The Saracens of Theosophy and the Madras Crusaders
Theosophist, December, 1883
Some of the Dailies and Weeklies—English as well as Vernacular—of this benighted Presidency feel very unhappy over the Theosophists. Their editorial plumage is painfully ruffled and stands on end with disgust. The few peacock’s feathers, which are made to clumsily cover the ugly bird beneath, can no longer hide the ravenous crow, whose croaking betrays its vulgar genus and pours its daily plaint against Theosophy. The Madras Mail and the Madras Times are trying to outvie each other in libelous innuendoes and outrageous fibs. (We feel sorry to place the former on the same footing as the latter; but since in the matter of false denunciations of, and trumped-up lying charges against Theosophy, one has to hesitate in pronouncing which of the two should now have the palm—the two Madras dailies should henceforth be regarded as chums.) Behold the literary Montagues and Capulets of Southern India join their hands in the common cause of hatred of everything concerning Theosophy and form their unholy alliance, offensive and defensive, against the Saracens of Adyar! Proceeding fraternally on the same war-path, the aristocratic vanguard is followed by the watch-cur of the Hills—The South of India Observer—barking in its rear. Bon voyage to the brave trio!
This crusade of the two Madras papers and their Ooty flunkey against the Adyar Headquarters reminds us of Draper’s graphic description in his Intellectual Development of Europe of the ragged rabble said to have composed the army of Peter the Hermit, and which, while crossing Europe, was being preceded and led by a gander, a goat and a cur, the first named leader being firmly believed by the crusaders to have been the Holy Ghost himself.
Indeed the grievances of the said local journals against our Society and its present leaders are quite unparalleled in the history of India. Instead of having a special Committee of Torture organized against the Theosophical “Innocents”—a kind of “a Scarabeus on the navel” or the “Kittee” of old Madras-Tanjore memory—these “godless infidels and heretics, who, paradoxically enough dub themselves Theosophists,” have suddenly become the pets of the Legislative Council, and “Mr. Grant Duff and his Government are so weak as to be drawn by Colonel Olcott.” The latter, moreover, is charged with having “attacked the Bishop” and sought the protection of Government from the hitherto only too well-felt pressure of the Missionary body upon their civilian friends.
Now, the truth is, that Colonel Olcott simply wrote a very respectful, though “Open Letter” to Mr. Gell, reminding this too-zealous Doctor of Divinity that Christian charity and malicious slandering of innocent people were never known to go hand-in-hand with the true religion of Christ, however much they have become synonymous in the opinion of some Bishops and their clergy. And, it is not, as the Madras Mail asserts, “furious hatred of the Church and the clergy” that we feel, but rather a boundless contempt and disgust for the hypocrisy and cant found in too many of her unworthy sons. Of course, this is more than any “would-be” respectable and pious paper is prepared to stand. It matters not whether an editor is a scoffing materialist, not caring a fig for all the Bishops the world over; or a canting “Reverend” ready to play flunkey and second fiddle to every individual one inch higher in the hierarchy of the order than himself; or again one, more expert in promissory notes than galley-proofs,—all are equally shocked at the “preposterous impudence” of the two foreigners. Only fancy the unheard of insolence “of an American” who dares defend his assailed honour and to give the lie to those who concoct falsehoods about his “antecedents,” or that of a Russian who having proved her well-meaning and loyal intentions to the country of her adoption, and having faith in the impartiality of British Justice claims from it the common protection of a peaceful citizen. To these charges, Colonel Olcott and Madame Blavatsky plead guilty.
