1. BEFORE THE PARLIAMENT
Until now, the information we have had regarding the weeks between the midsummer of 1893. when Swami Vivekananda arrived in America, and the opening of the Parliament of Religions in September of the same year, has been scanty and derived largely from one or two letters which he wrote to India. In ‘”The Life of Swami Vivekananda” it is told that when he arrived in Chicago in late July to represent Hinduism at the Parliament of Religions he was not only totally unknown in America and unequipped with any kind of credential, but too late to register as a delegate to the Parliament even if he had credentials. ‘The Parliament of Religions, moreover, was not scheduled to open until September 11. Thus, even to attend it as a spectator Swamiji had several weeks to wait in a strange land where, as he writes in a letter to India, “The expense … is awful” In order to lessen this expense, he left Chicago for Boston where he had been told the cost of living was lower. “Mysterious,” write his biographers, “are the ways of the Lord! ” ; for it was on the train from Chicago to Boston that Swamiji met “an old lady” who invited him to live at her farm, called “Breezy Meadows,” in Massachusetts. It was through this providential woman, of whom we shall hear more later, that he met Professor John Henry Wright of Harvard. Professor Wright, at once appreciative of Swamiji.? genius, persuaded him, despite his reluctance to return to Chicago because of his meager funds, of the importance of attending the Parliament of Religions. Dr. Wright made all the necessary arrangements and introduced him as a superbly well-qualified delegate – one who, like the sun, had no need of credentials in order to shine. Indeed, had it not been for Dr. Wright’s insistence and help, it is doubtful that Swamiji would have attended the Parliament.
The little more that has been known regarding the pre-Parliament period of Swamiji’s life has been pieced together from the letter quoted above and dated August 20, 1893. We have known, for instance, that during his stay at “Breezy Meadows’ his hostess showed him off as “a curio from India” that he was gaped at for his “quaint dress,” that he was on this account going to buy Western clothes in Boston, that he was to speak at “a big ladies’ club . . . which is helping Ramabai,” and that he visited and was deeply impressed by a women’s reformatory. To these facts more now can be added, particularly in regard to the period between August 20 and September 8 , which until now has been virtually a blank.
Wherever Swamiji went he made news, and in my attempt to fill in the gaps in his life’s story I assumed that New England was no exception to this rule and that the papers of those towns which he visited in the pre-Parliament days would contain some mention of him. The nearest town to the farm “Breezy Meadows” is Metcalf, but upon making inquiries I found that Metcalf was too small to possess a newspaper. The town next in size is Holliston, still not large enough to support a paper of its own, and the next large is Framingham, a full-sized town, complete with newspaper office. It was to Framingham, therefore, that I went. In those days, the Framingham Tribune, which covered the noteworthy events of the surrounding country, was a weekly, coming out on Fridays. There being but few papers to look through, it was not difficult to find the following item which, small as it was and in spite of its quaintness, or perhaps because of it, had the impact of reality:
Friday, August 25, 1893
Holliston: Miss Kate Sanborn, who has recently returned from the west, last week entertained the Indian Rajah, Swami Vivekananda. Behind a pair of horses furnished by liveryman F. W. Phipps, Miss Sanborn and the Rajah drove through town on Friday cn route for HunneweH’s.
What a sight that must have been! And who could help mistaking the young monk for a rajah as, in robe and turban,
he was regally driven through the quiet New England village behind a pair of trotting horses, the mistress of “Breezy Meadows” at his side? This took place on Friday, August 18. On the following Sunday, Swamiji writes to India that he is going to Boston to buy Western clothes. “People gather by hundreds in the streets to sec me. So what I want is to dress myself in a long black coat, and keep a red robe and turban to wear when I lecture.”
From the above news item we learn for the first time that the name of Swamiji’s hostess was Miss Kate Sanborn. Miss Sanborn was, no doubt, taking her “curio from India” on a social call to Hunnewell’s, an estate some ten miles from “Breezy Meadows.” But, as Swamiji writes resignedly, ” … all this must be borne.” Indeed, it was through the sociability of Kate Sanborn and her pardonable delight in showing off her “Rajah” that Swamiji met Dr. Wright and subsequently the whole of America. Amiable, prominent and gregarious, Miss Sanborn was precisely the person to act as hostess to Swamiji in those early days, for she not only introduced him to Dr. Wright but was instrumental in providing him with a well-rounded preview of the American scene.
Further research regarding Miss Sanborn revealed that, aside from being an enthusiastic hostess, she was a lecturer and author, taking for her topics all the numerous facets of her active life – people, incidents, places. Although Swamiji referred to her as “an old lady.” she was, by American standards, not old when he first knew her. She was fifty-four and very energetic. She was possessed of a lively humor and a warm feeling for the human show, was keenly observant and widely known for her repartee. Even in her correspondence her wit was bubbling and irrepressible. It was her practice to include in her letters short and apt verses scribbled on cards. One of these, sent to a group of young women, advises: “Though you’re bright / And though
you’re pretty/They’ll not love you/If you’re witty.” A more serious and thoughtful side of her nature is revealed by another card which reads: “Down with the fallacy enshrined in Senator
Ingalls’ sonnet on the one opportunity. She comes, not alone in the gospel of the ‘second opportunity,’ but she is with you every day and hour waiting for recognition.”
Original1y from New Hampshire, Kate Sanborn had bought one of the old abandoned farms of Massachusetts and had proceeded to restore it into “Breezy Meadows”‘ Two of her books are devoted to her life on the farm, and it is from these that one learns of the scene that greeted Swamiji. She writes lovingly of the pines and silver birches, the huge elms growing near the house, the natural pond of waterlilies, and the two brooks where forget-me-nots grew along the shaded banks. The house itself was a rambling farmhouse with a vine growing over half the roof. There is a picture of it in one of her books: a friendly, comfortable house. There is also a picture of Kate Sanborn herself (older than when Swamiji knew her) standing in her front doorway offering a welcome to one and all. Today “Breezy Meadows” has changed ; part of the property is occupied by a seminary for Xavierian Fathers, and another part has been given over to a summer camp for Negro children. On this latter part of the farm the house where Swamiji made his first home in America still stands, not much altered, I have been told, by the passage of time.
