The Magicians of the Blue Hills
By Mme. H. P. Blavatsky.
The Calcutta Review, July, 1898
Mme. Blavatsky departed to the land of the unseen’ some seven years ago, but her books go marching along. A prodigiously voluminous writer during the last fifteen years of her eventful and picturesque career, she was already represented, in 1891, by four huge volumes and three or four lesser works, including a series of stories in the manner of Edgar Poe, of whom she was an enthusiastic admirer. She had also to her credit numerous volumes of two magazines, which she had founded in Bombay and London. And it might well be said that her works, piled up, beginning with the big folio volumes of the early “Theosophist,” and ending with her Oriental Birthday-book, would rival in bulk the starry-pointing pyramid.
It is altogether, a marvellous literary phenomenon, whatever view we may take of the Titanic personality which gave birth to it. But the literary output of Mme. Blavatsky by no means ended with her death; she who taught so much and so vividly concerning the state of the soul after death, has in this, herself conquered death; and, although not exactly a “bard of passion and of mirth,” she has certainly left her soul on earth—a soul which is constantly giving new works to the press, and which shows not the slightest sign of flagging, or running short of new material.
Other writers have left a posthumous volume; Mme. Blavatsky has left a posthumous library; and new books are constantly being added to it. We had, first, that wonderfully picturesque and vivid story of her Indian days, “From the Caves and Jungles of Hindustan,”—half fact, and half fancy, as she herself was the first to say; but, with all the fancy in it, coming, perhaps, nearer to the essential spirit of India, than many a book of solidest facts, so closely marshaled that the forest is hidden by the trees.
The next work in Mme. Blavatsky’s posthumous library was, I think, the “Glossary,”—a work as clearly defined in its tendencies as the famous French volumes of the Encyclopædists. It was written not to marshal information gleaned by painful research, but to embody the writer’s own original and often exceedingly striking views. Curiously enough, that famous criticism of the great Englishman’s Dictionary would come very near to embodying a just estimate of the “Glossary;” “the stories are excellent, but they are too short.” The truth is that, from a literary point of view, Mme. Blavatsky was, above all else, a writer of great paragraphs. There was too much force, too much of the volcanic element, in her character, to allow her to carry on one ordered thought in a placidly meandering stream; every subject suggested to her a thousand other points of interest; and along each of these thousand by-ways she is driven by her genius, and all the way is finding new and startling aspects of the universe.
Our old geologists used to be divided into the Plutonic and the Neptunic; the former were all for catastrophes—explosions, earthquakes, wild upbursts of lava, fountains of molten rock. The Neptunist, on the contrary, had far less of the sporting instinct; he was satisfied to lay out the world quietly, slowly heaping grain of sand on grain of sand, in mildest alluvial platitude. Will not some critic, learning how weary we are of the old division into epic and lyric, apply this fine conception of the geologist to the writers of the world? At any rate, there can be no manner of doubt, to which class Mme. Blavatsky belongs; she is Plutonic, Volcanic, Titanic, explosive, combustible; with lava jets and fiery fountains, and the whole panoply of the infernal gods, which made the books of the old school geologists almost as exciting reading as the adventures of Captain Kid, or the doings of Sir John Morgan, pirate and Buccaneer. By the way, there was a palpable affinity between the spirit of that worshipful knight, and the lady whose books we are reviewing; he used to appear at spirit seances when she was present, and generally tried to show that he was still going strong, by pounding the furniture and putting forth weird and thunderous noises, little befitting our conception of a shade—even the shade of a buccaneer.
Thus far the Glossary; then came a book with a name truly formidable, for which she was not indeed personally responsible. It was “A Modern Panarion.” The meaning of this has been explained to me; but I am by no means certain that my memory has preserved as the tale “’t was told to me.” It is said to mean “bread-basket”—in the literal, not the metaphorical sense of that expression; and was, I think, the title of a controversial work by one of the Church Fathers militant—indeed, rather more militant than decorous—, and consisted chiefly of railing accusations brought against all Jews, Turks, Infidels and Heretics. Well, that is not exactly what Mme. Blavatsky’s book appears to be, there are certainly scalps and vendettas through the book, here and there; but there is much more; and a score or more of magnificent paragraphs, fine, rhetorical, sonorous, might well be culled from this bread-basket of modern days. I am aware that this is a mixture of three or more metaphors; but that is really intentional, and serves to represent pictorially the character of the book. In fact, this paragraph properly belongs to the new “symboliste” school.
