Theosophical Quarterly, April, 1919
One whose memory of The Theosophical Society goes back for thirty-four years, of necessity recalls many deaths, and, unhappily, many defections. On no less than three occasions during this more than a third of a century, The Theosophical Society, through causes of its own making, lost by defection more than half its members: the period, if you wish, of “spiritual selection,” followed by the period of reconstruction.
Of the deaths in this long cycle, two stand out most prominently: the death of Mme. Blavatsky and the death of W. Q. Judge. With these, in a certain sense, one must class the death of Clement A. Griscom.
I knew Mme. Blavatsky for four years before her death, in that period when, after the great convulsion of 1884-5, she began the painful work of rebuilding the spiritual life of The Theosophical Society. There had been wholesale desertions; but the real difficulty, the heart-breaking difficulty was the moral defection of some of those on whom she most counted, who had worked with her from the beginning, a moral defection only the more dangerous, because they still continued to work with her outwardly, though filled with inner suspicion and distrust. It required, in her, heroic courage and faith, to build once more, on deeper foundations, the fabric that had been so dangerously shaken. This was the period of The Secret Doctrine, The Voice of the Silence and the great editorials in Lucifer. It. was also the period of a concentrated and profoundly difficult effort to train disciples, an effort which, unfortunately, was an almost total failure. For of the group of students whom Mme. Blavatsky began to gather around her in England in 1887 and 1888, only one, Archibald Keightley, is still on the firing line. He was, in a sense, the beloved disciple, the one completely trusted.
Of the nearly complete failure of this group, and of the effort to form it, Mme. Blavatsky was fully conscious before her death. That was, I think, one of the things which made her very willing to die.
But there was success in another quarter, which really meant the salvation of the movement. I had a long talk with Mme. Blavatsky two or three days before her death. She spoke, among other things, of W. Q. Judge, and I received the fullest assurance of his spiritual standing and his place in the work; and, immediately after her death, this was completely corroborated.
Mr. Judge had been with her from the beginning, in the days when The Theosophical Society was founded, in New York, in 1874. But for ten years his work had been largely interior, dealing with his own development and preparation. And it was only with the founding of The Path, in 1885, that he entered on the more active cycle of his work—at the time when Mme. Blavatsky finally left India.
It was shortly after this that Clement Griscom joined The Theosophical Society, at once becoming one of a small group closely identified with Mr. Judge’s work, completely trusting him and completely trusted by him. Of this group, too, as of those who were gathered round Mme. Blavatsky in London, later defection was the future destiny of almost all; and here is the first cardinal fact in Clement Griscom’s history: faithful in the beginning, he remained faithful to the end: “Be ye faithful unto death, and I will give you the crown of life.”
The inherent dangers of the situation which Mme. Blavatsky had left in London, the suspicions and treacheries inherent in the earlier group who had worked with her in India, began to manifest themselves within a year or two after her death. The centre of infection was Adyar; but that infection found fertile soil elsewhere, in London and in America. And the last three years of Mr. Judge’s life were occupied with a life-and-death struggle for the vital Theosophical principles, of which, by Mme. Blavatsky’s death, he had become the chief custodian.
Among the men who had gathered about Mr. Judge in New York, in the years following 1885, three conspicuously aided him in that life-and-death struggle. Of these, Clement Griscom was one. And once more it must be said that, of the three, he alone remained faithful to the end.
I met Mr. Griscom in London about the time when this second conflict developed, after the death of Mme. Blavatsky, but while Mr. Judge, whom I had known earlier in London, was still alive. So that our friendship goes back more than a quarter of a century.
Of Mr. Griscom’s part in the conflict which raged about Mr. Judge, from 1893 to 1895, others, who were then in New York, are better qualified to write than I am; as also of the first months of transition which followed Mr. Judge’s death, early in 1896. It was late in that year that I came to this country; Clement Griscom did much to facilitate my coming, in that kind and gentle way which was so deeply characteristic of him; and from that time forward, his friendship was among my most precious possessions.