In the letter that Swamiji wrote to India at this time, he mentions, as has already been noted, that he is to speak before a women’s club which was helping Ramabai. Ramabai, of whom we shall hear more in a later chapter, was a Hindu woman who had been converted to Christianity. In 1887-1889 she had been active in forming clubs in America for the purpose of raising funds for Indian child widows, whose plight she had graphically misrepresented. Unfortunately I could find no report in the Boston papers of Swamiji’s talk before the Boston Ramabai Circle. Nor was the 1893 Annual Report of that club more informative. But despite the meagerness of our information, we can at least be sure, in the light of subsequent developments in the Brooklyn Ramabai Circle which will be reported in a later chapter, that Swamiji gave the women of the Boston Ramabai Circle a true picture of India and of child widows and that it was a picture which they did not relish.
The first direct mention of Swamiji in the Boston papers is tucked away in the “Personal” column of the Evening Transcript of August 23, 1893:
Swami Vivekananda of India, a Brahmin monk who is on ids way to the parliament of religions to be held at Chicago in September, is the guest of Miss Kate Sanborn at her “abandoned farm” in Metcalf, Mass.
Last evening he addressed the inmates of the Sherbom Reformatory for Women upon the manners, customs and mode of living in his country.
Sherborn is a small town near “Breezy Meadows.” From Swamiji’s letter to India we know of the impression this reformatory made upon him. “It is the grandest thing I have seen in America,” he writes. Perhaps, when he spoke before them, the inmates thought that he was the grandest tiling they had seem in America. At any rale, it is safe to assume that I heir response was more sympathetic than that of the Ramabai club. And in some cases it may have been profound and trans-loaning. One cannot know, but the young Hindu monk, luminous in his red robe and yellow turban, must have been like a sunbuist in that grey prison, so startling that perhaps thiough him some saw the path to true freedom.
The next mention of Swamiji in the Boston papers is found in the “Personal” column of the Boston Evening Transcript of Friday, August 25, and reads as follows:
The Swami Vivekananda of India, the Brahmin monk who was in this country for the purpose of attending the parliament of religions at Chicago next month, arrived in Boston yesterday, in company with Mr. F. B. Sanborn of Concord.
Mr. Franklin Benjamin Sanborn was a cousin of Kate Sanborn and was at first openly skeptical of her “Hindu saint.” He nonetheless paid a visit to meet Swamiji at “Breezy Meadows,” where his attitude at once underwent a change. He no doubt took keen delight in Swamiji’s company, and Swamiji in turn must have welcomed his. He was a well-known journalist, author and philanthropist, extremely active in organizing and promoting works of benevolence. He served as secretary of the Massachusetts Board of Charities – the first of its kind in America – and helped in founding many charitable institutions. He also founded the Concord Summer School of Philosophy and wrote biographies of his friends, Alcott, Emerson, Thoreau, Hawthorne and others. As will be seen later, Mr. Sanborn invited Swamiji to speak at a convention of the American Social Science Association in Saratoga Springs, New York – the fashionable resort of the era.
But prior to going to Saratoga Springs, Swamiji passed a busy week and a half in Massachusetts. While he was spending Thursday, August 24, with Mr. Sanborn in Boston, Professor John Henry Wright, anxious to meet the phenomenal Hindu monk, of whom he had no doubt heard a great deal from the Sanborns, was on his way to Boston from Annisquam, a small resort village on the Atlantic seaboard. Through some misadventure, this meeting did not take place. Yet perhaps this was no misadventure at all, but the hand of Providence, for, not to be deprived of meeting Swamiji, Professor Wright invited him to spend the week-end at Annisquam. It was during this week-end that the professor formed the opinion of his guest that was to have such far-reaching consequences. A letter written by Mrs, Wright to her mother, which has recently come to light, tells of the occasion:
Annisquam, Mass. August 29,1893
My dear Mother:
We have been having a queer lime. Kate Sanborn had a Hindoo monk in tow as I believe I mentioned in my last letter. John went down to meet him in Boston and missing him, invited him up here. He came Friday! In a long safTron robe that caused universal amazement. He was a most gorgeous vision. He had a superb carriage of the head, was very handsome in an oriental way, about thirty years old in lime, ages in civilization. He stayed until Monday and was one of the most in-teresting people I have yet come across.
We talked all day all night and began again with interest the next morning. The town was in a fume to see him; the boarders at MroriLine’s in wild excitement. They were in and out of the Lodge constantly and little Mrs. Merrill’s eyes were blazing and her cheeks red with excitement. Chiefly we talked religion. It was a kind of revival, I have not felt so wrought up for a long time myself! Then on Sunday John had him invited to speak in the church and they took up a collection for a Heathen college to be carried on on strictly heathen principles – whereupon I retired to my corner and laughed until I cried.
He is an educated gentleman, knows as much as anybody. Has been a monk since he was eighteen. Their vows are very much our vows, or rather the vows of a Christian monk. Only Poverty with them means poverty. They have no monastery, no property, they cannot even beg; but they sit and wait until alms are given them. Then they sit and teach people. For days they talk and dispute. He is wonderfully clever and clear in putting his arguments and laying his trains [of thoughts] to a conclusion. You can’t trip him up, nor get ahead of him.
I have a lot of notes I made as stuff for a possible story – at any rate as something very interesting for future reference. We may see hundreds of Hindoo monks in our lives – and we may not.
Aside from its importance in opening Swamiji’s way to the Parliament of Religions, this week-end lastingly enriched the Wright family. – as well it might have, for none fortunate enough to have Swamiji as a guest soon forgot him. The memory of this and later meetings – of which there will be more in a following chapter – became a part of the Wright family tradition, and Mr. John Wright, the son of Professor and Mrs. Wright, through whose kindness his mother’s letters and journals have been made available, today still speaks in the family idiom of “Our Swami,” though he was hut a child of two when Swamiji first came to Annisquam.
Mrs. Wright did indeed compose a story from her notes, a story which has been found among her papers. In regard to it, Mr. Wright tells us that “sometime in or after 1897, she prepared the account from the original notes, which have disappeared. She either typed it herself or had it typed by a stenographer and then thoroughly revised it in ink.” Mr. Wright’s deduction regarding the date of the manuscript is based on the fact that the typewriter on which it was written did not come into the family until 1897.