After the bread-basket, we had a new volume of the “Secret Doctrine,” containing quantities of weirdly magnificent things, concerning the foundations of the word, the dark backward and abysm of time, fate, freedom and foreknowledge absolute, to say nothing of Gorgons and Hydras and Chimeras dire. There are, besides, many strange sayings concerning the mighty dead; the sages of all time and every land, making up that splendid mystic brotherhood in whose hands has been the tutelage of the world, and from whom has poured down influence, since the dawn of Time.
Now we are promised yet another work, and there is no sign that the supply is anything like exhausted, and there is one thing which at once enlists our favor for the new volume; it is a part of her writings in her native tongue, and thus shares the literary advantages which won a way for the Caves and Jungles to many readers who were not in the least attracted by her other books.
When she wrote in English, in spite of her undoubted mastery of that complicated tongue, Mme. Blavatsky was under a linguistic difficulty and disadvantage; but there was much more in it than this. She was writing for an audience not merely critical, but even bitterly hostile, antagonistic to the last degree. And, even with her splendid nerve and Titanic force, this sense of steady opposition could not but cause a certain constraint, a certain feeling of conscious effort, a painstaking and laboured hesitation; so that, what is her own in her books, and that, by far the best and most original part of them, is often hidden and buried under the debris of other people’s writings, whose facts she has used to strengthen and support her own positions. She was perpetually straining to prove things which, in the nature of things, are incapable of proof; and, as her power of dramatic and vivid expression was vastly superior to her argumentative faculty, the things to be proved are hindered, rather than helped, by the proofs. Yet even the debris of other writers, marshaled by a mind so vigorous and full of originality, cannot but be full of interest; and there is something worth reading on every page she compiled, as there is something worth remembering in every line she wrote, of her own original work.
But in the Russian works, she is labouring under none of these disadvantages. The Russians were always proud of their heroic and adventurous country-woman; they saw at once that the element of force in everything she said and did was in itself a sterling quality, a real thing. And the sense of this at once communicated itself to her, and tinged her Russian writings with a spirit of directness, of personal colouring, of warmth, freedom from constraint; in a word, created that atmosphere in which alone a writer can write well. It is the same with every manifestation of the artistic temperament. Was it Sir Joshua who said to a sister: “Praise me, and keep praising me; if you dont praise. I cant paint.” At any rate, the psychological fact is the same whether the story belongs to Sir Joshua or another.
I may begin this somewhat discursive essay on the latest born of Mme. Blavatsky’s posthumous children “The Magicians of the Blue Hill,” by showing how she can paint, when she has an audience that praises her, an enchanted world;
“’Mysterious mountains, blue hills.
Abode of unknown wonder,’
as is sung in the sweet-sounding dialect of Malayalam.
Blue hills truly. Look at them from wherever you like, at whatever distance you choose—from below, from above, from the valley or the neighbouring heights—so long as they are not out of your sight, these two will strike you, from the extraordinary colour of their woods. Light blue with a golden reflection at a short distance, dark blue at a greater, they glitter like huge living sapphires, which breathe softly and change colour, shining with the waves of an interior light.”
That is merely a single stroke of colour, but who can bring forward anything finer out of all the endless tomes that have been written concerning the wonders of the East? I need hardly point to the fact that the Nilgiris are the Blue Mountains of Mme. Blavatsky’s book; the Magicians are the Todas and Milu-Kurumbas, of whom more anon. But, before leaving the subject of Mme. Blavatsky’s really magnificent descriptive powers, let me give her an opportunity to do herself more ample justice, in a long and finely sustained passage where many different sides of her high literary gift manifest themselves in turn:
“Listen and try to imagine the picture I am going to describe. Let us ascend the hill, nine thousand feet above the level of the sea, which, let it be said in passing, is visible far, far away, like a thin blue silk thread spreading itself over the Malabar coasts, and let us take a good look; we gaze over an extent of at least two hundred miles in diameter. Wherever, we look, right, left, north and south, we see a shoreless ocean of green, pinkish and blue hills, of smooth or rugged rocks, of mountains of the most whimsical and fantastic outlines. A blue-green ocean, sparkling under the brilliant rays of the tropical sun, restless and covered with the masts of ships, already sunk or only sinking: the ocean we see sometimes in the shadowy land of our dreams.
