Searchable Theosophical Texts


Cardiff Theosophical Society in Wales

Theosophy House

206 Newport Road, Cardiff, Wales, UK. CF24 -1DL





Theosophy Cardiff Programme






Is This Theosophy?


Ernest Egerton Wood




 Return to Homepage



Searchable Full Text of

The Secret Doctrine by H P Blavatsky


Return to Searchable Text Index





Cardiff Theosophical Society in Wales-------
206 Newport Road, Cardiff, Wales, UK. CF24-1DL




AMONG the warmest and clearest of my early recollections a dirty old field

stands out pre-eminent – if I may describe as a field a patch of ground,

abandoned for the time being by a discouraged suburban builder, between the

backyard walls of two rows of houses facing two parallel streets. Very little

grass there was on this field, but it was pitted all over with delightful holes

full of sticky reddish-grey clay, and right across its centre it was diversified

by two parallel lines of kerbstones, marking the place where in some remote

future – too far off to disturb a child’s enjoyment – another street would run,

flanked by two more rows of houses, which would eventually obliterate this

paradise and subject it to utility instead of joy.

Standing out more clearly than my brother and the few shadowy boy friends who

played in those delightful holes of clay – I can recollect no girls, or else I

was unconscious of any difference between girls and boys – were several strange

creatures from other spheres.

There was a fox-terrier dog, dressed in white with black patches, which

attracted my gaze again and again – something outstanding and interesting, as

not of my world, but more the material of which fairy tales were made. There was

a very old woman who hung round about with pieces of grey-black cloth. Even her

face and hands were of almost the same colour. She was always bending. I cannot

recollect that she ever straightened herself up. And she was always poking about

among the old cans and other rubbish that obscured the earth in those parts. The

little boy watched her with untiring and almost breathless [11] fascination, as

she gathered together her peck of dirt, the which presumably to eat before she


Other foreign beings – somewhat midway in shadowiness between these two

outstanding figures and the other playfellows – used to emerge at eventide from

sundry back doors, and presently, passing the time of evening to one another,

these would urge their offspring through backyard gates to the inevitabilities

that lay beyond.

My mother is not to be counted among the foreign or shadowy beings. Far from it.

She was a very substantial young woman, the daughter of a Shropshire

tenant-farmer, aged about nineteen when I was born. Even at the early age of

five, of which I am now writing, I remember regarding her as a beauty, not

perhaps that I used that word or idea to myself, but I know that I particularly

liked the line of her cheek and her dark colouring. Although the aesthetics of

touch – especially with reference to clay, sand, pebbles and water, and I

remember, too, a very keen appreciation of velvet and an equal abhorrence of

leather – were much more in my department than those of sight, I was not without

eyes for a handsome curve, of which my mother presented many, composed, as I

again knew by tactual experience, of good firm muscle.

In the early mornings I used to go from my bedroom – where I slept with my elder

brother – to hers, and watch her dress. She never laced or unlaced her stays,

but simply put them on or off, and yet – as I learnt later, when keeping my ears

open in the course of shopping expeditions – they measured only twenty-three

inches at the waist, which was not to be considered much under the

circumstances, even in those days of eighteen– and nineteen-inch figures, and

indeed looked small beside her muscular shoulders and neck, especially when

covered closely with cloth and presented in photographic form in the family

album. There were many mysteries of dress in those latter years of the

eighteen-eighties. I could never understand why she tied a big pad on the back

of her (they were days of the bustle).

My mother’s muscularity I remember well also on bath nights. A zinc tub would be

brought into the kitchen – a cosy place with a roaring fire, for my father and

mother, however poor at the time of which I am writing, were never mean with

reference to their children’s needs and comforts – dumped down on the oilcloth

before the fire and filled [12] with hot water. My brother and I were then

invited, and if necessary commanded, to enter the water, where we sat side by

side immersed to the neck, while our heads and laces, and afterwards the rest of

our bodies, standing, were subjected to a merciless application of soap and

elbow-grease, with regard to which also there was no parsimony, though I would

have welcomed it in that sphere.

The water was painfully hot to me, though not to my mother’s hands, and not

apparently to my brother’s skin; but she never understood my complaints and

protests in this particular, but always thought me fanciful or wayward, and

supplemented her commands when necessary with physical force. However, what

would you? When a muscular young female of our species has embarked upon a

career of mass production at the age of about eighteen, one cannot expect too

much discrimination of particulars, but rather what the poet has described as

the method of Nature – so careless of the single life, so careful of the type!

Still, I must add that economics had their say then, as today, and the mass

production stopped with me for more than five years, when came my younger

brother, whereby presently will hang a tale.

I had my mother very much to myself for several years, as my elder brother was

not much in evidence. Somehow he did not make a very strong mark on me during

this period, although we played together constantly. I used to follow my mother

about the house and watch every little thing that she was doing, and must have

been a great trouble, always getting in her way, watching and listening to

everything, though not speaking very much. In some aspects I was a

disappointment to her: she had very much wanted her second child to be a girl.

In fact, she kept me dressed as a little girl as long as she could; the family

album shows me in that form at the age of about three or four. There is a

picture in a velvet dress. I wonder if it was then I hat I acquired my love for

the touch of velvet and other soft textiles, and consequent dislike for hard or

homespun cloths.

Vivid domestic pictures of my mother remain in my mind: (I) at her treadle

sewing-machine – she used to make all our clothes, as well as her own, which she

fitted upon a revolting headless and legless dummy, whose presence quite spoilt

the pleasure of our empty back bedroom as a playroom; (2) in [13] the kitchen,

with her sleeves turned up, rolling pastry with anuncomm only large rolling-pin

– she was, and still is, an excellent cook; and (3) in the cellar, at the

copper, which had a fire underneath, and was filled with boiling water and

clothes, where she wielded a three-legged dolly with immense speed and vigour,

while the floor swam in water, and an atmosphere of tropical heat and moisture

intrigued my skin and my sense of smell.

During those years I thus acquired much feminine lore, though no art or skill. I

was just a looker-on. If it had been New York, instead of a suburb of an English

commercial town, they would have called me a rubber-neck! But our houses and

streets were miniature, and not overstrong at that. I recollect that a few years

later, when I came to a more athletic age, and had rigged up an old broomstick

or something as a horizontal bar, fastened to one of the beams of the roof, the

man who had built the house called upon my father and told him that it must be

taken down or else I should bring the whole roof upon their heads.

This close association, and my mother’s thoughts towards me for several years,

must have influenced my psychology very greatly, for still I do not distinguish

very clearly between the sexes, except when I specially think of it, and I am

more at home with women than with men, not because they are women, but because

of their ways, their gentleness, their delicacy, their freedom from earthiness,

which I tend not to admire from a distance so much as to absorb for my own. As a

consequence, I am afraid that I am much more of a friend than of a husband to my

wife. Recently a travelling companion asked me: “Done any shooting lately – ah?”

Taken aback, I could only stammeringly reply: “Er – not since the war.”

With all that, though short of stature, I was not an effeminate boy. Sometimes

on the rather rare occasions on which a neighbour might have ventured into our

very self-centred home, there would be an exhibition of the heavy muscular

development of my shoulders and legs, of which my mother was proud, though

unreasoningly, as they were quite out of proportion, and in competition with the

bones my calf muscles had got the best of it and caused my legs to become

slightly bowed. Generally the display of two crowns (whorls in the hair) would

conclude this entertainment. [14]

My brother was much more effeminate in appearance and build than I. He was tall,

thin, fair-haired (like his father) and languid; I was just the opposite; short,

dark-haired (like my mother), muscular and energetic. Later, in my schooldays, I

remember I was occasionally censured for being too rough at football – though I

know now that all that was a semi-conscious revolt against my own feminine

complexes. Again, at the age of about eighteen, I sported a long, dark beard,

which used to make people ask which was the father and which the son when I took

walks with my father in the village, as we called our suburb. And later still,

when the Great War came, the doctors put me into the A class without hesitation,

notwithstanding my meagre five feet six inches of height. But I digress.


My father used to come home from his business in the city every evening about

seven o’clock. He was then manager and buyer in one of the large stationery

warehouses in the city, and in conjunction with that occupation he contrived to

give my brother and me an almost Montessori education, by the constant supply of

otherwise useless samples that he used to bring home. Every evening, when we

heard his key in the lock, we would rush into the lobby to greet him like a pair

of young puppy dogs, and almost his first act would be to draw from his pocket

some small sample-books of coloured tissue or printing paper, or two or three

sample playing cards, or something of the kind. After that he would take off his

coat, go upstairs two or three at a time – he had been an apprentice in a

sailing ship – take off his collar and tie, turn down the neck-band of his

shirt, remove his cuffs and roll up his shirt sleeves, and subject himself to

such a washing of neck and ears and face and arms as I never ceased to marvel

at, in view of the fact that it was not compulsory in his case. Then he would

dress himself carefully again and come down to tea, which was our chief meal of

the day.

A good meal it was, too, for, as I before remarked, my mother was an excellent

cook, with an unerring instinct for the proper moment to take things off the

fire or out of the oven. She made also our supplies of jams and pickles, while I

used to stand by with discs of paper and a saucer of [15] flour paste, putting

on the “lids” of the jars, as she filled them with the steaming jam – there were

no screw stoppers then. But I remember that her one solitary attempt to make the

household bread was a failure; it came out as hard as bricks and was eventually

used instead of coal.

In the midday our meal was much simpler. My father would take a few sandwiches

to town with him, and eat them somewhere privately during the lunch hour, or

else go to one of the cheap little vegetarian restaurants which abounded then –

there were twenty-two of them in our city – and spend a few pence on a bit of

something to eat. My mother, at home, would be equally frugal in the middle of

the day; at that meal we could not have jam and butter on our bread both at the

same time, but only one or the other. I recollect that it was then that my

scientific proclivities began to manifest themselves, in the discovery that I

got more taste out of my bread and butter or my bread and jam by eating it

upside down than right side up, for thus the tasty portion rather than the mere

pabulum would most fully and immediately strike the tongue; though I cannot say

that this discovery of mine was highly approved in the family from the aesthetic

point of view. Another bit of science was my formula for learning right and left

– “If I stand beside the oven and look through the window my right arm is on the

oven side.” For a long time I had to picture this scene when I wanted to know

which side was right or left. I remember also systematically finding out that it

took ten minutes to count a thousand.

In the early mornings my father used to get up and make the kitchen fire, clean

the boots, and make his own breakfast and a cup of tea for my mother, which he

took up to her bed, for he firmly disapproved of her getting up until he was off

to his business. Often he had a sausage for breakfast, and when we came down my

brother and I used to find the two ends, each about an inch long, standing up

neatly on a plate, titbits greatly relished by us, not only for their taste, but

also on account of their interesting appearance and shape. My father used

playfully to call these “sassengers,” until one day he went into a provision

dealer’s shop and asked for “a pound of sassengers,” thereby attracting in his

direction more eyes than he was accustomed to meet at one time. Notwithstanding

the charm of these titbits, tea remained the chief gustatory event of the day

for all of us, [16] though it was probably marred to some extent for my father

by my insistence upon sitting so close up against him at table that he could

hardly use his arm.

My father and mother had no friends. They never went out to tea or evening

functions, and no one came to see them. Occasional advances of friendliness by

neighbours they quietly but firmly discouraged. Their time was entirely devoted

to their children and to reading. Tea being over at about half-past seven, my

mother would clear the table and then sit down to read by the fire, while my

father would play with us and teach us. It was in this way that we learnt to

read and to perform the operations of simple arithmetic, long before going to

school. Somehow our father made this learning into a kind of play, so that we

were never conscious of any effort, or indeed that we were learning anything.

These occasions were enlivened, however, by a certain amount of undesirable

competition, especially in mental arithmetic, in which my brother used to become

annoyed because I was quicker in answering, and seldom gave him a chance to


Those evening studies were mingled with games – among which I remember

particularly wall quoits, tiddleywinks and the flicking of marbles through holes

in a board, or at rows of toy soldiers. I was always good at marbles, but my

brother would not touch them at all, declaring – though not in exactly these

words – that they were too plebeian for his lofty taste. Our father never

brought in playing cards – except snap cards, with ugly faces and mottoes on

them, such as “Away with Melancholy,” of which I could never see the sense. Nor

did he bring in any of those games which depend upon the throwing of dice.

I suppose that no children could ever have had a more companionable or

entertaining young father. When we were tired of games or of reading he would

tell us thrilling stories of his schooldays, which were very amusing when not

painful, and of his adventures at sea in sailing ships, and in various distant

lands, especially South America and Australia. He would talk, for example, of

the long walk that he undertook across country from Melbourne to Sydney, of the

trying experience of a sailing ship held up for six weeks off the south of Cape

Horn, heeling over on its side on account of the shifting of a cargo of guano,

while all hands dug the unsavoury substance back to its proper position, [17]

hard put to it to prevent the handles of the spades from freezing to their

fingers and taking away the skin. He would talk of quarrels and fights at sea,

bordering on mutiny, in which his sympathies were always with the men in their

complaints of rough treatment and of live stock and decay in their food. He

would talk of the desolate nitrate tracts behind Iquique and the more pleasant

country around Valparaiso and Concepcion, all of which I was destined to see for

myself in years to come.

My brother and I acquired many fragments of economic and scientific knowledge

from these histories. Once our father had decided, after leaving a sheep farm,

to stay in Sydney and look round for work there. He did look, for weeks, until

he had come to the last of his money. He was wandering on the Circular Quay

(which, by the way, is square) wondering what to do, when – the last straw – the

sole came off one of his shoes. He was looking at this with stunned helplessness

when he heard a voice calling his name. Looking up he saw the face of a ship’s

sailmaker whom he had known protruding over the gunwale of the famous ship

Thermopylae. The sailmaker stitched the shoe, and took him to the captain, who

gave him a job as rigger.

Among the scientific bits, we learned that in a storm at sea a man on deck would

go and shut himself in a cabin in order to hear more clearly the voice of a man

up aloft.


Sundays were dreadfully dull, especially the mornings, as, although we were

never troubled with religion in any form, we were not allowed any but very quiet

games. Sunday afternoon walks brightened things up a bit, and often we used to

go to a dell called Daisy Nook and pick flowers. Although we lived in a street

composed of rows of houses, the front doors of which opened straight on to the

pavement, the neighbourhood was not heavily built up, and there were some nice

walks. Opposite our house was a neat little municipal park, to which our mother

used to take us in the afternoons, while our father was in town. There we used

to play ball on the grass or sit while she read to us from picture and story

books. Nursery stories were followed by Grimms and Andersen. Grimms I liked,

with their caverns and magic, but I could not bear Andersen’s habit of making

[18] leather and broomsticks talk. And I wanted to know, if a princess was shut

up in a tower, what arrangements were made for her sanitary convenience. Later

The Arabian Nights’ Entertainments proved a glorified Grimms. Saturday

afternoons were devoted to shopping. I remember standing outside a greengrocer’s

and looking at tomatoes. They were something new. It was remarked that they were

“an acquired taste.”

Twice, I think, my brother and I went to Sunday-school, upon the solicitation of

a young lady who called at our house and volunteered to take us. But our

experiments in religion came to an abrupt end. Somebody had been talking about

Hell, to which my father seriously objected. He was a keen admirer of Mr.

Charles Bradlaugh and in a lesser degree of Mrs. Annie Besant; he took me once,

at the age of about four, to one of Mr. Bradlaugh’s lectures, but I do not think

I profited much by the occasion, as to which I can only remember a big broad

back blocking my view.

Still, like many other children, I was not without my own private hells. One of

these was called “the bury hole.” Who put this into my mind I do not know, but I

had a good deal of vague fear in connection with it. I thought that little boys

called naughty – not really naughty, of course, for there was no such thing! I

was quite destitute of what the clergy call the sense of sin – were driven away

in a big black hearse, drawn by two black horses hung round with black tassels,

to a barren land, where they were then buried up to the neck with their heads

sticking out, or were put into a deep hole which was then filled entirely with

earth, and thus left to their future. I had no idea of death as a termination of


Night I dreaded. My especial trouble for a long time was a dreadful man who had

secreted himself under the bed and was always about to plunge a sword right

through the mattress into some part of my defenceless anatomy; I always had a

dread of this sword, and used to picture quite in detail the events of its

playing about in my abdominal regions. And what a trouble my father had to

persuade me to go to the barber’s shop for the first time! Our mother had always

cut our hair before that. Though he remained beside me the whole time, I

expected every moment that the barber would cut my throat with one of the razors

of [19] which he had a handsome display, or else would jab the points of his

scissors into my eyes.

At night the gas jet used to be left on low in our bedroom. Nevertheless, as I

looked at the patch of light on the wall I used to see there malignant grimacing

faces. There was always a great battle of wills with these. By force of will I

used to convert them piecemeal into portraits of my father, whom I regarded

practically as God; but always the portrait would escape control and would

change again into some new horror, and so the contest would go on until I fell

asleep from sheer exhaustion. I do not think there were any pleasant imaginings

to compensate for these. Only sometimes I used to put my head under the

bedclothes and deliberately imagine that I was passing along some underground

corridors which were literally lined on either side with thousands upon

thousands of toys, but only once did I succeed in making it seem at all real to


I kept all my fears entirely to myself, and endured them privately until they

gradually faded away, to be replaced by another implanted by my mother. She had

a fear of her own, much more real than any of mine, and she did not keep it to

herself. It was that her husband might fall ill. He had a delicate appearance,

and in some ways was, perhaps, not very strong, especially being a restless

sleeper and sometimes subject to biliousness. She considered that after a hard

day in town the attention of two boys in the evening might wisely be subjected

to a little moderation, which she administered by telling us to be very gentle

with our father, lest he fall ill and lose his employment and we find ourselves

in the workhouse, pictured as a sort of prison – as indeed it was in those days

– or wandering the streets as dreadful, loathsome beggars – objects of which we

had plenty of ocular evidence. I then learnt that food, clothing and shelter did

not drop as manna from heaven, but that certain means had to be taken to obtain

them, and at best it was a precarious business indeed. This thought preoccupied

me for many years. This new sword was all the worse because it not only hovered

over myself, but harried me with regard to all sorts of people, some of them

quite imaginary.

My mother was not altogether to be blamed for this. She had felt poverty. When

my elder brother was born she and her husband had lived in one room in a

ramshackle house in [20] Liverpool, and a moderate gale had sufficed to blow the

window in, frame and all, while she lay in bed – a situation distressing enough

to two young love-birds who, though they had roughed it a bit before marriage,

had known gentler days, for my father had been to a school where the young

gentlemen wore toppers, and my mother’s family was not without dignity of name.

These two young people had quarrelled violently with their respective fathers,

on the subject in each case of a second marriage of the latter, as those were

times when fathers were fathers (somewhat as in some remote parts of the world,

men are still men, if our modern novelists are to be believed). It was also true

that some boys and girls were boys and girls – at least my parents were, though

they also proved themselves to be men and women, for they left their respective

homes, practically penniless, and subsequently met and loved and married on the

munificent income of fifteen shillings a week. However, my father was well

educated, trustworthy, intelligent and painstaking, and so he made his way

steadily up the ladder of commercial life, ill adapted to it though his previous

life had been.


At the time of which I am writing our little family had progressed through four

houses (materially, not astrologically) since my birth. I was born in one of

those houses which are now becoming scarcer, which have no backs, not of course

that they are open to the atmosphere, but because the back wall of the rooms is

also the back wall of the rooms of another row of houses facing another parallel


I do not remember living in that street, but I saw it afterwards, and also heard

talk about it. My mother and father always dressed carefully, and even

fashionably, and the neighbours, lounging at their doors, were wont to pass

audible remarks about them, sometimes more euphonious than classical. So their

days were not long in that land. They moved as soon as possible to something a

bit better, and again moved, when circumstances permitted, to the place of my

earliest recollections, at 52 Bell Street.

Here I became a collector, and even something of a connoisseur, the subject

being not pictures, nor china, nor [21] numismatics, nor philately, but the more

modest one of handbills – handbills large and small and of every conceivable

colour – which remained for a long time piled in a neat heap in a corner of an

empty back upstairs bedroom, until my mother decided that they were harbouring

too much dust and too many spiders, and swept the whole lot away.

While we lived in that house, we watched the building of a new row of houses

further up the street, and when they were ready we moved – from number 52 to

number 26, a mathematical curiosity which stuck firmly in my young mind.

It was in 26 Bell Street, when I was five years and nearly ten months old, that

my younger brother was born. That disturbing event happened in the following

manner, as far as my share in it was concerned. On a certain evening I had been

playing in one of the clay pits, and by dusk I had accumulated about a dozen

small clay models, some of them very neatly rounded by rolling between the

hands. These precious objects had to be taken home with me. When it came time

for sleep I was not allowed to take them into the bed, but after some discussion

a compromise was struck and they were placed on a saucer on a small table at the

side of the bed.

Evidently I was of a mystical temperament, and quite prepared to regard myself

as a modern Pygmalion capable of producing even a round dozen of Venuses, for

when I was awakened in the night by thin squeaking and piping sounds and an

occasional wail, I was fully prepared to believe that the clay figures had come

to life and were beginning to express their individuality and independence. This

frightened me, I confess, and I shut my eyes tightly and kept the clothes well

pulled up about my head. The next morning I was taken into my mother’s bedroom

by my father – an unusual procedure, calculated to awaken excitement as well as

curiosity. But oh! what a disappointment when I entered the bedroom and found my

mother lying in bed with something resembling a large slug beside her, as to

which I could see no reason for the fuss that was being made. And my clay images

were as dead as ever they had been. I do not think I ever played in the clay pit

again. My temper seems also to have been affected a little, for I remember,

while my mother was still in bed, threatening [22] both nurse and housemaid to

joint combat with a diminutive cricket bat, because they had eaten all the jam.

Somehow I realized that this thing had come to stay in our house. Probably I had

put the question of its departure and had had my feelings dashed by a negative

reply. In any case, my misgivings were justified, for, though it was interesting

to watch my mother washing and powdering the thing in the mornings, I was often

called upon during the day to “mind the baby,” an occupation – or rather lack of

occupation – which I loathed for its monotony, and also because I very much

disliked its dirty ways. What with one thing and another my relations with my

mother lost their intimacy, and even, I fear, some of their affectionateness for

some time after this.

I would date real affection for my mother from about the age of twelve – too old

to show it. I can remember awakenings to love – they were always sudden, and

distinct events. One must not expect love in small children. It was related of

myself – though the incident is not in my memory – that my father once asked:

“You would not like your mother to die, would you?” The disturbing answer was

“No; who would get my breakfast ready?” I remember, however, an evening on which

my father came home without any plaything in his pocket, and I looked

disappointed. He made some remark that showed that he was hurt, and I

immediately became aware of his consciousness and was filled with remorse.

Before that he had been something in my life. Now his life appeared as something

in itself, though coming into mine.


After this, world-shaking events began to occur in my life in quick succession.

First came the death of my paternal grandfather’s second wife (who had been the

cause of my father’s troubles and poverty, though also the cause indirectly of

his alliance with my mother – such is the law of compensation) and a consequent

armistice and even slight rapprochement between my father and his father,

familiarly alluded to as “the Gov’nor.” Not that I knew much about this, and it

did not appear that there were any pecuniary benefits attaching to it, but its

results manifested in my life in the appearance in our house of some dozens [23]

of old school books which had belonged to my father and his elder brothers and

had now come to us consequent upon my grandfather’s desire to simplify the

contents of his household.

I did not myself see the old man until many years later, and then I did not

harmonize with him, for I found him to be a short-tempered and dominating old

gentleman, though I tried, not very successfully, to be polite. He was a man of

some importance in his own world, being proprietor of a wholesale business which

was the second largest of its kind in England, and he could not forget it in

private life. When later on I went into business on my own account at the age of

sixteen, and was quite proud of the sixteen clerks in my office, his patronizing

air irritated me much, and I am afraid I caused some anxiety to my father by

showing my irritability a little sometimes. “The Gov’nor” and I had too much in

common – our short stature, big noses, instinct for money-making and

incorrigible obstinacy.

It was my grandfather who made “the warehouse” into a really big business,

though his grandfather had established it, but the big nose must have been there

before that, for tradition had it that it was brought over from the Continent by

some Norman ancestor who had been given a jaghire in Yorkshire, but my

grandfather’s grandfather had degraded it to commerce after recklessly ruining

himself in racing and betting on horses in the neighbourhood of London.

This third commercial generation, allied to a country girl from the south of

Ireland – where my grandfather frequently went on business – who smoked a long

churchwarden clay pipe while sitting in her hooped skirts (although she was the

descendant of semi-divine kings!) presented my grandfather with numerous

offspring and also the companionship of a brother of hers, rejoicing in the name

of Aloysius Gonzigu, who could patronize even my grandfather, and would enter a

shop with the command: “Show me the overcoat that you would show to the Prince

of Wales if he came in here,” and would buy it, too! But I digress once more.

Those books which I mentioned some time ago became almost my principal

playthings. Many of them contained intriguing diagrams, particularly Newth’s

Natural Philosophy, as Physics was then called, and Todhunter’s Euclid; while

the root-signs in Colenso’s Algebra and some [24] trigonometry books puzzled me

exceedingly. Among the reading books, which were entirely unillustrated, one

attracted me especially because it contained a series of stories upon “The

Transmigrations of Indur,” which I read again and again.

A few months afterwards we brothers caught scarlet fever, and nothing would

console me in bed but that about a dozen of these books should be arranged in

two piles, one on either side of my pillow, and though they fell down again and

again they had always to be replaced. I remember, too, lying in bed and watching

some pigeons and sparrows which flitted past the window, and wondering whether,

if I died, I should become a pigeon or a sparrow. There was a Dr. Hamil who came

to visit us, with his little pointed black beard – a very charming and agreeable

gentleman, who quite prevented us from developing any fear of “the doctor.” I

remember him at an earlier period in our previous house, turning our trousers

down and our behinds up to see if we had chicken-pox.

When we were better of scarlet fever, but still not allowed out of the bedroom,

my mother went out by herself one afternoon, leaving us locked in the house. I

remember how pretty and buoyant she looked as she came back into the bedroom. I

think she was very happy about the successful termination of our illness. It was

almost a Christmas occasion, she brought back with her so many toys and books. I

remember among the books some of the Hesba Stretton series – Christie’s Old

Organ, Jessica’s First Prayer, and Max Homburg – the last a story of Strassburg

during the Franco-Prussian war. The advent of these books was the beginning of a

sort of religious career of mine, which took place at dead of night, was never

made known to anyone else, and was quite short-lived.

It happened that my brother was a much steadier sleeper than I. Not infrequently

I would wake in the middle of the night, and feeling cold, would complain

against him for taking all the clothes to his side of the bed – until I found

that I was lying on the floor, having fallen out of bed. The actual fall never

woke me up, but the subsequent cold did. Again, I was much troubled with colds

in the head and I would turn periodically from one side to the other, with the

stuffed nostril on top, so as to get some relief in breathing, for I resolutely

refused to open my mouth. My mother took [25] what precautions she could against

this, rubbed goose grease on my chest and placed hot oven plates wrapped in old

blankets in the bed. And she well knew the warm virtues of newspapers and brown

paper when laid between the blankets. No, I was not cold, but very restless,

while my brother was a steady sleeper.

Thus the stage was well set for my bout of religion, when the handy little books

arrived. Waiting till dead of night, when all the household was perfectly quiet,

I would silently slip out of bed, creep across the room and turn up the gas

sufficiently for me to read. Then I would creep back into bed, draw my book from

under the pillow and revel in it for one or two hours. Christie’s Old Organ was

the book particularly suited to the circumstances of my mood. I shuddered over

the evils of drink and untruth; I was thrilled with the beauty of kindness and

unselfishness. God was a magnification of my father, somehow invisible, yet

ever-present – the last an important point. Jesus was my ideal self. 1 wanted to

go about with Him and even more to melt myself into Him. I did not pray, but I

yearned. Somehow the references in the stories to persons going to church and

praying and performing ceremonies made no impression on me. I would hurry

through those portions and seek for passages of human life. Surely if God is

really omnipresent these things constitute the reverse of devotion – I felt

this, but I did not think it. I was seeking the fulness of life, not trying to

understand it. [26]

-------Cardiff Theosophical Society in Wales-------
206 Newport Road, Cardiff, Wales, UK. CF24-1DL




SCHOOL came in its appointed time. My first school lasted a short time for me,

mercifully brought to an end by the arrival of the scarlet fever already

mentioned. My brother had been going to that school for some time before I

started. I think that was how he escaped my fate of having to mind the baby. It

was a dame’s school run by two sisters. I remember the two ladies – or rather my

vision of them – quite well. One was old and dry and always dressed in black,

and as stiff as a ramrod, the other very much younger, rounded and playful. We

were taken to this school by some elder girls who lived on the opposite side of

our street, midway between the old house and the new, but these girls have left

no impression upon my memory except for their legs – black boots and stockings.

I suppose I was so small that these constituted the chief part of the scenery

when I walked with them.

I cannot remember anything in the school except that we sat bunched on benches

in an open square waiting for closing time. The elder schoolmistress put the lid

completely on this misery, as far as I was concerned, by expecting me to kiss

her, or allow her to kiss me. Though it was only a matter of routine – for she

went round the whole class systematically, and I remember watching with a

sinking heart the deadly peril coming nearer and nearer – when it came I openly

and violently rebelled, and thus created quite a sensation and I think a

precedent in the school. That school did not see me many times more. I had been

so upset that I was quite ill and unfit to attend. I am sure I lost nothing by

this absence. It did not seem that they really taught anything, and if they had

done so the [27] memory of the indignity would have driven it from my thoughts.