Having lived for a few years in India and under the watchful eyes of the law, having never transgressed it, and being prepared to prove the same, they defy the teeming millions of the Indian and Anglo-Indian populations, High Courts, and Police Magistrates, Laiety and Clergy, Society and the hoi polloi to bring forward the slightest charge against them, which, for a moment, could stand ground in a Court of Justice. Thus, since neither of them had ever purloined Government documents (though mistaken for, and closely watched as, Russian spies for over two years); or committed forgery, or contracted debts and refused to pay them when claimed, or cheated one single tradesman, or ever been found guilty of dirty libels and defamations of the character of innocent persons to suit the taste of their pious readers, or obtained money under false pretences; and, again that they are neither returned convicts—like some of their detractors, since they have never stolen anything, no, not even a saddle—and that, in fine, they are quiet, law-abiding people, who defy the closest scrutiny into their private characters,—why should they be refused equal protection with the rest of the populations, many among whom are far less immaculate than they? Most of the Anglo-Indian editors have tried their hand to injure the Theosophists and have signally failed in their attempt. Quite the reverse; for, every fresh libel, whether followed by forced apology and retraction of the calumny, or passed over in silent contempt has only brought more branches to the Parent Society. Thus, while in 1881, at the time when the scurrilous article in the Saturday Review denounced us as “unscrupulous adventurers” was eagerly caught up and republished by some Anglo-Indian papers (the Statesman coming to grief thereby) we had hardly 25 Branch Societies (Europe and America included), now, at the end of 1883, we have 87 Branches in India alone. At this rate, specially as our friend, the hitherto high-toned and dignified Madras Mail, has condescended to ornament its columns with a silly and lying libel in verse, we may hope to multiply our Branches to 200 more by the end of 1884. This, considering the fact that we are but two to work at the head of such a tremendous body, is very undesirable. We beg, therefore, our unkindly disposed and but occasionally gentlemanly contemporaries who refuse to take pity and show mercy to the two over-worked and hapless founders, to cease for a time libelling us, were it simply out of regard to their good “Lord” the Bishop, whom the courteous editors defend tooth and nail. For verily and indeed, their abuse of theosophy proves itself more dangerous to meek Dr. Gell than to any of us. Not only is it calculated to thin the ranks of his converts, but it impairs his own prophetic previsions in the Indian Churchman. Having had such success after, and for, having been at various times called in the Anglo-Indian papers “unscrupulous adventurers,” “ignorant and blasphemous charlatans,” “impostors and Russian spies,” “unmitigated frauds and black-legs,” now that the Madras Mail comes out with an anonymous poem (!!) where, under the very clever anagram of “Madame Blahetta,” the editor of this magazine is alluded to as a thief in the habit of spiriting away precious rings,1 it is only natural to suppose that this delicately framed libel threatens to convert all India to theosophy and send millions on pilgrimages to the Adyar sanctum! Such libels, as this one—in this case the poetical production of some Ooty Civilian, or some brave “Colonel,” assuming under the gaseous inspiration of champagne and the traditional “pick-me-up,” the guise of Mrs. Grundy’s “Avenging Angel”—are very, very dangerous to the work of the missionaries. They are calculated, as shown above, to bring us more than one Christian, whom his “Lordship” himself apprehends in the extract that follows, and that we shall analyze with his permission—are ready to pass over to the enemy’s camp. Notwithstanding the prognostication of the crusading trio to the contrary, we find that Dr. Gell does after all take notice of Colonel Olcott’s “Open Letter.” As his entire and welcome confession from the Indian Churchman is quoted verbatim further on, in a letter signed “H. R. M.” (see p. 26 of this Supplement), we now give but a few choice and suggestive sentences from the said extract. “H.R.M.,” a high Military Officer, an Englishman and a Theosophist, reviews it too ably to require any additions to it.
“At our Madras Clerical Conference last week we considered whether it was desirable to take any special steps at the present time for counteracting Colonel Olcott’s teaching, the subject having been appointed before the “Open Letter” appeared. The European and native clergy who are most conversant with educated natives and who were present, stated that many Hindus here were attracted by the teachings of Theosophists, and that the minds of even some Christians were shaken by it, and urged the desirability of endeavoring to expose its errors. . . . We generally agreed that it was undesirable to take any notice of Colonel Olcott, or to adopt any special measures at the present time. . . . Father Black was present at our Conference; he mentioned that in Bombay Colonel Olcott had been let alone, and his Mission there had failed. . . .
I have ordered a copy of the Rev. Theophilus’ address on Theosophy to be sent to you.