When we first received a copy of this manuscript, it seemed both familiar and new, and on comparing it with material in “The Life,” we found, to be sure, that some portions of it had already been published. On pages 416-419 of the fourth edition, readers will find an article which is said to have come from a newspaper and which is a very much abridged version of the same story. Mr. Wright was not aware thaL his mother had contributed her article to a newspaper, and it is not known where or when it first appeared; but inasmuch as we are now in possession of the complete manuscript, this is of little importance. The unpublished portions comprise a good half of the original article and are, I believe, of absorbing interest, for they give an intimate picture of Swamiji from the pen of one who well understood that her subject was no ordinary person. But perhaps it is a picture that might alo prove shocking. Mrs. Wright has caught Swamiji in one of his bursts of fire, hard for some to reconcile with his calm, all-coin passionate, all-loving nature. Eire and compassion, however, are not disparate – indeed they often are as inseparable as the two sides of one coin. Swamiji’s heart, one never can forget, was lull of unhappiness for the suffering of his motherland, and correspondingly his mind was full of anger against all that contributed to her degradation. In the early days he ascribed a great deal of that degradation to the imperialism of the British, and it was only natural that he would lash out against a people who had ruthlessly crushed those whom he loved. It is well known that when Swamiji later met the English people on their home ground he became an ardent admirer of their many noble characteristics, but nonetheless he never changed his opinion
one people by another. Swamiji was a thorough student of the world’s history, and whenever in the story of man’s life he found injustice and inhumanity he never hesitated to point them out in its uncertain terms.
However, here are the unpublished portions of Mrs. Wright’s article, for the sake of clarity and continuity I have here and there retained portions which have already been quoted in ‘ The Life,” and, for the same reason, I have omitted a word or phrase here and there and made a few minor corrections.
According to Mrs. Wright’s story, the Annisquam villagers and the boarders at the Lodge first caught sight of Swamiji as, in compare with Prolessor Wiight, In crossed the lawn between the boardinghouse and the professor’s cottage. So astonishing a sight did Swamiji present in this quiet little New England village that speculations set in at once as to who this majestic and cnloiful figure might be. From where had he come? What was his nationality? And so forth. The article continues as follows:
. . . Finally they decided that he was a Brahmin, and the theory was rudely shattered when that night, at supper, they saw him partake, wonderitigly, but cvidcnih with relish, of hash.
It was something that needed explanation and they unanimously repaired to the cottage after supper, to hear this strange new being discourse. . . .
“It was the other day,” he said, in his musical voice, “only just the other day – not more than four hundred years ago.” And then followed tales of cruelty and oppression, of a patient race and a suffering people, and of a judgment to come! “Ah. the English,” he said, “only just a little while ago they were savages. . . . the vermin crawled oil the ladies’ bodices. . . . and they scented themselves to disguise the abominable odor of their pel sons. . . . Most hor-r-ible! Even now. they are barelv emerging from barbarism.”
“Nonsense,” said one of his scandalized hearers, “that was at least five hundred years ago.”
“And did I not say ‘a little while ago’? What are a few hundred years when you look at the antiquity of
the human soul?’ Then with a turn of tone, quite reasonable and gentle, “They are quite savage,” he said. “The frightful cold, the want and privation of their northern climate,” going on more quickly and warmly “has made them wild. They only think to kil
Where is their religion? They take the name ot ttiat Holy One, they claim to love their fellowmcn, they civilize – by Christianity! – No! It is their
hunger that has civilized them, not their God. The love of mau is on their lips, in their hearts there is nothing but evil and every violence. ‘I love you my brother, I love you!’ . . . and all the while they cut his throat Their hands are red with blood.”
. . . Then, going on more slowly, his beautiful voice deepening till it sounded like a bell, “But the judgment of God will fall upon them. ‘Vengeance is mine ; I will repay, saith the Lord/ and dcstruction is coming. What are your Christians? Not one third of (he world. Look at those Chinese, millions of them. “They are (he vengeance of God that will light upon you. There will be another invasion of the Huns,” adding, with a little chuckle, “they will sweep over Europe, they will not leave one stone standing upon another. Men, women, children, all will go and the dark ages will come again.” His voice was indescribably sad and pitiful ; then suddenly and flippantly, dropping the seer, “Me, – I don’t care! The world will rise up better from it, but it is coming. The vengeance of God, it is coming soon.”
“Soon?” they all asked.
“It will not be a thousand years until it is done.”
They drew a breath of relief. It did not seem imminent.
“And God will have vengeance,” he went on. “You may not see it in religion, you may not see it in politics, but you must see it in history, and as it has been ; it will come to pass. If you grind down the people, you will suffer. We in India are suffering the vengeance of God. Look upon these things. They ground down those poor people for their own wealth, they heard not the voice of distress, they ate from gold and silver when the people cried for bread, and the Mohammedans came ipon them slaughtering and killing: slaughtering and laying they overran them. India has been conquered again and again for years, and last and worst of all came the Englishman. You look about India, what has the Hindoo left? Wonderful temples, everywhere. What has the Mohammedan left? Beautiful palaces. What lias the Englishman left? Nothing but mounds of broken brandy bottles! And God has had no mercy upon my people because they had no mercy. By their cruelty they degraded the populace, and when thc> needed them the common people had no strength to give for their aid. If man cannot believe in the Vengeance of God, he certainly cannot deny the Vengeance of History. And it will conic upon the English ; they have their heels on our necks, the} hae sucked the last drop of our blood for their own pleasures, they have carried away with ihem millions of our money, while our people have starved by villages and proxintes. And now the Chinaman is the vengeanc e that will fall upon them ; if the Chinese rose today and swept the English into the sea, as they well desewe, it would he no more than justice.”
And then, having said his say, the Swami was silent. A babble of thin-voiced chatter rose about him, to which he listened, apparently unheeding. Occasionally he cast his eye up to the roof and repealed softly. “Shiva! Shiva!” and the little company, shaken and disturbed by the current of powerful feelings and vindictive passion which seemed to be flowing like molten lava beneath the silent surface of this strange being, broke up, perturbed.
He stayed days [actually it was only a long weekend], . . . All through, his discourses abounded in picturesque illustrations and beautiful legends. . . .