My second school was a more business-like affair. I was much impressed by the

huge building – a large main half curtained off for several classes, and a

number of separate rooms. I joined that school on my seventh birthday. My first

memory of it is that of standing before one whom I may call the reception clerk,

along with three or four other boys. Do what I would I could not make that man

understand that it was my birthday.

“How old are you?”

“Seven” (years understood).

“And when was your birthday?”


He persisted in thinking I had misunderstood him, and what he ultimately wrote

down in his record I have no idea. I paid my tenpence – it was tenpence a week –

and that was that.

That school was a great place for misunderstandings. Sometimes the teachers

misunderstood me; sometimes I misunderstood them. I remember an occasion when

our class was confronted with a large map of Egypt and the land of Canaan. The

teacher was instructing us in the wanderings of the Jews. I was somewhat

interested in this, for I thought he was talking about the migrations of some

kind of black birds. Crows were interesting; ancient Jews not at all. It was

only afterwards, in another school (my fourth), that I learnt what ancient Jews

really were, though I remembered very clearly the configuration of the map, and

understood that quite well.

It was in that same class and on that very occasion that I was first threatened

with physical violence at school – first, that is, if we omit the kissing from

that category. There were about four rows of boys in that class, arranged on the

gallery system. I was on the second row. At the beginning of the lesson the

teacher used to appoint one boy to stand at the end of each row and watch the

others, and call out the names of any boys who appeared to be inattentive to the

teacher, such boys being then required to stand out in front of the class. There

would usually be about half a dozen of these boys by the end of the lesson, each

of whom would receive a whack on the hand from the cane of the teacher and then

would go back to his place. [28] I remember that my name was called out on the

occasion of the wanderings of the Jews, but I pretended not to hear, and for

some reason the monitor did not insist.

Teachers differed very much in their temper and degree of cruelty. There was one

man, whom we called Toby, who was constantly and ferociously cruel, until one

day the father of one of the boys walked in and gave him a thorough thrashing

before the whole class, which laid him up in hospital for several weeks. There

was one horrible school-master, very often half-drunk, who used to beat little

boys, but leave the bigger ones alone, and that was commented upon privately by

all the boys.

Another schoolmaster, a thick-set man with a very dark beard, assembled the

whole school of perhaps five hundred boys, and then, holding one small boy aloft

by the back of his coat, with one strong hand, administered to him a merciless

beating with a stick held in the other. In whispered consultation with other

boys I tried to learn what the boy had done, and understood that he had been

guilty of soiling the wrong portion of the school latrine. This was what was

called “an example.” Of what? Quite apart from any abnormal soiling, those

school latrines were dreadfully noisome; it was necessary to go into them

sometimes, but always a torture. There were obviously sins of omission as well

as of commission in connection with them, but the former were excused.

I remember another misunderstanding in that same school. There was to be an

examination. We were taken into a big room with individual desks on which paper,

pens and ink and other articles were laid out. Cards were then handed round,

containing questions which we were to answer. There was no pen on my desk, so I

sat still, while the others were either writing or chewing their penholders, as

the case might be. Presently a pleasant young man came along and looked at me.

“Have you no pen?”

“Yes,” I replied, meaning, quite logically, that I had not a pen.

He went away, and I waited patiently for him to bring the pen, but it did not

come. After a long time someone else came up.

“Where is your pen?”

“I don’t know.” [29]

I assumed that there must be a certain pen intended for me, since he talked of

my pen, but I did not know where they had put it. However, after some further

confused discussion he seemed to understand that no pen had been placed on my

desk that morning. I had lost about half my time, but came through the

examination all right. All these things occurred in somewhat of a dream, which

only occasionally took on the aspect of a nightmare.

Many years afterwards I had a similar experience in a High Court in India, when

I happened to be one of the witnesses in a rather celebrated case.

“Did you,” asked the advocate, “on the night of August 22nd, sleep in the next

room with a big stick, intending to prevent anyone from molesting So-and-so?”

I hesitated, and was about to try to explain what had really happened.

The Judge thundered: “Answer the question, Yes or No!”

With obvious discomfort I answered “No,” though in fact it was only the date

that was wrong. And later, in the written judgment of the case, in the Appellate

Court appeared the interesting remark: “I do not believe – (another witness’s

name, very similar to mine!) when he says that he did not sleep in an adjacent

room with a big stick for the purpose of preventing any interference with -”

The only other thing of note that I remember in that school was the spelling

lessons, held in the same examination room. They did not give me much trouble,

as I seem to have had an eye for the form of words, but I was much struck by the

lack of uniformity in the spelling of similar sounds, and I theorized to myself

on the vast amount of time wasted and trouble caused to children thereby. No

wonder the English do not learn many languages, when they have to spend so much

time and energy learning their own.

St. Luke’s School was about fifteen minutes’ walk from our house. I remember

walking there by myself sometimes, with a satchel over my shoulder. After

passing the spot where I had formerly seen the old woman gathering her peck of

dirt, one came to a road which ran along two sides of a square field which was

fenced in. I remember that field very well because of an incident that happened

one day on my way to school.

While walking along beside the fence I had been [30] entertaining myself with a

little cinematograph which I carried in my hand. Perhaps I had better explain.

One of the early childhood toys which my mother used sometimes to make for us

consisted of a large button, through two holes of which a circle of thin string

or thread was run and the two ends tied together. Holding the thread taut,

horizontally, by looping it over the two middle fingers, with the button

standing vertically in the middle of it, one gave the button a number of turns

so as to twist the threads, then started the button spinning by gradually

drawing the threads tight so as to untwist them, and then allowing the momentum

to twist the thread the other way, by gradually reducing the pull on the thread,

and so, alternately increasing and reducing the pull, one caused the button to

spin with great speed. The cinematograph was somewhat on that principle. A stiff

card, with pictures on the margins, was mounted on two pieces of string. By

making it to revolve at a certain speed, one caused the pictures partially to

blend, and 10, the cow jumped over the moon.

While I was strolling along engrossed in this interesting occupation, I suddenly

heard a loud shout from the rear. I looked round, and there, to my horror, was a

large policeman, shouting and gesticulating and hurrying towards me. Having no

more confidence in the law outside school than within it, I fled for my life,

the policeman after me.

After running some distance, I looked fearfully round to see how far away my

pursuer was, and then observed that he was not running very fast and was holding

up to my view, as he shouted, a school satchel. I suddenly realized that mine

was missing – I must have dropped it – and that this was it, which he wished to

return to me. Half-reassured, I warily approached the policeman, and as he held

the satchel at arm’s length, I took it from him also at arm’s length, and once

more fled. One never knew what trick a policeman might play to get a little boy

into prison, so that he could enjoy himself by gloating through the bars, and


“Fee, fi, fo, fum,” or something equally dreadful.

Teachers, too, were a bit ogreish. When they asked a question they did not want

you to say what you knew or thought on the subject, but they wanted you to guess

what was in their minds. It was a sort of idiotic game, having little to do with

facts. I remember that we were once asked to write a small essay on the

telephone – a typical subject [31] for small boys coming chiefly from penurious

homes! – and got myself much abused for mentioning, among other things, that

there had been telephones in Egypt – yet I had read that very thing in a weekly

paper of snippets or titbits. I do not suppose that one single boy in that class

had ever seen a telephone instrument. I was fortunate enough to have had a toy

one – two little parchment drums connected by a thread. My father had played

with us with it, and talked about it, so I had something to say.

On another occasion, on a sixth of November, we were asked to write on our

experiences of a Guy Fawkes’ night bonfire. I said that it was a wonderfully big

fire, and that it actually had not gone out until ten o’clock at night! The

teacher, having more spacious ideas and experience, insisted that that must be

altered to ten o’clock the next morning, though what I had said was perfectly

accurate. The school day was one round of bickering. If it was not oneself, it

was someone else in the class.


I did not stay in that school more than a year. As soon as circumstances were

favourable my parents decided to move further out of town, into what was then a

little old-fashioned country place, but near enough to town for my father to go

and come by train daily. But before I relate what occurred in our new residence

I must mention The Four Events of the Year, far more important than the

Christian or any other Calendar. These were – in order of importance in our eyes

– a week at Blackpool, Christmas, a visit to Hamilton’s Panorama, and a Saturday

afternoon at the Zoological Gardens.

At Blackpool the prime thing was to dig in the sand and let the waves supply

water to the moats of the castles which you made. It did not outrage our sense

of the fitness of things when the waves overdid their business and flooded the

whole works. Rather the young mind rejoiced at this opportunity for a spectacle

of destruction. Niggers were there, but I admired only their athletic

exhibitions, not their blackness, nor their buffoonery, which hurt my feelings,

which were over-sensitive to human dignity. Lucky packets absorbed a large

number of our pennies. The sense of height was satisfied by walks and play on

the pier, [32] especially when the waves roared and bounded about beneath, as

waves can at Blackpool. The pier also contained many slot machines, and when I

saw other people about to drop their pennies therein I used to buzz along to see

the fun. There was only one slot machine that tempted me – a “try your grip”

machine, which would give you your penny back if you could ring the bell. I put

my penny through again and again, joyously listening to the ringing of the bell

when I pulled, until at last I lost it. There must have been something wrong

with that machine – a small boy could not have been so strong in the wrist.

Another attraction was a phrenologist, with his curious diagrams and little

lectures outside his tent. I sunk sixpence on him once and learned that I ought

to become a doctor, or failing that an auctioneer, though to this day I cannot

see the connection between the two.

Talking of the pier reminds me of my father’s next younger brother, whom we

always liked for both his jollity and his largess. He was in “the warehouse”

(and, in fact, inherited it when my grandfather died) and consequently was

well-to-do. Nearly always when he visited us he would slip coins into our hands

on his way to the front door. I recollect that at a very early age he held out

before me a large brown coin and a very little white one and asked me which I

would have. I chose the threepenny bit, having been born canny in such matters.

He and his wife came to Blackpool when we were there. The latter was a

profoundly respectable lady, daughter of a clergyman in a family which took

religion and social restrictions very seriously. Once my uncle was riding in a

tramcar and talking to a friend, and his wife’s father happened to be sitting on

the other side in the far corner (the seats used to run the length of the car).

The friend got out, and the father-in-law came over and sat beside the


“I am surprised,” he said, “to see you so friendly with that man. Don’t you know

that he is a Roman Catholic?”

Well, my uncle was always very jolly (except when he was, not infrequently,

steeped in profound melancholy) and at Blackpool there occurred a grand

opportunity to have a little game with his wife. She was sitting on a seat at

the side of the pier, my father and his brother and we boys being on the sand

beneath. Suddenly my uncle looked up to the [33] pier, cupped his hands at the

side of his mouth and shouted in the broadest possible Lancashire dialect: “Eh,

missus! ’Ast ’ad ta baggin’?” to her great confusion, and to the amusement of

the numerous onlookers, who certainly thought they had discovered a shining

example of the new rich. Still, she could not be displeased for long with my

uncle; he was so genuinely good-natured, even if his playfulness was sometimes

embarrassing. Perhaps, by the way, his remark needs translation. It meant

nothing more than “Have you had your lunch?”

The journey from our home to Blackpool in the train occupied about an hour and a

half, but that was all too long. I used to sit whenever possible with my face to

the engine in a corner window seat. I would put my hand against the side of the

frame of the window and push as hard as I could, to speed the train along. We

used generally to return at night so as to make as much of the holiday as

possible. Looking into the darkness through the windows I was much frightened in

my younger days by the horrible faces that were to be seen there. Only later on

I learnt that they were the reflections of the faces of my fellow-passengers.

Children have a great capacity for looking forward. I believe we began to think

about Christmas as soon as the summer holidays were over. Its chief events for

us were the presents to be found at the foot of the bed on Christmas morning, a

visit to the pantomime, and a tour of the decorated shops. Of all the things

ever found at the foot of the bed the most exciting were two watches complete

with chains – watches that really went, and told the time, and made us feel very

grown up. They had been sent by our jolly uncle. The only thing to mar the full

enjoyment of them was the fact that we should have to write letters of thanks –

rather a formidable task.

Perhaps some readers of these recollections will remember that the three great

symbols of initiation into the brotherhood of men are the first watch, the first

pair of long trousers, and the first cigarette. Those watches at least made us

feel our novitiate, although we knew that the long trousers and the cigarette

were still far ahead.

As to the pantomime, one never understood the story, but the transformation

scenes gave a glimpse of other worlds, perhaps of real fairylands in which the

hard facts of our world could be escaped at will. One heard some ladies call

[34] these scenes heavenly, and formed one’s pictures of heaven accordingly.

Hamilton’s Panorama used to put in its appearance in the largest hall in our

city about half-way between Blackpool and Christmas. It must have been a

gigantic undertaking for Mr. Hamilton, or whoever was behind the scenes. For

about two hours scenes from all over the world would unroll themselves across

the back of the stage, accompanied by the most realistic sound and light

effects. A ship would come sailing through a smooth starlit sea. Gradually dawn

would appear, the sun would rise, and as the day wore on clouds would make their

appearance, a storm would blow up and lash the elements into fury. Then

lightning, rain and wind would afflict the scene until at last the ship either

sank before our eyes or won its way through the storm to a peaceful harbour –

and all in the comfortable space of about ten minutes. Within a similar period

the Bay of Naples would present its charm, and Vesuvius its fearsome

possibilities, while a gentleman in evening dress and a huge moustache explained

in an Oxford voice the implications of the scene. And interspersed between these

grander demonstrations, a Chinese juggler or conjurer would perform for us in a

street in Hong Kong, and Hungarian acrobats would imperil their lives for our

delectation in marble halls of Italy or among the minarets of India.

In anticipation of Hamilton’s Panorama, before leaving Blackpool we used to buy

little panoramas for twopence each. They were shaped like a stage front, and

there were about twenty pictures mounted on rollers. Unfortunately the pictures

consisted mostly of scenes of such doubtful educational value as the murder of

the little princes in the Tower. I will give them credit, however, for being

very realistically executed.

The visit to the Zoo was a movable feast, occurring some time between Christmas

and Blackpool, and much dependent on the weather. It was literally a feast, in

the restricted modern use of the word, as it always included a period devoted to

the consumption of ices – not ice cream, but real ices, which were composed, I

suppose, of ice chopped up small and sugared and then served in small saucers.

This and the elephant ride were the two chief features of the Zoo. There were

animals to look at, but they were not very interesting, being shut up in little

enclosures behind bars, and for [35] the most part looking very bored. It was

much more interesting to feed the ducks in the park, to see them swim under the

little bridges and come out on the other side, though when they put down their

heads and stood with their tails out of the water one did not know whether it

was proper to continue staring, and wondering at the suppressed giggles of the

young ladies standing near by.


One day there came to our house two big furniture vans with splendid

heavy-weight horses and three men in thick green aprons, who clumped into the

house, drank glasses of beer at one draught, and in a marvellously short time

deposited all our belongings on the pavement outside in a sea of straw, for the

covert scrutiny of the neighbours, prior to packing them in the vans.

Leaving them to finish their work, my mother took us off by bus, train and foot,

seriatim; first, through the suburbs into a big railway station, then in the

train – one never ceased wondering how it could go without horses, nor fearing

that it would mount the platform as it came with a deafening roar into the

station. For five minutes the train clanked across a veritable sea of railway

lines, among chimneys and factories; then it went through a long and perfectly

dark tunnel, and finally it ran for another five minutes in a cutting with grass

on either side, ultimately depositing us in a little country station, with

nothing outside but fields and fences.

Fifteen minutes’ walk brought us to some new building activities, a few rows of

little houses with small spaces for gardens in front. One of these, number 30

Brookfield Avenue, was our destination, and there really were both a field and a

brook within forty or fifty yards – or I should say one brook and many fields,

as far as the eye could reach, containing occasional thatched cottages and

rambling farmhouses – one of them with black and white gables and the

distinction of having been slept in by Queen Elizabeth on one of her journeys to

the north.

This was indeed a new world. Often we used to watch the builder’s men preparing

for new rows of houses by cutting down the old oak and beech trees, watching

with an illusion of participating in the work. In the mornings we would [36]

walk the long distance – on a footpath, with a field of poppies on one side, an

orchard on the other, through the cobbled yard of a farm, then along a road

through “the old village,” past the smithy – often lingering to see a horse

shod, or a piece of iron hammered into shape on the anvil, to the accompaniment

of glittering sparks, which never hurt the big strong man in the leather apron –

past a few little shops with window panes six inches square, and round a corner

to the old school, which stood in a garden, looked like a church, and was a

thousand times nicer outside than in. In front of the school was the village

green – a small triangle of land, having at one point “the old church” and on

the other two sides of the triangle respectively, a little thatched farm and a

public-house with a swinging sign.

In the school – twopence a week this time – we were taught by a fat girl with a

big flat face. I remember her name, but forbear to mention it. She liked

history, I think, for she awoke our young English blood to patriotism with her

accounts of Caractacus and Cassivellaunus and Boadicea, and dropped us to depths

of gloom and horror with her grim stories of the many civil wars of England. She

added also to our already awakened pessimism a picture of probable wars to come.

The boys were a rough lot, speaking an only half intelligible language. The

first day, at close of school, a big fellow came up to me.

“I can fight you,” he announced. He did, too, in a ring of ghoulish onlookers,

but I do not remember to have been much hurt, and nobody troubled me any more

with attentions of that kind.

There was, however, a disagreeable group of boys who used to shout from the

other side of the road when some of us were walking home. One of these – the

most troublesome – rejoiced in the name of Livingstone. One day, these boys were

shouting something particularly offensive from a distance behind us, and in

exasperation I picked up a flint from the side of the path and threw it at them,

not intending to hurt but only to frighten them. With beginner’s luck – ill-luck

this time – I hit Livingstone fair and square on the head. It was several weeks

before he could return to school.

I expected dire consequences, but nothing happened.

Evidently the boys kept the matter to themselves and [37] invented some excuse

for the broken head. But they must have regarded me as a potential Chicago

gangster, something quite the reverse of truth, for I was physically nervous. I

did almost everything from a motive of cowardice. Our teachers seemed to

encourage that ignoble motive, for they were always telling us to study hard so

that we might save ourselves from being among those whose faces are walked upon

in the battle of life, to take physical exercises so as to avoid disease, to be

honest so as to avoid prison, to be good so that God would not send us to hell,

and finally and above all to obey themselves, in order to avoid a whacking.

I was really sorry that I hit poor Livingstone on the head, for I bore him no

malice. Nevertheless, by some peculiarity of fate or coincidence, I have been

repaid in kind and with interest for that injury. In the half-dozen or so

motor-car and other accidents in which I have since participated I have

invariably been injured on the head and nowhere else. Fate began to work in this

direction comparatively soon after the incident I have mentioned. One day I had

been much out of sorts, and I was lying on the sofa while my mother was sewing

near the window at the other side of the room. Suddenly I said to myself: “It is

all nonsense lying here feeling sick. The thing to do is to get up and do

something!” With a leap I jumped up from the sofa, only to meet the corner of an

open cupboard door just above my head.

I have never seen a woman cry as my mother did as she took me into her arms in a

rocking-chair and mopped up the blood with several towels. When I was able to go

back to school I was the proud bearer for weeks of a conspicuous patch of

sticking plaster on a partially shaved head. The spot still remains without

hair, although it is now threatening to merge itself into that bright and

shining place where there is no parting.

Perhaps I owed something in the bank of fate, too, on account of the numerous

jacksharps, tadpoles, moths and caterpillars which had met an untimely fate at

my hands, having been incarcerated in various bowls, jars and boxes which were

evidently not suited to them. But I was never cruel, like some of the boys, who

used to catch frogs, insert straws into their recta and blow them up until they

burst. Or like the cartmen who were bringing bricks to the houses opposite, who,

when language failed, used to kick their [38] horses in the stomach with their

hobnailed boots in order to force them over the rougher parts. Or like the

farmer whom I once watched through the hedge of the village green as he walked

about his garden, picked up one duck after another, slit its throat with his

penknife and then put it down again on the ground, where it walked a few feet

and then threw a somersault backwards. Or like those other farmers who hung the

squealing pigs by the back legs while they poured boiling water over them so

that the bristles might come out more easily afterwards. But once more I am in

danger of digressing.

I was speaking, I think, of luck, in connection with stone-throwing. I had

another stroke of luck one day, or rather one night. Once a travelling fair came

to our village and set itself up on a vacant plot of ground beside the police

station. One evening my brother and I begged twopence each and went off with a

few friends to enjoy ourselves thereat. First I turned my attention to the

roulette wheel. One put a halfpenny on a chosen number on the circle which

surrounded a spinning pointer. The man in charge spun the wheel, and if the

pointer stopped opposite the number containing the coin one received a coco-nut.

Failing that, the halfpenny was irretrievably lost, with nothing to show for it.

Down went my halfpenny, I got a coco-nut. As I did not want the coco-nut, I sold

it back to the man for twopence. I suppose he thought he would get the twopence

back. Thirteen times running this phenomenon was repeated. Calculate – thirteen

twopences, minus thirteen halfpennies. I was beginning to be in clover. On the

fourteenth turn I lost, pocketed my balance and, with a deaf ear to the man who

was urging me to try again, turned away. I shared the money in equal parts with

my friends, who quite logically maintained that they deserved it as much as I

did and watched them spend it on swings and roundabouts, while I kept my

portion, to go home triumphantly about as rich as I had come out, which could be

said of few people who attended that fair. I think I shall never play at Monte

Carlo, for no one can expect such luck twice in a lifetime. Only once have I

ventured to lay down any stakes at roulette – in the Casino at Santos in Brazil

– when I found this axiom duly confirmed. [39]


We had the luck of being removed from the twopenny school after a few months.

Whether my grandfather had suddenly melted, and decided no longer to visit the

sins of the fathers upon the children, or whether my father had made one of his

periodical advances in the business world, I do not know. Anyhow, we were sent

to what was considered the best private high school within reach. It was rather

a small affair – about a hundred boys.

We were excited by the playground, which was actually composed partly of grass,

on which we could have splendid games of leap frog and “cappy” without hurting

ourselves too much. The idea of the last was that one boy would make a back over

which the others had to go in turn, each leaving his cap behind. Sooner or later

one of the leapers would upset the caps, and would then have to make a “back.”

There was also a greenhouse in that playground, but I fancy the chief thing

about it was the schoolmaster’s son, who used to sit there smoking a pipe, to

keep the insects off the plants, he said. I suppose this exhibition must have

started many boys smoking surreptitiously. I was once induced to go shares in

the expenses of a packet of cigarettes. I tried one of them behind a wall, and

decided that as an amusement smoking was overrated, and though as an assertion

of manhood it might have its points, a halfpenny in the pocket was much more

desirable than a cigarette in the mouth.

It was about this time that my brief musical career began. When our piano first

arrived I had solemnly announced to my father that I did not intend to learn to

play in the ordinary way; I simply wanted to make a noise by knocking on the

keys. However, he firmly informed me that I must learn properly or leave it

alone. The upshot of it was that once a week my brother and I went to the house

of a little old lady (that is what we called Miss Nash, though probably she was

only about thirty – for such is the judgment of the young) and made a sufficient

progress with her help and an hour’s practice every day. It was a tiresome

obstacle that my hands were too small to stretch an octave, though I gradually

overcame this difficulty with regard to the left hand only, by forcing my thumb

to become double jointed at the root, thus increasing my span by nearly an inch.


At Blackpool I had been much impressed by the sound of a mandoline, played in a

concert on the pier, and nothing would satisfy me but to add this also to my

musical accomplishments. My indulgent father immediately bought one of the

instruments and brought it home. For some time I learnt to play alone, and

afterwards at the big school of music in the city, where they brought me to the

point of playing in public. I nearly became a professional musician at the age

of thirteen, as will shortly appear.

It was now time for us to remove again to a new house. My mother always

absolutely refused to have one which had been occupied by anybody before. She

seemed to have an idea that it would retain emanations from the previous

occupants. We removed a very short distance to a high-standing three-storied

house directly overlooking a beautiful meadow containing many oak and beech

trees. This meadow had the form of a valley, the brook already mentioned running

down the middle. It had also the great merit of being accessible for play, as a

public path ran across it. It was a fine place for flying kites, which we used

to make for ourselves often in fantastic shapes. One of mine took the form of a

phrenological head marked with the localities of the various faculties, copied

from a chart issued by the professor of the art on Blackpool sands.

Safety bicycles now came within our ken. The word safety has long been dropped,

but it was used then to distinguish the new bicycles having wheels about the

same size from the old ones which had one big wheel in front, with pedals

attached to its hubs, and a tiny little wheel behind. We used occasionally to

watch performers on the old type of bicycle – I say performers because they were

rarely riders, but seemed to spend most of their time getting on and falling

off. We saw, too, the big roller skates, with wheels which appeared about nine

inches in diameter. A man ran from London to Manchester on these and we saw him

pass. It seemed terribly dangerous. I wondered if he had any sort of braking

arrangement. I saw, too, one of the first motor-cars, with a man running in

front shouting and waving a red flag, as required by law.

The new safety bicycles were heavy things, with solid rubber tyres and no free

wheel. My father bought one cheap from a man who had been stopped in a country

road by a burly fellow who grasped his handlebar and demanded his [41] money.

Though the cyclist had saved his money by pulling a spanner out of his pocket

and with it dealing a smashing blow to the hand on the handlebar, and then

riding swiftly away, the incident had spoiled his taste for cycling in the


A second bicycle, for my elder brother, soon appeared. Then, of course, the

question of one for me arose. One Saturday afternoon my father and mother and I

looked at a small-size bicycle in one of the big shops. It was, alas, very

expensive – about five pounds. We had walked some distance away from the shop in

silence and gloom, when I heard my mother say quietly to my father: “Think of

the child’s feelings -” My mother was that said-to-be-rare phenomenon, a woman

who does not speak much. She could always convey a lot of meaning, however, in

half a dozen words.

My father went back to the shop alone and later arrived home, having ridden with

great difficulty on the tiny machine, with his knees knocking the handle-bar at

every rotation. So I became the possessor not of a heavy old hard-tyred

second-hand bicycle, but of a brand new machine having the marvellous pneumatic

tyres, which had only just come in and about which we and apparently even the

shop-man knew so little at first that my father had actually ridden it home on

flat tyres, not knowing that they had to be pumped up. Fortunately it did not

spoil them.

How my brother and I cleaned those bicycles, down even to the ball bearings, in

preparation for the Sunday morning rides which our father took with us all over

the surrounding country-side! My mother, however, could not be persuaded to

become one of “the new women,” who at that date began to go on bicycles and were

generally treated to rude remarks and sometimes to stones. She was free to come,

as we had by then a maid, or rather a succession of maids. One of them, I

remember, new from the country, blackleaded all the spoons, with disastrous

effect when we started to eat our boiled eggs!


Although our new school was considered to be very highly respectable, and

intended for the “sons of gentlemen” (there might have been no ladies involved

from the little one heard of them in this connection) things were not [42]

entirely what they seemed. There were some rough boys, a Jew bullies, and some

worse than that. I remember an occasion when two of these bullies hoisted me on

their shoulders to carry me off somewhere for purposes of petty torture, but I

managed to free myself at the expense of a nasty bump, by giving one of them a

kick in the ear with all my force. They dropped me to the ground, upon which I

ran across the street, put my back to a large plate-glass shop window, and from

that vantage pelted them with stones until they went away.

I used sometimes to see some of the boys rolling on the grass; one would be on

his back and the others apparently playfully pulling off his clothes. I did not

like that sort of rough and tumble, and I vowed that if any of them subjected me

to those indignities I would not stop short of killing them. Only years

afterwards I learnt from one of them that those invasions of one another’s

privacy were a prelude to private instruction in sexual vice. In the vista of

years I do not think as badly as I did of those boys. I realize that heredity

varies enormously in respect of the sex-excitement and sex-imagination that is

such a peculiar and unnatural feature of humanity. It never troubled me. Years

afterwards, in translating from Sanskrit, I wrote with regard to a certain type

of sinner: “He will be reborn from the womb of a wild cock,” and never noticed

the incongruity until somebody showed me a marked copy of my book!

In our family there was always more education in the home than at school. We

were voracious readers of weekly papers and novels. At an early age, my brother

and I had read all Dickens and a great part of Walter Scott and Thackeray. While

still in Brookfield Avenue I had an exercise book containing a list of all the

books I had read, and it then numbered over eighty, though among these I

included serial stories which I had read in Chums and The Boy’s Own Paper. Also,

my father was always willing to teach when we were willing to learn. He started

us off with French when I was eight years old, and he taught me also Pitman’s

shorthand, in which I ultimately attained the respectable speed of a hundred and

eighty words a minute, which I could keep up on the average for an hour and read

completely afterwards, and he taught me also a good amount of commercial

book-keeping, including double entry. [43]

I think our school was almost useless for learning anything, however excellent

its respectability. If a boy could teach himself in it, well and good, not

otherwise. Practically nothing was ever explained.

“Form III. Open your geography books, page 54. Study to the end of page 55. I

will hear you at four o’clock.” The master would then go out, to obtain a drop

for his thirst, duly return in an irritable mood, call our form “up,” and

question us. There was much indignation if we had not learnt the lesson, though

the idea of teaching it never seemed to enter his mind. He used to give us marks

on the results of these questions, and call them out for us to enter in our mark

books at the end of the day. Still I got on pretty well. I was eager to learn,

and was always running neck and neck at the head of the class with a boy named

Carver, about two years older than myself. I had ambitions, and used still at

home to make use of the old school books in subjects not taught in the school at

our age. I would get down on the floor of the bedroom – somehow I was able to

study better on the floor – with Initia Latina until again and again my mother

would come in and literally drive me out unwillingly to play.

