Parisian Explorations

This concluding portion of the epilogue to In Search of the Masters describes 1990 research in Paris. The headquarters of the Theosophical Society in France was a beautiful and hospitable place to pursue historical mysteries.

In the 1880s, Paris welcomed many refugees from Jamal ad-Din’s circle of disciples in Egypt. Dalip Singh found a home there from which to plan his return to India. Mikhail Katkov, through his Paris-based disciple Cyon, attempted to influence French policy and public opinion. During the same decade, the Theosophical Society emerged in Paris, attracting much attention from the intelligentsia. Lydia Pashkov’s literary career in Paris began in the 1870s and continued for more than twenty years. My research mission in Paris was to trace the careers of Jamal ad-Din, Sanua, and Pashkov and to seek a French connection to the Dalip Singh conspiracy. I also hoped to uncover more information on Masonic links to T.S. history. But in a trip filled with unexpected findings, my French travels proved no exception. The objectives with which I came to France were not well satisfied; nevertheless, other surprising discoveries made the research an overall success. Theosophical officialdom in the various societies has shown an ambivalent reaction to my research. While few responses have been openly hostile, neither have they been particularly helpful or encouraging– until Paris. At the Theosophical Society headquarters there I was helped in ways which will become apparent in this account of my research progress in France.

The morning of my arrival, the Secretary General of the French Section of the Society showed me to the apartment of my host, the section’s Archivist. While awaiting his return from an appointment, I examined a packet of information gathered for me the Librarian for the T.S. Headquarters. The most striking material he had gathered was from a 1988 French novel, Samarcande, by Amin Maalouf. The writer, of Lebanese origin, had used Jamal ad-Din as a major character in his historical novel about a young American’s quest for a secret manuscript. The protagonist, Benjamin Lesage, is a Marylander in search of an Omar Khayyam text of which he has learned from his cousin, Henri Rochefort. Rochefort is an historical character, a communard exiled in 1871 who later returned and edited a Socialist magazine, l’Intransigeant. In the novel, set in the 1890s, Rochefort directs his American cousin to Jamal ad-Din, who may be able to help locate a copy of the mysterious text.  My interest was keenly aroused within moments of starting to read the chapters the Librarian had copied for me, since it was an obscure text which had led me to Jamal ad-Din in my own quest. He was the first among the Master figures I discovered in my research, and the Chaldean Book of Numbers was my own equivalent of the Omar Khayyam text. In Samarcande, he is first mentioned well into the tale, by Rochefort, who describes their acquaintance:

“He collaborated regularly with the Intransigeant; we met often.  He introduced me to his disciples: Muslims from India, Jews from Egypt, Maronites from Syria. I believe that I was his closest French friend, but certainly not the only one. Ernest Renan and Georges Clemenceau knew him well and, in England, people like Lord” Salisbury, Randolph Churchill and Wilfrid Blunt. Victor Hugo, shortly before he died, met him too.”

The novel is so well grounded in historical research that I didn’t immediately recognize its fictional status. Maalouf has Rochefort read to his cousin from his memoirs the following portrayal of the Persian sage:

“I was introduced to an exile, celebrated throughout Islam as a reformer and revolutionary, the Sheikh Jamal ad-Din, a man with the head of an apostle. His beautiful black eyes, full of sweetness and fire, and his dark brown beard which flowed to his belly, gave him a singular majesty. He represented the type of the dominator of crowds. He barely understood French which he spoke with difficulty, but his intelligence which was always awake made up easily enough for his ignorance of our language. Under his appearance of serene repose, his activity was all-consuming.”

Rochefort continues his account with a description of a visit to Jamal ad-Din’s Paris apartment, filled with books, papers and cigar smoke.  There he was shown the Manuscript of Samarcand, which he describes to his enraptured cousin. Rochefort tells of the Shah’s inviting Jamal ad-Din to Teheran, and the broken promises which led to the rupture between them. Constitution, elections, and restrictions on foreign business were rejected by the same Shah who had earlier agreed to them as a condition of Jamal ad-Din’s support.  Thus, when he felt he had no choice but to rebel, Jamal ad-Din fled to the sanctuary from which he was dragged by the Shah’s soldiers. “That day, in the sanctuary, the Manuscript of Samarcand was lost under the boots of the soldiers of the Shah.”

After  learning of the subsequent adventures of Jamal ad-Din– the tobacco boycott, a brief visit to England, and his final arrival in Constantinople Benjamin Lesage decides to seek out the Master (so named in the text repeatedly) for clues to the Khayyam manuscript. He finds him surrounded by disciples and spies of the Sultan, living in luxury but unable to influence people or events:

“I lived in Paris in one dark room, but it opened onto the wide world. It was a hundred times smaller than this house, but I was less cramped there. I found myself thousands of kilometers from my people, but I worked for their advancement more effectively than I can here or in Persia. My voice was heard from Algiers to Kabul; now, only those can hear me who can honor me with their visit. Of course, they are always welcome, especially if they come from Paris.”