“Turn to the north now. The Nilgiri chain, as if growing out of the pyramidal Jellamalay of the Western Ghats, at first looks like a gigantic bridge, nearly fifty miles long, and then rushes headlong onward, jutting out in huge projections and, stairs, deftly avoiding gaping precipices on both sides, and, at last, reaching the rounded forms of the Mysore hills, which are wrapped in velvety grayish mists. After this, the monster bridge nearly breaks to pieces, knocking itself against the sharp rocks of Pykar; it suddenly jumps off in a perpendicular line, divide itself into small separate rocks, then into mere boulders, and at last is transformed into a mad mountain stream of stone, tortured by impotent rage to overtake a swift bright river, hurrying away from the formidable stony bosom of the mother mountain.
“On the south of the Cairn Hill, for, at least, a hundred miles spread dark forests, dreaming in the splendour of their unassailable virgin beauty, and the steaming marshes of Koimbatur, ending in the brick-red hills of Khand.
“Further to the east the central chain of the Ghats loses itself in the distance, like a huge stone serpent, zig-zagging between two rows of high volcanic rocks. Crowned as they are with separate clumps of pines, which look like short dishevelled hair on a human head, these rocks offer a most curious sight. Their shapes are so like human figures, that one almost thinks the volcanic force that squeezed them out, meant to prepare a stone model of man, about to be born. Seen through the thin veil of ever-moving mists, they also seem to move, these ancient cliffs in their attire of hoary moss. Like so many mischievous school boys, they hasten to leave the narrow pass; they push each other; they run races with each other; they jump over each other, to reach some wide; open space where there is room for all, where freedom reigns. And far above their level, right under your feet, as you stand on the Cairn Hill, you see a picture of quite a different character: smiling green fields, speaking of rest, of childlike gladness and good will.
“Truly, a spring idyl of Virgil framed with stormy pictures of Dante’s Inferno. Tiny emerald hillocks, all enamelled with bright wild flowers, scattered like so many warts over the smiling face of the mother valley. Long silky grass and aromatic herbs. But instead of snow-white lambs and innocent shepherds and shepherdesses, you see herds of huge raven-black buffaloes, and, at a distance, the athletic silhouette of a young, long-haired Toda Tiralli or shepherd priest.
“On these heights, spring reigns eternally. Even in December and January, the frosty nights are always conquered by spring towards noon. Here everything is fresh and green, everything puts forth abundant blossom and fragrant aroma all the year round. In the rainy season, when the far off plains are nearly drowned by heavy downpours day and night, the Blue Hills have only occasional refreshing showers and look their best, for then their charm is like the charm of a baby, who is ready to smile even through his tears. Besides, on this height, everything seems to be in infancy and rejoicing in the new sensation of existence. The angry mountain torrents are not yet out of the cradle. Their thin sprays spring out of the mother stone and form sweet murmuring brooks, on whose diaphanous beds you see the atoms of the future formidable grim cliffs. In her double aspect, Nature offers here the true symbol of human life: pure and serene, baby-like, at the top; careworn, sad and sombre below. But, above or below, the flowers are bright, painted by the magic palette of India. Everything seems unusual, weird and strange to the newcomer from the valleys. In the mountains the wizened, dusky coolie gives place to the tall, fair-skinned Toda, with majestic face, like some old Greek or Roman, draped in a snow-white linen toga, unknown elsewhere in India; regarding the Hindu with the good-natured contempt of the bull who thoughtfully watches the black toad at his feet. Here the yellow-legged falcon of the plains is replaced by the mighty mountain eagle. And the withered grass and burned up cactuses of Madras are transformed into whole forests of gigantic reeds, where the elephant plays hide-and-seek, without any fear of ever-watching human eye. Here sings our Russian nightingale, and the European cuckoo lays her eggs in the nest of the yellow-nosed Southern myna. Contrasts await you at every step; wherever you look, you see an anomaly. The gay melodious chirping and songs of birds unknown elsewhere in India, resound in the thick foliage of wild apple trees; and, at times, the wind carries away from the dark, gloomy forest the ill-omened howls of tigers and cheetahs and the lowing of wild buffaloes, Far above the forests, the solemn silence is also broken, at times, by low, mysterious sounds, half-rustling, half-murmuring, or some stifled, desperate shriek. But soon everything is silent again, basking in the scented waves of pure mountain air, and silence reigns supreme. In these hours of calm, the attentive, loving ear listens to the beating of nature’s strong, healthy pulse, swiftly divining its never ceasing movements, even in these soundless protestations of glad life from the myriads of her creatures, visible and invisible.
