Those Wonderful Early Days!
It was rather wonderful, as I look back on it — the confluence of my own youth with its hopeful idealism and aspirations with the magnificent promise and wide-flung activities of the youth of the T. S. I became an active worker, secretary of the Chicago Branch, not very long after I left High School. That was in 1891 about the time that the T. S. was reaching its sixteenth birthday. So that really, in this incarnation for both of us, I was the elder of the two.
Yet becoming a Theosophist had not been easy for me. Brought up as an Episcopalian with a particularly strong High Church complex, I at first found the idea of reincarnation irresistibly hateful. I couldn't get away from it and I couldn't "stick it," as the saying goes. In those days there was no "modernism" in the Christian Church. Either you swallowed everything — going one better than the whale (for you had to swallow him as well as Jonah) — or else you were a horrid atheist.
And then I met Mr. Judge. My mother and my brother were both ardent Theosophists, active members of the Chicago Branch. In those days the Branch was small and poor; so it met in our dining-room. And the scraps of discussion I heard when the door opened! Kama-rupas, and elementals, and Manasaputras — how heathen they sounded! Did I want to be a heathen? I did not!
Still, without being quite aware of it, I was being inevitably drawn within the beneficent magic of the Wisdom-Religion. And at that particular psychological moment Mr. Judge happened to come to dinner. He was beginning at that time his long series of lecture-tours over the country and was often in Chicago, staying at the home of the new President of the Chicago Branch, George E. Wright. But that was the first time he had dined with us. If only I had the power of Kriyasakti and could evoke for you the occasional hours spent thus informally with W. Q. J.! To me, inexperienced and bewildered, sore-hearted and groping, that first meeting with him was like stepping from storm and sleet into a firelit room. I warmed first of all to his sparkling talk, the merry Irish twinkle in his gray eyes — or were they gray? (Have you ever noticed how the eyes change in a face that is constantly lit from within?) Unfortunately I do not remember after all these years much of what he said. I can recall only the pleasure of his genial and worthwhile conversation. As dinner-table talk it was the best of its kind. One thing, however, I do recollect. He learned that I was trying to train myself as a writer. After dinner he asked me with the kindest tact if I would please read carefully The Ocean of Theosophy, just published, and tell him how it impressed me as a piece of writing!
A few months later I was able to find my spiritual feet, so to say, and joined the T. S., not very long after H. P. B.'s death — my diploma was one of those still bearing her signature. I might so easily have seen her! But no one can go ahead of himself. Almost the first thing that happened after that was the annual convention of the T. S. held in the Palmer House at Chicago. It was for me a red-letter occasion. I remember amusing Mr. Judge when it was over, by exclaiming that I had enjoyed it more even than I did grand opera! (Could a young lady say more?) I recall vividly at this moment the high enthusiasm of those sessions, the very feel of their vigor and determination, as well as my sense of the discovery of new terrain. I hear again the speeches of George Ayers and Henry Turner Patterson — magic names to me, calling out of the Silent Land in voices warm as sunshine.
Almost the next thing that happened was my meeting with Claude Falls Wright, "Ginger" as H. P. B. always called him because of his red hair and unquenchable "pep." In these days his work seems of the long ago. But at that time he was more ubiquitous and active than a swarming bee. Long a resident at H. P. B.'s London Headquarters, one of her personal secretaries, a member of her Inner Group and close beside her as she passed away, he brought to the American work his exceptional qualifications in the service of the work. He was a small wiry Irishman of real genius as a speaker and organizer. (I have heard it said that he started and encouraged and trained more Theosophical and platform speakers than any other single person.) He was one of the first of that group of field lecturers, including Burcham Harding, Abbott Clark, and others who covered the U. S. with a network of Theosophical lines with Mr. Judge as the "king-pin" so to speak at the strategic points. It was a time of almost incredible growth. One of these speakers would go to a certain city where Theosophy was beginning to be known and the ground had been prepared, give a few lectures with good newspaper publicity, and presto! the next evening a Branch of thirty or more members would spring to life! Of course it is to be remembered that it was the end of the century and the Lodge-force was pouring through the arteries of our world. It was during Mr. Wright's first visit to Chicago that he simply pushed me onto the lecture platform, where I found my principal work for Theosophy through several years.
It was about this time, 1892, that Annie Besant made her first lecture-tour in America. I heard her in Chicago. She came close to being the greatest woman orator of our times, I should think. Certainly I never heard any woman but Katherine Tingley who surpassed her. Annie Besant was beautiful. She had a "starry light in her eyes," or so I described it in my Victorian idiom. And her eloquence, which was fiery and intense, had a core of scientific fact and accuracy that gave it the power of a projectile.
It is interesting to recall the fact that in those days there was only one Theosophical Society. It was the only medium by which Occultism in any form could reach the general public. There were no pseudo organizations to draw off the inquirer into profitless sidelines. And there was taught only H. P. B.'s Theosophy, however inadequately presented it doubtless often was by some of us, who were mere beginners in the study. Besides this the Society had much misunderstanding and ridicule, and even open contempt to meet, though the splendid and indefatigable work of Mr. Judge was gradually building up a more enlightened and common-sense attitude on the part of newspapers and the public generally.
The crown of Mr. Judge's work as organizer and speaker was reached perhaps in the distinguished place he was able to create for the T. S. in the World's Parliament of Religions at the World's Fair in Chicago in 1893. Some few vignettes from that colorful and inspiring scene will be later presented.