to the possibility of things as yet undreamed of, the reality of things untested in any laboratory, unweighed in any balances. Then came the setting of the stage for the new drama. Mme. Blavatsky was ordered in 1874 to go from Europe to an obscure little farmhouse in Vermont, where "spiritual manifestations" so-called, were going on, that she might meet Col. Olcott, who was to serve as an instrument in the cause. Col. Olcott wrote a book upon the incidents occurring in the Eddy homestead, and the book fell into the hands of Mr. Judge, who was seeking for information on what was now beginning to be thought the subject of the day, and he wrote to Col. Olcott, to ask if he knew of a good medium. Col. Olcott replied that he did not but that his friend Mme. Blavatsky was very desirous of making Mr. Judge's acquaintance.

Thus was the first link of the chain forged that bound together so closely three entities seemingly so distinct. The phenomena that were so liberally exhibited at that time, were necessary to rouse curiosity and to tempt investigation. As soon as their purpose was served, they were withdrawn. Very soon after Mr. Judge's first meeting with H. P. B., a few people were assembled at her rooms on the 7th September, 1875, to hear a paper on Egyptian architecture by Mr. Felt. Then and there Mr. Judge was asked by H. P. B. to "found a society" for the study of occultism. Mr. Judge called the few friends present to order, nominated Col. Olcott as permanent chairman, and was himself appointed secretary. The next evening the same people met again, thirteen names were added to those of the three founders, a committee was appointed to draft a constitution and by-laws, and the first regular meeting of the Theosophical Society was held on Oct. 30th, 1875, when its officers were duly elected, and Mott Memorial Hall chosen as its place of meeting. There, on Nov. 17th, 1875, was held what may be called its first official meeting, and that date was afterwards given as that of the founding of the Society, although it was really started with that little gathering in Mme. Blavatsky's rooms on the 7th of September.

In June, 1878, Mr. Cobb, its first recording secretary, went to London to establish the Theosophical Society in Great Britain, and in December of the same year, Col. Olcott and Mme. Blavatsky were appointed to visit India, as a Committee of the T. S., spending two weeks in England on their way thither. Gen. Doubleday was elected president pro tem. in Col. Olcott's absence.

The seed had been planted here, and the gardener chosen who should watch over its growth. Under what adverse conditions, it is difficult for those to realize who have come in when the hardest of the work was done. The cutting down of ancient and thorny prejudices, the draining of swamps of indifference and conventionality, the breaking up of the hard clay of ignorance, had to be done by the undaunted courage and perseverance of H. P. B., who suffered all that the pioneers of Truth must always suffer, and nobly was she seconded by W. Q. Judge, who proved himself worthy of the trust confided to him, and under whose fostering care the little band of 16 or 18 had increased in 1895 to thousands. And could anything point more clearly to the real value of Mr. Judge's work, and to their appreciation of that work and their confidence in their leader, than the fact that at the crisis of last year, out of several thousand members, only ninety could be found after some six months' search, to sign a memorial against him? And of this small minority, scarcely half a dozen were active members of the Society.

And Mr. Judge's work, pursued under the most trying complications of physical suffering, was doubly difficult because, with the rush of enthusiasm that marks the neophyte in the search for truth, comes also the risk of exaggeration, of superstition, of a blind worship of and clinging to their leader. With H. P. B.'s departure from this life, those who had loved her were in danger of loving her unwisely, of setting up the personality instead of the teaching as the thing to be held dear, and through that indiscriminate attachment, of making of her sayings a dogmatic creed, and establishing a priesthood and a pope. In their gratitude for freedom they were on the point of forging new fetters for themselves; in their enthusiasm for the new light she had thrown upon life and religion, they were trying to set up a fetish and to pin their faith upon their leader, instead of working out their own salvation. And this excess of zeal the Chief (as we loved to call him) set himself most strenuously to repress. As a good gardener cuts away the rank, luxuriant shoots from his vines, so did he protest constantly and most vehemently against personal worship or dependence, against dogma of any kind, against superstition in any form.