One beautiful story he told was of a man whose wife reproached him with his troubles, reviled him because of the success of others, and recounted to him all
his failures. “Is this what )our God has done for you”‘ she said to him, “after you have served Him so many years?” Then the man answered, “Am I a trader in religion? Look at that mountain. What does it do hr me, or what have I done for it? And yet I love it because I am so made that I love the beautiful. Thus I love God.” . . . There was another story he told of a king who offered a gift to a Rishi. The Rishi refused, but the king insisted and begged that he would come with him. When they came to the palace he heard the king praying, and the king begged for wealth, for power, for length of days from God. The Rishi listened, wondering, until at last lie picked up his mat and started away. Then the king opened his eyes from his prayers and saw him. “Why are you going?” he said. “You have not asked for your gift.” “I,” said the Rishi, “ask from a beggar?”
When someone suggested to him that Christianity was a saving power, he opened his great dark eves upon him and said, “If Christianity is a saving power in itself, why has it not saved the Ethiopians, the Abyssinians?” He also arraigned our own crimes, the horror of women on the stage, the frightful immorality in our streets, our drunkenness, our thieving, our political degeneracy, the murdering in our West, the lynching in our South, and we, remembering his own Thugs, were still too delicate to mention them. . . .
Often on Swamiji’s lips was the phrase, “They would not dare to do this to a monk.” … At times he even expressed a great longing that the English government would take him and shoot him. “It woidd he the first nail in their coffin,” he would say, with a little-gleam of his white teeth, “and my death would run through the land like wild fire.” . . .
His great heroine was the dreadful [?] Ranee of the Indian mutiny, who led her troops in person. Most of the old mutineers, he said, had become monks in order to hide themselves, and this accounted very well for the’ dangerous quality of the monks’ opinions. There was
one man of them who had lost four sons and could speak of them with composure, but whenever he mentioned the Ranee he would weep, with tears streaming down his face. “That woman was a goddess,” he said,
“a devi. When overcome, she fell on her sword and died like a man.” It was strange to hear the other side of the Indian mutiny, when you would never believe that there was another side to it, and to be assured that a Hindoo could not possibly kill a woman. It was probably the Mohammedans that killed the women at Delhi and Cawnporc. ‘These old mutineers would say to him, “Kill a woman! You know we could not do that” ; and so the Mohammedan was made responsible.
In quoting from the Upanishads his voice was most musical. He would quote a verse in Sanskrit, with iiiLonatious, and then translate it into beautiful English, of which he had a wonderful command. And in his mystical religion he seemed perfectly and unquestionably happs. . . .
It is interesting to compare the prophetic utterances Swamiji made in Antiisquam with those reported by Sister Christine in her “Reminiscences”: “Sometimes he was in a
prophetic mood, as on the day when lie startled us by saying:
‘ The next great upheaval which is to bring about a new epoch will come from Russia or China” And I have been reliably informed that at another time Swamiji made a statement to the effect that if and when the British should leave India there would be a great danger of India’s being conquered by the Chinese. I mention these statements of Swamiji just in passing, and the reader may accept them in whatever spirit he likes.
Although this memorable and, as it turned out. histon-making week-end caused such a stir among the populace in Annisquam, the Gloucester Daily Times, which covered the Annisquam news, ran on August 28 the following item, tvpical of New England’s verbal economy:
Mr. Sivanei Yiveksnanda, a Hindoo monk, gave a fine lecture in the church last evening on the customs and life in India.
But although this was all the newspaper had to say about Swamiji’s lecture on August 21 there are even today people to whom its main burden is still fresh and to whom Swamiji is still vivid. One woman, a summer resident of the village, writes to me in regard to Swamiji’s week-end in Annisquam: “I consider
it a great privilege to have known him. He was a striking looking man in appearance and dress. He wore a turban around his head and a long orange robe of heavy woolen [?] cloth with a wide purple sash. He had a charming voice. He began his lecture ill the Annisquam village church by saying that the Hindus were taught to have a great respect for other people s religions.”
On Monday, August 28, Swamiji left Annisquam for §alem, where he was scheduled to speak before the Thought and Work Club. The only information we have hitherto had of this lecture engagement is a bare reference in Swamiji’s “Breezy Meadows” letter. But his stay in Salem was more extended and active than this brief reference indicates. Recently we have been fortunate enough to find out more about it. The steps leading to this discovery are perhaps of interest.
In the spring of 1950, an advertisement in a magazine devoted to antiques was brought to the notice of a student of Vedanta. The advertisement, placed by a Mrs. Prince Woods, offered for sale a trunk and a walking stick which had belonged to Swami Vivekananda. Naturally enough, these articles were sent for, and a request was made for further information regarding them. A correspondence ensued between the Vedanta student and Mrs. Woods, in the course of which the following facts came to light.
In August, 1893, Swamiji had been invited by Mrs. Kate Tannatt Woods to stay in her home at 166 North Street, Salem. He remained there a week, during which time he lectured in
Salem, was criticized by the clergy (of which more later) and became beloved by Mrs. Woods and her son, Prince, a young medical student. At die end of his visit, Swamiji, intending to return, left behind him his staff and trunk and some other luggage. Of his return Mrs. Prince Wogds (the wife of Mrs. Woods’ son) writes: “He spent two weeks at the Woods home
stead at one time [actually it was one week] and came Backfrom Chicago for another week [?] and to say ‘Farewell’. I did not know the family then, but he came with some friends in a carriage and a fine pair of horses just after I met my husband-to-be and was invited there. I just saw him as lie said ‘Goodbye.’ ” On leaving this second time, Mrs. Prince Woods tells in another letter, “lie gave his stall, his most precious possession, to Dr. Woods who was at that time a young medical student and the only child of Mrs. Woods. To her he gave his trunk and his blanket, saying to them, ‘Only my most precious possessions should I give to my friends who have made me at home in this great country.’ ” Mrs. Prince Woods adds, “This was a most gracious gesture after he had been feted all over the country,” and from this one may gather that Swamiji’s second visit to the Woods homestead occurred not immediately after the Parliament of Religions, but quite some time thereafter. The staff, trunk and blanket were cherished by the Woods family as mementos of a great soul and a great friend. Dr. Woods, his wife tells us, refused to sell them, “the British Museum offering $200 00 for it [the irunk] early in 1900. . . .” Thus, happily, all three in 1950 were still available. The blanket, which accompanied the trunk and canc, was actually a large, coarsely woven, dark orange shawl, the kind sometimes worn by wandering monks in India.
