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    Chapter 17

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    Chapter 17
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    I have described what image--always opposite to the natural self
    or the natural world--Wilde, Henley, Morris copied or tried to
    copy, but I have not said if I found an image for myself. I know
    very little about myself and much less of that anti-self: probably
    the woman who cooks my dinner or the woman who sweeps out my study
    knows more than I. It is perhaps because nature made me a
    gregarious man, going hither and thither looking for conversation,
    and ready to deny from fear or favour his dearest conviction, that
    I love proud and lonely images. When I was a child and went daily
    to the sexton's daughter for writing lessons, I found one poem in
    her School Reader that delighted me beyond all others: a fragment
    of some metrical translation from Aristophanes wherein the birds
    sing scorn upon mankind. In later years my mind gave itself to
    gregarious Shelley's dream of a young man, his hair blanched with
    sorrow studying philosophy in some lonely tower, or of his old
    man, master of all human knowledge, hidden from human sight in
    some shell-strewn cavern on the Mediterranean shore. One passage
    above all ran perpetually in my ears--

    Some feign that he is Enoch: others dream
    He was pre-Adamite, and has survived
    Cycles of generation and of ruin.
    The sage, in truth, by dreadful abstinence,
    And conquering penance of the mutinous flesh,
    Deep contemplation and unwearied study,
    In years outstretched beyond the date of man,
    May have attained to sovereignty and science
    Over those strong and secret things and thoughts
    Which others fear and know not.

    MAHMUD
    I would talk
    With this old Jew.

    HASSAN
    Thy will is even now
    Made known to him where he dwells in a sea-cavern
    'Mid the Demonesi, less accessible
    Than thou or God! He who would question him
    Must sail alone at sunset where the stream
    Of ocean sleeps around those foamless isles,
    When the young moon is westering as now,
    And evening airs wander upon the wave;
    And, when the pines of that bee-pasturing isle,
    Green Erebinthus, quench the fiery shadow
    Of his gilt prow within the sapphire water,
    Then must the lonely helmsman cry aloud
    'Ahasuerus!' and the caverns round
    Will answer 'Ahasuerus!' If his prayer
    Be granted, a faint meteor will arise,
    Lighting him over Marmora; and a wind
    Will rush out of the sighing pine-forest,
    And with the wind a storm of harmony
    Unutterably sweet, and pilot him
    Through the soft twilight to the Bosphorus:
    Thence, at the hour and place and circumstance
    Fit for the matter of their conference,
    The Jew appears. Few dare, and few who dare
    Win the desired communion.

    Already in Dublin, I had been attracted to the Theosophists
    because they had affirmed the real existence of the Jew, or of his
    like; and, apart from whatever might have been imagined by Huxley,
    Tyndall, Carolus Duran and Bastien-Lepage, I saw nothing against
    his reality. Presently having heard that Madame Blavatsky had
    arrived from France, or from India, I thought it time to look the
    matter up. Certainly if wisdom existed anywhere in the world it
    must be in some such lonely mind admitting no duty to us,
    communing with God only, conceding nothing from fear or favour.
    Have not all peoples, while bound together in a single mind and
    taste, believed that such men existed and paid them that honour,
    or paid it to their mere shadow, which they have refused to
    philanthropists and to men of learning?

    I found Madame Blavatsky in a little house at Norwood, with but,
    as she said, three followers left--the Society of Psychical
    Research had just reported on her Indian phenomena--and as one of
    the three followers sat in an outer room to keep out undesirable
    visitors, I was kept a long time kicking my heels. Presently I was
    admitted and found an old woman in a plain loose dark dress: a
    sort of old Irish peasant woman with an air of humour and
    audacious power. I was still kept waiting, for she was deep in
    conversation with a woman visitor. I strayed through folding doors
    into the next room and stood, in sheer idleness of mind, looking
    at a cuckoo clock. It was certainly stopped, for the weights were
    off and lying upon the ground, and yet as I stood there the cuckoo
    came out and cuckooed at me. I interrupted Madame Blavatsky to
    say. 'Your clock has hooted me.' 'It often hoots at a stranger,'
    she replied. 'Is there a spirit in it?' I said. 'I do not know,'
    she said, 'I should have to be alone to know what is in it.' I
    went back to the clock and began examining it and heard her say
    'Do not break my clock.' I wondered if there was some hidden
    mechanism, and I should have been put out, I suppose, had I found
    any, though Henley had said to me, 'Of course she gets up
    fraudulent miracles, but a person of genius has to do something;
    Sarah Bernhardt sleeps in her coffin.' Presently the visitor went
    away and Madame Blavatsky explained that she was a propagandist
    for women's rights who had called to find out 'why men were so
    bad.' 'What explanation did you give her?' I said. 'That men were
    born bad but women made themselves so,' and then she explained
    that I had been kept waiting because she had mistaken me for some
    man whose name resembled mine and who wanted to persuade her of
    the flatness of the earth.