For to the mystical element in the personality of Mr. Judge, was united the shrewdness of the practised lawyer, the organizing faculty of a great leader, and that admirable common sense, which is so uncommon a thing with enthusiasts. It was this unusual element of common sense that made him so valuable as the director of an organization embodying necessarily so many conflicting and inharmonious elements, and caused him always to lay so much stress upon the observance of small daily duties, and constantly to repress any tendency to extravagance in the thought or the action of his followers, either towards himself or others. In his teaching was embodied most emphatically that received by the prophet Ezekiel when the Voice said to him: "Stand upon thy feet, and I will speak to thee." It was the upright and self-dependent attitude that the Chief insisted upon, and he emphatically discouraged anything that savored of weakness, of want of self reliance, or of what H. P. B. was so fond of calling "flap-doodle and gush," and he turned a face of stern resistance to those who expected to reach the heights he had climbed by clinging to his garments. But when one came to him who really needed aid, no one could be more ready to stretch out a helping hand, to respond with a bright smile of encouragement, to say just the word that was necessary, and no more.

He was the best of friends, for he held you firmly, yet apart. He realized the beautiful description Emerson gives of the ideal friend, in whom meet the two most essential elements of friendship, tenderness and truth. "I am arrived at last," says Emerson, "in the presence of a man so real and equal . . . that I may deal with him with the simplicity and wholeness with which one chemical atom meets another To a great heart he will still be a stranger in a thousand particulars, that he may come near in the holiest ground."

And upon that "holiest ground" of devotion to the highest aim, of desire alone for the welfare of others, the Chief was always to be approached. And blended with the undaunted courage, the keen insight, the swift judgment, the endless patience, that made his personality so powerful, were the warm affections, the ready wit, the almost boyish gayety that made it so lovable. And by these two chords, reverence and love, he bound together the hearts of his pupils so closely and so firmly that they draw but the nearer to each other, now that his personal presence is no longer with them. The barriers of the physical once broken down, the spiritual energy, the liberated will, set free from their prison have flown straight to every soul working along the same lines, and filled them not only with strength but with gladness.

If there were one characteristic the Chief possessed in pre-eminence, it was certainly "one-pointedness," the power of fixing every faculty upon the desired goal, that goal for him, being the establishment of the T. S. upon an independent and steadfast footing. With the accomplishment of that object, the work of his life as Wm. Q. Judge was finished, and he gladly passed out of a physical body that only the most unswerving will could have held together for so long. Only those who knew him best, could rightly estimate the enormous amount of work he accomplished under the most unfavorable circumstances. Not only illness, but slander and every evil force continually assailed him, and the quick sensitiveness that made him so ready to respond to affection and sympathy, made treachery, ingratitude, and calumny all the more powerful to wound and oppress.

But all this concerns the personal element only, and in the case of the Chief we had to deal with higher forces. As with H. P. B., one felt in him the presence of a power behind the visible semblance, and became conscious that he was a representative of the Masters, a vehicle for other individualities who made themselves perceptible in various ways. H. P. B. wrote of him that he had been a part of herself and of the Great Lodge "for aeons past," and that he was one of those tried Egos who have been assisted several times to re-incarnate immediately, without passing into the rest of Devachan, that he might, as a well-trained instrument, continue the work of the Lodge among us. Nor will that work cease with the passing away of the Chief we loved and trusted. We love and trust him still and we know that he is with us in a more real sense than when encumbered by the flesh, and where he is, we may be sure he is at work, and for our good. For we know that H. P. B. spoke the truth when she wrote that "pure divine love is not merely the blossom of a human heart, but has its roots in eternity. . . . Love beyond the grave has a magic and divine potency which reacts upon the living. Love is a strong shield, and is not limited by space and time." When H. P. B. herself left us the whole Society trembled for a moment under the blow, and then rallied with a firmer front than ever. Each member seemed to feel bound to do all that he or she could, to make up for the loss of our beloved Teacher, and as she herself once said, in the name of the Lodge: "Those who do all that they can, and the best they know how do enough for us."

And when the Chief with whom we were so much more intimate had left us, it seemed for a moment as though we were indeed left desolate. But only for a moment, and then came the reaction. From all over the country have come flocking in not only pledges of renewed devotion to the cause, offers of help and work of every kind, but assurances of the consciousness of the Chief's continued presence with us, and of his relief and happiness at being freed at last from the physical body that had been so long a painful burden.