We had in our school a real army sergeant, full of talk about the Crimean war.

He conducted real army drill with wooden imitation rifles, in the playground,

often with errand boys jeering over the wall. I detested those wooden rifles,

and the sneering tongue of the sergeant, and wanted to have as little as

possible to do with them. One day he offered me the corporal’s stripe in our

platoon and his indignation when I declined it knew no bounds, I hated the sham

of it all.

Two of our fellow-students were Greeks. I very much wanted to make a beginning

with Greek, and begged of the elder to teach me the Greek alphabet, which he

could rattle off with alluring speed. But the mercenary young scamp demanded too

high a price – as much as sixpence, I think – which was more than I could make

in a fortnight by selling marbles at half the shop prices, since it had become

known that I could win all the marbles that came within reach.

One of our favourite occupations in the school was map-drawing. The son of the

schoolmaster, himself a junior master, used to supply us with railway maps from

various parts of the world, which we would copy on full sheets of [44] printing

paper pinned on our drawing-boards. We had large and expensive drawing-boards,

which we were expected occasionally to carry home in black alpaca covers, as

also those wooden rifles; this no doubt being a subtle advertisement for the

school. It appeared that each boy had one or two favourite colours for doing the

outlines of the countries in his maps – mine was pale chrome, and sometimes we

used to quarrel on account of our loyalty to our respective colours. We had also

favourite towns. Two that struck my fancy particularly were Boston and

Philadelphia, and another was the smaller Hyderabad in Sind, where, curiously

enough, I was to become Principal of the College later on.

Crayon drawing was also a popular subject – it gave such a good opportunity for

many of the boys to stand round the hot stove sharpening their pencils. My

brother was a born artist, could draw and paint as well as write beautifully

without an effort. Me, I could never write on the line, and drawing was an

effort that fatigued me enormously, and produced results that exasperated the

drawing master. When he saw such little and such poor results he accused me of

idling, and when I denied that, he accused me of lying, for which he lost every

atom of respect I might have had for him, though he probably cared as little for

my good will as I cared for his.

I had a curious experience, which might be called psychic, about this time. As I

was walking home from school, crossing a little street, I seemed to hear a

voice, which asked me whether I would rather be tall or short “this time.” I

will not attempt to say what peculiarity of the subconscious mind or other cause

may have produced this, but will only record that it was perfectly clear, and

took me in such a mood that I did not till afterwards wonder what it meant by

the curious expression “this time.” I had been for some time in a mood of

humility. I wanted to go through life inconspicuously, and I had some subtle and

indefinite dislike for anything in the world in the shape of pomp or display. It

may have been this which caused me to give the reply, after the slightest

hesitation, that I would choose the short. In any case, I scarcely grew for

several years, though fortunately I made a bit of a spurt after sixteen, which

at last gave me my meagre five feet six inches of height. [45]

At last my brother left school to go to business. I wanted to leave at the same

time, for I did not think that school could teach me any more, and I was

impatient to be a man and independent. I was then twelve years old. However,

everybody decided that I was too young to leave, so I had to spend another year

in a class by myself at the top of the school – a little fellow, and younger by

years than many of the other boys. Practically I studied by myself for that

year. I took some of the ancient school books and showed them to the

schoolmaster, and he permitted me to study them by myself, saying that he would

help me when I came to any difficulties. His help did not amount to much. I

remember going to him with some difficulties in Colenso’s Algebra (I still have

the book – about seventy-five years old). Poor man, he had to confess that he

had forgotten, and suggest that I should look at the answers and try to work

from them backwards.

I had ambitions. I wanted to become a doctor, or failing that a student

interpreter in Japan. No luck. What with shortage of money, unkind reports by

the schoolmaster – to cover his own shortcomings – and the tradition of

business, it was decided that I should become an apprentice in a wholesale

warehouse. I was far too young for a shipping firm. [46]

-------Cardiff Theosophical Society in Wales-------
206 Newport Road, Cardiff, Wales, UK. CF24-1DL




WHEN I left school my mother pressed that I should be allowed a holiday for some

months before being sent to work, and gained her point. But it proved

disastrous. I became one of the unemployed even before I was employed. I must

have presented myself to twenty or thirty heads of firms before I got a chance.

I would be called into the private office and questioned on my scholastic

attainments, which were quite satisfactory, and then the trouble would begin,

always the same.

“You are very small. You look pale. Are you strong? When did you leave school?”

– and then the dreadful question, which I soon learnt to recognize as sealing my

fate: “What have you been doing since you left school?” And finally: “Well, we

will let you know,” – which they never did, even negatively. I believe there

were always anything from twenty to two hundred applicants for those posts.

Some of these people who interviewed me were kindly, but most of them were rude,

and a few bullies. One disagreeable man asked if I knew all the streets in the

city, and when I replied “Yes,” thinking quite naturally that he meant the main

streets, since no one could possibly be expected to know all the others, he

blackguarded me disgracefully for a young liar. And this, when I was suffering

from truthfulness with regard to the date of leaving school! My discomforts as a

truth addict began early.

However, I got a position at last as an apprentice in a millinery warehouse. The

proprietor who engaged me was [47] a charming gentleman, and spoke very kindly

and encouragingly – he would give me five shillings a week for the first year

and I was to go through a three years’ apprenticeship. But unluckily he had as

practical manager (the devil for steward, as so often!) a younger brother of his

who was rather a freak, six feet three inches tall, and proportionately

disagreeable. He had a curious manner and way of speaking which made me wonder

whether he was right in the head and was not put there out of a compassion which

would be very natural in his brother.

I was in the ribbon department. We supplied some hundreds, I should think, of

retail shops. In the early morning I had to see that all the reels of ribbon

were neatly arranged on the long counters in the enormous showroom, and, with a

feather duster, to see that they were kept free from the minutest speck of dust.

In the afternoons our customers would generally come in. Most of them were

ladies, probably milliners, for ribbons were much used in ladies’ hats. In the

evening two of us would cover everything up with large dust-sheets.

It was part of my work to tie up some of the parcels, for the ribbons could not

be sent to the packing-room in an exposed condition. The senior apprentice,

after having been told to show me how to do everything, did all in his power to

prevent me from getting to know how things were to be done, so that it was some

time before I discovered the best way even to turn the string and form the knots

of the parcels. Once he demanded money to show me something, but soon came to

the conclusion, I think, that if I had not come from Aberdeen I must have had an

ancestor who had.

The hours of work for everybody were fairly long in those days. I used to go to

town on my father’s train, which left the station at five minutes to seven. He

would awaken me at six o’clock, and then we would have an intensive hour working

together (it was a period of no maid) making the fire, cleaning the boots,

preparing and eating our breakfast and – I look back upon this with surprise –

doing ten minutes Sandow exercises, also together (I used dumb-bells weighing

eight pounds each), in addition to all the business of getting ourselves ready,

including the fixing of stiff collars and cuffs which were very hard on the


My father used to wear “solitaire” cuff-links – the kind [48] which came in two

pieces, and of which you punched the stem of the head into the socket of the

lower piece. I remember a curious incident that occurred before I left school in

connection with these. I was walking home, when I saw lying on the pathway the

head of a gold cuff link. I put it in my pocket. That evening my father told us

that during the day he had lost the head of one of his cuff links. I pulled my

find out of my pocket and handed it to him. It fitted perfectly, though of quite

a different design from the one he had lost. I never found a cuff-link head

before, nor since, nor did he lose one.

Thus our day began with forty minutes’ miscellaneous rather strenuous

activities. Then ten minutes’ quick walk in the dark (for a large part of the

year) brought us to the railway station. After getting out of the train I had

another fifteen minutes’ walk through the city streets to the warehouse, and so

I would arrive in good time. The warehouse hours were from 8 a.m. to 6 p.m.,

with an hour’s interval for lunch. Then back through the city streets to the

train and through the country lanes from the train home – wash, tea, a game of

chess with my father and at last bed. Rather a heavy day for a boy of thirteen,

especially in a city where the presence of sulphur in the air, from burning

coal, necessitated the weekly removal to the country of the decorative plants

growing in tubs in the city square. We were keen chess players at that time; I

entered for the “Hobbies” correspondence tournament and came out in the third


I lost my job after two or three months. It was decided to remove one of the

departments to another room in a distant part of the building. Nothing was to be

done during the day, lest a customer come in and find us disarrayed. But at 6

p.m. we were told to start carrying the things. I was already very tired with

standing all day, having nothing to eat since breakfast except a very meagre

lunch, but I tried to do my share of carrying. By eight o’clock I could hardly

walk, but when I said so I was merely rebuked for laziness. By nine I was on the

verge of collapse, so I told the department manager that I simply must go home,

and I went – without his consent. The next day the general manager came along,

about six feet three inches towering above me. He poured out words of

indignation, and the end of the conversation, or rather monologue, was that I

must [49] leave when the month was up. I left that night, and forfeited whatever

wages were due.


Then began again the answering of questions. As I had no reference I had to say

I had not been engaged before, which was very galling. And the question as to

what I had been doing since I left school was more formidable than ever.

Luckily, after a month or two, a warehouse in which my elder brother had worked

wanted an apprentice. I applied, and because they had been delighted with my

brother they gave me the job, merely remarking: “You don’t look strong.”

At first I was in the ready-mades department – workmen’s shirts, women’s aprons,

children’s frocks and what not. Attached to our department was a workroom, with

thirty or forty girls incessantly toiling at sewing machines, the sight of whom

moved me to the profoundest pity. By working in those dismal surroundings from

morning till night for fifty-one weeks in the year they could just keep body and

soul together, but they could not clothe themselves well, nor provide themselves

with decent and sufficient shoe-leather.

I had once more to keep the stock clean and tidy, open and pack up parcels, box

shirts and other things in dozens and half-dozens, layout orders and list the

things for sending to the packing room. It had been impressed upon me at home

that I was an apprentice and must not allow myself to be put upon for inferior

work, particularly that of an errand boy. So I acquired some unpopularity when

the head of my department and his first assistant desired me to go out to a

little restaurant near by and bring in their tenpenny lunches on a tray, which I

refused to do.

After about three months I was transferred to the shirting and quilt department.

It was a heavy job to keep those large pieces in order on the racks, to get them

down, unpack them and pack them and put them back. In this warehouse we were

allowed only half an hour for lunch, but hot water was given to us on the

premises, so I had my little store of mixed tea and sugar, and bread and cheese

– how glad I was to learn from a magazine that the cheapest kinds of cheese were

the most nourishing – and a tin of condensed milk, [50] which was quite dark

brown in colour before I had done with it.

This department was managed by one of the partners, who was seldom in. Next to

him there was one man, then a senior apprentice, then myself. The conversation

of the senor apprentice and his friends who used to drop in from other

departments now and then was not edifying. It was mostly about what they called


After I had been in the department some few months it happened that the

assistant manager was taken ill and could not come to work, and then the senior

apprentice left, so that I was alone in that department, except when the partner

in charge happened to come in. Customers rarely came in person, unless they had

already made an appointment with him. I had now the task of laying out the

orders for the day, entering them in the daybook, making out department

invoices, writing letters to the customers when necessary to regret that certain

goods were out of stock and to explain when they might be expected, and

preparing all the orders for the packing room. In addition to this I had to

telephone to various other warehouses and manufacturers’ offices, ordering

patterns which had run out of stock, or to explain to other apprentices on

outdoor duty for the day where to look for various necessary items, for which I

would give them samples, with written orders. All this I managed to do to the

satisfaction of my employers – and all on the munificent pay of fifteen

shillings a month. Of course, as an apprentice my compensation was supposed to

lie in an opportunity to learn the business, which I certainly had in that


Now, unluckily for me, it happened once in the middle of a day that one of our

biggest customers – a man who would think nothing of ordering a hundred pieces

of shirting of one kind at a single time – came in. When he arrived I ran round

the warehouse looking for the partner in charge of my department, who would

certainly have wanted to see him, but failed to find him, he being out for his

two or three hours’ lunch. So I served the customer myself. There was a line

that we called “Diamond” shirting, which we sold at 5 1/8 d. per yard, and which

our customer sold at 5 1/4 d. – it was by cutting prices that he had such a

volume of trade. He wanted some of that.

A new book of patterns had come from the manufacturers [51] a day or two before,

but I first let the customer make his selection from the old pattern book and

then said: “Would you not like some of these new patterns as well?” bringing out

the new cuttings. He was rather amused at my little trick; it mattered nothing

to him to order another fifty or sixty pieces, though he had already taken as

many as he originally intended. But this was to prove my undoing. When he next

met the partner he seems to have indulged in some jocular remark about the size

of their “manager” in the shirting and quilt department, though he spoke highly

of me. The pride of the firm was wounded. They sent down a young man from

another department into mine and requested me to teach him all about everything,

and he was then to be my boss! This was too bad, from my limited point of view,

and I protested that I was quite capable of carrying on alone.

The head of the firm was a venerable old gentleman, whom we all respected very

much. He would even take the trouble to say “Good morning” to all the employees

whom he passed, even though they were worth only 3s. 9d. a week! He called me

into his private office and reasoned with me. But it was quite hopeless. I could

manage their department, but I could not reason. He begged me to have patience,

and pointed out how well I might expect to succeed later on. I was an obstinate

young donkey. One point I remember very well. He said: “Suppose in your father’s

warehouse such a thing had happened. Do you not think your father would want an

older man in the department, because of what customers would think?”

But the surly boy only replied with a logical rudeness born of wounded pride:

“But it could not happen there, where they have eighteen or twenty men in every


What patience the old gentleman had! Here was I threatening him with notice, and

at last he gave in with a sigh for my sake and accepted it, and I for the third

time joined the army of unemployed at the age of fourteen.

The mention of my father’s warehouse here requires some comment. I have

mentioned that my father had become the manager of a stationery concern, but it

happened that by the time of which I am now writing he had joined our family

warehouse. “The Guv’nor” had died, and my jolly uncle who, out of five brothers,

had solely inherited the [52] business, invited him to join him, which he had

done. The two warehouses knew each other, being among the biggest in their

respective lines, and the proprietor of mine took it for granted that my father

was a man of greater importance in the family concern than he really was. It was

only later on that my father became the head of the family business, after my

uncle died. In the meantime, my uncle was sole proprietor, and the natural

course of things was that his two sons should go into the business and inherit

from him, while the rest of the grandchildren should keep outside and be content

with certain monetary bequests which “the Guv’nor” had bequeathed them, to

become theirs on tile death of their parents.

It might be wondered by those who do not know the customs of city merchants why

my benevolent proprietor did not expect me to go into the family warehouse. The

explanation is simple: it was not usually considered desirable for the character

and development of youngsters that they should serve their apprenticeship in

their own family warehouses, where they might become slack in work or in

character on account of family indulgence and the superior respect with which

the other employees might treat them in view of favours to come.

I must also explain that my brother had left the warehouse where I now worked

because he had taken a fancy to retail business. He had gone into a “gents’

outfitters” to learn the business, having been promised a shop of his own – he

had a chain of shops in his mind’s eye – when he and the time should be ripe. He

had always been interested and careful in his own dress, and therefore was quite

at home in that business. In our Sunday afternoon walks when we were still at

school, when we had come to the stage at which we were expected to walk along

sedately without shaking our bowler hats off our heads, it had been I, not he,

who had raised objections to this uncomfortable headgear. I had objected to

stiff cuffs and collars and fronts, as well as bowler hats, but had had to

submit to them.

It must have gone against me in business that I was careless in dress. As a

young man, in fact, I refused to wear anything but cloth caps, which put me

rather in the “workman class.” But I had another reason for that. I had been

taken one day by my father to see one of the big felt hat manufacturing works at

Denton, near [53] Manchester. I saw the chopped fur being blown on to the

revolving cones, and in a later stage of the process the felts being washed in

steaming vats over which several people were bending. All those workers seemed

rather hollow cheeked, but one man was worse than the others. My father

commented on this.

“Yes,” replied the proprietor, “he will not last long now. They never last more

than about five years at this job.”

To my vivid young mind, the wearing of felt hats was thenceforth to be regarded

as nothing short of indirect murder. I had already seen the unhappy girls in the

shirt factory. I learnt from my father of other and even worse cases. There was

one factory known to him where he had asked why better ventilation was not

provided. He learned that there were plenty of windows that would open, but the

work-girls objected to their being opened, because the fresher air made them

hungry and they could not afford to buy more food.


My third bout of unemployment was more trying than ever. It went on month after

month – some six months of the hardest and most soul-destroying kind of work –

that of looking for a job. Do not talk to me about unemployment in the

nineteen-thirties; it was hellish enough in the eighteen-nineties. My only

solace during those days of searching in the city was the public art gallery,

where I used to go for an occasional hour, no, not to rest, but to look at the

pictures and escape from reality into a more heroic world. I lingered also at

the booksellers’ windows, and especially longed for those little books which

told how to achieve success in life with nothing but ability and honesty to

recommend one, or how to perform miracles of development of character or memory.

I have spoken of our new house. The address was officially 6 Nell Lane, but the

inhabitants, not wishing to be regarded as living in a lane, generally called it

Clough Road. It had attics, which we had not enjoyed before. One of these attics

had been put at my disposal, and I had seen it through several transformations –

a gallery for archery, a gymnasium, a theatre – in which I had been sole actor,

in various capacities, to an audience of imaginary people on imaginary [54]

chairs – and lastly a sort of Venice, which I announced on a placard on the door




(A dry attic. See?)

I was a little disappointed that nobody ever laughed at it! Sometimes I used to

go up there, play my mandoline, and imagine myself in quite another world.

Now, it happened later, during my unemployment, that the biggest department

store in the city – Lewis’s – fitted up a tank in its large basement, decorated

the entire floor in Italian style, and called the ensemble “Venice.” There was a

charge of one penny to enter, and another penny for a tour, which was quite

extensive, in a real gondola.

Two or three times when I was searching for work I went down there and lingered

for hours trying to make up my mind to ask for the manager, in order to put

before him a business proposition which had entered my head and also, in fact,

my heart. I thought it might be an additional attraction if they had a small boy

playing the mandoline on one of the gondolas. I could play it well enough for

public purposes, in fact as well as the average professional, almost as well, I

thought, as the German professor and his two daughters who had taught me for

some two years in a class of about fifteen girls in the school of music.

However, I could not screw up my courage to the working point. I was also afraid

of what my mother would say, that she might think I was disgracing the family by

becoming a cheap musician in a public place. The incident reacted badly upon my

interest in music. I announced to my father, much to his regret, that I must now

give up all my music and devote myself entirely to the thought of making money.

I rarely played the piano or the mandoline after that, and soon gave them up



My third period of unemployment bade fair to become permanent, but at last a

vacancy arose for an apprentice in a “gents’ outfitting” shop which had been

newly opened in our suburb at the end of a row of shops near the railway [55]

station. It was thought that I might follow in the same path as my brother and

ultimately have a shop – or a chain of shops – of my own.

This time the apprenticeship was a more formal affair, and I had to sign on for

three years. Apparently, as the formalities increased the emoluments diminished.

I had sunk from five shillings to three shillings and nine pence a week, before,

and now the salary was to be nothing for the first year, five shillings a week

for the second and I forget what for the third. The hours of work also

increased, from 9 a.m. to 9 p.m. on weekdays (except for Wednesday, which

contained a half-holiday), but to 10 p.m. on Saturdays, with an hour for lunch

and an hour for tea. The work was not hard, but some ten hours’ standing and one

hour’s quick walking every day proved fatiguing, and often I used to arrive home

so tired at night that I had to go upstairs to bed on my hands and knees. I was

left alone in the shop a great deal and used to consider it a pleasant thing

when a customer came in. I was soon able to do everything connected with the

business, except the actual buying of goods – on that side the proprietor seemed

anxious that my tuition should be delayed as long as possible. I think that all

he wanted was a cheap salesman, which he certainly got!

From beginning to end I disliked the year and a half which I spent in that shop.

I used to get tired, as already mentioned. Sometimes my attitude when alone –

which was constant, as the proprietor more and more stayed at home, and once he

was away for weeks in hospital – might have served as illustration for a modern

murder story, as I lolled across the counter in a state of mental as well as

physical despair. To add to my distress, my clothes gave me endless trouble. My

socks were always coming down (it was before the invention of sock suspenders).

My hands were always tensely curled up, trying to hold up my loose cuffs. The

stiff loose shirt front was always trying to get through the opening of my

waistcoat. One size of collar was too small and the next size was said to look

too big. My shoes were heavy and clumsy, but this was my own fault, for I bought

them myself and got them like that to thwart a craving in myself for something

quite the opposite.

Sometimes in the long idle hours of waiting for customers I used to picture how

I could be quite cheerful and comfortable in that shop if I could dress in a

style of my own, [56] combining the conveniences of dress worn by all kinds of

people – I never thought of sexes as such. There would be long stockings,

supported from a light corset, which would save me from the need of lolling on

the counter, would give my back comfortable support through the long hours of

waiting and provide a convenient place for a belt to hold knickers buttoning

beneath the knee. There would be some soft kind of tennis shirt – emphatically

no collar, nor front, nor cuffs, nor hard hat. There would be no waistcoat, but

a simple coat. There would be light shoes, shaped so as not to press the toes

sideways, and with perhaps a two inch heel to add a little to my height, which I

was then beginning to desire increased, for practical convenience in association

with other people.

I think that for the most part I hit in my imagination upon a costume which

would have made mankind healthier and happier if it could have been introduced,

though it was certainly not in keeping with aspiration for success in the

“gents’ outfitting” business! It would have made all the difference in my own

life. It may be that there was some morbidity in part of it, but as I look back

upon it I see that it contained not only a desire for relief from very real and

constant discomfort, but also a longing for something positive in the way of

lightness and refinement – a desire for material spirituality.

But all that was not to be, and I remained thoroughly out of accord with my

environment. The demands of a ridiculous and cruel orthodoxy in dress,

associated with caste ideas (in America they talk of the “white collar” class,

but we had no word for it in England), have always been inexorable. I remember

when I was at school that one day there came along the street a gentleman

wearing a soft felt hat dinted in at the top. The boys ran after him shouting,

“Trilby, Trilby!” I was the only one not to share in that pursuit, though I too

thought the hat an absurd shape. Perhaps the masculine element of mankind is a

bit cynically acceptive of coarseness and earthiness. A rough assertiveness,

even if clumsy and unintelligent, adds to its sense of personality or life.

It would be interesting to record the beginnings of adolescence. But that does

not seem possible. Either there was nothing in particular or I cannot remember

it. Such slight physical discomfort as I may have had was not [57] associated

with any sexual imaginings. I am quite sure that I never dreamed or thought

about girls or women. I knew that men and women got married and set up joint

establishments, but I did not know that there was any physical connection

between men and women, either for pleasure or the production of children. I must

have been unusually unknowledgeable for my age in such matters.

Where did my thoughts run? I am afraid they were mostly negative, preoccupied

with present discomforts and future economics, with only an occasional lifting

of the imagination to pictures of freedom, open skies, sunshine and foreign

travel, though at the same time I knew that these could not satisfy me, for I

wanted to solve the economic problem for everybody, not only for myself, though

that came first.

Two or three times I had been to the city to an old house which had fallen on

evil times, to get the shirts cut to measure by my employer for his richer

patrons. My destination was one room, bare of furniture but for a sewing

machine, a crooked table, some broken chairs, a screen, and a dirty mattress

laid on the floor in one corner. There were an old woman and two girls, the

former bent out of human shape, with red eyes, an underlip hanging far over

(from constant wetting of thread) and a thickened flattened thumb (from pressing

the cloth), the latter preparing for the same dreadful fate. With my own eyes I

had seen something which might well have inspired Hood’s

Stitch, stitch, stitch ...

In poverty, hunger and dirt.

I had not been at the shop more than a few months when I was saved the long walk

several times a day by our removal from Clough Road to 12 Silverdale Road – I am

bound to say that builder had a genius for inventing fetching names for his

streets. The new house was only two or three minutes’ walk away from the shop,

and this time it was not rented but bought outright – a nice semi-detached house

with a good-sized lawn, on which one could, and did, play croquet. On this

occasion my employer earned a bit more of my dislike by quoting, I suppose for

want of something else to say, that three removals were as bad as a fire, which

I – absurdly sensitive as usual – took to be a criticism of my father, which I

could not tolerate. [58]

It was at this period that I made my first experiments in Indian Yoga. I found

an article in a popular magazine, describing how the yogis developed

extraordinary powers by means of special methods of breathing. I felt that I

needed special powers, since the ordinary ones seemed of little use in life

unless conjoined by some chance with special opportunities. So once, in the

midday, when I had the shop to myself, I went into the back room (which had been

newly acquired and contained a chair) and sat down to practise the breathing

exercises prescribed. I did it for about forty minutes. At that point I heard

somebody come into the shop. I rose from the chair and walked to the front room

without feeling the floor I walked on or any sense of my own weight. My employer

entered and asked for a pair of scissors, which I found and handed to him

without any feeling of the article or sense of its weight. I must have looked

peculiar in some way, for I remember he stared at me very hard and with a

surprised expression. The incident passed off. Gradually my sense of touch and

weight returned. I did not perform the experiment again, as I considered it to

be dangerous. Still it remained in my mind as an interesting possibility, to be

pursued further if an opportunity for greater knowledge in connection with it

should turn up.

Another occult possibility came within my ken about this time. When we were out

cycling one Sunday morning my father told me about a lecture of Mrs. Besant’s

which he had just attended. She had spoken of visits to the worlds of the dead,

describing the modes of life of the departed as continuing the mental and

emotional interests with which they had left the earth, and she had concluded by

saying that almost anybody who would take the trouble could develop the use of

astral and mental bodies so as to move in those worlds and observe for

themselves. I vowed to myself that I would hear Mrs. Besant on her next visit,

and would do this thing myself if it were really true. These were dangerous

subjects, I knew – populus vult decipi – but I would be scientific about them.


-------Cardiff Theosophical Society in Wales-------
206 Newport Road, Cardiff, Wales, UK. CF24-1DL




LIKE many other boys, I had in my schooldays collected foreign stamps, and in my

last year at school I had been in the habit of exchanging and selling my

duplicates, and had even done some selling for a London firm on a commission

which I shared with the purchasers. It happened that while I was at the shop I

one day saw an advertisement of an old stamp collection for sale for £7. I went

to see it, and knew it for a rare bargain. I had, however, only £2 saved up. I

borrowed £5 from my father, promising to repay the amount soon, and bought the


I started to sell the collection piecemeal. Within a week my father had his

money back – much to his surprise – I was some pounds in pocket and I had still

most of the stamps in stock.

I began to deal. I advertised cheap packets of stamps in some of the weekly and

monthly magazines, and with the packets I sent out “approval sheets” of a better

class of stamps than those which appeared in the packets. Within a month I was

doing a roaring trade. There was a good element of luck in it. I happened to get

that collection and to hit the market at a favourable moment, not at the time of

financial depression. I was thus able to obtain the business of a large number

of boys in the public schools and also a certain number of more mature

collectors. I opened up trade connections with prominent dealers, and began to

import the cheaper stamps in sacks containing a million each, from the

collections made by Swiss convents. I was also selling these by tens of

thousands by weight, after picking them over and extracting the unusual kinds.

This [60] work occupied my Sundays, my Wednesday afternoons, my early mornings

and the greater part of my lunch and tea hours. My father, always ready to help

his sons in any way, used to come up into the attic to help me in his spare

time. My elder brother had by now gone to live in another town, where he was

employed. My younger brother was at school.

After some time and discussion my employer consented to the cancellation of my

agreement of apprenticeship, so, with a joyous heart, I bade good-bye to

warehouses and retail shops, to stiff collars and fronts and loose cuffs.

Very shortly afterwards I rented the living quarters over a large stationery and

toyshop, and began to employ clerks. At first two, then three and more until at

the age of sixteen I had sixteen clerks in my office. These were all girls.

I employed girls instead of men, not because they were cheaper, but because my

father emphatically assured me that they were steadier for simple work, more

honest (my business offered many opportunities for theft), more contented, and

less likely to learn my methods of business in order to go away and start rival

businesses, perhaps with a list of my customers in the pocket. He also hinted to

me that apart from business this method had, however, its dangers, and impressed

upon me again and again the blessings of a bachelor’s life. He was not thinking

of immorality; I fancy he knew that I was as safe from that as the Bank of

England, so to speak; but there might be several young ladies who would not

object to marrying my business, however lacking in charms the proprietor


I did, in fact, fall in love with the very first girl I engaged, and even before

I engaged her, during the five minutes’ preliminary interview. She was a

handsome girl, with large brown eyes and a smile which, when she let it loose

towards the termination of our interview, nearly carried me off my feet. She was

a typical “Gibson girl” – the style of the period – of the same age and just as

tall as myself, with a pompadour, a blouse and skirt costume with an

unbelievably small waist, and shoes – which I disapproved, for anything in the

nature of voluntary deformity always made me feel quite sick – which must have

been pushing her big toe very much out of line.

I never gave her the slightest indication of my devotion, though it lasted for

several years, and we were together all day, laughing and chatting over our

work. There is no [61] doubt that I should have let myself go sooner or later –

a little later rather than sooner – but for one fact. She used to come to

business by train, and some weeks after our first meeting I heard, from her

conversation with the other girls – which was not concealed from me, as I did

not try to stop my employees from talking, since I wanted them to enjoy

themselves while they worked – that she had met on the train a young city clerk

or secretary in a good position in the Ship Canal (which turned out to be

perfectly true) who had become very much attached to her and used to take her

out to theatres and other entertainments. She liked him, too.

