Theosophist, February, 1883
The subject of our present review is—a romance!1 A curious production, some might say, to come to our book table, and claim serious notice from a philosophical magazine like this. But it has a connection, very palpable and undeniable, with us, since the names of three members of our Society—Mr. Sinnett, Colonel Olcott and Madame Blavatsky—figure in it, and adepts and the rules and aspirations of their fraternity have a large share of the author’s attention. This is another proof of the fact that the Theosophical movement, like one of those subterranean streams which the traveller finds in districts of magnesian and calcareous formation, is running beneath the surface of contemporary thought, and bursting out at the most unexpected points with visible signs of its pent-up force. The scene of this novel is India, and a good deal of its action transpires at Simla. Its few pictures of Hindu daily life and character and of typical—in fact, in one or two cases, of actual—Anglo-Indian personages, are vividly realistic. There is no mistaking the fact that the storyteller gathered his materials on the very spot, and has but strung upon the thread of his narrative the beads of personal experience. The son of a great sculptor himself, and the nephew of one of the brightest, cleverest and most accomplished men of modern society, he displays in many a fine passage an artist’s loving sense of the grand, the picturesque and the beautiful, an athlete’s passion for exercise and sport, and a flaneur’s familiarity with the human nature which blooms in the hotbeds of the gay world. Examples of the first-named talent are the descriptions of Himalayan and sub-Himalayan scenery, and moonlight effects; of the second, a tiger hunt in the Terai, a picnic under canvas, and a polo-match; while the signs of the third endowment show themselves in his photographs of various personalities, some high, some humble, that form his groups. Mr. Crawford has made, however, what we should call, a decided artistic blunder. His hero, Abdul Hafiz-ben-Izâk, or, as commonly known among Anglo-Indians, “Mr. Isaacs,” is a Persian by birth, a Mohammedan by creed, and the husband of three wives. These superfluous creatures are but barely introduced by allusion, yet their existence is admitted by the hero, and as no crime is imputed to them, they would seem to have every right to a peaceful existence as the spouses of a lawful husband. Yet their conjugal claims are ignored, and their personalities shoved away out of sight, because the author makes Mr. Isaacs to love and be loved by a paragon of English maidens; who, knowing of the domestic trimurti in question, yet treats her lover like an unencumbered bachelor, without a single blessed thought of the wrong she does to Mesdames the aforesaid three married ladies. The utter superfluity of the latter as regards the interest of the tale, causes the judicious reader to grieve that they should have ever been evolved from the author’s cerebral ganglia, even to be kept behind a distant purdah.
In his remarks upon cataleptic trance, the projection of the “double,” thought reading, clairvoyance, the nobler aspects of esoteric Buddhism, the aspiration of the true Adept and Yogi for knowledge, and their abhorrence of whatever smacks of ‘Miracle,’ Mr. Crawford shows an attentive, if not a profound, reading of authorities. As regards the highest point of adeptship, he is as clearly wrong as was Bulwer when he so gloriously depicted his Zanoni as yielding up pure wisdom for the brighter prize of sexual love—we mean of the love of man, as man, for woman as the complement of his own nature. For the love of the adept burns only for the highest of the highest—that perfect knowledge of Nature and its animating Principle, which includes in itself every quality of both sexes, and so can no more think as either man or woman, than the right or the left lobe of one’s brain can think of itself apart from the whole entity of which it is a component. Monosexual consciousness exists only on the lower levels of psychic development; up above, the individual becomes merged as to consciousness, in the Universal Principle; has “become Brahma.” But it was less a sin for our author to make his hero relinquish fortune and the world’s caresses to become a Chela, in the hope of passing aeons of bliss with the enfranchised soul of his beloved one, than to put into the mouth of Ram Lal, the adept “Brother”—apparently a prentice attempt to individualize Mr. Sinnett’s now world-famed trans-Himalayan correspondent—language about woman’s love and its effects that no adept would by any chance ever use.
“What guerdon,” he makes him say, “can man or Heaven offer, higher than eternal communion with the bright spirit [his sweetheart had just died] that waits and watches for your coming? With her—you said it while she lived—was your life, your light, and your love; it is true tenfold now for with her is life eternal, light ethereal, and love spiritual. Come, brother, come with me!” Quite the contrary: he would have said that this prolongation of earthly ties is possible, but that its natural result is to drag the dreamer back into the Circle of Rebirth, to excite a Trishna, or thirst for physical life, which enchains the being from real emancipation from sorrow—the attainment of the rest of Moksha, or Nirvana. And that the aspirant after adeptship must evolve out of his physical nature a higher, more essential self which has no sorrows because no affectional enslavements of any sort.