From the letters of her daughter-in-law we learn that Mrs Kate Tannatt Woods, who was fifty-eight when Swamiji was her guest, was, like Miss Kate Sanborn, an energetic .lecturer jmd authoress. “fShel died Tuly 10, 1910 . . . then 75 years of age, but very youthful m manner and looks, having lecture engagements all over the country. She went to Los Angeles and all over the West Coast not long before she passed on.” During her lifetime she wrote “many books,” among which were “Hester Hepworth” a story of the witchcraft itehttion, “A Fair Maid of
Marblehead,” “Hidden for Years,” and so on. She also wrote and illustrated poetry. Some of her books were for children, toward whom she no doubt felt a special interest, for, during Swamiji’s visit, she ananged lor him to speak in her garden to a group of local children and young people.
This children’s afternoon was by no means due to an underestimation of Swamiji’s worth. The Woods family, as did all who came into contact with him, reverenced him. ” . . .I never saw the Swami,” Mrs. Kate Tannatt Woods’ daughter-in-law writes (although, as seen above, she had once caught a glimpse of him), “but have felt that 1 knew him from the many things I have heard of him in the Woods family. My husband . . . spoke of him as . . . of a real Christian gentleman. I have heard that he and Mahatma Gandhi were more Christ-like than any the world has known.”
Those who had known Swamiji never tired of discussing him and pondering over the new and awakening ideas which he brought into their lives. Two years later Ella Wheeler Wilcox, the celebrated journalist and poet, who was a fiicnd of Mis. Woods, writes to her of Swamiji in words which were no doubt similar to those often spoken between them. Fortunately, these letters were among those which Mrs. Woods’ daughter-in-law had preserved, and although they relate to a time subsequent to the one dealt with in this present chapter, I will include them here as not only giving a new glimpse of Swamiji but also as shedding some light on his hostess to whom they were addressed.
Dear Mrs. Woods:
Vivekananda is [at| 54 W. 33rd street.
I know it is Consecration to give out – I was born knowing that truth, but I think it is a great blot on the Consecration when we tell of it – and I am always ashamed after I have told of my own good deeds. Vivekananda says he meets many people who can not be led to talk of any subject that they do not drag in
their own charitable acts, how they gave away a dime or helped some one in need. . . .
Dear Mrs. Woods:
I was listening to Vivekananda this morning an hour. How honored b) fate you must feel to have been allowed to be of service to this Great Soul. I believe him to be the re incarnation of some great Spirit – perhaps Buddha – pci haps Christ. He is so simple – so sincere, so pure, so unselfish. To have listened to him all winter is the gieatest privilege life lias ever offered me. It would be surprising to me that people could misunderstand or malign such a soul if I did not know how Buddha and Christ were persecuted and lied about by small inferiors. His discourse this morning was most uplifting – his mere presence is that. Ilis absolute sinking of self is what I like. I am so tired of people who place the capital ‘I’ before truth – and God. ‘To do good for good’s sake – with no expectation or desire of reward, and never speak of what we have done – but to keep on working for the love of doing God’s work’ – -is Vivekauanda’s grand philosophy of life. He always makes me feel ashamed that I have ever thought foi one moment I as burdened or that I ever spoke of any good act of my own. . . .
Welcome as was the in foi mat ion regarding Swamiji in Salem, it was incomplete, and in order to add to it a visit to that city was called for. North Street, Salem, wide arid shaded, is lined with old frame houses, most of which were standing in 1893. As I walked along looking for 166, I felt that this street, unlike those of larger cities, presented the same aspect that it had to Swamiji – more worn now. it is true, but substantially the same, quiet and comfortably settled into itself. Soon I came to 166, where Swamiji had stayed. It was a small two-story colonial house with a run-down garden at the side and back. Indeed, one could hardly call it a garden ; it was a yard with weeds growing in it. Put when Swamiji had spoken there, it most likely had been well kept. The house itself, flush with the sidewalk and devoid of the gingerbread of a later period, was in good repair, newly painted and probably but little different in appearance from what it had been when Swamiji left his trunk behind. The name on the front door, however, was not Woods. The Woods family, I learned, had moved awry years before, and the present occupant had never heard of a Hindu monk in Salem.
From 166 North Street I found my way to the Essex Institute, where the old Salem newspapers are filed away and where I looked for, found and copied the following articles from the Salem Evening News of August 24, 1893, and the Salem Evening News and Daily Gazelle of August 29. It would appear either that the same reporter served both the evening and morning-paper or that the evening paper lifted copy bodily from that of the morning. In any case, though repetitive, the three articles are given here respectively, along with their original headlines. Salem journalism in 1893 had its own peculiar charm:
SALEM EVENING NEWS August 24, 1893
A MONK FROM INDIA
He Will Visit Salem, Monday August 28 and Make an Address
On Monday next a learned monk from India will speak to the members of the Thought and Work Club, telling something of his land, its religion and customs. Club members will meet the rajah at Wesley chapel on North street promptly at four o’clock. Gentlemen and ladies who are not members can obtain tickets through some members of the club. The rajah will wear his native costume.
SALEM EVENING NEWS August 29, 1893
A MONK FROM INDIA
Salem Audience Interested in His Remarks
He has no faith in Missionaries
Explains the Bad Condition of Women in His Land
In spite of the warm weather of yesterday afternoon-a goodly number of members of the Thought and Work club, with guests, gathered in Wesley chapel to meet Swani Vivekananda, a Hindoo monk, now travelling in this country, and to listen to an informal address from that gentleman, principally upon the religion of the Hindoos as taught by their Vedar or sacred books. He also spoke of caste, as simply a social division and in no way dependent upon their religion.
The poverty of the majority of the masses was strongly dwelt upon. India with an area much smaller than the United States, contains twenty three hundred millions [sic] of people, and of these, three hundred millions [sic:| earn wages, averaging less than fifty cents per month. In some instances the people in whole districts of the country subsist for months and even jears. wholly upon flowers, produced by a certain tree which when boiled are edible.
In other districts the men eat rice only, the women and children must satisfy their hunger with the water in which the rice is cooked. A failure of the rice crop means famine. Half the people
LIVE UPON ONE MEAL A DAY the other half know not whence the next meal will come. Recording to Swani Vive Kyonda. the need of the people of India is not more religion, or a better one, but as he
expresses it, “practicality” and it is with the hope of interesting the American people in this great need of the suffering, starving millions that he has come to this country.