That was enough for me. I reasoned it out that the young man concerned was in a

better position to make her happy than I was, untrained as I was to society and

theatres and dancing, and my business after all was not a very safe one in

economic emergencies, as I dealt only in luxuries. I had indulged in pictures of

good business and a happy wife with a little child in her arms (though, believe

me, I did not yet know that there was such a thing as physical connection

between man and woman and the birth of children thereby), but I put these aside

decisively and finally when the other young man appeared on the scenes, and

rigidly confined myself to a “fatherly” interest after that. Y ears afterwards

they were married. I met her again some fourteen years after we parted; she was

happy and well kept and very fond of a little daughter.


This girl became my head clerk, and manageress whenever I was not on the spot.

She was very intelligent, and flung all her vivacity and energy into the

business as if it were her own. She was an expert typist, playing the whole

keyboard with one finger of each hand, after the fashion of those days. She

could rattle off letters by the dozen, once given the idea of the points to be

written about. I had a card-index system of my own invention, which was a great

time-saver. It was a little tricky, but she understood it and could handle it

perfectly. It was no mean business that I was carrying on, for it was not at all

unusual for me to have to open five hundred letters in the morning mail, and I

used to make it a practice to clear out all orders on the same day, [62] even

those which came by the afternoon post. I had an old four-wheeler “growler” –

horse cab – to take my mails to the post office; nothing so musty exists on

earth now, I think.

I took care to pay wages about fifteen per cent above the market, and most of

the girls were fairly happy. One, an orphan, had a cruel time living with a

distant relative who expected her to be general servant as well as to bring in

some money every week, but I could do nothing about that. One was absolutely

alone and entirely dependent upon the small wage she received from me; I could

never send her away, though she proved to be very slow and incompetent. Two or

three of them were rather down at heel, especially one girl who had some younger

brothers and sisters to help to maintain. One was a clergyman’s daughter, a

delicate, pretty girl, with a club foot; she was the only one who objected to

take her turn at making the fire, because she said she was afraid that her

mother would take her away if she did, and then she would not have her

pocket-money. We had all sorts.

The conversation of the girls was always interesting and laughter was constantly

passing round the tables. It was always clean, in contrast with that of the

young men I had known in business. Rarely, there was a little bit of

spitefulness. I remember an occasion near the beginning, when the head girl was

wearing a blue serge dress, which was probably home-made and had represented a

good deal of economy and care. One or two of the other girls made fun of it,

quite unnecessarily. She was greatly upset and did not wear it again. I very

much wanted to tell her that I liked her better in that dress than any other,

but I dared not rise to such intimacy. Altogether, the company of those girls

was much to my taste, even if it did partake somewhat of the nature of a musical

comedy scene. When my religious aunt was visiting our house one day she

expressed wonder that I did not fall in love with one of them. I startled her by

replying – without thought – that there was safety in numbers.

I was a firm believer in the adage that it pays to advertise. Every week I used

to make a careful estimate of my profits, and at least half of them I would

immediately put into advertising, while most of the other half went to

increasing the stock. I was also quite willing to sell some stamps at [63] a

loss in order to make a profit on others. The cheap packets of stamps which I

advertised and sold at twenty-five per cent less than the actual cost to me of

the stamps contained in them brought me thousands of customers, from many of

whom I obtained further business, once my catalogue and approval selections were

in their hands.

In my regular lines I did not raise the price to compensate for these losses,

which I regarded as part of my advertising expenses, but on the whole I sold

well under the general market, as I worked on the principle of small profits and

quick returns.

Another little stroke of luck came for me at this time in the sudden enthusiasm

for penny post throughout the Empire. It became possible to send letters under

two ounces weight to all parts of the Empire, except, I think, Rhodesia, for one

penny. This may seem a small matter, but it instantly increased my trade with

the Colonies about tenfold. That postal arrangement was entirely reciprocal,

very much in contrast with the present, when the Englishman sending his letter

to India puts on it a 1 1/2 d. stamp, but the poor Indian posting his to England

must put on 2 1/2 annas, equal to about 2 3/4 d.

After about a year I began to find my premises altogether too small. As no

suitable building was available for rent I decided to build. My father disliked

the idea of my stock lying practically unprotected in a vacant office at nights,

so he suggested selling his house and building a new one along with my proposed

new office. First we planned a house with a huge basement for my business, but

my mother objected to that idea because it would bring business and employees

actually into her house, even if there were a separate entrance to the basement.

We then decided on a two-storied office, each floor sixty by eighteen feet, to

stand in the garden at the side of the new house. All this took many months to

build, as it was a year of abnormal rains and the contractors also got

themselves into some financial difficulties.

Before we moved, however, I had an experience which bade fair to terminate the

entire proceedings, as far as I was concerned. My upper lip began to swell and

become hard, then my cheek and forehead, and then the side of the head near the

temple. I lay in the front bedroom in Silverdale Road. It was an abnormally hot

season, and I could [64] hear the hum of a mosquito in the room – a rare thing

in the north of England.

The doctor came and did what he could. He opened the swelling, but nothing would

come out. Then I heard my father and the doctor talking in the adjacent

bathroom. They forgot that the walls were very thin. My father said, in a broken

voice: “He was a good boy” – was, mind you. The past tense was quite

unequivocal. I told myself that I did not want to die, just when I was

beginning, at the age of seventeen, to get a bit of success and fun out of life.

The doctor said that if I survived the night he would make another trial to get

the stuff out in the morning. He duly arrived with an instrument shaped like a

glove-stretcher, made an opening in my lip, pushed the long end of the

instrument in gradually, about as far as my eye, and stretched it open a bit by

means of the handles, which he then told me to hold while he knelt on the side

of the bed and pressed his knuckles on my face with all his weight behind them.

I thought the bones would cave in under the pressure. Fortunately he succeeded

in squeezing out some of the bad matter, a hard greenish substance. The doctor

insisted that I was a brick, but I rather thought it was the bones that had

proved themselves of that category.

That day the weather broke. Rain fell in torrents. The trains were running a

foot deep in water in the railway cutting. The air became cool. I felt immediate

relief, and in a few days was able to attend to my work in a modified degree. In

the interval my father had carried on the selling end of the business with the

aid of the head girl. [65]

-------Cardiff Theosophical Society in Wales-------
206 Newport Road, Cardiff, Wales, UK. CF24-1DL




SHORTLY after we removed, Mrs. Besant came again to our city, and gave two

lectures in a small hall seating about six hundred people. I went with my father

to hear her. She had a sort of superhuman halo or atmosphere about her. She did

not carry herself or act like other people. All the people present seemed to

believe that she walked as easily in the worlds of the dead as in those of the

living, or at least were impressed by her sincerity and held the idea that “it

might be so.” Her fluent words, impressive voice and holy manner, and the

importance of the subject combined to produce an atmosphere intense, devout and

even aspirational. I was quite carried away, though I cannot remember the

subject of her oration.

On the occasion of a second lecture I bought at the door a book of hers called

In the Outer Court. I was greatly impressed by it and read it again and again.

The heights to which a human being could climb thrilled me; the practical ways

in which this could be done called for instant endeavour. They were simply the

old time-worn formulae of virtue, but carried to their climax with

uncompromising rigidity – spotless truth, love for all, even for those who hate

and hurt, perfect control of thought, the building of character by imagination,

purity and above all self-sacrifice. The climax dwelt upon words quoted by her

from another book, as follows:

Before the eyes can see they must be incapable of tears.

Before the ear can hear it must have lost its sensitiveness.

Before the voice can speak in the presence of the Masters it must have lost the

power to wound.

Before the soul can stand in the presence of the Masters its feet must be washed

in the blood of the heart. [66]

Mrs. Besant held the crucible theory. We must make ourselves into crucibles,

standing in the fire while in us the evils of the world are transformed to good.

My father was not quite so much impressed as I. He remarked that when such a

little book was sold for two shillings, somebody must be getting something out

of it.

It happened perhaps a year before this time that my jolly uncle gave to my

father an extract from The Light of Asia, which had been given to him in turn by

a doctor friend of his who was a student of mystical literature. My uncle had a

passion for poetry. One afternoon, when my elder brother was with us, I entered

the kitchen and found him leaning against the dresser, obviously thinking hard,

with a slip of paper – this extract – in his hand. He said: “Have you read


I took the paper, and read of Buddha carrying the wounded lamb down the

hill-side to the hall of sacrifice, and speaking to the king such words as made

the priests hide their crimsoned hands:

While still our Lord went on, teaching how fair

This earth were if all living things be linked

In friendliness and common use of foods,

Bloodless and pure; the golden grain, bright fruits,

Sweet herbs which grow for all, the waters wan,

Sufficient drinks and meats. Which when these heard

The might of gentleness so conquered them,

The priests themselves scattered their altar-flames

And through the land next day passed a decree

Proclaimed by criers, and in this way graved

On rock and column: “Thus the King’s will is:

There hath been slaughter for the sacrifice

And slaying for the meat, but henceforth none

Shall spill the blood of life or taste of flesh,

Seeing that knowledge grows, and life is one,

And mercy cometh to the merciful.”

My brother said: “If you will become a vegetarian, I will.”

“All right,” said I.

From that moment we were vegetarians, though my mother put up a good deal of

opposition, fearing that we would lose our health. My father also would have

become a vegetarian then, but for his consideration for her feelings.

We listened to all the arguments against vegetarianism, but none of them was

sufficiently convincing to counteract [67] the moral issue. It was said by some

that the animals would overrun the earth if we did not destroy them for food.

The Chinese might as well argue to the American that his continent would be

overrun by frogs if he persisted in his foolish policy of not eating frogs. On

the contrary it is found necessary to breed animals by the million to fill the

meat markets. This very aspect of the matter, however, constituted in my eyes

the greatest argument in favour of flesh food.

I was once, years later, speaking to a lady on a boat, and she put me this

issue: “But do you not realize that if we did not eat meat there would be

millions of animals which would never have any life at all?”

A bit Irish, perhaps, but I understood, and replied: “Yes. I could be reconciled

to that idea, if we could have an agreement that every animal before being

killed should be given its share of the bargain, that is, a reasonable long

life, at least to the other side of maturity, and there should be no lamb and

sucking pig on our tables, and no horrors such as pate de foie gras, goose liver

produced by nailing the bird’s feet permanently to a board so as to deprive it

of all exercise, and stuffing food forcibly down its throat so as to enlarge its


There was no answer to this. Besides, if it is on the ground of providing life

to other creatures that we ought to eat them, we ought on the same ground to

insist on using horse-carriages and refuse the use of motor-cars for ordinary

short-distance traffic. A city taxi-cab should be an object of execration and

our streets ought still to be filled with growlers and hansom cabs. There must

be millions fewer horses on earth than there were twenty-five years ago.

Speaking of vegetarianism reminds me of an amusing incident with reference to

smoking. My elder brother, always rather thin and fragile, was obviously smoking

too much. My father used to advise him strongly against it. One day my brother

suddenly said to himself, as he was going along a path across a field which led

to our house:

“What is the use of smoking, anyway?” and he took out his pipe from his pocket

and flung it away. A day or two later my father was crossing the field, when he

happened to see the pipe lying in the grass. He recognized it and brought it


“It seems a pity,” he remarked, “to throw away a good pipe that cost several

shillings.” [68]

The next day my brother was puffing away as hard as ever at the same old pipe.

I never smoked. I preferred the money. I was very careful about money – except

on one occasion when I was travelling on the top of a tramcar at night, and on

reaching home I found that in the dark I had given the conductor two sovereigns

in mistake for two halfpennies to pay the penny fare!


After Mrs. Besant’s lecture the chairman announced that there was a branch of

the Theosophical Society in the city and there would be a meeting on Tuesday

evening at which the public were invited to ask questions. My father and I

attended. We were both thoroughly dissatisfied with the answers to the

half-dozen questions put by members of the public.

My father asked: “If there were a good power or principle as the basis of all

things, how could there be imperfection, pain, cruelty or any evil in the

world?” Several people tried to answer this – quite hopelessly. One illogical

answer was that God had given man free will and it was man who produced the evil

– quite innocent of the obvious implication that God must have produced man as

an evil being and therefore have produced the evil.

The only man there whom we appreciated and respected was the chairman, a

venerable gentleman (afterwards to be my father-in-law) who explained that

members of the Theosophical Society were only students, and that though man

could not yet solve such ultimate questions, it was still worth while to study

and find out what we could. He himself felt that were there not some good

principle gradually emerging and increasing its sway, there could be no good at

all in man, since no purely material being could be unselfish or could rise to

the heights of self-sacrifice. Such a thing would mean that matter could

overstep the nature of matter. And besides there was that mysterious divine

discontent which at last left no one completely satisfied with any material

pleasures or gains. He begged the audience not to go to extremes in any way, but

to use reason just as far as it would go with the very limited data at our

disposal. My father was very much taken by this old gentleman who was old enough

to be his father. We went [69] to the meeting a second time, only to find a man

reading an extremely dull and futile paper. We went no more, but decided that we

would hear Mrs. Besant whenever she came to the city.

It was not long before I obtained a copy of The Light of Asia. It affected me so

deeply that I had to read it in the privacy of my own room. Here at last was

true religion, from my point of view. The life of Buddha, as given in this poem,

was supremely gentle, beautiful, unselfish; but what was it that Buddha had

discovered which brought hope into the world? It was the law of karma. Why?

Because it showed that man was making himself through a series of lives, and if

it was somewhat hard that such a puny being was faced with such a herculean task

– that he could obtain nothing except by his own efforts – there was at the same

time the assurance that he could never suffer in the least except by his own

doing, that present cruelty and injustice to himself was but the payment for his

own past cruelty and injustice to others, and that the door was open for him to

make of his own future just what he liked. Here was no capricious God who, if

capable of creating cancer on earth, would be equally capable of providing

dreadful hells hereafter. No blind unmoral chance also, which could so easily

bring to naught in a moment the most strenuous endeavours.

I still thought of Mrs. Besant in connection with all this Buddhism. It was one

thing to have a theory or a voice from the past, however beautiful and eminent.

It seemed quite another to have at hand a living person, a noble, trustworthy,

and unselfish character, who could add to that theory the living testimony of

direct super-sensuous vision, who could declare these things to be true,

certain, scientifically sure, in a ringing convincing voice.


In the new building, I invited my elder brother to join me in the business. He

left the shop that he was then managing, and we opened new departments in the

upper floor of the office. We started making rubber stamps, and by following the

methods that I had already found successful, succeeded in developing a large

postal business, importing most of our raw materials and small mechanisms from

America and Germany. We opened out also in the sale of picture post [70] cards,

and luckily got in right in the height of the craze, selling especially

Continental views, most beautifully collotyped in Germany. We missed, however, a

good trade in safety razors and some other small articles, through over-caution.

In my new offices on the ground floor I had partitioned off a portion as private

office. Here I used to attend to my account books and also retire occasionally

to practise various mental and physical exercises which I had found in Mrs.

Besant’s book, and in some books on hypnotism and cognate subjects which I had

obtained elsewhere, particularly one called Your Finer Forces and How to Develop

Them. I practised breathing exercises but not of the Hatha Yoga kind. I had had

for some time after my experiment in breathing at the shop a romantic notion of

curing large numbers of variously afflicted people in practically no time by

means of mesmeric passes.

Some months after the visit to the Theosophical Lodge I began to desire more

knowledge about it. I remembered to have seen a small library there and thought

it might possibly be open to the public. I was determined to read extensively,

if I could find suitable books. So one evening I went again to the Theosophical

Lodge premises. I found there, sitting at a table, an oldish gentleman with a

bald head, a small “horse-thief” beard, and a snuffle. Later I learned that he

was by profession a knocker-up. He lived in the mill area and made his living by

going round the streets in the early mornings and rattling on the bedroom

windows of his clients with a long stick. This occupation gave him plenty of

time to indulge in his hobby – the study of Greek and Neo-Platonic philosophy,

in which he had read profoundly. Anyone would have taken him for a university

professor of the old style, or a second-hand bookseller. I also found a notice

saying that books could be borrowed for a penny a week, or two shillings and

sixpence a year.

I walked over to the table, and when the old gentleman looked up at me I put

down a half-crown and said I wanted to join the library. He stared owlishly at

the coin for a few moments, then pushed it back towards me and said: “No, take a

book; pay a penny when you return it. Perhaps you will not want to read any


This negative sort of salesmanship took me, a business [71] man, very much by

surprise. But I had made up my mind. Pushing the half-crown back again I

replied: “No, put me down for a year’s subscription. I am going to read them


It happened at that moment that two small middle-aged ladies entered the room.

One, I learnt afterwards, was the wife of the president to whom my father and I

had taken a liking on the occasion of our first visit to the Lodge; the other

kept a small toffee shop in the mill area. They spoke to me – words of welcome.

I was shy, and wanted to get away with my book. Would I not give them the

pleasure of my company at the meeting that was about to take place? I preferred

not, I explained that I had come only to obtain books to read, to find out more

about Mrs. Besant’s philosophy. Oh! But it would give them so much pleasure if I

would stay. So I went with them into an adjacent, larger room, which was by day

a sort of board-room connected with a solicitor’s office. They sat me down on a

large settee and brought me a number of photographs to see. “This is Mr.

Sinnett. This is Mr. Leadbeater. This is Mr. Mead. This is Mrs. Mead. This is

Mr. Keightley” – and so on.

I said: “Yes; yes; yes; yes,” very politely, though full of inward wonder at

this sudden transition from an atmosphere of rare philosophy to the intimacies

of something resembling a family album. And the persons represented in the

portraits did not resemble the perfect men or Mahatmas of whom I was in search,

though Mrs. Besant had done so to some extent, with her priestessly robes and


After several other people had drifted in and the chairman had called the

meeting to order with two minutes’ silent meditation, I listened to an hour’s

lecture by a parrot-faced and parrot-voiced lady, on the theory that the earth

came from the moon and not the moon from the earth, and then went home, having

given a promise to attend again the next week.


Though the lodge-meetings bored me, the literature had the reverse effect. At

the beginning I read mostly books written by Mrs. Besant, of which there were a

large number, and five largish volumes entitled: Isis Unveiled and The [72]

[Photo missing: DR. ANNIE BESANT IN HER PRIME (Lafayette)]

Secret Doctrine, by Madame Blavatsky, chief founder of the movement. With the

portrait of the author in Isis Unveiled I almost fell in love.

In both of these authors I read about Mahatmas. I was already prepared for the

main ideas of Theosophy (as this philosophy was somewhat erroneously called) by

my reading of The Light of Asia. I was a worshipper at the shrine of Buddha as

depicted therein. I had read that other people could follow in his steps and

bring to an end the procession of their lives (or rather bodies) by attaining

Nirvana, a state which could not be defined, but certainly bore no resemblance

to any sort of heaven.

According to Buddha, this Nirvana was to be attained not by any external means,

not by breathings or posturings, not by prayer or supplication, not by the aid

of any teacher or guide, but simply by surrendering absolutely all selfishness

and turning the full light of reason upon the imperfection of the world and all

human fancies, and thus reaching “illumination” and the “true life kept for him

who false puts by.” I understood that thousands had attained Nirvana, the state

of Buddha, the Wise, just as he himself had done, and had gone on into Nirvana.

But in these works I read of Mahatmas, men who had attained Nirvana but were

nevertheless actually living in human Indian bodies in Tibet. Though they had

attained perfection, they had not accepted the full liberty of Nirvana, but

remained in touch with man on the threshold of that state, so that they might

help others to attain.

I wanted above all things to find one of these Mahatmas, to serve him, to learn

and practise at his feet. Notwithstanding my coolness towards the celebrities of

the Theosophical Society, my lack of response to the contents of the family

album, I was completely captivated by the greater, though similar attraction of

the Mahatmas.

I found from conversation with my new friends that they were very humble in

these matters. They worshipped the Masters or Adepts from afar. They said that

if they behaved themselves in the station in life to which they had so far

attained, they might hope, after some more lives, to approach the feet of the

Masters and begin to tread the Path which led – usually through seven or

fourteen lives of intense endeavour – to Their estate. In the meantime they sat

at the feet of those who were already Their disciples. [73]

This was not good enough for me. I had pictured myself as another edition of the

Buddha himself, a Nirvani in this life. I was prepared to surrender everything,

everything. I wanted this joy not only for myself. I wanted everybody to see

that they suffered from themselves, that none else compelled them to hug the

wheel of birth and death, and kiss its spokes of agony. The Theosophical Society

was founded by the Masters for the purpose of spreading this knowledge of the

open door to Nirvana above and brotherhood on earth. I would work for it with

every ounce of my strength, with every gasp of my breath.

I gave my name for membership to the President, vowing in a broken voice that I

would do my best to help the great work. My vehemence disturbed the members

standing by; it was perhaps a little unseemly to be so religious in public. My

name went up to higher quarters, and after several months’ delay I received from

London a certificate of membership, though I was only at the age of nineteen.

Their rule that minors could be admitted only with the consent of their parents

and guardians seems to have been overlooked in my case.

In my reading I had pictured one of the Mahatmas as particularly suited to

myself. I wanted to go to him and learn. In the privacy of my room I would throw

myself on the ground in my longing, like any medieval devotee. Life was barren,

unthinkable, impossible. It could not go on without Him. I doubt if any hart

panted after the water-brooks as I after the Master. I wrote to Mrs. Besant

about this. She replied that I had a good brain, deep devotion, a great gift of

expression, and would certainly go far in this life. She said that her own

literary and scientific education had been of great value to her in her work,

and advised me to prepare myself by completing a sound education. Old people

must be taken as they are, she said, but young people should study and make

themselves worth having.

Some little time afterwards Mrs. Besant came to the city again and I was told

that I might have an interview with her. She stayed at the house of the

President. I went there on the appointed day. There was a hushed atmosphere.

Several people were sitting tensely on chairs in the drawing-room, waiting for

their turns, while our hostess, the little lady mentioned before (who was

destined to become my mother-in-law, though I did not know it then), busied

herself [75] with the arrangements. It was a large well-appointed house, for the

President was a successful business man, proprietor of a fairly large ironworks.

In due course my turn came. I had had time to work myself up into a considerable

state of agitation, the suppression of which produced an outward state of

abnormal stiffness. I entered Mrs. Besant’s room. She was sitting on a chair at

the far side. I balanced myself on the edge of another chair at a respectful

distance, very conscious of my clumsy boots, my tennis shirt and my long dark

beard – would have been very promising material for a caricaturist of

Bolsheviks. I waited nervously for her to speak the words which would change the

whole of my life and even future eternities, deeming no words necessary for me

in the presence of practical omniscience! She looked at me intently for what

seemed a long time – it was characteristic of her great heart that she did not

burst into laughter or else into tears. At last she asked me what my plans were.

I told her my desire. She advised patience and preparation – strangely like the

advice given to me by the kind old gentleman who was the proprietor of my second

warehouse. This time I had the sense to take the advice. I was consoled to some

extent by her suggestion that I should keep in touch with her by correspondence.

It was in that house that I became acquainted with a little girl who was to play

a big part in the future that was then troubling me so much. I was frequently

invited there, with other friends, and occasionally we used to sit for a kind of

group meditation. Eight or ten of us, very much in sympathy with one another,

used to gather at a big round table in one of the spare rooms, for an hour’s

meditation, after which we would tell to one another our experiences. In order

to counteract to some extent the impure “magnetism” of our daily clothing, at

these gatherings we used to put on white robes, all alike. Afterwards we would

generally return to the drawing-room and have a little refreshment and

conversation before proceeding to our various homes.

It was on one such occasion that I first met the little girl above mentioned.

Ordinarily she was not in evidence at any of our gatherings or tea parties,

being sent to play somewhere or being entertained by the maids. But she was

brought to meet the visitors and to receive a good night kiss [75] before going

to bed. She drove me nearly out of my wits by starting to go round the whole

circle of visitors for this good night kiss. I was in a mild perspiration when

my turn came, but I managed to do my duty by planting a most undexterous

osculation somewhere in the neighbourhood of the parting of the hair. I had not

kissed anybody, not even my mother, since my dreadful experience with the

school-ma’am, and I was not sure now but that it was a most dangerous thing to

do, leading to one could not tell what lengths on the downward path!

Although the little girl was quite willing to kiss the visitors, she

nevertheless most obviously regarded us with the greatest possible scorn. I had

never before seen such a proud child, nor indeed any person so expert in giving

a snub or showing the cold shoulder. There was, of course, nothing deliberate in

this; it was simply that she did not hide her thoughts or feelings. She had her

own views about the white robes!


Mrs. Besant’s advice sent me back to school – the last thing in the world I

could have expected. Not satisfied entirely with the theosophical library, I had

developed the habit of going to the big city reference library. There I became a

voracious reader whenever I could find time. Every book was interesting –

philosophy, science, travel, biography, history. Once more I wanted to read them

all. But my ardour for this was damped when one day I made a calculation and

discovered that if I spent eight hours a day reading in that library I could

finish the job in about five hundred full life-times! I must select. One thing,

however, I would not set aside – the Sanskrit books.

I had read in one of Mrs. Besant’s printed lectures that the philosophy of

Shankaracharya – an Indian metaphysician who lived about three hundred years

B.C., according to some, but about a thousand years later than that according to

others – could not be fully understood unless one read it in the original

Sanskrit. The implication was that she herself could do this. She also spoke of

him as the greatest of Masters.

To me her words had the force of divine authority and imperative necessity. At

the city library I called for their [76] small collection of Sanskrit books,

including several grammars, and was overjoyed to find that it was a language one

could learn by oneself, without a teacher. There were no difficulties of

pronunciation, since the script in which it was written was purely phonetic. The

grammar books were not all quite clear about this pronunciation, but by

comparing three or four of them and making my own deductions I arrived at what I

was afterwards very pleased to learn (when an Indian friend visited us) to be

the correct pronunciation, according to South Indian standards. Then I wrote to

Bombay for grammar and other Sanskrit books of my own.

Hanging on the side of a screen near the entrance to the library I one day

noticed a pamphlet of the University Tutorial College of Cambridge, which told

about the London University examinations, and how one could prepare for them by

postal tuition. Here was my opportunity to complete the sound education advised

by Mrs. Besant. I would give point to my studies by reading for examinations as

explained in that booklet. I wrote to the College. I wanted to take their course

for the Matriculation Examination first of all; but I did not want to take Latin

or French for my second language, though I had learnt both at school. I wanted

to take Sanskrit, which was permissible at the examination by payment of an

extra fee of £2. But when I learnt that the tuition fee for Sanskrit would be

£10 extra for every ten lessons by post, I dropped the Tutorial College and

decided to learn everything by myself.

I bought the books, settled down to three or four hours’ study every day, part

of it in business hours in my private office. For the scientific subjects I

attended the Municipal School of Technology – a magnificent affair, costing half

a million pounds, modelled somewhat on the lines of the famous Boston

Technological Institution – for two and a half hours every evening, except Lodge

nights. Thus in about a year I matriculated in London University, having passed

in my coveted Sanskrit as well as the other subjects required by the University.

I had then to decide whether I would go in for the Arts or the Science course

for the Degree. Philosophy and metaphysics were to me the veriest child’s play.

I decided, therefore, in order to avoid a bias in my education, to take up

science, to which I devoted a large part of my time for four [77] years, in

chemistry, physics, geology and mathematics, attending the Technical College

nearly every night.

I loved that College, and the teachers; they were real teachers, in complete

contrast to what I had known in my schooldays. I no longer had any qualms about

going back to school. The College was part of the Victoria University, but the

night students were not allowed in those less democratic days to have the

degrees (as they are now) so we had to content ourselves with the numerous

certificates of the Board of Education in separate subjects of study. I obtained

many first classes and numerous prizes, which more than covered the cost of my

fees. Meals necessarily became very irregular at this time, and I expert at

poaching eggs and toasting cheese on a gas ring. [78]

-------Cardiff Theosophical Society in Wales-------
206 Newport Road, Cardiff, Wales, UK. CF24-1DL




THERE were not many members who cared to attend the Theosophical Lodge

regularly; the average was perhaps eight or ten, though there were about thirty

members on the rolls. Lecturers would come occasionally from London and other

places, and then the Lodge room would be filled with members and their friends.

The President’s wife, who was hostess for the Lodge, had the difficult task of

bringing about a closer association of the alpha and omega of society. She would

go much out of her way to encourage any visitors of education and culture to

come more intimately into touch with the Lodge; but she would also do what she

could for the poorest and the most ignorant, and invite them also to her house.

There was one old man, a boot and shoe repairer from a back street, who was

half-crazed with incoherent visions, and would talk on all occasions. The

problem was accentuated by his indifference to soap, water and nail scissors.

She was always kind to him, yet tried firmly to quieten him and prevent him from

unconsciously insulting other people who happened to hold views differing from

his. There was a highfalutin’ widow of the semi-artistic world, with two

marriageable daughters. Our hostess thought it would do me immense good if I

could hit it off with one of those, and did her best to make suitable

opportunity. But it meant nothing to me in my then mood. My position was rather

that of a pedigreed cat belonging to a friend, which turned up its nose at the

pedigreed partner thoughtfully provided for it, and preferred to devote its

amours to a rapscallion which lived in a convent near by – in my case the great

orphan, humanity. [79]

The membership was not permanent. There were always some coming in and some

going out, for various reasons. One gentleman, who had been in the habit of

reading papers at the meetings, showed me a new book one day. It was full of

coloured plates of astral and other auras of various kinds of people. He said it

was impossible to believe. Did I not think so? No, I did not think so, nor

apparently did any of the others. We had a rational argument, even if there was

a weak spot in it. These things were probabilities. Those who claimed to see

them were good people. Therefore what they said was probably true. The gentleman

went home and came no more.

