Mr. Moncure D. Conway’s “A Tour Round the World”
Theosophist, June, 1884
The Glasgow Herald of April 11, 1884, contains 2-1/2 columns devoted by the eminent London Ontologist to—“The Theosophists.” A dangerous subject taking it all in all, yet one that the traveller has handled in quite a masterly and dexterous manner. There is quite sufficient fairness in the article to satisfy the Theosophists, than whom there are few less accustomed to praise, and who, in the simplicity of their hearts, have entertained Mr. Conway, to the best of their ability, a whole evening at Adyar (Madras Headquarters of their Society); and quite enough of possibilities of vistas in the many would-be innocent innuendoes with which the article abounds, to make every enemy of Theosophy rejoice.
After carefully reading the narrative, we cannot refrain from exclaiming with Jerdan: “All men are apt to have a high conceit of their own understanding, and to be tenacious of the opinions they profess; and yet, almost all men are guided by the understanding of others, not by their own; and may be said more truly to adopt, than to beget, their opinions.”
Now Mr. Conway is a sceptic. He prides himself on it, and, therefore, it is no wonder when he says that in coming to Adyar “he had no faith that anything lay for me (him) in occultism, after thirty years’ observation of similar phenomena” in spiritualism. So much for his prejudice confirmed by an exhaustive examination of “nearly six hours” of a subject that he has never investigated; for spiritualism is no more occultism than his London “Church” of heterogeneous religions is a Methodist chapel. His investigation resolves itself, as we understand it, into three heads. First, the Adyar “lay chelas” would not shake hands with him; Second, these “graceful” but too credulous Asiatics presumed to prostrate themselves before the portrait of one whom they reverence in the presence of him who never reverenced anything or anybody; Third, his conclusion and broad hint that the “Shrine” phenomena were alleged to have ceased because the inhabitants of Adyar knew of his coming.
Without losing time in commenting upon the first two grievances, we will simply remark that Mr. Conway’s arrival at Madras and visit to Adyar were quite unexpected, the first intimation of it being his actual presence, and the letter of introduction from an Australian member of our Society which he brought with him. Nor had the forbidding of placing letters to be phenomenally carried away and the answers brought by the same method, anything whatever to do with our sceptical traveller. To the positive knowledge of all the Madras Theosophists the event had occurred several days before, on December 31, Mr. Conway—however eminent—not being taken by the Mahatmas into the slightest consideration on that occasion.
Notwithstanding our critic’s definite prejudices, and, begging his pardon—“high conceit of his own understanding,” he seems to be as willing as the rest of the mortals, perchance less intellectual than he is, to allow himself to be “guided by the understanding of others,” even when the latter is flagrantly incorrect, provided his own ends be served. Thus, instead of “begetting” he indeed “adopts” another man’s opinion when he says that he is “informed by an eminent Oriental scholar, that the name of Koothoomi lies completely outside the analogies of any language that ever was spoken in India.” This is either (a) a deliberate misstatement of the writer, or (b) of his “eminent Oriental” informant. For being “eminent,” as Mr. Conway says, he could not make such statement ignorantly. Mr. Conway is challenged to furnish the “eminent Oriental scholar’s” name, or failing to do so––confess himself between the horns of a very serious dilemma.
The phonetic name Koothoomi, or Kuthumi––however variously spelt, is one too well known in Indian literature and language to need help from any Oriental scholar, whether eminent or not. Koothoomi is the name of one of the Rishis, the author of one of the 20 remaining Codes of law, now in the Asiatic Society’s Library in Calcutta; again, he is named as one of the 36 Rishis in the Padma Purana; and we would strongly advise Mr. Conway to consult these authorities, and Monier Williams’ Indian Wisdom, for one, wherein Koothoomi is mentioned; so that his next lay sermon might not contain this very serious as well as ludicrous error.
To conclude, Mr. Conway could never have seen an “autograph” of the Master signed “Kothume.” Such a spelling—an impossibility for a Hindu or a Theosophist, may only become a possibility with the prejudiced imagination of an Ontologist. There are many other little inaccuracies in Mr. Conway’s chapter on the Theosophists which, for lack of space, we pass unnoticed.