He spoke at some length of the condition of his people and their religion. In course of his speech he was frequently and closely questioned by Dr. F. A. Gardner and Rev. S. F. Nobbs of the Central Baptist Church. lie said the missionaries had fine theories there and started in with good ideas, but had done nothing for the industrial condition of the people. He said Americans, instead of sending out missionaries to train them in religion, would better send some one out to give them industrial education.
Asked whether it was not a fact that Christians assisted the people of India in times of distress, and whether they did not assist in a practical way by training schools, the speaker replied that they did it sometimes, but really it was not to their credit for the law did not allow them to attempt to influence people at such times.
He explained the
BAD CONDITION OF WOMAN in India on the ground that Hindoo men had such respect for woman that it was thought best not to allow her out. The Hindoo women were held in such high esteem that the) were kept in seclusion. He explained the old custom of women being burned on the death of their husbands, on the ground that they loved them so that They could not live without the husband. They were one in marriage and must be otic in death.
He was asked about the worship of idols and the throwing themselves in front of the juggernaut car, and said one must not blame the Flindoo people for the car business, for it was the act of fanatics and mostly of lepers.
The speaker explained his mission in his country to be to organize monks for industrial purposes, that they might give the people the benefit of this industrial
education and thus elevate them and improve their condition.
This afternoon Vivekananda will speak on the children of India to any children or young people who may be pleased to listen to him at 166 North street, Mrs. Woods kindly ollering her garden for that purpose. In person he is a fine looking man. dark hut comely, dressed in a long robe of a yellowish red color confined at the waist with a cord, and wearing on his head a vellow tin Iran. Being a monk he has no caste, and may eat and drink with anyone.
RAJAH SWAMI VIVEKANANDA
Has but Little Faith in the Missionaries Husbands of India Never Lie, Novel Persecute His Purpose Here to Organize Monks for Industrial Pin poses.
Rajah Swami Vivi Kananda of India was the guest of the Thought and Work Club of Salem yesterday afternoon in the Wesley c hurch.
A large number of ladies and gentlemen weie present and shook hands, American fashion, with the distinguished monk. He wore an orange colored gown, with led sash, yellow tmban, with the end hanging down on one side, which he used for a handkerchief, and congress shoes.
He spoke at some length of the condition of his people and their religion. In course of his spec h he was frequently and closely questioned by Dr. F. A. (Gardner and Rev. S. F. Nobbs of the Central Baptist church. He said the
MISSIONARIES HAD FINE THEORIES there and started in with good ideas, but had done nothing for the industrial condition of the people. He said Americans, instead of sending out missionaries to train them in religion, would better send someone out to give them industrial education.
Speaking at some length of the relations of men and women, he said the husbands of India never lied and never persecuted, and named several other sins They never committed.
Asked whether it was not a fact that Christians assisted the people of India in times of distress, and whether they did not assist in a practical way by training schools, the speaker replied that they did it sometimes, hut really it was not to their credit, lor the law did not allow them to attempt to inliuente people at such times.
THE BAD CONDITION of WOMEN in India on the ground that Hindoo men had such respect for woman that it was thought best not to allow her out. The Hindoo women were held in such high esteem that they were kept in seclusion. He explained the old custom of women being burned on the death of their husbands, on the ground that they loved them so lhaL they could not live without the husband. They were one in marriage and must be one in death.
He was asked about the worship of idols and the throwing themselves in front of the juggernaut car, and said one must not blame the Hindoo people for the car business, for it was the act of fanatics and mostly of lepers.
As For The Ideal of Idols he said he had asked Christians what they thought of when they prayed, and some said they thought of the church, others of G-O-D. Now his people thought of the images. For the poor people idols were necessary. He said that in ancient times, when their religion first
began, women were distinguished fyr spiritual genius and great strength of mind. In spite of this, as he seemed to acknowledge, the women of the present day had degenerated. They thought of nothing but eating and drinking, gossip and scandal.
The speaker explained his mission in his country to be to organize monks for industrial purposes, that they might give the people the benefit of this industrial education and thus to elevate them and improve their condition.
Mrs. Kate Tannatt Woods, who had founded the Thought and Work Club in 1891, had evidently invited all the Salem clergy to hear Swamiji’s talk and to question him. But the above-mentioned Dr. F. A. Gardner and Rev. S. F. Nobbs of the Central Baptist Church, who “frequently and closely questioned” Swamiji, did so in no friendly spirit. This we learn from the letters of Mrs. Prince Woods, who writes: “All the
ministers were present and none of them appreciated what he said. Several were most critical.” And again: “I . . . remember that my mother-in-law . . . many times spoke of the outspoken, narrow attitude of most of the ministers in Salem who openly criticised him in the Pulpit. She had airanged an open meeting in one of the churches and most of the ministers openly accosted him in the most acrimonious manner while he remained gentle in speech and manner.” Presumably, this was Swamiji’s first encounter with the ministers in America, and while ther acrimony left him unperturbed he was no doubt surprised by it
He spent the following week -August 29 to September 4 at Mrs. Woods home. On Tuesday afternoon, August 29, he
spoke in the garden to the children, and on the evening of the
following Sunday, September X, he lectured at the East Church, whosc minister was apparently one of the few who were sympathetic. The Salem Evening News of September 1 reported on the first of these events, the Gazette of September 5 on the
second. Both reports follow’, respectively.”
To SPEAK AGAIN
SWAMI VIVA KANANDA, The India Monk, at East Church Sunday Evening
The learned Monk from India who is spending a few’ days in this city, will speak in the East Church Sunday evening at 7-30. Swami (Rev.) Viva Kananda preached in the Episcopal church at Annisquam last Sunday evening, by invitation of the pastor and Professor Wright of Harvard, who has shown him great kindness.
On Monday night he leaves for Saratoga, where he will address the Social Science association. Later on he will speak before the Congress in Chicago. Like all men who are educated in the higher Universities of India, Viva Kananda speaks English easily and correctly. His simple talk to the children on Tuesday last concerning the games, schools, customs and manners of children in India was valuable and most interesting. His kind heart was touched by the statement of a little miss that her teacher had “licked her so hard that she almost broke her finger.” “We have no corporal punishment in our schools,” he said, “none at all.” As Viva Kananda, like all monks, must travel over his land preaching the religion of truth, chastity and the brotherhood of man, no great good could pass unnoticed, or terrible wrong escape his eyes. He is extremely generous to all persons of other faiths, and has only kind words for those who differ from him.