There was one professional man whom we had made our treasurer. He was very

ardent, but the annual meeting finished him off. There was a deficit of £9. What

was to be done about it? He suggested we should increase the annual dues to wipe

it off. But, as had happened year after year before, the President paid it.

Thereupon our Treasurer resigned membership, saying he was unwilling to

associate with such irresponsible people, who came there for what they could get

and had not the dignity to pay their way even when they could.

Gradually the attendance at meetings diminished. Only five or six would turn up.

Our financial position grew worse, so that we had to remove to inferior

premises. I was then librarian. I said we must have Sunday evening lectures for

propaganda purposes. But who would lecture? I would, if no one better could be

found. Hm! But I knew I could, for I used to lecture my studies in my empty

office on Sundays in order to impress them on my memory. The situation gradually

became acute. I pointed out that few people in the city had even heard about

Theosophy. The public ought to be given a chance to know about it, to accept or

reject. We had all come into this splendid thing, which had changed our lives,

by some accident; let us make some more accidents! If they would not do

anything, I must go and take a room somewhere and try by myself.

Very well, they would make a trial (no doubt the lesser of two evils). I must

arrange the meetings and take the responsibility. The President’s wife would

come to help, though she was no speaker. One or two others volunteered to be

present. I put a two-line advertisement in a newspaper; there would be a

discussion on Reincarnation at [80] the rooms of the Theosophical Society on

Sunday evening, all welcome.

Twelve people turned up, all tongue-tied. To save the situation I had to get up

and make a speech on the subject. They would like to ask one or two questions,

that was all. I did the answering.

I followed my old business methods, took a collection to pay for the

advertisements, spent it all on the advertisement for the next week, and was

rejoiced to find an audience of sixteen people. The third week twenty came, and

so on. Some came again and again, became friends, joined the Lodge. The

membership rose to about ninety and the Lodge meetings began to present quite

busy scenes.

Week after week I lectured. Audiences began to average nearly a hundred. The

Lodge had to move again into larger premises. I was a wonder, a phenomenon, a

lecturer in our midst, inspired, etc.! They made me Vice-President. Other Lodges

wanted me to speak for them. Tours were arranged in different parts of England,

and I would take an occasional holiday from my business to carry on this good


Once I undertook a walking tour in Yorkshire – three lectures in seven towns –

Harrogate, Leeds, Wakefield, Sheffield, Huddersfield, Halifax and Bradford. By

day I walked from one town to the next, an average of perhaps fifteen miles; in

the evenings I lectured. I certainly proved to myself the accuracy of Emerson’s

saying that no man would break down in a speech on the day in which he had

walked ten miles.

Behold me, tramping along – clumsy boots, cloth cap, tennis shirt, long beard –

which would not grow on the front of the chin – ardent expression, mackintosh

over arm, and, above all things, in hand a large green umbrella which would not

close up closely, which had belonged to my grandfather! It spoke volumes for the

self-control of the English people that I was only once awakened to a sense of

how others saw me. It occurred in a tramcar, when one workman sitting opposite

me said explosively to another: “Oh, Christ!” and everybody stared. Yet I vow

there was no pose in my composition. I was quite unself-conscious. When friends

had occasionally suggested the removal of the beard I had always replied that I

did not see why I should scrape myself with a piece of iron, and the beard was

quite natural – as truly it was! [81]

Really, I was quite scientific in my dispositions. It was the world that was

full of absurd customs. Why should I bow to these follies? If there was love and

truth and beauty in the world, why all this nonsense of preserving unnecessary

fashions, habits and customs? In the Theosophical Lodge itself I used to feel

uncomfortable when there were expressions of blind faith. I was all for reason

and a scientific basis for belief. It was on that account that I started and

carried on what was called a third object group.


The “Third Object” of the Society was: “To investigate unexplained laws of

nature and the powers latent in man.” About twelve of us took part in the Third

Object group. Our aim was not to experiment with mediumship, but to see if we

could obtain first-hand knowledge of clairvoyance and such faculties, under test

conditions. We had successful results from the very beginning.

The first experiment was the “battery of minds.” We all sat round in a

semicircle, except one member who was seated at the centre of the circle and

blindfolded with a thick scarf. I sat at the end of the semicircle, wrote the

name of a simple object on a bit of paper and passed it round for all to read.

We all then concentrated on a picture of the object written down and tried to

send it into the mind of the subject, whose business it was to keep the mind

quiet but alert – like that of a person looking out of a window with wonder as

to what might pass by – and to state whatever arose or appeared in the mind.

After a short time, the lady who took the first turn as subject said: “I am

afraid I do not see anything at all. All that has happened is that I seemed to

hear someone calling ‘Puss, puss, puss’.”

We were quite satisfied, for the word which I had written on the paper was

“cat.” Then I wrote the word “watch,” and she was at once very accurate and

precise: “I can see the dial of a watch.” Other members took their turns. One

gentleman received the messages with about fifty per cent of correctness. I

remember that in his case penknife came out as a table knife, and dog as a pug

dog. Of all the experimenters only two or three had a zero result in reception.

We tried many experiments in reading words written [82] on a paper placed inside

a closed envelope. The first time, I wrote HEAD. The subject spelt it out: “H –

then a vowel – two vowels – E and A -one letter more – I cannot see it clearly –

it is R, or rather D.”

On the next paper I wrote XMAS. Immediately on touching the paper she said,

laughing, “O, Christmas.” “Got it in a Hash,” she added, “without seeing the

letters at all.”

Generally the letters were spelt out. When asked how she got the word, our

subject said that in most cases she actually saw the letters. That must have

been so, for on one occasion when I wrote the word STEAMER she spelt it quite

methodically: “S-t-a-i-m – no – s-t-a-r, star.” This showed that there was some

broken kind of sight. None of us had thought about a star, so it could not have

been thought-transmission in this case.

In a variant of this experiment each member in the semicircle wrote his own word

on a separate piece of paper. I collected the papers, shuffled them and handed

one to the subject, without knowing what was written upon it. She took hold of

the paper and presently said: “I see a dragonfly.”

The word written on the paper was “fly.” In this case t here must have been

visualization of a thought rising from the written word.

One of the most interesting experiments gave us a probable answer to the

question: Is the thought conveyed by some sort of wave in ether, like wireless

telegraphy, or is something tangible transmitted from mind to mind, like a

letter through the post? We obtained evidence of something tangible at least

that the thought could impress itself on material objects and could be taken

from them by the receptive mind.

For these experiments I prepared a number of small pieces of paper by trying to

impress pictures upon them by thought; on one I would imagine a house, on

another a tree, and so on. I wrote something in the corner of each paper in tiny

almost illegible writing, so that I would know them again. Then I shuffled these

papers and put one out without looking. The subject said: “I can see a hen in a

farmyard. She is surrounded by chickens and is scratching the ground to get

something for them to eat.”

I looked at the paper. It was the one with the word “hen” written on the corner.

I had pictured simply the hen, not the chickens, the farmyard and the

scratching. [83]

At the second paper the lady shuddered: “Ugh! I do not like this. It reminds me

of vermin.” Then, after a moment: “I see an underground archway and a sewer. It

is swarming with rats.”

I had thought only of a rat, not consciously of any underground place. None of

us knew which paper had been put out. My thought must have impressed the paper

in some way, and that impression could be seen or received direct from the paper

by the sensitive person.

It is interesting to notice that in every case the sensitive added something to

what was transmitted by the sender. When we experimented with proverbs instead

of simple objects there was much scope for imagination. For example, “Too many

cooks spoil the broth” elicited quite a story: “I see a large room – a kitchen.

A lot of men are hurrying about and getting in each other’s way and spilling

things. O! I know” – with a laugh – “Too many cooks spoil the broth.”

A different kind of experiment was that of sensing the presence of a person. The

subject was blindfolded, as before. Then one of the experimenters would quietly

stand near, while the rest of us remained at some distance. On one evening this

was done fourteen times with our best subject, and every time she named the

person correctly, frequently adding further information, such as: “You have been

in the presence of death, lately,” or “You have been sick so that you could not

eat” -remarks in every case admitted to be correct.

The fifty per cent gentleman was remarkably good in this experiment. Out of

seventeen trials he named ten correctly immediately, five correctly on the

second attempt, after the word “No” had been called out once, and the remaining

two on the third attempt. In a variant of this experiment we scattered chairs in

different parts of the large room; then moved about, stamping and making

clapping and other noises, until we suddenly sat down in the chairs which we

happened to be near. Then the subject pointed to us individually and correctly

named us all. When we asked for explanations of the process, the answer was: “I

can see colours round you, and recognize you by those colours.” One curious

detail was that when I stood near to the subject and strongly imagined myself to

be in a distant place, the subject could not identify me. [84]

Outside the group another sort of experiment (highly recommended by Mr. W. T.

Stead) was undertaken by myself and one of the members. We sat for ten minutes

each morning in our respective homes and alternately “sent” and “received” a

thought, keeping a record, which we compared only at the end of six months. It

showed no results for about a month at the beginning, then some correct

transmissions in increasing frequency, until in total there was an average of

more than ten per cent correct.

Our group ultimately broke up through the illness of some of its members and the

departure of others to new homes.


As far as I ever heard, ours was the only Lodge of the Theosophical Society in

the world in which such scientific experiments were conducted, under test

conditions. The prominent clairvoyants in the Society, Mrs. Besant and Mr.

Leadbeater, and in a minor degree two or three others, always said that they

were not allowed by the Masters to give any definite evidence of their unusual

faculties or powers. Mme Blavatsky, however, had performed many remarkable

experiments in the presence of numbers of persons who had signed their names to

written statements of what they had collectively seen.

Most of the members of the Society accepted unquestioningly anything said to be

seen by Mrs. Besant or Mr. Leadbeater. When, later, I was in intimate touch with

them, I learnt that they frequently received letters somewhat as follows: “It is

not necessary for me to describe my trouble. With your wonderful powers you will

know everything when you receive this letter. Please help me, or advise me ...”

In reply to such letters they always explained that it was not right or

permissible to use psychic powers in matters which could be attended to by

ordinary physical faculties; it would be a waste of power; if the writer would

explain his case clearly, and briefly, they would see what could be done!

Some members declined to believe without evidence, notably Babu Bhagavan Das of

Benares, who used to say: “I am sorry. If you are not permitted to show, I am

not permitted to believe.”

In this he followed the tradition of the Indian yogis, [85] who always show

their powers to their prospective pupils, as I had occasion to learn in my own

experience in India.

Dependence upon leaders was always a weak point in the Society, although the

original intention had been to base everything on rationality, even in the study

of abnormal things. Some would say: “See how the mother cat has to carry her

kittens about while they are small. Why should it not be so in occult matters?”

Others, thinking this a trifle extreme, would prefer the simile of the young

monkey, which clings to its mother with its own hands. This “monkey policy” was

often put forward by leaders and would-be leaders who considered that the act of

choosing a leader to be approached for orders and hints to be obeyed implicitly

constituted all the positivity of character necessary for occult development.

Only a few held that if members of the Theosophical Society had not yet been

weaned it was about time to begin; I was one of these, and therefore destined

for ultimate unpopularity. But I anticipate.

My membership in the Theosophical Society brought into my life a social element

which had been lacking before. At first I used to walk part of the way home from

the Lodge meetings with a young business man who was very much taken with a

literary young lady who used to bore us with her excessive enthusiasm for Plato.

They tried to supplant our President, and put the young lady in office instead,

but the scheme was not a success. The young man did not remain a member for very


After that, I generally walked home with a lady who was about thirty years my

senior, but as lively as a cricket, and I am almost tempted to say as small. She

had been manageress in some sort of factory where many girls were employed, and

had retired on a tiny pension. We used to talk much about systems of yoga and

methods of meditation, in which I was greatly interested.

She was a member of the Eastern School of Theosophy, an organization composed

only of members of the Theosophical Society, but not officially connected with

it. There were frequent references to this school in the writings of Mme

Blavatsky and Mrs. Besant. When introducing new members to the Society Mrs.

Besant would often speak of the “further step” which they could take after some

time by joining the E.S. Its proceedings were entirely secret, [86] under

pledge, so I could not ask what its methods of meditation were. But I used to

tell my friend that I was puzzled by the fact that its members appeared to have

no more knowledge and no more self-control than other people, and I disliked the

slight atmosphere of superiority and sacerdotalism which seemed to surround it.

When it came to matters of election to office, or the selection of speakers,

membership in the “E.S.” was certainly an asset. At the time of the election of

Committee members for the British Section of the Society, lists of “suitable

people” were sent round privately.

I joined the School after some time, and did not find its systems of meditation

as good as those which I already knew and had been privately practising. In

saying this I do not break any pledge, for I do not say what those meditations


I was always very much against anything which might have an hypnotic effect in

meditation. Repetition of formulas; dwelling in thought on Masters’ forms, with

vows of fidelity and obedience; prayers to the Masters, asking them for guidance

and blessing – all seemed to be bad psychology and bad reverence. If Masters

were there, surely they would do their utmost without being asked. And the habit

of thinking every day of them or of their disciples with requests and hopes for

orders or guidance seemed to me to lead to paralysis of initiative, in which

alone I thought either intuition or inner guidance could find its opportunity.

I was ready to admit the principle of mystical union with higher intelligence

than my own. That was a matter of both logic and experience. Logic, since in the

world visible to the senses our physical powers are enchanced by harmonious

co-operation with the laws and forces of nature. I disliked the formula “the

conquest of nature” often employed in connection with scientific achievement. In

the use of wind, steam, electricity, we were simply co-operating or associating

intelligently with the forces of the greater world outside our personality.

To one convinced of thought-transference such association mentally was also a

reasonable idea. When a thinker has a flash of intuition, as is common among

scientists and philosophers, I could regard it as a kind of mental contact with

a deeper intelligence, or a world of ideas, even a universal [86] mind or some

great world of life in which live the liberated souls. That also was in accord

with experience. Many people had declared that they sometimes felt themselves

illuminated with an intelligence altogether greater than any which they felt

that they could call their own. I had myself had such experience a number of

times. Even if the Masters did retain actual human form, their aim would be to

advise men to become responsive to that world, not to become worshippers of

themselves and mere followers to carry out orders or hints given by them. Such

were my thoughts. Certainly above everything I wanted to meet a Master, not to

worship him externally, but to be of his company and his mode and order of life.


The new social contacts of the Lodge were most precious to me. Here was

friendship and brotherhood, without safeguards such as those of the

drawing-room, where religion and economics are tacitly avoided. I resented the

E.S. a little, as forming a cleavage within our brotherhood. How could we

discuss important subjects if some among us were pledged to mental reservations,

or if you assumed that they knew what others did not know and were not allowed

to know?

Another movement which seemed to me to harm our brotherhood was the Co-Masonry,

which was taken up eagerly by some of our members some time after I had joined

the Lodge. I was perhaps a little jealous of this, as the members who would not

help the Lodge in its financial difficulties could find much money for the new

Masonic movement. We had had various proposals to reduce expenditure. We had

even removed the Lodge to smaller premises, comparatively obscure and

inconvenient. Scarcely had the removal taken place when up came this question of

starting a Co-Masonic Lodge. All the leading members were canvassed on the

subject; it was whispered round that the Masters were keenly anxious to have the

new movement promoted, and would give of their power and force to or through

those who joined it. In a trice the members hustled to ransack their monetary

resources, and very soon hundreds of pounds were forthcoming. Most of those who

could afford it could not resist the concreteness and the [88] pomp of a

ceremonial movement, backed by the statement or its organized access to the

Masters’ power and blessing.

Again and again prominent members pressed me to join the Masonic movement. Did I

not believe that there was a European Master behind it? He would probably

manifest himself visibly to the members; it might be at the meetings to be held

during the forthcoming Theosophical Convention in Budapest. One leading member

told me about a doctor who helped a certain poor man as soon as he learned that

he was a Mason. This was real brotherhood, was it not? No, communalism. But that

was a step towards universal hrotherhood? It did not seem so to me; it was a

step downwards from it. Later, I joined the movement in India, on the proposal

of Mrs. Besant. After the first meeting I was chatting with Mr. Leadbeater.

“How did you get on?” he asked.

“I have told more lies to-night than in all the rest of my life,” I sadly

replied. This was, of course, no criticism of Masonry. It is no secret that

there are rituals and formulas. It was simply that I had said what I had been

told to say, but again and again it did not agree with my own thought and


After I had been Vice-President of the Lodge for two or three years, our

President fell ill and it became my duty to carry on his work. At last he died,

and I was elected President in his place. During these years a deep friendship

had grown up between us. I had been a frequent visitor at his house, and had

even been on holidays with him and his wife and little girl. We went to the

country and to the Isle of Wight. It was something new to me to pick flowers in

the woods with a little child. When the father died, I was there to help, to

console, to fill the gap to some extent, or rather to be a distraction from the

emptiness. Often after that I took the little girl, now thirteen years old, for

bicycle rides. Something new, clean and simple came into my life, which till

then had consciously known nothing but struggle and conflict.

I had no intention of going to India. That was brought about by psychic

experiences. I cannot say whether these in turn were brought about by some

activity of my subconscious mind or were actual occurrences. I can only report

what happened, or seemed to happen.

One evening, when I was sitting in meditation with the [89] group of friends I

have already mentioned, I suddenly became aware of a Master standing opposite me

across the table, and speaking to me. He put me through a kind of catechism. Did

I understand what honesty meant? Did I know the importance of it? Did I consider

myself honest? Somehow I was made to see the tremendous value of perfect honesty

– not simply honesty in speech and in dealing with others, but also honesty in

knowing oneself. Yes, I was very honest according to the world’s standards, but

I could not say that I was always fundamentally honest to myself. After some

time there was a pause and suddenly I became aware of a hand lightly resting on

my left shoulder. Looking that way – though I do not think that I opened my eyes

or made any movement – I saw, or thought I saw, Mme Blavatsky (who had then been

dead for about seventeen years) standing beside me. She was laughing, and

looking not at me, but across in front of me towards my right. Following her

gaze I saw Colonel Olcott standing there (he had been dead about a year). Mme

Blavatsky spoke to him, merely the words: “He’s ripe, Olcott; we’ll send him to


Then the vision faded. I opened my eyes and became aware again of my friends

sitting round the table. At the time the vision gave me no surprise. It seemed

perfectly natural that the Master should be there; he was as familiar to me as

my own father. It seemed quite natural also that Mme Blavatsky and Colonel

Olcott should be there, like familiar friends.

It was not this vision that decided me to go to India, however. I was not

prepared to give so much credit to visions. Besides, had I not seen in our

experimental group that even reliable clairvoyants unconsciously embellished

what they saw with elements drawn from their own personalities? I went on with

my life as usual, merely wondering whether I would ever go to India or not.

Something more happened, however. One night, as I was going home alone on top of

a tramcar, I seemed to see Mrs. Besant in front of me, asking me to come to her.

Still, I took no notice. In my opinion there was nothing decisive enough to call

for any action. Then another vision came. I was going down some steps from a

railway station at night. The steps were roofed in, and only dimly lighted.

Suddenly the whole cavern-like place was brightly illuminated, and [90] I saw

Mrs. Besant standing before me in a golden radiance. She spoke: “I want you to

come and help me.”

That night, when I reached home I told my father that I had a fancy to take a

trip to India for three months. Would he help my brother to look after the

business in my absence? Yes, of course. I did not tell him nor my friends at the

Lodge of my reason for going, though I had told my friends in the meditation

group of my vision there. I took a Japanese steamer to Colombo from London, in

November, 1908, and my father came with me to London to see me off. I meant to

go for a three months’ trip to see what would happen. I had no idea that India

would become my home and that I should not see England again for over thirteen

years. [91]


-------Cardiff Theosophical Society in Wales-------
206 Newport Road, Cardiff, Wales, UK. CF24-1DL




IT was with a sense of emptiness that on the evening of departure I watched the

white cliffs of England disappear into the dusk, having established myself on

the extreme edge of the poop deck. That became my favourite spot on the ship.

From there I viewed the coast of Portugal and watched Gibraltar go by. From

there day after day I gazed down into the swirling, churning waters, which were

so sympathetic with my mood. There, when we had stormy weather, I enjoyed the

lift and fall, as of a child’s swing, with no uneasiness save the thought that

something might break, when the propeller rose clear of the water and raced

madly, vibrating the ship with its superfluous energy. Sitting there on a

stanchion, I had no sickness, did not even think of sickness, only remembered

vaguely having seen people sick years before on an Isle of Man boat, among them

a lady who kept on saying, in her anxiety: “Oh! I am sure I shall be sick,” and

was sick even before the vessel left the landing stage.

During that voyage I suffered great hunger, physical as well as spiritual – the

former because I would eat nothing that had ever wagged a tail. There must be no

trace of such impurity in the body that was going to the Masters’ land, and

perhaps to his immediate society! There must also be no pollution of the mind

with trashy novels or magazines; I took with me only books of Hindu philosophy.

As to the spiritual hunger, it was absolutely indefinite, a kind of protracted

gaze into a formless sky.

Only occasionally my fellow-voyagers drew me out of this mood to some extent.

Sometimes the important question of the day was: who, standing on one foot and

toeing a [95] certain line, could place a little block of wood furthest away?

Sometimes we would watch a small Japanese professor of ju-jutsu – who had gone

to England to make a living by teaching the art, and failed to do so – and a

gigantic Scotsman – who was going out to be a policeman in Singapore – wrestling

on a large mat spread on the deck. The Japanese always won, though the Scotsman

constantly thought that next time he would be able to escape his opponent’s


Sometimes I would play igo or “fives” with the Japanese officers and passengers

– in fives you put counters on the crossings of the lines of a chequered board,

not on the squares, and you try to get five of these in an unbroken line, while

your opponent, placing counters of opposite colour in his turn, tries to prevent

you and to make a five of his own – quite a fascinating game, requiring,

however, a board of about twice as many squares as an ordinary chess board.

Once I gave a lecture explaining, with reference to many experiments made in

France and other countries, the peculiar activities of the mind possible under

hypnosis and in other abnormal conditions.

Frequently, two young Japanese salvationists, who had been to London for study

and training, would try to convert me to Christianity, as they understood it. I

was fond of those two boys, and went with them for a walk on shore at Port Said,

our only port of call between London and Colombo. We had much in common

temperamentally though little in beliefs or ideas, and so, ignoring the curio

shops, we walked far into the interior of the town to see life there in the

gathering darkness, until an urchin, running alongside us, called out: “Want my

sister, sah? Want my sister, sah?” when we turned back to the ship with

something of a shudder, and some fear that where such things could be there

might also be robbery with violence.

When we ultimately parted one of those friends gave me a little Bible, with a

suitable inscription in the fly-leaf. Though they had argued much with me about

the contents of the Bible, they did not realize that I knew the book far better

than they did, having read it through and through at school. It had been the one

intelligent act of our schoolmaster, I think, to make that our reading book in

English, in daily use year after year.

My cabin companions, three burly men of mature age and [96] language, going out

East to police duties after some furlough, also went together on shore. On

returning, one of them stepped from the boat into the Mediterranean Sea instead

of on the ship’s ladder, to the great amusement of his companions and the


One respectable police officer travelling with a large family – florid wife and

six or seven children -would constantly talk of sex adventures in China. He

assured me that if a European man went with a Chinese woman, the children his

own European wife bore to him afterwards would show some Chinese peculiarities.

I did not notice any such features in his own children, so assumed that this was

his way of warning the young idea not to shoot!

In addition to the three policemen there were other companions in my cabin,

namely, hundreds of cockroaches; actually in my bunk, which was back to back

with the washing-up table of the steward’s pantry. They were a smallish, rather

ethereal type of cockroach, mostly pale brown and whitish in colour, and gifted

with considerable speed of movement. It did not occur to me to complain about

these. I had a sort of idea that such things were to be expected on shipboard –

my father had talked of cockroaches on sailing ships. I knew there were not many

of them, perhaps none at all, on the other two sides of the cabin, where the

policemen slept, but did not change over to their side, though there was a

vacant bunk, as the proximity of beetles was preferable to a stronger smell of

whisky than that to which I was subjected even where I was. Besides, was I not

going out to India to face anything, anything, and perhaps these cockroaches

would serve as a small apprenticeship?


After twenty-three days at sea we arrived at Colombo. One of my friends – the

very gentleman who had told me the story of the doctor and the poor man, in

support of my coming into the brotherhood of his Masonic circle – proved

superior to his creed, and wrote to a friend in Ceylon, introducing this

inexperienced young man and recommending him to tender care.

A messenger came on board to meet me and took me in a little boat to the quay.

We went through the Custom House [97] with my luggage, consisting of one rather

large gladstone bag. “Any firearms? No? It seems very heavy. Let us see.” They

saw – one side filled with clothes, the other with books and lecture notes.

It was not till I was out in the street that I realized that I was drinking hot

air into my lungs. I think the greatest trial in Ceylon and South India is never

to be able to get a breath of cool air. The messenger guided me a short distance

to the premises of Volkart Brothers, a large Swiss shipping company, and into a

private office where a kindly Cingalese gentleman, who occupied an important

position in the firm, received me most affably and entertained me for a while

with conversation containing more than a spice of humour.

I waited while my host finished up his business for the day. He then hailed two

rickshaws, and we bowled off to his bungalow in the Cinammon Gardens, where he

entertained me for four days. I had my first introduction to Oriental

expressiveness when the rickshaw coolie tried to extract from me, as being a

greenhorn, double the proper fare. My host vituperated him with violence of

language and gesture and threw the money on the ground, leaving him to pick it

up. The East is full of contrasts.

What a pleasure it was to walk in the mornings in the red roads, and to see the

blue and white sky through the leaves of magnificent trees forming a natural

archway overhead! Seldom in England had one known such a clear atmosphere, such

a blue sky, such splendour of twisting trunks and lengthened arborages, and

never such red roads – which, however, have long since disappeared, buried under

tar surfaces required by the new motor traffic.

Notwithstanding my host’s kindness, my hunger was not yet to be dispersed. He

was a bachelor, well served by a variety of attendants – one for the bathroom,

another for the kitchen, another to tidy the bungalow, and several others whose

occupations I could not discern at all. In the mornings he went to his office

quite early, having arranged for my morning meal. This duly arrived – dry boiled

rice in a fluffy heap, soup in a little silver bowl, vegetable curry, some small

savoury cakes, and two or three bananas on the side, all served at one time,

with an attendant in the offing, waiting to put out a little more of anything

which I might consume to the end. [98]

The attendant waited in vain. My meal actually consisted of rice and bananas. As

to the soup, curry and cakes – these gentle little Cingalese, were they provided

with leather interiors to compensate for external softness?

In the evening my host came home, hoped I was comfortable, had been well served

with all that I needed, and so on. Oh, yes. The inexperienced young man was not

going to look the gift horse in the mouth, nor to hurt anybody’s feelings.

In the evening we called on friends, and sat in wicker chairs under the trees.

While we partook of fruit and cool drinks, the mosquitoes were busy on other

richer juices not yet thinned by sojourn in the tropics, drinking in through

little trunks put up through the interstices of the canes, and dexterously

punched through the seat of my pants. Ah, the generous tropics – generous to one

and all! No wonder in the East men do not regard themselves as quite different

and separate from the rest of creation. Their greater sense of unity with it is

only the counterpart of a greater intimacy in actual living; in the air above,

on the ground beside us, in the earth beneath, life surges in a restless tide.

It was at one of these evening parties that I first met Mrs. Musaeus Higgins, a

lady of German birth, who had determined to bring modern education to Cingalese

girls without making it a means to draw them away from their own social and

religious traditions. She was working at the development of a school on those

lines. At the time of my visit she was writing a volume of stories of Cingalese

history, and I had the pleasure of helping her with the final edit, especially

to give English instead of German structure to the sentences where necessary.

She had had her experience of the life beneath. She told how one day as she sat

in her former school hall she had looked up and seen the roof swaying. Quickly

she had called to the girls. They all ran out of the building just before it

collapsed in a cloud of dust and palm leaves.

The white ants had eaten the entire interior of the posts and roofing timbers,

leaving only a shell, and now it had reached the point at which a puff of wind

could do the rest. This spectacular disappearance of the old school building

had, however, been good publicity, and funds had soon come forward for housing

the school in a modern bungalow. Later it grew into a splendid and most modern

institution. [99] The book of stories also prospered; it rose to the position of

one of the favourite text books in schools all over Ceylon.


On the fourth evening I was placed in a steamer bound for the Indian port of

Tuticorin – a night’s journey. The entire hold of the steamer was filled with

plantation coolies, men, women and their children. It was a stormy night. Ever

and anon I woke to hear the wails of the crowd below, rising even above the

sound of the wind and the lashing waves.

The daily mail train from Tuticorin to Madras appeared to me phenomenally slow.

It was so, in fact, for it took twenty-four hours to accomplish a journey of

less than 450 miles. New as the country through which we passed was to me, it

did not excite my interest very much, for I was intent only upon reaching my

goal. Sometimes I would look out of the window and watch the deeply-coloured

country-side slinking by – large, flat shrub-covered plains for the most part,

often under water at that time of the year, browns of the dry crops and the

fallow lands alternating with the greens of rice fields – richest green in the


Now and then we would clatter over a level crossing, and see a small scattery

crowd of wayfarers waiting at the gates – men clad in two white cloths or one

cloth and a shirt, the lower garment reaching just below the knees if they were

workmen, to the feet if they were of the land-owning or the literary class –

women in one long check-patterned cloth of reddish-orange or brown or,

occasionally, blue, and a little bodice skin-tight over the shoulders and

breasts, with children clustered beside them or sitting astride the hip, and

sometimes bundles or baskets upon their heads. There would also be occasional

two-wheeled carts with round covers – matting stretched on canes -and drawn by


Two things repelled me; the trident marks on the foreheads of men who wished to

advertise that they had done their morning worship according to the rules of

certain sects, and the betel-chewing of men and women alike, with its attendant

spitting and, even worse, its display of unnaturally red mouth and discoloured


Men were there with long hair, fuzzy hair, and no hair at all, except a tuft at

the crown. All were shaved at [100] least round the back, the sides and the

front, leaving only a circular cap to grow. None had the scissor crop of Europe,

though it has come into vogue since then. The women had, all alike, a centre

parting and a bun low on the neck. The tradition of the Hindus is to avoid

scissors and tailoring, which are left mainly to the Muhammadans. But all this

as regards the men is much changed; relatively few shaved or long-haired men or

decorated faces are now to be seen.