“No! It is not easy to forget the Nilgiris. In this marvellous climate Mother Nature has brought together all her scattered powers to produce every possible sample of her great work. She playfully exhibits, turn by turn, the products of all the zones of our globe, sometimes rising to lively, energetic activity, sometimes sinking into weariness and forgetfulness. I have seen her somnolent in all the glory of her bright, ardent southern beauty, lulled to sleep by the accordant unanimous melody of all her kingdoms. I have met her also in her other mood, when, as if moved by a fierce pride, she reminded us of her unfathomed powers by the colossal plants of her tropical forests and the deafening roars of her giant animals. One more step, and she sinks down again, as if exhausted by her supreme efforts, and goes to sleep on the soft carpet of northern violets, forget-me-nots, and lilies of the valley. And there she lies, our great, mighty mother, mute and motionless, fanned by a sweet breeze and the tender wings of myriads of magically beautiful butterflies.”
I think that whoever reads this, will confess that it would be hard to excel, and by no means easy to equal, as a piece of pure descriptive writing; the colours are so vivid, the imagery is so full of life, the whole picture conceived in such a broad and all-embracing spirit, that this passage should take rank as a classic, among the best things that have been written concerning India.
But it seems to me that something even more interesting than the literary workmanship of this passage, is its psychological quality—the subjective element in it; the insight it gives us into the mind and soul of the writer.
The first element in our subjective estimate is, here, as in everything Mme. Blavatsky said, wrote, or did, the element of force. Power was the key-note of her nature; and she could not have kept it from showing, through half a page of her work, had she attempted to do so. Take the evidence of power, in one factor, to begin with—the most readily intelligible factor: the sustained effort shown by the production of a description of such great length, and of equally high value throughout. A less powerful mind would inevitably flag and grow weary, under such a protracted effort; and we should have the fact at once visible in weaker and weaker strokes towards the end of the passage. But there is no flagging, or withdrawal of energy here; the description flows onward, with increasing, rather than diminishing, force; like a mighty river, that broadens and deepens, as it draws nearer to the sea.
The next element which strikes and interests us, is the deeply pathetic sentiment which pervades the whole; the feeling towards human life: “pure, serene, baby-like, at the top; careworn, sad and sombre below.” There was a great deal of this profound sentiment of sadness in “the caves and jungles of Hindustan,” It is a sadness wholly different from the bitterness of the pessimist; for Mme. Blavatsky was no pessimist, but held the highest possible ideals of human perfection, and held them firmly to the end. But she saw, and latterly came more and more to see, that man has much to suffer, and many sorrows to pass through, before the shining goal can come into sight. And it is the sadness of real sympathy, and never the sadness of a bitter and disappointed mind, which tinges her Russian books. In her English work, this element is almost wholly lacking; whether, voluntarily suppressed, through a kind of pride, or driven out by the character of her themes, it has not stamped its impress there. And readers of these works therefore lose one important key to her character. If her English books gain in philosophic quality, they certainly lose in human interest.
Another thing that we cannot fail to note, is the evidence everywhere of a mind not only learned, but, what is much more, truly cultured. Take that one sentence: “Truly a spring idyl of Virgil, framed with stormy pictures of Dante’s Inferno.” That is not the kind of sentence which is within the reach of mere superficial students of the great books of the world. One must have absorbed the very essence and spirit of them, and possessed them, as a real moral inheritance, before they can come to have this secondary and symbolical value.
