The Path – December 1891


A friend of mine who claims to be an earnest Theosophist, but is, in fact, a rather criticising, fault-finding, and uncharitable fellow, is nevertheless very dear, and very near, to me. This chap writes a funny letter to me concerning our public meetings, a letter which I will read to you because the object of his disaffection is also our own adversary, and we thus have common cause with him this time.

"Dear brother," he writes, "what you say concerning your meetings is very familiar to me. We have ours in good running order and well attended now, but we had to go through the same experiences as you have to at present. Your meetings will never thrive until you have found the method to get rid of their never-tiring enemy who is the same everywhere.

As the Colorado-bug is the plague of the potato, tomato, and egg plants, and even kills the young settlings at once, and has not met yet his conqueror, so public meetings of whatever kind have a foe who is apt to kill the tender and young ones among them, so that sometimes they have to be set anew, — if that is possible at all. This monster is the Crank. I have given some study to this loathsome creature and discovered that it exists in three distinct species, which I am going to describe scientifically for the instruction and warning of the unwary meeting-culturer.

The three species have these common properties: 1, they belong as members to no society; 2, they are recklessly selfish; 3, they invade whatever meeting gives opportunity for questions and remarks from the audience. The reason why they do not belong to any communities of their own is their murderous loquacity that drives every one away from them, or that they are too conceited to agree or work in sympathy with anybody, or that they are too stingy to make any sacrifice, or all three reasons together.

The least harmful of the three species of the meeting-killer is the one I called Mr. Shallow simple. The elemental that runs him only wants his tongue to have a good time a couple of hours every week, wherever there is an opportunity, irrespective of any other consideration whatever. Shallow is everywhere but at home at meeting-hours in the city.

In such hours Shallow goeth around as a roaring lion wagging his tongue and seeking whom he may devour. No meeting is safe. Some new society — for instance, the 'Presbyterian Old Men's Progressive Union,' advertise their inauguration meeting, and you are very glad of the opportunity, and do not go there; for you are sure Shallow will.

He knows by long experience that his water is too shallow to be swallowed by the audience to any length of time satisfactory to himself; he also feels that he has nothing refreshing and healthful to soul and mind to give them. Therefore he flavors his speech with the sulphuric acid of opposition and irritation, and thinks they will take it for lemonade.

'My dear friends' he says to the Reformers, in the tone of the most fatherly benevolence (1) why are you so dissatisfied with your conditions? your wages are not so bad. Why do you not, each of you, save, say, a quarter a day for the rainy day? Wouldn't you have eighty dollars in a year, and eight thousand dollars, each of you, in a hundred years,— would not each of you be a capitalist?' 'Shut up! sit down! who is that fool?' they shout, and poor Shallow has again to leave the floor.

Another time he tries his luck in the young Abheachabhrahyana Branch of the Theosophical Society, and, imagining that they are Buddhists, thus addresses them with the already-mentioned fatherliness: 'My dear friends! Why will you go back into the darkness of the by-gone ages, and dig up the dead teachings and sayings of Paganism? This is no progress, friends, it is retrogression! If you want to improve the ethical conditions of mankind, why not study and expound the sublime doctrines of our Christian Gospel? Is not our whole grand civilization based just on this moral code of Christianity? What other age can boast of such glorious attainments as ours in all departments? Have under the ethical teachings of the Hindoos such things been seen as the steam-engines, locomotives, steamship, telegraph, telephone, phonograph, gunpowder, printing-press, dynamite, firearms, breachloaders, ironclads; and all those charitable institutions as hospitals, poorhouses, almshouses, workhouses, Sunday morning breakfast and Saturday evening soup associations, houses of refuge, penitentiaries, and lunatic asylums .." Here the chair ventures to state that the gentleman's mind is wandering, that he is off the subject and had better retire.

Now, on the whole, Mr. Shallow does not so much harm; you can get done with him in about ten minutes.

More dangerous is the second species whom I call Mr. Hobbyrider. This one is very often the Elijah or Jesus of the 'new dispensation,' one of the bashful kind, namely of those who try to keep their mission secret,— in vain, however, for it oozes out everywhere, especially in their countenances. But usually Hobbyrider is an ordinary mortal who only labors with a philosophy of his own, because he has no chair to teach it from. His system is based on some idea that any average thinker might conceive and entertain for a while, but then would either discard as wrong, or file somewhere in his memory as an old matter of inferior order. But Hobbyrider is in love with this idea and wants his bride to be recognized. If this world of ours were ruled half-way by such a thing as reason, he would be a professor of metaphysics at one of our universities. Under the actual circumstances, however, he has to hunt for an audience where he can get it; and it is a hard job too, indeed ! For the old societies are too smart and too much on their guard against starved tongues. They know they might as easily stop a waterfall as his flow of speech once let loose. They therefore use all kinds of tricks and have got up special contrivances to keep him off their rostrums. That is why he has set his eyes on innocent and inexperienced young 'Branches', whom he captures and then taps at an awful rate, once he has them in his grip.

The third and most insidious form of the meeting-bug is the one I called the 'Man with the Puzzle'. Suppose he is attending at the 'Metaphysical Society's' Weekly Meditating Meeting. He has taken note of the subject of the introductory paper that is to be read, and provided himself with a dozen of puzzling questions for all cases. He says, for instance: 'The gentlemen who read the paper used the word 'nature' several times. What do you understand by the term nature?' Some one answers as best he can. But, satisfactory or not, the Man with the Puzzle has a definition of his own, and politely begs leave to give it,—which cannot be properly denied. And now—he has got you!!!—He is the one who defines the things before he talks of them! and in order to define 'nature' he defines half a dozen of other terms. He takes his time. This being done, he also talks about nature and the six other things,—under three heads and two subheads each.

Now those of the attendants who are theosophists of old standing know at once what to do in such an emergency. Whilst apparently listening to the Man with the Puzzle, they seize with rapture the grand opportunity of subduing, by taking position in the higher ego, the flames of impatience, indignation, and anger that are arising from the depths of their Kama Manas; and they are very successful in this exercise. But how about the rest of the audience who know nothing of this theosophical stratagem? They are ablaze with rage at the lamb-like meekness of the chair and the members of the society, and mentally swear by Mars and Saturn never to attend any more. But everything ends in this world of change. The chair looks at her watch and discovers that the hour has struck for adjournment, under useless attempts of Mr. Hobbyrider 'to make a few remarks.' The Man with the Puzzle is triumphant, but the former cannot go home of course in this explosive condition, and gives vent to it in a private controversy with some of the leading members; the result of which is an epistle received by the secretary on the next day in which the whole Society is taxed with ignorance, dogmatism, and Blavatsky-worship. And this end is speedy and fortunate enough; but sometimes these fellows have much perseverance, cunning, and moderation, and then—they kill you! In such contingencies you have to suspend the right of questioning entirely, until the last crank is starved out.

Now although aware of the danger which a crank is to a theosophical branch, I always felt attracted to some of them, understanding by the term simply a man who insists upon his own philosophy in spite of any other. Perhaps the hope of bringing them round was at the bottom of my intercourse with them. If it was, it was a mistake. Such a man will read himself through Isis Unveiled, the Secret Doctrine, and a dozen of other books to find whether they do not teach anything concerning his hobby. If they do not, as they in fact do not, he scornfully rejects them as chaff. Therefore, since I feel the value of time more keenly now than before, I make it a rule to 'head off ' each bore as quickly as possible, and to warn new Branches of the dangers which beset them. Truly yours,


1. Talking through his nose. (return to text)

The Path