Published by The Blavatsky Archives Online. Online Edition copyright 2000.
A Visit to Madame Blavatsky
[Reprinted from The Commercial Gazette (Cincinnati, Ohio) October 13, 1889, p. 3.]
Since the time, many years ago, when the daily papers told us of a mysterious and gifted woman in our midst who was preparing a book of occult lore, such as had never before been given to the readers of our western world, up to the present time, when the author of "Isis Unveiled" is recognized in the literary world as one of its indefatigable workers, in the religious world as an enemy to old beliefs, and in the social world as a woman as incomprehensible as a sphinx --- Madame Blavatsky is without doubt the most remarkable woman of the age. Shrug your shoulders, my friend, and utter the word infamous if you choose --- but you will find it no easy task to prove aught that will derogate from her character or ability, and no one will venture to assert that any other woman is known around the world like her. It matters little who the reader may be, Judge, clergyman or professor, every item regarding the life of this lady is read with interest. One is told that she is five hundred years old and renews her age in the far East as often as it is necessary; another tells of magical feats where crisp new bills are improvised by a moments thought, or as Lytton called it, by will-power; a third affirms that she has been exposed as a cheat and trickster, and so on ad infinitum. While all the world read and discuss, she lives and writes, and performs an amount of literary work as astonishing in its amount as in its subject matter.
A few days ago it was the writers good fortune to call upon Madame Blavatsky at her home in London. The day was rainy, as London days always are, and the drive from Charing Cross to Holland Park in a two-wheeled cab would have been anything but agreeable, had not the mind for a time forgotten the body and busied itself with memories of the long years of patient waiting since first the desire to see her had taken possession of it. Pilgrims to Mecca --- the devout who at length have audience with the Pope,; the American who gains the privilege of a presentation at court, the tourist who sees Mont Blanc for the first time --- all these sink into insignificance before the experience of emotions in which all these are blended, and a something added which mystery alone gives, as one wheels along the crowded London thoroughfares to meet Madame Blavatsky. The rain increases every moment, and after twenty minutes hard driving the cabman stops at No. 7, Landsdowne road. It no longer rains, it pours, and the pilgrim dashes through the falling torrents to find that the number is not 7, but 17. With thanks for the information and the mental comment that the lady in question must be well known, another dash through the rain is made and the number is sought. Landsdowne road is one of those wide, beautiful streets that are to be found in the neighborhood of Hyde Park --- where every house is a home, and a home that might satisfy nobility. Well kept gardens, or yards of green shrubbery, add a charm to the substantial stone buildings that are here the fashion. Oui, Madame, entrez, sil vous plait, was the cordial response to the question, Is Madame Blavatsky in, and can I see her? Ushered into the first room to the left, wherein a large table and furniture betoken use, --- perhaps as a dining room, perhaps as a reception room, and sometimes as a study --- for upon the table were divers papers and writings. I waited for further orders. A few moments later the folding doors were thrown open and I stood face to face with a gentleman of grand physique, of genial face, of wonderful beard --- a gentleman so unique in manner and appearance that I at once involuntarily exclaimed: Colonel Olcott.
The same, and you are my countrywoman. Be seated. He had only arrived in London from India a few days before, and the minutes flew as he spoke of the excitement of the work, and was only interrupted by a door opening, announcing the entrance of Madame Blavatsky. How shall I describe her? It would be impossible. A general impression of kindliness, of power, of wonderful gifts, is all that remains at this moment on my mind. She moved with difficulty, for she was suffering greatly from rheumatism, but she laughingly asserted, as she seated herself in an easy chair: I have cheated the doctors and Death so many times before, they say, that I hope to cheat this rheumatism also, but it is not so easy to manage.
But you still write, Madame?
Of course, I write as much as ever; and Colonel Olcott interrupted with, What matters it about a little rheumatism so long as it does not creep into her head or her writings? and we all laughed. When I said, Lucifer is quite at home in America, she replied with spirit: They have boycotted it in London, and will not allow it to be sold at the news-stands. I could scarcely comprehend this and she laughed as she said: There are people who believe I am the devil with hoofs and horns, and again we laughed. We talked of Theosophy and its rapid spread --- its workers and writers, and of Dr. Buck, of Cincinnati, whose picture hung just above my head, where his well-known face seemed to smile a welcome to us all. Have you seen this work noticed, Madame? and she laid in my hand the advanced sheets of her new book, "The Key to Theosophy." I had not; and she said it would be issued very soon, also a smaller work she had just finished, "The Voice of the Silence." When I expressed surprise at the amount of writing she had done, as well as the immense knowledge displayed, Colonel Olcott remarked: I worked with Madame Blavatsky several years, and know all about it. She is a steam engine at writing, and when I tell you that in writing 'Isis Unveiled', with its large number of extracts from ancient writings, she had access but to a small book-case of ordinary books, you will believe me when I tell you that she reads as clearly in the Astral light as from the open pages. All this time I was conscious of a pair of eyes that were reading my very thoughts, and a face opposite me that might become at any moment as immovable as a sphinx, but was very kindly and animated at the present moment. I can imagine no personality so expressive of indomitable will power as that of Madame Blavatsky. The room in which we sat was instinct with her individuality. It was full of everything that suggested thought, refinement, literary labor, an interest in friends, but there was no place for mere display of useless ornament. The table, with Colonel Olcott on one side and herself on the other, was loaded with papers and books. The walls were covered with photographs. And here in the heart of the bustling city lives and works the founder of the Theosophical Society that now numbers in America alone more than thirty branches. All this has been accomplished in little over a decade.
The conversation turned upon Mrs. Besant, whose allegiance to Theosophy has called out a most absurd and puerile production from Mr. Foote. I had just purchased her reply, "Why I Became a Theosophist," but had not read it, and was only too glad to hear more about the gifted woman, who has caused all this commotion. "Her brother-in-law is Mr. Walter Besant, the novelist, and her husband a clergyman. She is a wonderfully clever woman, and will preside next Thursday evening at the meeting where I deliver an address," said Colonel Olcott. "And may I know what you will say?" I asked.
"Willingly, if I could tell you, but as I always speak extemporaneously and trust to the inspiration of the moment, you see it is impossible," and he smiled so delightfully that I lost my sense of regret in the pleasure of the smile. As I rose to go, Madame Blavatsky took my hand warmly in her own and bade me adieu, with kind regards to her American friends. "America," she said, "is the best and the worst, the kindest and most abusive country in the world."
"And ------- is the worst of all Americans," said Colonel Olcott, laughing.
"Lord, yes," came vehemently from her lips, as old memories were stirred by the name. mentioned, "I should think he was." The door opened and a lady of sunny face entered; it was Mrs. Besant herself. She laid a bunch of grapes in Madame Blavatsky's hands and turned a pleasant face to welcome the stranger.
Rather below the ordinary height, bright, earnest and intense, she looks at you with all the honest candor of a fearless soul that has cast off the shackels of worn-out conventionalities and weeds. To know her one must read her life as written by herself.
She was evidently very much at home at No. 17 Lansdowne road, for her bonnet and outer wraps were removed, and she entered from an inner room. The conversation turned upon the churches, and Colonel Olcott remarked that they already had several clergymen enrolled as members of the Theosophical Society --- and among them some very prominent. Mrs. Besant, herself the wife of a clergyman, smiled an assent, and after a brief chat the visit came to an end. It was still pouring when Colonel Olcott escorted the stranger to the cab and with the words, "We hope Madame will soon be completely restored," the door closed, and another half hour over London pavements in a two-wheeled cab, in a pouring rain, only intensified the impressions made by the visit to the most wonderful woman of the age.