Published by Blavatsky Study Center. Online Edition copyright 2004.

At Wurzburg and Ostende

by Countess Constance Wachtmeister

[First published in Lucifer (London), June 15, 1891, pp. 282-285.  
Reprinted in HPB:  In Memory of Helena Petrovna Blavatsky 
by Some of Her Pupils, 1891, pp. 18-21.]

In the month of November, 1885, I went to Wurzburg to visit Madame Blavatsky; I had met her previously in both France and England, but had had only a casual acquaintance with her.  I found H. P. B. sick and weary of life, depressed both in mind and body, for she knew what a vast and important mission she had to fulfil, and how difficult it was to find those who were willing to give themselves up to the carrying out of the noble work which was her allotted task in life.  She used often to deplore the indifference of the members of the T. S. in this respect, and she said that if she could only raise the veil for moment, and let them see into the future, what a difference it would make; but each had to work out his own Karma and battle through his difficulties alone.

Madame Blavatsky was settled in comfortable apartments with lofty rooms and with the quiet surroundings she so much needed for the stupendous work in which she was engaged.  Every morning at 6 a.m. she used to rise, having a good hour’s work before her breakfast at 8 a.m., then, after having read her letters and newspapers she would again settle to her writing, sometimes calling me into the room to tell me that references from books and manuscripts had been given to her by her Master with the chapter and page quoted, and to ask me whether I could get friends to verify the correctness of these passages in different Public Libraries:  for as she read everything reversed in the Astral Light, it would be easy for her to make mistakes in dates and numbers --- and in some instances it was found that the number of the page had been reversed, for instance 23 would be found on page 32, etc.

Between one and two o’clock was Madame Blavatsky’s dinner hour, the time varying to accommodate her work, and then without any repose she would immediately set herself at her table again, writing until six o’clock, when tea would be served.  The old lady’s relaxation during the evening would be her “Patiences”, laying out the cards while I read to her letters received during the day or scraps from newspapers which I thought might interest her.  Between nine and ten o’clock H. P. B. retired to rest, usually taking some slight refreshment, and would read her Russian newspapers until midnight, when her lamp was put out, and all would be quiet until the next morning, when the usual routine recommenced.  And so, day after day, the same unvarying life went on, only broken by the malicious Hodgson report which caused waves of disturbance to reach us from all sides.  H. P. B. said to me one evening: “You cannot imagine what it is to feel so many adverse thoughts and currents directed against you; it is like the prickings of a thousand needles, and I have continually to be erecting a wall of protection around me”.  I asked her whether she knew from whom these unfriendly thoughts came, she answered: “Yes; unfortunately, I do, and I am always trying to shut my eyes so as not to see and know”; and to prove to me that this was the case, she would tell me of letters that had been written, quoting passages from them, and these actually arrived a day or two afterwards, I being able to verify the correctness of the sentences.

All who have known and loved H. P. B. have felt what a charm there was about her, how truly kind and loveable she was; at time such a bright childish nature seemed to beam around her, and a spirit of joyous fun would sparkle in her whole countenance, and cause the most winning expression that I have ever seen on a human face.  One of the marvels of her character was, that to everybody she was different.  I have never seen her treat two persons alike.  The weak traits in every one’s character were known to her at once, and the extraordinary way in which she would probe them was surprising.  By those who lived in daily contact with her the knowledge of Self was gradually acquired, and by those who chose to benefit by her practical way of teaching progress could be made.  But to many of her pupils the process was unpalatable, for it is never pleasant to be brought face to face with one’s own weaknesses; and so many turned from her, but those who could stand the test, and remain true to her, would recognise within themselves the inner development which alone leads to Occultism.  A truer and more faithful friend one could never have than H. P. B., and I think it the greatest blessing of my life to have lived with her in such close intimacy, and until my death I shall try and further the noble cause for which she slaved and suffered so much.

I shall not speak of phenomena in this paper, for my personal testimony can be of no use to anybody but myself, except to satisfy curiosity; all I can say is, that phenomena occurred daily both in Wurzburg and in Ostende, where I spent a second winter with Madame Blavatsky.  In fact what people call phenomena seemed to me the ordinary natural occurrences of daily life, so used did I become to them; and true it is, that we only call phenomena that which we are unable fully to explain --- and the shooting stars, the growth of trees, in fact all nature around us is one vast phenomenon which if witnessed but rarely would fill us with far more incredulity and astonishment than the ringing of astral bells, etc.

