Wednesday, 4 February 2015

Blavatsky Interview - Paris, 1884

From the English Morning News of Paris, April 21, 1884 – Discovered by Michael Gomes. Blavatsky and Theosophy got quite a bit of press coverage at the time and this article gives a good sampling of the pros and cons thereof. The point of interest for the journalist seems to be the unusual, picturesque angle and thus remains fairly superficial. And Blavatsky comes through with her unique mixture of articulateness and candid frankness; and quite a canny debater(which she does not get nearly enough credit for, IMO)…But they probably did not have publicists or PR people in those days...of interest also is the participation of William Q. Judge, who was in the process of making a pivotal sojourn to Europe and Asia...

About the beginning of next month there is to be a great gathering in Paris of Theosophists, a mysterious body of men and women moving down from America and from Asia upon Europe. Col. Olcott, of the United States, will soon be here; Mme. Blavatsky, who started the society in council with a mystic circle of the wise somewhere up in the Himalayas, is actually with us, and a great Hindoo, the most learned man of the East„ is expected from day to day. This new "Salvation Army" of philosophers have already effected a lodgement on the other side of the Channel, and France is their next objective point.
The organ of the Society in Europe is a monthly publication, the Theosophist, issued by Trubner, of which Mme. Blavatsky is editor. There are more of what the vulgar call miracles in one number of the Theosophist than in all of the Four Gospels. The adepts play a great part in the work of the Society, and they form one of the orders or grades. They have watched over all things almost from the beginning of the world; and they had a good deal to do with the independence of the United States by their direct inspiration of the writings of Tom Paine.
All this is to be brought into Parisian drawing-rooms, and one may safely predict for it that it will make at least the sensation of a season. The society is particularly well equipped for work in these latitudes in having so many women among its members. The Parisian secretary is Mme. de Morsier, of 71, Rue Claude Bernard; and the Parisian president for life - Lady Caithness, Duchess de Pomar, mother of the eccentric novelist, who often lends her luxurious apartment in the Rue de Grammont for the meetings. Finally, Mme. Blavatsky has the Russian readiness in the tongues: she speaks English almost without accent; French like a Parisian and when she likes like an American - of her Hindoostani it is not within our competence to speak.
It is a long way in every sense from Madras and its palace to the one or two poor rooms at No. 46 rue Notre-Dame-des-Champs, of which Mme. Blavatsky is now in temporary occupation, and where she receives on Thursday and Sunday evenings and on Sunday afternoons. Here through the kindness of Mme. de Morsier, she was found by a representative of THE MORNING NEWS, in company with Mr. Judge, an American who is shortly going out to India to resume the study of the higher mysteries.
"We are quite willing to have people write about us," said Mme. Blavatsky, "only we wish they would write the truth, and not superficial nonsense, as Mr. Moncure Conway did the other day after a visit to Madras. (2) It is worse than idle to say that all the 'manifestations' ceased as soon as he appeared - they had been ordered to cease long before he came by an authority which I will assure you took very little account of his modest individuality. It was just as foolish to think that one of our 'Chelas' refused to shake hands with him on caste principles. The refusal had nothing to do with caste; it is only to preserve his mystic, or if you like, mesmeric influence, which would have been expended to no purpose in the contact of this useless salutation."
"Then what we take for caste pride or prejudice of the East has often a deeper significance?"
"Of course: there is a great mystery in Oriental exclusiveness in the unwillingness to touch. The Oriental sense is finer than ours, much more sensitive to emanations of every kind, spiritual and material, and it holds that the best way of purification is to keep from defilement."
"And," said Mr. Judge, "Mr. Conway was annoyed because the Chelas prostrate themselves before a picture of one of the Masters! It is altogether the act of a Chela or Hindoo, who does the same thing to his father and mother every day of his life, and who regards the Master in the light of a father."
"This curious susceptibility to contact," resumed Mme. Blavatsky, "runs through everything. See in making this cigarette for you - you smoke, I hope; I do - I twist a small holder around the middle of it, so that the cigarette does not actually pass from me to you. A holy man in India taught me that, who was bound by his vows not to touch anything that had touched a woman."