SOME SUNDAY SERVICES
Several Ministers Return to September Pulpits Rajah Rananda at the East Church
Rajah Swani Vivi Rananda of India spoke at the East church Sunday evening, on the religion of India
and the poor of his native land. A good audience assembled, but it was not so large as the importance of the subject or the interesting speaker deserved. The monk was dressed in his native costume, and spoke about forty minutes. The great need of India today, which is not the India of fifty years ago, is, he said, missionaries to educate the people industrially and socially and not religiously. The Hindoos have all the religion they want, and the Hindoo religion is the most ancient in the world. The monk is a very pleasant speaker and held the close attention of his audience.
What a difference of feeling there is in these pre-Parlia-inent of Religions lectures from those that came after ! Through Swamiji’s letters and lectures one can trace his change of attitude through the months in his approach to the American public. He came with the purpose of getting help for India, of telling the American people of his country’s real needs and real genius, but he stayed only to give, pouring himself out for the sake of Americans, for he could not see hunger in any form, spiritual or physical, without tilling it.
Among the papers preserved by Mrs. Prince Woods were two letters written by Swamiji from Chicago a month or so after his first visit to Salem. Although these letters pertain to a later period, they belonged nevertheless to Mrs. Kate Tannatt Woods, and as completing the account of Swamiji’s stay at 166 North street they are quoted here:
Chicago, 10th October, 1893
Dear Mrs. Tannatt Woods:
I received your letter yesterday. Just now I am lecturing about Chicago – and am doing as I think very well – it is ranging from 30 to 80 dollars a lecture and just now I have been so well advertised in Chicago gratis by the Parliament of religions that it is not advisable to give up this field now. To which I am sure you will agree. However I may come soon to Boston 1>ut when I cannot say. Yesterday I returned from Streator where I got 87 dollars for a lecture. I have
engagements every day this week. And hope more will come by the end of the week. My love to Mr. Woods and compliments to all our friends.
Yours truly, Vivekananda
George W. Hale,
541 Dearborn Avenue,
Chicago. Nov. 19th 1893
Dear Mrs. Woods –
Excuse my delay in answering your letter. I do not know when I will be able to see you again. I am starting tomorrow for Madison and Minneapolis. The English gentleman you speak of is Dr. Momerie of London. He is a well known worker amongst the poor of London and is a very sweet man. You perhaps do not know that the English church was the only religious denomination in the world who did not send to us a representative and Dr. Momerie came to the parliament in spite of the Archbishop of Canterbury’s denouncing of the Parliament of religions.
My love for you, my kind friend, and your noble son is all the same whether I write pretty often or not.
Can you express my books and the cover-all to the care of Mr. Hale ? I am in need of them, the express will be paid here.
The Blessings of the Lord on you and yours.
Ever your friend, Vivekananda
P.S. If you have the occasion to write to Miss Sanborn and others of our friends in the east kindly give them my deepest respects.
Yours truly” Vivekananda
On August 30 Swamiji wrote to Professor Wright in regard to the invitation he had received from Mr. Franklin B. Sanborn to lecture before the American Social Science Association at Saratoga Springs. The following letters were found among Dr. Wright’s papers and, together with others that will be included in the course of this story, have been made available to us by his son, Mr. John K. Wright:
30th Aug ’93
Dear Adhyapakji (honorable professor)
I am going off from here today. I hope you have received some reply from Chicago. I have received an invitation with full directions from Mr. Sanborn. So I am going to Saratoga on Monday. My respects to your wife. And my love to Austin and all the children. You are a real Mahatma (a great soul) and Mrs. Wright is non parail.
Yours affly Vivekananda
On August 30 Swamiji evidently did not yet know the decision of the officials of the Parliament of Religions to whom Dr. Wright had written. But by September 2, as we see in the following letter, the arrangements were evidently well under way:
Saturday Salem (Sept. 2, 1893)
Dear Adhyapakji –
I hasten to tender my heartfelt gratitude to you for your letters of introduction. I have received a letter from Mr Theles of Chicago giving me the names of some of the delegates and other things about the Congress.
Your professor of Sanscrit in his note to Miss Sanborn mistakes me for Purushottama Joshi and states that there is a Sanskrit library in Boston the like of
which can scarcely he met with in India. I would be so happy to see it.
Mr Sanborn has written to me to come over to Saratoga on Monday and I am going accordingly. I would stop then at a boarding house called Sanatorium.
If any news come from Chicago in the mean while I hope you will kindly send it over to the Sanatorium Saratoga.
You and your noble wife and sweet children have made an impression in mj brain which is simply indelible and I thought myself so much near to heaven when living with you. May He the giver of all gifts shower on vour head His choicest blessings.
Here are a few lines written as an attempt at poetry. Hoping your love will pardon this infliction.
Ever your friend Vivekananda
The poem which Swamiji “inflicted” upon Professor Wright and which heretofore has not been known was very likely the first poem he had w-ritten in the English language, and while it is b no means his best it contains, I believe, some of his most beautiful lines. To judge from the original, he dashed it off on letter paper in the flush of inspiration and, making only minor corrections here and there, sent it on to his friend. It is reproduced here just as he wrote it:
O’r Hill and dale and mountain range
In temple church and mosque
In Vedas Bible A1 Koran
I had searched for thee in vain
Like a child in the wildest forest lost
I have cried and cried alone
Where art thou gone my God my love
the echo answered gone
And days and nights and years then passed
A fire was in the brain I knew not when day changed in night
The heart seemed rent in twain
I laid me down on Ganga’s-.shore
Exposed to sun and rain With burning tears I laid the dust
And wailed with waters’ roar
I called on all the holy names
Of every clime and creed
“Show me the way” in mercy ye
Great ones who have reached the goal
Years then passed in bitter cry
each moment seemed an age
till one day midst my cries and groans
Some one seemed calling me
A gentle soft and soothing voice
that said “my son” “my son”
That seemed to thrill in unison
with all the chords of mv soul
I stood on my feet and tried to find
the place the voice came from
I searched and searched and turned to see
round me before behind
Again Again it seemed to speak
the voice divine to me
In rapture all my soul was hushed
Entranced enthralled in bliss
A flash illumined all my soul the heart of my heart opened wide
O joy O bliss what do I find
My love my love you are here
And you are here my love my all
And I was searching thee
From all eternity you were there
Enthroned in majesty
From that day forth where ere I roam
I feel him standing by
O’er hill and dale high mount and vale
Far Far away and high
The moon’s soft light the stars so bright
The glorious orb of day
He shines in them His beauty might
reflected lights are they
The majestic morn the melting eve
The boundless billowy sea
In nature’s beauty songs of birds
J see through them it is He.