Very sincerely yours,
The italics are ours. The above, besides failing to corroborate the S. I. Observer’s soothsaying, to the effect that “it were almost an insult to our Bishop to attempt any defence,” gives us an insight into the real feelings and present policy of the clergy. Unable to crush the Theosophical vineyard, they console themselves with the idea that its grapes are sour. If “Father Black” (a correctly suggestive appellation, no doubt, of the inner personage) asserted that “in Bombay Colonel Olcott’s mission had failed,” he asserted that which is an evident untruth. However this is only a trifle. But now, having read his “Lordship’s” remarks, we feel at liberty to fathom them. We crave further explanation what may be the “special steps for counteracting Colonel Olcott’s teaching”? The palmy days of thumb-screws, and of grilling living witches having vanished for ever, and Her Majesty’s Imperial Government having vouchsafed religious equality and rights to all its heathen subjects of every persuasion, we would have been at a loss to realize the true meaning of the implied threat but for the concluding words of his Reverence “F. Madras.” “I have ordered a copy of the Rev. Theophilus’ address on Theosophy to be sent to you,” he adds. This throws a flood of light upon the hidden meaning. The said address (a pamphlet) though in no way libelous, is yet full of misstatements from the first page to the last. (We refer the reader for verification to the September Theos., 1882, p. 315.) In addition to this, a certain malicious and false statement, proved and recognized as such for over a year back, was, notwithstanding repeated refutations, insisted upon and reiterated by many missionaries. It refers to the old and clumsily gotten up story at Tinnevelly, about Colonel Olcott and the king-cocoanut incident. Although nothing of the kind had ever happened, and that the cocoanut tree flourishes and is being well taken care of since the day the President-Founder planted it in the sight of 5,000 Hindus in the temple of Tinnevelly; and that again he visited and saw it in the temple yard hardly five months ago when revisiting the Tinnevelly Theos. Society; and that the story invented by the missionaries two years ago to the effect that the young tree had been uprooted and the Colonel denounced by the Brahmans as an impostor and an unclean Mlechchha as soon as he had left that city—was once more refuted and proved a malicious invention in The Theosophist; still and notwithstanding all this, the undignified and false report is circulated! Given out as a fact and under the authority, and over the signature of Bishop Sargent, who was the first to set it going in a Madras paper—(this Bishop, at any rate, being hardly able to plead ignorance since he belonged to the place and had the means of verifying the statement at leisure)—it was allowed to take root, and has never been contradicted or even modified by Bishop Gell, so far as we know. We refer our Fellows and any reader who may see this to the back number of The Theosophist, the Supplement for Dec., 1881, p. 7; Feb., 1883, p. 3, etc., to the Brahmans of Tinnevelly and—to the cocoanut tree itself, our best living witness. And now we ask: is, or is not, this sanctioning and spreading of a flagrant untruth, and other malicious innuendoes, to be regarded as a reprehensible and dishonest action? “Do not bear false witness” is an express commandment in both the Testaments. Yet we have but to turn to a pamphlet issued two years ago by the missionary Press of Bombay under the direct supervision of the renowned Mr. Squires, also a “man of God,”—entitled The Truth about Theosophy, to find how the clergy headed by their Bishops deal with truth and facts. With the missionaries the coarse and vulgar chaff of every American reporter against theosophy, every falsehood passing for fun and joke, is accepted as gospel truth and circulated as an undeniable fact. This, they have the impudence to pass off as the “antecedents” of Colonel Olcott and Madame Blavatsky!!