There were lengthy stops at the larger railway stations and junctions –

sometimes as much as half an hour. As the stations were never in the towns, but

some distance away, the transition was sudden from the open countryside to a

raging sea of human beings on the platforms. Hurrying and scurrying people

crossed one another in all directions in search of room in the long train – some

having started at one end and some at the other – amid a babel of noise created

by their own excitement and the effort to keep large family groups together, and

by cries of vendors of cooked foods and fruits and drinks and coloured toys and

cloths and cheap imported trifles. At length someone banged discordantly and

deafeningly on a length of old railway-line suspended to act as a bell, someone

else whistled, and we clumpetty-clumpetty-clumped out of the station and away

into the fields again, the carriages swaying on their narrow track.

The passengers varied enormously. How different all this from the uniformity of

English life! There was a man travelling without a ticket; he had done it many

times by judiciously changing from one carriage to another. He did not seem to

have any other business on the train. Perhaps it was his hobby. But seemingly no

one would give him away, even if they disapproved. There was a man looking for a

man travelling without a ticket. He was fierce with his muttered threats that he

would get him sooner or later. Both were in my carriage for part of the journey.

There was a stout Muhammadan merchant, with loose white trousers, silk coat to

his knees, and a golden hat. There was a young priest, fresh from his training

in Ceylon, who somehow gravitated to me and fell into a discussion on theology –

which ended when he affirmed a belief in hell-fire and I asked him if he in

heaven would be able to look on happily while his mother or someone else whom he

loved was burning in hell, and he replied that God would somehow [101] make it

acceptable to him, and I remarked that I liked his God even less than his hell.

All along the train, except in the first class, occupied chiefly by the insular

English, people were talking volubly. In the third class they seemed to have

wonderful power of concentration or selective attention, as well as of the

lungs. The huge carriages seemed to contain anything from fifty to a hundred

people, who travelled in a roar of the globular liquid sounds of the Tamil

language, which, to the uninitiated ear seemed to be composed entirely of

vowels. The faces, too, matched the voices, large, soft and round, all feminine,

though the eyes very occasionally might be acquisitive and fierce.

At night came sudden dusk and dark, the short twilight of the tropics. Upper

bunks, loosened from hooks, were dropped to the horizontal. Passengers unrolled

their bedding and laid themselves to sleep. But the bustle and babel at the

stations – all shouting, none listening – went on as before, whatever the time

of night. When we drew up in the morning to the orderliness and comparative

quiet of the Egmore station in Madras, coolie porters leaped into the carriages,

passengers poured out and away in a great stream, mixed with the coolies bearing

bedding and boxes and bags and baskets and bundles of every conceivable

description and no description at all, and passed out through the gates to the

bullock carts, the pony carts and the horse carriages waiting outside. [102]

-------Cardiff Theosophical Society in Wales-------
206 Newport Road, Cardiff, Wales, UK. CF24-1DL




IT was a long ride to the suburb of Adyar in a dismal victoria hired at the

station, behind a horse which had learned syncopation in advance of the times,

on a seat whose springs had known heavier passengers than I and had not

forgotten them. Down road after road we went, all very similar, past large

dilapidated bungalows standing in spacious compounds with broken walls or

perforated hedges. Everywhere was decay, but everywhere also the glorifying

feature of magnificent trees -mostly banyan and peepul – meeting overhead.

At length we came to the Elphinstone Bridge across the Adyar river – the bridge

a furlong in length, the river varying constantly from half to four times that

width – a quiet sheet of water, a lake rather than a river, disfigured only by

two or three mud flats in the centre. My eyes were all for the headquarters’

building of the Theosophical Society, standing out prominently on the opposite

bank – a bungalow transformed by additions until it resembled a rambling


We were soon across the river, in at the gate, along the drive, under the

corrugated iron porch – and presently I was out of the carriage and into the

office of the Treasurer, Mr. Albert Schwarz, who received me kindly and took me

upstairs to the sanctum of Mrs. Besant. Shoes off on the terrace outside her

door, a kind welcome inside, enquiries about the journey, a statement that a

room had been prepared for me at the Blavatsky Gardens’ Bungalow, an appointment

for the next morning to discuss plans, and I was guided along narrow paths,

through a grove of palm trees, to my temporary abode. [103]

Mrs. Besant looked more at home in her Indian surroundings than in Europe. The

chief furniture of her sitting-room or office was a large square chauki or

platform about one foot high, on which were placed a thick round white bolster

for her back, a carpet for her seat, and a large low desk for her writing as she

sat cross-legged and barefooted in her white or cream Indian woman’s garb. At

the back of the desk were racks for papers, and office conveniences in great

profusion – a dozen pencils ready sharpened at one hand, correspondence waiting

to be answered at the other.

Mrs. Besant never varied the arrangement of that room during the twenty-five

years that I knew her there. Never varied her own posture – leaning back to

read, leaning forward to write, and so growing rounder and rounder shouldered

year by year. Of all people I have known, Mrs. Besant had the greatest habit of

repose. Her body would be quiet, her features placid, while her hand ran rapidly

over sheet after sheet of paper, producing page after page of small, neat,

beautiful and – when one knew its little tricks – uncommonly legible

handwriting. She liked to be alone to write; would have no secretary and no

typewriting machine for this, even to the last, and when services were offered

in these directions would always reply that she could think best at the end of

her pen – which was, however, a lead pencil.

As I sat with Mrs. Besant, discussing plans, my thoughts were more on her than

on the plans. Here was cleanliness and peace of body and mind; not simplicity by

any means, but an orderliness that achieved simplicity.

In person, then about sixty years old, she was short and corpulent, but not

clumsy or coarse. Her face, long; forehead, tall and rather narrow; lips, wide

and rather thick; nose, long, straight and rather fleshy; eyes always round and

wide-open, and only to be described as starry and conspicuously beautiful (her

daughter inherited them) but not quite far enough apart for modern taste;

expression, saintly and human at the same time, with no trace of anything

cryptic, reserved, aloof, self-considering or superior; hair, pure white, short

and curly, equal all over the head; smile, dazzling.

I had written to her before my arrival telling her of my visions, of my plans to

take a three months’ trip to see what [104] would happen. She did not comment

upon the visions, and I did not question her about them. She told me that she

would like me to stay there and write for the Theosophist, the Presidential

magazine of the Society. Would I do so? Yes. Money? I had sufficient for the

simple life at Adyar, if I sold out my business and invested the capital. She

would help me with money from some funds that she had. No, I could manage; I was

there to help, not to be a burden on anybody. Still, I felt uneasy at the idea

of living on interest, consuming the fruits of the labour of others without

taking any part in the world’s work myself. No, I really ought not to feel like

that, for I was not intending to live in idleness but to give my best to the

collective life of humanity. Very good, then; settled. It was decided that I

should stay indefinitely, so I wrote to England, parted with my share of the

business on reasonable terms, and in December, 1908, at the age of twenty-five,

settled down at Adyar to my new life, which was to be more varied and eventful

than I imagined.


The estate or compound at Adyar stretched for nearly a mile on the river side,

and it was about half a mile long in its greatest width, which was along the

seashore, at the farther end from the Elphinstone Bridge and the road leading to

Madras. Most of this land had been acquired since Mrs. Besant had become

President. The original compound, of the time of Colonel Olcott and Mme

Blavatsky, was about a tenth the size of what it became by the purchase of

surrounding properties in the years during which Mrs. Besant was President. She

wanted to make the headquarters into a settlement for Theosophists from all over

the world; not that they should live there permanently, except a few workers in

the estate itself, in the book department or on the staff of the magazine, but

that they should come to reside there for about two years’ devotion to study and

meditation, so as to prepare themselves for better Theosophical propaganda work

afterwards in their own countries.

There were several bungalows scattered over the estate, suitable for the

European style of living, as it is known in Madras, and other smaller buildings

– converted stables and [105] a few cottages -providing rooms for those who

wished to follow the Indian mode of life. I commented on the use of the word

bungalow for such large solid two-storied buildings as that in the Blavatsky

Gardens, with spacious rooms having ceilings fourteen or sixteen feet high, and

massive verandas supported on huge round pillars. My idea of bungalows had been

the English one; little one-storied houses, detached from one another in garden

plots. Now I was informed that the word bungalow was derived from the word

Bengal, where a new mode of suburban dwellings had become popular even among

Indians, in preference to the old system of dwelling in flats or tenements or in

town houses which, though they were entirely individual in architecture and

alignment (differing from the rows of town houses in Europe and America in this

respect) formed one solid block all along the street.

The diversification of frontage on every street is one of the pleasing features

of Indian towns. Diversification of interiors is likewise one of the charms of

Indian homes. When an Indian enters the house of a neighbour he will find

certain principles which are common to all. He will find a small veranda in

front, then an entrance hall – a little room with a raised platform or sitting

place in the portion not devoted to passage-way. Beyond that he will find an

interior courtyard with verandas on all sides and rooms opening from the

verandas. But all these will be different in arrangement and shape from his own.

I do not think anybody in India ever built a street of houses, except the

British, who have built them for the use of policemen or railway workers, and

then they have had the grace to call them “lines” – “police lines,” etc.

The houses in an Indian street have been built individually by each family, and

most of them have passed on in the same family for many generations. Where the

Indians have had reason to develop the bungalow system, as in the city of

Bangalore and some of the suburbs of Madras, they have retained their old liking

for individual design, so you will find one resembling a palace and another a

cottage standing in adjacent compounds (“plots” sounds too small) in the very

same road.

The bungalows of Adyar stand amid magnificent trees. The biggest banyan tree, in

the portion of the grounds known as Blavatsky Gardens, is regarded as the second

[106] largest in India, and possibly in the world. I have seen audiences of

three and four thousand people sitting comfortably listening to lectures in its

shade. When I first went to Adyar it was thronged with birds, and squirrels

constantly chasing one another along the horizontal branches and up and down the

pendant roots, but now the squirrels are few and the little birds almost none,

for the Theosophists brought in town-life habits – leavings which have attracted

and bred innumerable noisy crows, and cats which have reduced the population of

squirrels to a tenth of what it was.


At the time of my arrival there were perhaps fifty human residents at Adyar,

more or less equally European (as all the white-skinned people are called in

India, even if they come from America, Australia or South Africa) and Indians.

Among the latter there were two from the north, different in shade of brown and

in dress from those of the south. One was a well-known – famous in India

-thinker and writer, Babu B. Bhagavan Das, a close friend of Mrs. Besant’s; the

other a young prince of a Punjab ruling house. The former wore long coat and

trousers on important occasions, the latter long coat and cotton riding breeches

extending to the ankle.

The South Indians all looked very much alike to me at first, as my eye was

struck by the main features of colour and form until it became used to those and

could attend to minor differences – short of stature, stocky of build, and

dressed mostly in a pair of white cloths with coloured borders, the upper cloth

cast over the shoulders like a shawl, often leaving hairy chest and prominent

abdomen exposed to view, the lower cloth twisted round the waist and pendant to

the ankles.

I soon committed two solecisms in the matter of dress; the first, when I went

out in the garden in a tennis shirt and grey flannel trousers; and Mrs. Besant

told me it shocked the Indians to see the lower part of the trunk not loosely

draped; the second when I took to Indian dress and failed at first to drape the

lower cloth sufficiently over the ankles! There was no eight-inch skirt-line for

men. Two inches was quite a maximum, unless you were willing to be mistaken for

a workman! All the same, the European [107] ladies at Adyar were still wearing

blouses and skirts in the Gibson style, and some of the Indian ladies, when they

sat down or walked about, exposed a three-inch ring of bare waist, except where

it was crossed by a strip of the sari, which was wound round the lower part of

the body a number of times and then carried diagonally to the shoulders.

There was one European, rather tall, with cropped fair hair, and wearing a cloth

or a pair of cloths – this was difficult to distinguish – whom I saw first when

we were all walking through the gardens one evening with Mrs. Besant. I asked my

neighbour whether it was a man or a woman – a question which was material for a

ripple of whispered amusement among the Europeans for some time, though I think

it did not embarrass the lady it chiefly concerned, who was intent upon her own

thoughts. She had been one of Mrs. Besant’s helpers many years before in the

working girls’ club in London.

I was received among the residents not as an unknown Theosophist, but as a

lecturer and a bit of a celebrity in my own country, and President of one of the

biggest Lodges in the world. I had already written two booklets which were much

in use, and some copies of which had found their way abroad. Mrs. Besant had

also spoken of me as “very promising.” So on the very first Sunday morning at

Adyar I was requested to give a lecture, which I did, on mental training and

meditation. Besides the residents of Adyar there were a good number of people

from Madras, so the hall was comfortably filled.

After the lecture a stout young Brahmin with thick spectacles got up and asked

some question about memory, which led me to tell a story I had heard about a

young man who went to work in a Custom office. One day the head of the office

gave him a booklet showing the rates for all kinds of articles, and asked him to

familiarize himself with it. The young man – an extremist evidently – did not

turn up at the office for several days, and when he returned the boss wanted to

know why he had been absent.

“I have been learning the code,” replied the clerk, much hurt at being

misunderstood. He had taken the trouble to learn the whole pamphlet and could

repeat it by heart. But when it came to the application of his knowledge to

practical things he was all at sea.

“The young man’s name was Subrahmanyam,” I [108] concluded, showing off my

knowledge of an Indian name. To my surprise the audience dissolved into fits of

laughter. Was my pronunciation so very funny? No, it merely happened that

Subrahmanyam was the name of the questioner, and he was well known as a

talkative, theoretical and not practical young man.


There were plenty of occasions for personal contact with Mrs. Besant. On the

morning of my arrival she looked in at my room to ask if it were comfortable,

and not content with my answer, to inspect it for herself, make some inaudible

irritable remark – could she be irritable? Apparently so – hurry out of the room

and reappear in a few moments carrying a cane chair nearly as big as herself.

A day or two later she suddenly startled me, standing at my side and watching me

make notes for a review she had asked me to make of Babu Bhavagan Das’s new

edition of The Science of the Emotions – a work of his which I valued highly.

I also went with her and several others to visit different Panchama schools,

which had been founded by Colonel Olcott to provide free education for the

poorest of the poor – once known as Pariahs, then as Panchamas (fifth caste –

orthodox Hinduism admits only four castes), and now as Harijans (God’s people –

God help them!) as politeness and democracy have advanced.

Picture several irregular cottage-like buildings round an open plot of ground,

and three or four hundred tiny children, some of them clad in space (to use an

Indian expression), some in a brass fig leaf on a piece of string, some with a

shirt reaching to their middles and nothing below, some with a skirt below the

middle and nothing above, some – the biggest – with both shirt and skirt or

shirt and little pants.

It would be a special occasion when Mrs. Besant visited the school, and all

would gather under the shade of a big tree or temporary palm-leaf shed. There

would be an opening song or prayer by the children. There would be some

collective dancing by the girls – one dance something like a maypole dance, and

another in which the girls with a short stick in either hand wove themselves

into patterns to the tune of a song and the clapping together of the sticks,

[109] as they passed and wound round one another. There would be brave

recitations and dramatic scenes by the boys. There would be speeches by the

Superintendent, the Headmaster and the visitor. There would be distribution of

sweetmeats. And there would be hurrahs and farewells and departures in horse

carriage and pony carts, and an aftermath of scattered conversation among the

visitors and wide, open-eyed and open-mouthed wonderings by the children as to

what was going to happen next or was it all going to end in just nothing at all?

Mrs. Besant had a horse named Sultan. Like the early motor-cars it had the

defect of possessing no self-starting arrangements. She would sit in the

carriage all ready to start, and several coachmen and syces would coax and pull

and push, sometimes for ten or fifteen minutes before it would go. When it did

go it went like the wind, with a splendid high-stepping display. She would never

allow the whip to be used, but would sit smiling in her carriage, confident of

reaching her meeting or train in time, as she invariably did – partly, I think,

because she always used to go much earlier than was necessary to the railway

station or to any appointment.

Shortly after I reached Adyar someone presented Mrs. Besant with a motor-car – a

rare thing in India at that time. She learnt to drive it herself, and used to

take us out one by one with her for a ride in the early mornings. She seemed a

little disappointed when I told her, being overly addicted to truth, that I did

not enjoy it very much. I was interested in other things – not the road nor the

telegraph poles at the side of the road, for she was a good driver. On the

platform and in the meetings so much was talked about glorious occult matters,

it was not really my fault if I took them seriously and was impatient of

ordinary occupations and amusements.

Every evening Mrs. Besant held a meeting on a roof some forty feet square

outside the door of her own set of rooms. It was delightful under the stars and,

sometimes, the moon, the only artificial light a hurricane lamp on a teapoy at

her side. In the centre of the square a large carpet was spread and round this

was a row of chairs. The Indians and a few of the Europeans sat on the carpet

with faces turned upwards. Mrs. Besant sat on a basket chair, and the others in

a miscellany of chairs collected round the square. [110]

Some doubted whether those who sat on chairs could be as spiritual or as “highly

evolved” as those who sat cross-legged on the floor!

“Our Teacher” – a usual expression among the Hindus – used to expound a book of

her own on one day, give answers to questions on another and discuss some

subject on a third. Once only she tried the system of questioning us. It fell

very flat. She started by asking what difference the knowledge of the law of

karma should make to our conduct. No answer. A long time passed, and still no

answer, while Mrs. Besant regarded us with an uncomfortable smile. I do not

think she could see our faces as well as we could see hers. If she had she would

have seen them stamped with fear – each was afraid to make a fool of himself

before the others, and most of all before the Teacher! At last, after sizzling

for a while, I blurted out: “None whatever.” The tension was relieved. Mrs.

Besant’s face broke into a real smile. “Quite right,” said she. “Presumably you

will all do the right for its own sake and not to gain reward or escape

punishment in future lives.”

Mrs. Besant was very downright in those days. Once, when some member was

injured, she told us that it would not be right to wish that she might get

better quickly, for who was to say what was the blessed lesson that the

experience was bringing her? Ours only to send thoughts of sympathy, not to

indulge in ignorant wishes. (Strange how she changed later on, and approved of

ceremonials involving prayers for aid, intercession and mediation.) In her own

person she seemed to object even to sympathy, though she was lavish of it to

others. One morning when I went to her room I found tears streaming down her

face and a newspaper in her hand. She could not speak, but handed me the paper,

and pointed to a paragraph about a mining disaster in Wales.

I was with her once at Mayavaram, a city approaching two hundred miles south of

Madras. We had been to a theosophical gathering in a large high-school, and had

been given rooms for personal use in the upper story of the building. The

meetings being over, and our train soon due, we came out of our rooms and

proceeded down some rough stone outside-steps which led to the garden below. In

the dark, she slipped on one of those steep irregular steps and fell, bumping on

her back, down about six of them to the [111] ground below. I hastened after her

to assist her to rise, but my expressions of sympathy met with a curt response.

She let no one else know of the incident, but went to the train, and had a bad

night’s journey with headache and pains, as she told me when we reached Madras

the next morning.


Sometimes Mrs. Besant could be very rough, uncompromisingly so, when she thought

we were failing in some duty, but generally she was very gracious, quite in the

Victorian manner.

Early in the year 1909 some South Indian Lodges had decided to hold a general

gathering in a town in the Tanjore district. The secretaries called upon me,

asked me to be present and to deliver one or two lectures. I went to Mrs. Besant

to see if I could be spared at that time.

“Why,” she exclaimed, “I have promised to go and preside for them. They cannot

expect two of us “– two of us! -” at the same time.” Then, after a moment’s

thought: “I will tell you what we will do. You go and preside on the first day

and I will come on the second” – and it was arranged accordingly. She wanted to

give me a chance to show what I could do.

It was further arranged that I should make a tour of seven towns ending at the

place of the general gathering. I was immensely impressed by the brilliance of

her public lectures at the gathering. I think that in Europe and America, where

she was by many regarded as the foremost orator of the day, in days when oratory

was not in disfavour as it is to-day, she never rose to such heights and powers

of moral appeal as she did in India. Yet, with all that eloquence, she had no

small talk. I remember an occasion when we were together with some

non-theosophists (amusing, but familiar expression); notwithstanding my lack of

savoir-faire I had to come to her rescue in conversation. In that she was quite

the opposite of Mme Blavatsky, who had been a brilliant conversationalist at a

time when conversation was a great art, but no public speaker at all. [112]


-------Cardiff Theosophical Society in Wales-------
206 Newport Road, Cardiff, Wales, UK. CF24-1DL




TRAVELLING with sympathy for Hinduism and with vegetarian and teetotal habits,

and a spiritual or at least a philosophic purpose, and staying in Indian houses,

I soon had an opportunity of knowing India as no tourist or merchant or official

or schoolmaster or even missionary ever can. My first stop was for two days at

Madura. My new friends met me in force at the station, flooding the platform as

the train came in, and heaped me about with garlands of flowers and coloured

metallic paper and filled my hands with limes, while they introduced the

celebrities among them. Apparently official position constituted social rank

also: “Mr. So-and-so, our Sub-Judge; Mr. So-and-so, our Tahsildar (a revenue

officer and magistrate); Mr. So-and-so, Headmaster of our high-school; Mr.

So-and-so, Vakil (advocate)” – and so on.

They carried me off to a simple lodging. One corner of a lecture hall was

screened off as a room for me. Two benches were put side by side to act as

sleeping couch. I had already learnt to sleep hard. The common type of bed at

Adyar was a cot frame with webbing drawn tightly across it as warp and woof, but

I had taken to the wooden benches provided in the Indian quarters. It happened

that Mrs. Besant spoke to us one evening about the way in which she had learnt

to sleep on a bench, so that she could do so when necessary, though she usually

slept on a webbed bed. That night found me sleeping, or rather lying awake, on

an old dining-table which happened to be standing on a veranda at Blavatsky

Gardens. The second night, however, I slept soundly. I have always been able to

sleep comfortably on a bench since then. The secret of this art is relaxation,

for [113] that allows a maximum of contact with the surface of the board. It was

said that one could sleep better on a board than on the softest bed, because

relaxation was there compulsory. I attained this by imagining that my body was

loose and could collapse like that of a cat, and at the same time that I was

sinking into the board.

This trifling accomplishment greatly increased my prestige, and caused my words

to be received with an amount of consideration and credibility which they

otherwise would not have attained. The Hindu is essentially a pragmatist; he

will judge a man’s philosophy by seeing his life. Contrary to popular idealistic

fancy, I am convinced that this is the most utilitarian race in the world. They

will not move a finger to do anything that is not absolutely necessary to

achieve a precise result. Even the religious ceremonials are each based upon a

clearly stated quid pro quo. The people have little sympathy with play. Either

work or be still – and both these they can do marvellously well. Talking too,

but always talking with a purpose in view. They are not conversationalists. They

credit the Englishman with similar practicality. When he enters a village or a

town, the whisper goes round: “What has he come to get?”

By judicious placing of screens and matting, a bathroom had been fixed up for me

in the courtyard, which was a pretty little enclosure with some flower-beds and

a well in the centre, fitted with a pulley wheel and surrounded by a paved

platform from which the water ran off to the flowerbeds. I discarded the

bathroom and took my bath at the well in old Indian style. Naked but for a loin

cloth I stood at the side of the well, drew up pots of water and poured them

over myself, soaping and rubbing between. This was a luxury I had learnt at

Adyar, in the Indian quarters, where I had developed a friendship with the young

Brahmin Subrahmanyam Aiyar, already mentioned. We used to draw water for each

other in turn. One sat cross-legged near the parapet wall of the well, while the

other drew large pots of water and poured them mercilessly over the head of his

friend, who gasped for air as the flood burst upon him from time to time.

The water was never cold in Madras, and as it came direct from the well the

touch of it had a richness and fullness like velvet – a feel which cannot be

described. The [114] same water left to stand for a while in any vessel, and

then used, as in European bathrooms, felt harsh and hard. My friend Subrahmanyam

was deservedly proud of his physical strength. He would insist on my having the

“fifty-pot bath,” the “seventy-five pot bath,” and even sometimes the “one

hundred-pot bath,” while I used to give him about twenty-five pots. A pot would

equal an ordinary bucket of water. When the bath was over we would towel

ourselves vigorously in the sun, and at the proper moment would slip off the

loin cloth and substitute a towel therefor, the same to be replaced by the lower

cloth or dhoti in its turn. Orthodox Hindus do not bathe naked, even in a

private bathroom.

With all my sympathy for Hinduism, I never liked the system of worship – the

shrines, the temples, the ceremonies. Of course, there is no idol worship, but

there are thousands of statues and symbols, and there is some belief in material

agencies for approach to Ishwara (God – literally, the ruler) or His agents,

such as one finds still among ritualistic sects in the West. In Madura there is

a gigantic temple covering acres of ground. Several times I wandered in the

twilight of its vast stone corridors and chambers, and lingered to admire its

innumerable statues and legendary figures, or the four great gateways with

pagodas rising hundreds of feet into the air, and covered with symbolic and

legendary figures. It was here that I first learnt the peculiarity of Indian art

– that its main intention is to suggest. A statue is beautiful to a Hindu for

what it suggests to his mind, not what it displays to his eye.

I will not trouble my reader with a description of my dwelling-places in other

towns, or of the other massive temples which abound in South India. I was not

interested in them myself. To discuss philosophic questions with small groups of

people who would call at my quarters, or to expound my views before large

audiences seated upon mats, was more to my taste. Instinctively I held to the

adage that the proper study of mankind is man. But man is very unsatisfactory as

he is and the idea therefore was to find in man something superior to the

ordinary, for which India has always had a great reputation, and to discover the

steps by which those superior elements might be developed and increased. [115]



There are various wandering conjurers in India, who generally gravitate to

places where great gatherings and festivals are being held, but there are also

men of extraordinary powers who hide their lights completely under the bushels

of simple religiosity and even pretence of madness, and are prepared to open

their hearts only to very sympathetic souls.

It fell to my lot to be introduced from time to time to men of this latter kind,

when it became known that my mode of life and aspirations were so close to their


It was in Trichinopoly that I first met a man with remarkable powers of mind.

The invitation came from him, he having heard of me through my lectures. One

morning two Hindu acquaintances asked me if I would go with them to see this

gentleman, so we took our way in a pony cart to the foot of the “Trichy Rock” –

really a rock mountain, precipitous on one side but sloping on the opposite –

and then on foot along a passage leading between small houses up the sloping

side. Some distance up, we were guided into the interior of a little house,

where I was introduced to an elderly man, well educated, speaking English, who

offered to show me some interesting things and to tell me how they were done. He

wanted, and received, no money, nor anything else.

I think the most interesting of his experiments was one which he did with a pack

of cards. First he handed the pack to me for examination. They appeared to be

quite ordinary. Then he wrote something on a small piece of paper, folded it up,

gave it to me and asked me to place it in my pocket.

“Now,” said he, “shuffle the cards as much as you like, spread them face

downwards in front of you, and pick up anyone.”

I was sitting on a kind of platform with my two friends, they being on my right,

forming a row. The Shastri was sitting down below in a chair, directly in front

of me, at three or four arms’ length. I shuffled the cards and spread them over

a large portion of the platform in front of me with their faces downwards,

allowed my hand to hover above them, moving about, then suddenly dropped the

hand casually and picked up a card.

“Now take the paper out of your pocket and look at it.” [116]

There on the paper was written the name of the very card that I had picked up.

Next, I gathered the cards together, passed them on to my friends who reshuffled

them, spread them out, and had the same experience with regard to pieces of

paper which had been given to them.

I then thought I would like to try a little experiment of my own, so I requested

my host to give me a new paper. We went through the same procedure, but this

time, as I was allowing my hand to drop among the cards, I fixed my thought upon

him and said mentally: “Now, whatever card you have chosen, I will not have that


I took out the paper and found that the name of the card written upon it did not

agree with that which I had picked up. When I showed this to the Shastri he was

much surprised; but when I told him how I had willed not to have the card of his

choice he smiled with amusement, and said that that explained everything,

because his method was to concentrate on a card and transmit the thought of it

to my subconscious mind, which could know where the required card lay and could

direct my hand to it. My two friends then decided that they would try the same

experiment. He gave them new papers, but in each case – not being taken unawares

– he compelled them to take the cards which he had written down.

It will be in place here to relate a curious sequel to these experiments, which

occurred about ten years later when I was sitting one evening with one of the

Professors of the college where I was Principal at Hyderabad in Sind. This

professor was entertaining me and my wife with some conjuring tricks with cards

which he had somehow picked up while a student at Oxford University, where he

had taken a brilliant degree. While this was going on, I suddenly heard a voice

speaking strongly and clearly, as though in the middle of my head. It spoke only

six words: “Five of clubs. Try that experiment.”