When dire calamity seizes me
The heart seems weak and faint
All nature seems to crush me down
ith laws that never bend
Meseems I hear Thee whispering sweet
My love, “I am near” “I am near”
My heart gets strong. With thee my love
A thousand deaths no fear
Thou speakest in the mother’s lay
that shuts the babies eye
When innocent children laugh and play
I see Thee standing by.
When holy friendship shakes the hand
He stands between them too
He pours the nectar in mother’s kiss
And the babies sweet “mama”
Thou wert my God with prophets old
All creeds do come from thee
The Vedas Bible and Koran bold
Sing thee in harmony
“Thou art” “Thou art” the Soul of souls
in the rushing stream of life
“Om tat Sat om” Thou art my God
my love I am thine I am thine.
* Tat Sat means that only real existence. [Swamiji’s note]
As has been seen, Swamiji left for Saratoga Springs on Monday night to speak before the convention of the American Social Science Association. Mr. Sanborn was at this time Secretary of the Association, which counted among its members eminent and cultured men from all professions, and he no doubt felt that he was offering them a rare treat in the person of Swamiji. Indeed, the fact that he invited a young, unknown Hindu monk to speak before so august an assembly is ample evidence that, like Professor Wright, he highly valued Swamiji’s intellectual genius. But although Swamiji spoke three times before the convention and twice at a private home, he characteristically never mentioned in his letters this honor paid to him during his first weeks in America. This omission was probably due to the fact that since the honor had been paid not to Hinduism nor to India but to himself he felt it was not worth mentioning.
The sessions of the American Social Science Association were of course wholly secular. One can get a general idea of their nature through the titles of some of the lectures that were given. Chosen at random, they were: “Compulsory Arbitration”
“American Colleges and Their Work,” “The Educational Value of the Woman’s Paper,” “The Education of Epileptics,” “Turkey and Civilization,” “The Relative Values of the Factors that Produce Wealth,” “The Status of Silver,” “Recent Progress in Medicine and Surgery,” and so on. But Swamiji was prepared to speak on a variety of subjects, and in keeping with the tone of the convention, he chose for his topics: “The Mohammedan
Rule in India,” and “The Use of Silver in India.” The title of the third talk, given on the evening of September 6, is now unfortunately unknown, and, more unfortunately, the text of none of his talks was reported upon. Nevertheless, the newspaper articles which carried accounts of Swamiji’s appearances at the convention and at “Dr. Hamilton’s” are here reproduced in part. The first two excerpts are taken from the Daily Saratogian of September 6, 1893 ; the third, from the same paper of September 7:
THEIR SCIENCE IS SOCIAL
A Brainy Gathering Elects Its Officers
Able Papers Read at Yesterday’s Session – The Education of Epileptic – To Establish Social Science Professorships – The Program for
Today is Important.
The second session of the American Social Science association opened in the Court of Appeals room, Town Hall, yesterday morning. . . .
The evening session opened at 8 o’clock, every scat in the room being occupied. The first business on the program was the election of officers. . . .
A paper was read by Hon. Oscar S. Strauss of New York on “Turkey and Civilization,” in which he most emphatically denied the general reports that Turkey was an uncivilized country.
The platform was next occupied by Vivekananda, a Monk of Madras, Hindoostan, who preached throughout India. He is interested in social science and is an intelligent and interesting speaker. He spoke on Mohammedan rule in India.
The program for today embraces some very interesting topics, especially the paper on “Bimetallism,” by Col. Jacob Greene of Hartford. Vivekananda will again speak, this time on the Use of Silver in India.
Swami Vivekananda, an educated Hindoo who lately arrived in this country from India, is in attendance on the social science convention this week and has spoken twice to crowded parlors at Dr. Hamilton’s on the manners, customs and beliefs of the people of that wonderful country. He is an entertaining speaker, a highly educated man and his lectures, covering a wide range of topics, were very interesting. He is a striking figure in his oriental costume, and the public are invited to see and hear him at the Institute tonight at seven o’clock sharp. The lecture closes at 7:30.
MONEY WAS THE SUBJECT
Of the Able Paper at the Social Scientists’ Session
What President Andrews Said About the Monetary Experiment in India – Other interesting Papers – The Program for Today.
The second day’s session of the American Social Science association opened auspiciously yesterday morning, there being a large gathering.
The addresses and papers all pertained to finance which, especially at this time, proved very interesting. . . . Col. Jacob L. Greene of Hartford, read a paper on “Bimetallism”, treating the subject in a very exhaustive manner. A paper by Dr. Charles B. Spahr of ‘New York followed on the status of silver which was attentively listened to. A paper by President E. Benjamin Andrews of Brown University on “The Monetary experiment in India,” was .a masterpiece for thought and intellectual ability. . . .
At the conclusion of the reading Vivekananda, the Hindoo monk addressed the audience in an intelligent and interesting manner, taking for his subject the use of silver in India.
Within three weeks Swamiji had, as far as we now know, given eleven lectures and gained the respect of some of the leading minds of America. He had, moreover, come into contact with a cross section of American life. He had spoken to the Ramabai Club ; he had met members of the clergy, the inmates of a prison, the American club woman, and had even talked with the children. He could not have had a better preparation for all that was to come.
Swamiji’s last talk before the opening of the Parliament of Religions was given in Saratoga on the evening of September 6. In the Saratogian there was an advertisement entitled “Half Rate to the World’s Fair,” which told of “The excellent Chicago train service on the Delaware and Hudson Railroad.” There was a train which left Albany at 4:30 pan. and arrived in Chicago at 7:55 the following evening. $26.50 round trip. It may well have been this train that Swamiji took on September 8. one way, for the Parliament of Religions, in which case he would have arrived in Chicago on the evening of the 9th, as is indicated in “The Life.” There is also the possibility that he returned to Salem on the 7th for his luggage and entrained for Chicago at Boston on the 8th. A third possibility is that he left from Albany on the 7th and arrived in Chicago a day earlier than has been reported. But in any case – whether he departed on the 7 th or the 8th – he left behind these quiet but important beginnings to step directly into the limelight that was never to let him go.