A last reflection is suggested; a suggestion, in truth, somewhat out of date, and applying to a by-gone epoch of criticism of Mme. Blavatsky’s books.
It is this: Mme. Blavatsky has been repeatedly accused of plagiarism; of making up her books from the works of others, and of doing this so unskillfully as to invite detection. Now, there are two elements in this position. And the first is the supposition that it was from mental poverty, from lack of originality, from absence or deficient character of her own material, that Mme. Blavatsky used the works of others to eke out her own. But we can no longer admit the possibility of this, for a moment, in the face of such prodigal wealth, such originality and power, such abundant and flowing energy, as we find in passages like that which we have quoted. The truth seems to be this: Mme. Blavatsky had no just sense of the fact that what she herself wrote was of far greater value than what she borrowed; she was really very diffident, and underrated her own work persistently.
Then, with a feeling that the argumentative faculty in her was greatly weaker than the creative, she exaggerated the quality which she did not herself possess, and set a far higher value on it than it really deserves. In other words, she thought proof was more valuable than it really is; and that ideas are less valuable than they really are. Hence her own ideas, brilliant, original, and powerful, are hidden behind bulwarks built up of proofs drawn from other peoples books, and, for the most part, greatly inferior in force and directness to her own writing. She desired to draw a certain picture; to produce a certain effect in the minds of her readers; and, with the diffidence we have spoken of, she always used some other person’s materials, rather than her own, if she could find anything at all available. One of her critics greatly plumed himself on the discovery that Mme. Blavatsky only used a hundred books of reference. And this critic tries to belittle her work by showing this. It would have been a splendid thing, if she had not even used a single one; and had set forth on her task, trusting only to her own great and original power. The whole trouble arose from a great and exaggerated idea of the value of proof and argument, arising in a mind much too creative and forceful ever to be able to argue clearly.
Thus, the multiplying of quotations in her books, so far from having its root in the desire to shine in borrowed plumes, really springs from the greatness of her self-depreciation. She never imagined that any credit could accrue to her; and so took no pains to mark the limits of her own work, and what she owed to others. We are the losers by this; and we feel how great the loss is, when we come on passages of high original power, embodying faculties so different, and so full of excellence, as that which we have quoted.
“The Magicians of the Blue Hills” begins with an account of the original discovery of the Nilgiris. It purports to be drawn from original sources, and to be based on official documents. I have not the least doubt that, broadly speaking, this claim is true. But it would not in the least impair the value of her opening chapter, if it were shown that Mme. Blavatsky had made up her authorities as she went along. For the real value of the narrative lies, not at all in the facts, interesting as these are, but in the colour Mme. Blavatsky gives them; the subjective elements she is able to import into them; and the fine literary quality she gives to the whole. Is it a small thing to take the dry, dusty records which are so abundant in the Indian Secretariats, and make them as interesting as a romance, as full of movement as a drama, and, withal, as admirable in style and finish as the work of a French novelist of the best modern school?
What is especially attractive in this historical chapter—if it be historical; though, as I have said, that is wholly unimportant—is the vein of rich humour running through the whole; such humour as is only within the reach of a broad and genial nature. We are accustomed to see Indian life, and especially life of the natives, treated with wit; a wit too often bitter, caustic, wounding; such wit as springs from bitterness of heart, reflected in a quick intellect, and fertile fancy. Here we have not a grain of bitterness, but an abundant stream of kindness and good will, breaking forth in mockery that could never hurt even its subject, and that brings us into immediate sympathy both with the subjects of the tale, and the teller of it.
Humorous passages cannot be said to gain by piecemeal quotation; yet I am tempted to gather a sentence here and there, from the first chapter of the “Blue Hills,” rather for the pleasure of doing it, than with any idea that I am doing the subject justice.