When Lesage tells him that he is American, Jamal ad-Din comments that after he was expelled from India in 1882, he went to America and seriously considered staying. He expresses regret for not having done so, for the Sultan is insane and criminal-­ although the only hope for the Muslims. “I tell you, we Muslims of this century are orphans.” The subject of the Manuscript of Samarcand is introduced, and the Master advises Lesage to go to to his disciple Mirza Reza in Persia for assistance. But while he is there, Mirza Reza assassinates the Shah, and Lesage returns to Jamal ad-Din with the details of his disciple’s fate. The Master is incredulous, horrified, but admits his moral responsibility for the crime. He recalls his words to Mirza Reza which the disciple took as instructions for assassination, but insists that he never intended the result. After telling Lesage that he suffers from cancer of the jaw, he gives him his testament, which appeared in translation in the Intransigeant, the only journal to uphold his innocence:

“I do not suffer from being a prisoner, nor do I fear my approaching death. My only cause for sorrow is knowing that I have not seen the fruit of the seed I have sown. Tyranny continues to crush the peoples of the Orient, and obscurantism stifles their cries for liberty. Perhaps I would have succeeded better had I planted my seeds in the fertile soil of the people instead of the arid soil of royal courts. And you, people of Persia, in whom I have placed my greatest hopes, do not believe that in eliminating one man you can win liberty. It is the weight of age-old traditions that you must dare to shake off.”

Homa Pakdaman’s Djamal ad-Din Assad Abadi dit Afghani reveals the factual basis of almost all aspects of Maalouf’s portrayal of the Master. She confirms his friendships with Henri Rochefort, Ernest Renan, Georges Clemenceau and Wilfrid Blunt. These men were the most influential Western supporters of Jamal ad-Din; at least my efforts to identify others were unavailing. Rochefort’s leftist politics and Journalistic career place him at the center of the milieu in which the most important early French T.S. leaders moved. Louis Dramard and Arthur Arnould were both exiled communards who became involved in Socialist Journalism after their return to France. A letter by HPB cited in Charles Blech’s Contribution a l’Histoire de la Societe Theosophigue en France refers to “M. de Rochefort, whom I highly esteem, but who is not a Theosophist and laughs at us.” By the 1880s, Renan had completed his multi-volume study of Christian origins, of which the Life of Jesus is the best known. His scholarship had dealt a severe blow to the Church, powerfully affecting public opinion in a liberal direction. His extensive travels in the Near East may have brought him into contact with some members of HPB’s network of adept associates.  In a letter to her sister written in the summer of 1884, Mme. Blavatsky mentioned him among those who regularly attended meetings of the Societe Theosophique d’Orient et d’Occident at the home of Lady Caithness: “You shall see there the elite of Parisian society and intelligentsia. Renan, Flammarion, Madame Adam, and lots of the aristocracy from the Faubourg St. Germain.” Another reference to Renan is found in Felix K. Gaboriau’s farewell to readers of le Lotus written upon his resignation as editor in March 1889.

Georges Clemenceau, born in 1841, entered politics as mayor of Montmartre. From 1876 to 1885 he served as a deputy from Paris. Representing the extreme left, he wielded great influence, overturning three cabinets in 1882, 1885 and 1886. In 1887 he obliged the President to resign.  During Jamal ad-Din’s stay in Paris, Clemenceau was director of La Justice. Later he was publisher of l’Aurore, which became a leading voice of the Dreyfusards. In 1906 and again during the World War he was President of the Conseil (the Third Republic’s most powerful post), but failed in his effort to become President of the Republic after the war.

Wilfrid Scawen Blunt, the sole English disciple of Jamal ad-Din, was a convert to Islam who maintained a sympathetic interest in Indian, Irish and Egyptian struggles against the British empire. His skill as a poet and writer and his string of romantic conquests make him one of the more colorful figures of the late Victorian era. As a Member of Parliament, he was spokesman for many unpopular causes.

aPakdaman’s study, an adaptation of her dissertation, exposes several previously unknown facts about Jamal ad-Din. He was in Bombay for a month in the spring of 1869 before he went to Cairo, which coincides with one period of HPB’s presence in India. In Alexandria, his disciples published a journal in Arabic and French entitled Jeune Egypt which suggests a Mazzinian inspiration. When Jamal ad-Din arrived in Paris, Sanua published a notice in his paper calling him “our Master,” while Rochefort’s l’Intransigeant and Clemenceau’s La Justice also announced his arrival.

Maalouf’s wording of Rochefort’s description of Jamal ad-Din’s physical appearance is taken directly from the journalist’s memoirs, as I discovered by reading Pakdaman. She also confirms that Rochefort’s journal was the only one to defend Jamal ad-Din in the case of the Shah’s assassination. While the tale of the Master’s trip to America seems unfounded, Pakdaman turned out to be the source of Maalouf’s version of Jamal ad-Din’s death. She suggests that he was murdered by the Sultan’s doctor, based on accounts of two historians, one of whom cites two eyewitnesses. And finally, the passage in which the Master laments having sown his seed in the arid soil of royal courts is found in Pakdaman’s book, taken from Jamal ad-Din’s last letter to a Persian friend.