Dangerous and difficult months followed, new convulsions and new defections from the true spirit of the Movement were already making themselves manifest, in a series of events which, like the earlier and perhaps even more dangerous convulsions, are only a tradition to the great majority of those who make up The Theosophical Society today. But they were momentous realities to those who passed through them, soul-searching realities, and very grave dangers. The fact that they are intimately known to so few, is, in a sense, the measure of Clement Griscom’s work: he was one of the few who remained wholly faithful and loyal, in principle and in act, throughout that long and bitter contest; and was, of those few, the man who was most active, most effective, most devoted and ardent, in the slow and painful years of rebuilding that followed the conflict. The fact that so many members of The Theosophical Society know these events even as a dim tradition, they owe in large measure to Clement Griscom; for that there is today a Theosophical Society, true to the high spiritual purpose which originated it, and able to hand down this and other traditions, is in large measure due to him, while his devoted and effective work with W. Q. Judge, his own power, and the supremely wise guidance which he ceaselessly followed, gave him the power to do this.
I think that members of the present day, in the period of strong and enthusiastic Annual Conventions, of abundant and able magazine articles, of regular meetings and thoughtful studies, do not at all realize the difficult and barren years which followed the last cycle’s convulsion of The Theosophical Society, which came to a head at the Chicago Convention, in the summer of 1898. There are not many members now in The Theosophical Society who can tell the full story of that decisive Convention, and who can tell of Clement Griscom’s part in it. From the action then taken, in which Clement Griscom played a leading part, is due, under divine power, the whole future development of The Theosophical Society, nay, the fact that The Theosophical Society is in existence.
I have spoken of the lean years that followed. How many members realize that, for long months and years, there were no meetings, no active branches, no such publications as they have grown accustomed to, and which seem to them part of the inevitable order of life? The first stirring of new life, the first outer expression of the vital principles of The Theosophical Society that had been saved amid great danger at the Chicago Convention, was due once more to Clement Griscom. It was the publication of a tiny periodical, slim, insignificant looking, without a cover, bearing the name The Forum,—the revival of a leaflet of questions and answers, which had come into being in Mr. Judge’s day. Mr. Griscom gathered the material for the first number, arranged for its printing, meeting (as he so often did) the cost of its production, and organized its distribution. That was the first corporate act of The Theosophical Society, after the convulsion from which it had been barely saved—saved, as has been recorded, in large measure by Clement Griscom.
The Forum continued for several years. Then, when it became evident that the now reviving and expanding activities of The Theosophical Society required a larger organ, an organ, too, of somewhat different character, Clement Griscom once more took the initiative, establishing THE THEOSOPHICAL QUARTERLY, now in its sixteenth volume—so remote already are the lean years of which I have spoken, the days of small things, which made our opportunity. Here once again, Clement Griscom not only initiated THE THEOSOPHICAL QUARTERLY, edited it, largely contributed to it, and read all proof, but advanced money for the cost, for several years, holding himself always a trustee for the spiritual powers, and considering everything he possessed as belonging to these powers, to be used for their purposes, and not in any sense his own.
But before THE THEOSOPHICAL QUARTERLY came into being, other activities had come back painfully to life. Members of today, who are so accustomed to “Annual Conventions,” who will take part, in a few days, in an Annual Convention, the outstanding fact of which will be Clement Griscom’s absence, do not know, perhaps, that, for some years after 1898, no public Conventions were held, for the simple fact that The Theosophical Society had not gathered strength to hold them. It was too weakened in numbers and in force to find this outward expression of its life. Once more it is to be recorded that Clement Griscom, in the years of slow and painful reconstruction, saw that the time had come to revive this form of Theosophical activity; once again, it was he who did the main work of organization for that Convention. Yet even earlier, leading up to this first Convention and making it possible, public meetings had been begun once more in New York: at the Mott Memorial Hall, in Madison Avenue, which held revered memories of the early days of Mr. Judge’s public work. Mr. Griscom took a leading part in the revival of these meetings; and, painful as it always was for him to speak in public (a life-long sacrifice which only his closest friends realized), spoke frequently, and spoke always with inspiration and the simple directness of a noble heart.
Of Clement Griscom’s work in the years that followed, there are many witnesses who can give convincing testimony, telling what they owe to his initiative, his force, his counsel, his wonderful qualities. I have thought it better to speak instead of the long-past, dangerous days, which are remembered by so few. Nor shall I try to sum up Clement Griscom’s services; they are known best to the Great Power that has stood, an eternal rock, behind The Theosophical Society since its foundation; that, ages since, prepared that foundation.
“As He pronounces lastly on each deed
Of so much praise—in Heaven—expect thy mead.”
There remains but one thing that should be said: Through the long and arduous years of his great and fruitful labours, Clement Griscom always had, close at hand, the purest, highest and divinest inspiration; he always had the wisdom of the heart to accept and follow it.