Take, for instance, the sentence on the elephants, which, feeling that their end is coming, “plunge into deep mud, and quietly prepare for Nirvana.” Or this, concerning another kind of great ones: “the slumbering livers of the Honorable Fathers of the East India Company woke up; those poor livers of theirs which were torpid, no less than their brains; and, besides, their mouths began to water. At first, no one knew precisely where all these tempting things were to be had.” Or take this reflection: “Between ‘then’ and ‘now,’ there lies an abyss, across which is spread the fearful shadow of ‘Imperial prestige.’ However, there is this consolation, that there exists no difference between ‘then’ and ‘now,’ for the forests and marshes of Koimbatur, as to the leprosy, the fevers, and the elephant-legs, which they freely distribute to their inhabitants and visitors.” In answer to the question, “what is a shikari?” Mme. Blavatsky replies: “The attire of a shikari consist of an assortment of hunting knives, a powder-flask, made out of a buffalo-horn, an ancient flint-lock, which flashes in the pan, nine times out of ten, and, for the rest, his skin. The shikari looks so old, and so sickly, and his stomach is drawn in so tightly, as if by hunger or pain, that a tender-hearted tourist (not a native, of course, and not an Anglo-Indian), is invariably tempted to administer to him a dose of soothing syrup. When out of employment, the poor shikari can scarcely crawl, and his old back is bent nearly double. Taken all in all, he is a painful sight. But, let a sportsman-sahib call out to him, let him show a few rupees to the shikari, and in an instant the old wretch will look erect and strong, and will be ready for any sport. Once the bargain concluded, he will bend again, and crawl cautiously and slowly away, his body all wrapped in aromatic herbs, so that no beast of prey should scent ‘human flesh.’”
That is an instance of humour, as contrasted with wit; look at the kindliness of it all; we see at once that the writer has a sort of liking for the old rascal, and has herself very possibly administered “soothing syrup” to him—in the shape of a few rupees.
“It was in the company of just three such shikaris, that two Englishmen, topographers in the service of the Company, lost their way when out hunting—in September, 1818.”
From this point begins an orderly narrative of the discovery of the famous South Indian paradise. With the certainty that it will interest, and with a fairly strong conviction that, if critically examined, it will be found broadly accurate I shall summarize that narrative here.
The two Englishmen reached the very boundary of what was considered in those days as possible hunting ground. They had come to the Guslehut Pass, not far from the Kolakambe waterfall. Far above their heads rose the craggy peaks of Todabet, in describing which Mme. Blavatsky introduces that splendid piece of colour which I have already quoted, “blue, with a golden reflection at a short distance, dark blue at a greater, they glitter like huge living sapphires, which breathe softly and change colour, shining with the waves of an interior light.”
At this outpost of the unknown, the two Englishmen had a misunderstanding with their native followers, which ‘not even the joint efforts of our two riding-whips’ were effectual to remove. The three shikaris ‘shivered all over like aspen leaves,’ and rolled on the wet ground, right over the borders of the waterfall, as if in an epileptic fit. Dusky human nature triumphed. This time the two Englishmen went no further, returning to the village whence they had set out, but, at the same time, registering a vow to see what was at the further side of Kolakambe, or perish in the attempt. The local authorities tried hard to discourage this hardy resolution, and the “zemindar Brahmans” told a story with a moral, which will come best in Mme. Blavatsky’s own words:—
“One day, Mr. D.,” gravely said the zemindar Brahmans, “was carried away, in the pursuit of some animals. He forgot our constant warnings and crossed the waterfall. Since then no one knows exactly what became of him. But the possible result of his foolhardy deed was learned, thanks to an old sacred monkey from a neighbouring pagoda.”
This venerable inhabitant of the Hindu temple was in the habit of visiting the neighbouring plantations when free from religious duties. The pious Kulis of the plantation were always glad to receive and feed this particular guest of theirs; and one morning, to the great consternation of everyone, the monkey arrived wearing a European boot on his head. The boot proved to belong to the missing planter, but its owner never was found.
“No doubt,” went on the Brahmans, “the poor man was torn to pieces by pisackas. It is true, the Company for a time suspected the Brahmans of the pagoda, who had an interminable law-case with the defunct gentleman about a piece of land. But the Sahibs are always ready to accuse the holy hermits, especially in Southern India. However, the suspicions were never confirmed,”
And the poor planter never came home. He entered the world of bodiless thought, a world still less known to our scientists and great men in general, than the mysterious world of the Blue Hills was then. On this earth, he has become a kind of dream, whose eternal memory is still preserved in the shape of an old boot under a glass case, in the District Police Office.