I arrived at the Bibliotheque Nationale on a Friday, only to discover that Saturday would be the last chance to use the library before its three week annual closing. This caused me to cut my projected month in France in half. The Maalouf and Pakdaman books were the only French sources on Jamal ad-Din I found; with only one day remaining I turned to James Sanua and Lydia Pashkov for additional clues. Examination of the first fifteen years of Sanua’s Abou Naddara took up less time than anticipated since only ten per cent of its contents were in French, the rest Arabic. It focused almost entirely on contemporary Egyptian politics, offering very little of Theosophical interest. Sanua’s Masonic connections also remained obscure. It was noted in July 1885 that he spoke to an unnamed lodge on the Mahdi. The only noteworthy finds in Abou Naddara appeared in 1887. A speech to “the glorious memory of Garibaldi” was listed among the $heikh’s activities for that year, but far more intriguing was another paean to one of HPB’s mentors. In September 1887, under the heading “to the Katkov family,” he wrote:

“In the name of the Egyptian National Party and the Indian Muslims of whom my journal Abou Naddara is the organ, I associate myself with the French press to render a supreme homage to the memory of Katkov, illustrious publicist, who sympathized heartily with the sufferings of my compatriots and whose writings so powerfully contributed to make Russia as well as France reJect the disastrous convention destined to deliver Egypt definitively to England.

May Allah, clement and merciful, deign to pour out on the widow and children of Katkov his ineffable consolations and accord to the soul of the defunct peace eternal.”

This is the first evidence of any link between Sanua and Katkov, although their mutual acquaintance Jamal ad-Din made such a link probable. In the private library of the T.S. Archivist, I found two letters from HPB to her sister which also show esteem for Katkov. In the first, written in Paris in 1884, she assures Vera of his interest in her work:

“What is money?  Le it be switched!  Katkoff is bombarding me with telegrams. One of them was sent to me here by post from Madras. Twenty-nine words! I expect it cost him at least 500 francs, and when I wrote to him from here he sent another asking for my articles. He must be wanting them badly if he asks for them at such cost. So we shall have money.”

In 1886, HPB wrote from Germany that she was sending Katkov a subscription to le Lotus (Journal of the French T.S.), adding:

“I simply adore Katkoff for his patriotism.  I do not mind his not sending me any money again, God bless his soul. I deeply respect him, because he is a patriot and a brave man speaking the truth at whatever cost! Such articles as his are a credit to Russia.  I am sure that if darling uncle were still living he would find an echo of his own thoughts in them…Oh, if only the Regents were hanged in Bulgaria and Germany checkmated, I should die in peace.”

Here, as in so many other instances, HPB’s Russian writings reveal vastly more of her true self than she wanted her English-speaking Theosophists to see.                                        

After returning from a trip to Aix-en-Provence described in Book II’s epilogue, I found two previously overlooked passages of interest in the same private library, which contained a full run of ‘Boris de Zirkoff’s magazine Theosophia. In Manly P. Hall’s “Mme. Blavatsky– A Tribute,” a private letter written by HPB in 1890 is cited. It refers to Olcott having met two Masters personally, “one in Bombay and the other in Cashmere.” Since Olcott claims considerably more such encounters, for example with K.H. at Lahore, this reference is a bit confusing. What is remarkable about it, however, is that Olcott never really went to Kashmir proper, but only to Jammu.  By his own account of his trip there, he met no Master at all– spending all his time in the company of the Maharaja Ranbir Singh. So here, at the end of the research trail, was .yet another clue to the identity of the Master M.  In Bombay, Olcott may well have met Jamal ad-Din or the mysterious Greek Hilarion.  The other find in Theosophia was an article by Mary K. .Neff referring to a clipping in HPB’s scrapbook, now in the Adyar archives.  It consists of an article by Herbert Monachesi, one of the T.S. founders, written for the New York Sunday Mercury of October 6, 1875. This was in the midst of the birth of the Society, and is one of the very few clues to Monachesi’s interests at the time.  The article, “Proselyters from India,” states that in 1870, Moolji Thackersey and Tulsidas Jadarjee went to America as missionaries, sent there by unnamed superiors. “Strangely enough, Col. Olcott crossed the Atlantic on the same ship with them.” If this is reliable, it points to further avenues of research into Theosophical origins. The “accidental” nature of Thackersey’s role in T.S. history is extremely suspect; it was he who suggested the formation of the Arya Samaj and later its amalgamation with the T.S. But this elusive personage carried most of his secrets to the grave, and with them all opportunity to fully unravel the mystery of the Mahatmas.

At the beginning of the book I reflected on the endlessness of HPB’s quest or that of any sincere seeker. At its conclusion, it is tempting to try to summarize, synthesize, and explain the significance of all that has gone before. But such an enterprise would be premature, and I feel quite unqualified to attempt it. Dharma gates beyond measure stand open to investigators of Theosophical history. May this book herald the 1991 centenary of Mme. Blavatsky’s death as the beginning of a new understanding of her life.