At once I wrote “five of clubs” on a piece of paper, folded it up, and gave it

to the professor. Then I asked him to shuffle his cards, spread them out face

downwards before him and pick one up. This having been done, I told him to take

out his paper and look at it. His astonishment was great. I believe he thinks to

this day that I played a very clever trick on him. But my own belief is that the

Shastri [117] whom I had seen in Trichinopoly had somehow become aware of what

we were doing, and had performed the whole experiment somehow, after speaking

telepathically to me. There were other psychological possibilities, of course,

but considering all that I have seen done by such people, I think that the most

probable explanation.

The same gentleman showed me the power that he had over his own bodily

functions. He asked me to put my ear to his bare chest and listen to the beating

of his heart. He would, he said, stop it at my bidding, and keep it in suspense

until I told him to start it again. This he did with perfect success. As soon as

I said “Stop,” the heart stopped, and when a few seconds later I said “Start,”

it went on again. I took care not to keep it long in suspension, as I was rather

afraid of the possible consequences!

He then showed me his control of the flow of blood. He took a nail and stood it

upright above his knee, a little to the inside of the centre line of the thigh.

Holding it with one hand he hammered it down to the head with the other. He was

a fat man, so there was plenty of room. Then he pulled out the nail, leaving a

small wound, and said: “Tell me when you want the blood to flow, and to stop.”

Several times I said: “Flow” and “Stop,” and it obeyed my words. Afterwards he

wiped the place and said: “Now I will show you the healing of the flesh.”

He slowly passed the ball of his thumb over the spot with a little pressure, and

when it had passed the skin was perfectly normal and there was no sign of the


It might be suggested that the old gentleman used some form of hypnotism in

connection with his exhibition, but that would be inconsistent with his friendly

desire to talk about the various items, and with my having tried a little trick

of my own and taken him by surprise.


It was on the same tour, but in the town of Mannargudi, that I was taken to see

an astrologer who certainly knew a thing or two. In that town I was accommodated

in the public travellers’ bungalow, a spacious building a little distant from

the town. About midnight I was awakened by a knocking on the door. I got out of

bed, turned up the lamp, opened the door, and observed with some trepidation

[118] a group of men standing in the darkness, dimly lit by a hand lantern. They

proved to be quite harmless, in fact, benevolent. They were students of the

local college, who had been to my lecture and had taken a fancy to me.

“There is a certain astrologer,” they informed me, “who would like to meet you

and make your horoscope. Will you please us by coming to his cottage?”

I went with them through the dark night, with the aid of the lantern. We came at

last into a little whitewashed room, and found a bearded man with grey hair

sitting on the floor, with a palm-leaf manuscript beside him. After salutation,

we all sat on the floor in a group, quite near to him.

I had no prepossession in favour of astrology. The lady who had given such

accurate tests of telepathy in my home town used to practise the art. She had

made horoscopes of most of her friends, which gave very accurate diagnoses,

within the limitations of a certain vagueness which seems to pervade most

astrology and to prevent any very definite proof of its general accuracy.

Moreover, a leading London astrologer had given to the President’s wife (my

future mother-in-law, as before mentioned) three several dates for the probable

death of her husband, which had occasioned her considerable anxiety each time,

but proved inaccurate.

The astrologer whom I now met did not know English, but one of the students

acted as interpreter. Would I tell him my place of birth? Yes – Manchester,

England. Date and time? I understood that I had begun to appear about ten

minutes past twelve Greenwich time in the early morning of August 18th, 1883.

That would be about midnight according to the sun, would it not? I supposed so.

The astrologer looked at his palm-leaf manuscript and fixed his time, then drew

a diagram of twelve “houses” in the form of a square. Translating into English –

the Sun was in Leo, in conjunction with Venus, in opposition to the Moon in

Aquarius; Cancer was the rising sign; Jupiter was the rising planet, and so on.

Then he began to interpret the meaning of these relationships, with the aid of

his palm-leaf manuscript, and I kept notes of what he said.

“You have money,” said he, and he named the amount which I possessed in England

after the selling of my business!

“But, sir,” exclaimed one of the young men, [119] reproachfully, “we thought you

were a sannyasi” – a penniless, wandering preacher, who has renounced all


I explained that I was a Theosophist, paying my own way at Adyar, but taking no

money for writing or lecturing. There were some professional Theosophists, who

made a living, and quite a fortune out of it, but I was not one of them. I

thought it was best to retain my small capital, live on the proceeds and do what

I could without being a burden on those whom I was trying to help.

They were pacified, and the astrologer proceeded: “You will marry at about the

age of thirty-two.”

I thought it unlikely that I would marry, but I did so, seven years later, at

the age of thirty-two.

“The lady will be of a smiling disposition, and she will have a small mole in

the middle of her neck.”

Yes, the smile was all right; people have sometimes asked me if my wife’s

portrait represents a “movie star.” It looks like that – or a tooth-paste

advertisement. She has acted on the screen, as I also, but only once, in a film

bearing the dreadful title, The Devil and the Damsel. She was not the damsel nor

I the devil. I was a perfectly respectable judge on the bench, and she a

hospital nurse. The devil was DRINK; the damsel a stoutish young lady – very

charming, however – whose husband, a veritable hero otherwise, had been caught

by the devil, but was of course ultimately saved by the sweetness of a little


As to the mole, I found it some years after marriage, when my wife one day

succumbed to the new fashion, a little belatedly, and cut short her hair. It

revealed itself exactly in the middle on the back of the neck.

The astrologer gave me five or six other items of information about my future

wife, all of which turned out correct, except one, her age. He went on:

“You have two brothers.” Correct.

“One is younger, the other older.” Correct.

“Both are still unmarried.” Correct.

A description of the brothers and their future wives followed – accurate enough,

but I abstain from publication!

“You will have five children, three boys and two girls.”

Wrong. We have had no children. A curious incident was that some time before our

marriage, and while my future wife was engaged to someone else, a wandering

conjurer – who had turned rupees into scorpions in her hand and [120] performed

other alarming and impoverishing feats – told her that she would not marry the

man to whom she was then engaged, but would marry a small man and have five


I think, however, that I can explain this lapse. There was a highly respectable

friend of mine, Mr. Sitarama Shastri by name, who at the time of our marriage

told us that it was considered the height of spirituality among Brahmins for

husband and wife to abstain from actual marital connection for seven years. My

wife had already told me that she did not wish to have any children for several

years after marriage, as she was so young. So we decided on this seven-year plan

– or absence of plan. Unluckily, when the seven years were over, nothing

happened. I went to a doctor and he told me that he thought there must be some

atrophy in my case, on account of disuse until nearly the age of forty.

“You will write many books.” I have since written about fifteen of them, and

here is another.

“You will become well known in many countries.” To some extent. I have

undertaken lecturing tours in about forty different countries in almost every

part of the world, and some of my books have been translated and published in

several languages. One of them is computed to have circulated to the extent of

about a quarter of a million.

“Karma will bring you no bad disease.” A trifle ambiguous. Though I have had

dangerous illnesses, they can be traced to immediate causes.

“You will not tell lies.” There is some hope for me then as an autobiographer!

“This will be your last life on earth; you will not need to reincarnate any

more.” Let us wait and see.

“You will return to England in a year and a half.”

This did not come about, though it nearly did, as I shall relate in due course.

It will be seen that most of the predictions were fairly sound. As I write I

have before me the horoscope and the written notes that I made in the little

cottage while the astrologer spoke and his words were being interpreted to me.


-------Cardiff Theosophical Society in Wales-------
206 Newport Road, Cardiff, Wales, UK. CF24-1DL




IN contrast with these high accomplishments of the Hindus I had some very humble

and elementary ones to attain myself. It was in the small town of Tiruvallur

that I essayed my first pair of sandals – not the kind specially made for

Europeans, with a criss-cross of leather enclosing the toes, and a strap round

the back of the heel, but real ordinary Indian sandals, with a band across the

instep, a strap between the big toe and the second toe, and nothing at all but

the sole at the heel.

By some peculiar fate I started to wear these in that particular town, which has

the sandiest streets that I have seen in any town or village of perhaps three

hundred which I have visited in India. As it happens that sandals are the

footwear most unsuitable for walking in sand – why on earth are they called

sandals? – I made a most amusing exhibition of myself. When I put my foot

forward with any degree of confidence, the sandal, like John Gilpin of immortal

memory, could not stop in the proper place, but would continue on its way and

end up two or three feet beyond the place where my foot would touch the ground.

My friends roared with laughter and the public joined in, as I pursued my

languid, though by no means elegant way. I persevered – as I have never objected

to adding to the gaiety of others; and also I think it increased the audience at

my lectures – until at last my toes had learnt to work. It was their business,

as the foot lifted from the ground, to press downwards and a little together, so

as to grip the sandal until it reached the ground again. Afterwards, I never had

trouble with sandals, and I can recommend them to all who wish to have strong

and shapely feet! [122]

Another accomplishment was the twisting of the dhoti or lower cloth about the

waist so that it will not fall off. The Hindus use no belt or pin for this.

After draping the cloth behind and crossing it in front, you hold it with each

hand at its own side of the body, give it a little twist at those two points

with the finger and thumb, and there you are, at least until you begin to walk,

and then you wish you weren’t, like the celebrated conductor of an orchestra

whose buttons came off in the middle of a piece. No one seemed able to say how

the dhoti holds up, but after a little time you have the knack and all is well.

Still another accomplishment was that of eating by hand. This proved to be less

difficult than it looked, even with semi-liquid foods. As a result of my own

experience my advice is that one should not try it at a table, for then you must

carry the food through an angle of perhaps forty degrees with the surface of the

table. But if you sit cross-legged on the floor, you lean forward a little as

you raise the food to the mouth, and as you now have an angle of seventy degrees

or more you are less liable to drop the food by the way.

The speed of movement of the arm also bears upon this science – there must be a

certain momentum to carry the food from the fingers into the mouth – for it is

bad form to put the fingers in the mouth or even, in some parts, to touch the

lips at all. If the speed is too little the food will slide down your chin, if

too great there is danger that you may choke, if indeed you do not receive it in

the eye, instead of the orifice which nature intended.

My friends were tolerant of spoons; they would provide them, if necessary, for

the ignorant and unskilled; but still, how could the European continue that

dirty habit? The same spoon had been in many people’s mouths, and everyone knew

that you could not wash metal perfectly clean. The spoon had also been in one’s

own mouth in the previous mouthful, and had therefore gone away unclean. But

hands were washed before you ate and skin was very easily cleaned – could one

not see that bare feet were far easier to keep clean than feet which wore shoes?

– and besides you had your own magnetism, not someone else’s. In drinking, too,

it was cleanest to pour from the cup into the mouth without touching the lips

with the cup, though it might be admitted to be somewhat less artistic. This

[123] last feat I never learned, though I might have done so if I had practised

in private. Instead, I carried my own tumbler and washed it myself when I washed

out my mouth, as was the custom, before and after each meal.

In most of the houses I ate by myself, generally with an audience, ostensibly to

attend to my needs. But some of my hosts and friends, defying convention and

caste rules, would sit along with me, saving the situation by sitting at right

angles to me, not in the same line or row, except in recent years, as caste

rigidities have decayed. The orthodox ladies would never sit with us. That would

have been a terrible disgrace. They held it their duty to see that the food was

properly cooked and properly served, and the greatest honour to the guest was to

serve it themselves.

First a large plantain leaf would be placed before one. Then would come dish

after dish, little heaps, ladled direct from the cooking pots, placed along the

far edge of the leaf. Then two small bowls of brass or stitched leaf would be

put alongside, and filled with water and soup (generally mulligatawny –

literally “pepper water”), and perhaps another containing buttermilk, or sweet

milk with raisins, nuts and spices cooked in it. Then would come a large heap of

rice in the centre and on that a thick soupy mixture of vegetables and grains.

From time to time you take portions from the little heaps, mix them with the

rice, according to taste, give a little circular motion to form a loose ball,

and then with the proper motion, as explained before, convey the bolus to the


When several are dining together none must rise until all are finished; it is

very bad form to “break the row;” then all rise together and troop off to the

veranda, where water is placed at the edge for washing the hands, rinsing the

mouth and pouring over the feet. Hands must never be dipped into the

washing-bowls. The water must be poured over the hands. In bathing, too, one

must never sit in the bath. If you do you are getting your own dirt back against

the skin again and again. One must take up the dipper, dip it into the tub of

water, and pour it over oneself again and again, allowing the water to run away,

unless one bathes at the well and pours directly from the pot attached to the

rope. [124]


When I returned to Adyar I took up my residence in the Indian quarters. These

were converted stables, with the addition of a few new rooms, the whole forming

a quadrangle with a large well in the centre, which for a long time was

delightful for bathing, until the water, much neglected by the management,

became dark in colour and unpleasant in odour on account of the fine rootlets of

trees coming through the brickwork and growing into large tufts inside the well.

The only drawback to life in the quadrangle was that the Hindus would read aloud

very early in the mornings. That gave no trouble to themselves, for they have

wonderful powers of concentration or selective attention, due perhaps partly to

lack of privacy from earliest childhood, and partly to the method of teaching in

many elementary schools, where a large number of children in one room or veranda

read and repeat aloud their individual lessons, while the schoolmaster sits in

the midst listening to them all and picking out and correcting any mistakes

which he may hear.

Besides, there was no harm in early waking, as it was our habit to go to the

shrine room at headquarters for an hour’s meditation at five or six o’clock in

the morning. In this Mrs. Besant used to join. Some of us would also make use of

the room for an hour or a half-hour during the day. We used to sit on the floor,

or on little mats or cushions. I was proud because Mrs. Besant lent me her

antelope skin. Among Hindu devotees it is considered best to use an antelope

skin of a dark colour, or as explained in that most popular of Hindu religious

books, the Bhagavad Gita, straw on the ground, and on that a cloth, and on that

a skin.

Mrs. Besant had ideas of a very monastic life in those days, but these were

brought to an end by the introduction of electric light, which tempted people to

sit up at night and even to have supper parties, and gradually put an end to

most of the early morning meditation.

For the Indians food was cooked in the back quarters of a little old cottage,

the two rooms of which were set aside for Brahmin and non-Brahmin caste

dining-rooms. It was not until 1913, when Mrs. Besant took up political work in

India, that she turned against the caste system and told us that it [125] must

be brought to an end. Before that she spoke and wrote strongly of its essential

excellence, and in favour of attempts to rid it of excesses and abuses so as to

make it again what it was reputed to have been in very ancient times. There was

no objection to hereditary occupations, because, in accordance with the theory

of reincarnation, one would be born into the circumstances or the caste suited

to one’s needs. Abnormal cases could be adjusted.

Mrs. Besant was in favour of strictness among the Hindus in pursuit of their

ancient customs, except the early marriage of children, the ban on widow

remarriage, and the habit of men of forty marrying girls in their teens. When

the father of my friend Subrahmanyam Aiyar died, and the young man, being very

modern in his views, and much opposed to the priest-craft which prevails in

connection with ceremonials, which anyhow he regarded as superstition, declined

to perform the orthodox ceremonies supposed to assist his father’s soul in the

beyond, she gave him the alternative of performing them or leaving Adyar, for

she said his neglect of them would bring the Society into disrepute among the

orthodox, especially as his father had been a well-known man in a good position.

I sympathized with Subrahmanyam.

There was no general dining-room attached to the Hindu kitchen, so Mrs. Besant

allowed me the use of her private dining-room – for she ate the food from the

Indian kitchen – which she had built near by, until some jealous person reported

to her that I was inviting stray dogs in to eat the leavings, which she believed

– what is a king to do when spies hand in their reports? – notwithstanding my

protest that it was not so, and further, that even if she believed it had been

so she could rely upon it not occurring in the future. It was my first

experience of a sharp temper which sometimes appeared. After that I used to sit

and eat on the outer veranda of the cook-house itself.

“But what did you eat in the European dining-room before you changed over,” some

voice seems to ask. Oh, stewed guavas. I admit there were other things preceding

it at the meals, but somehow stewed guavas constantly dominated the spread.

Guavas are cheap beyond compare in Madras. You see, the butler was paid a fixed

price of ten shillings a week per head for feeding us, and he was expected to do

it as well as he could. So there were soup, boiled rice and curry, some

vegetables, cutlets, bread with white [126] buffalo butter on the side, and

stewed guavas. Yes, and bananas. I did not mind bananas if they were fully ripe;

otherwise they proved themselves – as some of the members used to say with

brutal frankness – nothing but wind and water.

I took up my literary duties seriously. It was the time of the beginning of many

new activities. One member, Mr. Sitarama Shastri, had started a little press in

a closed-in veranda of a store-room. That grew into the large Vazanta Press,

which afterwards printed the Theosophist magazine (theretofore printed in Madras

city) and a great variety of books, supplying the theosophical market all over

the world.

A little book of mine, entitled A Guide of Theosophy, was the first published

book to be printed on the Vazanta Press. Mrs. Besant liked it much and put it

into her advertised list of “books recommended for study.” That was followed by

my “Tanjore Lectures” – a selection from the lectures given during my tour in

the South. Mrs. Besant herself reviewed this little book and said it ought to be

on the shelves (I supposed she meant in the hands) of all Theosophists, as she

said it contained interesting elements of original thought. I was the first to

point out, I think, that karma could not be taken as punishment for our sins,

but it must be a scheme for presenting at each moment the very best

opportunities to each individual. Even yet that idea has penetrated the

intelligence of comparatively few Theosophists. Others still go on speaking and

writing of “bad karma” as something that can retard a man on the upward way

until he had “paid his debts.” In later years I followed it up with a statement

that there could be no material casuality, nothing material to connect my

striking a man two thousand years ago and somebody else’s striking me to-day,

but that the casual connection must be in our own will – in the depth of my

nature I choose to “pay the debts” of yesterday, because the experience of what

I willingly do to others is the greatest need of my own nature, with a view to

my realization of the unity of life.

While I was on tour someone had said in a meeting that one of the old Indian

books, the Garuda Purana, dealing with death ceremonies, conditions of life

after death and the means to liberation, was similar to the teaching of Mrs.

Besant on the subject. I therefore took up the translation [127] of that book as

an additional literary work, with the aid of Mr. Subrahmanyam Aiyar, who had the

capacity of a walking dictionary. Afterwards I carried the manuscript on tour

through many towns of North India, discussed with many pundits in different

towns the possible meanings of obscure passages, and finally completed it and

prepared it for the press, when it was published in The Sacred Books of the

Hindus Series in Allahabad.


In 1909 two people came to live at Adyar who were destined to play a large part

in my life. These were Mr. C. W. Leadbeater and J. Krishnamurti – the latter

then a schoolboy.

For many years Mr. Leadbeater had been established in the minds of most

Theosophists as the principal psychic investigator of the day. True, Mrs. Besant

was credited with psychic powers, but she had not written extensively, as he

had, about personal experiences of the astral and mental planes, of the modes of

life of the dead, and of the auras and the thought-forms of men.

His presence at Adyar was a great relief to Mrs. Besant, who had borne the whole

burden of the daily meetings until he arrived. He now sat beside her and shared

the work to some extent, and took the meetings himself in her absence on tour.

In the early summer of 1909, Mrs. Besant having gone to lecture in England and

America, I took the opportunity to make another lecture tour, through Poona,

Bombay and many towns to the north of Bombay. In Poona I spoke in a large

theatre, with Mr. G. K. Gokhale, the famous politician and social worker, in the

chair. After the lecture, questions were invited. It then appeared that a large

number of people had come to the meeting for an opportunity to question and

heckle the chairman, not to hear the lecture. Up jumped several of these,

followers of Mr. B. G. Tilak who were bitterly against Mr. Gokhale, and began to

speak against him. Others got up and protested, and the meeting was soon out of

hand. As the ferment increased, Mr. Gokhale caught me by the arm and we made a

precipitous exit by a little door at the back of the theatre, and so removed the

chief cause of the excitement. I continued [128] my tour to Bombay and other

towns, and on into the promontory of Kathiawar.

It was in Kathiawar that I first saw something of life in the States ruled by

Indian Princes, which retain old-fashioned manners and customs much more than

British India. In four different States I was the guest of the Raja.

It happened at Morvi that I fell in with one of the Indian “memory men,” or

ashtavadanis. This title is a very modest one. It implies memory of eight

(ashta) things, but generally the performers show the memory of fifty or a

hundred things. I was invited to the exhibition. We sat in a large hall in the

palace. The memory man – Mr. Nathuram P. Shukla – took his place on the carpet.

Immediately in front of him sat twenty selected people, while the rest formed

the audience. He attended to each one of the twenty people five times, that is,

going along the line five times. Several of them gave him sentences composed of

five words, each person using a different language, and these words were given

out of their order in the sentences, such as “My third word is ‘field’.” One man

gave him moves in a game of chess. Two others gave him figures to be multiplied

together. Another carried on an intricate conversation. Still another struck a

bell a number of times on each round. After all the items had been given, Mr.

Shukla sat in meditation for five or ten minutes, then answered questions

relating to the items, and finally repeated the whole.

It was here that I had a sample of real old-world politeness. After the

exhibition was over I was talking with one of the Raja’s ministers, and I

expressed admiration for the hall. He told me that it was about thirty feet

high. I happened to say that it had appeared to me about forty feet. Then he

said: “Oh, yes, it is forty feet.” I was quite sure afterwards that it was only


While in the train I was surprised at one of the wayside stations with a visit

from a gentleman who brought a message from the Maharaja of Limbdi, who had his

special carriage attached to that train. The Maharaja expressed a desire to see

me. I went over to his carriage, where he received me with formal and yet

intimate politeness. He wanted me to come over for a while to his State and give

two or three lectures. I did so, was most kindly received [129] and ultimately

presented with two big red embroidered shawls, such as are given to pundits on

special occasions. As I wanted no possessions I posted these off to my mother in

England, which was just as well, for during my next tour my room at Adyar was

burgled stark naked.

It was in the guest house at Limbdi that I again met Mr. Shukla. We spent a good

deal of time together and experimented a little with thought-transference, in

which we had a fair measure of success, apparently due largely to sympathy of

temperament. He was good enough to explain to me some of the methods of memory

culture in vogue in his profession.

I had already taken great interest in this subject. I now obtained from Europe

all the books I could about it and was fortunate enough to secure a variety of

them, one of them as much as a hundred and fifty years old, some of them giving

very full information about the systems in vogue in earlier centuries in Europe,

when it had been a popular subject amongst the monks. These, and a considerable

amount of personal practice, enabled me to perform the ashtavadana feat

occasionally for the entertainment of friends and in public – the latter very

rarely – as I shrank from display and did not want to become an entertainer of

any kind, only a very serious philosopher and preacher! The last time I

performed the feat, with fifty things at once, was at the Jubilee Convention of

the Theosophical Society in Madras in 1925. Since then I have refused all

requests to make any of these exhibitions as I consider them dangerous to brains

more than about fifty years old. All these things, however, enabled me to

produce a system of memory training which still appears to me to be the best

extant, superior to many expensive and well-known courses. [130]

-------Cardiff Theosophical Society in Wales-------
206 Newport Road, Cardiff, Wales, UK. CF24-1DL




On my way back from Kathiawar I broke my journey for a few days at Surat. What

was my surprise on receiving there a letter from Mr. Leadbeater, enclosing a

cable from Mrs. Besant: “Please stop Wood’s proceedings may cause serious

trouble in work.” Mr. Leadbeater wrote very sympathetically, telling me not to

be uneasy, that he knew what was the matter and would explain everything. By the

time I reached Adyar a letter also arrived from Mrs. Besant saying that she

thought, after all, that my proper work lay in England, that many people wanted

me there, and I would do well to make arrangements to return – quite forgetting,

however, that I had given up my business and would be, to say the least,

financially strained if I attempted to live in England on my small resources.

I learned from Mr. Leadbeater that somebody at Adyar had heard about the

disturbance in the Poona theatre and had written to Mrs. Besant to the effect

that I was taking part in politics, so she hastened to stop my speaking lest the

Theosophical Society come under suspicion of being associated in any way with

political thought and activities. Mr. Leadbeater wrote to her and explained the

whole matter, so that on her return she told me that everything was quite all

right, and requested me not to trouble about it any more.

The incident threw me into very close contact with Mr. Leadbeater, whom I had

met previously only rather casually. I had called on him one morning to ask for

his opinion on some subject. When we had finished talking, it occurred to me to

offer to help him in his literary work. He was much pleased at the idea. He

opened a drawer full of [131] letters. “Could you answer these for me if I give

you the points?” We went over the letters, discussed the hundred and one

questions that they contained, and I cleared them all up in two or three weeks.

In the evening meetings I took notes of his answers to the various questions

raised in the meetings. I became his constant companion for a long time, to such

an extent that in 1913 I was in a position to write an article about him

entitled “Ten Thousand Hours with Mr. Leadbeater.”

Mr. Leadbeater lived in a small octagonal room with a little dressing-room and a

bathroom at one side and a broad veranda round the rest of it. As he sat at his

roll-top desk in the middle of the room he presented a striking figure,

notwithstanding his sixty-two years of age. He was a massive, muscular man, five

feet eleven inches in height, and some sixty inches round the chest, with arms

to match, fair hair, almost white, a straggly beard, and an abnormally great

development of forehead at the centre just above the eyes, with a sharp retreat

above that. He might have sat for a portrait of an ancient Dane.

He wore only cotton trousers and shirt, with throat and feet bare. He would go

out in the hottest sun without a hat and would enjoy it, and never experience

the slightest ill effect. Though prepared always to work from early morning till

far into the night, having his meals – such as they were (for a long time I

estimated the cost at twopence each) – on a cleared space amongst his papers, he

would nevertheless take an hour off every evening for a walk down to the shore

to bathe in the river mouth or in the sea.

He was very fond of long walks also on occasions. One night, when we were taking

a walk to deliver some proofs at the printing-office in Madras, as we went along

the five-mile marina, the famous water-front of Madras, he fell over a heap of

road metal in the darkness. He was somewhat shaken, but nevertheless completed

the twelve-mile walk almost as if nothing had happened. On another occasion we

took a walk of twenty-four miles in the mountains near Kodaikanal, a hill

station seven thousand feet high. On that occasion he did a bit too much for a

man of his age, and had to lean on my shoulder for the uphill climb of the last

two or three miles. We had been to try to find the men who, according to some

guide-books, lived in trees, but our search had been in vain. [132]

Once, when I was being carried out to sea by a treacherous current – several

swimmers have been drowned in the Bay of Bengal at Adyar – he managed to help me

in, standing on a sandbank and reaching out for my hand. Inch by inch he edged

backwards until we were out of danger. Though a powerful swimmer he could not

have overcome the current if he had lost his footing.


It was during one of these bathing expeditions that Krishnamurti, soon

afterwards to become famous as the prospective vehicle for the impending return

of the Christ, burst upon our view.

It happened that a certain Brahmin widower, with four sons, retired about that

time from Government service, and offered to come and live at Adyar and give his

services in some capacity. Mrs. Besant, however, objected to having any boys

living on the compound, so it was finally arranged that he should live in a

little cottage which happened to be let just outside the estate, and should come

in daily to do some secretarial work.

There was nothing, however, to prevent the boys – seven in all, four sons and

three wards – from coming into the compound, and on the beach, as Mrs. Besant

never liked the idea of closing up the compound walls, so as to prevent our

neighbours or others from coming in and enjoying the gardens and the shade of

the trees. So ere long we had for our swimming parties quite an audience –

highly interested, these boys from the country, who had scarcely seen a white

man in their lives, and were now presented with an uncommonly full view.

Krishnamurti was one of those boys. He was tallish for his age, about thirteen,

but woefully thin, with almost every bone showing.

The boys also came to the Indian quadrangle at nights to see Mr. Subrahmanyam

Aiyar, who was a particular friend of their father’s and to obtain from that

genial young man, who was always ready to help anybody in almost any way – and

very soon from me also, as I was living in the next room – some help in

connection with the home-work set in their school. Subrahmanyam was frequently

one of our small bathing party, which included also a Dutchman, an [133] old

friend of Mr. Leadbeater’s. This Dutchman, too, was very genial and sociable, so

before long he and Subrahmanyam were inviting the boys into the water and

offering to teach them to swim. After a few days’ preliminary hesitation, our

party was regularly increased by the inclusion of the boys.

Now, it happened that I raised a question about the method of reincarnation of

Indians. Almost every Indian I had met regarded the idea of a possible future

incarnation as a European with the utmost alarm. Yet there was an idea current

among Theosophists that the ego took birth in different races in succession, so

as to obtain a variety of experiences. Mr. Leadbeater had in the past made

psychic observations with regard to the past lives of several Europeans, and had

seen them moving from America to China, India, Egypt, Greece and Rome, and later

Europe. There was one intriguing life in which he and I and about half a dozen

others were declared to have lived in far Eskimoland and apparently spent most

of our time eating blubber! That was regarded as rather a lapse!

The question now was, do the Hindus go through exactly the same course? Mr.

Leadbeater said he would look into the past lives of some Indians, and see what

had happened in their cases. “But,” said he, “it is better not to look into the

lives of the members here. Theosophists are always abnormal anyhow! I must find

somebody else, who will agree to be examined.”

Then came up the suggestion; why not these boys? Mr. Leadbeater asked the

father’s permission, which was instantly and delightedly given. Then he began to

write a series of lives, which appeared first in the Theosophist and later in

book form under the title The Lives of Alcyone – Alcyone being a pseudonym under

which to hide the personality of Krishnamurti. The other boys figured in these

life-stories, as well as some of the Adyar residents and a few people whom Mr.

Leadbeater had met before.

Mr. Leadbeater explained that he could run his vision of the past backwards at

any speed. He thus first made a list of the last thirty appearances of

Krishnamurti, without looking into the details at all. He told me that he fixed

the dates by observation of the position of the stars and by counting the

precession of the equinoxes. He had been an enthusiastic student of astronomy.