If Ram Lal is an attempt at “Brother” Koot-Hoomi, it is also, and more, a reminiscence of Althothas, the teacher of Dumas’ Balsamo, or Mejnoor, the desiccated preceptor of Zanoni. For Mr. Crawford makes him call himself “gray and loveless,” and say that he had “known youth and gladness of heart.” The animated mummies whom novelists love to make the types of occult learning, doubtless had never any other feeling than that of the stone or the salted herring; but the real adepts as we are reliably informed—are the most happy of mankind, since their pleasures are connected with the higher existence, which is cloudless and pangless. The earliest among the changes felt by the true Chela is a sense of unmixed joy to be rid of the carking cares of common life, and to exist in the light of a supremely great Ideal. Not that any true adept would say aught against the naturalness and sacredness of pure sexual relationships; but that, to become an adept one must expand the finite into the Infinite, the personal into the Universal, man into Parabrahm—if one so choose to designate that Thing Unspeakable.
We should nevertheless thank Mr. Crawford for one favour—he helps to make our Brothers conceivable human beings, instead of impossible creatures of the imagination. Ram Lal walks, talks, eats, and—gracious heavens!—rolls and smokes cigarettes. And this Ram Lal is therefore a far more natural being than Zanoni, who lived on air and got about on the crupper of the lightning flash. Only a sensible writer could have made his adept say: “I am not omnipotent. I have very little more power than you. Given certain conditions and I can produce certain results, palpable, visible, and appreciable to all; but my power, as you know, is itself merely the knowledge of the laws of nature, which Western scientists, in their wisdom, ignore.” And it was genuine appreciation of a noble human ideal which prompted him to call our revered teachers “that small band of high priests who in all ages and nations and religions and societies have been the mediators between time and eternity, to cheer and comfort the broken-hearted, to rebuke him who would lose his own soul, to speed the awakening spirit in its heavenward flight.” No need to question the misuse of terms and misconception of conditions of existence, when the sentiment is so true and the effect so good upon a sceptical generation of sensualists.
No better proof needed, of the thorough, so to say, intuitional comprehension by the author of some of the most important limitations of even the highest adeptship, than the wise and suggestive words put by him in the mouth of Ram Lal.—
“Why can you not save her then?” asks of him Paul Griggs, the narrator of the tale, speaking of the dying girl, “this friend Isaacs’” first love.—“I can replenish the oil in the lamp,” is the adept’s answer, “and while there is wick the lamp shall burn—nay, even for hundreds of years. But give me a lamp wherein the wick is consumed, and I shall waste my oil; for it will not burn unless there be the fibre to carry it. So also is the body of man. While there is the flame of vitality and the essence of life in his nerves and finer tissues, I will put blood in his veins, and if he meet with no accident, he may live to see hundreds of generations pass by him. But where there is no vitality and no essence of life in a man . . . though I fill his veins with blood, and cause his heart to beat for a time, there is no spark in him—no fire, no nervous strength. So is Miss Westonhaugh (the dying girl) now—dead while yet breathing. . . .”
If, speaking of the author’s comprehension of adept powers, the adjective “intuitional” is used, it is justified to a degree, by what we learn of Mr. Crawford from a private letter . . . “This book was written with marvellous rapidity; . . . it was begun and completed in thirty-five days, without erasures or corrections.”
Theosophists who can afford to buy books should not fail to possess this one and put it on the shelf beside Zanoni and the Strange Story. It is an intensely interesting fiction, based upon a few of the grandest occult truths.
1. Mr. Issacs: A Tale of Modern India. By F. Marion Crawford (London: Macmillan and Co., 1882).
[In the March, 1883 Theosophist, a response, by “A***8111”, to H.P.B.’s above review appeared. We reproduce its opening sentences along with the note by H.P.B. which followed.]
Your somewhat enthusiastic review of “Mr. Isaacs” in the current number of the Theosophist having attracted my attention, I have just risen from a perusal of the work with, if the truth must be told, a feeling of disappointment. I had expected to find the rich materials of the “Occult World,” or those priceless truths which you have published under the modest name of “Fragments” woven into a thrilling romance. No such thing! and yet you close your flattering notice of the novel with the statement that “it is an intensely interesting fiction, based upon a few of the Grandest Occult Truths.” . . . etc. etc.
We are sorry to see Mr. A ***8111 so under rating,—though we may have, in his opinion, over rated—Mr. Issacs. There are two of the “grandest occult truths” in it, though neither our critic, nor even the author himself, may be aware of them.—ED. [H.P.B.]