The Theosophical Forum – August 1943


May 8th was White Lotus Day, which is celebrated annually by Theosophists in commemoration of the death of H. P. Blavatsky; and this anniversary, the 52nd, was thought a suitable occasion for an address in the Temple at Headquarters by the only surviving member of the Theosophical Society (Covina) who was a personal pupil of our great Founder. It was further requested that this address, in an expanded form, should be prepared for publication in this magazine, and what follows is the outcome of the author's response. Though he has treated the subject before (The Theosophical Path, February, 1930, March, 1931; The Theosophical Forum, March, 1938), it is felt that such a record means much to members, many of whom are new, and the older articles being difficult of access or unprocurable. This is sufficient excuse for many repetitions which must necessarily occur. The very nature of the subject, the reason for writing such memoirs at all, requires that matters personal to the writer should be touched upon. But this, for the sake both of readers and writer, shall be limited to as much as may be necessary to give composition and background to the picture which he must try to present.

I may describe myself as an individual with a mental temperament, born in a quiet country parsonage. The ancient church dating back to Norman times, where my father officiated, imbued my sensitive mind with an atmosphere of religion in its mellower and less exacting form, such as is inspired by stately Gothic cathedrals and sublime church music; so that Christianity meant for me far more than the harsh dogmatic formalism met in some quarters, and which Theosophists sometimes assail under the impression that they are impugning Christianity. Besides this foundation of aspiration towards the sublime, I had from early years a great interest in science and preferred scientific books to any other. It was such a man as this who found himself in 1887 studying science at the University of Cambridge. But already before this date my mind had acquired a bent towards the mystical and occult in Nature. I had read, among other books, The Night-Side of Nature, by Catherine Crowe, a book in which that able writer has brought together a collection of testimony to the reality of ghosts, apparitions, and other related phenomena, from all countries and ages. To a mind sufficiently unprejudiced to be able to form a just estimate of the value of evidence, such a record was convincing; and I naturally sought further information from any available source. Bulwer Lytton's occult novels were among the number, and I dabbled in Swedenborgianism, Psychic Research, and other matters.

A trouble at this stage was due to the fact that Bulwer Lytton's magicians belong to the dark side of Nature, or are unattractive in other ways; so that a conflict was set up in me between the aspiration for knowledge and power on the one hand, and the voice of conscience and lofty feelings on the other. Here my words will surely find an echo in the hearts of many readers who have had inner conflicts of one kind or another. That this conflict was soon destined to be resolved by Theosophy, with its presentation of Masters of Wisdom and Compassion, will appear in what follows.

The year 1887, then, found me studying science at Cambridge University, and the date August 15 is a memorable landmark; for it was on that day that a chance meeting with a friend, who mentioned Sinnett's Esoteric Buddhism, sent me to the University Library to study the very few Theosophical books then available, such as The Occult World, Light on the Path, Incidents in the Life of Madame Blavatsky, books by Eliphas Levi and Franz Hartmann, Theosophy, Religion, and Occult Science, by Olcott. Thus I discovered the existence of White Magicians, the conflict above mentioned was resolved, and I had found an ideal which did not run counter to my feelings of rectitude.

On the other hand, being a member of the Psychical Research Society, which had an important center in Cambridge, and where I met F. W. H. Myers and Professor Henry Sidgwick, I had read the Society's alleged exposure of Madame Blavatsky; and having no means of knowing its falsity, I was troubled in my mind. It is however to be observed that this circumstance did not in the least discourage me in my determination to pursue Theosophy. Having written to the then Headquarters, and obtained an introduction to a lady member residing near Cambridge, my doubts about the Psychical Research were speedily removed: and indeed Madame Blavatsky's real character stood revealed in her works — and the same may be said of Myers, Sidgwick, and Co.

It was at the close of 1887 that, taking advantage of the ending of the autumn term at Cambridge, I found my way to London to visit H. P. Blavatsky for the first time. It will easily be understood how every detail of the circumstances connected with that momentous expedition has impressed itself indelibly on my mind and lingers fondly in my memory throughout the years that have passed; such associations are familiar to us all. Those were the days of the smoky Underground Railway and the horse omnibuses with the "knife board" on the top, and where you might get a seat beside a purple-faced driver in the style of Mr. Tony Weller. The now ubiquitous tea shop was then totally non-existent, nor had the cheap popular daily paper and the weekly scrap magazine as yet begun to spread their influence on the public mind. This London has vanished into Limbo, and it is likely that a visit to the actual localities might result in disillusionment, as usually happens when we vainly seek to reconstitute experiences which live only in our memory.