It is this that shows to us more clearly than day what will be the nature of the “special steps for counteracting Colonel Olcott’s influence” mentioned in the noble Bishop’s letter: the clerical and jesuitical policy is to be carried by them to the bitter end. A selection of false rumours, malicious backbiting, wicked and stupid cock-and-bull stories, will be disseminated in the future, as they have been in the past, far and wide, by paid catechists, clever zenana-missionaries and padris and by all the brood of ignorant, half-educated, as well as learned society people under the sanction and with the blessings of their respective Bishops. We have a proof of it already. The Bishop of Madras, who knows, who cannot help knowing that such pamphlets are full of untruth and calumny, goes to the trouble of sending them to various “Mrs. Andrews” and “Jones,” “with the compliments of the Bishop of Madras” in his own handwriting on the covers! He places them personally upon the Library Table at Ootacamund, and allows them to remain there in the teeth of every refutation. This is the line of clerical policy we protest against and denounce as unchristian, ungentlemanly and wicked; and those are the men that public hypocrisy and cant would force us to respect! We are charged with anti-Christism, while we are guilty but of anti-clericalism; with a “fierce hatred of the Church” when we confess but to a ferocious contempt for the ecclesiastical system; the system that crucifies its Christ daily for 15 centuries, tramples His commands in the dust under his feet, and disfigures His noblest and most divine teachings!2
How much the defenders of Bishop Gell care themselves for truth and fact may be surmised by reading a certain idiotic article headed “Charlatans and Dupes” (October 20th, 1883) in the S. of I. Observer. In this tissue of grandiloquent misrepresentations, falsehoods, and impertinent remarks, the writer speaks of “the imbecile credulity” of women, and asserts that “the fundamental axiom of Theosophy is this preposterous belief,” i.e. “the power of mortals to raise the dead and place the spirits at their beck and call to minister to their trivial daily wants.” This, as Shakespeare says, “is a lie with a circumstance”—number one. No. 2 is shown in the comparing of Theosophy and the Theosophists to Mormonism and their “scoundrel Prophets.” As to the rest it is too indecent to be even mentioned in these columns. There are editors and editors. There are such whose opinion one may care for, and others whose abuse is praise. And we have heard of those journalists who, having just escaped conviction and sentence (for playing at Tarquinius with under-aged Lucretias) only because parents would not dishonour their children, went home, and wrote a fulminating article full of virtue and moral gushing upon “the besotted superstition” of the theosophists in general, and “the adulterous villainy of the age” in particular. As to the writer of this special editorial, he expresses regret at the abolition of the Holy Inquisition. “In the Middle Ages,” he says, “the lust of no adulterous villain would have been pandered to, in the name of religion.” Were it thus in the present age, we fear this delightful article on “Charlatans and Dupes” would have never been written. As to the virtuous indignation of the writer, who submits “that though such remedies were barbarous, they effectually purged and purified Society from the charlatans and impure wretches that disgrace and pollute it in our day”—we share it entirely with him. Yet we remind him that the return of not only the obsolete and fiendish laws of the Middle Ages, but even of the laws of Merry old England that were enforced hardly a fifty years ago, would be very, very dangerous for some virtuous penny-a-liners. For in those days when people were hung for stealing a penny loaf, the theft of a weightier object would never have been limited to three months’ imprisonment. Thus more than one canting church-going hypocrite and thief, would have paid their little larceny with their lives.
The remarks of our Ooty Grandison and moraliser concerning the variety and the degree of respectability of “faith” are most charmingly naive and silly. “The faith that engendered an implicit belief in miracles, that inaugurated the stupendous spectacle of the Crusades” he “can understand and reverence.” But faith in the psychological powers of man—which, unable to understand our tenets, he calls belief in reversing “the laws of nature” (precisely that which we have been fighting against for years)—and sets it down as “rank blasphemy to the Almighty.” Our puny foe ought to take heed and remember the fate that befell the Crusades—the offspring of the faith he reverences. Beginning with the tag-rag and bob-tail, the riffraff army of Peter the Hermit, who deserted the fools who had trusted him, and thus left his tatterdemalion crowd to be chopped up as mince pie, each of the eight Crusades ending with that of Edward II, had started with the cry of “God wills it!” “God wills it!” Yet, if we remember rightly, the Deity gave flatly the lie to one and all by allowing them to be decimated in Bulgaria, destroyed by the Hungarians, and finally annihilated by the Saracens, who sold into slavery those whom they did not murder. With all their faith the Christians have not been able after all to wrest the “Holy Land” from the hands of the infidels.
We close our remarks and bid adieu to the righteous trio of our contemporaries by advising each of them to attend a little more to the beam in his own orb, before he sets out on the fool’s errand of discovering (or rather—inventing) non-existing motes in the theosophical eye, though it is not certainly free of motes of other description. As to the incessant personal abuse showered upon us by the Madras and other dailies, luckily for us, we find that other persons nobler, better and far higher in social position than the humble Theosophists, are no better protected against scurrilous abuse in the Indian Empire. We Theosophists have the consolation of finding ourselves standing on quite parallel lines with His Excellency the Viceroy in the estimation of some Anglo-Indians who pass for refined and educated gentlemen. In a circular against the Ilbert Bill which, we are told, is now being widely circulated in the N. W. Provinces, and whose author is said to be a lawyer (one who ought to know the value of words and epithets), we find the noble Marquis of Ripon referred to in the following elegant terms: —
“The Viceroy forced on us is dishonest and tricky and is determined to stir up strife between us and the natives of India for his personal advancement,” etc.