“Further they said . . . what did they say? This, for instance: on this side of the rain clouds the mountains are not inhabited, so far as visible and palpable mortals are concerned, but on the other side of the “angry water,” i.e., water-fall, on the sacred heights of Todabet, Mukkartebet and Rangaswami, there lives an unearthly tribe, a tribe of sorcerers, of demi-gods.
“They live surrounded by an everlasting spring, they do not know either rains, or droughts, either beat, or cold. Not only do they never marry or die, but they actually are never born; their babies fall from the sky ready made and then are “growed,” to use the original expression of Topsy in “Uncle Tom’s Cabin.” No mortal has ever succeeded in reaching these heights, and no one ever will, unless he is allowed to do so after death.
“For, as it is well-known to the Brahmans—and who is entitled to know better than they? the demigods of the Nilgiris have- just let a part of their adode, out of respect to the god Brahma, so that a temporary swarga may be arranged there,”—I suppose, the entresoles of the real place being under repairs at the time.
“Besides, the zemindars swore that they personally knew a shikari who got drunk one evening in the kitchen of the Collector of the place, and went at a late hour to trace a tiger. He crossed the water fall, and next morning was found dead at the foot of the mountains.”
But, as might have been foreseen, all this only served to whet the curiosity of the two topographers. As Mme. Blavatsky somewhat mischievously remarks: “British prestige had to proclaim itself in all epochs of history, as we see: otherwise it might be overlooked, and,—God forbid!—forgotten.”
A regular expedition was organised, with an armed escort. Naturally, this caused much perturbation. The zemindars began to “sit dharna,” and “the munsiffs rent their garments, which did not cost them any considerable effort, taking into consideration the extreme lightness of their habitual costume; besides, as a sign of popular calamity and general mourning, they shaved the heads of their wives, and ordered them to scratch their faces (their wives’ faces, I mean) until they bled. The Brahmans loudly recited exhortations and mantrams interiorly wishing the English people and their impious ways in the depth of naraka. For three whole days Metopolam resounded with groans and sobs of despair, but all in vain.”
After several false starts, and the death of two unwilling guides, the party finally got under way, climbing up perfectly perpendicular rocks, until they found themselves on the other side of the clouds, having crossed the line of the eternal mist, whose blue waves now spread beneath their feet. Further on, far above the mists, they met with a huge boa-constrictor. One of them made a false step, in the twilight, and “fell on ‘something’ clammy and soft.” This ‘something’ began moving, rustling the leaves under it, raised itself, and proved to be a very disagreeable acquaintance. By way of greeting, the boa wound himself round one of the ‘superstitious’ Irishmen, and pressed him so warmly in his cold embrace, before a few bullets had time to reach his wide open jaws, that the soldier died at the end of a few minutes. Digging a grave for poor Paddy proved no easy task, as the workers had at the same time to hunt away the white vultures which came in masses every moment, with the evident aim of devouring the body.”
Higher up, the explorers came upon a battle of the Titans. Two armies of elephants were valiantly contesting the sovereignty of the hills. This fight had a direct influence on the band of explorers, though they took no actual part in it. The soldiers got frightened. “The sight dispersed them. Seven of them made their way back to the village, which only a day before they had left so triumphantly, and three of them were lost altogether.” The flavour of this last phrase would lead us to believe that these last were fellow-countrymen of the boa-constrictor. The party was thus reduced to its original elements, “the two topographers of the Company.”
“For many days,” writes Mme. Blavatsky, almost in the tone of the Odyssey, “they wandered on helplessly, climbing great heights, and again coming down into the valleys;: having no other food but mushrooms and berries, which grew there abundantly. And many nights they spent listening to the roaring of tigers and elephants, keeping watch by turns, and expecting to be killed every moment.