Madame Blavatsky at that time was living in the house of Bertram Keightley and his nephew Archibald Keightley, two young men of nearly the same age, who have earned lasting merit by the generous hospitality which they accorded her. It was a semi-detached residence, standing in small grounds, and situated in a residential neighborhood between the West-End proper and the western suburbs, and just north of the great east-west artery in the part where it is known as the Bayswater Road. I arrived just before the time for the evening meal, and, after being received by Bertram Keightley, we went down to the dining-room, which was in the rear and connected with H. P. Blavatsky's reception room in front by folding doors. Soon the wonderful personage whom I was so eager to see made her appearance, and I must try to convey a picture of my first impressions.

In person she was rather short, and, as is visible in many of her portraits, she was at this time corpulent, owing to maladies caused by her labors and sufferings; the effect being enhanced by the need for loose and easy apparel. It may be added parenthetically that her physician had found her blood in a state which ordinarily would be inconsistent with continued life: a proof of the mighty will and devotion which kept her at her labors in spite of such appalling obstacles. My first impression was that of a perfectly natural person, free from all affectations, artificialities, and formal disguises, such as we all habitually wear in deference to social convention and to hide from each other our nakedness. She talked easily, passing from subject to subject, in much the same way as a child might talk, though of course with the knowledge of a much traveled and experienced observer. Her ease of manner evoked a sympathetic response in the listener. For a most eloquent portrayal of her character and bearing, reference may be made to the article by "Saladin" (W. Stewart Ross), editor of The Agnostic Journal, printed in Lucifer, June, 1891. It is much too long to reproduce here, but two sentences may be quoted:

She was simply an upright and romantically honest giantess. "Impostor" indeed! She was almost the only mortal I have ever met who was not an impostor.

I cannot give anything like a diary or chronological record, as the details are blurred and form a general picture interspersed with isolated incidents. As I did not live in London, my meetings with H. P. B. were confined to transient visits, when I might either be passing through London or on a short stay with some friend. She used to sit in the front room in the evenings, in a large armchair, and receive any visitors who might call. Among members of what might be called the household staff, I recall, besides the two Keightleys, the Countess Wachtmeister, whose name occupies a notable place in the pages of early Theosophical history; Mr. George Mead, H. P. B.'s secretary; Mr. Claude Wright; Mrs. Cooper-Oakley and her sister Laura Cooper; Miss Kislingbury; Charles Johnston, Sanskrit scholar, who married Vera Jelihovsky, H. P. Blavatsky's niece; Mr. Richard Harte, American. Other notable names not included among resident members, are Herbert Burrows, leading Socialist; Dr. Franz Hartmann, well-known writer on occult subjects; Mrs. Alice Gordon, long resident in India and mentioned in early Theosophical annals; William Kingsland, who recently visited Egypt and wrote a book on the measurements of the Great Pyramid, then a young electrical engineer; Colonel Olcott. Among Hindus may be mentioned U. L. Desai and Rai Baroda K. Laheri. Another personality mentioned in the early annals was Dr. Charles Carter Blake, who had had a prominent career as a member of the British Association for the Advancement of Science, in which he figured as a zoologist, following the school of Richard Owen in opposition to Huxley, who advocated evolution by natural selection. Dr. Carter Blake had great erudition, owing to a photographic memory, but was not able to turn it to much account.