"Yet with this prejudice against women in the East, how have you been able to do so much?"
"Because there is far less prejudice than you think, and you altogether mistake the nature of it and the reasons. When I have sought the higher teachings I have found no obstacle on account of my sex."
"But tell me about this higher truth. Why do the Brahmins and the Buddhists make it so eminently select? The Theosophists talk all through of an esoteric mystery, of a truth revealed only to an inner circle. What is the use of a truth bottled up in this way? If a truth at all, it concerns humanity at large - why not proclaim it to all whom it concerns?"
"Because it might be misused. Take certain truths in ordinary science, about poisons for instance: they are practically communicated only to a few under all sorts of restrictions, because of the abuse that might result if it were made a matter of common knowledge. How much more is that true of the occult truths to which some of us have found access in India - tremendous secrets of Nature and of human life that in the keeping of the vicious or unprincipled would be as the thunderbolt in the hands of a child."
"You have merged individuality and nationality too in your new creed?"
"No, I am an American by adoption - I respect American religious freedom - but I am still a good Russian at heart. Only, there is too little freedom at home; that is why I do not go back. I have not been in Russia for many years; I would not care to give my friends and relations a chance of shutting me up in a convent for life on the plea that I was a victim of illusions. I like the Emperor personally, if only because of the long relations of my family with the Imperial house. We have always been loyal supporters of the throne. I see very little Russian society even at Nice, where I might see everybody. It is so unpleasant to find them wondering why you do not go to Church, and to the Greek Church."
"With your knowledge of Hindoostani, you might give the world a fine work on the position of the English in India."
"But I have better work to do. The English owe more than they know to the religious bodies in India - to the old faiths. A few men in spiritual authority stopped the Mutiny: it was not stopped by the British army - how could England have held all these millions in check? But wise men saw that the time had not yet come for the English to go, and their expulsion would bring back the old anarchy and the old despotism; so the word was passed round, and the Mutiny stopped. And you have no idea how quickly such an order travels in India. It is what you would call miraculous. Officers have often told me that news of any event reached the common people, from the Himalayas to the sea, long before it reached the Government. There were occult arts before the telegraph, you may be sure of that. The English ought to take warning by what happened in the Mutiny and lower their tone of patronage to men immeasurably their superiors in every kind of knowledge."
"Their contempt as practical men for the dreamy Hindoo is most marked."
"I assure you it is repaid with interest; but time will show. How can one pretend to despise men like that?" And Mme. Blavatsky produced the photograph of a group in which two Hindoos of rather youthful appearance and extremely intelligent expression are sitting in her company. One of them is dressed in white from head to foot and is barefoot. (1)
"That," said Mme. de Morsier, "is the wisest man in India, and perhaps in all the world."
"You have read Mr. Isaacs?" (2)
"Yes; it was written on an imperfect knowledge of our society and of the great mysteries. Some of the passages will recall to you passages in the Theosophist on the astral body. The book is a mixture of hints of our doctrine, in so far as Mr. Crawford knows anything about it, with the personal description of Mr. Jacobs, a well known diamond merchant in India."
"What are the objects of your society?"
"How can I state them better than by showing you the statutes? You see, we want to form the nucleus of a 'Universal Brotherhood of Humanity', without distinction of race, creed, or colour; to promote the study of Aryan and other Eastern literature, religions and sciences, and to vindicate their importance; to investigate the hidden mysteries of nature and the psychical powers latent in man."
In running over the list of members was found - along with Rawal Shree Hurreesinghjee Roosinghjee, of Kathiawar; Diwan Bahadur R. Ragoonath Row, of Madras; Babu Sourendro Nath Mukerji, of Punjab - the honoured and familiar name of Sam Ward, from the United States. (3)

1. The photograph depicts H.P.B. sitting with Swami T. Subba Row (the one considered to be “wisest man in India”) and Krishnaswami Aiyengar (also known as Babaji and D. Nath).
2. A 1882 best-selling novel by Francis Marion Crawford. It's a beautiful, spiritual love story, still worth reading.
3. Samuel Cutler Ward (1814-1884) was an American financier and lobbyist. He was also the uncle of Marion Crawford.