Our stay in Wurzburg was only interrupted by casual visitors, the last being Madame Gebhard and Miss Kislingbury in the month of May, 1886.  I parted with H. P. B. at the station, leaving her with Miss Kislingbury, who was to accompany her to Ostende, while I went with Madame Gebhard to Kempten, where we were met by Dr. Franz Hartmann, who showed us that strange, weird and mystical town.

In October, 1886, I joined H. P. B. in Ostende, and found her settled in comfortable enough quarters; she welcomed me with all the warmth of her genial nature, and was, I think, as truly glad to have me as I was to be with her.  We recommenced our monotonous but interesting life, the thread being taken up from where it was last broken, and I watched with delight how the piles of manuscript for the S. D. were increasing.  Our near vicinity to England caused people once more to come buzzing round H. P. B., and we received several visitors, amongst whom were Mrs. Kingsford and Mr. Maitland, and it was a pleasure to listen to the conversation of three such highly gifted intellects on all the points of resemblance between Western and Eastern Occultism, but still with my further and later experience of H. P. B. and her teachings it is marvellous to me how she kept safely locked within her own breast the occult knowledge which she has lately been permitted to give to a few of her pupils.

Towards the end of the winter H. P. B. became very ill; her kidneys were affected, and after some days of intense suffering the Belgian doctor told me that he despaired of her life.  I telegraphed to Madame Gebhard, who had been a true and sincere friend of hers for many years, and also to Mr. Ashton Ellis, a member of the T. S. and a clever doctor, both responded to my call and helped me through those trying and anxious days, and in the end Mr. Ellis’ wise treatment pulled her through the dangerous crisis.  As H. P. B. was slowly recovering other friends came.  Dr. Keightley and also Mr. Bertram Keightley were among these, and they both persuaded Madame Blavatsky to go and spend the summer in England in a small cottage which was taken for her at Norwood.

I then left Ostende, Madame Gebhard kindly remaining with the old lady until she felt equal to undertaking the journey to London.  During the same summer, while I was at home in Sweden, H. P. B. wrote to me that there was a proposal to take a house in London with the Keightleys, to form a centre for theosophical work in England; she wrote: “Now at last I begin to see my way clearly before me, and Master’s work can be done if you only agree to come and live with us.  I have told the Keightleys that without you their project must fall to the ground,” etc., etc.  I replied that I would take a share in the house, and hoped that a nucleus of earnest members would be formed to carry on the work and her mission in life.

I came to England in August, 1887, found H. P. B. at Norwood, and shortly afterwards we moved into 17, Lansdowne Road, Holland Park, and then began a new, difficult and then painful life.  Trials followed each other in quick succession, but the very outcome of all these trials and worries was the development of the Society and the spreading of theosophical truths.

Madame Blavatsky was at home every Saturday afternoon, and visitors came every evening, crowds of people; some out of curiosity, others with a true desire to learn about Theosophy, and a few attracted by her personality.  To watch the varied way in which H. P. B. would receive each new arrival was in itself a study, and later events have proved that her knowledge of character was unique.  At times she would seem to grow and expand in intellect and the force and power with which she would put forward her vast knowledge would seize those present with awe; at other times she only talked of the most trivial things, and her hearers would go away quite satisfied with themselves, feeling that they were vastly her superiors.  But I have only a certain space allotted to me and must close these few lines.

The house in Lansdowne Road became to small for the requirements of the workers who had gathered around us, and so in July, 1890, we moved into 19, Avenue Road, which became the Headquarters of the European T. S.

Other having gradually shared with me in the daily care and attention with which it had hitherto been my privilege and pleasure to surround H. P. B., I must leave it to their eloquence to give you a description of her life, and slowly declining health; and now our beloved friend and teacher has gone, but H. P. B.’s work still remains to be finished, and it is only by the way in which we carry on that work that we can prove to the world how intense has been our love and gratitude to the noblest and grandest woman this century will have produced.