And if the “free-born” Briton speaks thus of his own Viceroy, the representative of Her Majesty the Queen, calling him “dishonest and tricky” (!!) what can we expect at the hands of such æsthetics? Indeed we rather feel honoured than otherwise in being publicly called names from the cabman’s vocabulary, alongside with a good and noble man; one whom even his position—the highest in the land—is unable to protect from the vilification of foul-mouthed bullies.
1. In this piece of silly poetry, which certainly disgraces only the editor who allowed it to appear and no one else, a legend about a certain credulous lady of high rank, a Spiritualist, and a Madame “Blahetta,” a medium, raising the dead (!!) at Ooty is given. Those anxious to test the veracity of the Madras Mail’s poetaster have but to apply to a certain lady and her husband, moving here in the highest rank of society, for particulars. We have too much regard and respect for both to drag their names into publicity; yet, since that name is an open secret to every one at Ootacamund and Madras, we do not see why we should not avail ourselves of their private evidence.
The facts are these: –– A sapphire (not emerald) ring was taken from the finger of the lady and almost immediately—two minutes after—restored to her with another, the duplicate of the former, only a great deal larger, not of “brass and brummagen-make,” but set with a sapphire of greater value than the original. The miserable versifier, whoever he may be,—for one, capable of inventing a lie to slander a woman under the veil of anonymity can certainly be no gentleman but simply a contemptible coward, is challenged to give his name. Let him do so, and his falsehood will be at once proved,—before a magistrate.
2. It is also proved to us by the following facts. Having presented the lady referred to in the previous footnote with a sapphire ring as above explained, and finding ourselves, in consequence, slandered and our character defamed in silly libelous verses intended to be funny, we appealed to the editor of the Madras Mail. He being a gentleman, we thought, once that the full particulars are laid before him, he could not refuse to publish the truth and thus repair the mischief. The editor promised, assuring the gentleman who called on him on the subject, that as soon as we could show him a statement of the facts over the signature of the lady who had the ring, he would himself write a “serious editorial” giving the true version. The lady in question, extremely shocked at the insulting lie invented by her “Christian” friends, gave us a statement bearing her signature to the effect (1) that her own ring had never been “spirited away,” as alleged, as she has it to this day on her finger and “knows it by two marks on it which I (she) can swear to”; (2) that in addition to her own ring “she was presented with a blue sapphire ring far more valuable than my (her) own ring.” The statement in the lady’s own handwriting was taken to the editor of the Madras Mail by General and Mrs. Morgan— both Fellows of our Society, and at whose house at Ootacamund the ring was given to our mutual friend. The editor thereupon expressed himself satisfied, and remarked that such verses accusing a person of a “gipsy trick,” ought never to have appeared in his paper, and have so appeared only because he, the real editor, was absent at the time. The outcome of all these fine words, however, was only a short editorial—neither an apology nor rectification but simply chaff in equivocal good taste, giving the mangled statement of the lady in question with more persiflage and quizzes in addition. Why? Because the majority of the readers of that paper are Europeans (the Madras Mail having lost some hundreds of its Hindu subscribers in one day) who bitterly oppose our Society and would applaud every imaginable falsehood against us and have it circulated instead of truth. This, in its turn, is demonstrated by another fact quite as suggestive. Mrs.––––, the lady concerned, has, since the publication of the statement, received, as she says, some fifty letters finding fault with her for having told the honest truth about the matter. Thus, the high-minded Christian Society of Madras would subscribe joyfully to any lie and calumny to please their own prejudices, the Bishop and public opinion—even to calling a person a thief––rather than speak the truth and thereby vindicate a hated body of men who dare lift the standard of Truth against every sham, whether social or religious.