    When I next saw her she had moved into a house at Holland Park,
    and some time must have passed--probably I had been in Sligo where
    I returned constantly for long visits--for she was surrounded by
    followers. She sat nightly before a little table covered with
    green baize and on this green baize she scribbled constantly with
    a piece of white chalk. She would scribble symbols, sometimes
    humorously applied, and sometimes unintelligible figures, but the
    chalk was intended to mark down her score when she played
    patience. One saw in the next room a large table where every night
    her followers and guests, often a great number, sat down to their
    vegetarian meal, while she encouraged or mocked through the
    folding doors. A great passionate nature, a sort of female Dr.
    Johnson, impressive, I think, to every man or woman who had
    themselves any richness, she seemed impatient of the formalism, of
    the shrill abstract idealism of those about her, and this
    impatience broke out inrailing & many nicknames: 'O you are a
    flapdoodle, but then you are a theosophist and a brother. 'The
    most devout and learned of all her followers said to me, 'H.P.B.
    has just told me that there is another globe stuck on to this at
    the north pole, so that the earth has really a shape something
    like a dumb-bell.' I said, for I knew that her imagination
    contained all the folklore of the world, 'That must be some piece
    of Eastern mythology.' 'O no it is not,' he said, 'of that I am
    certain, and there must be something in it or she would not have
    said it.' Her mockery was not kept for her followers alone, and
    her voice would become harsh, and her mockery lose phantasy and
    humour, when she spoke of what seemed to her scientific
    materialism. Once I saw this antagonism, guided by some kind of
    telepathic divination, take a form of brutal phantasy. I brought a
    very able Dublin woman to see her and this woman had a brother, a
    physiologist whose reputation, though known to specialists alone,
    was European; and, because of this brother, a family pride in
    everything scientific and modern. The Dublin woman scarcely opened
    her mouth the whole evening and her name was certainly unknown to
    Madame Blavatsky, yet I saw at once in that wrinkled old face bent
    over the cards, and the only time I ever saw it there, a personal
    hostility, the dislike of one woman for another. Madame Blavatsky
    seemed to bundle herself up, becoming all primeval peasant, and
    began complaining of her ailments, more especially of her bad leg.
    But of late her master--her 'old Jew,' her 'Ahasuerus,' cured it,
    or set it on the way to be cured. 'I was sitting here in my
    chair,' she said, 'when the master came in and brought something
    with him which he put over my knee, something warm which enclosed
    my knee--it was a live dog which he had cut open.' I recognised a
    cure used sometimes in mediaeval medicine. She had two masters,
    and their portraits, ideal Indian heads, painted by some most
    incompetent artist, stood upon either side of the folding doors.
    One night, when talk was impersonal and general, I sat gazing
    through the folding doors into the dimly lighted dining-room
    beyond. I noticed a curious red light shining upon a picture and
    got up to see where the red light came from. It was the picture of
    an Indian and as I came near it slowly vanished. When I returned
    to my seat, Madame Blavatsky said, 'What did you see?' 'A
    picture,' I said. 'Tell it to go away.' 'It is already gone.' 'So
    much the better,' she said, 'I was afraid it was medium ship but
    it is only clairvoyance.' 'What is the difference?' 'If it had
    been medium ship, it would have stayed in spite of you. Beware of
    medium ship; it is a kind of madness; I know, for I have been
    through it.'