“Many times the unlucky explorers wished to go back, but In spite of their efforts, to go straight down, at every step they met obstacles that forced them to turn aside, against their will. Trying to climb round a rock, or a hill, they invariably found themselves in an impossible wilderness. They had no compass, and nature seemed to cut them off from every possibility of return. And so there was nothing for it ,but to go higher and higher, climbing up trees, in order to jump from them to the top of some rock across a ravine.”
At last, after nine Homeric days and nights, we find them drop down on the ground, utterly exhausted, under the rocks, ‘prepared for the worst.’ The spot they had reached was the celebrated Cairn Hill—and here Mme. Blavatsky’s genius leads her into a very learned discussion on Cairns, in which we find the names of Brittany and the Caucasus, Scythian and Parthian, Palenque and Mexico, with all of which she was, I believe, personally familiar—but a digression which, in spite of its interest, effectually breaks off the thread of her narrative.
It is only fifteen pages later that we get back to our two topographers.
“Their weary legs refused to serve them altogether. Kindersley, who was stronger than Whish, did not want to lose precious time; as soon as he was able to stand, he started on an exploration round the hill. He was determined to note every possible detail of their surroundings, which would allow them to make their escape again into the plains; a hard task in the chaos of cliffs and jungles, which stood before his eager eyes. But his exploration was soon interrupted. Whish stood before him, unable to say a word, ghastly, pale and shivering as if in a fit of fever. With his outstretched arm he convulsively pointed to the distance. Looking in the direction of his friend’s finger, Kindersley saw, in a small cavity only some hundred feet from them, some kind of human dwelling, and then figures of men. This sight, which to all appearances should have filled them with joy, had quite an opposite effect; both men stood thunderstruck.
“The dwelling was of an uncanny, never heard of, architecture. It had neither windows, nor doors; It was as round as a tower and sheltered by a roof, which, though rounded at the top, was a perfect pyramid. As to the men, both explorers were at a loss to decide whether they were men at all. Their instinct led both of them to take refuge promptly behind a bush, from whence they watched the strange moving shapes with. increasing fright and apprehension. In the words of Kindersley, they beheld “a group of giants surrounded by several groups of monstrously ugly dwarfs.” Forgetting their hearty laugh at the superstitious Malabaris, and the daring audacity with which their own hearts were filled at the outset, both men were ready to take these wonderful apparitions for the genii and the gnomes of the place.
“This is the way in which Europeans saw for the first time the shapely Todas in the midst of their adorers and tributaries the Badagas, and the servants of these latter, the Mulu-kurumbas, who are truly the abjectest savages of our Globe.”
And it is these Todas and Mulu-kurumbas, who are the magicians of the Blue Hills, and fill the title-role of the piece. Mme. Blavatsky has gathered together many interesting things concerning the “Five Races of the Nilgiris,” in the chapters that follow; she has laid under contribution many works, from the Ramayana to Charcot,—the former, for legends of Southern India and Ceylon—if Lanka be Ceylon—, whence she derives her Todas; the latter, for psychological and psychical facts and theories, by which she seeks to unravel the tangled threads of a hundred tales of witchcraft, of sorcery, or of “mind-healing,” as it would be called nowadays.
She has more than one magnificent anecdote, magnificently told, and she has an abundance of humour, and even boisterous fun, at the expense of everyone concerned, herself included.
But, into these chapters, which rival in their tangled luxuriance one of the tropical forests she describes, it is not my intention to follow her. Of the Blue Hills, and her powers of painting them I have already said enough; and to give any adequate account of the magicians, the marvellous things she tells of them, and the still more marvellous explanations she gives of these marvels, would practically involve repeating page after page of her book. It is well worth this treatment; but considerations of space forbid it.
Let me say, in closing, that, of all her books, this seems to me the best written, the most compact, and dramatic. And, more than this, in brilliance, in richness, and breadth of colouring and vivacity, it is the equal of any book on India I have ever read. I anticipate, that her data, so long as they are confined to the visible world, will stand the test of local criticism. Whether her data for the world invisible are as correct, is a matter I am not competent to pronounce on. But, if every fact were proved erroneous, the value of the book would not thereby suffer; the writer is greater than her theme; and she is, after all, the magician of the Blue Hills in whom we are most interested.