Before this wave of glad reaction had time to pass away, we received the news that we were indeed not left without a leader but that the Chief himself had named his successor, and had made every arrangement for the continuance of his work on this plane. The name of the person selected was to remain a secret for a year, that the confusion naturally ensuing upon all the new arrangements might have time to subside, and perfect working order be established. In the meantime the whole Society is shaken out of the lethargy of routine, and every one of the members, like the fingers on the hand, feels the throb of energy from the central Heart. With this accession of enthusiasm there is but one danger, that we should be looking continually for signs and portents and that we should "despise the day of small things." Intense excitement must inevitably be followed by a reaction, and in such periods of mental and spiritual exhaustion will come doubt, distrust, and fear, fear for one's self and for the Society. Then is the time to turn our eyes resolutely upon the pole-star of Duty. The sun has set, the moon has gone, the darkness closes around us, but in the midnight sky still shines that tiny radiance, and guides our footsteps in the right way. In Geo. Herbert's words:

"The trivial round, the common task,
Will furnish all we ought to ask —
Room to deny ourselves, a road
To bring us daily nearer God."

One of the Chief's last messages to us said: "They must aim to develop themselves in daily life in small duties." We cannot all wear the conqueror's crown of wild olive or the martyr's palm, but we can all do the small duties of life thoroughly well, and the small duties require the exercise of the same virtues as the great ones. A child does not learn to walk by climbing a mountain, but by taking one step at a time upon a level floor; a bird does not begin to fly by soaring into the heavens, but by short flights from twig to twig.

In a beautiful lecture that our Brother Claude Wright delivered at Chickering Hall a little while ago, he spoke of the spiritual messengers that have come from time to time to enlighten the world. In all countries, in all religions, there have been such messengers, and by them the torch of truth has been carried forward from generation to generation, and so the link that binds us one to another and all to the great Source of Truth has been kept unbroken. If some of our Christian brethren would but read their Bibles with more attention to the spirit than the letter, they would see that Jesus spoke of his repeated incarnations for the service of mankind. In the 10th chapter of the Gospel of John he said to the Pharisees who were questioning him: "Other sheep I have which are not of this fold; them also I must bring, and they shall hear my voice, and there shall be one fold and one shepherd. Therefore doth my Father love me, because I lay down my life that I might take it again. No man taketh it from me, but I lay it down of myself. I have power to lay it down, and I have power to take it again. This charge have I received from my Father."

And this power belongs to all the Masters of Wisdom, the great souls who come to teach the world. Spiritual Messengers they are indeed, but every one who bears witness to the truth is also a spiritual messenger. We never can afford to turn a deaf ear to the words of any, for we know not from whose lips may fall the word that shall set us free. That was a beautiful story of Rhoecus, who could not recognize in the bee that buzzed about his head the messenger of the Dryad, and so lost her love.

For no matter from whose hand, child or slave, or prince, we take the draught that refreshes us, that person is to us a spiritual messenger. If a primrose by the river's brim could give the poet-soul thoughts too deep for tears, surely we may find on all our paths, ready to serve us if we will, the bearers of the truth. And no matter how insignificant we may be ourselves, we are all spiritual messengers if we but pass on to another the cup that has given us strength.

How often we have drunk of the cup held out to us by the Chief who has just left us, and though we shall receive it no more from the visible messenger, we cannot for a moment doubt that that spiritual energy is still with us to inspire us to more untiring activity, and to minister to us in our need. And one draught of that spiritual wisdom that it was the Chief's privilege to give us, is to be found in the little book so well named, Letters that have Helped Me. "Keep up the aspiration and the search," he says there to a desponding pupil, "but do not maintain the attitude of despair, or the slightest repining. . . . Is not the Self bright, bodiless, and free, — and art thou not That? The daily waking life is but a penance and the trial of the body, so that it too may thereby acquire the right condition. . . . Rise, then, from this despondency and seize the sword of Knowledge. With it, and with Love, the universe is conquerable. . . . In all inner experiences there are tides as in the ocean. . . . . Anon the gods descend and then they return to heaven. . . . If we feel that after all we are not yet 'Great Souls' who participate in the totality of those 'Souls who wait upon the Gods,' it need not cast us down; we are waiting our hour in hope. Let us wait patiently, in the silence which follows all effort, knowing that thus Nature works, for in her periods of obscuration she does naught where that obscuration lies, while doubtless she and we, too, are then at work in other spheres."


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