    I found her almost always full of gaiety that, unlike the
    occasional joking of those about her, was illogical and
    incalculable and yet always kindly and tolerant. I had called one
    evening to find her absent, but expected every moment. She had
    been somewhere at the seaside for her health and arrived with a
    little suite of followers. She sat down at once in her big chair,
    and began unfolding a brown paper parcel, while all looked on full
    of curiosity. It contained a large family Bible. 'This is a
    present for my maid,' she said. 'What! A Bible and not even
    anointed!' said some shocked voice. 'Well my children,' was the
    answer, 'what is the good of giving lemons to those who want
    oranges?' When I first began to frequent her house, as I soon did
    very constantly, I noticed a handsome clever woman of the world
    there, who seemed certainly very much out of place, penitent
    though she thought herself. Presently there was much scandal and
    gossip, for the penitent was plainly entangled with two young men,
    who were expected to grow into ascetic sages. The scandal was so
    great that Madame Blavatsky had to call the penitent before her
    and to speak after this fashion, 'We think that it is necessary to
    crush the animal nature; you should live in chastity in act and
    thought. Initiation is granted only to those who are entirely
    chaste,' and so to run on for some time. However, after some
    minutes in that vehement style, the penitent standing crushed and
    shamed before her, she had wound up, 'I cannot permit you more
    than one.' She was quite sincere, but thought that nothing
    mattered but what happened in the mind, and that if we could not
    master the mind, our actions were of little importance. One young
    man filled her with exasperation; for she thought that his settled
    gloom came from his chastity. I had known him in Dublin, where he
    had been accustomed to interrupt long periods of asceticism, in
    which he would eat vegetables and drink water, with brief
    outbreaks of what he considered the devil. After an outbreak he
    would for a few hours dazzle the imagination of the members of the
    local theosophical society with poetical rhapsodies about harlots
    and street lamps, and then sink into weeks of melancholy. A fellow
    theosophist once found him hanging from the window pole, but cut
    him down in the nick of time. I said to the man who cut him down,
    'What did you say to one another?' He said, 'We spent the night
    telling comic stories and laughing a great deal.' This man, torn
    between sensuality and visionary ambition, was now the most devout
    of all, and told me that in the middle of the night he could often
    hear the ringing of the little 'astral bell' whereby Madame
    Blavatsky's master called her attention, and that, although it was
    a low silvery sound it made the whole house shake. Another night I
    found him waiting in the hall to show in those who had the right
    of entrance on some night when the discussion was private, and as
    I passed he whispered into my ear, 'Madame Blavatsky is perhaps
    not a real woman at all. They say that her dead body was found
    many years ago upon some Russian battlefield.' She had two
    dominant moods, both of extreme activity, but one calm and
    philosophic, and this was the mood always on that night in the
    week, when she answered questions upon her system; and as I look
    back after thirty years I often ask myself 'Was her speech
    automatic? Was she for one night, in every week, a trance medium,
    or in some similar state?' In the other mood she was full of
    phantasy and inconsequent raillery. 'That is the Greek church, a
    triangle like all true religion,' I recall her saying, as she
    chalked out a triangle on the green baize, and then, as she made
    it disappear in meaningless scribbles 'it spread out and became a
    bramble-bush like the Church of Rome.' Then rubbing it all out
    except one straight line, 'Now they have lopped off the branches
    and turned it into a broomstick arid that is Protestantism.' And
    so it was, night after night, always varied and unforseen. I have
    observed a like sudden extreme change in others, half whose
    thought was supernatural, and Laurence Oliphant records some where
    or other like observations. I can remember only once finding her
    in a mood of reverie; something had happened to damp her spirits,
    some attack upon her movement, or upon herself. She spoke of
    Balzac, whom she had seen but once, of Alfred de Musset, whom she
    had known well enough to dislike for his morbidity, and of George
    Sand whom she had known so well that they had dabbled in magic
    together of which 'neither knew anything at all' in those days;
    and she ran on, as if there was nobody there to overhear her, 'I
    used to wonder at and pity the people who sell their souls to the
    devil, but now I only pity them. They do it to have somebody on
    their sides,' and added to that, after some words I have
    forgotten, 'I write, write, write as the Wandering Jew walks,
    walks, walks.' Besides the devotees, who came to listen and to
    turn every doctrine into a new sanction for the puritanical
    convictions of their Victorian childhood, cranks came from half
    Europe and from all America, and they came that they might talk.
    One American said to me, 'She has become the most famous woman in
    the world by sitting in a big chair and permitting us to talk.'
    They talked and she played patience, and totted up her score on
    the green baize, and generally seemed to listen, but sometimes she
    would listen no more. There was a woman who talked perpetually of
    'the divine spark' within her, until Madame Blavatsky stopped her
    with--'Yes, my dear, you have a divine spark within you, and if
    you are not very careful you will hear it snore.' A certain
    Salvation Army captain probably pleased her, for, if vociferous
    and loud of voice, he had much animation. He had known hardship
    and spoke of his visions while starving in the streets and he was
    still perhaps a little light in the head. I wondered what he could
    preach to ignorant men, his head ablaze with wild mysticism, till
    I met a man who had heard him talking near Covent Garden to some
    crowd in the street. 'My friends,' he was saying, 'you have the
    kingdom of heaven within you and it would take a pretty big pill
    to get that out.'
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