The Theosophical Forum – December 1938


Vignettes from the World's Congress of Religions

The first peak of my experience in the Theosophical Movement in the closing years of last century was reached when we were privileged to entertain in our home several of the most distinguished delegates to the World's Congress of Religions held in Chicago in connexion with the World's Columbian Exposition in September of 1893. There were Mr. Judge himself with Mrs. Judge, Annie Besant, Gyanendra N. Chakravarti, delegate from the T. S. in India, Mrs. Isabel Cooper-Oakley, a pupil of H. P. B. and member of her Inner Group, Claude Falls Wright, and Mrs. Richmond Green, so well known later as a helper of Katherine Tingley. It seems incredible as I look back, how we were able to fit all these people comfortably, as we did, into our moderate-sized flat. I said at the time that it seemed as if we, the family, almost literally hung ourselves at night on hooks in the closets in order to enjoy what was for me then, and is today no less in recollection, a memorable and extraordinary galaxy of Theosophical personalities.

For it was indeed a galaxy, the company not being by any means restricted to our immediate guests. Visitors poured into the apartment during the few days that the delegates were with us. Well known representatives of the Press, friendly inquirers, local Theosophists, and many other foreign delegates, such as Herbert Burrows the prominent labor leader and an F. T. S., and the wealthy Henrietta Muller of Maidstone, England, whom I recall because she was my first experience of the irrepressible British spinster and for her innumerable necklaces of iridescent shells and beads.

And the meals we served — at any and all hours! These people were mostly culinary bohemians and ready to eat anything served to them at any hour of the day or night. Often, after a crowded lunch-table had just been cleared, another batch of visitors would arrive lunchless. My beautiful and hospitable mother, never at a loss even on our none-too-large financial resources, was always equal to the occasion. In half an hour or so she would have thrown together another delicious meal, occasionally somewhat of a "scratch" repast, but what did those brainy and impromptu Theosophists care! They ate, drank gallons of tea and coffee, and spread themselves in gay conversation until it was time to pile into the streetcars (Mr. Ford was only just then trying out his laughable invention, and carriages were practically nil among Theosophists) for another session of the Congress. And I can assure you that it was all magnificently worth while.

Fortunately we had an intelligent and good-natured American girl for maid. She became during those crowded days a confirmed Theosophist. To see her serving, open-mouthed and goggle-eyed with awe over the stir and excitement of those endless conversazione-meals, is one of my droll and pleasant memories of that stirring time. Oddly enough, her name was Loma and she married later and went to California to live.

After all these years the sessions of the Congress, where once or twice (as Secretary of the Chicago Branch) I sat on the platform with my mother, or mingled in the dense jam of the great audiences, make something of a kaleidoscope of my recollections. A crowded, shifting, swirling melange of remarkable oratory, Orientals in strange brilliant garb, bursts of enthusiastic applause, British lady-delegates in more or less bizarre adaptations of Occultism to platform costume, and a sense of something of mighty import taking place within and around us — this is the sort of picture that lingers with me today.

Two Orientals there present stand out in my recollections of the Congress. No one who saw him then could ever forget the noble and Christlike beauty of the noted Singhalese Buddhist and friend of H. P. B., Dharmapala. Tall and almost luminously ascetic, robed classically in spotless white, he was a lodestone to the throngs who swarmed into those meetings. Merely to look at him was a revelation of character and spiritual attainment.

Chakravarti was quite a startling contrast. A very tall, immensely fat man with tiny feet and a piping falsetto voice, he was quite definitely of this world. He was inordinately fond of thick beefsteaks and we found it difficult to realize that he was a Brahmin. Difficult that is until he began to pour forth in a flood of eloquence the marvelous expositions of Oriental philosophy which always transfixed his hearers both in public and private. He had a preference for our living-room which was hung in pale yellow silk, and here when at home he liked to sit cross-legged on a yellow silk divan and discuss the questions in Hindu and Theosophical philosophy with which we plied him. At such times we forgot for awhile our disillusion.

I have an amusing recollection of one of his very natural mistakes in the pronunciation of English, though he had a wonderful flow and classical perfection in the use of it. He talked a great deal about spiritual development, which he pronounced "spiritual devil-opment," with the accent on the devil. I have often thought since when wrestling with the cussedness of my own personality that the word "devil-opment" was not such a misnomer after all.

To all this inspiring incident Mr. Judge added the final touch when he came to my mother after it was all over and quietly insisted on her acceptance of a substantial contribution to the unexpectedly heavy expenses which she had so gladly met. For it was one of his beautiful characteristics, so often touchingly appreciated by Mrs. Judge in her talks with my mother, that he was always unselfishly sympathetic and considerate of others both in the small and in the great.

I like to remember how much like the rest of us he appeared to be. H. P. B. always seems to me to make an almost stunning impression of grandeur. Her daring journeys to fabulous regions of the earth, her towering intellect and profound books, the phenomena with which she dazzled her contemporaries, these remove her in a sense from the atmosphere of our more intimate affection. But our beloved Judge looked and acted a good deal like the rest of us. Anyone passing him on the street would hardly have given him a second glance — unless Mr. Judge meant him to. For years he lived frugally over in Brooklyn and commuted to New York every day to earn a living for his family apparently just like any other struggling young lawyer. And his loss of a beloved child drew him very close to the human nature in us all.

Nevertheless he too could, when he chose to do so, dazzle and enthrall, as all who heard his several speeches at that Congress, and sometimes on his lecture-tours over the country, will never forget. I heard and saw him there, before that great, entranced audience, lifted out of his quiet unassuming daily self to a grandeur of inspiration and eloquence that put a climax on his own work and the work of Theosophy in that first remarkable Congress of the religions of the world.

Theosophical University Press Online Edition