Then, every evening, [134] after the roof meetings were over, we would retire to

his room. I would sit at his roll-top desk, writing down the dramatic incidents

of a life, as he clairvoyantly looked at them while he walked round and round

the room to keep himself awake. Thus we would go on far into the night,

sometimes until two or three o’clock in the morning, until the life under review

was finished. At any moment I might interrupt him with questions or suggestions.

Mr. Leadbeater would become much absorbed while thus walking round, and more

than once he kicked his bare toe against the corner of the desk with a force

sufficient to draw blood, but without at all noticing it. So far as I could see

he had no time during the day to invent these stories; only occasionally he

would consult a book or encyclopaedia with reference to some point that he

wanted to verify.

The lives were written mostly in reverse order, but they were numbered

successively, as the list of thirty had been made in advance. The first to be

done was the twenty-ninth life, in which Krishnamurti figured as a disciple of

the Buddha, and his next younger brother as proprietor of a temple at a centre

of pilgrimage in North India. In telling the story, allusion would be made to

but few other persons by name, but afterwards Mr. Leadbeater would sit by

himself and draw up a genealogical chart containing the names of some thirty

people, with their relationships in the particular life. In writing these down

it was considered advisable to avoid the actual names of persons who might,

after all, be in a position to sue for libel, especially the villains of the

piece, who attained to heights of melodramatic villainy worthy of the stage of

half a century ago. So Mr. Leadbeater kept a list of pseudonyms, which came to

be called the “star names” of the people concerned, because they were mostly

names of stars. The identities were supposed to be kept secret, but they somehow

leaked out, and members used to go about with little books exchanging

discoveries with one another to complete their lists!

When the series of thirty lives was complete the investigation ceased for a

while. Years later the charts were enlarged to contain over three hundred

persons, and the number of lives was increased to forty-eight. [135]


I had much confidence in Mr. Leadbeater. I grew to like him very much. His whole

life was that of a man who took himself seriously and had no interest beyond the

“great cause” for which he was working. It was, however, more than a “cause”

with him; it was a mission. He was still of the disposition which had made him a

very serious curate of the Church of England in his younger days – a position

which he had left in order to plunge himself into the work of the Theosophical

Society, which he had approached through the half-way house of table-turning. So

he was interested much more in lifting people rapidly on the road of evolution

of the soul – which persisted from life to life, or rather from body to body –

than in – what some of us preferred – the mere search for truth, and the spread

of truth, leaving others to uplift themselves by its aid. He believed in the

personal element in soul-evolution – the domestic animals had awakenings of

superior intelligence because of their contact with man, and the flowers and

fruits as well as the animals were brought to greater perfection by being bred

under human guidance.

These ideas I accepted as rather obvious for a long time, until I later came to

have much closer experience of many kinds of animals and men and to reflect upon

their progress. Then I discovered that the monkey, having had no contact at all

with man, is ahead of other animals, even the dog and the cat, in intelligence,

and is unsurpassed for loyalty and reckless bravery in defence of the human or

other creature whom it loves. It will cry for you in your absence, and when you

return it will put its arms round your neck in a tight hug, and its cheek

against yours, and “yum-yum” with great satisfaction, giving a little bite or

nip, which is its kiss, and may probably be the origin of all kisses. If

impersonal character is the test, I have noticed that when you say or do

something in the presence of both a monkey and a dog, the dog will perk up and

come along to be taken notice of, but the monkey will look at your eyes, follow

the direction of your gaze, and take an interest in what you are referring to,

without apparent thought of itself.

The cat? Beautiful and pleasant companion as it is, it will come to you when it

is in the mood to be stroked or tickled, and will even give you a soulful glance

while the [136] process is going on, but it is much more likely to convert you

into a sort of a cat than you are to change it into a sort of a man or woman. I

observed also that the elephant, caught from the wild and trained only to

subjection and obedience displays remarkable intelligence. But I digress too


The point is that the intellectual and emotional uplift of the animals does not

depend upon man. Those who think it does are apt to imagine that the uplift of

the “lower orders” among men depends upon the paternal administration of the

higher, and is at its best when the lower remember their places and cultivate

themselves with due respect and obedience to their superiors. Mr. Leadbeater was

adamant in this point of view. Notwithstanding the progress of democracy in the

world, he remained an entire disbeliever in it and a good old Tory of the early

Victorian style. Though so much with him, I was never in the least converted to

his social and political outlook, which always seemed to me reactionary and

uninformed in the extreme.

Although I was quite satisfied that Mr. Leadbeater was sincere I had no decisive

evidence of the accuracy of any of his visions. Some people believed that those

visions were constant, that he was aware of almost everything that was going on

in his neighbourhood and a good deal far away.

That was a belief based on exaggeration. I was a little disappointed that

neither he nor Mrs. Besant ever took decisive steps to scotch that belief with

regard to themselves. It may have been that they found it difficult to make

clear just where the line of belief ought to be drawn.

I never knew one occasion on which Mr. Leadbeater was in the least aware of any

thought that was going on in my mind, and in ordinary matters he certainly used

no clairvoyant power at all. Often, being busy at something, he would ask me if

I would go and see “whether our President” – a word he always used with a

reverential pause and deep old-fashioned impressments – “is in her room,” though

that room was only fifty paces distant and her aura was described as blazing

like the sun for a hundred yards all round. Often he would say, with regard to a

point of interest: “Come along, let us consult the President about this,” and we

would rush off together (we would run on these little excursions for the mere

joy of living), sometimes to be brought [137] to a halt a few feet inside her

room and utter the disappointed exclamation: “Why, she is not here!”

The incident nearest to evidence that I ever saw occurred as follows. We were

working away and all was pitch darkness outside, when a knock came at the door

and in response to Mr. Leadbeater's “come in,” a young Englishman, newly

resident at Adyar, appeared and said that three Indian gentlemen were sitting on

the bench outside. They had come from Madras eagerly seeking his help with

reference to a baby belonging to one of them. Mr. Leadbeater leaned back in his

chair, looked at the messenger, and said without hesitation: “Which one is it?

Is it the one with the fuzzy hair?” The messenger did not know, but when the men

were called in it proved to be one of them who had hair of a frizzy kind, which

stood far out from his head.

I should mention here that callers were rare and generally discouraged, but a

large part of Mr. Leadbeater’s correspondence referred to dead people. On

account of his books describing his first-hand knowledge of the dead and how

they were living and what they were doing, people used to write to him from all

parts of the world, sending photographs of their departed relatives (or pieces

of paper on which they had written, or scraps from the clothing which they had

worn), with requests for information about them, for help to them, and for

messages from them.

Mr. Leadbeater would “look them up,” and reply. Generally the departed were seen

enjoying themselves with friends they had met or made on the astral plane, they

needed no help – but when necessary it would be given – and it was quite

forbidden to bring messages from the dead to the living. It was, however,

permissible to take messages from the living to the dead, but that was seldom

necessary, since most educated and cultured people were quite capable of

mingling with the departed during the hours of sleep, when their astral bodies

were released from the physical integument, though it was rare for anyone to

remember these experiences on waking, on account of the lack of responsiveness

of the physical brain to impressions from higher planes.

Another incident approaching the nature of evidence occurred somewhat later. An

old gentleman and his wife arrived seeking consolation for the loss of their

little son, a schoolboy. They had come from the Telugu-speaking [138] country to

the north of Madras, from which Krishnamurti’s father had also come. They wanted

Mr. Leadbeater to talk with their little boy. He remarked to me that he could

not do so on account of the difference of language, but this might be an

opportunity to see what Krishnamurti could do. Krishnamurti was sitting studying

at a table against the far wall of the room. Mr. Leadbeater called across to

him: “Come and see if you can help.” Krishnamurti then sat with the two old

people on a couch just inside the door, while Mr. Leadbeater and I went on

working together at the other side of the room. The three carried on an animated

conversation in the Telugu language for, I think, about half an hour, presumably

in reference to the dead boy, and then the old people bowed themselves out with

expressions of profound gratitude and satisfaction.

On the other hand, there were occasional incidents which shook my confidence in

the reliability of Mr. Leadbeater’s clairvoyance. Though I admired him and loved

him, and was convinced of his sincerity, it did sometimes cross my mind that as

he was obviously much more interested in uplifting people than in the

investigations themselves, that great interest might easily colour his psychic

vision. He practically never took up any investigation on his own account, but

only when the subjects were requested or suggested by others, and he was always

ready to break them off in order to spend his time with promising boys – a

matter which irritated me a little because I was bent upon gathering material

which might turn out to be of real scientific value sooner or later.

I noticed that as we proceeded with the writing of the lives of Alcyone, boring

further and further into the past Krishnamurti seemed to grow greater and

greater; in more recent lives he was a humble individual, though pure and good,

but in the earlier lives he appeared as a personage of great eminence, playing a

leading part in the political and social life of his time. If the book of lives

is now consulted, it will appear curious to the critical reader that

Krishnamurti, one of the right-hand men of the Manu, semi-divine king of the new

Aryan race seventy-two thousand years ago, should gradually diminish in

importance to become an ordinary man, though of fine character, in the last ten

or fifteen lives. I commented to myself that Krishnamurti was obviously growing

upon Mr. Leadbeater, [139] and that imagination was seriously affecting the

visions, though that would be no reason to regard them as fundamentally unsound.


There were three attitudes of the residents of Adyar towards these lives, which

created quite a sensation as they were read at the evening meetings on the roof.

Most of the residents accepted them without question. They were “wonderful, and

surely Mrs. Besant would not have upheld them unless she was satisfied that they

were correct.” Some few rejected them altogether, used to laugh at them and were

not above composing comic verses about them:

“In the lives, in the lives,

We had plenty of husbands and wives,” etc.

One of them, a Parsi, said that in the Persian life Mr. Leadbeater had mixed the

names badly, somehow confusing male and female names; that was one of the few

lives in which he did give names of the period to the characters referred to,

and it was one of the rare occasions on which he had consulted a book in

connection with it.

The same resident maintained that he had confutation of another item which had

some appearance of evidence. One night Mr. Leadbeater had with much hesitation

given me a few words in Sanskrit, to which he told me he was listening. There

was much difficulty, he said, in getting words of foreign languages clearly. He

asked me if I recognized the language. Yes, it was Sanskrit, quite recognizable.

It went down into the first draft of the lives. On the next day the Parsi friend

happened to be talking with Mr. Leadbeater in his room when this item came up in

conversation. The friend said he felt convinced that he had come across the

sentence somewhere else, before, and they both wondered where it might have

been. At that moment the Parsi gentleman’s eye happened to fall upon a book

which was out of alignment on the shelf. On the instant he remembered that the

passage that they were talking about was quoted in that book.

“Why,” he exclaimed, “now I remember. It was in this book, The Dream of Ravan,

which is out of line, that I [140] read the sentence.” Mr. Leadbeater, he said,

looked confused, remarked that the servant had been dusting the books, and

diverted the conversation to some other subject.

Another friend, a European doctor, quietly severed his connection with Mr.

Leadbeater altogether. He was the only person, as far as I know, who ever tried

secretly to put Mr. Leadbeater to the test. They were very friendly and had been

together to a theatre. This gentleman deliberately pretended that he had a

vision of two gigantic figures one on each side of the stage, standing up there

like the guardian genii of Indian temples, or Japanese doorways. He described

them, and Mr. Leadbeater, he said, told him that he was correct.

There was an explanation for this, however. Mr. Leadbeater always gave great

credit to imagination as verging on clairvoyance. When you imagine something, he

would say, there is nearly always something present to cause that imagination.

He held that the best way for most people to develop clairvoyance was to let the

imagination play in the first place.

A striking conversation took place in my presence on this point. One of our

prominent members had been through an important ceremony on the astral plane

during the sleep of his physical body, and had thereby become what was called

“an Initiate.” It happened that he was to be called as a witness in a certain

case. He was full of anxiety about it.

“Whatever shall I say if they ask me about my being an Initiate? I do not

remember anything at all of it.”

Mr. Leadbeater’s reply was: “But why don’t you remember? You ought to be able to


“Well, if I let my imagination play on it, I can get a sort of impression about


“That is just what you ought to do. There is a cause for such imaginings. How

can you expect your clairvoyant power to develop if you destroy its delicate


The member followed this advice and became one of the prominent clairvoyants in

the Theosophical Society, though years later he mentioned in conversation, that

he never really saw anything; only he received an impression so vivid that he

felt it must be so, and he was justified in saying with confidence that

such-and-such a being was [141] present and was saying such-and-such a thing.

His position was not without rationality, though I personally never considered

it sound enough to warrant a claim to great leadership and the guidance of

others in important matters.

It is doubtful whether any clairvoyant operates through senses in any way

comparable with those familiar to us as sight, hearing and the rest. It is more

than probable that when impressions are clearly received in terms of these (as

when I heard the sentence relating to the five of clubs) it is due to

“visualization” superimposed upon the impression, and forming a species of

interpretation. When I put this theory before Mr. Leadbeater he quite agreed to

it and wrote a passage to that effect in one of his books.

My own position with regard to Mr. Leadbeater, therefore, was midway between the

extremes of acceptance and rejection. It was that of one who had otherwise had

convincing proof of the existence of clairvoyant power (though not on anything

like the lavish scale presented by Mr. Leadbeater, nor of the perfect accuracy

which he always took for granted in his own case), who did not see any reason

why Mr. Leadbeater should cheat, but many reasons why he should not do so, who,

knowing him and liking him, was prepared to give him the benefit of the doubt

where at all reasonable, who at the same time knew that human nature was streaky

(like bacon, as it has been said) and did not expect Mr. Leadbeater to be

perfect in all respects, even though the devotees thought him to be so.

I found, on the other hand, that most of my friends were rather in the position

expressed in an article which I read recently, in which the writer said: “I

accept that as true, being ignorant of the matter.” Some few were actually a

little afraid of disbelief. They might miss something good, or even “something”

might happen to them. I was reminded of the story of the old lady who bowed

whenever the devil was mentioned, and when asked why she did so, replied: “Well,

minister, it’s best to be ready for everything.”

There had been charges against Mr. Leadbeater of very reprehensible actions with

boys, but Mrs. Besant had been satisfied that they were unsound, and had

readmitted him to her closest friendship. I am convinced to this day that he

loved young people and would do nothing intentionally to harm them, and during

the whole of my close contact [142] with him, intermittently covering thirteen

years, I never saw in him any signs of sexual excitement or desire. Only once or

twice we talked of the attacks made upon him. He said that evidence had been

manufactured against him. He had given advice, in good faith, and with the best

intentions, which Mrs. Besant had disapproved. In deference to her wishes, he

had promised not to give that advice again, although his opinion still was that

it was the best under the circumstances.

One “streak,” however, that did trouble me was his liability to irritability,

which would sometimes become quite explosive and verging on the cruel – a

quality common enough, however, and accepted rather as a matter of course among

old English gentlemen of the Victorian school. My first introduction to this

occurred when one morning a German countess, who had undertaken to supervise the

house-keeping, came fluttering at the doorway. Only ten feet away from her, he

bellowed out at the top of his great lungs: “What does that woman want here?”

“Oh, Mr. Leadbeater,” faltered the stricken lady, “I was only looking to see if

the servants had done their work properly.”

This fault of irritability was, however, recognized by Mr. Leadbeater himself,

and he used to tell me that some day he would conquer it. I thought to myself:

“Great people have great faults, but they disappear suddenly; little people have

little faults, but they seem to go on for ever.”

Sometimes, when ants and beetles invaded his desk – a common occurrence in South

India – he would completely lose his temper, and then he would methodically

press them individually to death with the flat of his paperknife, with such an

unpleasant expression upon his face that it made me feel quite sick. When I

showed my unhappiness, he would laugh at me, call me over-sensitive and finally

say that the life in those creatures was infinitesimally small. I was perhaps

anthropomorphizing their feelings to some extent. But could they not have been

swept off in a gentler way, and without that sadistic delight?

Still, I knew well that kindness was really the biggest thing in his life, and

so I was quite ready to forget these lapses. When anyone, especially a child,

had been admitted to the charmed circle of his immediate friendship – and he was

very exclusive – he would sacrifice his comfort, his [143] money, everything,

for him. But he was uncompromisingly short with anybody outside that circle who

showed the least intrusiveness or made the least disturbance.

I was a very favoured person, and could discuss these things with him. He had a

definite theory on the point – that he existed only to do good, and it would be

folly to spread himself out too thin. If he succeeded in doing great good to a

few, then in their lives they would extend that good in ever-enlarging

concentric circles. He admitted that “our President,” with her magnetic

personality and her magnificent gift of oratory, could work on a larger scale,

but such greatness was not for him; he knew his limitations.

I agreed that his position was logical. I knew that though he would angrily

rebuff outsiders, there was no venom behind his anger. It was a sort of smoke

screen in self-defence, though generally quite unnecessarily effective. He

wished well to all, and would injure none, but his company and services were

reserved for those upon whom he had focused his affection. He would have a

garden of beautiful and delicate flowers – weeds were all right in their place,

but they must keep out of here.


Before leaving this subject, I must give another instance of Mr. Leadbeater’s

work that impressed me very much at the time. One morning I found him lying on

his couch, with the Dutch friend, whom I have already mentioned, sitting in a

chair at his side. Mr. Leadbeater was saying that he had had a visit from a deva

(a non-human angelic being) who had shown him some living pictures of scenes to

occur in a community which was to come into existence in Lower (now Mexican)

California about eight hundred years in the future. He said from the points of

contact given to him by the deva he could now observe the entire life of that

community of the future. Our friend, always eager to gather knowledge, suggested

the compilation of as much information as possible about that community. He

always held the view that we were at the stage of compilation of occult

information and would be in a better position to correlate and criticize the

points later on.

Mr. Leadbeater agreed to the proposition, and after that [144] for about three

weeks he and I spent three or four hours every day working on the subject. My

part was to put to him every question I could think of, on every conceivable

topic relating to such a community. His was to lie on the sofa and look up the

information required. In this way we betook ourselves, so to speak, into the

streets, the factories, the restaurants, the homes, the temples, everywhere, and

he described the appearance of the people, their dress, language, habits, food

and a hundred other things.

They were an advanced community, living in a kind of garden city under the

leadership of two Masters who would incarnate especially to establish this

community as the nucleus of a new race, for it was intended that these people

should at some stage of their development begin to migrate and multiply

themselves all over North America. It was a highly technical civilization, with

machinery carried to an advanced point, with new inventions, including tiny

individual motor-cars, aeroplanes for distant service, talking pictures and

television, the last including even the actual reproduction, from the ether, of

historical scenes.

I wanted information about some of the new scientific methods, but this was not

permitted. There was also a new system of writing the language, which was

English, in very brief form, with apparently an ideographic foundation, but the

main features subject to inflectional marks. I was told with reference to this

that if I succeeded in working it out for myself I would be informed if it was

correct! I worked at it for a long time, but could not make a system of

shorthand on that basis!

To obtain knowledge of not very evident things, such as the economic system, it

was necessary to put questions to the people then living, so I held

conversations on these points with various people in the future, through the

agency of Mr. Leadbeater! For example, I wanted to know about conditions in a

certain factory.

“There is a girl here working in the factory. Let us ask her.”

But the girl was frightened when she heard a ghostly voice addressing her!

“Well, here is a fellow coming along the street. Let us put it into his mind

that he would like to see the factory and to know about the points you ask. We

will get him to go inside and ask questions.” [145]

The man proved responsive, went inside and asked the questions, while Mr.

Leadbeater listened to the future conversation and told it to me. We discussed

the curious phenomenon – would this man actually walk up the street and go in

and ask these questions eight hundred years hence? Oh, yes. And would there be a

ghostly voice from the past, frightening the girl in the factory, and wanting to

know back into the past what was happening then? Yes, inexplicable, of course,

but there it was.

In the end I had hundreds of questions with their answers, each written on a

separate slip of paper. The Dutch friend and I sat together, classified all

these, and arranged them in order under suitable headings. Mr. Leadbeater then

went through them, dictating afresh and smoothing out the language according to

the literary form he desired. We were struck by the remarkable consistency of

the result. There was no confusion or clash in the material. Still, as we knew

that Mr. Leadbeater was very fond of H. G. Wells’s scientific romances and the

adventure stories of Rider Haggard and Jules Verne, and had often told stories

on these lines to boys, we did not consider it beyond the bounds of invention by

his sub-conscious mind. Mr. Leadbeater used to tell us how stories sometimes

wrote themselves before the eyes, so to say, of some novelists, the characters

in them taking matters into their own hands and conducting the whole affair, and

how Conan Doyle would take up his pen and write an imaginative story without

knowing at all what he was going to write.

The series appeared in the magazine under the heading of “The Beginnings of the

Sixth Root Race” and was afterwards incorporated in a book containing other

investigations entitled Man: Whence, How, and Whither?

In connection with this investigation Mr. Leadbeater also talked to us of other

future incidents which came within his vision, to occur within fifty years. The

force in the atom would be tapped and would replace electricity, far within the

fifty years – of which, by the way, twenty-six have already gone. There would be

a great war, in which Germany and England would be opposed. Germany would be

defeated and Holland would gain an accession of territory in Europe! It was

thought advisable not to print such items as the last. Mr. Leadbeater always had

the coming war much on his mind, and when early in 1914 I was thinking [146] of

accepting an invitation to become National Lecturer of the British Section of

the Society, he advised me strongly not to go: “It will be of no use; that war

will be coming on soon.” I took his advice and remained in India. [147]

-------Cardiff Theosophical Society in Wales-------
206 Newport Road, Cardiff, Wales, UK. CF24-1DL




AN incident big with consequence occurred when one day Krishnamurti’s father

came to Mr. Leadbeater in great distress. The boy had been treated most cruelly

at school. It was true that he was a very dreamy boy, and therefore not good at

his lessons, but this cruelty was really unbearable. Mr. Leadbeater’s advice was


“Take him away from the school.”

It was not practical, the father replied, since the schools were registered by

the Government, and if a boy did not pass through this Government system he

could not afterwards take up any of the traditional occupations of the literary

classes – government service, the law, medicine, engineering, teaching, etc.

Mr. Leadbeater said: “But anyhow you cannot allow that cruelty to go on. And it

is all the worse in the case of such a sensitive boy.”

Regarding Krishnamurti as one who was destined to become a great spiritual

teacher, Mr. Leadbeater then said that if the father liked he would write to

Mrs. Besant and ask her interest in the boy’s career. Knowing the importance of

his future, she would probably arrange for him to be educated in England – the

desire of the heart of many Indian fathers, for English education brought in its

train considerable economic advantages. In the meantime he and his friends would

see that Krishnamurti did not lack private tuition, pending Mrs. Besant’s return

from America, where she then was.

The father accepted this solution of his difficulty, and the result was that

Krishnamurti and his next younger brother, Nityananda, became constant members

of our party. [148] Several people volunteered to give them private tuition, two

subjects falling to my lot, including Sanskrit after the departure from Adyar of

Mr. Subrahmanyam Aiyar, who was their first teacher of Sanskrit. I had thus the

best of opportunities of knowing Krishnamurti, who was to become a celebrity

later on. Indeed, a strong affection grew up between us.

Krishnamurti was a very delicate boy, Mr. Leadbeater’s first concern was for his

health. Caste difficulties stood in the way of some dietetic changes which Mr.

Leadbeater would have liked, but there was no objection to a frequent drink of

milk during the day, and an occasional resort to a large glass jar full of

prunes. Though Krishnamurti did not like these, he took them, in obedience to

the desire of his friends. At the same time the young Englishman mentioned in

connection with the episode of the baby supervised a course of athletics,

outings on bicycles in the early mornings, and tennis in the evenings.

Mr. Leadbeater was very motherly in all these things. While they were out

cycling, he would go to the bathroom and himself prepare the proper mixture of

hot water at the moment when we saw the cyclists returning in the distance over

the Elphinstone Bridge, and I would go there with him, so that we should not

lose time in the discussion of our literary material, for Mr. Leadbeater was a

prodigious worker. As a result of all this attention Krishnamurti picked up

considerably in health.

Krishnamurti was extraordinarily unselfish and affectionate for a boy of his

age. When asked as to what they should do or where go at any time, his

invariable answer would be: “What you like.”

This sometimes irritated Mr. Leadbeater, who could not draw him out further, and

he would exclaim: “Oh, confound these bairagis.” (A vairagi or bairagi is a

Hindu holy man who takes no interest in anything in the world.) Krishnamurti was

not fond of studies. He would often say with reference to arithmetic: “Why do

you trouble me with these things? I shall never need them.”

I had better luck with the Sanskrit, but not much. We would retire to the empty

drawing-room, next to Mrs. Besant’s rooms. There was a big couch there.

Krishnamurti would sit on the left, Nityananda on the right, I in the middle,

one arm round each of them, Krishnamurti’s [149] arm round my neck. Thus huddled

together, with the book precariously balanced on my knee, and frequently falling

upon the floor, we would attempt our study. Nityananda was a playful boy, so

that sometimes our studies would degenerate into a tussle, myself the referee

trying to separate the two pseudo-pugilists. Sometimes Mrs. Besant would pass

through the room, after she had returned and undertaken the legal wardship of

the two boys, and would be much amused and pleased at our appearance. But

Krishnamurti could concentrate when he liked. One day when I reproached him for

inattentiveness to the lesson, he said: “Well, give me the book.” He went off by

himself for a little while and came back knowing the lesson very well.

In the early mornings Krishnamurti was encouraged to write down his dreams,

partly for practice in English composition, and partly for the sake of psychic

training. He had a little black book and also some exercise books in which he

used to write. I never looked into those, but it was said that the dreams were

very coherent and of great interest. Sometimes also Mr. Leadbeater would

experiment with thought-transference, putting his hands on Krishnamurti’s

temples and asking him what he saw, with, I understood, very interesting


To Mrs. Besant the wardship of the boys was a very sacred duty. She shared in

the belief that Krishnamurti’s body would probably be used for a new appearance

on earth of the great Master of Masters, whom both she and Mr. Leadbeater

declared they knew as having entered into the body of Jesus for the brief

ministry in Palestine of which accounts appear in the Gospels. She herself spent

about two hours each day teaching them, and used to take them with her for

private meditation in the shrine-room. In the roof meetings Krishnamurti was put

to sit between her and Mr. Leadbeater. The arrangements for tuition and physical

culture continued as before. To the latter the young Englishman added with great

devotion the duties of personal attendant and valet.

Although Krishnamurti became the centre of much attention, and presented a

conspicuous figure, with his unusual arrangement of hair, cut to the shoulders

and parted down the middle, forming a glossy black aureole to his face, his

personality did not become affected with any signs of a sense of superiority to

others. How far he grasped [150] the idea of the great honour that was to be his

in becoming the vehicle for the Christ or World-Teacher I do not know; he never

made any allusion to it, and there was no conceit at all in his composition. His

younger brother might have traded a little upon the situation, being not

insensitive to its material advantages, but Krishnamurti seemed entirely

unspoiled, even when a number of people who were impressed with the greatest

devotion to him in view of his impending greatness began to assume central

partings in their hair and to vow themselves to do everything possible to help

him to prepare for his mission!

For this purpose, indeed, they were formed into a special body or Order, with

coloured robes and symbols of the rising sun. I was not attracted to this. Let

the Christ come, and I would follow him into the last ditch, but in the meantime

I would not part my hair down the centre (although more than one friend assured

me that I would look very Christ-like) and I would make no vows. Vows were quite

unnecessary, and I detested the spectacular. I would spontaneously help

Krishnamurti, and I think I did so more than most, even to the extent of copying

out in my large print-like writing of Sanskrit characters a whole volume of

ancient Sanskrit stories to be used as a lesson-book by him, to save his eyes

from the dangers of the execrable type and impress of the cheap school-books

printed in India.

I do not pretend that I presented any less peculiar spectacle than my friends;

but if my hair and beard were long it was because of a mixture of neglect and

shrinking from modern artificiality – as I then regarded it, for my childhood

and youth had induced in me very little respect for Western civilization. It was

certainly not as a pose, even to myself. In my own way I was as lacking in

extra-spection as Krishnamurti himself. A visiting friend once tried to convert

me to modernity. He pointed out that I was trying my friends very hard, but I

regret to say his words could not produce any living picture on the screen of my

mind, occupied as it was with what to me were infinitely more important things.

Some months later Mrs. Besant went to pay visits at several places in the north

of India, ending up with a long stay in Benares, where she had a bungalow of her

own near to the Central Hindu College, in the management of which [151] she was

the most prominent figure. She took the two boys with her, to give them

experience. Mr. Leadbeater missed them very much. I often thought what a devoted

mother he would have made but for the accident of sex. He would occasionally

sigh for them, and he told me that, although he was fully aware that there was

really no separation, the physical brain could not help feeling it. We busied

ourselves more than ever with literary work. At least fifty per cent of the

whole literary output of Mr. Leadbeater’s life was done during the ten thousand

hours I worked with him at Adyar, discussing, suggesting, arranging, sometimes

contributing an idea and even a vision or two, and always preparing material for

the press.


While Mrs. Besant was away I had a week’s vacation under curious circumstances.

One night, as I was sleeping in my room, I was suddenly awakened by something

unknown. I sat up and looked before me, and it seemed as if the wall of my room

had disappeared, for I could see far across the field outside, at the back of

the quadrangle. In the distance a group of Hindu gentlemen was to be seen

approaching, and as they drew towards me a figure in the centre became very

clear. He was an elderly man, with long and shaggy grey hair and beard, very

distinctive features and a peculiar manner of bending his shoulders and knees as

he walked. As they came across the field they seemed to exude a soft light,

which illuminated the familiar trees as they passed them.

When they had come near to me, the central figure drew my attention so that the

others seemed