While receiving visitors or sitting with members of the household, H. P. B. used to smoke, rolling cigarettes of the finest Turkish tobacco, and ready to make one for anybody who might ask. She also generally played "patience," or solitaire as it is called in the United States. These occupations did not interfere in the least with her ability to engage in conversation. Mrs. Campbell Praed, in her novel, Affinities, which contains a vivid and sympathetic portrait of H. P. B., speaks of her as being able to carry on an animated discussion in English and turn suddenly to interject words into a conversation in French going on behind her. The same writer discusses the remarkable features of H. P. B. — the unusually large light-gray eyes, contradicted by the small alert nose, and this contradicted again by the massive lower part of the face: all this indicative of the remarkable character and attainments. But in estimating the character and conduct of such a being, we must bear in mind the very difficult, the well-nigh impossible task which she had to accomplish — that of living in two very different worlds at once. For, as a messenger of the Lodge of Masters of Wisdom, she must keep in touch therewith; while at the same time she must accommodate herself to the world around her. And what a world was this to her sight, to whom conventional screens were transparencies, who read people for what they were at a glance? This alone is enough to account for eccentricities of demeanor which ordinary critics, ignorant of the real reason, would attribute to reasons within the limits of their own comprehension. What produced more impression on me than any one thing may here be mentioned. Standing on an easel in one corner of the sitting-room was a framed portrait in oils of H. P. B.'s Master, "M." This was no imaginary picture, but a genuine portrait of a real man. It must be understood that, the effect produced being the paramount concern, questions as to how this portrait was made were of quite secondary interest and unable to influence my judgment. Rather than estimate the authenticity of the portrait in terms of available evidence as to its production, I should reverse the reasoning and infer the means of production from the result achieved. So I am only too ready to accept the statement that the artist, (Schmiechen) was caused by H. P. B. to see a visual image of the Master. However this may be, I seemed to have now become aware of the reality of such a being, and my life was thereupon and ever since inspired by the presence of an ideal that was no mental abstraction or reasoned construct, but something actual.

On my second visit to H. P. B. she spoke of a visit which she said I had made before my first visit, and in which I had told her about myself. The things which she reported me as having said tallied with fact and could not have been got from anyone but myself. On my inquiry as to whether it was in my astral form that I had come, she replied, No, he was just as he is now. She described my dress and the description was verified by a friend who was with me as being one which I had actually worn. I cannot give the explanation, for the simple reason that I do not know it; so readers may exercise their own wits upon it.

She also said at one time that, when she first saw me, she said to herself: "Here is a young man who has an eventful occult life before him. He has two paths before him: in one of them he will be happy; in the other miserable. I wonder which he will take."

It was at this time that Lucifer began to be published; and the Esoteric Section, for more advanced students, was founded. In this connexion it will be understood that the more important things are precisely those about which the most reserve must be kept. I was brought into intimate relationship with H. P. B. the Teacher. (Does she not endorse one of her books: "dedicated by H. P. B. to H. P. Blavatsky, with no thanks"?) I then knew that she could see into the depths of my being, responding to a sincere knock, showing me my faults and advising as to overcoming them. And thus I acquired unshakeable evidence that she was what she was. I dedicated my life to the cause for which she had sacrificed so much; and found the anchorage which has never failed to keep me safe through many trials, many successes.

On one occasion she put into my hands the MS. of the forthcoming Voice of the Silence and sent me to another room to read it. As illustrating the difficulties of carrying on work in those times, it may be mentioned that, as the private pupils did not include any printers, it was necessary for private instructions to be written out in copying ink and reproduced, page by page, by the old-fashioned gelatine graph, the pages being afterwards collected and stitched. This says much for the industry and devotion of the volunteer workers on this task.

Such are a few scattered details of my recollections; it may be that others might be given, but they do not all recur to the memory at one time; or they are too fragmentary, too much involved in the context to be of any significance when isolated therefrom; or they are such as might be found in H. P. B.'s writings and thus do not come within the sphere of my special subject. It remains to offer a few concluding remarks. Truly, as I often think, this meeting with H. P. B. was a most marvelous adventure. In the heart of the teeming life of that vast metropolis of the materialistic nineteenth century, to encounter face to face, at the dawn of one's manhood, a real —— ! But why use a word as counter for an abstract idea, when, as we all know, the living individual is the complete summation and full embodiment of all that our thoughts and feelings can dimly foreshow. One of the writers whose impressions are recorded in Lucifer for 1891 says that he felt for the first time that he was in the presence of a Reality. He was one who beheld the Truth before him and did not need to go through the tedious and often vain process of discovering the truth by first eliminating every possible (and impossible) source of error. Perhaps it may here be well to bring to a close these personal reminiscences; for the life and teachings of H. P. Blavatsky will be found adequately treated elsewhere.

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