Published by Blavatsky Study Center. Online Edition copyright 2004.


From Ostende to London
A Turning Point in the T. S.

by Archibald Keightley

[Reprinted from The Path (New York), November 1892, pp. 245-248.]

In the early months of 1887 there were some few members of the T. S. in London who felt that if Theosophy did not receive some vital impulse, the centre there would be confined to a few individuals only who were pursuing and would continue to pursue their studies. Of course there may have been many who felt the same, but I write here of those with whom I was actually in contact. There were many anxious discussions as to how a vital interest could be awakened in the truths of Theosophy, and how attention should be restored to the ethical philosophy. This was the more necessary, for in the public mind the philosophy had been inseparably connected with the phenomena. We all felt that we were working in the dark and that we were ignorant of the real basis upon which the philosophy rested. Obviously we required a leader who might intelligently direct our efforts. We then determined each separately to write to H. P. Blavatsky, who was then in Ostende, laying before the Founder of the T. S. and the Messenger of the Masters the position as each of us saw it. We asked her to reply in a collective letter giving us advice as to what to do. She replied, however, to each individual, writing letters of eight to twelve pages. The result of this was that we all wrote and asked her to come over and direct our efforts. She had told us that she was writing the Secret Doctrine and must finish that before undertaking other work. Nevertheless we wrote to her that there was, we believed, urgent need of her directing presence, and that she could finish the Secret Doctrine in London as well as or better than in Ostende. After receiving her reply, which urged objections, Mr. Bertram Keightley went over to Ostende during the latter part of February or beginning of March and talked matters over with her. She agreed to come to London at the end of April provided we would find a house for her somewhere a little out of London in which she could work in peace. Soon after he returned I went over to Ostende rather unexpectedly myself. I naturally went to call after leaving my luggage at the hotel. Madame Blavatsky received me with the greatest kindness, although previously to that occasion I was almost unknown to her. She insisted that I should transfer my things to her house and stay with her while in Ostende. At that time she was occupying the first floor of the house, with a Swiss maid to wait on her and Countess Wachtmeister to keep her company. I was at once introduced to the Secret Doctrine with a request to read, correct, and excise, a privilege I naturally did not avail myself of. Madame Blavatsky at that time had never ventured out of her rooms since the previous November, and never came from her writing and bed-room into the dining-room until the windows had been closed and the room well warmed. Several attacks of inflammation of the kidneys had warned her that the slightest chill was dangerous to the completion of her work. At the close of my visit I returned to England with renewed assurances of her arrival on May 1st, and under pledge to return and assist Madame Blavatsky on her journey to London. I had not been in London many hours when one of our members, Dr. Ashton Ellis, received a telegram from Countess Wachtmeister saying, as I recall its tenor, that Madame Blavatsky had had another inflammatory attack on the kidneys, that she was comatose, and that her life was in the utmost danger. Dr. Ellis went over to Ostende and attended her. He told me that he was extremely surprised, and so were the others who know her serious condition, to find her recovering in a few days. Her state then was so critical that she began arranging her affairs before the comatose attack came, burning up papers and having a will drawn up so as to be ready for the end. Later on she told me herself that her life was saved by the direct intervention of her Master. Her endurance manifested itself even at this point, for as soon as she could leave her bed she was again at work on the Secret Doctrine.

In the middle of April Mr. Keightley again went over, and I followed him about the 25th or 26th. We were rather in consternation because Madame Blavatsky said she could not possibly leave in such weather as then prevailed, especially on account of her late serious illness. Her landlord said she must leave, for the rooms were let. Countess Wachtmeister had previously left for Sweden to attend to urgent business affairs there under promise to rejoin Madame Blavatsky in London. Staying in the house with us was a friend of Dr. Ellis who assisted in the removal.

The fated day came, and in place of being bright but cold, as had been the case two days before, the morning proved to be cold and foggy, with a steady drizzling rain falling and penetrating all it touched, the thermometer being about 40 degrees. We fully expected Madame Blavatsky would decline to move, and thought her justified in doing so. Nevertheless she appeared that morning in full marching order, the trunks were packed, and all was ready. The carriage arrived and Madame Blavatsky was assisted into it, and off it drove to the wharf. It must be remembered that she had not had a window open in her room while she was in it (and would scarcely allow it open while she was out) for six months. She kept her room at a temperature of over 70 deg., believing that anything under that would kill her. Moreover, she was almost crippled with rheumatism and could hardly walk, and was a constant martyr to sciatica. On getting to the wharf we found the tide low, and in consequence that there was only a narrow gangway leading at a very steep incline to the steamer’s deck. Imagine our dismay. Madame Blavatsky, however, said nothing, but simply grasping the rails walked slowly and without assistance to the deck. We then took her to a cabin on deck where she sank on to the sofa and only then betrayed the pain and exhaustion caused by her effort. The journey was uneventful so far as Dover, save that for the first time in her life Mme. Blavatsky knew what the preliminary qualms of sea-sickness meant and was much puzzled. At Dover the tide was still lower, and as a result four very stalwart piermen had to carry her to the top. Then came the greatest difficult, for the platform is low and the English railway carriage steps were high. It required the united efforts of all the party (and the piermen as well) to assist Madame Blavatsky in her crippled state into the carriage. The journey to London was uneventful, and with the help of an invalid chair and a carriage she was safely lodged in the house we had secured for her. Secretly I was afraid the journey would have serious results, but, whatever was the reason, she seemed to enjoy better health for some time after her arrival in England then she had for months previously. The day after her arrival she was at work on the Secret Doctrine at 7 a.m., and did not appear best pleased because she had been prevented from an earlier start through her writing materials not having been unpacked the previous night.

A. KEIGHTLEY.

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[EDITOR'S NOTE. - Dr. Keightley was asked to give the above short account of an important point in our history. It was a turning-point indeed, since it resulted in the re-awakening of the London centre. A postal card sent to the Editor by H. P. B. after she got to London may be of interest and is here given.

Addressed "W. Q. Judge Esq., Editor PATH, New York, U. S. A.", postmark May 7, '89. (1)

MAYCOT, CROWNHILL, UPPER NORWOOD, LONDON, May 7th.

On thy prophetic soul! Didn’t know old H. P. B. was for seventeen days hovering between life and death; drawn irresistibly by the charm beyond the latter, and held by her coat-tails by the Countess and some London Lodges? Nice intuitional friend. Anyhow saved once more, and once more stuck into the mud of life right with my classical nose. Two Keightleys and Thornton (a dear, REAL new Theosophist) came to Ostende, packed me up, books, kidneys, and gouty legs, and carried me across the water partially in steamer, partially in invalid chair, and the rest in train to Norwood, in one of the cottages of which here I am; living (rather vegetating) in it till the Countess returns. Write here "1000 words for the PATH"? I’ll try, old man. Very, very seedy and weak; but rather better after the mortal disease which cleansed me if it did not carry me off. Love and sincere, as usual and for ever. Yours in heaven and hell. -
‘O. L.’ H. P. B."]

Note

(1)  The year should be 1887. - BA Editor.